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 Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute

Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute






























January Magazine's Crime Fiction Report, February-March 2004


Edited by J. Kingston Pierce

IN THIS ISSUE: The season's most-wanted reads • New works from Shelly Reuben, Ed Gorman, Susan McBride, Chris Simms, Laurence Klavan and many others • Peter Lovesey's low boredom threshold; Peter Robinson's high marks for Playing with Fire; Sherlock Holmes' middling interest in sex, and other news from the world of mystery • Lawrence Block takes a Dagger in Britain • Nominees for this year's Gumshoe, Edgar and Agatha awards, and crime fiction finalists for the Hammett and Los Angeles Times book prizes • And, because the media are all over this story, not a single word about John Kerry's optimistic campaign to boot the credibility-challenged George W. Bush from office

Pierce's Picks for February-March

Bad Business (Putnam), by Robert B. Parker. Boston gumshoe Spenser's 31st book-length investigation has him working for the wife of Trent Cowley, chief financial officer of the energy company Kinergy, who suspects her husband is a two-timer. However, marital infidelity and its connection to radio talk-show host/sex therapist Darrin O'Mara only provide our hero with an introduction to more complex troubles, including homicide and shady accounting practices at Kinergy. Think the Enron scandal for swingers.

The Bookman's Promise (Scribner), by John Dunning. Eight years after his last appearance, in The Bookman's Wake, Denver cop-turned-antiquarian bookseller Cliff Janeway gets involved in the competitive (and threat-filled) pursuit of an unpublished journal, supposedly kept by Sir Richard Burton and relating that renowned British explorer's espionage work in South Carolina during America's Civil War. Historical flashbacks and romantic complications should extend this novel's appeal beyond the rarefied circle of bibliophiles.

Deep Pockets (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Linda Barnes. A nervous Harvard professor hires private eye Carlotta Carlyle (The Big Dig, 2003) to stop a blackmailer who knows too much about his affair with a recently deceased freshman rowing champ. But as this case sprouts more and more puzzles, Carlotta wonders whether the answers she seeks might lie in the freshman's sketchy past.

The Fire Baby (Michael Joseph UK), by Jim Kelly. The 1976 crash of a U.S. airplane in England's watery Cambridgeshire Fens district -- a disaster from which a young woman escaped with a baby in her arms -- provides the historical foundation of this second mystery (after 2002's The Water Clock) to feature newspaper journalist Philip Dryden. Now, three decades later, Dryden promises a dying hospital patient named Maggie Beck that he will locate her daughter before it's too late. But only the reporter's wife, who's in the same hospital ward, coming out of a coma and hearing Beck's dying confession, can tell Dryden the secrets he needs to know to solve -- and survive -- this case.

Firecracker (Putnam), by Ray Shannon. Building on the success of last year's Man Eater (reviewed in "The Rap Sheet," 4/03), Shannon -- a pseudonym of detective novelist Gar Anthony Haywood -- delivers a second standalone thriller. This one centers on gutsy PR exec Reece Germaine, who hopes to rake in $1.25 million from a long-shot Super Bowl bet made in her name by Dallas Cowboys star Raygene Price, the reluctant father of her unborn child. But Price, now suffering a financial downturn, wants to get his mitts on that wager slip before it pays off. So does drug dealer Trip Stiles, a "deeply disturbed white man" who's blackmailing Raygene for murder. Although it's not quite so darkly humorous as Man Eater, Firecracker is still good bang for the buck.

Five for Silver (Poisoned Pen Press), by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer. As he investigates his elderly manservant's remarkable claim that a "heavenly visitor" alerted him to a friend's murder, John the Eunuch, Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian I, finds himself quizzing prostitutes, bear trainers, purveyors of questionable antiquities and a dancing holy fool in order to locate a very human killer operating amid a deadly plague that has struck mid-6th-century Constantinople.

Good Morning, Midnight (HarperCollins UK), by Reginald Hill. Turning a dependable fictional device -- the locked-room mystery -- to his own purposes, Hill sends partners Andrew Dalziel and Peter Pascoe to sift through the suicide of Pal Maciver. But the two disagree over suspects and are thrown by suggestions that Maciver's death has international implications.

Hard Revolution (Little, Brown), by George P. Pelecanos. Reversing the clock to 1968, Pelecanos introduces us to a much younger Derek Strange (Soul Circus), who's still a cop in Washington, D.C., trying to keep down crime in the weeks surrounding the assassination of civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. There are two cadres of petty crooks working here on poorly conceived schemes to hold up a convenience store and a bank. And then there's Dennis Strange, Derek's elder brother, a Vietnam vet about to be sucked into the dangerous circle of drug dealer Alvin Jones. Hard Revolution gives context to the Strange series, and boasts one hell of a climax, set during Washington's post-assassination riots.

Havana World Series (Grove Press), by José Latour. In his third novel written in English (after Outcast and Havana Best Friends), Cuban writer Latour imagines a clutch of eccentric, minor-league Havana hoods who have been hired in 1958 by New York mob boss Joe Bonnano to knock over Chicago gangster Meyer Lansky's Capri casino on the final day of World Series play between the Yankees and the Milwaukee Brewers. However, the heist is spoiled by a murder that attracts police attention -- including the attention of Lansky's informant in the department, who suspects that longtime criminal Mariano "Ox" Contreras participated in the robbery. Hoping to drive his rival Bonanno out of Cuba once and for all, Lansky will do just about anything to nab Contreras. Endowed with great Cuban color, Havana World Series is home-run caliber.

Hot and Sweaty Rex (Villard), by Eric Garcia. Dino detective Vincent Rubio makes his third appearance (after Anonymous Rex and Casual Rex) in this clever novel about competing dinosaur crime families, the Miami-based one of which is headed by an old Hadrosaur buddy from Vince's childhood. Garcia has plenty of fun spoofing The Sopranos and explaining the influences of his secretive reptilian community on modern society.

Law of Return (Soho Press), by Rebecca Pawel. Lieutenant Carlos Tejada of Spain's Guardia Civil is transferred in 1940 to the town of Salamanca, where he must probe the disappearance of a politically suspect law professor -- a case that tests both his allegiance to dictator Francisco Franco and his affection for a young leftist. The sequel to last year's Death of a Nationalist.

Petrified (Headline UK), by Barbara Nadel. Inspector Çetin Ikmen of Istanbul (last seen in Harem, "RS" 7-8/03) has enough to worry about after a pair of children vanish. But the fact that their families can't agree on when or where the tykes were last seen adds unnecessary complications to this case -- and makes Ikmen wonder whether the adults are covering up something.

The Railway Detective (Allison & Busby), by Edward Marston. At a time when there was considerable hope for the future of British railroading, the robbery of the London-to-Birmingham run in 1851 threatens to dampen enthusiasm. To the rescue comes Detective Inspector Robert Colbeck, who moves quickly to capture the perpetrators -- but not quickly enough to stop those criminals from kidnapping the train conductor's daughter. The first entry in yet another historical series from the prolific Marston.

Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories by African-American Writers (Berkley Prime Crime), edited by Eleanor Taylor Bland. What's touted as "the first anthology to feature exclusively contemporary African-American mystery authors" includes tales by Gary Phillips, Penny Mickelberry, Walter Mosley and Grace F. Edwards. What's especially interesting is how these yarns portray the black experience in other eras (such as 1950s Harlem), and in places (such as Maine) that aren't usually the settings for black crime fiction. It's shocking to realize how many of these fine stories come from folks you have probably never heard of, but will want to pay attention to in the future.

