Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Honest Dealer

Dick Lochte wrote a guest piece for the Rap Sheet the other night that I found mighty pleasing in my dotage. Here are some quotes from his choice for a Forgotten Book.

"OK, I’m not sure you have to read The Honest Dealer. If Frank Gruber were still alive, I doubt that even he would consider his 1947 book a necessity. But every now and then, after working my way through a couple of dozen contemporary crime novels, with their elaborate back stories and casts of thousands and plots that call attention to social and/or political ills, I like to treat myself to the kind of mystery that initially lured me to this genre--a yarn written for the sole purpose of providing sheer, unpretentious reading pleasure.

"The Honest Dealer does that in spades. The literary equivalent of a classic B-movie of the 1940s, it immediately draws you in, moves at a breathless pace, has the requisite moments of suspense and humor, and ends with a surprise villain, neatly thwarted. There are a lot of books from the ’30s and ’40s that meet those requirements, but, for my money, Dealer is one that does it best.


"I wonder what Gruber would think of some of today’s most popular series heroes--sociopaths, alcoholics, whiners, bitter loners, paranoiacs, and worse. Would he go with the market flow and come up with his version of the depressed detective? I’d like to think he’d pawn his typewriter and buy a horse."

Ed here: The horse reference is to a plot element.

I happened to read this book awhile back myself and I think Dick does a fine job of ennumerating its many fine if slight virtues, the biggest of which being that it's just a hell of a lot of fun to read.

As somebody who receives a moderate share of review copies I know what Dick means by the all-too-modern novel. I not only read them, I also write them. But there is so much hype attendant on the Serious ones--publicists and reviewers vying for the grandest superilative--that I often pick up a simple well-told story for a respite from all the Seriousness.

Thank God there are among the younger writers people who are serious about their writing but are a true unpretentious pleasure to read. To name a few Megan Abbott, Jason Starr, Duane Swierczynski, Tom Piccirilli, Allan Guthrie. They speak in their own voices, share their observations of our sometimes forlorn luckless species and yet never forget to amuse, bemuse, shock, outrage and comfort while demanding that we keep flipping those pages.

Damned good storytellers.

As was, in a certain primitive way, Frank Gruber.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Spike Lee--Clint Eastwood

Cinema Retro led me to an interesting take on the controversy that began when Spike Lee criticised Clint Eastwood for not giving proper credit to black soldiers in his two movies about WW ll.

Here from the City Paper of Nashville:

War disputesEBy Ron Wynn | Filed Under Books, Film, Television

As the son of a black World War II veteran, I’ve been following with interest the recent media exchanges between directors Spike Lee and Clint Eastwood over the lack of black faces in Eastwood’s two WW II movies.

First, since I greatly admire both people, it’s a shame to see them at each other’s throats, especially because much of this looks like manufactured controversy and exaggerated reaction.

Second, like many other things these days, there are inaccuracies in reporting that have only stoked the fire on both sides. It’s even led to quite different takes on the same controversy via the website The Root, with contributors Keith Josef Adkins and Jimi Izrael offering their own commentaries about Eastwood, Lee, and Hollywood in general.

Contrary to what’s been endlessly stated in multiple blogs, Spike Lee did NOT randomly attack Clint Eastwood or just suddenly launch a diatribe attacking Eastwood’s films, particularly Flags of Our Fathers, for omitting black characters. He responded to a specific question a reporter asked at the press conference for his forthcoming production Miracle at St. Anna.
The question was why didn’t Clint Eastwood have any black soldiers in his films? The response was “You have to ask Clint,” followed by some other statements. But that’s hardly the same thing as Lee making a spontaneous outburst, which is what several accounts claimed.

Now anyone who’s actually seen Flag of My Fathers remembers there were two instances featuring black soldiers. One was in an early cutaway shot, the second in a photograph used during the credits. While that’s far from having principal characters, those who are hollering about historical accuracy regarding Eastwood’s film might want to check their own recollections about Flag of My Fathers.

For the rest go here

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Road Dogs; Stephen Marlowe

Subterranean Press is offering a free novella by none other than Norman Partridge.

Road Dogs is a supernatural noir or a noir supernatural. It works well as both.

Partridge is well known for his striking imagery, the sinners who fascinate him (nobody in a Partridge story is ever quite innocent, even the good people) and storylines that are impossible to predict.

You'll find all these on display in this swift, tense and eerie story of a prodigal brother who returns home to find out if his sister's death was really an accident. Partridge sets his story in a desert that is both real and spiritutal. His true ear brings his people alive in just a few lines and his blue collar milieu is as honestly detailed as Stephen King's was in his early novels.

This is a fine addition to Patridge's growing body of unique and excellent work. Read it for yourself.


Obituary of Stephen Marlowe from Guardian UK (Thanks to rara Avis for the tip)

Stephen Marlowe

US sci-fi and crime writer and early star of Gold Medal books

Michael Carlson
Thursday May 29, 2008
The Guardian

Although best-known for his series of pacey novels featuring the private eye Chester Drum, Stephen Marlowe, who has died after a long illness aged 79, was a prolific author who produced more than 60 novels under a variety of names, including his own.

Marlowe was born Milton Lesser in Brooklyn, New York. He sold his first science-fiction novel, Somewhere I'll Find You, while studying philosophy at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. After military service in Korea, he was tipped off by science-fiction editor Damon Knight about an opening with the Scott Meredith literary agency.

Article continues
Meredith, who dreaded advertising an editorial job that would attract literary "wannabes", was rare among agents. Besides traditional representation, his other business was critiquing, for a fee, manuscripts submitted by aspiring authors. Many struggling writers took jobs as editors with Meredith and went on to prolific careers, including Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block. In fact, as the new chief editor, Marlowe's first hiring was one Salvatore Lombino, who would become first Evan Hunter and then Ed McBain.

For the rest go here,,2282498,00.htm

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Allan Guthrie's new novel Savage Night opens with a page that dares you not to keep reading. I lost the dare and I'm glad I did.

In prose almost ruthlessly simple Guthrie tells us the tale of two Edinburgh small-time crime families who visit enough violence on each other to please Dick Cheney and all people named Scooter.

Former convict Andy Park needs money to to help his invalid wife. His daughter Effie (violent ward material for sure) suggests that they blackmail a sleazebag named Tommy Savage who helped kill her boyfriend's father. Or something. They demand fifty k from Mr. Savage and tell him how they want the money delivered. It is at the money drop that the relentless violence begins with Park's family threatened. Park defends them with brutal cunning.

There is a great scene where the blackmailer walks into a daytime restaurant wearing a ski-mask to set up the deal. Few writers could make this work. Guthrie doesn't break a sweat. The oddness of the moment and the hint of violence stun you.

But you sort of expect violence, don't you, when the book opens with a man and woman trying to decide if the dead man is actually their uncle. They are having difficulty identifying the body because the head has been removed.

