Sunday, May 31, 2009

American Movie Classics

There was a time when I bought TV Guide just to see what AMC would be running. For classy and classic movies AMC was the place to go. I have to admit I switched to Turner Classic as soon as it appeared though every once in awhile I'd flip to AMC to check out its offering. Then one day I noticed something terrible had happened to the channel.

Here's By Lee Pfeiffer from Cinema Retro

"You would think that AMC, the American cable channel, would be happy with the fact that their esteemed series Madmen is winning Emmys and generating big profits. However, this is the same network in which the brain dead executive types destroyed the policy of showing uncut classic movies in favor of presenting chopped up, edited crap. All true retro movie lovers long ago turned away from AMC in favor of Turner Classic Movies. With its lineup of films reduced to either outright trash or genuine classics destroyed by frequent commercial breaks and ham-handed editing in the interests of time constraints, the only thing AMC has going for it is original programming."

for the rest and a link to Nikki Finke's take on what AMC is doing to ruin Madmen this season, go here:

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Whistler

Vince Keenan has kindly given me permission to reprint some of his previous columns, which is fine for me because I think he's a particularly astute writer no matter the subject. Since Vince and I share an admiration for strange but compelling B series called The Whistler, I thought I'd lead with Vince's opening column on those movies.

posted by Vince # 1:03 AM (1) comments
Saturday, September 06, 2008
Movies: The Films of the Whistler, Part One

Amidst multiple deadlines, I’ve been making my way through the offbeat movies based on the radio program The Whistler. The opportunity comes courtesy of Ed Gorman – friend of the site, damn fine writer, and all-around good guy. Thanks again, Ed.

The Whistler ran on radio for 13 years, beginning in 1942. The film series, which started two years later, is essentially a noir grab bag. All the elements are here, recombined in various ways: amnesia, blackmail, femme fatales, shady shamuses. And lingering over it all, a pervasive sense of doom, of fate reaching out from the darkness.

The title character, glimpsed only in silhouette, narrates each tale. (“I am the Whistler, and I know many things, for I walk by night.”) Purple prose read in a fulsome voice. Something tells me Ed Wood was a big Whistler fan.

Richard Dix starred in the film series. He’s given a different name in each movie, but he’s playing the same type: a man hounded by life no matter how successful he is. As Ed put it, “Dix is awkward but somehow right as a down and outer. Even when he’s supposed to be up he’s down and out, sort of his spiritual DNA I suspect.”

Snappy, B-movie pacing is the order of the day; the longest of the eight films clocks in at just over an hour. Each could use another three or four minutes to smooth out the plotting, but they’re still marvels of economical storytelling.

1944’s The Whistler kicks things off. Director William Castle is best remembered for the gimmicks he deployed to sell schlock like The Tingler, but he knew his way around a suspense piece. The story is the venerable warhorse used most recently in Bulworth: guy hires a hit man to end his own life, has a change of heart, then desperately tries to cancel the contract. Dix’s natural malaise is a perfect fit. Titanic’s Gloria Stuart plays his loyal secretary, and J. Carrol Naish is the killer who taunts his target as part of a “psychological experiment.”

I will not, alas, be able to see the same year’s Mark of the Whistler, adapted from Cornell Woolrich’s “Dormant Account.” In Power of the Whistler (1945), Dix puts his befuddlement to work as an accident victim who has lost his memory. Janis Carter is the would-be fortuneteller who vows to help him, even though small animals that come near Dix tend to meet grisly fates. It features the creepiest use of the Whistler’s shade.

Voice of the Whistler (1945) is the oddest of the lot so far. It opens with a Citizen Kane-style newsreel singing the praises of Dix’s deeply unhappy industrialist. Ordered by his doctor to take a vacation for his own mental health, Dix falls ill and is taken in by a kindly stranger. As he recuperates under an assumed name, he reinvents himself as a more open individual. The film grafts on a conventional and unsatisfying plot involving a scheming nurse and a locked-room mystery in a lighthouse. But the opening scenes, with Dix questioning whether it’s possible to die from loneliness, cast an unsettling spell. They go right to the core of what the Whistler movies are about: the burdens “hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows.”

Three down, three more to go.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Best rock producer?

Neil McCormack has an interesting piece on the people who produce rock and roll records and CDs, especially fitting that Phil Spector is front and center on the day he's sentenced to nineteen years in prison.

"I speak to Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds in today's Telegraph. Broudie is a legendary post punk producer, who started out making the early classic albums for Echo & The Bunnymen and most recently discovered and developed The Coral and The Zutons. When I asked him who his own favourite producers were, he nominated a couple of familiar names, Phil Spector and George Martin, although for very different reasons.

He captured the Beatles: George Martin

"Phil Spector is the greatest ever," insisted Broudie. "Just because of the genius of going from 'Be My Baby' to 'Imagine', from massive production to no production, and they're both fantastic achievements. When I was little and I heard imagine, I remember thinking this just sounds like its gone from his mouth onto the record and you could see the room he was playing in. There was nothing between you and the piano and the voice. Whereas 'Be My Baby's got everything between you and it, it sounds like it's in this marvellous cavern with a million people. He's brilliant."

"George Martin is different. He did a fabulous job with the Beatles, and they are probably the best records ever made, but I think he basically captured the Beatles."

for the rest go here:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Charlie Stella; Robert Ludlum; Romance novels

Ed here: I was privileged to read Charlie Stella's knockout novel Johnny Porno in manuscript. I mentioned it to Greg Shepard at Stark House and he said that while he might like it he wasn't sure about publishing an original novel. He read it and changed his mind immediately: Here's what Greg wrote today:

"Up until now I've resisted publishing anything that wasn't a reprint of what I considered a classic or long-neglected mystery. But when Ed Gorman introduced me to Charlie Stella's new book, I simply couldn't resist. Johnny Porno is set in 1970's New York when Deep Throat is being hustled around town by the mob and a guy named John Albano is just trying to get by. This book's got it all: gangsters and wannabes, cops both crooked and not, hustlers and informers, crazy ex-wives and resourceful girlfriends; and crackling dialog that's so real you can hear it. I couldn't put it down. Because nobody writes mob fiction like Charlie Stella. He's the real deal. And it's a real pleasure knowing I'll be working with him on Johnny Porno. Stark House Press steps out."


Publisher's Weekly carried a piece about the enormous success of the Bourne novels written by Eric von Lustbader. Agent Henry Morrison was interviewed:

While Morrison admitted the success of the Bourne films can't be underestimated when discussing the continued success of Ludlum's books, he noted that it was imperative that Lustbader's Bourne books stand on their own as solid thrillers. He called Lustbader's novels “Ludlumesque in terms of intrigue and plot twists,” but Lustbader's Bourne is “neither Ludlum's nor the movies'.”

Today, two Ludlum novels a year are released, according to Morrison, with one book from the Bourne line and another from the Covert-One series, and Morrison sometimes worries about market saturation. (In fall 2010, the Paul Janson books will be relaunched, and Grand Central, which will publish the second Janson book in 2011, will continue that series if it fares well.) But referring to the management of the James Patterson name—Patterson publishes more titles annually than Ludlum—Morrison said he's watching how other literary brands work out. “If we're careful,” Morrison said, “I think we can do it, too.”

for the rest go here:


The Huffington post filed a story about how, with other genres failing, romance sales conntinue to grow:

Love may not conquer all in real life, but its power in relatively inexpensive books is quite a comfort in this economy. Publishers are seeing strong sales in the romance genre as other categories decline and consumers cut back on spending.

Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., a global giant in women's fiction, reported fourth-quarter earnings up 32 percent over the same period a year earlier, with U.S. retail sales up 9 percent in 2008.

For the week of May 10, romance book sales overall were up nearly 2.4 percent compared with the same week last year, according to Nielsen BookScan, which covers 75 percent of retail sales. Travel book sales were down 16 percent, detective/mystery and self-help were each down 17 percent and adult fiction overall, of which romance is a subgenre, was up 1 percent.

