Wednesday, October 31, 2007


The other night a few of you joined me in saying that it's nice to read/see something purely entertaining sometimes. One of my favorites in this category is Loren Estleman's 1989 novel about a sink-hole dirtbag Detroit private eye named Ralph Poteet.

Even after three readings over the years, Peeper keeps me laughing--many times out loud--all the way through. This isn't cheap parody. It's a witty take on many private eye cliches filled with people you wouldn't want to meet without wearing a bio-hazard suit, including a monsignor who dies in a whorehouse. Poteet is asked to help secret the man's enormous body to a more discreet location. And he decides while he's at snap a few pics of the corpse. Never know what kind of money they'll bring on the open market.

What makes this work is Estleman's enormous skill. Nobody writes a better classical private eye story better than Loren and even when he's having fun with the tropes. He does so with his usual mastery of language, pacing and storytelling.

Trust me. You'l like this one a lot.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Pulp Fanatic

Terry Southern once said that the lower echelons of publishing provided glimpses of America you just couldn't get in the mainstream. I take that to mean he believed that you could find some interesting takes if not exactly Higher Truths in, for instance, the downmarket paperback market of the era he wrote in, the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.

Such magazines as Paperback Parade certainly examine those decades carefully and well. And so do several websites. Thanks to Curt Purcell's groovy Groovy Age of Horror you can revisit the newstands of your youth in lurid living color. And with savvy commentary to boot. .

It was thanks to Groovy that I heard of The Paperback Fanatic I have the two most recent issues at hand and they should be enough to inspire literary web dreams for collectors and paperback afficiandos around the world.

They're well laid out, packed with cover reproductions and filled with interesting and entertaining articles and interviews of writers and artists alike. Though the slant is British a good deal of the subject matter deals with American pbs.

Editor Justin Marriott is an incisvive interviewer and writer. In the two issues I have he deals with the mostly forgotten (Robert Lory, a good pb writer) and the famous James Herbert. His piece on Herbert is especially good because of his take on a huge bestseller for whom neither fame nor money is quite enough. He wants respect, too. I like Herbert's books so I sympathize with his anger and frustration to some degree. But given the number of struggling wrters in the world, my sympathy is limited.

Justin covers everything from British porn (think Midwood and Beacon with a Cockney accent), the Kung-Fu pb phenom,and even a collection of war novels (viewers of the Nazi channel in America (better known as the History Channel) would drool over these covers if not the books themselves.

For mystery readers there's a look at what Peter Tremayne was doing back in the Seventies and Eighties. Writing originals with titles such as Zombie!. Kiss of The Cobra, Swamp! and Trollnight. I'm assuming this is the same Peter Tremayne who is the author of many notable mystery novels and stories.

Justin also sent me the forerunner of The Pulp Fanatic, PulpMania, which is packed with eveything from articles on Biker fiction to the myriad shock novels of Guy N. Smith.

If you're into paperbacks you'd better be into The Pulp Fanatic. No fooling.

Monday, October 29, 2007

More from Fred Blosser

Ed, a few blogs back, you mentioned that TCM recently aired one of the early "Lone Wolf" B-movies from Columbia, starring Warren William. TCM ran the final two entries in the series this weekend, starring Gerald Mohr and Ron Randell, respectively. I suppose these programmers were the movie equivalent of 1940s pulp stories, quickly and simply written and filmed. The acting and direction were lighthearted (I guess the term in 1949 would have been "gay," before the word acquired other connotations), the sets no-frills, the production values technically accomplished. The writing was snappy and clever. It seemed to assume that the viewer had an appreciation for wordplay and an ability to follow verbal give-and-take. At the same time, it never slipped into cleverness simply for the sake of showing off. What a difference from, uh, like, you know, the dialogue in most of today's films and TV shows.

Today's younger viewers must watch this stuff and feel that they've encountered a broadcast from some alien society. Invariably, the protagonists in modern TV and movies are pretty sad specimens, always feeling sexually inadequate, burdened by past sins that they've committed or had committed on them, overworked, underappreciated, alienated. Geez, give me a break, I have enough problems in my own life. Mohr and Randell breeze through their problems in perfect command of the situation, charming the gorgeous leading ladies and never raising a crease in their dinner jackets. I don't know whether Mohr and Randell were such jolly fellows in real life, but it probably doesn't matter. On screen, they're guys with whom I'd like to have a beer or a cup of coffee, and take some cheer from their company. I'd cross the street in heavy traffic to avoid most of the depressing characters I see in today's "entertainments."

Fred B.

Ed here: I suspect you're right. People under forty probably find it hard to imagine that we found such programmers entertaining. Part of the appeal for me is the innocence and I don't mean the sexuality. Nobody has any problem except that which the plot gives him or her. You note today's "sad specimens." That makes me recall half a famous line "After such innocence--" Once Hwood began dealing realistically with our lives (at least more realistically than previously) there was no way back. I think the phrase "guilty pleasures" is especially applicable here. As I watch these old Bs I feel guilty for watching them--a dude called the Lone Wolf; c'mon--but then I say to hell with it and just enjoy myself.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Story and style

Over on Rara Avis they're having an interesting discussion about the value of style to a story. In other words, I suppose, can mediocore writing be saved by a damned good story?

The most interesting response so far has come from Dick Lochte:

I partially agree with Jack Bludis' note about the importance of the story.
In the world of blockbuster books, the one in which we now find ourselves,
story trumps everything. If you want to hit the bestseller lists, an
engaging style alone won't be much help; you need a good story, preferably
one with the age-old movie necessity high concept. To have a long-lasting
career as a writer, however, it helps to be able to tell that good story
well. The great comedians, from Bob Hope to Chris Rock, have used jokes that
were honed to perfection. But, as anyone my age who used to try and repeat a
Newhart or Cosby routine to friends can recall, the delivery can be just as
important as the material.

Dick Lochte

Ed here:

Much of the fiction I read as a youth was pretty lame when it came to style. Story and occasionally character triumphed over all sorts of stylist infelicities.

Even today I can read a piece of badly written fiction if the story holds me. Dick nails it with bestsellers. There story is all. And high concept story at that. I don't know that this applies to bestselling mystery series, however. With these the character's occupation or the milieu seems to suffice for high concept (maybe occupation and/or mileu IS the high concept). I pay particular attention to what Dick says because's he's one of the finest sylists working in the field today.

Stephen King became a much better writer over the years. But I still reread Salem's Lot and The Shining and The Bachman Books with great pleasure. Same with his early short stuff. Some of those stories had the same effect on me as getting stabbed. In a pleasurable way, of course. (And no, I've never been stabbed, though seeing Bush or Cheney on TV puts me in equivalent pain.)

A few weeks ago I reviewed a 1964 Gold Medal novel called Scandal on The Sand by John Trinian. Really fine pb. The structure was masterful and the social observation surpisingly rich. And the plot cooked. This guy knew how to tell a story. And the writing was equal to the other aspects of the tale. Deft turns of phrase; conscious rythms in the sentences; interesting, even entertaining word choices.

I don't know that it has to be either or. But I sure do appreciate a well-turned sentence now and then.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

From our friend Fred Blosser

Ed, I tend to despise these lists of "100 Best Such-and-Such Movies" that the American Film Institute and the glossy magazines gin up every month or so. Invariably, they appear to have been compiled by some smart-ass 25 year old whose idea of a classic old movie is PRETTY WOMAN. Still, it's a tempting game to play, and I sometimes tend to wander over to the Dark Side myself .

Like now. I wonder what fans would nominate as the worst or most disappointing movies based on well-loved detective and mystery novels and series.

My top two choices, coincidentally, are from the same year -- 1986, that golden era of Reagan, Thatcher, and Iran-Contra:

BLUE CITY, directed by Michelle Manning (who?), from the novel by Ross Macdonald. Judd Nelson starred as Macdonald's seething protagonist, Johnny Weather. Seething ... Judd Nelson ... need I say more? I don't remember much by way of details, except that RM's dour Post-World War II setting was updated to the '80s, and Nelson ambled through the opening scene listlessly bouncing a basketball. I kept waiting in anticipation for someone to grind his smirk into the sidewalk. The IMDB says that Walter Hill produced and (with Lukas Heller, another usually reliable guy) wrote the script. And buried somewhere in the cast was the great Scott Wilson. Sad.

EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE. "Miami Vice" was big that year, so they transplanted Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder from New York to LA, the better to swipe Michael Mann's pastel color schemes and Latino vibe. Jeff Bridges did about the best he could as Scudder, I suppose, but if you're going to pluck Scudder out of Gotham, why not just give the character another name? Somewhere I read (I think in EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS) that Hal Ashby was allegedly stoned throughout the whole shoot, letting the actors "improvise" their dialogue. This meant that in most of the scenes, the dialogue mostly consisted of Bridges and the other actors yelling "F*ck you!" at each other over and over again. (I've read that the BURGLAR movie with Whoopie Goldberg was even worse, but I never had the heart to see it.)

Number three in the list, NO GOOD DEED from 2002, probably qualifies more as a disappointment than as an out and out bad movie. At least, it doesn't plumb the stygian depths of putridity that BLUE CITY and EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE did. Still, if you have a story based on Hammett ("The House on Turk Street"), Bob Rafelson as the director, and Sam Jackson, Stellen Skarsgard, Mila Jovovich, Joss Ackland, and Grace Zabriskie in the cast, you might expect something better than what Rafelson delivered. For some reason, maybe to meet his quota of cliches, the screenwriter felt compelled to give Jackson's character a "gimmick" (in the Hammett story, he was the comfortably anonymous Continental Op). And so he's a failed jazz musician who toots on a saxophone.

It would be interesting if others can make a case for merits in these three films that I failed to see ..........

Fred B.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Big Book of Pulps

Well, I guess Otto Penzler settled THAT argument. Ever since the Forties there have been discussions about which collection of stories best gives a real idea of what pulp magazines were like in breadth and scope. The Hardboiled Omnibus edited by Joseph "Cap" Shaw has always been the most prestigous because Shaw was for years the editor of Black Mask, the magazine both Hammett and Chandler called home.

There have since been many others. I've even co-edited a few pulp collections myself. Each book has its own merits--particuarly Ron Goulart's Hardboiled Dicks--but nothing, nothing even approximates The Black Lizard Book of Pulps that Otto Penzler edited and that Random House has just released.

Over a thousand densley packed pages. Reprint of pulp illustrations. Fascinating biographies of each writer. Commentary by Harlan Coben, Harlan Ellison and Laura Lippman. AND MORE THAN 1000 pages.

Yes, Hammett is here and with an original story. Chndler is here, too. So is Cain. So is Horace McCoy. And so are some of lesser names still familiar to readers of the pulps--Carroll John Daly, Frederick Nebel, George Harmon Coxe and Frank Gruber among others. My favorite of the lesser knowns, Norbert Davis, has two stories (Chandler, Hammett and Woolrich have three each.) All well and good. Great great stuff.

But what makes this collection notable for me is the inclusion of many writers I've never heard of before and the diversity of story material they chose. Most hardboiled anthologies leave the impression that the magazines were filled with straightforward private eye and police procedural tales. Not so. And this anthology proves it. The material ranges from the waterfront to the newspaper office to outre chambers that may be under supernatural assault. In other words, if you went to a newsstand in 1935 you could buy seven or eight crime fiction magazines and get everything from The Saint (included here) to those in touch with the dead.

This is the one and only. No doubt about it. A true masterpiece. AND MORE THAN 1000 pages for only $25 in an extremely handsome package. Witht the holidays sneaking up on us, I don't have to tel you what to get that crime fiction fan do I?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Kingdom of Bones

I read Stephen Gallagher for two reasons. First because he's one of the most entertaining writers I've ever read. And second because I can't read a short story of his let alone a novel without picking up a few pointers about writing. He's an elegant stylist, a shrewd psychologist and a powerful storyteller with enormous range and depth.

I finished his latest novel The Kingdom of Bones and I was honestly stunned by what he'd done. The sweep, the majesty, the grit, the grue, the great grief (and the underpinning of gallows humor from time to time). This is not only the finest novel I've read this year but the finest novel I've read in the past two or three years.

As most of you know by now, I'm terrible at describing plots. I've had three agents over the years assure me that my outlines are the worst they've ever read (those insensitive bastards).

So I'll spare you my inept attempt at giving you the details of the story and let PW and the publisher do it. Whatever your book budget is make an allowance for this one. You won't be sorry.

From Publishers Weekly
Set mainly in late 19th-century England, Gallagher's ingenious horror thriller revolves around the extraordinary life—and death—of Tom Sayers, a real-life bare-knuckle fighter who, after retiring, briefly traveled the country staging reenactments of his most memorable bouts. While working as a manager for a touring theatrical company, Sayers falls in love with the troupe's leading lady, 22-year-old Louise Porter, who unfortunately doesn't share his feelings. Sayers also becomes the prime suspect in a series of mutilation murders and, while barely evading arrest, embarks on a quest to save Porter, who's become hopelessly entangled in an all-too-real occult legend. Bram Stoker and Aleister Crowley play minor roles. Combining the meticulous historical detail of Caleb Carr's The Alienist with gothic mysticism and Christian mythology, Gallagher (The Painted Bride) delivers a nicely macabre blend of fact and fiction. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Book Description
The Kingdom of Bones is the haunting story of Tom Sayers, a former boxing champion who must
continue to fight—to clear his name after a series of gruesome murders, for the heart and soul of a leading lady, and to uncover the truth behind a legend as old as evil itself.

Wrongly accused of the slaughter of pauper children in the wake of the touring theater company he manages, Tom Sayers is forced to disappear into a twilight world of music halls and traveling boxing booths. Beginning with a chance encounter in a Philadelphia pleasure park one weekend in 1903, this brilliantly macabre mystery traces Sayers’ journey from England’s provincial playhouses through London’s mighty Lyceum Theatre and on to the high society of a transforming American South—with many a secret to be uncovered in the dark alleyways, backstage areas, and houses of ill repute that lie along the way.

As Sayers seeks the truth behind the killings, he is pursued in turn by the tireless Detective Inspector Sebastian Becker. Desperate to ensure the safety of actress Louise Porter, Sayers calls on an old friend, Bram Stoker, for help. But Stoker’s links with the world of the Victorian occult lead Sayers to discover a danger even greater than he could have imagined.

Thrown into a maelstrom of obsession, betrayal, and sacrifice—where even the pure may not escape damnation—Sayers must face the implications of an unthinkable bargain: the exchange of a soul for a chance at eternal life.

With action that spans continents, decades, and every level of society, The Kingdom of Bones follows the troubled lives of those touched by Tom Sayers, ultimately weaving their stories into a harrowing climax that stirs the mind—and the blood.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Jay Flynn Part Three

He was shorter than I had envisioned him, less bulky, not at all imposing. No outstanding features, except maybe for a bristly salt-and-pepper mustache. I was vaguely disappointed. Flynn in person was nowhere near as impressive as he was in the abstract.

Over the next couple of years we got together every time I went to Manhattan. On one occasion he took me up to see his ex-agent (they were still friendly even though they could no longer work together) because the agent kept a bottle of 30-year-old Scotch for after-hours visitors and why pay for cheap booze, Flynn said, when you could get vintage stuff free? Mostly, though, we sat in the bar at Rosoff’s and drank cheap liquor and talked shop. One of the things we talked about – and wrote each other about from time to time – was collaborating on a novel, but somehow we never got together on a mutually appealing idea. I wish we had; the finished product may not have been much good, but it would have been interesting.

Once when I went to see him, he announced that he was on the wagon for good. I asked him why. “Damn croaker said I’d be dead inside a year if I didn’t,” he said.

Two days later he was drinking again.

But he was still alive and kicking when the year was up.

That was Flynn.

