Monday, December 31, 2007

Salute to Bill Crider

Somewhere today (can't find it again) I saw (I think) a brief story conveying the (to me) astonishing fact that toniight the two Hilton sisetrs Paris and Niki will hostess a club party and be paid $500,000. I guess because I'll always be a prairie boy the simple amorality of this is staggering. Homeless shelters, cancer research, orphanages--there isn't some better way to spend $500,000.

Happy New Year

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Jury Duty

I've never served on a jury and I don't want to.

This afternoon I saw a rerun of a true crime show that focused on a cop accused of murdering his mistress. The police department fiercely fought what appeared to be the evidence at first but finally gave in and arrested him. He was found guilty and sentenced to eighty years in prison. There were those who felt he should have been given the death penalty.

His mistress was found in a burning house. She'd been stabbed multiple times. The DA contended that in panic the cop first contrived the scene to look like a burglary and then decided to set it on fire. A good deal of the evidence rested on the local fire marshal's assessment of the time the fire had been set and how long it had been burning. The cop argued that he arrived at the scene when the house was on fire. A neighbor said he saw the cop rush in to save her but was too late.

The cop foolishly took a lie detector test without consulting a lawyer. He failed. I'm with Ted Kennedy on this one. Lie detectors are a joke, deadly ones in some cases. The cop also did something else foolish. When the DA got him on the stand the cop got sarcastic and belittled the DA and the oter cops he now saw as his enemies. Not exactly a good way to impress the jury. He was sentenced and sent off to prison.

A young woman who'd known the cop most of his life so believed in his innocence that she left her teaching job and went to law school just so she could work on his case and prove his innocence. This wasn't a romance. She was happily married. She just didn't believe her friend had done what the DA had accused him of doing.

Over nine years the woman has become a lawyer and gotten two highly regarded fire experts to help her dispute the tesimony of the fire marshal. The cop is interviewed throughout the hour and he struck me as beleivable.

This is why I wouldn't want to be on a jury. If I been impaneled on the first jury I'd have voted for conviction. But if I'd been able to hear the two fire experts I probably would have voted him innocent.

I'm not smart enough to make judgements on a man or woman's life. I'd want to hear a videotaped confession as well as a videotaped scene of the murder being committed before I made up my mind.

Unless the defendant was OJ of course. That one I could've voted guilty on without undue doubts.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Power

The other night Bill Crider wrote about how much the novel I Am Legend has meant to him over the years. Same here. It's my favorite science fiction novel. I've read it as recently as a year ago. It never loses its power for me.

Another novel I first read in 1956 is The Power by Frank M. Robinson. You may know the name because he's written blockbuster international bestsellers as well as award-winning science fiction novels.

The Power was his first novel. If Cornell Woolrich had ever used the paranormal in any coherent way he'd have done something like The Power. It's a perfect noir, a dark chase novel through Chicago as a small group of scientists try to find out which of them has The Power. Robinson enriches the book by giving us, on the fly, a wry look at academia of that era. He also gives us a man so alone and desperate as to make Richard Kimble of The Fugitive look like a game show contestant. Like I Am Legend, I reread this every so often. I yet to come across a single moment in it that I would change in any way.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The 25th Hour

I watched the 25th Hour again last night. I've recommended it before. Flawed as it is--the first act needed to be trimmed--it is still one of the most powerful crime films I've ever seen simply because it doesn't rely on any of the neo-noir tropes so fashionable today. It is the story of an intelligent, otherwise decent young man so fucking stupid he started dealing drugs. And in so doing lost his claim on both intelligence and decency.

The film takes place in the final 24 hours before he goes to prison. Ed Norton as the dealer, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as his hapless friend, Rosario Dawson as Norton's lover and Anna Paquin as the teenage student Hoffman is fixated on form a crushing ensemble. The acting is flawless.

The final twenty minutes, in the scene with Norton's father and the scene with Norton and Hoffman and another friend, are as good as anything I've seen in the last fifteen years.

I am a lonely voice recommending this movie but I think it will eventually get its due.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Coen Brothers western; Spector on Ike

From the Hollywood Reporter

Coen Brothers to Make Spaghetti Western
Filmmaking siblings Joel and Ethan Coen are set to make their goriest film ever - a Spaghetti Western featuring scenes of primitive torture methods. The brothers, whose notoriously gory new film No Country for Old Men has been tipped for Oscar glory, are desperate to make a film about the days of cowboys and Indians battling it out in the Wild West of America. But - as Joel warns - it won't be one for the faint-hearted. He says, "We've written a western with a lot of violence in it. There's scalping and hanging ... it's good. Indians torturing people with ants, cutting their eyelids off." Ethan adds, "It's a proper western, a real western, set in the 1870s. It's got a scene that no one will ever forget because of one particular chicken."

From Roger Freidman The New York Post

Music legend and murder suspect, Phil Spector, isn't trying to make friends or curry favor with old pals while he waits for a second trial. He turned up at reviled R&B legend Ike Turner's Los Angeles funeral on Friday and gave an impromptu speech that laid into both Tina Turner and Oprah Winfrey.

Spector, according to our spy in the Greater Bethany Community Church in Gardena, Calif., was among several celebrity mourners including Bonnie Raitt and Little Richard who gathered to say good-bye to the Grammy-winning musician.


"First of all, the things that were said about Ike, that were in that piece-of-trash movie they made about him were ... (applause), it was a piece-of-trash movie. I haven't seen the movie but it was told to me, and [Barney] Kessel was the world's greatest guitar player in the world and the only reason that Ike didn't play on 'River Deep, Mountain High' was because Ike was the second greatest guitar player in the world. I treasured him and everybody knew it except Ike. That's how good he was

"B.B. King told me at a party with Doc Pomus and Joe Turner and Ray Charles sitting there that Ike Turner was the only guitar player he wouldn't play behind. That's how good he was. But Ike never boasted. He came to parties with me and I'd say, 'play, play' and Ike would never play.