Jennifer Enderlin, associate publisher for St. Martin's Press, said romance is doing so well, the publisher is releasing 32 titles this year (more could be added), compared to 26 last year.

Books from notable authors, including Lora Leigh, Lisa Kleypas and Sherrilyn Kenyon, are experiencing healthy sales, she said.

Enderlin and other publishers said they're not surprised by the genre's success.

"If you really think about it, there is a little romance in virtually every book," said Laurie Parkin, vice president and publisher of Kensington Publishing Corp. Kensington has seen a 5 percent increase in sales for mass market paperback romances for its fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, she said.

"But especially when business is bad or business is down, people want to escape a little bit," Parkin added. "I think romance offers that in a wonderful, wonderful way."

for the rest go here:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dave Zeltserman

This interview originally appeared on Rafe McGregor's blod tonight.


McConfidential #2: Dave Zeltserman
Dave Zelterserman is a writer of dark crime fiction and lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Rafe: Tell me a bit about your current series.

Dave: Pariah is being published in the US this October, and is the second of my 'man just out prison' trilogy that Serpent’s Tail is putting out. I wrote this book on two levels — at one level it’s a fierce and uncompromising crime novel, at another level it’s a satirical look at the NY publishing industry and the celebrity culture in the US. In a lot of ways my protagonist in this one, Kyle Nevin, is the polar opposite to Joe Denton from Small Crimes. In Small Crimes, Joe Denton is someone who wants to go through life without causing any more damage, and at some level is seeking redemption for what he’s done. Kyle is a force of nature. He’s someone who causes death and destruction wherever he goes, and what he’s seeking is revenge and his former stature. This is a book I’m very excited about.

Rafe: Which authors have had the strongest influence on your writing?

Dave: Growing up I read a lot—everything from classics, to pulps, sci-fi, and eventually mysteries and crime fiction, and I think at some level it’s all influenced me. My two biggest influences have probably been Ross Macdonald and Jim Thompson. When I was in high school I discovered Ross Macdonald and quickly devoured all of his Lew Archer books. Something about his sins of the father themes attracted me, as well as all that guilt in middle-class America desperately trying to stay buried. Originally I was trying to write my first book, Fast Lane, as bad Ross Macdonald. Then I discovered Jim Thompson, and it was almost like a religious experience. His books were so audacious and original, and just seeing how he broke the rules but made it work opened my eyes to what could be done. At a superficial level you can find some of Thompson in Fast Lane, but for the most part I discovered my own voice in writing that book, and reading Thompson was instrumental in me doing that.

Rafe: What are your five favourite novels that aren’t normally considered crime fiction?

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
1984 by George Orwell
Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

Rafe: Who is your favourite contemporary crime fiction author?

Dave: Derek Raymond. The guy was amazing, and his factory series is by far my favourite contemporary crime fiction series. So bleak and grim, almost like a meditation on death and dying, but what a fantastic voice.

Rafe: What book/s are you reading at present?

Dave: Right now I’m researching my novel, and for that I’m currently reading:
The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley
Witchcraft and Magic in Europe edited by Bengt Ankarloo
The Hell Fire Clubs: Sex, Satanism and Secret Societies by Evelyn Lord

This is different for me, and it’s been fun. Last week I did squeeze in a crime novel for pleasure — Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith, which is being published next year. Smith’s Mixed Blood is one of the best crime fiction debuts I’ve come across, and Wake Up Dead is amazing — he’s going to be a major voice in the genre.

Rafe: What project/s are you currently working on?

Dave: As I hinted in my last answer, I’m doing something different for me. Instead of a crime novel, I’m working on the retelling of a classic gothic novel, and it’s requiring a large amount of research. I’ve already gone through a thick stack of books, and have a small stack left before I’ll be starting this one.

Rafe: That’s very interesting, Dave, because I was going to ask you about your interest in supernatural and occult fiction, which I’d already picked up from reading your work. I’m fascinated by the fact that several of the great crime writers of the nineteenth century also wrote horror fiction, and vice-versa. What common ground do you find in two genres which are now regarded as completely distinct?

Dave: Rafe, that’s an interesting question. Stephen King’s Misery is probably as much noir as it is horror. Jim Thompson’s Savage Night is about as horrific an ending as you’re going to find in any horror novel. Ed Gorman has been writing terrific crime and horror. When I was doing Hardluck Stories, we had a horror noir issue where we ended up with some of our best stories. Myself, I have one book published, Bad Thoughts, that’s pretty much a mix of crime and horror, as well as two more books scheduled for publication, Essence and Caretaker of Lorne Field that both have supernatural and horror elements to them. I guess with crime fiction, especially noir, we’re delving into the darkest depths of the soul and mind, and it’s not that much of a leap from that to horror.

Rafe: I’m one of many who’s taken inspiration from your long struggle to reach a mainstream audience and your selfless ‘Lessons from the Trenches’ series of blog posts. What single piece of advice do you think is most important for aspiring authors?

Dave: This is a tough question to answer honestly without sounding too cynical or depressing, and I can really only talk about the crime/mystery space since that’s what I’m familiar with, but I’d say it’s for writers to understand that with most publishers this is a business and they’re not necessarily looking for the best books to publish but for what they perceive as the most commercially viable books. Probably the quicker a writer understands this and learns what these publishers are really looking for, the smoother their path to being published. Or you can be a stubborn fuck like me and spend years swimming against the tide and get your head bashed in pretty good in the process.

Rafe: You’ve had two brushes will Hollywood so far, the most recent of which seems like it might actually bear fruit. Can you tell me a little about both?

Dave: I’ve actually only had one experience that I’ve talked about. Back in 2004 I wrote a bank heist book that’s a bit on the dark side which is now titled , 28 Minutes. Although we came close we couldn’t get the book sold, but my agent at the time did get it in the hands of a top film rep who believed in the book and took it on. Over the next three years we had a lot of close calls — at one point we almost sold it as a cable series, then later two very hot screenwriters wanted to take it on but had to drop it due to other commitments. John Tomko, who was one of the top guys at Warner Brothers and produced Ocean’s 11 and Falling Down, was involved throughout all this, and last year he got Jeremy Bolt and Impact Pictures interested, and this has led to a studio film deal with Impact Pictures and Constantin Film, with John as one of the producers. The screenplay is being worked on now, and according to John it’s progressing well and should be finished soon. The way this works for most writers selling options, the money is mostly back ended — you get a small amount selling the option, a good chunk for the film rights — but this doesn’t happen until filming starts, and potentially a lot of money if the film is released. I know films are something writers are supposed to never count on — a lot of books get optioned that never get made — but these guys seem pretty driven to make this. As far as the book goes, I’ve since sold the UK rights to Serpent’s Tail and it’s scheduled for a 7/10 release.

Now for my second brush that I haven’t mentioned before and has really just happened. I recently showed another unpublished book to John Tomko — this is one that my agent is now shopping, and John wants to take this one on also. I feel pretty good that this one will go much faster than 28 Minutes. This one would be a series — think Sin City with vampires. It’s a pretty rock ‘n roll crime/horror novel. I’ve also had interest in Small Crimes — Steve Zaillian who did American Gangster very early on asked for a free exclusive option, which I turned down, but I’ve been talking recently with Jeremy Bolt, and I think if I can do a good job with the screenplay this will happen also. That’s the thing with this business—you get one foot in the door and things start happening.

Rafe: That's really good news, Dave, and I'm looking forward to watching Zeltserman-on-the-big-screen sometime soon. Finally, who is your favourite living crime writer, and why?

Dave: Lawrence Block. I love his dark sensibilities, and his writing is just so seamless.

