Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Their Books of the Year

Today The Guardian's G2 section ran a nice article on the annual penchant for "Books of the Year" articles. Obviously, it raises the question: what is the point? Indeed, as it points out, even The Times seemed rather disillusioned with the whole process this year.; instead of the myriad people telling us what obscure books they've read, we got about ten. (Instead, they elect to give us two different precis of what's been going on this year, literararily speaking.)

Don't worry, though, because The Spectator has balanced the scales: one "Best of the Year" list was not enough for Boris Johnson, as he elected to provide a second in the next edition. (Though I wish they'd pick out the actual titles in bold, for ease of skimming.)

The Observer chooses to give one, but in two parts. Interesting mix of people, though - from Kirsty Allsop to Andrew Motion to Jon Snow, then back again. The New Statesman also gets in on the act.

The Econmist gives us one as well, with some rather...orthodox, fiction choices, including four Booker shortlisted titles. I'm also forced to wonder whether Gerard Woodward's book would have got on anyone's list were it not for the attention it received from getting shortlisted. (If you're interested, there's my own as well, which will one day find its way onto a more proper platform, namely here.)

Obviously, The Guardian article manages to sneeringly point out all the chums-choosing-chums, but of course you're going to get a bit of that. Even were it down to chance, you'd get people who know each other selecting their own books. And that's not even to say the books in question don't deserve to be on such a list. It may be a bit suspect, but there's a cynicism to drawing such attention to it. As for "Faberite" Kazuo Ishguro choosing one book by an ex "Faberite" (McCrum) and one by a current (Garland), that's up to him. Surely some of the the point of such lists is to give a bit of late-minute publicity? If those are the books he wants to give it to, fine - the whole process is subjective anyway, so the result's essentially the same.

But, yeah, I quite like "Best of the Year" lists myself. Mostly because I like to see which people read and liked the books I myself did. (Fiona's award for best "Best of 2004" list goes to David Huges of The Spectator who chose books by Lee Child and Henning Mankell - 4th para down.) I don't see that they serve much practical purpose, apart from that it provides a cheap few tried-and-tested columns and means newspapers don't actually have to worry about reviewing any new fiction. Sure they're "self-satisfied and egoistic", but I do find it tremendously interesting to pore over them. Plus, I do get a certain small degree of pleasure from thinking up my list myself - I'm sure there are some proper critics out there who do as well. Getting on someone's "Best of the Year" list must also be exciting, whatever the reason you're there for. It is, after all, a kind of minor-league award. No one cares, and there's no prize-money, but still... And there's got to be a certain degree of prestige resulting from being "most cited"!

Monday, November 29, 2004

World's Worst Interview returns

Lemurphoboic crime writer Victor Gischler, conductor of the world's worst interviews, returns to talk to mystery hottie Laura Lippman:
VG: Sometimes I think of titles of short stories but then don't write the stories. Like "In the Hell of Bad Candy." I like that one. Can you share some of your discarded titles? Tell us about the "thinking of a title" process.

LL: I'm not sure I can say it's discarded, but I've long insisted that my memoir will be called "Shaved Meats, Piled High." I saw it on the menu of a lunch place near the morgue.
You know, now that I think of it, that's not really that different from the inteviews I do. Or anyone's interviews, for that matter.

Great stuff. Check it out.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Plots with Guns, R.I.P.

Plots with Guns, one of the best e-zines devoted to crime fiction, has just published their final edition. Due to the increasing amount of time and resources the magazine was consuming, the fellas decided it was time to hang it up.

The mystery world is going to miss the terrific work that Smith, Gischler, Maviano et al did, but I can certainly understand their reasons. Publishing a web magazine is a time-consuming endeavor and it does get tiring after a while.

Going out in fine style, the final issue continues contributions from Reed Farrel Coleman, Paul Toth, Scott Wolven and mio amico Charlie Stella. His story, "Young Tommy Burns," is a piece on one of the minor characters from his terrific upcoming book, Cheapskates. (I just finished the book last night and it's a winner.)

Bon voyage, you crazy crime guys...

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Things I'm thankful for

I probably should have done this on Thanksgiving, but I was too busy eating. I'm finally up to doing it today. Here are some of the things I'm thankful for this year.

I'm thankful that...

...2004 saw so many excellent crime fiction novels published, including Jeff Parker's California Girl, probably my favorite book of the year.

...Dean Koontz, America's greatest living storyteller, writes two books each year, yet somehow makes sure that they're nearly always brilliant. Life Expectancy is dynamite.

...mystery writers are such wonderful people and many have befriended me. I'm also thankful for all the drinks they bought me.

...there is so much great Christmas music available. (I have over 30 hours worth on my computer.) Nothing gets me into the mood for the holiday faster.

...the people at the Chicago Sun-Times have the good taste to run my column every month.

...good friends like Bob Ward and Gayle Lynds have taught me so much about writing fiction. Not that you'd know it from the results. But that's not their fault.

...Alias, the best show on television, is available on DVD. (I've never actually watched the TV broadcasts.)

...2005 will bring forth a new Matthew Scudder book, All the Flowers Are Dying, from Lawrence Block. I'm already excited about it.