Guthrie's novel is modern in every respect. Despite scenes that could easily go over-the-top, the prose never mocks its people or situations. This is a serious world view being offered and if the people seem unlike your neigbors you just haven't been watching enough true crime tv shows. There really are folks like these and they really do these things to their fellow man. Guthrie gets them down just right. He never moralizes, he simply reports.

Too easy to call this cutting edge. It'smore than that. It's a new way of looking at the world and a brand new way of writing crime fiction. Guthrie's best book to date.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Henry Kuttner, Part Two

I found two other items about Henry Kuttner that are worth sharing. The first is an article that article appeared as an introduction to Kuttner’s Sword and Sorcery book, Elak from Atlantis from Planet Stories. It is by Joe Lansdale and it is the finest overview of Kutner's work I've ever read. And will likely ever read. Here are a few excerpts.

It also appears complete on the Subterranean Press

Joe Lansdale:

Henry Kuttner is something of an unsung hero of science fiction and fantasy, and to some extent, horror fiction, if for no other reason than he wrote a classic little booger tale called “The Graveyard Rats”.

He was a witty, fast writing kind of guy who could come up with a story at the drop of a hat, and maybe have it finished before the hat hit the floor. Perhaps had he lived longer, and not been knocked dead by a heart attack in his forties, he would be better known, and perhaps if his novels, written by himself and in collaboration, had elicited the same impact his short stories received, he might also have a greater reputation with the mainstream. Within the field of the fantastic, and the science fictional, he is better known, and among certain aficionados of his work, he is considered to be as important a writer as almost anyone who ever wrote in the field (s).


To make matters even more confusing, he wrote under a number of different pen names, and if that isn’t enough, when he married C.L. Moore, another wonderful writer, the two of them worked together on almost all stories thereafter. It might even be said that if Henry Kuttner is unknown, so is C.L. Moore, because in a way, they became the same person, a writer(s) who wrote stories and used a lot of names to hide behind. They had to. They were producing a lot of stories for a lot of different markets and needed different names and different voices. They were like spies, moving from one country to another with falsified passports.

They worked together on stories so closely, that if one got up to go to the bathroom, the other could sit down and take their place and pick up where they left off, seamlessly producing prose until replaced once again by the other.


The bottom line is this. Kuttner was one talented dude and his stories move through the stories of a lot of writers writing today (I am one), and they will move through writers of the future as well; as long as there is the written word and there are heralds to proclaim his excellence, his stories will have their impact.

Okay. I lied. I don’t trust that at all. That’s the way it should be. It’s not the way it is.


Readers and writers these days find it hard to invest time into reading anything older than a year or two, but let me tell you, (and I pause to wag my finger and say shame on you) Kuttner still reads well and his stories are unique, and many ideas that are just now being explored by writers of science fiction and fantasy…well, sorry, Kuttner has already been there and he most likely did it better.


This is from a piece by Ian Lohr at Isle Press. The Julius Schwartz who he's quoting here shows up inextricaly bound up the Kuttners were as married people and collaborators. Schwartz of course was one of the pioneering writer-editor-publishers of DC Comics .

Ian Lohr:

They were married in 1940. Their working relationship, characterized by bibliographer Virgil Utter as “a marriage of souls and talent”, is described by their friend and contemporary Julius Schwartz:

“On one occasion I was invited to spend the weekend with Henry Kuttner at the home he shared with his wife, Catherine L. Moore, at Hastings--on--Hudson in New York state. About midnight Catherine went up to bed while Henry and I talked a little while longer. When it was time for me to hit the sack on the spare cot downstairs in the area of the house where the two did their writing, Kuttner took up his place on the other side of the room and set out to get some writing done. I eventually nodded off to the music of Henry Kuttner at the typewriter. Kuttner quit work at about 4:00 A.M. and the sudden interruption of keystrokes and his footsteps on the stairs woke me up. I turned over and was just nodding off again when the typewriter music began again with a slightly different pace and keystroke. Catherine had taken her husband’s place and was taking up right where he left off. They were really good collaborators, and their work together was so seamless that not even they could tell where one had left off and the other had started. Kuttner was the better plotter, but Catherine was the better craftsman in terms of literary ability.”

Planet Stories

One of those strange coincidences yesterday (maybe Sci-Fi Channel will let me hunt ghosts for them). I was cleaning out one of my bookcases to keep it from collapsing when both volumes of Anthony Boucher's Collected Reviews (Ramble House) fell at my feet and begged to be picked up. So of course I started reading and in between writing sessions I'm still reading.

I was particularly interested in his takes on two mystery novels by Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner), The Brass Ring (1946) and The Day he Died (1947). Of Ring he says: "(Padgett--top man in science fiction) ) threatens in this first novel to take over the take over the mystery field with equal success." Of Died he says, "Power and terror to lift it far above the formularized conventions of the `suspense novel.'"

I haven't read these in some time but I recall them being quick dark reads that work very well, especially Died which skirts both horror and the supernatural. I also remember the tone reminding me of early Philip K. Dick which isn't surprising given Kuttner's influence on Dick.

I decided to Google Kuttner and see if anybody had reprinted these in the recent past. So far no luck. These books seem to be forgotten.

Here comes the convergence.

One of the sites I came across in my search was for Planet Story books. What a line of fine pulp novels in reasonably priced ($12.99) trade editions.

Planet Stories™ presents classic fantasy, science fiction, and science fantasy novels and short story collections to a generation of new readers and lifelong fans. Unforgettable tales from acknowledged masters like Michael Moorcock, Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, and Henry Kuttner stand side by side with lesser known but no less worthy yarns from tomorrow's superstars. Introductions from popular modern authors like Joe R. Lansdale, Ben Bova, and Michael Moorcock provide amusing and informative entry points to each book. With new releases every month, Planet Stories promises a master class in the genre aimed at building the greatest fantasy and science fiction library ever assembled.

For pulp fans this is like dying and going to heaven. I grew up reading Kuttner and I read him still. Friday for no particular reason I reread "Call Him Demon," one of the finest horror stories I've ever read. And again if you want to see the Kuttner-Dick connection read Demon and then Dick's "The Father Thing," similar takes on the same theme of children who see things adults can't. Both equally chilling and equally moving.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Texas Twosome

In honor of all the Forgotten Books recommendations on blogs these days, here are two I'd like to add:

BLOOD MARKS by Bill Crider is sleek, sly and shows the influence of Fredric Brown at his best. Set in the Houston of 1991 and partially narrated by the sanctimonious killer himself, the novel features a relentless homicide detective, a possibly sociopathic police department shrink named Romain and a cast of possible victims living at an apartment house. The mystery element works well against Crider's portraits of the residents of the place, believable ordinary people trying to make sense of a situation that unfolds like a slasher movie. The sinewy plot propels us into a startling ending that is made richer by the way Crider handles the stories of the people he's introduced us to. Get yourself a copy real soon.

