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Book Blog - Likely Stories, by Keir Graff - Booklist Online

Likely Stories

A Booklist Blog
Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 11:51 am
Twitching Teens and Status Symptoms: Megan Abbott and Katherine Howe Explore the Mysteries of Girls
Posted by: Keir Graff

Are Cheerleaders More Susceptible to Mass Psychogenic Illness?

Mystery MonthImagine my surprise when my colleague Sarah Hunter, after reading my review of Megan Abbott’s magnificent The Fever, told me that its story was almost identical to a YA book she reviewed, Katherine Howe’s Conversion. Consider these two passages from our reviews, both published in the May 1 Mystery Showcase.

The Fever by Megan AbbottFrom The Fever:

In an isolated northeastern town known for its miserable weather, Deenie and her best friends, Lise and Gabby, find themselves at the center of a mysterious epidemic that causes girls to—do what, exactly? The symptoms are puzzling. Lise seizes in class, and Gabby collapses onstage during an orchestra recital, leaving Deenie to wonder if she’s next. . . . Is the cause HPV vaccinations? Or the water of the town’s dead lake? Is it—a thought that lurks darkly in Deenie’s mind—­her recent loss of virginity?

Conversion by Katherine HoweFrom Conversion:

St. Joan’s Academy in Danvers, Massachusetts, a well-to-do private girl’s school for the best and brightest, is usually only home to hysteria of the college-admissions kind. But when Clara starts convulsing in class, a media frenzy fixates on the St. Joan’s mystery disease. Is it a reaction to the HPV vaccine? Or are students under so much pressure they’re beginning to crack? As more and more girls fall ill . . .

Wow! Coincidence? A case of industrial publishing espionage? The likenesses run deep, including echoes (stronger in Conversion) of the Salem Witch Trials. But, after a little research, I’m guessing it’s merely a case of similar source material. If you’re not familiar with the terms “conversion disorder” and “mass psychogenic illness” you’re going to want to read, as I did, “What Happened to the Girls in Le Roy,” a long but fascinating article by Susan Dominus in the New York Times Magazine. One tidbit:

Cheerleaders frequently come up in case histories of mass psychogenic illness at schools, partly because psychogenic outbreaks often start with someone of high social status. But it might also be that their enviable unity is what makes them more susceptible. In 2002, 10 students, 5 of them cheerleaders, in a rural town in North Carolina suffered from nonepileptic seizures and fainting spells. In 1952, the Associated Press reported that 165 members of the Tigerettes cheerleading squad from Monroe, La., fainted before halftime at a high-school football game in nearby Natchez, Miss. There were no unusual circumstances, other than a little bit of heat and an embarrassing incident in which the girls had come onto the field after the first quarter, by accident. So many girls were fainting in quick succession that five ambulances raced across the field at once. “It looked like the racetrack at Indianapolis,” a spectator said.

Following that, you might find yourself, as I did, trolling for video.

At some point, like me, you’ll have to get back to work, but you won’t be able to shake the haunting images from the books and real life, and wonder what it’s like to be one of those girls.

Monday, May 12, 2014 1:00 pm
2014 Eric Carle Awards
Posted by: Biz Hyzy

On May 7, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art announced the recipients for its 2014 Carle Honors, which will be celebrated in New York on Thursday, September 18 at its ninth annual gala. The awards recognize people and organizations that dedicate themselves to the advancement of picture books as art and literature. Eric Carle is a distinguished author and illustrator, most famous for The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969). Based in Amherst, Massachusetts, the Eric Carle Museum fosters literacy and art appreciation through picture books. To learn more about its mission, visit the museum’s website.

