Sunday, November 30, 2008

Desperate Housewives; The Real Housewives of Orange County

A snowy night, a fireplace and not a hell of a lot interesting on tv. We ended up watching Desperate Housewives, something we hadn't done in a long time.

I have to give the writers one thing. They can pack more melodramatic twists and turns into one hour than the daytime soaps can in a year. The central problem tonight has to do with arson at a nightclub which leaves eight people dead. And Carlos blind. Lynette and her husband have to worry that their teenage son Porter set the fire while Edie's latest boy toy is the actual culprit. Orson gets his nose busted in the fire resulting in him snoring so loudly that Bree, about to start peddling her latest bestseller, can't sleep for the noise and kicks him out of their bed. But Orson being Orson drugs her late night tea so he can sneak into bed while she's happily dreaming and paying no attention to his snoring...

Has any group of people ever suffered more than these folks? And learned so little from their suffering? About halfway through we remembered why we gave up watching DH years ago. It used to be snarky and fun. Now it just trudges through its paces.


The real true Desperate Housewives are coming back to Bravo. You know the Real Housewives of Orange County who have dedicated themselves to accruing everyting life has to offer except dignity, intelligence, compassion and honor. And the same can be said for their men of course. A Bentley is not a subsitute for brains. Nor are store-bought knockers.

The show is a stacked deck in that it intends to shock and does. The wives don't seem to have a clue that they're dim and crass and dull. And why should they? Their men are draping them in clothes, cars, jewelry, houses, exotic vacations...the women are treated like thoroughbred race horses. All except for Vicki who enjoys looting and plundering as much as the men do. A Viking babe if there ever was one.

But every once in awhile actual pain and loss creeps in and it usually has to do with the children. I remember the episodes with the dragon lady Lauri (who incesstantly talks about being entitled to be taken care of by rich guys) dealing with her troubled teenage son. Yep, no doubt he was a pain in the ass. Troubled teenagers usually are. But you got the sense that nothing was going to deter her from marrying the golden boy of her dreams and that the kid had become a nuisance. That was when I quit watching the show. It got a little too real for me.

But I'll give it another whirl of course. It'll be intersting to see how these Bush babes function in the land of Obama. If they've ever heard of him that is.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Plastic Nightmare

Milipede Press will be bringing out a hardcover collectors edition of The Plastic Nightmare by Richard Neely. I was asked to write the introduction and was happy to do it.

I've written here before about Neely. He wrote non-series crime novels that pretty much covered the entire range of dark suspense. I mentioned that in the best of them the weapon of choice is not poison, bullets or garrote. He always prefered sexual betrayl.

Plastic is a good example. Using amnesia as the central device Dan Mariotte must reconstruct his life. Learning that the beautiful woman at his bedside all these months in the hospital--his wife--may have tried to kill him in a car accident is only the first of many surprises shared by Mariotte and the reader alike.

What gives the novel grit is Neely's take on the privileged class. He frequently wrote about very successful men (he was a very successful adverts man himself) and their women. The time was the Seventies. Private clubs, privte planes, private lives. But for all the sparkle of their lives there was in Neely's people a despair that could only be assauged (briefly) by sex. Preferably illicit sex. Betrayl sex. Men betrayed women and women betrayed men. It was Jackie Collins only for real.

Plastic is a snapshot of a certain period, the Seventies when the Fortune 500 dudes wore sideburns and faux hippie clothes and flashed the peace sign almost as often as they flashed their American Express Gold cards. Johny Carson hipsters. The counter culture co-opted by the pigs.

The end is a stunner, which is why I can say little about the plot. Neely knew what he was doing and I'm glad to see his book back in print. Watching Nerely work is always a pleasure.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Rosie O'Donnell; Regency Noir (yes)

Ed here: There was a time when Rosie O'Donnell was actually fun to watch. Way back in the mid-eighties she was one of the faces on VHI and she armed herself with gently sarcastic comments on pop culture of various kinds. She was a very appealing young woman.

It wasn't difficult to imagine her background. She was the Catholic school girl who endured her years surrounded by people who paid her no attention at all. The prettier ones, the wealthier ones, the more accomplished ones. But it's easy to imagine that she kept her daydream burning bright no matter how dificult her personal life became. And by God she became a major star.

VHI, movies, her talk show and then...And then it was as if she became consumed by all the bitterness she must have felt growing up. To be honest I found her talk show cloying but I sure prefered it to the train wreck that was to come. I've always sensed her rage and pain. Even the blandest of her turns on VHI couldn't hide them. But until she left her talk show they were the coin of her particular realm. They were what she had in common with much of her audience, female and male alike. A tough background, a face and figure that wouldn't get her a lot of call backs from casting directors and a self-deprecating humor that showed she was able to rise above her grief. But then her grief became a weapon. She started clubbing people with it.

I didn't watch her show last night. I got tired of her a long time ago. But as soon as I heard she was fronting a variety show I started to wonder what kind of network wizard had come up with the idea. Or greenlighted it. Add one more to the growing unemployment line, in this case well deserved. I feel sorry for Rosie. She is aggrieved and there seems to be no stanching it. She rants on her website, she rants on her guest shots and--as Alessandra Stanley below notes, she even mildly rants on her variety show. It's hard to imagine where she goes from here. For a long time I prefered her to Oprah because she was willing to take risks with her persona. But right now Oprah's sanctimoniousness looks pretty good to me.

