Ever hear a song used over and over in commercials and wonder where it came from? Advertisers seem to use the same classical tunes ad infinitum, and here is one you've probably heard in ads and movies, but may not know its source, the very lovely "Flower Duet" from the opera Lakmé by French composer Leo Delibes (sung here in an excerpt by Anna Netrebko & Elina Garanca):
Howard Melvin Fast (1914–2003) is perhaps best known for his popular historical fiction like Spartacus (the basis for the 1960 film by Stanley Kubrick) and his television scripts, including such programs as How the West Was Won and the Battle of Lexington and Concord, based on one of his novels. He was also blacklisted by the House un-American activities committee during the McCarthy era and became unpublishable. As a result, he started self-publishing (including Spartacus) and remade himself as the author of thrillers written under the pen name E.V. Cunningham, most featuring Masao Masuto, a Japanese-American detective in the Beverly Hills Police Department who's devoted to growng roses and Zen meditation.
Fast also wrote standalone crime fiction under his pseudonym, including the very first book he published as E.V. Cunningham, 1960's Sylvia, made into a film five years later, directed by Gordon Douglas and starring Peter Lawford, George Laharis and Carroll Baker. In his introduction to the 1992 reprint of the novel, published under the author's real name, Fast wrote "It began with a woman's name: Sylvia. I loved the name, I loved the (Franz Schubert) song, 'Who is Sylvia and what is she?' And the other sweet song 'Sylvia's hair is like the night.' Dark hair, raven black, a tall woman and beautiful. I could envision her as I might a living person."
Sylvia is a novel of suspense rather than crime-based detection story, focusing on would-be teacher of ancient history turned private investigator, Alan Macklin, who is handed a tough case by wealthy businessman Frederic Summers: trace the past of a beautiful woman you've never met, with only a book of poems, two lines of handwriting, and a fake story to go on. The mysterious woman in question is Summers' fiancee, Sylvia West, who owns property in Coldwater Canyon, raises prize-winning roses, is independently wealthy and fluent in French, Spanish and Chinese. But the story of her past doesn't check out, which is why the suspicious Summers hires Macklin to investigate.
Despite hating Summers for his cold objectivity and himself for taking the job for the money, Macklin sets out on an elusive trail through Sylvia's past, which grows more sordid yet strangely compelling as he travels to Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, New York City, El Paso, and across the border into Mexico. As he learns more of Sylvia's troubled past and her dark secrets, the down-on-his-luck private eye finds he's not only become obsessed with his phantom target, he's falling in love with her.
As Fast's first foray into the crime fiction genre, his neophyte chops become obvious when his characters tend to over-philosophize, such as Macklin noting, "There can be nothing as cold and deadly as an evening of pedagogues frozen in their timidity of thought and multifold institutional fears, or pompous and irrational in their half-knowledge and their book-bound ignorance. . . ." Yet Sylvia was popular enough at the time to be well received, praised in its reviews and sold to Paramount Pictures for the 1965 film. As an interesting aside, in France, where they didn't care about U.S. blacklists, Sylvia was published under Howard Fast's own name and sold over a hundred thousand copies.
Peter James was awarded the Crime Writers' Association Diamond Dagger, handed out each year by the CWA to a writer with a career marked by sustained excellence. James, who joins previous winners such as Elmore Leonard, Lee Child, Simon Brett, Lindsey Davis, and Val McDermid, is best known for his series of novels about the adventures of Detective Superintendent Roy Grace.
The inaugural issue of Dead Gun magazine is out, with new short tales of mayhem and murder from Paul Heatley, T. Fox Dunham, Bill Baber, Jeremy Estes, Robin Wyatt Dunn, Dusty Wallace, Christopher Davis, S.W. Lauden, J. David Jaggers, Jay Helmstutler, Bruce Harris, and Mark Sim. (Hat tip to Sandra Seamans.)
Writing for The Independent, author Benjamin Black discussed why The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler is not only the book of a lifetime but without question Black's favorite novel, even if it's not the best or most technically accomplished of the Marlowe novels.
