3 New Books on Crime More than Worthy of Your Time

artenglishmurderIt’s no wonder our media is as bleeds-and-leads today, because it turns out to be nothing new. That’s one of the key takeaways of Lucy Worsley’s THE ART OF THE ENGLISH MURDER, a brief, absorbing history lesson on how the UK’s obsession with bloody deeds changed not only methods of law enforcement, but fertilized the roots of modern popular culture. Worsley has written ART as a companion piece to a 2013 BBC docuseries; when such a spin-off is undertaken, I can’t help but wonder if it’s merely a cash-grab or will render its parent project obsolete. In this case, neither is true. There’s just too much good stuff contained within this thin volume, as the erudite author recounts a few horrendous murders in 19th-century England that saw a hungry populace eat up every detail, turn out for public executions and purchase souvenir figurines of murderers and their victims for display on the mantle. Borne from this madness are an actual division dedicate to homicide investigation, waxworks as entertainment, a big break for a young writer named Charles Dickens, and a slew of detective fiction — hello, Sherlock Holmes! — still read today on both sides of the Atlantic.

lockedroomSpeaking of whodunits with long lives, anthologist extraordinaire Otto Penzler is wholly responsible for yet another must-have, brick-sized BIG BOOK of genre fiction. Following up equally definitive collections of pulps, ghosts, zombies, vampires and Christmas-themed mysteries is THE BLACK LIZARD BIG BOOK OF LOCKED-ROOM MYSTERIES. That mouthful of a title is indicative of the collection’s breadth and depth, but anyone who’s had the pleasure to peruse the other wrist-strainers of the Vintage Crime series knows that its claims of completeness are not mere publisher hype. Of these 68 stories of the seemingly impossible, underheralded master of the subgenre Edward D. Hoch deservedly makes three appearances, each of which is worth the cover price alone. More widely known are classics by Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe, but the discoveries are bound to delight. My favorite — and one of my five favorite short stories of all time — is Jacques Futrelle’s “The Problem of Cell 13.” I defy any reader who’s never uncorked its more-clever-than-clever puzzle-box narrative to try not to devour it in one sitting. Also represented are such stalwarts as Erle Stanley Gardner, Lawrence Block, Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, Wilkie Collins, Ellery Queen and some dude named Stephen King.

mystery19thAnd seriously, does Penzler ever sleep? Because if the LOCKED-ROOM MYSTERIES weren’t enough, the man delivers another solid sleep-robber in THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY. While not a BIG BOOK in brand, it may as well be, as the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hardcover is no slouch as 624 pages and 33 classic tales. Poe’s “Murders of the Rue Morgue” from the book above also makes an appearance here, but the story is so excellent, influential and rich in repeat value that one hardly can fault the overlap. (“The Purloined Letter” also appears, making Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin character this collection’s MVP.) Other vaulted names include Jack London, Edith Wharton, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, Washington Irving, Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce, but not represented with the pieces one is likely to expect. That’s hardly a knock — in fact, it’s yet another notch for the “highly recommended” column. —Rod Lott

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The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft

annotatedhpThe stories of H. P. Lovecraft have influenced every author of horror fiction since his death in 1937. As a result, the amount of scholarly work devoted to Lovecraft is unprecedented for a genre author; rivaled only by Edgar Allan Poe, one of Lovecraft’s formative heroes.

So where does a reader longing to know more about Lovecraft’s fiction and philosophy begin when faced with the dozens of critical and interpretative studies and biographies? Thanks to the devoted work of Leslie S. Klinger, an excellent starting point is his THE NEW ANNOTATED H. P. LOVECRAFT.

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Rose Gold

rosegoldWalter Mosley continues his popular Easy Rawlins mysteries with ROSE GOLD, the 13th title of the series. While Rawlins, a black private investigator, and his adopted home of Los Angeles has changed much since the late 1940s setting of the very first novel, these stories are still about much more than the mystery itself.

As the novel opens, Rawlins is moving his daughter and son into a new house a little closer to his daughter’s school. Then as Rawlins and his family are loading up boxes and furniture, two white plain-clothes policemen drive up to the house. The cops report that Rosemary Goldsmith, the daughter of a wealthy weapons manufacturer, has been kidnapped and apparently held for ransom. The suspects are a radical revolutionary group calling itself Scorched Earth, lead by a outspoken black nationalist named Uhuru Nolice.

