Monday, June 30, 2008

Media Notes

"A terribly sad announcement from Aspen has gone out announcing the death of artist Michael Turner, who had been battling bone cancer for the last 8 years. Turner was best known as the artist of WITCHBLADE, but in recent years had been a much sought after cover artist. In 2002 he founded his own publishing company, Aspen Comics." (PW)

EG: A very gifted man and a real loss.


"Susie Bright, who first heard Carlin when she was in 7th grade, recalls playing his Class Clown album for her mother, "a woman whose first twenty years were entirely dominated by the Irish Catholic Church -- and it was a comic exorcism for her. She peed in her pants! She was cured in one LP [long-playing vinyl record]!"" (Paul Krassner in Huffington Post about his friend George Carlin)


"There’s some idea out there in the world that Will Smith "owns" the July 4 holiday weekend in terms of box office. I guess this is because of "Independence Day," one of my favorite movies, and "Men in Black," also quite good, released, respectively, in 1996 and 1997 on that weekend.

"Alas, all good hype must come to an end. "Hancock," with which Sony is hoping to have a merry July 4, 2008, may not duplicate Smith’s previous successes. It is one of the worst family holiday weekend releases of recent memory — and jaw-droppingly so. And that’s hard to do, since it clocks in at a mere wisp of one hour and 20 minutes." (Roger Freidman)


Ed here: A few years ago I posted several comments about The Real Housewives of Orange County. They were like studying an alien species, fun for awhile but tedious when you realized they had no recognizable human qualities, or at least none you wanted to get cose to for very long.

Well, if you've been starved for them Bravo's airing a mini-marathon tonight. In noting this The NY Observer said: ""(They) taught us everything we'd ever wanted to know about plastic surgery, Southern California Republicans and bad parenting." I'd add greed, dishonesty, venality and stupidity. But hey, that's just me.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Northwest of Earth

When C.L. Moore's first story "Shambleau" appeared in 1933 writers and readers alike knew that an important new talent had just staked her claim. Among her admirers was H.P. Lovecraft who praised the horrorific aspects of her strange and lurid tale of outer space.

For me "Shambleau" remains one of the finest horror stories I've ever read even though it comes wrapped inside a pulp science fiction story.

It opens with our hero Northwest Smith, a hardboiled spacer presently trapped on seedy Venus, rescuing a beautiful woman from the clutches of a mob that means her harm.

If Smith had known what he was rescuing he might well have been part of the mob. For what follows is exotic, erotic and toxic.

There are thirteen Northwest Smith stories in Northwest of Earth each depicting the vile, treacherous worlds that the protagonist finds himself on. The silliness of so much space opera is balanced here by a grimness that owse a good deal to the Black Mask school of writing. Moore created worlds that were truly alien but she never forgot that the man she was dealing with was Terran. Smith is a real person, subject to melancholy, fear, malice, lust, vengeance. No Star Wars nobillity here.

I read a story a night and when I finished I wished she'd written more.

She went on to marry Henry Kuttner and before his untimely death they may have collaborated on as many as one hundred stories, principally science fiction and fantasy but also mystery. She wrote everything from action pulp to the most subtle of fantasies. And her best work was rendered in prose far superior to what was being published at the time.

This book is part of the Paizo's Planet Stories series of pulp reprints, handsome books at reasonable prices.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Lovecraft Retrospective

Millipede Press is pleased to announce A Lovecraft Retrospective: Artists Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. This huge tome is four hundred pages long and features the work of over forty artists, including J.K. Potter, H.R. Giger, Raymond Bayless, Ian Miller, Virgil Finlay, Lee Brown Coye, Rowena Morrill, Bob Eggleton, Allen Koszowski, Mike Mignola, Michael Whelan, John Coulthart, Harry O. Morris, John Jude Palencar, and dozens of others, as well as twenty thousand words of original essays.

This is an art book unlike anything ever published. Many works have never before seen publication, many are printed as special multi-page fold-outs, and several have detail views. A thumbnail gallery allows you an overview of the entire contents of the book and provides notations on each artist, work title, publication information, size, and location.

Because of its sheer size and scope, A Lovecraft Retrospective will never be reprinted and will sell out very quickly. Twenty years down the road, people will be paying huge prices for this book because of its range and the quality of reproductions. This is the H.P. Lovecraft fan's dream come true.

Price: $395.00
Price: $276.50
You Save: $118.50 (30%)
In Stock.
Ships from and sold by Gift-wrap available.

Ed here: I'm not a collector of art books. Not even an afficianado. But in the week I've had this book for review I've kept going back and back to it. The sweep of styles and subject matter by so many different masters is the equivalent of spending time in a fine gallery.

The interpretations of Lovecraft demonstrate the breadth of his influence on our culture. The introduction by Harlan Ellison is extradordinary even by his standards, a stunning examination of Lovecraft's work and importance.

At this price it's obvious you're not going to rush out and buy it. But for the serious Lovecraft reader and fan this is an essential part of any library.

The notion that buying it as an invesment is not just a sales ploy. This collection will be doublling and tripling in price within a few years.

There sure isn't anything else like it.

Check out Millipede Press website or to see a gallery of the paintings and illustrations.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The minority report - Nero Wolfe

I've been recommending the Nero Wolfe novels to my buddy Rod Lott who run smy favorite book review site Bookgasm. I'm not the only one. LOTS of people have been recommending the Wolfes to him.

Well, Rod finally got around to reading the first two and he did not, to say the least, enjoy them. I love them but I have to admit he had me laughing out loud in places. Here are a few of his takes on those sacred books.

Fer-De-Lance / The League of Frightened Men
Author: Rod Lott

I’ve long been intrigued by Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, especially with comparisons that place the detective character alongside Sherlock Holmes or Perry Mason. With Bantam now reissuing the mysteries in affordable two-in-one trade paperbacks, starting with FER-DE-LANCE / THE LEAGUE OF FRIGHTENED MEN, I was able to see what the fuss was all about.

I’m no longer intrigued. Now I’m just perplexed. There may be dozens upon dozens of Wolfe novels out there, but I honestly can’t see how he became so popular. Let’s face it: The guy’s an absolute asshole. There, I said it.

Call me crazy, but aren’t protagonists supposed to be likable? Or at least get to that point before the last page? In his introduction to FER-DE-LANCE, Loren D. Estleman makes a big to-do about Wolfe never changing over the course of some 46 books; in that case, I look forward to never reading the other 44. Wolfe is a morbidly obese man who rarely moves from his chair, talks down to everyone else when he isn’t merely insulting them, and has his younger associate Archie Goodwin do most of his dirty work. (Don’t get me started on Goodwin, either; he has arrogance to burn as well.) In short-story form, that’s tolerable; in novels, not for me, thanks.

Stout certainly couldn’t have known that seven decades later, America would be a fast-food nation that would make Wolfe’s weight commonplace. But remove even that from the equation, and you still have the problem of thoroughly unpleasant personalities. In real life, I wouldn’t want to spend two minutes in the same room with someone whose mood is so pompous and foul, so spending several hundred pages was a true struggle.


