Dec 252014
 

The Film Noir of Robert Wise 

by Jake Hinkson


FROM THE CRIMINAL ELEMENT









By most measurements, Robert Wise didn’t just succeed as a director—Robert Wise crushed it. He made West Side Story, which, if you adjust for inflation, made about half a billion dollars at the American box office. Then he made The Sound of Music. 2015 will mark the 50 year anniversary of that movie and many articles will doubtless come out to remind us just how gigantic that film was. Adjusted for inflation, it is still the third biggest movie of all time, behind only Gone With The Wind and Star Wars. Like those two films, it wasn’t just a blockbuster, it was a phenomenon. (Read Mark Harris’s wonderful book Pictures At The Revolution, which details how Hollywood basically bankrupted itself trying to duplicate the otherworldly success of The Sound of Music.) Wise walked away from 1965 with armloads of money and awards.
Afterwards, however, he floundered. He followed his monster success with movies that often felt bloated, self-important, and empty. Today, he’s more of a footnote than a legend. His stylistic impact on generations of subsequent filmmakers has been negligible, and there are few academic studies of his work. The Sound of Music has become a beloved classic sure, but it’s not remembered as Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music. It’s remembered as Rogers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music.
What all of this obscures, however, is that Robert Wise was a great director.
Not good. Not workmanlike. Not professional.
Great.
I base this opinion not on his blockbusters or his failed attempts at blockbusters. Like so many great directors, Wise did his best work in film noir. Let’s look at three films he made between 1947 and 1959: Born To Kill,The Set-Up, and Odds Against Tomorrow.

Born To Kill
I’m genuinely amazed that Born to Kill was made in 1947. When it was released, it was derided for being amoral, debased, and disgusting. What’s upsetting about the film—and what would certainly disqualify it from being made by a major studio today—isn’t its sexual innuendo or bursts of violence. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been surpassed a hundredfold by network television. No, what’s still taboo about this film is the way it focuses on the machinations of a truly gruesome set of characters, headed up by a romantic duo straight out of hell.
Helen Brent (Claire Trevor) discovers that her friend Laurie has been murdered. Instead of calling the cops, Helen flees the scene and catches the first train back home to San Francisco. On the train, she meets a handsome man named Sam Wilde. She’s seen Sam before. He is Laurie’s murderer. Here again, though, the movie surprises us. This isn’t a story about an innocent woman who meets a psycho. It’s about soul mates without souls. Love at first sight, you might say, if either of them could feel love.
Wise is a tough director to pin down. He was an expert craftsman, but he didn’t have a consistent style in the way that someone like Robert Siodmakdid. There’s no such thing as a distinctly Wisean shot. Still, the success ofBorn to Kill owes a lot to Wise’s sense of pace and drama (the first ten minutes of the film are thrilling in their economy and intelligence). It also owes a huge debt to the performances Wise gets from his actors. Lawrence Tierney was the meanest son of a bitch in noir; menace seemed to glint off him like light off a pair of brass knuckles. And holding the whole thing together is the remarkable turn by Claire Trevor. One of the great women of noir, here Trevor issues her definitive take on the femme fatale.

The Set-Up
If you were going to introduce a friend to film noir, a good place to start would be Wise’s 72 minute masterpiece The Set-Up. There aren’t many perfect movies in the noir canon—hell, there aren’t many perfect movies, period—but this is one of them.
It stars Robert Ryan as Stoker Thompson, a past-his-prime boxer battling a younger fighter named Tiger Nelson (Hal Baylor). What Thompson doesn’t know is that his manager and his trainer (George Tobias and Percy Helton) have cut a deal with a local gangster for Thompson to throw the fight. They don’t let Thompson in on the arrangement —why split the fifty bucks?—because they figure he’s so over the hill, he’ll lose anyway. But then Thompson begins to rally against the younger fighter, unknowingly digging himself into a deep hole with the gangster and his thugs.
Wise, always a good director of action, here outdoes himself. In fact, working with Robert Ryan and Hal Baylor (both of whom were real boxers: Ryan held a college championship, and Baylor held the California Heavyweight Championship), Wise creates probably the best extended fight sequence in classic film. The fight occupies the center of the film both chronologically and thematically. Stoker Thompson is struggling to beat the younger fighter, but he is also struggling to overcome his own depleted sense of self-esteem. Since we know things Thompson doesn’t know, the fight takes on added layers of suspense. As Thompson begins to turn the tide of the fight, his manager and trainer begin to sweat, and so do we.
The Set-Up is based on a narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March. As scripted by Art Cohn, the entire film is an exquisitely constructed metaphor. Dramatically, it is freshly layered with almost every new scene.No one wants Thompson to win the fight. His wife begs him to quit. The gangster seethes. Even the guys who are literally in his corner want him to lose. He is alone in the ring, in a fight that matters to no one. It is a brilliant masterstroke to make us root for Thompson on one level and then on another level to make us hope, for his own good, that he’ll lose. Even we—the audience—aren’t completely in his corner. How existential is that?
Wise was a perfect director for this material. Many of his shots are long, floating compositions, nailing down the details of plot and character development while taking in multiple threads of the milieu surrounding them. You’ll remember The Set-Up as lean and mean, but notice how many little stories Wise manages to work in. His boxing spectators aren’t just a faceless, jeering mob. To take just one wonderful small story: there’s a nameless woman who accompanies her husband and friends to the fight under protest. She hates the fights, she says. We find out why as we gradually see her thaw out during the fight. By the end, she’s a bloodthirsty screamer, and we realize the reason she hates the fights is because some deep, ugly part of her craves the violence.
Everyone is excellent here, but the movie belongs to Robert Ryan. In the scenes with his wife (noir goddess Audrey Totter) he’s fragile and almost boyish in his simplicity. In the fight, he’s always believable. And when the fight is finished, and his body is battered, and he must somehow summon one last bit of strength to survive the gangster’s wrath, Ryan achieves something rare for the genre’s antiheroes: a tragic nobility.

Odds Against Tomorrow
Odds Against Tomorrow stars Harry Belafonte as Johnny Ingram, a nightclub singer with a gambling problem. To pay off his debts, Ingram agrees to rob a bank with an old ex-cop named Dave Burke (Ed Begley). Dave also enlists a third man for the job, a racist hood by the name of Earle Slater (Robert Ryan). Earle doesn’t like Johnny because he’s black; Johnny doesn’t like Earle because he’s a bigot. It’s pretty much all Dave can do to keep these two from killing each other before they knock over the bank.
Most American films about race from the fifties and sixties are pretty bad. They have a certain stiffness, a do-gooder liberal atmosphere which is mostly geared toward glorifying the enlightenment of white characters. Perhaps these films served a purpose in their time, but they make for bad entertainment and worse art. (One could say the same thing, one suspects, about recent Hollywood movies about race…)
Odds Against Tomorrow is an extremely rare exception to this case. The movie was produced by Belafonte through his production company, but he demands none of the “noble black hero” treatment that marred much of Sidney Poitier’s work from the same era. Instead, Johnny Ingram is a perfect film noir protagonist. He’s likable and relatable, but he’s deeply flawed. His flaws will be his undoing. Belafonte’s charismatic in the role, giving Johnny a quick, shallow charm that meshes nicely with Robert Ryan’s fiery, bigoted Earle. Ryan was a natural choice for this role, of course, given both his real world interest in the civil rights movement and his established screen persona as film noir’s King of the Nutjobs. He makes Earle a tower of seething resentment and rage.
The film was written by the blacklisted Abraham Polonsky, and it bears all of his usual intelligence and subtly. What is unique about Odds Against Tomorrow as a “race drama” is that the characters are allowed to have individual psychoses which have nothing to do with race. Johnny is a womanizing gambler who still loves his ex-wife but resents her for disapproving of his lifestyle. Earle is emotionally knotted up. He’s a married man who has a brief affair with his next door neighbor (Gloria Grahame in an exceptional, touching performance) almost out of sheer ennui. The conflict between the two men is an outgrowth of both their characters, not a plot point.
All of this is handled with Wise’s usual skill and efficiency. He never beats a point too hard, never goes for a preachy moment. He keeps things moving at a quick pace, but lets characters unfold naturally at the same time. For example, Ryan’s seduction of Graham has the pressure of a suspense scene, while the bank robbery is tense because of the evolving relationship of the characters.
Wise made other interesting noirs, but Born To KillThe Set-Up, and Odds Against Tomorrow are an excellent place to begin reassessing his work.

Dec 252014
 


Actually, whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, those of us at The Rap Sheet wish you the very merriest holiday season! The memorably dark-themed magazine cover embedded above, from the December 22-29, 1997, edition of The New Yorker, was illustrated by Northern California artist Owen Smith, whose work we’ve showcased at least one time before on this page.

