Monday, 29 July 2013

Pulp Fiction and the Hard-Boiled Tradition

My July 15th post, which touched on social realism in crime fiction, got me thinking of the old-time pulp magazine writers who helped make the "hard-boiled" style a staple of crime fiction. Many of these writers published their first stories in the Black Mask pulp magazine. (I'll leave the history of that magazine to another day.)

Dashiell Hammett - In his early life, Hammett was a prolific writer with more than 80 short stories, many of them serialized in the Black Mask, and five novels. Hammett is noted for his realism, his crisp, colorful language, and his “lean” story-telling style. He was a major influence on Raymond Chandler, who said of Hammett in The Simple Art of Murder: “He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before."

Raymond Chandler - Chandler began his writing career at the age of 44 by publishing short stories in the  Black Mask. Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade and Chandler's Philip Marlowe are considered to be the original hard-boiled detectives. They paved the way for Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer, John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee, Robert B. Parker's Spenser, and Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, among others. Chandler's ability to depict the California setting so that it became a metaphor for both the opulence and decay of modern American society also had a major influence on the works of both Ross Macdonald and Michael Connolly.

Erle Stanley Gardner -  Gardner began his writing career by contributing short stories to the pulp magazines of the day. He was a regular and popular contributor to the Black Mask under the pen name Charles M. Green. Renowned for his Perry Mason novels, he described the character as “a fighter possessed of infinite patience”. Gardner drew upon his own experience in creating Mason: his love for trial work and his defence of the underdog. His creation of a lawyer/crime solver in the character of Perry Mason laid the foundation for such modern-day characters as John Lescroart's Dismas Hardy and Michael Connelly's Mickey Haller.

I've adapted some of this material from my Open Investigations blog, where you can find my original posts on Hammett, Chandler, and Gardner.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Rainy Day Killer

I'm very pleased to announce that I've finished the first draft of the fourth novel in the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Fiction series, The Rainy Day Killer. I'm currently doing a re-write before I send it to my beta readers. Also, I'm trying something new this time. I'll be posting the electronic version of the Advance Review Copy (ARC) on NetGalley at the end of August to generate early reviews. This is my first experience with NetGalley, so I'm hoping it's a positive one.

The Rainy Day Killer focuses on Karen Stainer and her upcoming marriage to FBI Special Agent Sandy Alexander. A serial killer preys on women in Glendale while Karen plans her wedding in Virginia. Will she still go through with it after the killer vows to make her his next victim?

Hank Donaghue leads the investigation with the help of FBI profiler Ed Griffin, who made a brief appearance in Marcie's Murder. Of course, Karen also works the case with partner Jim Horvath, but she's distracted by the arrangements she needs to make for the wedding. Needless to say, she struggles to get into the "bride-to-be" mindset.

The novel is set in both Maryland and Virginia, the venues for the previous novels. Karen's fiancé Sandy is originally from the Covington, Virginia area, and his family has agreed to stage the wedding on their property in Alleghany County.

Fans of Karen Stainer will meet her family for the first time and get a better understanding of her upbringing and the forces that shaped her personality. If you thought Karen was a handful, wait until you meet the Stainer brothers.

If you'd like to read and review an electronic copy of The Rainy Day Killer, please send us an e-mail with "Rainy Day Killer" in the subject line and your return e-mail address, and we'll make sure you are on the list to have access to the ARC at the end of August.

Monday, 15 July 2013

The Petrona Award for Scandinavian Crime Fiction

In the spring of 2013, a new award called the "Petrona" was announced for the best yearly Scandinavian crime novel. The award was named after the blog of the late Maxine Clarke, who was a champion of Scandinavian crime fiction. The short list for this year's award was based on reviews and recommendations in her blog. The winner of the 2013 Petrona Award was announced at this year's Crimefest in Bristol. If you missed the news, the award went to Lisa Marklund for her novel Last Will, which is the sixth novel in her series featuring protagonist Annika Bengtzon, an investigative journalist. For Maxine Clarke's review of the novel, please see

According to Maxine Clarke, the appeal of Marklund's writing--and Scandinavian crime novels in general--is the tackling of contemporary social issues. I find this observation interesting because I regard this social realism as a hallmark (and legacy) of "hard-boiled" detective fiction in general: the protagonist reflects on the corruption and injustices he encounters (think Hammett, Chandler, or Ross Macdonald, for example).

If you're interested in reading my Open Investigations blog on the popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction,  please click here

Monday, 8 July 2013

How Sherlock Changed the World

For those who are fans of Sherlock Holmes and his crime-solving methods, you'll want to catch a new two-hour PBS special coming this fall. It's entitled How Sherlock Changed the World and has as its premise that Holmes was not only the most famous of all fictional detectives, but also had a lasting impact on real-world criminal investigations.

The program discusses real-life crimes solved by the equipment, forensic techniques, and methods of detection employed by the fictional detective.

How Sherlock Changed the World is scheduled to air on PBS on Tuesdays, November 19 and 26, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET.

By the way, if you are interested in my post on the importance of forensic research in crime fiction writing, please visit my Open Investigations blog at

Monday, 1 July 2013

The Two Worlds of Scottish Crime Fiction Writer James Oswald

Scottish crime fiction writer and farmer James Oswald paid $80 for a cover and bought his friends a few beers to proofread his novel Natural Causes. He then self-published it as an e-book. This novel and its sequel, The Book of Souls, have sold a phenomenal 350,000 copies since they were released last year. His work was soon at the centre of a bidding war, and Penguin was the successful bidder for the rights to publish the printed version of his work. His six-figure contract with Penguin puts Oswald in the same ranks as Ian Rankin (no pun intended) and Val McDermid. Oswald has also won critical acclaim, making the shortlist for the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award.

Oswald will continue to farm and write, and in fact has used some of his earnings to purchase a new tractor for his farm. He says his day job helps him write because he always has his notebook at hand and has lots of time to think while he's performing his various tasks.

For the full text of the article by Tom Rowley, see There is also a video with Oswald on his farm. He is a quiet, self-effacing man, a bit bemused by all the fuss, and his Highland cattle look singularly unimpressed b y the photographer's presence.

James Oswald's website is