It's amazing that Roger Ormerod (1920-2005), a native of Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England, managed to end up as writer, given his background. Born in 1920, he worked various jobs, including postal worker, shop loader in an engineering factory, clerk in county court, inspector for Department of Social Security, and listed his hobbies as amateur tailoring, wine making, stereo photography and high fidelity.
But somehow in the middle of that, he wrote some 22 standalone crime novels; four novels in a series featuring Philipa Lowe and Oliver Simpson; 16 books in a series featuring private detective David Mallin; and 11 in his Richard and Amelia Patton series, a total of 53 books, all penned between 1974 and 1998.
His interest in crime fiction began with Sherlock Holmes stories in Savoy magazines he discovered at his grandmother's house which started him on his path to writing, which went basically nowhere...until what he called a "freak acceptance" of his first TV play as his first sale, which landed an agent who said he wrote better novels. The first of those, Time to Kill, featuring P.I. David Mallin, was published when Ormerod was 54. He once said about his writing philosophy: "I am principally interested in human motivation in respect of crimes, rather than the mechanics of them. My main intention is to entertain rather than to instruct."
Ormerod's creation Detective Inspector Richard Patton is known as a maverick and a pain in the neck by his superiors, who flouts regulations and won't follow orders, which is why they're relieved when he decides to take early retirement. At the start of The Hanging Doll Murder (published in the UK as Face Value), Patton is due to retire in three days. But he's surprisngly ambivalent about the move, especially when the sadistic Clive Kendall, a child-rapist whom he'd jailed years before, is released from prison. Retirement seems even less likely when Patton faces yet another loose end relating to the Kendall case, the husband of Amelia Trowbridge, who's gone missing and whose burned-out car is discovered in a ravine. As Patton navigates around the clues, including a hanging doll with a goatee beard, the case becomes even more personal when he finds himself getting too close to the prime suspect—Amelia.
Trevor Royle, in the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, summarized Ormerod's writing style as having a "nonchalance . . . reminiscent at times of Raymond Chandler. As well as realism of background, Ormerod's writing is notable for its terse and natural dialogue and for an ability to switch the direction of the narrative." Ormerod has also received positive reviews for his characterizations and insights into complex human relationships and motivations, as in this excerpt, musings from Patton:
That Sunday had been my last rest-day in harness, so I'd decided to treat it as a trial run for all my glorious days of freedom ahead. I'd rolled out of bed. A new day. Tra-la! But it hadn't lasted long. After breakfast, the grey day had seemed insupportable indoors, and all I had to fall back on was the same old routine. It had therefore occurred to me to drive out into the country and dicker around with a couple of minor issues. But Brason had to go and upset the equilibrium by offering interest, and Ted Clayton had presented a clear line of action I wasn't going to be in a position to carry through. It left me tense, my mind racing, and staring out at the wind-blown drifts of heavier flakes past my window. Like my life, I thought in disgust, colourless and insubstantial, and blowing past.
One criticism of Ormerod's work may be what Reginald Hill of Books & Bookmen called an unnecessary twisting and twisting at the tail of Face Value "till the whole thing was bent out of shape." In fact, Ormerod is known for his labyrinthine plots and deep barrel of clues, and by the time he does wind down the denouement, there might be a touch of "it's about time," but all in all, The Hanging Doll Murder is a solid procedural with a pinch of psychological and suspense genres thrown in. Trevor Royle wasn't far off in calling Ormerod "one of Britain's best traditional crime writers."
Every two years, fans of the devilishly dark and the tortuously twisted descend upon Philadephia for NoirCon. As the organizers note, "The sins, moral failings and dark truths of the human condition find a home at NoirCon—a forum where writers, filmmakers, publishers, and other noir fans share the trials of uncovering the dark side of life for readers and viewers. We look into the minds of tortured fictional characters and see real people, the mirror images of ourselves, coping with deep longing and inevitable disappointment."
In addition to a varied slate of authors and panels and films, NoirCon also bestows the David Goodis Award for Literary Excellence upon such noteworthy individuals as Ken Bruen and George Pelecanos. But it's not all dark and deadly; each conference sponsors one organization that helps those in need, such as the Awassa Children’s Project, helping Ethiopian orphans battle AIDS, and Project H.O.M.E.
