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January Magazine's Crime Fiction Report, October-November 2004

Edited by J. Kingston Pierce

IN THIS ISSUE: The month's most-wanted reads • Fresh fiction from Stephanie Kane, Max Phillips, Natalie R. Collins, Sam Hill and many others • Weighing Graham Greene's impact; displaying James Ellroy's obsessions; portraying Lynda La Plante's pain, and more news from the world of mystery • Overdosing on Bouchercon • Award winners from all over the map • And because we're already barraged with news reports and editorials regarding the November 2nd U.S. presidential race, not a single word about John Kerry's powerful and popular campaign to unseat George W. Bush

Pierce's Picks for October-November

The Blood-Dimmed Tide (Macmillan UK), by Rennie Airth. Twice before, this novel was promised, and twice it failed to be published. But doubt no longer. The newly released sequel to The River of Darkness (1999) finds John Madden, a former Scotland Yard inspector, retired and living on a Surrey farm in 1932 with his doctor wife, Helen, and their two children. However, the family's peace is shattered when Madden discovers the disfigured corpse of a girl in a nearby wood. Convinced that a serial slayer is at large, Madden follows a trail of clues that leads him all the way to Germany, where the Nazis are gaining power. The Blood-Dimmed Tide is reportedly the second installment of a trilogy. Let's hope the third book comes out in a more timely fashion.

Boost (Speck Press), by Steve Brewer. Albuquerque, New Mexico, car thief Sam Hill is in for the surprise of his young life when he boosts a lawyer's 1965 Thunderbird, only to find the corpse of a police informant in its trunk. Sam smells a set-up, and starts arranging for payback, only to realize that he brought this nightmare on himself by stealing a different classic automobile from a notorious drug dealer -- a man who won't stop until Sam is properly, and likely fatally, punished.

Call the Dying (Hodder & Stoughton UK), by Andrew Taylor. A TV salesman by the name of Frederick arrives in the town of Lydmouth in 1955, hoping to peddle some sets to the locals. But his coming and apparent going, followed by the murder of an eccentric doctor, leads Detective Chief Inspector Richard Thornhill to investigate -- when he's not pining over newspaper editor Jill Francis.

Cut to Black (Orion UK), by Graham Hurley. The fifth novel featuring Portsmouth, England, Detective Inspector Joe Faraday centers on a yearlong police investigation into the affairs of Bazza McKenzie, a heavy trafficker in cocaine and heroin. When one of the probe's leaders is run over, Faraday steps in, hoping to wrap things up but also concerned about who will take over from Bazza if he's brought down.

A Dead Man in Trieste (Carroll & Graf), by Michael Pearce. Continuing the light but competent tone that has been the hallmark of his Mamur Zapt series, Pearce introduces a new crime-solver, Sandor Seymour of Special Branch. He is dispatched in 1906 to Trieste, a politically divided Mediterranean seaport controlled by the Austrian Empire, where a British counsel has gone missing.

Identity Theory (MacAdam/Cage Publishing), by Peter Temple. Taking a break from his Ned Kelly Award-winning Jack Irish series (White Dog), Australian author Temple makes his American publishing debut with this story about a burnt-out foreign correspondent, John Anselm, who's retreated to his family's ancestral home in Germany and there gone to work for a semi-legal surveillance firm. Any expectations of a peaceful life, though, go awry when his surveillance efforts put him into contact (and conflict) with an ex-mercenary and an enterprising London journalist. Danger to follow.

The Mammoth Book of Roaring Twenties Whodunnits (Carroll & Graf), edited by Mike Ashley. This collection of 23 Jazz Age mysteries includes work by Peter Lovesey, Gillian Linscott, Mike Stotter and Robert J. Randisi (who resurrects, in "So Beautiful, So Dead," real-life lawman-turned-sports reporter Bat Masterson, a star of Randisi's 1986 novel, The Ham Reporter).

Moth and Flame (St. Martin's Minotaur), by John Morgan Wilson. Scandalized former L.A. journalist Benjamin Justice is supposed to be inking his autobiography, but monetary needs lead him to take on the job of writing a pamphlet about some historically significant cottages in West Hollywood. The guy who had originally been hired to do the work was murdered, apparently during a burglary -- a case in which Justice wants no involvement. However, when the head of a local preservation group stumping to save the cottages is killed, the ex-reporter moves in to resolve the crime and save innocent people from being hurt.

Nocturnes (Hodder & Stoughton UK), by John Connolly. From the author of Bad Men and The White Road comes this compilation of a dozen shorter stories based in the supernatural. Wayward kids, subterranean creatures and Connolly's series private eye, Charlie Parker, all figure into these frightfully well done yarns. A pair of novellas, "The Cancer Cowboy Rides" and "The Reflecting Eye" bookend this volume. Nocturnes isn't due out in the States until March, from Atria Books.

Now You See It (Carroll & Graf), by Stuart M. Kaminsky. Though it doesn't break any new ground, Kaminsky's 24th Toby Peters novel is still fun. It finds the World War II-era Hollywood P.I. trying to protect "the World's Greatest Living Magician," Harry Blackstone, supposedly from a rival illusionist. Swashbuckling actor Cornel Wilde and a young Anthony Perkins make cameos, while Toby's daffy landlady, Irene Plaut, reveals a secret from her past.

Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Years (St. Martin's Minotaur), edited by Michael Kurland. Authors Bill Pronzini, Rhys Bowen, Carolyn Wheat and others are enlisted in this anthology to solve the monumental question of what Holmes did between his plunge off Reichenbach Falls and his reappearance three years later in London. No firm conclusions, but plenty of spirited speculation.

Skeleton Man (HarperCollins), by Tony Hillerman. Unhappily retired Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn aids his successor, Sergeant Jim Chee, in investigating theft charges against a young Hopi named Billy Tuve, who's been trying to pawn a diamond. The puzzle surrounding this gem will lead the two cops back half a century, to a plane crash in the Grand Canyon that took the lives of 172 people -- one of whom was traveling with a fortune-filled attaché case.

Thirteen Steps Down (Hutchinson UK), by Ruth Rendell. Mix Cellini is, like so many of Rendell's most memorable characters over the last 40 years, an obsessive loner. Living at a rather shabby residence in London's Notting Hill district, he is drawn to nearby 10 Rillington Place, where serial murderer John Reginald Christie once committed his heinous acts. Mix's mind is also consumed, though, by thoughts of a living neighbor, the stunning model named Nerissa Nash, who would likely not give him a second glance. Meanwhile, Mix's spinster landlady goes about her own reclusive existence, comically divorced from reality and finding pleasure only in her books. As Mix Cellini slides further into madness, leading to violence, Rendell explores issues of identity and the ultimately unsatisfying cult of celebrity.

Wolves Eat Dogs (Simon & Schuster), by Martin Cruz Smith. Why did Pasha Ivanov, a Moscow physicist-turned-billionaire businessman, leap to his death from his 10th-floor apartment, holding a salt shaker in his hand? That's the question facing lugubrious Senior Investigator Arkady Renko, who makes his fifth appearance (after Havana Bay, 1999) in this haunting tale that takes him from the congested streets of Russia's capital to the Ukrainian Zone of Exclusion, the "radioactive wasteland" surrounding Chernobyl, where a colleague of the dead man has been found with his throat slit.