Published: November 27, 2008
Rosie O'Donnell's Wednesday night special on NBC, "Rosie Live," was supposed to be a tribute to the variety shows of the 1970s, but she added a Nixonian twist: Christmas songs, tap-dancing twins and an enemies list.

In between skits, celebrity cameos and hokey novelty acts, the legendarily thin-skinned Ms. O'Donnell found time to take potshots at some of her favorite targets, including Donald Trump, Nancy Grace and Bill O'Reilly. She left out Barbara Walters, with whom Ms. O'Donnell has been feuding ever since Ms. O'Donnell left "The View," perhaps reluctant to draw attention to Ms. Walters's interview with Barack and Michelle Obama on ABC the same night. (Even that Barbara Walters special had a '70s feel, as Ms. Walters reprised her famous interview with Jimmy Carter, asking President-elect Obama if he intended to personally turn off the lights in the White House to conserve energy.)

Ms. O'Donnell's self-referential swats at detractors were light, but they clashed with the context, lending a hard, contemporary edge to what was intended to be a corny, heartfelt homage to variety shows of yesteryear, like "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour" and "The Carol Burnett Show." So did her bizarre product-placement duet with Jane Krakowski, a star of the NBC comedy "30 Rock," who performed a sultry striptease in front of a giant monitor flashing images of White Castle hamburgers, BlackBerrys and Crest Whitestrips.

for the rest go here:

----------REGENCY NOIR
This piece by sf writer Jo Walton was on I thought it was interesting.

Jo Walton

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Fallen Woman of good family must, soon or late, descend to whoredom.
Sarah Tolerance is a Fallen Woman of good family—instead of making a proper marriage she ran away years ago with her brother’s fencing instructor. She doesn’t want to be a whore, so she makes a living as a private investigator in a Regency London that’s just a little different from the Regency London you think you know.

The very idea is delightful—noir detective crossed with Georgette Heyer.

Point of Honor (2003) and Petty Treason (2004) follow the adventures of Sarah Tolerance as she solves her cases in the Queen Regent’s England. They’re charming, with just the right degree of mystery, adventure, period detail and romance. The mysteries are mysterious enough to keep the plot going as Sarah moves between the underworld and the upper classes. They’re more reminiscent of Kate Ross than anything else I can think of.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bob Randisi; Jeffrey Goodman

Bob Randisi is interviewed at length over at Shots magazine. An excellent piece of work and a serious look at Bob's amazing career. If you want to know what the life of a working writer is like, it's all here. One of the things I noted was that while Bob and have been great friends for more than twenty years, and have always talked about our projects, there are still things Bob's done I didn't know about. Here's a sample from the interview.

" Warren Murphy is both a friend of mine, and a hero of mine. Also, a mentor. We met in the 70s at MWA functions, and one night in a bar he asked me if I thought I could write a Destroyer novel. I had, at that point, read a few, so I said yes. There were 40 at the time, so he had the publisher send me the entire run. He sent me a detailed outline, paid me up front and I wrote one.

"Here’s why he’s my hero: I delivered the first half of the book and he said it was great. I delivered the second half and he said, “You screwed me,” only he didn’t say screwed. He said, “I paid you and you just walked away from the second half.” I offered him the money back and he said no. That book was Destroyer #43 (my actual first novel). I figured I’d actually screwed myself, but a few months later he had to go to Puerto Rico to work on the Destroyer screenplay, and he asked me to do another one. This time, when I delivered the entire book, he said, “Bobby, you gave me exactly what I wanted.” I did another after that, and one of his “Digger” books."

for the rest of the interview go here:


Several of you asked me how you could see Al Collins' really fine new film, which I reviewed here the other night. Here's a message from the director Jeffrey Goodman:

I read where someone was asking how they could see the film. I just wanted to give you a couple of things as arsenal in case you field any more of those questions. First off, we have a LULLABY registry that I send updates to about once a month. These updates tell people where we are screening and when and also update people on our path towards wider distribution. To join the registry, people simply have to send an e-mail to with "Register Me" in the subject of the e-mail. Also, for now, the only way people can see the film is at a festival. However, I expect LULLABY to begin some sort of distribution, around April of '09.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Catching Up

Hit a bad patch and am slowly gettng out of it...

----------A SHOT RANG OUT

Long before I started writing mysteries (selling to men's magazines mostly) I was reading Jon Breen's criticism. I felt then and I feel now that he's my generation's answer to Anthony Boucher, And in many respects--a finer eye for detail and style for one thing--he's even better.

Now I can prove my point by recommending his collection of author studies, essays, reviews and short takes on 100 writers. The long form author studies include eloquent and insightful takes on writers including Michael Connelly, Nicolas Freeling, Elmore Leonard, Margaret Millar and Ellery Queen.

The short takes are especially welcome because Jon looks not only at prominent writers but a number who don't get the press they deserve. The topical essays touch on everything from American Women Mystery Writers to How To Write Mysteries in Six Difficult Lessons.