For more on Dave Zeltserman visit his website, at:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I don't know how many of you have been following this story about it shows that good old Oxford University is as much of a snake pit of jealousy and intrigue as most big ad agencies. I don't have a dog in this fight and it seems that both sides had a case to make but man this is sure an embarrassment for the university.

Poetic Justice: Briton Says She Helped Taint Rival
Published: May 25, 2009
CAMBRIDGE, England — A historic month for women in British poetry turned sour on Monday when the first woman in 301 years elected to Oxford University’s prestigious chair in poetry resigned and admitted what she had previously denied — that she had played a part in a covert effort to taint her main rival for the post with old allegations of sexual impropriety.

Jloy Alonso/Reuters
Derek Walcott, 79, was the main rival of Ms. Padel.
Ruth Padel, 63, was chosen only 10 days ago for the Oxford post, which is regarded as second only to poet laureate among the formal distinctions for poets in Britain. Two weeks earlier, Carol Ann Duffy, 53, became Britain’s first female poet laureate, a post formally created in 1668.

Ms. Padel’s admission that she sent e-mail messages to two reporters last month alerting them to allegations of sexual harassment against her main rival for the Oxford post, the Nobel literature laureate Derek Walcott, was a stunning turn in a saga of skullduggery that had opened a bitter schism in Britain’s literary world.

Just as much, it has scandalized the ivy-walled cloisters of Oxford, exposing a culture of jealousy and mean-spirited connivance at sharp odds with the university’s public posture of academic tolerance and reason.

In a resignation statement released to the news media on Monday, Ms. Padel said that she had acted “as a result of student concern” about the allegations of sexual improprieties, and that the information she had cited was already in the public domain. “I acted in complete good faith and would have been happy to lose to Derek,” the statement said.

The battle for the post was a matter of prestige, not money. Chairs at Oxford and Cambridge rank their holders at the top of the academic hierarchy, and Ms. Padel’s predecessors have included literary giants like W. H. Auden and Robert Graves.

But the chair draws a salary of barely $11,000 a year and requires nothing more of the holder than three public lectures a year.

During the campaign for the post and after her election, Ms. Padel, a great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, insistently condemned the smear tactics that led Mr. Walcott, 79, to withdraw from a contest he had been favored to win. Mr. Walcott, born in St. Lucia, has spent much of the past 30 years commuting between his home on Trinidad and his teaching duties in the United States, and it was those duties that led to the allegations of sexual misconduct.

Ms. Padel’s resignation came the day after two national newspapers, The Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph, published articles detailing the e-mail messages.


for the rest go here:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Which blurbs are more valuable

The other day Tess Gerritsen noted a discussion-disagreement about the impact of the internet on book sales. In the course of the general back and forth the subject of blurbs came up--are blog blurbs all that helpful to publishers? This started when two Avon editors politely stated their opinion that, as of right now, newspaper/magazine blurbs are better and NY Times bestseller endorsement are best of all. Many writers and readers wrote in (apparently-I haven't read the source material) to complain that the Avon editors were behind the times etc and that a lot of readers use internet reviews as a shopping guide.

Tess then pointed that internet sales of her bestsellers amount to about three per cent of the sales. And the Avon editors talk about packaging and distribution as keys to sales, neither of which involve the internet per se. These factors are still what drive book sales.

I buy seventy per cent of my books on line. And I do use reviews as a shopping guide of sorts. But usually I buy books recommended by reviewers I'm familiar with and trust. As for general I have to agree with the editors. I'm more impressed by a newspaper review quote than I am by an internet quote--with a few exceptions. The internet is pretty incestuous and I'm certainly a part of that process. But if I see a blurb from a site not on my list of preferred blogs, I tend to be skeptical about it.

There seemed to be a lot of hurt feelings, even anger in some of the responses to the editor. I think Tess did a fine job of looking at both sides and stating her (very reasonable) opinion.

What's your take on all this?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A brutal look at publishing from Crain's Business New York

By Matthew Flamm
SAVING TREES: [+] SAVING TREES: Brian Napack says Macmillan is getting to the point where manuscripts will move through a paperless system. Photo by Buck Ennis
Filed Under :

Brave New World, Hachette, HarperCollins, Top Stories

Last week, an auction for a book by Capt. Richard Phillips, the merchant-ship hero who saved his crew from pirates, drew top bids of around $500,000—half the seven-figure advance it had been expected to fetch.

At least that book had bidders. In February, the William Morris Agency failed to find any takers for a Britney Spears memoir.

Further down the food chain, the mere mortals of book publishing—professional writers—are having a tougher time too. “Somebody said to me recently, "$35,000 is the new $75,000,' “ says Michael Morrison, president of the general books division at HarperCollins Publishers.

Faced with declining sales and a bleak outlook for consumer spending, the book publishing industry is cutting costs where it can. At the same time, it is digitizing systems to do more with fewer bodies and less paper, experimenting with online marketing and pouring resources into e-books—a still-tiny segment that is seen as the industry's one hope for growth.

Underlying all these efforts is the feeling that the book business has changed, and that it may never go back to the way it was.

for the rest go here:

Saturday, May 23, 2009


In the Guardian (UK) Michael Hann responds to David Thomson's piece about movie villains. The major and minor ones of different types.

"David Thomson thinks it's Robert Shaw – even when, as in Jaws, he's on the side of the angels, David believes Shaw to have the been the scariest man to stride across the cinema screens. So who are the greatest villains in cinema history? They must be characters who compel us to watch, people who make us wonder: what happened to make them that way?

"So those villains who are set up purely to teach us about the hero – as in the likes of Zodiac or Rear Window – don't work. Not least because you never get to encounter them as real characters. Nor do "supervillains" – the likes of Blofeld or the Joker in either his Ledger or Nicholson guises – because we know they are not and can never be real. They are cartoons, and we know they exist only to entertain.

"The villains who truly terrify are those who we might plausibly encounter, if we are unlucky, if our lives go right off the rails, if we simply happen to be in their path when they come through town. They are those who bring disorder, the thing that those of us whose lives follow patterns fear most. They are the likes of Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, who holds the life of a petrol station attendant in his fingers, even if the hapless old man doesn't realise it. We are horrified, because of the discrepancy between our knowledge and the petrol pumper's. Or Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas, who turns from genial to petrifying in the blink of an eye, and – worse for us – does so without recognising the distinction. Or Tommy's homegrown cousin, Trainspotting's Begbie, whom an awful lot of YouTube posters seem to regard, worryingly, as a role model."

Ed here:

"The villains who truly terrify are those who we might plausibly encounter, if we are unlucky, if our lives go right off the rails, if we simply happen to be in their path when they come through town."

If that's the measure I'd go with Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear and Joe Pesci in Casino. Mitchum is controlled madness, Pesci is a psychopath with no control whatsoever. Mitchum's lizard looks and Pesci's compulsive explosions are what we hear about on the news today. For instance, in NYC yesterday a man ran his car into a traffic agent about to give him a parking ticket; a few days ago a man tore out his small son's eye; a woman threw her four month old baby out the window of a speeding car.

The other night I quoted Robert Bloch about his crime novels and how he tried to cope with "The terrible inability to understand the irrational behavior of certain human beings, what is it that impels that sometime senseless sadistic cruelty."

There's been a merging of horror and crime fiction and you'll find many examples in both genres. The stuff of this merger scares me (as a reader and viewer) far more than the traditional approach of haunted houses and spooky trappings. Stephen King is largely responsible for this. Carrie terrified because the emotional center of the fear was Carrie's reaction to the horrors of high school, horrors many us us have suffered.

A fair share of King's short stories give us nightmares because they're rooted in reality. Even a complete fantasy such as The Mangler--about a laundry press machine with murderous intentions--gives us the creeps because many of us are luddites and suspect that we aren't using machines, they're using us. Hell, look at our relationship with our computers. A fair share of us work every day at their mercy. They can take a day off and tell us to shove it. They just might be be able to do a lot of to do a lot of other things, too. Things we don't like to think about especially when we see what the Japanese are starting to do with robots.