TEXAS WIND isn't really forgotten, its cult status having kept a small audience praising its wonders for decades. And wonders they are. This book demonstrates how durable the private detective form is. While the set-up is familiar, a missing daughter job as Hammett once began a story of his, the op here, named Cody, gives us a Texas I'd never seen before and a private eye who might be the guy you have coffee with at the donut shop counter a couple days a week. The reality is what makes the dark surpises of the book stay real. A real person is telling you the story. Filled with exciting incident and humane observation, this is one of those books that should be read by everyone who wants to write a mystery novel. This will show you how.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Richard Matheson Companion

I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man, A Stir of Echoes, The Beardless Warriors, Hell House, Bid Time Return, What Dreams May Come, Journal of The Gun Years--to name just a few of the novels. Four Poe films for Roger Corman, The Twilight Zone scripts, The Night Stalker, Duel, Somewhere in Time. To name just a few of the movie and television projects. And a list of exemplary short stories that fills three pages.

The man's names is Richard Matheson, of course, and I would argue that he has had a greater influence on popular culture than any other storyteller of our time. Not simply by the startling number of classics he's written but also by the how many writers and directors have been inspired by his work. I would also argue that he has written more enduring classics than anybody else in our time.

The Richard Matheson Companion is the centerpiece of Gauntlet's Press' Matheson publishing program. Edited by Stanley Wiater and Matthew R. Bradley this beautifully made massive companion offers "The most complete documentation of Matheson's work ever compiled, with comprehensive and annotated lists of his books, stories, nonfiction, films, television episodes, published and unproduced scripts, adaptations, awards, and much more."

The volume includes detailed discussions of Matheson's work by Harlan Ellison, Ed Gorman, Dean Koontz, and David Morrell.
Appreciations by those who have been influenced or inspired by Matheson over the years, such as Dennis Etchison, Jack Ketchum, Joe R. Lansdale, Brian Lumley, producer Stephen Simon, F. Paul Wilson, and Gahan Wilson. And heartfelt tributes from Matheson's wife, Ruth, and their children Bettina, Richard Christian, Chris, and Alison, three of whom are also successful writers.

All this said the most stunning aspect of the Companion is the novella The Years Stood Still which Matheson wrote when he was fourten. Yes, fourteen. It has been republished here exactly as Matheson wrote it, infelicities and all. But infelicities don't matter. Years is better written, better plotted, better stage-managed than many novellas I've read by twenty-five year olds. No exaggeration. Many of his famous gifts--creating and sustaining supense especially--are here in early form. It allows you to understand why he was ready to shock the science fiction community with "Born of Man and Woman" when he was still a young man. He had already been honing his genius for many years.

There is no one quite like Richard Matheson, man and writer. And no book quite like The Richard Matheson Companion.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Murder Vine

The Fifties were packed tight with private eye writers trying to out tough Mickey Spillane. I Eat Your Kidney etc. By the early Sixties a general reaction had set in. Larger-than-life became life size. Some private eyes even began to have the same problems we all do--taxes, upset stomachs, women who don't find you all that attractive. So long Mike Hammer hello Dustin Hoffman.

Joe Dunne in The Murder Vine splits the difference. He has some of the cynical attiude of the Spillane era but none of the bombast. No evictions for him. He runs his business as a business and does well.

The book focuses on the murder of three Civil Rights workers in the South in the late Sixties. We all know the real story. It still enrages me, makes me sick.

One of the dead boys has a wealthy father who hires Dunne to go South and find his boy's killer. Very big dollars for Dunne for even trying to find him; enormous dollars if he succeeds. As cover (Dunne is an unreconstructed Yankee and sounds like it) he takes his fetching and magnolia-dripping secretary Kirby along as cover.

Rifkin is a fine man with a sentence. He understands that written language has some of the same rythms as spoken language. Some parts of this book really sing. And while many of the scenes are s.o.p. for a private eye novel each is enlivened with one of those little grace notes that make you feel you're reading something fresh.

The story is a brutal look at a brutal period of time when the CivIl War was being fought again by proxy. I admire Rifkin for never speechifying and for never turning Dunne into a saint on a mission. He's comfortable in his own seediness.

Rifkin is a good and too-long overlooked writer who made a difference in the paperback world of the Fifties and Sixties.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I know that the smart take on science fiction is that it's best read when you're thirteen and that after that ginning up the old sense of wonder is extremely difficult. But last night reading the graphic novel Ocean written by Warren Ellis and elegantly illustrated by Chris Sprouse I felt much as I did in my teens and twenties when I found a particularly inspiring sf novel.

Here's Booklist:

Sometime in the future, the UN sends weapons inspector Nathan Kane to a space station above Jupiter, where an exploratory team has made an alarming and ominous discovery: beneath the icy exterior of the planet's ocean moon, Europa, are coffins containing members of a sleeping alien race and guns capable of destroying an entire planet. As Kane and the station crew investigate, they are threatened by the sinister representative of a powerful software conglomerate seeking to exploit the discovery for its own purposes. Writer Ellis is at his best with character-based sf in which an iconoclastic protagonist is injected into an intriguing, futuristic premise, as in the cult favorite Transmetropolitan. Ocean lacks Transmet's verve and attitude, even though Kane is a resourceful badass like Transmet's Spider Jerusalem (classier, however; think Samuel L. Jackson for the movie), but is still a solid, provocative yarn that, emphasizing concept and character rather than action and heroics, and greatly aided by Chris Sprouse's lucid art, comes off rather like an ambitious, big-budget sf film. Gordon Flagg

Booklist would probably give it three stars. I'd give it four. On virtually every page Ellis introduces an sf concept that grabs and holds the imagination. Not the usual boilerpate stuff but ingenious scientific, cultural and politcal turns that reflect angrily on our own era. The illustrator Chris Sprouse won the Will Eisner award. Tough to beat that and his turn here shows you why.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Spree-Forgotten Books

I don't know if Spree by Max Allan Collins qualifies as a Forgotten Book but if it is it shouldn't be.

This is my favorite of Collins' Nolan series. Formerly a man associated with the mob, though reluctantly, now trying to go straight with a restaurant in the Quad Cities on the Mississippi River. Things are going along nicely until Cole Comfort and his dim son catch up with him. They hold him resposible for some of their serious bad luck.

To fully appreciate Cole you have reach back to William Falkner and Erskine Caldwell. Outwardly he's something of a haydseed, right down to his flannel shirts and bib overalls. But he's hard to peg, as one of his early victims learns. She wonders about a man who says "ain't" then a few sentences later uses the word "conduit." Go figure.

Cole Comfort is one of the great bad guys of hardboiled fiction. A man who has used his family to help him run every kind of scam, con and robbery you see on those WANTED posters in the post office. And not a sentimentalist. Oh, no. If he has to lose a loved one in the process of getting what he wants so be it.

