Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bushwhackers, Desperadoes, and a Damsel in Distress: “Lone Star Fury” by James Reasoner

Bushwhackers, Desperadoes, and a Damsel in Distress: “Lone Star Fury” by James Reasoner

I have been reading James Reasoner Westerns since long before I knew I was reading James Reasoner Westerns. A prolific and in-demand author since the 1970s, he has written under a number of pseudonyms and house-names for series titles including the Trailsman (as Jon Sharpe) and Longarm (asTabor Evans). He’s also adept at crime fiction and adventure—he penned Hard Case Crime’s debut Gabriel Hunt novel, Hunt at the Well of Eternity—but this Spur Award nominee, with 200 or more books to his name, is widely revered for his Western tales like “Lone Star Fury,” where he is writing as Jackson Cole. This story actually heralds from earlier in the author’s career—going back near twenty years when it was originally published in Classic Pulp Fiction Stories (No. 2, July, 1995)—and is fortunately available again as an ebook.
Two men waited in the stygian shadows of the alley, cocked revolvers in their hands. Across the broad, dusty, tumbleweed-littered street, two more men stood in similar concealment, guns in hand, murder in their hearts.
Into this cauldron of death in the ghost town of Palminter rides Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield, sometimes referred to as the Lone Wolf. What brought him to this desolate, and deadly, locale in the western part of Texas? A message seemingly from the great beyond: a former flame named Sally Conway, whom Hatfield believed had died five years before in a horse accident, sends for his help.

The cover of Classic Pulp Fiction Stories #2 (July 1995) in which "Lone Star Fury" First Appeared.
With a skilled precision honed from many other deadly encounters, Hatfield makes quick disposal of the bushwhackers, and then he begins backtracking their trail to locate the source of the perplexing correspondence.
That path leads him, and his faithful golden sorrel, south and eventually along the Rio Grande to the once notorious Mesa City. The denizens had settled down into a proper community, but, again, it’s in danger of becoming a hell town thanks to the opportunist desperadoes infesting the region. Hatfield finds Sally very much among the living near Mesa City and married to a wealthy rancher named Ben Jardine, and the two men instantly detest one other. Hatfield also learns Sally is being treated by a doctor who has been caring for her since the accident. The sawbones explains she’s in a fragile state, requiring constant care and medicine or else she tends to see things that are not really there. But the ranger isn’t buying it. Something is amiss with his onetime sweetheart and Jardine, and Hatfield is determined to get to the bottom of Sally’s visions and the marauding owlhoots who are plaguing Mesa City. Naturally, this will bring him face to face with some rough-and-tumble renegades:
Hatfield’s fingers closed on Deke’s wrist like a vise as the outlaw tried to bring the Colt to bear. The Ranger’s other hand locked on Deke’s throat, and the two men did a desperate dance of death on the terrace, Deke struggling for breath, Hatfield trying to keep the barrel of the gun from pointing at him.
A generous helping of robust action rounds out this swift-moving, 7K word novelette but also some old-fashioned moral shrewdness that you would expect from a white hat like the Lone Wolf (whose adventures stretch to the 1930s golden era of pulp) factors in. Think Have Gun Will Travel’s Paladin with his code of honor mixed with Wanted: Dead or Alive’s volatile action.
Mr. Reasoner has been writing Westerns since Gunsmoke was a weekly staple, and in all these years his storytelling abilities haven’t diminished one iota, with recent highpoints including Outlaw RangerHangman’s Knot, and Last Stagecoach to Hell.
Never read the sage from Texas? Then you have a lot of catching up to do, pilgrim. And Lone Star Fury is as good of a place to swing up into that saddle as any. For his many loyal fans, this tale is another reason why we return again and again to Mr. Reasoner’s appealing storytelling.

