Ello…there

 Erin Mitchell  Comments Off
Oct 242014
 

by Erin Mitchell

OptimizedSome weeks back a new social network leapt onto the scene: Ello.

I did what I always do in these situations. I went over and grabbed my user name (I like it to be the same everywhere) and had a look around. Much like when Google+ launched to far more fanfare, it was…quiet. Nobody could quite figure out what to say or do. The search wasn’t working, so finding friends was difficult.

But I was intrigued, primarily because Ello’s shtick seems to be that they are not now accepting nor will they ever accept advertising.

I’ve been spending less time on Twitter lately precisely because of the deluge of adtweets, and so this is appealing to me. Ello says they will, at some point, charge for premium features. I’m not sure how that’s going to work out for them, but again, I’m curious to see.

Many folks in tech media especially have been skeptical about whether Ello will be able to stick with their no-advertising plan. Last night, Ello sent out a letter explaining that they’re so serious about doing just that, that they’ve converted themselves to a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC).

From the letter:

A PBC is a special for-profit company in the USA that operates to produce a benefit for society as a whole. As a PBC, Ello is legally obligated to take its impact on society into account in every decision it makes.

Ello’s PBC’s charter states that Ello shall not for pecuniary gain:

1. Sell user-specific data to a third party;

2. Enter into an agreement to display paid advertising on behalf of a third party; and

3. In the event of an acquisition or asset transfer, the Company shall require any acquiring entity to adopt these requirements with respect to the operation of Ello or its assets.

In other words, Ello exists for your benefit, not just to make money.

Sounds pretty good, right?

Ello still has (a lot of) kinks to work out, and it’s still pretty quiet over there, but at the very least, I’d recommend registering. It’s in beta, so you’ll need an invitation to do so…if you need one, drop a comment here and I’ll hook you up.

 

Oct 242014
 

Tonight, network television is premiering a new show called Constantine. It's based on the long-running (but now defunct) comic series from DC/Vertigo called Hellblazer; or, more accurately, I guess, it's based on the safer version that can be found in the newer DC re-boot of the character, simply called Constantine.

I won't be watching. No, I'm not boycotting it or anything. I'm at work tonight. But honestly, even if I was home, I'm not sure how excited I would be about it. The DC re-boot is pretty much a toothless version of a character I love dearly.

Hellblazer was the only comic I read consistently for well over twenty years, and that version of John Constantine is as close to a fully fleshed out and complex personality as you're ever likely to see in the pages of a comic book. He grew and changed over the course of the series in a very realistic way. He aged in "real time". He was a hero and a bastard and a con-man and a savior at various points; like real people, he was never just ONE thing.

That's why so many different writers were able to do such great work with him over the years. Making Constantine "consistent" was silly, because real people are not consistent.

If you don't know, here's the deal about John Constantine: he appeared initially in the much-lauded Alan Moore run of Swamp Thing, back in 1985, as a mysterious supporting character, guiding Swamp Thing (or manipulating him, if you prefer) on a series of grisly adventures that tested the swamp elemental's powers as he was rediscovering himself. Constantine was a stylish but somewhat seedy Brit, conceived as a "working class magician", a bit snarky, a bit cynical, always with a hidden agenda and a last-minute plan. He always seemed to know something that everyone else didn't, that was his thing. He was a master manipulator who was willing to do some very bad things for the greater good.

The character was a huge hit with readers, and in 1988, after a few more important appearances in Swamp Thing, he was spun off into his own series-- at first meant to be called Hellraiser, but Clive Barker had just beaten them to the punch with that title, so the last minute change up was called Hellblazer.

Written by Jamie Delano and drawn mostly by John Ridgeway, Hellblazer took the bare bones concepts of Alan Moore and expanded on them beautifully. Even though Moore created the character, Delano was really the one who made Constantine great. Over the course of his initial 40-issue run, he filled in Constantine's background, he gave him the internal struggles, he pulled back the curtain to show what was really going on in Constantine's brain. He made him human, and he set up the themes that would be consistent throughout the history of the title-- namely, the toll Constantine would always pay for his work. The working-class mage/con-man was often forced to make horrible sacrifices for the greater good, losing friends along the way, and pieces of his own soul (literally and figuratively). Delano also used Hellblazer to comment on the social and political climate of Britain in those dark days of Margaret Thatcher, and gave us bits like Constantine's stay in a mental asylum after inadvertently causing a young girl to die and be sucked into Hell, being partly responsible for the death of his father at the hands of a serial killer called The Family Man, and strangling his "good" twin brother in the womb. All of these things would be referenced many times over the years. Delano's run remains the hallmark, in my opinion.