Jerry Pinkney's The Lion and the Mouse

Artist Award, for creating a lifetime’s worth of picture books

Jerry Pinkney

Angel Award, for financially supporting events and programs

Reach Out and Read, represented by Brian Gallagher and Dr. Perri Klass

Mentor Award, for promoting children’s picture books

Henrietta Smith

Bridge Award, for bringing the art form to other fields

Françoise Mouly

Friday, May 9, 2014 12:00 pm
The Maltese Legacy: Spade, the Bird, and Beyond
Posted by: Ben Segedin

Dashiell HammettDashiell Hammett and Sam Spade

Born in 1894, Samuel Dashiell Hammett lived until 1961. As a young man he worked as an operative for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, an experience that provided him with plenty of material for his future work as a writer of detective fiction. He served briefly in the U.S. Army during WWI, suffered the flu during the 1918 influenza pandemic, contracted TB, and tried his hand at advertising before, in 1922, he began writing full time. He stopped writing fiction in 1934. However, in that short, productive time he wrote more than 80 short stories and 5 novels, including several that are now considered classics of the genre as well as among the great American novels.

After his short, but prolific writing career, Hammett was active in leftist causes and became an avowed Communist. When World War II broke out, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in the Aleutian Islands as a newspaper editor. Later, in the 1950s, he was subpoenaed to testify about the activities of some members of an organization he was active in that had been designated a communist front; rather than testify, he was found guilty of contempt and served time in a federal penitentiary. He was later blacklisted. His drinking got worse, as did his health. He was hounded by the IRS and ended his days as a virtual hermit, dying penniless in 1961. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery despite the objections of FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover.

During his short career, Hammett created many memorable characters including the Continental Op, a private detective who appeared in 36 short stories, including several that made up the novels Red Harvest and The Dain Curse; and Nick and Nora Charles, the often inebriated, high society, crime-solving duo from The Thin Man (and the highly successful series of movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy).

But Hammett’s most memorable creation, Sam Spade, the private detective from The Maltese Falcon, set the template for the entire archetype of the hard-boiled private dick: tough, cold, independent, cynical, capable and self-sufficient, determined, of questionable morality, a quick study with a wry and acerbic wit, brutal, brutish, even sadistic, yet irresistible to women.

Without Spade, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe would never have been realized. Ross MacDonald, Mickey Spillane, and many other writers of crime fiction have openly acknowledged their considerable debt to Hammett and his creation.

As a character, Spade is always one or more steps ahead of everyone else, including the reader. Does he have a master plan or is he winging it? He always seems to know what he is doing and has enough confidence and conviction to convince us that he does. At times it doesn’t even seem like a fair fight. While Spade’s enemies are many, they ultimately are no match for him.

And his motivations are not always apparent. Is he working for his clients or looking out for himself? When his client, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, offers him $200 to find her (nonexistent) sister, he later tells her that “we didn’t exactly believe your story . . . we believed your two hundred dollars.” And when the criminal Gutman questions Spade regarding whose interests he’s looking out for if it isn’t O’Shaughnessy or Cairo, Spade points his cigar at his own chest. “There’s me.” Spade’s amorality is certainly part of the appeal.

But Spade also has a code and he feels obligated to live up to it, even if it means turning in O’Shaughnessy to the authorities:

“When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it. Then it happens we were in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed it’s bad business to let the killer get away with it. It’s bad all around—bad for that one organization, bad for every detective everywhere.”

Black Mask: The Maltese FalconOriginally serialized in five parts in the popular pulp magazine Black Mask, The Maltese Falcon first appeared in the September 1929 issue and was an instant success. On Valentine’s Day, 1930, Knopf collected the parts and published them together as a novel for the first time. It has since been adapted for the silver screen, for radio, and for comics. There have been sequels, spinoffs, and parodies. Hammett wrote three more Sam Spade stories which were originally published in The American Magazine and Colliers and later published as A Man Called Spade and Other Stories in 1944 (and later included in the Hammett collection of short stories, Nightmare Town, published in 2000), and Spade was featured in several long-running radio series.

