FM: <i>The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man</i> by W. Bruce Cameron FM: The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W. Bruce Cameron Angie Barry Get out of my head! Now Win <i>This</i>!: The Shot in the Dark Sweepstakes Now Win This!: The Shot in the Dark Sweepstakes Crime HQ These five books will hit you when you least expect it! FM: <i>The Nightingale Before Christmas</i> by Donna Andrews FM: The Nightingale Before Christmas by Donna Andrews Nikki Bonanni Christmas decorating is serious business. FM: <i>The Counterfeit Heiress</i> by Tasha Alexander FM: The Counterfeit Heiress by Tasha Alexander Angie Barry Not everyone is who they seem...
From The Blog
October 29, 2014
A Murder of Quality by John LeCarre: An Old-Fashioned Detective Mystery
Edward A. Grainger
October 28, 2014
Benedict Cumberbatch Joins Marvel as Doctor Strange
Crime HQ
October 27, 2014
Bollywood Heist Film is Many More Movies in One
Crime HQ
October 26, 2014
Tom Sawyer, Detective: Twain's Other Steamboat Adventure
Edward A. Grainger
October 25, 2014
Fatal Footlights: The Theater Mystery
Michael Nethercott
Wed
Oct 29 2014 4:00pm

Comics without Capes: Crimes by Women

Crimes By Women was a ten cent comic book published by the Fox Features Syndicate from June of 1948 to August of 1951. It was an anthology series that showcased a series of femme fatales, gun molls and full-tilt psychopaths engaged in all manner of sexual seduction and wanton violence. It was, in a word, trash.

Trash has its appeal, though, and—more importantly—it can tell us something about the shifting currents of a culture.

Fox Features Syndicate was the brainchild and ongoing concern of one of the most interesting figures in the early days of comic books. Victor Fox was a Russian immigrant who had been born in England before his family settled in America in 1898. Short (only about 5’2”) and bursting with energy, Fox had an obscure early life that was later shrouded in myth. There was talk of a career as an illegal boiler-room stock trader, of a conviction for mail fraud, of a side job as an accountant for National Allied Publications (which later became DC Comics) that gave him the idea to start his own business ripping off his old bosses. (Comics legend Jack Kirby, who later worked for Fox, compared him to movie gangster Edward G. Robinson.)

[That's a bold claim...]

Wed
Oct 29 2014 11:30am

A Murder of Quality by John LeCarre: An Old-Fashioned Detective Mystery

The second George Smiley novel is an offbeat curio in the series and a damn good one at that. A unique entry because it isn’t a spy novel at all but rather an old-fashioned detective mystery along the lines of Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers. Later, more celebrated Smiley adventures certainly have mystery elements sprinkled in (as Smiley investigates a mole within the Circus Spy agency) but A Murder of Quality operates outside the espionage community altogether.

Plot: Miss Brimley is an old friend of George Smiley (from his WWII exploits) and when she receives a letter from a woman named Stella Rode, who claims her husband is trying to kill her, Brimley seeks Smiley’s counsel. Unfortunately, though, it’s too late. The woman has been murdered and Smiley agrees to take the letter to an Inspector Rigby who Smiley takes an instant liking to—perhaps he’s looking into a mirror and sees himself. Rigby, Smiley observed, “Imparted a feeling of honesty and straight dealing.” And because Rigby had heard “just a very little” of George Smiley’s Service, he gladly accepts the help and Rigby and Smiley begin unraveling the threads of Mrs. Rode’s death. Or as Smiley corresponds back to Brimley, “So I’ll just sniff around a bit.”

[I wonder what he'll find...]

Wed
Oct 29 2014 8:45am

Drunk Man Stumbles into Wrong Bed (and Home)

A young man from Connecticut drunkenly stumbled into the wrong apartment and hopped right into bed with a complete stranger.

Tyler Sullivan, 26, thought he was entering his mom's apartment, which was in the same complex, according to authorities. The shocked and very alarmed resident called 911.

