My review of BIRDMAN at Crimespree Magazine
William F. Deeck
GUY CULLINGFORD – Conjurer’s Coffin. Hammond, UK, hardcover, 1954. Lippincott, US, hardcover, 1954 Penguin Books, UK. paperback, 1957.
Miss Jessie Milk, spinster of uncertain age and kin to the distressed gentlewomen so well portrayed by Barbara Pym, finds somewhat unsuitable employment as a receptionist at the Bellevue Hotel, which does not live up to its name and which the police have nothing against, muddle and unconventionality not yet being against the law. The Bellevue caters, if that’s the mot juste, to the less eminent variety performers.
Gene the Genie, a magician and one of the not-quite-successful artistes, primarily because of his interest in horse-flesh and not because of lack of talent or imagination, checks into the hotel with his wife and his female assistant the first afternoon Miss Milk is on duty. He plays a trick on her then and becomes aware that she is a perfect foil for a magician.
When first Gene the Genie’s assistant and then his wife disappear, Miss Milk is an excellent witness. When the wife’s body turns up in the trash, the police are baffled by Miss Milk’s testimony but accept her transparent honesty in telling things as she believes she saw them. Fortunately, a retired Merchant Navy Captain, now a bookstore detective, lives in the hotel and has Miss Milk’s interests at heart in more ways than one. He is able to determine what happened, although it’s not by any means all ratiocination.
Well written, amusing, excellent characterization, and an interesting crime. All of Cullingford’s novels are well worth trying to find.
Bibliographic Notes: Guy Cullingford was the pen name of (Alice) C(onstance) Lindsay Taylor, 1907-2000, who has one title in Hubin under her own name, and ten as by Cullingford. Of the latter, only four have been published in the US. In spite of the possibilities suggested by Conjurer’s Coffin, there seems to be no series character appearing in any more than one of them.
In addition, Megan Abbott’s The Fever and C.J. Sansom’s Dominion appear within the Best Popular Fiction category.
Most of the selections here are not very surprising, but I was interested to see both Bird Box and Night Heron make the cut, as neither of those debut novels had been on my radar during the last dozen months. (Which just goes to show that none of us is perfect.) What do the rest of you think of Kirkus’ picks?
(From the archives)
This was the first Sam McCain book I read back in 2009 and what a pleasure it was. All of Ed Gorman's novels are a treat to read. You enter a world that is mostly filled with benevolent, well-drawn non-stereotypical characters.
And then Ed throws in the monkey wrenches that set that peaceful Iowa world on its ear. There is murder and mayhem but you are never offended. We have a gentleman here.
And then he sets things right in a humane and compelling way.
Especially fun for me were the sixties touchstones-and I really admired the way he caught it on the cusp of a new era-and captured it without overplaying its markers. Sam McCain feels young, vibrant, and on the edge of adulthood himself.
What I liked most about Ed's books is his obvious admiration and enjoyment of women. This is unusual in the books I read. His women are rarely shrews or nags or harpies. All of them seem like a romance or an adventure is just within their grasp--young and old.
My very favorite Gorman book is SLEEPING DOGS, but this is right up there. They all are.
Sergio Angelini, John Dickson Carr
Yvette Banek, SILVER MEADOW, Barry Maitland
Joe Barone, CARIOCA FLETCH, Gregogy McDonald
Brian Busby, Basil King
Bill Crider. SHOOT, Douglas Fairbain
Martin Edwards, DEATH OF A MILLIONAIRE, G.D.H. and Margaret Cole
Curt Evans, THE FARM AT PARANOA, Laurence Kirk
Ray Garraty, DOG STARS, Peter Heller
Ed Gorman, FAST LANE, Dave Zeltserman
Rick Horton, THE SHEIK, E.M. Hull
Jerry House, LITTLE TICH: A BOOK OF TRAVELING, Harry Ralph
Randy Johnson, THE AVENGERS BATTLE THE EARTH-WRECKER, Otto Binder
Nick Jones, THE FNGER OF SATURN, Victor Canning
George Kelley, TROS OF SAMONTHRACE, Talbot Mundy
Margot Kinberg, THE HOUSE WITHOUT A KEY, Earl Der Biggers
Rob Kitchin, THE MIDNIGHT SWIMMER, Edward Wilson
B.V. Lawson, AH, SWEET MYSTERY, Celestine Sibley
Evan Lewis, HOME IS THE HANGMAN, Richard Sale
Steve Lewis/Dan Stumpf, HOT ICE, Robert J. Casey
Todd Mason. QUARK 4. ed. Samuel Delaney, SATURDAY EVENING POST
Neer. MADEMOISELLE DE SCUDERI, E.T. A. Hoffman
J.F. Norris, THE KILLING OF KATIE STEELSTOCK, Michael Gilbert
James Reasoner, IN THE HILLS OF MONTERREY, Max Brand
Richard Robinson, ILL WIND, Nevada Barr
Gerard Saylor, FATALE, Jean-Patrick Manchette
Ron Scheer, QUITTING TIME, Robert J. Conley
Kevin Tipple, KINGS OF COLORADO, David E. Hilton
TomCat, MISSING SUSAN, Sharon McCrumb
TracyK, MURDER WITHIN MURDER, Richard and Frances Lockridge
Prashant Trikannad, THE HARDY BOYS: THE TOWER TREASURE, Franklin Dixon
TED LEWIS – Get Carter. Syndicate Books/Soho Crime, US, softcover, 2014. First published in the UK as Jack’s Return Home, Michael Joseph, hardcover, 1970. First US edition: Doubleday, hardcover, 1970. Reprinted as Get Carter by Pan, UK. paperback, 1971; Popular Library, US, paperback, 1971. Other reprint editions exist. Film: MGM, 1970, as Get Carter (with Michael Caine). Also: MGM, 1972, as Hit Man (with Bernie Casey) and Warner Bros., 2000, as Get Carter (with Sylvester Stallone).