The Maltese Falcon, Spade and his partner, Miles Archer, are hired by a mysterious woman to follow a man named Thursby. When Archer is killed on the job, Spade, a suspect in his partner’s death and in Thursby’s, gets mixed up in a convoluted plot to find the elusive, eponymous bird, a jewel-encrusted statue reportedly worth a fortune. We are carried along by the rapid pace and the various wheelings and dealings as Spade plays the players against each other in his efforts to get a hold of the falcon.

A Man Called Spade

However it is more than plot that makes The Maltese Falcon great. Hammett created many vivid, memorable characters. In addition to our courageous hero, colorful villains abound, including the leader of the gang, the gregarious and substantial Casper Gutman; the effeminate, sinister, and perfumed Joel Cairo; the inept and unpolished gunsel, Wilmer Cook; and the beautiful, but deadly femme fatale, Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Not to mention his secretary Effie Perine; his partner, Miles Archer; Archer’s widow, Iva; and the police detectives, Tom Polhaus and Lieutenant Dundy. These characters are now much copied and have spawned an entire industry of femme fatales and cheap gunsels.

In addition to the great characters in The Maltese Falcon, Hammett also had a way with words and littered the novel with abundant colorful descriptions and witty, street-smart dialogue. Spade is described as a “blond satan.” He refers to women as “sweetheart,” “angel,” “precious,” and “my own true love.” Today it comes off as dated and sexist, but more than a little cool.

When Joel Cairo says to Spade: “You always have a very smooth explanation ready,” Spade replies, “What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?”

Referring to Wilmer Cook: “The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.”

And Gutman’s line: “I couldn’t be any fonder of you if you were my own son; but—well, by Gad!—if you lose a son, it’s possible to get another—and there’s only one Maltese falcon.”

And when he’s going to turn Brigid over to the police for murder:

“I’m going to send you over. The chances are you’ll get off with life. That means you’ll be out again in twenty years. You’re an angel. I’ll wait for you.” He cleared his throat. “If they hang you I’ll always remember you.”

Also, “I hope to Christ they don’t hang you, precious, by that sweet neck.”

And, of course, “I won’t play the sap for you.”


While The Maltese Falcon was not the first Hammett story to be turned into a motion picture (that honor, uncredited, goes to the Ben Hecht-scripted 1930 musical comedy/gangster melodrama, Roadhouse Nights, based on his first novel, the 1929 Red Harvest), John Huston’s first film as director, released in 1941 and starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade and Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy, stands as the definitive and most famous film based on his writing. Some even consider it to be one of the greatest films of all times as well as the first film noir.

Interestingly, Huston’s 1941 classic was not the first time The Maltese Falcon had been filmed. It was, in fact, the third time that Warner Brothers had tackled the property, although it was the first time they had any success with it.

The Maltese Falcon, starring Ricardo Cortez and Bebe DanielsRoy Del Ruth was the first to film The Maltese Falcon in 1931. Starring Ricardo Cortez (a New Yorker of Austrian parents who changed his name to cash in on the Valentino craze) as Spade and Bebe Daniels as Ruth Wonderly (not Brigid O’Shaughnessy), it is, on the whole, pretty loyal to the book and contains a lot of the dialogue from the novel (as does the 1941 version). As a pre-Code film, it had none of the restrictions of the later versions, and is, at times, rather racy. The film opens with an unidentified lover leaving Spade’s office, hiking up her stockings. Spade’s adulterous affair with his partner’s wife could be depicted and the homosexual relationship between Gutman and the gunsel is strongly implied. Wonderly (not O’Shaughnessy) is nearly naked in a scene where she takes a bath. And when Gutman accuses Wonderly of stealing $1,000, Spade has her strip down so that he can search her.

Cortez’s Spade is a toothy, smiling, cold-hearted gumshoe. He is a lady’s man and more than a bit sleazy. In one scene he inexplicably speaks Chinese to a Chinese witness to a murder. The only time he shows any emotion is when he turns in Miss Wonderly and, in a scene not in the book, when he visits her in prison. When Warner attempted to re-release the film in 1936, they were unable to do so due to the imposition of the restrictive Hays Code. Later it was renamed Dangerous Female for television to avoid anyone confusing it for the far superior version from 1941. Not a great film, though somewhat enjoyable, it fails to capture the magic of the book.