If you are unfamiliar with Raymond Chandler's "Rules for Writing Mysteries," here's a refresher.
The Crime Fiction Ireland Blog profiled Dublin-born author Freeman Wills Crofts (1879–1957), one of the "big five" in the Golden Age of detective fiction who is largely unknown now, but whom Raymond Chandler described as "the soundest builder of them all when he doesn't get too fancy."
The International Crime Fiction blog noted there is a tendency in Western culture to present the evolution of crime fiction during the 20th century "as a purely Western phenomenon," and pointed out the genre was not exactly absent in Soviet Russia.
The Los Angeles Timesprofiled "A place where crime is often stranger than fiction."
If you were one of those unlucky (like me) not to be able to join the recent Agatha Christie-themed cruise that followed the crime-writer’s visit to Tenerife in the late 1920s, travel writer and Christie fan Allis Moss has a summary for you, complete with Christie’s grandson Mathew Prichard and on-board plays.
In the Q&A roundup this week, Criminal Element sat down with Suzy Spencer, author of the book Breaking Point, which deals with the case of Andrea Yates, who drowned all five of her children in 2001; the Mystery People ensnared Josh Stallings to talk about his novel Young Americans, a heist novel set in the glam-rock scene of seventies-era San Francisco; Omnimystery News welcomed Jim Stewart (author of Ochoco Reach) and Rebecca Marks (On the Rocks); Libby Cudmore took Paul D. Brazill's "Short, Sharp, Interview" challenge about her debut novel, The Big Rewind; Icelandic author Ragnar Jónasson talked with Eurodrama about his influences and being published in the UK; and Karin Slaughter interviewed fellow author Alifair Burke about Burke's new thriller, The Ex.
Emma Donoghue, the writer of both the novel and Academy Award nominated-screenplay Room, is teaming up with Monumental Pictures to make a feature adaptation of her novelFrog Music. The novel is set in the summer of 1876 in San Francisco in the grip of a record-breaking heatwave, smallpox epidemic, and festering racism and fear, and is inspired by the real-life unsolved murder of a young woman, Jenny Bonnet.
Kill the Messenger director Michael Cuesta has signed on to helm American Assassin, based on a script by Stephen Schiff from the Vince Flynn spy novel. CBS Films has been aiming to make a movie centered on Flynn's protagonist, Mitch Rapp, for several years and has decided to focus first on how Rapp became a CIA agent.
Sam Raimi is circling the director's chair for the remake of Jacques Audiard’s thriller, A Prophet, based on the screenplay rewrite by author Dennis Lehane. The original film followed an illiterate French-Arab teen who is sent down for six years and initiated into the prison’s criminal underworld, then starts plotting "his rapid rise through the violent and brutal inmate hierarchy to become a formidable player."
Robert Knepper has been cast in Paramount’s upcoming sequel Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, playing Gen. Harkness, a retired general-turned-CEO of a private military contractor firm. The film once again stars Tom Cruise in the title role as he returns to the headquarters of his old Army unit, only to find he’s been accused of a 16-year-old murder.
Theo James is in talks to take over the role Josh Hutcherson was to play in the political thriller Backstabbing for Beginners, playing an idealistic UN program coordinator who becomes involved in the fight for oil in post-war Iraq and uncovers a conspiracy. Ben Kingsley is already on board to play a mentor for Hutcherson's character in the project, which is based on international relations veteran Michael Soussan’s memoir Backstabbing For Beginners: My Crash Course In International Diplomacy.
USA Network has given a 10-episode, straight-to-series order to Eyewitness, an adaptation of the Norwegian crime thriller Øyevitne. The show explores a grisly crime from the point of view of the eyewitnesses, two innocent teenage boys who secretly witness a shooting in a forest and barely escape with their lives.
David Simon’s The Deuce, set in the porn industry during the 1970s and ’80s and starring James Franco, has landed a series order from HBO. The project is co-written by author George Pelecanos and centers on twin brothers, Vincent Martino and Frankie Martino, (both played by Franco) who became fronts for mob control of the volatile and lucrative sex industry.
