This year’s Derringer winners!

Since 1998, the Short Mystery Fiction Society has awarded the annual Derringer Awards–named after the pocket-sized pistol–to outstanding short crime fiction published the previous year, and to writers who have greatly advanced the form.

Here are the 2021 Derringer Award winners!

FLASH (up to 1,000 words): TIE. C.W Blackwell, “Memories of Fire,” Pulp Modern Flash. And Travis Richardson, “War Words,” Punk Noir Magazine.

SHORT (from 1,001 to 4,000 words): TIE. Eleanor Cawood Jones, “The Great Bedbug Incident and the Invitation of Doom,” Chesapeake Crimes: Invitation to Murder. And Stacy Woodson, “River,” The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell.

LONG (from 4,001 to 8,000 words): Sarah M. Chen, “Hotelin’,” Shotgun Honey, Volume #4: Recoil.

NOVELETTE (from 8,001 to 20,000 words): Art Taylor, “The Boy Detective and the Summer of ’74,” Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, January/February 2020.

The Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer (Lifetime Achievement award): Brendan DuBois.

Congratulations!

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Gearing up for Oscar night with War and Peace

How to warm up for Oscar night? Ed and I spent four consecutive evenings this week watching a 55-year-old foreign film.

Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace was the Soviet film industry’s attempt to outdo Hollywood. Adapted from Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel, his eight-hour masterpiece released in four installments in 1966 and 1967 is epic in every way—with its thundering battle scenes, glittering grand balls, 300 speaking parts, thousands of costumed extras, and stunningly innovative camera techniques.

The 1956 American production of War and Peace, starring Henry Fonda and Audrey Hepburn, had been a hit with Soviet audiences, but Soviet officials thought an American adaptation should not be the definitive version of their national epic. The government opened 58 state museums and archives to serve Bondarchuk’s production, contributing priceless paintings, chandeliers and furniture to the movie sets. The Red Army supplied hundreds of horses and more than 10,000 soldiers as extras, and the Ministry of Defense supplied scent hounds for the hunting scenes. The film’s official cost of $29 million (in 1960s’ U.S. dollars) didn’t include all these free contributions.

War and Peace succeeded in Hollywood, winning an Academy Award in 1968 for best foreign-language film. It also won the Golden Globe Award for best foreign-language film, and the Grand Prix in the Moscow International Film Festival.

The film took nearly six years to make, and the young actress Ludmilla Savelyeva visibly grows up before our eyes in the role of Natasha Rostova. Much of the filming was on location, so outdoor scenes had to wait for the right weather conditions. And director Bondarchuk, who was passionate about adapting Tolstoy’s novel, pushed himself so hard that he suffered a heart attack and had to spend two months recuperating.

Sergei Bondarchuk as Count Pierre Bezukhov.

Bondarchuk also took the film’s lead role, the part of the awkward, good-hearted Count Pierre Bezukhov, whose story is the film’s central thread. Bondarchuk was in his 40s at the time of filming, a good 15 years older than Pierre, certainly old enough to be the father of his teenage love interest. But he was a fine actor, and after feeling an initial jolt at how old this Pierre was, I felt he was completely right for the role.

Despite its length, War and Peace is not too long. I expected to be bored, but I was entranced by the story and the glorious spectacle.

A great way to gear up for tonight’s Oscars!

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Carrick Publishing in the spotlight again!

The shortlist for Crime Writers of Canada’s annual Awards of Excellence was released last night, putting Carrick Publishing once again in the spotlight. The five short stories named as finalists for the CWC’s Best Short Story Award include “Days Without Name” by Sylvia Maultash Warsh. Warsh’s tale was one of 35 stories of murder and malaise in Carrick Publishing’s 2020 collection, A Grave Diagnosis.

Sylvia Maultash Warsh.

