Mar 062015
 
"Call in the others and we'll see if we can't figure out some way to pin this [murder] on some outsider -- preferably a Democrat"
--Dennis Tyler in The Corpse on the White House Lawn

Dennis Tyler, head of the Current Political Intelligence (CPI) branch of the State Department, is not a fan of exercise. Especially at 7 AM. When he is told to meet a couple of journalists, the White House Press Secretary and an old army pal on the White House lawn for a publicity stunt involving tossing a medicine ball around so early in the morning you can imagine he's not exactly thrilled. But he goes. He's a diplomat after all. He knows how this kind of publicity work in Washington DC. But the exercise doesn't last long. The ball goes astray several times and when he goes searching for it among the dwarf rhododendrons he literally stumbles upon a corpse in a tuxedo. And he's shocked to recognize the face as Ramon Sanchez, a Mexican diplomat and informer for the State Department. Sanchez has been strangled, his silk scarf still wrapped around his neck. Quickly, Tyler enlists the aid of his exercise gang to cover up the crime by moving the body as far away from the White House as possible. They dump Sanchez in the Potomac and hope that he'll remain there for a couple of days giving Tyler time to concoct a story that will spare the President and his staff the taint of a scandal.

Pretty far-fetched, isn't it? But no different from the kind of nighttime drama we are being fed these days on TV shows like Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder. The difference is this book was written prior to the outbreak of World War Two and is fairly influenced by pulp magazines plot mechanics.

Tyler turns detective and eventually learns of some stolen plans for a unique catapult design that can launch and capture military fighter jets at seas. Essentially, the invention renders an aircraft carrier obsolete. If the plans get in the hands of the enemy it might just wreak havoc with the US naval shipbuilding industry, possibly end it altogether.

Or so the author would have us believe.

The Corpse on the White House Lawn (1932) is the fourth of six novels featuring series character Dennis Tyler. It's an odd blend of detective novel, political satire and espionage. It also suffers from a schizoid identity in the writing. "Diplomat", better known as John Franklin Carter, has absolutely no skill in writing dialogue which leans towards histrionic exclamations, pun laden wisecracks and is generally unrealistic on every level. When his focus is on exposing the hypocrisy of politicians however, Carter has a clever way of turning a phrase. The novel works best when Carter is eviscerating the world he knew so well as a member of the State Department under both the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations. Here's one particularly trenchant passage:

Diplomacy, like Jehovah, works in devious ways its wonders to perform, and [Tyler's wife] had seen one treaty put over merely because the wife of a foreign delegate was regularly taken to the movies by a young foreign service officer, and another treaty completely wrecked because the American delegate had forgotten to lock his bedroom door. Wine, women, and red tape were still the three graces, or greases, which lubricate the government's work.

His characters and their actions seem to have been pulled from the pulp magazine writer's bag of tricks. The plot is filled with spy silliness like fountain pens that shoot tear gas and superhuman feats of daring do. There's a climactic fire in the White House, several near fatal bumps on the head, a kidnapping and some business with codes that use newspaper articles in combination with the number pi. Sometimes Carter has an original idea that seems perfect for his DC Setting. The bad guy, who happens to be an evil traitor selling information to enemy powers, has managed to co-opt the services of several cab drivers and formed a battalion of eager to serve, easily bribed,  getaway drivers who help him escape from the scenes of his spying and killing.

John Franklin Carter is a lot more interesting than the fiction he concocts. You'll find lots of information about him on the intent these days, but nothing to compare with what is discussed in Roosevelt's Secret War by Joseph Persico or an article I found in the Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence.  Carter was just as vain and rebellious as Dennis Tyler. It's hard not to separate the character he created from the author when you read his letters and diaries and know more about his personal life and political aspirations. Dennis Tyler is so obviously Carter's twisted superego realized in fictional form. Both men defy rules and regulations, act on their own authority, all in the name of saving democracy. Carter managed to manipulate FDR and have himself appointed as the head of a secret, off the books, one man intelligence operation created essentially to spy on Roosevelt's own advisers and cabinet members. Roosevelt even manged to siphon money from federally allocated funds to pay Carter so that his salary as a spy for the President wouldn't show up in the records of the State Department.  Like a member of the IMF in Mission: Impossible Roosevelt and the Secretary of State were ready "to disavow any knowledge" should Carter be caught doing something unethical or illegal.