This is what you might call a “revenge” novel, and that’s with a vengeance, if that’s not redundant, and I don’t think it is. As the story begins, Jack Carter, who works for a pair of mobsters back in London, is heading back to his steel-working home town in northern England (no name given, as far I have discerned), where his brother Frank has just died, supposedly in a drink-related automobile accident.
Jack, who tells his own story, knows better. He knows his brother, and he knows the men who run the town, better perhaps than they know themselves. Someone is going to pay, and before the book is over, pay they do.
It does not matter that he and his brother never got along. That Frank’s daughter Doreen, now 15, may really be Jack’s has something to with that, and as a result, Doreen may have grown up way too fast. Also occupying Jack’s mind is that back in London, he has been sleeping with one of his boss’s wives, and once this bit of business is done, is planning to hie off to South Africa with her. He’s a tough nervy bloke, Jack is.
I’ve not seen any of the movies based on this book, a serious error on my part, but I’ll remedy that as soon as I can, starting with the Michael Caine version. You can tell me in the comments whether the other two are worth tracking down.
But whether any of these movie versions can match the intensity, brutality and bursts of mayhem of the novel, I’m not so sure. Also involved are child pornography, cheap sex and a surprisingly careless viciousness toward women.
What you also get is a gritty picture of the working underclass of a small but typical mill town in England circa 1970, when this book first ppeared. The prose reminded me at times of Chandler, while the story is as hard-boiled as anything Hammett might have written. There are not a lot of survivors at book’s end. Jack Carter is cool, cruel and efficient at what he does, and he does a thorough job of it.
But surprisingly enough, it is the ending itself which is the most disappointing, or so is how I found it. The last two pages nearly undo what should have been one crackup of finale, marred by a bit of near deus ex machina — almost but quite. It’s still a doozy, but unless I missed something, it should have been better.
Note: By the time this one ends, you might think that may have been strictly a solo appearance for Jack Carter, but no, he returned in two more novels: Jack Carter’s Law (1974), and Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon (1977), both also recently published in the US by Syndicate Books. Ted Lewis (no relation) died in 1982 at the very young age of 42.
I wrote the first draft of Fast Lane in 1990, although the title back then was In His Shadow. This was the first piece of fiction I wrote with the intent of seeing it published. Before then I fooled around at times writing short stories, usually badly aping Ross Macdonald’s style. I knew the stuff I was writing then wasn’t any good, and it eventually all ended up in the trashcan. In fact, my first attempt at Fast Lane was writing it like a Lew Archer novel where it was written from the point of view of my white knight detective who uncovers the sins of the celebrity (and very psychotic) detective, Johnny Lane, and like all my other attempts back then to ape Macdonald, it ended up (rightfully) in the trash. Things changed, though, after I read Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson, followed quickly by Swell-looking Babe, Pop. 1280, and After Dark, My Sweet. These noir novels from Thompson opened my eyes to other ways of doing things, and helped me realize that you can do whatever you want as long as you can make it work. I now saw a new approach to Fast Lane and began finding my own voice, and by the time I was halfway through I started to get excited that I was writing something that could be published.
My apologies for not posting last week. I was at Bouchercon and was so caught up in the festivities that I forgot to post. Or it might just be my old age.
I believe that tomorrow Erin will be posting on Bloody Murder, the ad hoc panel that a group of us threw together to celebrate writers on the margins - writers who haven't gotten the exposure or support they deserve. The event itself was amazing. I don't remember how many authors participated, but I know it was over 40. Overall a pretty fantastic event. We should shirts and raised $500 for WriteGirl. MWA graciously provided free Bloody Marys during the event. It sounds like an event like this may become a regular at Bouchercon. This situation was turned into a very positive event and I applaude Bouchercon 2014 and Ingrid Willis for their cooperation and efforts to make it happen.
And then a funny thing happened. Catriona McPherson won the Anthony Award for the Best Paperback Original. I was floored. Of course I loved the book. Catriona's writing is amazing. She absolutely deserved the award. And I can tell you, there are more of these in the pipeline - contemporary suspense stand alones. Two published and three more coming.
For me personally, I suddenly felt legit. Like many authors, I believe a lot of acquiring editors are filled with doubt about our talent. Let's face it, not every book or series we acquire becomes a best seller. Heck, most of us would settle for a good solid seller. We may be acquiring books that we feel are solid and deserve to be published, yet they fail in the marketplace. Winning an Anthony Award is one of those confidence builders that helps to heal the broken heart for those books that didn't commerically succeed. I have to say that I am extremely proud. Of Catriona. Of the Midnight Ink authors who attended the awards and were there to cheer Catriona on. Of the whole Midnight Ink family - our authors, our editors, our sales people, our publicity and marketing departments. Pubbing a book is a group effort. And we all should be basking in glory. I do have the best job in the world. Now if I can only figure out the magical formula to make all my babies succeed.
I am going to wrap this up with a link to the speech Ursula Le Guin made. She was honored for Lifetime Achievement by the National Book Awards. Here is a transcript. Take a quick peek. She is calling out publishers for acting as profiteers rather than creating art. Powerful words by a highly respected pioneer. It's a difficult balancing act - publishing the very best that comes across my desk, yet being constantly aware of the market and the chances for financial success. Ms. Le Guin certainly gives us in the industry something to think about.
Have a great rest of the week y'all.