Marc Brody Series
Every time I finish one of Bill Crider's fine novels about small town Texas Sheriff Dan Rhodes, I think I've just read the finest one yet. So let me say that HALF IN LOVE WITH ARTFUL DEATH (which is an excellent title by the way) is Crider's most nuanced, wry, sly and entertaining Rhodes adventure yet.
I’m glad to hear it. I got the phrase from Donald Westlake, who coined Thieves’ Dozen for a collection of 11 Dortmunder stories. But let’s steal our way back to the subject at hand. Here’s what David found for y’all:
The Burglar in the Closet and The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling, first printings of the Random House first editions. First editions of each of the three Paul Kavanagh novels, Such Men Are Dangerous, The Triumph of Evil, and Not Comin’ Home to You. The Dell first edition of Scudder #3, In the Midst of Death. The Gold Medal first edition of The Specialists. A library reference volume from the Contemporary Authors Autobiography series, with a 10,000-word memoir of mine that has appeared nowhere else. A first edition of my first hardcover novel, Deadly Honeymoon. A signed-and-numbered small-press limited edition of Random Walk.
That’s only ten.
What did I forget? Oh, right. A mint first printing of Eight Million Ways to Die.
Follow the links to the individual listings for full and precise descriptions. All books are autographed, as you very likely imagined. And all lots are offered without reserve, with a 99¢ opening bid.
Well, I’ll probably have to pay more than 99¢ for Eight Million Ways to Die. But that’s okay. What’s next? Audio?
Sure, why not? I’ve begun self-publishing audiobooks through Audible’s ACX division, and I’m sure I’ve told you about Mike Dennis’s iconic rendition of Borderline, which went on sale the end of June. It’s since been joined by Thirty, the first of three Jill Emerson ventures in literary erotica for Berkley in the form of a diary covering a woman’s thirtieth year. Voice artist Emily Beresford loved the book, and it shows in her sensitive and spirited narration. (Emily’s current project is Jill’s first book, Warm and Willing, and I’ll be eager to see—no, better make that hear—what she does with it.)
I blogged recently about Jill Emerson’s entire body of work, and won’t repeat that here. But I will say, as I said a few days ago to my Goodreads followers, that Thirty has been largely neglected by reviewers. ACX furnished me with a small batch of one-time download codes, and I’m happy to distribute them while they last. You’ll get the audiobook free of charge, and all I ask in return is that you contrive to review it somewhere—at Amazon, at Audible, on your blog, or all of the above. (I wouldn’t presume to tell you what to say about the book, or how many stars to give it—though I’d certainly hope you’ll elect to err on the side of enthusiasm. Jill’s one of my favorite people, and she’s flat-out mad for stars.)
We gave away free downloads for Borderline, and they didn’t last long. I don’t expect these will either. For your free download of Thirty, just send an email requesting it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Either David or I will get your code to you….while supplies last, that is.
[[[Note: They didn't last, but were all snapped up within 90 minutes!]]]
Also coming soon is Defender of the Innocent: The Casebook of Martin Ehrengraf. Subterranean Press will publish their handsome hardcover edition on September 30th, and right around that time we’ll be releasing ebook and audio versions. (Don Sobczak has already delivered the audio, and I think you’ll enjoy how he’s voiced the little lawyer.) The stories in the new book are neither a thief’s nor a baker’s dozen; there are twelve of them, and two make their first appearance here.
Great. Two down, one to go. Tell us about the film, will you? Puh-leeze?
Unless you’ve spent the past month in one of those sensory-deprivation tanks, floating your troubles away, you’ve probably been blitzed to a fare-thee-well by lobby cards and trailers and bus-and-subway posters and TV commercials, all in aid of A Walk Among the Tombstones, which we insiders call AWATT to save a few pixels. It’s based on the tenth Matthew Scudder novel, it’s the brilliant work of writer/director Scott Frank, and stars Liam Neeson; the supporting cast includes Dan Stevens, Boyd Holbrook, Seb Roché, Brian “Astro” Bradley, David Harbour, and Danielle Rose Russell. It opens worldwide Friday September 19, and a week or so later Liam Neeson will present AWATT in the Gala Premieres section of the Zurich Film Festival.
And yes, it’s very exciting. I like everything about the picture, not least of all the outstanding score. The opening’s over three weeks away, and it’s already driving book sales. Hard Case Crime’s mass-market tie-in edition, with the movie poster on its cover, went on sale yesterday, and should be all over supermarket and airport racks as well as chain and indy bookstores. Trade paperback and audio editions are selling briskly, and the ebook is striding toward bestseller status on Kindle and Nook. (If an autograph’s important to you, we’ve got a limited number of signed trade paperbacks in LB’s eBay Bookstore, for the list price of $14.99.)
I bet they’re talking about a sequel, aren’t they?
Liam has said he’d like to do another, and Scott’s been thinking series all along, even as a number of Gentle Readers have stepped up to urge their favorite books on us. At this stage, however, it all seems a bit previous; how AWATT does at the box office will be the chief determinant as far as sequels are concerned.
Meanwhile, I’m off to Los Angeles soon for a guest spot on The Late Late Show on CBS with Craig Ferguson. That’ll be Wednesday night, September 10, and after a couple of days talking to film and TV people, I fly back home for the AWATT opening. This is as close as my life gets to glamour and excitement, and I intend to enjoy every minute of it until my limo turns back into a mouse-drawn pumpkin.
PS: As always, please feel free to forward this to anyone you think might find it of interest. And, if you’ve received the newsletter in that fashion from a friend and would like your own subscription, that’s easily arranged; a blank email to email@example.com with Newsletter in the subject line will get the job done.