Played for laughs: Satan Met a Lady

Played for laughs: Satan Met a Lady

This prompted Warner to hire William Dieterle to try it again under the title Satan Met a Lady in 1936, starring Warren William (as Ted Shane instead of Sam Spade) and Bette Davis (as Valerie Purvis). Lots of liberties were taken with the original story. Not only did Spade become Shane and O’Shaughnessy, Purvis, but Gutman’s gender was changed to female, becoming Madame Barabas, and the falcon became the horn of Roland from 9th century France. Played for laughs, the film was met with jeers by the critics and Bette Davis, riding on the accolades from the success of her previous film, The Petrified Forest, initially refused to report to the set, feeling insultingly demeaned by the assignment.

In 1941, John Huston, the son of famed actor Walter Huston, after working as a screenwriter for Warners and winning praise for his script of Howard Hawks’ Sergeant York and for Raoul Walsh’s High Sierra (the film that made Humphrey Bogart a star), was given the opportunity to write and direct The Maltese Falcon. Huston, in what is no doubt an apocryphal tale, is said to have given the novel to a secretary to transcribe the dialogue exactly as Hammett wrote it, and while the script is loyal to the book (albeit with less sex and cursing—and more smoking), it is very similar to the 1931 script. In addition, Huston blocked out each scene including camera angles, close-ups, and other details so was unusually prepared for the production of his first film as director.

Huston is also responsible for Spade’s immortal response to Detective Polhaus, lifting the falcon and asking, “Heavy. What is it?”

“The stuff that dreams are made of.”

Huston’s version of The Maltese Falcon also benefited from its extraordinary cast. Not only did it feature Bogart in a star-turning role, but it also starred Mary Astor, whose personal affairs had recently been tabloid fodder following a public custody battle, as Brigid O’Shaughnessy; the Austrian-born Peter Lorre, famous as the child molester in Fritz Lang’s M, playing Joel Cairo; the formidable Sydney Greenstreet in his first screen appearance as the Fat Man, Kasper (here with a K for some reason) Gutman; and the great Elisha Cook, Jr. as the hotheaded gunsel, Wilmer Cook.

When George Raft turned down the role of Spade (he had the contractual authority to reject being in remakes), Huston offered it to his drinking buddy, Bogart, who was certainly no “blond Satan.” Bogart had been acting for 20 years on Broadway and in Hollywood. After playing a gangster in The Petrified Forest, first on the stage and then, in 1936, on the screen, he was typecast as a heavy in numerous Warner’s pictures including Dead End and Angels with Dirty Faces. But being cast as Spade changed everything. Bogart’s iconic and archetypal performance in the film, with his nervous tics and wise patter, is now practically inseparable from Spade and you can see similar traits in Bogart’s future roles in Casablanca, To Have and Have Not, and The Big Sleep, in which he plays Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, as well as in many other actors tackling the role of the cynical, world-weary detective.

The Maltese FalconA nice 3 DVD set of the three versions of The Maltese Falcon is available from Warner Home Video, and includes the 3 radio adaptations and a blooper reel.

In 1969, the famed King of the B’s, Roger Corman, directed Target: Harry, a film starring Vic Morrow and Suzanne Pleshette. Set in Monaco, Turkey, and Greece, it borrows much from the plot of The Maltese Falcon. Various baddies are after valuable British engraving plates that are in the possession of Harry, a charter pilot. Apparently Corman was aware of how bad it was so he used the pseudonym Harry Neill. These days, it is practically impossible to find.

