Big Shot

 Josh Getzler, Music  Comments Off
Nov 262014
 

Josh Getzler

 

In the summer of 1980, I spent a month at Chase Tennis Camp in a boarding school in Pennsylvania. I’d gone to camp before, but this was the first time it wasn’t in the woods with bunks, but rather a dorm setup with a roommate.

 

My roommate was a kid from Long Island named David, also 12 years old; fine kid, we got along well.  He was a slob, if I recall, but, I mean, we were 12 year old boys, so I’m sure he felt the same about me.

 

The first night we were there, David took out a little Panasonic cassette recorder and a home-made cassette. 60 minutes. I asked him what was on it.

 

“My Bar Mitzvah studying. I told my mother I’d listen every night.”

 

“You have headphones?”

 

“Um…no.”

 

So that was the last time his bar mitzvah was mentioned, and side A of the tape was never played.

 

Side B, on the other hand, contained the first half of the album Glass Houses by Billy Joel (You May Be Right through All For Leyna), which had just been released. For those of you reading this born post-cassettes, the optimal length of cassette was 90 minutes, because the typical album in the late 70s through the 80s was approximately 45 minutes, so you could fit two on one tape. The 60 minute tapes were annoying because you really couldn’t do anything with them without wasting a lot of time or cutting off the last three or four songs (or one song if you liked prog rock or live albums).

 

Sorry, digressed. In any case, for one month, therefore, I listened to Side A of Glass Houses, then the side would end, then there would be around 10 minutes of silence, and then the tape recorder would turn off with an enormously loud CLICK-THWAP, which would wake me up; and because Dave was my first roommate who also snored, it would take me forever to go back to sleep. Repressed memories…

 

I bring all this up because this evening, my wife, Amanda, and I, along with Amanda’s brother and his wife, and another couple of friends of ours, went to hear Billy Joel play in his “Residency” at Madison Square Garden. I’d never seen him, though so much of his music was part of my life (although I confess it was probably 10 years before I could hear Side 1 of Glass Houses after Chase Tennis Camp). The reviews of these shows, which he does once a month like Britney in Vegas only more badass, have been good, and it appears that at least some of his sloppiness of the past decade are behind him. And even though he has had the bald-and-grey-goatee look for a while now, I do kind of miss the scrawny kid from Long Island with the mop of brown hair.

 

And he gave us a two and a half hour throwback to a time of saxophones and story-songs, to the Entertainer and Paul the Real Estate Novelist and Virginia (and even Uptown Girls). And every time he sang a beautiful, tender love song like Always a Woman or Just the Way You Are, he concluded with, “And then we got divorced.” Everyone knew every song. And unlike U2, whom we’d seen a few years ago at a stadium where it might as well have been on TV it was produced and remote, this felt relaxed and fun, even as his band was ridiculous. And he even brought on Sting and John Mellencamp for cameos (it was a great show, albeit extremely…non-diverse).

 

This has been a long fall. I had surgery on my shoulder, we planned and executed my daughter’s bat mitzvah (she did not have a cassette of her part), and watched business fluctuate and get busier and busier. But as I stood there at the end and waved goodbye to Brender and Eddie, I realized that, as Amanda’s grandmother used to say—and which she said to our daughter on Sunday—“Kid, you got it good.”

 

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Nov 262014
 
Winterworld was a 3-issue miniseries by Chuck Dixon and artist Jorge Zaffino, originally published in 198- by Eclipse Comics. A post-Apocalyptic tale of survival, set in an unspecified future where the world is covered in ice and snow, the series featured some pretty savage action and brutal storytelling by Dixon & Zaffino.

The original miniseries - along with a previously unpublished sequel, Wintersea, by the same creative team, was recently published in trade paperback form by IDW Publishing, and Dixon has followed  that collection with a new, ongoing Winterworld comic book series. I've only read the first issue, but it was terrific, and I wouldn't hesitate to highly recommend both the trade collection and the new series to fans of hard-hitting action and adventure tales.

Here are the original Eclipse miniseries covers by Zaffino.


Catching Up.

 Personal Notes  Comments Off
Nov 262014
 

   If you’ve been following the comments over the past couple of weeks, you will have discerned that I’ve been out of town for most of that time. Having decided to take my laptop with me, I’ve been able to keep up with email, more or less, and I’ve even been able to keep on posting while I’ve been away. Some of the reviews I’d prepared in advance, others I’ve had to improvise, with fairly decent results, except for the images, which I wasn’t always able to do justice to.