I’m fully aware all of the above will strike some as sacrilege. For them, you’ll be pleased to know this special edition includes Stout’s character sketches and drawing of Wolfe’s pad in between the two novels. Eat it up! —Rod Lott

Thursday, June 26, 2008


MYSTERY SCENE The usual blockbuster issue featuring a lengthy piece on Lawence Block; a fine article on how Joseph Wambaugh has inspired young people to join the police--and some of them to write fiction as well; an excellent Jon Breen on the late private eye writer Thomas B. Dewey. A serious look at fun court dramas; a really unique piece on the crime stories that are told in the songs of such performers as Johnny Cash and The Beatles among many others; a new star in the Southern cozy; and the most comprehensive book review section available anywhere. This issue is loaded with oustanding photographs and graphic designs.

CINEMA RETRO looks at the history of the famous noir movie Get Carter, with a massive overview of how the film came to be made and to be made with Michael Caine. Caine is interviewed for the article and the piece is packed with stills from the film. Joe Dante talks at length about his career and how Hollywood really works and what he's doing these days. And if you think Doris Day is dull you'll learn otherwise in A Day To Remember. A fascinating sad life story. Lots of with color photos plus the original Scream Queen Barbara Steele, The first Pink Panther movie and much ,much more.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Small Crimes Dave Zeltserman

From the publisher:

Crooked cop Joe Denton gets out of prison early after disfiguring the local district attorney, which doesn't help his popularity. Nobody wants Joe to hang around-not his ex-wife, his parents, or his former colleagues. Meanwhile, local mafia don Manny Vassey is dying of cancer and keen to cut a deal with God. He's thinking of singing to the DA if this will set him up for a better after life. And he knows stuff that will send Joe down again for a very long time-along with half the local law enforcement.

Set in the pressure cooker of a very small town and following the promise of Dave Zeltersman's earlier novels (Fast Lane and Bad Thoughts), Small Crimes is an explosive noir that brings the claustrophobic hell of Jim Thompson and James M. Cain right up to date.

Ed here:

Small Crimes by Dave Zeltserman is one of the finest dark suspense novels I've read in the past few years. The lazy comparison is to Jim Thompson but despite occasional similarities in approach and characterization, Zeltersman gives us a fully realized world that Thompson never did.

As a story the book is break-neck. Though character and milieu are rich in detail, the cunning structure of the chapters turns this into a thinking person's page turner. I found myself wanting to jump ahead to find out what was going to happen to all these truly dangerous and despicable people.

Joe, the narrator, is one of the most complex and fascinating creatures in modern hardboiled. He was a crooked cop in a nest of predatory crooked cops. Cocain and gambling kept him from looking at himself and his behavior objectively. But this is where the novel holds one of its many surprises. For all his good intentions on leaving prison, for all his seeming remorse for what he did to the DA and his own loved ones, Joe doesn't seem to realize that he's essentially the same character despite the having ridded himself of his addictions. There is just his fear and melancholy and rage. And his sometimes appalling self-pity. Occasionally he seems to believe that he's the victim.

Will he kill again to save himself? Will the treacherous cops he worked with kill him? Will be be able finally to recognize what he is and set about changing? And will the old mob boss, so eerily drawn, make it to heaven after all?

This is a tough and brutala book but it's not phony tough or phony brutal. The people here having a stinging reality enriched by Zeltserman's lucid and compelling prose.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mary McMullen

My friend Steve Lewis at the most excellent site Mystery-File. com last night reviewed a novel called Welcome To The Grave by Mary McCullen.

While he took several exceptions to it he also noted:

If ever there was an author proficient in domestic (suburban Connecticut) malice, it was Mary McMullen, who wrote nearly a score of similar mysteries, mostly in the 70s and 80s. There is murder about to happen, and the only questions are: when is he going to do it, is he going to get away with it, and how?

McMullen is also very witty, and she jabs the socio-economic pretensions of the lower corner of the state quite nicely. But she also seems to lose her way after a third of the way through, and she allows Harley’s grandiose plans to fizzle away in a largely mystifying manner. It leads to an unsatisfactory and (upon some reflection) rather unpleasant conclusion.

— Jan 2002

[UPDATE] 06-22-08. It’s over six years later, and for the life of me, I do not remember either the ending of this book or what I found in it to be displeased about. Either way, I don’t believe there are many authors today who write with the same kind of domestic malice in their books as Mary McMullen did, along with a number of female authors of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, such as Ursula Curtiss, Genevieve Holden, Margaret Millar and others. They didn’t necessarily write noir fiction, but there was a lot of bite to their books.

Ed here:

I enjoyed Welcome To The Grave much more than Steve did and I can pull rank by saying that I've reread it in the last year. But that's my opinion only.

Back in the Seventies and Eighties, when I was reviewing mysteries for two different newspapers, I always turned to McMullen when so many other writers got dull. As Steve suggests, she had a dead-on wit. She also had a dark but comic view of people who considered themselves important. I've still got a few of her novels and before I started writing this I looked through a few of them.

She was true to her time and her own style. Her admiration for Margaret Millar is clear in every book but McMullen developed her own voice, a very feminine dry anger that sometimes turned without warning into a strange compelling melancholy.
I still remember opening those Crime Club packages and hoping one of them would be a McMullen. Though I don't have them here and can't even recall the titles, she had her protagonists trek to New York in at least two books. In her quiet way she nailed the Me decade as well as anybody.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Forgotten Books - Dog Soldiers

I've always had the feeling that Robert Stone, not unlike Graham Greene, was a bit too much of a storyteller for the literary crowd and a bit too literary for the storytelling crowd. Which is shorthand for saying that he's never had the giant bestseller he's long deserved. He doesn't quit fit into a marketing plan.

"In Saigon during the waning days of the Vietnam War, a small-time journalist named John Converse thinks he'll find action - and profit - by getting involved in a big-time drug deal. But back in the States, things go horribly wrong for him. "

Stone uses Converse as our guide through underground America in the early 70s. Through him we meet drug dealers, killers, hippies, flambouyant street bullshit artists, police informers, crooked agents and high-minded intellectuals who find themselves reduced to babbling helplessness in the face of all their political nightmares.

Bare bones this is a powerful crime story. The real thing. Real criminals. Real cops. Real streets. Nothing tarted up for effect.

But it is also, for me, the truest portrait of that time I've ever read. His portrayl of the narcissistic foolish left and the brute fascist right are without peer in the literature of the time. And we see all this through the eyes of a man who is at least as delusional as everybody else in the novel. What redeems him is his cynical humor (the book is very funny in places as when Converse recalls stories he once hacked out for a low-rung tabloid, "Hungry Skydiver Eats Woman") and his obsession with trying to find a philosophical justifcation for existence. Good luck.

From the NY Times 1974 review:

"The plot is melodramatic: A confused and traumatized hack journalist in Vietnam buys three kilos of pure heroin and has it smuggled to his wife in Berkeley. She has gone from a job in the university anthropology department to selling tickets at a San Francisco porn film theater. The drugs are brought from Vietnam by an ex-Marine Corps friend of the journalist, a self-styled samurai, a zen psychopath, a desperado. The money will be very good, they "don't respond to the moral objections," they're all very frightened and fascinated by death.

