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.

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