This year, the journal NoirRiot will be published in conjunction with the conference for the first time, featuring original stories, essays and poems. I am honored to have two of my poems included and look forward to reading all the other contributions to the publication, edited by Lou Boxer and Matthew Louis.
Some of the featured authors scheduled to appear at NoirCon 2014 from October 30 to November 2 are Charles Benoit, John Connolly, K.A. Laity, and Fuminori Nakamura (this year's Goodis Award recipient). There will also be some surprises, which in the past have included performance art and musical guests. And, since the fest happens to occur on Halloween, the Saturday night award dinner will be themed accordingly.
To keep up with all the latest NoirCon news, follow the blog or their Twitter feed. To register, click on the Society Hill Playouse venue link, print out the PDF form, and mail it in along with your registration fee. Hurry and reserve your space - attendees to previous NoirCons have remarked on how much easier and fun it is to rub elbows with authors and fans at a smaller conference like this one with a more personalized experience.
Traditional publishers are still feeling their way around the new digital revolution, with some interesting partnerships turning up as a result. Simon & Schuster has signed up with book subscription services Scribd and Oyster (think Netflix for books) to make the publisher's backlist ebooks titles available. HarperCollins also inked a deal with the children's book subscription service, Epic, and St. Martins Press joined up with Swagbucks, an online book discovery site.
Meanwhile, the Library Journal is partnering with BiblioBoard to create a discovery portal for libraries for self-published ebooks, and Publishers Weekly created BookLife, a new website dedicated to supporting self-published authors. Ebook publisher/distributor Smashwords is also making their self-pubbed titles available through Overdrive, an ebook database for libraries.
If you're on Goodreads, the book lover's website is adding an "Ask the Author" feature. The site will start off with just a little over 50 authors participating, including Margaret Atwood, Khaled Hosseini, Douglas Preston, and James Patterson. Users post questions to favourite authors, get answers, and read Q&A's from other users. Eventually the program will roll out to include all of the 100,000+ authors in the program, who will have the option of taking questions from fans and readers.
If you're a fan of all things Victorian, head on over to the British Library website. The venerable institution just launched a program to make the work of great Romantic and Victorian writers in its collections more accessible to the public. In addition to original manuscripts, first editions and rare illustrations, there will be newspapers, photographs, maps, letters, and diaries. It's also a potentially useful resource for writers of historical fiction.
The UK's Foyle's bookseller is launching the new Foyles Literary Tours International. To start, the new venture will offer tours to India and the UK and include stops of interest to the literary world, as well as giving participants local flavor and history of each region.
Omnivoracious editors picked their best Summer Reads titles, including the general creme-de-la-creme, and also in the categories of "Biggest Blockbusters" and "Beach Reads." It may be too late for Memorial Day, but you may find some fun books for the rest of your summer and beyond.
Crime Fiction Lover reported on the brand new reference book, Euro Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to European Crime Fiction, Film & TV, by Barry Forshaw. There are chapters on the rise of crime fiction in several countries including Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Greece, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe.
This week's featured crime poem at the 5-2 is "Target" by Peter M. Gordon.
In the Q&A roundup this week, Walter Mosley chats with the Chicago Tribune about his latest novel Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore, and how he likes to keep his readers from becoming too comfortable.
Summer is a great time to catch up on reading, even if you only have short bites of time here and there. And what better to fill those short bites than some short stories?
New anthologies that may be of interest include Faceoff, edited by David Baldacci and sponsored by the International Thriller Writers group. The volume includes eleven tales that match up two protagonists from different authors. For instance, "Rhymes with Prey" by Jeffrey Deaver and John Sandford has Lincoln Rhyme and Lucas Davenport working a case together, while "Gaslighted" by R. L. Stine and Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child pits Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy against Aloysius Pendergast.
