Friday, October 24, 2014

Gravetapping by Ben Boulden: "Dying in the Post-War World" by Max Allan Collins

Gravetapping by Ben Boulden

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 02:20 PM PDT
Max Allan Collins has been writing about his hardboiled former Chicago cop turned private dick Nathan Heller for 30 years, which translates into 15 novels and four short story collections. Nate first appeared in True Detective (1983) and most recently in Ask Not (2013). In 1991 the first collection of Nathan Heller stories appeared, and its title story—the best in the collection—was a Shamus nominated novella titled “Dying in the Post-War World”.

“Dying in the Post-War World” is set in Chicago. July, 1947. Heller’s wife, Peg, is pregnant, and while business at his A-1 Detective Agency is slow—no one is getting divorced in the post war euphoria—life isn’t bad. That is until Bob Keenan, a high level administrator at the Office of Price Administration (OPA), calls with an emergency, and Peg tells Nate she wants a divorce. In that order, and just that quickly.

The emergency. Bob Keenan’s six year old daughter JoAnn was kidnapped from her room. The window open. A broken down ladder outside, and a note on the floor of the girl’s room:

“Get $20,000 Ready & Waite for Word. Do Not Notify the FBI or Police. Bills in 5’s and 10’s. Burn this for her safety!”

“Dying in the Post-War World” is an intriguing retelling of Chicago’s Lipstick Killer. The names have changed—William Heirens (the real world convicted Lipstick Killer) is now Jerome Lapps, and Suzanne Degnan (the kidnapped girl) is now JoAnn Keegan. Mr Collins also plays with the timeline, and adds an appealing mob connection in form of one Sam Flood (aka Sam Giancana). The details are interesting, but the magic is in the telling. The smooth integration of fact and fiction. The old world Chicago. A Chicago where it was both possible to buy, and people actually wanted, a brand new Plymouth. The humor—“crooked even by Chicago standards.”

The story is written in first person. It is something of a nostalgic memoir. It is hardboiled, lean, and tough as the Windy City. It also has a bunch of post war angst. The sort of angst we all feel; a little hope and a lot of fear for the future. Not necessarily our own future, but the future we leave our children—

“For that one night, settled into a hard hospital chair, in the glow of my brand-new little family, I allowed myself to believe that that hope was not a vain one. That anything was possible in this glorious post-war world.”

But the most powerful effect of the story? Doubt. Doubt about the killer. The future, and ourselves. And even a touch of shame; at what we do, how we do it, and worse, how we rationalize it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Forgotten Books: Fright by Cornell Woolrich


Cornell Woolrich's first novel emulated the novels of his literary hero, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Judging from the first act of the new Woolrich novel Fright from Hardcase Crime, the Fitzgerald influence lasted well into Woolrich's later career as a suspense writer.

The young, handsome, successful Prescott Marshall could be any of Fitzgerald's early protagonists. New York, Wall Street, a striver eager to marry a beauiful young socialite and acquire the sheen only she can give him...even the prose early on here reminds us of Fitzgerald's "Winter Dreams" and "The Rich Boy." Strivers dashed by fate.

Bu since Woolrich was by this time writing for the pulps and not Smart Set or Scribners Magazine, young Prescott Marshall's fate is not simply to lose face or be banished from some Edenic yacht cruise...but to face execution at the hands of the State for killing a young woman he slept with once and who turned into a blackmailer. This is in the Teens of the last century, by the way; a historical novel if you will.

From here on we leave the verities of Fitzgerald behind and step into the noose provided by another excellent writer and strong influence on Woolrich...Guy de Maupassant. In the Frenchman's world it's not enough to merely die, you must die in a tortured inch-by-inch way that makes the final darkness almost something to be desired. And dying for some ironic turn of events is best of all.

I read this in a single sitting. It's one those melodramas that carry you along on sheer narrative brute force. I woudn't say it's major Woolrich but I woud say that it's awfully good Woolrich with all the master's cruel tricks at work and a particularly claustrophobic sense of doom. Readers will appreciate its dark twists. Collectors will want to buy a few extra copies.

Headlines that shouldn't be true but are

‘F*ck your ginseng!’  San Francisco tour guide’s racist Chinatown rant

School board chief won’t resign over racist videos: ‘Nothing illegal
about having bad taste’

Fox host tells supermodel to shut up about gun control: You have a
‘lovely bottom… stick to that’

Gamergate’s anti-woman agenda made clear: Actor Felicia Day threatened
for speaking up

Top VA GOP adviser unhinged on Facebook: Gay sex leaves men in diapers,
‘pooping their pants’

Idaho voters favor Republican plagiarist who lied about education and
marital history

Pat Robertson finds ‘atheist’ who says God cancelled her abortion

'Highly troubling': Justice Dept. slams local officials over Michael
Brown autopsy leak

California cop stole DUI suspect’s racy photos from her cell phone:

Meth witch? Arrested Oklahoma ‘Wiccan’ claims religious right to use

North Carolina judge resigns in protest after Supreme Court shoots down
same-sex marriage ban

What happens if the GOP takes control of the Senate?

Why don’t Millennials vote? Cartoonist Matt Bors has the answer

Millennials have the power to shape the Senate — if they would only vote

Relax, Democrats: We figured out how to get Millennials to vote

Election Night, hour by hour: A handy guide to Democratic disaster (or
miracle comeback!)

This scientist thinks cancer can be prevented— and even cured — through

Why Oregon is about to be the poster child for how to legalize and
regulate marijuana

Bristol Palin claims family's drunken brawl never happened, even after
audio proof released

Cornel West shoots down Sean Hannity: Republicans play the ‘race card,’

Sam Harris and Cenk Uygur debate whether Islam is a religion of violence

GOPer Don Young doubles down: Suicide is an ‘illness’ lazy people get
from government handouts

Colorado man admits to killing Montana teacher in cocaine frenzy

Washington soldier accused of gunning down wife because another man
bought her liquor

Border militia’s ‘commanding officer’ turns out to be a felon, arrested
on gun charge

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

From the great Ken Levine Movies You're Not Supposed To Hate

What movies do you hate that everyone else loves?

Doesn't it make you crazy when there’s a movie out that’s real popular and all your friends love it but you don’t? It’s like you're totally out of step with pop culture – and is there a worse fate than that? I’ve listed some movies that were boxoffice dandies and zeitgeist zeniths but just didn’t do it for me. You’re going to look at this list and be outraged over a couple. But that’s the whole idea. I KNOW you and most everyone in the world likes these movie but for whatever reason I hate 'em.   Sorry.  I do.   I’ve also left out films from genres I just don’t care for, so it’s unfair to dump on SAW III. And I won’t go to see a Katherine Heigl or Nancy Meyer romcom. Just loathe ‘em.  I know what I’m going to get. And I’m never not being disappointed in being disappointed.

So this is my partial list. I’d be curious. What’s yours? And I’ll make you a deal. If you don’t rip me for not liking LINCOLN I won’t attack you for not liking AMERICAN BEAUTY (although, seriously, what’s wrong with you?).

Last Batman movie
Last Superman movie