Oct 242014
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are other touches of quaintness and anachronism as well. The solution of the murder is dependent on two vainglorious notes left by the murderer. The main question is whether they are meant as taunts or intended to frame another person. Both notes teasingly refer to the six letters in the murderer's first and family names. This is the kind of plot gimmick you find in novels by Edgar Wallace or Johnston McCulley who both created a slew of egomaniacal master criminals who left signature cards at the scene of the crime. It seems like a far too contemporary idea for a medieval criminal to do such a thing and bothered me. There are other subtle signs of modern crime solving leaking into this middle age world like trying to determine the exact time of death, alibi breaking and intermittent uses of contemporary phrases and idioms. But I have to say I liked the way Richard swore in medieval style. One of his commonly used epithets is "Holy Virgin!". Those lapses in verisimilitude were easier to excuse. The importance of the two notes and the evidence of how the medieval alphabet was used in spelling was a bit too much for me to swallow.

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

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


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

LET IT RIDE, John McFetridge


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

Forgotten Books: Fright by Cornell Woolrich


Fright

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today in Traveling the Globe, we travel to the world down under to a place called Sydney Australia.  Sydney is the largest city and a major tourist destination. And did you know that Sydney was founded as a penile colony in 1788?


Assignment Sydney
by Philip McCutchan


What started out as a benign case of industrial espionage of cruise-ship entertainment schedules turns into murder and drug smuggling as James Packard finds when he goes undercover onboard an ocean liner heading to Australia.
Sydney For Sin
by Mark Corrigan


Set to return to the States, Corrigan is asked once more to help the Australian police. This case involved taking on a gang called the Kreig-Romain Syndicate and included numerous blonde-haired, blue-eyed ladies all made to look like each other. Then there was the secret agent's arm found inside a shark.
 Posted by at 7:30 am

Why I’m worried redux

 Uncategorized  Comments Off
Oct 242014
 

Five days ago, on October 18th, I posted a controversial blog that expressed my alarm at the way the U.S. was approaching Ebola. This was right after the contagion in Dallas was really hitting its stride. I resisted as long as I was able, because I try to avoid discussing religious or politically charged topics – they never go anywhere good.

I got a lot of comments on Facebook along the lines that a travel ban for travelers from West Africa could never work, well, you know, because the President, who lied about the likelihood of Ebola hitting American shores, said it would never work. Because, well, it just wouldn’t, you know?

Tonight, a physician who was treating Ebola patients in West Africa and who returned to the U.S. about the mid-point of the average incubation period was diagnosed with the disease in New York, after presenting with a 103 fever this morning. Two days ago he began feeling sluggish and unwell, but not so much that he didn’t go to restaurants, use the subways, go bowling (bowling?!?), take taxis, etc.

Now, let me be the first to commend him for his altruism in going to unfortunate places and devoting his time, and yes, risking his life, to treat others suffering from a modern plague with a 70% mortality rate in those countries.

Let me also be the first to condemn his idiotic behavior in putting his fellow citizens at risk by traveling around more than I do on a three day binge, after returning to New York from Africa, knowing with his medical training that he was well within the incubation period of the disease, and could not only have it, but spread it. To call it irresponsible is to be charitable.

If I wrote this in a novel I’d get terrible reviews, because nobody would believe that a doctor could willfully expose people as this one did. Three people have been immediately quarantined. How many more come down with Ebola from this exposure is anyone’s guess at this moment.

But it highlights one glaring fact. Actually, two. First is that if this is what a well-trained healthcare professional would do after returning from a plague area where an incurable disease is spreading like wildfire, what can we honestly expect from laymen? And yet the US’ approach has been to allow West African travelers to enter its borders, and relied on “screening” and “self-monitoring.” How’s that going so far? That looks like 0 for 2 to me. And now the most important city in the US (the financial system is situated there) is an Ebola hot zone. But we “shouldn’t worry” per the authorities. You know, because Science! And we’re ready for this! And if we stop consuming the terrorists, er, the virus, wins!