Southwesterly Wind (Henry Holt), by Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza. Bookish Brazilian Inspector Espinoza (December Heat) is tasked with saving a Rio de Janeiro office drone named Gabriel from fulfilling the prophecy of a psychic, who told him that he will commit a murder before his next birthday. This is the third installment of Garcia-Roza's seductive police-procedural series.

A Spectacle of Corruption (Random House), by David Liss. The sequel to Liss' Edgar Award-winning novel, A Conspiracy of Paper (2000), brings back 18th-century pugilist-turned-"thief-taker" Benjamin Weaver. Framed for murder, forced to escape from Newgate Prison in order to find the real killer, Weaver -- disguised as a wealthy Jamaican tobacco grower -- steps into the middle of a dirty political campaign involving the husband of his former inamorata and a nefarious master of the London dockyards. Plenty of humor, intrigue and salaciousness here.

Stone Cribs (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Kris Nelscott. What begins with Chicago P.I. Smokey Dalton's discovery of a woman bleeding to death from a bungled abortion soon expands into an investigation of "underground" abortion providers and the people who struggle to protect women with unwanted pregnancies from backroom "butchers." Although Stone Cribs is set in pre-Roe v. Wade 1969, the social questions this novel raises are very current today, given that America's Bush regime is trying to once again reverse, or at least obstruct, abortion rights.

White Skin Man (Orion UK), by John Baker. Stone Lewis (The Chinese Girl, 2000) is feeling unusually happy about his life -- that is, until he meets Katy Madika, who accidentally photographed a murder, and then palmed the digital film before the killer could steal the camera from her hands. But after the corpse vanishes, Katy seeks Stone's help in putting this mystery to rest, a request that will send him back into the darkness he thought he'd escaped.

New and Noteworthy

Shelly Reuben's Weeping (Kate's Mystery Books/Justin, Charles & Co.), the first book in a proposed series, is a strange piece of fiction, a whimsical and occasionally goofy (but generally good-natured) mystery that probably shouldn't work, but does. It's quite reminiscent at times of those gently quirky stories penned by the late authors Fredric Brown and Frank Gruber; while at other times -- given its breathless, relentlessly chatty female pacing -- this new novel could almost be aimed at high-school girls.

Weeping introduces us to the peculiarly monikered Fritillary Quilter. Yeah, that was my reaction, too -- Fritillary Quilter? But imagine a suburban Nina Zero (Burning Garbo) without the edge, or perhaps an adult Nancy Drew who'd inhaled once or twice. Like much in this novel, "Tilly" is a decidedly odd duck, hard to quite put a finger on. An accident-prone bookworm from a large family, who as a teenage babysitter inadvertently set the neighbor's house on fire, she's grown up (well, slightly) to become a fledgling New York insurance claims investigator. She's nowhere near as seasoned or tough as she thinks she is, yet she certainly has a thing for fires. And when her insurance company teams her with arson pro (and obvious father figure) Isaac Blessing to look into a mysterious blaze that claimed the life of a young actress, Fritillary soon develops a thing for him, too.

There's a bit too much "had-I-but-known" in these pages, and the author's giddy fondness for Dickensian nomenclature (Fritillary? Oliver Wicks? Milton Beasley? Miss Blatt?) and her peculiar word choices and comparisons (a "Panama Canal-sized table"?) can be wearying. Still, there's something appealing about this book's defiantly old-fashioned, almost Victorian tone and its meandering, angst-free dramatics. And Weeping's hard inside look at the unpleasant realities of arson investigation -- the physical decimation, questionable burn patterns, and the fire investigator's intimate glimpse into the lives of fire victims -- adds just enough weight to prevent things from whirling off into the ozone.

Reuben, herself a licensed fire investigator with 25 years experience, doesn't so much spin a yarn here, as let it eventually unravel. Her story may meander on just a trifle too long, but eventually Reuben collects all the loose ends, and wraps the mystery up satisfactorily, just in time to whet our appetite for Fritillary's next big, wide-eyed adventure. -- Reviewed by Kevin Burton Smith

* * *

Ed Gorman's Breaking Up Is Hard to Do (Carroll & Graf), the sixth installment in his popular Sam McCain series (after 2003's Everybody's Somebody's Fool), is also reminiscent of another age. In this case, however, the reminders of earlier times are more obvious and deliberate, from the carefully detailed and lovingly rendered small-town setting of Black River Falls, Iowa, circa 1962, to the very title of this book, swiped from Neil Sedaka's pop hit of that same year.

But Gorman, as always, offers more than hollow nostalgic pandering. "I'm no tough guy," admits affable lawyer and sometimes private eye McCain. Yet the author does offer in these pages a tough, decidedly modern glimpse of the Kennedy era, never forgetting to look beyond the white picket fences. Yes, the cars and the fashions, the music and the books -- they're all here, all lovingly (and sometimes obsessively) noted; Gorman's fondness for the early 1960s is inescapable. But he also takes the time to pry the bland, conformist, Mayberry-like veneer back to reveal that long-ago era's dark, uneasy side -- the gnawing fear and paranoia that surrounded the Cuban Missile Crisis (which unfolds along with the events in this book), and the slowly dawning realization that the ordered, comfortable world Americans had previously known, with its neat political, social, cultural and class lines, was changing irrevocably.

The immediate concerns of Black River Falls politician Ross Murdoch, though, are a lot more personal and tangible: He's just discovered a dead woman in his brand-spanking-new bomb shelter, and that just can't be good news for his gubernatorial ambitions, can it? Trying to minimize the damage, and not overly confident in the abilities of the bumbling, pompous local police chief, Cliffie Sykes, Murdoch turns for help to McCain.

Yet even the resourceful Sam can't stave off scandal when it turns out that the dead girl was a "kept" woman, the sexual plaything not only of Murdoch, but also three other local big-shots. While scrambling to do what he can, McCain must also deal with a crisis of his own -- the two great loves of his life are both suddenly available, and they want Sam to know it.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do may only ring in at a suitably old-fashioned 224 pages, but within that limited space, the author manages to pack in plenty: a solid, fairly plotted mystery; some subtle parallels between Sam McCain's developing personal troubles and gradual maturation and his era's slow loss of innocence; and, most impressively, a compassionate look at a bygone era that is refreshingly undistorted by either rose-colored glasses or cynical smugness. Ed Gorman obviously cares about these characters, and you will too. -- K.B.S.

* * *

My biggest gripe with Kit's Ehrman's Dead Man's Touch (Poisoned Pen Press) isn't even the author's fault, really. For some reason, lots of folks who should know better seem bound and determined to liken her to champion British thriller writer Dick Francis, a lazy comparison that only serves to highlight Ehrman's very real (but not insurmountable) weaknesses. While this novel is enjoyable and competently written enough to suggest that the author could eventually develop into an engaging and even unique voice, it also suffers from some serious implausibilities and frequent emotional hollowness. Calling attention to those deficiencies by invoking Francis' name, merely because the story is set in the same horsey milieu that the Edgar Grandmaster staked out as his turf, does nobody any good -- not Francis, not Ehrman and certainly not mystery mystery readers at large. It's the worst sort of slothful critical thinking, the literary (and promotional) equivalent of horse dung.