...Bouchercon is in Chicago next year, so I should be able to squeeze in a visit with my brother and his family.

...Ross Thomas and his 25 wonderful books are still remembered. There will never be another one like him.

...pizza places deliver. I wish more restaurants did.

...Laura Lippman still lives in Baltimore and writes about it as well as anyone has written about their city since Nathanael West.

...Left Coast Crime in El Paso is only 12 weeks away.

And finally, most of all, I'm thankful that I have such a wonderful wife who not only brings untold joy to my life, but supports me both financially and emotionally in my career as a writer. I love you, Maili.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Dan Brown rides again

This might be old news on the Western shores of the Atlantic, but today The Independent have revealed to me (no link yet) that the title of Brown's follow-up to The Da Vinci Code will be called The Solomon Key.

* Link here. And another to Janet Maslin's review of Ruth Rendell's latest. More praise, of course.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Latest Bestsellers

From the Book Standard, the public face of Nielsen BookScan, comes this week's fiction bestsellers:
  1. LONDON BRIDGES, James Patterson (Little, Brown & Co, Hardcover)

  2. BLUE DAHLIA, Nora Roberts (Jove Books|Penguin Group, Paperback)

  3. SKIPPING CHRISTMAS, John Grisham (Dell|Random House, Paperback)

  4. THE DA VINCI CODE, Dan Brown (Doubleday, Hardcover)

  5. I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS, Tom Wolfe (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Hardcover)
Sales of The Da Vinci Code rose 31 percent over the previous week, elevating this publishing phenomenon from No. 9 to No. 4 on the Fiction Chart.

Pelecanos' Picks

The latest email newsletter from George Pelecanos contains his picks for fall reading, listening and viewing. Here are a few of them:

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Like many readers, I resisted picking this up because of the element that seemed to dominate every review, implying that this was primarily a story about a hermaphrodite. Brother, was I wrong. Middlesex, a work of art that is more than worthy of its Pulitzer Prize, wins my personal award for novel of the year. Sure, this involves the history of a Greek family stretched out over nearly a century, so naturally I would be interested. But Eugenides makes the story so involving, so universal, that you don't have to be a Greek to appreciate it. In the end, Middlesex is more a novel about America (that is to say, it is about all of us) than one specific culture or sexual subgroup. Give the author respect for ambition and the realization of his vision.

In a Lonely Place, Directed by Nicholas Ray
"I was born when she kissed me/I died when she left me/I lived a few weeks when she loved me." These lines (later memorialized for rock fans by the Smithereens) sum up the theme of this 1950 Columbia drama, which has gradually earned a reputation as one of director Nicholas Ray's finest films and a classic of film noir. It is that rare example of artists coming together, in a quiet way, to produce a studio picture that exceeds its ambition. In a Lonely Place depicts the rise and fall of a relationship between troubled, violent-prone Hollywood screenwriter Dix Steele (Humphrey Bogart) and aspiring actress Laurel Gray (Gloria Graham). The title describes the emotional state of the protagonists, but also, as it has been noted elsewhere, the peculiar emotional "place" in which an artist, especially a writer, lives. Steele comes under suspicion for the murder of a hat-check girl who had visited his apartment on the night of her death, but he is temporarily exonerated when neighbor Gray gives him an alibi. So begins their relationship, an intense love affair that can only end one way. Bogart, whose company produced the film, allows himself to be photographed in a manner that makes him appear nearly ugly, his skin stretched tight, his gestures strained, his posture stooped. Even his smile is just a dark variation on a grimace. Graham, one of the most sexually supercharged actresses of any era, plays a woman in love as if in a dream state. Her eyes are drunk with it as she kisses Bogart. The black and white cinematography by Burnett Guffey, both on mid-century Los Angeles locations and in the sound-stage of the apartment courtyard (built to replicate Ray's first residence in LA), is evocative and framed architecturally to cage the characters who are trapped by their own psychosis. The screenplay by Andrew Solt, based on a novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, is intelligent and acidic, dead-on skewering the film business at the time. The score and main theme, by George Antheil, is haunting. This film has stuck with me since I first viewed it twenty years ago. I saw it again last night and it is exactly as powerful as I remembered it to be. See it with someone you love.

Slippage by Slobberbone
Readers of my annual music feature on [my] website will find that I plan to take two records from Slobberbone out on tour while promoting my next novel, Drama City. This 2002 release pulls back on the country instrumentation of the earlier records in favor of a more punkish, rock sound, produced by Don Smith. Tracks like "Springfield, IL.," and "Write Me Off," are fast and spirited, but past the thrash are the record's gems: a cover of the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody" and the Brent Best originals "Sister Beams," "Find the Out," "Down Town Again," "Live On In The Dark," and "Back." Best does the cigarettes-and- Jack vocals and plays guitar alongside Jess Barr, while Tony Harper pounds the skins with a Buddy Miles-like ferocity. Another phenomenal record from this Texas quintet.

World's Worst Interview

Victor Gischler, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers, introduces a new feature to the World's Worst Blog. (Thanks to Sarah for tipping me off.) He has conducted the first World's Worst Interview, with Sean Doolittle as the subject.