"Ike could play circles around Eric Clapton and Eric knew it. I had someone once ask me what's the difference between Ike Turner and Eric Clapton. I said, 'you don't know the difference between Eric Clapton and Ike Turner? That's funny, why don't you ask Eric, Eric knows.'"

"Ike made Tina the jewel she was. When I went to see Ike play at the Cinegrill in the '90s after his absurd reason for being sent to prison for no reason other than being a black man in America, there were at least, and I counted them, five Tina Turners on the stage performing that night, any one of them could have been Tina Turner."

A sentimental Iowa Christmas tale

Septic tank snares D.M. man
What’s this?
Christmas Eve downright stunk for Robert Schoff of Des Moines, but he was able to laugh about it by Tuesday.

Firefighters had to rescue the 77-year-old when he got stuck in the opening to his septic tank.

He had dug a hole and reached inside to find a clog when he lost his balance and became wedged.

"It wasn't good, I'll tell you what," said Schoff, of 4300 N.E. 27th St. "It was the worst Christmas Eve I've ever had,"

The 5-foot-5-inch, 135-pound Schoff hollered, screamed, and hoped his wife, Toni, would hear his cries for help.

He waited for an hour until she walked by a window and noticed feet in the air.

"I saw these kicking feet and ran out, but couldn't get him out," Toni Schoff said.

She went to the house and called 911, and two Polk County sheriff's deputies arrived to yank her husband out.

A Delaware Township rescue crew took Schoff to the hospital, where he was treated for bruises and a ruptured eardrum.

"How that happened, I don't know," he said. "I thought it was the end of my life. Thank God my wife saw me. I don't think I could have stood staying in there much more. She's my lifesaver."


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Quotes of The Day

By Heather Havrilesky from Salon

Dec. 26, 2007 | When I was in third grade in Catholic school, one of the girls in my class wrote "Fuck You" all over the stalls of the girls' bathroom in red Magic Marker. When I walked into the bathroom and saw those words, I didn't think, "Oh my God! Who would do such a thing?" I thought, "Wow, Tracy Griffin is going to be in big trouble for this one!" Among the dutiful Catholic students who suspected that God would punish them for merely talking in class, Tracy Griffin stood out like a hungry pit bull at a free-range chicken ranch.

But anonymity is never really the sociopath's goal, least of all now, when the mentally unstable have the media savvy to know how to get their message across, whether they're marching into Hillary Clinton's campaign office with fake explosives taped to their chests or mailing detailed videotaped tomes to the appropriate department at NBC News in order to clarify the nuances of their upcoming suicidal killing spree.

IWhile formerly scorned loose cannons of the celebrity magazine world like Star and InTouch -- plus newly minted rags like TMZ and Gawker -- gained massive audiences by serving up appetizing pap to feed our worst impulses, an odd group of attention-seeking celebrity sociopaths rose to the occasion with increasingly aggressive public displays of affection for themselves and no one else. These were the Tracy Griffins of the entertainment world, an unruly gaggle of whoring celebrity sea donkeys who kept the rubberneckers in their thrall by showing up half-dressed and half-conscious wherever they knew flashing cameras would be present.


But in this head-spinning year of celebrity obsession and backlash, did we gain anything by listening in on Alec Baldwin's private phone message to his daughter, or watching camera-phone footage of David Hasselhoff drunkenly scarfing down a hamburger, or reading Charlie Sheen's alleged e-mails to his ex, Denise Richards? While none of us are above snickering at a rare glimpse of a celebrity during a particularly low moment, those glimpses are so common these days that they're really not all that amusing anymore, particularly when they're followed by a slew of Op-Eds, follow-up pieces and 15 million Web posts about whether Baldwin or Hasselhoff or Richards is a good parent, talented actor, upstanding citizen, worthwhile human being, on and on and on until our minds are thoroughly scrambled. You may have clicked on Perez Hilton or Gawker out of casual curiosity, but when you woke up three hours later, your head filled with an addled jumble of unsubstantiated gossip and idle judgment plus a dizzying volume of disconcertingly passionate opinions from the unwashed masses, your worldview and your priorities were irretrievably skewed, like it or not.

From Maureen Dowd from The New York Times

"Now the melancholy days have come,” Groucho Marx wrote to pal and fellow comic Fred Allen on Dec. 23, 1953. “The department stores call it Christmas. Other than for children and elderly shut-ins, the thing has developed to such ridiculous proportions — well, I won’t go into it. This is not an original nor novel observation, and I am sure everyone in my position has similar emotions. Some of the recipients are so ungrateful.

“For example, yesterday I gave the man who cleans my swimming pool $5. This morning I found two dead fish floating in the drink. Last year I gave the mailman $5. I heard later he took the five bucks, bought two quarts of rotgut and went on a three-week bender. I didn’t get any mail from Dec. 24th to Jan. 15th. ... For Christmas, I bought the cook a cookbook. She promptly fried it, and we had it for dinner last night. It was the first decent meal we had in three weeks. From now on I am going to buy all my food at the bookstore.”

From a review of the Craig Unger book on Truthout

Unger traces the origins of Bush's foreign policy to the 1970s, when prominent bureaucrats and writers gathered around such converts to conservatism as Irving Kristol and Albert Wohlstetter. The neocons scored their first big success in 1976, when two of their allies in President Ford's administration, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, created a group outside the CIA to assess the Soviet threat. That panel, dubbed Team B, was staffed by neocon worthies and led by Richard Pipes of Harvard University. One of the group's advisers was a Wohlstetter protege named Paul Wolfowitz.

Team B concluded that the CIA had vastly underestimated Soviet power and that supporters of detente were merely assisting the Kremlin's drive for world domination. It was an imaginative assessment, given that the economy of the USSR was crippled and its military infrastructure was suffering as CIA officers pointed out. Pipes's group held, for instance, that the USSR had probably deployed a top-secret antisubmarine system, even though U.S. intelligence had found no credible evidence of such a program. As Unger writes, "The absence of evidence, [Team B] reasoned, merely proved how secretive the Soviets were!" It was a bold preemptive attack on fact and logic.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Truth about Chuck Norris

Cinema Retro carries a story tonight about the Chuck Norris folks being unhappy because a spoof book called The Truth About Chuck Norris has been written.