“The caller said that he rolled over saw that it was not his wife,” according to the police report. The wasted intruder was told to leave the apartment, but refused. He was still in bed when police arrived.

Sullivan was charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct, and released on $1,000 bail. He will appear in court next month — hopefully sober and well rested from sleeping in his own bed.

Tue
Oct 28 2014 1:00pm

Gotham 1.06: “Spirit of the Goat”

You have to love the way Oswald makes entrances. First, he shows up at Barbara’s clock tower to say “hi” to his good friend, Jim, then he shows up at his mother’s place with “I’m alive!,” and at the end of this episode, he drops the bombshell on everyone by walking into police headquarters.

I love the ending cliffhanger. It feels like an homage to monthly comics, which often end on that kind of big revelation.

And, despite the presence of a serial murderer, Oswald still wins the creepy award this episode, for the disturbing bathtub scene with his mother, who seems like a weirder, more twisted version of Carol Kane’s Valerie from The Princess Bride. I half expected Miracle Max to show up as Oswald’s Dad and for them to start arguing about whether their son was pursuing the right career path or maybe where to get the best pastrami.

[You said something about pastrami?]

Tue
Oct 28 2014 11:30am

Fresh Meat: The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W. Bruce Cameron

The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W. Bruce Cameron is the debut mystery featuring the perennially-disappointing repo man Ruddy McCann who begins to hear the voice of a murder victim in his head (available October 28, 2014).

I am deeply committed to a road to nowhere and can’t reverse course save by driving backward for at least four miles—I doubt my car would forgive me, and I know my neck wouldn’t. But that’s what my instincts are urging me to do: back up. Get out. Escape, an inner voice whispers.

Escape from what?

Ruddy McCann has a lot on his plate. The family bar is in dire financial straits. The crummy winter weather is interfering with his repo work. His love life is as empty as his wallet.

Oh—and he has a murder victim inside his head.

When Alan Lottner first speaks up, Ruddy thinks he’s finally cracking. Maybe he’s got the Repo Madness, as his boss suggests. Perhaps the stress has just become too much.

But the dream he had—of Alan’s murder, as seen through his eyes—and some digging reveals that the voice isn’t just his imagination. Alan really did exist and he really was murdered.

[But why is he in my head?!]

Tue
Oct 28 2014 10:35am

Benedict Cumberbatch Joins Marvel as Doctor Strange

Benedict Cumberbatch is in talks with Marvel to play Doctor Strange in a film to be directed by Scott Derrickson.

Strange has been teased in two previous Marvel films Thor and Captain America: Winter's Soldier. Although no date has been announced for Doctor Strange, Marvel is eyeing a 2016 premiere.

Stephen Vincent Strange was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1963 as a neurosurgeon turned Sorcerer Supreme who must save Earth from terrifying and mystical threats.

While Cumberbatch will debut Strange in a film all about the doctor, the plan will be to intergrate him into the Avengers, giving the inevitable Avengers 3 an even more star-studded cast.

But don't worry, fellow Sherlock fans. The reason Cumberbatch hasn't officially signed the contract yet is because he's working out contingencies that would allow him time to continue filming his BBC series. Whew!

Mon
Oct 27 2014 3:30pm

Boardwalk Empire 5.08: Series Finale “Eldorado”

The final season of Boardwalk Empire had been on two distinct tracks: one focused on Nucky’s professional struggles and the other on his personal demons. Until last week, it appeared that these two trains were on a collision course and that Nucky would pay for his personal transgressions, but at the professional hand of Luciano or some other mobster. Then Nucky surprised everyone, even himself, and surrendered. Just like that, the mortal peril he’d been in disappeared. Nucky had defied the odds and gotten out alive.

[Tread carefully, spoilers lie inside...]

Mon
Oct 27 2014 2:30pm

Death Comes to Pemberley: Part 1

Elizabeth Bennet married Fitzwilliam Darcy and lived happily ever after...

...at least until a dead soldier was found on the grounds of their estate at Pemberley.