With issue 41, Garth Ennis took over the title, and began what is still the most popular run ever of Hellblazer. With artist William Simpson at first, and then Steve Dillon, Ennis' approach to Constantine was a little less refined and less political, instead choosing to go a more personal route. He showed us a Constantine with friends, a Constantine in love, and ultimately a Constantine who would once again lose it all in the end. It was an angry run of comics that confronted racism, corporate greed, homelessness, and religion, but it also had great moments of black humor. Ennis gave us probably the most famous Hellblazer story, in which Constantine gets lung cancer and manages to save himself by utilizing a ballsy con against the Devil himself (the First of the Fallen) and two other lords of Hell.

Ennis wrapped up his run with issue 83, and, after a one shot by returning writer Delano and a three-parter by Eddie Campbell, the reins were picked up by Paul Jenkins, with the great Sean Phillips on most of the art.

Jenkins run is highly under-rated, and at this time is the only run on Hellblazer that hasn't been collected in trade paperback. I think that's a damn shame. Jenkins opted to go in a different direction than the one pointed out by Ennis, instead focusing his run on British folklore and mythology. It was less bombastic than Ennis, less colorful and profane, and showed a Constantine trying once again to have some kind of normal life with his eccentric circle of friends. But the one constant of his life, the inevitable crash and burn, happens at the end and once again he's left alone and devastated.

Garth Ennis came back briefly after the Jenkins run, for a gruesome 6-part dark comedy called Son of Man, about the consequences Constantine has to deal with after bringing back the life the dead son of a London gangster, using a demon with a... well, a devastatingly huge dong.

The great Warren Ellis was next, with a terrific but way too short run that focused on Constantine the bastard-- a six part arc first, in which John finds out a former lover has been murdered by an upstart young mage, and the brutal retribution John brings down on him. This was followed by a handful of excellent one shot stories with a variety of artists. But Ellis' run was cut short by a disagreement with DC/Vertigo over a story involving school shootings, this in the wake of the Columbine tragedy.

Ellis left, and after a two part fill-in by writer Darko Macan, Brian Azzarello took over. Azzarello was the first and only American to write Hellblazer, and so his run takes place entirely in the States. It opens with Constantine in an American prison, then backtracks over the course of the run to explain the circumstances of his incarceration. Azzarello used the title to take Constantine into some of the darkest places in America, backwoods redneck territory as well as the hidden pleasure palaces of the filthy, morally bankrupt rich. It's a controversial run, but elevated sales on Hellblazer higher than they'd been since the Ennis days. Constantine comes off as particularly wicked in these issues, but mostly because we're seeing him through other people's eyes, which works. It served as a sort of reminder of Constantine when we first met him in Swamp Thing, a mysterious and slightly sinister figure.

Mike Carey followed Azzarello, taking John back to England to confront the consequences of his long absence. This run on Hellblazer is my favorite, one, because Carey is terrific at set-up and pace, and two, because he draws on lore established by previous writers and takes them to new and unexpected places. Some horrible things happen in Carey's run, deaths of characters who had been in the title since the very beginning, and Constantine's friendship with Chas (a constant throughout the series, the long-suffering Chas) reaches a breaking point. John pretty much loses it during Carey's run, suffering beyond anything the previous writers had ever put him through. Carey also made John's niece Gemma an important ongoing character, as the young woman follows in the dark footsteps of her uncle. Also, the second half of Carey's run features art by Leonardo Manco, whom I adore.

When Carey wrapped up, crime fiction author Denise Mina took over. I have mixed feelings about Mina's run; she was the first woman to write the character, and she really manages to nail John Constantine's personality perfectly. Also, she utilizes Gemma expertly. Sadly, the story itself dragged a bit, and didn't offer Constantine any real noteworthy challenge. Still, though, it should be said, Mina was absolutely terrific at character stuff.

Andy Diggle was next, with a very short but clever run that saw Constantine trying to get his act together yet again, and finally confronting the Golden Child-- that is, the supposedly "good" twin he murdered in the womb.