Son Lyle is a twenty-three year old pretty boy who is in effect his father's robot. He doesn't want to kill anybody but just as the book opens he's about to off his sixth victim. He has flashes of remorse but they don't last longer than any of his other thoughts, around thirty seconds.

In broadstroke the story is a confrontation between Nolan and the Comforts. They are nasty sumbitches and make some of the mob men who tried to kill Nolan years earlier seem like nice guys.

What makes the book memorable is its successful balance of hard boiled suspense and wit. No easy task. Nolan is just detached enough to function as a mercenary when he goes after the Comforts for kidnapping his woman (Collins partially modeled him after Lee Van Cleef) but believable enough to really care about her. Collins' description of their relationship is winning and unique.

But the Comforts take the book. Loathsome as they are--Cole is a combination of Bubba and Richard Speck--you can't look away no matter how grotesque they become. Most of the Comfort scenes have me smiling all the way through. Several have me laughing out loud.

Spree is pure twisty pleasure and a major book in Collins' career.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Kevin Smith

I'd never paid much attention to director Kevin Smith. I liked Clerks (though it made me uncomfortable in places--too much like my own young years) but then lost track of him.

The Reelz Channel did an hour with him tonight and Carol and I were both impressed. He came off as a talented guy who has decided to turn his films into memoirs of various points in his life. Commenting on excerpts from each of his movies you got to see some of his work process--what he was trying to do, what he was able to do and what he failed to do.

Most of the directors on the series get defensive when confronted with their flops. Smith acknowledges them. He assesses them ruthlessly. He even said that "being overpraised" for Clerks gave him a false sense of security. No more security after the total failure of his second film.

The real surprise was Ben Affleck who has been in most of Smith's movies. I'd been under the impression that he was something of a dope. Not so. Much to say and said well.

Now I have six or seven Smith movies to rent.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


I worked most of the day on my soon-to-be overdue novel. During my breaks I tried to find updates on Ted Kennedy's situation. But between car racing, horse racing, drag racing, motocross racing, baseball, gardening shows, cooking shows, reality shows and various religious quacks picking the pockets of the gullible, it was impossible to find any news.

I got desperate enough to try Headline News. Upfront let me say that I've never thought much of Turner's operation. To me it's nothing more than the largest local news operation in the country. And not Class A local news such as you see in New York or LA. Given the writing, the news readers and amateurish lighting, it's like a local news operation in a town of a quarter million.

So be it, it could give me an update, right?

Well, not so's you'd notice.

On a day when you have Kennedy in the hospital, the generals in Myanmar ripping children out of the hands of the monks trying to feed them, a major poll showing that the majoiry of white people in Tennesse are quite open about never voting for a person of color and three videotapes showing up that prove thay Bush is lying about not playing golf after a certain date...what's the lead story?

I've never seen this guy before but he reminds me of the guy that the old National Lampoon had in every parody High Schoool Yearbook (took him many years to graduate)...Rocco Vaselino.

That's who this schmuck looks like. (I didn't catch his name.) A guy who'd kill your wheelchair-bound gradma for a couple of bucks. Even at the current exchange rate.

And what's he lead with...some minister getting busted for contacting a thirteen year old girl on line and wooing her to a rendezvous. The gilr turned out to be a cop of course.

So what are Rocco's first words at fade in--

It's sickening enough (or somesuch) when a (regular guy) molests young people but when a man of the cloth does it, it's doubly bad.

Who can dispute that? And yes it is sickening. Of course.

But A) Should it be the lead story? Maybve third or fouth but the LEAD? And B) Does he need to editorialize? Can't he just tell us that a minister in Plano, Texas was arrested today when etc etc We know it's sickening. EVERYBODY knows it's sickening.

What's going on here is that the whole CNN operation but especially Headline News has become Fox Lite. Since MSNBC has become centrist (or left of center if you if you happen to believe that General Petraeus DIDN'T betray us) the failing CNN had to do something fast. And since everything they came up with was laughable they went to the pit bull school of news yak.

Look CNN, the Fox news guys cannot be duplicated. Sean Hannity, for instance. You can shove a drinking straw into his ear and pull it out the other side. Now those kind of guys are hard to come by.

Or Shemp Smith. He comes off like a lap dog pining to be petted. I'll bet he was in high school even longer than Rocco Vaselino.

Or all the gun-totin' hard-ass news babes who have apparently been made up by a nineteenth century bordello madame. These gals would probably chop up granny for just a buck and some change.

Or Bill O'Reilly? Where short of a violent ward are you going to find your own Bill O'Reilly? Mussolini didn't have an ego as big as Billo's.

So please, CNN. Sure you were boring and third-rate but you were nice. Can't you go back to being nice again? Do we have an over-abduance of nice in the world? I don't think so.

But I know better. You'll just keep on getting nastier.

And one night I'll turn on Larry King and he'll be talking to Sally Fields and saying, "So, ho, how many threesomes have you pulled in your life?"

Friday, May 16, 2008

Matheson; Trotsky Forever; Future Publishing

Very cool to go to my local supermarket and see a three book-wide display of all those Richard Matheson $4.99. novels. I picked up Shrinking Man and Earthbound. For one fine moment I was a teenager again and buying pbs off a rotating wire rack.

I got three off-line letters saying that I'd apparently handed in my Trotsky Forever membership card because in commenting on Robert Bloch's The Kidnapper I seemed to be saying that people have no right to use violence against their persecutors. I didn't mean to suggest that at all. Even though I'm skeptical of many revolutions--too often the replacements are just as bad in a different direction--sometimes overthrow is absolutely necessary. Same in the days of the Molly Maguires and the Pinkertons being hired killers for the railroads and the other robber barons. Definitely had a right to shoot back, kill if necessary. The problem is that myths get in the way of reality. The myth of Jesse James as the hero of the oppressed was bloody false. Emphasis on bloody. Many of his victims were shot in the back and that includes (allegedly) a few women who had the misfortune of being on one of the trains he was robbing. No group has exclusive bragging rights on morality. That's all I meant.

Very interesting article on Galleycat today from Forbes website. What the writer is proposing is probably ten years off but it's sure intriguing to contemplate.

How Amazon Could Change Publishing
by Sramana Mitra

Technology has disrupted every industry. Now, it's book publishing's turn.

Archaic beyond belief, it's an industry that treats its most important asset--the author--badly. Can this go on?

The book market in the United States is worth about $32 billion a year; the rest of the world, an additional $36 billion. Who makes the money? Not the author.

Retailers take almost 50%. The agent takes 15% to 20%. The publisher gets squeezed--it's cause for huge celebration if they make 20%.

"On a book that costs $24.95, the author gets at most $1 to $1.50," says Eileen Gittins, chief executive of Blurb, an online print-on-demand publisher of photography books.