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The Bughouse Affair

bughouseaffairMarcia Muller and Bill Pronzini, husband and wife, are well-known to every mystery reader. Their prolific body of work as individual authors and a smaller body of work written as a team, all display a smooth storytelling style, an attention to detail when it comes to characters, and a brisk pacing that moves the plot along without a lot of confusing red herrings or complications.

THE BUGHOUSE AFFAIR is the first in a new series set in San Francisco in the 1890s. The protagonists, Sabina Carpenter and John Quincannon, are partners in a private detective agency, and while Quincannon would like the partnership to be even more intimate, Carpenter prefers to keep the relationship on a professional level.

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5 New Film Books Vying for Your Thanks

roomguideOh hai! Ryan Finnigan’s THE ROOM: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE tears me apart as I try to determine just whom it is for: virgins or sluts? On one hand, much of the Applause trade paperback is geared toward the newbie; on the other, the train wreck of a drama it celebrates is one of those flicks for which the phrase “must be seen to be believed” was coined. And unless you’ve seen Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM, you cannot, will not “get it,” making guest Alan Jones’ beat-by-beat plot rehash superfluous on at least two levels. The GUIDE is most enjoyable in its Q-and-A interviews with the principal players, and most insufferable in its “how to” articles on audience participation and overall indoctrination. Special attention must be given to the colorful, dot-patterned infographics that appear throughout, encapsulating those unmistakable Wiseau vibes in a way that mere words fail.

modernSFfaqAlso from Applause is the latest in its crash-course FAQ series, MODERN SCI-FI FILMS FAQ: ALL THAT’S LEFT TO KNOW ABOUT TIME TRAVEL, ALIEN, ROBOT, AND OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD MOVIES SINCE 1970. Better than JAMES BOND FAQ, author Tom DeMichael’s previous contribution to the franchise, this book pays tribute to the genre’s literary greats (and, um, Stephenie Meyer?!?) before jumping into a thematic trip through contemporary flicks of future visions, galactic travels, ripples in time and robots amok. Readers are likely to have heard of all DeMichael’s choices, if not seen them all, too: STAR WARS, ALIEN, ROBOCOP, E.T., et al. Any disappointment stemming from the trade paperback is not that the contents are heavy with such megabudgeted crowd-pleasers, but that so much of said contents is spent summarizing those movies’ stories, from frame one to fade-out, spoilers be damned. The afterwords to each picture favor information of the trivial kind, whereas the critical might whet more appetites. Recommended to sci-minded kids who aren’t sure what titles to add their Netflix queue, but skippable for any moviegoer old enough to gain admission to R-rated fare.

poeevermoreFresh off a book on HAMMER FILMS’ PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLERS for McFarland & Company, David Huckvale keeps things eerie with POE EVERMORE: THE LEGACY IN FILM, MUSIC AND TELEVISION. Hardly the publisher’s first foray into all things Poe, the paperback serves as proof — not that any was needed — that the works of ol’ Edgar Allan have worked their way into our collective pop-culture consciousness like vines to trees. Taking an alphabetical trip through the master’s complete works, Huckvale discusses both direct adaptations to screen and pervasive influences on other people’s works. While some of the latter could be considered a stretch — one could argue TV’s SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN probably would have existed Poe or no — EVERMORE works best as a reference guide to the continuing omnipresence of the horror and mystery forefather’s ghoulishly Gothic tales, characters and themes.

towerscontrarianI learned much, much more about one of the filmdom’s most notorious B-movie producers from Dave Mann’s HARRY ALAN TOWERS: THE TRANSNATIONAL CAREER OF A CINEMATIC CONTRARIAN than from Towers’ own autobiography, MR. TOWERS OF LONDON, brought out last year by Bear Manor Media. For starters, Mann’s work — published by McFarland — works with nearly 100 more pages; for another, Mann’s all depth vs. Towers’ more surface-skidding approach. It also gives the subject his due in pioneering production methods; the man never met a tax threshold he could not, would not, did not exploit. In fact, it’s suggested that cult director Jess Franco’s now-trademark zooms are a result of Towers’ crank-’em-out insistence. From humble beginnings to Fu Manchu adventures to late-’80s Cannon fodder (including threequels of the mighty DELTA FORCE and AMERICAN NINJA franchises), each phase of Towers’ career is covered with a scholar’s eye for detail, yet also a willingness to call a spade a spade — and by that, I mean Towers’ shortcomings in quality control: “relentless stichomythia being interspersed with ripe morsels of thickly cut ham.” Cult cineasts will find much of the salty meat ready to carve.