He also writes something I would have thought impossible. In less than three thousand words he gives the reader a colorful detailed overview of the first eighteen years of Mystery Scene magazine. Since that involves Bob Randisi, Marty Greenberg and myself I was particularly interested in his conclusions. A lot of it made me laugh out loud. Thank God Kate Stine came long and turned it into a real magazine.

I have to note here that Jon dedicates the book to me, which makes me damnded proud. I'm not exaggerating when I say that if your shelf of mystery criticism and reviews doesn't include A Shot Rang Out it's woefully inadequate.

Order directly from Ramble House or Lulu. This is the perfect holiday gift for a mystery fan. I couldn't stop reading it. And I'll be going back to it again and again.

--------------------TV ROMANCES

Patti Abbott posted some entertaining comments on the running romances on tv series. She wonders if Pam and Jim on The Officee are too sweet for some tastes.

The answer is no, not for me anyway. But I have to say that I think this is a mediocore season for the show. Pam and Jim are at stasis point and so is this whole season. While some of the scenes are masterful the overall half hours seem to be on auto-pilot. I'm not sure why. I used to think 30 Rock was an amusing but not funny show. But this season we've found it to be the other way around. The belly laughs are to be found on 30 Rock. The episode with Jennifer Aniston was far wittier than anything on The Office this season.

Entourage has had a spotty season but when it was good it was very good. It's a romance in that each of the four principals are narcissists and thus having love affairs with themselves. The episodes with the German director were especially good. Maybe it's my age or because I spent so long in advertising but the only two characters I identify with are Ari and Eric. Vince and Johnny Drama and Turtle are stuck forever at nineteen years of age.

The final episode of the season suffered from having two hours worth of plot to cram into twenty-seven minutes. Martin Scorcese showed up in the last few minutes like the cavalry coming over the hill to rescue the settlers in an old B western.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Last Lullaby

The Last Lullaby, the feature film based on Max Allan Collins' short story "A Matter of Principal," is one of finest crime films I've seen in a long time. It is also unlike most crime films I've seen in a long time. When you have a hit man as the protagonist (Collins' famous Quarry character, here called Price) you expect wall-to-wall violence. While there's a good share of that what drives Lullaby is character.

I'd forgotten how good Tom Sizemore is. As Price he dominates the movie with his silence. Collins and co-screenplay writer Peter Biegen wisely limit Sizemore's dialogue to short responses for much of the film. He watches, he listens, he broods then he reacts. When he does speak at any length his words are all the more powerful for the contrast.

The set up is that Price has retired from being a hit man but is dragged back into the business when he's forced to kill a beautiful woman played by Sasha Alexander. He'd already gotten to know her when he saved her from a beating by her former boyfriend. Like Sizemore Alexander does her work quietly, subtly. There are layers to her performance. She's obvious at some points, unreadable at others. She's impossible not to watch.

One more actor who needs to be mentioned here and that's Bill Smitrovich. One of the many things that distinguishes Collins' Quarry novels is how he always shows the relationship between certain types of businessmen and the mob. Smitrovich;s Martin can be found at the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the church of his choice. He's an upstanding man. Except he's not. He needs the Alexander character killed and fast. Smitrovich turns him into an angry, frightened bully who is watching it all go away from him. A fine performance.

Director Jeffrey Goodman never sacrifices story and pacing for character but by film's end you care about the two principals far more than you usually do people in crime films. He has a gritty sense of small towns and an even grittier sense of people who want to escape themselves and their pasts.

This is a movie you really should see.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wake The Dead

We watched the two part "Blind Beggar" Wake The Dead episodes tonight and I found myself really caught up in it. Unlike the splashy melodramatics of most Ametican crime shows Wake plays against type and trend. There's a Simenonesque thoughtfulness to the writing and the acting. Another thing it does much better than American crime shows is show the working class in real depth. This is what the people look like, talk like, behave like. And there's a spectrum of them, again against type. I liked the cops, too. Sound, sensible folks whose work is offered in detail but--thanks to editing--never lingers too long. In every respect exciting and memorable tv. Not a single Dirty Harry or Shield moment in nearly two hours.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Last of the pulps; NPR Top Five Crime Novels

A very long, extremely well-done oiece on the fate of the last of the dugest sized fiction magazines:

Pulp Magazines Struggle to Survive in Wired World
Simon Owens

by Simon Owens, November 17, 2008

Every year Locus Magazine, "The Magazine Of The Science Fiction & Fantasy Field," publishes a year-in-review of the genre. This summation always includes a rundown of the circulation of the remaining speculative fiction magazines, sometimes referred to as the "pulps" because of the cheap wood pulp paper on which they used to be printed. In their heyday there were dozens of pulps -- ranging from the mystery to science fiction genres -- with circulations of 100,000 or more. But the medium steeply declined through the '80s and '90s, with magazine circulations for all the publications plummeting to well below six figures.

