Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ostara Publishing; Sam Peckinpah; Health update

OSTARA PUBLISHING Website www.ostarapublishing TOP NOTCH THRILLERS New Titles: February 2010 Three months after the imprint's launch, Ostara Publishing has issued four more titles in their print-on-demand Top Notch Thrillers series which "aims to revive Great British thrillers which do not deserve to be forgotten".

The new titles, originally published in Britain between 1962 and 1970, were selected by crime writer and critic Mike Ripley, who acts as Series Editor for TNT The Tale of the Lazy Dog by Alan Williams is a brilliant heist thriller set in the Laos-Cambodia-Vietnam triangle in 1969 as a mis-matched gang of rogues and pirates attempt to steal $1.5 billion in used US Treasury notes.

Time Is An Ambush is a delicate, atmospheric study of suspicion and guilt set in Franco's Spain, by Francis Clifford, one of the most-admired stylists of the post-war generation of British thriller-writers.

A Flock Of Ships, Brian Callison's bestselling wartime thriller of a small Allied convoy lured to its doom in the South Atlantic, was famous for its breathless, machine-gun prose and was described by Alistair Maclean as: "The best war story I have ever read".

The Ninth Directive was the second assignment for super-spy Quiller (whose fans included Kingsley Amis and John Dickson Carr), created by Adam Hall (Elleston Trevor) and is a taught, tense thriller of political assassination which pre-dated Day of the Jackal by five years.

Announcing the latest batch of reissues, Mike Ripley said: 'Our new titles are absolutely in line with the Top Notch ethos of showing the range and variety of thrillers from what was something of a Golden Age for British thriller writing. They range in approach from slow-burning suspense to relentless wartime action and feature obsessive, super tough, super cool spies and some tremendous villains. Above all, they are characterised by the quality of their writing, albeit in very different styles. 'When first published, these titles were all best-sellers and their authors are among the most respected names in thriller fiction. Many readers will welcome these novels back almost as old friends and hopefully a new generation of readers will discover them for the first time.'

Top Notch Thrillers are published as trade paperbacks with a RRP of £10.99 MIKE RIPLEY Heathside Farm, Fordham Heath, Essex C03 9TJ. 01206 241100

----------------------------------------Sam Peckinpah One of the reasons I enjoy David Thomson's film criticism so much is that he peppers it with background material I've never heard before. In reviewing The Cincinnati Kid ("a silly" movie he enjoys because of Edward G. Robinson's performance) he casually mentions that Sam Peckinpah was the film's first director. He was fired when he he filmed the scene with Rip Torn and Torn's mistress in bed together. Torn's mistress was black. While I obviously don't agree with Thomson all the time, we share two strongly held opinions--one, no matter how bad the movie, when Edward G. Robinson appears, the film grows in stature and significance. He was that good. Two, that Warren Beatty is a feckless poseur. When I saw "Reds" I was told by several people in the audience to shut up and stop laughing. I couldn't help myself. It was like an SNL parody. Even the much-lauded Jack Nicholson turn as Trotsky was such acting school bullshit I couldn't stop howling. Thomson maintains that Beatty's only good peformance was as the hairdresser in "Shampoo." There his narcissism made sense for the one and only time.

----------------------------------------Health update #2

I got several off-blog e mails saying that I had confused people. So--They have found cancer. I will see my substitute oncologist tomorrow afternoon. My post last night was a happy one because after seven more tests they found no additional cancer, which had been my chief concern. Thanks again for your interest and support.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Forgotten Books: Down There by David Goodis; Health Update

Forgotten Books: Down There by David Goodis

"Love between the ugly/is the most beautiful love of all."
--Todd Rundgren

I haven't kept up with all the Goodis mania of the past five years or so so forgive me if what I'm about to say has been said not only better but quite often as well.

To me Down There is one of Goodis' finest novels filled with all his strengths and none of his weaknesses. The world here is his natural milieu, the world of America's underclass. Yes, there are working class men and women in Harriet's Hut, the tavern in which a good share of the action happens, but most of the book centers on two people, Eddie Lynn, the strange protagonist and piano player and Lena, the strange somewhat masochistic waitress. They live on pennies.

The story is this: Eddie's brother Turley is a criminal and a criminal being sought by two killers. In defending Turley, allowing him to escape, Eddie himself becomes a target. Not until well into the novel do we learn why the killers want to "talk" to Turley. It takes almost as long to learn Eddie's personal secret, that he was once a Carnegie Hall attraction with a golden future of him. What happened?

Triffault filmed this in the sixties. Much as I like Triffault's films I was disappointed by this one. There is a purity of composition here that Triffault missed entirely. Few crime writers have the skill to vary melodrama and comedy as well as Goodis did. Even fewer have the nerve to extend set pieces the way he do

For just one example there's a scene where the two killers have captured Eddie and Lena and are taking them to find Turley. The two men, Morris and Feather, begin to argue about Feather's driving. This becomes a mean, bitchy Laurel and Hardy sequence with the heavy threat of violence. This is a kidnapping scene. The comedy isn't foreshadowed. A high risk break in mood. And it works perfectly. And it is three or four times longer than most scenes found in the paperback originals of the time.

The Todd Rundgren quote applies to many of Goodis' lovers and never more so than here. Even by Goodis standards these two people are ugly with failure, with distrust of the world, with contempt for the values most people hold dear and most of all with loathing for what they've become. Goodis breaks your heart with them, especially in the surreal scene in which they are forced to hide out. Lena touches Eddie's arm--one of the first time they have any physical contact of any kind--and it's powerfully erotic because it is charged with desperation and an inkling of trust and forgiveness.

No matter where you look you won't find a novel as unique, and as shrewdly observed (there's a long bar scene that would fit perfectly into The Iceman Cometh) as Down There. I guess it's time I need to get all caught up in this Goodis mania after all.

-------------------Health Update

Thursday and Friday I had seven more tests, including two more MRIs. The news here is very good. No other sign of cancer except the first one. I was concerned there might be others. Arthritis, the family curse, is moving in fast on me but I'll worry about that later. For now I consider this excellent news and I thank you all for writing and wishing me your best. Really--thanks, folks.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Matthew Clemens: Collaborating with Max Collins

Ed here: I would never have finished my first novel without the encouragement of Max Allan Collins. His friendship and advice gave me the push I needed to stop scrapping quarter-novels and half-novels and finally complete one. Here Matthew Clemens talks about his own literary relationship with Al.

Matthew Clemens:

It started with a phone call. Al and I had been friends for over ten years by then, and had been looking for something we could work on together for a year or so when he called and suggested that we tackle this new CSI project together. With my background in true crime, and having actually seen the show, we decided that this was the property that we could finally collaborate on. That was the beginning.

A lot of people in this business have tried to collaborate before. Some have had success, some not so much, and friendships have been ruined over people trying to work together.

For me, the reasons for our success are pretty simple: He’s Bruce, I’m Clarence. Every band, no matter how successful, has a leader and Al is our Bruce Springsteen. You don’t walk into a collaboration with an author who has written a kajillion books and expect to be an equal partner when you have one regionally successful, co-op published true crime book. So, I became Clarence Clemons (no relation).

What’s made me believe, over the years, that we’re doing something right is that everything we do seems to have a voice that is neither mine nor Al’s. There is a voice that comes out when we work together that molds itself to the stories we have to tell.

The process has remained pretty much the same since day one, though the depth of my involvement in that process has deepened. We come up with ideas, spit ball them until it starts to look like something we’re both interested in, then I go off and do the research and write up my draft. Originally, when I mostly just did research, I would write up the facts of the research and pass it along. As that evolved, I found myself writing some of my findings in the voices of the CSI characters to make life easier for Al.

Some of the CSI material, particularly the tricky science stuff, was hard to explain, and by me (and my) sliding it into a conversation between characters made it easier for Al to incorporate that into the novel without having it sound expository (something the show did on a regular basis). We both were angered by the show constantly having conversations between characters where they told each other information they would both already know. One of our early goals was to eliminate that from the books as much as possible. That was one of the steps that allowed my role to grow.

Having done a number of forensics and often serial killer-oriented thrillers together for the CSI, BONES, and CRIMINAL MINDS tie-in novels (fourteen in all), we decided to develop something of our own along those lines, to utilize the skills we developed in that sub-genre and so that we could own something we created. YOU CAN'T STOP ME is the result.

So, here we are, ten years later (twenty-three years into our friendship), and after nearly twenty novels, over a dozen short stories, four graphic novels, and eight jigsaw puzzles (yes, you read that right), and we still get along, still enjoy the process. And for me, I still get to stand on stage next to Bruce Springsteen every night so being the big man is still pretty cool too.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rat Pack story for Bob Randisi; Health Update

I have no idea how true the following is (or if it's true at all) but it makes for a great Rat Pack story and who'd appreciate it more than the writer of the great Rat Pack novels, Bob Randisi. So this is for you Bob. From The Wrap:

Sinatra, JFK, the Mob ... and 'Papa Loves Mambo'

by Helen O'Donnell

“I'm not one of those complicated, mixed-up cats. I'm not looking for the secret to life.... I just go on from day to day, taking what comes.” --
Frank Sinatra

My dad, Kenny O'Donnell, hated this kind of stuff.

Not the party, not the beautiful women, but being the guy delivering the bad news. 'Course, as John Kennedy's aide, that was his job.

His presence was always an unwelcome sight to Kennedy at these moments when he was not the candidate for the White House, senator from Massachusetts, but rather a young handsome guy, partying with his pals, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Peter Lawford.