(Hat tip to Pulp International.)
Dec 252014
 
Girls With Guns Holiday Edition

Day #5

Presenting 
A Corpse For Christmas by Henry Kane


Printing History
Written by Henry Kane

Dell
#735
1953

 Posted by at 8:30 am

Ed Gorman's blog 2014-12-25 02:48:00

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Dec 252014
 



Happy Holidays Everybody!


Peter Dragovich writes an interesting article about the late director John Flynn in the new Crimespot. He cites The Outfit and Rolling Thunder as Flynn's best pictures (there's a third with Steven Segal).

I believe that Don Westlake said that The Outfit's characterization of Parker (here called Macklin) is the closest to the novel Parker. Robert Duvall is excellent. You buy him as a tough amoral guy because he doesn't play him as a tough amoral guy. He's just going about his business. I dubbed this off on tape years ago and I still watch it two or three times a year. Karen Black is sexy and sad; Robert Ryan lends his usual melancholy to the action film; Joe Don Baker is in his prime here and particularly strong--and as if he he wants to salute the crime film in general Flynn uses many familiar actors for some of the smaller roles, among them Jane Greer, Richard Jaeckel, Sheree North, Marie Windsor and even Elisha Cook, Jr. Duvall's intelligence and mystery carries the film. Flynn' direction is absolutely on the money. This should have been on tape and/or DVD years ago.

The second picture is Rolling Thunder which I've always considered one of Paul Schrader's finest scripts. This is one of those films you don't watch--you inhabit it, sometimes against your will. The star is William Devane . He plays a returning Viet Nam vet with only one thing on his mind, revenge. This and most of Karl Reisiz's Who'll Stop The Rain are the two best films I've ever seen about the era of Viet Nam played out on the American streets. The rage, the dislocation, the sucker's game fate of so many of the characters, Schrader and Flynn really give us the bleeding wound of that time. An amazing, disturbing movie.

My choice for Flynn's third best would be Best Seller, a starring vehicle for both James Woods and Brian Dennehy. Woods plays a hit man who wants to get back at an old enemy. To do it he needs the help of widower Dennehy who wrote a bestselling book about a murder investigation he was involved in as a detective. Unfortunately he's stalled on a second book and running out of the funds he needs to support his teenaged daughter and himself. Dennehy loathes Wood and doesn't trust him when he says that he knows who killed Dennehy's old police partner. He also claims that this will give Dennehy the biggest best seller he can imagine--killer and scandal are one and the same. There is a particularly moving and very strange scene where Woods takes Dennehy back go the small town where he grew up. Larry Cohen's script is excellent and Flynn's direction is flawless.

Rolling Thunder and Best Seller are easy and inexpensive to come by. Just light a lot of votive candles and pray that someday somebody will put The Outfit on DVD,

Here's an excellent overview of Flynn's career:
http://www.moviefanfare.com/john-flynn-movie-director/




A Christmas Memory

 christmas  Comments Off
Dec 252014
 
When I was a kid, I was, to put it mildly, a handful. As my father, may his truly generous soul rest in peace, once said, "Well, you never let things get too boring when you were a kid." I remember an evening one Christmas season when I was six or seven years old when my sister and her boyfriend were about to go somewhere and I wanted to go along, but I couldn't go with them for some reason. (

REMEMBERING JOHN FLYNN

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Dec 242014
 


John Flynn directed Robert Duvall in The Outfit












Happy Holidays Everybody!


Peter Dragovich writes an interesting article about the late director John Flynn in the new Crimespot. He cites The Outfit and Rolling Thunder as Flynn's best pictures (there's a third with Steven Segal).

I believe that Don Westlake said that The Outfit's characterization of Parker (here called Macklin) is the closest to the novel Parker. Robert Duvall is excellent. You buy him as a tough amoral guy because he doesn't play him as a tough amoral guy. He's just going about his business. I dubbed this off on tape years ago and I still watch it two or three times a year. Karen Black is sexy and sad; Robert Ryan lends his usual melancholy to the action film; Joe Don Baker is in his prime here and particularly strong--and as if he he wants to salute the crime film in general Flynn uses many familiar actors for some of the smaller roles, among them Jane Greer, Richard Jaeckel, Sheree North, Marie Windsor and even Elisha Cook, Jr. Duvall's intelligence and mystery carries the film. Flynn' direction is absolutely on the money. This should have been on tape and/or DVD years ago.

The second picture is Rolling Thunder which I've always considered one of Paul Schrader's finest scripts. This is one of those films you don't watch--you inhabit it, sometimes against your will. The star is William Devane . He plays a returning Viet Nam vet with only one thing on his mind, revenge. This and most of Karl Reisiz's Who'll Stop The Rain are the two best films I've ever seen about the era of Viet Nam played out on the American streets. The rage, the dislocation, the sucker's game fate of so many of the characters, Schrader and Flynn really give us the bleeding wound of that time. An amazing, disturbing movie.

My choice for Flynn's third best would be Best Seller, a starring vehicle for both James Woods and Brian Dennehy. Woods plays a hit man who wants to get back at an old enemy. To do it he needs the help of widower Dennehy who wrote a bestselling book about a murder investigation he was involved in as a detective. Unfortunately he's stalled on a second book and running out of the funds he needs to support his teenaged daughter and himself. Dennehy loathes Wood and doesn't trust him when he says that he knows who killed Dennehy's old police partner. He also claims that this will give Dennehy the biggest best seller he can imagine--killer and scandal are one and the same. There is a particularly moving and very strange scene where Woods takes Dennehy back go the small town where he grew up. Larry Cohen's script is excellent and Flynn's direction is flawless.

Rolling Thunder and Best Seller are easy and inexpensive to come by. Just light a lot of votive candles and pray that someday somebody will put The Outfit on DVD,

Here's an excellent overview of Flynn's career:
http://www.moviefanfare.com/john-flynn-movie-director/

MONDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2010


First Chapters - Kiss Me Deadly

I know people collect first lines but how about first chapters? I thought about this as I dug through a box of old paperbacks the other day. There among the various novels was Kiss Me, Deadly by Mickey Spillane. A battered first edition of the Signet paperback of 1953. Al Collins was kind enough to give me a hardcover copy of it twenty-some years ago. It's on my keeper shelf.

For me this is one of the most amazing first chapters I've ever read. Night, fog, a beautiful woman hitch hiking and nearly getting Hammer and herself killed by standing in the middle of a narrow mountain pass where he's forced to slam on the brakes. We soon learn that she's naked under a trench coat. We also learn from her behavior that somewhere back there a car is following her. There is a road block at which we hear that the woman has escaped from an asylum. In order to win Hammer's favor, the woman places his hand between her legs as Hammer talks to the cop. A few miles later the car descends on them. Hammer and the woman are dragged unconscious to a location where the woman, because she won't reveal certain information, is brutally murdered.

I think I read this in 1954 and it was the first time I became (dimly) aware of narrative drive. I wasn't old enough to understand all the innuendos but my God the action alone was enough. Spillane was always a master of mood (try the opening chapter of One Lonely Night) and he was never better than in Kiss Me, Deadly. (The movie is one of the great true noirs; Ralph Meeker is sneeringly masterful.)

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2010


Bomb To Bust Bad Movies



Since I'm a fan of Nathan Rabin's work for The Onion I'm looking forward to buying his new book My Year Of Flops despite a somewhat tepid review in the NY Times this morning. I'm giving you a few hundred words of the review here plus my favorite photo of John Wayne. As I've mentioned before, even as a kid I didn't like Wayne. He always seemed fake to me, more blowhard than Real Man. Like a few of my neighbors.

From Bomb to Bust
By STEPHANIE ZACHAREK
Published: October 22, 2010

There’s been lots of ink and oceans of pixels spilled on the question of whether the Internet has killed film criticism, but the very short answer is that serious (if unpaid) criticism has thrived on the Web. The problem is that it’s all too serious: you don’t have to strain your Google finger to find a knowledgeable enthusiast expending 8,000 words on Ozu or Leone. Locating someone who can write succinctly and intelligently on, say, the 1985 Christmasploitation extravaganza “Santa Claus: The Movie” is much harder.
Enlarge This Image

Everett Collection
John Wayne as Genghis Khan in “The Conqueror.”
MY YEAR OF FLOPS
The A.V. Club Presents One Man’s Journey Deep Into the Heart of Cinematic Failure
By Nathan Rabin
264 pp. Scribner. Paper, $15
Related

Intentionally or not, that’s a gap that Nathan Rabin, the head writer for The Onion’s A.V. Club, filled by embarking on a yearlong blog project in 2007, the results of which — rounded out with a few extras — are collected in “My Year of Flops.” Rabin applied what he terms “three ­unyielding/slippery criteria” in choosing the films: Each had to be a critical and commercial failure upon its release. Each “had to have, at best, a marginal cult following.” “And,” he adds, gearing up for the zinger, each “had to facilitate an endless procession of facile observations and labored one-liners.”