Another post on Carter and two of his other books is in the works. Stay tuned!

The Dennis Tyler Political Detective Novels
Murder in the State Department (1930)
Murder in the Embassy (1930)
Scandal in the Chancery (1931)
The Corpse on the White House Lawn (1932)
Death in the Senate (1933)
Slow Dance in Geneva (1934)
The Brain Trust Murder (1935)
 Posted by at 6:07 am
Mar 062015
 
Reviewed by MIKE TOONEY:


THE MONOLITH MONSTERS. Universal-International, 1957. Grant Williams, Lola Albright, Les Tremayne, Trevor Bardette, Phil Harvey, William Flaherty, Harry Jackson, Richard H. Cutting, Linda Scheley, Dean Cromer, Steve Darrell, William Schallert. Writers: Norman Jolley (screenplay) and Robert M. Fresco (screenplay); Jack Arnold (story) and Robert M. Fresco (story). Director: John Sherwood.

   The Monolith Monsters came near the end of the ’50s Giant Stompers film cycle that basically began with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953; pace, Ray Bradbury) and continued with Them! (1954), Godzilla (1954), Tarantula (1955), The Giant Claw (1957), Beginning of the End (1957; Peter Graves’ salad days), and a host of similar Big Critter films, with most of them escaping from Universal Studios.

   What distinguishes The Monolith Monsters from those other movies isn’t the acting (not much there) or the production values (an obviously low budget, signalling the studio’s lack of faith in the project). No, the best part of this film is the sheer inventiveness of the underlying premise.

   I can think of only one other science fiction movie that dared to bring novel IDEAS to the audience, namely Forbidden Planet (1956). The concept that ordinary, dumb, and inert ROCKS could constitute a threat to anybody comes perilously close to being a joke — but thanks to writers Jack Arnold and Robert M. Fresco and the straight-faced, earnest underplaying by the actors, the thing works.

   The Monolith Monsters is one of those ambitious little movies that you find yourself wishing had a bigger budget — but then upon reflection you realize that more money would have turned it into an empty special effects extravaganza and ruined everything. Note to anybody considering a remake: Keep it small; it works better that way.

   Grant Williams’ greatest role was his smallest as The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), but he did have a regular gig on Hawaiian Eye (1960-63; 49 episodes).

   Most of us baby boomers remember Lola Albright for her 84 appearances as Peter Gunn’s steady (1958-61).

   Les Tremayne, English by birth, did quite well in American radio, TV, and the movies; science fiction fans know him from his small but memorable role in The War of the Worlds (1953).

   Even more ubiquitous in American entertainment from the ’30s through the ’60s was Trevor Bardette, who, as IMDb notes, “took on just about any role offered him,” thus racking up an impressive 239 film and TV credits, including a regular role as Old Man Clanton in The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (34 episodes; 1959-61).

   If you’ve never seen Monolith Monsters, watch it first and be kind; then resort to IMDb’s “Goofs” page, where more than one of the movie’s shortcomings is adduced.

 Posted by at 2:59 am

Book Review The Silence by Tim Lebbon

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Mar 052015
 





The apocalypse is hot right now. While the trend for zombies has crested and the young adult dystopian boom is dying out, today's fiction continues to wonder about what happens after the end of the world. The appeal of the concept is simple: what would you do if society crumbled?
Tim Lebbon's The Silence brings a new interpretation of the apocalypse that plays deftly with the tropes of the genre. When a cave-diving expedition in Moldova accidentally unleashes a fast-multiplying swarm of batlike beasts, the world struggles to respond: panic spreads across Europe with the monsters in its wake. In a small English village, a fourteen-year-old girl named Ally watches the growing chaos, monitoring it via social media and gathering information about the creatures and their behavior. As the danger grows closer and Ally's family must leave their home, Ally herself may be the key to their survival. The creatures hunt by sound and Ally, who has been deaf for years, can teach her family to live silently.