It’s the second time that Carrick Publishing has featured prominently in the CWC awards. In 2018, four works in Carrick’s 13 Claws collection were award finalists,, and Catherine Astolfo’s “The Outlier” won the prestigious Best Short Story Award.

Let’s hope Carrick Publishing and Sylvia Warsh score big when this year’s winners are announced on Thursday, May 27!

Another well-deserved award was conferred last night. Marian Misters, co-owner of Toronto’s Sleuth of Baker Street bookshop, was awarded the CWC’s Derrick Murdoch Award for her contribution to Canadian crime writing. She has served as jury chair for the annual awards for several years, and she has supported authors in numerous ways since the bookstore opened.

Marian Misters, co-owner of Sleuth of Baker Street.

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For Heaven’s Sake: how I almost appeared in a TV documentary

Mike Mildon, left, and Jackson Rowe in For Heaven’s Sake. Photo courtesy of CBS/Paramount+

On March 1, 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic closed the world down, filmmaker Mike Mildon, director Tim Johnson and their camera crew arrived at my home in Toronto. Mildon had asked to interview me for the documentary he was working on about the disappearance of his great-great uncle in the Haliburton Highlands 86 years ago.

Mildon had heard that I had a vacation home for many years not far from Horseshoe Lake, where his great-great uncle, Harold Heaven, had lived. And he knew that I wrote mysteries; he even brought a copy of Raven Lake with him. I figured he wanted to discuss how to approach a real-life mystery.

The film crew—about a dozen people—spent a good two hours rearranging the furniture in my living room and setting up lights. They were careful about the furniture, and put everything back in place after the shoot. But when we got down to our talk, I realized that Mildon thought that I was related to the McCracken brothers, Alvin and Harold (yes, another Harold!), who were neighbors of his great-great uncle on Horseshoe Lake all those years ago. Harold McCracken, in fact, was considered a prime suspect by many for what might have been the murder of Harold Heaven. Heaven had purchased his lakefront property from the brothers for $1,500, and he thought he’d been overcharged. Bad feelings festered between Heaven and the McCrackens, but the police later cleared the brothers of wrongdoing in the case.

I had to set Mildon straight. I told him that I’m not related the Haliburton McCrackens. I hail from Montreal and moved to Ontario about 30 years ago. The interview proceeded, but I figured that my scene would be relegated to the cutting room floor.

And I was right about that. For Heaven’s Sake premiered on CBC Gem and CBS/Paramount+ on March 4, 2021, and I didn’t make the cut in any of the eight episodes. But I enjoyed the series, partly because it was filmed in and around Minden, Ontario, an area dear to my heart. And it was fun watching Mildon and his friend Jackson Rowe, as two amateur sleuths bumbling through their investigation into what happened to Uncle Harold. The pair have great chemistry playing off each other, and improvised some neat comic touches.

Harold Heaven left his cabin one evening in October 1934, leaving the door ajar, and was never seen again. Raised in Hamilton, Ont., Heaven was 31 when he vanished. A loner, he’d built a cabin on the land he’d purchased from the McCrackens, and had become a permanent resident at Horseshoe Lake. The police searched the woods and nearby lakes after his disappearance, but Heaven was never seen again.

Mildon and Rowe left no stone unturned in their investigation of this cold, cold case. They made up for their lack of training as detectives with the sheer energy and enthusiasm they brought to the task. They spent a few years talking to Highland residents, including Mildon’s extended family, enlisting the help of local businesses and examining various theories about Heaven’s disappearance. One theory is that Heaven committed suicide. Mildon and Rowe also looked at the possibilities that he was murdered by road workers building Highway 35, by Harold McCracken or by Heaven’s own brothers. They conducted an ROV (remote operated vehicle) scan of a nearby lake where they thought Heaven’s remains might have been dumped. They had a large mound in the woods near Heaven’s property scanned, spotted an anomaly, and dug up the mound only to uncover large rocks.

In the end, Mildon had to conclude that “this cold case was just too cold.”

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