And finally, Peter Milligan, with the final (and longest) run on Hellblazer. While previous writers worked to strike a balance between the dark magical world of John Constantine and a more-or-less "real world", Milligan's run is noteworthy for it's dismissal of any sort of reflection of reality. It's a bright, comic-bookish world in Milligan's Hellblazer, even when the stories themselves get dark (and they do get very dark indeed at points). Constantine actually gets married about midway through Milligan's time on Hellblazer, but during the wedding his niece Gemma is sexually assaulted by "Demon Constantine", a vessel previously locked away in Hell, whom John had at one point during Jenkins' run poured all his own darkest impulses into. Even though it wasn't John that committed the deed, the incident creates a wedge between him and Gemma that ultimately costs John everything at the end. Issue 300 wraps up Hellblazer on a downbeat note, a fate you could argue as being worse than death for someone like Constantine, and a feeling of melancholy that John Constantine's long journey is at last over.

Reading the very last issue of Hellblazer marked what I knew was the end of my time as a serious reader of comics. I still pick up trade paperbacks from time to time, but it was Hellblazer that kept me showing up at the comic shop on Wednesdays. I have a very strong attachment to Our John, as I've read his ongoing story and watched as he struggled and failed and even occasionally won. I've stayed with him as he's saved the world, lost his soul, betrayed his friends and himself, aged and changed and survived crisis after crisis.

As goofy as it sounds, John Constantine is almost like an old friend (who I wouldn't trust alone!) I met when I was in my early 20's and knew peripherally ever since. I actually kinda mourned the end of Hellblazer.

DC, of course, re-booted him as a part of their mainstream DC universe, but this Constantine is clearly not the same guy. He's younger, for one thing. All that life history in Hellblazer doesn't exist for him. He doesn't operate in the "real world"; instead, he hangs out with superheroes and saves the world from alien threats and even turns into goddamn Shazam at one point. Sigh.

Anyway, the show premiering tonight. Depending on reviews, I may watch when it comes out on DVD or Netflix. Maybe. But it will always just be an actor, an imitation, of one of the most important fictional characters in my life, John Constantine. Cheers.

Oct 242014
 

Robert Harris wins the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for An Officer and a Spy. (Photo © 2014 by Ali Karim)

Thanks to The Rap Sheet’s indefatigable chief UK correspondent, Ali Karim, we can now tally up the winners of the 2014 Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards. The announcements were made and the commendations presented during a downright glamorous event held this evening at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel.

CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year: This Dark Road to Mercy, by Wiley Cash (Doubleday/Transworld)

Also nominated: The First Rule of Survival, by Paul Mendelson (Constable); How the Light Gets In, by Louise Penny (Sphere/Little Brown); and Keep Your Friends Close, by Paula Daly (Bantam/Transworld)

CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger: The Axeman’s Jazz, by Ray Celestin (Mantle)

Also nominated: The Devil in the Marshalsea, by Antonia Hodgson (Hodder & Stoughton); The Silent Wife, by A.S.A Harrison (Headline); and The Strangler Vine, by M.J. Carter (Penguin Fig Tree)

CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger: An Officer and a Spy, by Robert Harris (Random House)

Also nominated: Apple Tree Yard, by Louise Doughty (Faber and Faber); I Am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes (Transworld); and Natchez Burning, by Greg Iles (Harper Collins)

Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read: Entry Island, by Peter May (Quercus)

Also nominated: Before We Met, by Lucie Whitehouse (Bloomsbury); Letters to My Daughter’s Killer, by Cath Staincliffe (C&R Crime); Treachery, by S.J. Parris (HarperCollins); The Tilted World, by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly (Mantle); and Watch Me, by James Carol (Faber & Faber)

The Film Dagger: Cold in July

Also nominated: Dom Hemingway, Filth, Prisoners, and Starred Up

The TV Dagger: Happy Valley

Also nominated: Line of Duty, Series 2; Sherlock, Series 3; The Bletchley Circle, Series 2; and The Honourable Woman

The International TV Dagger: True Detective, Season 1

Also nominated: Fargo, Season 1; Inspector Montalbano, Series 9; Orange Is the New Black, Season 2; and The Bridge, Series 2

The Best Actor Dagger: Matthew McConaughey for True Detective

Also nominated: Benedict Cumberbatch for Sherlock; Shaun Evans for Endeavour; Martin Freeman for Fargo and Sherlock; and Steve Pemberton for Happy Valley

The Best Actress Dagger: Keeley Hawes for Line of Duty

Also nominated: Brenda Blethyn for Vera; Maggie Gyllenhaal for The Honourable Woman; Sarah Lancashire for Happy Valley; and Anna Maxwell Martin for Death Comes to Pemberley and The Bletchley Circle