By the 21st century and the advent of the web, most of these once-great magazines -- Amazing Stories, Argosy, SF Age -- had died off, leaving only three speculative fiction magazines struggling to stop hemorrhaging readers: Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Asimov's Science Fiction, and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

The figures displayed in this year's Locus Magazine roundup were, as usual, not promising. Analog, the best performing of the three, had fallen to a paid circulation of 27,399, while Asimov's dropped 5.2% to 17,581. But the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction saw the sharpest decline -- 11.2% from the previous year -- to a paid circulation of 16,489. Countless science fiction convention panels and online message board topics over the last decade have tried to pinpoint the cause of such catastrophic declines and learn how to stop them. Such discussions often lead to at least one person predicting the eminent death of the short fiction magazines, always seen lurking just around the corner.


Both Asimov's and Analog (along with mystery pulps Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine) are published by Dell Magazines, a company perhaps best known for its puzzle magazines. In fact, outside critics often complain that Dell has let its fiction magazines fall by the wayside because it has concentrated its focus on crossword puzzles and Sudoku.

for the rest go here

------------------Shout out to Dave Zeltserman

Holiday Book Recommendations 2008, November 19, 2008 · Below you can find the complete list of recommended reading for the 2008 Holidays. To print this list, choose the "Print Page" icon in the upper right-hand corner. Click on the titles to read an excerpt from the book.

Recommended Books

Recommended by Maureen Corrigan
(Top Five Crime And Mystery Novels Of 2008)

Small Crimes, by Dave Zeltserman, paperback, 272 pages, List Price: $14.95

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson, translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland, hardcover, 463 pages, List Price: $24.95

Death Vows, by Richard Stevenson, paperback, 212 pages, List Price: $14.99

The Chinaman, by Friedrich Glauser, translated from the German by Mike Mitchell, paperback, 186 pages, List Price: $14.95

The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved, by Judith Freeman, paperback, 368 pages, List P

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Poker Club

Allan Guthrie was kind enough to tell me about this link to the website of director Tim McCann. Hit film clips at the top and you'll see scenes from the film.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Joe The Plumber & other media lizards

Yeah, Joe the P being a humble dude, would have us believe that "everyone" came at him to write a book. Sorry Mr. Knopf, take a hike Random House, who do you think you're talking to Mr. Morrow? Who wants the big bucks, the bling, the babes when you can stand on principle? So instead of cashing in he'd think we'll believe:

"Everyone came at me to write a book. They had dollar signs in their eyes. '101 Things Joe the Plumber Knows' or some stupid s--- like that. Excuse me, I am sorry," he said. "You know I will get behind something solid, but I won't get behind fluff. I won't cash in, and when people do read the book they will figure out that I didn't cash in. At least I hope they figure that out."

The book, called "Joe the Plumber -- Fighting for the American Dream," is to be released by a group called PearlGate Publishing and other small publishing houses.

"I am not going to a conglomerate that way we actually can get the economy jump started. Like there is five publishing companies in Michigan. There's a couple down in Texas. They are small ones that can handle like 10 or 15,000 copies. I can go to a big one that could handle a million or two. But they don't need the help. They are already rich. So that's spreading the wealth to me," he said."

Ed here: I Googled PearlGate (as in Peraly Gate?). If I read the website correctly the company has published one book, that by the same guy who is co-authoring Joe the P's book.

(Thanks to CJR and Charley Sykes and Jeff Wagner for the info)

----------------------FULL MOONERS BAYING LOUD

Talk radio is obsessed with the notion that Obama will a) take the guns of law abiding citizens and b) force full moon talk radio out of business.

A) Can you imagine the size of the army it would take to collect the guns of the unwilling gun owners? We're talking civil war here. A ridiculous idea. But then Limpbaugh and the others would lose their audience if they didn't churn out this bullshit every day.

B) What they're talking about is the Fairness Doctrine. You take the mike and rant thereby guaranteeing me the right to respond in kind. This doctrine is so clearly unconstitutional it would be on the desk of Justice Scalia (dripping his bourbon on it as he slurped) the same day it passed the congress. Another ridiculous idea.

C'mon you guys, you can do better than that. How about Obama and Ayers being secret Scientologists?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Small Crimes Dave Zeltserman

Ed here: I got an early copy of Small Crimes and I've been pushing it hard ever since. Apparently I'm not alone in seeing it as a major novel. This is on-line at the Wash Post today and will be in the Sunday book section.

SMALL CRIMES By Dave Zeltserman | Serpent's Tail. 263 pp. Paperback, $14.95

I don't know about you, but with the world in financial free fall I don't feel like reading comic mysteries or cozies or even espionage thrillers. I don't want escapism. I long to immerse myself in literature that captures the all-encompassing anxiety of the times. There's only one type of mystery that fits that profile, and that's crime noir: the jittery genre, born during the Great Depression, about saps and grifters who ain't gotta barrel of money and just can't get a break; the genre about a world gone wrong and the greedy bumblers who made it so.

James M. Cain was one of the first writers to explore this little tributary of mystery fiction, and though some followers -- notably Cornell Woolrich, Patricia Highsmith, Jim Thompson and James Ellroy -- have pulled off stories almost as good as Cain's, nobody, at least for my money (fast dwindling though it may be), has ever bested Cain at his best. Pulp morality tales like Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce hold their own against any of those highbrow novels the awards committees are always slapping ribbons on.