Edward A. Grainger aka David Cranmer is the editor/publisher of theBEAT to a PULP webzine and books and the recent Western novella, Hell Town Shootout.
Read all of Edward A. Grainger's posts for Criminal Element.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Gravetapping: "Nina" by Robert Bloch

Posted: 28 Mar 2015 02:37 PM PDT
Robert Bloch is a legend. He is popularly known as a horror writer, but his production was wide and impressive. He wrote extensively in the crime, science fiction and horror genres. He had a particular skill at taking the style of one genre—hardboiled crime—and mixing it with the theme and expectations of another genre—horror. Think Psycho .

I recently read his short story “Nina” and I was impressed (to say the least). Nolan is an American running a plantation in the wild country of Brazil. The closest city: Manaus. The plantation’s only access is by boat, and Nolan isn’t completely comfortable with the workers. It’s not that they don’t work well, but rather it is their ceaseless drumming during the night. Add the heat. The humidity. The mosquitoes. And Nolan is a miserable man.

His life on the plantation changes when a woman appears. She is unknown to the local workers, and Nolan’s translator, Moises, calls her an “Indio” and “savage.” She soon becomes Nolan’s bedmate, and when his wife and child arrive to visit, Nolan’s world is shaken on its head.

“Nina” has all of the elements of a terrific horror story: a foreign and exotic location; a creepy and dark fabric; mysticism; outright strangeness; and a violent, and very peculiar, loss. It is very much horror, but it is brilliantly delivered with hardboiled prose, which provides a raw power—not to mention forward momentum—many horror stories lack:

“After the lovemaking Nolan needed another drink.

“He fumbled for the bottle beside the bed, gripping it with a sweaty hand. His entire body was wet and clammy, and his fingers shook as they unscrewed the cap. For a moment Nolan wondered if he was coming down with another bout of fever. Then, as the harsh heat of the sun scalded his stomach, he realized the truth.”

“Nina” is one of the better genre stories I have read. Its power is heady and visceral with a shadow-like quality; the narrative creates a shifting, soft focus, of the events. The characters feel real and the narrative is perfect. It captures the essence of the story and delivers it with an impressive blend of force and jaded subtlety most writers never achieve.

“Nina” originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1977. I read it in the anthology The Best Horror Stories Volume 1 edited by Edward L. Ferman and Anne Jordan. It was published by St Martin’s Press in 1988.

This was originally posted February 6, 2009, but since I have read a few Robert Bloch short stories recently, and reviewed his fantastic “The Hell-Bound Train”I thought it would be interesting to find some of my prior writings about Mr Bloch’s work. I also reviewed his stories “The Real Bad Friend” and “Lucy Comesto Town” in 2014.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hey, Man, Dig the Crazy Hippie Flicks ‘The Wild Angels’ and ‘Psych-Out’ New York Times

Hey, Man, Dig the Crazy Hippie Flicks ‘The Wild Angels’ and ‘Psych-Out’
from the New York Times by J Hoberman

American International Pictures, the studio that pioneered the low-budget drive-in fare of the 1950s, specialized in two genres: horror films and youth pictures. Often, the two modes were conflated. In 1957, AIP unleashed “I Was a Teenage Werewolf”; in 1966, the studio brought forth “The Wild Angels.”

Out on Blu-ray and DVD in a fine digital transfer, “The Wild Angels” may not have been the first movie in which a character exclaimed “Out of sight, man!” but, released three summers before “Easy Rider,” and introducing much of the same iconography, this “brutal little picture,” as the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther characterized it, made the hippie youth film possible — and also transformed Henry Fonda’s 26-year-old son, Peter, into Hollywood’s personification of the generation gap.

Exuberantly directed by AIP’s mainstay, Roger Corman, and propelled by a twangy surf-music score (credited to California’s future lieutenant governor, Mike Curb of the singing group the Mike Curb Congregation), “The Wild Angels” traffics in speed, drugs and nihilism. Mr. Fonda stars as the diffident leader of a biker gang, a character he has said he named Heavenly Blues after an allegedly psychedelic strain of morning-glory seeds. Swastikas abound, beginning with the logo for the movie’s title in the opening credits, which transforms a capital T into a version of the crooked cross.