   I’ve therefore spent this evening upgrading all of the recent posts, going all the way back to November 12 and Mike Nevins’ review of the first Joe Gall book. Go back and take a look, if it so suits your fancy.

   I might also point to you that the comments following David Vineyard’s review of the movie Susan Slept Here last Sunday have evolved into a two-sided conversation between David and myself about the sad state of affairs in mystery writing today, in our opinions. Go back and read it, and join in, again if it suits your fancy.

   Hopefully I’ll be able to return to a regular schedule soon, but perhaps not tomorrow as (1) a huge Nor’easter is promised, with dire amounts of snow predicted, and (2) I have two and a half plastic postal bins containing held mail to work my way through. Nasty work, but someone’s got to do it.

 Posted by at 4:23 am
Nov 262014
 


It’s that time of year again, when we start pulling together our longlist of nominees for The Rap Sheet’s Best Crime Fiction Covers competition. 2013 saw a particularly tight race for that honor, with David Middleton’s fine design for the front of Death Was in the Blood, by Linda L. Richards, finally coming out on top. We’ve spent the last few months collecting possible contenders for the 2014 honor, but would like to solicit reader suggestions as well.

You’re all well read and observant, right? So which crime, mystery, and thriller book fronts--first released in 2014, in either hardcover of paperback--do you think really stood out from the crowd? Which have demonstrated remarkable use of typography, photography, and/or original illustrations? If you’d like to see the jackets that have drawn our attention in the past, click here. Then drop us an e-mail note with your best-cover picks for the present year. Be sure to include the name and author of any novel you suggest, plus--if at all possible--a link to where we might view the cover artwork online. Working from your choices as well as our own finds, we’ll collect 12 to 15 covers we think are deserving of recognition, and post them in early December, inviting everyone to vote for their favorites.

Let us know soon which covers you think merit special recognition.

Blue Moon

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Nov 252014
 



Will probably not be around too much for the next week. I have not abandoned the blog and I will return. What does go up is already on tap. Think good thoughts.

MY FIRST NOVEL: DICK LOCHTE

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Nov 252014
 



MY FIRST NOVEL: DICK LOCHTE

I’ve written several times about how my debut novel, SLEEPING DOG, wound up in
print. The details have appeared on this blog not very long ago and also can be
found as an afterward in the new Brash Books edition of the novel. But, though
SLEEPING DOG  was my first published book, it was not the first that I wrote. 
That was a novel I pounded out on an electric typewriter at the tail end of the
1960s, while in my post-college youth toiling daily in Chicago as a member of
the promotion department at Playboy magazine.

The novel was then titled THE FROG PRINCE, and it was a satiric comedy novel
very much – honestly, waaay too much – influenced by Joseph Heller’s CATCH-22,
which was then, and is now, my all-time favorite novel. Unlike that book’s
protagonist who was trapped with a lot of oddball characters in a war horribly
short on logic or even common sense, mine was entangled in a
much-too-comfortable job at a men’s magazine where logic and common sense were
not just missing, their absence was waved like a flag. The novel being a work of
fiction, its magazine was not Playboy. Its name was Ogle, and its symbol was not
a rabbit but, as the book’s title may suggest, a slimy tailless amphibian.
Beyond that, THE FROG PRINCE was pathetically close to autobiography, even at
its most bizarre moments.
There was only one person at PLAYBOY who knew about the book – the noted science
fiction writer AJ Budrys, who was then the editor of Playboy Press. During one
of our lunches, he offered to “look over” the pages. He liked them and his
suggestions and encouragement were responsible for my finishing the manuscript.

Before he moved on, AJ recommended me and the novel to a couple of agents. One
was in the late stages of retirement and not taking on new clients, the other
passed away shortly after I’d sent her a copy of the manuscript, no cause and
effect there to my knowledge. At that point I began sending inquiry letters and
sample chapters to publishers, maybe ten, with six replying that they’d be
willing to look at what I’d done. This was during the dark days before
electronic files could be emailed and I spent hours lurking around the office
Xerox machines after hours, making copies of the book’s four-hundred-plus pages.

My effort resulted in several form-letter kiss-offs, a short note from a
Doubleday editor that he’d been amused, but not enough, and a longer note from
an editor at Dutton stating that she felt the ms. had “something” but needed
work and, if I were willing to listen to her editorial advice, she’d try to get
me a contract and an advance.

