Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pulp friction

Marines were named "teufel hunden," or devil dogs, by German fighters in WWI after the Battle of Belleau Wood. Devil Dog (subtitled: The Amazing True Story of the Man Who Saved America) is the aptly named inaugural book in the Pulp History series coming in October from Simon & Schuster (Shadow Nights: The Secret War Against Hitler follows in November).

You might not think of Smedley Darlington Butler as being the moniker for a tough guy, but this award-winning Marine major general garnered a whole heap of awards: two Medals of Honor, a Marine Corps Brevet Medal, Army Distinguished Service Medal, Navy Distiguished Service Medal and the French Order of the Black Star.

Devil Dog follows Butler's military career (he went to war at the age of 16) through the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Banana Wars, the occupation of Haiti, the Mexican Revolution, World War I, and other major and minor skirmishes. And as his military career progressed, Butler became more embittered and disillusioned with U.S. Imperialism and with the men who sent the soldiers out to die. In his 1935 book War Is a Racket, Butler described the reasons we go to war as having more to do with banks and business than with governments.

How did Butler save America? Would you believe exposing a fascist coup, a Wall Street plot to overthrow the president? That, and its bizarre investigation, are to be found in his post military years, along with his run for senate, his anti-prohibition fervor and his campaign to rid the streets of Philadelphia of bootleggers, bandits and b-girls.

Devil Dog, written by David Talbot with illustrations by Spain Rodriguez, is a fast-paced read supported by photographs, cartoon strips and newspaper clippings. Its pulpiness is redolent in its man-of-action main character, exotic locals, provocative situations, jingoistic attitudes and the occasional line scripted of purple prose.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Girl Who Satirized Larsson

How popular is the Steig Larsson trilogy? Since I'm in the mystery book business, I don't know of many who have not dipped a tentative toe into his cold, brutal waters. His books are best sellers; they're our numbers one, two and three. Customers are asking for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo DVDs (out July 6), so most of the people I run into have read him, are reading him or have his titles piled precariously on their nightstand in anticipation of reading him.

But when Nora Ephron writes a short, witty piece for The New Yorker that skewers the series' excesses and its readers' frustrations, the series must be well enough known by just about everyone...or, at least, a bit above the hoi polloi and into the consciously fashionable elite.

For those who love the series (or who love to hate it), click on the link below:

Friday, June 25, 2010

Crime writing as an art

There's a great article about mystery writing and its literary merits in London's The Guardian today. It focuses on Peter Temple and his wonderful new book, Truth. Anyone interested in the excellence of crime fiction should check it out.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reading group

It's always interesting to me to see what people choose to read ... and why.

Recently, a local book club decided that, after reading Dostoevsky, that they were looking for something a little lighter yet literary for their summer read. I collected a half dozen titles and went through them with several group members. I mentioned the usual suspects: Possession by A. S. Byatt, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

But what sold them on a book (none of the above) was the cover art and title: Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin. The medieval thriller is, of course, bloody and perverse...still I'm not one to talk anyone out of anything they might want to read. Besides, it's a great novel, well researched and well written, serving up enough surprises to please any mystery reader's palate.

I just have the nagging feeling in the back of my neck that I will hear from someone in the group who expected a more refined tale. We shall see.

Meanwhile, if you are part of a book group that discovered a recent or little known mystery you might suggest. Please let us know by clicking on Comments below.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A is for Amish

Kate Burkholder is back in Linda Castillo's latest, Pray for Silence.

Fans of Sworn to Silence, in which Chief of Police Kate Burkholder hunted down a serial killer, will find this second case just as riveting as Kate must discover who murdered an entire Amish family and possible prevent more carnage in this closed community.

New arrivals from Lancaster, Penn., the Plank family has joined the small Amish community of Painters Mill only to be slaughtered on their farm. There are few cluse, no suspects and no motives, which makes local residents anxious and Kate, no stranger to Amish life, knows that this crime is extraordinary in its execution.

What may or may not help in solving the case is the discovery of a diary that belonged to one of the dead teenaged daughters, a book filled with dark secrets and illicit rendezvous. Who was this man the young girl was meeting or are these killings a case of revenge?