But there's a new name to add to the pantheon of the sons and daughters of Cain: Dave Zeltserman. If Zeltserman keeps writing novels as terrific as Small Crimes, and if the economy keeps nosediving, he may churn out a corpus that rivals Cain's. Oh, and Small Crimes is a paperback original, so fans don't even have to shell out the big bucks they no longer have for this piece of crime-noir genius.

This tale is told by a first-person narrator who's one of fortune's fools. Joe Denton is a crooked ex-cop in Bradley, Vt., who's just been released from jail after serving seven years for stabbing the local district attorney, Phil Coakley, 13 times in the face with a letter opener. Joe was coked up at the time, and he was rifling the d.a.'s office trying to find documents that fingered him as being part of a police corruption ring. Unfortunately, Phil turned up just as Joe was pouring gasoline around the office. Here's how Joe explains his side of the story:

"The funny thing was I had always liked Phil. I always thought of him as a solid person, a good family man, just an overall decent human being. If I'd had a real knife, like a fishing or hunting knife, I would've killed him that night. The letter opener wasn't sharp enough. I did damage -- Jesus, did I do damage -- but I didn't kill him."

If you're new to the conventions of crime noir, you might well think that Joe sounds like a reasonable guy and that he's ready to start over now that his debt to society has been paid. Wrong. What's past is never past in crime noir. No sooner does Joe step out of the jailhouse than cosmic I.O.U.s begin to rain down on his head. First, the grossly disfigured Phil greets Joe right outside the slammer. Phil perkily breaks the news that Manny Vassey, the local crime kingpin, is dying, has suddenly found religion and is likely to clutch at redemption by confessing his crimes.

Manny's 11th-hour mea culpa could send Joe straight back behind bars, since Joe (a gambler as well as a cokehead) was known to be in debt to Manny (and, thus, in his vile employ). Then Joe gets a "welcome back" phone call from the sheriff, who still runs the ring of crooked cops that once included Joe. The sheriff tells Joe that he needs to finish the job he started in Phil Coakley's office lo those many years ago, because if Manny squawks to Phil about all that's rotten in the little burg of Bradley, Joe's head will roll. What's a loser like Joe to do in a no-win situation like this but go out to the local tavern, where he digs himself into a deeper and deeper mess?

The plot of Small Crimes is a thing of beauty: spare but ingeniously twisted and imbued with a glossy coating of black humor. Zeltserman takes up all the familiar tropes of the formula -- femmes fatales, frighteningly dysfunctional families, self-destructive drives and the death grip of the past -- and shows how infinite are the combinations that can still be played on them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gun Work David Schow

I don't remember who said "Protect me from my friends" but that is advice that Barney, the protagonist in David Schow's excellent suspense novel Gun Work, learns way too late.

When Barney's old friend Carl Ledbetter needs help reacquiring his wife Erica who has been kidnapped in Mexico City, he naturally calls his old war buddy and all-around ornery sumbitch Barney to help out.

But what seems simple at first becomes increasingly more complex with enough switchbacks, betrayls and twists to keep the reader eager to find out if Barney will escape his capture and take things up with the gang behind it all.

Schow wrote some of the most original and memorable horror fiction of the Eighties and Nineties. He had his own voice and his own approach to the genre, giving readers unique riffs on familiar tropes while always commenting on the era and its foibles.

In Gun Work all his virtues are on display. The action is relentless, the violence is brutal and the setting almost Third World in its depiction of a society ruled by gun and greed rather than law. And Erica is one dandy piece of work.

Hopefully we'll see more of Schow's new work soon.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Handle

Hard to know if a book was a fairly easy go for the writer or if it drove him to drugs and e-porn. I hope The Handle by Richard Stark was a pleasure for Donald Westlake to write because it sure is a pleasure to read.

The Organization has decided that it's tired of this German guy running his big casino on an island in the Gulf of Mexico. He's beyond the jurisdiction of the Feds and it's unlikely Cuba will do much about him. Thus Parker is hired to take the casino and its other buildings down--literally. To blow them up.

Now while The Handle is every bit as tough as Dick Cheney's heart, the hardboiled aspect is played off against the sorriest group of human beings Parker may ever have had to work with. And the sardonic way Westlake portrays them had me laughing out loud at several points.

Take your pick. There's the alcoholic hood who talks as if he's auditioning for a Noel Coward play; the mob gun dealer who had to quit drinking several months ago and has increased both his cigarette intake (four or five packs a day) while maintaining both his cancer cough and his enormous weight; the pedophile who turns out to be a ringer sent to spy in Parker and his friends; the Feds who are so inept both Parker and Grofield play games seeing who can lose their tails the fastest. And then there's the the married Grofield, Parker's professional acting buddy, who never passes up a chance to impose his charms on willing women. In this case he endeavors to put the whammy on the very sexy blonde Parker himself has been shacking up with. Isn't that called bird-dogging?

And then we have Baron Wolfgang Freidrich Kastelbern von Alstein, the man who owns the island and the casino and who, over the years, has managed to make The Third Man's Harry Lime look like a candidate for sainthood. Westlake spends a few pages on the Baron's history and it becomes one of the most fascinating parts of the book, especially his days in Europe during the big war.