Q. Aside from Victor Gischler, who is the biggest influence on your fiction? Who's the thirteenth biggest influence?

A: I like what I heard Walter Mosely say about this at the Vegas Falley Festival of Books in October. He said writers always lie about their biggest influences to sound loftier. They say Faulkner or Proust or something when really it was Curious George.

With that in mind I'll say Frankin W. Dixon, Wilson Rawls, and Mad Magazine for fossil fuel. Later, Stephen King for combustion.

Here's a spooky story: recently I went to ABE.com and found an old beat-up library edition of a book I'd read only once in 6th grade but always sorta remembered fondly. It's all about this couple who moves out to the country and discovers the woods around their house are infested
with feral cats. All I remembered was that it was called FERAL.

Anyway, I got this thing in the mail the other day, and it turns out the main character's last name was Bishop (kinda like the last name of the main character in my first book, Dirt).

So never mind what I said before. Apparently my biggest influence was Berton Roueche.

Having met both these guys, I can say they're just as much fun in person. (There's a reason that spell check recommends "giggler" as a replacement for Gischler.) I suppose this means I better read one of Sean's books.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Kathy Reichs, anthropologist

Reichs confirms a Variety magazine report that 20th Century Fox TV is developing an hour-long pilot film based on her investigative work and fiction. The drama's main character is to be a forensic anthropologist like Reichs who writes mysteries and also uses her expertise in human bones to help solve crimes.

From this article in the Charlotte Observer. Hmmm, is all I can say to that little piece of eccentric news.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Don't be a Cheapskate!

Charlie Stella, my wise and witty fellow panelist from Bouchercon 2004 and the author of the delightful Charlie's Opera, is promoting the upcoming release of his next book Cheapskates with these handy dandy little cards:

The flip side contains a "Tipping at a Glance" chart to help you wiseguys stop stiffing the wait staff.

I have a stack of them sitting here on my desk, so send me an email with your address and I'll snail mail you one ('til they run out, anyway).

You don't even have to promise to buy the book...although if you don't, you're a Cheapskate.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Instant Win Contest -- Michael Crichton swag

To promote the launch of Michael Crichton's new book (State of Fear, due 12/7), the Hype Council is running an interactive contest/game.

Go to this website and enter the Location: Paris Nord, France.

You might just win a prize instantly. (One of our readers has already won a copy of the audiobook on CD. Very cool!)

You can also enter the Clue: Terror to unlock an excerpt from the book.

I'm looking forward to reading this. I've enjoyed just about everything Crichton has written.

Top 10 out of print books of 2004

According to BookFinder.com, the Top 10 most wanted out of print books of 2004 were:
  1. The New Soldier by John Kerry
  2. Sisters by Lynne Cheney
  3. Sex by Madonna
  4. The Holy Innocents by Gilbert Adair
  5. Disco Bloodbath by James St. James
  6. The World Crisis by Winston Churchill
  7. It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
  8. Where Troy Once Stood by Iman Wilkens
  9. General Printing by Glen Cleeton
  10. The Curse of Lono by Hunter S. Thompson

The top 2 choices are understandable (given their connection to the recent presidential election). It's hard to believe that anyone is still interested in Madonna's Sex, though.

Their most recent list of out of print Mystery and Thrillers includes:

  1. James Patterson: Virgin
  2. Rex Stout: The Red Box
  3. Barbara Davis: Precious Angels: A True Story of Two Slain Children and a Mother Convicted of Murder
  4. Anthony Bruno: The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer
  5. Margaret Frazer: The Outlaw's Tale
  6. Lindsey Davis: The Silver Pigs
  7. Ellery Queen (ed.): The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes
  8. Donald Hamilton: The Damagers
  9. Donna Leon: Death in a Strange Country
  10. Toni Kelner: Dead Ringer

Yet another best-seller list that James Patterson dominates!

Intriguing Story of the Week?

Last Wednesday, returning from the weekly University of Southampton Creative Writing Society meeting, I stopped off in a bookshop. I do this a lot, of course. Stop off in bookshops, I mean. Books are my therapy, my comfort. In the past 3 days I have bought six (time to kill and a student loan to spend!) Indeed, I am spending far too much on books - the TBR is going to topple soon. Maybe it will crush me under its weight, and I will be buried in a coffin of unread books. I digress... I stopped off in a bookshop. I bought Sara Paretsky's Blacklist (now it's won the Dagger I have to read it to make sure it shouldn't have), and Have Mercy on Us All by Fred Vargas, one of a series from France. (At the moment, if it comes from Mainland Europe, I buy it without hesitation.) Firstly, I was surprised to see the author biog describe Vargas as a she, but that's neither here nor there.

All of this is by of introducing an article from today's Guardian, about Vargas's outspoken support for an Italian crime-writer resident in France who is to be extradited on four murder charges (well, if they can find him). As a result, her phones are monitored and she is followed by the intelligence serivces (well, so she claims - the article doesn't exactly provide proof). Anyway, yes, this is my favourite story of the week so far. And I probably wouldn't have bothered to read it if I hadn't bought her book just a few days ago.