Um, really? We won’t know how much more spread we have from Dallas for another couple of weeks, in spite of the hyperbole from the media. And we’re just getting started on this one. Tomorrow there’s nothing preventing another one of these horror stories. And another, and another, and another. Because the administration thinks it’s a good idea to bring potential carriers of this nightmare plague into the nation’s borders. You know, because otherwise the sky will fall, or people will think we’re racist hatemongers.

The doctor in New York is a white male. I’m not being racist. Death knows no color or creed, and the risk to fellow humans is the same regardless of skin color, eye shape, hair texture, etc. I’m also not a trained medical professional. But I do know that if people are traveling from the place where everyone’s dying of the incurable disease? Might be a bad idea to say, “come on in, make sure you behave responsibly, you little dickens, and if you don’t, well, you’re still not going to be blamed for the deaths you cause and the countless millions that are spent trying to clean up after you and stop the spread before the US becomes the first world version of Mad Max.” Because to me it’s a bad idea. How about, “You can’t come in until you prove you’re not Typhoid Mary?” Is that too much of a stretch?

What will the financial cost of this be? How likely are people to be to want to get on a plane when the person who sat in the seat before them could have been another altruistic physician returning from Liberia, or flying to visit someone after feeling sluggish and tired? How many of these outbreaks do we have to see before we figure it out? Let’s take Dallas as an example. The hospital there will probably go BK. Patients are canceling their surgeries, avoiding the place. This is one of the most revered hospitals in Dallas, and it’s going to likely be a casualty of Mr. Thompson’s decision to lie on his questionnaire after being exposed to Ebola and fly to Texas. And there’s the cost of tracking hundreds, or thousands, of the exposed. The cost to people when their health insurance goes through the roof as insurers back away. The cost of treating the afflicted. The cost to the airlines, Dallas hotels, restaurants, etc. It’s a big number, and that’s from only one patient slipping in. Multiply that by however many more you think likely as travelers pour in from the hot zones. It’s not pretty.

And how about the guy who touched the good doctor’s fork and knife and napkin at the restaurant? Because he or she undoubtedly is cringing right now. How about the cab driver? You know who has the highest mortality rate in Africa, after those caring for Ebola victims? Cab drivers. Because they invariably get stuck driving the victim to the hospital. I could go on and on, but then this blog would be a novella, not a blog.

For everyone who is going to say, “but he self-monitored, so that works,” I’d say, really? The professionals who are treating this are dying like flies, so they aren’t that sure their protocols are all that great (I still don’t see how a BSL-4 pathogen, which requires a closed breathing system and pretty much a full on hazmat suit, can be safely handled with some tape on gloves, some goggles, and hope – but then again, I’m not one of the 400+ who have given their lives to discover that may not be a great idea). And nobody’s sure exactly at what point in the curve the patient becomes aggressively contagious – the viral load in his sweat, saliva, other bodily fluids builds to critical mass and he goes full blown, but at what point is he close enough to full blown to infect? One hour before he takes his temperature and goes, holy shit? Three? Six? Twelve? Twenty? Nobody’s sure. Everyone’s making educated, and in some cases, fatally incorrect, guesses.

Politicians and administration mouthpieces who aren’t doctors are saying he posed almost no risk to those he was around on the subway, but they have no idea. Just as nobody really knows whether the new CDC protocols are adequate to keep it from spreading to healthcare workers. I mean, again, politicians and people with no medical training are saying they are, but they aren’t donning their little CDC protocol suits and going in to wipe an Ebola patient’s ass, so to them it’s another, “mistakes were made” oops if they’re wrong, or another “mysterious breach of protocols” when the nurses start dropping. Anyone see the moral hazard here? It’s pretty much the same as letting Congressmen not be subject to the same health insurance or financial constraints as those for whom they’re mandating those items. Huge moral hazard because they aren’t at personal risk. In business, you’d say they have no skin in the game. And that’s always a bad thing.

In Africa, the average Ebola carrier infects two more. And those two infect two more. And so on. The WHO estimates have the total infection at 1.5 million or so by the end of January, the number doubling every 12 days. How is that not scary as shit for a virus that is deadlier than bubonic plague (bubonic plague is 60%, Ebola 70%, although in these early cases it’s lower in the U.S. – but it’s still extremely early in the curve to be able to know what it actually will turn out to be here, because not everyone’s going to have the same immune response, the same level of care, the same overall health when it started, and, yes, the same luck).

