Monday, October 29, 2012

Opinion & Blatant Promotion — Creating The San Francisco Series And Other Windmill Tilting

The books for which I’m best known, or to put it another way, the least unknown, are those in the Deets Shanahan series.  The lead character in the ten books that currently comprise the series is a septuagenarian, semi-retired private detective in Indianapolis.  He has a lovely, funny, tough girlfriend, two aging animals and a couple of good friends.  There are other regulars as well. 

I like these people.  And while I may not be done with their antics, writers, like everyone else, yearn after awhile for a little variety in the company we keep or imagine.  I’ve written a couple of stand-alone novels and a few years ago I began a new series set in San Francisco where I’ve lived 16 years this time around.  Unbeknownst to me, the new series began with a standalone novella called Mascara, which introduced a very private eye named Noah Lang and his accidental and originally unwanted friend, a multi-talented, gender-shifting immigrant called Thanh.  Because it was novella length and therefore deemed unmarketable by my agent at the time, the book sat in my computer as both a story and a screenplay.  It did so quietly and no doubt, like a fine wine, aged appropriately. (That’s what I tell myself, anyway.)

When I approached the idea of a new series, I picked the book up again and decided to use this as an inspiration for a full-length book in a new series using those characters. The only change I made was to add a female private eye to the crew.  This was premeditated act, I admit.  I did so for three reasons.  One, I had discovered with the Shanahan series that many of the readers liked Shanahan’s girlfriend, Maureen, so well that there were subtle suggestions I should knock off the old man and set her up as the main character.  That indicated to me that I might be capable of writing a believable female character.  Two, I introduced a female private eye because it was clear that more than half the mystery readers in this world are women. Third, I often write books that have two plots going at the same time.  Having a woman P.I. would give me another angle and greater creative latitude.

Because Noah was already established as unambitious, willing to take short cuts and operating on, oddly enough, his intuition, it seemed like I needed a more professional, principled and logical counterpoint.  Carly Paladino was born.  Cool, cautious and professional, she struck out on her own having reached a glass ceiling at a prestigious security firm.  Both are strongly independent characters. They bring out the best and worst in each other.

Carly Paladino ends up at this down-and-out investigation firm because Noah needed help with the rent.  And she needed an inexpensive office for her start-up business.  It’s a partnership made in a kind of humorous purgatory.

Severn House published the first two in the new series — Death in Pacific Heights and Death in North Beach, both to generally very positive reviews. But these weren’t the books loyal Shanahan readers and underfunded libraries wanted.  Severn House declined a third. The thing is I wanted to see the series continue.  My novella, Mascara, was renamed Mascara, Death in the Tenderloin and published as a prequel novella to the series featuring Noah and Thanh.  I published it myself. 

Penguin picked up the second novella, Death in the Haight, (now available in all e-book formats) as part of their re-launch of Dutton’s Guilt-Edged mysteries.  It focused on a more hard-boiled Noah Lang mystery — prostitutes, rogue cops and baseball.  Much of it takes place at AT&T Park during a Giants-Dodgers game.  I’m also polishing a novella with Carly as the lead.  Death on the Great Highway has to do with big oil, private armies and the murder of a lieutenant governor. I tilt at windmills, often ones that I build myself.

Meanwhile, I have written the first draft of my memoirs.  I can hear you now. What? You are writing your memoirs?  How pretentious can you get?  It’s tentatively titled Albion and New Augusta, Confessions of a Midlist Writer.  And of course I’m exaggerating a little.  I may be somewhat lower than “Midlist.”  No revelations of celebrity secrets.  I know no celebrities.  Nothing of historic importance.  Just summing things up.  I’ll be putting excerpts on this blog from time to time.

If you want to check out the new series — or the Shanahans, for that matter — please go here.  Many are available in trade paperback and on various forms of e-book.  The newest, Death in the Haight, though not on paper, can be found in nearly every existing e-book format for $2.99.

One semi-final note.  I have to admit that I think that Asphalt Moon is one of my better books.  But I was surprised to learn that a used “big print” copy was listed on Amazon for $9,999.00.  Look out, Dickens. Obviously a misprint, but I’d be happy to sell you a couple of copies for half of that.