New and Noteworthy

When 6-year-old Benjamin Sparks turns up dead in a Denver park, the case is creepily similar to a murder that occurred 30 years earlier in a small Colorado town. And the obvious suspect is the woman who was convicted then, and who was paroled just months before this latest tragedy.

Of course, nothing is obvious in Jackie Flowers' cases, especially when Flowers herself can't even read. Seeds of Doubt (Scribner), Stephanie Kane's third Flowers novel (after Blind Spot, 2000, and Extreme Indifference, 2003), pits this dyslexic defense attorney against her ex-lover, her neighbors and her better instincts as she tries to untangle both murders, new and old.

As with the improvisations that mask her disability, Flowers relies on quick thinking, guts and a lot of luck to get her through. She's an evidence-oriented detective, but since she shuns the written word, she compensates by mulling over her cases in long internal monologues. Flowers leans on familiar habits -- lucky rocks in her jacket pockets, counting silently in her mind -- to stay focused. She wants to trust the people in her life, but too many of them are grim criminals, wary clients or selfish lawyers. So she relies on her neighbors' daughter, a sassy 10-year-old named Lily, to provide ordinary affection.

In Doubt, Flowers throws the people she knows -- as well as herself -- for a loop by impulsively inviting her latest client, Rachel Boyd, the chief suspect in Sparks' slaying, to move in with her while she prepares for trial. Pilar Perez, Flowers' assistant and crack investigator, thinks her boss is nuts to take in a woman accused of murder, who won't even confide in her attorney. Prosperous civil litigator Dennis Ross, who got Flowers fired from her last job but still loves her, keeps trying to seduce her into giving away her trial strategy. And, much to her parents' consternation, Lily takes an immediate liking to the troubled Boyd. Flowers is left to juggle everybody, while trying to figure out whom to trust and what to believe.

Characters, atmosphere and suspense are Kane's strong points. Seeds of Doubt reads smartly, but the complicated threads of two similar murder cases, from different eras, become overly snarled. Too much promising evidence is introduced and then forgotten, while too many suspicious players loom ominously in the story, only to eventually fade away. Lily, naturally, becomes the vulnerable character Flowers must protect here. And much to this attorney's surprise, it is Boyd, the child of a dysfunctional Denver banking family and a woman whom the usually perceptive Flowers can't seem to read, who casually recognizes Flowers for the high-functioning dyslexic that she is.

Given the great mounds of paperwork involved in legal practice, it's somewhat improbable that a severe dyslexic could become a successful trial attorney. Kane's Flowers, however, is a believable combination of intelligence and fragility. Seeds of Doubt indulges in a good deal of pop criminal psychology, including the old chestnut of twinning the criminal and the detective. But Kane makes it work -- at least until her crashingly abrupt conclusion. Flowers deserves neater endings than she gets. But then, she's already used to muddling through. -- Reviewed by Caroline Cummins

* * *

In small-town Brenham, Texas, life is "rich in boredom and poor in everything else." That's true, at least until the fourth page of Scared Money (St. Martin's Minotaur), James Hime's sophomore novel, where guns start popping and bodies start dropping. Drug dealers, hustlers, women in the wrong place at the wrong time, even a hapless fitness trainer all come to discomfiting ends.

A dainty book this ain't.

By chapters two and three, Jeremiah Spur and Clyde Thomas -- Hime's central characters from his first novel, The Night of the Dance (2003) -- have reluctantly returned to their roles as a retired Texas Ranger and disgruntled police deputy. Both have personal problems aplenty, but Hime doesn't offer them much time to work out those problems. Instead, the two men follow separate plot lines for the first half of this book, with Thomas trying to solve a series of murders, and Spur tackling a missing-persons case. By the end of their baroquely gory saga, their professional sufferings make their troubled home lives seem positively peaceful.

In Hime's Texas, accents are thick and similes full of grit; it doesn't just rain here, it pours "like a cow pissing on a flat rock." The over-the-top prose (all in present tense) grows even more sudsy as the list of characters, locations and elaborate double-crosses expands. Thomas finds himself investigating murders all over the Lone Star State; Spur winds up jetting between Texas, Vienna and Mexico. Naturally, what started out as a two-penny hit in Brenham turns out to be the tip of the proverbial iceberg, involving international drug cartels, the CIA, vast conspiracies and Spur's own mysterious family history. Spur and Thomas themselves morph from hesitant crime-fighters into ardent vigilantes. None of it really makes much sense, but for lurid action and exaggerated dialogue, Scared Money is right on the money. -- C.C.

* * *

As much we all enjoy crime fiction, each of us can probably claim a subgenre or two that we avoid. I, for instance, tend to steer clear of medical mysteries. Yet I picked up Larry Karp's fourth book and first standalone, First, Do No Harm (Poisoned Pen Press), opened to the first chapter, and found myself willingly plunged into a story that was both profound and absorbing.

There are doctors in this world whose practices go well beyond traditional doctoring into the art of healing. And as with the shaman of old, these physicians hold sway in their communities. They're catered to and beloved. First, Do No Harm centers around such a healer: Dr. Samuel Firestone, a man particularly skilled in medical diagnosis, whose very presence once calmed and fortified his patients. But in the fateful summer of 1943, in the small community of Hobart, New Jersey, a tiny crack that had formed long before began to grow. And luckless victims slipped into its depths before it could heal over.

Sixty years later, computer technician Martin Firestone tells his father, the eccentric painter Leo Firestone, that he's decided to attend medical school. Leo turns apoplectic, and his son can't figure out why. But it isn't going to deter his career dreams. Only when Leo has resigned himself to this turn of events does he sit Martin down and tell him about the tragic events of that summer so long ago.

It seems that in 1943, when Leo was 16 years old, his doctor father, Samuel, took him on as his extern, and commenced to lead him around on his cases, hoping to instill in the boy a desire to follow in his professional footsteps. Leo's excitement and innocence, though, were quickly extinguished as he witnessed the darker side of Samuel Firestone's medical practice. Even as World War II-era America was denying itself medicines, food and even metal in order to support its troops fighting in Europe, Samuel was able to tap into a black market for drugs that were unavailable to more law-abiding medicos. And on the very first night Leo accompanied his dad on a call, he saw Samuel pronounce a man dead of a heart attack -- a man whom Leo, despite the infancy of his medical knowledge, knew had perished of something quite different.

Almost every day after that would reveal to Leo another layer of his father's dubious practice -- the abortions, the baby selling, supplying drugs to an addict. It finally got to be more than Leo could take. He sought refuge next door with his girlfriend, Harmony Belmont, to whom he bared his soul. She quickly became caught up in the frightening story and urged Leo to track down evidence of Samuel's misdeeds before he pronounced his father criminally complicit. That effort ultimately lead the boy to the Fleischmann Scrapyard. Under the premise of repairing a music box, Leo wound up listening in on a conversation there that placed him in a dire position with Samuel's nefarious sometime-business partner, Murray Fleischmann, as well as Murray's father (and the elder Firestone's full-time adversary), Oscar Fleischmann. Young Harmony and Leo were now in dire straits, and only the father he no longer believed in could help them.

More than half a century later, Martin Firestone is dumbstruck by this account. But, like Leo before him, Martin senses there is some kind of tale within this tale. There are loose ends that need tying up. So Martin decides to return to Hobart and pick up the trail of this mystery again. As a result, the crack in that Garden State community reopens and ghosts fly out, each with its own story to tell.