“My Year of Flops” covers some 50 underappreciated pictures; every troubled orphan is assessed and deemed a Failure, a Fiasco or a Secret Success. Rabin scrutinizes stinker after stinker, from the 1956 Howard Hughes-produced anti-miscegenation screed “The Conqueror” (he refers to its central figure, played by John Wayne, as John Wayneghis Khan), to the dismal 2005 film version of “Rent” (which he describes, aptly, as starring “fake 20-somethings playing fake bohemians in a wholly inauthentic take on la vie bohème”), to Cameron Crowe’s woebegone 2005 “Elizabethtown” (which confounded Rabin so much he wrote about it twice).

for the rest go here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/24/books/review/Zacharek-t.html

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2010


Hollywood's Hypocrisy? Mel Gibson is Fired

Ed here: This week actor Zach Galifianakis and other name actors on Hangover 2 insisted that Mel Gibson, who'd been scheduled to do a cameo in the picture, be fired. A number of journalists have noted that they seemed to have no problem with Gibson being in the film until somebody leaked the fact that he would be appearing. At least that's one theory. Now Gibson is one reprehensible son of a bitch. The joke is that we'll have to create new minority groups because we're running out of ones he can insult--Jews, blacks, Hispanics, Catholics and probably some others I can't think of at the moment.

But a number of Hwood columnists have turned not on Gibson but on Galifiansks and Cooper and Helm (the stars) for indulging in what the writers see as Hwood hypocrisy.


BY MATT ZOLLER SEITZ in Salon

If artists should be publicly censured and denied employment on the basis of offenses they commit in private life, how come Gibson is a pariah right now for threatening and hitting his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, while Alec Baldwin, who verbally abused his 11-year-old daughter on the phone, lashed out at a photographer, and has a long record of frightening behavior toward his ex-wife Kim Basinger, is currently one of the most beloved figures on network TV?

And while we're keeping score, how is it that Roman Polanski -- in theory a pariah after fleeing the United States to avoid prosecution on charges of drugging and raping a barely adolescent girl -- got a 2003 Oscar as Best Director (in absentia) and a standing ovation, while a 1999 honorary Oscar for director Elia Kazan was preceded by months of protest over Kazan being a rat for the House Un-American Activities Committee? One wonders, how many of the actors that made a big show of sitting on their hands when Kazan got his award applauded loudly for Polanski four years later? And does anyone doubt that if Polanski offered Galifianakis the lead role in his next film that the actor wouldn't happily accept? Or that if Tyson invited Galifianakis to his birthday party, that he'd show up with a bottle of Jagermeister, then re-enact the infamous punch-out from "The Hangover" while guests snapped pictures with their cell phones and posted them on Twitter?

Why is Lindsay Lohan, substance abuser and intoxicated driver, borderline-unemployable right now, but Kate Moss, a one-time cokehead blasted as a toxic role model for young women, still a sought-after model, appearing in a Valisere lingerie campaign and on the cover of Bryan Ferry's new album "Olympia"? And how is it that Charlie Sheen, who was accused of strangling his wife Brooke Mueller and holding a knife to her throat on Christmas Day, 2009, is still the star of the CBS sitcom "Two and a Half Men," and recently signed a new contract guaranteeing him two more years of employment? And if indeed a star's repugnant private life should affect the public's perception of him, why is Sheen's sitcom beating "Dancing with the Stars" in the ratings?

A bit of voice-over from the Vietnam epic "Apocalypse Now" applies here: "Charging a man with murder in this place is like giving out speeding tickets at the Indy 500."

for the entire article go here:
http://www.salon.com/entertainment/movies/mel_gibson/index.html?story=/ent/movies/film_salon/2010/10/22/mel_gibson_mike_tyson_hangover_2

--------------
Josh Dickey from The Wrap

Everything, that is, but the timing. UnlikeTom Cruise, who had laid low for awhile, this was way, way too soon.

Loath to be associated with Mel in any way, the cast and crew of “The Hangover,” inarguably the moment’s coolest kids in comedy, made a big fuss when he was invited to their table. The on-set tension got to be too much, so Robinov and Phillips bagged the idea.

Now, the next group of actors who find themselves in that position will have this to consider: Do they want the added shame of being the ones who accepted what Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms would not?

When Mel heard the news that he lost the gig over a cast revolt, he was “as gracious as a person can be in a situation like that,” a person close to the production told TheWrap.

But no amount of grace and image rehab can wash away the shame of being humiliated by the cool kids in front of everybody.

http://www.thewrap.com/movies/blog-post/hangover-cool-kids-just-killed-mel-gibsons-career-again-21932

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2010


Mysteryfile.com

Ed here: I ran this back in ought seven. Chuck Runyon has passed by now sad to say but my admiration for Steve Lewis' site is today even stronger. An invaluable history of the entire mystery-suspense genre with such heavyweights as Alan J. Hubin, David L. Vineyard and Francis M. Nevins among the many fine contributors. Not least Steve himself.

The care and feeding of yesterday

While there are many good sites dealing with current fiction, there are only a few that deal with the fiction of past times with any intelligence. Nostalgia is riveting for up to ninety seconds. Then you want much more.

Steve Lewis' Mysteryfile blog http://mysteryfile.com/blog/ is my favorite site for a serious look at the mystery fiction of the past century. Many well-known writers including Bill Pronzini have contributed fine articles about forgotten writers and forgotten books. Virtually every day Steve runs a new piece, often illustrated with book jackets, as he works his way toward the ultimate collection of mystery criticism.

Today he's running a long interview I did with Charles Runyon. Chuck was in the last wave of the Gold Medal suspense writers. For me he was the best of that group. As his interview attests, he's also led a life most of us probably view with a bit of envy and even more of a bit of shock. Thanks to Stark House, one of his best novels THE PRETTIEST GIRL I EVER KILLED will soon be back in print. With others, hopefully, to follow.

Steve recently reviewed an Edward S. Aarons Sam Durrell spy novel. Even though the book was published in 1956, Steve assesses it with the same zeal and insight he would a new novel. No gauzy nostalgia here.

And that's what makes his site so valuable to me. There are so many new books I want to read that I need some guidance into the past. You can waste a lot of time and money on old books that aren't worth reading. But with the Mysteryfile blog you usually get a hepful judgment on the book at hand.

And there's always the bonus that it's just a hell of a lot of fun to read and look at.

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2010


Forgotten Books: His Name Was Death by Fredric Brown

HIS NAME WAS DEATH by Fredric Brown



After the big war American lives were in flux. Millions trekked to the suburbs to begin an entirely new way of life. And many of the prohibitions that had been common before the war were now relaxed.

Kurt Vonnegut once remarked that the novels of John D. MacDonald charted the Fifties and early Sixties so well that students of sociology would be able to read them decades later and get a true feel for the era.

I feel the same thing is true of several of Fredric Brown’s novels, including His Name Was Death, a novel so cunningly crafted that Anthony Boucher in the New York Times said on publication, “You’ll be compelled to read through in one sitting to one of the very few endings that have genuinely surprised me in a long time.”

In addition to the stunning story there’s also Brown’s take on mid-Fifties. His mid-Fifties. While suburban mysteries came into fashion Brown frequently wrote about life in small cities, in this case a Midwestern burg where a series of murders has baffled police and terrified the citizenry. The city resembles aspects of Brown’s Milwaukee. The characters likely resemble the people he knew in his earlier life.

Fredric William Brown was born into the working class, educated in public schools and night school as well as a year at college. Brown spent nearly twelve years working as an office worker during the Depression. From there he became a proofreader at the Milwuakee Journal. Given his penchant for drinking and his fondness for bars, Brown certainly encountered the types—if not the actual people—he uses in His Name Was Death.

The prototype for Darius Conn, small-time businessman, might well have been one of Brown’s drinking buddies. Successful but not as much as he lets on; likes his nights out with the boys because frankly his marriage has gone stale; and talks a lot about the same kind of dreams heavy drinkers always talk about.

That’s the façade Conn presents anyway. In truth he murdered his wife over a year ago. The police accepted it as an accident. And his plan for becoming an important businessman is being financed by his turning his printing business into a forgery operation.

But then one afternoon the fetching Joyce Dugan, his trusted Girl Friday, talks to a man who stops in to see Conn so he can pick up some money Conn owes him. Dugan calls around and finally locates Conn who tells her, yes, use the desk fund to pay him. And then have a nice weekend. Well, turns out the desk fund doesn’t have enough so she opens the safe and takes the extra money from there. Not knowing of course that it’s counterfeit.

Brown was clearly one of those writers who enjoyed amusing himself. This story could have been told in a straight-forward fashion but it wouldn’t have near the power it does. Brown tells his tale from nine different points of view. And with a dark chuckle up his sleeve, he shows how each one of them meets his or her fate because of Joyce Dugan giving the man (an old high school boy friend, as it turns out; and a far more preferable mate than the bullying gambler she married) just a few counterfeit bills. A remarkable narrative structure that Brown used at lest twice again.