The New Black: A Neo-Noir Anthology, edited by Richard Thomas, is a collection of twenty dark stories from various genres including horror, crime, fantasy, and science fiction. Sample stories include Kyle Minor’s "The Truth and All Its Ugly," about a substance-abusing man who takes his teenage son down the same dark slide after the wife/mother abandons them.
Explosions: Stories of Our Landmine World, edited by Scott Bradley, has 25 stories from bestselling authors such as Jeffery Deaver, James Grady, John Sayles, C. Courtney Joyner, and Peter Straub. The stories are again on the dark side, although like The New Black, they run the gamut of genres. The connecting theme is that each story touches on landmines - proceeds from this charity anthology go to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization MAG (Mines Advisory Group).
Benedict Cumberbatch is in talks to replace Guy Pearce in the new Whitey Bulger drama Black Mass currently filming in Boston, taking on the role of Billy Bulger, brother to the famous mob boss. The film is based on the book Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil's Deal, and will be released in theaters next year. Adam Scott was also added to the cast.
Dr. Who alum Karen Gillan is joining Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, and Taissa Farmiga in writer-director Ti West‘s revenge thriller Western In A Valley Of Violence. Gillan will play one of two sisters who run a hotel in the town where Hawke’s drifter seeks vengeance for the death of his best friend.
The untitled Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks Cold War film has snagged Joel and Ethan Coen to write the script. The project is based on the real-life story of Gary Powers, shot down while operating a spy plane above the Soviet Union, and James Donovan, a Harvard Law School alum used by the CIA to facilitate Powers' release.
When actor River Phoenix died at the age of 23 in 1993, he was working on the thriller Dark Blood, which was put on hold. Now, over 20 years later, the film is being given a theatrical release. Phoenix plays a desperate widower called Boy who lives in the desert on a nuclear testing site, but when a married couple (Jonathan Pryce and Judy Davis) show up, he imprisons them to conquer his loneliness and lust.
20th Century Fox released a trailer for Matthew Vaughn‘s Kingsman: The Secret Service, based upon the comic book by Mark Millar, depicting a veteran secret agent who leads a young protege into the world of espionage.
Pierre Morel's The Gunman, starring Sean Penn, will debut on screens first in France before rolling out across theaters in the U.S. and the U.K. on February 20, 2015.
There's a new trailer for the upcoming film adaptation of the TV series The Equalizer. The update stars Denzel Washington as the former intelligence officer with a mysterious past who helps people in trouble.
TNT's Major Crimes was itself a spinoff of The Closer, and now Major Crimes is geting a potential offshoot that would star Jon Tenney as Special Agent Fritz Howard, the husband of the series' main character, Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick).
Author Christopher Fowler hinted at a plan in the works to bring his Bryant & May series to television. Fowler adds, "Although the deal is under wraps at the moment, I can reveal that, following negotiations with several companies, the old codgers will get a fresh chance to be seen by TV networks as a possible series."
The UK (and original) version of Broadchurch has rounded out its cast for the upcoming second season. In addition to David Tennant and Olivia Colman reprising their roles, there will be some new faces: Charlotte Rampling, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Eve Myles and James D’Arcy.
Chloe Sevigny and Steven Pasquale have signed on for recurring roles on Netflix’s untitled psychological thriller drama written and executive produced by Damages creators Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman and Glenn Kessler. The 13-episode series is set in the Florida Keys and centers on a close-knit family of four adult siblings (Kyle Chandler, Ben Mendelsohn, Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz) whose secrets and scars are revealed when their black sheep brother (Mendelsohn) returns home.
Coming in June, David Tennant (Dr. Who, Broadchurch) stars as a brilliant defense lawyer with a storybook family and a potent nickname, "The Escape Artist," for his ability to win freedom for guilty defendants. It debuts in June on PBS Masterpiece! Mystery, and Janet Rudolph over at Mystery Fanfare has a sneak preview.
The new network El Rey released a first look at the upcoming spy series Matador (no relation to the Pierce Brosnan movie), about a CIA agent whose cover is an international soccer star, originally pitched as a "Latino James Bond." The story comes from veterans Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Alias, Mission: Impossible 3).