On the final note, if you’d like to receive these posts automatically (usually Monday, Wednesday and Friday), they can be sent to you automatically by putting your email address in the box on the right, labeled “Follow By Email.” Your address will not be published or used for anything else.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Film Pairing — Elmore Leonard On Celluloid

Elmore Leonard is one of those writers whose books are regularly snatched up by Hollywood. 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Mickey Rourke
When I revisited the film Kill Shot, the 2008 film based on Leonard’s book, I was a bit surprised at the seriousness of the film.  True, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s powerfully agile performance as a dangerous fool offered some comic relief. Essentially, though Kill Shot is not funny. The film was intended to keep the viewer on edge as we witnessed the attempts on the lives of ordinary people Diane Lane and Thomas Jane by Gordon-Levitt’s character and the scary, professional hitman played by Mickey Rourke.  As is the case for most of Leonard’s characters, the bad guys are more interestingly drawn than the others.  My attention picked up whenever the killers were on screen whether they were killing or not.  Their interaction was well-drawn.  Rosario Dawson does a fine job as the not too bright Gordon-Levitt’s not too bright girlfriend.  The film, directed by John Madden, was released in 2008.

Dennis Farina, Scene Stealer
Unlike Kill Shot, Get Shorty, relies less on whether or not someone was going to get whacked, but on the humor surrounding the stupidity of the crooks.  This is the Elmore Leonard I enjoy most.  The story reaches a sort of believable absurdity.  The plot is convoluted, compared to Kill Shot, but it sets up a funny and clever end.  We watch a kindly, charming con man, played by a likable, laid-back John Travolta as he pits various gangsters against each other in a way that seems to right several wrongs.

For my money, as in Leonard’s books, the characters here make the movie.  And the cast is up to it.  Gene Hackman plays a shallow Hollywood director/producer.  Rene Russo is a B picture actress with ties to a major star, Danny DeVito.  The scene stealers, for me, were Dennis Farina and Delroy Lindo as gangsters with James Gandolfini who is supposed to be an enforcer, but is happily not quite up to the task. You’ll also notice Bette Midler in a small role and cameos by Harvey Keitel, Penny Marshall and Jane Fonda.  This film, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and released in 1995, is a lot of fun.

Incidentally, a couple of weeks ago, we talked about older writers.  It should be noted that the highly regarded, prolific Elmore Leonard is 86. His most recent novel, Raylan, was released earlier this year.

To accompany the movies, you might get inventive with some cocktails, moving from the serious to the light-hearted.  For inspiration visit Vince Keenan’s wonderful web site. Click on cocktails. Of course, you may wish to wander around the rest of posts as well.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Opinion — In San Francisco With A New York State Of Mind

John Irving recently commented on advice to writers often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, who purportedly said, “Write what you know.”  Irving said that it was “… a horrible limitation to put on the novel or play.  Don’t learn anything.  Why don’t you just say that?”

Ernest Hemingway, Writer & Pugilist
No doubt there would be a great battle of egos if they were contemporaries.  Given their love of proving their physical superiority — Hemingway the boxer and Irving the wrestler —might have had to “get ready to rumble!”  In this case, I think Hemingway’s advice was right and Irving got it wrong.  I doubt Hemingway would suggest writers “stop learning.”  Seems to me he was trying to tell writers that they should know what they are talking about. That in no way keeps us from learning more about anything or certainly the subjects we intend to engage — at least to the extent we engage them.  Nothing wrong with research.

The other night I watched CSI New York.  I gave up on the CSIs some time ago.  I tuned in because the promos showed that part of the show took place in San Francisco.  I suspect many people are curious to see how the places they live are reflected on screen.  In this case, I’m not sure why CSI bothered.  They got everything wrong. 

John Irving, Writer & Wrestler
For starters, there are no cable cars anywhere near Haight Ashbury.  Nor is there a corner of Fulton and Page.  The two streets run parallel. And of course we have all sorts of young hippies according to the recent episode.  The problem is there really aren’t any young hippies.  Hippies, bless them, those that remain, are on social security.   At the end of the episode, one of the New York characters is invited back to the city by the Bay to continue a romance. She says she’s not sure she fits in with blue skies and suntans.  There are blue skies here from time to time and they are especially prized because of their infrequency.  But more to the point, you won’t find very many, if any, tanned San Franciscans.  In the case of geography, the truth was only a Google map away and with regard to other social and environmental observations, perhaps a brief conversation with someone who lived here might have helped.  Next time I try to set a realistic story in New York, I’ll just put some coconut palms and flamingoes along the Hudson River and the corner of Park Avenue and Lexington.