During his association with Belmont-Tower, he published several novels as by Jay Flynn under their B-T and Leisure imprints – all of them bad. Sexed-up westerns about a World War I-era operative for the Gallows Detective Agency, Jim Bannerman: sexed-up adventure tales featuring a drifter named Venable; sexed-up, violent cop melodramas starring San Francisco police sergeant Joe Rigg.

Worst of the lot were the Joe Riggs books. Trouble Is My Business (1976, no apologies to Chandler), about a psycho who chopped off his victims’ heads with a Bowie knife, which Flynn had the puckish audacity to dedicate to Wallmann and me; and Blood on Frisco Bay (1976), a scandalous anti-police diatribe about the murder of a San Francisco socialite. He inscribed my copy of the latter: “For Bill Pronzini – a jolly tosspot [sic] and a hell of a fine friend. After this thing, let on you know me and the S.F.P.D. will have your ass – sit tight.” I took his advice and sat tight.

Flynn did publish one reasonably good novel during this period, though it was written a year and a half to two years earlier while he was in Ireland. Warlock (Pocket Books, 1976, as by J.M. Flynn) features psychic detective John Christian Fifer and his 15-year-old daughter, Fiona, a full-fledged, spell-casting witch. Fey stuff, mixing crime and fantasy – not wholly successful, but with some of the same positive energy that made his Ace and Avon novels so enjoyable. I t was supposed to be the first of a series, and in fact he wrote and delivered a second book; but that second manuscript was close to 200,000 words in length and very eccentric, and when Flynn refused to cut or revise a word, his editor rejected it outright and canceled the series. My copy of Warlock carries this inscription: “For Bill Pronzini – who knows where it’s at – from the founder of the Day Late & Dollar Short Writers’ Assn.”

It took Flynn just about two years to wear out his welcome at Belmont-Tower, which for him was quite a long time. One of the reasons for the wear-out was the increasing eccentricity of the contract novels he delivered; another reason was his failure to deliver at all on other contracts; a third reason was that he had begun to foul up on his editorial duties because he was drinking on the job. His bosses knew he had booze stashed in the office; he would get increasingly oiled as each day wore on, without ever leaving the premises. He would also lurch into the john periodically to freshen his breath from a bottle of Listerine he kept in his desk. It took them weeks to figure out that he had his booze in the Listerine bottle and the Listerine stashed somewhere else.

That was Flynn.

After B-T fired him, and he couldn’t find any other contract or editorial work, he quit New York and the writing business for good. The first place he went was to Richmond, Virginia, for reasons that never were quite clear to me. Inside of a year he was broke and living on Richmond’s skid row, where he fell in with a bunch of white-lightning bootleggers; for a time he ran an illegal “nip shop” for them in the rear of a neighborhood barbershop. Then, also for obscure reasons, he quit the bootleggers and took a legit job as a uniformed security guard – a job that required him to carry a handgun.

One night during a heavy rainstorm, drunk on white-lightning or the like, he noticed that the ceiling of his furnished room was bulging strangely. Maybe he thought he had the DTs and demons were coming after him; maybe he was just too drunk to know what he was doing. In any event he grabbed up his revolver and pumped five shots into the ominous bulge. Whereupon the entire ceiling collapsed and the ensuing deluge of trapped rainwater knocked him flat, broke his leg, and almost drowned him.

That was Flynn.

I had lost touch with him again by this time, but he and Wallmann (who had also returned to the States and was quartered in Eugene, Oregon – still is, in fact) continued to exchange an occasional letter. So I found out that after his leg healed Flynn left Richmond, broke and jobless again, and went to Connecticut, where he talked his ex-agent into letting him live on the agent's estate as a nominal caretaker. He stayed out of trouble there, for the most part, but he still and inevitably managed to wear out another welcome. In February of 1985 he decided to move back to Richmond. But he’d been feeling poorly, he wrote Wallmann just before he left, and so he intended to put himself into a V.A. hospital en route for a checkup.

He never got back to Richmond because he never got out of the hospital. Within a week of his admission, he was dead.

Ironically, it wasn’t the booze that killed him; the damn croakers never did get that right. It was cancer. A tumor the size of a beer bottle. Doesn’t seem possible, but he was still a relatively young man, still in his fifties. Wallmann and I each thought he was that age the first time we met him, thirteen and ten years earlier.

Yeah, Jay Flynn was a character.

The tragicomic variety, with accent on the tragic.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene #13. Copyright © 1988 by Bill Pronzini.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Jay Flynn Part Two

I exchanged a couple of letters with him shortly afterward, but at that point none of us seemed inclined to keep up a regular correspondence. It would be almost two years before Wallmann and I got to know Flynn well. And how that came about requires a couple of paragraphs of relevant autobiography.

In mid-1969 Jeff and I succumbed to an offer to write sex books for an outfit called Liverpool Library Press, aka LLP – partly for the money, which was top market dollar in those days ($1200 per title), and partly because it enabled us to finance our legitimate work. Soon we were collaborating on a book every two months for LLP. We churned them out in four or five days of intensive effort, so we could spend the rest of our time writing fiction we cared about.

Late that year LLP moved its base of operations from California to the Mediterranean island of Majorca, where the high-rolling publisher (an Ivy-League American) had rented a palatial villa. For tax and other reasons he preferred his writers to also live on Majorca – or at least somewhere in Europe – and so he offered to pay the way of anyone who was willing to make the move. Wallmann and I were willing. We took a freighter for Amsterdam in February of 1970, and we arrived on Majorca in a broken-down VW station wagon five weeks later.

Neither of us remembers corresponding with Flynn while we were on Majorca; and we have only dim recollections of receiving some kind of communication from him at Christmas of 1970, when we returned to California for a brief holiday visit. But we’re both sure that after we moved from Majorca to a small Bavarian town near Munich in the spring of 1971, we were not only in touch with him again but exchanging frequent letters.

Toward the end of that year Flynn wrote saying he was broke and looking for work – a letter that arrived at about the same time LLP’s publisher decided to move his headquarters to Paris and to increase the number of books he was publishing. LLP was in need of writers; Flynn was in need of work, and claimed to have been writing sex books off and on since his legitimate paperback markets dried up in 1962 (which was probably true). So we got them together, Flynn submitted some sample material, and LLP put him on the payroll.

It was six months or so before the publisher offered to pay his way to Europe. By that time Jeff had made up his mind to move again, this time to France. He and Flynn arrived in Paris not long apart, and met there for the first time in the fall of 1972.

I was doing well enough with legitimate fiction by then to quit the sex-book racket, and I opted to get married and to stay in West Germany. But I continued to correspond with Flynn, and the better I got to know him through his letters (he wrote great letters), the more he intrigued me. I used him as the model for the boozy ex-pulp writer, Russell Dancer, who first appeared in the “Nameless Detective” novel, Undercurrent, in 1973 and who made encore appearances in Hoodwink and Bones. There are a number of differences between Dancer and Flynn, but none of them is fundamental; the lines Dancer speaks in the three “Nameless” novels either were or might have been spoken by Flynn.

He stayed in Paris for a while, at LLP’s expense, and then moved to Majorca, at least in part because Wallmann and I had extolled the island’s virtues to him on numerous occasions. He somehow managed to rent the same small villa Jeff and I had occupied in Palma Nova, and stayed there for about a year, getting himself into and out of a series of minor misadventures with LLP (he was fired at least once, briefly, for delivering “unacceptable” material), a group of other LLP writers living on the island, and the owners of several bars and discos. Then his wanderlust got the best of him, and he hied himself off to Monte Carlo, near where Jeff and his girlfriend had moved from Paris.

In Monte Carlo, Flynn fell passionately in love with a 25-year-old suicidal West German beautician named Hildegarde. But their romance didn’t last long; she threw him over for a randy Bulgarian and went back to Germany. This so upset Flynn that he, too, fled Monte Carlo. He went first to Ireland, on the mistaken assumption that any writer could live there cheaply and tax-free. When he found out that in order to obtain the tax-free status he would have to exchange his American citizenship for an Irish one, he figured it was time to return to the States. Specifically, to New York to look for writing work, since the bottom was already beginning to drop out of the sex-book market.