Jane Austen didn’t foresee things working out quite this way in 1813 when she brought together Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

P.D. James had a different vision when she continued their tale in her 2011 bestseller Death Comes to Pemberley.

Thus we open in a most Austen-like way, with Elizabeth and Darcy preparing to host Lady Anne’s Ball, a tradition begun by Darcy’s late mother and now regarded as the county’s most important social event of the year. They’re in love, they dote on their rambunctious son “Master Fitzwilliam,” and they live in splendor. (Castle Howard was used for the interior scenes at Pemberley and Chatsworth House for the exteriors.)

It’s all just too perfect. And you know P.D. James can’t have that.

[Enter, the bloody corpse...]

Mon
Oct 27 2014 9:15am

Bollywood Heist Film is Many More Movies in One

At almost three hours, Happy New Year is a film with the run time to contain its comedic diamond heist, Bollywood dance competition spectacular, high-budget action flick, and then revenge film (they could have fit an extra buddy cop movie in there, too). The holiday of the title isn't in winter, but is instead the autumn celebration of Diwali, the enormously popular 5-day long Hindu “festival of lights” which just took place, coinciding with the film's release. But according to Deadline, HNY has also been simultaneously released internationally, providing early box office estimates covering “the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia... The film also released in North America [260 screens], the UAE, the Netherlands, Kuwait and Pakistan.” Will you hunt down this lavishly over-the-top kitchen-sink of a caper movie?

Sun
Oct 26 2014 12:00pm

Tom Sawyer, Detective: Twain’s Other Steamboat Adventure

It was always nuts for Tom Sawyer—a mystery was. If you'd lay out a mystery and a pie before me and him, you wouldn't have to say take your choice; it was a thing that would regulate itself. Because in my nature I have always run to pie, whilst in his nature he has always run to mystery. People are made different. And it is the best way.

—Huckleberry Finn

Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are bored and itching for adventure and why shouldn’t they be after the thrilling chronicles, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894). In Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896), his Aunt Sally from Arkansas (or, rather, Arkansaw since Mark Twain writes with such charming vernacular perfection) wants him to visit. Tom’s Aunt Sally and Uncle Silas have a neighbor named Brace Dunlap who had wanted to marry their daughter Benny but was told he couldn’t and has since “soured” on the family. They made the mistake of trying to appease Brace by hiring his ne'er-do-well brother, Jubiter, which they can barely afford. Frustrated by these events and deciding they need a diversion that only Tom Sawyer can provide, Aunt Sally asks him to come visit. Huckleberry Finn faithfully tags along, explaining this will cure their spring fever, and he narrates this adventure like the previous classic tales.

[Takes you right back to your childhood...]

Sat
Oct 25 2014 12:00pm

Fatal Footlights: The Theater Mystery

The theater world has long been a prime setting for mystery and mayhem. Shakespeare, that homicidal scribe, virtually carpeted the stage with slain corpses. The murderers he created are numerous: Richard III, Othello, Titus Andronicus, Lear’s daughter Goneril, Macbeth (both He and She) and a whole squad of Caesar-skewering assassins—whose best-known member, Brutus, made this bloody recommendation:

Let's kill him boldly, but not wrathfully;

Let's carve him as a dish fit for the gods…

Oooo-kay, we’ll take that under advisement.

Not to say that Ol’ Will was the first playwright to put his hand to manslaughter. The Greeks were Agamemnon-izing their characters way back in the BC. Murder-most-foul has always found its way into the spotlight (or whatever Sophocles used to illuminate a scene.) So when the murder mystery novel came into being, it was only natural that the theater and its actors should crop up within those pages. The following list is not meant to be comprehensive, chronological or anything else multi-syllabic. With the understanding that theater-themed whodunits are really too numerous to mention, I’ll now proceed to mention some…

[We'll start with the obvious...]

Fri
Oct 24 2014 3:30pm

Under the Radar: Genre Movies You May Have Missed — Evolution

I love the mainstream, popular, and critically acclaimed films as much as the next person. The last thing I’d consider myself is a cinematic snob. But there are times when a truly amazing movie slips into—and out of—theaters without much buzz before fading into obscurity. So I’d like to bring a few of those gems back into the light and remind you that sometimes the blockbusters aren’t the only films that can give you plenty of bang for your buck.