More links: Ruth Rendell's The Rottweiler is reviewed by The Seattle Times and The Washington Post this week, and the lady herself is subject to a nice interview in the Ottawa Citizen, which provides the news that she is currently working on a new Wexford story that is, as they are increasingly becoming, "starkly topical". (She also admits, tellingly, her disappointment that the series novels sell far, far better than her others (I share this disappointment - neither her latest paperback or hardback made it onto the bestseller lists), and I'd like to suggest that there probably won't be too many more of them, preferring, as she does, to write the others.)

I'd also like to point out, thought, that the Post review is a load of crap. Veering towards rather mocking praise though it does, the fact that the reviewer says:

No one gets hurt in Ruth Rendell's world. No one feels the pain of loss or the bite of evil. No one feels one little goose bump of fear. Rendell is a tremendously popular novelist because nothing bad ever happens in her books. The dead bodies tend to be people whose names we never caught.

leads me to suspect that Ms See has never read a Rendell book before in her life.It would be technically possible to say things about her books that are less true, but you'd be hards-pressed to do it.

*Also, Harriet Waugh is back at The Spectator, reviewing some of the latest crime fiction. She's disappointed with the latest by Ian Rankin and Henning Mankell, which is surprising (though she makes some very valid points about the Mankell). Not reviewing Ruth Rendell this year, Spectator? That's a bit odd, I must say. The Guardian and Independet haven't, either, which surprises me again, considering that, 40th anniversary n' all, I would imagine she'd be all over the place this year.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Kitty Kelly a plagiarist?

The New York Times reports that hatchet mistress extrordinaire Kitty Kelly (who wrote a vile biography of Frank Sinatra) is being sued by a freelance writer who claims that she plagiarized material from his article in her recent best-selling book about the Bush family.

Glynn Wilson accuses Kelly and Random House of copyright infringement and asks for a judgment of $5 million. He claims that seven paragraphs of material in Kelly's book repeat verbatim or closely track sections of his article, which was published on his website.

Random House denied the claim and said that "if any material was copied or wrongfully appropriated, it was not protected by copyright, was of minimal scope, did not damage Mr. Wilson and was covered under the legal doctrine of 'fair use.'"

Sounds like that should about cover it!

Save 20% at Borders stores

Save 20% on almost everything in the store at Borders.
Valid 11/17 - 11/21/04.

Get the coupon

Happy shopping!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Alias to return in January

ABC has announced that the fourth season of J.J. Abrams' award-winning spy drama Alias will return on Wednesday, January 5, with a two-hour season premiere. The following week, the series will settle into the 9pm hour, following Abrams' new series Lost. New episodes of Alias will air each week, without any repeats, through the end of the season.

"When we made the strategic decision this fall on Alias, we only hoped to be in the situation we find ourselves in today, said ABC president of entertainment Stephen McPherson. "Lost provides a terrific platform for Alias' new season. Not only do both shows have similar audience profiles with great appeal to television's most coveted young adult viewers, but they also share J.J.'s unique sensibility. This is a great two-hour block of programming."

Lost has been a decent show so far this season, but Alias is one of our favorites.

Stuart Pawson interview

Macavity's, a British mail order bookseller, interviews Stuart Pawson, author of the forthcoming mystery Over the Edge.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Tom Hanks likely to star in The Da Vinci Code

Variety reports that it's all but a done deal that uber-mensch Tom Hanks will star in Ron Howard's upcoming film adaptation of Dan Brown's mega-best-selling thriller The Da Vinci Code. (Production is slated to begin next year for an '06 release.)

For the record, I still haven't read the book...but I did listen to the abridged audiobook version on the drive home from Bouchercon. It's an entertaining enough story, I suppose, although it hardly seemed hype-worthy.

Latest Script Deals

Tom Cruise has bought Christopher Reich's The Devil's Banker to bring to the big screen. Story follows a female British spy and a U.S. agent/forensic accountant who join forces to stop a terrorist attack aimed at the United States.

Richard Price will adapt his own novel Freedomland for Scott Rudin and Joe Roth. The book deals with the aftermath of a carjacking that becomes a racially charged media sensation.

Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason's blockbuster novel The Rule of Four has been assigned to newbie screenwriters David Posamentier and Geoff Moore to adapt. (Warner Bros. bought the book back in June.) Plot follows four Princeton students who are on the verge of cracking the secrets behind the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a 15th century Renaissance text that points the way to a fabled Roman treasure.

Greg Pace has been tapped to write an update to schlock horror meister William Castle's "The Tingler" for Columbia. Story is about a scientist who, while searching for a medical cure for fear, accidentally unleashes the Tingler, an entity that kills its victims with fear.

Harley Peyton will pen a sequel to "The Thomas Crown Affair" for MGM and Pierce Brosnan. The story will be based on Jules Dassin's 1964 thriller "Topkapi," which was in turn based on Eric Ambler's novel The Light of the Day.

Paramount has bought Bill Mason's memoirs Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief (co-written with Lee Gruenfield) for Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (team behind "The Commitments") to adapt. Mason stole over $35 million of jewels from the inner circles of high society over three decades.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

This just in: Godfather sequel is so-so

Elsewhere in the Times, Michiko Kakutani spends 1000 words on a conscientious and thoughtful review of why Mark Winegardner's Godfather sequel The Godfather Returns isn't very good. Surely that is the least-surprising news of the day.