All this bears on the villains we create today. The original Cape Fear had the power to shock because audiences had rarely seen a madman like Mitchum on the screen. And each decade since then has built on that Mitchum icon, trying to put him in a more contemporary setting without losing any of his animal lunacy. Some of these versions work; far too many don't. The Bad Guy has become a cliche. But true villain--the real Boogeyman--has likely been with us since (in whatever form) we crawled from the sea.

I grew up with men like Robert Shaw--dangerous and unpredictable Irishers. Scary men. I also knew a few guys, later on, who were at least shirttail kin to the Mitchum icon--breathtakingly cruel. One of them ended up being stabbed to death by the wife he'd beaten over the course of many years. She had her leg in a cast thanks to him the night she killed him. He came at her and she picked up a butcher knife and that was that. The jury was out less than an hour. She walked. It was way past time.

To me the most haunting villains have this streak of almost inhuman cruelty in them, a king of cruelty that makes them unrecognizable as people. . I think that's what Robert Bloch was talking about. Think about Lou Ford in Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me.

Hell just take a minute and study Dick Cheney's face. It's all there.

How do you folks feel about villainy?

for the rest of the Michael Hann article go here:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Leigh Brackett

Im rereading Stranger At Home by Leigh Brackett (the mystery novel she ghosted for actor George Sanders--and which really needs to be in print again) and thought I'd run this oldie review.

Leigh Brackett

In a recent issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction magazine Robert Silverberg wrote a smart piece about growing up in the Fifties with your bedroom packed full of science fiction magazines. Easy to turn such a memoir into treacle but with only a tad of sentimentality Silverberg explained how those magazines influenced us and how, in turn, the writers, editors and readers of that time went on to infuence other generations to come.

I started reading sf magazines when I was eleven. I preferred the action-oriented titles, the most famous (or notorious, take your pick) was the great grand Planet Stories. While it published Ray Bradbury (some of his best work in fact) very early Philip K. Dick, most of the magazine was give over to splashy adventure featuring sweaty white heroes fighting sweatier green aliens for the right to despoil the inviolate white heroine.

My favorite in Planet Stories was Leigh Brackett. Her characters were hard-boiled (she collaborated with William Faulkner on the screenplay for The Big Sleep) and her universe painted in the same colors and textures as her idols, among them Edgar Rice Burroughs. She created a mythic Mars of vast deserts and cut-throat tribes and ancient terrors an earthman could never quite comprehend. Her people lived by one rule: trust no one.

Haffner Press has now published volume two in its series of Brackett stories: Lorelei of the Red Mist: Planetary Romances. The huge volume is packed with some of Brackett's best space opera, especially the Jewel of Bas, The Lake of the Gone Forever and The Dancing Girl of Ganymede. Ray Badbury writes a fond remembrance of Brackett, who was one of his most important teachers (one of their collaborations is in the book) and Harry Turtledove makes a strong case for Brackett being one of the truly great pulp writers. And there are some evocative illustrations by Frank Kelly Freas from the original appearrance of te title novelette.

Martian Quest: The Early Brackett, the first volume, demonstrates how quickly she was learning and how unique her approach to adventure fiction was becoming. Michael Moorcock delivers a long and exceptionally fine overview of Bracketts career.

There is even more Brackett in Stark and The Star Kings. Here Brackett's Eric John Stark joins her husband Edmond Hamilton's The Star Kings in the only tale to feature them both. This book is packed with two full-length novels by Hamilton as well as three novelettes by Brackett. John Jakes provides a knowing and entertaining introduction.

A word about the production qualities of the books. They're among the best made and most handsomely illustrated of all the collectibles I've ever seen. These are masterpieces in every way.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gary Lovisi is a very busy guy

As I've mentioned here several times before Gary Lovisi's Paperback Parade magazine covers material you never see anywhere else. Gary's love of pbs--and their history--has now carried him through seventy two issues. Features in the new #72 include a long and informative interview with novelist Terrill Lankford. Alan Guthrie is a fine interviewer as he shows here. There's are several pages of pb cover art by Paul Lehr, an interesting artist in that he never quite got the credit he deserved though when you see this collection you'll see how important and distinct his work was. Lots of other pb material, too, including a lengthy letter column and plenty of ads for buyers. Buy it.

Dames, Dolls & Delinquents is 200+ pages of full color pb covers of every kind of good girl art. This is a stunning book and a definitive one. Chapter include Sultry Streetwalkers, Deadly Femme Fatales, Women in Peril and Luscious Lesbians. Not only are the covers knock-outs the title are downright deranged: Make Mine a Harlot!, Never Trust A Rich Bitch and the famous Kiss My Fist. If you have any interest in paperback history, you really have to buy this outsize, jam-packed full color book.

Finally, Gary has edited a very cool collection of short stories called Deadly Dames. Modesty forbids me from commenting on my own story here (though I will say that my mom likes it quite a bit) but I will tell you that there are many standouts in this handsome trade pb including those of Max Allan Collins, Vin Packer Wayne Dundee, Michael A. Black and Gary himself among many others. If you like hardboiled fiction, this is for you.

True Crime - And Stunning NY Times

Lawyer’s Ways Spelled Murder, U.S. Is Charging

Published: May 20, 2009
NEWARK — He spent a decade as a top prosecutor, trying murder cases in New Jersey, drug cases in federal court and a wide range of offenses in the military justice system.

Paul Bergrin was a sucessful state and federal prosecutor.
Scared Silent
Articles in the series examined the problem of witness intimidation in New Jersey.
He went on to become one of the state’s most prominent defense lawyers, representing clients as varied as Abu Ghraib defendants, the rap stars Lil’ Kim and Queen Latifah and members of Newark’s notorious street gangs.

But federal authorities charged Wednesday that the success their former colleague, Paul Bergrin, had in defending drug dealers and gang leaders was based on a brutal calculus that he had boiled down to a phrase he repeated like a slogan: No witnesses, no case.

In an indictment unsealed on Wednesday in United States District Court in Newark, prosecutors accused Mr. Bergrin, 53, of orchestrating the murder of a confidential witness by leaking his name to drug dealers who shot him in broad daylight on a Newark street corner; of traveling to Chicago to hire a murderer to kill a witness in another case; of coaching some eyewitnesses to lie; and of paying others to change their stories or leave town on the day they were to testify.

The charges, which left Mr. Bergrin in federal custody and facing a possible death penalty, were a stunning development for a flamboyant man who owned a Mercedes and a Bentley, hobnobbed with movie stars and boasted of beach homes in New Jersey and the Caribbean.

for the rest go here

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Robert Bloch; Terrill Lankford

"This is a thread that runs through all of my mystery/suspense fiction," Bloch has pointed out. "The terrible inability to understand the irrational behavior of certain human beings, what is it that impels that sometime senseless sadistic cruelty, and I tried to familiarize myself with it because I can recognize that, deep down within, there are certain of those aspects within myself which I probably manage to exorcise by way of the typewriter."
--Robert Bloch

Last night and this afternoon I read The Will To Kill by Robert Bloch. When you pair this one with his novel The Kidnapper you discover that in his own quiet way Bloch was writing horrorific noir fiction way back in the mid-Fifties, the same kind of fiction so much in vogue today. While I've seen both novels compared to Jim Thompson and Cornell Woolrich, Bloch told me once that he'd never read Thompson, though he readily acknowledged the Woolrich influence. But these two short books are unique in voice and storyline and are, in some respects, two sides of the same story--the man who fears he's a killer and the man who revels in being a killer. They're both claustrophobic as hell. You're completely inside the mind of the man narrating the stories. The Kidnapper should be easy to find. It was reprinted in the late eighties by Tor. Will is hard to come by but well worth the search.