When you say “aliens” and “David Duchovny” in the same sentence, almost everyone will assume you’re talking about The X-Files. But Mulder also faced off against unpleasant invaders from space in another, lesser known project: Evolution.

[Poor Scully...]

Fri
Oct 24 2014 2:00pm

How to Get Away with Murder 1.05: “We’re Not Friends”

The trick to writing a good TV show isn’t avoiding a formula; it’s finding a good formula. So far, How to Get Away with Murder has been on the right path, and this episode displays plenty of the formula’s best quirks. Again, the case of the week doesn’t hinge on who’s guilty, it hinges on whether they can be exonerated—this time a teenager who shot his abusive, police officer father to protect his mother. And again, the team hops through a few quirky legal loopholes to get their way – this time, memorizing the blog of the accused in order to gain permission to admit it's evidence of abuse and, in the final twist, getting the case thrown out on purpose in order to get kid into juvenile court.

One aspect of the formula is tweaked this time: the twists in the case aren’t shocking revelations. The son killed his dad and that’s all there is to that story. Instead, the twists come in the form of manipulation of the jury. From the story’s opening scene, as Keating (Viola Davis) and her class discuss the way to cherry-pick a jury, to the final dismissal of the jury, it’s more about the courtroom than the case.

[That's a different approach for a legal show...]

Fri
Oct 24 2014 11:45am

From Page to Screen with Broadchurch: Is the Book Always Better?

This should actually be called Screen to Page, since the television series came before the book. The show is a BBC production. One murder case is investigated over the course of eight episodes.

Ellie Miller has just returned from a three-week holiday with her family. She’s expecting to step into her new role as a Detective Inspector on her first day back at the Broadchurch police station. Instead, she’s introduced to DI Alec Hardy, who has been brought in while she was gone. Before Ellie can get into it with the big boss, she and Hardy are called out to investigate a report of a body on the beach.

[Talk about a rough first day back...]

Fri
Oct 24 2014 9:30am

(Brain) Food for Worms: Halloween at Criminal Element

Don’t look now, but Halloween is just around the corner, and with it comes the one time each year where our morbid obsession with all things scary is celebrated! If you’re looking to get that heart rate thumping, look no further; here are the links that will send even the biggest adrenaline junkie running for his mummy.

Are you simply looking for some reading recommendations? We’ve got you covered. Head over here for a list of books guaranteed to be chock full of thrills, chills, and kills! If you’re one of those people who have a hard time deciding on which book to read, we’ve got a convenient flow chart that will make choosing your next scare easier than fighting Dracula at daybreak.

Michael Nethercott wants to take this opportunity to scare with you a gothic whatdunit from Henry JamesThe Turn of the Screw. Roger Clarke has been studying ghosts since his days at Eton College, where there just happens to be an inn that played host to both one of England’s best ghost story writers, M.R. James, as well as a famous ghost sighting from the 17th Century! Comment on Clarke’s post for a chance to win a copy of his updated book Ghosts: A Natural History! And if that’s not enough ghosts for you, check out the true story of the haunted house where Peter James lived.

When it comes to screaming at the top of your voice, is television your medium of choice? If so, you’re in luck. Join Jake Hinkson for his Twin Peaks rewatch as he visits David Lynch’s eerie small town with big secrets. Oh, and did you hear? Twin Peaks will be returning in 2015! (We’re not trying to take credit or anything…) If monsters are more your thing, you’ll want to check out our Hemlock Grove coverage, where Meghan Schuler not only provided a primer to catch you up, but also complete Season 2 episodic recaps, all from one brutal weekend of binge! Monsters and Meghan seem to go well together, as she is currently covering American Horror Story: Freak Show too! If you like monsters, chances are you’ve seen Grimm. But you may have missed The Mythology of Grimm, a book dedicated to breaking down the fairy tale and folklore roots of the show!

