Thursday, March 31, 2011



One of the more familiar knocks on mystery fiction is that it rarely treats death seriously. That too often murder is simply the device that propels the story and not much more. I think that's a fair criticism and I certainly include my own work as being guilty of that particular sin. Murder, even literary murder, should HURT.

I'd also add to that criticism the various addictions common to the genre, namely alcoholism and drug addiction. Only Larry Block and a few others have taken us into the real world of recovering alcoholics. For the most part addiction has become just another keystroke common to the world of mystery fiction.

I've read three novels in my life that have described accurately--in my experience as an alcoholic--the horrors of being drunk most of your life. Certainly Under The Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, After the First Death by Larry Block and a novel you've probably never heard of, though alcoholic Raymond Chandler pushed it as one of the finest suspense novels of his time.

For some reason, much as I've pushed her here, I'd never read THE INNOCENT MRS. DUFF by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding. It is remarkable in many ways, not least because the protagonis. Jacob Duff is drunk for virtually the entire novel. And we see 95% of the book through his eyes. Functionally drunk for most of it but also falling-down drunk in places. Holding's genius was to sustain a sense of dread that I don't think even Ruth Rendell has equaled. There are times in her novels when I have to put the book down for a few minutes. They are that claustrophobic in mood and action.

That's the first most remarkable aspect of the book. The second most remarkable is the fact that we see the book through the eyes of one of the most arrogant, self-invoved, cold and self-deluded man I've ever encountered in fiction of any kind. I hated the bastard so much--I'm not enamored of the upper-classes, alas, and Duff embodies everything I loathe about them--I almost gave up after chapter three. I wasn't sure I wanted to learn anything more about this jerk,

But Holding has the voodoo, at least for me. She makes me turn pages faster than any best-seller because what you're rushing to discover is the fate of her people. All the good folks in this one are women, especially Duff's younger, beautiful and very decent wife. He constantly compares her unfavorably to his first wife, though we soon learn that he didn't care much for his first wife, either. At age forty he's still looking for his dream woman. God have mercy on her soul if he ever finds her.

As always with Holding, as with much of Poe, what we have is not so much a plot (though she's as good as Christie) as a phantasmagoria of despair, distrust and suspicion that consumes the protagonist. Is his wife cheating on him? Is she setting up his death so she'll inherit his estate? Is she turning his young son against him? Has his wealthy aunt, his life-long mentor and mother confessor, taken the side of his young wife? Has his drinking disgraced him in his small town and are all those smirks aimed at him? And finally, is he a murderer? And why does he have to sneak around these days to drink?

If you're curious about Holding, this is a good place to start. Anthony Boucher always said that she was the mother of all psychological suspense novelists. What's intresting is how few, fifty-some years after her death, have come close to equaling her enormous powers.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Character parts


Character parts

I like to read while I eat. Lately I've been working my way through David Thomson's enormous Biographical Dictionary of Film at lunch time. Thomson is the most interesting and entertaining flm critic since Pauline Kael--and every bit as frustrating. When I disagree with him, I want to call him up and read him his rights--before violating every one of them.

Today I read his take on Edmond O'Brien. Thomson notes going in that movie stars aren't supposed to sweat. That makes them too much like everybody in the audience. Part of movie stardom is inaccessability, fantasy. But what a clever hook because beefy O'Brien sweated all the time, especially in his most memorable movie DOA. He was also fat, frequently out of breath, devoutly neurotic and often frightened. He was, in other words, pretty much like the people in the darkness watching him on the big screen. An Everyman of sorts.

In the course of his entry on O'Brien, Thomson makes clear that he enjoys the odd-ball actors and actresses far more than he does the stars. Thus he finds Warren Oates vastly more compelling than Robert Redford and Jeff Goldblum more intriguing than Paul Newman.

When I was a kid I rarely wondered about the lives of the stars. But I was always curious about character actors such as Elisha Cook, Jr. and J. Carrol Naish. There was a vitality to their performances that the stars were rarely capable of matching. And in the case of Cook, there was a melancholy and weariness that I recognized even then as being much like my own.

Same with the women. The ones I was always excited about were the second- and third-leads. They were the ones I got crushes on. They were often as pretty as the leading ladies, sometimes even prettier. And they frequently had more interesting roles, the bitch, the tart, the victim.

Barry Gifford once remarked that when you see a musical with all those young gorgeous girl dancers you have to wonder what became of them. The majority probably became housewives; more than a few probably took to the streets as parts became harder and harder to come by; and a lucky handful became the wives of powerful Hwood men.

I've been watching a lot of silent films of TCM and the same impulse grabs me then, too. Who were they? What happened to them? Did they know they'd become immortal? A full century later I sit in our family room and watch them as--most likely anyway--another century from now people will still be watching them. This is probably heresy of sorts but to me film immortality is far more imposing than literary immortality.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

gee i've never thought of you that way before miss marple but i sure am changin' my mind

From Huffington Post

'Miss Marple': Jennifer Garner To Star In Young Reboot

This beloved classic is getting a facelift. Quite literally.

Disney has closed a deal for a big screen reboot of Agatha Christie's "Miss Marple" mystery novel series, and the House of Mouse is making substantial changes to the story. Deadline reports that, instead of the British grandma Jane Marple portrayed in the books and in previous big screen incarnations, the film series will instead feature a young, far more svelte amateur sleuth, to be played by Jennifer Garner.

Garner, of course, has plenty of screen experience when it comes to solving mysteries, starring in the longrunning TV spy show, "Alias." This will be a bit different; the novels, 12 in all, were written from the 1930-70's. Whether the films will stay in that considerable span of time, or be brought up to date has yet to be announced.

Marple has been played by a number of notable actors, both on TV and the big screen. The first films starred Margaret Rutherford, while Angela Landsbury took on the role in the star-studded "The Mirror Crack'd," which included Tony Curtis and Elizabeth Taylor.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mildred Pierce

I liked it. Kate Winslet was all we'd hoped for as was Melissa Leo. The two child actors stunned me. The death of the little girl moved me; made me pause to think about mortality in general. She was such a sweetie.

All that said there were elements that I didn't care for. First and foremost being the male roles. Would she really have given herself so quickly to the little rat-bastard who was once her husband's dishonest business partner? And the handsome dashing playboy is pure stereotype. I was surprised we didn't have a polo scene. To me he's as off-putting as the business partner, a poseur out of a bad Christie novel.

While I also had problems with the Joan Crawford version, Jack Carson as the business partner and Zachary Scott as the wealthy young man made dramatic sense. Their appeal to Mildred was obvious.

The testament to how bad the two new version men are can be found in Mildred's ex-husband. Yes, he left her for another woman but for all that I found him admirable, a man who genuinely loves his family and is generous enough to give them the house and (after some jousting) their only car. This is my kind of writing- the bad-good man.

One other difficulty I had with last night's two hour opener was the overall tone. There's a kind of filmic somberness that is really self-reverential. This is such an important movie we wouldn't dare just let go of it here and there just to see what happens. It's like going to High Mass with all the Pope-like hats on the heads of the priests.

As a blogger pointed out this morning, Mildred Pierce is especially relevant today because it is about the destruction of the middle class during the Depression (yes, the working poor was destroyed by it, too, of course but Cain focused on the white collar group). The one difference being that in those days respectable women didn't work outside the home. Mildred has to hide her job from her snotty daughter Veda, Today's Veda would be swell with her mom working as long as she got new clothes and a an iPad out of it.

I'm looking forward to the next installments.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pity Him Afterward Donald Westlake

Ed here: One day a publisher I knew called me and said is there a Don Westlake novel that has never been in paperback. I immediately said yes. He asked me if I had a copy of it. I said yes. I sent him my one and only copy, a very good hardcover edition of Pity Him Afterwrd. As it turned out they had to destroy it to create the new book. But it was worth it so other people could read it. It's that good.

From 2007:

Every once in awhile I get stoned just watching a literary master do his work. The last two nights I was flat out dazzled from beginning to end with Donald Westlake's 1964 novels PITY HIM AFTERWARD.

The story concerns an escaped madman who takes the identity of a man who is headed to a theater that does summer stock. While we see the story several times from the madman's point of view, we're never sure who he is. This is a fair clue mystery.

In quick succession, a young woman who works summer stock is found murdered in the house where the young, struggling actors stay. A part-time chief of police appears to find the killer.