The First Quarry by Max Allan Collins

As soon as I finished The First Quarry I e-mailed Al Collins to tell him that I thought it was not only the best of the Quarry novels but one of his best novels period.

The Anthony committee agrees with me. The First Quarry has been nominated for Best Paperback Original of The Year.

In case you're unlucky enough not to have read it, buy it right away. The craft is stunning. Al twists and twists and twists the story from first page to last. As I've mentioned before this is one of the most suspenseful--and unpredictable--novels I've read in the past few years.

Congratulations, Al.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Black Wings Has My Angel; The Plastic Nightmare

Centipede Press has finally given the most lauded Gold Medal of all time the home it has always deserved--a collector's edition of true bookmaking excellence and permanence.


Here are some excerpts from the excellent introduction by Bill Pronzini. Bill discusses not only Black Wings but also the life of its author, Eliot Chaze.

"...Yet the novel that many contemporary critics and aficionados consider the best of all the Gold Medal originals‹and one of the best noir crime novels ever written‹was a one-shot by a newspaperman and mainstream novelist who did not publish another piece of crime fiction for sixteen years.

"That novel, of course, is Black Wings Has My Angel.

"Originally published in April 1953 as Gold Medal #296, it had the usual lurid paperback cover art of the period and a typically provocative teaser line: She had the face of a madonna and a heart made of dollar bills. The brief back cover blurb was equally melodramatic:

"None of the above gives the slightest indication of the novel¹s power and intensity, the depth of its dark-side character development, its bleak social commentary, the existential savagery of its dénouement. Barry Gifford, in an article in the Oxford American, called it ³an astonishingly well written literary novel that just happened to be about (or roundabout) a crime,² but not even that encomium does it complete justice. Black Wings Has My Angel is a book that must be experienced, not read quickly for casual entertainment. It makes demands on the reader, as any piece of quality fiction does, and those demands deliver hammerblows where other noir novels provide light raps."


The Plastic Nightmare was published as an Ace original in the late 1960s. It was a book I never forgot for the simple reason that several of its characters were upper class sociopaths so common in the noir films of the 1940s. Think "Laura." Now Centipede has brought it back in a beautiful collector's edition. I write the introduction and there's a long and excellent interview with Neely conducted by Mike Pettengell.

Here's a piece of of my introduction:

"I was thinking of Neely last night because I was finishing up his novel The Plastic Nightmare, which became an incomprehensible movie called Shattered. Neely loved tricks as much as Woolrich did and Plastic is a field of land mines. He even manages to spin some fresh variations on the amnesia theme. It's as noir as noir can be but mysteriously I've never seen Neely referred to on any noir list. My theory is that his books, for the most part, were presented in such tony packages, they were bypassed by mystery fans. They looked mainstream."

For complete information on these editions go here:

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fallen Angel

We watched Otto Preminger's Fallen Angel Saturday night and for the most part enjoyed it. I'd never liked it that much but for some reason this new viewing showed me why so many people like it even though, overall, I'm still doesn't quite work for me.

Dana Andrews as a bitter, angry failure is an interesting aspect of his melancholy persona. His lust for the gorgeous but deceptive Linda Darnell shows him at his most vulnerable. Despite all her obvious lies his obsession remains constant. Only after she's murdered does he begin to understand what she really was.

Alice Faye, Charles Coburn and Percy (Pa Kettle) Kilbride are uniformly excellent even though the script never gives them anything but stereotyped dialogue to work with. The actors were able to find meaning in their parts for themselves.

The whodunit works right up to the final revelation when it becomes clumsy and rushed and way too contrived.

The picture belongs almost entirely to Preminger and Andrews. Preminger gives us noirish sequences that occasionally rival the work of John Alton and Andrews gives us a grinding self-loathing commonr to many of the films that came out after the war.

The score by David Raksin is brilliant.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Dead Past

I've always been interested in seeing how a writer known for one type of fiction handles himself with another type. Way back in the Eighties Tom Piccirilli, a writer associated with the dark side of neo-noir, wrote a pair of cozies. Yes, the most excellent Pic wrote two cozies.

I was re-arranging a bookshelf the other day (i.e., cramming six new books into a space for four) when I came to Tom's books. The first of his cozies, The Dead Past, literally fell into my hands. I opened it up and started reading the first page (I do this frequently which is why it takes me a long time to shelve books) and I was impressed by the voice and high style of the writing. I've now read the entire novel and I'll tell you it's a fine piece of work irrespective of sub-genre.

Johnathan Kendrick owns a small bookstore in Greenwhich village but occasionally travels back to his home town of Felicity Falls whenever his wheelchair-bound grandmother Anna, a mystery novel addict, chooses to involve herself in a local crime. This time she had no choice. Somebody stuffed the corpse of a small-time thief in her garbage can during the wintry night.

Familiar set-up for a cozy. But Pic makes the book entirely his own. The Kendrick voice is contemporary, hip and most of all real. One of Pic's strengths in all his books is the relationships and The Deadly Past is no exception. There's a two-page history of Kendrick's failed first marriage that is painfully true. Even the mandatory (new) love in the book quickly takes on complications that lift her out of stereotype. There's nobody easy here; they're too human. He also does a evocative job with small town life and politics.

These books are easy to come by on used book sites. The fine writing alone makes them worth getting.

Friday, May 15, 2009

TV Notes; Cage of Night

We really look forward to Thursday nights because of the NBC shows and last night was really worth watching.

For one thing Parks and Recreation had an honest to God script (instead of Office riffs) that gave the actors something to work with. And they were all up with it. I have to say that Rashida Jones has one of the most sweetly compelling faces I've ever seen. There's a gentle intelligence behind all her choices.

The Office was a hoot and sly as hell. The writers set us up. We expected that Michael would tell Holly he loved her but--Beautifully done. The nerdy receptionist is starting to find her voice. And the news at the end--wow.

But I have to give the edge to 30 Rock. The parody of we Are The World was shocking it was so damned good. And Liz Lemon Lemon on that seedy talk show-- You catch watch it on


I still have copies of the limited edition hardcover for $25. Here's a review from Gravetapping today.

CAGE OF NIGHT by Ed Gorman

Spence was an awkward kid who spent his teenage years reading comic books and watching horror movies. After high school he spent three years in the Army and when he returns—as the novel opens—he finds his hometown both different and the same. His little brother Josh turned into a star basketball player for the local high school team and blossomed into popularity, but he doesn’t feel any different. He lost his baby fat and his acne cleared up, but he still feels like an outsider.

Shortly after Spence returns home his brother talks him into attending a kegger and that’s where he meets Cindy Marie Brasher—an eighteen year-old homecoming queen who is dating the star quarterback at the high school. His name is David Myles and he and Spence take an instant dislike to each other. It doesn’t help that Spence and Cindy begin to see each other and quickly grow close.

Spence is smitten by Cindy. He doesn’t mind that she spent time in a mental hospital, or even that she claims to hear a voice from an old well. She is beautiful, tender and vulnerable. Their relationship is quick and it is everything Spence could imagine; then things start to happen. David guns down a woman in a grocery store for no apparent reason and an old high school friend, who is now a police officer, begins to follow and intimidate Spence. Then everything gets much worse when an old woman is brutally murdered and Spence is the suspect.

It all centers around Cindy and the voice from the old well, a voice that Spence can’t hear, but that Cindy and the others can.

Cage of Night is a novel that is difficult to explain and describe. It doesn’t fit nicely into a category—it is horror, crime, fantasy and suspense rolled into one neat package, but yet not quite. It is different. The story is told in a deceptively simple style. There is not a word wasted, but the sub-text is complex and uncertain. The characters are deep and complicated without any over handed self-evaluation and the small town setting has a 1950s atmosphere playing against a 1990s culture.