Join the discussion: Is book publishing outmoded? Do authors have better alternatives? Is there a white knight who can help? Tell us what you think in the Readers Comments section below.

The first major technology-enabled change in the industry came when digital print-on-demand presses started becoming affordable. Although printing on demand is 30% more expensive than off-set printing, it doesn't have the minimum run requirements of 500 to 700 copies.

Self-publisher iUniverse, which uses a print-on-demand back-end, gained legitimacy after Amy Fisher, the "Long Island Lolita," used it to publish her memoir, which hit the New York Times best-seller list. It's the best-selling book in iUniverse history, selling more than 34,000 copies.

However, for authors looking to gain serious readership, the big question still remains unanswered: How would they market and distribute their books?

for the rest go here

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Kidnapper

While The Kidnapper by Robert Bloch probably isn't a major piece of the great man's work it is among his most interesting, at least for me.

A few times a week Keith Olbermann runs stories about Dumb Criminals. Ignorant and/or Stupid people doing stupid things. The stories never involve anybody being killed.

In a certain way the narrator of The Postman Rings Twice has always struck me as deserving of a slot on the Olbermann show. Of course he went a little beyond being stupid. He killed somebody.

What Bloch has done is write a journal authored by one of these people, in this case an arrogant murderous drifter who constantly calls attention to his own supposed genius. He latches on to a nineteen-year-old maid who falls so blindly in love with him that she reulctantly agrees to help him kidnap her charge, the four-year-old daughter of a very decent wealthy couple.

The book worked on me in two serious ways. It made me examine my own class anger, number one. The slickie who tells this story believes that he has the right to hurt anyone who has more than he does. Two or three times he makes a passionate case for this. I remembered that in the sixties when an ROTC building was torched by demonstrators in Iowa City how sickened I was by the jubiliation the street. Rich or poor doesn't make any difference. Pigs is pigs. I grew up in a union family and generally agreed that American workers were exploited (if only we could have seen then just how exploited they would be a few decades later). But as always there were a few guys who had to push too far, never understanding that they were in the process of becoming very much like their enemy and the rent-a-cops who bullied them on the picket lines.

Number two is the realism of its setting, especially the first act which involves the narrator working in a factory and heading out for taverns after work. Bloch gets it down just right, a slice of Brit Kitchen Sink drama (Sunday Night and Sunday Morning told but told by a sociopathic murderer) before the Brits caught on to it.

The plot goes over the top a few times, yes, but somehow that only enhances the delusionary tone of the killer. He is a superior being therefore his entie life is over the top. No mere mortal can claim that.

I see so many crime stories on the tube that push me to wishing I ws in favor of capital punishment. Some asshole marches six employees into the back of a supermarket and kills them for less than a grand? Or a wife and her tattoo sleazy boyfriend murder her husband for twenty grand's worth of insurance? Or a suburban Chicago cops kills (allegedly of course) two maybe three wives and peddles his ass on every show that will have him, grinning ghoul every time out?

Somehow all these rotten bastards are in this memoir of a really terrifying guy. No serial killer antics. No booga-bogga. Just hard core pure one hundred per cent evil.

You know what, maybe this is major Bloch after all?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Reading Westlake

Reading Westlake

While I was writing my new novel Sleeping Dogs I went through my usual hell of tossing pages because none of them felt right. Maybe a hundred pages. My assistant Linda takes a lot of Xanax during these times.

One of the books I had on my night table was 361 by Donald Westlake. This is a novel I've probablly read a dozen times in my life. But I read (or reread) a Westlake book at least once a month so picking it up was fairly routine.

I suppose I was thirty or forty pages in when I figured out how to approach Sleeping Dogs. While I didn't borrow a character, a mood, a plot point or a theme, the book sent me to my computer long after my usual bedtime.

F. Scott Fitzgerald always reminded his daughter that to be a good writer she had to read the best writers she could find. Not to imitate them, he said, but to be inspired by their greatness.

I think this is what happened to me when I read 361. The plot is so compelling, the voice of the narrator so true and unique and the world he presents so sharply defined that some of energy and melancholy gave me the direction I needed. If it was one thing alone it was the voice I suppose. The narrator isn't a crime fiction type. He's a real, idiosyncratic person.

Last night I finished the Richard Stark novel Firebreak. Same feelings. Here we have Parker battling two enemies, a hit man sent to kill him and a heist that may defeat even Parker's cunning.

This is the third or fourth time I've read it and it gets richer every time. There is in its fury and spiritual dislocation (a good number of the people in it deserve to die ugly deaths) proof that in the proper hands craft can become art. Chandler talked about this, albeit a bit pompously. Here there is an undertow of despair new (I think) to the Parker books. Real ennui. The heist becomes more than a heist. It begins to represent a frantic salvation of sorts. And what Parker has to go through to achieve salvation would make Sisyphus give up.

Larry Lloyd is the greatest creation of the book. A computer nerd with a murderous temper (hence some time in the slammer) and a fantasy that would make George W. Bush proud. He's
definitely in the Stark-Westlake Wacko Hall of Fame.

Fitzgerald was right. Studying the masters is madatory for writers hoping to improve their own writing. And in every way possible Donald Westlake is a master.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Great article on Robert McGinnis

From CinemaRetro today:



Robert McGinnis: Painting the Last Rose of Summer

A new documentary on the life and work of one of the greatest contemporary artists - and a legend in the field of classic movie poster design.

By Paul Jilbert

As the 1980’s came to a close, I noticed something was missing in the glass movie poster display cases of my favorite movie houses: the illustrated movie poster. Suddenly, the explosive action scenes, handsome leading men and beautiful women were being reduced to drab, colorless photographic headshots. I found myself longing for the images of artists such as Bob Peak, Frank McCarthy, Howard Terpning and my favorite movie poster artist, Robert McGinnis. In the back of my mind I thought that some kind of program or video should be made about these artists. Several years later, I had just completed my first illustrator documentary on the work of James Bama ( In the 1960s Jimmy created those cool Doc Savage : Man Of Bronze paperback cover images).

It was through the encouragement of my friend, illustrator Barry Klugerman and my mentor, Jim Steranko (the brilliant writer-artist of the 1960’s Marvel comics Nick Fury: Agent Of Shield) that I decided to produce a documentary on Robert McGinnis. It was the perfect project for me.

I began collecting James Bond posters in the 1970’s, beginning with Diamonds Are Forever. I spent many summers teaching myself to draw comics and copying the style of McGinnis' famed female figures of the 1960s, who were noted for their bold sexuality. I must have re-drawn Bob’s Diamonds Are Forever poster over a dozen times. Years later, I contacted him and explained I had just completed the James Bama project - and asked if he would participate in a documentary dedicated to the McGinnis legacy. Bob wanted to see the Bama program. He called back to say he was very impressed and gave me the green light for a documentary about him.

for the rest of the article go here

(Several great movie posters included)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Fredrerick Nebel; Gravetapping

There are times when I'm down for one reason or another and just want to disappear into somebody else's world. Nothing serious, you understand. No Grand Statements. No prosey figure eights. I just want a distraction.