Or “brother-in-Lawford” as Frank had dubbed him once, and it had stuck. ‘Course only Frank could use it.

No, Jack didn’t like seeing Kenny at these moments, 'cause he was having fun and Kenny ... well, Kenny always meant work.

Not 'cause Jack didn’t like Kenny. Jack did. I mean come on, they were both World War II heroes, genuine tough guys, political animals of the Boston “Irish Mafia” variety and, most important, Kenny always had Jack’s back.

But here in Vegas at a party hosted by Frank and a few others from Chicago -- whose names were far better left unmentioned -- well, man, Kenny’s presence could only mean work or trouble or sometimes both.

The only person who could be more of a pain in the ass at moments like this was Jack’s younger brother Bobby.

As Kenny pushed through door, Perry Como’s “Papa Loves Mambo” was playing in the background as the crowds of people on the roof deck were singing, dancing, drinking, mingling and laughing. Beautiful Vegas showgirls, men in business suits and an inordinate number of waiters carrying large plates of overflowing food and drink.

Kenny cut through the swaths of people. He was very much the man in control while being surrounded by a crowd that has let loose and is having fun.

He stopped momentarily to survey the crowds, looked up. The Sands Hotel moniker in blinking lights high above all the others on the strip attractions. It said: RAT PACK. Frank, Dean, Peter and Sammy’s names. He stopped for a moment to take it in.
Not bad for a poor working class Irish kid from Worcester, Massachusetts.

“Best damn f---ing job in the world,” he had told his sister Justine.

for the rest go here:

-----------------------------------------Health Update

I learned this morning that an MRI I had yesterday showed an area of cancer on my back. Whether this is an old spot expanding or a new spot I don't know yet. My own oncologist is gone for some time (her father is dying) and I'm not sure yet who I'll be dealing with at the clinic where I go. I should say here that I'm damned lucky to have insurance thanks to Carol sacrificing her own writing time to teach part time at Coe College where they offer extremely generous insurance coverage. I've been in severe pain for almost a month. I mistook it for muscle pain. (I once had a doc who said "I'm going start charging you $500 every time you diagnose yourself--you're always wrong.") I don't know where we go from here except that I have yet another MRI coming up, likely tomorrow. I probably won't be posting every day as I have been, not for awhile anyway. If nothing else I had a hell of a good day writing right after I got the news. The words just came pouring forth and they were, for the most part, the right words.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Forgotten Books: The Inner Circle by Jonathan Fast

This novel came along shortly after the books of Stephen King launched the horror boom. If its storyline owes anything to a classic horror writer it's Robert Bloch. A) Because it concerns a diabolical plot that spans most of the last century and B) Because it's steeped in Holywood lore, this time circa 1979.

Louis Pinkle is a Los Angeles magazine writer who is peddling a screenplay every chance he gets. When his old friend and mega TV star Tony Valenti shows up at his apartment one night pleading to stay and insisting that somebody is trying to kill him, Pinkle manages to ease him out the door. Pinkle wakes up to read in the paper of his wealthy friend's death in an automobile accident. He of course believes that it was no accident at all.

Why I've enjoyed reading this book several times since its publication is not so much the plot, which works very well, but rather its grace notes, its rich human observations and the way Fast makes loopy LA architecture a real part of the story.

"There's a malady I call Dr. Chauvinism that everybody suffers from: my Dentist is The Best Dentist in New York City; the surgeon who did my uncle Murray's surgery is the best Surgeon on the East Coast..."

"I was going through a dry spell at the time, six or seven months without a woman. Celibacy in the East isn't isn't so bad, but out here in the West where the sun superheats your skin and the women walk around half or three-quarters naked, and every
billboard displays vast vistas of flawless flesh, it's worse."

"Once he said to me, `Kitty, are you scared of dying?' And I said, `Yes, I suppose I am. I've never thought about it much.' And he said, `Kitty, that's why I write so much. I think if I leave enough paper with my name on it, people will have to remember me after I'm dead.'"

Then there's a beautifully done scene when a detective visits the badly beaten Pinkle in the hospital. Now there are a lot of ways to write this scene but I've never read one like this before.

"I'll make this as brief as possible, Mr. Pinkle."

Asks him name, birth date, profession. After profession, cop says: "What do you think of Saul Bellow?"


"What's your opinion of his work?"

"I...I like it."

"But don't you think the Nobel prize should have gone to Graham Greene?"

"Maybe." His voice became animated and he began to gesture with his hands, enormous hands with black hairs on the back.

"What I mean is, Bellow is basically a photographer like Roth and many of the other modern Jewish writers. His prose is marvelously descriptive, but does he have anything to say?"

"I don't know. Does he?"

(Turns out the cop is in a writing class and offers to "share" his short stories with Pinkle.)

I was laughing out loud when I read this because when we were in a clinic one day waiting for the results of a test a doc came in with said results but decided that since I'd written writer for my occupation we'd do a little book chatting first. Carol finally said: "How did the test come out?"

I just like this book. I like the voice and I like the slant on life and I like the people. Fast wrote a number of science fiction novels in addition to this and then gave up fiction for teaching. Our loss. He had the touch.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Who is the next face of Boston crime fiction? Boston Globe

Criminal Minds

Robert Parker is gone. Who is the next face of Boston crime fiction?

By Don Aucoin, Globe Staff | February 23, 2010

Robert B. Parker had been the face of Boston crime fiction for nearly four decades when he died on Jan. 18. There is no replacing a writer who built a larger-than-life persona and cut a unique swath with his best-selling Spenser novels. But who are the new faces to watch? Who stands poised to possibly follow in Parker’s footsteps and make their mark with hard-boiled protagonists and gritty stories drawn from the streets of our fair city? Here are a few likely suspects:

Dave Zeltserman

Dave Zeltserman worked for 25 years as a software engineer at companies like Digital and Lucent before he got his big break as a writer of crime fiction. And it happened just in the nick of time, because Zeltserman was prepared to abandon his dream of being a novelist.

So excuse him if he seems like a man in a hurry - he wrote last year’s “Pariah’’ in six weeks - rather than pausing to savor his success.

Zeltserman broke through two years ago with “Small Crimes’’ and quickly followed it up with “Pariah’’ and his new novel, “Killer,’’ out in the United States in May (Serpent’s Tail has published all three). Before that, while he managed to get a couple of books published, he had to weather constant rebuffs from publishers who told him his work was too dark. “I was about to quit writing for good, because I was frustrated as hell,’’ says Zeltserman, 50, of Needham.

Kudos are flowing his way these days. The Washington Post compared Zeltserman to pulp-master James M. Cain, author of such classics as “Double Indemnity.’’ National Public Radio chose “Small Crimes,’’ which revolves around a corrupt ex-cop in Vermont released after serving time in prison for stabbing a district attorney, as one of the top five crime and mystery novels of 2008, calling it “a thing of sordid beauty.’’ Globe reviewer Ed Siegel lauded “Pariah,’’ one of whose characters is a Whitey Bulger-like mobster, as “darkly enjoyable,’’ adding that Zeltserman’s “smooth, lively writing’’ makes him “a fine addition to the local literary scene.’’

Also profiled:

Raffi Yessayan, Margaret Mclean, Paul Tremblay

For the rest go here:

Monday, February 22, 2010

Robert E. Howard

Since there is so much renewed interest in Robert E. Howard's fiction I thought I'd reprint this post from 2006. The review is followed by James Reasoner's comments. Thanks, James.


Michael Dirda on Robert E. Howard--James Reasoner responds
Hacking his way from one crisis to another -- the quintessential fighting man.

By Michael Dirda
Sunday, January 22, 2006; BW15 The Washington Post


By Robert E. Howard

Illustrated by Mark Schultz

Del Rey/Ballantine. 457 pp. $29.95


By Robert E. Howard

Illustrated by Gary Gianni

Del Rey/Ballantine. 366 pp. Paperback, $15.95


By Robert E. Howard

Illustrated by Gregory Manchess

Del Rey/Ballantine. 393 pp. Paperback, $15.95

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robert E. Howard (1906-1936), the creator of a blue-eyed Cimmerian fighting man, who wandered the ancient Hyborian age as a thief, pirate and mercenary, before finally seizing the royal throne of Aquilonia. In the course of many adventures, this axe and sword-wielding battle-machine was to encounter Stygian demons, a lonely being from another planet, vampiric witches and saturnine sorcerers who possess the elixir of life, a seraglio's worth of scantily clad slave girls, more than one haughty but secretly hot-blooded princess, and, not least, many, many, indeed hordes, of bloodthirsty, blood-crazed Picts, Kushites, Shemites, Vendhyans and Hyrkanians. Even more remarkably, this indomitable warrior earned the love of both Belit, the notorious corsair Queen of the Black Coast, and the deadly Valeria of the Red Brotherhood. Such a hero could obviously be no one but Conan, King Conan, Conan the Barbarian.

To most of us these days, Robert E. Howard's Cimmerian is rather a joke. During the 1970s, the Depression-era hero evolved into a comic-book icon and was later literally embodied by the young Arnold Schwarzenegger in a pair of exceptionally good sword-and-sorcery films. Soon thereafter appeared both the bookish Conan the Librarian and Terry Pratchett's mangled and bitter old bandit Cohen the Barbarian. Many an older reader must still recollect the Frank Frazetta paperback covers, top-action portraits of a massive half-naked fullback with a broadsword, either in full berserker fury or standing triumphantly upon a mound of dead enemies, his mighty thigh caressed by an adoring Playmate of the Month. Or two. Of course, none but the brave deserve the fair.