Guillermo del Toro is a master of the horror genre, whether it be on television or at the movies. Luckily, we have a resident del Toro expert on call—Angie Barry! Angie put del Toro’s films under the knife as she vivisected his entire filmography. Then it was onto TV and The Strain, where Angie not only covered each episode of Season 1, but also interviewed two regular cast members: Sean Astin and Kevin Durand. Angie's love for the paranormal transcends del Toro, which explains her attendance at the 13th Annual Mothman Festival in West Virginia!

Movies can be bloodcurdling too, for both good and bad reasons. Sometimes, writes Michael Nethercott, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and everything comes out the perfect level of campy-creepy. And sometimes, as Brian Greene notes, the perfect mix of Gothicism, eroticism, and vampirism come together into something great, like in Daughters of Darkness. But every once in a while, a clunker comes along, bringing out the terrible, awful, and very worst of movies. May we present our awesomely bad Crimes Against Film series.

Now of course, to assume everyone is as infatuated with morbidity would be witchful thinking. Halloween can be fun too, as proven by Dixie Lyle’s To Die Fur and Leigh Perry’s The Skeleton Takes a Bow. You can head on over to all of our cozy coverage, if you’d like. But be careful where you click…you never know where you’ll find yourself at Criminal Element.

Thu
Oct 23 2014 3:00pm

American Horror Story: Freak Show 4.03: “Edward Mordrake: Part 1”

American Horror Story has given us some of the best Halloween specials I’ve seen on television. “Murder House” in particular set the bar for the horror anthology and I don’t think the subsequent specials have really stacked up. Come on, Season 1 had a stitched-together reanimated child, five bloody murdered teenagers, a hit-and-run, and the ghosts having the freedom to leave the house. It was awesome. But with what “Edward Mordrake” promised and delivered, I may have my hopes up.

Give me creepy medical anomalies and I am sold. I’m a bit disappointed that Google proved the American Morbidity Museum isn’t real, but it’s a nice setup to introduce con-man Stanley (Denis O’Hare) and his partner in crime, Maggie Esmerelda (Emma Roberts). It’s refreshing to see O’Hare not be inherently creepy, though he does it so well. I wonder how long it took him to make that “authentic baby sasquatch.” If any of you are in the market for cryptozoological finds, I suggest Etsy. If you want morbid anatomy, check out Brooklyn’s  real Morbid Anatomy Museum.

[You won't be disappointed...]

Thu
Oct 23 2014 12:00pm

M.R. James: The Haunted Boy

It has gone unnoticed by his biographers, but the Eton lodgings in which M.R. James set his scholarship in the 1870s was the location of a famous 17th Century ghost story. Roger Clarke, who attended the same school exactly one hundred years later, tells the story for the first time.

* * *

I have in front of me the original third-edition of Saducismus Triumphatus by Joseph Glanvill. It’s a very old book, from 1700, and it's full of ghosts and witches. It has the royal insignia on the front, which means it was owned and probably read by George III or “Mad King George.” His grandfather George II was a staunch believer in vampires, but I digress. I’m not allowed to photograph it, but I’m in the British Library in London.

Saducismus was a theological work designed to rebut the cynics and sceptics by trying to demonstrate that the supernatural world—and by extension, God—really existed. It influenced, famously, Cotton Mather and the witch trials held 1692-3 in Salem, Massachusetts. In those days, ghosts were thought not to be spirits but demons, and often associated with witches and witchcraft. Glanvill, a Fellow of the Royal Society and Chaplain to the King, managed to make a belief in ghosts and witchcraft respectable in England for about a decade. One of his early jobs was as a curate to Eton College.

Curiously, this book also includes a now-forgotten ghost story that’s relevant to one of the best English ghost story writers of them all, M.R. James (1862-1936). 

[Ghosts, witch trials? You have our attention...]

Thu
Oct 23 2014 8:45am

Murderer Suing State Over Porn

A convicted murderer at a prison in Connecticut thinks he should be able to view porn.