Though this is being published as a Young Adult novel the elegance of the language, the intensity of the situations and the sophistication of the psychology make this a book for adults as well.

Even if you've tired of end times fiction in all its forms, let Tim Lebbon prove to you that the genre was just waiting for a master to turn it into something fresh, vital and memorable.


EXCHANGE

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Mar 052015
 


EXCHANGE
By Dale R. Cozort
Stairway Press
246 pages

One of the most favorite sci-fi themes is that of multi-dimensional copies of the same world.  The writer posits there are countless versions of our earth all existing simultaneously in other dimensions removed from our own.  That’s the core plot foundation for Dale Cozort’s new adventure novel, “Exchange.”  In it, the entire city of Rockport, Illinois has been removed from our earth and placed on another earth, whereas it has been replaced by a chunk of terrain from that other world.  In other words, exchanged.  And the world it has dropped into has saber-tooth tigers, mastodons and green monkeys that appear to be semi-intelligent.

The government, using the Marines, attempts to evacuate as much of the population as it can once the exchange terminates and both sections revert back to their own dimension.  Should anyone be in what is referred to as Bear County when that happens, they would be forever trapped on this alternate earth.  Caught up in all this is single mother, Sharon Mack, who is frantically doing her best to keep herself and her autistic daughter, Bethany, alive.  Unfortunately her ex-husband is an abusive alcoholic who has decided he, and his clan of relatives, would be better off living in the savage world.  Thus he kidnaps Bethany and heads for the untamed surroundings of this dangerous environment.

But Sharon is no pushover and she is determined to track him down and get her daughter back before the final shift occurs.  Along the way she encounters a religious cult that has opted to relocate in Bear Country and establish colony there.  Amongst them is a handsome, enigmatic fellow named Leo West who early on befriends Sharon and volunteers to aid her in rescuing her daughter.  But West has secrets, chief among them what his real agenda is with both the cult camp and Sharon.  Complicating matters is the fact that she is attracted to him and with each passing day realizes this attraction may be clouding her judgment and jeopardizing her mission.

“Exchange,” is a well written, fact paced sci-fi thriller with both familiar concepts and new original twists.  Cozort creates interesting characters and keeps the pace humming along.  But at the same time, towards the second half of the book, many of the scenes seem to be repetitious of previous events so that we began fidgeting as if caught on a carousel going nowhere fast.  When the plot finally reaches the finale, it is with a relieved welcome.  Some editorial tightening here might have been helpful.  Still, “Exchange” is worthy of your attention and Cozort a writer to watch.  He’s by no means reached his full potential yet, but “Exchange” is a big step in the right direction.

World Book Day, Anthony Awards, Netflix

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Mar 052015
 

Terri Bischoff

 

It’s World Book Day!! What are you reading?

When I travel, I now read for pleasure. On my most recent trip to Boston for MWA-University, I read The Two Faces of January by Patricia Highsmith. My buddy Mark Stevens gave it to me for Christmas. I had read all the Ripley books years ago and I had forgotten how awesome she is. Now that I have read the book, I will watch the movie. Looking forward to it.

Currently, I am reading for work. I am trying to get thru some submissions and fill out my Spring Summer 2016 catalog. I have a TBR pile that more resembles piles, and a list of books I carry in my wallet for when I happen to pop into a bookstore.

 

Bouchercon Anthony Award nominations – who to pick?! Seriously… who to pick? Of course I have a couple of books in mind, we all do, but who else is worthy?

 

And OMG! Who else is watching The Falls? I admit to being a Gillian Anderson fan and I only learned about this show because of an interview she did. But wow. I binge watched most of seasons 1 and 2. I have two more episodes in season 2, and I am trying to stretch them out because it will be forever before season 3. What other awesome shows are on Netflix that I have missed? (No worries, I have seen all of OITNB. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that show.)