While Kate's on-again-off-again relationship with John Tomasetti seems off again for the moment, Tomasetti arrives in Painters Mill to offer assistance, doing so at the risk of his own job back in the state capitol. There are a lot of ghosts from the past that both Kate and Tomasetti have to face before they can begin to get a handle on this unspeakable crime. And once they do, the danger level hightens.

Castillo immerses us in the world of the Amish, and Pray for Silence serves up an intriguing puzzle that moves at an increasing speed and offers several surprises.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Nordic nights

So you've savored every last morsel of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest and are looking for something Scandanavian to get you through the long hot summer. Luckily Steig Larsson isn't the only Nordic novelist out there, but merely one amid a rich menu to choose from.

My first journey to long winter nights was in the mysteries by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. This Swedish husband and wife duo was writing in the 1960s and gave
us a host of Martin Beck stories, the most familiar probably being The Laughing Policeman. The first in the series, Roseanna, was reissued last year and many others in the series have followed. These books are a great place to start your search for a Swedish detective series.

Other Nordic writers currently available and worth more than just a cursory look:

Hennig Mankell is the writer who kicked the doors open for Swedish writers in modern-day America. His tales of Inspector Kurt Wallander (Sidetracked, One Step Behind, Firewall, among others) were recently aired on PBS' Masterpiece Mystery and starred Kenneth Branaugh. But don't stop there. The list of Swedes continues with: Ake Edwardson's Erik Winter series; Kjell Eriksson's Ann Lindell mysteries; Asa Larsson's Rebecka Marinsson stories; Hakan Nesser's Inspector Van Veeteren; and Helene Tursten's Irene Huss series.

Tales from Norway can also be found. Currently making waves is Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series. The Redbreast introduces Hole and a world of corrupt cops and neo-Nazi nasties. Currently available in America are Redbreast, Nemesis and The Devil's Star (The Redeemer and The Snowman can be found as British imports and will, no doubt, be published in America in short order). Two other Norweigan authors worth their weight in thrills are K.O. Dahl's Frank Frolich series and Karin Fossum's Inspector Sejer, who got on mystery readers' radar with The Indian Bride (fourth in the series).

And if you haven't already done so, you also will want to introduce yourself to Arnaldur Indridason's Reykjavick mysteries, in which there are never any easy answers and where life can be as unforgiving as Iceland's isolated, bleak landscape. Five novels are currently available on these shores, beginning with Jar City and the fourth, The Draining Lake, is newly released in paperback. The fifth in this series, Arctic Chill, is in hardcover and will be followed in Sept. by Hypothermia.

Other writers (with a limited number of titles and a growing number of fans) who should be on your radar: Camilla Lackberg, Karin Alvtegen, Mari Jungstedt and (if you can find any of her titles) Kerstin Ekman, whose 1995 mystery Blackwater.has only recently be reissued in England; with any luck we will see her name back again on American bookselves.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Beach read

Come July 6 and we get Gregg Hurwitz's new thriller They're Watching...or, as it is titled in the UK: Or She Dies.

As always, Hurwitz knows how to execute a great setup -- just think of the opening of his Trust No One (due in paperback June 29). They're Watching also kicks off in high gear; it then boomerangs back 10 days to the time when part-time teacher/disgraced screenwriter Patrick Davis gets the first in a series of anonymous DVDs demonstrating that he is being closely watched. Who is watching? Well, it could be anyone from his libidinous next door neighbor to a self-centered actor to the litigious movie studio to the police to.... Well, you get the idea.

And since there is no end to the list of suspects, there is no end to the misery that Patrick Davis can suffer as he watches his marriage crumble and his academic life collapse...and those, as they say, are the good times. Soon Patrick is caught up in murder, nefarious government plots and scheming corporate activities...or is it something more personal?

This is not a murder mystery with a plot in which the suspects are all introduced early on and gathered into the library for a final solution. This, as with all Hurwitz's novels, is clockwork thriller timed with enough surprises to keep you guessing almost to the end. They're Watching is great summer reading with a popcorn sensibility; it knows it's an entertainment set on the fringes of Hollywood and it exploits all the whiz bang rollercoaster excitement of a Saturday matinee.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sign of the times

We like books.