In addition to a new Nancy Drew reboot, CBS gave pilot commitments for two new crime dramas from Supergirl executive producer Greg Berlanti. The first is Out of Body (written by Jennifer Johnson), which follows a criminal who finds himself transported into the bodies of people in peril, and must use his experience to keep from being killed, and the second is an untitled project (from writer Chris Fedak) that follows a young billionaire tech genius who utilizes his cutting-edge technology to partner with a street-smart but old-school San Francisco police detective.
Sherlock fans may be disappointed to hear that the fourth season of the show probably won't air until sometime in 2017, according to PBS president Paula Kerger. Although the show will begin production early this year, the busy schedules of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman add up to a delay in Sherlock's timeline.
ABC released a trailer for the return of How to Get Away with Murder, which premieres on February 11th.
A trailer was also released for the second season of the BBC's Yorkshire crime drama Happy Valley, with Catherine Cawood continuing to head up her team of police officers in The Calder Valley. James Norton, who plays Tommy Lee Royce, also returns for Season 2, although there will be new stars and new story lines.
The BBC also posted a trailer for its upcoming miniseries adaptation of John Le Carré's novel The Night Manager, starring Tom Hiddleston as a former soldier working as a night manager at a hotel who is recruited by British Intelligence to complete an undercover mission, with double-crossing courtesy of Hugh Laurie.
Suspense Radio's Inside Edition podcast started off the new year with a trio of bestselling authors, including Alan Jacobson, Jeff Abbott, and Leigh Adams.
Private eye author M. Ruth Myers chatted with mystery author Debbi Mack on Crime Cafe about Myers' Maggie Sullivan mystery series and other works.
CrimeFiction.FM welcomed debut author R.W. Wallace to talk about her atmospheric mystery, The Red Brick Cellars, set in Toulouse, France, where two unlikely sleuths team up to solve the murder of a beloved politician.
Theatre Out, Orange County's gay and lesbian theatre company, is presenting an all-male version of the Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler classic Sweeney Todd (The Demon Barber of Fleet Street), which, like the recent Broadway revival, will be set in an insane asylum. David C. Carnevale directs the production, which continues through Feb. 13 at the California venue.
The stage thriller Gaslight opened at Toronto's Ed Mirvish Theatre, with a run through February 28th. The show features northern Irish actress Flora Montgomery alongside Game of Thrones stars Owen Teale and Ian McElhinney in the psychological tale of a woman convinced she's losing her mind when her husband is away on business - but is the terror only in her imagination or are dark secrets living in her home? The surprise arrival of a retired detective leads to a shocking discovery that shakes her respectable Victorian marriage to its core.
I heard my first steel drum band when I attended the World's Fair in Knoxville in 1982. These musicians are pretty amazing, and can carry off some pretty complicated tunes, like an arrangement of the "Hallelujah" chorus from Handel's Messiah. Here's a version by the Invaders Steel Drum Orchestra from the Dollywood Festival of Nations:
And for a kick of historical fun, check out another version via a clip from the David Frost show that also featured Liberace.
Paul Winterton (1908-2001), the son of a journalist and member of Parliament, was educated at the London School of Economics and London University, receiving his B.Sc. in political science and economics in 1928. He was on the staff of The Economist for four years and worked for fourteen years for the London News Chronicle as reporter and foreign correspondent. He served in the Moscow office from 1942 to 1945, where he was also the correspondent of the BBC's Overseas Service.
After the war, he turned to full-time writing of detective and adventure novels and produced more than fifty books and numerous short stories under the pen names of Roger Bax and Paul Somers, although the majority were published under his Andrew Garve pseudonym. His work, translated into over twenty languages and adapted for TV, included varied backgrounds from his many travels, such as Russia, newspaper offices, the West Indies, sailing, the Australian outback, politics, mountaineering and forestry. Dr. Robin Winks, Yale historian and an expert on detective fiction, once wrote ''Garve's sense of place is uncanny."