"They are immediately discovered by "regulatory agents," who are extremely violent and obviously dealing in drugs themselves. The ex-Marine and the journalist's wife flee south from Berkeley to L.A., where they try to unload the stuff on a small-time Hollywood actor with gangster connections: he doesn't buy it; in a very crazy and chilling displaced act of revenge, the ex-Marine kills a naïve writer with an overdose. He has by now hooked the wife and fallen in love, of sorts, with her. She is terrified and attracted by him and enjoys the righteous and serene pleasure of a heroin high. They flee east into the desert and take refuge with a German zen roshi who had been a Ken Kesey-like master of dope (I am not now--nor have I ever been--God"). The journalist returns from Vietnam and is immediately picked up by the agents, tortured and put on his wife's trail. The book concludes with a Vietnam-style fire-fight on a California mountainside and a trek across the salt flats.

"It is all very suspenseful and convincing and cruel. It is very frightening. It is elaborately grim. Only the ironic energy and wit of the author's imagination and the authority of his voice suggest a less nihilistic or satanic way of living, acting, feeling. Stone took the epigraph for the novel from Conrad's "Heart of Darkness": "I've seen the devil of violence and the devil of greed and the devil of hot desire. . .I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land, I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly." This is indeed the spirit that drives his desperate characters."

Ffor thrills I rank it with the best of Greene's "entertainments." Non-stop thrills rendered in prose as stripped-down and evocative as early Hemingway. It has the power to truly shock.

A novel that deserves reading many times over.

Karl Riez's film adaptation of the novel was generally overwrought but fis illed with fine performaces by Nick Nolte, Tuesday Weld, Ray Sharkey and many others.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Man From Laramie

TCM ran the letterbox version of The Man From Laramie this afternoon. I hadn't seen it in years and I'll tell you I was dazzled by it in every respect. If, as John D. MacDonald suggested, most pulp fiction is actually a kind of folk tale, then Laramie is one of the best folk tales ever told.

I've never heard a satisfactory explanation from why Anthony Mann and James Stewart fell out. But what an extraordinary way to say goodbye.

While Stewart is the star this is really ensemble acting. In fact Donald Crisp as the complicated, doomed patriarch is, for me, the most compelling character in the movie.

If I was asked to compare the differences between a genre western (even a great one) and a mainstream western I'd point to this film. Each of the main characters has a history that bears at length on the story. Stewart, as usual in a Mann western, is driven by a hatred that makes him difficult to like at certain time, though the violence visited on him early on still has the ability to shock even in this age of slice and dice movies. A great line early is spoken by an old man to Stewar:t "Hate is unbecoming on some men, Mr. Lockhart. On some men it shows."

For me, Mann is a far better director of westerns than John Ford (though I greatly admire The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). There is no sentimentality or Cavalry myth here. There a few scenes that would do the Sopranos proud.

Laramie is also one of the most exciting hardboiled stories ever done in the western field. Phillip Yordan's fine script gives us a twist every fifteen minutes or so. And the last twenty minutes consist of three stunning set-pieces of sustained action.

And what a pleasure to see Cathy O'Donnell again. A sad, quiet turn here gives a look at how limited life was for women on the frontier.

Here's a good over view from IMDB:

Author: ironside ( from Mexico

Some of the best Westerns of the fifties were those directed by Anthony Mann and John Ford, straightforward and unpretentious, but each with an interesting approach to the requirements of the genre... Mann's films were the more prestigious, usually featuring James Stewart who, with John Wayne, was the fifties' biggest box-office draw... "The Man From Laramie" best known because of the Frankie Laine theme strong which accompanied it, is notable for (among other things) Alex Nicol's extraordinary projection of sadism, an element which dominated the best of Mann's movies... The motion picture was to be the last of the Mann-Stewart Westerns...

Stewart is cast as a wagon handler from Laramie, Wyoming, but is, really, an army officer out to avenge the death of his younger brother, a U.S. Cavalryman, massacred by the Apaches who were buying guns from unknown persons... It is these persons that Stewart is looking for..

Soon Stewart gets involved in an area of New Mexico which is ruled by the iron hand of a cattle baron Donald Crisp, a strong authoritarian "who can't live with a lie"... Crisp's one weakness is his love and care for his spoiled son, Alex Nicol...

Wild but feeble, yet vicious, Nicol - with extraordinary projection of sadism - accosts Stewart in several confrontations in which (among other outrages) Stewart is dragged through fire by horses, and has his hand held tight while Alex puts a bullet through it... Mann proceeds in this mood throughout the movie, growing even more sadistic...

Arthur Kennedy, a hard-working heavy, plays the adopted son of Crisp... He is a son in disguise, jealous of Alex, pretending to be his brother's ally and protector...

A lot of good supporting actors are cast including Cathy O'Donnell, the fragile beauty who has little to do but await patiently for an opportunity; Aline MacMahon, the fine 'ugly' woman who never leaves the old man, and Jack Elam who tries to knife James Stewart in the back...

Anthony Mann adopted an altogether tougher approach to Western mythology than John Ford... His obsessive, neurotic characters and his emphasis on violence foretell the work of Peckinpah, Leone and Eastwood...

Filmed in Technicolor, "The Man From Laramie" is a Western with new touches of brutality touching off the wide screen spectacle...

Friday, June 20, 2008

King; Keene; Goldberg

From Bookgasm today, this amusing piece on King films.

BOOKS 2 FILM >> The 5 Best “Worst” Stephen King Movies
Author: Louis Fowler

books to film

Recently we saw the release of the latest Stephen King cinematic adaptation, THE MIST. It is trashy King done by a classy director and I loved every minute of it. It straddles the line between “good” Stephen King film and “bad” Stephen King film.

You know what a “good” Stephen King film is: THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE SHINING, CARRIE, STAND BY ME, THE GREEN MILE. While that’s all well and good, I have to be honest with you: I’ll take lousy, shitty Stephen King flicks anyday over any of those classy ones. No need to church it up for me. Give me the low-budget junk, the spectacular misfires, the ridiculously plotted storylines, the overwrought amateurish acting and the AC/DC soundtrack. Why? For the simple reason that the worse a Stephen King film is, the more entertaining it is.

Can you honestly look me in the eyes and tell me that four kids on a summer search for self-discovery is more entertaining than a group of kids who stalk and kill all the adults in a small town because they follow the teachings of a demonic being known as He Who Walks Behind the Rows? No, you can’t. STAND BY ME may be the better film, but CHILDREN OF THE CORN is the fun film.

Here’s a list of my personal “bad” King faves that no matter what time of day, if it’s on television, I’ll be watching it …


I logged on to ABE last night looking for a cheap copy of a Day Keene novel and found that he wrote two Nancy Drews in the late 60s! Like a true pulpster who needs dough I understand...but Nancy Drew?


Last night I reviewed Lee Goldberg's new novel Monk novel Mr. Monk Goes To Germany. One of the funniest page-turners I've read in the past couple of years.

But whenever I review one of Lee's books I feel guilty if I don't mention his masterpiece, The Man With The Iron-On Badge.