Heavenly Blues’ love interest is played by Nancy Sinatra. Her hair frosted and teased and her part underwritten, she is required to adore Mr. Fonda, although this devotion seems tinged with disdain. Ms. Sinatra had a No. 1 single earlier that year with “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ ” — a proto-punk anthem far tougher than her co-star’s petulant posturing. (Would that the Scopitone film made to promote the song were included as an extra with the disc!) Michael J. Pollard, a year away from his career peak as a sidekick in “Bonnie and Clyde,” plays the gang’s resident beatnik, but the movie belongs to Bruce Dern.

Cast opposite his wife at the time, Diane Ladd, as the wild man the gang calls the Loser, Mr. Dern has a fabulous death scene. His last request is a hit of weed, and his funeral — over which, having been liberated from its coffin, his corpse presides — provides the movie’s most outrageous scene. “We want to be free to ride our machines without being hassled by the Man,” Heavenly Blues proclaims, “and we want to get loaded!” thus signaling his fellow Angels to trash the church, beat up the preacher and stage an orgy in which the Loser’s grieving widow is raped behind the altar.

“The Wild Angels” was hugely profitable and received with appropriate alarm, particularly after being selected to open the 1966 Venice Film Festival. This disgrace “caused a few diplomats to mop their brows,” Crowther wrote, calling the event “an embarrassment.” But the times were changing, and, released 18 months later, in 1968, AIP’s “Psych-Out” (also from Olive on Blu-ray and DVD), an even more delirious exercise in exploitation grooviness, would be praised for its “élan” by Crowther’s successor, Renata Adler.

for the rest of the story go here:

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Gravetapping: "The Hell-Bound Train" by Robert Bloch

from Gravetapping by Ben Boulden:
Robert Bloch, at least to the small but select audience of this blog, needs no introduction. He is one of the great writers to graduate from the mid-Twentieth Century pulp racket, and—like all true pulp writers—if it sold, he wrote it. He worked several genres including crime, horror, science fiction and fantasy. He is best known for his fine novel Psycho—later transformed into its faithful film adaptation Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho—but his work has a depth and quality rarely seen. If Mr Bloch wrote it, it is likely pretty great.

On the far side of great is his 1958 story “The Hell-Bound Train”. It won the 1959 Hugo Award, and it is the best science fiction story—short or otherwise—I have read in a long time. It features a young bindlestiff called Martin. His father “walked the tracks for the CB&Q” until he met with a drunken accident and his mother ran off with a traveling salesman. He skipped the orphanage and drifted with the rails. He tried his hand at crime, and on a cold and lonely November midnight he determined to go straight—

“No sir, he just wasn’t cut out for petty larceny. It was worse than a sin—it was unprofitable, too. Bad enough to do the Devil’s work, but then get such miserable pay on top of it!”

Martin’s dream of a straight life is interrupted by the unexpected appearance of an unfamiliar running train. The windows dark. Its whistle “screaming like a lost soul.” The conductor who steps from its forward car is off—the way he drags a foot when he walks, and his nonstandard technique of lighting his lantern with his breath. It takes only a moment for an offer of a ride to be tendered, but Martin negotiates a deal. He will gladly ride for a single wish in exchange. He wants, at his own choosing in a moment of happy contentment, to stop time. The conductor accepts the bargain, and Martin is certain he fooled the devil. He finds a job in the nearest town and plots his own happiness, looking for that moment where he wants to spend forever.

“The Hell-Bound Train” is brilliantly executed. Its narrative is seemingly simple, but the simplicity is misleading. A study of misdirection, really. It shows the reader enough to make a conclusion (incorrectly) about where the story will finish, fulfilling that expectation in a way, and then taking it further. And that final step takes the story from pretty good to great. It is very much like the best of  The Twilight Zone , and a shame it was never treated in an episode.