Not only did the show provide false information, it left those of us familiar with the city a reason not to suspend our disbelief with regard to the story.  So, I’m with the school of “write what you know.”

I know there is a much larger interpretation to the discussion surrounding “write what you know,” than merely getting the geography right — and certainly you can write about what you imagine.  You don’t have to die to write a murder scene is also true.  But there is a word, authenticity, that is bandied about now. It’s one of the few trendy words I like.  Unless the writer invents a city, he or she should get the street names right.  Unless the writer invents a universe or is otherwise playing with such things as gravity or the doors of perception, it seems that knowing the subject matter is a kind of minimal expectation.

It seems to me it is hard to convince a reader or a viewer about anything when you get a lot of it wrong.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Film Pairing — The Expectations Game, A Hit And A Miss

Bourne IV, lots of action, but more plot
I went to see The Bourne Legacy because I had seen the first three Bournes and enjoyed them. I went see the first three because Matt Damon was in them, because the formula was entertaining, and because it grabbed me at minute one and didn’t let go until the credits.  I love vacations.  I had lowered expectations for The Bourne Legacy.  I was pretty sure it would be the last gasp, that the people who owned the rights were squeezing the last bit of toothpaste from the tube, that the story would be forced.  Not so.  While the action slowed a tiny bit, the story was richer and than its predecessors.  While Jeremy Renner is no Matt Damon, he didn’t have to nor did he try to be.  He created a separate, perhaps more believable character with clear motivation in a believable story (well as much as they can be in these super-hero movies).  Fine performances by Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton and Albert Finney contributed to the high quality of this half-removed sequel. Congratulations go to director Tony Gilroy and to Eric Van Lustbader who picked up the Bourne series after creator Robert Ludlum’s death.

A Must See for Christopher Walken Fans
I went to see Seven Psychopaths because it was directed by Martin McDonagh, who directed one of my favorite films, In Bruges, and because Christopher Walken was in it.    What could go wrong?  For many, I read, not a lot went wrong.  Madmen chatting and arguing in between bloody murders, with moments of dark, deapan humor.  Unlike The Bourne Legacy where I expected little and got a lot, with Seven Psychopaths I expected a lot, and got a disjointed story with spotty humor and no one, save Walken, to care for.  Frankly, I didn’t even like the dog.  The film has a highly regarded cast.  In addition to Walken, we get a wonderfully quirky (I mean this in a good way) and talented cast: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits and Harry Dean Stanton.  For me, that wasn’t enough.  It didn’t hold together. Sometimes this happens when the director is also the producer and the writer.  There’s nobody there to say, “wait a minute.”  On the other hand, there are those who believe that under the surface silliness and confusion, there is a sendup of psychopath killer-based Hollywood films.  Maybe, I missed something.  But I think Kill Bill already did that.

Both movies are in the theaters now.  And certainly The Bourne Legacy is well worth seeing on the biggest screen possible.  Seven Psychopaths is entertaining enough — the actors are fun to watch — for a rental or a download.

To accompany the films, one might have a few sips of brandy to take the chill off the opening of Legacy and then switch to beer for Seven Psychopaths as you pal around with Colin Farrell’s character, a writer keeping track of the psychos who is never without a bottle in his hand.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Opinion and Observations — Writing And Writers Of A Certain Age

A few weeks ago a friend of mine who has been writing and doing it masterfully all her life undertook her first mystery novel.  She is incredibly creative and has far greater skill in the mechanics of writing — where to put a semicolon, for example — than I could ever hope to have.  I remember specifically her catching my phrase about a “dense population,” when I actually meant “densely populated.”  She is only a few years behind me chronologically, which means she’s not exactly standing in line for a Justin Bieber concert, but she thinks about the idea of starting a mystery writing career at this time in her life and wonders, as any of us might, whether it is too late.

P.D. James
I started a bit late in life myself. While I had written to support myself most of my life, I was 44 before I submitted my first book to a publisher and 46 when it was published.  That was in 1990.  And it was, in fact, a late start.  After briefly communicating with my friend about the subject of age and writing, I googled “writers with a late start.”  There was a list of very well known writers who started late, according to the list maker’s criteria. His idea of “late” meant writers in their upper thirties to mid-forties. That seemed harsh. It was later than I thought. Any others? I couldn’t’ find any. I did find Frank McCourt, who didn’t begin until he was 62.  But, overall, there was little to support the Grandma Moses concept in the writing field.

