Science for the Nonscientist

February 22, 2012

I was never any good at science, whether it was dissecting a frog or—God help me—completing a science-fair project. My personal nadir came on a chemistry exam in high school. I like to think my score of eight points out of a possible 100 remains, these many decades later, the worst officially posted number in … Continue reading Science for the Nonscientist

It’s That Time of Year

December 28, 2011

For compiling best lists, that is. I either make or participate in the making of at least three different kinds of best-book lists every year. First, there’s the Booklist Editors’ Choice list, published in our January double issue, but I’m only one voice among many in putting together that annual compendium. Then there’s my Back … Continue reading It’s That Time of Year

Hard-Boiled Mysteries and Soft-Boiled Poets

December 14, 2011

The world needs more hard-boiled mysteries written by soft-boiled poets. This admittedly peculiar insight occurred to me as I was reading poet and novelist Jim Harrison’s first crime novel, The Great Leader. The book immediately reminded me of another mystery written by a poet—my favorite modern poet, as a matter of fact—Richard Hugo. The interesting … Continue reading Hard-Boiled Mysteries and Soft-Boiled Poets

Surf’s Up

August 22, 2011

I’ve never been on a surfboard, never even seen one up close, but after finally getting around to reading Don Winslow, I’m starting to dream about being able to hang 10, if only I was 40 years younger, and my twenty-something self was endowed with far more agility and upper-body strength than that wimpy-looking kid … Continue reading Surf’s Up

The Ancient World

June 13, 2011

Every year, in late March and early April, I’m consumed with putting together Booklist’s annual Mystery Showcase issue. For more than a month, my mind is clogged with crime novels: reading them, writing about them, editing what others have written about them, etc. But when that issue finally sleeps its Big Sleep, I run as … Continue reading The Ancient World

Wallander’s Last Stand

March 22, 2011

Readers whose knowledge of Scandinavian crime fiction goes beyond Stieg Larsson know that it was Henning Mankell who jump-started what has developed into a nearly 20-year golden age. The very fact that Sweden could foster a new spin on the Chandlerian hard-boiled novel seemed puzzling initially. How could there be crime novels in such a … Continue reading Wallander’s Last Stand

46 Chicago


January 20, 2011

The war was over, soldiers were returning to civilian life, and governments were beginning to rebuild. Beneath the euphoria, though, the Cold War was gathering steam, and a peculiar mood–a mix of relief, ennui, and alienation–was taking hold in the minds of survivors. Out of this cauldron of emotions came film noir, which critic Nicholas … Continue reading 1946


I’ve Got a Horse Right Here

November 19, 2010

There are two kinds of horse-racing stories. The most common are the sentimental ones (think National Velvet) in which an underdog horse triumphs over seemingly insurmountable odds. Sometimes the same formula is used in more realistic treatments of the racing world (Seabiscuit) that embroider the march to victory with plenty of social and historical landscape. … Continue reading I’ve Got a Horse Right Here

Happy Birthday, Dutch

August 26, 2010

Elmore Leonard’s friends call him Dutch. Many of his fans do, too, and while using a nickname presumes a degree of familiarity to which those of us who only know Leonard through his books aren’t entitled, we can’t help ourselves. We feel like we know him. Leonard’s fans tend to stay the course; his 44th … Continue reading Happy Birthday, Dutch


Frankie Catches a Break

July 20, 2010

I recently finished reading James Kaplan’s Frank: The Voice, a wonderful new biography of Frank Sinatra from his birth in 1915 through 1954, when he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in From Here to Eternity. What impressed me most about the book—besides the account of Sinatra’s volcanic love affair with Ava Gardner … Continue reading Frankie Catches a Break

Hidden Treasures

May 17, 2010

When I listen in on one of our Booklist webinars, it’s hard for me to concentrate on what’s being said—not because there isn’t always something interesting to hear but because, as a Booklister, I’m mainly just hoping that nothing goes wrong (sound problems, panelists dropping the baton as they pass controls to one another, etc.). … Continue reading Hidden Treasures