After all, Francis made a name for himself by penning smart, tautly plotted adventures that invariably featured intelligent, competent and compelling amateur sleuths who were forced to use every bit of their courage, strength and skill to battle often great evils. But in Dead Man's Touch, 22-year-old Maryland stable manager Steve Cline is neither particularly intelligent nor competent. Or even that compelling, to tell the truth. He's a nice enough guy who knows horses and has problems with his folks -- but that's about it. We only know that, deep down, he's packing a lot of emotional and psychological baggage because he keeps telling us he is. However, I suspect those bags are half-packed, at best -- after all, Steve barely has time to bury his estranged father, who was killed in an automobile accident, before he starts following around his newly discovered "real" (i.e., biological) father, racehorse trainer Christopher Kessler. Upon confronting Kessler, Steve discovers that the man is being pressured to throw races, or else.

But instead of calling in the authorities, or hiring a private investigator, or doing anything else that makes a lick of sense, the proud new papa hires Steve -- who, as far as he knows, has zilch detective or law-enforcement training -- to go undercover (a potentially dangerous task) at the Maryland racetrack where Kessler has his stables, and get to the bottom of things.

This seems a decidedly cold and curious response to a long-delayed father-son reunion. Even more surprisingly, though, Steve jumps at the chance. Or maybe not so surprisingly: this protagonist's emotions and thought processes never ring particularly true in Dead Man's Touch. In the course of his somewhat clumsy investigation, Steve has sex with a couple of women, gets drunk and knocked out a few times, feels sorry for himself an awful lot and is suspected of murder, before eventually saving the day, nabbing the rather obvious bad guys and finally coming to terms with his feelings about his dead father, his new father and his half-sister. But it all seems a little perfunctory and shallow -- sort of like Steve himself. Still, Ehrman's sharp insights into the seldom-seen hard-scrabble world of the live-in, working-class grunts who labor on the "backside" of racetracks are fascinating, and she manages the impressive task of bestowing several of Steve's equine charges with unique personalities. The author only stumbles when she tries to delve into the mysteries of the human heart, a deft trick Francis seldom had trouble accomplishing. Sorry, but this ain't Dick. -- K.B.S.

* * *

If any crime fiction subgenre has enjoyed extraordinary growth in recent years, it's that of the historical mystery. A clue came five years ago when Britain's Crime Writers Association established the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award, no doubt spurred on by the success of its namesake's medieval series, as well as by the popularity of countless other books set in different past epochs. As authors and publishers continue hopping onto the history mystery bandwagon, a great many more time periods have become fair game for novelists wanting to drop in an engaging sleuth or two. Until now, though, no one had ventured to set his or her crime novels in the 11th-century Byzantine Empire. In The Mosaic of Shadows (Century UK), Tom Harper has done just that -- and begun a series that begs for more installments and further exploration.

It's 1096, and the known world is in a state of chaos, with many countries embroiled in the Crusades, struggling to overcome warring factions and religious schisms. The Byzantine Empire (the eastern portion of what had been the Roman Empire) is no exception, having become a cesspool of simmering rage among ethnicities, all vying for political independence and freedom of worship. Things go from bad to worse when an assassin targets Emperor Alexios with his bow and arrow, killing an innocent man in the process. Summoned to discover the source of this attempted slaying is Demetrios Askiates, known as the Unveiler of Mysteries because he excels at exposing hidden truths. With the help of a resourceful lady doctor and a soldier given to brute force, Demetrios follows a twisted path from Byzantium's glittering palatial infrastructure out to the Empire's more remote reaches, where he finds a shadowy figure in the grips of a dangerous zeal -- one that seems to mirror the shouts and cries of factions intent on challenging the Empire's very existence. It is up to Demetrios to ferret out the assassin -- if his quest isn't swallowed up in the grip of a bloodbath of massive proportions.

The launch of any new series must introduce a cast list and a setting without sacrificing the story it seeks to tell. Happily, The Mosaic of Shadows never comes close to such a sacrifice. One is immediately launched into the scope and feel of an earlier time, without being bogged down in a litany of facts and lessons. Instead, this book maintains a lively pace and is filled with fully fleshed characters.

Demetrios is an especially intriguing figure -- a man who serves the Empire but is most certainly no puppet. He's also fiercely loyal to the memory of his late wife and loves his two daughters very much, but when faced with a chance to romance Anna, the doctor who assists him in these pages, he strives to combine his familial duty with his own fervent desires. As well, Tom Harper infuses this story with a rather wry sense of humor and a touch of the absurd; a scene, for instance, in which Demetrios encounters a "talking dog" is believable in context but very amusing as well. This same touch was on display in Harper's previous novel, 2003's The Blighted Cliffs (written under his real name, Edwin Thomas), and proves successful at lightening the mood of this tension-filled novel.

I freely admit to having some problems with the historical mystery subgenre, as too many of these books are slaves to the history they try to retell (if in a modified context). But The Mosaic of Shadows not only educates, it's an entertaining read. Suffice to say that 11th-century Byzantium is a place I'd like to spend more time in, so long as Tom Harper continues to be my guide. -- Reviewed by Sarah Weinman

* * *

What would you do if, by some odd chance, you came across an individual who is generally ordinary but possesses one remarkable talent? Would you nurture this ability, and use it to make that person the best he or she can be? Or would you exploit it at the expense of everything else?

Such questions are often silently asked when a young child appears to be precociously skilled. Too often we hear about pushy stage parents who live vicariously through their progeny, damaging the children for years to come and making them regret they ever possessed the talent that made them special. But what if the youngster never really understood how special he or she was?

All these questions are examined in Chris Simms' ingenious new thriller, Pecking Order (Hutchinson UK), and the answers become increasingly horrifying.

Roy Bull -- better known as "Rubble" -- works at a battery farm outside of Manchester, England. He's simple and rather childlike, not even knowing the year of his birth, yet he possesses a singular aptitude for the tasks no one else would dare touch -- especially killing sick and injured animals. Eric Mauldsey is a long-standing sociology professor whose dry lectures on caring for the elderly and dying have lost favor beside a more dynamic professor's modules. He's desperate to save his flagging fortunes and career, but to date he hasn't found a way. Finally, Claire Silver is a sociology student, working diligently to secure a postgraduate position and making ends meet as an astrologist for the local chat lines. This trio's fortunes become progressively intertwined when Mauldsey chances upon Rubble's unique talents at the farm -- and forms a plan to make use of those talents for his own gain. As the killings mount, the only person who could change Rubble's fate is the chat-line lady from whom he receives his daily horoscopes. Claire dismisses Rubble's calls as rubbish, but soon realizes that something truly terrifying is happening and it's up to her to put a stop to things.