This is a novel that pays tribute to the classic private eyes by introducing a funny, cranky, sly and very bright guy named Harvey Mapes who between honoring his twin obsessions junk food and crime fiction on page and tv screen manages to become more than just a security guard--he becomes a private eye kind of.

Two surprises. The lazy way would have been to treat the reader to all his crime fighter riffs and get off stage. But the mystery here is cleverly drawn and not without grit and real suspense. The other aspect is the tour of LA that Lee/Harvey takes us on. Too much of LA fiction plays the usual songs. But the cunning detail in Iron-On Badge makes everything from gated communities to eating at Denny's seem brand new. This is because we're seeing it through the eyes of a burned-out working class guy who takes us inside his dotty but endearing fantasy life.

This is one of those novels that will be around for a long, long time. It's that good.

Now if it was just available in trade pb or mass market.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mr. Monk Goes To Germany; Forgotten Books

There is only one person in the world who would summon the police to report the theft of a missing sock. A left sock at that. That person would be the one and only Adrian Monk and the event would of course be reported by his winsome assistant Natalie.

For me the only thing more fun than watching Monk is reading the adventures Lee Goldberg creates for him. The books set a high standard from the git-go and Monk Goes To Germany is my favorite so far.

An eleven fingered man? Monk's shrink having to miss appointments so he can fly to Germany for long-planned conference? Monk and Natalie hopping a plane and flying to Germany so Monk can keep his shrink appointments? And the eleven fingered man keeping company with Monk's very own shrink, the same eleven fingered man who may well have murdered Monk's wife?

As usual Mr. Goldberg not only keeps the story rolling, he also gives us a plenty of smiles and out-loud laughs along the way. This time he gives a sense of a foreign milieu as well, some very sly travel commentary from time to time.

The Monk books take a series that if one of the best on TV and makes it even better. No small accomplishment. I can't wait for the next one.


Border Town Girl is a good example of how pulp crime fiction changed after the big war. The mark of Cain was on it for one thing and in Linda, the second of the two novellas in this Gold Medal by John D. MacDonald, we see a kind of inverted Cain, Double Indemity told from the victims's point of view if you will.

This is one of JDM's most striking plots and is handled in a voice that reflects what he once said about his audience, "I write books for men who carry their lunch in buckets." This is an Everyman who is so decent he doesn't realize what's going on until it's too late. And here we have not only the femme fatale but her male counterpoint as well. The writing and the characterization ares strong, clear and compelling. An exciting read.

The director Nathaniel Gutman turned this into a fine B with Virginia Madsen in the lead and the narrator played with surprising skill by Richard Thomas. It's available on DVD and should be on TV much more often than it has been.

Border Town Girl, the title novella, is more conventional Fifties crime fiction but is a muscular adventure tale ripe with sex, twisted violence and JDM's painterly descriptions of life on the Tex-Mex border. There is one of his best man-woman relationships, as well. Far from being the swaggering Trav, our man here is saved by an impoverished young Mexican woman we really come to like and admire. The descriptions of her sad and often dangerous life play to JDM's unequaled skills in giving readers the sights, smells and ambience of his settings.

Not a masterpiece by any means but the kind of vital pulp storytelling I'll never tire of.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A House In Naples

Whenever I read Peter Rabe at his best--or hell, even when he's mediocore--I realize how bogus a lot of hardboiled fiction is. Raymond Chandler likely learned about crime from the pulps and B-movies. As did many pulp writers.

Today we tart things up in a way previous hardboiled writers didn't and that givesit a semblance of reality anyway. Or we parody it and that makes us feel superior to it. Nothing wrong with these approaches, either. They're entertaining, amusing, fun.

Maybe it was because Rabe approached his writing as mainstream instead of genre. While he honors the tropes set down by W.R. Burnett and his imitators Rabe's crime novels are idiosynratic, sometimes to a fault. In a few books he wanders, gets lost, and it's always because he wants to tell us something fascinating but not germane to the story. I actually enjoy his side trips but they do damage a couple of his books.

A House in Naples is about two people who are pretty much despicable, deserters at the end of the big war who run a black market operation. They aren't much better morally than Graham Greene's Harry Lime. Charley and Joe they are, friends in greed. They are living in Naples and living well. But Charley doesn't have his papers and could get extradited. Uncle Sam is not looking favorably on deserters these days.

As the book opens Charley is wounded and recognized for who and what he is. He ends stealing the papers from a dying drunk and then ends up dragging the body into the Tiber to cover his tracks. But by this time his wound has taken his toll. He is barely concious when he looks up and sees a beautiful girl staring down at him from the bridge above. He falls in love. Rabe gives this unlikely moment an ethereal power that few others could have pulled off. You buy it.

The book is a fast, sure read and the ending is a shocker. But the characters and Rabe's observations on post-war Europe are the source of the book's rich bleakness. The bleakness is very much like the realist filmmakers who appeared in Italy right after the war.

Rabe uses The Girl to contrast Charley and Joe. In some respects she's almost a religious figure, a woman who can evoke good or evil in everyone she meets. She evokes what's in you already.

For some reason A House in Naples isn't mentioned as often as Rabe's other most successful novels. But its harsh poetry and exciting action will keep it in memory long after you're done with it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Had to happen; Guild series

Posted: Fri., Jun. 13, 2008, 3:51pm PT

Long fascinating article about the salaries many stars were once accustomed to getting but not getting any longer.

Hollywood all grossed out
Studios trim superstars' lucrative deals

This season, with each successful launch of a summer tentpole, whether it be “Iron Man” or “Kung Fu Panda,” comes a sigh of relief among the studios.

But it’s a mixed blessing for Hollywood’s top talent and the agents who represent them. Many of the hits this summer — and of recent years — have been driven not by stars but by superheroes, comic books and other concepts.

The diminished status for stars appears to be accelerating a trend that has been going on for some time: Stars with enough cachet to demand gross receipts on a movie are securing much less lucrative deals than in the past.

In deal-making parlance, it’s a shift to “cash break deals,” from the once-common practice of giving top talent as much as 20% of the first-dollar gross.

In other words, star actors — as well as big-name writers and directors — are being forced to wait until a movie recoups its costs, rather than enjoy a portion of the first dollar that a project takes in.

These types of deals have long been common in the specialty business, but now are being applied to pictures with much higher budgets.

“We are in a cycle where it is good to be the buyer, and unless you’ve got Will Smith or a handful of other stars in the project, every negotiation has become difficult,” says a top agent.

For the rest go here:


"A western for grown-ups written in a lean, hardboiled style." Publishers Weekly

That was the quote for the first of my Guild series. I'm happy to say that Dorechester Publishing is bringing them back starting in June of 2009. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Clash by Night

In the days when I was young and even more foolish than I am now I wrote a lot of bad plays. One of my heroes back then was Clifford Odets, an angry young man of Thirties theater who wrote a play called Wanting For Lefty that redefined theater. Its influence is still apparent today.

Odets went to Hollywood where he lived luxuriously and lost some of his edge. But not all of it. While the script for The Sweet Smell of Success, for example, is always credited to Ernest Lehman it was in fact heavily revised by Odets. And virtually every moment of it SOUNDS like Odets.