“The Hell-Bound Train” was originally published in the September 1958 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I read it in the anthology The Hugo Winners, Volume 1 edited by Isaac Asimov and published by Fawcett Crest in 1973.                   

Friday, March 27, 2015

From Pulp Serenade:Brian Garfield on Playing Poker with Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block

Monday, April 4, 2011
Brian Garfield on Playing Poker with Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block

Cullen Gallagher: 

Imagine a poker game with Brian Garfield, Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block, and occasionally Robert Ludlum. That's one game I'd gladly pay to sit in on! (And I'm sure I would pay--my poker days ended in middle school, and even then I wasn't exactly Orono, Maine's sharpest card shark.)

Head on over to The Chicago Blog (courtesy of the University of Chicago Press) to read the interview with Brian Garfield. And dig those crazy beards!

LTS: First off, why don't you just tell us a bit about your friendship with Donald Westlake. When and where did you meet? Were you friends for a long time?

BG: We met at a poker game in New York, 1965. It was a regular weekly quarter-limit writers' game. Lawrence Block and agent Henry Morrison were regulars. The game was a wonderful source of one-liners—now if only I remembered them. . . .


Our "lit'ry" discussions might have seemed odd to people who weren't writers. For example I remember Don's fascination with the way Ira Levin had cleverly concealed the identity of the killer in A Kiss Before Dying, and we all admired the way Mickey Spillane solved the mystery in Vengeance is Mine in the final word of the novel. I don't know that it's ever been done that way before. Spillane was a comic book-style writer, but we all thought he was much underrated as a storyteller. We didn't talk about his writing style; we talked about his inventiveness. It helps, I suppose, to realize that we all had worked our way up through the pulps—probably the last generation to do that, as the pulps mostly died by the early 1960s. Don and Larry wrote crime stories and softcore porn; I wrote crime stories and Westerns. (They came from the Northeast; I came from the Southwest.) We all had been published since the end of the 1950s. By the mid-60s we'd found a way to do the apprenticeship and make a sort of living out of it, although it wasn't a great living; most of my early books earned somewhere between a few hundred and a thousand dollars. All that meant was we had to write them fast. We thought of the work as fun, challenging but easy to do.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Gold Medal Corner -- John McPartland by Bill Crider

Gold Medal Corner -- John McPartland

This is a little essay I did for Steve Lewis's Mystery*File. I'm reprinting it here because Duane Swierczynski recently read a McPartland book and wrote about it in his blog. Now Ed Gorman has joined in the fun with a reprint on his own blog.

Gold Medal Corner
by Bill Crider

If people of a certain age (that would be my age) remember John McPartland at all, it’s probably because of his 1957 “breakthrough” novel, No Down Payment. But the truth is hardly anybody remembers even that. (Try a google search if you don’t believe me.) Probably even fewer people remember that both before and after the publication of his “big” book, McPartland published novels with Gold Medal. And they were good ones.

Probably my favorite is The Kingdom of Johnny Cool (1959). Written years before Mario Puzo thought of The Godfather, this is a crackerjack novel about the Mafia (McPartland calls it the Outfit). The title has a couple of meanings, as there are two Johnny Cools in the novel, one young, one old. The young one is the killer, the man who’s going coast-to-coast to kill five men in one day. How he does it, what he becomes in the process, and what happens to him are just a few of the things the book is about. Although there are only 160 pages, this novel has enough details about the Outfit and the way it operates to make even Puzo blink. I seem to recall that Puzo said he made everything up. McPartland may have done the same, but it certainly sounds authentic, as do the all the details of police procedure that are introduced after the murders. The book had at least two Gold Medal printings, and they probably weren’t small ones, but I’m surprised it didn’t do even better. 