In true page-turner fashion, Brown sets up his story in an intricate set of inter-locking cliff hangers. His depictions of raw fear, terror, rage, betrayl are played off against moments of black humor and even sweet romance.

This is one of Brown’s true crowd-pleasers and should have been one of his biggest sellers. But Brown, who was often referred to as a “writer’s writer,” was never a big seller. I once talked to the man who’d been the sales manager of Bantam Books during the Fifties. His favorite writer bar none was Fred Brown. He said he did everything he could to break him out but it never happened.

So I go back to my thesis at the top. Brown did the realistic every day of the working class so well it may have limited his appeal. The time was dominated by private detectives and the romance of the mean streets. Brown’s streets were mean all right but they were filled with many of life’s losers, the kind of in-laws most of us dread having. Philip Marlowe was handsome, brave and witty. Brown’s good guys were sixty dollar a week salesmen whose ambition was to move out of their sleeping rooms into real apartments. Getting laid in a sleeping room ain’t easy.

But time has been kind to the best of Fredric Brown’s novels and stories. He has yet to develop the cult he deserves but at least his name and discussions of his work are appearing with more and more frequency on websites of film and noir.

This is one of the finest crime novels of the Fifties, a decade rich with many true masterpieces.

--Ed Gorman

News about Hard Case Crime



From Charles Ardai:

We've got some big news to announce today: After a year's hiatus, Hard Case Crime will be returning to bookstores with new titles in 2011, thanks to a deal we just signed with UK-based Titan Publishing.

Titan is a publisher both of fiction and of gorgeous art books focusing on pop culture such as movie poster art, pin-ups, newspaper comic strips, and Golden Age comic books, and has worked with filmmakers such as J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, and George Lucas. Titan has been around for 30 years, has more than 200 employees, and in addition to publishing books also has a magazine division, a retail division (Titan owns the famous Forbidden Planet bookstore in London, and until recently co-owned the Murder One mystery bookstore with Maxim Jakubowski), and a merchandise division that produces items such as t-shirts, sculptures, and accessories. We look forward to exploring ways we might develop some cool Hard Case Crime products with them!

But first things first: books.

Hard Case Crime will relaunch in September/October 2011 with four new books, including CHOKE HOLD by Christa Faust (sequel to her Edgar Award-nominated MONEY SHOT), QUARRY'S EX by Max Allan Collins (the latest in the popular series of hit man novels by the author of "Road to Perdition"), and two never-before-published novels by MWA Grand Masters (names to be announced shortly).

Additionally, Titan Publishing plans to acquire all existing stock of Hard Case Crime's backlist from Dorchester Publishing and to resume shipping these titles to booksellers immediately.

New books will be published in paperback (possibly some in hardcover as well!); ebook editions will also be released across multiple platforms. Titan is distributed in the U.S. and Canada by Random House.

We're very excited about working with Titan (indeed, we had offers from five publishers and chose Titan over several that were much larger and better-known) -- they love pulp fiction as much as we do and appreciate that in books like ours the visual dimension is just as important as the storytelling. It's hard to imagine a better home for Hard Case Crime.

If you'd like more info about any of the above, feel free to drop me a note (you can also take a look at the attached press release we'll be putting out shortly). Feel free to grab copies of any of our cover art from our Web site (www.hardcasecrime.com) if you'd like to run something about the news; if you need high-res versions, let me know.

Many thanks in advance for helping us to get the word out that Hard Case Crime is coming back!

Best,
Charles

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2010


Harry Whittingyon

Ed here: I saw two short pieces on Harry Whittington so I thought I'd reprint my own from 2006 when Stark House published a Harry two-fer.

------
Back in the 1950s you could run but you couldn’t hide from Harry Whittington. Those were the days when many if not most paperbacks were sold in wire racks found in drug stores, grocery stores and what were then called dime stores.

Harry told me that he’d once seen five books of his displayed on the same rack, all published that month. He worked for everybody, from Gold Medal all the way down to Carnival. He did westerns, nurse romances, tie-ins, war stories and of course crime novels. The last was his true calling. There there was no sub-genre of suspense/mystery he didn’t like. Or apply himself to.

I mention Harry because Stark House Publishing has just published two of his best in a single attractive volume, A Night for Screaming and Any Woman He Wanted. I should also mention here that I’m a free-lance editor for Stark House, though I’d be reviewing this two-fer with the same enthusiasm even if I weren’t.

Harry’s world was not one of ratiocination. There wasn’t time for that. Most of his white working class protagonists were on the run from cosmic forces that would have given Lovecraft pause. In Night, for instance, the villain is so oppressive you seriously begin to wonder if the protagonist will survive. Seriously. The setting is one of those labor camps where drifters and small-time cons are forced to toil for the local politicians who make money on them. There are two scenes that literally made me wince. Harry knew the Deep South all too well.

Any Woman is a working class nightmare of a different kind. A once crooked cop stumbles on to a situation even he doesn’t want to cover up and joins his former enemy the DA in trying to right it. But the DA dies mysteriously and the cop is forced to go after the mob that runs the town by himself. Although this is a familiar 50s theme (the crooked town), Harry throws in a complication that makes the story personal and harsh. Harry always said that he knew how to do two things – plot and create characters. And this book proves that wasn’t any empty boast.

Here’s the Stark House website: http://www.starkhousepress.com. Publisher Greg Shepard is bringing back the favorites of the 50s including Malcolm Braly, Gil Brewer, Stephen Marlowe, Day Keene, Vin Packer, Doug Sanderson and now Harry Whittington. He needs your support and I feel he deserves it, which is why I’m lending a hand. As I mentioned on my blog the other day, I recently paid $15 for a paperback from ABE. Well, I just got it today. It’s yellowed and the spine cracked when I opened it. Stark House sells two-fers (two books per volume) in handsome, sturdy editions for $19.95 that will last much longer than most pbs. I have no financial stake in this, I merely want to see the line thrive. Check out the website.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2010


Gee I sure have been waiting a long time for a reply...

Thanks to Todd Mason for sending me this and thanks to Barry Malzberg (a fine fine writer and author of one of the the truly GREAT novels about being a writer, Herovit's World) for letting me use it here. Donald Wollheim was one was one of the most important editors of science fiction in the history of the genre. He edited Ace Books for years then started his own publishing company DAW Books.

Martin Morse Wooster reports on FictionMags:

The October 13 MONTGOMERY (County, Maryland) GAZETTE has a profile of sometimes
fantasist Alice McDermott which reveals that the pay rate for reading
"unsolicited short stories" at REDBOOK in 1979 was 60 cents per short story.

Barry Malzberg adds:

Which post reminds me that the always cheery Donald Wollheim recalled for
me in 1968 COSMOPOLITAN fiction department attitude toward the slushpile.
Editor greeted an ex-Ace employee (an acquaintance of Don's) on her first
day of slushpile duty with these instructions: "You can do anything you want
with these. Read, reject, write letters on revision, write letters of
comment, have a little bonfire off the premises...just make sure that I
never see any of them for any reason, ever."

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2010


Shamus Winners (Lifted from The Rap Sheet)

Ed here: Congratulations to everybody, winners and nominess alike.

Best Hardcover P.I. Novel: Locked In, by Marcia Muller (Grand Central)

Also nominated: The Silent Hour, by Michael Koryta (Minotaur); Where the Dead Lay, by David Levien (Doubleday); Schemers, by Bill Pronzini (Forge); My Soul to Take, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (William Morrow)

Best First P.I. Novel: Faces of the Gone, by Brad Parks (Minotaur)

Also nominated: Loser’s Town, by Daniel Depp (Simon & Schuster); The Last Gig, by Norman Green (Minotaur); The Good Son, by Russel D. McLean (Minotaur); Chinatown Angel, by A.E. Roman (Minotaur)

Best Paperback Original P.I. Novel: Sinner’s Ball, by Ira Berkowitz (Three Rivers Press)

Also nominated: Dark Side of the Morgue, by Raymond Benson (Leisure); Red Blooded Murder, by Laura Caldwell (Mira); Vengeance Road, by Rick Mofina (Mira); Body Blows, by Marc Strange (Dundurn)

Best P.I. Short Story: “Julius Katz,” by Dave Zeltserman (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, September/October 2009)

Also nominated: “The Dark Island,” by Brendan DuBois (from Boston Noir, edited by Dennis Lehane; Akashic); “Deadline Edition,” by S.L. Franklin (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, April 2009); “Blazin’ on Broadway,” by Gary Phillips (from Phoenix Noir, edited by Patrick Millikin; Akashic); “Suicide Bonds,” by Tim L. Williams (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March/April 2009)

Lifetime Achievement Award: Robert Crais

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2010


Keith Richards writes the book Keith Richards WOULD write

Richards: Mick Jagger was "unbearable"



Reuters – Rolling Stones Mick Jagger smiles on stage upon the screening of their film 'Shine A Light' during …

– Fri Oct 15, 11:04 am ET

LONDON (Reuters) – Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards says in his new autobiography that Mick Jagger became unbearable over the years and reveals he also calls the imperious lead singer "Your Majesty" and "Brenda."