Karp has built his name on a series of antiques mysteries, featuring Thomas Purdue (The Midnight Special). But with First, Do No Harm he proves himself equally adept at writing standalones. This is a yarn steeped in history, personal ethics and the physician's imperative. It's ending provides a powerful example of the difference between a boy's beliefs and a grown man's conscience. -- Reviewed by Jennifer Jordan

* * *

Forget Atkins and South Beach and all that crap -- the coolest consumption regimen around these days, by far, is an all-pulp, high-protein, low-literary-fat diet that's coming to a bookstore near you very soon. And one of the leading suppliers is Hard Case Crime, an upstart publishing imprint that intends to bring you "the best in hard-boiled crime fiction, ranging from lost noir masterpieces to new novels by today's most powerful writers, featuring stunning original cover art in the grand pulp style."

But the men behind Hard Case aren't just publishers with a yen for the good stuff -- Richard Aleas (aka Charles Ardai) and Max Phillips are also practitioners, the authors of the first two original novels in their lineup.

I know, I know: It sounds like just another vanity press shell game, but it's not. Aleas/Ardai and Phillips aren't in this merely to toot their own literary horns -- they plan to bring others along for the ride, as well. Classic reprints from pulp-meisters such as Lawrence Block, Erle Stanley Gardner, Max Allan Collins, Donald E. Westlake, Day Keene and Wade Miller are already available or on their way, together with original works by promising hard-boiled newcomers like Domenic Stansberry, Allan Guthrie and Peter Pavia to come.

My guess is that, during their formative years, little Charlie and Maxie both fed on pulp-fiction paperback originals from the 1950s and early 60s. And that early exposure to tough-talking losers, drifters and grifters who do what they must to survive in a world that's rigged against them, and where the love of a good woman is usually just another con seems to have paid off.

Phillips' Fade to Blonde immediately sets the standard for this imprint. It's a sharp, savvy and unapologetically raunchy pastiche about failed fighter and Hollywood screenwriter-turned-construction worker Ray Corson, a rough-and-tumble guy always on the lookout for a little extra geetus. But when failed actress-turned-hat check girl Rebecca LaFontaine (don't you just dig that name?) asks Ray to protect her from a former boyfriend (a failed actor who's now a pornographer and mobster wannabe), things take a decided turn toward the nasty. Of course, it's shouldn't come as a shock to discover that Rebecca is more than a little truth-challenged, and that things promptly go to hell. But Phillips manages to bring some real spirit and spit to these proceedings, dishing out great sexually charged banter and at least one scene of violence that's delivered so matter-of-factly, I swear I read the same sentence over and over, not believing my eyes. Phillips' 50s-era Hollywood may be a seedy maelstrom of broken dreams and desperate losers, but this taut, hard novel is a winner.

Meanwhile, Phillips' partner in crime, Aleas (and doesn't Ardai deserve to be slapped around at least a bit for that punnish pen name?) has come up with his own slice of pulp heaven. Little Girl Lost chucks the easy nostalgic lure of the past, and plunks his story smack dab in the present, although it's no less retro in spirit than Fade to Blonde. John Blake is a young New York City private eye, 10 years out of high school, who's not quite as jaded and world-weary as he thinks he is. In fact, innocence -- and its inevitable demise -- form the backbone of this story. It seems Blake's high-school sweetie, Miranda Sugarman (another great moniker), took a powder a decade or so ago, but has suddenly reappeared in the Big Apple and in John's life. Unfortunately, their reunion isn't a happy one -- Blake learns about her return in a Daily News article, under the headline "Stripper Murdered." Against his older partner's wishes, Blake decides to look into Miranda's death on his own dime, and find out how it all went wrong for his dream girl.

Naturally, reality turns out to be a bitch. Little Girl Lost is classic pulp, with a hearty dash of voyeuristic sleaze tossed into the mix: love-struck lesbians, well-endowed strippers and assorted treacherous -- but friendly -- babes all get their close-ups in these pages. Plus, there's at least one plot device so hoary you can't believe Aleas would dare use it. Yet he does -- to great effect.

But that's part of the charm of these books. In sticking to the tried-and-true, the Hard Case boys may not be breaking much new ground, but in a publishing world where puffy, bloated and padded "character studies" are passed off as high-brow crime "literature," and plodding 400-page mysteries are becoming the norm, it's a pleasant jolt to read something lean and mean that gets in and gets out in 250 pages or less, yet still manages to rock the house. Things happen in these novels, and they happen fast. Phillips and Aleas have put the fun back into crime fiction, and from where I sit, that's no crime at all.

If Hard Case can keep this kind of quality going (and its impressive line-up of upcoming reprints will certainly help), there'll be a whole lot of crime-fiction fans thinking about changing their reading habits. And maybe even a few alleged crime writers will reconsider their diets. -- Reviewed by Kevin Burton Smith

* * *

Christopher Mills was apparently reared on much the same high-pulp fare as the Hard Case crew, though his diet also included old Manhunt magazines, crime comics and heist movies. Now all grown up, Mills has produced one hell of a tribute to his misspent youth. Gravedigger: The Scavengers (Rorschach Entertainment) is one surly crime comic, a grim, fatalistic standalone that's about as gentle and soothing as a set of bloody brass knuckles.

It hits hard and fast, opening in grand B-film fashion with a man, "Digger" McCrae, having been left to die in a Mexican desert, bleeding out from a gunshot wound, watching the vultures circle and waiting for the noonday sun to polish him off. As he remarks, "[B]leedin' to death takes too damn long." So while Digger waits patiently for the Grim Reaper, and ponders whether to speed that meeting along, he recalls -- in true noir style and glorious black-and-white, no less -- the chain of events that lead him to this crossroads.

Refreshingly, McCrae makes no bones about his profession. No apologies, no excuses -- he is what he is: a thief. A detail man, figuring angles, covering bases, usually called in to fine-tune other criminals' schemes -- for a percentage. His only allegiance is to himself, and the only virtue he seems to recognize is professionalism. Fresh out of the pen, after a three-year stint that was the result of "bad luck," Digger needs a big score. Thus, he signs on with Red (another pro, but "volatile") to hijack an arms deal. The only hitch in the plan is Angel, Red's woman. As Digger remarks, "Bring a dame into a job and she'll queer the deal sure as shit."

Honor among thieves? Hah! The best Digger can say about one of his accomplices is that he "distrusts him less than anyone else in the room." Touching, eh? But Gravedigger is a nasty Molotov cocktail of betrayal, greed, violence, betrayal, rape and, oh yeah, more betrayal. There are even a few plot twists I didn't see coming. And believe me, when things go bad, they go really bad.

Part of the fun here, besides some of Digger's deadpan observations about the working life of a professional bad guy, is the broad-shouldered artwork by Rick "The Batman Adventures" Burchett. With it's clean bold lines, its straightforward, pretension-free layout and its pulpish energy, this standalone deliberately evokes classic 50s comic work, while its homage to crime films (there are sly winks to everything from archetypes such as The Killers and Point Blank to more modern fare like Reservoir Dogs and Payback) is very intentional and very cool, indeed. And it's no coincidence that Digger is a dead ringer for seminally stylish movie tough guy Lee Marvin (or that Red bears more than a passing resemblance to David Caruso).

And that's the way it should be. Gravedigger: The Scavengers is the great lost film Lee Marvin coulda (and shoulda) done -- straight-up hard stuff, no chaser. It may go down easy, but it packs a punch like those brass knucks I mentioned. Let's hope Mills and Burchett serve up another, longer round of murder and mayhem soon. -- K.B.S.