Chris Simms impressed many people last year with his debut novel, Outside the White Lines ("RS," 9-10/03), but with this latest work, he doesn't just beat the sophomore jinx, he pounds it into submission. Pecking Order is longer, more ambitious, and it features three wonderfully drawn, extremely flawed protagonists. Not only does Simms offer a believably rendered female heroine in Claire -- no easy task for a male writer -- and demonstrate how Mauldsey's moral descent is sown from almost innocuous seeds, but he also makes Rubble's inherent sociopathy sympathetic to readers. This simple man's penchant for slaughtering animals, often described in graphic detail, is certainly disturbing, but until his fateful meeting with the professor, his lack of remorse and cruel behavior are under careful supervision. By showcasing how Mauldsey's plans come to fruition, Simms offers a searing commentary on the nature-versus-nurture debate, and how evil isn't necessarily born or made, but the combination of malleable and exploitative personalities is, quite literally, lethal.

A thriller should, ideally, highlight characters one can care about, move briskly without signs of sagging and leave an indelible impression long after the last page is turned. On all these counts, Simms succeeds marvelously. The only minor quibble I had with Pecking Order was that I wished for an epilogue that would wrap things up slightly more tidily. Aside from that, though, this novel is a wonderful display of talent from a soon-to-be star in the crime fiction firmament. -- S.W.

* * *

There are many forms of music, but perhaps none evokes such a powerful response, both from musicians and fans, as the blues. Its simple structure -- 12 bars, three chords, repeated as necessary -- contains a near-bottomless depth of emotion and pain. There's nothing quite like listening to 1920s-era songstress Bessie Smith warble of heartbreak and sadness, or B.B. King's fractured voice wringing loneliness and pain from such spare rhythm and lyrics. No wonder the blues, with its power to bewitch the unsuspecting listener, has been called "the devil's music."

It's a term that Nick Travers, the protagonist in Ace Atkins' critically acclaimed series, might not agree with; as a professor specializing in blues history, his search for the secrets of long-dead musicians has led him down some sinister alleyways. The combination of music and mystery has marked Atkins as an author to watch, but his new entry in this series, Dirty South (Morrow), concentrates on a more modern musical style: hip-hop. The substitution, unfortunately, is not altogether successful.

Travers has just recovered from a series of tumultuous events (documented in 2002's Dark End of the Street) which led to the fiery destruction of the New Orleans bar owned by his beloved friends JoJo and Loretta Jackson. Now he's a frequent traveler on Highway 61, spending most of his time doing research deep in the Mississippi Delta. But Nick is summoned back to the Big Easy by his old friend and former Saints football teammate Teddy Paris, who's managed to do quite well for himself, post-retirement, as a music mogul. The only problem is, Teddy's world is about to crash: his CD label's biggest star, a 15-year-old rap prodigy called ALIAS, has been fleeced out of more than a half-million bucks -- money that was supposed to have gone to pacify a rival producer named Cash, who's looking to claim ALIAS for his own. Cash wants the money in 24 hours, or else Teddy pays with his life. Travers doesn't hesitate to answer his old teammate's plea, both in searching for the dough and looking after the teen rapper. But what was never a simple exchange to begin with soon becomes far darker and bloodier: someone close to Teddy and Nick is murdered.

Now the stakes are all the more personal. And as Nick tries to stay one step ahead of a sordid mess involving the underbelly of New Orleans, warring record labels, street thugs and further deaths, the lives of those closest to him are threatened -- all because of a wealthy young man not so far removed from the streets, who may be a lot less innocent than anyone realized.

In Dirty South, Atkins attempts to keep the pace fast and the tension constant, but the level of suspense flags considerably when a plot contrivance overcomes the seemingly insurmountable 24-hour deadline, slowing the novel to a more leisurely pace. By switching gears, the book suffers a drop-off that lessens dramatic tension considerably. As well, though Nick Travers is the main character, much of this novel is told from ALIAS' point of view. Although Atkins means for the reader to sympathize with the young rapper's plight, he instead paints a portrait that might describe many a young celebrity: self-absorbed, slightly naïve and less interesting than he thinks he is. These interspersed sections hobble the book's pace even more.

Although Ace Atkins again demonstrates some of the same talent and skill he displayed in earlier installments of this series, he ultimately disappoints by choosing to take Nick away from his calling, the one thing he loves most above anything else: the blues. Whatever Atkins' next project may be -- either another series novel or a standalone -- here's hoping that he returns to the magical melding of blues and mystery that served him so well before, and which should continue to work for him in the future. -- S.W.

* * *

With its debutante balls, junior leagues and deceptively polite mannerisms, the Southern upper classes have long provided a source of satire for writers. By adding to the mix a Hooters-style restaurant, former cheerleaders and a televangelist, Susan McBride virtually guarantees a mystery that mocks and amuses in Blue Blood (Avon), the first in her Debutante Dropout series.

Even though Andrea "Andy" Kendricks boasts a long history of disappointing her Dallas socialite mother, Cissy -- she skipped her debutante ball, attended an art college instead of a Texas university, failed to rush a sorority, became a Web designer and continues to reject the many eligible bachelors dangled before her -- never in Andy's wildest dreams did she picture herself wearing short shorts and a breast-squeezing T-shirt, and working at a Jugs. But it's all for a good cause: to help a friend she hasn't seen in years.

Molly O'Brien, a scholarship student and foster child from the storied "wrong side of the tracks, always seemed an unlikely companion for the wealthy, upper-class Andy. However, this pair became best friends in high school, and remained so until college, when they lost contact with each another. Now, more than a decade later, and after being arrested for murdering her boss -- the obnoxious and habitually grabby owner of Jugs -- Molly turns again for help to the only person who was always there for her, Andy Kendricks. This delinquent deb capably steps up to bat, first by saving Molly's son from the clutches of Child Services and then by hiring an attractive, if inexperienced, attorney to handle her friend's defense. When everyone, including Molly's lawyer, appears convinced of Molly's guilt, Andy throws herself entirely into this case, stuffing her bra and going undercover as a waitress at the scene of the crime. As she fends off lecherous frat boys and suppresses all of her feminist convictions, Andy discovers financial misdeeds and gets involved not only with a TV preacher who's a bit too cozy with Jugs' attractive new proprietor, but also anti-pornography protestors who want to save the restaurant's distaff staffers from themselves.

It would have been easy for Blue Blood to slip into farce, complete with boob-job jokes. Fortunately, McBride avoids this trap by focusing on more substantive themes, particularly the relationship between mothers and daughters. She also resists making Cissy Kendricks the stereotypical nagging mother who wants her daughter to marry, quit her job and dress better. Instead, Cissy reveals more sides to her personality here than the reader, and especially Andy, first identifies. Andy comes to realize that just as Cissy may at times see her daughter as nothing more than her child, Andy is just as guilty of reducing Cissy to nothing more than her mother. Gradually, though, these two women acknowledge one another as being mutifaceted and admirable in their own rights.

McBride, author of the Mayhaven Award-winning And Then She Was Gone (1999), has created here a much lighter and more amusing mystery, filled with entertaining dialogue, rapid-clip pacing and a bit of romance and suspense. The book's humor remains blessedly shy of over-the-top, and it helps lead the reader to an ending that is both unpredictable and touching. Blue Blood is definitely the beginning of a wonderful new series with a character who is feisty without being snotty, witty but not a smart-aleck, and just plain likable. This is more than simply a cozy. Andy Kendricks' sophomore appearance can't come soon enough. -- Reviewed by Cindy Chow

* * *

Now, from the crowded courtroom of legal mysteries emerges Reed Arvin, who, strangely enough, is not an attorney at all, but a musician. No matter. His second legal thriller, The Last Goodbye (HarperCollins), proves that you don't need a law degree to produce a winning novel about a lawyer.