Here's Cinema Retro:

Chuck Norris is sure in the news a lot lately. He's now suing author Ian Spector in an attempt to get his new book The Truth About Chuck Norris withdrawn from distribution. Norris' lawsuit also lists Penguin publishers as co-defendants. At first glance, it might seem that the martial arts icon is being a bit thin-skinned. Spector's book is an obvious farce that centers on web-based Paul Bunyan-like tall tales relating to his image as a seemingly invincible action star. Among the witticisms found in the book:

• Chuck Norris can charge a cell phone by rubbing it against his beard.
• When an episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger” aired in France, the French surrendered to Chuck Norris just to be on the safe side.
• Chuck Norris was the first person to tame a dinosaur.
• Chuck Norris once visited The Virgin Islands. Afterward, they were renamed The Islands.
• Every piece of furniture in Chuck Norris’s house is a Total Gym.

Ed here: It doesn't say much for Chuck Norris' fans if they believe this. Nor for Norris himself. (I keep rubbing my cell phone against my own beard but so far no luck.)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Suspicious Origins

Back in the late 70s and early 80s I reviewed mysteries for the local paper. The editor asked me to cover the entire field from cozies to hard boiled. At first I wasn't sure I wanted to sort through any but the hardboiled stacks but gradually I found writers in every sub-category of crime fiction that I enjoyed and admired.

One of my most pleasant discoveries was Patricia MacDonald. Her first novel Unforgiven was not only a clever stalker tale but also an exemplary piece of writing. She had major stuff from the git-go.

This weekend I'm reading, for the second time, a recent novel of hers called Suspicious Origins. This deals with a woman who has a falling out with the older sister who raised her. The two haven't spoken in years. Then the older sister dies in a fire before they ever resolve their differences. The woman goes to the snowy New England town for the funeral where she meets, among many others, her sister's husband and the little niece she's been trading cards and letters with for years. On the night of the funeral, the fire chief tells her that what appeared to be an accidental fire was actually arson, intended to kill both the mother and the daughter. The husband was working late--midnight--at the time. Thus the mystery is set in place.

What makes the book remarkable is the writing. Nothing flashy or trendy. Just sound solid sentences that create a picture of a society and its people in quiet but vivid strokes. Deft, evocative passages that stay with you. And characters so richly drawn they only enhance the page-turning edge of the plot.

In the era of James Patterson and all his clones reading a novel so full of real everyday life and real everyday people in a Hitchcock-tight novel is a pleasure not to be taken lightly.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Lawless by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Brubaker-Phillips have produced two of my favorite graphic novels, COWARD and now LAWLESS. If you crossed Richard Stark's Parker with Get Carter and set it all in America you'd have a good sense of what these remarkable stories are about.
Tracy Lawless escaped the slums of his country by becoming a professional military man battling in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he comes back when he hears that his troubled little brother was killed, a little brother he now feels he selfishly deserted. He should've stuck around and seen that the kid had the same chance of escaping the mean streets he did.
The novel runs on two tracks, forward and backward. Forward Lawless prowls the badlands in seach of the people who killed Rick. Backward he discovers the sad violent life the kid led.
The artwork is as dark and evocative as the writing. The mean streets have never looked meaner. The characters are neurotic enough to be different and psychotic enough to be believable in this urban-hell context. There are a few scenes that are as rich as anything I've seen in contemporary hard boiled novels.
Lawless is well worth your money and your time.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

More Top Ten

I didn't realize until I read the responses to last night's top ten favorites (not best; simple saying they're my favorites) that all but one of them is black and white. So tonight I mention color fims.

1.Taxi Driver
2. Get Carter
3. Point Blank
4. Body Heat
5. The Cooler
6. Night Moves
7. True Confessions
8. The Grifters
9. The Long Goodbye
10. The Outfit

And man I don't know how I forgot to inclue Doible Indemnity last night. Maybe my favorite noir of all.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Top Ten Noirs

Dave Zeltersman has suggested that I list my ten favorite noir films. My problem is that my choices vary according to my mood. But because several million people have been asking for the list. Here goes.

1. Out of The Past
2. Night and The City
3. The Third Man
4. Kiss Me Deadly
5. The Big Combo
6. Gun Crazy
7. The Anthony Manns-- Desperate Railroaded T-Men Raw Deal
8. Chinatown
9. In A Lonely Place
10. Sweet Smell of Success

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hooray for Hwood sort of

David Rensin has spent decades in Hollywood. He set many of his memories to paper in the excellent The Mailroom. Freddie Fields, one of the two or three most powerful agents in Hwood history, asked Rensin to help him write his memoirs. While they spent a good number of hours together--they were long time friends--Fields didn't live to complete the book. Now Rensin has a blog and is recounting some of the stories Fields told him.

The url below will lead you to a long and complicated story about the many many blind alleys that somehow led to the making of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. There are only two constants in the story--scripter William Goldman and star Paul Newman. Finding a Sundance made for many tangled troubles.

Originally Jack Lemon was suggested as Sundance but the studio didn't want him. Then names such as Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen began buzzing around the project. The McQueen episode is the most interesting part of the piece. My interpretation of the tale is that McQueen felt he wouldn't get enough attention if he co-starred with a luminary like Newman. He presented this as a difficulty with the billing. Who's name would be first?

Fascinating stuff.

News for writers

I hope this is okay to post here. If not, apologies in advance, and it won't
happen twice.

Folks, just thought I'd mention: I'm the new president of Novelists, Inc.,
and I urge you to think about joining, if you're not already a member!

Novelists, Inc. is a multi-genre organization for writers who are
multi-published in book-length fiction. Founded by romance writers almost 20 years ago,
it's still heavily romance, in terms of membership, but also has a fair number
of mystery, thriller, and mainstream writers, and quite a few cross-genre
writers. Sure could use more sf/f writers, though!