The Best Supporting Actor Dagger: James Norton for Happy Valley

Also nominated: Mark Gatiss for Sherlock; David Leon for Vera; Mandy Patinkin for Homeland; and Billy Bob Thornton for Fargo

The Best Supporting Actress Dagger: Amanda Abbington for Sherlock

Also nominated: Vicky McClure for Line of Duty; Helen McCrory for Peaky Blinders; Gina McKee for By Any Means; and Michelle Monaghan for True Detective

Congratulations to all of the nominees!
Oct 242014
 



Gravetapping by Ben Boulden




Posted: 23 Oct 2014 02:20 PM PDT
Max Allan Collins has been writing about his hardboiled former Chicago cop turned private dick Nathan Heller for 30 years, which translates into 15 novels and four short story collections. Nate first appeared in True Detective (1983) and most recently in Ask Not (2013). In 1991 the first collection of Nathan Heller stories appeared, and its title story—the best in the collection—was a Shamus nominated novella titled “Dying in the Post-War World”.

“Dying in the Post-War World” is set in Chicago. July, 1947. Heller’s wife, Peg, is pregnant, and while business at his A-1 Detective Agency is slow—no one is getting divorced in the post war euphoria—life isn’t bad. That is until Bob Keenan, a high level administrator at the Office of Price Administration (OPA), calls with an emergency, and Peg tells Nate she wants a divorce. In that order, and just that quickly.

The emergency. Bob Keenan’s six year old daughter JoAnn was kidnapped from her room. The window open. A broken down ladder outside, and a note on the floor of the girl’s room:

“Get $20,000 Ready & Waite for Word. Do Not Notify the FBI or Police. Bills in 5’s and 10’s. Burn this for her safety!”

“Dying in the Post-War World” is an intriguing retelling of Chicago’s Lipstick Killer. The names have changed—William Heirens (the real world convicted Lipstick Killer) is now Jerome Lapps, and Suzanne Degnan (the kidnapped girl) is now JoAnn Keegan. Mr Collins also plays with the timeline, and adds an appealing mob connection in form of one Sam Flood (aka Sam Giancana). The details are interesting, but the magic is in the telling. The smooth integration of fact and fiction. The old world Chicago. A Chicago where it was both possible to buy, and people actually wanted, a brand new Plymouth. The humor—“crooked even by Chicago standards.”

The story is written in first person. It is something of a nostalgic memoir. It is hardboiled, lean, and tough as the Windy City. It also has a bunch of post war angst. The sort of angst we all feel; a little hope and a lot of fear for the future. Not necessarily our own future, but the future we leave our children—

“For that one night, settled into a hard hospital chair, in the glow of my brand-new little family, I allowed myself to believe that that hope was not a vain one. That anything was possible in this glorious post-war world.”

But the most powerful effect of the story? Doubt. Doubt about the killer. The future, and ourselves. And even a touch of shame; at what we do, how we do it, and worse, how we rationalize it.
Oct 242014
 

A YANK IN LIBYA. PRC, 1942. Walter Woolf King, Joan Woodbury, H.B. Warner, Parkyarkarkus (Harry Parke), Duncan Renaldo, George Lewis, William Vaughn, Howard Banks, Amarilla Morris. Director: Albert Herman.

   There is no movie so bad that someone leaving a review on IMDb won’t call it a Poverty Row Classic. (Check it out.) This isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen, but it’s in the bottom dozen. The only reason I kept watching it — well, two actually — was the presence of two actors whose performances I found far and away above the rest of the cast.

   The first was Joan Woodbury, far from being well known, but whose good looks and charm on the screen always delight me, and the second was a veteran radio actor named Parkyarkarkus, aka Harry Einstein, who I’d never see in person before. On radio he played a pseudo-Greek character on several comedy variety programs, including Eddie Cantor’s and Al Jolson’s as well as a short running one of his own called “Meet Me at Parky’s.”

   In A Yank in Libya he plays a jovial heavy-set seller of razor blades in a Libyan marketplace, clad in Arab garb as a far-fetched transplant from Brooklyn, added (one presumes) for comedy relief, but as time goes on, he seems to know more and more about what is going on than the hero does.