Garve was also known for never repeating a plot, and 1953's Death and the Sky Above follows the plight of Charles Hilary, the henpecked husband of the bitter, alcoholic and vindictive Louise who won't grant Charles the divorce he wants so he can be free of his marital prison. One fateful day, he leaves for a cricket match and makes plans to be with Kathryn Forrester, a successful news reporter who loves Charles so much she's willing to leave her career and move to France to be with him.
But when Louise is found murdered and Charles' many letters pleading for a divorce are discovered, he's arrested for her murder and scheduled to be executed by hanging. A prison fire enables him to escape with Kathryn, but in their attempt to cross the Channel, their boat capsizes and Charles is recaptured. Resourceful journalist Kathryn works feverishly to prove his innocence as the clock ticks away toward her lover's last day on Earth, but no one will listen...
Several of Garve's novels were adapted for the screen, including Megstone Plot, made into the 1959 movie A Touch of Larceny starring James Mason and George Sanders, and one of the author's pseudonymous Roger Bax books became the 1953 movie Never Let Me Go with Clark Gable and Gene Tierney. Death and the Sky Above was made into an installment of NBC's "Kraft Mystery Theater" in December 1961 starring Peter Williams, Petra Davies and Ursula Howells and directed by Robert Lynn.
Winterton/Garve also served the crime fiction community in another important role, as a founding member and first joint secretary of the Crime Writers' Association, along with Elizabeth Ferrars.
Lis Wiehl earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School and her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland and has forged a career in both tracks. As an attorney, she served as a Federal Prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s office, was a legal analyst and reporter for NBC News, NPR’s All Things Considered, and Fox News, and is a Professor of Law at New York Law School. On the literary side, she has published a series featuring Seattle prosecutor Mia Quinn and homicide detective Charlie Carlson, although her latest legal thriller is The Newsmakers.
The Newsmakers centers on TV reporter Erica Sparks, who is detemined to success in the cutthroat world of big-time broadcasting, even if it means leaving her eight-year-old daughter in the custody of her ex-husband. Erica lands her dream job at Global News Network in New York, but on her very first assignment, Erica inadvertently witnesses — and films — a horrific tragedy, scooping all the other networks. Mere weeks later, another tragedy strikes — again, right in front of Erica and her cameras. But when she becomes a superstar overnight, is it due to her hard work or the result of a spiraling conspiracy that may expose her troubled past?
Wiehl stops by In Reference to Murder today to take some Author R&R and discuss the inspiration for the novel:
I was sitting in a steakhouse in midtown Manhattan when the idea for The Newsmakers hit me.
I'd been casting around for an idea for a new mystery-thriller series. I quickly decided I wanted to set it in a world I knew intimately: cable network news. After all, I'd been a legal analyst and anchor at FOX News for almost 15 years.
I've always been fascinated by journalism and its search for the truth. I think it's a noble and important profession. But it does have a darker side. It gives rogue reporters a platform to advance their careers by embellishing, or even making up, stories. I remembered the Jayson Blair scandal. Blair was the young New York Times reporter who both plagiarized and fabricated stories, often inventing characters and putting words in their mouths that bolstered whatever point he was trying to make in his article. What would happen, I wondered, if an ambitious, even ruthless television journalist engaged in the same thing, with devastating repercussions?
I felt the idea was promising but that it lacked a certain oomph. Then one day my friend Steve Berry, who also writes thrillers and mysteries, and is also an attorney, was in New York. He visited me at FOX news headquarters at 1211 Sixth Avenue, and we then went out to lunch at Del Frisco's steakhouse directly across the street. I was sitting facing the street and over Steve's shoulder I could see 1211 and it scrolling news ticker.
I told Steve my thoughts about my new series, the idea of a reporter who basically creates news to further his career. Steve listened thoughtfully, nodded, and then said the two words that ignited my imagination: "Go big."