Inmate Dwight Pink Jr. is claiming in the lawsuit that guards have used the ban to deny him an art book, The Atlas of Foreshortening, which uses naked models to help illustrate how to use art to draw the human body.

He said the ban on pornography in prison violates his constitutional rights and serves no meaningful objective in prison. The state filed its response yesterday, saying none of his rights was violated and he has not been harmed by the ban.

“Any injury or harm, if any, was caused solely by plaintiff's own acts, omissions, or conduct and was not due to any wrongful conduct by the defendants,” Assistant Attorney General Steven Strom wrote.

The state Department of Correction put out the administrative directive in 2011. It bans all material that contains “pictorial depictions of sexual activity or nudity” from the prisons.

But it also says the ban should not apply to “materials which, taken as a whole, are literary, artistic, educational or scientific in nature.”

A prison spokesman at the time said the ban was intended to improve the work environment for prison staffers, especially female staffers, who might be inadvertently exposed to pornography.

Pink is serving a 56-year sentence at the Cheshire Correctional Institution for his part in the 1998 murder of a 35-year-old father of two.

Wed
Oct 22 2014 2:00pm

John Wayne Turned Cop: McQ and Brannigan

John Wayne (1907-1979), aka The Duke, remained a top ten box office draw for an impressive quarter of a century during which he was primarily known for Western roles in seminal productions like The Searchers (1956), Hondo (1953), and Rio Bravo (1959) and war films like his influential portrayal of Sergeant Stryker in Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). In his last decade, as the lights dimmed on the Western stage and American audiences seemed to have had enough of flag-waving war movies, Wayne turned to playing police officers in McQ (1974) and Brannigan (1975). Clint Eastwood had already made the successful transition from Spaghetti Westerns to playing Dirty Harry, a role that allegedly Wayne and Frank Sinatra had turned down though other reports suggest they were considered too old. Either way, the Chairman of the Board had also made the leap from Western/war flicks to cops and robbers like The Detective (1968). So when Eastwood’s Dirty Harry and its sequels went on to be cultural mega hits, Wayne quickly switched gears and made two cop films back to back to capitalize on that trend. The results were intriguing but less than satisfying.

[But it's still John Wayne!]

Wed
Oct 22 2014 11:15am

The Cowboy Rides Away: John Wayne and The Shootist (1976)

This is the second entry in a series on the final Westerns of the great cowboy stars. The previous entry looked at Gary Cooper and The Hanging Tree.

Don Siegel’s The Shootist is an elegy. Made three years before John Wayne’s death from cancer, it tells the story of a gunfighter (or a “shootist” to use the archaic newspaper term) who rides in from the range, gets a room in town with a prim widow woman and her impressionable son, and settles down to die. The film is an elegy for many things—for the Western itself, for the idea of the cowboy hero, but mostly it’s an elegy for the man who, more than any other, defined the idea of the American film hero for the entire world.

By any standard, John Wayne had an amazing career. Born Marion Morrison, he started out in pictures in the 1920s as just another tall, good-looking guy in crowd scenes—a football player here, a solider there. (In the 1928 Noah’s Ark, he survived the botched flood sequence that killed three extras.) Raoul Walsh gave him his big break playing the lead in the epic 1930 Western The Big Trail. The film was a flop, and Wayne spent most of the next decade riding the range in cheapie oaters, playing second fiddle to guys like Tim McCoy and gradually working his way back up the call sheet. His second big break—the one that actually succeeded in breaking him out of the world of Poverty Row horse operas—was John Ford’s 1939 Stagecoach. He was 32, a bit old to be playing someone called the Ringo Kid, but there was no doubt he was a star. Those nine years had taught him how to work a camera, how to pace his walk, how to listen to other actors. (“I’m a reactor,” he once said of his approach to his craft.) He looked like he’d been born with a gun in his hand, and though he famously didn’t care for horses, you can never catch him thinking about what he’s doing with one. He rode like it was second nature.

[And we watched him like it was second nature...]