A few weeks ago, I looked through the October issue of Vanity Fair. The subject of the month’s Proust Questionnaire interview was Herman Wouk, the Pulitzer Prize winning author who wrote, among other great works, The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War and War, Youngblood Hawk as well as War and Remembrance.  He is 97.  His new novel, The Lawgiver, is due out this year.  And in the mystery genre, there is P.D. James.  She is 92.  Death Comes to Pemberley was published last year to raves.  Agatha Christie was writing well into her eighties.  So, if you are sixty now, you might only have 20 or 30 years to make a name for yourself.  There were many other writers who wrote late into their lives. But, again, few who started after they received their AARP membership request letters.

Herman Wouk
Even so, I would tell anyone considering that first novel at midlife or beyond to ignore history. And I would offer these thoughts instead: The first is, of course: if you want to and have the passion to carry it through, do it.  The second is if you have spent your whole life dealing in words, communicating as an art or craft or discipline, you cannot really say you are just beginning when you decide to write a book.  You have years of practical experience that lends itself to what you only consider to be a new calling.  Third: There is something else that is vital here.  An artist friend of mine said many years ago that creative people have to fill up their bucket before they can put brush to canvas or, I contend, pen to paper.  This means you need to have experienced or actively observed life before you have anything to say.  What do you know?  What have you seen? How have you dealt with all the challenges that simply living a life give you? Living more years is actually an advantage, not a disadvantage — unless you want to be a ballet dancer or a short stop.

When one ages, there may be some loss of mental agility and certainly energy levels may diminish.  But we have lived long enough to work smarter, observe better and draw from a wider range of experience.  Painters, writers and musicians have that slight advantage over football players.  If it takes us a little longer to construct a sentence than it did when we were 18, at least we won’t get head butted and thrown on the ground.

Now would I advise a 60-year-old to quit his or her job to write that first novel?  No.  I would echo the advice given to EVERY new writer, young or old.  Unless you’ve written your fourth or fifth Harry Potter, don’t quit your day job.  Of course, I foolishly ignored that advice several times.  But if you can take the time, however you steal it from every day you can, and have the passion to write that first novel, do it.  Do it now — before you forget.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Film Pairing — Jail Time With The 25th Hour And The Shawshank Redemption

In the 25th Hour, the character played by Ed Norton has 24 hours before he must begin his seven-year sentence for drug dealing.  As the time nears, he engages in a long and scathing rant against every group of human beings he can identify, each ethnic group, religious faith, and each social class in New York City’s vast and diverse population before he realizes they are not responsible for who he is or what he has done.  Norton is the central character in Spike Lee’s post 9-11 masterpiece, but we get a serious look at a trust-fund high school teacher who is torn by fear more than principle in his desire for a street-wise, underage, needy student.  Philip Seymour Hoffman is the repressed professor, one of Norton’s best friends.  Norton’s other close friend is a successful and ethically challenged Wall Street trader, who sees fit to judge others’ ethical behavior. Barry Pepper gives us a preview of his future role playing a real-life sleaze in Casino Jack.  The underrated Brian Cox plays Norton’s father, whose life has been inadvertently put in jeopardy by his son’s actions.  Rosario Dawson, Norton’s girlfriend, completes the superb ensemble cast who examine taking responsibility for one’s actions with regard to others, those close to you as well as the larger society in which you live.  The 2002 film was based on the book of the same name by David Benioff, who also wrote the screenplay.

Most films, even many of the good ones, eventually fade away.  Some films, much like the 25th Hour gain respect and audiences as time passes.  The Shawshank Redemption is one that while it was highly regarded by critics in 1994 when it was first released, it didn’t do well at the box office.  Since then it has continued to garner praise and viewership, doing very well on cable and especially well on DVD 18 years later.

Based on a novella by Stephen King, called Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, it made it to the big screen with Tim Robbins as a banker convicted of his wife’s murder and Morgan Freeman as the banker’s new prison buddy.  The film, released in 1994, is not fast-paced; but it is solid gold.  As a companion piece to the 25th Hour, we must again think about what it means to lock someone away for years and years.  What does this do to a human being?   Without being a “bleeding heart,” and clearly understanding that dangerous people need to be separated from society, the prison system, then and now, can and often is our democracy’s dirty, little secret.