The book is filled with the little touches that make the Stark books so memorable. My favorite description comes when Parker and the sexy blonde sit down to a dinner that Westlake describes as "viciously expensive."

A fine fine novel.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fast Ships, Black Sails

I came by my love of priate stories dishonestly, not by Robert Louis Stevenson or Rafael Sabatini. I was eight years old when my cousin Bobby Driscoll played the boy in the Disney version of Treasure Island and from then on I became a fan of pirate stories, fiction and non-fiction alike.

Fast Ships, Black Sails edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer is an anthology of short stories that deals with all things piratical and in just about every way imaginable. There is whimsy, there is violence, there is adventure, there is realism, there is fantasy. What is remarkable--and how often can you say this?--there's not a bad one in the bunch. And most of them are excellent.

Of course with a line-up that includes Michael Moorcock, Elizabeth Bear and Naomi Novik it would be difficult to go wrong. I mention these three because I enjoyed their stories the most. But each piece takes an element of pirate legend and gives it new--and sometimes startling--life.

An impressive and enjoyable book for the fireplace nights ahead.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Michael Chrichton; Gor

Very interesting article in SFGate this morning on Chrichton as genre science fiction writer :

Remembering Michael Crichton
Michael Berry Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, November 9, 2008

The headline Wednesday on the Los Angeles Times Web site was startling: "Michael Crichton, million-selling science-fiction author, dies at 66." Not only because there had been no warning that the youthful-looking novelist, screenwriter, film director and television producer was ill, but because he was being identified so prominently as a writer of science fiction.

Well, of course, right? With "The Andromeda Strain," written while he was attending Harvard Medical School, Crichton updated and inverted H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds." "Sphere" is "Forbidden Planet" transplanted to the ocean floor. "Timeline" plays with temporal paradoxes familiar to anyone who has read Robert A. Heinlein. In "Science Fiction of the 20th Century: An Illustrated History," Frank M. Robinson correctly identifies Crichton as "the most commercially successful science-fiction writer of all time," especially given "Jurassic Park" and its film adaptation and sequels.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Elvis Mitchell-Edward Norton

Check Turner Classic for a series of hour long interviews that critic Elvis Mitchell is doing with actors. I caught the first one last night. Mitchell does something rare among interviewers--he lets his subject talk at length. There were long periods when Mitchell was neither seen nor heard. The most interesting part of the discussion for me was the Martin Scorcese section. Norton noted that the dark drama Taxi Driver and the black comedy King of Comedy are inter-related thematically. The killer Travis Bickel is one side of the same coin as wanna-be comedian Rupert Pupkin. Both are dealing with the ravages of isolation. Since these are among my top five Scorcese films--and I'd never thought of them as being related--I found his theory fascinating. With a lot of scenes from the movies Norton discusses, the hour is a serious but never pretentious look at the films and actors who have influenced Norton.

Friday, November 07, 2008

William Campbell Gault; Weird Tales

Shamus Winner David Fulmer has an excellent long review of Bill Gault's The Bloody Bokhara on The Rap Sheet tonight. One paragraph is particularly evocative of both Bill and his work:

"Gault was a writer with definite tone. Whether he was dealing in hot cars or hot lead, his brand of grit came from the same shadows of post-World War II America. Playing in both fields, he displayed a deep sense for the dislocation in the shallows of those years. From Midwest dirt tracks on hot Sunday afternoons to a seedy Los Angeles saloon in the wee small hours, the man nailed loners doing brave and often thankless work."

Ed here: I've written about Bill here several times. He's been one of my favorite writers since my teen years in the Fifties and one of my favorite people since meeting him via Mystery Scene in 1984. I probably talked to him twenty times over the years and I liked him all the more every conversation.

He embodied everything I like and admire about the working class and his work is suffused with that. He once spent a long conversation telling me about all the jobs he had before he finally got established full-time as a writer. I can still hear his great cigarette laugh as he told his stories. He was like most of us who write. He saw civilians as people to spy on for the sake of the work. This didn't diminish his fondness for people. I never heard him bitter or jealous. Even when he was telling me about how all the western writers working out of LA (Bill never wrote westerns, just knew these guys) told him stories about how Louis L'Amour would never give anybody blurbs--Why should I help the competition? (L'Amour had the same attitude when he had 75% of all western pb rack space--what competition?) He was laughing his ass off relating this. His usual target was himself and all the things he'd screwed up in his life. You'll find this particular attitude in virtually everything he wrote. "Loners doing brave and of thankless work." per the review.

I want to thank David Fulmer for writing such a eloqent piece. I hope it inspires people to pick up a Bill Gault novel. There are a lot of damned good ones.

--------Weird Tales

What was it that attracted would-be young literary writers back in the Thirties and Forties to try and sell to Weird Tales? Tennessee Williams sold them a story (and a pretty good one) when he was seventeen; Truman Capote tried them several times; and now we learn that no less a figure than Norman Mailer also tried to sell them at least one story.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

James Reasoner

James Reasoner is a fine writer and a fine guy. The Tainted Archive interviewed him the other day following James' annoucement that h'ed just finished book number 225. His recent noir novel Dust Devils ranks among the best crime novels of the past few years.