Jack Hammond's career in a white-shoe Atlanta law firm was derailed two years ago when one of his criminal clients killed his gorgeous girlfriend, and it was later revealed in court that Jack had been having an affair with the murder victim. He now runs a seedy solo operation in the Georgia capital, his only "associate" being his secretary, Blu McClendon, whose dubious qualifications for the job are (1) that she's beautiful -- "the love child of Marilyn Monroe and somebody who doesn't speak English that well" -- and (2) that she's the "unrequited lover" of Sammy Liston, the law clerk who assigns attorneys to pro bono cases set to be tried in the courtroom of Judge Thomas Odom. Hey, it's a living. But Jack's shot at redemption finally comes when he hears that a friend and former client, computer whiz Doug Townsend, has been found dead from an injected overdose of fentanyl. Knowing that Doug was a recovered meth addict with an overwhelming aversion to needles, Jack can't helping thinking that something's wrong. It doesn't take much investigation to learn that Doug was obsessed with one Michele Sonnier, the internationally famous and fetching black opera singer whose husband is on the brink of making a fortune with the IPO of his drug company, Horizn Pharmaceuticals. Aided by a many-pierced client, computer hacker and phone phreaker Michael Harrod (aka "Nightmare"), Jack goes on to discover that Doug was also renown for his hacking skills, and had been conducting corporate espionage linked to Michele and her CEO hubby. To find out the whole scoop, Jack must delve into the rarified realms of high-tech biological research and Atlanta high society -- and reveal a series of covered-up deceits.

The Last Goodbye is as much a love story as it is a thriller. It doesn't take Jack long to realize what Doug Townsend saw in Michele. When the singer subsequently pleads with Jack to help her find the baby she had given up when she was just a teenager, he's helpless to resist. Repeating his previous misjudgment of the carnal kind, he falls into a relationship with the troubled Michele that the reader knows will not end well. And as Jack ultimately comes to understand what Doug had been investigating, his ethics will once more be tested as he risks both having his heart broken and losing his life.

Arvin's critically praised previous legal thriller, The Will (2000), led to comparisons of his work with that of John Grisham. That's not really fair, since Arvin's writing is considerably more lyrical and his lead character here never truly becomes disillusioned with the law. Even though Jack Hammond knows he often represents the guilty, he still believes in protecting their civil rights.

On the other hand, Jack is amusingly cynical and well aware of how often he is lied to, not only by clients but by everyone else around him. The other characters Arvin offers are similarly well portrayed: Blu is a bimbo with feelings; Sammy is hilarious and innovative in his revenge against those who would use Blu for one purpose or another; and Nightmare emerges as more than just a disaffected teenage techno-anarchist. Yes, the plot here is complex and twisted, and it ties nicely together at the book's end. Yet it's the powerful but painful relationship between Jack and Michele that keeps readers engrossed. Although its shortage of courtroom action may defy its classification as a true legal thriller, The Last Goodbye is still entertaining and moving. -- C.C.

* * *

Following his critically praised debut novel, Stone Cowboy (1999), Mark Jacobs relied on his experience as a U.S. foreign service officer and cultural attaché to develop a spy thriller that intended to blend romance, suspense and international intrigue. Unfortunately, A Handful of Kings (Simon & Schuster) falls well short of that goal, being instead a light but less-than-stellar novel of espionage and lies.

When American diplomat Vicky Sorrell determines to terminate her foreign service tenure, she does it as abruptly and thoroughly as possible, announcing to her colleague and lover, Wyatt Willis, that she is not only leaving her post in Spain for good, but she's leaving him, as well. The spark that ignited Vicky's disillusionment with her job and employer? Her mother's sudden disclosure that her father's own career with the diplomatic corps was a lie; that he was, in fact, a spy. The noble profession Vicky has loved these past years turns out to have deceived her, in more ways than one.

Before she can hop a plane, though, Vicky is contacted by a famous American author, J.J. Baines, who asks that she throw a reception for him, to celebrate the Spanish publication of his latest book. Although Vicky finds Baines arrogant and deceitful, her curiosity overwhelms her good sense, and she agrees. What she doesn't realize is that Baines is only following orders from Colombian rebels who have kidnapped his nephew, Ben Burke, and are mailing the boy's severed fingers -- one by one -- to his worried parents. Ben, meanwhile, believes that he's been detained for drug possession; he's more concerned that his mother and father will discover his drugs stash back home than he is concerned about political warfare, or even the disappearance of his digits.

It doesn't take long for Baines to pull Vicky into a plot that she finds as confusing as it is intriguing. Adding to the mystery is an American spy who's as determined to court Vicky as he is to find out just what Baines is up to. With events colliding, the disgruntled diplomat and the renowned writer find themselves caught up in a movement that will test their beliefs in each other as much as in themselves.

While Jacobs' publisher compares his work to that of Graham Greene, A Handful of Kings never lives up to such hype. The author is at his sharpest when he describes his plot's settings around Spain and Colombia. His prose is polished to an envy-producing sheen, and it's packed with both interesting metaphors and his characters' mental meanderings. However, this tale never engages the reader enough that he or she cares about the fate of Jacobs' principal players. This turns out to be a good thing, as most of their futures are left unresolved. It's Ben Burke who emerges as the most interesting, if inept, member of the cast. But he's unequal to the task of carrying this whole book. We can only hope that Jacobs' future novels come closer to the high standard he set with Stone Cowboy. -- C.C.

* * *

Trivia may seem, well, trivial to some folks, but to Roy Milano, Manhattan-based publisher of the movie-minutiae newsletter Trivial Man, it is a way of life. And for one unlucky trivia buff in Laurence Klavan's hardcover-debut novel, The Cutting Room (Ballantine), it's a matter of death.

Klavan will be familiar to mystery-trivia enthusiasts for having picked up the 1984 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original. His winning work, Mrs. White, was published under the pseudonym "Margaret Tracy." It has taken him two decades to get back into the mystery-writing saddle, and the ride he offers here is as original as them come.

Roy Milano may freelance as a typesetter by day, but by night he's free to pursue his life's passion: the discovery, discussion and dissection of cinema trivia. His obsession with such infinitely repeatable particulars already broke up his marriage; it now flavors Roy's conversations and keeps away all but his fellow film geeks. Then one day, he receives a phone call from Alan Gilbert, the host of a public-access cable-TV trivia show called My Movies. Gilbert (who's also Roy's rival) claims to be in possession of the never-released, uncut original version of Orson Welles' 1942 society drama, The Magnificent Ambersons. Roy is beside himself with glee and anticipation, and he speeds over to Gilbert's door. But upon arrival, he discovers his rival's apartment in disarray and the man himself dead in an overstuffed chair. Missing are both Welles' magnum opus and Gilbert's cameraman, Gus Ziegler.

Fixated on finding what many critics consider the best-made American film ever, Roy soon finds himself entangled in a real-life mystery and circling the globe in pursuit of his silver-screen treasure. At his side is Jeanine Blount, who Roy thinks of as a cross between Morticia Adams and E.T. She is a fellow trivia fan and just as eager as Roy to track down the elusive Ambersons.