Two points: writers owe their readers original takes on familiar tropes as often as possible. The madman here is no slobbering beast but rather a deranged and sometimes pitiful lunatic (the opening three thousand words are among the most accomplished Westlake pieces I've ever read). And the police chief Eric Songard is one of the most unique cops I've come across in mystery fiction. He works nine months of the year as a professor and summers as a police chief. The small town he oversees usually offers nothing worse than drunks and the occasional fight. Murder is another matter. Westake gives us a cop whose self-confidence is so bad all he can do is try and hasten the appearance of the regular cops from a nearby district. Meanwhile he has to pretend he knows what's going on. He could easily have gone to series. He's a great character.

As the story is told, we get a beleivable look at summer stock with its low pay, brutal hours, frequent rivalries. The payoff is that some of the actors will get their Equity card at the end of the nine week run and thereby become professional actors.

Then there is the telling. The craft is impeccable. Precise and concise and yet evocative because of the images Westlake constantly presents us. You also have to marvel at the rhythm of his language, watching how'll he'll shave an anticpated word here for a certain effect, add a word there for the sake of cadence. These sentences are CRAFTED.

There are so many great Westlake novels it's impossble to rank them. But given what he accomplished, I'd have to say this is one of his early best.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Gorman-Piccirilli Cast in Dark Waters

Cast in Dark Waters $2.99

Cast in Dark Waters
by Ed Gorman & Tom Piccirilli

Her name was Crimson... and she was a legend. A beautiful pirate queen who plundered the 16th Century Caribbean sea by day and confronted voodoo and vampires during the steaming tropical nights.

Cast in Dark Waters is an original dark adventure tale by Ed Gorman and Tom Piccirilli...

This eBook is available in MOBI (Kindle) EPUB (Sony / Nook / Ipad / Kobo) PDF (Adobe) and PRC (Mobipocket) formats. Please choose your preference from the drop-down menu below before proceeding to check-out.

200 Units in Stock
Published by: Crossroad Press

Thursday, March 24, 2011

New Books: Dead By Midnight Carolyn Hart

DEAD BY MIDNIGHT by Carolyn Hart On Sale March 29

The police say suicide. Annie Darling suspects murder. Max is unconvinced until Annie follows a trail behind the dead woman's house.

Annie unravels the mystery of a towel hidden at midnight in a gazebo, the interesting lack of fingerprints on a crystal mug, blood on a teenager's blue shirt, and the secret of a lovers' tryst. Max plunges deep into the woods to find incriminating evidence.

Annie sets the perfect trap for a merciless killer, but her cell phone rings and Death is on the line.

And for cat lovers:

DEAD BY MIDNIGHT by Carolyn Hart

I love to have fun when writing a mystery. If I laugh, I think a reader will laugh. In the Death on Demand series, I especially enjoy writing about Annie Darling's ditzy mother-in-law, Laurel Roethke. Laurel is usually excited about a new interest, something that surprises and often confounds Annie.

In Dead by Midnight, Laurel creates Cat Truth Posters, which she wants Annie to hang in the bookstore. Annie thinks books should be the store's focus, but the posters enchant her.

Each poster features a cat's photograph with a caption. Here are three of the Cat Truth posters;

. . . a silky furred, mitted, and bicolored Ragdoll stretched out on a red silk cushion, looking as comfy as Eva Longoria in a Hanes ad: Go with the Flow.

A rectangular-muzzled, green-eyed, cholocolate colored cat appeared as brooding as a Gothic hero: Always Say Yes to Adventure.

. . . a thick-furred, piebald Siberian forest cat, its white front a brilliant contrast to a charcoal back and head. Its face appeared almost angelic: Always try a Smile First.

And yes, one of the posters points to a killer.

Fun for me and fun, I hope for readers

Charles Williams A TOUCH OF DEATH

A TOUCH OF DEATH (from 2008)

I spent a good share of last night reading Hard Case Crime's snappy edition of A Touch of Death by Charles Williams and I'll say what I've said before about this book. It likely has more plot turns than just about any suspense novel I can ever recall reading.

One of Charles Williams' amoral failed men narrate. He was briefly a football star. Now he's a busted real estate agent. No wonder he gets interested, after initial reluctance, in stealing an one hundred twenty thousand dollars that a bank president took from his own bank. The woman who convinces him to help her makes it sound simple. It's probably in this mansion. All you have to do is get in there and find it. The bank president's wife won't be home for two days. You'll have plenty of time.

Right. Well, we know better than that, don't we? Yes, he gets in but he finds he's not alone. The woman is there, beautiful beyond description, and drunk beyond belief. But so is a killer. After saving her life, failed star takes her to a cabin in the woods where he plans to persuade her to tell him where the money is.

That's the beginning. Everybody in this book is a professional liar. And the bank president's wife is the most fatale of femmes. She lies on virtually every page and occasionally almost gets them killed. That she knows where the money is is obvious. That she killed her husband is also obvious. But who is trying to kill her and why?

As always with the Williams protagonist there is that sense of bitter melancholy. He is a prisoner of his failed past but naive about sex and money healing his loneliness. The sea novels contrast conspicuously with the small town novels. The sea gives the Williams protagonist purpose and the hope of spiritual redemption. But in the small towns, trapped in the vagaries of hypocrisy and constant judgement, he is always crushed by the forces he helped to set loose.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Great Deal - The Top Suspense Group Anthology

Ed here: You won't find a better deal anywhere. These are killer stories by writers you know and read. All for $2.99. If you're not familiar with the Top Suspense Group, here's the best kind introduction. If you're already reading some of our books, you'll know that this is indeed a bargain. Either way enjoy yourselves. We;re really proud of this anthology.


Hold on tight for a literary thrill-ride into the wickedly clever, frightening, and exhilarating world of Top Suspense, a sizzling collaboration of twelve master storytellers at the peak of their powers in thirteen unforgettable tales. This unforgettable anthology – packed full of cold-blooded killers, erotic tension, shady private eyes, craven drug dealers, vicious betrayals, crafty thieves, and shocking twists – is only a taste of the thrills you will find in the breathtakingly original ebooks by these authors at

So sit back, bite down on a piece of strong leather, and prepare to get hit by some gale-force suspense and writing so sharp it will draw blood.

Top Suspense includes:

Unreasonable Doubt by Max Allan Collins
Death’s Brother by Bill Crider
Poisoned by Stephen Gallagher
Remaindered by Lee Goldberg
Fire in the Sky by Joel Goldman
The Baby Store by Ed Gorman
The Jade Elephant by Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Big O by Vicki Hendricks
The Chirashi Covenant by Naomi Hirahara
El Valiente en el Infierno by Paul Levine
A Handful of Dust by Harry Shannon
The Canary by Dave Zeltserman
The Chase by Top Suspense Group

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The 25th Hour

Ed here: I watched this again last night so I'm reposting this review.

The 25th Hour

I watched the 25th Hour again last night. I've recommended it before. Flawed as it is--the first act needed to be trimmed--it is still one of the most powerful crime films I've ever seen simply because it doesn't rely on any of the neo-noir tropes so fashionable today. It is the story of an intelligent, otherwise decent young man so fucking stupid he started dealing drugs. And in so doing lost his claim on both intelligence and decency.

The film takes place in the final 24 hours before he goes to prison. Ed Norton as the dealer, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as his hapless friend, Rosario Dawson as Norton's lover and Anna Paquin as the teenage student Hoffman is fixated on form a crushing ensemble. The acting is flawless.

The final twenty minutes, in the scene with Norton's father and the scene with Norton and Hoffman and another friend, are as good as anything I've seen in the last fifteen years.

I am a lonely voice recommending this movie but I think it will eventually get its due.

Update: It was even richer, more powerful on my third viewing last night. This was Spike Lee's triumph.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Forgotten Books: THE HIDDEN by Bill Pronzini

Forgotten Books: THE HIDDEN by Bill Pronzini

I know, I know, since this was published not long ago, it's hardly forgotten. But it is one of those books that deserved much more promotion and notice than it received. Bill Pronzini the master of mixing shattered lives and violence and The Hidden is almost claustrophobic in its shadowy Woolrichian power.

THE HIDDEN by Bill Pronzini

Bill Pronzini is not only a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, he's a Grand Master of the dark and sinister noir novel. He demonstrates this again in one of his finest (perhaps the finest) books in his long career.

Jay Macklin is a failed man. A career as a baseball player was ended early by injury. As were other attempts at establishing himself. His decade-plus marriage to Shelby was so solid and good for a long time but unemployment and heart trouble (the latter something she doesn't know about) have taken their toll. Shelby finds herself attracted to a doctor at the hospital where she works as a paramedic.