He took a room in Rosoff’s, an old and now-defunct hotel-and-restaurant on West 43rd just off Times Square, and managed to scrounge up a contract to write several books in the then popular Lassiter paperback western series. The job didn’t last long; he screwed up somehow on one of his manuscripts and was fired. But it so happened that Wallmann arrived in New York just about then, on a business trip; and Jeff, who was doing a book for Belmont-Tower, one of the lower echelon paperback houses, learned that B-T was in need of an assistant editor and house writer. He recommended Flynn, and Flynn got the dual job.

This was 1975. By which time I had been back in the U.S. myself for well over a year, living in San Francisco and also making periodic business trips to New York. So it was in Rosoff’s in early ’75 that Flynn and I finally came face to face.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Jay Flynn

Last night, in discussing Ace Books, I referenced Jay Flynn. After I posted I remembered a piece by Bill Pronzini about Flynn on Mystery* It originally appeared in Mystery Scene in 1989. I remembered it as being one of Bill's exceptional profiles on overlooked writers (I consider his Forgotten Writers pieces among the two or three finest things published during my tenure with the magazine). I reread it last night and it was even richer, wryer and more memorable than I recalled. It's long so I'm publishing it in segments over the next three nights. Thanks, Bill.

Part One


by Bill Pronzini

Jay Flynn was a character. The tragicomic variety, with accent on the tragic.

In many ways he was a throwback, a stereotype. Hard-drinking, rough-living, blarney-spouting Boston Irishman. Ex-GI, newspaperman (ten years as a crime reporter on the Portland Express, Portland, Maine; stints on the San Jose Mercury and other California papers), bartender, editor, mystery writer, sex novelist, bootlegger, security guard, caretaker, and (so he claimed) prisoner in a hell-hole Mexican jail on a trumped-up charge and “writer-in-residence” at a Nevada whorehouse.

A screw-up of the first rank, with sometimes hilarious results. Lousy luck with women and games of chance, much of it of his own making. Restless, peripatetic; “everybody’s got to be someplace,” he said once, “but it don’t always have to be the same damn place.” Lazy, ambitious, apathetic, energetic, generous, selfish, cynical, sentimental, don’t-give-a-damn, care-too-much – all the schizophrenic contradictions that make up most of us, but that in him seemed magnified to an even greater degree. As has been said about Hemingway, he was just a little larger – and just a little smaller – than life.

There is a schizophrenic quality to his fiction as well. He was like the proverbial little girl: When he was good he was very good, but when he was bad he was very, very bad. His characters and his plots, like Flynn himself, were full of BS and on the screwball side. Big, tough, occasionally inept Irish heroes with names like McHugh, Tighe Slattery, Joe Mannix (no relation or resemblance to the Mike Conners TV character), Burdis Gannon, Matt Tara, Burl Stannard, John Christian Fifer.

Beautiful, willing, treacherous women. Ultra-nasty villains. Action fast and furious – and scatterbrained and often implausible. Storylines, some solidly constructed and some riddled with holes, involving elaborate capers, hijackings, modern-day bootlegging, the hot-car racket, military-base intrigue, the Mafia, vigilante cops and serial killers, Nazi war spoils, spy stuff, even a treasure hidden inside an Irish pub’s thirty-foot, hand-carved mahogany bar. Typical paperback fare of the sixties and seventies, in one sense; atypical, in another, because of Flynn’s slightly skewed perceptions and not inconsiderable (when he worked at it) storytelling skills.

His first published work and only published short story, “The Badger Game,” as by Jay Flynn, appeared in the November 1956 issue of the hard-boiled, J.D.-oriented mystery magazine, Guilty; his first novel, The Deadly Combo, as by J. M. Flynn, was an Ace Double two years later. The short story isn’t such-a-much; the novel is a pretty fair maiden effort.

There is a similar dichotomy among his six other Ace Doubles published between 1959 and 1961, all as by J. M. Flynn. Four are varying degrees of good: The Hot Chariot, Ring Around a Rogue, Drink with the Dead, The Girl from Las Vegas. The other two, One for the Death House and Deep Six, are rather awful.

His best novels of the period are a pair of capers, Terror Tournament and The Action Man, and the five titles that comprise his series featuring an off-the-wall San Francisco bar owner and secret agent named McHugh. Terror Tournament (Bouregy, 1959, his only hardcover) is an effective tale of the carefully planned heist of the gate receipts of a golf tournament modeled after the one at Pebble Beach. Even better – his magnum opus, in fact – is The Action Man (Avon, 1961, as by Jay Flynn). The caper here is a bank heist, and its mastermind, anti-hero Denton Farr, is Flynn’s most complex and believable protagonist. A high level of suspense and a savagely ironic ending are two of the novel’s other pluses.

If Denton Farr is Flynn’s most complex and believable character, McHugh is his most memorable. In McHugh, A Body for McHugh, It’s Murder McHugh, Viva McHugh!, and The Five Faces of Murder (Avon, 1959-62, all as by Jay Flynn), this two-fisted Irish-American James Bond blithely brawls and blusters his way through dizzy plot-swirls concerning a missing electronics expert, Mafia hit men, a couple of Navy flyers mysteriously AWOL in Mexico, a Caribbean island dictator and his army of thugs, and a fortune in hidden Nazi loot.

Along the way he drinks prodigious amounts of booze, trades quips with his fellow agent, Bud Chapman, and his boss, General Burton Harts, and has more problems than sack time with bevies of good and bad women. None of his adventures make much sense, really, but there is a good deal of energy in each, plus plenty of sly humor, breakneck pacing, and some lean, evocative writing. As in the barbed narrative hook that opens It’s Murder McHugh:

McHugh pushed the Polish girl away and went on watching the door of the cantina. He wished Bramhall would show up. It would be even better if Long was with him.
That would make his job easier, because he could kill both of them at the same time.

(Flynn once told me that the McHugh series was the result of a drunken lunch with his agent and an editor at Avon. The agent, he said, began extolling the virtues of “a great new series” Flynn had concocted, and did such a good selling job that afterward the three of them lurched back to the Avon offices, where the editor immediately put through a request for a three-book contract. The only problem was, Flynn had not concocted anything at this point; had never heard the name McHugh until his silver-tongued agent mentioned it, nor had any idea of who or what McHugh was going to be. This anecdote may be true and it may be apocryphal. With Flynn, you just never knew what was fact and what was bullshit.)

I read most of his Ace and Avon novels, either when they were first published or at some point in the sixties. One of my favorites was Drink with the Dead, which has a modern-day bootlegging theme, and in early 1969 I recommended it to friend and fellow writer Jeff Wallmann. Jeff liked it so much he suggested we write a story with a similar theme, which we proceeded to do. The result, “Day of the Moon,” was published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in 1970 under our William Jeffrey pseudonym. Much later, we expanded the story into a novel that was published under the same title and same pseudonym.

One evening after we’d written the story, over too many drinks in Wallmann’s house near San Francisco, we got to talking about Flynn and his work; to wondering why he hadn’t published a new novel in seven years; and whether or not he was still living on the Monterey Peninsula, where much of his fiction was set and where a brief bio in one of the Ace Doubles said he made his home. As a lark, we began that night to track him down. It took us a while, following a cold and circuitous trail, but we finally found him – not on the Monterey Peninsula but in a V.A. facility in Portland, Maine. On the phone he claimed to be recuperating from a buckshot wound – in the ass, no less – administered by an irate husband. He also claimed to be writing a new McHugh novel to pay his medical expenses, which proved definitely to be hooey because no such book was ever published.

That was Flynn.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Quite a bit of talk on various blogs about the old Ace Books line of mysteries. I'm sentimental about them because I'm a geezer but there are only a few of the Ace Originals I can pick up now and find interesting. There was a Peter Rabe Ace, Cut of The Whip. Peter told me that Gold Medal had bounced it so he took it to Ace. I liked it a lot; no idea why GM didn't buy it.
There were three very fine Stephen Marlowe Aces. In fact Turn Left At Murder is a small masterpiece of suspense writing.