I'm working my way through all of Otto Penzler's amazing and indispensable The Big Book of Pulps and loving it. I read a very good Frederick Nebel story (actually a series of small ones) and decided to start looking for other Nebels. Found a damned good one last night in Ron Goulart's fine Hardboild Dicks which, if I'm not mistaken, was the first serious collecion of hardboiled pulps stories since Joseph Cap Shaw's anthology of stories he edited for Black mask. Ron's book came out in 1965.

"Winter Kills" has got just about everythig you could ask for in early hardboiled. Femmes good and bad, mobsters, rich bastards (emphasis on both), dumb cops, smart cops, a intriguing murder method and a tough guy reporter who isn't tough at all. This 15,000 word piece moves like a bullet, offers a surprise every six or seven pages and gives the reader of real sense of a winter storm in a big city back in the Thirties. Given the restrictions of the conventions it's realistic in its own way, especially in the scenes dealing with the police.

Nebel came along shortly after Hammett shook things up and you can certainly see the influence. The difference is that Nebel was a popular entertainer--fine by me--where Hammett was an artiist.

But what an entertainer. His stories are available in a number of anthologies. Give him a try.


Mid-listers have a hard enough time getting novels reviewed let alone short stories. I write stories and send them out and rarely hear about them from anybody but the editors who may (hopefully) buy them.

That's why I was flattered when Ben Boulden of Gravetapping took an older story of mine and really took a close look at it. Thank you, Ben.

"Mom and Dad at Home" by Ed Gorman

Sam Culver is an eleven year old boy who adores his father. He loves his mom, but his dad is everything he wants to be--cool, handsome, gracious, well-liked, and funny. Sam's father is on the road a couple weeks each month, which bothers both Sam and his mom, but when he comes home he always has gifts; and his absence makes his presence all the more wondrous.

But Sam can see the strain on his mother. She's looking old in young Sam's eyes and it's not odd to find her alone in the dark crying. She's always kind and warm, but she has an underlying current of fear and sorrow. To tell more would spoil the story, but rest assured it only gets better from here.

"Mom and Dad at Home" is an atmospheric, subtle and moody story of dark suspense. There are no stomach dropping moments of terror, or gruesome, nauseating scenes of violence, but instead Ed Gorman develops the story through the viewpoint of an innocent and trusting young boy. It is a coming of age story that has elements of early-Stephen King, but is told in a style that is all Gorman. The prose is lean, the dialogue slight and to the point, the voice lower-middle class, and the plot develops slowly and ominously toward a crushing revelation.

"Mom and Dad at Home" fits nicely into the horror genre, but it's a little more--it says something dark about society, the unsteady relationship between the sexes, and the trust a boy has for his father. And, perhaps more importantly, it creates an image of a slow and devastating journey of love, deception and fear as the story spreads itself across the broad spaces of the working-class. It's also terrifically entertaining from the first paragraph to the last, and a story you'll want to read more than once.

"Mom and Dad at Home" was published in Richard Chizmar's Shivers IV in 2006.

Trying to dress up a pig

That's one Hwood wag's comment on the dubious claim that Speed Racer made even $20 mil this weekend. Here's Nikki Finke:

"WHAT A DISASTER! 'Speed Racer' $20M Weekend Half What Warner Bros Hoped; Rival Studios Accuse WB Of Inflating #s
SUNDAY AM: Showing just how fiercely competitive the summer box office is right now, rival Hollywood movie studios are complaining to me they don't believe Warner Bros' domestic gross numbers released today claiming its disastrous Speed Racer came in 2nd behind Marvel's Iron Man in the weekend's Top 10 contest. All the other majors -- Fox, Sony, Paramount, Universal, Disney, and MGM -- have the anime actioner opening only 3rd. And they dispute WB's reporting that Speed Racer made $20.2 million for Fri-Sat-Sun because its projected Sunday number isn't seen as possible.


"But all the other studios have Fox's romantic comedy What Happens In Vegas in 2nd place with $20 million, and Speed Racer only 3rd with $19.7 million.


"Besides a too-long running time and a too-small audience of younger boys, the Wachowski siblings spent at least $160M making the pic, whereas Fox's What Happens in Vegas cost only $35 million. Hollywood is convinced Warner Bros has a major writedown on its hands."

Ed here: The talents of writer-directors Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski have always eluded me. Mostly eye and ear noise but little else. Boom and more boom. I realize I'm in the minority and I don't say this to dance on their weekend grave. A lot of people in and around the film will be hurt.

I say this after watching an Ovation documentary on Steven Speilberg. The first part focused on how Jaws ushered in the blockbuster, the weekend as Event. Things have never been the same since.

As I've said before, I think small. I've never had any great aspirations for fame or fortune and I've never been much interested in popular art that flaunts its pedigree or its cost.

So given my green eye-shade mentality, when I see a $160 mil price tag I'm stunned. I know you got to spend money to make money but with wordo f mouth pretty bad (so far) on the upcoming Indy Jones picture I wonder how much'll be lost this summer. Not to mention the film that resulted from putting Edward Norton (one of my all-time favorite actors) in charge of a blockbuster (though word is he's now "allowed" the studio to lend a hand in the final edit).

I'll still take The Departed, Juno and The Orphanage any day to a blockbuster.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


phantasmagoria \fan-taz-muh-GOR-ee-uh\, noun:
1. A shifting series or succession of things seen or imagined, as in a dream.
2. Any constantly changing scene.

Directors of Forties crime movies were big on drugging their lead actors and then sending them into some kind of swirling mental hell. We knew it was swirling because the special effects usually resembled vortexes.

Greg F. Gifune's Dominion creates a frightening and believable phantasmagoria because of the realistic portrait of Daniel Cicero, the protagonist. When Cicero's wife is killed by a hit-and-run driver he begins a long decline that ultimately finds him wandering the streets of Boston. Gifune charts all this in a voice and style thatforeshadows Cicero's greater fall into a netherworld he's led into by stranger caller tells him that his wife Lindsay is still alive. Dead but alive.

Part mystery, part thriller, Dominion takes us into a grim haunted world that combines science fiction with fantasy and horror. The entire book is a kind of noirish quest as Cicero struggles to learn what is real and what is false. He manages to do this with none of the expected cliches and in a voice distinctly his own. Gifune is well worth getting to know.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Warren Murphy

Got the new Crimespree today and went immediately to the interview with Warren Murphy. In the early days of Mystery Scene Warren was a frequent contributor. He was always a hoot to work with. Great guy.

In the interview his talk of the Destroyer series brought back a lot of early seventies memories. There was a small newstand-bookstore down by the tracks into which drunks, junkies and hippies reeled while staggering their way home. Some of them were pretty funny literary critics. Long talks about science fiction and action series and conspiracy books.