Reading her take on it confirms my suspicions of the book without even laying eyes on it. Why the Times thought this worth the space, though, is a puzzler.

No wonder people hate critics

Deborah Friedell, assistant literary editor of The New Republic (aka "The Least Read Magazine in America You've Actually Heard Of"), is quite possibly the most obnoxious person in the literary firmament.

Want proof? Read her review of Michael Chabon's The Final Solution in today's New York Times.

Writing about crime fiction, she reports, "A genre that is by its nature so constrained, so untransgressive, seems unlikely to appeal to the real writer. Even Arthur Conan Doyle felt that his Sherlock Holmes mysteries occupied the 'lower stratum of literary achievement.' It's still true. We relegate the detective story to literature's fringes, alongside other unsavories -- stories of suspense, war, romance."

Where does the Times find these people? Are they grown in a lab somewhere?

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The Shadow of the Wind

Aside from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (which I'm tipping not just for the Whitbread Best Debut award, but, being a bold kinda gal, the final Best Novel one as well - it was always more of a Whitebread book than a Booker one), what's going to be the big book in Britain this Christmas? Well, Phoenix are hoping that it could be Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind, after Waterstones' buyer Scott Pack talked them into producing an early trade-paperback edition in time for Christmas. So says this article from today's Independent, in any case. Since the hardback was first published here last May (ish) it has sold 3,500 copies, and Mr Pack predicts that this new edition will have twice that in its first two weeks of release.

Personally, I hope the book suceeds mightily. It's fantastic, as I'm sure anyone who's read it - Stephen King, say, or even Joschka Fischer - will tell you. If you believe the article's general tone, it could be huge. "...the same potential as Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières" says Kirsty Dunseath, editorial director of the imprint. Steady on there... She goes on to say:
"It's what you hope for as an editor. It's got everything; a really strong plot, it's commercial, but it's also literary. It has thriller elements and history thrown in. It defies genre," she said.

Most of which is true. Certainly, it defies genre - there just isn't a pigeonhole for gothic-historical-romantic adventure stories. Dumasesque, definitely. It has a superb plot also - a lavish, delcious, labyrinthine book it most unquestionably is. But, saying it's literary is perhaps aiming a bit too high. There is without doubt a literary quality, but, aside being a spell-binding paean to the love of books and reading, there's little of real literature in it. The writing is lush but too elaborate - the book is full of metaphors that don't connect, similies that lack an internal logic on a paragraph-by-paragraph level. The writing is a treat, yes, but adjectives and such are subjected to an extensive overuse, pressed into service like tired old soldiers.

Despite that, I do love it. It's a wonderful, wonderful book, and I hope that it finds every sucess. It's about time a work of translated fiction saw massive sucess. I don't think it's happened since Peter Hoeg kicked off the Europe-wide thirst for Scandinavian crime-fiction with Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow in 1992.

As with the Rendell book last week, here are some colelcted reviews from The British Press:

This is Lewis Jones' full review from The Telegraph, briefly quoted in today's article. So impressed is he, I shall quote the first paragraph myself:

For the first time in 20 years or so as a book reviewer, I am tempted to dust off the old superlatives and even to employ some particularly vulgar clichés from the repertoire of publishers' blurbs. My colleagues may be shocked, but I don't care, I can't help myself, here goes. The Shadow of the Wind is a triumph of the storyteller's art. I couldn't put it down. Enchanting, thrilling, hilarious and heartbreaking, this book will change your life. Carlos Ruiz Zafón, who is 40 and Spanish, has done that exceedingly rare thing – he has produced, in his first novel, a popular masterpiece, an instant classic.

Here's another, this time from The Sunday Telegraph. And, from The Observer, another. And yet another, from The Guardian this time. And, oh yes, fancy another? Well, here it is, courtesy of The Spectator.

Basically, whether you be in the US or UK, get it, from library or friend or bookshop it matters not. You'll not regret reading it - it's a marvellous experience.

"I was raised among books, making invisible friends in pages that seemed cast from dust and whose smell I carry on my hands to this day."

Friday, November 12, 2004

Book Sense's Best of 2004

Book Sense, an arm of the American Booksellers Association, announces their picks for the best books of the year. Here are the crime fiction titles that made the cut:

THE QUEEN OF THE SOUTH, by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
AMAGANSETT: A Novel, by Mark Mills
SKINNY DIP: A Novel, by Carl Hiaasen
BIRDS OF A FEATHER: A Maisie Dobbs Novel, by Jacqueline Winspear
BY A SPIDER'S THREAD, by Laura Lippman
CALIFORNIA GIRL: A Novel, by T. Jefferson Parker
THE EXILE, by Allan Folsom
PRINCE OF THIEVES: A Novel, by Chuck Hogan
RIFT ZONE, by Raelynn Hillhouse
SKINNY-DIPPING: A Novel of Suspense, by Claire Matturro

I'm particularly pleased to see Raelynn's book on there. She's a first-time author and I think she shows a great deal of promise.

(Ordinarily I link these things up to Amazon, but out of respect for the ABA, I won't in this case.)