The memoir is peppered with references to other celebrities -- from Johnny Depp to John Lennon -- but it is the prickly dynamic between Richards and Jagger that dominates the 527-page book, which is to be serialized in The Times newspaper.
Richards, 66, who met Jagger at the age of four, says he has not stepped foot in Jagger's dressing room in 20 years.

"It was the beginning of the Eighties when Mick started to become unbearable," Richards writes in the memoir, "Life," which brought him an advance of 4.8 million pounds ($7.7 million) after a massive bidding war among publishers.
Richards and Jagger were two of the Stones' founding members in 1962 and wrote its hit songs, leading the group to sales of more than 200 million albums worldwide.

"Sometimes I think: 'I miss my friend,'" Richards writes. "I wonder: 'where did he go?'"

But Richards told the Times that his bandmate had read the book and wanted to take out only one thing -- a reference to Jagger using a voice coach.

Richards refused, saying: "I'm trying to say the truth here."
He added about Jagger: "We've had our beefs but, hey, who doesn't? You try and keep something together for 50 years," adding the band was considering going on tour again.

"I think it's going to happen. I've had a chat with ... Her Majesty. Brenda."

The band's last tour ended in August 2007, sparking the customary speculation that there would be no more.

for the rest go here:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20101015/people_nm/us_books_richards_3

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2010


Forgotten Books: Golden Blood by Jack Williamson





For Forgotten Books this week James Reasoner discussed some of Gardener Fox's sword and sorcery-science fiction work. As much as I liked Fox's comic book work (he was my favorite DC writer from the late Forties through the early Sixties) I never quite took to most of his novels.

But mention of him made me pick up one of my all-time favorite adventure novels, GOLDEN BLOOD by Jack Williamson. I'm now about a hundred pages in and I'm enjoying it as much as I did in my early teen years. It's set in the Arabian desert right after World War One, features a fabled city that has been whispered about for longer than five centuries, and is protected by fanatics who must guard a selected few who may or may not be immortal. Williamson's descriptions of the desert and fights and pursuits across the sands at night are spectacular. And so are his people. I don't mean in any Chekovian way but for adventure fiction stereotypes they're memorable simply because each of the major players plans to double-cross all the others as soon as they find the fabled city of gold. Williamson brings everything alive; everything.

I'm enjoying this in a way I haven't enjoyed simple pure storytelling in a long time. For those who like adventure, I'm sure you can find an inexpensive copy on line. Lancer did two editions of it in the Sixties, one for sixty cents and one for seventy five. Williams was always one of my favorite sf-horror writers. Darker Than You Think still ranks in my top ten werewolf novels of all time. This was pure pulp at its best.

The book was originally a two-part Weird Tales serial in 1933. The famous John Allen St. John did both the covers and the interior illustrations.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2010


DARK CITY UNDERGROUND REVIEWS STRANGLEHOLD



DARK CITY UNDERGROUND

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2010

STRANGLEHOLD by Ed Gorman

Dev Conrad—the cynical yet hopeful political consultant from Ed Gorman’s 2008 novel Sleeping Dogs—returns in Gorman’s latest novel Stranglehold. Conrad is a Chicago-based political consultant who has one serious flaw; he has a conscience. He plays to win, but he has an antiquated sense of fairness. A trait that isn’t in high demand in American politics.

Susan Cooper is an ideal candidate—she is attractive, intelligent, well spoken and personable—but as the election nears she becomes erratic and secretive. Dev Conrad is called in as a trouble-shooter to find out the problem and put a leash on the candidate. It’s not a quick fix however—Cooper is unmoved in her strange behavior and the clues Conrad finds lead him both to and away from his target.

Stranglehold is everything a mystery should be: dark, witty, plot driven, but populated by characters that matter, and it is never generic. Gorman takes a standard plot—murder, blackmail, lust—and breaths new life into it with twists that surprise the reader and invigorate the story. It is a murder mystery, but its cock-eyed slant tracks the story into unexpected territory.

The opening line reads: “All roads lead to motels.” A standard theme in detective fiction—the seedy motel where unspeakable madness occurs—but Gorman uses it as a kind of foil. Not a trick by any standard, but he turns the trope against itself as well as the reader.

Ed Gorman is the most reliable writer of suspense currently working. His plots—see above—are always clever and tight, his prose is smooth and hard at once, his narrative his steady and his dialogue is crystal. But his real power is with the people that populate his stories. His work has a dark cynicism about it, but that cynicism is rarely projected onto his characters. There is hope in the behavior of his characters—they tend to be kind, solid, melancholy and very real (flawed). The hero is as flawed as the antagonist, but it is the flaws, and how the character manages them, that generate compassion and interest from the reader.

Stranglehold is different from the first Dev Conrad novel: Sleeping Dogs. It is darker. There is less humor, although there is plenty if you enjoy your humor dry and subtle. The differences between the two novels is interesting only on an intellectual level because both are entertaining. The bottom line is, Stranglehold is the real deal. It is another example of just how good Ed Gorman is at his craft. It is also a reminder of the injustice that his name isn’t on the same lists as Stephen King, Dean Koontz and the rest of the high quality bestsellers.
POSTED BY BEN BOULDEN AT 8:30 PM 0 COMMENTS

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2010


Forgotten Books: The Crimes of Jordan Wise, by Bill Pronzini.

Forgotten Books: The Crimes of Jordan Wise, by Bill Pronzini.

While this fine novel was published in 2006, I think it's appropriate here because while it got its due critically it deserved a much larger audience.

Actuary Jordan Wise tells a joke on himself a third of the way through the novel: (paraphrase) an actuary is somebody who doesn’t have the personality to be an accountant.

If you watch many true crime shows, you see a lot of Jordan Wises. People who fall into crime through circumstance rather than those who go looking for it.

Jordan becomes a criminal only after meeting Annalise, a troubled and very attractive young woman who needs two things badly – sex and money. But in order to get the sex on a regular basis, Jordan must first provide the money. He embezzles a half million dollars and flees with Annalise to the Virgin Islands. In this first part of the novel, there’s nice James M. Cainian detail about how Jordan comes alive for the first time in his life. Some of this is due, whether he admits it or not, to the danger of committing a serious crime. But most of it is due to Annalise and his profound sexual awakening.

The central section of the book reminds me of one of Maugham’s great South Seas tales – lust, betrayal, shame played out against vast natural beauty and a native society that, thanks to an old sea man named Bone, that Jordan comes to see value in – even if Annalise, her head filled with dreams of Paris and glamor, does not. Old Maugham got one thing right for sure – as Pronzini demonstrates here – a good share of humanity, wherever you find them, are both treacherous and more than slightly insane.

There are amazing sections of writing about sea craft and sailing that remind me not of old Travis McGee but of the profoundly more troubled and desperate men of Charles Williams who find purity and peace only in the great and epic truths of the sea. That they may be as crazed and treacherous as everybdy else does not seem to bother them unduly.

There are also amazing sections (almost diaristic sections) where Jordan tells of us his fears and desires, his failings and his dreams. In places he deals vididly, painfully with his secret terror of not being enough of a man in any sense to hold Annalise.

The publisher calls this a novel and so it is. Pronzini brings great original width and breadth to the telling of this dark adventure that is both physical and spiritual. He has never written a better novel, the prose here literary in the best sense, lucid and compelling, fit for both action and introspection.

You can’t read a page of this without seeing it in movie terms. The psychologically violent love story played out against a variety of contemporary settings gives the narrative great scope. And in Jordan Wise and Annalise he has created two timeless people. This story could have been set in ancient Egypt or Harlem in 1903 or an LA roller skating disco in 1981. As Faulkner said, neither the human heart nor the human dilemma ever changes.
posted by Ed Gorman @ 1:06 PM 0 comments links to this post

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2010


Interesting idea: Kindle "singles"

Amazon Apple books e-books iPad Jeff Bezos Kindle Kindle Singles Media
Amazon to Launch Story-Length 'Kindle Singles'
By Dylan Stableford
Published: October 12, 2010 @ 1:42 pm

Amazon announced on Tuesday the launch of “Kindle Singles,” e-books that bridge the gap between magazine features and novel-length works – and what the company hopes could do for book publishing what the $.99 “single" did for iTunes.

In its announcement, Amazon described the “singles” as “Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book.” The company said they will be between 10,000 and 30,000 words, or roughly 30-to-90 pages in length, and will be priced accordingly.

Amazon did not specify what that pricing would be, and the company did not immediately respond to a pair of requests seeking comment. Full-length e-books typically cost $9.99 in the Kindle Store.

“Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book,” Amazon said.