Are the tales of Conan then what a female friend would call "boys books"? Testosterone-driven daydreams for 15-year-olds? Pulp schlock with titillating suggestions of sadomasochism, rape and sapphism? (Many of the stories were originally illustrated for Weird Tales by the legendary Margaret Brundage, who specialized in kinky cover art.) The answer to all these questions is, obviously, yes.

Yet without making grandiose claims for them, Howard's Conan chronicles are also a bit more than that. They are, as Patrice Louinet demonstrates in his forewords and afterwords to these three volumes, studies in the clash of Barbarism and Civilization. In Howard's grim and all too realistic view, the barbarians are always at the gate, and once a culture allows itself to grow soft, decadent or simply neglectful, it will be swept away by the primitive and ruthless. As a character insists in "Beyond the Black River," the most deeply felt and complex Conan story, "Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. . . . Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph."

To Howard, however, this isn't wholly a bad thing.

to read the rest of the article read here

Michael Dirda is a book critic for Book World. His e-mail address is, and his online discussion of books takes place each Wednesday at 2 p.m. on
© 2006 The Washington Post Company

James Reasoner:

Reviewing a review is perhaps an uncommon thing to do, but Ed asked me for a few comments on Michael Dirda’s review of the three Del Rey editions of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, taken from either Howard’s original typescripts or the appearances in the pulp WEIRD TALES for the stories for which typescripts are not available.

Considering some of the press that Howard and his work have gotten over the years, Dirda’s column is fairly even-handed. There’s no dwelling on Howard’s personal life, no amateur psychoanalyzing, no grinding of axes. I give Dirda credit for concentrating on the stories themselves, as is only proper, since in the end they’re really all we have left of Bob Howard. (Well, other than the poetry, the letters, the articles and fragments and . . . )

Yet like many critics, Dirda can’t help but damn with faint praise. Are the Conan stories “pulp schlock”, he asks, and then he answers, “ . . . obviously, yes.” He refers to the character as a joke because of the movies, the comic books, the multitude of pastiche novels . . . none of which make the original Conan stories anything more or less than exactly what they were when Howard wrote them. Now that the original texts are available again, this is an especially important point. Readers can go back to the stories as Howard wrote them, as if none of what came after ever took place. The best way to experience the Conan stories is to read them in the pages of WEIRD TALES, I suppose (and facsimile reprints of them will be available in the future – without, unfortunately, the smell of decaying pulp paper, unless the book manufacturers have come up with something I don’t know about). The next best is to read them in these Del Rey editions, or in the ten-volume set from Wildside Press that reprints all of Howard’s stories from WEIRD TALES, not just the Conan yarns.

I would take issue, too, with Dirda’s assertion that Conan’s only solution to any problem is to hack his way through it. Yes, there’s plenty of swordplay and action in the stories. But Howard also emphasized Conan’s cunning, as well. There’s a great deal of political intrigue in many of the stories, and no one is better at pitting one faction against another and manipulating his enemies into destroying one another than Conan. The reason Conan is so dangerous is that he isn’t just a mindless, hack-and-slash barbarian. He can out-think his foes as well as handle a broadsword.

And of course, bringing up the so-called racism in the stories is old news in critical circles. Howard was no more racist than anyone else living in a small town in the Thirties. It’s probably safe to say that he was no more racist than most people who lived in big towns then, too. In fact, reading his letters leads one to believe that he was probably less racist than many people of his era.

I agree with Dirda’s comments about the appeal of Conan’s indomitable spirit. And he’s certainly right about the story “Beyond the Black River” actually being a Western. Take away the slight fantasy trappings and it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever read about Texas frontier in the 1840s, when the first settlers were beginning to make their way into a vast land ruled by the Comanches. It’s been said that no matter what the setting of a Howard story, he was actually writing about Texas, and there’s some truth to that.

So I would hope that Dirda’s readers would come away from his column with a desire to actually read the stories and judge for themselves whether they’re “pulp schlock”. I think they’re more than that. A lot more.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Too Big To Fail: Alec Baldwin by James Wolcott

Too Big to Fail
Comedic genius of 30 Rock, seductive star of It’s Complicated, co-host of this year’s Academy Awards–Alec Baldwin has come through personal and professional disaster to emerge as Hollywood’s favorite rogue. How come he’s threatening to retire?

By James Wolcott
March 2010

Actor and Oscar co-host Alec Baldwin. Illustration by André Carrilho.
How did Alec Baldwin achieve this bizarre headlock on our affections? It’s as if he secretly adopted us, or we adopted him; either way, say hello to your new daddy. Open any door and there he is, welcoming himself in. Unfold the Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times and behold a front-page article about Baldwin’s new role as the official announcer of the New York Philharmonic’s radio concert series. (“Asked about his favorite performances, he rattled them off: ‘The Solti Mahler Ninth. Any Copland with Slatkin when he was in St. Louis. I like the Mahler cycle that Tilson Thomas did.’ ”) Flip to the gossip pages of the New York Daily News and there’s an item about his donating a million dollars to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to establish a scholarship fund. Check in at Gawker and there’s a photo of Baldwin with NY1 news anchor Pat Kiernan under the unsarcastic headline new york’s two favorite people, together at last. Turn on cable’s Turner Classic Movies and he’s jawing about his favorite celluloids with host Robert Osborne. And he will co-host this year’s Academy Awards presentation with Steve Martin, one of his co-stars in Nancy Meyers’s romantic comedy It’s Complicated. As this is being written, word is percolating through the movie blogs that he may even notch a best-actor-in-a-supporting-role nomination for It’s Complicated, which would really be the cherry on top.

A veteran combatant in the fine art of acrimony, the bruised mascot for the male midlife crisis, Baldwin has managed to entice everybody into his corner without going soft or sweet, abjuring the dreaded Robin Williams crinkle- twinkle. Near ly every body enjoys Baldwin now, even if he often doesn’t seem to enjoy himself that much, his lacerating honesty never entirely insulated from self-loathing.

for the rest go here:

Ed here: James Wolcott is one of our finest writers. a fine, honest and wise man in an era clamorous with fools. And Baldwin is one of our best actors. Be sure to read this one. Excellent stuff.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


THE SECRETS OF DEATH ON DEMAND: 20 titles, 20 revelations
by Carolyn Hart
1. I was writing a mystery set in a general bookstore when I visited Murder by the Book in Houston, TX, in April 1985. Enchanted by the idea of a mystery bookstore, I created Death on Demand, the finest mystery bookstore south of Atlanta, and the first book in the series is entitled Death on Demand. I placed the store on a fictional sea island reminiscent of Hilton Head, South Carolina, in the nineteen seventies when our family started vacationing there.

2. Design for Murder was inspired by the annual house and garden tour in Charleston, South Carolina. The fictional town of Chastain is patterned after lovely Beaufort. I especially love the old cemetery in Beaufort.

3. When talking to my editor, I proposed setting a mystery against the backdrop of a little theater group presenting Arsenic and Old Lace. When I started to write, I decided it was too cumbersome because the play has so many characters. When the ms. was turned in, the editor objected saying, "You promised me Arsenic and Old Lace." Faced with rejection of the ms., I rewrote the entire book, substituting Arsenic and Old Lace for the fictional play I had created. Something Wicked was accepted and went on to be the recipient of the very first Agatha Award for Best Novel.

4. Annie Laurance is getting married in Honeymoon with Murder. The editor asked for more emphasis on the wedding. In doing the revisions, Laurel Darling Roethke appeared on the computer screen, brimming with wedding ideas, including a red wedding dress. I laughed as I wrote, remembering a wonderful character actress Billie Burke.

5. When A Little Class on Murder was published, I created a Blue Book with a 20-question mystery quiz. The first question: Who is the founding genius of the mystery? The last question: Who has Nancy Pickard described as the most endearing pair of new sleuths since Tommy and Tuppence? All 20 questions and their answers may be found at my website:

6. Deadly Valentine has a true cat subplot. Agatha, the bookstore cat, is furious about the arrival of all-white Dorothy L. On a January day, I sat in an easy chair in the living room. I’d written the first few pages of a story about what happens when love is desperately sought and jealousy ruins lives. I heard the cry of a kitten and hurried outside to find a tiny, terrified black-and-white kitten in the middle of the street. A boy on his bicycle said, "I saw the lady throw her out of the car." Inside was a large gray, white, and orange cat named Patch. When I told Patch that Sophie would die if she wasn’t kept, Patch said, "Good." In the book, Agatha’s jealousy and hunger for love underscore that everyone, everywhere, cats included, must have love or perish.

7. The Christie Caper is a tribute to the writer I most admire and respect. When the ms. was turned im , the editor suggested making the ending a reprise of the solution to The Orient Express. I responded that I’d rather die. Happily, the editor laughed and said that wasn’t required. The ending of the book in fact is rather odd because I was determined that it should differ from any Christie title and that was a challenge.

8. Southern Ghost celebrates famous ghosts of South Carolina. I confess to a continuing delight in ghost stories. My fondness for ghosts, especially good-humored ghosts such as George and Marian Kirby in Topper, resulted in the creation of the late Bailey Ruth Raeburn, an impetuous, redheaded ghost who returns to earth to help those in trouble in Ghost at Work and Merry, Merry Ghost.