* * *

With the popularity of Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven, the rescue of young kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart and the success of Betty Webb's novel Desert Wives, the Mormon Church has been buried in more than its fair share of negative publicity over the last few years. The publication of Natalie R. Collins' Wives and Sisters (St. Martin's Minotaur) seems to be yet another nail in that coffin, as the atrocities committed by the Church and its members are spotlighted here in a stark and very gruesome light.

In 1972, when Utah resident Allison Jensen was just 6 years old, she saw her childhood friend Cindy Caldwell abducted from the woods near her home, never to be seen again. Later, when Allison recognized the kidnapper at her own Mormon Church, she was quickly quieted and punished for her blasphemous proclamations. Her childhood would continue to be rather bleak, as the death of her mother only increased the domination and abuse perpetuated by her father in an attempt to mold his children into members of a "perfect Mormon family."

Although Allison convinced herself that she had escaped the Church and her father by leaving home at age 18, she lived a life of promiscuity purposely designed to incite her father. What finally shatters her life is a brutal rape and the belief that it was committed by her brother-in-law, Mark Peterson, an abusive husband who is much favored by Allison's father.

As Allison grows increasingly convinced that Peterson is a sexual predator, she must fight the wishes of the Church and her own family that she remain silent. Fortunately, she finds allies in her lesbian aunt and two police officers, who not only believe her allegations but show an interest in becoming more than just her protectors. Allison will need all of this support, and more, after yet another horrific act of violence devastates her and reinforces her determination to see justice done.

What saves this debut novel from being a wholly dismal diatribe against Mormon atrocities is heroine Allison Jensen. Despite her tortured childhood and the traumas that continue to plague her, she remains a steadfast, likable and determined character. While she was, for a time, pointedly licentious, acting out in rebellion against her domineering dad, after being raped she develops an identity separate from the Church and her progenitor. Her conviction to make Peterson pay for his monstrous crime, even in the face of tremendous pressure from fellow Mormons and her family, is both remarkable and admirable.

Because of its depressing themes, I was reluctant to tackle Wives and Sisters, fearing it would ruin my day. But once I began, I was unable to stop. Collins, a journalist and lifelong resident of Utah, who was reared in the Mormon Church, draws readers in with her strong writing and compelling plot. Where she strains credibility is in having Allison attract, ultimately, three police officers intent on courting her, despite the protagonist being a recent victim of rape. That's a little disquieting, in addition to being unprofessional on the part of the cops. Still, as Collins expands on the personalities of the various suitors, their actions become both more understandable and acceptable. By this tale's conclusion, the willingness of the Church to turn a blind eye to abusive behavior is recognized as even crueler than the acts of violation themselves. An outstanding introduction to Collins' fiction, Wives and Sisters stirs up emotions in the reader that will resonate long after he or she has closed the book. -- Reviewed by Cindy Chow

* * *

Top Kiernan is the sort of librarian I dream of being. I mean, how many librarians do you know who also bill themselves as part-time mercenaries? Although Top originally formed his Athens, Georgia, research firm, Polymath, as a tax dodge, it has since become his primary source of income. But a vengeful ex-employee/ex-lover puts the venture in jeopardy in Sam Hill's sophomore novel, Buzz Riff (Carroll & Graf). Top and his band of researchers must contend here with bigots and Southern memorabilia fanatics at the same time as they struggle to save their company, their homes and their own lives.

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." Top should have paid a lot more attention to that hoary adage, for his personal and professional rejection of Gillie Marcianello Lynfield has led her to swear out vengeance and promise that she will destroy his business, evict him from the school building where he lives and works, and see that he's thrown in jail. Fired for stealing a client from Top (in Buzz Monkey, reviewed in "The Rap Sheet" 9-10/03), Gillie is off to a handsome start on her campaign of retaliation when she opens a rival research outfit, contrives to steal Polymath's employees, makes off its funds, filches more of Kiernan's customers and sics the feds on his ass. Even with all that, though, nice-guy Top can't bring himself to hang up on Gillie as she gloats over the phone.

As a result of this rampage, Top needs all the cash he can get. Which is why he's willing to take on a client such as Jay Pope-Scott, an apparently racist professor who has just lost a valuable Confederate flag to theft. Believed to have been the same banner used to bind Lieutenant General "Stonewall" Jackson's Civil War wounds, the artifact is coveted by a number of rich Confederate memorabilia collectors.

Hoping to recover that "hot property," Top Kiernan goes hunting for the most likely buyer. This puts him into the company of eccentric southerners, militiamen, religious fanatics and even Klansman. Were it not for the "buzz" Top gets every time he's involved in a case, he might give up completely on this one. But he's having too much fun. Looking for the missing Stars and Bars, while also forging alibis for Polymath's retaliatory attacks on Gillie (most of which seem to involve bar fights), our hero is experiencing the ultimate buzz.

This second installment of the Top Kiernan mystery series is another rollicking read. Like Buzz Monkey, this book has its share of diverse, oddball characters, including renegade smuggler Dee Lane, quiet but deadly "Benny the Blade" Culpepper, and, of course, the ruthless and resourceful Gillie. Top himself is reminiscent of the old-fashioned noir detective -- tough in a fight and dedicated more to justice than the law, but a softy when it comes to women. Even better than its predecessor, Buzz Riff is sure to win an enthusiastic readership, and it confirms Hill as a notable emerging author of offbeat and hilarious caper works. -- C.C.

* * *

There are some reunions one is better off missing. That definitely proves true in Sue Walker's The Reunion (Morrow), a haunting story in which the "classmates" are of a radically different sort.

In the late 1970s, seven teenagers were housed in an experimental Edinburgh mental institution ("the Unit") for treatment of ills ranging from pyromania to depression. After release, they remained in contact with one another. But as a murderer stalks them, the former patients must reunite once more -- to protect themselves, and despite the potentially shattering outcome.

Of the seven members of this lot, London resident Innes Haldane looks to have forged the most normal of lives. Sent to the Unit for uncontrollable behavior and promiscuity, she has since become a well-paid senior member of the Official Receiver's Office, where she deals with debtors going into bankruptcy. But a phone message from one of her fellow inmates shreds Innes' settled existence. Before she can even consider answering that message, the caller, beautiful, abused Isabella "Abby" Velasco, is found dead, floating in a swimming pool. She was not the first of their "class" to perish under dubious circumstances, nor will she be the last. Soon to follow her is Danny Rintoul, whom Abby had recently begun seeing. Innes remembers Danny as a nice boy, except for the fact that at age 14, he raped an even younger child. Rounding out this group of misfits are the depressed Simon Calder; psychotically violent and self-mutilating Alexandra Baxendale; manic depressive and obese Lydia Young; and drug-addicted Caroline Franks.

Justifiably alarmed at the Unit's dwindling ranks, Innes decides to track down the surviving members and, she hopes, prevent further deaths. However, tragedies have already plagued her fellow former patients. Lydia's entire family burned to death in their home, leaving her catatonic and institutionalized, while Simon's daughter was abducted and his family devastated. As Innes learns more, she comes to believe that these traumatic events all relate somehow to a field trip the Unit took 20 years ago. In order to save her surviving classmates, she must finally bring the truth of that trip to light.