Their first stop: Los Angeles, where action star Ben Williams is keen on making his directorial debut by remaking The Magnificent Ambersons. It's all Roy can do to quell a shudder of horror at the very thought. But he steels himself, in hopes of learning whether Gilbert's killer intends to deliver Welles' masterpiece to the aging Williams. From L.A., the next piece of this puzzle may be found in the soft hands of Erendira, a stunningly beautiful Spanish siren, who draws our intrepid cinemaphile to Barcelona, where the real story behind the story of the errant Ambersons begins to unfold. As questions pile upon questions, and corpses stack up, Roy and Jeanine collect suspects ranging from a corpulent purveyor of Hollywood scoops to a bodybuilder obsessed with rumors about a prominent actress. Answers aren't finally revealed, though, until this novel's nerve-racking and bittersweet finale, at upstate New York's Rhinebeck Film Fair. There the childish Roy, who began this Hitchcockian odyssey with nothing to lose, ends up as a thoughtful man with everything to lose.

The Cutting Room is a witty and scrupulous homage to Hollywood, as well as an escapist mystery of superior caliber. Most of all, it's a transformative adventure for the 30-something Roy Milano, who evolves from being an ungainly and unlikely detective with no interest whatsoever in whodunit to become a courageous hero (who is nonetheless still modest enough to take public transportation). Expertly walking the fine line between pulpy, noirish suspense and a Woody Allen-like narrative, The Cutting Room deserves star billing. -- Reviewed by Jennifer Jordan

* * *

Publisher Uglytown is dishing up another feast of noir with Mark T. Conard's Dark as Night. The wine here is a sullen blood red and the main course, served by the Philadelphia mob, was kicking and screaming only minutes ago. Oh, and the waiter, a crooked coked-up cop, expects a big tip.

Protagonist Morris White is a nice guy just trying to make an honest living. Reared as a boy on trouble, he's become the sous chef at a first-rate Philly restaurant, Le Tour de Cochon. He also has a new woman in his life, Le Tour manager Vicky Ward, who's got his heart working at double speed and his mind wrapped around future possibilities. The way Morris figures it, he's on track to achieve everything he's ever wanted. And then some. But the past is about to creep up on him in the unwelcome form of Vince Kammer, his half-brother. Whereas Morris grew out of his delinquent ways, Vince grew into them. He's just now finishing a three-year stint at Pennsylvania's Graterford Prison for breaking and entering. When Morris goes to pick him up, he finds that Vince is even meaner than he was before. Instead of being a young man with a bad attitude, he's now an angry man with a Guinness Record-sized chip on his shoulder and a plan that he refuses to tell Morris anything about. Although he knows he will regret it, the chef invites his half-brother to stay with him. Just until he's back on his feet.

As it turns out, Morris has ample reason to worry about Vince. His half-wit half-sibling wants revenge on a mob boss he met in the pen, Eddie "The Carp" Carpioli, and is planning to get it by kidnapping Carpioli's daughter. Meanwhile, Vince is wanted by Johnny Stacks, a local bookmaker who craves his cut of the $100,000 worth of diamonds Vince went to prison trying to steal.

Stacks assigns a couple of his best goons -- Erasmo "Mo" Pacitti, his right-hand man, and Lenny Zielinsky, an imprudent and impulsive gofer -- to bring Vince and his pathetic partner in crimes, Billy Hope Jr., in for a little unfriendly persuasion. Also on Vince's trail, though, is a seriously dirty cop named Dick Franks, who was the original investigating officer on the jewelry store heist that led to Vince being sent up the river. Franks is looking for some more drugs to snort and he needs money to buy them. Knowing that Vince is fresh out of the joint, and surmising that the con will want to retrieve the still-missing diamonds, Franks makes beating their location out of Vince a top priority. With the word on the street that Vince is camped out at his half-brother's house, a conga line of baddies is soon swaggering Morris White's way. They are desperate, well-armed and bad-tempered, and they're looking to get their mitts on something Morris hasn't a clue about.

Conard goes right for the jugular with Dark as Night. His book's tornado-like plot sucks you in on page one and it doesn't stop spinning until the last chapter's close. Who could've guessed that an assistant professor of philosophy at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City could spawn a noir tale of this caliber? Encore! -- J.J.

* * *

Walter Mosley's The Man in My Basement (Little, Brown) is less a work of crime fiction than it is a treatise on evil and the power of wealth to corrupt. We're told in this modestly sized tome that Charles Blakey lives alone in his family's home in Sag Harbor, New York. His only companions are the memories of his dead ancestors, especially his uncle Brent. Blakey can still hear the cantankerous Brent telling him how lazy and worthless he is, and the anger within Blakey burns hot. He is an unemployed black man who is about to lose the house that has been in his family for seven generations, because he can't pay the mortgage.

But then along comes Anniston Bennet, a rich white man who wants to rent Blakey's basement for the summer. The idea of this guy rooming in a black man's house in a black neighborhood strikes Blakey as foolish, but Bennet offers more money than is reasonable, and ultimately gets what he wants. This is the way the world works for rich men like Bennet.

For Blakey, this sudden income offers a means to continue living his self-involved and frivolous life. His family has resided on Long Island for 200 years, Blakey's ancestors having come over from Africa as indentured servants. But he is detached from his heritage (unaware, even, that his basement holds a valuable trove of African-American crafts and documents with historical value). He has few close associates and virtually no connection to his community. He's a man unencumbered by self-direction, and the middle of Mosley's story reflects this, languishing like the dull passage of summer as Blakey finds himself satisfied to drink and masturbate, or hang out with his only friends Clarence Mayhew and Clarence's nephew Ricky. His few relationships with women are more purely sexual than emotionally intimate. Only when Blakey goes down into his basement to feed and talk with Bennet is the sluggish tempo jumpstarted.

This novel's central plot device is a beaut: Bennet has placed himself in what amounts to a cage -- a self-imposed penance for "crimes committed." Blakey fears that his tenant is crazy enough to kill him when his rental term is up, and begins to think he made a mistake allowing him into his home. Only gradually does Blakey gain confidence, and he proves to be more daring than Bennet had thought. He also manages to hold his own intellectual ground in their demanding conversations. The cruelty of rich (white) men and the exploitation of poor countries (notably Africa) for wealth form the content of their talks, as well as the thrust of Mosley's argument in this novel. There is interplay here between the physical and the mental, between morality and malignancy. Just as Bennet did not anticipate the level of Blakey's cruelty, Blakey did not realize the human atrocities that Bennet had committed during his life.

The crux of The Man in My Basement is the ideological debate between these two men, and the tension of the book is supplied by their combative personalities, though Bennet is really more idea than flesh. Though the symbolism is often cumbersome, the lessons supplied here are sobering: there is unimaginable evil in the world, and we can either act against it or be observers on the sidelines, suffering the consequences. Blakey begins to change for the better only after he learns to appreciate his African heritage and live an economically constructive life. However, his transformation doesn't come about without his first having to stare evil in the eye and survive -- if not exactly enlightened by the experience, then at least sobered by it. -- Reviewed by Anthony Rainone

In the News

English author Martin Booth, who wrote A Very Private Gentleman (1991) and The Doctor of the Detective: A Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1997), and was shortlisted for a Booker Prize for his 12th novel, The Industry of Souls (1999), died of cancer on February 12. He was 59 years old. Read more.