9. Mint Julep Murder is a behind the scenes look at the insecurities and vulnerabilities of writers. I especially enjoy writing about Emma Clyde, the self-centered, the-book-comes-first mystery author. Is Emma self-revelatory? Possibly she might be the unvarnished author, but I do try to be a bit kinder and gentler.

10. Henny Brawley, a recurring character in the series, has a large role in Yankee Doodle Dead. Henny is Carolyn’s tribute to women who were young and brave during World War II, especially the glorious and adventurous WASPs. Henny was one of the 1,800 Women’s Air Force Service Pilots who trained at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Tx, and whose gallant stories can be admired in Those Wonderful Women in Their Flying Machines, the Unknown Heroines of World War II.

11. I have a wonderful friend who for many years has donated her time to hospice. I think of her with awe and admiration. But, as mystery authors will, one day it occurred to me what might happen if a not-so-nice person volunteered and listened to dying words. The result was White Elephant Dead.

12. Whenever I picture the aging actress in Sugarplum Dead, I see Agnes Moorehead. Writing the book, I felt it was touch-and-go whether readers would immediately see what I was doing with illusion.

13. April Fool Dead explores the readiness of ordinary people to take events at face value. Henny Brawley knew her friend could never have planned blackmail. That faith propels Annie to seek the truth behind a clever and heartless murder.

14. In Engaged to Die, I decided it was time for Annie and Max darling to disagree, but even though they choose opposite sides, they always believe in each other. Annie and Max are my celebration of the fact that good marriages exist. I have a skeptic’s view of romance, but I believe in love.

15. Murder Walks the Plank is the only Death on Demand book with a title I dislike. I think the title is flippant and suggests a light story. Instead, this particular book has a plot which is particularly complex and I felt it worked really well. It is one of my favorites.

16. When plotting Death of the Party, I set the action on a remote sea island for the express purpose of getting to write a book in which I did not have to deal with cell phones. Cell phones are the bane of mystery authors. Long ago a heroine could find a note on her pillow: Meet me in the cemetery by the old willow at half past midnight. The reader would be urging, "Don’t go. Don’t go." The heroine, of course, hurried to the rendezvous but instead of meeting her lover, there was the dastardly villain. In today’s books, she whips out her cell and punches nine-one-one. In the old days, she had to escape with many a thrilling moment. But in Death of the Party, I created harrowing moments and never had to worry about a cell phone.

17. In Dead Days of Summer, a young woman is found dead and the bloody murder weapon is in the trunk of Max Darling’s car. When he is arrested, the media descend in force. I wrote this book in part to protest the unfeeling and cruel 24/7 coverage of sensational crimes and the callous disregard of the human beings caught up in a crime.

18. Double Eagle by Alison Frankel is a charming book about the history of America’s most fabulous gold coin. I heard her interviewed on NPR interview. I read her book and used those gorgeous gold coins in Death Walked In .

19. In Dare to Die, Buck remembers Iris in first grade and how he and Iris were Yellow Birds. The best readers were Blue Birds. The competent readers were Red Birds. Everyone knew who the Yellow Birds were. That passage is based upon my husband’s memory of his second grade class. He was a Blue Bird, but he never forgot the hapless Yellow Birds. More than a half century later, Buck and Iris were Yellow Birds.

20. The Death on Demand series has always celebrated wonderful mysteries of the past and present. I especially love mysteries written in the ‘30s and ‘40s where sleuths deal with apparently unrelated events and characters. That was my inspiration for Laughed ‘Til He Died. In a race against time to save an innocent woman, Annie and Max must solve three interlocking puzzles, the pulled-out pant pockets of a murder victim, three guns that appear and disappear, and the disappearance of a teenager who knows too much.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ghosts I have been

The Telegraph UK ran this article the other day. Well worth reading. My comments follow the excerpt.

Now we can all believe in ghostwriters
There's more to a book than the name on its cover, says Andrew Crofts.

By Andrew Crofts
Published: 6:36AM GMT 16 Feb 2010
Comments 30 | Comment on this article

Mine is a secretive profession, more accustomed to the shadows than the limelight. But two new films have made ghostwriters the centre of attention: Roman Polanski's The Ghost, and L'Autre Dumas, which tells the tale of the French writer's overlooked collaborator. People seem shocked to discover that a book is frequently not the work of the single author on its cover.
Everyone knows that film and television scripts are collaborative efforts and that politicians hire speech writers. Why, then, are we so wedded to the romantic illusion of authors as poor, tortured, hungry souls, labouring in unheated garrets until the day they are discovered and rewarded with fairy-tale fortunes of Rowlingesque proportions?

At least half the titles in the best-selling non-fiction charts are penned by ghostwriters, and at least a quarter more are edited so heavily that they might as well be. There is even more outrage when fictional works are created in the same way. Novels marketed as being "by", say, Katie Price seem particularly to offend the sorts of people who would never dream of buying such a genre. I don't believe that the readers who enjoy these stories care who actually does the typing, any more than they care whether Mr Kipling actually bakes his own cakes.

for the rest go here:

Ed here:

Several of my friends have ghosted books for celebrities. Sometimes these are novels bearing only the celeb's name and other time's they're "non-fiction" as in celeb autobiographies, many of which are mixtures of fic and non fic.

I've ghosted three of them. Two of them were pleasant breaks from my own writing and made me some money. One made me no money at all and left me really pissed off. Everybody I know who's ghosted reports similar experiences. If you're not careful you can get hosed ghosting because there are some who believe their modest talents are essential if the planet is to survive.

Many assignments can't ever be publicly acknowledged, though I'm told this is changing. Awhile back there were a number of articles in the mainstream press about how important celeb-driven books were to the bottom line of the current publishing world. And they do continue to pour forth.

The writer-ghost war stories are legend and legion. Before the contract is signed the celeb tires him-her-self lavishing praise on you. He's read at least three pages of one of your novels and proclaims you Proust. This sometimes changes when you show him the first few chapters. He thinks they're neatly typed. As for the writing itself...maybe it could tweaked. Just "a bit; a tad; a smidge." This is what he tells you. He tells his agent "This guy couldn't write his way out of a pay toilet. I'm really going to have to get involved in this." Left Behind has nothing on how this will all play out.

The first thing to go is the outline that you went over with him at least eight or nine times. He gave you many many suggestions and you used only those that wouldn't have his audience rolling on the floor in disbelief. He signed off on the outline, so did the agent and the editor. So you wrote the chapters.

"You know when I said I wanted this set in Bolivia and a lot of it on the submarine where the lead is a military man who saves the world?"


"Well I had this dream--I always pay attention to my dreams--and I think maybe we should put it in Vegas and have the lead be a blackjack dealer who tumbles to the fact that one of the show girls is a terrorist. Her boobs are bombs."

"Sure Rocko but the editor is expecting--"

"One thing I can handle it's chicks. I fly to New York and take her out for an evening. Believe me there won't be no problem after that."

I'm merging two different war stories here: The celeb I had so much trouble with told me that his father reviewed books for the Cumquat Gazette of Cumquat, Ohio and had impeccable literary taste. So the celeb wanted his old man in on every decision and the old man's decision was final. By the time his deaf-dumb-blind old man had changed everything many times over I, known for my even temper, started pushing back. And was shortly after dumped. He may well have been right. I had my doubts about the book anyway. Not my kind of thing. But I worked hard and made nary a penny.

Fortunes of war. But I'd be happy to take on another one providing the celeb's old man is in a coma or living on death row.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My apology to Bob Byrne; Forgotten Books: The Beats by Seymour Krim

My apologies to novelist Bob Byrne who wrote the fine Donald E. Westlake remebrance I wrote last night. I forgotten to list him as the writer. Very sorry, Bob.

Forgotten Books: The Beats by Seymour Krim

To me Seymour Krim was one of the most interesting figures in the rise of Beat culture. He was more of a traditional literary man than a Beat and was thus able to be the bridge between the followers of Jack Kerouac and the skeptics who disdained them. He had an understanding of both sides.

For those not around at the time the hatred of Beats turned into a literary lynch mob. Here's the father of neo-conism, Norman Podhoretz, vile and ugly as always to anybody who doesn't share his fascist leanings: "(Beatism is for the crippled of soul...young men who can't think straight and hate anyone who can.") Norman Mailer took exception to Podhoretz one night in a debate in Brooklyn and ripped into him, exposing him for the creep he was. It was rumored that Mailer was sober when this happened.

But Podhortez wasn't alone. The Beats were decried by most "respectable" (i.e. mainstream and dull) critics who were defending the kind of literature that was putting everybody to sleep.

Into the breach came Seymour Krim, a passionate and powerful cultural reporter who, among other things, turned his terrible mental breakdown in the fifties into true literature. With the late Knox Burger as his editor at Gold Medal Krim edited The Beats, one of the two or three best books ever assembled about the Beats as both serious writers and cultural phenoms.

How's this for a list of names from that time: Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, William Burroughs, Hubert Selby, Jr., Anatole Broyard and (yes) Norman Podhoretz's rant "The Know- Nothing Bohemians." And many more--a heady brew of fiction and non-fiction alike. There's even a piece from Krim's own much longer piece on his breakdown "The Insanity Bit." The excerpt from Mailer's "The Deer Park" is riveting and demonstrates that the novel was unjustly trashed in its time (Mailer famously took out an ad in the Village Voice reprinting the worst of the reviews: "Total trash. Belongs in the garbage can." Etc.)