The novel's most severe fault may be that it never leads the reader to feel any real sympathy for the characters. They remain distant beings throughout. This may be a result of The Reunion's shifting viewpoints as well as its parallel timelines, which can often be confusing and distracting. When the secret these formerly troubled teens have been hoarding for so very long is finally revealed, its abhorrent scope may do more to revolt than satisfy the reader. Still, Walker makes expert use of hints to coax the reader along to her story's tragic conclusion. This psychological suspense thriller is unusual, in that it's told from the perspective of the patients, rather than the doctors. And Walker's prose is so well-polished, that readers will be prone to forgive the book's flaws. Though she's currently an investigative journalist with BBC-TV News, Walker could definitely have a future as an author of captivating suspense novels. -- C.C.

In the News

Jasper Fforde, author of the popular Thursday Next series, including this year's Something Rotten, talks with Canada's Globe and Mail about his obvious passion for books, his next novel ("a police procedural focusing on the case of Humpty Dumpty's great fall") and how his latest book differs from the previous Nexts: "There's a lot more satire in Something Rotten, probably because in the world climate of politics at the moment there is a great deal of room for it." Read more.

Speaking of interviews ... That fine British Webzine Shots returns with another new cornucopia of enlightening exchanges with novelists, the subjects this time ranging from Edward Wright (While I Disappear) and Dan Fesperman (The Warlord's Son), to Margaret Doody (Poison in Athens) and William Kent Krueger (Blood Hollow). Also to be found in this latest issue: short stories by J.A. Konrath and Gerald So; an appreciation of Lawrence Block's work, written by Simon Kernick; and a rather quirky tour of Istanbul, from Barbara Nadel. Read more.

Quick: Who's the top-selling crime writer in Australia? If you guessed Peter Temple, Jon Cleary or Peter Corris, you are (unfortunately) wrong. Instead, it's the strikingly curvaceous model-turned-novelist Tara Moss, author of Covet. Read more.

James Ellroy tells The Seattle Times that he's writing the final book in his trilogy that includes American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand; disses Robert Blake and Quentin Tarantino; and says his new story collection, Destination: Morgue, features "all my obsessions: murdered women, dogs, boxing, scandal-rag journalism, the death penalty, unsolved murders of women." Read more.

Salon's thought-provoking retrospective on Graham Greene, 100 years after his birth, casts the author of The Quiet American as "a cool analyst of human venality and corruption -- who warned us long ago about the terrible effects of America's naïve meddling in other nations' affairs." Read more (subscription only).

U.S. Court of Appeals judge Richard A. Posner uses the publication of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories, written by Arthur Conan Doyle and edited by Leslie S. Klinger, as a pretext to bash the Holmes canon as deficient of both scientific and literary merit. "The Holmes stories and the Holmes persona seem to me wildly overrated," he opines in The New Republic, "and this annotated edition an eccentric venture, though no more so than the online worlds of which it is the print counterpart. People are entitled to their harmless obsessions ..." Read more (free registration required).

Showing greater respect for the Great Detective (despite his myriad flaws, more obvious nowadays than they were when Conan Doyle wrote his stories) is Laura Miller, who writes in The New York Times that "the world is full of frivolous things people insist on taking very seriously (like fashion and professional sports), but Sherlock Holmes is not one of them. It may be a labored game to pretend to believe in him, but it will always be a game. He is constructed out of the stuff and spirit of pure play." Read more.

Reinforcing international poll results that show George W. Bush to be extremely unpopular abroad, British spy novelist John le Carré writes in the Los Angeles Times that the only conceivable reason for electing Bush to a second White House term would be "to force him to live with the consequences of his appalling actions and answer for his own lies, rather than wish the job on a Democrat who would then get blamed for his predecessor's follies." Read more.

Robert B. Parker, still prolific at 72, talks with about his fourth and latest Sunny Randall novel, Melancholy Baby, his limited reading habits ("I read Elmore Leonard, and I don't really read any other crime fiction"), his unusual living arrangements and two gay sons, and why he thinks that All Our Yesterdays (1994) and Double Play (2004) are his best novels. Read more.

For the Mystery Readers International Web site, Carole Nelson Douglas talks with fellow novelist Anne Perry about the pleasures and pains of composing historical mysteries, Perry's research techniques, how her grandfather's life inspired her to create a series backdropped by World War I, and the influence of her Mormon faith on Perry's prose. Read more.

"I write about pain, because I think it's actually treated so lightly in thrillers. I don't do that. I deal in pain. I write about pain." So says novelist and TV producer Lynda La Plante, in a wide-ranging interview with Scotland's Sunday Herald that touches on her new novel, Above Suspicion, her difficult personal story and late-life adoption of a child, and the real-life tragedies that have inspired her fiction. Read more.

CUFF NOTES: Russian novelist Boris Akunin's The Turkish Gambit, his third Erast Fandorin adventure (after The Winter Queen and Murder on the Leviathan), isn't scheduled for publication in Great Britain until late December, and it won't reach the States till the spring of next year. But already, a second mystery series from Akunin is being readied to roll out in English translation, this one featuring Sister Pelagia, a young, red-headed and bespectacled 19th-century Russian nun who's in the habit of solving crimes in her spare time. Look for Pelagia and the White Bulldog, Pelagia and the Black Monk and Pelagia and the Red Cockerel, all from UK house Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ... Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, married mystery makers and recent collaborators (Double Homicide), win cover treatment in the fall edition of Mystery Scene. But a few of the other stories inside are actually more winning. These include Jon L. Breen's verdict on current courtroom fiction; Kevin Burton Smith's interview with Gloria Fickling, co-creator (with her late husband) of daring distaff detective Honey West; and Mary V. Welk's survey of small, independent mystery presses. ... After a three-year absence, the scholarly Clues: A Journal of Detection, originally published by Bowling Green State University's Popular Press, has been relaunched by Heldref Publications. The fall 2004 issue celebrates the centenary of mystery writer Margery Allingham, with future quarterly issues to feature articles about Dashiell Hammett and Sara Paretsky. To learn more, click over to the Clues Web site. ... And still more reasons to live: Edward Marston's second Inspector Robert Colbeck historical mystery, The Excursion Train (Allison & Busby UK), is due out come January, while Peter Robinson's latest Alan Banks novel, Strange Affair (Morrow), and Con Lehane's second Brian McNulty novel, What Goes Around Comes Around (St. Martin's Minotaur), are both scheduled for publication in February. ... Finally, don't forget to check out January Magazine's new crime-fiction "pick of the week," updated each Monday on the Crime Fiction page.