The novel brings Jay and Shelby together in an anxious attempt to find their old love and respect. They travel to a cottage in rugged Northern California only to meet Brian and Claire Lomax, a married couple who has even more problems than they do. They also become aware of a serial killer who has been traveling this same area. A power failure seems symbolic of their marriage's final days.

Pronzini has always been at his best dealing with smashed lives. HIs descriptions of violent weather and pitiless nature only enhance the emotional turbulence that make the drama so rich. Gripping, sinister, unpredictable, The Hidden is a masterful novel of treachery and terror by a true master of the form.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sue Grafton's short stories

I've been rereading Sue Grafton's short stories again. I wish she'd make it easy for me and put a collection together. And add a few new stories while she's at it. Here's a post from 2005


Sue Grafton

Without intending to, I believe I've read most of Sue Grafton's short stories in the past few days. I got hooked. Then I started going through every anthology in the house. Way past time for a Grafton collection.

At the moment, her new novel is riding high on all the lists and the reviewers are fawning. Understandably. I've seen Grafton's style and substance anaylized from many different perspectives but I've never seen anybody state the obvious. She's just a damned good, which is to say first-rate, storyteller.

She's much more obersavant than many writers lauded for their seriousness. And she's much more plain fun to read than a whole Greyhound bus full of cliff-hanger specialists like James Patterson.

Her turf is the American middle-class. High end and low end. Her cases are never flashy nor are her investigative techniques anything fancy. She gives us perfectly composed snapshots of our time. She has a fondness for everyday folks that makes you like her and she never lets her villains get all Lectered up. She sees them for what most villains are--mean, greedy, selfish, often self-pitying jerks who put themselves in situations for which violence seems to be the only solution.

She's created her own world and time and it's one I enjoy visiting.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ghost Town; Dave Zeltserman

Ed here: I got three letters in the past four days about my noir western Ghost Town. Since it's available cheap on Amazon I thought I'd plug it again.

BTW Dave Zeltserman has a truly fine story right here


TUESDAY, MAY 11, 2010
Ghost Town by Ed Gorman (Western noir)

Author Ed Gorman's Western novels are primarily in the genre he calls "Western noir." In many ways — just about every way except the setting — Ghost Town is more like typical crime fiction than other, more traditional Westerns.

Prison-educated trial lawyer (and sometime thief and con artist) Bryce Lamont is keen to find his old partners Jed Wylie and Frank Stodla. Especially since they still owe him his cut from the job that put him away. He's tracked them down to the midwestern town of Wyatt, Wisconsin, where Jed and Frank appear to have gone legit as a banker and his handyman (though enforcer is more like it).

Unfortunately, a really bad malaria epidemic has hit Wylie, and Bryce's brother Paul has a particularly bad case of it, though Bryce refuses to believe it until he hears it from Laura, Paul's heretofore unmet fiancée and the local doctor. She is the only woman of dignity in a town of iniquity.

Bryce gets the money but loses his brother and sets out to find the ones responsible for Paul's death with only the help of a 15-year-old wannabe bounty hunter and a snake-oil salesman. Threaded throughout — and somehow tying in with all this — is the trial of one Jenny Rice, accused of murdering her own fiancée.

Gorman's Western novels are the perfect stepping stone for the crime-fiction enthusiast wanting to get his or her feet wet in the Western genre. Ghost Town doesn't shy away from the painful parts of life, covering unrequited love, the pain of loss, the suffering of sickness, and the anxiety of hiding from justice, among others.

Ed Gorman is one of my favorite Western writers. His works are largely influenced by the Gold Medal novels of the 1950s and '60s. Donald E. Westlake (to whom Ghost Town is dedicated) pointed out similarities to the Westerns of Will Charles (crime author Charles Willeford writing under a pseudonym), stories that Gorman had not read.

Willeford and Gorman approached their material in the same way, namely that criminals are the same no matter what time period they're living in. That's Western noir. What Gorman is doing with the Western that may not be new, but it's still a fresh approach that hasn't been done to death. He did not create the concept of Western noir, but he gave it a name, and he is certainly the best at it.

Further reading:
Vendetta by Ed Gorman — another Western noir, a multilayered story of revenge.
The Midnight Room by Ed Gorman — his own "Gold Medal novel" dedicated to "old friends who were masters of the form": Peter Rabe, Stephen Marlowe, William Campbell Gault, and Robert Colby.
The Hombre from Sonora by Will Charles — one of Charles Willeford's pseudonymous Westerns.
You might also like:
Vendetta by Ed Gorman (Western noir)
Death Ground by Ed Gorman (Leo Guild Western)
The Midnight Room by Ed Gorman (dark suspense)

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Jon L. Breen


The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
by Jon L. Breen

In The Ectoplasmic Man, Harry Houdini joins forces with Holmes and Watson is given the chance to play stooge to a genius magician as well as a genius detective. And that's only one of his new adventures....

For reasons related more to fear of litigation by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate than any lack of irregular enthusiasm, novel-length Sherlock Holmes pastiches were rare indeed before the 1970s. H.F. Heard’s A Taste for Honey (1941) was the pioneer—the beekeeping sleuth in this novel and two sequels was known as Mr. Mycroft, but any knowledgeable reader knew it was Sherlock and not his brother. Ellery Queen’s A Study in Terror (1966), probably the first in which the Baker Street sleuth took on Jack the Ripper, was the novelization of a movie. Not until Nicholas Meyer’s bestseller The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1974) did the floodgates open. Since then there have been scores of ersatz Holmes novels. Some of them have been excellent; others have only the authors’ devotion and enthusiasm to recommend them. They take many different forms, some of them shifting the central role to another character or reshuffling canonical details in shocking ways. I prefer those that stick closest to the original pattern: told in the first person by Watson throughout, keeping to a length not much greater than Conan Doyle’s own novels, and not distorting the characters as they appear in the original stories.

Eventually some industrious Sherlockian will read all these varied offerings and produce a critical volume advising which to seek out and which to avoid. (I’ve even thought of attempting this myself but quickly came to my senses.) Until that comprehensive guide comes to pass, we have The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a new reprint series from the British publisher Titan Books, intended to single out some of the better pastiches. Their first set of four selections, distributed in the US at $9.95 per trade paper volume, illustrates some of the varied approaches taken to pastiche writing.

Some writers involve Holmes with other fictional characters from outside the canon or put the Baker Street sleuth in fantastical or science fictional situations. Both these approaches are used in the earliest and least typical book chosen for reprint, Sherlock Holmes: War of the Worlds (1975) by the father-son team of Manly Wade Wellman and Wade Wellman. It inserts both Holmes and Doyle’s science-fiction character Professor Challenger into H.G. Wells’ famous Martian invasion scenario. Some of the parts were originally published separately in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the very enjoyable volume is less a novel than a set of five linked short stories, the first three narrated by Challenger’s own Watson figure, journalist Edward Malone, the final two by Watson himself.

Other pastichers follow the lead of Nicholas Meyer in bringing real historical personages into the mix. In Daniel Stashower’s The Ectoplasmic Man (1985), set in 1910, Harry Houdini has brought his magic act to London and successfully escaped from a Scotland Yard jail cell as part of his publicity campaign. His feats are so amazing, many think he has supernatural powers. Lestrade, suspecting Houdini of a crime he initially refuses to specify, entreats Holmes to meet and observe the young American entertainer. The crime in question proves to be the theft of scandalous documents from a vault at a government residence where Houdini attended a party for the Prince of Wales, soon to be George V. The detective work and the characterization of Houdini (whom Stashower would feature in at least three subsequent mysteries) are outstanding, along with an exciting aerial action scene reminiscent of one of Houdini’s silent movies. Watson is given the chance to play stooge to a genius magician as well as a genius detective. This novel is the best of the four reprints, as well as the truest to the original stories.

The Scroll of the Dead (1998) by David Stuart Davies begins with Holmes attending a séance conducted by Mr. Uriah Hawkshaw, a charlatan who has been deceiving a member of Mycroft’s staff whose son died in a boating accident. In the course of exposing Hawkshaw, Holmes meets the aesthete dandy Sebastian Melmoth (once a pseudonym of Oscar Wilde), a sinister researcher into the phenomenon of death. In 1896, Holmes again encounters Melmoth in the course of investigating the theft of an Egyptian scroll from the British Museum. The MacGuffin here represents nothing less than the secret of immortality. This is another well-made and well-told tale, most of it in traditional Watsonian style, but as the denouement approaches, the cinematic cross-cutting between first person and third-person omniscient narrative breaks the mood somewhat and probably ought to have been resisted. All the drama and all the plot points could have been achieved just as well through Watson’s narrative.