   Which entails a Nazi attempt to incite the Muslim tribal leaders to rebel against the British rule. Walter Woolf King (whose name I don’t ever remember seeing on the screen before) is a reporter who uncovers the plot, a brash sort of know-nothing role, while Duncan Renaldo plays the tribal leader most friendly to the British, and rather unconvincingly, to my eyes.

   It occurs to me to add that most of the other players in this film do a better than average job of it. It’s the story that lets them down, a patchwork affair fastened together by good wishes and duct tape, that and the abysmal budget they must have had to work with. The list of cast members is a large one, but if there are more than five people on the screen at any time, the footage was swiped from another movie.

   But one last note. If you think you’d be interested in seeing this movie, I’d suggest using the video link embedded above. It’s free, and the sound quality, the small amount I’ve watched of it, is tremendously better than the version on DVD from Alpha Video, which I paid an almost reasonable four dollars for.

 Posted by at 7:15 pm
Oct 242014
 
Howard Haycraft, noted detective fiction historian and critic, called Victor Luhrs' debut mystery novel The Longbow Murder (1941) a curiosity. At the time of its original publication the subgenre of the historical mystery was relatively new. Agatha Christie's famous contribution set in ancient Egypt, Death Comes as the End (1944), had yet to see the light of day. The use of a genuine historical figure such as Richard the Lionhearted as the detective protagonist was so unique in detective fiction and perhaps a bit too strange that no other writers followed suit. Now we are fairly inundated with real historical people solving fictional murders. Kings, queens, U. S. presidents and senators, even detective novelists all show up as amateur sleuths in historical mysteries these days. Victor Luhrs, if not the first to do so, was certainly one of the first and sadly completely forgotten as well. Turns out that Coeur de Lion makes quite the clever detective in this novel.

Richard faces a series of murders by poison arrow while at the same time trying to fend off assassination attempts on his own life. With the aid of a simple-minded scribe named Peter of Caen who serves as the Watson of the piece, he ferrets out two separate conspiracies all with traditional detective novel puzzle elements. Two murders are committed in locked and guarded rooms but only incidentally appear to be locked room murders. Some of the evidence and the eventual revelation of collusion by a guard reduce the cleverness of the impossibility Luhrs presents and I have to disqualify it from being considered a genuine "locked room" or impossible crime. Nonetheless, Luhrs is rather ingenious in coming up with a murder method and assassination plot that Richard also uncovers and prevents that rivals the main plot of the actual murder victims.

Richard I, ace detective
Luhrs is noted as being an avid medievalist. According to the informative bio sketch on the rear DJ panel he was obsessed with all things of the middle ages from his boyhood and has read extensively about the period in both fiction and non-fiction. That he is a devotee of Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe is never in doubt. The plot of The Longbow Murders is heavily influenced by Scott's classic novel of Richard I. Robin of Locksley (aka Robin Hood, aka Dickon Bendbow) even makes a cameo appearance. A custom made arrow stolen from his quiver turns out to be one of the murder weapons. Luhrs' love for the period is also rather quaintly depicted in his frequent use of archaic language. Some may find it quaint. For me the mix of modern day language and speech peppered with a plethora of methinks, yclept, yon, and prithee elicited more eyeball rolling than smiling.

There are other touches of quaintness as well as some troublesome anachronisms. One of Luhr's more notable atmospheric period touches is the character of John Star, a wizard who acts as coroner in the investigation. He determines time of death and then retreats to his alchemical lab where he distills the poison from the arrows and identifies it by name. Star often falls into a spell Richard calls "being in the mist", meaning Star can go into a trance-like state. While in this state the wizard seemingly confused confesses to the murders. His "in the mist" state leads to much confusion over the course of the novel. However, the solution of the murder is dependent on two vainglorious notes left by the murderer. The main question is whether they are meant as taunts or intended to frame another person. Both notes teasingly refer to the six letters in the murderer's first and family names. This is the kind of plot gimmick you find in novels by Edgar Wallace or Johnston McCulley who both created a slew of egomaniacal master criminals prone to leaving signature cards, with or without riddles, at the scene of the crime. It seems like a far too contemporary idea for a medieval criminal to contemplate; it bothered me. There are other subtle signs of modern crime solving leaking into this middle age world like trying to determine the exact time of death, alibi breaking, and intermittent use of contemporary phrases and idioms. But I have to say I liked the way Richard swore in medieval style. One of his commonly used oaths is "Holy Virgin!" Some lapses in verisimilitude were easier to excuse than others. Originality in plotting notwithstanding, the murderer's notes and the evidence of how the medieval alphabet is used in spelling was a bit too much for me to swallow.

