|Harry Clarke Illustration|
Perhaps British author, critic and man-about-town Mike Ripley needs to check his calendar. Although we are still in January, he has just published his February column for the Shots Crime & Thriller eZine, "Getting Away with Murder." As always, it's a good look at the state of crime fiction in the U. K. (primarily).
In this month's edition, Mike is off on his usual round of publishers' parties, drinks, new books, drinks, new publications, new/vintage Penguin Book covers (take heart, Green Penguin fans!), old mystery movies, a French police drama series on TV, and drinks. Also: a former US basketball star's first mystery for adults, starring Sherlock Holmes's older brother Mycroft; Sarah Weinman's new blog, including her critique of some narrators of new "domestic suspense" novels who appear to be "TSTL" (Too Stupid To Live); a couple of James Bond, er, "continuation novels"; a forthcoming mystery convention in Italy sponsored by Chianti producers (yes, please); and some chatty previews of books coming down the road - at least, so far, in the U.K. Go read, go enjoy. By the way, this is his 99th column - and he insists the next one, number 100, will be his last...
There's even been some great coverage for the play in the press with the Daily Record, Evening Times, Scots Mag, Ayrshire Post, Highland Times, Rutherglen Reformer and many more running very nice stories.
There's more to come, so will post those when they appear, but in the meantime to keep you informed, and amused, there's a Pinterest page and a video trailer.
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Why novelist David Markson put a bullet in the head of his excellent but truncated (just two books) Harry Fannin detective series in order to write experimental fiction is a mystery and, as a hipper-than-thou character might say in one of these novels--which you really need to read--a real drag. May Markson (1927-2010) rest in peace, and may his vaunted later literary work be appreciated and remain available forever; however, he had a talent for the detective genre which he laid to rest way before its time, leaving an appreciative audience hanging. His skill at observing and endowing the dull with sparkle is equal to Raymond Chandler’s. His plots are intriguing enough to hold interest, but not so convoluted as to send the reader off chasing his or her tail--something the great Chandler admitted to doing, though he seemed helpless to stop himself. Epitaph for a Dead Beat (1961) is a well-plotted private-eye novel, a sharp parody of the Beat Generation, and the last in Markson’s series. Somewhere I just know there is a coffeehouse where detective-story aficionados are snapping their fingers in pleasure that both of these novels (Epitaph for a Dead Beat and 1959 predecessor, Epitaph for a Tramp) are still in print.
Wry and brainy and much-wounded, the underemployed narrator, Harry Fannin, is a regular guy. He drives a Chevy and lives on the outskirts of the hippest neighborhood around, New York City’s Greenwich Village. Fannin sticks out like a sore thumb, making him the nonconformist, but no one is able to put down their copy of Howl long enough to see it. The beatniks are insecure, insular, and insolent, as one confronts Fannin hissing, “I might have known you’d be a square. The complacent, scoffing masses--dear God, a religious revelation could appear on their television screens and they’d phone for the repairman.” Although the neighborhood teems with artists and posers, literary types real and affected, Fannin is the most literate character in this novel. He tosses off allusions, wordplay, and insight--making it new, as Ezra Pound admonished, in a manner in which few of this book’s actors do, so stiff is the adherence of those humorless hipsters to the draconian code of serious art which, in their minds at least, separates the doers from the schmoozers, and which saps the joy from the act of creating.
As this murder mystery and missing-person tale begins, Fannin wanders into a Village bar, “a bleak, untinseled cavern as long as a throw from first to second base.” There, flailing poet Ephraim Turk confronts and slaps femme fatale Fern Hoerner, after accusing her of corrupting his girlfriend, Josie Welch. With a “laugh like cashmere,” Fern knows how to turn on the femininity and is the obvious Miss Wonderly to Fannin’s Sam Spade. No pushover, she can hang with the men and turn the louche into lady as easily as changing her earrings.
She was drinking beer from a bottle, lifting her head and tilting her chair against the wall like a man might do. The way she did it would’ve made it acceptable at a DAR meeting.Fern is cool and possessed in the face of Turk’s aggressive haranguing, but Fannin sees the flint beneath her skin.
I looked back at the girl. Whatever it was, she wasn’t buying. She wasn’t even in the shop. She lifted the bottle deliberately, gazing at him the way she might gaze at a rain she knew she did not have to go out into.When Fannin acts chivalrously, escorting Fern home--only to find roommate Josie dead--the classic cat-and-mouse game of a P.I. trying to solve a case on the word of self-motivated corroborators, with the police on the other side trying to crack it, begins. As he wades into the affair, Fannin finds no real surprises, just confirmation that beatniks are not as beatific as they claim and that the dollar is still the holiest thing in town.
In time Fannin pieces together a solution to the crime. But there are plenty of pieces and players involved, including a dead novelist and a calculating ex-wife who’s taken possession of his groundbreaking manuscript to claim it as her own; two sisters who try blackmailing that ex-wife, only to have their efforts backfire with their deaths; and the sisters’ wealthy father, who dies merely because he unwittingly got in the way. The noirish sideshow of Fannin’s old college football teammate, who’s now a high-class pimp, makes for a diverting red herring, but above all else there is Fannin’s humanity and realism, revealed quietly and sometimes puckishly, as when he finds the second extorting sister dead. With no clues and a mounting body count, curiosity prompts him to consider opening the locket around her neck, but he stops, thinking “There would be a picture of Philo Vance inside, sticking his tongue at me. I looked at the knife instead.”
Markson has the types down pat, from the cop with “a face which had already seen everything twice, and had been bored the first time,” to the dippy beatniks who come off sounding like a couple of Borscht Belt veterans playing to a younger crowd in the Poconos.
