The whole graphic novel thing has failed to enchant me, I confess. There are good writers, good stories, and good illustrators who work in this genre, I'm told, but I have yet to encounter one that could hold me until the end.
If anything could do it, I figured it would be "Playback" (Arcade, 128 pages, $19.95), the screenplay by the great Raymond Chandler — not to be confused with his last novel, a poor thing indeed, with the same title.
A beautiful blonde, Betty Mayfield, is convicted of murdering her husband but, because the jury apparently was intimidated by the victim's father, the judge overturns the decision. Fearing for her life, she flees on a cross-country train to Vancouver. The charming gigolo she meets takes her to a hotel, and his body is soon discovered on her balcony. The jaded cop assigned to the case falls for Betty, torn between the possibility that she is a murderess or the victim of a frame. It's a good story.
The publisher claims that the screenplay was "unearthed" from the Universal Studio archives, but perhaps no one bothered to mention that the entire screenplay was published by the Mysterious Press in 1985 with a learned and entertaining introduction by Robert B. Parker.
If you are a writer of crime fiction as well as a reader, you may like to know that a mystery short story contest has been announced by the (British) Crime Writers Association, which has joined with Fish Publishing of County Cork, Ireland, to sponsor the Fish-Knife Award, which comes with a £1,500 ($2,800) prize.
The prestigious CWA, with 450 professional mystery writing members, is the British counterpart of the Mystery Writers of America.
The contest is for stories 4,000–5,000 words long submitted between May 15 and September 15,2006.Entries are accepted online only, and there is a £20 ($38) entry fee. Results will be announced on November 17, 2006.
In addition to the cash prize, and maybe even better, is publication as the title story in the first Fish-Knife anthology, to be released in the spring of 2007. Nine runners-up will each receive £100 ($187) and publication in the anthology.
For further details, visit the Fish Publishing Web site or write to [email protected].
Speaking of CWA, it recently held its awards banquet and the major prize, the Duncan Laurie Dagger, with its £20,000 ($37,400) check, went to Ann Cleeves for "Raven Black," which can only be regarded as a surprise. One of the leading practitioners of the humdrum (oops, sorry, I meant to say traditional) school of detective fiction, her award-winner is an exemplary entity in her oeuvre.
"Detail," she has stated, "is very important in detective fiction," and she has demonstrated that she is a woman of her word.There is a great deal of detail in "Raven Black." But don't bother to drop into your favorite bookshop to pick up a copy. It was not published in the United States. Need one say more?
"The Da Vinci Code" is not Dan Brown's only novel, as everyone must know by now, as all three preceding books spent months on the best-seller list after the astounding sales of the book with which he will forever be associated.
He began to research his first book, "Digital Fortress" (a title guaranteed to scuttle all possible sales, if you ask me), in 1998 while teaching at a prep school.
The Secret Service had some serious questions to ask a student who was identified as a national security threat because of a comment he had made in an e-mail. Mr. Brown did a bit of digging and learned of an intelligence agency, NSA (commonly known as No Such Agency), which is able to monitor all digital communications — not just email, but cell phones and faxes as well
And, while "Digital Fortress" sold about as well as week-old sushi when it was first released, a career was born.
Any chance you'll be visiting Quebec this summer? If so, you might want to drop in to see the "Autopsy of a Murder" exhibition, a production of the Montreal Science Centre in collaboration with the Museum of Civilization.
Chrystine Brouillet has written a narrative in which visitors will encounter the corpse of Sarah Melville, who has been found shot dead in her apartment, and asked to shed light on this horrific turn of events.
The murder mystery game-exhibit will be available to museum-goers until August 27.
Sometimes, the clouds part and a brilliant ray of sunshine can warm the fortunate person who happens to be in that illuminated zone. It may be sheer luck, or it may be that he knew where to stand.
When a first novel is published, the advance is generally modest. Neither John Grisham, James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell, Stephen King nor Tom Clancy were paid enough for their first book to enable them to quit their day jobs. A.J. Hartley, who is not a household name, recently published a paperback original titled "The Mask of Atreus" (Berkley, 400 pages, $7.99). I don't know what he got paid, but it's probably less than Mr. Patterson lost in pocket change between the cushions on his couch this year.
But here's the beautiful thing about sunbeams and publishing stories. It has already been published in a dozen languages and his agent procured advances of $35,000 in Greece, $60,000 in Norway (Norway! Norwegian publishers usually pay in pickled herrings), and who knows how much in Brazil, Spain, Italy, Israel, Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Australia, and Romania.
The very good novel (especially for a first effort) is about a female museum curator who discovers a secret room filled with priceless treasures from ancient Greece — and the corpse of her best friend.
I'll sign off with words of wisdom from Arthur Upfield, the creator of the aborigine detective, Napoleon Bonaparte: "Life is what you get out of it, not what it likes to give you."
Mr. Penzler is the proprietor of the Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan and the series editor of the annual "Best American Mystery Stories." He can be reached at [email protected].