The Black BirdIn 1975, George Segal was tapped to played Sam Spade, Jr., in The Black Bird, a film directed by David Giler, in what is generally considered to be a weak comedy/sequel. In the film, Junior inherits his father’s agency, including his father’s secretary, Effie Perine, played by Lee Patrick who also portrayed the same character 34 years earlier. Elisha Cook, Jr. also reprises his role as Wilmer Cook.

The next year, TV’s Colombo, Peter Falk, portrayed Sam Diamond in the star-studded comic mystery, Murder by Death. Directed by Robert Moore and written by Neil Simon, this film, set in a country house, plays more as an Agatha Christie-type whodunit than a hard-boiled film noir. It features a lot of well-known British and American performers playing famous fictional sleuths, including David Niven and Maggie Smith as Dick and Dora Charleston (based on Hammett’s other renowned creation, Nick and Nora Charles). Eileen Brennan plays Tess Skeffington, Diamond’s secretary.


Captain Picard, Private Eye

Captain Picard, Private Eye

The Maltese Falcon has been ripe for parody and homage in many places, including Abbott and Costello’s recurring character on radio, Sam Shovel; Sam Diamond in The Addams Family; Sydney Street in The Avengers; Rowan and Martin’s horrible film, The Maltese Bippy; Sam Spayed in Garfield’s Babes and Bullets in which a beautiful dame asks the cat private eye “Are you Spayed?” and the voiceover narrator replies “I never know how to answer that question”; Star Trek: The Next Generation featured an episode called “The Big Goodbye,” in which Captain Picard gets trapped in a holodeck malfunction while playing the part of Dixon Hill, private eye, in a program re-creating the milieu of a Maltese Falcon-like novel; there is also the character Samantha Spade in Without a Trace; and, of course, Garrison Keillor’s Guy Noir.


Sam Spade had a long and fruitful life on the radio, first in several adaptations of the novel and then from 1946 through 1951 in the long-running Adventures of Sam Spade.

In 1943, in episode 172 of Lux Radio Theatre on CBS radio, The Maltese Falcon was adapted for radio in an hour-long version. Edward G. Robinson, one of the biggest movie stars at Warner Brothers, was enlisted to provide the voice of Samuel Spade. Laird Cregar, an actor who weighed more than 300 pounds, played Gutman. Later that same year, in episode 162 of CBS’ The Screen Guild Theater, the original cast from Huston’s film was reunited for a condensed, half-hour version of the story. And in 1946, episode 15 of CBS’ Academy Award Theater brought Bogart, Astor, and Greenstreet together again for another condensed radio production.

Howard Duff as Spade and Lurene Tuttle as Effie Perrine

Duff as Spade and Tuttle as Perrine

Due to the popularity of Sam Spade, ABC began broadcasting The Adventures of Sam Spade in 1946 for 13 30-minute episodes starring Howard Duff as Spade and Lurene Tuttle as Effie Perrine. Its scriptwriters, Jason James and Bob Tallman, won an Edgar Award for Best Radio Drama in 1947. Duff appeared as Spade in more than 200 episodes, even as the program moved from ABC to CBS and then to NBC. After being named in Red Channels: The Report of the Communist Influence in Radio and Television, Duff was replaced by Steve Dunn who performed in 24 more episodes from 1950 through 1951. Duff also played Spade in a few episodes of Suspense, including, in 1948, a 60-minute episode called “The Khandi Tooth Caper,” which is billed as a sequel to The Maltese Falcon in which Gutman is back (from the dead) as is Cairo, but with a new gunsel. It also includes a cameo by Philip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery who hosted Suspense also played Marlowe in film and on radio). Later in Duff’s career, from 1966 through 1969, he played Detective Sam Stone on television in ABC’s Felony Squad, a character influenced by Spade


The Maltese Falcon audiobook

In 2008, Blackstone Audio’s Hollywood’s Theater of the Ear released a 3.3 hour audiobook featuring the voices of Michael Madsen as Spade, Sandra Oh as O’Shaughnessy, and Edward Herrmann as Gutman. (Booklist‘s Joyce Sarick’s gave it a starred review.) It was nominated for a Grammy and won an Audie Award for Best Audiobook Adaptation. William Dufris read The Maltese Falcon in an unabridged version, available from Blackstone. Eric Meyers reads it for Naxos. In 2009, Tom Wilkinson portrayed Spade in a BBC Radio 7 production. Jane Lapotaire played O’Shaughnessy, Peter Vaughan (Game of Thrones) as Gutman, and Nikolas Grace as Joel Cairo.