Amazon's Best of 2004

Amazon joins the fray with their editors' picks for the 10 Best Mysteries & Thrillers of 2004.

It's a better list than Borders' (see yesterday's post), with the likes of Jeff Parker's California Girl and Barry Eisler's Rain Storm, two books that are sure to make my list as well.

They also single out James Lee Burke's In the Moon of Red Ponies, Jeff Lindsay's Darkly Dreaming Dexter and Ken Bruen's The Killing of the Tinkers.

Interestingly, the list also includes a few books I didn't care for, although they certainly got their share of critical acclaim: George Pelecanos' Hard Revolution, Chuck Hogan's Prince of Thieves and Michael Simon's Dirty Sally.

Kudos to Amazon for some interesting choices.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Borders' Best of 2004

Borders announces their picks for the best books of the year in the Mystery & Thrillers category. Overall it's a very mainstream list, with some strong books, as well as some curious choices included. (I suspect this will be the only "best of" list that James Patterson's London Bridges or Patricia Cornwell's Trace will appear on.)

I was pleased to see that Katherine Neville's The Eight was included, especially considering that it's not a new book. (It was originally published in 1988, then reprinted in trade paperback this year.) Although I haven't had a chance to read it yet, I've heard very good things about it. (I also had dinner with Katherine at Bouchercon and found her to be a fascinating woman.)

Other selections include predictable, but good choices like Michael Connelly's The Narrows and Lee Child's The Enemy.

Email Mystery: The Daughters of Freya

The writing team of Michael Betcherman and David Diamond have come up with an interesting new concept: a mystery story told exclusively through a series of email messages.

The Daughters of Freya is about a journalist who receives an email one day from a desperate old friend whose daughter has joined a cult. Thinking there might be a good story in it, the writer begins to investigate and soon finds herself in over her head.

The story unfolds in real-time over the course of 3 weeks as the reader receives the email exchanges between the parties involved. The emails come at various times, usually 5 or 6 a day.

(Interested readers can get a preview, containing the first 3 emails, for free.)

Some might find the volume of email a bit overwhelming, but it's nice to see someone using the internet to tell stories in a new way.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Book deal for Dylan Schaffer

From today's Publishers Marketplace:
Author of Misemeanor Man and appellate lawyer Dylan Schaffer's "true law story" Trouble about an African-American man wrongly convicted of murdering an Ivy-league crack prostitute in 1991 who spent 12 years in prison and was just cleared and released last year, covering the crime investigation, the dirty cops and judges who knowingly put away an innocent man, and an idealistic young female law student who worked for years to eventually free him, to Colin Dickerman at Bloomsbury, by Lydia Wills at Paradigm.
Misdemeanor Man was one of my favorite debuts of the year (see my review), so it's good to see that Dylan is continuing his writing. I'd be happier if it were another novel, but you take what you can get.

(When I first read that item, I thought, What the hell is a "crack prostitute"?...but then I realized they meant crack whore and were apparently trying to be polite.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

CWA Dagger Winners

As has already been reported by the CWA and Sarah, the winning Daggers have been announced today. The winners are:

I am most delighted with the fact that Reginald Hill has won the People's Choice Award for Good Morning, Midnight, which came as a complete surprise to me. It's a super, super book, and is in my view the most deserving of this year's set of winners.

I can't say that I'm not absolutely shocked (and a little annoyed, as usual); I'd seen Hayder as the hottest favourite in some years - because Tokyo is a damn, damn good book, and rather obviously deserved to win. (It's getting incredibly frustrating that I end up having to respectfully (well, not, actually) disagree with the CWA every year - alright, well, for the past two.) I have every expectation that Blacklist won't, in my opinion, be as good. It's a damn shame that neither Hayder or Wilson took anything, and a bit of a mystery as well, to be honest.

As I said right at the start though, Harvey taking the Silver is no surprise, as now he's been rewarded, in a token manner at least, for an otherwise Dagger-free career. Alexander McCall Smith taking the Dagger in the Library was almost a foregone conclusion, really. Also, before I forget...as far as I can tell, this is the first year in the CWA's history that a main Dagger has gone to an author who has already been awarded the Diamond Lifetime's Achievement Dagger. Which is quite interesting. See, it can be done. (Also this is now the first Gold Dagger winning book since 1985 that I haven't read.)

Jeffery Deaver deserves his short-story win, at least. He's darn good at it, after all. When you read a collection like Twisted, though, by the time you've read 20 short stories in a row by the same author, they do rather loose their shine, and I was routinely guessing the "surprise". I'm not so sure that he should have taken the Steel, though: while I really enjoyed Garden of Beasts, and am quite happy for it to win the award, I have a suspicion that Fesperman's book - though I've not read it - was probably superior.

What else is there for me to pass on my opinion about... Not a lot, really. Mark Mill's win is not a surprise, and congratulations to Ellen Grub. Let's hope she has as much sucess as previous winners like Edward Wright and Caroline Carver.

Overall, aside from the rather surprising (to me, at least) twist in the main award, everything has proceeded according to plan. Now, at least, hopefully I can attempt to move on from being angry about last year's Fox Evil debacle, and can get on with grouching about how they've robbed Hayder of her rightful award as well. Gee, I am a grumpy-guts, aren't I.