In my teens I read every Ace I could find. I know J.M. Flynn isn't highly regarded but he's one writer of Ace Originals I can still read. Bob McKnight always struck me as the road show version of Harry Whittington (Bill Crider made that point first the other night) but his horse racing books were entertaining and believeable. There are a half dozen others who hold up today, too.

I suppose this is heresy to some but I think Ace was most valuable as a reprint line. It was in the Ace format that I discovered Elizabeth Sanxay Holding (whom I've read and reread all my life), Charlotte Armstrong, Dana Lyons, Stephen Ransome (Frederick C. Davis, a reliable pulpster who occasionally wrote way above his talent), Helen Neilsen. They did some nice editions of Cornell Woolrich as well.

I think the science fiction line did a litle better by way of originals. The early and best work of Samuel R. Delaney was all Ace. That alone justified the line's existence. Poul Anderson, Margaret St. Clair, Wilson Tucker and a number of solid Brits made just about every month a treat. They also published poor Robert Moore Williams, a holdover from the worst of the pulp days. When I started reading him he got trashed by reviewers every time out. By the end of his Ace run I'm pretty sure that reviewers felt so sorry for him they strained to say something nice about his stuff. I always felt sorry for him, anyway. But I couldn't read him. He got even worse when he switched to Lancer. Do you really need to read a book titled Zanthar At World's End to know how bad it's going to be?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Ice Harvest

I watched the Ice Harvest this afternoon was really taken with it. None of the usual neo-noir phony toughness. John Cusak and Billy Bob Thornton play well off each other--Cusack the lawyer scared but willing to steal two million from his mobster client; Thornton eager even arrogant about doing it. I like Cusack but sometimes his spiritual detachment becomes a kind of blankness. Here it works just fine--he's capable of being surprised at just how sleazy his world really is and thus we're surprised right along with him. Thornton's a limited but effictive actor who knows what to do with the right role and this is the right role, one reminiscent of (but not as rich as) his scumbag thug in One False Move. The use of Witchita and the subtle suggestion that Kansas is an accursed state works nicely as a running gag. Lots of twists and turns all made vital and believable by the performances of the secondary players--Connie Neilsen as The Babe; Oliver Platt as the drunken Friend; and the knock-out stunning performance of Randy Quaid as the Honcho in the final act. All of this happens on the night of Christmas Eve and into the early hours of Christmas day, a nice device that lends the movie a sentimental holiday to play against. Now I'm going to read the book.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Fender Tucker

The first time I saw the name Fender Tucker I thought it must have been a misprint. Or set backwards. Tucker Fender sounded more like a real name.

But there really is a Fender Tucker and he's a good writer, musician and small press publisher. To learn more about him and his publishing and writing go to the Ramble House website

Fender's written a number of autobiographical chapbooks/pieces (as well as three very good mystery stories in the chapbook The Naked Trocar) but his masterpiece has to be The Compleat Calhoon. It's a man's life done in short witty insightful pieces. I'm reading three or four pieces a week and find myself eager to get back to it.

I wasn't sure I was going to like it--I'm not much for autobiographies--but I not only like it I admire it. Through judicious editing and clear, concise writing he tells us not only about himself but his Southern culture, his friends, the life of a musician, husband, writer and daydreamer.

Log on to Ramble House and see what you think.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pen Names Past

Curt Purcell at Groovy Age of Horror is presently reviewing a couple of 60s sex novels, one of which was likely written by Evan Hunter under the name Dean Hudson. For a long article by Earl Kemp on the Hudson books go here.

A number of now famous writers did the dirty back in the 60s. Most of them don't want to talk about these books now and I understand that. Certainly there are stories of mine I hope never surface again. Not because I'm shamed of them but simply because they're so bad. As you may have noticed, I'm not famous. I don't have people digging around in dusty magazine stores for my men's magzine junk. But prominent writers do and I'm sure it gets tiresome telling fas they just don't want to talk about it. (And as always this qualifier--these books are to porno what Dick Cheney is to mental stability.)

On the other hand Purcell makes some legitimate points. I know that one Simenon biographer read many of the more than 200 short novels Simenon cranked out for the pulps of his day before he became a recognized artist. The biographer found many of the themes and set-ups in the early work that showed up later, refined of course, in the work that made him famous.

Here's Purcell:

The damn shame of it is that, though much sleaze is truly, wretchedly
unreadable, much of it also flashes with rough brilliance, and you
even find the rare minor masterpiece that's obviously received some
loving polish. Sometimes, it seems, the fast hack-work tapped deeper
concerns and inspiration, in something like the manner that automatic
writing is supposed to do, with much more interesting results than the
authors might have intended, expected, or desired.

Ed here: His review of what he believes to be a genuine Evan Hunter/Dean Hudson novel makes his case for him and is well worth reading.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Who knew?

Cinema Retro always comes up with interesting stories. Here's a quote from a piece about stand up comics who plagiarize (they cite the New York Post as source material).

As any stand-up comedian will tell you, comedy is serious business. Comics have an unwritten code of honor that states "Thou Shalt Not Steal Another Comedian's Joke". . Among the next generation of comedians, however, the practice is akin to an author committing plagiarism...In the new book Comedy at the Edge, author Richard Zoglin interviews prominent comedians who were allegedly ripped off by their equally prominent peers. Comic David Brenner recalls being so infuriated with Robin Williams "sampling" some of his best lines that he threatened the beloved funnyman with bodily harm. Radar magazine recently ran an in-depth article on this phenomenon and found that Williams' presence in the audience of a comedy club often necessitated a warning signal to the comedian on stage to refrain from using any lines he did not want to hear coming out of Williams' mouth in the weeks to come. Williams must be out of the habit of visiting such clubs in recent years as evidenced by the response to his latest "comedies".

Monday, October 15, 2007

Hammett Trivia - Fred Blosser


We're coming up on the 85th anniversary of Dashiell Hammett's first appearance in "Black Mask." To me, that is as notable a literary landmark as the publication of Shakespeare's First Folio. Here's a bit of Hammett-related trivia, in case it may be of interest for the blog. I don't think I've ever seen this reference footnoted or otherwise mentioned in any of the Hammett biographies.

In "Nightmare Town," when Nora Vallance remarks on the crudeness of Izzard, the town of the story's title, protagonist Steve Threefall replies, "New towns are always like this, or worse. You should have seen Hopewell, Virginia, when the DuPonts first opened it." (The reference appears on p. 23 of McCauley, Greenberg, and Gorman's NIGHTMARE TOWN, and on p. 287 of CRIME STORIES AND OTHER WRITINGS, the 2001 Library of America collection.)

It isn't easy to find a lot of readily available info on Hopewell, but thanks to Google, I located a 2005 article by a historian, Dennis Farmer, that provides some backstory to Hammett's reference. The DuPont company constructed a dynamite plant in 1913 in rural Chesterfield County, Va., near the area on the James River where Ulysses Grant had his headquarters during the siege of Petersburg in the Civil War. The company switched to the production of the more profitable explosive nitrocellulose when WWI broke out in 1914. To house workers and their families, the company built the full-fledged town of Hopewell from scratch. Farmer says the boom brought an influx of bars, brothels, and gambling houses: "Muggings, shootings, drunkenness, robberies, brawls, street walkers and pickpockets were all too common, with payoffs, bribes and dirty dealings being part and parcel of the boomtown that was becoming." Farmer's article is online at

Another valuable but hard-to-find reference source, OLD CITY POINT AND HOPEWELL, by Mary Mitchell Calos, recounts a similar history: "Since the company had no control over land other than its own, Du Pont's planned community was marred by an onslaught of peddlers, gamblers, speculators, thieves, and prostitutes. People flocked in by the thousands and the old farm became a teeming, lawless city overnight. ... County officials were practically powerless to cope with the roaring community. The saloons, dancehalls, and gambling houses did a flourishing business. Shootings and murders were plentiful; convictions by the court were not forthcoming."