Maybe it would have, in a different time. McPartland was restricted by publishing conventions of the 1950s, so he couldn’t be nearly as explicit as Puzo was able to be later on. For example, after a young woman with the unlikely name of Dare Guiness is raped, Johnny takes revenge on the killers by stabbing them with a knife from Dare’s kitchen. And then: “There was a tradition for bodies like these two, a tradition that required the use of the knife once more on each of them. Johnny did this and left the bodies where they lay on the gray sidewalk near the garage.” Readers these days (and probably those days, too) knew what it was that Johnny did, but specificity in that sort of thing seems mean bigger sales. McPartland did his best. And even with the restrictions, this is a brutal book, maybe even a little shocking for 1959, and the ending is a real downer. 

But there are a couple of lighter moments, including some snappy patter that wouldn’t be out of place in an Arnold Swarzenegger movie of a few years ago. After a couple of killings in Las Vegas, Johnny gets on a package tour bus and sits down next to a guy counting his winnings. The guy wants to talk:

“Boy, I murdered them here,” he said. “How did you do?”
“I did all right,” said Johnny.

McPartland’s books are well worth reading if you like hardboiled action, as I do now and then, and the writing’s fine, too. The Wild Party is another good one, as are the others I’ve read.

If McPartland was so good, why didn’t he make a bigger impact on the crime field? One reason might be that he died at the age of forty-seven. He was already dead by the time The Kingdom of Johnny Cool was published. Too bad he didn’t stick around longer. A lot longer.

Gold Medal Media Bonus: In 1963, The Kingdom of Johnny Cool was made into a movie with the shortened title of Johnny Cool. It starred Henry Silva and Elizabeth Montgomery, and it made a big impression on me and my date (who’s still my date to the movies, by the way). I thought it would make Silva a big star. He was a brat-packer at the time, and Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis, Jr., make cameos in the movie. The real revelation, though, is Montgomery. Wotta performance! After you see her in this movie, you’ll never be able to think of her as that cute Samantha again.

Non-Gold Medal Media Bonus #1: After you see Johnny Cool (which will be next to impossible, as I don’t believe it’s available), you should watch Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai (1999). Supposedly it’s based on some French film, and I might be the only major movie critic who noticed that it’s sort of a remake of Johnny Cool. Forrest Whitaker is the star, but the old Mafia guy is (a great touch) Henry Silva.

Non-Gold Medal Media Bonus #2: And after that, see if you can find the movie version of No Down Payment. I’m betting you can’t, but give it a try. It’s one of the better “lost” movies of the 1950s, with Joanne Woodward and Tony Randall, who proves here that he could do a lot more than just play the comic sidekick in movies with Doris Day and Rock Hudson. This is one of the best portrayals of suburbia ever, or at least of what people thought suburbia was like in the 1950s. I’ve never read the book, but I really should, one of these days.

Posted by Bill Crider at 8:46 AM 

Recommend this on Google

Gregory Walcott, Actor Known for ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space,’ Dies at 87

TELEVISION|Gregory Walcott, Actor Known for ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space,’ Dies at 87