We like to hold them, page through them and feel their heft. Each has its own personality.

With the onset of e-reading many are choosing to discard the uniqueness of a printed book in exchange for a digital library.

For book collectors the future appears bright. As more books get downloaded onto plastic display screens, printed titles become more scarce. Especially those signed by the author.

If you are not buying books in bookstores, you are not going where the signed copies are.

Of course, you can always track down your favorite authors and have them sign your e-reader, but for our money that doesn't seem like a good use of time.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The game's afoot

Sherlockians of every stripe will want to attend Sherlock Holmes: The Man and His Words, a
conference held on the Bennington College campus in Bennington, Vermont June 24-27.

The conference serves as the 20th anniversary of the
Baker Street Breakfast Club and will also celebrate 100th anniversary of the first appearance Sherlock Holmes on stage in The Speckled Band at London's Adelphi Theatre.

The conference will feature exhibits, talks, panels, dinners, theater, films, tea and croquet, and vendors, among other events. There is a registration fee and admission/reservations required for some special events.

For more information, go to: www.bakerstreetbreakfastclub.com
and click on "conference information."

Monday, June 14, 2010

Another Summer of Masterpiece Mystery

We are nearly half way into the Masterpiece Mystery season this year, so I guess it's time I got to it before the 2010 series is history.

This year kicked off with three new episode's Foyle's War, which means we've now covered May 1940 through August 1945 and, it would appear, the war is over...along with the series. If so, Michael Kitchen will be greatly missed.

Next came Miss Marple: The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side (really very good indeed) and two reruns (encore performances?): A Pocket Full of Rye and Murder Is Easy. In the weeks ahead, Miss Marple will find mystery in The Secret of Chimneys (June 20) and in The Blue Geranium (June 27), which features Sharon Small of The Inspector Lynley Mysteries.

In July, David Suchet returns as Hercule Poirot (shown above left). He will take us on a homicide-free railway ride in David Suchet on the Orient Express (July 7), and in following weeks will appear as Poirot in Murer on the Orient Express (July 11), Third Girl (July 18), Appointment with Death (July 25) and as well as a rerun of Cat Among the Pigeons (Aug. 1).

The summer season is rounded out with eight Inspector Lewis stories beginning Aug. 8, with three repeats from last season: Allegory of Love (Aug. 8), The Quality of Mercy (Aug. 15) and The Point of Vanishing (Aug. 22). Joanna Lumley, who played Miss Marple's confidante in The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, plays an aging rock star in the first new entry, Counter Culture Blues (airing Aug. 29). Inspector Lewis runs through Sept. 26 (show titles and dates to be announced), so have a happy and murderous summer.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A funny thing happened on the way to the e-reader

When it comes to e-readers, what do John Grisham, Janet Evanovich and James Patterson have in common? Yes, they are all top sellers...and, according to recent reports, they are the top three ripped-off authors when it comes to digital book theft.

J.K. Rowling, who has refused to release her Harry Potter series digitally, is also finding that "fans" are ripping her off by scanning her books and making pdf's to share with other "fans." Just like the music and film industries before them, publishers are quickly learning that they are losing control of their bread-and-butter authors.

Of course, publishers are now scrambling to safekeep their books but as long as they encourage e-reading, they will find that people will always opt for getting something for nothing instead of paying for it. And once people with digital book readers discover that the $9 they've been paying for a book will increase (a recent struggle between Kindle and MacMillan makes it inevitable), publishers can expect more electronic pilfering on the horizon.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

'Steam' heat

What with World Cup Soccer kicking off today in South Africa, it seemed like the right time to sing the praises of Soho Press, which just reissued The Steam Pig, James McClure's 1971 debut.

McClure, a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, became a British journalist. His first crime novel, The Steam Pig, changed everything for him; it won the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger and, by 1974, McClure was writing mysteries full time. He returned to journalism in 1994 and kept at that until his death in 2006, but his eight South African mysteries featuring Afrikaner Lieutenant Tromp Kramer and Zulu Detective Sergeant Mickey Zondi hold a place in every mystery readers heart.