Despite his time in Hollywood he still wrote the occasional Broadway play. Clash by Night is the story of Mae who drifts back to the seaport town where she once lived. She is burned out in ever way. She marries a rather dull man who worships her. They have a child. Then she meets the type of man she's always ended up with. The husband is played brillaintly by Paul Doiglas (yes, Paul Douglas) and the tormented stud by my favorite noir star Robert Ryan. His performance here is pure Eugene O'Neill. Fritz Lang adapted the play to the film in 1952.

The movie belongs to Stanwyck. I've probably seen this film twenty times in forty years. It's always Stanwyck who brings me back to it.

Quint at Ain't It Cool reviews it today and it's the most telling review of the piece I've ever read. Here'e a sample.

"Stanwyck is unbelievable in this movie. She’s four hundred different things at once. She’s a manipulator, she’s the puppet, she’s longing for real, true love, she’s a seductress of other men, she’s tired of life and she’s invigorated by life. She’s always moving. Her performance is multi-layered and fascinating. Just watch how she uses body language in this movie and what her eyes tell you.

"Alfred Hayes (screenwriter), adapting Clifford Odets’ play, gives her film noir dialogue, but in this melodrama setting. Her words are like bullets out of a machine gun, spurting poetically out of her mouth in quick bursts."

Give this a read and then get the movie.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The New Nostalgia; Bukowski; Russert

Locus is linking to an excellent article but David Truesdale from a recent Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction about how the small press is taking readers of science fiction and fantasy back to its iconic roots. Be interesting to see if the mystery small prss is ever so moved. The best we have so far is Otto Penzler's fantastic The Big Book of Pulps.

Off On A Tangent: F&SF Style
by Dave Truesdale

The New Nostalgia:
The Classic Pulp Story Revival

"We seem to see "new" used to describe quite a lot of resurrected types of fiction from our genre's past these days. As critic Paul Kincaid notes in a recent SF Site (March 1st) review of The New Weird, we also see the New Hard SF Renaissance and the New Space Opera1 as well as the New Weird. All hearken back to the days of the pulp magazines from the 1930s and 1940s (or in the case of The New Weird, as far back as the 1920s and Weird Tales), and each in their own way seeks to update, or reinvent these sub-genres to align themselves more with contemporary tastes and sensibilities while at the same time capturing the qualities that endeared readers to them in the first place.

"The 'nostalgia' part of the title is as fitting as 'new' is. The April/May issue of Asimov's SF sports a reflective editorial by Sheila Williams on SF magazine publishing landmarks, and a recent "On the Net" column by James Patrick Kelly also waxes nostalgic on various subjects. And one of the publishers discussed below is even called Nostalgia Ventures. Thus we title this essay "The New Nostalgia" with a serious nod to nostalgia and a bit of the tongue-in-cheek toward the "new."

Since most of the pulp magazines had bitten the dust by around 1950, the year I was born (and I'm talking not just the SF pulp magazines, but the crime, western, detective, war, superhero, and romance pulps as well, though some would keep presses running even after Eisenhower left the White House), one would have to be nearly 70 to have been of sufficient reading age by the late 1940s to have caught even the tail end of their heyday. Therefore, the only recourse most of us have had to reading the stories in them is through the numerous reprint collections issued over the years. Probably the most famous compiler of stories from the '30s and '40s was the indefatigable Groff Conklin. SF owes him a tremendous debt of gratitude. Others along the way who have reprinted some of the best of the really older stuff but nowhere near as prolifically, have been Damon Knight and Frederik Pohl, with a few scattered others in the mix over the years. But it has been literally decades since their efforts in this direction have seen print. Thus, another generation of readers has no idea of the origins of our genre from reading the stories themselves; all they know has been gleaned from introductions to recent volumes of "new" this or "new" that. While these thoughtful capsule histories are extremely helpful and valuable, there is no substitute for having read the actual stories themselves—many of which have become classics in the field, and their author's icons. "

For the rest go here

----Charles Bukowski

Duane Swierczynski quoted one of my all-time favorite writers Charles Bukowski speculating on why writers write.

"Writing was strange. I needed to write, it was like a disease, a drug, a heavy compulsion, yet I didn't like to think of myself as a writer. Maybe I had met too many writers. They took more time disparaging each other than they did doing their own work. They were fidgets, gossips, old maids; they bitched and knifed and they were full of vanity. Were these our creators? Was it always thus? Probably so. Maybe writing was a form of bitching. Some just bitched better than others."

----Tim Russert

I don't know about you but I've had all the Russert Watch I can take. I''m sorry that he died so young and that he left his wife and three children behind. But my God this isn't Jack Kennedy dying. I send out political links several times a day. Occasionally I comment on the links. Here's what I said after OD'ing on the Russert coverage.

"To me this is a Beltway circle jerk. Russert started out as a modestly talented interviewer and ended up as a puffed-up parody of the hard-boiled interrogator. He played favorites and he never admitted error. All the network hacks are paying him such extravagent praise because they're part of the same club. You see the same kind of thing at the Shriners and The Knights of Columbus whenever one of their own passes. The difference is that they never helped lie us into a war as Russert and the rest of the Washington press corps did."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Ben Sufficool; DeRosso; Sangster

My thirty-two year old nephew saw a woman tumble into the flood and get caught up in a swift current. He got out of his car, dove in and rescued her. Thank you, Ben, for being such a brave guy.

-------Gorman westerns.
Mystery readers frequently ask me what my westerns are like. I've never found a satisfactory answer. Tonight my good friend James Reasoner reviews a novel by H.R. DeRosso. a man frequenrly referred to as The Cornell Woolrich of Westrns and mentions me in passing. I'm flattered. More he's helped me define my approach to writng westerns, which I still love.

"None of De Rosso’s heroes are actually very heroic, and Driscoll fits that mold. He’s a brooding, emotionally tormented man who’s sort of forced into doing the right thing most of the time. What he goes through in this book doesn’t make him any more cheerful, that’s for sure. The story takes place near a mountain range called the Sombras that figures in some of De Rosso’s other books. The name certainly fits because there’s a somber air that hangs over THE DARK BRAND. And the title itself is an indication of the mood here, of course. Actually, THE DARK BRAND is regarded as one of De Rosso’s less bleak books, which tells you how grim he can sometimes be.

"Fittingly, De Rosso writes in a spare, fast-moving style, and there are some excellent twists in the plot here, the sort that I should have seen coming but didn’t. His work has echoes of Cornell Woolrich and David Goodis, but what his books most remind me of are the noir Westerns of Ed Gorman. If you like any of those writers, I highly recommend that you pick up THE DARK BRAND or any of De Rosso’s other novels or short story collections."

----------Jimmy Sangster
Fred Blosser comments on my salute to Jimm Sangster the other night:

"Fans of Jimmy Sangster and Hammer should be aware that Sony this week released a four-movie DVD pack of early '60s Hammer swashbucklers, three of which were written by Sangster -- PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER, DEVIL SHIP PIRATES, TERROR OF THE TONGS. (You can just smell the pulpwood, can't you!) These have been rarely shown in the past 30+ years (last TV showing of BLOOD RIVER that I saw was 1971 or '72), and I don't think any of them have been on U.S. home video before. The cover packaging (under the title ICONS OF ADVENTURE) is horrendous, but the DVDs are the real deal: beautiful, sharp, and correct widescreen format. And only $25 list -- less if you order from Amazon,, Best Buy, etc. Sangster does audio commentary."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Flooding; Jimmy Sangster

Many of you were thoughtful enough to e mail and phone today to see how the Gormans are holding up during the flood.