The plot is seamless and stunning. Mr Gorman never does the expected—there are several twists that surprise—but the novels true power is its ambiguous, complex and dark voice. It is a working class voice that beats, “be careful what you wish for.” It is the type of story that can be read again and again and the reader will continue to find new elements and meaning in its complex simplicity.

Cage of Night is a masterpiece. It is dedicated to Robert Bloch and you will see more than a few similarities between the work of Bloch, particularly Psycho, and Cage of Night. The similarities: the rough and real characters, the stark style, and the mastery of successfully straddling multiple genres. This similarity ends there however, because as much as it owes to the work of Robert Bloch, it is wholly that of Ed Gorman.

Cage of Night is an extension of Ed Gorman’s successful 1995 short story “The Brasher Girl”—it is successful as both a short story and a novel. The novel was originally published in 1996. It is currently available in a very nice limited edition hardcover from PS Publishing. The PS edition has an insightful introduction by Stephen Gallagher and it is very much worth seeking out.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Paging Nathanael West

No, you can't make this stuff up--

From Washington Whispers::
Miss California on Cable News: Fox & Friends Gives Carrie Prejean Her Chance
May 14, 2009 03:24 PM ET | Paul Bedard | Permanent Link | Print
By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

Miss California and Miss USA runner-up, Carrie Prejean, tossed around in the battle over gay marriage, will be a one-day guest host for Fox News Channel's popular morning show Fox & Friends, Whispers learns. She will host the 6 a.m.-to-7 a.m. slot on May 27, filling in for Gretchen Carlson—the 1989 Miss America—who will be off that day.

The decision to make her a one-day cohost was finalized yesterday—the same day Prejean and Miss USA owner Donald Trump appeared on Fox & Friends.

Suzanne Scott, Fox vice president for programming, filled me in on the details of the gig for Prejean, who was thrust into the headlines when she rejected gay marriage during the Q&A part of the pageant. "We're just using her one time," she said, "to sit with the boys and have some fun." The boys are cohosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade. "She has become a national celebrity in the last few weeks, and it's a fun thing to do," said Scott. "It's a good way to try get a little buzz and fun for the show. We'll see what happens with it," she added.

Ed here: First of all the two dumbest Celts who've ever trod the earth are Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade. Second of all replacing Gretchen Carlson with Carrie Prejean is like replacing George W. Bush with Glen Beck.

Only Fox.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The new Cinema Retro is packed cover to cover with the kind of goodies only they seem able to come up with. I especially enjoyed the interviews with Karen Black, James Cann and Ernest Borgnine. There's a piece (with many lush photos) of Marianne Faithful early in her career; an excellent, lengthy article on three Clint Eastwood films; and a fresh look at the espionage films of Alistair Maclean. With stories on Michael Winner, Ray Harryhausen and a brief but fascinating goodbye salute to Patrick MGooha--and a whole lot more--this is the magazine for film enthusiasts who enjoy a serious but accessible look at movies.

The Rap Sheet

If there's such a place as the indispensable mystery site, it has to be The Rap Sheet. This week editor-writer Jeff Pierce demonstrates his talent for constantly giving his readers the kind and quality of material they won't find anywhere else. I'm referring here to his interview with the son of the late paperback writer Robert Terrall. A good share of Jeff's material should be preserved in book form and this piece is just one example.

From Terrill Lankford

The first Chapter of Conflict of Interest is now posted. Check it out...and don't forget to hit the HD button before it runs!

From Centipede Press
New & Forthcoming

The Plastic Nightmare
Richard Neely

Richard Neely¹s The Plastic Nightmare explores a
psychological depth and depravity seldom found in noir
fiction. Called the Œde Sade¹ of the genre by Ed Gorman,
Neely¹s haunting foray into the politics of memories,
madness and identity (now long out of print) is given a
beautiful hardcover treatment, the first time ever in the
United States. With a new introduction by Gorman and a
long, previously out of print interview with Neely, this is
a new, definitive edition.

* * *
Black Wings Has My Angel
Elliot Chaze

Elliot Chaze¹s masterpiece of crime fiction, Black Wings
Has My Angel, is an acknowledged cult classic since its
publication back in the 1950s, and Bill Pronzini pulls out
all the stops in discussing the book and its elusive
author, Elliot Chaze.

Tastefully designed, this is the definitive edition of this
book, now available, for the first time ever, in a handsome
hardcover edition. The book is quarterbound in Japanese
cloth with a printed image -- Servello¹s remarkable new
image at right -- on the front panel cloth.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Forgotten Books: Corkscrew by Dashiell Hammett

Because it likely appeared as a "magazine novel, complete-in-this-issue," I'm taking certain liberties here with the definition of "novel" but so be it. Corkscrew is a novelette (in pulp terms) or a short novel (in literary terms). It was written at the time when hardboiled detective fiction was sometimes cast as western fiction. Black Mask thrived on this fusion early on. One of Hammett's best stories, "The Killing of Dan Odams," is in fact a western.

Corkscrew is the name of a lawless town in Arizona early in the last century. There aren't many farmers here because farmers are afraid to settle here given the violence.

Corkscrew has telephones and automobiles but it is otherwise of the old west. Our man was sent here undercover by his detective agency to try and resolve the town's chief problems one of which, timely given today's politics, what to do about all the illegals crossing into the United States. He will be the new deputy sheriff, the real sheriff being elsewhere. But the man who sent for him told everybody that he was coming and when to expect him. Some undercover. Hammett uses wry bits of business throughout this long story and they give it the bite of real life. Sometimes humor makes things sound truer than melodrama, at least for me.

The first set-piece is one of Hammett's finest moments, an extended and bitter poker game in which Slim Vogel and Mark Nesbit try to close each other out. Hammett gets everything just right--the men standing around the table, the other card players dropping out just so they can watch the rivalry and the escalating name calling between the two players. At first the names land like punches but there are so many of them and they come so quickly that Hammett slyly turns them into a comic comment on machismo. Monty Python later did something very much like this with in the insult-hurling Frenchman on the battlement.

The heart of the story is a murder mystery that is one of Hammett's trickiest puzzles. He hits us wham-bam with two murders in just a few pages and so we have to recalculate everything we've assumed previously. The prose is impeccable. Sometimes Hammett is a little too spare for me but here he's giving us this strange, dusty little town in careful, vivid detail.

This is one of those pieces of work that you can both enjoy and admire. You just stand back and look at a master do his work.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pics of Kerouac and Bogart-Pix for Monday

This is Humphrey Bogart being transfixed by Marilyn Monroe's breasts as Lauren Bacall plots his punishment (thanks to Cinema Retro)

This is Jack Kerouac's cover drawing for the paperback edition of On The Road (Thanks to Boing Boing)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Disassembled Man by Nate Flexer

Even in the grimmest crime fiction, the despicable protagonist is hard to find. I'm not talking here about anti-heroes who kill for vengeance or bad guys who learn in the fading seconds of the third act to do one good thing in their lives. No, I mean the flat-out despicable human being who should be drowned asap.

Frankie Avicious, the lead in Nate Flexer's beautifully ugly first novel The Disassembled Man, is a woe begon guy who divides his time three ways--cutting the throats of of cows about to be slaughtered, writhing in the constraints of a forlorn marriage and sitting in a strip club mesmerized by a lady named Scarlett Acres. Of course his life will soon change. Murder has a way of altering one's lifestyle.

For the first third of the book I felt the presence of Jim Thompson. Nothing wrong with that, the tone and feel of Thomspon are appropriate to the material. But then Flexer gets going on his own and you realize that while he uses the same kind of Swiftian tone Thompson did, every nuance of ugliness writ large--I always had the feeling that Thompson used it as comic relief, a kind of fabulism if you will. Laughing past the graveyard that would all too soon claim you. I don't get that feeling at all with the Flexer novel. At the end of The Killer Inside Me there's the famous prayer that you can dismiss as plaintive self-pity--or see as all of us begging for understanding and forgiveness before the darkness claims us.