Our Man at Bouchercon

The 35th Anthony Boucher Memorial World Mystery Convention (usually referred to as Bouchercon) was held in Toronto, Canada, from October 7 through 10. The event, named for Anthony Parker White (1911-1968), a foremost mystery reviewer and -- under the nom de plume "Anthony Boucher" -- crime novelist, drew more than 3,000 attendees. Almost unanimously, the convention was hailed as one of the best of the past few years (and the Hotel Inter-Continental was certainly a step up from the dive that housed Bouchercon 2003 in Las Vegas, Nevada). ... For those who don't know, Bouchercon is a four-day smorgasbord of panels, readings, book selling, awards dinners and countless hours of talking to favorite authors about craft. There were 79 panel discussions in all, ranging from the theoretical ("Can Crime Novels Be Great Novels?") to the practical ("Due Process: From Writing to Agenting to Editing"), the quirky ("Thinking Dirty: The New Noir") to the cutting edge ("New Wave Murder"). There were too many authors to fully mention here (approximately 375 in attendance), but some of the stars rubbing elbows with fans included Lee Child, Michael Connelly, S.J. Rozan, Dennis Lehane, Jan Burke, Sara Paretsky, Peter Robinson, Robert Wilson, Sujata Massey, Val McDermid, Steve Hamilton, Laura Lippman and Ian Rankin. Plus, there were noteworthy literary agents such as Dominick Abel and Amy Rennert. It was important to treat Bouchercon like a marathon -- pacing yourself was key. Especially considering that late evenings were spent drinking at the hotel bar, discussing why we all love mysteries so damn much. ... Panels ran every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ending earlier on Sunday), with all of them drawing respectable crowds, though most folks who showed up for the 9 a.m. presentations did so with very large cups of coffee, brought from the local Timothy's. (Is it just me, or are those Canadian $2 coins confusing?) I gravitated toward panels that dealt with the world of noir vs. hard-boiled, and what it meant to be either one or the other, and whether both could exist simultaneously in a novel. Authors Jim Doherty and Richard Helms ("The Great Noir Debate"), and Jason Starr and Ken Bruen ("Following Ripley: The Villain as Hero") debated this range of issues articulately and passionately, and although nothing definitive could be agreed upon (You've heard the saying, right? "Ask two writers their opinion and you'll get four answers"), the attention clearly indicated that noir and hard-boiled fiction are thriving, with a current trend toward the protagonist as killer. ... New this year were the "20 on the 20" sessions, which gave authors 20 minutes to talk about or perform whatever they chose -- within the limits of the law, of course. These sessions were hugely varied and popular. Many people, such as Jonathan Santlofer and Elaine Viets, chose to remark on their new books, while others talked about subjects that were often encompassed within their works -- Twist Phelan, for instance, gave listeners the lowdown on cross-country bike riding, and Robin Burcell talked about police work and how to go about catching "bad guys." Several authors simply read from their latest novels and answered questions. Kate Gallison, on the other hand, let it be known that she would tap dance and set her hair on fire. While I only had time enough to catch a few minutes of her hoofing (nice job), I did spy Kate across the lobby at check-out, and noticed a full head of hair and no burn marks (I guess everything went well). ... The book dealers' room ebbed and flowed with convention-goers, depending on whether folks were getting out of or going in to panels. Nonetheless, virtually everyone took time to peruse table-loads of volumes representing stores and dealers from around the United States and Canada. I was most thankful to a dealer from St. Louis, who found me a copy of Jim Born's new novel, Walking Money -- the only dealer in the room who had one on hand. ... The Mystery Writers of America cocktail reception, held on Friday night, was a particular hit, with kudos going to Margery Flax, who runs the MWA national office and had organized that affair. Among the authors sighted at the reception were Alafair Burke, Jim Born, Steven Sidor, Lee Child, Barry Eisler and Lee Goldberg (who was repeatedly referred to as "Lee Goldstein," much to his good-natured chagrin). Given the guest list, this was naturally a stimulating party, though the cash bar may also have contributed to its prevailing conviviality. ... Friday's Michael Connelly/Dennis Lehane panel, "Place as Character," was one of the more intriguing of the bunch, and also drew the largest crowd. Lehane talked about his next standalone novel, which has to do with police riots in 1918. The book is set mainly in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Lehane said it is his most thoroughly researched work yet. Connelly, meanwhile, revealed that Harry Bosch will never leave Los Angeles (though the author himself now lives in Naples, Florida). However, Bosch may well travel beyond California's borders in his next outing. ... One of my other favorite Friday panels was "Fight, Fight, Fight: What the Real Thing Looks Like." It was based on a demonstration by professional fight trainer Shah Franco, who has trained in the Israeli Army, and others. Franco demonstrated various realistic fight techniques that writers could use for both the heroes and villains in their novels, and the fallacies to watch out for. (One thing to remember: If your character gets hit in the face, he or she is going to bruise up and have one serious headache). The adorable Laura Lippman asked several pertinent questions during this discussion and seemed transfixed by the simulated techniques. Or was it just the instructor's rock-hard body that drew her notice? ... The Saturday panel on which Sara Paretsky sat, "Old Wounds: The Effects of Violence," ably moderated by Jon Jordan of Crime Spree magazine, provided an interesting moment, when both Paretsky and Jan Burke indicated that the violence they incorporate into their novels is actually mined from their memories of working in corporate America. And you thought your day-job was only a drag. ... When asked by Jordan what he had in his refrigerator at home, Lee Child responded "only coffee." Spoken like a true writer. ... The Anthony Awards ceremony on Saturday night capped off this year's conference, with only few panels left on Sunday for those people who didn't want to admit it was over, and that they'd have to wait until Chicago next year to "do" Bouchercon once more. -- Anthony Rainone

Last Rewards

Well, the prizes have been handed out. All that's left is the second-guessing. Among the big winners at the 35th Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, held in Toronto, Ontario, in mid-October, were Laura Lippman, who picked up both the Anthony and Barry awards for Best Novel, and Gary Warren Niehbur, who also scored top honors twice with his non-fiction guide to mystery and detective fiction, impressing the Macavity and Anthony judges. Congratulations are due the winners. But it's a disappointment not to see Robert Ferrigno's Scavenger Hunt win the Shamus for Best Novel (even though Ken Bruen's The Guards was certainly a strong work), and how did P.J. Tracy's Monkeewrench make it past both William Landay's Mission Flats and Edward Wright's Clea's Moon to nab the Barry Award for Best First Novel? Furthermore, why did some of last year's most remarkable works -- among them Robert Wilson's The Blind Man of Seville, John MacLachlan Gray's The Fiend in Human, Anthony O'Neill's The Lamplighter and George P. Pelecanos' Soul Circus -- not even make the final nominating lists for the commendations dispensed during Bouchercon? It would be a feather in the cap of awards judges at next year's convention if they could deliver more surprises than this year's bunch did. Only the Hammett Prize judges presented us with the unexpected, as they championed the literary endeavors of lesser-known novelist Carol Goodman.


Best Novel: Every Secret Thing, by Laura Lippman (Morrow)

Also nominated: Blood Is the Sky, by Steve Hamilton (St. Martin's Minotaur); The Delicate Storm, by Giles Blunt (Random House); Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane (Morrow); and The Summer That Never Was (aka Close to Home), by Peter Robinson (McClelland and Stewart)

Best First Novel: Monkeewrench (aka Want to Play?), by P.J. Tracy (Putnam)

Also nominated: Death of a Nationalist, by Rebecca C. Pawel (Soho Press); Haunted Ground, by Erin Hart (Simon & Schuster); Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Press); and Wiley's Lament, by Lono Waiwaiole (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Best Paperback Original: Deadly Legacy, by Robin Burcell (Avon)

Also nominated: Dealing in Murder, by Elaine Flinn (Avon); Find Me Again, by Sylvia Maultash Warsh (Dundurn Press); Thicker Than Water, by P.J. Parrish (Pinnacle Press); and Tough Luck, by Jason Starr (Vintage/Black Lizard)

Best Short Story: "Doppelganger," by Rhys Bowen (in Blood on Their Hands, edited by Lawrence Block; Berkley Prime Crime)