Carol's in Connecticut babsyitting our two youngest grandkids while their parents go to a weekend wedding ceremony. I'm home with the four cats, two of them five week old kittens. Last night we were in a tornado watch so I put all four of them in our bed and closed us in. I figured it'd be easier to get them to the basment if they were at hand. Never try to sleep with four cats, especially if they're little ones.

We're safe from the flooding because we're several miles from downtown. Much more rain is on the way and there is the serious prospect of a tornado passing through sometime tonight.

The great tragedy is those four poor Boy Scouts who died when a tornado ripped into the cabin where they had sought shelter. Hard to imagine what their parents are going through.


Vince Keenan's saluting screenwriter/novelist Jimmy Sangster tonight. After reading Sangster's engaging autbiography I decided that if I ever grow up I want to be just like him.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Leigh Brackett

Ed here: I've been asked to write a brief piece on Leigh Brackett. In the course of my Googling I came across the following from Books and Writers. Since my love for her work knows no bounds this really irritates me. (And for a great appreciation of her by James Sallis go here

Books and Writers:

In 1946 Brackett ghost-wrote STRANGER AT HOME for the film actor George Sanders. THE TIGER AMONG US (1957) was a story of a citizen-turned-vigilante, who seeks to revenge himself on a gang of juvenile delinquents; it was filmed as 13 West Street starring Alan Ladd. No Good from a Corpse told of a hard-boiled detective who is determined to clear an innocent man of the murder of his girlfriend. When Hawks read the book, he decided to get Brackett to write the screenplay of Chandler's The Big Sleep with William Faulkner and Jules Furthman. However, the director was surprised when he learned that Brackett was a woman writer. And at the age of 28 she also appeared young - Furthman was nearly 60. But Hawks especially loved - at least in his films - tough-talking dames, and Brackett has hired.

After 1955 Brackett generally preferred to work in films and tv, notably contributing screenplays for several Howard Hawks productions. They both shared the same literary taste, she was sophisticated, dressed in somewhat outdoorsy manner, which the director liked, and she had spent much of her childhood in Pasadena, not far from the Hawks home. In 1957 Brackett started to write in Santa Monica Rio Bravo with Jules Furthmann, who was now seventy. She did most of the actual writing, but got only §600 weekly. Furthman, who hated to put anything down on paper, received §2,500 a week. Brackett considered her original script for El Dorado the best she had ever written, but Hawks found it too tragic; from 1930s he had generally avoided killing off his leading characters.

For Hatari! Brackett worked at §750 a week in the beginning, but Hawks also hired the brothers Waldman to write separately from her with a §35,000 fee. In MAN'S FAVORITE SPORT? (1964) Brackett worked uncredited, but she was with the crew throughout the filming, writing and rewriting scenes. However, she was denied screen credit by the Writers Guild of America, although Hawks and the initial writers, John Fenton Murray and Steven McNeil, were on her side. In RED LINE 7000 (1965) Brackett again worked uncredited. When Hawks tried to hire her to write the script for RIO LOBO (1970) in 1969, Brackett refused because she was just about to leave on a trip around the world. Brackett returned from her travels in December, and continued the work of Burton Wohl. "Most of what I did on Rio Lobo was to try and patch over the holes," she later revealed. "I was unhappy that he went back to the same old ending of the trade, because it was done beautifully in Rio Bravo and done over again in El Dorado."

Ed here: Man, who was her agent?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Richard Lupoff; Gold Medal bestsellers; Richard Neely

Richard Lupoff is an afficiando of styles, voices, tropes and epochs. His body of work ranges from space adventure, literary parodies, satire, horror, comedy and his most venerable accomplishment, the masterful Marblehead, his novel about H.P. Lovecraft and the world of that era.

In Quintet: The Cases of Chase and Delacroix (Crippen & Landru) he introduces us to a pair of swells who, despite the Depression, practice their elegant life style while sleuthing their way through six Golden Age mysteries that would stump the combined talents of Rex Stout and John Dickson Carr. Witty, larky, clever the swank man and the swankier woman recall the filigreed mysteries of Thirties Hollywood.

A hoot and a pleasure.

From > Jeff Vorzimmer
Subject: RARA-AVIS: The Top Selling Gold Medal Authors
> For those on the list who might be interested. Here are the top 16 Gold
> authors based on the number of editions printed of all books:
> 1. John D. MacDonald
> 2. Richard S. Prather
> 3. Edward S. Aarons
> 4. Donald Hamilton
> 5. Stephen Marlowe
> 6. Peter Rabe
> 7. Vin Packer
> 8. Wade Miller
> 9. Charles Williams
> 10. Jonas Ward
> 11. Harry Whttington
> 12. Philip Atlee
> 13. William Heuman
> 14. Bruno Fischer
> 15. Louis L'amour
> 16. Gil Brewer

Richard Neely

I've been asked to write an introduction to a new edition of Richard Neely's novel Shattered. I'm a big Neely fan. I interviewed him for Mystery Scene sometime in or around 1991 when the movie version appeared. I'd really like to use that interview to base my introduction on. The problem is that all my copies of the magazines are at Coe College. If any of you have issues from that time would you check to see if you have the interview. I don't have to tell what a huge fortune sending me a copy will bring, do I? Thank you very much. Ed

Monday, June 09, 2008

Algis Budrys

Algis Budrys died today. He was one of the two or three best science fiction writers of his generation. His gifts with character, language and theme produced books and stories notable for their maturity and humanity.

I first met AJ (as he was known) in 1977 when I interviewed him Dubuque where he was addressing students in one of George R.R. Martin's college writing classes. We had in common years in advertising and public relations. We recognized like kind. He was the mercenary I met in every agency I ever worked for. A hard guy fifty times smarter than everybody else, a man who wasn't afraid to say that it was all bullshit. He was too cool for every room he was ever in. He liked my description of him as "necktie hip." He had been and always remained one of my true idols. I own six different editions of his novel Rogue Moon. It remains one of the two or three most powerful sf novels I've ever read. It is alsoa compelling, fascinating look at machismo.

We stayed in touch and met a few times down the years. Over lunch one day I brought along a copy of his novel False Night which was published by the famous noir publisher Lion. He'd revised it in 1961 and told me he hadn't had copies of either version in a long time. I gave him mine. He revised it again and thanked me in the book for urging him to bring it back. I was truly honored.

We agreed to disagreee on a matter I was too admant about. A few years later I realized that it had been my fault and I called to apologize. He was as always gracious.

Time passed and he went to work with the people at Scientology. He asked me to work with him on a project with the group. I have to say here that I dealt with Scientologists many times in the eighties and early nineties. They were always professional, bright, pleasant and never once tried to recruit me. Still, I passed on his invitation.