Behind me two others were raving. “--Hitchhiked all the way? Well, man, I hope you read On the Road.--“Beneath the catch-the-crook hustle, P.I. novels can be either intense looks into human character or mirrors of their times. Epitaph for a Dead Beat is both. It’s a slap in the face of an artistic movement perverted into a pretentious social phenomenon. The hubris needed to take one step further into the shadows to see how much truth is hidden there is what makes gumshoes tick, and Harry Fannin possesses that with none of the heavy-handed moralizing of so many fictional P.I.s. That makes him all the more real, and all the more missed.
“Now how could I read when I’m on the road? I mean, I’ve got my duffle in one hand and I’m using the other to thumb with, so how could I read a book?”
READ MORE: “An Interview with David Markson,” by Joey Rubin (Bookslut); “David Markson, R.I.P.,” by Sarah Weinman (Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind).
dealing with mortality, the loss of longtime friends and the existential
traps everyday existence.
Why I write poetry by Tom Piccirilli
available exclusivey from crossroads press
The links can be found at IN REFERENCE TO MURDER (B.V. Lawson's site) right here.
Evan Lewis will be manning the helm next Friday, February 6th.
This summer, PulpFest 2015 will salute Ned Pines’ Standard Magazines, also known as Beacon Magazines, Best Books, Better Publications, Nedor Publishing, and others. It’s most widely known by its nickname, the “Thrilling Group,” bestowed upon it for its use of the word “Thrilling” in many of its titles.
One of the leading publishers of the pulp era, Pines began operations during the Roaring Twenties. In the early years of the Great Depression, he was asked by The American News Company to start a chain of pulp magazines that it would distribute for him. Hiring former literary agent and Frank A. Munsey employee, Leo Margulies, to be his managing editor, Pines launched THRILLING DETECTIVE, THRILLING ADVENTURES, and THRILLING LOVE in late 1931, each selling for a dime. Within two years, the line was expanding, first with THE PHANTOM DETECTIVE, and soon thereafter with THE LONE EAGLE, SKY FIGHTERS, THRILLING RANCH STORIES, and THRILLING WESTERN.
Between 1931 and 1958, Pines published more than seventy rough-paper magazines. His titles included ARMY-NAVY FLYING STORIES, BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, CAPTAIN FUTURE, DETECTIVE NOVELS MAGAZINE, EXCITING LOVE, EXCITING NAVY STORIES, FANTASTIC STORY QUARTERLY, FIVE SPORTS CLASSICS MAGAZINE, THE GHOST SUPER-DETECTIVE, GIANT WESTERN, G-MEN, HOPALONG CASSIDY’S WESTERN MAGAZINE, THE MASKED DETECTIVE, MASKED RIDER WESTERN, POPULAR BASEBALL, POPULAR DETECTIVE, POPULAR FOOTBALL, POPULAR ROMANCES, R.A.F. ACES, RANGE RIDERS, THE RIO KID WESTERN, RODEO ROMANCES, STARTLING STORIES, STRANGE STORIES, TEXAS RANGERS, THRILLING CONFESSIONS, THRILLING FOOTBALL STORIES, THRILLING MYSTERY, THRILLING WONDER STORIES, TOP DETECTIVE ANNUAL, TRIPLE WESTERN, and WEST. In 1939 Pines debuted a couple of comic book lines, publishing AMERICA’S BEST COMICS, THE BLACK TERROR, COO COO COMICS, EXCITING COMICS, THE FIGHTING YANK, HAPPY COMICS, NEW ROMANCES, REAL LIFE COMICS, SUPERMOUSE, THRILLING COMICS, and many other titles through 1956. Paperback books under the Popular Library banner were added to the mix in 1942. They were still being published in 1977 when the company was purchased by CBS.
Although many pulp collectors find much of the fiction published by the Thrilling line to be somewhat bland, average, or “run-of-the-mill,” they often find the cover art to be quite striking. So why are we celebrating Standard Magazines in 2015? The pulp line, after all, turns 84 this year. That’s hardly a sexy anniversary. However, many leading figures in the history of Pines Publishing have notable anniversaries in 2015: Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, THRILLING ADVENTURES writer and creator of the first comic book is 125; Tom Curry, western writer and creator of The Rio Kid, and Leo Margulies, managing editor of the “Thrilling Group,” are 115; Norman Daniels, who created the Black Bat and wrote many Phantom Detective, Candid Camera Kid, and Masked Detective stories, and Thrilling publisher Ned Pines are 110; and Mort Weisinger, editor of CAPTAIN FUTURE and other Thrilling magazines, as well as editor of the Superman books for DC Comics, and Leigh Brackett and Henry Kuttner, both noted writers for Standard’s line of science-fiction pulps, are 100 years old. That’s eight reasons to make 2015 the year for Standard Magazines.
So here’s your chance to wish all these giants a “happy birthday” as PulpFest 2015 pays tribute to this leading pulp magazine publisher. The action begins on Thursday evening, August 13th and runs through Sunday, August 16th at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus, Ohio. Click here to learn how to register for “Summer’s Great Pulp Con” and join your friends at the “pop culture center of the universe” for a salute to Ned Pines and the “Thrilling Group!”
(To learn more about Ned Pines and Standard Magazines, pick up a copy of THRILLING DETECTIVE HEROES, edited by John Locke & John Wooley, published by Adventure House, one of the leading purveyors of pulps and pulp reprints. It’s available for $20.)
(Pictured above are the first issue of THRILLING DETECTIVE, dated November 1931 and featuring artwork by an unknown cover artist; the first issue of THRILLING COMICS, dated February 1940 and featuring cover artwork by Alexander Kostuk; and the first issue of DC Comics ACTION COMICS, dated June 1938, and featuring cover artwork by Joe Shuster and the initial appearance of Superman.)