The power of this book, and it has considerable power, is that Flexer never apologies for his people or their story. An impressive and imposing debut.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

I'm better than you are

I've always liked this piece that Jon Breen wrote here in 2005. Can you think of more examples of what he's talking about?

From Jon Breen
Here’s something to stir things up. Take any artistic endeavor in which two very successful contemporaries work or have worked in the same general field. If one of them is slightly or somewhat more commercially successful, the other one will probably be somewhat more artistically successful.

For example, take John Grisham and Scott Turow, both associated with legal thrillers, both bestsellers, both good writers. Everyone would have to agree that Grisham has been the greater commercial phenomenon, but I think most would agree that Turow is the finer novelist.

Second example: the two major composers of musical theatre in the past few decades have been Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim. Both have had their hits, but Lloyd Webber has clearly been the more commercial. Sondheim, I venture to say, is regarded by students of the field as the greater artist.

More examples: among contemporary film directors, Stephen Spielberg more commercially successful, Martin Scorsese more artistically successful; in espionage fiction, Ian Fleming more commercially successful, John Le Carré more artistically successful. This one’s a closer call but defensible: in Golden Age British detective fiction, Agatha Christie more commercially successful, Dorothy L. Sayers more artistically successful.

Not sure about this one, but someone I know who reads everything both these writers comes out with would say Stephen King is the greater commercial phenomenon but Peter Straub the better novelist. I definitely don’t agree with this one, but many would say that between the late-night talkers Jay Leno with the higher ratings is more commercially successful but the hipper David Letterman more artistically successful.

So there’s the game. Is it worth playing or is it wheel-spinning nonsense?

Jon Breen

Friday, May 08, 2009

On The Yard Malcolm Braly

I think this edition has been out for some time but I ran across an advert for it today. If you've never read this novel, it is a masterpiece. Without qualification. This edition is introduced by Jonathan Lethem.

Malcolm Braly (1925–1980) was born in Portland, Oregon. Abandoned by his parents, Braly lived between foster homes and institutions for delinquent children, and by the time he was forty had spent nearly seventeen years in prison for burglary, serving time at Nevada State Prison, San Quentin, and Folsom State Prison. He wrote three novels behind bars, Felony Tank (1961), Shake Him Till He Rattles (1963), and It's Cold Out There (1966), and upon his release in 1965 began to work on On the Yard. When prison authorities learned of the book they threatened to revoke his parole, and he was forced to complete it in secret. Published in 1967, after Braly's parole had expired, On the Yard received wide acclaim. It was followed by his autobiography, False Starts: A Memoir of San Quentin and Other Prisons (1976), and a final work of fiction, The Protector (1979). Malcolm Braly enjoyed fifteen years of freedom before his death in a car accident at age fifty-four.

On the Yard
A major American novel, and arguably the finest work of literature ever to emerge from a US prison, On the Yard is a book of penetrating psychological realism.

Price: $11.96 (20% off)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Writing the Eileen Davidson novels by Bob Randisi

The Eileen Davidson novels - by Bob Randisi

A few years ago, when I was writing poker mysteries with Vince Van Patten--child actor, at one time a top 25 tennis player, and now commentator on the World Poker Tour--I was having dinner at his house in Malibu. His beautiful wife, Soap Opera star Eileen Davidson, had cooked dinner for me and I had eaten with them and their family. Vince and I were discussing the book at the dining room table when Eileen called from the kitchen "Bob, when are we going to write a book together?." Thinking she was kidding I said, "As soon as Vince and I deliver this one we can talk about." Well, a few months later, after we had delivered the book (THE PICASSO FLOP), Eileen's manager emailed me and said Eileen wanted to talk about doing some books together.

So I called Eileen and she was serious. We discussed it for only a few minutes before we came up with a character—her! Well, almost her. The lead is a soap opera star named Alexis Petersen who is working on a show called “The Yearning Tide.” We discussed plot lines, I worked up a proposal and we sold it in a two book deal to the first publisher who looked at it, NAL. While we were writing the first book, DEATH IN DAYTIME, NAL dubbed their mystery line OBSIDIAN BOOKS, and that is the imprint under which the books are being published. DAYTIME came out last September to excellent reviews and good enough sales for NAL to sign us to a third.

Now the second book, DIAL EMMY FOR MURDER (Eileen’s title) is due out June 2nd, and we are writing the third. These books are legitimate collaborations, not celebrity books with Eileen’s name stamped on them. She came up with the plots for book 2 and 3, and started writing them. We work through emails and phone calls. (Vince did not use email very much, hence my two trips to Malibu to work with him.)

Here is what The Romantic Times just said about EMMY:

"Clean, crisp writing and an authentic voice make Davidson's second mystery featuring soap opera star Alexis Peterson fast-paced and funny. The author's background as a soap actress provides a delightfully wicked insider's view into the world of daytime dramas. With great pacing and plotting, this mystery will have readers eager for the next Alexis adventure."

And Harriet Klausner has given in 5 stars. You can see her review on B&

The books are fun and greatly benefit from Eileen’s experiences on “The Young and The Restless,” “Days of Our Lives,” and “The Bold and The Beautiful.”

Leaving my name off the cover was my choice. Seemed to make sense since I’m mostly associated with hardboiled work. You can find my name on the copyright page, though. But don’t tell anybody, okay?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Pro-File: Barbara Collins

Barbara Collins first made her name in mystery fiction by writing a number of unique and excellent short stories for various anthologies. She has recently been collaborating with her husband Max Allan Collins on a series of cozies marked by its wit and clever plotting.

1 Tell us about your current novel.

Antiques Bizarre is the fourth in the cozy mystery series that I write with my huband, Max Allan Collins, under the penname Barbara Allan. The series revolves around Brandy, a 30-year-old divorcee on Prozac, seventy-ish bi-polar Mother, and their blind diabetic dog, Sushi. Somewere in there is a mystery, among bad-pun titles.

2. Can you give us a sense of what you're working on now?

I'm just beginning the first draft of the fifth book, Antiques Knock-off. (Max doesn't see it until I'm done; then it's his turn to fix the plot holes).

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

When a book is done...not because any feeling of accomplishment, but that I'm not in hell anymore.

4. The greatest DIS-pleasure?

Writing so slowly that character's names change half-way through the draft, and I can't remember the plot.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Let a writer have his or her own style and not fit a mold. We were lucky that our editor, Michaela Hamilton, at Kensington, accepted our quirky take on the cozy format.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in
print again?

I mostly read biographies, because nothing is more vivid than real life.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that

It's thrilling, of course, but scary, because suddenly writing is not a pastime or hobby, but real work.

8. What do you consider the highlight of your career thus far?

Antiques Flee Market was recently nominated for best amateur sleuth mystery of 2008 by Romantic Times Book Review.

9. How about the low point?

Every time I know some piece of writing isn't very good, but don't know how to improve it.

10. Which book or short story would you recommend to readers unfamiliar with your work?

Antiques Roadkill, the first in the series by Barbara Allan.


From I Love A Mystery
Pegasus Books Trade pb 3/09

Sam McCain, Ed Gorman's small down detective/lawyer in Black River Falls, Iowa, is back for his seventh mystery, and one of the best in this superb series. The time is 1963, at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, and in the deep south Freedom Riders are being met with billy clubs and water hoses by the likes of Sheriff "Bull" Connor's brutal forces. But Black River Falls is not the deep South; it's a fairly tolerant community; but certainly not without its own share of racism. When young, smart, handsome David Leeds, a Negro with all the positive attributes of Sidney Poitier's character in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," is found to be dating the state's conservative senator's daughter, the community is in danger of being torn apart by hatred and violence.