 

I need all these suggestions because I am sick. I have a stupid cold that isn’t going away. And in fact, I think I am getting worse. According to my co-workers I sound terrible and should go home. I am all for that. In fact, as soon as I post this and pack up the manuscript I am reading, I am heading home to my couch and warm fuzzy blankets. Add a cup of lemon honey tea and I am all set. Have a great Thursday, y'all!

Mar 052015
 
Lines are being drawn in the unorganized territory west of Holt County, but deputy sheriff Whit Branham is still the law, still the man they called to clean up after a killing. But are the remains hanging from a tree in the middle of the Niobrara River the result of vigilante justice –or murder? And who, in the remote village of Slocum is a friend and who’s a deadly enemy? In order to uncover
Mar 052015
 
There's another lunatic on the lam in the opening chapters of Madmen Die Alone (1938) and Dr. Richards doesn't want any bad publicity for his institution. Of course it's Joseph Parisi who's gone missing. Parisi is the most violent of the patients at Exeter Hospital in the frozen north of Minnesota. At the suggestion of one of his junior staff members he calls Captain Louis Prescott of the Exeter Police. Richards knows Prescott can be discreet and prevails upon him to take this up as a personal not a police matter. Perhaps he'll be able to locate Parisi within a few hours, return him safely to his room, and thus prevent scandal and embarrassment befalling the hospital. But when Prescott arrives and is given a meandering tour of the hospital they discover the corpse of Dr. Herbert Sylvester, Exeter's genius psychiatrist, and the only staff member who could reasonably handle the unpredictably violent Joseph Parisi with a minimum of outbursts. Now there's not only a lunatic art large but a possibly murderous lunatic.

Madmen Die Alone is one of the better detective novels set in a mental institution.  Never once are we given a variety of cartoon nut cases. Each patient is presented with compassion; their diagnoses don't label them. Often Prescott thinks the patients are perfectly normal and wonders why someone as friendly and lucid as Mrs. Windowmore is in the place at all. Greene seems to be using the novel as a primer in humane understanding and a less clinical approach to the treatment and care of the mentally ill. Dr. Sylvester, frequently described as a genius by his co-workers, is someone who in this day and age might be said to have an exceptionally high emotional intelligence. Sylvester is talked about as someone with great empathy, who often knows what someone wants better than the person himself knows. He treats everyone with amazing equanimity whether they were a patient, co-worker or friend. As Johnny Dennis explains to Prescott Sylvester never thought lesser of someone if they exhibited what might be seen as negative traits such as being lazy, unambitious, moody or sullen. But Sylvester was also unconventional in his treatment methods and tended to use the patients as guinea pigs in a variety of unusual psychological experiments. A rumor begins to circulate that he intentionally let Parisi free and that it backfired on him leading to his grisly death.

Prescott learns that Parisi was criminally insane and that he came from a family of con artists and thieves. His interrogation of the family reveals that they all seem a little bit off and D.r Richards even suggests that there is a genetic tendency towards mental illness in the Parisi family. Further investigation shows that they have ties to some mob activity and Parisi's father was seeking revenge on a rival businessman and a fellow Italian immigrant. When the rival also turns up dead the same night Prescott begins to think that an elaborate vendetta was put into action with the escaped madman part of the plan and the intent of using Joseph as a scapegoat.

However, the two storylines don't mesh all that well. When the plot is focused on the Exeter hospital, it's staff and patients the book is both engaging and informative, often enlightening in Greene's ideas about how to better understand mentally ill people. When the plot travels outside of the hospital into the city and we are dealing with the Parisi family, a couple of teenage thugs and a posse of stereotyped Italian American gangsters the book devolves into the netherworld of pulp magazine cliches. Much of the plot becomes too predictable and a final twist in the revelation of Sylvester's murderer comes not as the intended surprise but as an anticlimax.