After the town was destroyed by a fire in December 1915 (interesting that Hammett's story ends with a "monstrous bonfire" that consumes Izzard), then rebuilt and incorporated, things settled down.

Farmer's article says that the town's early police force consisted of "31 police officers and two Pinkerton detectives." Now, Hammett joined Pinkerton's Baltimore office in 1915. I'm not sure that the agency would have sent a rookie op to a wide-open boomtown to keep the peace, but maybe Hammett heard stories about Hopewell from a colleague or colleagues who had been there? And at some point, found this violent boomtown, established to meet a global demand for weapons of mass destruction, an irresistible symbol of American society and enterprise, to be fictionalized as the criminal metropolis of Izzard?

I'll pose those questions in case any of the Hammett specialists out there have any additional information or insight.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Carol's in Connecticut this weekend to see out sixth grandchild, eight-day-old Charlotte. I'm at home (going to the library is enough traveling for me) working hard at my novel and combating two three-month old kittens.

Tess is eighteen years and frail and sick. I spend as much time as I can with her. I have to give her four pills a day and every third day we have to hydrate her. She was always the scamp of our five cats so seeing her so slowed by age is particularly sad.

The kittens Nora and Lilly are another matter. If you ever want your home demolished we'll rent them to you for a day. Not that it'll take that long. Our offices are upstairs so while I work I can generally hear them knocking over things downstairs. Only serious crashing sounds send me down there. Nora likes to be held in the crook of your arm which slows the writing process and Lilly has developed a taste for gnawing on computer cables. Fortunately most of the time they amuse themselves by beating the crap out of each other.

FRANK GRUBER's books usually get a bad rap these days. I seem to be alone in finding his Pulp Jungle a bit high handed and uncharitable to writers other than his close friends. It's a revered book only because it's the only book we have on the pulp days by somebody who was there. (Though I may be confusing Jungle with a long letter he wrote to Fredrick C. Davis that was published in Writer's Digest in 1941--very arrogantly telling Davis how successful Gruber was in Hwood and how Davis, because he didn't practice The Formula or somesuch, was still hacking away for the pulps.)

I mention this because last night, while looking for a Wm. McGivern novelette in a group of six Mammoth Detectives from the 40s (I bought them at a good price for the McGiverns), I ended up starting to read Gruber's 60,000 word The Honest Dealer, a breezy mystery set in Vegas just as the war was ending. (I'm sure this was hardbacked under a different title.)

I'm still reading it and enjoying it. There isn't a whiff of reality or character development in it but the dialogue is so sleek and spiffy it keeps you turning the pages. I can see why he had a long run writing Bs in Hwood. I'm sure none of his stuff approached being memorable but I'm also sure that he wrote a nmber of entertaining programmers. You could do worse.

SECONDING Bill Crider here--Stark House will publish two of Bill Pronzin's very best novels next month. Like Bill C I believe that either Snowbound or Games should have broken Bill P out big-time. They're expert and compelling suspense novels.

See what's new at

Saturday, October 13, 2007

How much lower can we go? Much!

The New York Times
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October 13, 2007
Television Review | 'Keeping Up With the Kardashians' and 'A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila'
The All-Too-Easy Route to Stardom

Kim Kardashian came upon her career — as a person famous simply by dint of her aspiration to be — in the estimable way of the quattrocento masters: she apprenticed.

As a child of Beverly Hills, she has had access to the best possible tutelage. Her friend Paris Hilton has seemed to guide her in the ways of dressing and appearing and responding to the supposedly unauthorized release of sex tapes. Like her friend, Ms. Kardashian has been involved in filmed acts of sexual rambunctiousness, which inexplicably became public. Isn’t it always the way; just when you think the Internet is going to produce some raunchy footage of Christopher Hitchens, it is another tape of a nubile young woman angling to join the ranks of the dubiously recognized that shows up.

The surfacing of this tape — in which Ms. Kardashian appears, not debating economic sanctions against Iran, with a former boyfriend, the hip-hop artist Ray J — was a mixed bag for her mother, we learn in “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” a reality series that begins on E! tomorrow night. As a parent, Ms. Kardashian’s mother, Kris Jenner, was concerned for her daughter, she explains. But as her manager, she thought, well, hot-diggity.

And yet the E! venture still does not deliver the willies inflicted by “A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila,” the new reality dating series that made its debut on MTV this week, drawing nearly two million viewers. In one sense, we must celebrate Tila Tequila, who has made it to the levels of quarter-fame assisted not by lineage or connection. No, she gained a following by posing provocatively enough to become one of the most popular curiosities on MySpace. She boldly decided to approach the world as a meritocracy, and she made good.

As a face and a body, Tila Tequila looks essentially like a very well-toned squirrel. But men love her, and so do women — hence the premise of her show, which has 16 straight men and 16 lesbians competing for her affections. As one young woman contending for her partnership put it: “You have to be blind and a little retarded not to find her hot.”

But if you happen to be among the visually and mentally impaired who do not find Tila Tequila, in all of her sauced-up arrogance, to possess a modicum of charm, wit, sensuality or attractiveness — if you would rather, as I would, watch a dating show starring Danny DeVito — then you will wonder why men are courting her with jewelry and perfect abs and bowls of spaghetti, and why the women are dressing up as sexy cabdrivers and hard hats. You may wonder even why you haven’t, instead, kept up with the Kardashians.

for the complete article go here:

Ed here: Comedian Kathy Griffin tells a story about watching a massively overweight drunk woman on a tv talk show admit that she's been sleeping with a young teenage boy who is mentally retarded. She also claims to be HIV positive.

This story is probably ten years old now. At the time I think I'd seen maybe twenty minutes of sleaze TV. Geraldo was always good for a laugh, the macho man of empty safes and Nazis eager to get on TV and talk about their "secret" plans to take over the world (or somesuch).

But he was like the Weekly World Reader. JFK living on an island somewhere with Jean Harlow.

Jerry Skinner (who's a smart guy and obviously a greedy one) made it personal. He brought on people who'd freak out the steeliest of shrinks. He also threw in "gals who love to punch." Were the sordid sad tales true? Some of them, probably. It was Nathaniel West country. The guests would admit to anything, no matter how demeaning ("Sure I been porkin my daughter; jest take a look at her!") Even West would have been shocked. One of the shows resulted in a young gay man being murdered.

ANYTHING to get on TV.

And thus we have today. I've seen the Kardashian show briefly. I have to be ungallant here and say that these are not--to me anyway--very good looking or very interesting women. They just want to be famous. There's a checkout girl where we get our groceries. She always says she'd like to be famous, too. She's serious. She's also one hell of a lot better looking than either of the Kardashians.

I think I'm going to pass on Tila Tequila. I expect I'd agree with the woman who wrote the Times piece. It's all like watching Mariah Carey trying to be sexy. Embarrassing and sort of pathetic.

You know who's really sexy and erotic and classy? Take a gander at Nicole Kidman on the cover of the current Vanity Fair. I don't like to speculate but if I had to bet I'd guess she's wearing underwear.

Friday, October 12, 2007


I've now read six or seven reviews of SCHULZ AND PEANUTS: A BIOGRAPHY by David Michaelis and damned if every reviewer doesn't profess to be surprised to find that Charles Schulz was for at least some of his time in this vale of tears a sad and angry man.

As I've said here many times before--and I admit this is a generalization--I just don't think that nice normal people (those average folks who don't exist but we believe in anyway, sort of like compasionate conservatives)--become creative artists. Schulz was said to have never forgotten nor forgiven a slight. What better form of revenge than to create your own world and punish fools in it?

I'm not arguing here that all creative people are Norma Desmond getting ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille. But I do think there's a drive to leave something more than dust behind in our pitiful pining for immortality. Writing dirty books for Lancer probbly won't get you into Shakespeare heaven but at least you've made the effort, which is more than most of our fellow primates can claim. And who knows (we think in our most secret shameful moments) maybe this novel Hatchets & Harlots just might...just might actually be read three or four hundred years from now. Stranger things have happened, haven't they? Dick Cheney is president, isn't he?