The company is calling on “serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Amazon in making such works available to readers around the world.” Amazon is asking “interested parties” to contact digital-publications@amazon.com

for the rest go here:
http://www.thewrap.com/media/column-post/amazon-launch-story-length-kindle-singles-21647

MONDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2010


Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lundvquist

I read a pretty compelling review of this novel so I thought I'd give it a try. I'm glad I did. This is the source for Swedish film of the same name that won all the awards at festivals. The film was remade here as Let Me In but was apparently not as good as the original and tanked.

The book is often compared to Stephen King's wildly enjoyable Salem's Lot which it definitely resembles. The difference is that King used all the colors to recreate his Maine town and its inhabitants. There is great humor and warmth in his vampire tale. Plus it scares the hell out of you.

Well, Let The Right One In scares the hell out of you but writer John Ajvide Lindqvist uses only different shades of gray (and black) for his tale. The setting is a small town in Sweden, one that is far down the economic scale. And that informs everything in the book. Twelve-year-old Oskar is the central character and largely through his eyes we see a series of serial killings so savage they'd make Hannibal Lechter blanch. Ultimately the killings touch on everybody in the small town, from the bullies who pick on Oskar constantly to the mother who overprotects him to the police detectives who are afraid to admit to themselves what is really going on.

This is a vampire novel without most of the usual vampire tropes. Lindqvist gives us a look at a cross-section of Swedish citizens who live lives of quiet desperation we hear so much about over here. But it is the strange girl Eli who fixes Oskar's attention and who teaches him to not just defend himself but to anticipate the bully attacks and make them afraid of him. The relationship of Oskar and Eli is pretty rendered and creates a vampire myth that should endure.

An amazing work of popular fiction. Now I'm on to his second novel.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2010


Vince Keenan interviews Ed Gorman




For the interview go here: (Thanks, Vince)

http://blog.vincekeenan.com/

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 09, 2010


Pick a Pair of Penzlers






Otto Penzler's editorial hand can be found on two important collections this fall. The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories by Otto Penzler and Keith Alan Deutsch is a massive anthology that is an ideal companion to his earlier The Big Book of Pulp Stories. The centerpiece has to be the version of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon as it was published in serial form in Black Mask.

But even given such names as Raymond Chandler, Erle Stanley Gardner and John D. MacDonald, the most interesting material comes from the writers who never quite broke out of the pulps. Writers such as Fredric Brown, Day Keene, William Campbell Gault, Lester Dent, Norbert Davis demonstrate not only how good Black Mask was but also how varied it was in subject matter and approach.

Another feature of this giant book is the artwork from the original publication. I don't have to say any more, do I?

The Best American Noir of The Century edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler starts in 1923 and comes all the way up to 2007. Cornell Woolrich, David Morrell, Jim Thompson, Ellroy himself number among the more prominent names but there are treats to be had from writers of every stripe. If you've never read William Gay, for instance, here's an opportunity to see just how fine a prose stylist and how devious a storyteller he is. I was particularly interested in the MacKinlay Kantor story that was the basis for the iconic noir film "Gun Crazy." (I have a story in here, too.)

Ellroy and Penzler have managed to show how rich the noir tale can be. There are literary stories, pulp thrillers and, as with the William Gay story, a take on the clash of old and new Americas in a quietly horrorific tale that is not only appropriate to our troubled times but also has the power of myth in its ending.

A collection that belongs on the shelf of every reader of crime fiction.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 08, 2010


Amazing statistics

Ed here: We've been told since the seventies that romance novels of various kinds outsell all other types of genre fiction. But this new Harris poll contradicts this.One question I have though is--what constitutes thriller/mystery and what constitutes romance?
For instance Is a paranormal romantic thriller a romance or a thriller? Anyhow here are the results:

Harris Poll Finds Mysteries, Thrillers Edge Out Romance Novels
By Publishers Weekly Staff
Oct 07, 2010
ShareThis | | Reader Comments (0)
A new Harris Poll is out, and among its findings are that mysteries, thrillers, and crime novels beat out chick-lit and romance novels by a large margin; and that more women than men read mysteries, thrillers, and crime novels.

The poll, conducted among 2,775 U.S. adults online this past August, found that among those who say they read at least one book in an average year, equal numbers—about eight in 10—said they have read a novel or nonfiction book in the past year. Almost half (48%) of fiction readers said they read mysteries, thrillers and crime novels, while a quarter read science fiction (26%) and another quarter (24%) read “literature.” One in five said they read romance novels (21%) and one in 10 have read graphic novels (11%) in the past year. Chick-lit (8%) and western (5%) books are less popular among respondents.

for the rest go here:
http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publishing-and-marketing/article/44757-harris-poll-finds-mysteries-thrillers-edge-out-romance-novels.html

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 07, 2010


New Books: Jan Grape, Carolyn Hart



From Jan Grape

Each writer has their own method to begin a book or story. For me, the majority of the time, I hear voices in my head. And the best thing is that no one calls the men in the white coats to carry me away.

In What Doesn’t Kill You, recently released by Five Star, I began hearing a young woman’s voice. Shortly thereafter, I realized this was a grown-up version of a little girl I had actually seen several years ago.

I was in a large chain bookstore when I noticed a little girl, probably eight or nine years old. She was skinny, had a long blonde pony tail and both her ears stuck out like the open back doors on a car. She was with her grandfather and I overheard him asking a clerk for help in locating a reference book on legal documents.

The little girl picked up and looked longingly at several books, but I could tell they probably didn’t have the money to buy one. She finally angled over to the bookmarks and picked out two. But when her grandfather came back he said, “No,” they couldn’t buy anything today.

I wanted to buy the bookmark for her yet I knew that if I offered, the grandfather would be highly insulted. So they left, but I vowed that one day I’d write a book for her.

A young girl who told me her name is Cory is talking to her best friend, Ty-Ty. She, of course, is not that little girl from the bookstore except in my imagination. When both her parents were killed in a car wreck she went to live with her bachelor uncle, Giff Purvis in the small town of Bent Bell, Texas. She loves her Uncle Giff and her horse, Miss Dumpsie, but she can’t help thinking about leaving this small town and heading out into the big wide world.

Cory and her friend Ty-Ty find a body in the old Whalen house and shortly afterwards, Ty-Ty, nineteen and a half-native American, is accused of the murder. Cory is determined to prove otherwise despite all efforts to stop her investigating.
She did give me several moments of apprehension because it has been a very long time since I was Cory’s age. But I grew up in a small West Texas town and knew the wonderful folks that populate small towns so I could relate to the people who popped up in What Doesn’t Kill You and started talking to me.

----------------Carolyn Hart



The late Bailey Ruth Raeburn struggles to protect a beautiful, willful woman determined to play hunt-the-killer in GHOST IN TROUBLE.

Bailey Ruth, an impetuous redheaded ghost, is up to her coppery curls in challenges as she deals with a recalcitrant charge, a fraudulent medium, a mother's heartbreak, old passions and new, and a telltale rawhide dog bone.
Heaven help her!

Merry, Merry Ghost, second in the series, will be available in paperback October 26. Bailey Ruth's debut novel - Ghost at Work - is available in paperback, E book, and Books on Tape.. www.CarolynHart.com

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 06, 2010


Moonchasers - optioned again

I'm not sure how many times my short novel Moonchasers has been optioned but it's got to be six or seven times by now. It was prominently announced by the producer of The Shawshank Redemption as her next production the morning after she won an Academy Award. There is an Evelyn Waugh novel in the travails that ensued.

Next a then-hot producer-writer said he was sure we could get a big name director and funding because of his adaptation. The trouble being that I hated his script so much I refused to sell him another option. Then a couple of falling A stars whom I admired very much tried to get funding but couldn't. And then a TV dude who saw it as Lassie with guns came up with a script that had me laughing out loud even through the supposedly melancholy scenes. Yadda Yadda Yadda.

Pam Susemiehl is and has been David Mamet's assistant for a number of years. She's worked on many of his films and produced some of his Tv projects. She's also a screenwriter. Her intention is to write and produce what I assume would be a low-budget version of the book. She is talking to directors now. I wish both of us good luck.

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 05, 2010


Tony Curtis

Ed here: With all the Tony Curtis pieces on the web you'd think there would be nothing left to say. But Esquire's Tom Junod's piece may be the most incisive.

Tom Junod:

He made quite an impression on me, Tony did. I still remember sitting in Spago with him and Jill, and what he said after Jill St. John came over to his table, with Robert Wagner, and made nice to him: "What a piece of shit." I still remember what he said about younger women, and fidelity to older ones: "Can you imagine Tony Curtis with a woman my age?" I still remember the story he told about Billy Wilder — about what Billy Wilder said to him after Tony's son OD'd and Tony stumbled one night back to Spago, nearly blind with guilt and grief and remorse, and wound up kneeling in front of Billy Wilder at his familiar table, asking, "Billy, how could this happen, how could my boy do such a thing?": "You, Tony. You showed him how." The Hollywood Tony lived in was that kind of place — a barbaric place, in which the cost of being as beautiful as Tony Curtis or Marilyn Monroe or even Jill St. John was putting your beauty in the hands of someone as merciless as Billy Wilder — and yet Tony survived it, because he never forgot that it was the beautiful ones who got laid, and never ceased delighting in the fact that he, Bernie Schwartz from the Bronx, got to fuck Marilyn Monroe.