The other Davies title in the group, The Veiled Detective (2004), is also effectively written, though it belongs to that group of pastiches that turn the whole saga on its head, changing the nature of the characters and their relationships as we’ve come to know them. Admittedly, this sort of thing goes back at least to The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, but Davies’ revisionist biography is even more extreme than Meyer’s. The story begins in 1880, first in Afghanistan with the third-person account of Dr. John Walker (sic), a dispirited army surgeon, then back in London where young Sherlock Holmes is already helping out Lestrade and Gregson, and Professor Moriarty, aided by Colonel Moran, is pulling the criminal strings. Davies gives Watson a whole new dishonorable back story and alters our understanding of virtually every character in some way, with no satirical intent apparent. Holmes’ career from A Study in Scarlet through “The Final Problem” is summarized in light of the reshuffled relationships, often with direct quotes and restated storylines from the original stories. Much as I admire the skill and inventiveness of the author, I would much prefer a straightforward case.

Three out of four isn’t a bad average. The Titan series, which has gone on to publish several more in this series, deserves the Sherlockian reader’s support.

For more about Mystery Scene contributor Jon L. Breen, please visit Our Contributors page.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Evil Days by Bruno Fischer

The Evil Days by Bruno Fischer

Bruno Fischer had one of those careers you can't have any more. There's no market for any of it. He started out as editor and writer for a Socialist newspaper, shifted to terror pulps when the newspaper started failing, became a successful and respected hardcover mystery novelist in the Forties and early Fifties, and finally turned to Gold Medal originals when the pb boom began. His GMs sold in the millions. His House of Flesh is for me in the top ten of all GMs.

Then for reasons only God and Gary Lovisi understand, Fischer gave up writing and became an editor for Colliers books. But he had one more book in him and it turned out to be the finest of his long career.

Fischer shared with Howard Fast (Fast when he was writing mysteries under his pen names) a grim interest in the way unfulfilling jobs grind us down, leave us soulless. Maybe this was a reflection of his years on the Socialist newspaper. The soullessness features prominently in The Evil Days because it is narrated by a suburban husband who trains to work each day to labor as an editor in a publishing company where he is considered expendable. Worse, his wife constantly reminds him (and not unfairly) that they don't have enough money to pay their bills or find any of the pleasures they knew in the early years of their marriage. Fischer makes you feel the husband's helplessness and the wife's anger and despair.

The A plot concerns the wife finding jewels and refusing to turn them in. A familiar trope, yes, but Fischer makes it work because of the anger and dismay the husband feels when he sees how his wife has turned into a thief. But ultimately he goes along with her. Just when you think you can scope out the rest of the story yourself, Fischer goes all Guy de Maupassant on us. Is the wife having an affair? Did she murder her lover? Is any of this connected to the jewels? What the hell is really going on here?

Sometimes we forget how well the traditional mystery can deal with the social problems of an era and the real lives of real people. The hopelessness and despair of these characters was right for their time of the inflation-dazed Seventies. But it's just as compelling now as it was then when you look at the unemployment numbers and the calm reassurances by those who claim to know that the worst is yet to come.

A wily little novel that rattled me the first time I read it and rattles me still on rereading.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Forgotten Books: The Captain Must Die by Robert Colby

Forgotten Books: The Captain Must Die by Robert Colby

I've seen a few recent references to one of the great overlooked Gold Medal novels, The Captain Must Die by Robert Colby. If you want a feel for the real Fifties in the form of a grim caper novel, this is your book. It's tight, deftly plotted and one of those hardboiled novels that is genuinely tough without showing off.

There's a sweaty post-war anger on every page. For some the war was fading into memory. WW11 hated. This could easily have been a John D. MacDonald but JDM wouldn't have infused it with quite so much rage and nihilism. I really recommend it.

Bob Colby was a nice guy who struggled through a four decade run as a free-lancer. He never had the hit he deserved. He had a bittersweet sense of the failed man in a society that despises failure, the man always looking for the long chance who never seems to understand--or even anticipate--that the long chance will do him in. Like JDM he wrote middle-class noir, the sort of thing Claude Chabrol does in his best crime movies.

I got to know him in the last six or seven years of his life. He'd spent his early life in radio and tv and you could tell that by the smooth, almost courtly way he did business. They were gentlemen back then by God. His glory days were with Richard Carroll at Gold Medal. Apparently Knox Burger didn't like his stuff and he was soon shuffled off to places like Monarch.

He's worth looking up. If you read nothing else, make it The Captain. It's damned fine book. He had a journalist's eye for his times. This was especially true in the novels he set in Hollywood. Captain is his masterpiece. You will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Free Top Suspense Anthology; Apologies to Bill Crrider

Get your free Top Suspense Anthology!

Well, not exactly free in that you need to agree to write a review (good or bad, we don't care as long as it's honest) somewhere. Your blog, amazon, kindleboards, b&n, facebook, all of the above, but somewhere. And we're serious about the review. If you don't write one we'll be sending The Enforcer (AKA Ed Gorman) to your door, and he can do nasty things with a Louisville slugger. Trust me, you don't want that to happen!!

So here's what you get with the anthology--one story by each Top Suspense member, plus the original round robin story, plus a link that will reveal the authors for each section of the round robin story.

Unreasonable Doubt by Max Allan Collins
Death’s Brother by Bill Crider
Poisoned by Stephen Gallagher
Remaindered by Lee Goldberg
Fire in the Sky by Joel Goldman
The Baby Store by Ed Gorman
The Jade Elephant by Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Big O by Vicki Hendricks
The Chirashi Covenant by Naomi Hirahara
El Valiente en el Infierno by Paul Levine
A Handful of Dust by Harry Shannon
The Canary by Dave Zeltserman
The Chase by Top Suspense Group

So if you want a copy, send me an email ( letting me know what format you want: Kindle, E-Pub, or PDF. Each Top Suspense member has been allocated 25 copies to give out, and copies are going fast, and so get me your email soon. And remember, we are going to want to see a review out of this. You don't want Ed knocking on your door!

Ed here: After Dave sent me this I e mailed him "Well Dave if you think an overweight exhausted guy who can't see real well will scare people...I'll be happy to do it. :)"

PS My apologies to Bill Crider-I thought I'd scooped him with my boob biting snake story. But I somehow missed the fact that he'd already covered it. I read his blog two or three times a day but somehow I missed it. I'm sorry Bill. But I;ll scoop ya yet!

Snake Dies of Silicone Poisoning After Biting Model's Fake Breast

(How did Bill Crider miss this one? :)

Snake Dies of Silicone Poisoning After Biting Model's Fake Breast (The Daily Beast)
Mar 14, 2011 – 4:10 PM

Steven Hoffer
It was another trip to the Garden of Eden cut short for one legless reptile.

Israeli model Orit Fox was attempting to lick a snake during a publicity stunt for radio DJ Shmulik Tayar when the lucky serpent, presumably aroused, lunged forward and bit Fox's fake breast, sending witnesses into a frenzy.

Fox, who is rumored to have the largest bosom in all of Israel, was hurried to a hospital outside Jerusalem where she received a tetanus shot and was later discharged.

As for the snake, puckering up with a supermodel proved to be the kiss of death. The creature succumbed to silicone poisoning shortly after the incident.

Monday, March 14, 2011

HELP!; The Dirtiest Word In Hollywood

HELP! I need to hire somebody who can convert my Kindle to accommodate Nook and other e book services. I'll pay $40 an hour but please don't respond unless you really know what you're doing. I know that sounds harsh and I apologize for the tone but I've had trouble with even welll-intenioned people who knew only slightly more about computers than I do. And since I know nothing...I think you can figure out the level they were operating at. Thank you very much.

Huffington Post:

John FarrEditor,
Posted: March 7, 2011 05:34 PM
The Dirtiest Word in Hollywood

You'll never guess. It's "originality".

But perhaps I should explain.

A few weeks back, I read an announcement that the now white hot Colin Firth might be signing on for a re-make of "My Fair Lady".

Not since Steve Martin decided to put a new spin on "The Pink Panther" have I been so moved to ask, "Why?"

Will a remake of this venerable 1964 musical, even one featuring Mr. Firth, really improve on Rex Harrison's definitive performance, one he originated on Broadway?

Flush with success, does Mr. Firth really think he can bring something new and fresh to Rex's immortal rendition of "Why Can't A Woman Be More Like A Man?"

I for one doubt it.

The truth is, if you span the course of movie-making history, it becomes abundantly clear that remakes and sequels tend not to improve on the originals.