This is a serious book and a great read, covering everything from the subject of beat New Orleans of the time to the pleasures and perils of hitch-hiking. The cover is a black and white photo depicting an Allen Ginsberg look-alike sitting across from a very fetching young woman everybody wanted to know a lot more about.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Donald E. Westlake; End of It All

Ed here: This should've run a long time ago. Obviously. But it's still well worth reading.

Don Westlake, Amazing Writing Machine

On New Year’s Eve, 2008, a friend of mine was on his way to dinner with his wife. He never made it. He complained of not feeling well, sat down on a bench, and then collapsed, dead of a heart attack.

Don Westlake was a writing machine, turning out 100 novels under ten pseudonyms. He’s best known for the comic caper novels written under his own name and featuring an unintentionally funny criminal named John Dortmunder and for the hard-boiled Parker crime novels written by “Richard Stark.” He also wrote screenplays for one of my favorite fright-flicks, “The Stepfather,” and for “The Grifters, for which he was nominated for an Oscar.

In one room of his four-story home on Bleecker Street in Manhattan were floor-to-ceiling racks of books. I was amazed when he told me that every one was written by him; he had every edition of his works in hardcover and paperback, sometimes multiple copies, as well as copies in a score of foreign languages.

All of his books were written on a small manual typewriter that had gone out of production decades earlier. To keep it supplied with spare parts, he never missed a chance to buy the same model in antique stores and junk shops.

I knew him because we shared a couple of friends, novelists Martin Cruz Smith and mystery writer Joe Gores. Westlake and Gores once published novels that contained an identical chapter, and they did it without the knowledge of their publishers. That sense of fun made them both wonderful company.

For several years, Don Westlake wrote scripts for back-to-back "murder mystery weekends" at The Mohonk Mountain House, a rambling old hotel 80 miles north of Manhattan. Amateur actors, most of them writers he knew, put on playlets about a murder. Teams of hotel guests asked questions in an attempt to solve the crime. The players had to stick to fact-sheets provided by Westlake and avoid saying anything that contradicted the stories of the other characters.

At the end of the weekend, the teams dramatized the crime as they imagined it, and Westlake revealed his own solution. Prizes were given for accuracy and creativity. For the second weekend, the facts were altered enough to provide a new murderer.

In 1987, I was one of the actors along with David Morrell, Justin Scott, Alice Turner, Chris Newman, Brian Garfield, and Mrs. Otto Penzler. Between the two weekends my wife Cindy and I stayed with the Westlakes in Manhattan--it was one of the most enjoyable 10 days of my life. Abby and Don were amusing and upbeat people and perfect hosts.

The year we were at Mohonk, the murder was set in 1872 at the fictional Western town of Turnip Gulch. I played a drunken doctor named Homer Payne-Whitney. The guests had been told that my character's parents had been killed by Indians. When I was asked, "What Indians?" I was able to safely answer, "The Cleveland Indians."

Westlake, playing circuit-court judge Orner E. Plugge, questioned me in court. Before I could divulge crucial information, shots rang out from the balcony -- I was hit! I staggered around, then dropped to the floor and died after a few violent twitches. It was the pinnacle of my acting career.

While at the Westlake house, during the week between performances, I heard Don say that he never knew if the dishes in the dishwasher were dirty or clean. Weeks later in a gift shop, I found a magnetic dial with an arrow that pointed to "Clean" or "Dirty" and mailed it to him. He replied that it helped a lot because every morning Abby pinned it to her blouse so he would know how she was feeling.



THE END OF IT ALL and Other Stories

Ed Gorman

23 short stories from the pen of the master of horror and suspense, Ed Gorman. They represent his favorite chillers from a career spanning decades. It took 426 pages to hold them all there's not a word to spare.

For the personal touch, e-mail and give your mailing address. I'll give you a good price.

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Ramble House Home Page

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A surprise: Video Games $$$ decline

As someone who has never played a video game and who has no interest interest in doing, I was surprised to read the following article in The Wrap this morning. Surprised because I assumed that has the technology grew more and more technology video games' hold on the public would become indomitable. Will they rebound?

From The Wrap:

Video Game-Over? Industry Sales Plunge, While Innovation Beckons
Games saw a 9 percent sales plunge in '09, January was worse - some blame a music genre that has peaked

By Dominic Patten
Published: February 15, 2010

After a decade of growth and two consecutive years of record-breaking grosses, sales of video games – which at first seemed immune to the Great Recession – are finally falling.

More like avalanching, actually.

A host of advances and all-new revenue streams are on the horizon, some coming as early as this year, that industry insiders hope could turn things around.

But the beginning of 2010 delivered the industry a body blow of economic reality.

Game sales dropped nearly 9 percent in 2009 from the previous year, dipping to $20.2 billion from $22.11 billion, according to digital entertainment market researchers NPD Group. Then a stellar December – a record sales month, thanks to holiday spending – seemed to be a sign that things were rebounding quickly.

They weren’t.

Last month’s sales were off 13 percent from January 2009, according to the NPD Group.

While there was some good news in accessory and controllers sales being up 2 percent, software declined 12 percent and hardware sales took devastating hit, sliding 21 percent from a year before.

Last week Electronic Arts, one of the industry’s largest game publishers, saw share prices hit hard. And layoffs have come to the seemingly untouchable industry: after tough third quarter declines, Activision announced that hundreds of employees would be laid off, and Los Angeles-based game studio Luxoflux would close.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Smart Money

By coincidence yesterday afternoon I reread Lucky At Cards, one of Hard Case Crime's Lawrence Block reprints from the early sixties. I like books about poker, especially poker "mechanics," guys who cheat at the game and generally get away with it. Bloch creates a believable mechanic and the story has a number of nicely placed twists in the last act.

I mention coincidence because this morning Turner Classic Movies ran the 1931 Smart Money, a movie about a smart Greek barber named Nick Venezelos, as sketched enthusiastically by Edward G. Robinson. Nick is so lucky his customers stake him to a big game in the big city. Nick's problem is that he plays an honest hand; the poker mechanics he meets there clean him out. Nick goes back to his small town, ashamed and still crazy for Irene, the blonde he met on his trip to the city. His buddy Jack, one of James Cagney's first roles, joins Nick's other friends in helping their barber to thrive once again, this time by ridding the town of gambling cheats and setting up his own honest gambling club. But no matter how honest he is the D.A. wants to bring him down--this is after Nick makes a quick return trip to the city city and wins his money back; Jack (Cagney) and two other gunsels make sure the crooks let him have the money--and so the story turns to Nick's betrayl by Irene. The D.A. will send her to prison if she doesn't set Nick up. Jack tries to tell Nick this but Nick won't believe it and the two men get into a fight, Nick accidentally killing Jack and going to prison for it. But Nick bets reporters he won't be in there long. Not with his kind of luck (though he seems to overlook the fact that his luck wasn't so good when he killed his best friend by mistake and then got sent up).

It's an entertaining film and has several especially fine scenes. Robinson and Cagney are always fun to watch and the cardsharps are really well cast. They're nasty enough that you want to see them messed up pretty good but not nasty enough to lose their humanity. You could imagine yourself being taken in by these mechanics. They're like an improv group that plays well together.

If the picture lacks an essential it's edge. There's a fair share of tough stuff but I wanted both Robinson and Cagney play it harder.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

So you want to be a movie reviewer

Below, thanks to Box Office Mojo, we have the top three movie grossers of the weekend.

1 N Valentine's Day WB $52,410,000 -
2 N Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief Fox $31,100,000
3 N The Wolfman Uni. 30,627,000

And grossers is to have at least two meanings if you believe the movie reviewers. Valentine's Day was savaged far and wide as a cynical, empty, dull picture that only morons would see. Reviewers of The Wolfman couldn't even summon up much scorn for this--it was simply dismissed. And pretty much the same for Percy Jackson.

There seems to be some kind of perverse trend here, an inverse success accorded to movies the reviewers consider vile. Not every weekend but many more weekends than you might imagine. Start following Box Office Mojo every Sunday afternoon and see how often this holds true.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hey baby how's about me'n you...1759 personal ads

The Daily Beast ran an interesting article yesterday on how personal ads date back to at least Colonial times. Here is an excerpt:

On April 23, 1722, the latest edition of the New England Courant hit the streets of Boston. There on page two, nestled in between an article about smallpox inoculation and news of a new Russian translation of the Bible, could be found the following ad:

--Any young Gentlewoman (Virgin or Widow) that is minded to dispose of her self in Marriage to a well-accomplish’d young Widower, and has five or six hundred pounds to secture to him by Deed of Gift, she may repair to the Sign of the Glass-Lanthorn in Steeple-Square, to find all the encouragement she can reasonably desire.

The author was a 16-year-old Benjamin Franklin, whose older brother edited the Courant. He composed it as a joke, thus becoming the first in a long line of people to poke fun at personal ads. It also reveals is that, as early as the 1720s, personal ads were already a familiar enough feature of city life to merit satire.

In the 18th century, the huge majority of personal ads were placed by men in their mid-twenties. What they wanted in a wife was youth and money (whereas today, youth alone is the top priority, according to a number of recent studies of human mate choice). In 1759, for example, one young buck announced to readers of the Boston Evening Post his desire to meet:

--Any young Lady, between the Age of Eighteen and Twenty-three, of a middling Stature; brown Hair; regular Features, and with a lively brisk Eye; of good Morals, and not tinctur’d with any Thing that may sully so distinguishable a Form; possessed of 3 or 400l., entirely at her own Disposal, and where there will be no necessity of going thro’ the tiresome Talk of addressing Parents or Guardians for their Consent...

for the rest go here:

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Woman of Affairs

As I've mentioned here several times, I've developed an interest in silent films and watch them whenever possible on Turner Classic Movies. This morning I saw a 1928 silent called A Woman of Affairs with Greta Garbo and John Gilbert and Lewis Stone and one John Mack Brown who would later be known in B-movie western circles as Johnny Mack Brown.