I immediately wrote back that I’d be happy to follow her advice. Then began
weeks of waiting. Finally, she mailed back her regrets. There would be no
contract. Her boss was “not quite as sanguine about the novel’s potential,” were
her exact words, still branded on my memory after all the years.

So, THE FROG PRINCE was tossed into a trunk where it rested gathering dust until
about nine years ago. By then I’d published four crime novels and a short story
collection, been nominated for every mystery award, won the Nero, and been
translated into more than a dozen languages. I’d just finished co-writing a
series of legal thrillers with attorney Christopher Darden and was about to
embark on a series with THE TODAY SHOW’s Al Roker. I wanted to put out another
solo novel, but wasn’t sure I could get it done before starting in on the
Rokers.
That’s when I thought of THE FROG PRINCE. The main problem was that, by then,  I
was a “mystery writer” and there was no mystery element in the ms.  I thought
that problem could be solved without too much effort. Drop a body here and
there, shift a few things around.

It didn’t turn out that way. It never does.

I kept the novel in the Swinging Sixties, in my opinion, the period when men’s
magazines were at their, ah, peak. But I added a few significant events of the
era that were taking place beyond the magazine, like the Civil Rights Act and
the start of the Vietnam conflict, that I hoped would bring the story a little
closer to the ground than it had been. I kept the characters, and quite a few
scenes and then spent nearly seven months coming up with what I hoped was a
dark, funny fairplay whodunit that for a number of reasons (fear of a lawsuit
being one of them) I placed in 1969 Southern California instead of Playboy’s
home town of Chicago.

Also, since there were countless numbers  of  books called THE FROG PRINCE, most
of them for children (Amazon it, if you don’t believe me), I slapped on a new,
more unique title, CROAKED!
That’s when I showed it to you, Ed, and thanks to your recommendation, my first
novel finally appeared in print, nearly forty years after I’d begun working on it.
it.   
 

Nov 252014
 
I’ve taken a first crack at putting together a list of my favorite crime novels of 2014; you’ll find it in my Kirkus Reviews column today. Among my 10 choices are works by Laura Lippmann, Peter May, Joseph Koenig, and Antonia Hodgson.

With the help of some other Rap Sheet contributors, I am also working on a larger feature about the year’s best crime, mystery, and thriller fiction. That should appear on this page within the next couple of weeks, and be much broader in scope. Please stay tuned.

A movie review by Lev Levinson — IDA

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Nov 252014
 
Ida (2013) Poster


Sometimes I watch a movie that’s so outstanding, it’s like Mount Everest compared to the usual mountain range of pretty good movies.

This morning I watched Ida, a Polish movie with English subtitles, filmed in black and white, released in 2013, available on Netflix streaming and probably other sites.

Ida is set in Communist Poland during the 1960s, and tells of a young nun whose faith is challenged severely several times.  That’s it, folks.  There are no car crashes, shootings, fistfights, or entire cities swallowed up by demonic powers.  There isn’t even much dialogue.  People often are shown doing nothing more than thinking, but this thinking is very moving in the film’s contexts.

There are no angel choruses or rays of light emanating from heaven.  This is not the schmaltzy kindergarten view of religion.  This is about the struggles and temptations that people of faith sometimes encounter in the real world, and how difficult it is to reconcile the ideals of religion with the confusion and indeed horrors of human life on this planet.

Atheists probably would not consider this film worthwhile, because they believe faith is nothing more than ludicrous superstition.  But those of you who have had the experience of God, or who believe without having had the experience, will probably find the film as absorbing as I.  This movie has stayed with me all day - I can’t forget it.

Nov 252014
 


Colm Feore, a Canadian actor we have been lucky enough to see several times at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, plays Canadian pianist Glen Gould, in this film (1993) which rests somewhere between a doc and a regular movie. He never plays the piano, but acts the part of Gould, a very eccentric pianist. I love this film because it reminds me of short stories. It is original, thrilling and if you love classical music it will entertain you. It was directed by Francois Girard.
Nov 252014
 
This movie was almost universally reviled when it came out earlier this year. Some hated it because it takes so many liberties with the Biblical story of the Flood. Others didn't like it because it's so aggressively dumb. And I'm not here to tell you that it's a good movie. But it's so goofy and over the top that if you can sit back and take it for what it is, it starts to have a certain