James Reasoner is a highly regarded western writer - his books are tightly plotted with realistic characters and engaging plots. His writing style is pacey and the author is always sure to satisfy anyone looking for a well written western novel to pass away a few hours. As well as westerns he's done crime, thrillers and historical fiction. In fact he's currently responsible for 227 books but that number will probably increase before you've finished this article.

He has written under many different names and you may have read him without realising it - I did - I loved Elmer Kelton's Sons of Texas series and I later discovered James wrote the sixth book in the series, Defiant. Chances are you may have a western lurking in the collection written by Reasoner.

He is a man of many names. A true modern version of the pulp writer.

That's not to say Reasoner's work is light weight - far from it. Everything he writes is the result of a consummate professional at work and he has gained many gleaming critical reviews. He has written at least a couple of crime classics - Dust Devils is amazingly good and stuck around in my mind for weeks after reading and his early crime novel, Texas Wind enjoys cult status with paperback collectors. However for this feature it is his westerns of which we are primarily concerned - His recent series of Deadwood novels, not based on the stunning TV series but on the actual history of the illegal town, are excellent semi-fictions that add more flesh to the characters we've come to know from the TV series. "

for the rest go here:

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Michael Chrichton; Gor

Hard to imagine a more staggering or influential career in popular fiction than that of Michael Chrichton. Jurassic Park alone made him immortal, on film if not in literature. I prefered his early novels, A Case of Need (his Edgar winner as by Jeffery Hudson) being my favorite. I also really amdired The Great Train Robbery--a masterful historical and a damned fine suspense novel. And that's not to forget Wstworld, which is still a lot of fun to watch.


Back in the Sixties stoners of the male variety used to sit in college dorms and read passages of John Norman's Gor novels out loud. I knew a few guys who actually believed that they weren't for real, that somebody at the National Lampoon (then at its zenith) was cranking them out as a goof. I mean, they were beyond sexism, delving into (you should pardon the verb) a view of women that was really too insane to take seriously.

Part of the fun of any romantic relationship is the give and take out of which lasting bonds are made. I've been told (and I suspect it's true) that women can be smart, tough, industrious, loving, tender and just sort of wonderful to have around. I even suspect that they can be funny as hell. I also suspect that in most ways they're superior to men (Carol being proof absolute--no kidding there).

I hadn't thought of Norman for many many decades but then he shows up cited on the e-fanzine Ansible:

"John Norman plugs his new Gor novel: 'What man, in his deepest heart, does not want to own a female, to have her for his own, utterly, as a devoted, passionate, vulnerable, mastered slave, and what woman, in her deepest heart, does not want to be so intensely desired, so unqualifiedly and fiercely desired, that nothing less than her absolute ownership will satisfy a male, her master?' "

Ed here: The thing is I no longer believe this old fart is kidding.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Congratulations to my buddy Tom Piccirilli for winning a slot on Amazon’s Ten Best Crime and Suspense Novels of 2008
The Cold Spot by Tom Piccirilli

Congratulations to my friends Carolyn Hart-Margaret Maron

The PW List of Year’s Best Mysteries 2008
Wild Inferno
Sandi Ault (Berkley Prime Crime)
Ault smoothly blends a murder mystery plot with Native American lore in this impressive sequel to her debut, Wild Indigo.
Lie Down with the Devil
Linda Barnes (St. Martin's Minotaur)
Boston PI Carlotta Carlyle suspects her mob-associated fiancé of infidelity after he disappears in this utterly compelling 12th outing.
Ghost at Work
Carolyn Hart (Morrow)
A ghost turns sleuth in this intriguing first in a new series by veteran Hart, who's won Agatha, Anthony and Macavity awards.
The Private Patient
P.D. James (Knopf)
Adam Dalgliesh, the charismatic police commander, investigates a private plastic surgery clinic after the murder of a patient in what fans will hope is not his last case.
The Messengers of Death: A Mystery in Provence
Pierre Magnan, trans. from the French by Patricia Clancy (St. Martin's Minotaur)
French author Magnan blends elegant clue-laying and deft characterizations that strike to the core of human frailties in his second mystery set in Provence.
Death's Half Acre
Margaret Maron (Grand Central)
Corruption and murder stalk rural Colleton County, N.C., in Maron's outstanding 14th mystery to feature Judge Deborah Knott and her extended family.
Salt River
James Sallis (Walker)
Poetic prose and the richly described rural Southern backdrop lift Sallis's sublime third novel to feature philosophical sheriff John Turner.
Fear of Landing
David Waltner-Toews (Poisoned Pen)
Set in the repressive Indonesia of the early 1980s, this compelling debut introduces an unlikely detective, a Canadian veterinarian.
The Calling
Inger Ash Wolfe
In this bracingly original mystery set in rural Ontario, a middle-aged female police inspector investigates the murder of an elderly cancer patient.

Two sequels to Road To Perdition planned
Posted in: Movie News
Author: Paul Heath
Nov 2, 2008 - 8:08:49 PM
vote nowBuzz up!

"Road to Perdition," the Oscar-winning 2002 film directed by Sam Mendes that starred Tom Hanks, Jude Law, Daniel Craig and the late Paul Newman, is becoming a trilogy. The follow-up films are "Road to Purgatory" and "Road to Paradise."