*   *   *


Reading Challenge update:  Golden Age card, space D6- "Author has name with initial same as me"
Josiah and John both start with J.
 Posted by at 2:46 pm

Yesterday’s Adventure: ‘Red Belts’ (1920)

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Mar 052015
 
Yesterday’s Adventure: 'Red Belts' (1920)
by Fred Blosser
           

Like the great Talbot Mundy and Harold Lamb, Hugh Pendexter regularly contributed rugged outdoor fiction to ADVENTURE magazine in the periodical’s heyday -- the World War I era and the early 1920s.  Where Mundy wrote about derring-do in contemporary India and Palestine, and Lamb favored the Middle East of the Crusades and the Russian steppes of the Cossacks, Pendexter staked claim to early American history for his subject matter.  

One of Pendexter’s best, RED BELTS, was serialized in ADVENTURE in 1919 and appeared in hardcover from Doubleday in 1920.  The setting is the Old American Southwest of 1784, when the "Southwest" comprised the territory between the southern Appalachians and the Mississippi.  The settlers along North Carolina’s western frontier hope the mother state will send fresh militia troops over the mountains to deter attacks from hostile Cherokees and Creeks.  Their hopes are dashed when they learn that North Carolina has ceded the region to the fledgling federal government to pay the state’s Revolutionary War debt.  The national government doesn’t have the resources to defend this distant territory, which will later become Tennessee.

Left to their own resources, the settlers face a choice.  They can rely on their own sparse numbers as frontiersman John Sevier insists, and take pre-emptive action against the Indians if necessary.  Or -- as the sinister Major Tonpit and his co-conspirators suggest -- they can leave the union and seek the protection of Spain, which still rules a goodly part of the continent, including the southern waterways that lead to the rich markets of New Orleans.

Pendexter had the narrative gift of bringing early American history vividly to life.  There are enough chases, double-crosses, and shootouts to keep action fans engaged, but the strongest scenes are those in which the wily John Sevier matches wits rather than bullets or steel with Chief John Watts of the Cherokees and “Emperor” Alexander McGillivray of the Creeks to extricate himself from their hostile strongholds, where his hosts would like nothing better than take his scalp.  The story underscores a lesson that bears repeating: the early politics of America were fragile and contentious.  To appreciate where we are as a nation, we need to know where we were in the beginning.

Stylistically, much of  RED BELTS (the title refers to red wampum belts, the Indians’ signal for war) will strike modern readers as emphatically old-fashioned:

  • As in other stories from the early days of ADVENTURE, profanities and obscenities are strictly censored.  “By God!” is written as “By ---!”
  • Historical information that today would be incorporated into the action or the dialogue, or put into an afterword, or simply kept in the author’s head, is spooned into the narrative.  Clearly, Mr. Pendexter invested a lot of research into the book, and he wasn’t reluctant to share the results with his readers.
  • The narrative focus meanders a bit.  Although the first couple of chapters suggest that young frontiersman Kirk Jackson will be the protagonist of RED BELTS, he disappears for much of the rest of the book.  John Sevier takes center stage instead.  It would have been a great movie role for the late Rod Taylor in his prime.

Along those same lines, some of Pendexter’s cultural views would have been inoffensive to readers in 1920, but now carry considerable baggage.  Accepted in the context of the author’s times, they don’t bother me too much.  Others may be more sensitive.  Regardless, Pendexter tells a crackling good story.  It’s a shame that this kind of fiction -- U.S. history with a jigger of bourbon -- isn’t as popular as it once was.  Black Dog Books recently reprinted the novel as RED TRAILS, along with some other vintage Pendexter titles.

The Most Consistent Authors

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Mar 052015
 
I read Henning Mankell a lot while in CA. Somehow his themes, his setting, and his detective rarely let me down. He has just enough personal detail, enough police politics, enough stuff about what has happened in Sweden since 1990 to keep me going. And he's pretty good at plotting too.

What writers have rarely let you down? Who is your go-to writer?