When I heard that he had been diagnosed with cancer I meant to call him. Compare notes on treatment, etc. AJ had the analytical mind of a chess master and the soul of a Russian novelist. In fact just last week, looking through Locus (the sf news magazine), I saw his photo and thought of calling him then and there. But I got distracted and didn't get it done.

We weren't great friends or confidantes but my memories of him are vivid and appreciative. He was a man of many great talents. And a man as tough and complicated as any of his protagonists.

From Todd Mason:

Budrys, born Algirdas Jonas Budrys, was one of the school of mostly sf
writers who came of age in the earliest 1950s, along with Michael Shaara
(who hit big with THE KILLER ANGELS), Harlan Ellison, Robert Sheckley
and some others, who went through college writing programs with the
intent of bending those to the end of writing sf and fantasy. Budrys,
who was for a while the golden boy of John W. Campbell at ASTOUNDING
SCIENCE FICTION (and wrote some of the best work published in that
magazine in the 1950s), wrote for most of the other relevant magazines
of that decade, as well, including a few borderline-horror fantasies for
borderline-horror sf, most famously in short form "Nobody Bothers Gus."
By the end of the decade, he'd published several novels, including WHO?
(rather blandly filmed in the 1970s) and what might be his magnum opus,
THE DEATH MACHINE, a heavily symbolic sf novel that Fawcett Gold Medal
issued as ROGUE MOON...a cast of functionally insane characters deal
with an enigma of an alien labyrinth/device on the moon, which seems to
kill anything that passes through it...much like the transportation
device the humans use to get to it and back to Earth, which also kills
at the transmission point and reassembles a person at the destination,
with no sense of the death in the "new" transported person.

Budrys left sf, for the most part, for editing for various
Chicago-based publishers, including PLAYBOY, and then for advertising
work in the 1960s, though began a column of literary criticism for
GALAXY magazine in 1965 which was of superior quality; these columns
were later collected as BENCHMARKS: GALAXY BOOKSHELF (Southern Illinois
University Press, 1985). Budrys continued to write fiction, including
such crime fiction as the vicious "The Master of the Hounds," throughout
this period, and published a novel, THE IRON THORN, as a serial in
WORLDS OF IF and with Gold Medal, who meddled with his title again (as
THE AMSIRS AND THE IRON THORN). In the 1970s, he became the primary book
another major novel, MICHAELMAS. He also was an instructor at the
Clarion Workshops organized initially by Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm.

In the 1980s, he helped get the Writers of the Future and Artists of the
Future programs off the ground, a rather controversial aspect of his
career as they were funded by the Church of Scientology and made much in
their promotional literature about L. Ron Hubbard's significance as a
literary figure; many critics felt the programs were merely means for
the Church to burnish its image. Budrys by 1993 had stepped away from
the WOTF program and began editing his own magazine, TOMORROW
SPECULATIVE FICTION, which was published by Pulphouse Publishing for its
first issue only, as Pulphouse was starting to collapse. Budrys took on
the magazine as publisher as well, and produced bimonthly issues for
several years, including the April, 1994 issue featuring Harlan
Ellison's "Attack at Dawn" and one vignette even shorter than that one,
"Bedtime" by first-story tyro Todd Mason. The magazine also published
considerable good to excellent fiction by old friends of Budrys and new
writers, and ran a series of essays by Budrys on writing. He published
one last excellent novel, HARD LANDING, complete in an issue of F&SF and
also a paperback original (his only novel in hardcover first edition was

Ill health had dogged Budrys for years, apparently mostly complications
of diabetes, and his last public pronouncement suggested that he mostly
had more pain to look forward to than that he was already in. RLH,

He was a complicated man, a great writer, and he won't be forgotten,
even if he never had all the audience he deserved.

Todd Mason

Friday, June 06, 2008

Forgotten Books - Nightmare Alley

Excerpted from Hardboiled Maryland:

William Lindsay Gresham

"Nightmare Alley belongs not to the hard-boiled world of Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain, but to the dark and shadowy world of noir. As a literary term, noir can be applied to any work--especially one involving crime--that is notably dark, brooding, cynical, complex, and pessimistic. Nightmare Alley is certainly all that and more, described by one critic as "a tough, relentless, colorful novel that exposes the private world of the freaks in order to comment on a sick, degrading society." The novel depicts the rise of Stan Carlisle from a carnival mentalist to a successful "spiritualist," preying on the rich and gullible matrons of society, to his eventual fall and total disintegration.

"Gresham's depressed vision of society colored his private life as well; he was an alcoholic and an abusive husband to his wife Joy Davidman, as well as to their children. Joy eventually fled to England with their children, where she conducted a long-term love affair with the author C. S. Lewis, whom she eventually married (their story was recently told in the 1993 film Shadowlands). In 1962 Gresham committed suicide in a run-down hotel room in New York, where he had registered under the name "Asa Kimball, of Baltimore." The only tribute paid to him in the New York Times came from the bridge columnist."

Ed here: Whenever the subject of crime fiction as serious literature comes up the first novel I think of is Nightmare Alley. The book was of its time and Gresham was certainly influenced by the preceding generation of writers. In places you hear James T. Farrell, W.R. Burnett as well as one of his contemporaries, Nathaneal West. But ultimately Greshman was his own man and there is no novel quite like it in noir.

Unlike the writers I've mentioned, however, Gresham offered no hope. There are two kinds of people in the world, he seemed to believe, predators and victims. The book is marked by a mordant existential undertow that charts not only the downfall of Stanton Carlisle but also the few who care about him. The astrological references that shape the story and its thrust create an otherworldly tone as eerie as parts of the carnival itself.

There are many fine books about carnival life in American literature. Jim Tully's work comes to mind, for example. Ray Bradbury gave the carny world a fantastical twist. And Fredric Brown's The Fabulous Clipjoint which creates a kind of hardboiled lyricism for the desperate world it shows us.

But the nod goes to Gresham. A major novel and a true masterpiece.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


I don't like to brag on the enormous influence I have on the publishing world but I do think it's fair to point out that Mr. Bantam obviously not only reads my blog but follows my suggestions.

A few nights ago I noted that none of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novels were in print. Well Mr. Bantam went right to work. In less than four working days he printed and shipped a fine handsome trade paperback of Stout's famous novels Fer-De-Lance and The League of Frightened Men. These belong in every mystery library of any scope.

After I mentioned Stout, I got a few letters off line asking for recommendatios on where to start with his body of work. This trade pb is a good place to start. To follow up I'd recommend the other pair of Nero Wolfes Mr. Bantam also rushed into print at my request--Some Buried Caesar and The Golden Spiders.

As for my favorite Stout novel...the fantasy writer Robert Jordan (Jim Rigney) and I used to swap e mails trying to decide which was his best book. We went with Double for Death which is not a Wolfe. It's a hoot.


(from Galleycat today)

Is a New Generation Taking Over Big Publishing?

"Did you notice that the new CEO at Random House [Markus Dohle] is 39, and Brian Murray is 41?" a reader emails this morning, upon the news that Murray's replacing Jane Friedman at HarperCollins. "What happened to 50 as the minimium age for a CEO? I guess you need one more for an official trend."

If there was a third to come, who would it be? And what are the implications? Share your thoughts in the comments section.