Victor Luhrs, from the 1st edition DJ
 (photo uncredited)
Luhrs is also noted in his bio as being a detective novel aficionado. The numerous puzzles he incorporates into the plot make that quite clear. And I can only guess that he read a lot of stories in the pulp magazines. Richard at times adopts the brash and brutal manner of a tough guy private eye beating his witnesses (some of whom are also in loyal knights service to him) by boxing their ears, slapping their faces repeatedly, and once literally kicking ass. He's kind of a Carroll John Daly character of the middle ages but also shares qualities of the logical and rational crime solving methods of Ellery Queen and Philo Vance.

The bio hints that Luhrs hoped to write more adventures using Richard I as a detective, but unfortunately this is the only one. My guess is that despite the book's cleverness, its colorful medieval setting, and a larger than life Richard I as the lead, the book probably did not sell well. Luhrs never wrote another novel that I know of, certainly not another detective novel set in the middle ages. The only other book I find listed with Victor Luhrs as author is a history of the "Black Sox" scandal during the 1919 World Series. Copies of The Longbow Murder are out there -- many of them have the attractive DJ with medieval inspired artwork -- but most of them are priced too high for the average reader. Check your local library though. Anyone who enjoys historical mysteries, and those set in the middle ages especially, will discover a wealth of entertainment in this well written and cleverly constructed mystery.
 Posted by at 3:15 pm
Oct 242014
 
Off to the symphony so additional links will be added mid afternoon.


Charlie Stella is the author of seven novels about the New York underworld.

LET IT RIDE, John McFetridge


John McFetridge’s Let It Ride presents a lot of subplots to keep readers engaged. A husband and wife, fresh from a swing party, are mistakenly whacked by a hit man while in a semi-compromising position in their car while driving home from a swing party.The hit man could only see the driver (so yous figure out the position). A couple of veterans used to hustling drugs and guns out of Afghanistan are
joined in Toronto where one of them,
JT (a Canadian Afghanistan veteran) is about to earn his full patch (become a made man, so to speak) for the gang run by Richard Tremblay (another subplot), a full patch who seeks the ultimate power (cappo di tutti cappi, so to speak). Vernard “Get” McGetty is the Detroit half of the connection and always looking for something better. After delivering some hardware up to JT in Toronto, he’s shown the ropes of the motorcycle gang world (and notices how many of the motorcyclists drive SUV’s) … JT shows him how they operate and it is impressive.
There’s also Sunitha, an Indian "rub and tug" (hand job) hooker with a second gig heading a small band of women who rob massage parlors of the almost rich and not so famous. She wants more and is ambitious enough to get it. Once she hooks up with Get (after JT takes him for some relief), she sees gold in her future.
Literally gold.
There’s also a subplot that has to do with the law trying to solve the couple murdered in their car … Maureen McKeon is cop no longer satisfied with her home life, her husband or young infant ... and she’s drinking again.
There are also those pesky, but not so powerful eye-talians out and about; with a subplot within their story as well.
Hookers and hit men abound … the names of the characters sub-title each chapter so there’s no reason to get lost. Let It Ride is chock full of references to the author the author of Let it Ride is most often compared to (say that three times fast). The name Elmore Leonard and several of his works make a few appearances, in tribute, I suspect. The references work well, as does the writing in this exciting page turner from the Toronto Bills very own crime fiction specialist.
The bit about full patches … essentially, a Full Patch = Made Man … north of the border there are motorcycle gangs that operate much the same way traditional organized crime does (or did); those seeking full honors in the program need to prove themselves over time … earn their stripes (so to speak) and then be approved by a board (of sorts) before they can become full patch members. There are rules one needs to abide along the way (or at least not get caught breaking them) and some are pretty similar to those the Italian-American mob are supposed to abide by.
Like don’t screw the wife of a made guy/full-patch and get caught without expecting to meet your maker. It’s one of the rules tested by JT …
No spoilers here … but know that McFetridge does very good work. He teaches as well as entertains. Let It Ride offers convincing snapshots of the different characters who inhabit our world. Like them or not, their choices are much more understandable by the novel’s several endings (each character has one, whether open ended or not). I never imagined motorcycle gangs were so powerful until I saw a documentary on the subject. It was chilling. Let It Ride was a reminder of just how powerful a group of determined sociopaths can be in a society unprepared for the violence and protected by law enforcement as corruptible as politicians.
Take a journey with this character driven novel of crime that takes place north of the border. You’ll meet interesting people at each turn; characters that both frighten and intrigue. Let It Ride is the character driven page turner we expect from McFetridge and we’re always glad to see some of his characters from prior works appear. Comparisons to the master from Detroit are valid.North of the boarder, McFetridge’s people inhabit the gritty world it is better to read about than taste first hand. Let It Ride lets us do that. An intriguing novel about opportunistic characters seizing their day. Carpe Diem indeed. McFetridge is the real deal.