The Maltese Falcon comic bookIn 1946, a 47-page adaptation of The Maltese Falcon appeared in comic-book form in Feature Books #48, by the David McKay Company. It was drawn by Rodlow Willard. While the comic book is incredibly rare and fairly valuable, it didn’t leave much of an impression on those who have seen it with artwork described as “wooden” and “underwhelming.” The cover isn’t bad, though.

Can your scalp pass the fingernail test?Spade also frequently appeared in a single-page newspaper comic strip/advertisement trumpeting the benefits of Wildroot Cream-Oil, for grooming and dandruff prevention. The artwork was attribute to Golden Age comic artist, Lou Fine. 

In addition, Hammett had some success launching a comic strip for King Features called Secret Agent X-9, originally drawn by Alex Raymond, who was famous for drawing Flash Gordon. It ran until 1996 and was spun off in film and on radio.

Literary Legacy

In the May 1, 2008 issue of Booklist, Keir Graff looked at Hammett’s literary legacy in an “Another Look at The Maltese Falcon.” In it, he connects its use of a priceless, historic artifact to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and its imitators. He also lists Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder in All the Flowers Are Dying, Andrew Klavan’s Weiss and Bishop trilogy, Martin Cruz Smith’s hard-boiled Gorky Park set in Russia, and Jim Nisbet’s San Francisco-based wrong-man thriller, The Syracuse Code, as direct descendants of Hammett’s Maltese Falcon.

Spade & Archer, by Joe GoresAdd to that the three-time Edgar Award winning Joe Gore’s Spade & Archer from 2009, which, as the subtitle indicates is The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. (Bill Ott gave it a starred review in Booklist.) In 1975, Gores wrote the novel Hammett which Wim Wenders filmed in the 1982 Francis Ford Coppola production, starring Frederic Forrest as Hammett (with Elisha Cook, Jr. as Eli the Taxi Driver). The screenplay was co-written by Ross Thomas.

You can see that Hammett and the Falcon’s influence is still very much with us and will no doubt be with us for a long time to come.

Thursday, May 8, 2014 4:34 pm
Booklist Seeks Interns for Fall 2014
Posted by: Keir Graff

Booklist - May 1, 2014Gain valuable publishing experience by becoming an intern for Booklist Publications in Chicago! We will be accepting applications until May 31 for two positions starting in September.

For over a century, Booklist has helped more readers find more titles than any other publication. Published by the American Library Association, Booklist delivers more than 8,000 recommended-only reviews of books, audiobooks, reference sources, videos, and DVDs each year. Spotlight issues provide coverage of popular genres, topics, and themes such as biography, YA, multicultural literature, graphic novels, romance, sports, and much more. Reviews are supplemented by interviews, essays, and columns. Booklist‘s electronic presence, anchored by Booklist Online, includes e-newsletters, blogs, webinars, and social media.

Whether you are pursuing an MLS, an MFA, or simply want a taste of magazine and web publishing, this unpaid internship offers an excellent overview of the publishing industry and an opportunity to sample the wide-ranging work of an editorial assistant. Specific tasks include opening the mail (consisting primarily of soon-to-be-published books), logging books into the review database, updating web pages, and light editing/proofreading. Each intern will also have the opportunity to write a review for Booklist and to discuss career options with a Booklist editor.