Reading Forgotten Books

(These two were originally chosen by Bill Crider and Daniel Hatadi and happened to already be in my TBR pile)

The Night Remembers by Ed Gorman.

Published originally in 1991 and reissued now, The Night Remembers (Ramble House) is the poignant story of a private investigator that may have helped send the wrong man to prison.

What knocks me out about this novel is the ease in which you slip into its pages, how quickly the character of Jack Walsh becomes someone you want to spend time with, how easily the story presents itself. Gorman perfectly integrates Walsh’s personal story with his investigation of the case. This is a rare trait nowadays when jockeying story lines and characters often distance you from any real sense of character. A joy to read. (Order on line from Ramble House)

Gun in Cheek (Mysterious Press) by Bill Prozini made me laugh more than any recent book by David Sedaris. Oh, to be a writer in the 1930s. You could say anything without fear of reprisal. Heck, the writers didn't even know how offensive they were. Any notion of political correctness was absent. Every group, save that of the white man, is ruthlessly pillaged in the novels Pronzini examines. Bad writing, sexist writing, racist writing, stereotypical writing, boring writing abound. “She swayed toward me, a sob swelling her perky pretty-pretties.” What more is there to say about this comprehensive look at the worse in crime fiction writing. Try it.

Posted by pattinase (abbott) at 8:16 AM 7 comments

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Fever by Bill Pronzini

The problem with mystery series, at least for me, is that too many of them go on past their prime. Part of this is because readers don't seem to notice the fall off that begins with adventure number thirty one and continues all the way through adventure number seventy eight. The writer is on auto pilot and so is the reader. The whole thing becomes a ritual, like mass.

You'll note that I said "for me." I'm in the minority in the mystery world where series are concerned. Hell, I've read all the Nero Wolfes twice over and I'm perfectly willing to read them through again. So I'm afmiliar with the addiction.

Happily there are exceptions to my complaint about series, some of the exceptions being quite notable. At the top of this exceptional list is Bill Pronzini's Nameless series. I have been reviewing these books since the early Eighties and I've been an admirer (and failed imitator of it) all that while.

As I've said before, the pleasures of the Nameless books are two-fold: they are social histories of San Francisco and environs as well as finely conceived and often stunning mystery stories. And they are something like the genuine autobiography of the man who writes them. The gruff, blue collar, wry, angry, sentimental soul who exposes himself and his feelings on every page of every book. I don't think has ever been a series like this.

Another extraordinary aspect of the series is that it has gotten constantly better. Pronzini was a solid writer from the git-go but what he is doing these days is far beyond solid, it is masterful and will, I predict, take its place in the mystery field as one of the enduring bodies of work.

Fever, the new Nameless, concerns Mitchell Krochek who hires Nameless to find his missing wife, Janice, a woman with a serious gambling addiction, a woman who has run away before. There are two exceptionally cunning twists early on that set us up for the descent of Nameless (and his two recent associates) into the dark world of people who prey on gamblers. I'd never heard of this world before and Pronzini makes it grimly fascinating.

The writing is clean, evocative, true to Nameless and true to the very real and very troubled characters. This, like all the Nameless novels, is for every day grown-ups. You won't find any of gaudy cut-outs of so much bestselling fiction. Instead you'll be absorbed by the almost Simenonesque contemplation of people who, like Nameless, are struggling through life in these deeply disturbing times.

If you care about serious work by a serious writer, make sure you find this book and read it. This is a series that should never end. It's got more juice than ever.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Too Many Husband; The Lash

Back when Ioway first got the t & v (around 1953) most of the fare was movies from the Thirties and Forties. I quickly developed passionate crushes on a number of leading ladies. One of my primary heartthrobs was little Jean Arthur. The knock on her was that she wasn't Carole Lombard-beautiful or Constance Bennett-elegant. She was cute and pert and sort of dizzy but not your average knock-out. Maybe it was that hoarse voice of hers. Or the cute faces she made when she got confused. Or the girl-next-door earnestness. Mighty was my crush on Jean Arthur.

It continues to this day. I always check Turner for her movies, even ones I've seen a number of times. This afternoon Turner ran Too Many Husbands, a 1919 Somerset Maugham play adpated to the screen and given a screwball comedy propulsion.

Here's the IMDB synopsis:

I've just discovered this lighthearted film today on tv and must admit it has all the fine elements that make for a good stage play -- plenty of sure-fire dialogue, continual momentum to the story (never a dull moment), and light touches of original music. There are some hilarious moments so downright comical it made me burst out laughing. Just accept it as one more comedy of that era and you'll enjoy it nicely without having to make comparisons or look for weaknesses. Harry Davenport as the father adds his wisdom where he can. I feel all the actors had a good romp in this movie and I liked the repartee amongst them very much. Not sure precisely how it ended so will need to see it again some day. It's a fun movie indeed.

Ed here: I sure do agree. I laughed out loud throughout the movie. This was kind of a screwball version of Jules and Jim with a pretty dicey ending for its time--Arthur ends up with McMurray (her legal husband) but Douglas hangs on as the best friend (much against McMurray's will) at Arthur's insistence. The final scene is in a in a tony nightclub where everybody is doing one of those uptempo change-partner deals--with with both McMurray and Douglas dancing with her and refusing to concede. Douglas and Arthur look quite happy about it. McMurray not so much. Really great fade out scene.

The three of them were excellent and Jean Arthur was a solid 1000 on the Fetching meter. Melvyn Douglas was as cynical and droll as he was in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (I know, Cary Grant fans hate that movie) and McMurray was as usual charming in the bumbling hesitant style of all his comedies.

And how can you knock a movie with the wonderful Harry Davenport and the sly Edgar Buchanan as a big city detective who thinks (correctly) Arthur is a bigamist?
I came across this fact last night. I either knew it and forgot it or it was new to me--Harrison Ford learned to wield the whip in the first Indy film from his instructor Lash La Rue!

Sunday, June 01, 2008


I was going to say that I don't think I've ever read a novel quite like this one but then I'd have to correct myself immediately. I KNOW I've never read a novel quite like this one.

Seven employees are gathered on the roof of a skyscraper for a boring Saturday morning meeting with their boss. Well, since this is Duane Swierczynski-land we should know better than to think it will actually BE boring. Because said boss informs them that they are all to be killed. And since the building is in lockdown, good luck.

What follows is an ingenious spin on high-concept Hollywood as the employees flee through the building to escape. Not counting on traps only a sinister secret government agency (the real force behind this erstwhile "business firm") could plant.

Swierczynski's skill in playing out his relentless story (I had to put the book down a few times to kind of let my mind rest for a few minutes) is masterful and dazzling. He plays can-you-top-this with himself throughout the books and always wins.

This novel is so much fun that it is easy to dismiss it as nothing but a confection. But before I read Severance I reread his previous novel The Blonde and I tell you that what Swierczynski does is so cunning and artful that it puts to shame many of the betsellers that claim to be thrillers. This one REALLY thrills.

I doubt many other writers will imitate Swierczynski's books because what he does is so difficult to pull off. But I will say that whether he's purloined or not, he is single-handedly overhauling the modern thriller with wit, style and extraordinary skill.