Now, I know this is going to be unpopular, but I’ve even seen some articles trumpeting that the Dallas carrier’s family has been cleared, with no contagion. But you know my bet? He knew he’d been exposed, lied about it, and then when he started to present with it, told his family to avoid all contact with him, because he’d seen what it does. That’s about the only explanation I can come up with that makes sense. They avoided him, so they’re alive. Good for them. But that doesn’t mean it’s not all that contagious, because about 5K dead in Africa would beg to differ, as would every doctor on the planet, as would 400+ medical workers. Of course it’s contagious enough you should worry. It’s worse than the frigging plague.

And yet we’re being told not to give in to “hysteria.” Not to panic. Okay. I’m not panicked at all. I’m 1000 miles from the U.S. Couldn’t be calmer. Here’s a truth: It’s not panic or hysteria when you do a risk calculation that says things are doomed to get far worse at this rate. It’s being realistic. Sure, there have “only” been four cases of Ebola here so far, so it’s statistically irrelevant. But it’s also only the first few minutes of the first inning. And we’re dealing with a BSL-4 pathogen for which there’s no cure. If you don’t find that worrisome, you aren’t paying attention.

I get kind of testy when I see the mainstream media trying to spin Ebola as worse than a cold, but certainly not something Americans shouldn’t expect to walk away from, based on the stats so far from a tiny sampling. There’s simply no basis for that conviction. If there are 1000 cases here, and the death toll is “only” 200, well, then we can extrapolate and say it’s a 20% mortality rate in a first world country. But with eight and God knows how many more to come (the US is processing 150 expedited visas a day from West Africa, so you can expect more – a lot more), we’ll all get to find out.

The other part of this I’m offended by is that the U.S. is putting the entire continent at risk, because if and when this spreads into clusters of outbreaks, if and when it spreads to Mexico and points south, they don’t have hundreds of millions to throw at cleaning up for the administration’s decision to keep the U.S. as destination number one for Ebola-exposed carriers. So you can expect the mortality rates in those countries to be more in line with good ol 70%. And for the spread to be much more severe.

I know the flu kills 250K to 500K a year. But how many billions are exposed to it a year and contract it? Or put simply, how many Americans have to die before the U.S. figures out it might not be a good decision to refuse a travel ban? My fear is that it will soon be a moot point, because it can all turn sideways on us pretty quickly.

I’ll make some predictions. If this doesn’t get handled competently over the next few weeks the market will be a smoking crater, there will be new horror stories on a daily basis, and the U.S. will be a pariah to all its neighbors. The dollar will suffer and the government will have a difficult time borrowing to fund the debt-based lifestyle it enjoys but can’t afford, industries like tourism, airlines, restaurants, health care will go into the toilet, and the financial impact of this decision to keep the borders open will be one of the most costly in American history.

For once I’m so upset I don’t even care if you buy my crap or not. I mean, I’d hope you would to show solidarity, but if you don’t I’ll understand. And please, save the “Ebola has only hit a few people, it’s not a big deal” comments. Just because you can’t do exponential math or predict accurately past the end of your nose, kindly don’t parade that defect with pride. I can count. I know at the start of all epidemics in history it’s been only a few cases. I get it. But let’s all agree you know about as much about how many cases there will be in the U.S. within sixty days as you know what the price of Amazon will be in sixty days, which is to say, not at all, so any argument from that position is simply your unfounded opinion. It’s okay to have those, as I’ve just expressed mine, but if you think I’m in error, go write your own blog about why I’m way off base. I can write it for you. “Don’t panic. The Titanic’s engineers assure us that it’s unsinkable. The engineers of the mortgage backed securities markets assure us that the real estate market can never crash so badly as to take the whole world right to the brink. And right now a whole bunch of non-scientist, non-doctor politicians and their mouthpieces are saying you don’t have to worry about Ebola.”

See, the problem is that’s like saying, “the odds of dying of Ebola in the U.S. are less than you being attacked by a tiger walking out your front door!” Which I get. I also get that if  you have hundreds, or thousands, of people flying into the country with tigers every week, that glib assurance goes out the window pretty fast.