The monthly newsletter is terrific. There's a free sample copy available
electronically on our website at

Our annual national conference has (as per Del Rey VP Betsy Mitchell's
comments from the 2007 conference) an unusually high level of professionalism and
professional experience on offer. This year's conf will be in NYC end-March, and
the speakers and program and updates are all on our website at (again)

One of our new features is the Legal Fund, where we pay for up to two
billable hours of consultation with a literary lawyer (we have a list of approved
attorneys whom we researched and interviewed) for members who have a
publishing-related legal problem and want to assess their options and risks. (Ex. You've
been plagiarized, and you don't even know where to start, in terms of
addressing the problem. Ex. Or you sold a book to a small press which has published
your book without ever paying your advance, and has stopped even returning your
calls or emails. Ex. A bad press you dealt with has decided to sue you for
defamation after reading in your public blog that you were unhappy with the
way they did business.)

We've also recently established a collaborative relationship with Tekno
Books, to develop and market anthologies and collections written exclusively by
Ninc members. First book project is currently being worked on, second book
project will start up in spring 2008.

Any questions, contact me at Meanwhile, information for
prospective members, as well as applications, etc., and plenty of info about
Ninc, is at

Laura Resnick

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Heroes and Villains

And no I don't mean that great overlooked Beach Boys song.

TCM is running a short piece that offers different Hollywood opinions of Alfred Hitchcock the man. David Raskin fairly spits when talking about AH. Martin Landau canonizes him.

I've always run into the same disparity of opinions when I've recommended agents to other writers. Agent A is a career-saving man among men who once dragged three orphans from a burning fire with his teeth. That's one opinion. The other opinion has it that Agent B is a sub-literate crook who takes the first offer an editor makes. And after he rescued three orphans from a burning fire with his teeth, he sold them to a sex-slave operation.

And then of course we have book reviews. How is it possible that a novel is brilliant and an abomination to another? After the AH bit I picked up a magazine that reviewed a novel I'd recently read. I'd seen only one review of it and that had been the type your Mom would write. But the review I read today was written by someone who seemed to have a personal grudge against the writer (as perhaps he does--you never know).

I mention all this because a reader wrote me about how difficult conflicting reviews make it for the book buyer. True enough. In self-defense I've developed a list of reviewers whose judgement I trust. Don't always agree with them. But in many instances their rationale for liking or disliking a book seems reasonable and informed to me. Though here you run into the rep of the reviewers. There are two whose work I like especially. But there's a group who dismiss them superficial and dull.

The late Pavoratti, as I've mentioned here before, said that all you can do is play to those who love you. It's difficult for some of us to imagine that there is somewhere in the vast universe who actually dislikes our work--or worse, dislikes us personally.

Catch the the clever TCM piece on AH and you'll begin to understand the wisdom of Shakespeare's advice to keep your own counsel. Despite what some of those crummy sleazy twisted bastards might think.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


'People like strange, distasteful things today. We need to give children magic and hope'
--Mickey Rooney

I was catching up on reading the Guardian today when I came across an unsettling photograph of Mickey Rooney in costume for a new performance.

As someone who's facing old age, I don't want to sound insensitive or uncharitable but I wonder if there isn't a time when performers shouldn't just let it all rest.

This isn't just true of performers, of course. Virtually everybody reaches a time when it's probably best to rest. And just about every career seems to have people who stay too long. Surgeons, commercial pilots, name a few careers that get dangerous for folks at the mercy of those who won't retire. And writers, too, of course, peak and decline.

But we see performers at work. Being seen is the essence of their work. That's why it's so painful to watch somebody like Rooney--who I never liked even when I was a kid and supposed to--keep hamming it up. "People like strange, disasteful things." And I can't think of much that's sadder and more pathetic than the strange, distasteful sight of a ham staying too long at the fair.

I know this sounds cruel and I'm sorry for that. But I don't apply my performer-aversion just to age. Dennis Hopper irritates and embarasses me as much as Rooney does. Hopper was none too bright as a hippie; now he's added smugness to his act as he whores for the capitalists.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Extras Finale

Well, the 90 minute Extras finale has come and gone. I haven't seen a positive review. Most were mixed at best and a few almost angry that a series this good should end on so strained a note. The jabber on the Seinfeld finale was similar.

Last night we learned that Gervais doesn't do straight drama with any originality or even vitality. His forte seems to be bitter comedy with melancholy underpinnings. At that he's a genius.

Too much much last night, though lingering on Ashley Jensen's face so often was effective not only because of her sweet looks but also because you rarely see a middle-aged woman celebrated this way.

The big name gambit of having famous actors behave badly was either overdone or underdone. For just two examples, Clive Owen was too much of a jerk; George Michael was so understated I didn't quite get the point of his appearance.

The guy who played the agent could give Jeremy Piven some pointers on how to be sincerely avaricious without being a bad guy. He interpreted his role intelligently. If you're willing to do trash, I can make you some money. None of Ari's frantic bullshit.

The reality show segment was clumsily paced and unfocused and way to much to be beleivable, though the old Gervais wit was on display with the woman whose "celebrity" was based on the fact that her son was murdered. She is apparently trying to ride tragedy into cheesy fame.

For me the most enjoyable parts of the show involved Merchant as Gervais' incompetent agent and his sidekick Barry. I'd like to see a half hour for them, a day at the office maybe. Their scenes as cell phone salesmen were fine, especially the dance they did whenever one of their phones rang. A weird riff on the Marx brothers (just as there was at least one weird riff on Seinfeld).

I'd give the finale a B though maybe I'm being just as sentimental as Gervais was being last night.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Blonde

I wasn't sure that anybody could or would write a novel quite as crazed as Downtown by Ed McBain but damned if Duane Swierczynski hasn't done it.