Gregory Walcott, Actor Known for ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space,’ Dies at 87
Gregory Walcott, a character actor whose résumé included numerous television westerns, several Clint Eastwood movies and prestige films like “Norma Rae” — but who was probably best known as one of the stars of “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” often called the worst movie ever made — died on Friday at his home in the Canoga Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. He was 87.
His death was confirmed by his son, Todd Mattox, who said Mr. Walcott had been in poor health for some time.
When Mr. Walcott, a tall, ruggedly handsome Southerner, was offered the key role of a pilot in “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” the idiosyncratic director Edward D. Wood Jr.’s low-budget 1959 oddity about aliens who bring the dead back to life, he had already been in the hit Henry Fonda Navy comedy “Mister Roberts” (1955) and other movies. He said in a 1998 interview that the “Plan 9” script “made no sense” but that he took the job because one of the producers was a friend of his.
“I thought maybe my name could give the show some credibility,” he said.
The film seemed destined to be no more than a footnote in Mr. Walcott’s busy career. He was a regular on the 1961-62 police series “87th Precinct” and had guest roles on “Bonanza,” “Maverick” and virtually every other TV western. He acted alongside Mr. Eastwood on “Rawhide” and in “The Eiger Sanction” (1975), “Every Which Way but Loose” (1978) and other movies. Often cast as an authority figure, he played lawmen in Steven Spielberg’s “The Sugarland Express” (1974) and Martin Ritt’s “NormaRae” (1979).
But “Plan 9 From Outer Space” slowly developed a following for its cheap effects, its stilted dialogue and a ragtag cast that included the one-name TV personalities Vampira and Criswell as well as Bela Lugosi, in footage shot shortly before his death in 1956. To Mr. Walcott’s embarrassment, “Plan 9” became a staple at bad-film festivals and the movie with which he was most often associated.
He was born Bernard Wasdon Mattox on Jan. 13, 1928, in Wendell, N.C. After graduating from high school and serving in the Army for two years, he hitchhiked to Hollywood and before long had given himself a new name and was landing small film roles.
In addition to his son, Mr. Walcott is survived by two daughters, Pamela Graves and Jina Virtue, and six grandchildren. His wife of 55 years, the former Barbara May Watkins, died in 2010.
Mr. Walcott came to accept his bad-film fame with good humor. His last screen role was a cameo in Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” (1994), about the making of “Plan 9” and its eccentric auteur. Mr. Mattox, his son, said that when a bar called Plan 9 Alehouse opened near his home in Escondido, Calif., last year, he gave the owners, with Mr. Walcott’s blessing, a copy of his “Plan 9” script to use as wallpaper in the men’s room.
“I didn’t want to be remembered for that,” Mr. Walcott told The Los Angeles Times in 2000. “But it’s better to be remembered for something than for nothing, don’t you think?”
A version of this article appears in print on March 26, 2015, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: Gregory Walcott, 87, a Star of ‘Plan 9’. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Carolyn Hart; Gravetapping: A Case of Need Michael Crichton

From Carolyn Hart:
Annie and Max will be back

I penned a Farewell to Death on Demand this spring, but a funny thing happened on the way to Life Without Annie and Max. A knock on my door. There stood Annie, a glint in her gray eyes, a determined tilt to her chin. “What are you thinking?” Max was right behind her, his usual easy going smile absent. “No more island sunshine? No alligators basking on a bank? No more laughter?” Annie and Max looked me in the eye and said, “We’re here to stay.” 
    Do I want to see the displays at Death on Demand, catch up on the new mysteries, talk about old favorites? Or drop into Confidential Commissions and have a slice of Barb’s lemon pie?
    Oh, yes. The scent of the ocean, the rattle of magnolia leaves, the grace and elegance of Spanish moss, hot heavy summer days, windy walks on a chilly winter beach, all await on the small sea island of Broward’s Rock. I’ll see everyone again, ebullient Annie, charming Max, curmudgeonly author Emma Clyde, mystery maven Henny Brawley, ditzy mother-in-law Laurel Darling Roethke, intense reporter Marian Kenyon, stalwart police chief Billy Cameron, observant officer Hyla Harrison . . .
    I realized I’d miss them too much. So I changed my mind and hope to write their 26th adventure as soon as Bailey Ruth persuades a lovelorn  ghost to climb the shining stairs to Heaven.
    And now for Annie and Max’s 25th (and continuing) adventure:
     DON’T GO HOME – Annie is hosting a party to celebrate a successful Southern literary icon and island native and his best selling novel, Don’t Go Home. The local newspaper announces that the author intends to reveal the real life island inspirations behind his characters and the dark secrets in their lives. Reporter Marian Kenyon, Annie and Max’s good friend, quarrels bitterly with the author. When his body is found, Annie knows her friend will be a suspect. Despite an array of people who feared the author’s revelations and Annie’s promise to Max that she will steer clear of sleuthing, Annie is drawn into the hunt because the police may close the book on Marian unless Annie finds the truth.