And you thought The Da Vinci Code was big!

Microsoft releases Halo 2 today for Xbox today, the sequel to one of the most popular sci-fi video games ever. Gates Inc. says the game will have "the highest first-day sales of any entertainment product in history, possibly topping $100 million." The game retails for $50 and they've already had pre-orders for more than 1.5 million units.

In book news, publisher Random House is printing an initial run of 1.1 million copies of the Halo 2 strategy guide, also for release today. That puts the book on par with the biggest of the big, matching the likes of John Grisham and Michael Crichton.

In related news, I am pleased to announce the upcoming release of my new book, Halo 2: The Mystery Series, to be published by Plagiarist Press.

Janet Evanovich Film News

Variety has some news on the long in-development Stephanie Plum project:
Reese Witherspoon's Type A Films shingle is developing Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum mystery novel One for the Money as a possible starring vehicle for Witherspoon at Columbia.

Wendy Finerman, who's been developing the project for years, will produce along with Type A.

Story concerns a down-on-her-luck native of Trenton, N.J., who convinces her bail bondsman cousin to give her a shot as a bounty hunter. Her first assignment is to track down a former cop on the run for murder -- the same man who broke her heart years before.

Who knows, it might actually happen, too. Witherspoon seems wrong for the part, though. A colleague points out that she's too short (5'2" on her best day), but I was thinking more of her image/presence, which doesn't seem to match Stephanie very well. The character always struck me as a little more ethnic and with more sex appeal and physicality.

However, if they'd like to hire me to write the script, I'm sure I could work it all out.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Marketing 101

Max Perkins, a pseudonymous blogger and alleged editor at a major publishing company, posts his thoughts on what midlist writers (authors with a first printing in the 7500-15,000 book range) can expect in terms of marketing behind their books. (Thanks to Sarah for the link.)

His answer, as you might expect, is basically, "not much." But one line in particular caught my eye:
"The truth is, ads don't help sell books, no matter what anyone says."

I wonder if that can possibly be true, especially considering that ads seem to help sell everything else. Granted, books aren't toothpaste, but they're still a commodity and presumably susceptible to the wicked powers of the marketing gurus.

Mr. Perkins would have us believe that the media blitz for The Da Vinci Code had no effect. So all those ad buys were what, just to make Dan Brown feel good about himself? The book just happened to sell over 12 million copies based on worth of mouth?

It sounds to me like Max is just parroting the line he tells his authors to make them feel better when the house doesn't pony up any ad money.

What usually happen is that publishers buy one four-inch ad in the Sunday book section of the New York Times, then shake their heads sadly when the book doesn't become a bestseller, protesting, "We did our best."

A successful ad campaign requires repeated, targeted messages in order to sell product. Ford doesn't just buy one ad when they're releasing a new truck, do they? A book requires the same persistence in order for the marketing to pay off.

Laying out the kind of money that a decent ad campaign would require might not be worth the investment for the typical book. But that's a helluva lot different from saying it wouldn't work anyway.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Well, you've chosen your poison

To celebrate (yes, celebrate) the fact that Ruth Rendell's The Rottweiler is being released in America on Tuesday - a mere 13 months after it first appeared int he UK, and 19 since I first read it myself - I have collected all the reviews I could find from the international press, and shall now present them to you.

To start, we shall visit The Spectator and Antonia Fraser, who gave it a nice positive review.

Unfortunately, Joan Smith of The Guardian, who normally can be relied upon to praise Rendell to the skies, was mildly disappointed by it, though, personally, I'm not at all certain I completely agree with her about what Rendell is trying to do.

I think Peter Guttridge gets a bit nearer mark with his piece in The Observer; certainly, The Rottweiler is completely different from anything else she's written before. There are aspects of farce in it, with dark veins of humour thread through like treacle.

Tracy Bartlett of the Cape Times also likes the book a great, great deal, as does Jane Jakeman over at The Independent.

Tom Adair of The Scotsman not only likes it, but gives us the brilliant sentence: "Out of...seedy, distressed, psychologically rotted cracks grow Rendell's narratives." Very true.

The review from Edmonton's VUEWeekly is more mixed, but still seems to recommend it.

New Zealand's The Listener also gives it a thumbs up, which would be nice if the review didn't contain the sentence: "Rendell's books, unfailingly, are cosy, relaxing, satisfying and undemanding," which is, I'm sorry, crap. Ruth Rendell's books are cosy? Relaxing? Undemanding? Nonsense. If you find Rendell's books cozy or relaxing, you should probably be visiting a psychiatrist. If you think they're undemanding, read them properly. I have no problem with the third adjective, though.

Finally, from The Sunday Times, comes Donna Leon's two-penneth, who thinks Ruth Rendell is brilliant, thank you very much. (Obviously, I'm with you, Donna.)

Anyway, that's all I could find. I don't entirely know the purpose of this exercise, but ah well.

Lastly, though, may I say how damn annoyed I was to happen upon this. If only it had been postponed to the following year...

Latest Sun-Times Column

My latest column ran this morning in Chicago's better paper: "Hot on the track of a historic Stars & Bars."