I'm sometimes sad and angry so maybe I just like to comfort myself with the fantasy that ALL writers (actors, sculptors, painters, composers, dancers) are sad and angry people. Maybe Agatha Christie really DIDN'T swill gin while she was writing and indulge in servant-beating later on in the day.But it's nice to think so, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Death and Life of Miguel de Cervantes

The Death and Life of Miguel de Cervantes

This will be an inaduqate review because I can't find the proper words to shape my admiration for this ambitious and completely successful literary novel by Stephen Marlowe.

I've reviewed Steve here several times over the years. As the writer of the Chester Drum Gold Medals. As the writer of some of my favorite pulp science fiction stories in the old Amazing and Fantastic. And as the writer of several excellent stand-alone noirs that sould be in print today. (Not to mention three Ace Doubles under his own name and a very cool Ace adventure novel as by C.H. Thames, one of Steve's sf pseudonyms). He's also written other literary novels (as well as international bestsellers in the thriller cateory--how's that for a career?).

But for me Miguel de Cervantes is his masterpiece.

The story is so layered, so textured that I have to resort to a review of it to give you even a sense of its sweep and scope:


"Packed to overflowing with sparkling wit, sensuous passion, and full-blooded adventure" --Time Out,London

"This is the story of my death and life, in which fiction and that lesser truth, history, from time to time form a seamless whole."

Speaking is the hero of Stephen Marlowe’s brilliant new novel. He is Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: son of a barber-surgeon (always on the run from the bill collector), grandson of a converso(a Jew who chose Christianity over the flames of the Spanish Inquisition), adorer of his own sister (who may not have been his sister after all), brother of one of the most famous spies in recorded history (though the records have mysteriously vanished), prisoner in an Algerian dungeon (following capture by Barbary Pirates), friend to a Faustian eunuch astrologer named Cide Hamete Benegeli (whose missing private parts are miraculously regenerating), and, of course, creator of the most celebrated of all fictional historical novels--The Adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha.

The facts of Cervantes’s life cry out for the epic treatment found in his comic masterpiece. Marlowe gives it to us. From the author of The Lighthouse at the End of the World(“a spellbinding novel,” said the Los Angeles Times by a “historical novelist of the first rank,” echoed Publishers Weekly in a starred review) comes a work of exuberant, breathless, headfirst adventure. The Death and Life of Miguel de Cervantes is storytelling at its finest.

Ed here: I shy away from many historical novels because too often they read like term papers with dialogue. Even a few that have won National Book Awards have struck me as hollow at their core, more research than passion.

But what Steve has done here is create a believable voice that not only carries the tale but reveals character as well. He also fills the voice with idiosyncracies that that raise it above simple narration. The tart bemusement, the suspicious bargain he makes with the rest of humanity. You believe the voice because Steve believes it. Indeed, I suspect there's a lot of Steve in the voice.

I read this over a couple of weeks while I read other books. I tend to have two or three books going at the same time anyway (much like my friend Dick Laymon used to). But no matter what else I read I wanted to get back into the poetry and sly humor and relentless adventure of Miguel de Cervantes.

The holidays are coming up. You couldn't give a better gift.

(This was published by Arcade in 1991 but I'm sure you can find copies on line.)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Boy was I wrrong. No connection between Trinian and Ken Davis or Kenn Davis.

This is from the invaulable site RARA-AVIS:

RARA-AVIS: Re: Trinian
From: Max Gilbert (
Date: 17 Jan 2005

Thanks. At least a serach on "Zekial Marko" shows up some more information--it seems he went on to write scripts for the Rockford Files and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. I'll have to pick up ONCE A THIEF (which was also a French film with Alain Delon).


--- In, "Juri Nummelin"
> Re: John Trinian.
> John Trinian was a working name of Zekial Marko. He was a former
> convicted criminal who started publishing when he got out of jail
> in the early sixties. His first novel was under his real name
> (Scratch a Thief, Fawcett Gold Medal 1961, also as Once a Thief),
> after which he started using the pseudonym. As Trinian, he
> published five or six novels with various paperback houses, such
> as Pyramid.
> Scratch a Thief is an excellent novel, you should try it. That's
> the only book I've read by him, sadly, so I can't comment on the
> others. I remember Bill Crider commenting on Trinian before.
> Juri

Scandal on The Sand

I'm always up for the oddball paperback original that deserved a better fate than lethal obscurity.

Scandal on The Sand by John Trinian is a 1963 Gold Medal that uses the multiple viewpoint tactic favored by so many GM writers. The set-up here is on a sunny Southern California beach one morning a whale is washed up on shore and people collect around it to see how it will be dealt with. For some reason this reminds of a bit of Fellini's use of a beached Thing in the then-current La Dolce Vita. But this doesn't detract from Trinian's clever and skillful use of the symbol.

In Grand Hotel fashion we have a cast of characters that inclues a beautiful troubled girl and her jerk would-be lover; a mob hit man on the run; a truly frightening psycho cop; a fading junkie movie actor and his sixth (young) wife; and a lifeguard who comes to regret all the booze he drank the night before. Among others.

The story grips, the writing's excellent, and the way Trinian handles the sociology of the beach dwellers gives the book its distinction. He uses a camera eye to detail stray people and things along the sand and he chooses so wisely and well that there are sections that have a photographic quality. A very nice touch.

Trinian wrote a number of GMs as well as some much-better-than-necessary sex novels for Lancer's Domino line. I believe he dropped out of sight and returned a decade or so later as Kenn Davis. But I may be wrong about that.

This is a fine, tight little novel.

Monday, October 08, 2007

From Richard Wheeler


I've been puzzling for a long time about something for which I have no answer. Why are there porno-westerns, but not porno-mysteries, or porno-private eye novels, or porno-sci fi novels?

I'm not talking about the occasional erotic mystery or science fiction story. I am talking about formulaic porno-series, usually issuing once a month, that have become part of the western fiction scene since the 70s. I'm talking about Longarm and Jake Logan and a dozen imitators, which have six explicit sex scenes per novel and are intended for male readers. Most have been published by Berkley.

There are violent private eye series, such as Loren Estleman's, but I have never spotted porno-mysteries.

If other genres harbor this sort of porno-series, I am not aware of them. Why have there never been ongoing formulaic porno-mysteries, with the usual six sex scenes? I don't know the answer. To put it another way, why hasn't Berkley, the main purveyor of western porn, invaded any other genre with porno-series?

I sense that the steady output of porno-westerns (and some porno-violent westerns such as the Edge series) has been unique to the western field, and has gradually changed the readership of the genre over three decades, and I suspect it is one of several reasons genre westerns faded. Maybe someone better equipped than I to discuss the roots of popular literature will enlighten me.


Ed here: Well, I hope we get several responses to this because I have no wisdom to share. I've written so-called porno westerns and I've read a fair share of them. I see them as pretty much the same sort of pulp you found in Spicy Westerns back in the Thirties and as the linear descendents of all the soft-core Beacons and Midwoods of the Fifties and Sixties. Quick reads with some sex tossed in. It's interesting to note that the sex generally has no bearing on the plots freeing the writer to tell conventional old-fashioned pulp stories with lots of action played out against colorful settings. I've read some that would work very well with the sex scenes excised.

I'd disagree with you about them being one of the reasons the western genre failed. I pretty much hold to the contention (forget whose) that we've become so urbanized the Old West no longer holds mass appeal. The new version of 3:10 To Yuma has enough violence to satisfy Rambo fans. It's a long way from the Elmore Leonard story or the first movie. Again, I said I have no wisdom on the subject and I don't. These are just hunches and opinons.

As for why other genres don't have formulaic porn...good question. I do remember the 80s experiment with science fiction porn and it was hilarious. Is that a ray gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Heartbreak Kid--my heartbreak

I just checked the box office figures for the weekend and saw that The Heartbreak Kid tanked big time. I like Ben Stiller but I'm glad this one went down the tubes.