I looked across the street at the towering skyscraper that seemed to pierce the clouds, its lower floors belted with the continuous news feed, and it hit it me: What if it wasn't one immoral reporter who was manufacturing the news, what if it was an entire network, led by an evil megalomaniac? And what if his goal wasn't just personal ambition, it was nothing less than world domination?
I felt an immediate surge of adrenaline and ran my brainstorm past Steve, whose eyes lit up. I'm afraid I was lousy company for the rest of the meal, because I couldn't wait to get back to my office and start making notes.
As I scribbled, my excitement grew and I called my agent, Todd Shuster, who has a fantastic editorial eye. Todd loved the idea. He had just read a psychological thriller called The Mentor by Sebastian Stuart, and suggested Stuart might be a strong collaborator. I called Seb and we had an immediate rapport, bouncing ideas off each other with mounting enthusiasm. To my delight he came on board.
The star of the series is Erica Sparks, a young and ambitious regional reporter with more than one dark secret in her past. Erica is the product of an abusive childhood, and struggles to build a healthy relationship with her own 8-year-old daughter. When she's hired by a fledgling cable news network founded by tech billionaire Nylan Hastings, she moves to New York and slowly finds herself pulled into a web of evil and depravity. While the story is certainly big and plot driven, we worked to layer the book with emotional complexity and suspense.
It was great fun to take readers behind the scenes at a cable news network and introduce them to everyone from the hair and makeup people, to the sound and camera techs, to the CEO. It's a messy, thrilling, and ruthless world that literally has its finger on the planet's pulse.
That's how my new series was born. Sometimes I wonder what would, or wouldn't, have happened if Steve and I had swapped places at lunch that day.
The book awards season has begun with the announcement of the 2016 Edgar Award nominations, handed out annually by the Mystery Writers of America. The Best Novel finalists include The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter; The Lady From Zagreb by Philip Kerr; Life or Death by Michael Robotham; Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy; Canary by Duane Swierczynski; and Night Life by David C. Taylor. For all the various nominees, follow this link to the official Edgar Awards page.
The Left Coast Crime Conference also announced their "Lefty" Award nominations. The 2016 finalists for Best Humorous Mystery Novel include Lord of the Wings by Donna Andrews; Plantation Shudders by Byron Ellen; February Fever by Jess Lourey; Dying for a Donut; and Crushed Velvet by Diane Vallere. For all the nominees, check out the conference blog link.
ITW’s Thriller School, an online seven-week program that begins March 14th, 2016, still has a few open slots available. Each instructor will teach an aspect of craft though a podcast, written materials that include further reading and study suggestions, and an entire week of on-line Q&A with the registered students. Authors scheduled to lead the classes include David Corbett, Meg Gardiner, F. Paul Wilson, Hank P. Ryan, James Scott Bell, Peter James, and Lee Child.
Tami Hoag was named as the 2016 Writers’ Police Academy Guest of Honor. Hoag has eighteen consecutive New York Times bestselling thrillers to her credit, with more than 40 million books in print published in more than thirty languages worldwide.
The Seattle Mystery Bookshop posted a plea online for help in keeping the store going. They have set up a GoFundMe account with a target goal is $50,000 in hopes of getting to a stable financial footing and continue to serve the mystery reading community. They have some nifty rewards as thank you gifts in various funding categories, including art work, signed books and general bookstore swag.
The new crime poem at the 5-2 is "Habitual" by Ruth Danon.
In the Q&A roundup, the Mystery People grilled Terry Shames about her latest Samuel Craddock novel, The Necessary Murder Of Nonie Blake; Sara Paretsky named her "5 Favorite Pieces of “Mysterious” Classical Music" for WFMT; Omnimystery News welcomed Carolyn Mulford to talk about the latest book in her "Show Me" series, Show Me the Ashes, and also Rebecca Marks to discuss her new mystery series opener, On the Rocks; and Ian Hamilton spoke with the CBC about The Princeling of Nanjing, his new novel with globetrotting forensic accountant and martial arts expert, Ava Lee.