To me that always sounds like, “Don’t worry, I’ve driven for years without a safety belt – you don’t need em!”

Until you do, Sweetie, until you do.

But by then it’s always too late.

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Oct 242014
 
Written by Jamie S. Rich
Illustrated by Joelle Jones

B&W, Hardcover Graphic Novel

Oni Press, 2009


Modern authors who attempt period private eye stories often end up turning out pale pastiche or unintentional parody. Or their stories are so heavily infused with the author's historical research that they read dry and artificial. What is often forgotten is that the private eye mystery - regardless of period - revolves around character more than plot. This is different from most other sub-genres of mystery fiction, where plot is all; a puzzle to be solved. In a P.I. story, it's all about people; their secrets, their motives, their passions.

Jamie Rich and Joelle Jones' You Have Killed Me is a private eye tale that remembers that, and is filled with deftly-drawn (in all senses of the word), richly-developed characters.

Private investigator Antonio Mercer is hired to find an old flame, a high society gal from his past, who has gone missing on the eve of her wedding to a down-on-his-luck gambler. It's no surprise that Mercer's investigation leads through smoky jazz clubs and dark back alleys, to various and sundry unsavory individuals, nor that it ultimately becomes very personal for our protagonist.

Rich's script is sharp, with terse dialogue and narrative captions that don't fall into the trap of trying to emulate Chandler's distinctive - and easily parodied - flair for simile. Instead, the first-person captions are employed sparsely and used to provide a bit of insight into Mercer's private worldview. The story treads very familiar ground, but that's okay - while familiar, it is feels fresh and is skillfully constructed.

Jones' art is clean and well-composed. Backgrounds are occasionally sketchy, but the characters are all distinctive and expressive, and her storytelling is clear and cinematic. Overall, it's beautiful stuff.

Oni Press has done a really nice job on the production of the book, with striking, attractive graphic design and high-quality paper and binding. It's a truly gorgeous book.

You Have Killed Me is an excellent period P.I. tale, extremely well told. Highly recommended.

Six Out of Six Bullets.
Oct 242014
 
REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


OAKLEY HALL – Warlock. Viking, hardcover 1958. Bantam, paperback, 1959. University of Nebraska Press, softcover, 1980. New York Review of Books Classics, softcover, 2005

WARLOCK. Fox, 1959. Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Dorothy Malone, Dolores Michaels, Wallace Ford, Tom Drake, Richard Arlen, Whit Bissel, Donald “Red” Barry and DeForest Kelley. Screenplay by Robert Alan Arthur. Directed by Edward Dmytryk.

   I’ve been pleased to read a few truly great Westerns this year, and this was one of them, a Pulitzer nominee that can stand right up there with The Big Sky, The Last Hunt and The Stars in Their Courses as a great novel and a great Western.

   Author Oakley Hall takes the basic elements from the Earp-in-Tombstone saga (events that have already become an American Iliad) and uses them to create his own Epic Ballad, much as John Ford did in My Darling Clementine.

   But where Ford turned heroes into legends, Hall transmutes the legends into role-players, fictionalizing them to give himself the poetic license he needs. Thus Wyatt Earp becomes Clay Blaisdell, Doc Holiday is Tom Morgan, Ike Clanton turns into Abe McQuown—and Tombstone becomes Warlock.

   What emerges is a complex, fast-moving and vivid drama-cum-folk-tale punctuated by shoot-outs, hold-ups, bar fights and lynch mobs, in which characters sometimes stand impressively against the tide and sometimes get swept along or even drowned by it. Hall has a nifty trick of showing how the players we admire most can be capable of cowardice and treachery, yet somehow never lose our esteem. And in all the complexity of character he never lets go of the narrative reins, keeping the tale moving nicely at all times. Hall can write actions scenes with the best of them, but it’s his feel for people and place that make the tale so memorable.

   I saw the film shortly after reading the book, and I guess I’ll have to wait a couple years and see it again so I can judge Warlock the movie on its own terms. As it was, the story seemed too simple and too hurried, and the characters unconvincing or simply unappealing. Richard Widmark isn’t bad as the outclassed Deputy trying to do his duty, but I never got a feel for the character, and I’m not sure he did either. Henry Fonda, once a memorable Wyatt Earp, looks a bit podgy as Blaisdell, and Anthony Quinn plays Morgan/Holliday as a prissy mother hen — one critic called it “the most open depiction of homosexual love in the classic western.”