I have a special fondness for the original Kid. It may well be Neil Simon's finest script and Charles Grodin's best performance. It is both of them as their bittersweet best.

It's nuanced. It's about self-delusion, selfishness, lust, love and...heartbreak. Not a single gun is fired; not a single car is crashed.

I've seen two trailers for the new version. In one of them Stiller is jumping out of a box car. And in another there are two cuts that look like the Stooges on a bad day.

I know I rant about remakes but this one's got to be close to the bottom.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Cornell Woolrich by Richard Moore

Richard Moore posted this on RARA-Avis the other night. It's a fine fine piece.


A few days ago in discussing Cornell Woolrich's WALZ INTO DARKNESS,
I mentioned it was published as a Story Press book and he had
published some short stories in the fabled Story, a low pay, high
prestige magazine that published early Cheever, Salinger, Mailer and
many other literary greats. I also mentioned reading many years ago
a memoir by one of the editors of Story that discussed Woolrich's
visits to the magazine's editorial offices.

Today nestled in a box of Simenon novels I found THE STORY OF STORY
MAGAZINE by Martha Foley, who with her husband Whit Burnett founded
the magazine. Her description of Woolrich is striking and worth
transcribing for the list:

"Usually writers bringing manuscripts to the office asked for me,
either because they thought Whit, being a man, was too important, or
because people with a problem often find it easier to talk to a
woman than to a man. Cornell Woolrich was one. I had never heard
of him. A thin, shaking, hungry-looking man, he asked me, almost
imploringly, 'if I send you a story, will you please read it?'

"'Of course,' I told him. 'That's why I'm an editor. To read

"Reassured, he told me about himself. In 1927, when he was twenty-
four years old, he had won first prize--$10,000--in a short story
contest held by College Humor, then a large-circulation magazine.
(Writing as I am now about Cornell makes me wish, as I have
countless times, that I had kept a journal!) As far as I can
remember, he said that there was a long hiatus in his writing after
winning the prize, and that when he resumed writing his work was
rejected. I remember his telling me of how his father had left his
mother, and of how, as a boy, he had spent years with her roaming
around the country in search of his father. I have never forgotten
his leaning forward to me and saying earnestly, 'A search for a
father is a search for God.'

"The story I promised to read, which Cornell sent me, was the
wonderful "Goodbye New York," a skin-prickling tale of two people
who have committed a crime; desparate to leave the big city, their
stratagems to avoid detection, their near-captures and their terror,
are told in writing far superior to that of the usual thriller. The
praise given the story when it appeared provided Cornell with the
renewed impetus he craved. He went on to achieve lifelong
publishing success and is best remembered (popularly) for the
movie "Rear Window." He wrote many mystery novels and short
stories, using both the name Woolrich and William Irish."

Foley wrote this from memory and, not surprisingly, some of the
details are incorrect. Woolrich won the $10,000 prize from College
Humor for his second novel CHILDREN OF THE RITZ (1927), which also
won him a contract as a screenwriter in Hollywood.

I don't have the Nevins bio/bibliography of Woolrich handy (one day
I will find it while searching my stacks for something else)but I am
reasonably certain that the story "Goodbye New York" came after he
returned to writing with sales to the detective pulps.

Richard Moore

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For Max Allan Collins fans including me

From Galleycat:

Comics Femme Noir Headed to Small Screen?

It's funny to realize that there are enough comic book properties being sold to Hollywood to support an entire website called Comics2Film—that's who is reporting that Deadly Beloved, a forthcoming Hard Case Crime book by veteran mystery writer Max Allan Collins, is headed to the Oxygen Network as a potential pilot. The novel stars Michael Tree, a widowed private investigator (her husband was also named Michael) who Collins, along with artist Terry Beatty, first introduced to readers in the 1980s indie comic Ms. Tree. The site describes the novel as "a Casino Royale-style reboot" that preserves Tree's fundamental character with a bit of modernization.

Of course, the big question is: Who's going to play her in the series? I vote Fairzua Balk, or maybe color Clea DuVall's hair black for the part.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Following the money

The only bookstores I go to any more are the local mystery store and Half Price Books. I buy the majority of new books on the web.

I mention this because I don't have any first hand information for contrast to what I'm about to say. Maybe some of you can help me.

I hit one of the local comic book stores a couple times a month. Mostly I go to pick up comics for my six year old grandson PJ. He's crazy about them. For myself I usually pick up some of those huge Best of volumes that DC and Marvel have been publishing over the past few years. So far the Superman vol. 1 and the Jonah Hex are my favorites. (I can actually dimly remember a few 1946 Superman stories. God help me.)

The last time I was there I stood sixth in a line of young guys who looked to be in their Twenties. Some looked white collar, some blue.

What startled me was how much money each of these guys spent. $30, $40, $45. Maybe this is happening all the time in bokkstores, too, twenty-something men and women laying out this kind of cash.

But I wonder if it is. I wonder if there's as much general excitement about books as there is now about graphic novels and comic books. Maybe it's all the big blockbuster summer movies driving a share of this enthusiam. I don't know. But I do know I was surprised to see that amount of cash slapped down by everybody in line. In case you;'e curious. I spent $43.56. Mama Mastercard did the deed for me.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Book reviews

For the past year there's been this battle going on between those who review books for newspapers and magazines and those who review them for the net.

The print people seem to see the net people as barbarians who move their lips when they read and stain the pages with God knows what kinds of bodily fluids as they go through the book.

I'm not quite sure why this battle has been joined. I've seen ridiculously inept reviews in print and on net alike. Neither, it seems to me, has any claim on quality.

Likewise I've seen excellent reviewing in print and on net alike.

While I know that this is essentially a turf battle--newspapers and magazines dropping book reviews--I think the issue gets clouded when we start talking about quality. Each side can make substantial claims about quality--insight and style alike.

I'm sorry to see so many print reviewers being dropped but since I now read all newspapers and many magazines on the net...why can't many of the best print reviewers find a home on the web?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Cop movies

Charles L.P. Silet has an interesting article on ten great cop films in issue #101 of the new Mystery Scene.

Silet names such films as The Big Heat and Lone Star in a group that reaches back into the 1950s and extends to 2005's The Departed.

When you examine the storylines of most of these films you come to a surprising conclusion--at least five of them are pretty much weserns set in contemporary times. Certainly The Big Heat and The Departed were done as western novels and films in the early years of the last century. Not as well, certainly, but the basic shape of them was used over and over in pulps and in films dating back to the silents. Same for Bullitt and Dirty Harry and The Untouchables.

I mention this because I recently ran across Dashiell's Hammett's theory that the private eye was the cowboy hero brought into town. And now the cop is the cowboy hero brought into town.

I've never been a big fan of cop movies because so few of them strike me as even reasonably realistic. This is personal. We're gona take this creep down. Not in my city he doesn't. Is there a sub-genre of crime fiction as cliched as cop movies? 90% of them are like the bad B and C westerns the studios cranked out for decades.

Silent's article steers us to some of the ones worth seeing. It's just one of many fine pieces in the new Mystery Scene. I've already told Kate that I think this is the best issue of MS ever. And I mean it.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Kill Time

T.J. MacGregor's newest novel is among her best both for its harrowing storyline and its ingenious assessment of how a lawless government may soon enough turn us into a police state.
Nora McKee is a college profesor of psychology who "lost" her mother twenty-three years when two Federal agents claimed to take her into custody. She never saw her mother again.
She is faced with a similar sitaution when her husband, whom she is about to ask for a divorce, is taken into "custody" by two agents of the Department of Freedom and Security. His last words to her are "Run, Nora, run."
She contacts Alex Kincaid, her husband's best friend, and her former lover, and together they begin to investigate the fate not only of Nora's mother and husband but of many citizens who have been basically kidnapped by federal agents and sentenced to a type of prison that is unthinkable to the average person.
MacGregor has aways been a stylish and clever writer whose stories are fresh and whose people are vital and beleivable. Here, she adds a bit of speculatve fiction to her novel and increases both the excitement and relevance of her book. Non-stop reading with a very serious theme. (Kensington)