Also nominated: "The Grass Is Always Greener," by Sandy Balzo (in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], March 2003); "Munchies," by Jack Bludis (in Hardbroiled, edited by Michael Bracken; Wild Side Press); "Red Meat," by Elaine Viets (in Blood on Their Hands); and "Wanda Wilcox Is Trapped," by Eddie Muller (in Plots with Guns, September/October 2003)

Best Young Adult Mystery: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling (Bloomsbury)

Also nominated: Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code, by Eoin Colfer (Viking Children's Books); Feast of Fools, by Bridget Crowley (Hodder Children's Books); No Escape, by Norah McClintock (Scholastic); and Seventh Knot, by Kathleen Karr (Marshall Cavendish)

Best Historical Mystery: For the Love of Mike, by Rhys Bowen (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Also nominated: Find Me Again, by Sylvia Maultash Warsh (Dundurn Press); Let Loose the Dogs, by Maureen Jennings (St. Martin's Minotaur); Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Press); and The Bridge of Sighs, by Olen Steinhauer (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Best Critical/Non-Fiction Work: Make Mine a Mystery: A Reader's Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction, by Gary Warren Niebuhr (Libraries Unlimited)

Also nominated: Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith, by Andrew Wilson (Bloomsbury); Interrogations, by Jon Jordan (Mystery One Books); Mystery Women: An Encyclopedia of Leading Women Characters in Mystery Fiction, Volume 3, by Colleen Barnett (Poisoned Pen Press); and The Story of Jane Doe: A Book About Rape, by Jane Doe (Random House)

Best Fan Publication: Mystery Scene, edited by Kate Stine

Also nominated: Deadly Pleasures, edited by George Easter; The Drood Review, edited by Jim Huang; Mystery News, edited by Lynn Kaczmarek and Chris Aldrich; and Mystery Readers Journal, edited by Janet A. Rudolph

Lifetime Achievement Award: Bernard Cornwell

(presented by the
Private Eye Writers of America)

Best Novel: The Guards, by Ken Bruen (St. Martin's Minotaur) -- reviewed in "RS" 1/04

Also nominated: Scavenger Hunt, by Robert Ferrigno (Pantheon); Blood Is the Sky, by Steve Hamilton (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's); Fatal Flaw, by William Lashner (Morrow); and A Visible Darkness, by Jonathon King (Dutton)

Best First Novel: Black Maps, by Peter Spiegelman (Knopf)

Also nominated: Spiked, by Mark Arsenault (Poisoned Pen Press), and Lover's Crossing, by James C. Mitchell (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Best Paperback Original: Cold Quarry, by Andy Straka (Signet)

Also nominated: Thicker Than Water, by P.J. Parrish (Pinnacle); Wet Debt, by Richard Helms (Back Alley); and Dragonfly Bones, by David Cole (Avon)

Best Short Story: "Lady on Ice," by Loren D. Estleman (in A Hot and Sultry Night for Crime, edited by Jeffery Deaver; Berkley Prime Crime)

Also nominated: "Munchies," by Jack Bludis (in Hardbroiled, edited by Michael Bracken; Wildside Press); "The Rock in the Orange Grove," by Mitch Alderman (in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine [AHMM], June 2003); "Slayer Statute," by Janet Dawson (in EQMM, September/October 2003); and "Valhalla," by Doug Allyn (in EQMM, January 2003)

The Eye Award (for lifetime achievement): Donald Westlake (to read Westlake's comments about this award, click here)

(nominated and voted on by members of
Mystery Readers International)

Best Mystery Novel: The House Sitter, by Peter Lovesey (Soho Press) -- reviewed in "RS" 6/03

Also nominated: The Delicate Storm, by Giles Blunt (Putnam); For the Love of Mike, by Rhys Bowen (St. Martin's); The Guards, by Ken Bruen (St. Martin's Minotaur); and Done for a Dime, by David Corbett (Ballantine)

Best First Mystery Novel: Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Press) -- reviewed in "RS" 7-8/03

Also nominated: Night of the Dance, by James Hime (St. Martin's Minotaur); Death of a Nationalist, by Rebecca C. Pawel (Soho Press); and The Bridge of Sighs, by Olen Steinhauer (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Best Non-Fiction: Make Mine a Mystery: A Reader's Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction, by Gary Warren Niebuhr (Libraries Unlimited)

Also nominated: 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); and Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith, by Andrew Wilson (Bloomsbury)

Best Short Story: "The Grass Is Always Greener," by Sandy Balzo (EQMM, March 2003)

Also nominated: "Rogues Gallery," by Robert Barnard (EQMM, March 2003); "Texas Two-Step," by Diana Deverell (AHMM, February 2003); "No Man's Land," by Beth Foxwell (in Blood on Their Hands, edited by Lawrence Block; Berkley Prime Crime); "War Crimes," by G. Miki Hayden (in A Hot and Sultry Night for Crime, edited by Jeffery Deaver; Berkley Prime Crime); "Child Support," by Ronnie Klaskin (in A Hot and Sultry Night for Crime); "Red Meat," by Elaine Viets (in Blood on Their Hands)

(winners chosen by subscribers to
Deadly Pleasures magazine)

Best Mystery Novel: Every Secret Thing, by Laura Lippman (Morrow)

Also nominated: The Guards, by Ken Bruen (St. Martin's Minotaur); The Small Boat of Great Sorrows, by Dan Fesperman (Knopf); Keeping Watch, by Laurie R. King (Bantam); Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane (Morrow); and A Fountain Filled with Blood, by Julia Spencer-Fleming (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Best First Mystery Novel: Monkeewrench, by P.J. Tracy (Putnam)

Also nominated: Mission Flats, by Bill Landay (Delacorte); The Bridge of Sighs, by Olen Steinhauer (St. Martin's Minotaur); The Barbed-Wire Kiss, by Wallace Stroby (St. Martin's Minotaur); Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Press); and Clea's Moon, by Edward Wright (Putnam)

Best British Mystery Novel: The Distant Echo, by Val McDermid (HarperCollins UK) -- reviewed in "RS" 5/03)

Also nominated: Lazybones, by Mark Billingham (Little, Brown UK); Full Dark House, by Christopher Fowler (Doubleday UK); The Murder Exchange, by Simon Kernick (Bantam Press UK); The House Sitter, by Peter Lovesey (Little, Brown UK); and The American Boy (aka An Unpardonable Crime), by Andrew Taylor (Flamingo UK)

Best Paperback Original: Tough Luck, by Jason Starr (Vintage/Black Lizard)

Also nominated: Dealing in Murder, by Elaine Flinn (Avon); Wisdom of the Bones, by Christopher Hyde (Onyx); The Courier, by Jay MacLarty (Pocket Star); The Shadow of Venus, by Judith Van Gieson (Signet); and Murder Between the Covers, by Elaine Viets (Signet)

Best Mystery Short Story: "Rogues' Gallery," Robert Barnard (EQMM, March 2003)

Also nominated: "The Blind Pig," by Doug Allyn (EQMM, May 2003); "Always Another War," by Brendan DuBois (AHMM, July/August 2003); "The Mask of Peter," by Clark Howard (EQMM, April 2003); and "Rogue's Run," by Donald Olson (EQMM, April 2003)

The Don Sandstrom Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement in Mystery Fandom: Ted Fitzgerald, longtime contributor to The Drood Review

* * *

Also during Bouchercon, the North American Branch of the International Association of Crime Writers presented its annual Hammett Prize for literary excellence in the field of crime writing to The Seduction of Water, by Carol Goodman (Ballantine). Other contenders for this honor were: The Delicate Storm, by Giles Blunt (Random House Canada/Putnam); Tropic of Night, by Michael Gruber (Morrow); Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane (Morrow); and Every Secret Thing, by Laura Lippman (Morrow).

