Oct 252014

Here’s a newsletter that went out to subscribers this afternoon:

I know, I know.

It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me. I try to strike a certain balance, neither overloading your mailbox (“Damn, another of these? I haven’t read the last three!”) and appearing so infrequently that you forget who I am. And I’d rather not write until I have something to tell you.

(Which reminds me. Some years ago I’d promised Otto Penzler a baseball story for an anthology. I wrote one, “Almost Perfect,” and when I gave Alice Turner a first look, she snapped it up for Playboy. I called Otto and explained the situation. I’d like to write another story for you, I said, but I don’t have an idea. Long pause. “Well,” he said, “that’s never stopped you in the past.” I couldn’t argue with that, and wrote “Keller’s Designated Hitter.”)

So? Have you got anything to say this time around?

A couple of things, as it happens. Remember Ehrengraf, the dapper little lawyer whose clients are always innocent? Well, Defender of theDefender of the Innocent Innocent: The Casebook of Martin Ehrengraf is out now from Subterranean Press. It contains all 12 Ehrengraf adventures, from the very first, published in EQMM in February ’78, to a pair of new stories that make their first appearance here. If you pre-ordered a copy, you’ve seen for yourself what an attractive and well-made volume it is. If you haven’t, well, please be mindful of Subterranean’s tendency to sell out in a hurry—and never go back to press. I can’t say that this will happen with DOTI, but I can’t say that it won’t, either.

But I can get an autographed copy from you, right?

Wrong. We’re not offering the book in LB’s Bookstore, not wishing to compete with the many booksellers, online and offline, who have the book in stock. If it’s important to you to have a signed copy, these two sellers have a good supply: The Mysterious Bookshop in New York and VJ Books in Tualatin OR.

Hardcovers are great on the shelf, but I’ve come to prefer eReading.

You’re not alone. The DOTI ebook is selling briskly on all platforms—Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords. Ah, I see another hand, and I bet I know what you’re going to ask about.


We’ve got you covered. Don Sobczak voices Ehrengraf brilliantly, and the audiobook’s been getting good reviews on Amazon and Audible. (And you ear-readers will want to check out the three other books we’ve self-published in audio, Borderline, Thirty, and Warm & Willing. Mike Dennis’s Borderline is an acknowledged triumph, and Emily Beresford, whose renditions of Thirty and W&W have been winning hearts and minds and ears, is currently at work on another Jill Emerson title, Enough of Sorrow.)


Not for a while. We self-published the ebook and audio—note the LB logo in the upper left corner—and we’ll bring out a handsome trade paperback a few months down the line. Be assured that I’ll let you know when it’s available.


cover_clevelandDVDAnything else? Are you gonna try to sell us Ehrengraf Tote Bags? T-shirts?

No, but some “Get Out Of Jail Free” cards might be appropriate. Remind me to check with our marketing people. What’s next, however, is an oddment I came across today on IMDb, concerning a short film made in 2005 from a short story of mine called “Cleveland In My Dreams.” It’s got a slew of very strong reviews, and I don’t suppose every last one of them could be from relatives of filmmaker Mark K Sullivan. I think there’s a way to download it from the site, though I haven’t figured it out yet myself. Alternatively, we still have a handful of signed DVDs left in LB’s eBay Bookstore, yours while they last at $14.99. Or you can grab the story for your Kindle for $2.99.

That’s pretty reasonable, $2.99. I wish everything was $2.99.

Even dollar bills? Never mind, I get it. And I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to learn that I’ve just slashed the Kindle-price of 17 of my titles from $4.99 to $2.99.

JeanThe books in question are those I wrote as John Warren Wells. They deal with sexual behavior, and are presented in interview and case-history form. Some of the cases are indeed the product of interviews, correspondence, and personal experience; others owe a bit more to imagination. You may read them as reportage or fiction, as you prefer—or not at all, for that matter. JWW is hardly everybody’s cup of tea, but neither is a six-ounce pour of Lapsang Souchong. The new low price makes it easy for you to conduct your own taste-test—and, if you like what you get, to scoop up more at the same low cost.

The $2.99 price applies to all John Warren Wells titles at Kindle. (11 of the 17 are exclusive to Kindle, thus available for borrowing by Kindle Unlimited members.)

What about the JWW ebooks you’re selling on Nook? Are they $2.99 also?

Not for the time being. The new price is an experiment; if sales go up, I’ll peg the books at $2.99 all across the board, including Nook and Smashwords. If not, they’ll stay as they are on those platforms, and the Kindle books will pumpkin back up to $4.99.

And what’s next? John Warren Wells on audio?

Actually, that’s under consideration. Hard to know whether it would work, but it’s not out of the question.