Recognizing this, the actor Michael Caine, who knows a thing or two about the industry, once suggested that it would be more logical for Hollywood to remake mediocre movies rather than acknowledged classics.

(This is why the new "True Grit" worked out so well in my opinion...the original was never really all that good, even with the Duke on-board.)

But the Hollywood suits who took Marketing 101 know better. You remake past successes because that's where the name recognition lies. From purely a sales standpoint- that is, getting butts in movie seats, it gives you a big head start on piquing the audience's interest, or so the thinking goes...

for the rest go here:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Paris Review interviews James M. Cain

Ed here: If you know much about James M. Cain, who I think was a better writer than either Hammett or Chandler, you know that he had a fascinating career before, at age forty, he wrote Postman. David Zinsser at the Paris Review did the definitive Cain interview and here is a link to it. Fascinating takes on the people Cain worked with--not flattering at all of H.L. Mencken, mixed feelings about Harold Ross of The New Yorker, nothing but praise for Walter Lippmann. Thanks to Terry Butler for the link.


Oh yes, I can remember the beginning of The Postman. It was based on the Snyder-Gray case, which was in the papers about then. You ever hear of it? Well, Grey and this woman Snyder killed her husband for the insurance money. Walter Lippmann went to that trial one day and she brushed by him, what was her name? Lee Snyder.* Walter said it seemed very odd to be inhaling the perfume or being brushed by the dress of a woman he knew was going to be electrocuted. So the Snyder-Grey case provided the basis. The big influence in how I wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice was this strange guy, Vincent Lawrence, who had more effect on my writing than anyone else. He had a device which he thought was so important—the “love rack” he called it. I have never yet, as I sit here, figured out how this goddamn rack was spelled . . . whether it was wrack, or rack, or what dictionary connection could be found between the word and his concept. What he meant by the “love rack” was the poetic situation whereby the audience felt the love between the characters. He called this the “one, the two and the three.” Someone, I think it was Phil Goodman, the producer and another great influence, once reminded him that this one, two, and three was nothing more than Aristotle's beginning, middle, and end. “Okay, Goody,” Lawrence said, “who the hell was Aristotle, and who did he lick?” I always thought that was the perfect Philistinism.

for the rest go here:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Two and A Half Men is Better Than None - Alec Baldwin

Ed here: In addition to being a fine actor--one of the best--and a generally cool dude, Alec Baldwin is also a damned good writer. Here he talks about some of his own travails in Hollywood and how they relate to Charlie Sheen's meltdown.

The Huffington Post
MARCH 12, 2011

Alec Baldwin
Posted: March 11, 2011 10:50 PM
Two and a Half Men Is Better Than None

I read in the paper today that Conan O'Brien's documentary is out this weekend. The one that chronicles the purportedly healing journey/concert tour he went on after his messy divorce from NBC. I also read that Charlie Sheen is suing Warner Brothers for $100 million and the two of these things reminded me of one of the more character-building experiences that I had in my career, many years ago.

People often ask me why I never continued in the role of Jack Ryan in the movies based on Tom Clancy's great novels. Usually, I have given a half truth as an answer, something about scheduling conflicts and so forth. But the truth is the studio cut my throat. Or, more specifically, an executive at the studio named David Kirkpatrick who was, as studio executives are on their way both up and down the ladder, eager to prove he had that special quality that studio executives are eager to display. That quality is an utter lack of sentimentality while transacting deals around a business built on sentimentality.

The run of events in 1991 went like this. John McTiernan, who directed The Hunt For Red October, called me repeatedly over a period of a few days and that got my attention because John was not someone who did that. I knew it must be something important. I had been traveling to Syracuse to see my mother who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I had lost my dad in 1983 to lung cancer when he was fifty-five and the idea of being an orphan, technically speaking, at the age of 33 weighed heavily on me. It took a few rounds before John and I connected.

for the rest go here:

Friday, March 11, 2011

Brian DePalma - The AV Club

Ed here: For all the ups and downs of his career, Brian DePalma still intrigues me as a director. His troubled, almost incestuous relationship with the work of Alfred Hitchcock notwithstanding, he's brought real style and truth to several of his movies. I don't know if he's able of dealing with the new century the way he did with the eighties and nineties but I'd like to see him a try a thriller as perverse as Sisters in this new world.

The AV Club posted an imposing interview with DePalma, one well worth reading.

Primer is The A.V. Club’s ongoing series of beginners’ guides to pop culture’s most notable subjects: filmmakers, music styles, literary genres, and whatever else interests us—and hopefully you. This installment: a guide to watching Brian De Palma's movies about watching.

101: The Thrillers
Before Brian De Palma dedicated himself to making movies, he was a teenage science whiz, which may explain how he became such a peerless technician. Like his fellow “film school brats” Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, De Palma is a filmmaker who thinks cinematically, using visual quotes from other movies and the grammar of cinema itself as his way of expressing something more personal than just what’s in the script. Frequently derided as an Alfred Hitchcock imitator, De Palma actually uses the trappings of Hitchcockian suspense as a cage in which to hold his pet themes: the thrill of voyeurism, the fear of helplessness, and a motion picture’s paradoxical power to explicate the real world through blatant artificiality. At his best, De Palma constructs movies that have the surface of crowd-pleasing entertainment but the guts of high art, filled with bravura sequences that don’t so much pay off as let go.

De Palma first impressed critics with his documentary shorts and shaggy underground comedies, then made his first unmitigated foray into the genre that would define him with 1973’s Sisters, a wacko Psycho/Rear Window homage starring Margot Kidder in a dual role as a Quebecois model and her detached Siamese twin sister. Kidder murders a man while neighbor Jennifer Salt watches from the building across the street, which leads Salt—a crusading journalist with a radical streak—to hire private detective Charles Durning to help her investigate both the crime and Kidder’s association with creepy doctor William Finley. A tense Bernard Herrmann score and scenes of graphic violence make Sisters pretty harrowing, but the movie displays the puckish wit that would also become a De Palma hallmark...

for the rest go here:,52964/

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Forgotten Books: Dark Passage by David Goodis

If David Goodis hadn't written this book it would have fallen to Cornell Woolrich to do the job. The set-up (and several parts of the book) are pure Woolrich.

Vincent Parry escapes San Quentin where he's serving life for a murder he didn't commit. He goes back to his old haunts in San Francisco intent on finding the real killer. But he's talked into a plastic surgery that certainly borders on science fiction. Zip zap, wait a few days and you're walking around with a completely new face. I supplement my income with The Ed Gorman Medical Drive-Through; you get a burger and fries with every procedure. But not even MY docs could do what this doc did.

Anyway despite my doubts about the medicine practiced here the book is gripping from page one to the finale. And Goodis is as good at menace and paranoia as Woolrich. His San Francisco bears a real resemblance to the London of The Ripper. There's an extended scene in the fog with a cop that starts to choke you. Will the cop figure out who he is? There are chase scenes in the fog that take on the aspect of horror fiction. And there is the ever-shifting game of whodunit.

There's the beautiful blonde stranger (Lauren Bacall in the film version) who helps him for mysterious reasons of her own; the old friend we begin to have doubts about; and the shrew (Agnes Moorehead in the movie) who is almost as much of a bitch as his dead wife--though nobody could have out-bitched her.

A very dark (in all respects) and very rich novel (parts of it read more like a mainstream book than a genre one) with an ending I'm sure Hollywood changed (I haven't seen it for some time). A page-turner and a masterful story of menace.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

New Books: Lake Charles by Ed Lynskey; Behold The Child Harry Shannon

New Books: Lake Charles by Ed Lynskey

Lake Charles is my new title. This is its story. Like a slew of other writers’ books, mine has bounced around over the past eight years. Agents, publishers, editors, and readers have had their fingerprints on it. Recounting its exact history is almost impossible. One vivid memory stands out. I sat editing the early manuscript while my wife underwent a gall bladder operation. I had to do something to distract me.

The waiting area was one of those dim bullpens in a big city hospital smelling of Pine Sol. Later I ate lunch—egg salad sandwich with Dr. Pepper—still cranking away on Lake Charles in the renovated cafeteria. Her surgeon was an intense cuss who sketched me a diagram of the nifty procedure he’d used. I thanked him. She did fine. And Lake Charles moved on to its next gestation period.

One publisher paying real money up front turned down looking at Lake Charles because the characters smoked joints. On the other hand, gory homicides seemed to be okay with them. The manuscript, my records show, was also mailed out to a dozen literary agents requesting to see it. Years later, they’ve yet to get back to me. Hey, I know. Things get busy. Life intrudes. But we all carry on.