The fuse to the racial explosion is lit when David Leeds is found with two bullets in his face in the woods just outside of town. Nearby is the body of a white photographer, Richie Neville, one of three unsavory brothers who are known to dabble in blackmail, and the photographer's cabin has been trashed. Somebody has gotten photos of David and Lucy Williams, the senator's beautiful daughter, and is probably using them for nefarious monetary purposes. But exactly who is being blackmailed and by whom?

Judge Esme Anne Whitney, a cantankerous, hard-drinking judge and powerful figure in town uses McCain as her point man to investigate the matter. As the judge's guy, McCain both gains a certain amount of favor and clout while attracting a lot of resentment, but at least it gets him an in into the investigation. Of course McCain, with his indiscreet, wise-cracking mouth, doesn't really need help to ruffle the feathers of many locals, several of whom are suspects, of which there are no lack.

There's the usual Nazi motorcycle types who would hate anybody black on sight. That's why the local Sheriff (no model of racial tolerance himself, and who is not exactly the sharpest utensil in the drawer), has quickly arrested the first bald guys on wheels he can find. Case closed as far as he's concerned.

But McCain knows better. At the order of the judge he has to question the Senator and his family. Also there's Lucy's former boyfriend, and her pals, real rich, white jerks who feel they can bust up anything and anyone with impunity because they were born with silver spoons up their butts.

Then an attractive young black woman comes to town claiming to be David's sister and pleads with McCain to find the real murderers.

To confuse the matter even further there's a new district attorney in town, and instead of being a dumb old boy, as in the past, whom McCain could safely dismiss if not altogether avoid, this one is smart, savvy, and, most importantly, young and female. McCain falls for her like a silo in a tornado. Can they work together for justice? Sam McCain thinks so. Judge Esme says no way. Well maybe they can just be friends. Whatever, it certainly adds fascinating complications both for McCain and the novel's plot.
Ed Gorman has a great sense and hatred for injustice which McCain shares. Sam is one man doing what he can in an ever-changing world that he cannot truly slow down.
Gorman also has a particularly fine sense for the sweetness of small Iowa and its past.

"The summer morning almost made up for it. The birds sounded happy as drunks at a party and the clouds were as white as they'd been in those great old Technicolor pirate movies. The dew gleaming grass had a sweet, almost narcotic aroma and the breeze reminded me of my brother Robert, long dead now, and how we'd always flown kites on such mornings as this." (P.112)

Passages such as this evoke the possible rightness of the world in certain moments, and McCain does what he can to restore the dignity and sweetness of his memories to the real world.
FOOLS RUSH IN is a tough and touching book that never forgets it's a mystery and a who-done-it first of all. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

- Laurence Coven

Monday, May 04, 2009

A Little Intelligence

Robert Silverberg and Randall Garrett were collaborators as far back as 1955 when Silverberg was still an undergraduate at Columbia. They worked together on dozens of stories under many different names. They wrote science fiction, fantasy, mystery, anything that paid. Frequently the pay was one cent a word.

In his introduction to A Little Intelligence, the new Silverberg-Garrett collection from Crippen & Landru, Silverberg refers to their joint efforts as a "fiction factory." This was early Silverberg. The greatness was a few years off. Silverberg tells us that while he was by far the better stylist it was Garrett who taught him story construction. Silverberg learned his lessons well.

One product the factory produced was a set of science fiction mystery stories that involved Father Riley, who is a scientist and military officer as well as a Catholic priest. Father Brown was never like this. Nor was The Flying nun like Sister Mary Magdalen, who is forced to solve the mystery of a murder among aliens.

There was a reason for religious angle. Silverberg and Garrett wanted to sell a story to Anthony Boucher, editor The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He was a serious Catholic and, c'mon, how could it miss. Well, miss it did, and as Silverberg relates their careful slanting could only find home in lesser publications. Making a living writing was never easy.

The the stories here are sturdy simple pulp and two of them are a particular hoot. The Father Riley tales are the most accomplished but the ones I enjoyed most were "The Slow And The Dead," which is a blueprint for Michael Crichton''s Westworld, and "The Mummy Takes A Wife," a romp that has enough plot for the kind of paperback action suspense novel being published in those days. This is a very entertaining collection for readers of both mystery and science fiction.

Silverberg's look back at the early days of his career that will stay with you. His autobiography will soon be published. The introduction here is likely a fine taste of that book.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

John D. MacDonald

While I was trawling for something else entirely, I came across this excellent Jonathan Yardley piece about JDM from the Washington Post 2003.

Here's an excerpt:

"MacDonald himself turned out, when I interviewed him in his comfortable, unpretentious house, to be a large, calm, genial, quiet yet talkative man: a gentleman. By then he had established himself, as I wrote in a profile of him for the Herald's Sunday magazine, as "the pre-eminent 'Florida novelist,' " a distinction earned by remarkably close observation of the state: its grifters and operators and big-bucks crooks, its decent ordinary people, its overdeveloped land and polluted water. He had harsh things to say about Florida in "Condominium" and many of his other books. When I asked him about this he said: "I've always recognized that Florida is a slightly tacky state," and added, "You love it in spite of itself."

Close questioning revealed not merely that he had a complex love-hate relationship with his adopted state (he was born, in 1916, in Pennsylvania) but that he was a constant reader with high standards. He thought some genre novelists were taken too seriously, just as Thomas Pynchon was ("One is overvalued because the critic finds some elements of literacy in it, the other because he can't understand it"), and he was a tough critic who expected others' prose to have "felicity, an element of aptness." One passage from my tapes deserves full quotation:

"I just cannot read people like Leon Uris and James Michener. When you've covered one line, you can guess the next one. I like people who know the nuances of words, who know how to stick the right one in the right place. Sometimes you can laugh out loud at an exceptionally good phrase. I find it harder and harder to find fiction to read, because I either read it with dismay at how good it is or disgust at how bad it is. I do like the guys like John Cheever that have a sense of story, because, goddammit, you want to know what happens to somebody. You don't want a lot of self-conscious little logjams thrown in your way."

for the rest go here:

Ed here: That's the unmistakable voice of JDM.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Night Walker

I've read two Donald Hamilton novels lately and thought I'd rerun this review.

Night Walker

Who was he, really, under the bandages?

When Navy Lieutenant David Young came to in a hospital bed, his face was covered with bandages and the nurses were calling him by a stranger’s name. But David’s nightmare was only beginning. Because the man they believed him to be was suspected of treason—and had driven his wife to murder.

Now David’s got to make his way through a shadow world of suspicion and deception, of dirty deals and brutal crimes, and he needs to stay one step ahead of enemies whose identity he doesn’t even know—since if he can’t, his impersonation of a dead man is about to become a lot more realistic...


The storyline of the Night Walker was common in crime fiction from roughly the 1920s to the 1960s. What Hamilton brought to it was a new energy, a skill with standing a few of the tropes of their heads, and a surrealistic sense of nighttime much like the film version of Kiss Me Deadly. Even when it's daylight in this book it's midnight.

The other thing Hamilton did well was define, in a reasonable way, the ethics or lack thereof, of the Cold War. Despite being an honorable military man, the hero is a victim of that war. Hamilton is careful to show that elements of the Cold War (from the U.S. point of view) were necessary. But being a good cynical citizen he also saw the excesses and gets them down here in dramatic fashion.

This is an exemplary chase novel, with a good deal of violence and some oddly sweet romance for leavening. Few writers were able to get the spy mentality down as beleivably as Hamilton and it pays off for him here in this moody page turner of a relentless Cold War noir.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Contact information for Howard Browne

I'm trying to help an anthologist find rights to a Howard Browne story that he wants to reprint for a forthcoming anthology. Since I knew Howard I always went to him for rights. Now that he's gone I don't know who controls his estate. I was given two names but was unable to reach either of them. I'd appreciate any help you can give me. If you know somebody who might know please contact them. Howard was a fine writer and deserves to be kept in print. This will be a major book and he belongs in it. Thanks everybody. Ed

A cartoon