But as for what’s next, well, that’ll have to wait for the next newsletter. David’s assembling items for an eBay auction, including some rarities and an original manuscript or two. He tells me we ought to drop a batch of prices at LB’s eBay Bookstore while we’re at it, to encourage purchases for holiday gift-giving. I’ve found it easier to let him do what he wants than to try to talk him out of it, so sometime next week he’ll clutter your In Box with yet another newsletter.

So brace yourselves…



PS: As always, please feel free to forward this to anyone you think might find it of interest. And, if you’ve received the newsletter in that fashion from a friend and would like your own subscription, that’s easily arranged; a blank email to lawbloc@gmail.com with Newsletter in the subject line will get the job done.

LB’s Bookstore on eBay
LB’s Blog and Website
LB’s Facebook Fan Page
Twitter:  @LawrenceBlock

 Posted by at 7:35 pm

Craft Tip #5 – The Character Arc

 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Oct 252014

This guy walks into a bar.

Something happens, and then he walks out.

If there’s a character arc, he walks out different than when he walked in. The difference could be substantial, or subtle, but at the end of the vignette, he’s change in some way.

That’s the essence of all stories. The character’s transformation. The arc.

When you ask yourself, “What’s the point?” to your entire book, the answer should be the character arc. I’ll give you some examples from films that are easily recognizable. In The Matrix, Neo reluctantly discovers he is “the one,” and with that discovery, evolves into something different. That transformation into a new state of awareness is his arc. It’s the classic hero’s journey. It’s a story about a whole bunch of shit, but at its core, it’s that the world’s an illusion, and as the hero discovers that, the discovery changes him forever, and us with him. In the Karate Kid, it’s more obvious. The MC transforms into his altered, transformed self to win the bout. Same thing in Rocky. Same thing in every major film of the last twenty years. Slumdog Millionaire? MC evolves over the course of the contest to learn what’s really important in his life, and his awareness is forever changed because of it. Pick a movie or a book, that’s the underlying arc. An MC who changes over the course of the story.

This is the same character arc as in most classic fiction. The hero must endure adversity and emerges transformed, enlightened, changed. It’s a metaphor for life. We’re constantly evolving in the face of new information and uncertainty. What makes a character’s arc interesting is the way it mirrors our own experience – how it resonates with us as real when we see it. Not real as plausible, but real as in how we recognize the journey as similar to our own.

It’s the same story, regardless of genre, over and over. In a romance, the main character meets the love interest, and by the time it’s over he or she is changed, and his/her awareness is forever different than when he started. In a thriller, the MC is altered by the experience, the adventure/challenge. In a dramatic work, ditto. Books can be about a lot of things, but at their essence they’re about the change in awareness of the characters that takes place as a result of their having traveled through the story. I maintain that when they work, they work because we as readers are along for the ride, and we feel that afterglow, that satisfaction, of having had our awareness changed as well for having read the stories.

If you know your character arc, that is to say, the point of your story, you can summarize your story in one sentence. Sometimes in a few words. Invariably, the summary that works best is a summary of the character arc. I can do it with mine. It’s essential to writing a compelling blurb. If you can’t do it with your book, you don’t have a clear picture of the arc, and if you don’t, how the hell are you going to write it? You can hope the point comes to you as you go along, but that’s like setting off for New York from Los Angeles and hoping you find your way there, rather than knowing where it is and having a map.

Get the map. It’s way easier.

That’s all I have for you on character arc. Books have been written on how to create one. But I just told you the basics. The character should emerge from the experience that is the basis of the book changed in some fundamental way, and that change forever alters the way they understand reality – and ideally, brings that understanding back to ordinary reality with them, to share. The rest is how that happened. There are a million ways to tell it, which is what we all try to do every day.


Oct 252014
I continue to knock off book after book in my daunting attempt to cover both Bingo cards as part of the "Golden and Silver Age Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge" sponsored by Bev Hankins at My Reader's Block.  However, I haven't been regularly attaching the scans of my progress on those cards with each post.  So here on one page is the current record of all books read so far in both challenges. As you can see I have quite a way to go on the Silver Age. I'll be focussing on those books for the remainder of this year or else I'll never achieve my goal of filling in both cards.

I've picked up another seven books in the Silver Age categories, but only one book that fit a category on the Golden Age card.  Still that one book gained me my sixth Bingo line. If all goes well it looks like the Golden Age card will be finished in three weeks.  I've selected all the books I just need to read them now without being distracted with books like The Longbow Murder (review posted here) which sadly didn't fit any of the remaining open categories on that card.

If you are participating in this challenge how is your progress?  Have you got at least one Bingo line by now?  I hope so.

Golden Age:  30 books read out of 36 with 6 Bingo lines.

Silver Age:  18 books read out of 36. No Bingo lines so far.  Exactly halfway done.
 Posted by at 3:32 pm


 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