In Downtown the hapless protagonist endures an unending series of con jobs and con artists on a winry Christmas Eve. In The Blonde journalist Jack Eisley meets his own kind of con artist, the lovely Kelly White of the title, who doses Eisley with the McGuffin that sets everything in motion, including a government agent straight out of Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia. All on a single night in Philadelphia.

Swierczynski gets better every time out and his handling of what amounts to screwball spy fiction is masterful. The story keeps you flipping the pages, the characters are believable and unique and the construction extraordinary. Swierczynski really understands how to set up, pace and pay off a scene. One more thing he shares with the late McBain.

The Blonde is a straight shot of pure pleasure. You'll like it, too.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Attention writers: A new market

When I was but a lad my room looked like a book annex. Stacks of Imagination, Manhunt, Galaxy, Mike Shayne, Gold Medals, Ace Doubles, Ballantines etc.

In my college days my room was still filled with mystery and sf but supplemented with Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Dreiser, Roth, Evergreen Review and the precursors of Flower Power...the City Lights poets and the invective of the first underground newspapers.

In the Seventies my various apartments were lined with bookcases that contained all the above plus runs of Westlake and Block and Rendell.

And all of the above could be found in the basements of the houses Carol and I bought over the next twenty-seven years. Lots of money for unreliable contractors for built-in bookcases.

And then with the cancer giving away about sixty to seventy per cent of all of it so Carol wouldn't have to deal with it all when my time came to shuffle off.

But there was one constant. Books were books and magazines were magazines. You could see that at a glance. You could pick them up and hold them if you still had any doubts.

But then came the internet and duffers like me had to undergo the Phil Dickian-like trauma of confronting a world that was evolving and redefining itself every few days. And after my initial knee-jerk sneering and scoffing I began to dig it. And still do. What a wonderful world the net is.

The evolving and redefining bit I mentioned? Well, every once in awhile I, in my dufferness, can still be forced to face the fact that the net will never rest in the way it defines what we call books and magazines.

Here, an excerpt from a recent Galleycat:

Posted by Ron | 08:04 AM | Trends | Email this post

"Mobile Novels" Already Big in Japan
After spotting my item earlier this about Harlequin serializing romance novels by email, a reader steered me towards an article that ran last week in The Times of London on Japan's "mobile novel" phenomenon, and the "anxious debate about the nature of literature and the future of reading in Japan" provoked by the success of the keitai shosetsu.

"Five of the year's most successful novels, including the top three, were first written for downloading on mobile phones before being republished in book form," Richard Lloyd Parry reported, describing their format as "short, simple sentences using relatively few characters, featuring melodramatic plots heavy on violence, sex and tear-jerking sentiment."

Ed here: I already have my title ready if the mobile novel people ever contact me. I Want To Screw Your Bloody Brains Out On Valentine's Day.

I think that pretty much covers all the mobile novel bases doesn't it?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mystery history

The other night Martin Edwards posted a particularly thoughtful piece on British writer W.J. Burley : "Although Burley wrote in popular genres, his work is quiet and generally eschews melodrama, but he excelled at the evocation of place and mood. He may not belong in the Premier League of crime writers, but his was a career of solid and lasting achievement."

I agree about Burley. He worked in watercolors rather than the violent hues popular the last four decades. Martin compares him to Simenon and I think that's both fair and accurate. You can probably find a title or two of Burleys at your local library. He's well worth trying.

Which leads my to the Mystery File blog

Here's a site that covers virtually every aspect of mystery history. Hard-boiled, cozies, popular authors, forgotten authors. And great cover reproductions. For me the covers of the Forties were particulary stylish (not all of them God knows) and memorable. Editor Steve Lewis publishes substantial pieces by writers such as Bill Pronzini and Francis Nevins on writers who deserve to be rediscovered or at least briefly remembered.

It's always interesting to see where we came from.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ross Macdonald

My good friend Bill Crider reminds us that it's Ross Macdonald's birthday.

I certainly salute the man under his pen name Ross Macdonald and his real name Ken Millar. In fact I'll go as far to say that Millar and his wife Margaret Millar were the two best crime writers of their generation. For me nobody brought true novelistic talents to the private eye novel that Ken did--nor true novelistic talents to the traditional crime novel that Margaret did.

This would be a good time to choose their finest novels for rereading. For me that would be The Chill and The Way Some People Die by Ken and How Like An Angel and A Stranger In My Grave by Margaret.

It's also time to reread Tom Nolan's superb biography of Ken.

Thanks for reminding us, Bill.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The final word on JDM

This is one of the off-line letters I got on the John D. MacDonald issue. I think it's an interesting way to end the discussion:

Hi Ed,

Well, I'm in my (late) thirties and I love JDM. But I
grew up with my Dad reading him and a lot of
westerns--L'Amour and Luke Short--so maybe I have JDM
appreciation in my DNA. (Sorry for all the
abbreviations.) Deep Blue Good-By, Dead Low Tide etc
are some of my favorites. And I love the social
commentary, even if it is a little dated. His
observations about human nature are not dated at all.
I think you're right that Leonard is the right writer
for these times--a little slick, a little quirky, a
little self-consciously hip. I tend to like his
westerns better these days, although some of his crime
novels--like Cat Chaser--are excellent of course.

Hope you are well. My novel hits the streets on
January 29th, so I'm getting excited.

Take care,


David Jack Bell |

Ed here: Me, too, with the westerns. And his crime stuff up to and including Unknown Man Number 89, 52 Pick-Up and Ryan's Rules. My favorite Leonard flat out is Valdez Is Coming. Yes I'm a heretic and will burn in hell.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Old and new

I received three off-blog letters about the John D. post the other night. Two of the people were in their Thirties and felt that he was a slow read. And one was in his Fifties and thought he read just fine.

I make a point of their ages because I think it's an important consideration. Folks from age forty-five and up were raised in a very different culture from those who came after. Happy News was inaguarated in 1968. The dictum there was that people wouldn't sit still for any TV news story longer than sixty seconds. Anchors also began their inane blabbing to on-air subordinates. Ted Baxter reigned.