Interviewed for the Mystery Readers International Web site by fellow UK novelist Anne Perry, Peter Lovesey talks about his abysmally low daily output of words ("about 200 per day, so I can't afford to rewrite"), his chief strength as a writer ("a low boredom threshold") and his latest project: "another stand-alone, a change from Peter Diamond, but giving a bigger role to Chief Inspector Hen Mallin, the woman detective who shared some of the sleuthing with Diamond in The House Sitter" ("RS" 6/03). Read more.

A recent profile in Canada's Globe and Mail of Peter Robinson not only announces the release of his latest Alan Banks/Annie Cabbot novel, Playing with Fire, but applauds the deliberate "melding of plot and character" that has helped books by Robinson, as well as those by Ian Rankin, P.D. James, Ruth Rendell and others, break free from the ghetto of round-up columns. Read more.

Addressing the burning question of whether or not Sherlock Holmes was gay, New York Times Book Review contributor Laura Miller writes: "It hardly matters. ... [H]is sexual practices are plain: he's celibate. He has to be. If Holmes were to become romantically involved, the results would be catastrophic. It would ruin the fun. Holmes' celibacy isn't a mask covering some other, secret aspect of his nature, it is his nature, and one of the main reasons we love him." Read more.

New York writer Michael Jahn, best known for his Bill Donovan mystery series (Murder on Coney Island), has recently begun posting installments of his Edgar Award-winning but long unavailable 1978 paperback novel, The Quark Maneuver, on his Web site. As the site explains, "The heroine of The Quark Maneuver is Diana Contardo, a twenty-something karate wiz [sic] who has inherited, from her murdered father, a modest Italian restaurant on the Manhattan side of the Queensboro Bridge. One night -- also involving a drop from a bridge, come to think of it -- she saves the lives of Paul DiGioia and Mike Culmone, two detectives attached to the nearby 19th Precinct. DiGioia becomes her lover despite being considerably older." Read more.

ON NEWSSTANDS ONLY: The winter issue of Mystery Scene magazine includes a conversation with J.D. Robb (Divided in Death), a feature on vintage "girl sleuth" Trixie Belden, a celebration of Florida's multiple merry mystery makers and Allen J. Hubin's recollections of his life as a bibliographer. ... Meanwhile, Mystery News headlines profiles of John Lescroart (The Second Chair), Sue Rann (Looking for Mr. Nobody) and Jim Fusilli (Tribeca Blues) in its February/March issue.

Last Rewards

February's Left Coast Crime convention, held in Monterey, California, produced not one, but four award winners. Announced during that conference were the recipients of the 2004 Dilys, Lefty, Otter and Bruce Alexander Historical awards.

Dilys Award (given by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association to a work judged "the most fun to sell"): Lost in a Good Book, by Jasper Fforde (Viking)

Also nominated: Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon, by Donna Andrews (St. Martin's Minotaur); The Sixth Lamentation, by William Broderick (Viking); Monkeewrench, by P.J. Tracy (Putnam); and Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Press)

Lefty Award (given for humorous mystery): Mumbo Gumbo, by Jerrilyn Farmer (Avon)

Also nominated: Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon, by Donna Andrews (St. Martin's Minotaur), and Shop Till You Drop, Elaine Viets (Signet)

Otter Award (given for a mystery set in the geographic location of Left Coast Crime): More Than You Know, by Meg Chittenden (Berkley Prime Crime)

Also nominated: Dragonfly Bones, by David Cole (Avon), and Murder Pans Out, by Emily Toll (Berkley Prime Crime)

Bruce Alexander Historical Award (given to a historical mystery novel): For the Love of Mike, Rhys Bowen (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Also nominated: Silver Lies, by Ann Parker (Poisoned Pen Press); and Four for a Boy, by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer (Poisoned Pen Press)

* * *

The online magazine Mystery Ink has announced the nominees for its third annual Gumshoe Awards:

Best Novel: Eye of the Abyss, by Marshall Browne (St. Martin's Minotaur); Persuader, by Lee Child (Delacorte); Hard Rain, by Barry Eisler (Putnam); Blood Is the Sky, by Steve Hamilton (St. Martin's/Thomas Dunne); and Tribeca Blues, by Jim Fusilli (Putnam)

Best First Novel: Hex, by Maggie Estep (Three Rivers); Dealing in Murder, by Elaine Flinn (Avon); The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, by Mark Haddon (Doubleday); Monkeewrench, by P.J. Tracy (Putnam); and The Cutting Room, by Louise Welsh (Canongate)

The winners in these categories, together with this year's recipients of awards for Best Author Website and Lifetime Achievement, will be announced on April 7, 2004.

* * *

Among the many books competing for a 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prize are five finalists in the mystery/thrillers category:

  • The Company You Keep, by Neil Gordon (Viking)
  • The House Sitter, by Peter Lovesey (Soho Press)
  • The Dogs of Riga, by Henning Mankell (The New Press)
  • Death of a Nationalist, by Rebecca Pawel (Soho Press)
  • Soul Circus, by George P. Pelecanos (Little, Brown)

Winners in this category, as well as in eight others, will be announced on April 24.

* * *

After a couple of late amendments (the withdrawals of both Michael Connelly's Lost Light as a contender in the Best Novel category, and of Clayton Emery's "Totaled" as a candidate for Best Short Story of the year), the Mystery Writers of America has issued its final list of finalists for the 2004 Edgar Allan Poe Awards. Winners will be receive their awards on April 29, during an MWA banquet in New York City. And the nominees are ...

Best Novel: The Guards, by Ken Bruen (St. Martin's Minotaur); Out, by Natsuo Kirino (Kodansha International); Resurrection Men, by Ian Rankin (Little, Brown); and Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Press)

Best First Novel by an American Author: 12 Bliss Street, by Martha Conway (St. Martin's Minotaur); Offer of Proof, by Robert Heilbrun (Morrow); Night of the Dance, by James Hime (St. Martin's Minotaur); Death of a Nationalist, by Rebecca Pawel (Soho Press); and The Bridge of Sighs, by Olen Steinhauer (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Best Paperback Original: Cut and Run, by Jeff Abbott (NAL); The Last Witness, by Joel Goldman (Pinnacle); Wisdom of the Bones, by Christopher Hyde (NAL); Southland, by Nina Rovoyr (Akashic Books); and Find Me Again, by Sylvia Maultash Warsh (Dundurn Group)

Best Critical/Biographical: Mystery Women: An Encyclopedia of Leading Women Characters in Mystery Fiction, Volume 3, by Colleen Barnett (Poisoned Pen Press); Amelia Peabody's Egypt: A Compendium, edited by Elizabeth Peters and Kristen Whitbread (Morrow); Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, by Patrick McGilligan (HarperCollins); The American Police Novel: A History, by Leroy Lad Panek (McFarland); and Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith, by Andrew Wilson (Bloomsbury)

Best Fact Crime: Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder, by Steve Hodel (Arcade Publishing); The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson (Crown); Judgment Ridge: The True Story Behind the Dartmouth Murders, by Dick Lehr and Mitchell Zuckoff (HarperCollins); And The Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank, by Steve Oney (Pantheon); and Rothstein: The Life, Times and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series, by David Pietrusza (Carroll & Graf)