   The supporting players come off a bit better, including DeForest Kelley in the Curly Bill part, and Frank Gorshin (!) as Widmark’s hot-head kid brother, but again the film simplifies them into non-existence. Or at least it did to me, seeing it when I did. The film has its fans, and perhaps I’ll like it better a few years hence. Meanwhile, let me say again that the book is one that Western fans should treat themselves to.

 Posted by at 12:20 am
Oct 232014
 

DANA CAMERON – A Fugitive Truth. Avon, paperback original, May 2004.

   Though an archaeologist by profession, Emma Fielding somehow manages to run into an abundance of cases of murder on her many and varied field trips, this being the fourth in a series, and unfortunately only the first that I’ve read.

   Based on the example at hand, it’s a lapse I’d like to remedy as soon as I can. This one’s an impressive outing, beginning as if it were a gothic romance novel from the 1970s, as Emma travels through a dark and overcast night to the Victorian mansion where the Shrewsbury Library is located, and where her latest project has taken her.

   After helping to excavate the 18th century home of one Margaret Chandler and putting the life of the woman in the proper context, Emma plans on reading the young bride’s diary, written while she was still trying to adjust to life in the American “wilderness” as a new arrival from England. Here’s a quote that will help describe how Emma’s philosophy of life (and career) put her on my side, immediately and forever. From page 56:

   I also reminded myself of why I had finally decided that my work was important. History tends to be about great events or trends that are disassociated from the common person. Historical archaeology is about everyday things, it’s finding out about people who didn’t always have a voice or fair representation by those who kept the public records, it’s about filling in the blanks. By teaching what archaeology teaches about the past, I was letting my audiences know how people like them made great things possible. On good days, I felt like I was a preacher, teaching empowerment, hope and ownership.

   When one of her fellow resident scholars is found drowned under mysterious circumstances, Emma is asked by the local police lady to use her academic insight and help with the investigation from the inside. As in the best of detective novels, there are a number of suspects, all with differing motivations, and all must be scrutinized with care, since – if Emma is not careful – she may become the killer’s next victim.

   In parallel with the present day crimes, Emma also discovers that Margaret, the lady of the diary, was abruptly accused of the death of a clergyman in her day, but the comments she wrote about her criminal trial are written in code, which requires deciphering on the part of Emma.

   When Margaret’s problems are over and she was absolved of the crime she was accused of, her comments were, “The truth is more than a sum of the facts,” an observation that does not explain the circumstances of her acquittal – the crucial pages are inscrutably missing – but it gives Emma the shove she needs, and at the right moment, in her own investigation.

   Besides the good, no, excellent characterization and a better than average detective story – and somehow it manages to slip my mind and I have to realize this over and over again, don’t the two go hand-in-hand? – there is an epilogue that is absolutely outstanding. Moralizing after the fact is not all that common in detective fiction, and moralizing on the level of Spider-Man? Now that’s unique.

PostScript:   Besides being a mystery writer, Dana Cameron is by primary occupation a professional archaeologist, which comes as no surprise at all.

— May 2004

      The Emma Fielding series

1. Site Unseen (2002)

2. Grave Consequences (2002)
3. Past Malice (2003)

4. A Fugitive Truth (2004)
5. More Bitter Than Death (2005)
6. Ashes and Bones (2006)

   And as a sign of the times, perhaps, given the end of this Emma Fielding series, beginning in 2013 Dana Cameron has written five novels in a fantasy-paranormal “Fangborn” series. Here’s a description:

    “Archaeologist Zoe Miller has been running from a haunting secret her whole life. But when her cousin is abducted by a vicious Russian kidnapper, Zoe is left with only one option: to reveal herself.

    “Unknown to even her closest friends, Zoe is not entirely human. She’s a werewolf and a daughter of the ‘Fangborn,’ a secretive race of werewolves, vampires, and oracles embroiled in an ancient war against evil.”

 Posted by at 11:45 pm