Movies changed, too. Action flicks, riding the back of spaghetti westerns, were as much spectacles as stories. The movie Help influenced films, too. Fast cuts, disjointed narrative lines, images for images' sake.

If you grew up under the influence of all this (and many many other changes in popular culture) I can see why John D might read slow. He came from a time when fiction was fixed on sociology. He was an enormous fan of John O'Hara. Open any O'Hara novel and you'll see half page long paragraphs. You'll find an indelible impression of the world he's working in. Sociology. Backstory. Writing.

Take a look at any early 87th Precinct and compare it to the later ones. From 1992 or so they haul ass as they never had before. The reader doesn't get all those great rambling takes on mores and morals that McBain was so good at. The marketplace had changed.

These days long books make me groan. I like short books. I've even been known to enjoy a Stuart Wood (but not for several years) and James Patterson (before he decided he wanted to make enough money to buy France). But not a steady diet thereof. There are plenty of thoughtful writers in our field, everybody from Laura Lippman to S.J. Rozan to Nancy Pickard to Michael Connelly. These and many others are the ones that give lasting pleasure.

I think Elmore Leonard is probably the right writer for this time. He reads fast, he's fun and he's clever as hell. He likes to say that he leaves out stuff other writers leave in. I think he's on to something there.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Joseph Lewis

I watched Gun Crazy last night and was struck as always by the folk tale power of the story and the bravado with which it was directed. Mystery writer Mike Nevins has written a long and to me definitive piece-interview on Lewis' career and through it I came to understand Lewis' notion that to have suspense you first need to have characters who are slightly askew. You never quite understand their motives so you never quite know what to expect from them.

Most evaluations of Lewis' career speculate what he would have done with A picture budgets. He ended up doing a lot of TV work. He made a good deal of money but presumably wasn't as satisfied with his Bonanza stories as he was with his more personal work. He started in westerns and finished in westerns.

As for what he would have done with A-picture money...who knows. But there's at least a chance that he was most comfortable working with the money he was given. Hard to imagine that pictures as gritty as Gun Crazy and The Big Combo could have been shot the way he wanted them to be in an A-picture environment. These are films that took no prisoners and Hwood, especially in those days, wasn't real keen on grim movies.

I found this evaluation of Lewis by David Thomson, my favorite film critic:

"There is no point in overpraising Lewis. The limitations of the B picture lean on all his films. But the plunder he came away with is astonishing and - here is the rub - more durable than the output of many better-known directors...Joseph Lewis never had the chance to discover whether he was an "artist," but - like Edgar Ulmer and Budd Boetticher - he has made better films than Fred Zinnemann, John Frankenheimer, or John Schlesinger." - David Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, 2002)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

JDM Redux from Fred Blosser


You made an interesting observation a couple of weeks ago, "I was shocked when I saw how quickly John D. MacDonald started to fade after his death. I've given his books to several thirty-somethings and to a person they find him 'slow.' " I've been thinking about that reaction. I was big into MacDonald when I was 19 or 20. His books could be easily found in any newsstand, corner drug store, or bus station, kept perpetually in print (or so it seemed at the time) by Fawcett. I never thought of him as slow; far from it. I generally ran through each book in no more than a couple of sittings.

I had hoped for more reaction to your comment than it received. Maybe in itself, that's a measure of how much MacDonald has slipped below the radar, even among crime fiction buffs. If newer readers find him slow going, could it be for these reasons?

--He didn't write in the pared-down, dialogue-driven style now employed by James Patterson, John Sandford, and John Grisham, whose names are as ubiquitous on bookshelves today as JDM's once was. At random, I recently picked up one of MacDonald's Gold Medals, DEADLY WELCOME. At 160 pages, it should be as much of a fast read as they come. Nevertheless, MacDonald devotes as much space to describing his sleepy, stagnant Florida backwater setting as he does to finding out whodunit. For a reader who comes to the novel from Patterson, there may be too much sensory description, not enough straight-ahead action.

--The familiar conventions of today's crime fiction -- serial killers, female sleuths, self-loathing police officers, wacky petty criminals or colorful Mafia goons, detectives defined by vocation (forensic examiners) or ethnicity (Navaho tribal cops) -- are largely absent from JDM's fiction. Could "slow" mean that these younger readers had difficulty adjusting to a novel that lacked those kinds of touchstones? Maybe. Along the same lines, fans of Carl Hiassen, Elmore Leonard, or Tim Dorsey are likely to be disappointed that DEADLY WELCOME, the Travis McGees, and JDM's other novels set in the Sunshine State lack the off-the-wall wackiness and demented characters of the modern Florida crime novels.

--And then there's the fact that society as a whole has changed so much since MacDonald's heyday. How much is the average, thirty-something reader likely to identify with the mindset that generally informs JDM's novels, in which a capable male protagonist drives the action, female characters are usually subsidiary, and crime is an aberration in a generally orderly, forward-looking society?

You compared JDM's relative slide into obscurity with Ross Macdonald's resurgence. Ross benefitted from the fact that, toward the end of his career, he picked up some acclaim and recognition from the academics. That may have helped Ross to keep going in recent years, if at a lower level of commercial success than in his high-water period between THE UNDERGROUND MAN and his death. To my mind, the current incarnation of the Archer novels, in the Vintage trade pb editions, is more likely to appeal to the cult, scholastic crowd than to the casual surfer of popular fiction.

Fred B.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Stark House; Brian Keene

Hello Mystery Fans:

I just want to announce that Stark House Press has just signed a contract with Harry Whittington's Estate and will be bringing back three rare short novels by Whittington in one edition next November 2008.

The novels are:

To Find Cora -- originally published as Cora is a Nympho by Novel Books in 1963 -- To Find Cora is Harry's original title, and much truer to the story.

Like Mink Like Murder -- originally published only in French in 1957 as Mink, then rewritten later by Harry as Passion Hangover for one of the sex lines and published under a pseudonym -- again, Like Mink Like Murder is Harry's title.