Posted: 23 Mar 2015 02:16 PM PDT
Michael Crichton was a writer who knew how to write, and what he chose to write seemingly meant something to him.  His later novels tended to deal with science, technology and ethics, and his early works—particularly the novels written “as by”—dealt with both youth and culture in a strikingly simple and meaningful manner.  His 1968 novel A Case of Need written as by Jeffery Hudson is not only the best of his early works, but it is also arguably his best novel.

John Berry is a pathologist at a Boston hospital and the novel opens with a heart surgeon ranting about losing a patient on the table.  Berry doesn’t pay much attention because this is how the surgeon deals with the stress and anger of a lost patient.  The rant, like everything in the novel, has the subtle feel of reality and prepares the scene for the main crux of the novel: an abortion gone wrong.  A procedure that was illegal when the novel was published and no less controversial than it is today.

Dr. Art Lee is an OBGYN and an abortionist.  He is also one of John Berry’s best friends.  When a young woman dies in an ER hemorrhaging from a botched abortion, Dr. Lee is the primary suspect.  This sets the novel in motion—John Berry is certain his friend didn’t perform the procedure and he wants to clear Dr. Lee’s name, but his motives become less clear as the novel unravels.

A Case of Need is a crossroads novel between Mr Crichton’s early pulp adventure novels and his larger, more complex modern novels.  It is something like a DMZ between the John Lange thrillers and The Andromeda Strain.  It features many of the hallmarks of his later works, particularly cultural and medical ethics, but it is wrapped in a damn terrific mystery.  It won an Edgar in 1969 for best novel and it represents Crichton’s talent at its highest.

What truly separates A Case of Need from the herd is its setting, theme and dialogue.  The setting is the world of medicine.  It clearly focuses the reader’s attention on not only what it is like, or was like, to be a work-a-day physician, but it also thematically explores the ethical decisions that lurk in the industry.  It gives a murky representation of abortion and its relation to both physicians who perform the procedure and those who do not. And the dialogue is vintage Crichton; it moves the story forward in quick and linear fashion.

There really isn’t anything about the novel that is weak or underdeveloped.  The prose is strong and vivid—

“All heart surgeons are bastards, and Conway is no exception. He came storming into the path lab at 8:30 in the morning, still wearing his green surgical gown and cap, and he was furious.”

The mystery is plotted perfectly and the suspense is built as well as any novel I have read.  It begins with what appears to be a moment of subterfuge—the angry heart surgeon—but ties the seemingly out-of-place opening scene perfectly into the theme of the story; the imperfect surgeon struggling with his own limitations and balancing the imperfections of society with the needs and demands of his patients.

A Case of Need is a terrific novel that is as relevant and entertaining today as it was forty years ago.  In a sense it is very much a novel of its time, but it also has a timeless quality in that the questions it never quite answers will continue to debated generations from now.  And it very well may be the evidence we need to prove Michael Crichton was from another world.  He really was that good, and this novel proves it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lost Classics of Noir: The Big Heat by William P. McGivern BRIAN GREENE

Lost Classics of Noir: The Big Heat by William P. McGivern

criminal element

I first saw Fritz Lang’s 1953 film noir The Big Heat decades ago, and I just viewed it again this week. This time I watched it immediately after readingWilliam P. McGivern’s novel of the same title. This is the latest in my series of posts where I rave about an underappreciated noir novel while commenting on a better-known film that was made from it. Lang’s big screen feature is, of course, a gem, and one that any fan of film noir should get to know if they don’t already. McGivern’s work of fiction, which originally appeared in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post, then was published as a novel in the same year as the movie’s release, deserves lofty status among those who appreciate hard-edged crime tales as they appear on the printed page.
There’s little difference in the plotline between book and movie, but for present purposes I’ll focus on the story as it is told in the novel. The primary character is Dave Bannion: a sergeant of detectives in a homicide bureau in Philadelphia. Bannion is a big man; much is made of his hulky build in McGivern’s book, whereas he comes across as being of more normal male stature via Glenn Ford’s portrayal of him in the movie. He has a temper that he needs to keep a watch over, to make sure he doesn’t use his great bulk to do bodily harm to others when it’s not warranted. Bannion is a family man, happily married to his good-natured wife and a loving father to their young daughter. He’s also an honest law enforcement agent. In the beginning of the novel (this is not in the movie), some of the detectives on his team are holding a black man on suspicion of a crime, and are ready to work him over physically to sweat a confession out of him; but Bannion feels their grounds for suspecting the man are flimsy (and racially motivated, although that’s only implied in the book), and he tells his boys to let the guy go.