In this case, we witness a man who has done no wrong on the outside, switches sides, it appears, on the inside.  And we witness a man, played by the incomparable James Whitmore, who has spent 50 years on the inside try to adjust to the unfamiliar world outside.  The Shawhank Redemption is about freedom and hope in the most confining and hopeless conditions.  However, it is not schmaltzy.  The film reminds us how difficult holding on to hope can be. 

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards.

Recommending something to sip while watching these two intense films is difficult.  For the 25th Hour, we can pick up on the “going away party” with champagne freely flowing.  With The Shawshank Redemption, we might want to look at the great scene on the hot tar roof, where the convicts get an unusual gift, ice-cold bottles of “Bohemian” beer.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Opinion — Burn Notice, Making A Violent Miami Fun Again

Miami is one of those great backdrop cities.  I wouldn’t want to live there (too hot), but it is exciting.  I’ve visited many times.  Good food, great beaches, danger, adventure and a wonderfully, stylish sleaziness that makes it distinctive.  So, in the tradition or perhaps besting the traditions of Miami Vice and CSI Miami, here is Burn Notice.

After I watched the first episode on Netflix, I wasn’t sure I was going to watch a second. I didn’t warm to the main character.  He possessed a cockiness that would have been acceptable if there had been a level of charm to make the medicine go down.  In fact, the only character that appealed to me was Sam, an affable everyman who was quite capable of deadly force. I thought that was a nice touch. You kind of expect Clint Eastwood’s characters to get mean if they have to, but not a nice guy like Sam. 

I gave it a second chance. I was hooked.  And after having a similar thing happen to me with White Collar, I wanted to figure out how I got the habit.  How could I become addicted to something that, in a way, didn’t seem all that special?  This wasn’t Downton Abbey or The Wire for that matter. I’m sure smarter minds had the addictive formula figured out a long time ago. But I was just discovering it.

It’s the tease.  It doesn’t always work.  Let me explain. I started watching The Killing. I was deeply impressed. The acting and the story were multi-dimensional, the characters richly drawn and wonderfully acted.  There was a real urgency in the way the story unfolded.  There were enough twists to keep the viewer guessing.  We were left hanging at the end of each episode.  I was willing to hang on. I’d wait until the end of the season if I had to. It was that good.  Then, at the end of season, there was nothing.  Still no resolution.  None. Nothing ended.  We, the viewers, were to wait until the next season.

Well, fool me once….  I didn’t go back.  I felt like I wasted my time.  It’s the feeling you get when you didn’t know you were starting a show that at the last moment, just when you thought you’d get the answer, the screen goes dark and the words “To Be Continued” appear.  All tease. Suddenly you are left in the lurch.  You are not satisfied, or at least I’m not. If it continues the following week, I might tune in. But I’m pissed. In the case of The Killing,” I’d been teased every week for weeks and I finally decided I’d let the damned murderer go free.  I didn’t care anymore.

 What both Burn Notice and White Collar do is give you some satisfaction while dangling something more promising ahead.  Fundamentally, they give you a resolution to each episode while keeping you hanging on a larger plot, or plots in the case of Burn Notice. In fact, this more explosive light-hearted thriller actually takes this idea one step further. 

I hope this makes sense: In essence, each episode of Burn Notice deals with a minimum of three plots, only one of which is resolved at the end of each episode.  Another plot ends after maybe three or four episodes.  All the while the plot that is the central premise — why has he been burned and who did it — continues not only from show to show, not just throughout the first subplot, but also from season to season. Add to all this a backstory of the main character as well as the others and you have quite an intricate spider web.  You just can’t break free.

Jeffrey Donovan plays the smart-ass spy that nearly kept me from watching episode two.  He is, however, one of the main reasons I continue now.  As a spy his job is to play various other characters.  He does that well and, as I discovered, often with humor.  This show, much like White Collar, doesn’t take itself seriously.  In one episode, Donovan does Eastwood’s Dirty Harry or any character Eastwood plays — a few simple, threatening words said in a low growling whisper.  Hilarious.  At one point they also unite Cagney and Lacey, though not as Cagney and Lacey, but as elderly women friends. Maybe this is what they would have been like once they were on a police pension. 