Body and Passion -- originally published by Original Novels in 1952 under the Whit Harrison pseudonym -- a strange story of switched identities that will keep you guessing until the end.

Three hard-to-find books in one volume, with a new introduction by Whittington specialist, David Laurence Wilson. Three compelling stories from one of the noir masters. Three novels of suspense and hardboiled action.

We hope you are as excited as we are.

Greg Shepard, publisher
Stark House Press
My police buddy Mark sent this along from Brian Keene's blog. Brian's Ten Best Books of The Year

6. THE COLLECTED ED GORMAN, VOLUME ONE by Ed Gorman: This is the first volume of PS Publishing's 'The Collected Ed Gorman' (which you have probably already determined by the title) and all I can say is, "It's about time!" I've been hoping for a complete collection of Ed Gorman's short fiction for years, but figured it would be a daunting task for any publisher, simply because the man is so prolific. Kudos to PS Publishing for undertaking the task, and boos to you if you haven't yet read him. This volume focuses on his crime, mystery, and suspense tales, and includes the fan favorite "Moonchasers", as well as an introduction by Lawrence Block. There is a deep, underlying nostalgia and sadness in many of these stories, and they moved me in a way most fiction doesn't anymore.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

steve badger - Anthony Mann

The older I get the more I feel close to the work of Anthony Mann. I suppose being a crazed paranoid loser helps but my appreciation for his skills both with character and style grow every time I see one of his films.

I don't know who Steve Badger is. I ran across this site yesterday and think it's worth checking out. Here are a couple samples of his assessments of Mann's work.

3) The Naked Spur, 1953. Jimmy Stewart made eight films with Anthony Mann. Five were westerns. Many film critics consider The Naked Spur to be the finest western ever made. Besides Stewart there are four other characters, played by Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh, Millard Mitchell (also in Winchester '73) and the always watchable Ralph Meeker (memorable in Jeopardy and as Mike Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly). Technically Ryan is the villain, but each male character is nuts in his way. Meeker in particular personifies heroic villainy, if that is possible. When watching the sunny, breathtaking scenery of The Naked Spur, I always think of the darkness of Mann’s film noir movies. Mann’s command of both interior darkness and panoramic light is an amazing accomplishment.

6) Raw Deal, 1948. Here we discover something Anthony Mann loves to film as much as shadows: co-star Marsha Hunt’s face. Aside from how beautiful it is, one reason may be because she is the only sympathetic character in this movie -- and she isn’t even the most likeable! (That honor goes to the #2 villain played by John Ireland.) The lead bad guy here is perhaps the heaviest heavy in the history of American film: Raymond Burr. Perry Mason fans unfamiliar with Burr’s film noir work are in for a jolt here when he throws burning alcohol on a party guest when she accidentally bumps him: "She should have been more careful." True to Anthony Mann movies though, that scene isn’t the creepiest. That distinction goes to John Ireland and the deer antlers... YOW!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Top Ten Most Irritating People On TV

Everywhere I look I'm seeing top ten lists. In no particular order here are the people whose presence on the tube deeply offends me.

Ty Penninngton-the "host" of Extreme Makeover. His breathy and contrived way of talking really really really irritates me.

Charles Gibson-a smug loudmouth who, except for the "news" people at Fox, is the most local TV of anybody on a network news show

The Kardashian Women who can't even get people to watch the youngun's sex video for free

Barbara Walters a hard unlovely imperious and profoundly silly woman

All the comedians Keith Olberman uses on his show--none of whom happen to be funny

Tom Brokaw--who died and left him historian? He was a lightweight when he was on the air and he ain't no different now. He fronts the books, folks, he don't write them.

Flava Flave--I only watched him once, that being the episode where the young woman went number two on his rug. She said she wanted to get his attention. Do I have to elaborate?

Don Rickles--I seem to be alone in finding him trite, dull and a jerk. Somebody should've flattened him a long time ago. Ninth grade humor.

Trey Parker--another icon who should be pumping gas. Hate South Park and the new show (to judge by the promos) looks even worse. Fart jokes in the promos?

Tim Russert--smoke but no fire. He loves the theatricality of asking pointed questions but twenty minutes after the show is over you realize you haven't learned anything. The political equivalent of a Vegas lounge act.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Can Do

In Sunday's LA Times Richard Rayner wrote a perceptive review of Otto Penzler's The Big Book of Pulps. He admires it, as how can you not?

In the course of the review he wrote a line that fascinates me, even though I'm not sure I understand it. Or understand it as he meant it anyway.

"Writers don't really write what they know; they write what they can."

According to my dictionary can means "to be capable of." Over a quarter century of knowing writers of various kinds I've heard a fair number--even a few of the best sellers--talk about the books they wish they'd written. Or could have written. In the case of genre writers this frequently means a literary novel or a genre-bending book that leaves a permanent mark on the field.

I've mentioned before that while I was poundiing them out for men's magazine back in the `60s and `70's, I entered a Scribners short story contest. They were looking for pieces that dealt with alcoholism. Since I'd recently given up drink and drug I didn't have any trouble dealing with the subject. Ultimately twelve stories were selected and they appeared in an anthology.

One of the Scribners editors called me and asked me if I'd thought of expanding the story into a novel. While I'd sold some stories to some very minor literary magazines, and while I'd always wanted to be Fitzgerald or Mailer, I'd never really thought of writing a literary novel before.

With his guidance, I began. I spent six months struggling with one hundred pages or so. At that point I realized that I don't have the talent for writing unplotted stories. I was bored. I gave it up.

I don't feel I've deprived the world of any great novel. I know better. But Rayner's "can" has stayed in my mind for forty-eight hours. "Can" not only in terms of skill but also in terms of acceptance in the marketplace. Are literary careers much different from acting careers? Do a lot of writers live out their years writing only what the market will buy or taking only what comes along? And are some writers trapped by success, writing virtually the same book over and over again because of the money involved, like a stereotyped actor the p[ublic will accept in only one role?