Another aspect of Bannion’s character that is shown in McGivern’s book is the fact that he likes to wind down in the evening with a reading from one of his philosophy books. I like McGivern’s omniscient narrator’s words about this aspect of Bannion’s character:
Bannion read philosophy because it was a relief from the dry and matter-of-fact routine of his own work . . . I read philosophy, he thought, because I’m too weak to stand up against the misery and meaningless heartbreak I run into on the job every day . . . I want to read something which puts sense into life.
And here’s some more on Bannion from the book, words that illustrate what I said before about the detective’s physical build and how he needs to keep control over his use of it:
Bannion’s body was like an engine; he could hook it to a job and it would run all day. He was no body-lover, no beach athlete. He felt an impersonal regard for his strength, as if he were merely a steward whose job was to keep it functioning at par. Bannion had learned that the more able a man is to stop trouble, the less of it he is likely to meet. And he didn’t want trouble, he didn’t want to use his hands on people. When circumstances forced him to, or when his temper jerked him out of control, he inevitably felt disgusted with himself and degraded. He knew the wild streak inside him and had tamed it, or frustrated it rather, by being strong enough to stop trouble before it started.
The story of The Big Heat gets going when a cop from Philly dies, in an apparent act of suicide. Bannion visits the home of the man — Deering in the book and Duncan in the movie — just to pay his respects to the guy’s widow and to make sure there isn’t a possible homicide angle that might need looking into. Deering’s wife tells Bannion that her husband was worried about his health and that this is likely why he killed himself. Bannion leaves the home satisfied that nothing happened here other than a man of the law deciding to end his life.
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Dark Screams Great Anthology only 99 cents


Dark Screams: Volume One is currently discounted to just 99 cents this week, so if you have a way to spread the word, that would be greatly appreciated.  The featured authors are Stephen King, Kelley Armstrong, Bill Pronzini, Simon Clark, and Ramsey Campbell.

Here are some links for easy reference:

* Amazon.com:

* Barnes & Noble:

* iTunes/iBookstore:

* Kobo:


Volume Two was published on March 3, 2015.  The featured authors are Robert McCammon, Norman Prentiss, Shawntelle Madison, Graham Masterton, and Richard Christian Matheson.

* Amazon.com:

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* Kobo:


Volume Three will be published on May 12, 2015.  The featured authors are Peter Straub, Jack Ketchum, Darynda Jones, Jacquelyn Frank, and Brian Hodge.

* Amazon.com:

* Barnes & Noble:

* iTunes/iBookstore:

* Kobo:


Volume Four will be published on August 4, 2015.  The featured authors are Clive Barker, Lisa Morton, Ray Garton, Ed Gorman, and Heather Graham.

* Amazon.com:

* Barnes & Noble:

* iTunes/iBookstore:

* Kobo:


Volume Five will be published on October 6, 2015. The featured authors are Mick Garris, Kealan Patrick Burke, Del James, J. Kenner, and Bentley Little.

* Amazon.com:

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* iTunes/iBookstore:

* Kobo:

Best wishes,
Brian Freeman
Managing Editor

Cemetery Dance Publications
132-B Industry Lane, Unit #7
Forest Hill, MD 21050

410-588-5901 [phone]
410-588-5904 [fax]