This is a film that must be held dear in the hearts of soap opera writers. Maybe even a benchmark of some kind. It starts over-the-top and works upwards from there.

Here's the TCM synopsis:

Sleek, elegant Diana Merrick falls in love with aristocratic Neville Holderness, but owing to his father's disapproval of her family's way of life, she and Neville are forbidden to marry. Living with a reckless enthusiasm, Diana finally marries her brother's friend, David Furness, unaware that he is a thief. On their honeymoon in France, learning that the police are after him, David kills himself, and Diana sets out to repay the victims of her husband's crimes. Returning after some years to England, she is too late to save her brother from his fatal alcoholism; and when Neville attempts to return to her, Diana turns him away, influenced by his father's attitude and the fact that he is married. Diana then drives her car into the tree beneath which she and Neville first declared their love, and dies.

Ed here: What the synopsis doesn't even suggest is all the swooning, crying, glaring, zounding, suiciding, fainting and near-deathing that goes on here. All very upper-class of course. You quickly assume that none of these people ever turned a hand to the merest kind of work. (Wall Street banker material, the lot of them.)

I've always had trouble with Garbo. Most of the time I watch her I don't see her appeal. In this film I do. She is beautiful, vulnerable and with the exception of a few scenes her acting is modern. I've seen three or four John Gilbert performances and I've never been able to understand his appeal either. This film did nothing to change my mind. There's something intrisically anxious, weak about him. You know he's got clammy palms. He's a little too refined, to me, to be leading man material. I believe that Lewis Stone (who played Judge Hardy in the Andy Hardy movies with Mickey Rooney) was born at age sixty-five. A perfect age-sixty-five. Everything he does is efficient and underplayed and with that finely wrought wise-grandfather face he never misses.

But to me the bathos here is so relentless I found myself watching the cinematography as much as the acting. Director Clarence Brown, who had a long and sometimes remarkable career, three or four times used these extremely wide shots to show an entire set, almost as if he was filming a stage production, and would then suddenly push in to whichever actor was featured in the scene. One of the push-ins was so fast (and a bit wobbly) I thought I was watching a Michael Winner picture from the Seventies. (You remember Winner. He'd set his camera up in Nevada and then push in all the way to Iowa at seventy-five mph. His films could give you whiplash).

This was a popular and in some quarters esteemed film in its day. But there was never any air in it to make it human--not a whit of comedy or a scene or two of people just being people. It was always the raised eyebrow and the swoon before fainting.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Knox Burger by Bob Byrne

A literary lion roars no more
The tough-guy image was misleading

Knox Burger, whose long career made him a legend in the literary world, died in New York City on January 4, 2010, at the age of 87. He was a colorful character who walked with a cane, a curmudgeon with a sharp sense of humor. Before the end, his worsening medical problems led him to remark: “My Golden Years are showing a bit of tarnish.”

He was my literary agent. With his help I was able to avoid getting a real job for thirty-five years. Among the writers he represented were novelists Martin Cruz Smith, Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block, Donald McCaig, and William Caunitz. He was such a fan of fly fishing that one of his goals in life was to have dry feet. His ashes were buried in a creel.

It’s not easy to get an agent, as any aspiring author will tell you. I got lucky early in my career when Patrick O’Connor, editor of Pinnacle Books, decided to reprint my coming-of-age novel Memories of a Non-Jewish Childhood (which is set in Dubuque) in paperback under the title Once a Catholic. When he learned that I had no agent, he hooked me up with a good one.

Life changed immediately. Knox Burger persuaded publishers to give me cash advances for books yet unwritten, which meant that I could quit my day job as a trade-journal editor in San Francisco and write on somebody else’s money instead of my own. Seventeen books followed under that happy arrangement.

In his New York Times obituary, the veteran agent was described as “a lean, bald, craggy-faced man with a game leg and a gruff manner that can be downright brusque.” To work with him, you had to be able to accept criticism, and sometimes it was harsh. One of my book ideas made him wonder if it came from a man trapped for ten years in an Iowa coal mine. He also said that I would probably be more successful if I were meaner.

After he had guided several of my novels into print, I sent him a new business card. He replied on his letterhead with mock seriousness: “The boldness of your name on the card, and the ornamental flourishes on the capital letters that rise to almost topiary excess, convey a certain grossness if not actual vulgarity. Better would be a certain reticence and an air of modesty. Your card is more suitable to a salesman of rubber goods or previously-owned kitchen appliances than to a novelist. We return it herewith. Good luck with it.”

His directness, honesty and editorial skill earned him the trust of publishers. They knew that anything he sent them was worth reading. Before opening his agency in 1970, he spent three years as fiction editor of Collier’s magazine and twenty years as fiction editor for paperback pubishers Dell and Fawcett. While at Collier’s he published an early story by Dubuque’s Richard Bissell, of Pajama Game fame. They developed a joking relationship based on Burger playing the street-smart city slicker and Bissell the bumpkin from Iowa. Decades later I found myself in the Bissell role.

Once when he was visiting clients in California, I gave him a ride to the airport. Before boarding a plane back to New York, he confessed with some embarassment that he was short of cash, so I loaned him twenty dollars. A few days later I got a check from him for eighteen dollars! I was glad it happened before he raised his commission from ten to fifteen percent.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Forgotten Books: Resurrection Row by Anne Perry

Forgotten Books: Resurrection Row by Anne Perry

Between the ages of ten and fourteen I probably read a hundred or more traditional mysteries. In those days, the Fifties, the type I preferred leaned heavily on plot and atmosphere. The ones that dealt with the mysteries of adulthood offered the titillation of modest sexual references but I was too young to understand the emotional underpinnings of all that smart intriguing adult behavior.

I've never outgrown the enjoyment some traditional mysteries give me. Even when I was reading fifteen hard-boiled paperbacks a month* I still picked up a traditional at least twice a month or so.

Today I have a list of reliables whom I read each time they publish, one of them being Anne Perry. I prefer her first series, that of commoner Inspector Thomas Pitt and his royal wife Charlotte. Perry writes in a straight clear way that allows for a fair amount of description--necessary if she's to create a believable Victorian era--that somehow never seems to slow the story.

If you haven't read Perry I'd suggest you start with Resurrection Row, an early Pitt and Charlotte notable for its cleverness of plot and its particularly droll skewering of the British royal classes.

The set up is a bit like Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry (a film only I seem to enjoy) in that the corpse of Lord Augustus Fitzroy-Hammond keeps being buried and then keeps reappearing, still dead of course, in hansom cabs and church pews among other places. But make no mistake. For all Perry's occasional ironical comments on the society her books are almost always about evil. They are filthy with it.

In Resurrection Row Perry takes us through a land where the Dickensian trajectory of one's life is often set at birth. The poor are poor and shall forever be so, often as the handmaidens and fetchers of the wealthy. She gives us a cast drawn from both ends of the class system and lavishes motives on each person. Perry is good at what I call double-back plotting. She likes to give readers a surprise and then quickly trump it with an even bigger surprise. She's master at it.

Don't worry--if you like picture postcards of the Victorian era they're here, everything from the extraordinary mansions to the upstairs-downstairs staff to the Gilbert and Sullivan opera that opens the book. Fortunately that's not enough for Perry nor, I suspect, for the legions of readers who've made her an international best seller.

She's got a hangman's thirst for justice and she takes no prisoners.

* The summer I turned thirteen I bought new Death Takes The Bus by Lionel White with a Mitchell Hooks cover that hypnotized me. My first Gold Medal. It was such a great read I started going to the three used bookstores on my side of town. They kept me supplied for a long time. I read all Spillane, Prather, Rabe, Hammett (Chandler was a few years away) and just about every other hardboiled pb I could find. By age fifteen I began to develop my own sense of what was worth reading and what was not. But I sure packed away a lot of books while I was learning.


MORON ALERT: Will somebody who really knows AOL please contact me at I must've done something to AOL because it's sure doing something to me. Thanks Ed

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Cinema Retro; Ron Goulart; End of It All

One of my all-time favorite magazine scores again with issue #16. What I like especially about Cinema Retro is that its writers always find a new slant on material, even if it's a subject that's been dealt with many times before. This issue is packed with those kind of surprises. One caution: Cinema Retro frequently sells out. It's best to subscribe s you're sure not to miss an issue.

---------------------------Ron Goulart

The vigor and economy of Ron Goulart's writing has always fascinated me. He covers more territory in two paragraphs than most of us can in two pages. This is no trick. It's a real talent possessed by few.

In Playing Detective, Goulart's attractive new chapbook from Gryphon Press, he gives us a bickering divorced couple, Jack Branner and Connie Bowen who team up to solve mysteries in the Hollywood of the early 1940s, especially those with connected with radio production. Goulart notes in the introduction that as a boy he actually saw hit radio shows being produced. His fondness for the era and his knowledge of radio are as much on stage here as the snappy plot and the lively dialogue. I like the hook, too. Branner and Bowen play a detective duo in the movies and on radio so they're forced together much against their will.

These stories are a real treat. I look forward to many more of them.