I don't have any answers to these questions. And my questions may be inane or misplaced. But Rayner's "can" really got to me.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Mr. Monk in Outer Space

I've been waiting for a novel that combines a mystery with elements of Galaxy Quest. And now I've found it.
In the sleek new adventure Mr. Monk in Outer Space Lee Goldberg takes our favorite neurotic deep into the lives of those involved with the cult TV show Beyond Earth (this after confronting another case that may be a murder that is not a murder--only Monk). The producer of the show has been murdered by a guy dressed up like one of the series characters.
You know you've landed in an alternate universe when you meet "Mr. Snork, security chief of the starship Discovery," one of the many fans also dressed up like peoples on the show. The ones who wear elephant trunks being my favorite.
The only thing goofier than the fans is when Monk looks at them and says "I don't associate with freaks like that." And then proceeds to do some riffing on the Sixties to "prove" that they're all "high on LSD." A great scene.
This is probably my favorite Monk book because it contains a gag that is in my top ten of Monk jokes (Monk being the favorite show of Mr. and Mrs. Gorman).
"You remember a cop named Monk?" Stottelmeyer asked.
"Wasn't he the guy who ticketed a hundred people outside a movie theater for not lining up according to height?"
And indeed he was.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

From Fred Blosser THE BURGLARS

Ed, for possible interest by the gang,

I wonder how many besides me remember THE BURGLARS, from 1971, based on David Goodis’ THE BURGLAR. I found it recently on a DVD from Alfa Digital, and on watching it again for the first time in 30+ years, I found myself liking it a lot more than I remember liking it when I saw it in the theater in 1972, when it had a brief U.S. release.

Then: I think I was disappointed in large part because I was expecting a violent noir-ish crime movie along the lines of other late ‘60s and early ‘70s films like POINT BLANK, GET CARTER, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, and DIRTY HARRY. I didn’t find much noir in THE BURGLARS, which was mounted as one of those shiny, big-name international productions that enjoyed a vogue at the time. (In this case, Jean-Paul Belmondo and director Henri Verneuil for the French market, Ennio Morricone’s jazzy soundtrack for the Italian theaters, Dyan Cannon and Omar Sharif for U.S. marquees, and a solid supporting cast of Euro-movie types like Robert Hossein and Jess -- not to be confused with Jessica -- Hahn.) I was also familiar with Verneuil's 1969 THE SICILIAN CLAN, which was almost as glitzy but nevertheless more noir-ish and more tightly knit.

Now: I would give Verneuil more noir credit than I did at the time. I haven’t read Goodis’ novel or seen the earlier movie version from the late ‘50s, but from other reviews, I infer that Goodis was just a point of departure for Verneuil, not a template for mood or style. Still, Omar Sharif’s sleazy police detective, who discovers that Belmondo and his gang has burglared a fortune in emeralds from a millionaire’s villa, and decides to grab the stolen goods for himself rather than arrest the culprits, is a dependable noir type. And Sharif, wearing a cool white fedora and white trench coat, turns in a pitch-perfect performance, just the right mix of charm and nastiness.

And three decades on, I seem to find the movie’s meandering style – constructed around the lengthy burglary that opens the movie, followed over the course of the story by four big action set pieces – more tolerable than I did then. Maybe because so many of today’s action flicks are even more meandering, to the point of frustration, as the viewer checks his watch at the two-hour point, and realizes that the film has at least another half hour to run – PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and LORD OF THE RINGS, anyone? At least Verneuil kept his running time under two hours.

Dyan Cannon, playing a magazine centerfold whom Belmondo picks up in a swank bar with a mellow Morricone lounge tune playing in the background, seems to randomly move in and out of the storyline – but pay attention, because as it turns out, her character serves a venerable noir function as well, including the classic bit (probably now verboten for fear of offending audiences) where the leading lady gets slapped around by the leading man. Verneuil compounds the sin by giving the scene a would-be comic edge. Cannon has an electronic "clapper" in her apartment (probably cutting edge high-tech in those days). Slap, the lights in the apartment go out. Slap, on again. Slap, off again.

Belmondo apparently did his own stunts in scenes where he eludes Sharif by jumping onto the sides of buses in moving traffic, sprints across the roofs of cars when the traffic stalls, and gets ejected over a hillside by a dump truck. I’m sure the stunts were set up with great care to minimize any risk of the star getting hurt, but still, it’s nice to see the old movie style where the stunts interact with real props, not with a phony CGI green screen, and the action hero’s movements are limited by the physical laws of the real world. I wish the Alfa Digital DVD were better than it is (it appears to have been struck from an aging print with less than optimal DVD technology), but it’s the only one on the market.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Hugh B. Cave

Imagine this:

Bitter winter. Midnight. You're driving as fast as you can to an urgent appointment. On your right you see a wide frozen lake gleaming in the moonlight. A bit further on you see an amusement park that is closed for the season, everything shiny with ice. But as you come upon it you hear an impossible clamor--the thunderous sound of the ferris wheel starting up. Then comes the sound of a woman screaming. You stop the car to watch in disbelief as the ferris wheel car holding the woman begins its climb up the tracks, tracks covered in ice that will certainly hurl the car to the ground when it reaches the top.

Now is that a hook or is that a hook? We're trapped in an ice-snow-rain storm out here so I spent my free time checking out websites I'd hadn't read for a long time. One of them ran a long piece on the career of Hugh B. Cave, a man who made his mark in horror and fantasy but who also did some exotic crime work for the detective pulps. The piece made me grab a collection of his called Bottled in Blonde about (get this) a private eye who is always half-drunk while working on a case. The above opens one of nine adventures that appeared in Dime Detective in the Thirties.

Cave's work as a crime writer compels because of the unsettling horrific aspects of the stories, a Weird Tales star picking up some of the small time money the tec boys are chasing.

Cave had a long run in the slicks as well as the pulps and in the Fifties Cave had three NY Times bestsellers. He wrote and sold fiction well into his nineties.