Unlike White Collar, though, Burn Notice is violent.  And none of the characters are more violent than the lead’s scantily clad girlfriend Gabrielle Anwar, whose answer to any problem is either “shoot them” or “blow them up.”  Lots of people get shot.  Lots of people and places get blown up. (With several seasons behind them, it’s amazing there are any buildings left in Miami.)  They must have a big budget. The third main character is Sam.  Bruce Campbell, as I mentioned at the top — who just might be Marshall from How I Met Your Mother at mid-life, but much deadlier — is excellent. 

The stories can be a little corny and repetitive especially if you are watching them in marathon fashion as I am. But this isn’t Pulitzer Prize material anyway, just absolutely well-done action drama that hits all the right notes.  And Miami couldn’t be any more inviting than it is here.  I’m ready to go back.  I hope the show can stay there.  Reportedly there has been some trouble between the show’s producers and the civic powers in that sunny Florida city that might have prevented a seventh season. Late reports indicate an agreement has been reached. A seventh season in Miami is possible.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Film Pairing — An Odd Couple On The Best Crime Movies List

Sometimes great movies slip into oblivion.  Running on Empty, rarely talked about, was suggested by the blog “Tipping My Fedora,” a rich source for the analysis of crime fiction books and movies.  The other film, Miller’s Crossing pops up on one list or another, but it seems to be the critics’ stepchild when it comes to the almost sainted Coen brothers, who wrote, produced and directed the film. You are likely to hear more about Fargo, Raising Arizona or The Big Lebowski, where the comedy is closer to the surface. Miller’s Crossing, more like my favorite Blood Simple, is darker and a more ambitious film.  But the comedy, a bit more subtle it seems, is there and the movie is well worth the time.

Running on Empty is a small movie, low-key and its drama is actually not the crime, not the violence, not bringing the criminals to justice. It’s the backstory.  The family is in hiding, has been for years because of a politically motivated crime committed by the mother when she was young and revolutionary.  Her arrest would destroy the family.  But the incessant fear and hyper vigilance as well as the constant running takes a toll on the family. The pressure becomes almost unbearable as the oldest son must choose between keeping the family together and having a life of his own. Few actors can pull off the sort of vulnerability shown by the young River Phoenix  Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape comes to mind — but this is the performance that makes the film.  Judd Hirsch, Christine Lahti and Martha Plimpton form the main cast for this film directed by Sidney Lumet.  The film was up for several Academy and Golden Globe nominations.  It was loosely based on-real life situations.
Miller’s Crossing is a big movie, high key and its drama is the constant crime and violence. While I’m sure there are many who would disagree, Miller’s Crossing is magnificent. It is dark and deadly and crazy and unhappy.  It is violent and funny and its occasional preposterousness is entirely believable.  As luck would have it, I had just finished reading Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest and found this film a reconstruction of not only that era, but also that kind of corrupt, gritty reality that Hammett writes about, and similar in style. The film also has a similar humor that underlies both Hammett’s much more minimal narrative and his colorful dialogue.

Gabriel Byrne plays the burnt-out protagonist.  He has his own code of behavior, one that befuddles those around him, but is understandable to those who pay attention. It’s HIS code. And he doesn’t abandon it under any circumstances. Very Hammett. Albert Finney as a tough Irish mobster is riveting. John Turturro has an emotionally demanding role that he accommodates like the major talent he is. John Polito is, as always, the gangster’s gangster.  And J.E. Freeman plays against stereotype and is more than notable as “the Dane,” a cold, cruel gay villain. We see the emergence of other, eventual Coen regulars in small parts played by Steve Buscemi and Frances McDormand.

In the end, it’s a night of whiskey on the rocks.  Probably Irish in honor of the dominant mafia in Miller’s Crossing.  One could sip some wine during Running on Empty or simply wait until you get to the hard stuff for the Coen Brothers contribution to noir.  Lock up your Tommy guns.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Notes — Best Mystery/Crime Writers of the New Century

A number of important awards will be announced later this week at the big Mystery Writers of America (MWA) conference, Bouchercon, in Cleveland.  Last Monday we listed some of the “best mystery novel” awards, stopping just before the 21st Century. Today, we pick this up where we left off.

The compilation is based on awards given by the MWA (The Edgar and the Anthony), the Private Eye Writers of America (The Shamus), Mystery Readers International (The Macavity) and the comprehensive mystery review quarterly, Deadly Pleasures (The Barry).