Read more: http://www.esquire.com/the-side/feature/tony-curtis-death-093010?src=nl&mag=esq&list=nl_enl_cel_non_100410_tony-curtis&kw=ist#ixzz11WFcvphs


for the rest go here:
http://www.esquire.com/the-side/feature/tony-curtis-death-093010?src=nl&mag=esq&list=nl_enl_cel_non_100410_tony-curtis&kw=ist#ixzz11PfyAbKo

MONDAY, OCTOBER 04, 2010


The Autumn Mystery Scene



Ed here: I have to say that as someone who spent nearly eighteen years along with Bob Randisi working on Mystery Scene the issue that Kate and Brian have put together is especially notable. Not only are the articles and features something every mystery lover will enjoy--the pages are all slick and there is four color from cover to cover. A huge step forward and a milestone in the magazine's history.

Table of Contents

Features

Kathy Reichs: Bones and Beyond
Her bestselling novels about a forensic anthropologist, Temperance Brennan, and the hit TV series they inspired are only the beginning for this powerhouse.
by Oline H. Cogdill

William Kent Krueger
Long known as a “writer’s writer,” the word is spreading about this author’s richly characterized, densely plotted,and emotionally resonant novels.
by Lynn Kaczmarek

Murder on the Menu
There’s nothing more delicious than crime writers cooking up trouble—and writing down recipes.
by Kevin Burton Smith


Lester Dent: The Man Behind Doc Savage
As the creator of an iconic hero, Lester Dent was hugely successful, prolific, influential—and virtually unknown.
by Michael Mallory


The Write Stuff: Authors in Crime
The literary life is thrilling, dangerous, even deadly—well, at least it is in these films.
by Art Taylor


Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Sister
There’s a strong case to be made that Enola is the best detective in the Holmes family.
by Cheryl Solimini


The Murders in Memory Lane: Charles Willeford
A writer as idiosyncratic as his characters.
by Lawrence Block

What's Happening...With C.C. Benison
by Brian Skupin



Departments


At the Scene
by Kate Stine

Hints & Allegations
Writers on Reading: Deon Meyer. 2010 Thriller Awards, 2010 David Award, 2010 Ned Kelly Awards, The New Hawaii 5-0.

Our Readers Recommend
by Mystery Scene readers

Writing Life: Gormania
Forgotten Books; Nancy Pickard; Frenzy; Perry Mason.
by Ed Gorman

New Books Essays
Bowling for Rhinos
by Betty Webb

Back Home
by Michael W. Sherer

Dateline: Hemingway
by Diane Gilbert Madsen

Boston, Inside Out
by Rosemary Herbert

Crime Scene Crazy
by L.J. Sellers

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed
by Dick Lochte

Child's Play: Books for Young Sleuths
by Roberta Rogow

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered
by Bill Crider

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by Betty Webb

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed
by Lynne Maxwell

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by Jon L. Breen

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SUNDAY, OCTOBER 03, 2010


Good Reads: The Ghost

I've always liked urbane cynical narrators.The Brits are especially good at the game and that's certainly the case with Robert Harris and his novel The Ghost, which Roman Polanski filmed successfully as The Ghostwriter.

I can't see Tony Blair lying his ass of on TV while book touring without thinking of this novel for The Ghost is clearly about him (some in the British press accused Harris of everything but treason for publishing this novel).

What we have here is a writer who's ghosted a number of autobiographies of celebrity figures. In prestige and money writing for a recently resigned Prime Minister is an enormous step up. He will earn ten million to step in and write the book in a month. The reason for the rush? The previous ghost drowned under strange circumstances and wrote a dull draft that wouldn't sell even with a huge promotion.

Adam Lang, the former Prime Minister, is presently residing in a mansion on Martha's Vineyard. It is here the ghost Rick begins to interview him. Rick soon learns that Lang has at his beck and call his wife, his loyal chief staffer and mistress, and enough armed security men to start a small war. The atmosphere is not unlike that of a horror film. Whispers, harsh voices behind closed doors, threats.

He also begins to understand that Lang is an empty suit. Bright, handsome, fashionable, there is no there there. Except for one thing. The International Court has indicted Lange for rounding up British citizens during the Iraq war and turning them over to the American authorities where they were water boarded. One of them, a nineteen-year-old, died. The British public and pols despise him and want him punished. America is protecting him, which is why he's here, hiding out in the mansion in a bitter winter that Harris evokes stylishly and hauntingly.

If you want a good, angry, occasionally droll (Harris has a lot of fun skewering the publishing industry) this is well worth the paperback or e book money. A truly enjoyable book.

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 02, 2010


Locus - Pulp Fiction



Really entertaining and informative discussion of pulp fiction in the new issue of Locus. Robert Silverberg, Richard Lupoff and Frank M. Robinson discuss the topic at length. Also an excellent interview with Barry Malzberg. Plus all the usual great Locus news stories and reviews.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 01, 2010


Knopf Buys 4 Great Pages For $2.5 Million

Knopf Buys 4 Great Pages For $2.5 Million

By MIKE FLEMING | Wednesday September 29, 2010 @ 7:27pm EDT

Tags: Alfred Knopf, Andrew Wylie, Book Publishing, Book Publishing Deals, Kiran Desai, Orhan Pamuk, Robin Desser, Sonny Mehta, The Loneliness of Sonia and Sunny

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EXCLUSIVE: The deals are popping this week, and publishing is not immune. On the basis of a 4-page proposal, Alfred Knopf's Sonny Mehta has paid $2.5 million for The Loneliness of Sonia and Sunny, the new novel by Kiran Desai. She's the Booker Prize-winning author of The Inheritance of Loss. Robin Desser is the acquiring editor. This is the time for big book deals in the run up to the Frankfurt Book Fair, which gets underway in Germany next week. The publishing crowd was also buzzing over the fact that the deal was brokered by Andrew Wylie, who signed her 2 weeks ago from Inkwell Management. She left to join Wylie because he reps her partner, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2010


Forgotten Music: Dakota Staton

Wikipedia:
Born in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she attended George Westinghouse High School and studied music at the Filion School of Music in Pittsburgh. Later she performed regularly in the Hill District, a jazz hotspot, as a vocalist with the Joe Wespray Orchestra, a popular Pittsburgh orchestra. She next spent several years in the nightclub circuit in such cities as Detroit, Indianapolis, Cleveland and St. Louis. While in New York, she was noticed singing at a Harlem nightclub called the Baby Grand by Dave Cavanaugh, a producer for Capitol Records. She was signed and released several singles, her success leading her to win Down Beat magazine's "Most Promising New Comer" award in 1955. In 1958, Staton wed Talib Ahmad Dawud, a black Antiguan Muslim trumpeter and noted critic of Elijah Muhammad[3].
She released several critically acclaimed albums in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including: The Late, Late Show (1957), whose title track was her biggest hit, In the Night (1957), a collaboration with pianist George Shearing, Dynamic! (1958) and Dakota at Storyville (1961), a live album recorded at the Storyville jazz club in Boston. Staton moved to England in the mid-1960s. She continued to record semi-regularly.

Ed here: I've been listening to Dakota since the Fifties. She sang beautifully about nighttime, infusing songs with her own melancholy take on our vale of tears. Two or three times I thought she was ready for the kind of breakout that Dinah Washington enjoyed at the same time. But it wasn't to be. She's well worth listening to.

Sometimes in the 90s somebody wrote me a letter, said they'd read my novel The Autumn Dead and particularly appreciated my riff on Dakota Staton. She said she was a friend of Dakota's and that Dakota was very pleased that I had written about her. Really. Listen to her.

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2010


Forgotten Books: THE DEAD BEAT by Robert Bloch



I've always admired the novel that Robert Bloch wrote immediately following publication of Psycho. I am one of four people on the planet who can make that claim.

What I've always liked about it is the way Bloch took a sleazy no-good psychotic bastard and set him right down in the middle of a Midwestern family that could have doubled as sit-com people. Bloch really makes you care about these folks and how they are so slow to catch on to the psychotic jazz musician they make the mistake of trying to help.

The title signals the era, the early sixties when the Beats were so much in the news. Bloch shows us a kind of faux beat existence with the musicians we meet early on. Bloch gets the one night stand life (in both meanings of that phrase) down just as well as he gets the middle-class days and nights of the family the musician will ultimately turn on. For Bloch this is a return of sorts to his Fifties paperbacks such as The Will To Kill and The Kidnapper. Jim Thompson country before anybody knew who Thompson was. (Bloch bristled when I asked him once if Thompson had ever been an influence--he said he'd never heard of Thompson until much, much later.)