Tired of seeing cell phones used everywhere (remember party lines?), I anchored Lake Charles in the 1970s. That time period didn’t vary through the revisions. As for the setting in the Great Smoky Mountains , I drew on a few of my experiences hiking 150 miles through the Smokies as a kid. It was a golden age to be young. I can recall the songs, the vibes, and the hopes. Then Nixon was elected, but I digress. This is about Lake Charles , after all.

Somebody tipped me off literary novels are supposed to use dreams, and I dig the literary stuff, so I wove a dream sequence into Lake Charles . My main character Brendan Fishback is in the throes of a marijuana detox, so he’s endowed with a rich dream life. That’s one of the side effects, I researched. I also heard literary novels include letters, so I used a key letter that Brendan receives near Lake Charles ’s ending.

People have pointed out Lake Charles is already located in Louisiana . Is it? At the time of my writing, I didn’t realize that. A manmade lake becomes my novel’s setting, and I needed a name fast, so I cribbed my middle name. I have a first cousin Charles, as was my grandfather’s younger brother, so we’ve got a family legacy there to lay claim to.

Ed invited me to write this post for his great blog. I love reading about the older noirs and hardboiled titles (Charles Williams, Ed Lacy, etc.). Lake Charles has been called “Appalachian noir,” a term John Lescroart coined when blurbing my previous book, The Blue Cheer, set in the wilds of West Virginia . If any of my books provides any entertainment bang for the reader’s buck, I’m humbled and thrilled at the same time. So, I’ll close by saying my thanks.

Lake Charles is now up for pre-orders at Amazon. The publication date is set for June 15, 2011.


Behild the Child .99 on Kindle

"BEHOLD THE CHILD" first appeared in the Cemetery Dance anthology "Brimstone Turnpike." Sam Kenzie is an LAPD cop who can't escape his obsession with a serial killer due to demons of his own...

"Behold the Child", by Harry Shannon, is the perfect mix of classic Noir and the supernatural. A maverick, burned-out cop haunted by his last city case ignores advice and a "wrong" turn en route to his retirement gig in the isolated desert town of his youth. It's dark, brooding, and reminds us that unfortunately, not everyone takes advantage of divine second chances."
-SHROUD Magazine

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Resurrecting a Genre with a Dead Man by Lee Goldberg

Featured book on Amazon-Kindle today

Resurrecting a Genre with a Dead Man
by Kindle Editors on 03/08/2011
Guest post by novelist and television writer Lee Goldberg, author of Face of Evil

I grew up loving those "men's action adventure" paperback novels of the 60s, 70s, and 80s...series like The Destroyer, The Ninja Master, Nick Carter: Spymaster and The Death Merchant. You could find them in finer supermarkets, gas stations, 7-11s and bookstores everywhere. They were the male equivalent of Harlequin romances, though the only romance was often between a man and his AK-47.

The books were short and tightly-written, with hard-boiled heroes, outrageously sexy women, and gleefully over-the-top plots. Nobody would ever mistake them for great literature, but they were enormous fun to read...and to write. I know, because I broke into publishing in the mid-1980s writing one of those series--357 Vigilante by "Ian Ludlow"--while I was still in college.

Sadly, the "men's action adventure" series novels are virtually extinct now, early victims of the narrowing of the paperback marketplace.

But the Kindle offers the perfect medium for the revival of the genre, which is why I've teamed up with eight other writers on The Dead Man, an original ebook series that we hope recaptures the spirit and pure escapism of the thousands of books written during the heyday of "men’s action adventure."

The first Dead Man book is Face of Evil. It's about Matthew Cahill, an ordinary man leading a simple life...until a shocking accident changes everything. Now he can see a nightmarish netherworld that nobody else does, making each day a journey into a dark world he knows nothing about. He's on a quest for the answers to who he is and what he has become. And it's a fight to save us, and his soul, from the clutches of pure evil. New books in the series will appear every month or so, just like they used to in paperback in the old days.

The Kindle makes cheap, short action novels viable and exciting again, giving me and my fellow Dead Man authors--William Rabkin, Bill Crider, James Reasoner, Joel Goldman, David McAfee, Burl Barer, James Daniels, and Matt Witten--the thrilling opportunity to indulge our great affection for the genre and hopefully get you hooked on it, too.

Face of Evil is currently $2.99 on Kindle.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Murder on The Aisle

Ed here: I'm reprinting Cullen Gallagher's review of my 1986 novel Murder On The Aisle not just because it's positive but because it's the kind of review most writers want. Yes, he reviews the plot but he also reads the book carefully and details what it's about. Not that he's suggesting that this is all that remarkable a novel; he's merely pointing out some of the aspects that give it life.

Toward the end of my tenure editing Mystery Scene I did a long interview with Evan Hunter/Ed McBain and his chief lament about reviewers was that few of them touched on anything except the plot. I mentioned one example to him of his own novel Blood Relatives. The murder victim is a nineteen year old girl whose diary is discovered in the course of the book. I've rarely seen first love put more powerfully and tragically than in this diary. The novel is solid but the diary lifts it to something fine and memorable and makes the detective story all the more resonant. He said that not a single review mentioned the diary.

So to Cullen, thanks for reading me so carefully and reviewing my book in such detail.

From Pulp Serenade:

"Murder on the Aisle" by Ed Gorman

For those who like movies as much as they like murder, Ed Gorman’s Murder on the Aisle is a dark delight. Think Day Keene meets Siskel and Ebert. The book mixes a classic, Gold Medal-style plot about an innocent man accused of murder and blends it with some funny and spot-on cultural commentary, as well as some of the most rancorous characters I’ve encountered in Gorman’s novels.

Tobin and Dunphy are film critics who host the television show Peeps, “a pseudo-intellectual version of mud-wrestling.” They’re notorious for their on-screen bickering and are known to throw the occasional punch – but no one expected Dunphy to wind up with a knife in his back. Suspected of murdering his co-host, Tobin must find the real killer before the cops catch him or the scandal kills his career.

The story is cleanly plotted and the twists are never overly complicated, which allows more room for the characters to grow, and that is one of the aspects that keeps me coming back to Gorman’s work. The pretext of the murder mystery allows Gorman to explore a milieu so conniving, acrimonious, and duplicitous that one almost envies the deceased Dunphy for no longer having to take part in the whole charade. There’s nothing glamorous about this world or its petty inhabitants, but there is a lot of pain and resentment, and a lot of it feels very real.

Part of what makes the book so much fun is how accurately Gorman gets the New York film scene. His descriptions of the critics and their pretensions still holds true today, as does his description of film students (trust me, I’m one of them): “If there is a group more insular and arrogant than film students, it is still in the experimental stage and has not been mass-released yet.” Tobin’s tastes don’t earn him a lot of fans, and it’s fun to argue and agree with his different opinions throughout the book. He takes John Sayles over John Hughes, Nicholas Ray over Michelangelo Antonioni, Richard Corliss over David Ansen, and Chuck Norris over Sylvester Stallone.

Murder on the Aisle also has what I’d like to nominate as one of the best pickup lines of all time: “Do you like In a Lonely Place?” I’m not sure which is better – that Tobin uses Nicholas Ray’s movie to hit on a girl, or that the movie he picked is so filled with doomed relationships that anyone who knows it should sense another failed relationship on the horizon. (Or perhaps that Dorothy Hughes' source novel is about a man who stalks and kills women. Either way, it's not the right foot to start any romance on.)

Broken families, of both the personal and professional variety, occur throughout Gorman’s books, from his first, Rough Cut, all the way to his latest, Stranglehold. Marriages collapse, spouses cheat, colleagues betray, businesses fall apart. Gorman uses these themes to explore how reprehensible our own actions can be. His protagonists are never innocent victims, and are well aware of how they’ve screwed up their own lives as well as those around them. What redeems his main characters is that, after causing so much pain, they don't explicitly try to hurt others anymore, and instead try to put themselves in places where their loneliness will keep others safe. After four failed marriages you don’t see Tobin running off to get into a fifth. It might have taken a while, but he’s learned something about himself. As Gorman describes Tobin, “He missed seeing his children, and thought of his dead father, and worried in a dumbstruck way that he was just as shallow and amoral as he sometimes feared.” This self-awareness is part of what makes his protagonists so relatable and likable. Gorman’s not an idealist, but that doesn’t mean he rejects ideals – he’s just down to earth and recognizes humanity for what it is.