Among those who have had their books judged the “best” of the year by these organizations, a mystery novel by Michael Connelly has won nine awards over the years, with probably more to come. Laura Lippman and Sue Grafton have each picked up six.  John Hart’s The Last Child and Laura Lippman’s What the Dead Know won three out of the five “bests” for 2010 and 2008 respectively. I was surprised to see that some of the legendary writers in the thriller/suspense/mystery field have won few or none of these awards, including many writers who regularly appear at the top of the bestseller lists.

Two other points should be noted.  One is that eligibility for the Shamus Award is limited to books about private investigators.  The second is that most of these organizations give awards in several categories — best paperback, best first novel, etc.  The books listed here are for “Best Novel” only.

To check out the 2012 winners as they are announced later this week, visit Rap Sheet or the web sites of the organizations giving the awards.  I’ll also update this post with the new awards as they are reported.

2000   Jan Burke, Bones, Edgar
            Don Winslow, California Fire and Life, Shamus
            Peter Robinson, In a Dry Season, Anthony
            Sujata Massey, The Flower Master, Macavity
            Peter Robinson, In a Dry Season, Barry

2001   Joe R. Lansdale, The Bottoms, Edgar
            Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Havana Heat, Shamus
            Val McDermid, A Place of Execution, Anthony
Val McDermid, A Place of Execution, Macavity
Nevada Barr Deep South, Barry

2002   T. Jefferson Parker, California Girl, Edgar
            S. J. Rozan, Reflecting the Sky, Shamus
            Dennis Lehane, Mystic River, Anthony
            Laurie R. King, Folly, Macavity
            Dennis Lehane, Mystic River, Barry

2003   S. J. Rozan, Winter and Night, Edgar
            James W. Hall, Blackwater Sound, Shamus
            Michael Connelly, City of Bones, Anthony
            S.J. Rozan, Winter and Night, Macavity
            Michael Connelly, City of Bones, Barry

2004   Ian Rankin, Resurrection Men, Edgar
            Ken Bruen, The Guards, Shamus
            Laura Lippman, Every Secret Thing, Anthony
            Peter Lovesey, The House Sitter, Macavity
            Laura Lippman, Every Secret Thing, Barry

2005   T. Jefferson Parker, California Girl, Edgar
            Ed Wright, While I Disappear, Shamus
            William Kent Krueger, Blood Hollow, Anthony
            Ken Bruen, The Killing of the Tinkers, Macavity
            Lee Child, The Enemy, Barry

2006   Jess Walter, Citizen Vince, Edgar
            Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer, Shamus
            William Kent Krueger, Mercy Falls, Anthony
            Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer, Macavity
            Thomas H. Cook, Red Leaves, Barry

2007   Jason Goodwin, The Janissary Tree, Edgar
            Ken Bruen, The Dramatist, Shamus
            Laura Lippman, No Good Deeds, Anthony
            Nancy Pickard, The Virgin of Small Plains, Macavity
            George Pelecanos, The Night Gardener, Barry

2008   John Hart, Down River, Edgar
            Reed Farrel Coleman, Soul Patch, Shamus
            Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know, Anthony
            Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know, Macavity
            Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know, Barry

2009   C. J. Box, Blue Heaven, Edgar
            Reed Farrel Coleman, Empty Ever After, Shamus
            Michael Connelly, The Brass Verdict, Anthony
            Deborah Crombie, Where Memories Lie, Macavity
            Arnaldur Indridason, The Draining Lake, Barry

2010   John Hart, The Last Child, Edgar
            Marcia Muller, Locked In, Shamus
            Louise Penny, The Brutal Telling, Anthony
            John Hart, The Last Child, Macavity
            John Hart, The Last Child, Barry

2011   Steve Hamilton, The Lock Artist, Edgar
            Lori Armstrong, No Merci, Shamus
            Louise Penny, Bury Your Dead, Anthony
            Louise Penny, Bury Your Dead, Macavity
            Steven Hamilton, The Lock Artist, Barry

2012   Mo Hayder, Gone, Edgar
           Michael Wiley, A Bad Night's Sleep, Shamus
           Louise Penny, A Trick of the Light, Anthony
           Susan Gran, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Macavity
           Jussi Adler Olsen, The Keeper of Lost Causes,  Barry