* * *

The Crime Writers Association of Australia has announced the winners of its 2004 Ned Kelly Awards for Australian crime writing. And the prizes go to ...

Best First Novel: (joint winners) The Walker, by Jane R. Goodall (Hodder), and Junkie Pilgrim, by Wayne Grogan (Brandl & Schlesinger)

Also nominated: Top Bloke, by Gordon Graham (Random House); Fly by Night, by Narelle Harris (Homosapien Books); Misconceptions, by Terry McGee (Pan Macmillan); Far Horizon, by Tony Park (Pan Macmillan); Rogue Element, by David Rollins (Pan Macmillan); Murder at the Fortnight, by Steve J. Spears (Wakefield); and The Cutting, by Lee Tulloch (Text)

Best Novel: Degrees of Connection, by Jon Cleary (HarperCollins)

Also nominated: The Wrong Door, by Bunty Avieson (Pan Macmillan); Rosa-Marie's Baby, by Robert G. Barrett (HarperCollins); The Vodka Dialogue, by Kirsty Brooks (Hodder); Thicker Than Water, by Lindy Cameron (HarperCollins); Blindside, by J.R. Carroll (Allen & Unwin); Master's Mates, by Peter Corris (Allen & Unwin); Until Death, by Sandy Curtis (Pan Macmillan); Who Killed Camilla?, by Emma Darcy (Pan Macmillan); The Castlemaine Murders, by Kerry Greenwood (Allen & Unwin); Earthly Delights, by Kerry Greenwood; The White Tower, by Dorothy Johnston (Wakefield); Lethal Factor, by Gabrielle Lord (Hodder); The Hana Man, by Sandy McCutcheon (HarperCollins); Verge Practice, by Barry Maitland (Allen & Unwin); and The Forger, by Robin Wallace Crabbe (Duffy & Snellgrove)

Best True Crime: Killing Juanita, by Peter Rees (Allen & Unwin)

Also nominated: The Lost German Slave Girl, by John Bailey (Pan Macmillan); Shot, by Gail Bell (Pan Macmillan); In Moral Danger, by Barbara Biggs (SLYInk); The Society Murders, by Hilary Bonney (Allen & Unwin); Doubt & Conviction, by Pippa Kay (Pippa Kay Pty); Watching the Detectives, by Deborah Locke (ABC Books); Underbelly 7, by J. and Rule Silvester (SLYInk); Love and Death in Kathmandu, by Willesee and Whittaker (Pan Macmillan); The Echo of Silent Screams, by Eric Wilson (Pennon Publishing); and Marching Powder, by Rusty Young (Pan Macmillan)

Lifetime Achievement: Bob Bottom, investigative journalist

* * *

The British Crime Writers' Association (CWA) has announced its shortlists for the 2004 Dagger Awards. Winners will be announced during a luncheon to be held at The Brewery, London, on November 9. Entrants shortlisted for the Daggers are:

Gold and Silver Daggers for Fiction: Flesh and Blood, by John Harvey (Heinemann UK); Tokyo, by Mo Hayder (Bantam Press UK); The Torment of Others, by Val McDermid (HarperCollins UK); Midnight Cab, by James W. Nichol (Canongate UK); Blacklist, by Sara Paretsky (Hamish Hamilton UK); and The Lover, by Laura Wilson (Orion UK)

Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction: Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia, by John Dickie (Hodder & Stoughton UK); The Swamp of Death: A True Tale of Victorian Lies and Murder, by Rebecca Gowers (Hamish Hamilton UK); The Trials of Hank Janson: The True Story Behind the Censorship and Banning of Hank Janson's Books in the UK, by Steve Holland (Telos Publishing); Slave: The True Story of a Girl's Lost Childhood and her Fight for Survival, by Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis (Time Warner UK); and The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London, by Sarah Wise (Jonathan Cape)

Short Story Dagger: "Dancing Towards the Blade," by Mark Billingham (from Men from Boys, edited by John Harvey; Heinemann UK); "The Weekender," by Jeffery Deaver (from his collection Twisted; Hodder & Stoughton UK); "The Consolation Blonde," by Val McDermid (from Mysterious Pleasures, edited by Martin Edwards; Little, Brown UK); "Persons Reported," by Mat Coward (from Green for Danger, edited by Martin Edwards; Do-Not-Press UK); and "Douggie Doughnuts," by Don Winslow (from Men from Boys)

John Creasey Memorial Dagger (given to first books by previously unpublished writers): The Jasmine Trade, by Denise Hamilton (Orion UK); Amagansett, by Mark Mills (Fourth Estate UK); The Three Body Problem, by Catherine Shaw (Allison & Busby UK); and The Devil's Playground, by Stav Sherez (Penguin/Michael Joseph)

Ian Fleming Steel Dagger: Garden of Beasts, by Jeffery Deaver (Hodder & Stoughton UK); The Warlord's Son, by Dan Fesperman (Transworld UK); Paranoia, by Joseph Finder (Orion UK); Tokyo, by Mo Hayder (Transworld UK); Hard Landing, by Stephen Leather (Hodder & Stoughton UK); Dead I May Well Be, by Adrian McKinty (Serpent's Tail UK); and The Confessor, by Daniel Silva (Penguin UK)

Debut Dagger (given to as-yet-unpublished books by authors around the world): George Trenque and the Old School Tie, by Paula Bouwer (Ireland); The Gardener, by Kenneth Carlisle (UK); Sleeping Dogs, by Fay Cunningham (UK); An Obscure Grave, by Jim Doherty (USA); Cheap Day Return, by Tom Flynn (Australia); The Doll Makers, by Ellen Grubb (UK); Dead Meat, by Jude Larkin (Australia); Redman's Revenge, by Andrew Murphy (Northern Ireland); Still Life, by Louise Penny (Canada); Margarita Nights, by Phyllis Smallman (Canada); Fallen Women, by Germaine Stafford (Italy); Sometimes a Prozac Notion, by Otis Twelve (USA); Murder in Crowded Hours, by Eugene Wang (USA); and Deadly Contact, by Geoffrey D. West (UK)

Dagger in the Library (given to authors nominated and judged by librarians): Mark Billingham, Christopher Brookmyre, Jim Kelly, Alexander McCall Smith, Stuart Pawson and Andrew Taylor

* * *

Meanwhile, the CWA has given the 2004 Ellis Peters Historical Dagger to Barbara Cleverly for The Damascened Blade (Constable & Robinson UK), the third entry in her India-backdropped series starring Joe Sandilands.

Also nominated for the Ellis Dagger were: The Shape of Sand, by Marjorie Eccles (Allison & Busby UK); Hell at the Breech, by Tom Franklin (Flamingo UK); The Thief Taker, by Janet Gleeson (Bantam Press UK); The Dante Club, by Matthew Pearl (Vintage UK); and The Lover, by Laura Wilson (Orion UK).

* * *

Finally, the New York City-based Wolfe Pack has announced nominees for the 2004 Nero Wolfe Award as follows:

The winner will be announced during the annual Black Orchid banquet, to be held in New York on December 4. For more information, click here.


"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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