-------------------------The Old Plugola: The End of It All

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Ticket to Ride

Ed Gorman, whose latest novel, Ticket to Ride, I recently devoured, is a man of many accomplishments. His blog is required reading for me. It’s full of interest, and has introduced me to such good and diverse things as the novels of Elizabeth Sanxay Holding and a terrific CD tribute to Dusty Springfield by Shelby Lynne. As a book editor, he was kind enough to include ‘The Bookbinder’s Apprentice’ in a ‘best of year’ anthology, and I first came across him many years ago, when he phoned me to ask if an article I’d written for a magazine called ‘Million’ (sadly long defunct) could be reprinted in ‘Mystery Scene’, a wonderfully resilient publication whose success owes much to his hard work. Although we exchange emails from time to time, we’ve never met. However, through his splendid writing, somehow I feel that I have the privilege of knowing him quite well.

Above all, he is a masterly crime writer. If you haven’t come across his short stories, check out Famous Blue Raincoat, a collection published by Crippen & Landru, or his collected stories, in two gorgeously produced volumes, The Moving Coffin and Out There in the Darkness. Of his novels that I’ve read, I might previously have said that The Night Remembers is my favourite. But Ticket to Ride is perhaps even better.

It’s the latest instalment in the Sam McCain series. The books take their titles from songs of the period in which they are set – so now we are up to the mid-Sixties, and a time when the US was in the throes of war in a distant land. The book’s first scene involves an anti-Vietnam protest, but although Gorman’s heart is with the protesters, it is a mark of his sensitivity as a novelist that he portrays the people on the other side of the argument with a very human touch. When a murder occurs, Sam (a lawyer in his Iowa home town) has the unenviable task of defending an unattractive client. But he believes in the man’s innocence, and sets about discovering the truth behind the crime.

Despite Sam’s legal background, this book is more akin to a private eye novel than a legal thriller. It is short and snappy, with some wonderfully witty lines. The plot reaches back into the murky dealings of the town’s past, but the greatest appeal of the novel is the depiction of small town America at a time, well within living memory yet in some ways remarkably different from today, when the Beatles were perceived as a threat to moral order by much the same people who supported an unwinnable war.

This particular book hasn’t been published as yet in the UK, and I’m puzzled that, so far, no British crime publisher has really got behind Ed Gorman on a long term basis in the way that the quality of his writing deserves. Perhaps Ticket to Ride will make the breakthrough. Certainly, it is a smoothly accomplished piece of entertainment from a very skilled practitioner.


This one by Ed Gorman, and titled The End of It All. It contains 23 of Gorman's suspense stories, a genre and length that Gorman excels. If you have never read an Ed Gorman short story, of any type, you are in for a treat. He is one of the best writers of short fiction currently writing. This one is also available now.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Pro-File: Robert S. Levinson


1. Tell us about your current novel (or project).

I've been setting and getting ready to tackle a series of library and indie bookstore readings that kicks off mid-March and runs a month in support of my eighth book and fourth stand-alone, THE TRAITOR IN US ALL, shipping about now and, if you'll permit me a brief commercial break, goes something like this:

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, two teenage girls are brutally murdered and a third kidnapped in a quiet Southern California community. Jack Sothern, a discredited, down-on-his-luck journalist, connects the crimes to Dan Boone, the American "Turncoat Rebel" who found fame and fortune behind the Iron Curtain, and to a long-missing secret diary worth millions that was kept by Erich Mielke, sadistic head of East Germany's dreaded Stasi, the Ministry of State Security. Deals are struck, treachery substitutes for the truth and the body count rises in a non-stop series of revelations as Sothern races to locate the diary, rescue the kidnapped girl and redeem his honor.

The appearances serve the need to promote-promote-promote that's become increasingly important in sustaining anything remotely resembling a writing career in today's publishing world.

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

I've shipped off my ninth book, A RHUMBA IN WALTZ TIME, set in the 1930s "Golden Age of Hollywood," and am a couple hundred pages into a stand-alone that utilizes the same setting, but a different cast of characters and a lighter mood. Where TRAITOR was something of a departure for me, putting me in the thick of the dark and dangerous Cold War era, I'm more in my comfort zone with these two novels: historical show biz in a town full of landmarks that exist mostly in memory and, as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer once claimed in a slogan devised by Howard Dietz, "More stars than there are in heaven," (many of whom figure in the two stories).

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

Having one. This one. I've always been some kind of writer—newspapers, freelance journalism, public relations, television—but my hope, my dream, my goal over the decades was to get a novel written and published. The novel, THE ELVIS AND MARILYN AFFAIR, when it finally got done and sold, begat an altogether unexpected "career" that ultimately expanded to include short stories. Ten years later, I'm still excited to sit down at the computer every day, shut out the real world and create characters, settings and situations in worlds of my own making. (God complex, anyone?)

4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

I've turned into something of a recluse since this gig became more than a one-shot, tough for someone who was a "people person" in earlier lives. The minute I sit down to write, that's it, over and out. I become a victim of single focus—on the writing. I don't hear the phone, anyone ringing the doorbell or knocking on the door, although a minor earthquake might get me to look up from the keyboard. (And has…) I used to do a lot of lunchtime socializing. Nowadays, it's a quickie at home and back to work. Does the penalty fit the crime(writing)? You bet, Ed. I don't have to like it, but, really, no complaints.

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

One piece? Hah! I'm struggling against launching a lecture here about publishing world marketing mistakes paralleling what I lived through during music industry world years that sent the record business on a downward spiral, and—hey, wait a minute! Those mistakes also caused the rebirth of indie labels (think small press publishers) and created new exposure and sales opportunities and success for both established and fledgling artists (think authors). So, maybe what I should be saying is, Keep those marketing mistakes coming, publishing world.

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

That's a question more deservedly put to the Messrs. Gorman, Breen, Crider, Randisi, Collins, and other scholars of the genre. Most every writer I read before and after I got published is in print. What limited time I have for reading, I devote to the many marvelous story-tellers of the past decade or two, and long may they stay in print.

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

It's after eight or nine months of submissions and rejections for THE ELVIS AND MARILYN AFFAIR. My agent calls. "Didn't you say you're coming to New York?" "Yeah. Why?" "An editor is thinking seriously about acquiring the book. I think we can close the sale if she has a chance to meet you." "Done," I say, my pulse doing gymnastics. "Set it. I'm there."

In New York, I do three days of PR business and then must sit out a weekend and a Monday in front of a Tuesday lunch with the editor, three and a half days of nervous anticipation. I have a Monday lunch with a couple old friends at a budget-busting restaurant overlooking the Radio City ice rink. I explain what's keeping me in New York. I'm told, "Elvis? Marilyn? Don't worry, she'll buy the book." I worry anyway.

Tuesday. The editor and I lunch one-on-one at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill. We get along famously. Her nice words about the book precede questions about my show biz background. I flood her with anecdotes, including a few about Elvis (whom I knew casually) and Marilyn (whom I'd never met, only several friends in common). We part all smiles, no further reference to the book and its status with her; me, too polite to put her on the spot with the question; also, for fear of getting an answer I don't want to hear. Flying home, best I can do is hope for the best. The answer comes by phone a few days later. "Congratulations," my agent says. "We have a deal." So, you bet, Ed—definitely a moment impossible to forget.

# # # # #

Sunday, February 07, 2010

New Book: The Guilt Edge by Robert J. Randisi

The Guilt Edge

Robert J. Randisi

John C. Boland is a talented writer who has twice been nominated for a Shamus Award for Best Short story--once in 1984, and again in 2009. Also had several books published in the 90's from Pocket Books. John and I met back in the 70's.I think, when we were both members of MWA. When I emailed him last year to congratulate him on his nomination he told me he was starting a small press called Perfect Crime Books. Immediately, I wanted to do something with him. I got a kick out of a fellow author from my past starting up his own publishing venture.

The result is a short story collection, a novel and two volumes of PWA Shamus Winners. The first book to appear is The Guilt Edge, a collection my short stories, featuring Henry Po, Truxton Lewis and Val O'Farrell stories--all P.I. tales--and a couple of other stories, one featuring Bat Masterson. Next will be the novel THE BOTTOM OF EVERY BOTTLE. The Shamus Winner volumes will come in a couple of months.

Perfect Crime has also published an Edward Cline novel and is looking for other projects. Check out their website at

Saturday, February 06, 2010

New Books" The Traitor In Us All by Robert S. Levinson

From Robert S. Levinson:

"An embrace."

That's how Dan Boone closes a letter to Jack Sothern in THE TRAITOR IN US ALL.

Boone is a failed American entertainer who settled behind the Iron Curtain in the years before the Berlin Wall came down and achieved the success that had eluded him at home, fame and glory far beyond his wildest hopes and dreams.

Sothern is the down-at-the heels journalist he turns to for help when he makes a dangerous decision to return stateside, hopefully cast off his reputation as the notorious "Turncoat Rebel" and sustain his stardom in the country of his birth.

"An embrace."

That's how the inspiration for the character of Dan Boone closed a note to me after returning to East Berlin following a hurried, closely watched visit to Hollywood.

I was still engaged in show business marketing and talent management at the time. He'd been referred to me by a mutual friend, with the hope I'd take him on as a client.

He was a charming fellow, entirely upbeat, candid about his past, a smile as genuine as the ego that drove him, fully optimistic about the future he believed we might achieve together, but—

It didn't work out that way.

He went back to wowing 'em in the communist countries, starring in movies and as a recording and concert artist packing auditoriums and stadiums, an Order of Lenin recipient unable to step out in public without hundreds upon hundreds of fans tracking after him for photos, autographs, handshakes and hugs.