In Gorman’s world, there’s something noble about professionalism: dedication, craft, and courtesy. Tobin doesn’t always have it, but that’s one of his failings, and Gorman doesn’t easily forgive him for it. Tobin’s not surprised when a colleague is eager to try and squeeze himself into the television show only days after Dunphy was killed. Tobin is, however, genuinely surprised when another colleague offers to help get him assignments in his magazine, if the show should ever get canceled. That small, sincere gesture opens Tobin’s eyes more than any of the corruption he uncovers in the course of his investigation. Those small but human touches are some of the fondest moments in Gorman’s novels.

Some writers would turn this story into a concept mystery or a one-note parody, but Gorman doesn’t let that happen. The cultural references aren’t superfluous but serve to flesh out Tobin’s character and show how dicey his reputation is with audiences. As we’ve come to expect of Gorman, his characters are maturely crafted and full of surprises. Gorman also resists the temptation to let the story become too fantastic and implausible. Even his sex scenes (which too many authors let run wild and ridiculous) show a rare sophistication. After going to bed with a young woman, Tobin wakes up to find her aloof and staring out of window, and after breakfast she treats him less like a lover than a substitute father. The fantasy never lasts in Gorman’s books: reality always kicks in at the wrong moment, but those are the moments that make the stories ring true.

Murder on the Aisle was originally published in hardcover by St. Martins in 1987, and in paperback by Ballantine in 1989.

Two of my favorite quotes:

“What he wanted to say, of course, was how could any generation that had such fine and noble ideas as world peace and feeding the hungry end up here – grinding out sex as lonely as masturbation and affairs as doomed as the prayers of TV ministers. And he knew he was no better than the rest of them…”

“No,” he said. “People never are what you expect, are they?”

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Mystery Scene Winter #118

Ed here: I've already told editor Kate Stine that this is the finest issue of Mystery Scene I've ever read. Part of the reason I say this is because of Lawrence Block's piece about his old friend Evan Hunter/Ed McBain. There's a Proustian element to all of Block's pieces about the writers he's known over the years. He's not just recalling friends but an entire era, now unfortunately long gone. I've always felt that Block, Donald Westlake and Evan Hunter/Ed McBain were the giants. I'm glad Larry is so eloquently remembering his friends. This is only the first of two parts about Hunter. Can't wait to read the next one.

Table of Contents
Winter, Issue #118 Contents


Robert Crais: The Dudes Abide
With Elvis Cole, Joe Pike, and a large cast of continuing characters, Crais has created a world—and a new way to tell us about it.
by Kevin Burton Smith

Jill Paton Walsh: As Wimsey Takes Her
Walsh continues the adventures of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, this time in a 1952 murder investigation that has its roots in Wimsey’s very first case 30 years before.
by Lynn Kaczmarek

Deadline! Journalists in Crime Films
Like detectives, journalists are often involved in ferreting out the truth and exposing wrong-doers—sometimes with cataclysmic results, as in the Watergate scandal.
by Art Taylor

The Murders in Memory Lane: Evan Hunter, Part I
Over his 60-year career, Hunter (aka Ed McBain) turned out an extraordinary volume of work, and never lost his enthusiasm for it.
by Lawrence Block

Bawdy Bibliophiles
There’s only one thing these folks like more than books...
by Stephen J. Gertz

Steve Hockensmith: Holmes on the Range
Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer, cowboy brothers turned sleuths.
by Cheryl Solimini

Killer Covers
These book jackets do justice to the excellent stories they promote.
by J. Kingston Pierce

What’s Happening With... K.J. Erickson
by Brian Skupin


At the Scene
by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany
by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations
2011 Edgar Award nominations, 2011 Dilys Award nominations, Lawrence Block on Reading Agatha Christie; CWA Diamond Dagger to Lindsey Davis.

The Hook
First Lines That Caught Our Attention

The Best Damn Private Eye on TV? Kalinda Sharma on The Good Wife.
Kevin Burton Smith

Writing Life: Gormania
Forgotten Book: Wild Night by L.J. Washburn, Margaret Millar, Vin Packer
by Ed Gorman

New Books
Deadly Research
by Beth Groundwater

Gertrude Stein & Ernest Hemingway, Mystery Fans
by Craig McDonald

Moments of Weakness
by Simon Wood


Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents
by Betty Webb

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed
by Lynne Maxwell

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered
by Bill Crider

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed
by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed
by Dick Lochte

Mystery Scene Reviews


The Docket


Readers Recommend

Advertiser Index

Piers Morgan & Other Jerks

Ed here: Because I read the London papers on line I was aware of Piers Morgan without really knowing much about him. I decided to check him out when CNN began to bombard the cable waves with commercials for the guy. He'd been a true blue asshole savant in the U.K. and based on the U.S. commercials he promised to be even more so here.

He came off as a braggart, a smirker and a tool. The copy was so hyped up I'm amazed even someone with his considerable powers of ego was able to get it out of his mouth. I took particular exception to the implicit way he dumped on Larry King. I'll take ole Larry any day over this jerk.

While his show hasn't bombed it certainly hasn't fulfilled network expectations. It's the Katie Couric syndrome. I sort of like Katie. I can't even tell you why. I felt sorry for her when she allowed CBS to hype her to the degree that failure was assured. Remember "Something news in news!" Will she be nude? Will be she be in contact with aliens? Will she be able to channel the dead and jabber with Lincoln? No...she'll just sit behind a desk and read the news like the other network anchors. Nobody could live up to that kind of hype.

I urge you to read Wolcott's take not only on Piers Morgan but also his overview of what "news" has become. That was part of Morgan's pledge--not just gossip but hard news with newsmakers. Oprah? Ricky Gervais--who as Wolcott points out was at his most arrogant right along with ole Piers. And an inadvertently hilarious horndog interview with the Kardashian tarts.

Wolcott also makes this important point:

As Rachel McAdams says to Harrison Ford in Morning Glory:

“The world has been debating news versus entertainment for years, and guess what? You lost!” Which hasn’t stopped the losing side from singing the chain-gang blues. Civic-minded souls in journalism, academe, and the mushroom farms of C-span panels can still be heard lamenting the infestation of news and politics by showbiz values, a war between informed debate and pole dancing that they (unlike Ford’s Pomeroy) recognize as a lost cause, hence their elegiac tone, the dead fly in their lemonade. The days when the words “Hollywood actor” framed Ronald Reagan like bunny fingers as an ID tag and an implied insult seem far-off and quaint: nearly everybody in politics—candidate, consultant, pundit, and Tea Party crowd extra alike—is an actor now, a shameless ham in a hoked-up reality series that never stops. (Only Mitt Romney doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo, his polished-leather insincerity unsalted with irony or anything remotely self-aware.) Mourning the fall of the judicious savant (or solon) and the rise of the preening jester is pointless, foolish; elite opinion has failed this country so miserably that it has no moral or intellectual standing left, only its club-member privileges. Think back on the Iraq war and the W.M.D.’s, the Terri Schiavo circus, the iguana contortions of John McCain under the guise of maverick integrity, the Wall Street meltdown and bailout—TV satirists and late-night hosts drove much deeper nails into the marrow of what was happening than the editorial pages of The Washington Post, that prison morgue of Beltway consensus. A new political-entertainment class has moved into the noisy void once occupied by the sage pontiffs of yore, a class just as polarized as our partisan divide: one side holding up a fun-house mirror to folly, the other side reveling in its own warped reflection.

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Friday, March 04, 2011

Bound to happen - Marilyn Monroe in new movie?

Toronto owner of Marilyn Monroe image says the late icon may return to film
By: Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press
Posted: 01/30/2011 4:02 AM | Comments: 1 | Last Modified: 01/30/2011 8:10 AM

TORONTO - Audiences may one day see Marilyn Monroe back on the big screen starring in new roles.

It's a real possibility as technology evolves, says Toronto businessman Jamie Salter, who recently bought the rights to the image of the late 1950s Hollywood icon.

"We're pretty comfortable that Marilyn Monroe, in the next couple of years, will be in a real feature film and be playing a part," Salter said Friday in a phone interview.

"I don't know if it's a '007' movie or if it's action or it's drama or what type of movie it's going to be, but she's going to be an actress that the director chooses, no different than Kate Hudson or Meryl Streep."

Salter's New York-based brand development and licensing company, Authentic Brands Group, announced two weeks ago it made the Monroe deal in conjunction with NECA, a global media and entertainment company.

Salter wouldn't disclose a purchase price for Monroe's name and likeness, but published reports say it was nearly $50 million.
"I can't tell you the price of the deal but what I can tell you is we're extremely happy with our purchase and we think it's one of the better deals we've done over the last 20 years," said the chairman and CEO, who splits his time between Toronto and New York.