"Road to Purgatory" will follow the character of Michael Sullivan, Jr., the son of Tom Hanks' character in the original film, who returns from World War II with a new determination to avenge his murdered father. His quest ultimately leads him to Frank Nitti, whom he is urged to kill on the orders of Al Capone. The second sequel will follow Sullivan's continued plight.

Pic will be helmed by Max Allan Collins, who has also penned the screenplay, in his directorial debut. Executive producer is Illinois-based Phillip W. Dingeldein.

Jeffrey B. Mallian's JBM Production Company is producing with Joel Eisenberg and EMO Films. Mallian's credits include "Over the Line," "Leprechaun" and "Angel Eyes." EMO Films recently wrapped the Columbine-themed "April Showers." Upcoming projects include "Cage of Stars," based on the New York Times Bestseller, and "Ghoulishly Yours, William M. Gaines," a biopic of the titular comic book publisher, with John Landis. Eisenberg is a partner in EMO Films, with Timothy Owens.

“Road to Purgatory” will be dedicated to Paul Newman.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Studs Terkel

Ed here--mediabistro offered a Studs Terkel quote this morning that demonstrates how true and brave and irreplacable the man was.

In 1997, Studs Terkel blamed journalists and writers for sugar-coating the first Gulf War: "Our most prestigious journals found the horrors visited by our smart bombs upon Iraqi women and kids news not fit to print. It is no secret that our media -- TV and radio, owned by the same Big Boys, compounding the obscenity -- played the role of bat boys to the sluggers of the Pentagon."

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Lost TV

According to ABC, more than 200 made-for-TV mystery movies were telecast during the 1973-1974 season alone. To save on production costs, these cheapies were shot very quickly on videotape instead of 35mm film and ran only around 70 minutes. Despite the small budgets and audiences, ABC attracted many popular television actors to star in these mysteries, which probably took only a few days to shoot: Christopher George, Michael Parks, Julie Newmar, Meredith Baxter, John Vernon, John Astin, Claude Akins, Fritz Weaver, Anne Francis and Tim Matheson, just to name a few. None of them ever air on television these days, and very few made it to home video. Some of them may no longer exist, as it was common then for networks to erase videotaped programming so they could reuse the tapes, which is why many game shows and even the first ten years of THE TONIGHT SHOW no longer exist.

for the rest go here

A few days ago Marty McCee (above) wrote a piece about the CBS series of the early 70s that is mostly lost to time. This made me think about a book from the late 70s I look through from time to time.

The American Vein: Directions and Directors in Television by Christopher Wicking and Tise Vahimagi evaluates the contributions to tv drama of the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies by such directors as Sydney Pollack, Robert Aldrich, Bob Rafelson, Steven Speilberg, Budd Boetticher, Don Siegel and many, many more.

To be sure, much of tv deserved(s) its "vast wasteland" knock but the writers here make a convinaing case for many of the episodic series and original movies that are lost to film vaults, much like so many of the silent films and a fair share of the talkies right on up through the Forties.

What I like about the book is how its tough-mined evaluation of directorial careers make its recommendations all the more persuasive. There are a lot of black and white shows I'd love to check out again.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Frederic Brown

Yes, I had an epiphany last night. Honest. I was re-reading one of my favorite Fredric Brown novels, The Deep End, and I realized suddenly why I've always felt such a spiritual closeness to his crime fiction.

I had a paper route when I was twelve and thirteen. I delivered in the neighborhood where I lived, a working class quadrant of the small city packed with bars. The men and women in the bars always liked to treat to me a bottle of pop or a game of shuffleboard or pool. We were all Micks from the same parish.

I can't say I got to know any but a few of them personally. But I did have an understanding of them as an aggregate, especially the men who were in their twenties, their fates already sealed by families, lack of college education and, in most cases, a compliance with the wishes of the gods (Lovecraft's gods to my mind).

The bar was their escape. My favorite bar was part of a seedy hotel. The owner liked hillbilly music and he put all of Elvis' Sun records on it as early as 1955 before Elvis was widely known. Same with Johnny Cash. A very cool place.

I overheard stories. Men fighting with their wives; men stepping out on their wives; men who couldn't pay their bills and were heavy into loan companies already. Some of the men blue collar, some of men lower-echelon white collar. There were fights sometimes; wives occasionally appeared and hauled their humiliated husbands out of the places. The great tragedy was the much-decorated Marine who'd fought in Korea. Popular high school basketball player, happy hard-working good looking guy who was crazy about his wife and brought her in frequently, lovely frail Irish girl-woman. He got killed in a highway accident and his wife (true facts) set herself on fire in grief.

Lives significant only to them and their kind (my kind).

And while I was reading The Deep End last night (a novel so redolent of Fifties morality it could be used in a sociology text book, even though it takes enormous liberties with the sexual mores of the time, the love affair here a knockout) I realized that I like Brown so much (I was already reading him back then) because he wrote about my neighborhood and my people. Most of his crime novels, I know now, are filled with the men and women in the bars on my old paper route.

I keep hearing about how Brown's Coming Back. I sure hope that's true.