Reviewers of the time didn't like the relatvely slow pace. They also complained that the novel didn't offer the shock or sass of Psycho (I say sass because the novel is very funny in places--something Hitchcock picked up on immediately). I like the treachery and the darkness here. I didn't used to believe in evil. But now I do. Robert Bloch brings to life the kind of evil all around us.

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2010


Strangehold - Pulp Serenade



From Pulp Serenade - Cullen Gallagher

"Stranglehold" by Ed Gorman (Minotaur, 2010)

Dev Conrad is that rarity among literary characters, a warm narrator whose inimitable voice quickly becomes as familiar as an old friend. And if you’ve read Ed Gorman’s first novel about Dev, Sleeping Dogs, then the reunion in Stranglehold is all the more joyous.

As the Stranglehold opens, political consultant Dev Conrad has been called away from his home base to intervene in the campaign of one of his company’s clients, Congresswoman Susan Cooper. She’s been acting out of character, disappearing mysteriously, but she refuses to tell anyone what is going. With her reelection on the line, it is up to Dev to get to the bottom of things.

Cooper’s campaign and personal life quickly begins to fall apart. First Dev follows Susan to a crummy motel room and discovers blood around the room, as well as the business card of a ruthless political consultant. Next, he finds himself being questioned for the murder of someone that might have been involved with Cooper’s rivals. And Natalie Cooper, Susan’s tyrannical mother, is very unimpressed with the skeletons that Dev is dragging out of the family closet.

Gorman is a humanist in the tradition of Margaret Millar. Both draw readers in with their strong, tightly-plotted mysteries. However, the real treasure of their books is in their ensemble of characters (even the minor characters are treated with the utmost respect and craft), and in the maturity and acuity of the writers’ voices. Dev’s patience and hardboiled insight embodies so much of what we’ve come to admire in Gorman’s own writing.

Dev wants to see the best in people, but he is wise and weary enough to see the worst, and to recognize that people are human and they make mistakes. But what makes him trustworthy is that he is even quicker to spot his own weaknesses and errors. This blend of idealism and realism is what makes Dev such an endearing persona – he is never looking down at those around him, and never looking but, but always looking them right in the eye. And when another character returns that look – now those are special moments. Many of them involve Gwen – naïve, well-meaning, and brave, and who was unwittingly drawn into the Cooper campaign chaos; and others involve Ben, Dev’s colleague, another fallen idealist with plenty of regrets about failing his own family, with whom Dev shares an unspoken bond.

Gorman doesn’t just write stories, he puts them in worlds in which many stories are colliding. The book you’re holding just happens to contain a couple. Here is an example: Dev spots a mother in a Toby Keith t-shirt, her husband in a NASCAR shirt, and a chubby child. Their clothes are ratty, and their car is in worse shape. There’s almost a hint of caricature in Dev’s observation – until he notices the husband’s limp, and the wife’s attempt to help him. “It was the sort of thing that could break your goddamned heart because it was so simple and loving and said so much about their years together. They were playing a shitty hand, one the dark Lovecraftina gods were probably still laughing about, but they were bound up and redeemed by their loyalty.”

In these politically divisive times, we need a hero like Dev Conrad. Someone who’s concern goes beyond party lines, and who can see beyond all the campaign and media hoopla. Heck, I’d vote for Dev, but I think he’s too smart to run. In the meantime, I eagerly await the next installment in Ed Gorman’s latest series.

As always, here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book. Gorman has some really wonderful turns of phrases, and shows a real love of language.

“Fog rolled down the streets on my way to foundation headquarters. Streetlights were dulled by ghosts and stoplights burned like evil eyes through the mist. A long stretch of fast-food places shone like a cheap carnival midway in the rolling clouds. And always there was the relentless cold rain, gutters and intersections filling up fast.”

“After my years in army intelligence, when I’d functioned pretty much as a detective, I’d thought about joining a police force somewhere. I’d spent three nights in a squad car riding around Chicago. The dangers I’d seen were tolerable; there’d been moments when they’d been exhilarating. But the heartbreak was what I couldn’t handle. The beaten wives and the forlorn children, the sad junkies, the prisons of poverty, the fear of people afraid to walk the streets of their own neighborhoods. I didn’t have the gut for it.”

“Then she started her awkward, belly-bumping slide out of the booth. I was thinking how good it would be when my own daughter was pregnant. I had so much to make up for. I wanted to do it right this time.”

“And no, it wasn’t the drinking; it was the fact that I spent so much time away from home working on campaigns. I wasn’t faithful and neither was she. She had a good excuse for it, I didn’t.”

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2010


Secret Vengeance by F. Paul Wilson



In the last few years young adult novels have become popular with many adults as well. F. Paul Wilson, one of the finest storytellers of my generation, has turned his hand to showing us the youthful days of Repairman Jack, the enormously popular namesake of his award-winning Repairman Jack adult series.

Wilson has his own style and voice, a vivid, evocative style that touches on all the senses to create a full, real world. In addition he paces his work the way a contemporary film editor would, knowing how to get into and out of a scene nimbly while demanding that the reader move quickly on to the next set-up. He's also got a great ear. His people sound like people, something I see less and less of these days.

All these writerly virtues are on display in SECRET VENGEANCE, the third in the Young Jack YA series. Here Jack helps defend a classmate named Weezy who has been sexually assaulted by a popular boy named Tolliver. But Weezy can't tell people the truth about what happened because of problems with her parents.

In the meantime Tolliver spreads the rumor that he had a great time with the "willing" Weezy. Her name quickly becomes "Easy Weezy" among her classmates. Wilson is particularly good here with the world of school, the cruelty of gossip and the fate of outcasts.

So Young Jack goes after Tolliver. Wilson knows how to build suspense and in trying to bring Tolliver to some kind of justice--and packing a number of surprises along the way--he points his story to the inevitable and surprising showdown.

A swift, compelling page-turner with some wise takes on the ways of teenagers.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2010


5 Mean Reviews



"The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" by Steig Larsson

Review by Susan Cohen:

"This is easily one of the worst books I’ve ever read. And bear in mind that I’ve read John Grisham."

Ed here: Most of us have gotten our share of bad reviews; a good number of us have even gotten the occasional savage review. Salon is claiming that these are the meanest reviews ever which is bogus. But they certainly didn't make the writers under review feel very good.


5 Meanest Book Reviews Ever: Franzen, Foer, Larsson And More (PHOTOS)
Posted: 09-24-10 09:01 AM


It has been said that any publicity is good publicity. But when someone describes your writing as "like reading a bad newspaper or a bad piece in a magazine. It makes you wince," as John Irving said of Tom Wolfe's "A Man In Full," that credo loses a bit of credibility.

Book reviewers, generally speaking, tend to keep their heads when assessing a book's worth. They are, after all, charged with the task of objectively analyzing a work. Sometimes, however, professionalism and decorum give way to vitriol and downright disgust. The words in these hateful reviews are less letters on a page and more the transcript of a critic's frenzied ravings.

So, here are the worst of the worst, the most dispiriting, and the meanest. But what did we leave out? What are the meanest reviews you've ever read?

Disclaimer: We apologize if you are the author of one of these books.

See all the reviews by going here:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/24/meanest-book-reviews_n_736922.html
Dec 242014
 

ILLEGAL. Warner Brothers, 1955. Edward G. Robinson, Nina Foch, Hugh Marlowe, Jayne Mansfield, Albert Dekker, Howard St. John, Ellen Corby, Edward Platt, Jan Merlin. Screenplay: W. R. Burnett and James R. Webb. Director: Lewis Allen.

   When District Attorney Victor Scott (Edgar G. Robinson) discovers that he’s sent an innocent man to the chair, not only are his ambitions for a higher office (governor) gone up in smoke, but soon after so is his political career altogether. He resigns, finds he can’t make a go of it as an attorney dealing in civil law, and in spite of the concern of his former assistant (Nina Foch), begins spending more time in bars than he does practicing law.

   But as chance would have it, Scott discovers that his skills in the courtroom on one side are just as good on the other, and soon the money is rolling in as one of the best defense attorneys around, with some of his performances on behalf of his clients putting to shame even the wildest ever dreamed up by the previous master of them all, Perry Mason.

   This attracts the attention of not only the local crime boss but the new D.A., who suspects an inside man is leaking information out of his office. This leads in turn to Nina Foch’s character being accused of murdering… Well, it is complicated, but to the screenwriters’ credit, the story is clearly presented from beginning to end, perhaps to the extent of being at times a little too obvious.

   This is Edgar G. Robinson’s role all the way. The triumphs and failures of the character he plays need someone with a super-sized sense of the extravaganza, and Robinson is just the person to do the job. The rest of players are mere moths flitting around his constant flame.

   Save, just maybe, Jayne Mansfield’s character, a wasp-waisted singer and live-in companion for the aforementioned crime boss makes her a perfect witness on the stand, her breathy whisper-like Marilyn Monroe voice making everyone in the courtroom sit up and take notice.

 Posted by at 10:14 pm