Best Short Story: "Bet on Red," by Jeff Abbott (in High Stakes, edited by Robert J. Randisi; NAL); "Black Heart and Cabin Girl," by Shelly Costa (in Blood on Their Hands, edited by Lawrence Block; Berkley Prime Crime); "Aces and Eights," by David Edgerly Gates (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, December 2003); "The Maids," by G. Miki Hayden (in Blood on Their Hands); and "Cowboy Grace," by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (in The Silver Gryphon, edited by Gary Turner and Marty Helpern; Golden Gryphon Press)

Best Young Adult: The Last Treasure, by Janet Anderson (Dutton Children's Group); Feast of Fools, by Bridget Crowley (McElderry); Acceleration, by Graham McNamee (Wendy Lamb/Random House Children's); Death and the Arrow, by Chris Priestly (Knopf Young Readers); and Uncovering Sadie's Secrets, by Libby Sternberg (Bancroft)

Best Juvenile: The Malted Falcon, by Bruce Hale (Harcourt Children's); Bernie Magruder and the Rats in the Belfry, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum); Lily's Ghosts, by Laura Ruby (HarperCollins Children's); Dust, by Arthur Slade (Wendy Lamb/Random House Children's); and Sammy Keyes and the Art of Deception, by Wendelin Van Draanen (Knopf Young Readers)

Best Television Episode Teleplay: Law & Order: Criminal Intent -- "Probability," teleplay by Gerry Conway, story by Rene Balcer and Gerry Conway; Law & Order: SVU -- "Coerced," teleplay by Jonathan Greene; Monk -- "Mr. Monk and the 12th Man," teleplay by Michael Angeli; Monk -- "Mr. Monk and the Very, Very Old Man," teleplay by Daniel Dratch; and The Practice -- "Goodbye," teleplay by Peter Blake and David E. Kelley

Best Motion Picture Screenplay: The Cooler, screenplay by Wayne Kramer and Frank Hannah (Lions Gate Films); Dirty Pretty Things, screenplay by Steve Knight (BBC, Celador Productions); Monster, screenplay by Patty Jenkins (MDP Worldwide); Mystic River, screenplay by Brian Helgeland, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (Malpaso Productions); and Runaway Jury, screenplay by Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Rick Cleveland and Matthew Chapman, based on the novel by John Grisham

The Simon & Schuster/Mary Higgins Clark Award: Ricochet, by Nancy Baker Jacobs (Five Star); A Bloodhound to Die For, by Virginia Lanier (HarperCollins); Samurai's Daughter, by Sujata Massey (HarperCollins); The Body in the Lighthouse, by Katherine Hall Page (Morrow); and Song of the Bones, by M.K. Preston (Intrigue Press)

Robert L. Fish Memorial Award: Sandy Balzo for "The Grass is Always Greener" (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March 2003)

Grand Master Award: Joseph Wambaugh

Raven Award: Ray and Pat Browne Library for Popular Culture Studies at Bowling Green State University, in recognition of its longstanding work in collecting and preserving detective fiction; and to Vanity Fair magazine and its editor, Graydon Carter, in recognition of the magazine's true-crime coverage

Special Edgar Award: Home Box Office, in recognition of the creation and production of such groundbreaking crime series as The Sopranos, Oz and The Wire

* * *

Malice Domestic, the Maryland-based organization that promotes "the traditional mystery," has announced its nominees for the 2004 Agatha Awards. Winners will be announced during the Malice Domestic Convention, April 30-May 2. This year's contenders:

Best Novel: Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon, by Donna Andrews (St. Martin's Minotaur); Mumbo Gumbo, by Jerrilyn Farmer (Morrow); Letter From Home, by Carolyn Hart (Berkley Prime Crime); Dream House, by Rochelle Krich (Ballantine); Last Lessons of Summer, by Margaret Maron (Mysterious Press); and Shop Till You Drop, by Elaine Viets (Signet)

Best First Novel: Dealing in Murder, by Elaine Flinn (Avon); Haunted Ground, by Erin Hart (Scribner); Take the Bait, by S.W. Hubbard (Pocket); Alpine for You, by Maddy Hunter (Pocket); Murder Off Mike, by Joyce Krieg (St. Martin's Minotaur); O' Artful Death, by Sarah Stewart Taylor (St. Martin's Minotaur); and Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Press)

Best Nonfiction: Mystery Women: An Encyclopedia of Leading Women Characters in Mystery Fiction, Volume 3, by Colleen Barnett (Poisoned Pen Press); A Second Helping of Murder: More Diabolically Delicious Recipes from Contemporary Mystery Writers, edited by Jo Grossman and Robert Weibezahl (Poisoned Pen Press); Atomic Renaissance: Women Mystery Writers of the 1940s and 1950s, by Jeffrey Marks (Delphi Books); Amelia Peabody's Egypt: A Compendium, edited by Elizabeth Peters and Kristen Whitbread (Morrow); and Dick Francis Companion, by Jean Swanson and Dean James (Berkley Prime Crime)

Best Short Story: "Doppleganger," by Rhys Bowen (in Blood on Their Hands, edited by Lawrence Block; Berkley Prime Crime); "No Man's Land?" by Elizabeth Foxwell (in Blood on Their Hands); "Safety First," by Marcia Talley (in Blood on Their Hands); "Red Meat," by Elaine Viets (in Blood on Their Hands); and "Sex and Bingo," by Elaine Viets (in High Stakes, edited by Robert J. Randisi; Signet)

Best Children's/Young Adult Novel: Gangsters at the Grand Atlantic, by Sarah Masters Buckley (Pleasant Company); Danger, Dynamite, by Anne Capecci (Peachtree Publishers); Ghost Light on Graveyard Shoal, by Elizabeth McDavid Jones (Pleasant Company); The 7th Knot, by Kathleen Karr (Marshall Cavendish); and Mystery of the Equestrian Park, by Gay Toltl Kinman (Amiser Quill Press)

Life Achievement Award: Marian Babson

Poirot Award (for significant contributions to traditional mystery fiction through means other than writing): Ruth Cavin and Thomas Dunne of St. Martin's Press

* * *

Prolific novelist Lawrence Block, whose latest Bernie Rhodenbarr book, The Burglar on the Prowl, is due out from William Morrow in March, has been chosen by the Crime Writers' Association (CWA) of Britain to receive the 2004 Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement. The presentation will be made on May 12, at the Savoy Hotel in London. Block is only the third American to receive this commendation, after Ed McBain (1998) and Sara Paretsky (2002). "I realize I don't deserve this," says the author, "but then I didn't deserve cataracts, either, so what the hell."

* * *

Finally, the North American Branch of the International Association of Crime Writers has announced its nominees for the 2004 Hammett Prize. The Hammett is given annually to a work of literary excellence in the crime fiction field written by either an American or Canadian author. This year's nominees:

  • The Delicate Storm, by Giles Blunt (Putnam)
  • The Seduction of Water, by Carol Goodman (Ballantine)
  • Tropic of Night, by Michael Gruber (Morrow)
  • Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane (Morrow)
  • Every Secret Thing, by Laura Lippman (Morrow)

This year's Hammett Prize winner will be named in October during the Bouchercon convention in Toronto, Canada.


"The Rap Sheet" is compiled 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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