One of the hot topics was always Sapir-Murphy and how cool the Destroyer series was. The two reading favorites were The National Lampoon (headed downhill by then but still a lot of fun) and the Remo Williams books.

Warren talks about his health in the Crimespree piece. I hadn't been aware of how many problems he's facing.

Here's to you, wild man, your Remo books gave us a lot of pleasure. Not to mention the Trace novels that won all those Edgars.

Get better, man, and that's an order.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Traveling writers

I bought a new Honda Civic seven years ago. Right now I have 25,704 miles on it. I don't travel a lot. My health restricts me but even if it didn't I probably wouldn't be going many places. I love my life at home and after my dark years I found that I wasn't very social after all. Sitting around talking with three or four people is my idea of a good evening. Beyond three or four I tend to lay back.

Mystery Cat Bookstore in Cedar Rapids is nice enough to have me do a signing whenever I have a new book appearing. I order extra galleys and send them out to blogs I hope will review them. I get about a fifty per cent response. And that's about it. Even in the days when I was editing Mystery Scene I never went to conventions or seminars. Amazing how well the mystery world has done without me, eh?

So last night I'm reading Sandra Parshall on Poe's Deadly Daughter's and I come across the follwing paragraph about writers attending mystery conferences:

"In virtually every case, writers have to pay their own way. A lot of mystery writers out there, especially first-time authors, are spending their entire advances and much more on travel and conference fees. It seems to make sense – after all, if you don’t get a rave review in the New York Times and your publisher won’t buy big splashy ads for your book, you have to get the word out somehow, don’t you?" (Then she goes on to suggest that it doesn't make sense, that, per an agent's advice, you should pick one or two conferences a year to attend and forget the others.)

Ed here: Wow "Spending their entire advances and more." Maybe I'd be better known if I'd gotten around some in my Mystery Scene days--I'm not questioning the value of that kind of publicity--but spending your advances and more? Is this sort of thing widespread?

And doesn't this tax your writing time?

Once again, I'm responding as someone in his sixties who grew up in Iowa and didn't meet a real writer until he was eighteen. And that writer was a sad alcoholic who wrote for a few pathetic downscale men's magazines (that I would gladly write for a year later. Henry Gregor Felsen of Des Moines (a REAL writer) was supposed to come to Cedar Rapids on the day of my fifteenth birthday but something happened and he couldn't make it. I'm considering forgiving him.)

Most of you may be familiar with the syndrome Parshall describes. But to me it's surprising.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

John Farris #3

And these three magnificent books are buttressed with a bibliography that is extraordinary in breadth and accomplishment.

All I can do here is a cite a few of my own favorites. The Captors (a unique take on the kidnapping trope); and Shatter (the aftermath of a murder with so many twists you read the book in awe); Dragonfly (a bemused take on the redemption of a con artist and the genuine evil of a politician); Soon She Will be Gone (a dark perverse take on a brother going after the man who kidnapped her, a prominent architect whose pastime is killing women).

And that still leaves many other Farris novels eminently worth reading.

Farris is not merely clever, his ingenuity is put to use revealing the human condition. Farris is not merely stylish, his graceful pose always serves the story. And Farris is not merely a commercial writer, his career no doubt suffering from his adventurousness and his refusal to follow trends. His books are always personal and deeply felt.

If you’ve never read Sharp Practice before be prepared to be stunned. And I’m not exaggerating. And if you’re returning to it after a number of years, you’ll find that it’s even more artful, more compelling than you remembered.

Thank you, John, for all the wonderful writing you’ve given us for five decades now.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

John Farris #2

The Writer

According to Wikipedia: “John Lee Farris (1936-) was born 1936 in Jefferson City, Missouri, to parents John Linder Farris (1909-1982) and Eleanor Carter Farris (1905-1984). Raised in Tennessee, he graduated from Central High School in Memphis and attended Southwestern University there. His first wife, Kathleen, was the mother of Julie Marie, John, and Jeff Farris; his second wife, Mary Ann Pasante, was the mother of Peter John ("P.J.") Farris. Apart from his vast body of fiction, his work on motion picture screenplays includes adaptations of his own books (ie., The Fury), original scripts, and adaptations of the works of others (such as Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man). He wrote and directed the film Dear Dead Delilah in 1973. He has had several plays produced off-Broadway, and also paints and writes poetry. At various times he has made his home in New York, Southern California and Puerto Rico; he currently resides near Atlanta, Georgia.”

Following the success of Harrison High, Farris embarked on a literary career that has given us three indisputable masterpieces including The Fury, All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes and Son of The Endless Night.

The Fury dramatically demonstrated how modern society would pervert paranormal abilities and turn them into just another murderous political toy. It became a very good Brian DePalma film for which Farris wrote the screenplay. It also created a cottage industry for imitators. There was a ten year period following its publication when you saw a Fury-like book virtually every month. I know. I wrote one of them myself. None came close to matching the original.

For me All Heads Turn When The Hunt Goes is one of the finest horror novels ever written by anybody anytime anywhere. The beauty of the writing, the historical backdrop of the South after WW11 and most of all the unequaled use of voodoo and the lamia as its themes create a book that is not only terrifying but also very much a human tragedy.

Son of The Endless Night is in many ways better than The Exorcist as a novel about the demonic. As much as I admire Blatty’s novel, Son is not only far better written, it is also serviced by an ingenious plot, combining the devil and a murder

Monday, May 05, 2008

John Farris #1

I've been asked to write the introduction to a new hardcover edition of John Farris' exemplary chiller Sharp Practice. Here's what I've got in my first draft so far:

Let’s see. Sharp Practice by John Farris is a slasher novel. And it’s also a police procedural of a very British kind (though written by an American). A love story (the long-suffering wife of a cheating husband; the brother and sister who just can’t keep their hands off each other; numerous people lonely and neurotic in very modern ways). A gentle spoof of the hierarchy of academia. A look at the frustrations of a writer trying come up with another novel as good as the first one. And of course a look at one of the most savage murderers in modern suspense fiction, though Farris is wise enough not to give us an autopsy. He’s Hithcockian in his belief that less is more. Praise the Lord.

And that’s just a partial list of the novel's elements.

It is also one of the most sophisticated, elegantly told and perverse novels of terror ever written. The surprises are so stunning that two or three times I had to put the book aside and take a little rest. There are three twists in this novel that are so cunningly wrought they will shock even the most jaded reader.

That’s all I’m going to say about Sharp Practice. Read it and you’ll see that I’ve understated my enthusiasm for its suave brilliance.

So instead of a book report I’d like to turn to Mr. Farris himself.

Here's a quote from Steve Lewis that introduces Farris very well:

  "It has just occurred to me that John Farris has one of the longest careers of any mystery writer still active. His first novel, The Corpse Next Door, was published by Graphic Books, a small but solid line of mostly paperback originals, in 1956. Farris was born in 1936, so if the book wasn’t published until he was 20, the odds are the most of it was written when he was still nineteen.