larrycohenFinally, McFarland casts the spotlight on another man whose name is treasured among lovers of B film, in LARRY COHEN: THE RADICAL ALLEGORIES OF AN INDEPENDENT FILMMAKER. Now available in a paperback edition updated since the 1996 hardcover, Tony Williams’ work casts a probing, critical eye at the entire career of the underrated underdog — a scrappy, sardonic auteur who brings class to what otherwise may be crap (IT’S ALIVE, Q: THE WINGED SERPENT, THE STUFF and so on) and who, on occasional, simultaneously penetrates and tweaks the mainstream with a swift script (CELLULAR and PHONE BOOTH) of admirable calculation. Containing interviews with the man himself and seemingly no stone unturned (as Cohen’s work in TV and the stage get equal time), the book is a must for the faithful. Ill-advised drinking game: Take a shot every time Williams describes Cohen’s technique as “comic-strip”; you will die. —Rod Lott

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Riders on the Storm

ridersonstormPrivate Investigator Sam McCain returns in Ed Gorman’s latest novel, RIDERS ON THE STORM. Like previous titles in the McCain series, this latest takes place in the small town of Black River Falls, Iowa, in the not-too-distant past as indicated by the popular song used in the title. This time the story takes place during the Vietnam War, one of the most divisive periods in contemporary American history.
The year is 1971. Sam McCain, already a member of the National Guard, signs up for overseas duty. But a near-fatal car crash on the way to basic training lands McCain in the hospital with head injuries and a loss of memory that lasts for several months.

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A Death in the Small Hours

deathsmallhoursThere is something so soothing, calming and comforting about reading Charles Finch. His perfectly polished prose, studded with bits of wry humor and decorated with beautiful turns of phrase, seems to have come out of an earlier time; it’s as if these novels featuring Charles Lenox were written in the Forties or Fifties, and I mean that as high praise. His effects are subtle, his pacing never rushed but always moving forward relentlessly, his paragraphs perfectly formed.

Don’t get me wrong, his style isn’t old-fashioned, it just has an old-fashioned attention to detail and competence. A DEATH IN THE SMALL HOURS is the sixth in the Lenox series (and there are others beyond this) and it’s an admirable addition to the body of work.

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Lethal Investments

lethalinvestmentsThe thing that disappoints me about K.O. Dahl’s LETHAL INVESTMENTS is the praise provided in the blurb by fellow Nordic noir author Karin Fossum. Fossum, an author for whom I have the utmost respect, enthuses about Dahl’s realism and how she believes every word. But realistic reactions and human behaviors is exactly what I didn’t get out of Dahl’s work.

Briefly, a woman is found dead in her apartment, stabbed multiple times. Her paramour, who had sex with her on that night but then left early in the morning realizes he should let the police know he had been in the room earlier, but had left her alive. The police treat him normally but his initial reactions are so defensive and uncooperative that it drains the good credit he deserved for volunteering to come in and help the investigation.

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coxeman5bullets broads blackmail and bombsIn the nick of time they come a running and usually a gunning. This column in the never ending run of reading is about Spies and those super agents that we have come to know and love. Well actually this column will feature three new characters to this column that is. So let’s get started with what is one of the most obvious double entrendes ever. Ladies and Gentlemen I present …


Don’t let the name on the cover fool you folks. This is Michael Avallone plain and simple. Also this book seems to be one of his Men From UNCLE entries or at least an aborted plot idea. Just with the hint of sex. Oh there is sex in the book and talk of all kinds of kinky things. But to be honest its a whole lot of slap and tickle. Sure they talk about things but it never goes full bore so to speak in the descriptions.

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Elmore Leonard: Four Novels of the 1970s

elmorefourFOUR NOVELS OF THE 1970S is the first of a three-volume edition of Elmore Leonard’s work from The Library of America, selected in consultation with Leonard shortly before his death last year. This inaugural collection finds Leonard in transition and developing the voice that would become one of the most popular and acclaimed in all of modern American crime fiction.
Leonard began his writing career in the 1950s writing stories and novels for the Western pulps (and, in retrospect, producing some of the finest works of that genre). When the market diminished Leonard switched to crime fiction towards the end of the 1960s. Not interested in either police procedurals or the private eye format, Leonard instead focused on character-driven stories of individuals suddenly caught up in criminal activities, or about the criminals themselves.

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