Speaking of hearts, in The Steam Pig a beautiful blonde is believed to have died from cardiac arrest. But nothing is ever simple in a murder mystery and it is soon discovered that she has been killed by a bicycle spoke puncture to the heart, a Bantu gangster murder method. And while the crime is intriguing, now after the dismantling of apartheid, the partnership of Kramer and Zondi proves to be even more fascinating; their relationship develops over the eight books and their two-different-worlds knowledge blends to make a strong team working in a society of twisted politics and racial separation.

The crime takes place in Trekkersburg and is based on McClure's hometown of Pietermaritzburg. The town is a "laager" or defensive encampment surrounded by armoured vehicles; the blacks are called "kaffirs” (an offensive word, not dissimilar to our n-word); and, among the Afrikaners, the English are hated. This is a town of Dutch descent and Lieutenant Kramer is a member of murder and robbery squad. He's a Boer and a believer in the supremacy of the white race. Zondi is a sergeant and is committed to his job, but faces the perils of apartheid as well as the danger his profession brings him.

South Africa has change, the world that McClure knew is gone but not forgotten; The Steam Pig offers a chilling look into apartheid. In a world where attempting to pass for white is a crime, there are few safe places to hide. The Steam Pig immerses you in that world and offers a thrilling story besides. As the New York Times Book Review said of it , “James McClure's first novel arrives like a slam in the kidneys . . ." Four decades later, that punch remains strong.

Next month, Soho will reissue the second in the Kramer and Zondi series, The Caterpillar Cop. Each is available in paperback at $14.

Friday, June 11, 2010

New imprint worth knowing about

While I have to admit that I haven't read every title from Tyrus Books, those that I have read were impressive indeed.

Last fall Tyrus kicked off its publishing venture with Peter Gadol's Silver Lake (a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award) and Between the Dark and the Daylight, a massive short story collection with pieces by Michael Connelly, Joyce Carol Oates and Charlaine Harris, among many more. Came the spring and we got the hilarious serial killer thriller Hello Kitty Must Die, the short story collection Delta Blues (with works by John Grisham, James Lee Burke, Ace Atkins and other) and now another winner in Stein, Stoned (set for release July 1).

Stein, Stoned by screenwriter and UCLA professor Hal Ackerman mixes marijuana and murder in a giddy mystery of a dead fashion model, stolen shampoo bottles and disappearing cannabis. As the aging, divorced, pot-deprived Harry Stein stumbles into one seemingly unrelated situation after another, we get insight into the muddled mind of this aging hippie at the end of the last millenium. Stein, Stoned introduces a winning cast of characters and is the beginning of what may be a winning series of reefer-riffing, "soft-boiled" murder mysteries.

Other writers of note in Tyrus' writing stable include Victor Gischler, Michael Lister, Mary Logue and Lynn Kostoff. Of interest to many here in the Northeast will be the August 2010 publication of Randal Peffer's Listen to the Dead, the fifth installment in the Cape Islands series. This tale of drugs, sex and murder is inspired by the unsolved 1988 serial killings in New Bedford, Mass. Fans of Bangkok Dragons, Cape Cod Tears won't want to miss that one.

In the fall, Moe Prager returns in a new novel from Reed Farrel Coleman, titled Innocent Monster (Note: Come September, Busted Flush will bring us Coleman's Soul Patch and Empty Ever After in paperback), and Amos Walker: The Complete Story Collection, offering 600-plus pages of Loren D. Estleman's Detroit detectve.

I can't wait.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

No Country for Old Men

Sure, you might think that the above title refers to the great Cormac McCarthy novel, but you would be wrong.

The Interwebs with its series of tubes, it appears to me, is no country for old men...or at least not for me. After months of trying to sign on to this website...off and on as my patience allowed...I am finally back. Simple questions like password and account name eluded me, like a feathery morning mist fading in a Connecticut Valley sunrise. Each time I tried to log on, I was lumbered.

Finally, my wife (who calmly bears with me ... and, it should be noted, with nary a complaint) asked if she could help. I, in great frustration and suffering admitted defeat, said, "Please."

Zip-zap, a few strokes of the keyboard...and I'm back. So, beginning tomorrow we will return to the discussion of books and publishing and anything else that comes to a mind that scarcely functions at the best of times.