   "He switched to the pen name of Steve Brackeen for his next few books, typical Gold Medal thrillers, except that Gold Medal didn’t do them. One of them, Baby Moll (Crest, 1958), will be reprinted by Hard Case Crime later this year under his own name, a mere 50 years later.

  " Farris eventually became the author of the “Harrison High” books, which sold in the millions, and he became an even bigger seller once he started writing horror fiction that was invariably tinged with the supernatural. Books like The Fury (1976) and All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes (1977) are as close to classics in the field as you’re going to get, and yet … even though Farris has averaged close to a book a year since those two books, unlike Stephen King, Dean R. Koontz and mystery-wise, Ed McBain, who came along about the same time he did, it is as if no one’s ever heard of him. Nobody knows his name."

If you were a reader in the early 1960s it was impossible not to know the name of John Farris. Harrison High, the novel Lewis refers to, was popular for two reasons. First because it was a fine true novel about high school life. The aspects that were judged scandalous by some critics were in fact the truest parts of the book.

What set it apart from all the other high school novels was that it was very much like the literary novels of the time, especially those of the unjustly forgotten Calder Willingham. Harrison High remains rich in dealing with its era (the late 1950s), its people (generally middle-class whites) and its social problems (back alley abortions were still common). But with all that it's the characters I've kept with me. And having gone back to the novel several times over the years I'm aware of how carefully and honestly Farris drew them.

The second reason for the book's popularity was that it was written by an ambitious young man who wasn't long out of high school himself. The Dell paperback edtion (much like Peyton Place just before it) seemed to be everywhere. Farris' photo on the back cover depicted a thoughtful man who might have played football at one time or another.

(more tomorow)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Rex Stout; The Poker Club

A few months ago I got on a Nero Wolfe kick. I'd heard a few of the old radio shows and I thought I'd read some of the books again. Good luck. I checked all three libraries and found very few of them. Same with Half Price and other used stores in the area. Very few tiitles.

Elizabeth Foxwell noted recently that many of the classic mysteries my generation grew up reading are not to be found anywhere but the net.

The dearth of Stout titles surprises me. The Wolfes have pleasured three or four generations. They are witty, clever, romantic and a sure cure for a modest case of the blues.

I'm assuming that publishers think (or know) Stout won't sell today. Are they too cute, too quaint for hardboiled readers and too cynical for the reader who prefers the old type of cozy ( the new type of cozy having little to do with the old type of cozy)?

As usual this may just be my age speaking. (You mean there are actually people in the world who don't like ALL the Top Ten radio hits of 1953? I want their names so I can turn them over to Homeland Security.)

I'm halfway through Some Buried Caesar by Stout. Any book containing a scene in which the quarter-ton Nero Wolfe has to be wrenched from a car that ran off he road and angled into a ditch is my kind of book.


Once a week a get an e mail from a reader who wants to know when the film version of my novel the Poker Club will be released. In this week's People magazine Poker star (and co-writer) Johnathan Scacheech is briefly interviewed. The copy says that the film will be released sometime this year.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Charlotte Armstrong

On her always informative blog The Bunburyist tonight Elizabeth Foxwell celebrates the birthday of Charlotte Armstrong, who died far too young and at the peak of her popularity.

While I can't say that I cared for all of Armstrong's work, novels such as Mischief (which became an solid movie ("Don't Bother To Knock") with Richard Widmark and a very young Marilyn Monroe) and numerous short stories makes me regard her an an extremely accomplished writer.

Jan Burke described Armstrong's fiction as "suburban noir." I think that's what her best work is exactly. Elizabeth says,
"And such novels as The Chocolate Cobweb (1948), The Balloon Man (1968), and The Unsuspected (1946; an entry on the Haycraft-Queen Cornerstone list)."

For me--and I want to emphasize the short stories as much as the novels--there's a real sense of menace, even doom in her material. In her later work she dealt with troubled young people in much the same way that Ross Macdonald did. She exposed the secrets of necktie husbands and wounded wives.

She also had a great sense of strange houses and the people who lived in them. When she wasn't examining suburbia she was looking at lace curtain lives--people who seemed respectable but who were without means. In this she reminded me of some of Dolores Hitchens' stand-alones such as Stairway To An Empty Room. Desperate women without funds or connections.

I may be wrong about this but I think both Armstrong and Hitchens owe a good deal to Elizabeth Sanxay Holding. I don't think either ever achieved Holding's artistry. And certainly neither of them at their darkest came close to Holding's claustrophobic darkness.

But the best of Armstrong needs to be brought back. She was a wily storyteller and a compassionate voice for outsiders of all kinds.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Edgar Winners



ImageMystery Writers of America is proud to announce its Winners for the 2008 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television and film published or produced in 2007.


Down River by John Hart (St. Martin's Minotaur)


In the Woods by Tana French (Penguin Group – Viking)


Queenpin by Megan Abbott (Simon & Schuster)


Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy
by Vincent Bugliosi (W.W. Norton and Company


Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters
by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower and Charles Foley (The Penguin Press)


"The Golden Gopher ' – Los Angeles Noir by Susan Straight (Akashic Books


The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh (Hyperion Books for Young Readers)


Rat Life by Tedd Arnold (Penguin – Dial Books for Young Readers)


Panic by Joseph Goodrich (International Mystery Writers' Festival)


"Pilot" – Burn Notice, Teleplay by Matt Nix (USA Network/Fox Television Studios)


Michael Clayton, Screenplay by Tony Gilroy (Warner Bros. Pictures)

# # # #


Bob Levinson; Mystery Scene #104

From our friend Bob Levinson:

I'm delighted to advise (a bit belatedly) that IN THE KEY OF DEATH made the Los Angeles Times Bestseller List on Sunday, April 27...

In the Key of Death by Robert S. Levinson (Five Star: $25.95) A private eye whose superstar singer wife was gunned down has a score to settle.


Mystery Scene #104 arrived yesterday and as always it's loaded with goodies.The lead interview goes to Nevada Barr followed by a wise and moving tribute to Ed Hoch. Reviews, columns covering everything from books to CDs to DVDs. I didn't know much about Irish writer John Banville but thanks to an especially good article on him by Martin Edwards I'll be picking up a few of his books. A long article on the small press, with me doing short profiles of Stark House and Ramble House. And Kevin Burton Smith cleverly asks Who Would Marlowe Vote For? Really nifty idea well executedThere's even an interview with somebody named Ed Gorman.

My favorite piece is Jon Breen's piece on detectives who've moved from books to the screen (large and small). Witty, loaded with lore and as good an overview on the subject as any I've ever read. This is a keeper.

Kate and Brian continue to provide superior entertainment and enlightment for mystery fans of all kinds.