The startup company ScreenHits is unveiling The Pilot Showcase, hosting 50 produced pilots that weren’t picked up to series. The shows will remain on the site for six months, where networks could theoretically then step in and pick them up.
The cast was announced for the fall 2014 Broadway premiere of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, an adaptation of Mark Haddon's bestselling novel. Stars will include Alexander Sharp, "a soon-to-be Juilliard grad, in his Broadway debut," as well as Ian Barford (August: Osage County), Helen Carey (London Assurance), Francesca Faridany (The 39 Steps) and Enid Graham (The Constant Wife). Sharp will play the main character, an odd 15-year old boy suspected of killing his neighbor’s dog whose search for the real killer has unforeseen consequences. The play had an original, award-winning run in the U.K. at the National Theatre.
Anthea Mary Fraser (born 1930) was inspired by her novelist-mother to be a writer, but her own first published novel had to wait until 1970. The 1974 paranormal novel Laura Possessed was her first break-through success, followed by six other books in a similar vein and some romantic suspense titles before she turned to crime fiction.
She created two series, the first with Detective Chief Inspector David Webb of the Shillingham police, totaling 16 novels in all from 1984 to 1999. The second is a series Fraser debuted in 2003 featuring biographer/freelance journalist Rona Parish, with the last of six books published in 2008. Fraser also served the crime fiction community as secretary of the Crime Writers' Association from 1986 to 1996.
The first twelve in the DCI Webb series all take their titles from the lyrics to the English folk song "Green Grow the Rushes-O," including I'll Sing you Two-O from 1991, the ninth entry in the Webb roster. The case is set in motion when clothing store owner and part-time town magistrate Monica Tovey finds a van abandoned outside her home. But when the van's gruesome contents—the bodies of the football-mad, window washing, petty-thief White twins—are discovered, unsettling events disturb the serenity of the English town of Shillingham, and Monica suddenly finds her own life in danger.
DCI Webb begins to suspect that recent town burglaries, near-riots among soccer fans, low-flying airplanes and mysterious phone calls may not be unrelated to the case. Webb is also an accomplished artist, and he frequently calls upon his skills to record his impressions and hone in on the murderer, as he does here.
Fraser has taken some heat in the past for creating unconvincing and/or unlikely killers but also collected frequent praise for her rendering of small-town settings, with Publishers Weekly noting that "Fraser's rendering of an English community is again impeccable, enabling a reader not only to take pleasure in the mystery itself...but also to feel part of the life of a small, worried town," and Kirkus adding that it's "a competent, civilized police procedural, enhanced by sensitive probing of snarled relationships and a nicely drawn small-town ambiance."
PW also once characterized Fraser's writing as "succinct," with "her plots developed quickly, her prose straight to the point, with neither narrative nor character suffering from this brevity." And the book does fly along at a fairly clipped pace, in a very dialogue-heavy manner, although the investigation and procedural elements often take a back seat to character interactions.
It's interesting to read words the author gave to one character that "We lead container lives nowadays, bound up in our own concerns. It doesn't make for neighborliness." Those words feel even truer today than in 1991, when thanks to technology, we likely know more about some distant celebrity than we do the people on our own street, and people are glued to cellphones even when out "socializing" with others.