All candidates should be available a minimum of 12 hours per week. Fall internships begin in September and end in early December. Please send your cover letter and resume to: Keir Graff, editor of Booklist Online, at

Thursday, May 8, 2014 10:25 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Bellweather Rhapsody
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

Mystery Month Michael Cart calls “Encore, encore” for today’s MM BTT, an adult mystery with YA-crossover appeal. In Kate Racculia’s Bellweather Rhapsody (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), twelve-year-old Minnie Graves witnesses a murder-suicide and, fifteen years later, returns to the scene of the crime–the Bellweather Hotel–for a music conference. From there, I’m told that “the book is in the spirit of Agatha Christie, The Shining, and… Glee.” See for yourself in the Tarot cards!

If you need another reason to visit the Booklist booth at ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas, please allow me: Kaite Mediatore Stover, celebrated readers’ advisor and author of Booklist’s popular She Reads column, has another trick up her sleeve—reading Tarot! Stop by the booth to see if the cards hold 50% off a new Booklist subscription for you! See you there on Saturday, June 28, from 1:00-3:00 p.m. at the Booklist booth (#617).

Tuesday, May 6, 2014 1:09 pm
From the Archive: Charles Willeford
Posted by: Keir Graff

Mystery Month

Walking down a sunny Chicago sidewalk moments ago, I found myself confronted yet again by smiling chuggers. If you don’t know what a chugger is, you probably don’t live in either a big city or a college town—the term is a shortening of “charity mugger.” These seemingly ubiquitous, clipboard-toting young people smile at you, compliment your clothing, or just plain guilt-trip you, hoping to prey upon your better nature as they urge you to stop what you’re doing, listen to their charity pitch, and then fork over your credit-card number on the spot.

Maybe it’s just Mystery Month, but today I found myself thinking that a good mystery might start with someone discovering the body of a chugger who’s been murdered and dragged into a back alley. No, I’m not contemplating such a heinous deed—at least, not quite yet—but you have to admit it has possibilities. A world-weary detective, an idealistic victim, a crime committed in broad daylight, a policeman who looked the other way, etc.

Writers and Readers: Stalking Charles Willeford's Elusive GrimhavenThen it occurred to me that, actually, it’s sort of been done: Charles Willeford’s Miami Blues starts with Hoke Moseley’s investigation into the murder of a Hare Krishna in the Miami airport. If you’re willing to accept the notion that chuggers have replaced Hare Krishnas as a new generation’s amiable pests, there you have it. (Hoke and his partner, by the way, are more amused than mortified by the, um, occupation of the deceased; in my parallel plotline, I promise to treat the subject with more gravitas. Probably.)

Thoughts of Charles Willeford naturally reminded me of one of my all-time favorite Booklist mystery features, Frank Sennett’s “Stalking Charles Willeford’s Elusive Grimhaven.” If you’re intrigued by the idea of a book with only one copy, give it a read.

#mysterymonthAnd if you’re interested in Willeford, try an author search on Booklist Online. The cult-favorite author may have died in 1988, years before our website launched, but we’ve still got enough reviews of his work to get you started.

Monday, May 5, 2014 3:09 pm
2013 Agatha Awards
Posted by: Biz Hyzy

At their annual Washington, D. C. convention this past weekend, Malice Domestic announced the Agatha Award winners for books published in 2013. The Agatha Awards celebrate “traditional mysteries” written in the style of Agatha Christie, meaning they contain no explicit gore, sex, or violence. The winning titles are linked to Booklist reviews when available.


The Wrong Girl, by Hank Phillippi Ryan


A Question of Honor, by Charles Todd


Death Al Dente, by Leslie Budewitz


“The Care and Feeding of House Plants” —Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, by Art Taylor


The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln before the Civil War, by Daniel Stashower


Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein


Friday, May 2, 2014 1:07 pm
2014 Edgar Award Winners
Posted by: Biz Hyzy

Mystery MonthYesterday, the Mystery Writers of America announced the winners of their 2014 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best mystery fiction and non-fiction produced in 2013. Booklist reviews of the winning titles are included where available.


Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger


Red Sparrow, by Jason Matthews


The Wicked Girls, by Alex Marwood


The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War, by Daniel Stashower


America is Elsewhere: The Noir Tradition in the Age of Consumer Culture, by Erik Dussere


“The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository” – Bibliomysteries, by John Connolly


One Came Home, by Amy Timberlake


Ketchup Clouds, by Annabel Pitcher


Cover of Snow, by Jenny Milchman


Thursday, May 1, 2014 1:59 pm
Book Trailer Thursday: The Abomination
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

Mystery Month Mystery Month at Booklist has officially begun, and BTT is never one to sit out a dance. Jonathan Holt’s The Abomination, one of the Best Debut titles from Booklist Editor and Publisher Bill Ott’s list of the Year’s Best Crime Novels, is but the first BTT of a five-Thursday Mystery Month. Prepare to be creeped out.

And with 30.5 days to go, don’t miss a minute of Mystery Month! On Twitter, follow @Booklist_Keir, @ALA_Booklist, and the hashtag #mysterymonth.

The Abomination Trailer from Holst Digital on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 1, 2014 9:00 am
Mystery Month: Don’t Miss It
Posted by: Keir Graff

Mystery MonthLet’s just pretend three ne’er-do-well buddies from high school—you, the brains of the outfit; Deke, the brawn; and Moe, the mouth-breather—somehow managed to pull off, if not the crime of the century, then, at least, the crime of the last six years, robbing the cardboard-box factory at gunpoint, in broad daylight, on payroll-and-annual-bonus day. For the sake of argument, you’ve been hiding out ever since, in the swamp, in a house on stilts, playing card game after card game until all three of you know the creases and smudges on your single deck of cards better than you know each other’s ugly, unshaven faces. Your plan to hide out until the heat cooled down has hit a little snag, however, because Moe can’t remember where he buried the money.

Now, a situation like that is a perfectly good excuse for not knowing about Booklist‘s Mystery Month—but that’s the only excuse I’ll accept. As everyone in the law-abiding world knows, May is the time when we celebrate the publication of Booklist‘s annual Mystery Showcase issue with a happening we like to call Mystery Month. We kicked things off on Tuesday with a webinar, “Mysteries and Thrillers: Pulse-Pounding Picks for Your Patrons,” and, as of yesterday morning, our May 1 print issue is now live on Booklist Online.

May 1, 2014 Booklist coverCrime-fiction fans, get ready to dive into the loot. Today’s issue of REaD ALERT offers generous highlights from the May 1 issue, and magazine subscribers who have set up an online profile will enjoy free and unfettered access to over 200 reviews and a dozen awesome features, including “The Year’s Best Crime Novels,” “A Hard-Boiled Gazetteer to Border Noir,” “Top 10 Crime Fiction for Youth,” and much, much more. Register now for our second webinar, “The Future of Mystery Fiction,” on May 20.

There’s even more loot to be found on Booklist Online, where we’ll be sharing a dozen irreverent and entertaining lists, such as “They Wrote the Crime, They Did the Time: Five Mystery Authors Who’ve Seen the Inside of a Cell,” throughout the month. We’ve also been publishing extra mystery reviews online, which we’ll round up in an issue of Booklist Online Exclusives mailing May 9 . And we’ll share the best of everything on May 30 in a special “Best of Mystery Month” issue of REaD ALERT.

#mysterymonthOur blogs will be chock-full of crime-fiction posts, too, and we’ll be sharing gems from our mystery vault on Twitter and Facebook. Speaking of Twitter, we’ll be tweeting each and every one of our 41 starred mystery reviews before the end of the month. If you want to make sure you don’t miss a thing, follow me at @Booklist_Keir, and Booklist at @ALA_Booklist, and keep an eye on the hashtag #mysterymonth. I hope you’ll spread the word—and join the conversation.

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Quoted material should be attributed to:
Keir Graff, Likely Stories (Booklist Online).

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