Anna Strasberg — who managed Monroe's estate and is the widow of the late star's acting coach, Lee Strasberg — is a minority partner in the joint venture.

Strasberg and her son, David, approached Salter's company last summer about how to rebuild Monroe's brand into the iconic, glamorous and beautiful personality that she was.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011



Ed here: As I said here when I reviewed it, Every Shallow Cut is my favorite piece by Tom Piccirilli and that's saying something. Buy it now!

EVERY SHALLOW CUT received a starred review in Publishers Weekly

"Lovers of gritty noir will devour this stand-alone from Piccirilli (Shadow Season), a pulse-pounding account of a writer's descent into despair and violence. The unnamed narrator's wife has left him; he feels guilty about their decision to have an abortion; and his once-promising literary career, which netted him several awards, has petered out. As the story opens, he's a homeless drifter, alone except for his dog, Churchill. When three punks attack him on a Denver street, something snaps and he fights back, seriously injuring his assailants. He pawns his few remaining possessions from his late parents and uses the cash to buy a gun, before traveling across the country to seek out his brother in New York. On his tortured odyssey, he revisits parts of his past in an effort to tease out some sort of meaning. Piccirilli makes his fall from grace utterly convincing and his emotional rage all too understandable. (Apr.)"

Forgotten Books: Night Squad by David Goodis

If Philip K. Dick had written crime fiction he probably would have sounded a lot like David Goodis. Or if David Goodis had written science fiction he probably would have sounded a lot like Philip K. Dick.

Think about it. The precursor to Dick's dystopian future worlds resemble in many respects Goodis' 1953 world of down-and-out Philadelphia. Worlds of poverty, violence, despair. And protagonists whose well-earned paranoia often lapse into almost hallucinatory reactions. Cloying, claustrophobic worlds where death is often a mercy.

In the case of THE NIGHT SQUAD we have another example of the Goodis-Dick connection, that of the utter isolation of a man in society. Here though, unlike Dick's protagonists Corey Bradford is not innocent. He's an ex-cop who shook down everybody in the neighborhood called the Swampland. The slum neighborhood where he grew up and has lived out his life. After he got bounced from the force, a kind of shunning took place. The people here hate him so much they generally refuse to acknowledge him.

His luck changes when he saves the life of Walter Grogan, the gangster who runs everything in the Swampland. Grogan likes him and puts him to work with the promise of fifteen grand if Bradford can find out who the two men were who tried to to kill him. They tried to make it look as if it was just a mugging but Grogan knows better. Somebody in the Swampland is trying to kill him and take over his territory.

Goodis puts a twist on this twist. Soon enough an angry cop hires him to double-cross Grogan; Bradford will report back everything he learns from the gangster. Or will he?

I'm not an expert on Goodis (hell I'm not an expert on anything) but I read a few reviews after I finished the book and the impression I got is that it's not considered one of his best mainly because of how he handles the moral dilemma faced by Bradford.

I admired the book. It's the equivalent of somebody holding your head under water until your lungs start to burst--that grim, that frightening. But man I kept flipping those pages because this was a guided tour of hell and I was hooked. Goodis is at his best here dealing with a wino named Carp, the only honorable person in the book except maybe for Bradford's ex-wife. Nobody created the lost angels of the underclass more vividly than Goodis. He broke your heart with them.
I recommend this novel because of its bleak, Phil Dickian power. This is noir cast in phantasmagoric terms.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

New Books: The Hollywood Op by Terence Faherty

Terence Faherty:

The first short story I wrote about Scott Elliott, my Hollywood historical private eye, came about as the result of an invitation from Bob Randisi, of PWA fame, to submit a story for a collection to be called The Shamus Game. At that point, I'd written two Elliott novels, Kill Me Again, set in 1947 and Come Back Dead, set in 1955, and I was outlining a third, Raise the Devil, set in 1962. The upcoming Elliott, Dance in the Dark, follows this trend of hurrying Elliott through his life, as it's set in 1969. This approach has left me a lot of room for short stories. To date, I've written eight, now collected in The Hollywood Op from Perfect Crime Books.

These are all longer short stories and divided into chapters. When I was discovering classic private-eye fiction after college, I happened on collections of Chandler's apprenticeship works from his Black Mask days. Though short stories, these were divided into chapters. Later, I discovered slightly longer works by Rex Stout, who was a master of the magazine story divided into chapters, which he published in venues like American Magazine. (Stout's are often called novellas and are certainly more like short novels than Chandler's. I call mine short stories because they seldom exceed ten thousand words. I think you have to be up over twenty thousand to have moved into novella territory.)

When I responded to Bob Randisi's invitation, I adopted the Chandler/Stout approach. A ten-thousand-word story gives you room to move around a little bit, to flesh out your cast, and to work out a plot that doesn't turn on a single twist or gimmick, but builds from character and situation. And I have to admit that I was thinking of a collection from the first. Long stories would give me a book length manuscript in half the time and with half the plots.

From the start, too, I was hoping to write a collection whose stories functioned as a unit, with almost the cohesion of a novel. That meant that Elliott had to be consistent throughout, changing as he aged, but staying true to himself. And it would help if there was a unifying theme. Luckily, Elliott came with one of those: his quixotic desire to protect the Hollywood he left behind when he went away to war, a Hollywood he is fated to see go away over the course of his long career. This theme is only occasionally overtly stated in the short stories—at the end of "Unruly Jade," for instance—but the sense of a great empire's decline-and-fall runs through them all.

In addition to filling in the gaps in Elliott's life, writing short stories gave me the chance to go back before Kill Me Again to a younger Elliott. Of these stories, the one of most interest to fans of the classic private eye novel is "Sleep Big," which inserts Elliott into the first third of Chandler's The Big Sleep. There's a story about Chandler and the screenwriting team of the film version of that novel that I've never quite believed. Supposedly when asked by the screenwriters who had killed a certain character from the book, a chauffeur named Owen Taylor, Chandler claimed not to know. This gave rise to the legend that the pIot is so complicated even its author didn't understand it. I think he actually had a pretty good idea who killed who, and my take on Chandler's solution is presented in "Sleep Big."

As I mentioned earlier, The Hollywood Op was made possible by Perfect Crime Books, a new publisher that's compiling a very nice list, including a collection by Ed Gorman and a two-volume collection of Shamus-winning short stories, another of Bob Randisi's projects. Perfect Crime has been a great house to work with, and I'm very pleased with the book we've turned out together.

James Wolcott-Dennis Cozzalio on The Outfit

James Wolcott covers the recent DVD release of The Outfit and quotes Dennis Cozzalo along the way.

The Sky Above, the Crud Below
by James Wolcott February 28, 2011, 5:22 PM

Dennis Cozzalio stops and smells the gasoline fumes rolling off the DVD release of The Outfit, based on one of Donald Westlake's Parker novels (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark).

"John Flynn’s The Outfit, a brutally efficient bit of business based glancingly on Richard Stark’s procedurally inquisitive and poetic crime novel, is a movie that feels like it’s never heard of a rounded corner; it’s blunt like a 1970 Dodge Monaco pinning a couple of killers against a Dumpster and a brick wall.

"And not just any Dodge, but one driven by Karen Black in a Faye Dunaway Bonnie & Clyde beret!

"Substituting headlong, arrogant force for the mapped-out strategies detailed in the book, Flynn pile-drives forward just like his protagonist, setting up one cast-iron set piece after another in clean, broad strokes, as cinematically equivalent to Stark’s lean, unfussy prose as one could imagine being without galloping forward into insufferable self-consciousness.


“… easy to wonder if those probable budgetary restrictions had anything to do with Flynn’s scrapping of the idea to film The Outfit as a full-on noir period piece set in the postwar ‘40s…I think what we’ve got works just fine, probably better than any attempt to predate even the novel and recreate a shadowy atmosphere which would likely only call attention to its artificiality. As is, The Outfit, set in 1973, is only 10 years removed from the cars, the styles, the guns, the diners and the entire milieu of Stark’s novel, which was published in 1963. Not much in the way of adaptation in terms of production design was really needed to stay true to the cynicism-soaked atmosphere originating from Stark’s typewriter."

“…there's an authentic cruddiness to the interiors and exteriors (diners, motels, gas stations, back offices, poker rooms), all of the lower-echelon men sitting behind desks or loitering at the fringes are meaty and look as if they down a lot of antacids, the cars look like they've been driven hard, not wheeled off some studio backlot…”

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