The Seattle Mystery Bookshop is a member of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association (IMBA), an organization that at one time listed the top-selling novels each month for all member stores. Although the IMBA no longer keeps such lists online, the Seattle store carries on the tradition and posted their most popular books for the past month:
April Hardcover Bestsellers
1. Amanda Quick - Otherwise Engaged
Kelley Armstrong - Sea Of Shadows
Donna Leon - By Its Cover
4. Mary Daheim - The Alpine Yeoman
CJ Box - Stone Cold
Harlan Coben - Missing You
Val McDermid - Northanger Abbey
Benjamin Black - The Black-Eyed Blonde
Elizabeth Lowell - Night Diver
Peter Robinson - Children Of The Revolution
Alan Bradley - The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches
Jussi Adler-Olsen - Purity Of Vengeance
Loren D. Estleman - Don't look For Me
Michael Robertson - Moriarty Returns A Letter
John Straley - Cold Storage Alaska
Pierre Lemaitre - Alex
April Trade Paperback Bestsellers
1. Maurizio De Giovanni - I Will Have Vengeance
2. Peter Spiegelman - Thick As Thieves
Max Barry - Lexicon
Gillian Flynn - Gone Girl
Burt Weissbourd - Inside Passage
Jussi Adler-Olsen - The Absent One
Craig Johnson - The Cold Dish
Ross Allison - Spooked In Seattle
Maurizio De Giovanni - Day Of The Dead
Jussi Adler-Olsen - A Conspiracy Of Faith
Jussi Adler-Olsen - The Keeper Of Lost Causes
Jo Nesbo - Cockroaches
Ben H. Winters - The Last Policeman
Curt Colbert - Seattle Noir
The nominees for the annual Anthony Awards were announced yesterday. The winner will be handed out at the annual Bouchercon conference in November, this year held in Long Beach, CA. The shortlist for Best Novel includes Robert Crais, Suspect; Sara J. Henry, A Cold and Lonely Place; William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace; Hank Phillippi Ryan, The Wrong Girl; and Julia Spencer-Fleming, Through the Evil Days. Check out the Bouchercon 2014 blog for the shorlists for Best First Novel, Best Paperback Original, Best Short Story, Best Critical Work, Best YA, Best TV Episode, and Best Audio Book.
Awards galore were also front and central at the CrimeFest convention in the UK over the weekend. Mystery Fanfare posted a listing of all the nominees on the Crime Writers Association shortlists for the International Dagger, Historical Dagger, Non-Fiction Dagger and Short Story Dagger, and Martin Edwards was honored with the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham Prize.
Also announced at the CrimeFest Saturday's Gala Dinner was the winner of the Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year to Linda, As in the Linda Murder, by Leif G.W. Persson; the Audible Sounds of Crime Award was given to The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith, read by Robert Glenister; the eDunnit Award for ebook went to Norwegian by Night, by Derek B. Miller; and Miller's book also won the Goldsboro Last Laugh Award for best humorous crime published in the UK. For the full list of nominees, check out the Crimefest website.
The new Spring issue of Mystery Fanfare is out, with a focus on Canadian crime fiction and is filled with essays, reviews and articles.
The latest edition of The Big Click was also released, an ezine published bimonthly. Their mission is "to find the best of new crime fiction in a variety of modes—we are especially interested in noir, confessional, weird and 'literary' fiction that depict and interrogate crime and social trespass." The new issue includes short stories from Heather L. Nelson and Gary Phillips and various reviews of new books.
Lit Reactor has announced their writing challenge for 2014. The 2012 challenge sought horror stories, while the 2013 event centered on sci-fi. The 2014 challenge is to be themed around crime fiction, with the Grand Prize winning story published in Thuglit, edited by Todd Robinson. The rules mandate stories of between 3,000 and 5,000 words, and although all subgenres are welcome, there are a few tropes that are not: no talian mafia, no hitmen, no sex crimes, and no serial killers.
Crime Fiction Lover has a guide to the works of John Connolly, who introduced his beloved character Charlie Parker in 1999's Every Dead Thing (which won the Shamus for best debut novel and also LA Times Book of the Year).
A sad bit of news: Author Martin Meyers passed away last week. As fellow author and friend Parnell Hall posted on Facebook, "Marty was the author of the Patrick Hardy series under his own name, and, with his wife, Annette Meyers, co-authored a series of historical mysteries under the name Maan Meyers, beginning with The Dutchman, set in New Amsterdam in 1664. Marty's short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen, as well as anthologies edited by Robert J. Randisi and Charlaine Harris. In 2002, Marty and Annette served as toastmasters at Malice Domestic."
This week's featured crime poem at the 5-2 is "Concerned About the 'How'" by Ann Clark, and the featured pulp of the week story at Beat to a Pulp is "No Hard Feelings" by Alec Cizak.
The Q&A roundup this week includes an interview with Reed Farrel Coleman over at the Mystery People; and the Sons of Spade blog welcomed author and former law enforcement officer David Putnam.