It includes the following books:
  • Sam Hill: Buzz Riff (Carroll & Graf, $25)

  • Lisa Reardon: The Mercy Killers (Counterpoint, $24)

  • Raelynn Hillhouse: Rift Zone (Forge, $24.95)

  • Jeffrey Cruikshank: Murder at the B-School (Mysterious Press, $24.95)

  • Steve Brewer: Boost (Speck, $24)

  • Lawrence Block: Grifter's Game (Hard Case Crime, $6.99)

  • I liked the Reardon, Hillhouse, Brewer and Block books; had a more mixed reaction to Hill and Cruikshank.

    Friday, November 05, 2004

    Robert Crais -- The Forgotten Man

    New word out yesterday on Robert Crais' The Forgotten Man, the next book in the Elvis Cole series. (Thanks to Sarah for the tip.)

    Both the U.S. and U.K. versions will be out on February 15, 2005. It has already been chosen as a main selection for both the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Mystery Guild.

    (Nice bonus for the fans: Crais himself will be recording the abridged audio version.)

    The last book in the series (The Last Detective) was just okay, although the one before that (L.A. Requiem) was extraordinary.

    After all the uncertainty with Crais' career over the past few years, it will be interesting to see what happens with this one.

    Wednesday, November 03, 2004

    Random Thoughts on Serial Killer Novels

    The recent announcement of a new Hannibal Lecter novel got me thinking about this curious corner of the crime fiction genre.

    Generally speaking, I like serial killer novels. Pattern killers make for effective villains, as they are horribly creepy, violent and over-the-top. I do have some hesitation about these books, though, for a couple of reasons.

  • There are too many of them. Or, more precisely, there are too many lousy ones. There is always room for another good book, regardless of the subject, but this is definitely an area in which authors are strongly urged to put their own spin on things.

  • I'm skeptical of this new trend towards "serial killer as hero" books. (And, really, that's the direction Thomas Harris has been heading in for a while now.) I'm already tired of this backwoods of the genre. I did like Darkly Dreaming Dexter (see my review), but enough already. Serial killers are bad guys and should be treated as such.

  • Too many of these books, particularly the bad ones, are overly exploitive. Victims should be treated with respect and killers should not. (Again, everyone loves Hannibal Lecter, but most of us aren't Thomas Harris.) Nothing turns my stomach quicker than a book that uses its violence merely to titillate. Even in the realm of fiction, we're still talking about some pretty awful things.

  • Too many serial killers are too damn smart and talented. The way these characters are becoming in many books, the killer is practically Batman. Can't we ever have a killer who's more realistic: not a genius, just an evil dirtbag?

  • Another road block that's inherent in this subgenre, although not really a problem with me, is that a lot of readers are turned off by the buckets of blood, gore, etc. (Although this can be a marketing plus for other readers; c.f. Karin Slaughter.) More authors would be advised to consider taking this in the other direction -- shock and scare, but don't revolt.

  • The serial killer novel will likely be with us as long as the crime fiction genre is -- too many readers have a fascination with these books to think otherwise.

    That doesn't mean, though, that they can't be good books, with interesting, fresh plots and believable characters. I'm not really expecting that from the new Thomas Harris book...but I have to confess to be looking forward to it all the same.

    Tuesday, November 02, 2004

    Latest Script Deals

    Stone Village Pictures has optioned the rights to James Ellroy's recently published collection of stories Destination: Morgue! L.A. Tales. Ellroy will adapt. (He's currently working on The Man Who Kept Secrets, a biopic about Hollywood power broker and Frank Sinatra lawyer Sydney Korshak.)

    Columbia has bought Barry L. Levy's spec script "Vantage Point" for mid-six figures against $1 million for Neal Moritz's Original Film. (The latter number comes into play if the film is actually made.) This "Rashomon"-style thriller depicts the attempted assassination of the president told from five different points of view.

    Gary Hardwick gets the nod from Sony to adapt his own novel The Executioner's Game for Jamie Foxx to star. (Just got an ARC of this the other day. Looks like it might be good.) The story is about a wet work operative assigned to track down and eliminate his former mentor, who has turned rogue.

    Warner Bros. picked up Gregory David Roberts's first novel Shantaram for a cool 2 mill. Johnny Depp is attached to star. Story is about an Australian convict who escapes from prison and makes his way to the underworld of Bombay.

    Stevie Long is on-board to write "Espionage for Dummies" for John Woo to direct. The film centers on a high school vice principal who is suddenly thrust into the world of secret agents when he's mistaken for a top American spy. In order to stay alive and save the world, he must rely on his copy of "Espionage for Dummies."

    First-time novelist Susanna Clarke has sold her book Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell in a preemptive buy to New Line Cinema for high-six figures against seven figures.

    Monday, November 01, 2004

    Tony Hillerman Speaks Out

    Author Tony Hillerman has an op-ed piece in the New York Times today, discussing the election and the impact it's had on his life, in a refresingly non-partisan way. It's nice to see that someone out there can still view things with some detachment and humor.

    World's Worst Blog

    My favorite new blog, written by one of the best new crime writers:

    Home of Hack Writer Victor Gischler

    Victor was on the panel I moderated at B'con and he was a pleasure to meet and talk to. Very interesting and funny guy.