Forgotten Books: Fright by Cornell Woolrich


Fright

Cornell Woolrich's first novel emulated the novels of his literary hero, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Judging from the first act of the new Woolrich novel Fright from Hardcase Crime, the Fitzgerald influence lasted well into Woolrich's later career as a suspense writer.

The young, handsome, successful Prescott Marshall could be any of Fitzgerald's early protagonists. New York, Wall Street, a striver eager to marry a beauiful young socialite and acquire the sheen only she can give him...even the prose early on here reminds us of Fitzgerald's "Winter Dreams" and "The Rich Boy." Strivers dashed by fate.

Bu since Woolrich was by this time writing for the pulps and not Smart Set or Scribners Magazine, young Prescott Marshall's fate is not simply to lose face or be banished from some Edenic yacht cruise...but to face execution at the hands of the State for killing a young woman he slept with once and who turned into a blackmailer. This is in the Teens of the last century, by the way; a historical novel if you will.

From here on we leave the verities of Fitzgerald behind and step into the noose provided by another excellent writer and strong influence on Woolrich...Guy de Maupassant. In the Frenchman's world it's not enough to merely die, you must die in a tortured inch-by-inch way that makes the final darkness almost something to be desired. And dying for some ironic turn of events is best of all.

I read this in a single sitting. It's one those melodramas that carry you along on sheer narrative brute force. I woudn't say it's major Woolrich but I woud say that it's awfully good Woolrich with all the master's cruel tricks at work and a particularly claustrophobic sense of doom. Readers will appreciate its dark twists. Collectors will want to buy a few extra copies.
Ed Gorman is the author of the Sam McCain and Dev Conrad series of crime novels. 
Sergio Angelini, THE BLACK SPECTACLES, John Dickson Carr
Yvette Banek, Seasonal Fare
Joe Barone, IN A DARK HOUSE,Deborah Crombie
Brian Busby, Books about the Trudeaus
Bill Crider. RIDER FROM WIND RIVER, Marvin H. Albert
Martin Edwards, FOURFINGERS, Lynn Brock
Curt Evans, A Look at Medora Field
Rick Horton, HEYDAY, W.M. Spackman
Randy Johnson, COPP ON FIRE, Don Pendleton
Nick Jones, Assorted James Mitchell publications
George Kelley, GUN GLORY FOR TEXANS, Marshall McCoy
Margot Kinberg, NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES, Cornell Woolrich
Rob Kitchin, VILLAIN , Shuichi Yoshida
B.F. Lawson, THE HAND IN THE GLOVE, Rex Stout
Evan Lewis, SATAN'S REVENGE, Carroll John Daly
Steve Lewis/ William Deeck, THE MOONFLOWER MURDERS, Beverley Nichols
Todd Mason, Books and Magazines Influencing My Early Reading
Neer, DEAD MAN'S TALE and WIFE OR DEATH, Ellerry Queen
J.F. Norris, THE LONGBOW MURDERS, Victor Luhrs
James Reasoner, THE SQUARE SHOOTER, WALT COBURN
Gerard Saylor, WAYS OF A WANTOM, Richard S. Prather, BIG BLACK MARIA, Johnny Shaw
Ron Scheer, CAMPFIRE TALES, Andy Adams
Kevin Tipple, PATTERNS IN SILICON, Maureen Robb
TomCat, THE BONE IS POINTED, Arthur Upfield
Prashant Trikannad, GREYLORN, Keith Laumer
Tracy K, KEEPER OF THE KEYS, Earl Derr Biggers

Oct 242014
 
(This post originally appeared in different form on April 25, 2005) By 1957, when this novel was originally published, Walt Coburn’s once-formidable talent had deteriorated due to age and drink until his output was very hit-and-miss. THE NIGHT BRANDERS, from the same era, is the worst Coburn novel I’ve read. But he was still capable of turning out a good story sometimes, and luckily, THE