It wasn't until I got into the novel writing racket that I recognized him as fodder for a character in a story I might one day write. That day came after I moved from doing four Neil Gulliver and Stevie Marriner "Affair" books and the three earlier standalones that freed me stretch and grow as a storyteller.

As a story began taking shape in my mind, I realized the character I was calling "Dan Boone" was the catalyst for action that moved between East Berlin under Russian domination twenty years ago and present day Southern California, but not necessarily the hero of the narrative.

That would be Jack Sothern's role.

Sothern would link two brutal murders and the kidnapping of a teenage girl first to Boone, through Boone's ex-wife, then to a secret diary kept by the late Erich Mielke, sadistic head of East Germany's dreaded Stasi, the Ministry of State Security.

The villain's role would be filled by a pair of one-time government operatives in East Berlin, who are determined to find and possess Mielke's diary no matter what cost, in order to reap the potential millions of dollars the diary could bring in a bidding war among countries.

I was off and running with a story where complications multiplied as deals were struck, treachery substituted for the truth, and the body count rose in a non-stop series of character revelations that seemed to suggest there's a little bit of traitor in us all, if not to our country, at one time or another, however minuscule the lie, to our beliefs, our loved ones, our friends, our business associates; casual acquaintances; a cause.

Not you?

Never you?

Think about it.


An embrace.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Pro-File: Interview with St. Martin's Toni Plummer

Pro-File: Toni Plummer

Toni Plummer grew up in South El Monte , California , a working-class suburb of Los Angeles . She earned a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and a Masters in Professional Writing from USC. Toni is an Associate Editor at Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St. Martin ’s Press, where she acquires fiction and nonfiction. Some of her authors include New York Times bestselling author of Slumdog Millionaire Vikas Swarup , California Book Award winner Michael Jaime-Becerra, Edgar finalist Sophie Littlefield, up-and-coming debut mystery author Brad Parks, and Rita Award winner Caridad Ferrer. Toni is a winner of the Miguel Mármol Prize, and her short story collection is forthcoming from Northwestern University Press. She lives in Brooklyn .

What made you decide on publishing as a career?

Like many other liberal arts majors, I didn’t know what I was going to do after college. I hadn’t really thought that far ahead! But I knew that I loved reading. One thing led to another and after graduate school, I moved out to New York. The publishing jobs were what interested me most, and, fortunately, I was able to land one.

What was your first job in publishing?

I started as an editorial assistant at Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press in 2004 and have been here ever since. Before that, I interned in the backyard shed of a literary agent in Los Angeles, but I don’t really count that.

What was your first big surprise about the publishing world?

It’s so small! Really, everyone knows everyone else. Or, if you don’t know someone, you know someone who does.
With all the doom-and-gloom pieces constantly being written about publishing, what’s your take on the future for books?
I don’t think that publishing is ending, it’s just evolving. Naturally, there are kinks to work out as we move into new territory, namely, e-books. But I think there’s always going to be a market for stories, or “content”. And there are a lot of people out there who still love buying and owning physical books. I know I’m one of them.

Have vampires finally tapped out (please say yes)?

I’m afraid not! Although I should say that my first foray into genre fiction was Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. I was addicted. It’s hard to imagine it getting better than that! But maybe I should see what these new-fangled vampire novels are all about…

How would you describe your typical day at St. Martin’s?

A whirlwind! It’s an office, so think: getting signatures on paperwork, answering emails. I must write or answer maybe 50 emails a day--the most charming being from Ed Gorman, of course. But there are also all the tasks unique to our business: transmitting manuscripts to Production, writing jacket copy, preparing materials for the Sales department, attending editorial meetings, talking to colleagues about submissions. I’m handling books at all different stages of the publication process, and we’re constantly getting in new material. So, organization is key. All my reading and editing is done after-hours.

Are you excited about starting to build your own list of writers?

Yes! The best part of the job is seeking out stories that you love and getting to share them with others, first in-house and then hopefully with the public. It’s immensely fulfilling to see your authors well-received by critics and readers. Speaking of which, one of my authors Sophie Littlefield is nominated for an Edgar Award for her first novel, A Bad Day for Sorry! I’m casually blowing on my nails right now.

What kinds of novels are you looking for?

I’m looking for mysteries, from light, funny ones to really gritty, thrilling ones. I respond to humor, well-drawn characters, and stories with a strong sense of place. I’m also looking for women’s fiction, literary and commercial. Multicultural, historical. I like some romance in my novels, but if it dominates the plot, it can become too much for me. You’ve heard this a million times, I’m sure, but an editor starts out as just a reader. You have to fall in love with the characters, the voice. Other more objective factors come into play too of course, and other people. But it all starts with you falling in love.

When you have time, who do you read for pleasure?

Are you talking to me? Seriously though, I like reading short fiction, because I can get a nice sampling of many different authors in a short time. The Akashic Books noir series is really nice for that. A few of my favorite authors (who are not my authors) are Julia Alvarez, Philip Roth, John Updike, Andre Dubus III, Susan Straight, and Michael Chabon. I value reading for pleasure more than I ever did before!

The End of It All & Other Stories

Ed here: When the two volumes of my Collected Short Stories were published in the UK many of you felt that the price was out of range. So I've chosen what I feel are the strongest stories from each volume, including some that have never been collected before and made a deal with Ramble House over here. This edition is a lot more budget-friendly. Thanks.


THE END OF IT ALL and Other Stories

Ed Gorman

23 short stories from the pen of the master of horror and suspense, Ed Gorman. They represent his favorite chillers from a career spanning decades. It took 426 pages to hold them all there's not a word to spare.

For the personal touch, e-mail and give your mailing address. I'll give you a good price.

For the impersonal touch, use PayPal:
$20 Trade Paperback 6" x 9" Delivered in 5 to 10 days
$35 Hardcover with Dustjacket 6" x 9" Delivered in 2 - 3 weeks
Free Shipping to the US; actual cost to elsewhere

Ramble House Home Page

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

In books, what looks like death is really progress

Ed here: Steve Pearlstein almost always finds an interesting angle on publishing news. Here's a excerpt from his column today:

Steve Pearlstein from The Washington Post 3 Feb 2010

Last weekend, a noisy little melodrama in the book publishing world involving and Macmillan provided a wonderful case study of the radical transformation taking place all across the economy as a result of the digital revolution.

In books, what looks like death is really progress.

Wednesday, Feb. 3 at 11:00am EST: Pearlstein: How the iPad impacts new media business models
In the book business, that transformation has been led by Amazon's Jeff Bezos, who has been a master at using the Internet to cut out the middlemen that stand between the author and the reader, delivering books to consumers at lower prices. This process of "disintermediation" started about 15 years ago, when Bezos figured out how to cut out bricks-and-mortar retailers by shipping books directly to consumers' homes from his company's warehouses. But the real breakthrough came when Amazon introduced the Kindle reader and began using wireless phone networks to deliver digital books for $9.99 a pop.

Amazon's business model was, in fact, the reverse of the one used so successfully by Gillette, selling razors at little or no profit but making it up on high-margin razor blades. In this case, the $9.99 retail price for the books (the blades) was actually less than the $12 to $14 "wholesale" price Amazon paid to publishers. That loss, however, was made up for by the high profit margins on the Kindles (the razors), which sell for $260 to $490.

for the rest go here:

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Forgotten Books: The Scarf by Robert Bloch; Mystery Scene Winter Issue

"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."

This was Robert Bloch talking to an interviewer about why his early career shifted from Lovecraftian horror to the more frightening horror of the human mind.

Bloch had long been fascinated with the fact that while some killers were transparent many others were hidden safely inside a studied disguise of normality.

Daniel Morley, for instance, the narrator of The Scarf, is a young man gliding through life. First a novelist and then a screenwriter, always attractive to women and smooth with the men he must deal with.

One thing I admire about this novel is Morley's agonizing over what he does. He is not in control of his urges and he suffers for it. He's not the sleek stereotype of the mastermind serial killer of today. And his fetishistic attachment to the red scarf with which he strangles his victims haunts his nightmares.

I'm sure many readers will disagree with me that The Scarf is at least the equal of Psycho and maybe even a little bit better. Bloch had a good time playing humor off the Norman Bates character. You could even imagine Bloch smiling if not laughing out loud in places. For that reason I suspect that the Daniel Morley character was more difficult to make human. More pitfalls in making him believable. This is Jim Thompson country.

Much of Bloch's work has faded, the fate of most prolific writers. I was never a particular fan of his humor and it has not worn well. But he wrote two remarkable and timeless novels, Psycho and The Scarf, and a fine single volume collection of his very best stories could be set on the same shelf with the two books.

Hell, very late in his career he wrote a masterpiece, the long story "The Yugoslavs," one of the finest, darkest and most original stories I've ever read. The Scarf is well worth looking up.

--------------------------------------------From Kate Stine at Mystery Scene Magazine

Dear Readers,

January has flown by. In between big mystery award announcements; welcoming Mystery News readers; and diving into the MS Blog, Twitter, and Facebook; we're also finishing up a great looking Winter Issue #113, which should be out mid-February.

We're looking forward to bringing you a terrific cover story with Randy Wayne White, as well as a chat with G.M. Malliet, Lawrence Block's memories of Ross Thomas, a tribute to G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown, and a look at P.D. James's new Talking About Detective Fiction. Hope your 2010 is off to a wonderful beginning and we'll see you next month.

Kate Stine