About once a day I get an email from an author saying something to the effect of, “I wrote the best book ever, I put my heart and soul into it, but now that I pushed publish I can’t get it any attention!”
My response: “Life is fundamentally unfair and nobody gives two shits about you, your book, or anything you think or do. You’re welcome. Leave a dollar on the way out.”
If that seems harsh, because, gosh darn it, we spend so much time agonizing over the incredible weight of just being us, remember that everyone else thinks that all this is their movie, and you only exist to the extent that you flicker on their dim screen, which is to say, not at all.
Sorry. That’s how it is.
“But Russell,” you mewl, “I’m earnest and honest and true!”
Well, yes, perhaps you are. But that’s like being the best dressed guy at the bar at 2 am, and there’s only one girl left and she’s waiting for the bartender to get off work. Meaning, you’re hosed. It happens. That’s how life works. You can be special and different and gifted and good, but the meathead muscle builder who packs groceries for a living and lives in his mother’s garage walked out with the hottie at around nine, and now all that’s left are five hundred candidates, none of whom have a shot because there are simply no takers, other than each other, and nobody’s got enough to buy that last drink because they’re also all broke losers, too.
That’s traditional publishing in a nutshell. One slot, five hundred thousand wannabes. And it’s also self-publishing. A million books, and your epic is just one of them, interchangeable to the masses with Snooki’s, only they have no idea who the F you are because you weren’t on a reality show or had big enough implants.
You want an easy gig? Go be a nuclear physicist. This shit is hard, and you have to be out of your mind to believe you can make it barring a ton of work, incredible luck, and the stamina of Hercules.
I know. Nobody wants to hear that. They want to hear magical thinking about just keep writing and you’ll eventually make it. Uh huh. You and the other million people who are all doing precisely the same thing. It’s akin to the pitch MLMs give their new initiates, wherein they too can own the 200 foot yacht they get to go on as a reward once a year. No, sweetie, you don’t get to do any of that. Not unless you’re first, top of the pyramid, and have exceptional self-promotion skills and the momentum of a landslide.
Which should be your first clue. If you want to make it in this business? Be an exception. Meaning carve out your niche and make yourself relevant to readers. How? Beats me. I only know what I did, and that’s about as useful as saying, “write an amazing serial that catches everyone’s imagination at just the right point in history.” Or maybe, “write BDSM fan fiction of Twilight and start a whole new genre!” Or maybe, “sparkly vampires, f#ckwad, sparkly vampires. Now do it.”
None of that helps you. None of it matters to you. All you’re left with is you, your words, and your ability to matter to people, to reach them, to make them care.
How can you get your book visibility? I have no idea. Wish I did. I’d be conning you out of a fortune in “how to” books and seminars and in-person weekend retreats to learn my platinum-level, inner circle, guaranteed hot-off-the-presses gold rush tips. I can’t do that. It’s like, imagine there are a million people, all of whom decided that after two nights of drunk karaoke they were going to be pro singers, because Mick Jagger can’t really sing but he gets paid a fortune, and they’re at least as good as he is. Sound delusional? Replace pro singers with authors, and Mick Jagger with whoever your favorite hack writer-turned-superstar is, and there you go.
How can you write a bestseller? One word at a time.
See? I’m just no fun.
BTW, my NA series is da bomb. That’s all I’m going to say. If you wait too long to see what I’m talking about you’ll feel like a complete ass hat. Trust me. It’s exciting shit. Really. And I’m not just saying that. Although clearly it’s me saying that. Never mind. F you, hatahs. Word.
That, and if you don’t watch this, you’ll die of brain ebola while clowns boogarize you and your family. Don’t chance it. They’re everywhere, like Satan living silently in your heart, waiting for the right moment to take control.
Kids. Don’t mix the bath salts with tequila. All I can say is, way too effervescent for amateurs.
There. I’ve done my public service. Now go buy some of my crap. August is a slow month. And the bar tab ain’t paying for itself.
Copies of the latest issue of The Pulpster are now available for purchase from Mike Chomko, Books. A longstanding tradition cherished by attendees of summer pulp cons, The Pulpster #23 was released at PulpFest 2014. The new number focuses on the 75th anniversary of the blossoming of science fiction’s Golden Age, when fantastic fiction “grew up.” Additionally, the magazine also examines the so-called “shudder pulps,” magazines such as Terror Tales and Spicy Mystery Stories.
Leading off the issue is “Science Fiction and the Pulps,” the unabridged version of Mike Chomko‘s “History of Magazine Science Fiction,” serialized on the PulpFest home page. Last year’s Munsey Award winner, Garyn G. Roberts, is on board with an article on Futuria Fantasia, the fanzine that Ray Bradbury debuted at the first World Science Fiction Convention. Don Herron, the creator of San Francisco’s Dashiell Hammett Tour, the longest-running literary tour in the USA, takes a look at Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Fritz Leiber’s classic characters that made their first appearance in the August 1939 Unknown. Dwayne Olson contributes several letters written by Donald Wandrei concerning the death of his friend, Hannes Bok, born one-hundred years ago on July 2, 1914. Additionally, Argentine pulp writer Alfredo Julio Grassi is profiled by Christian Lawson.
Weird-menace fiction came into its own in 1934 and The Pulpster looks back to those days with “Pulp Horrors of the Dirty Thirties,” written by Don Hutchison, author of The Great Pulp Heroes and many other works. Archaeologist Jeffrey Shanks is also on hand with a look at “Zombies from the Pulps,” an overview of the undead writings of H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Manly Wade Wellman, Henry Kuttner, and other great pulpsters.
Filling out the issue is editor Bill Lampkin’s editorial, Tony Davis’ “Final Chapters,” and a tribute to the late Frank M. Robinson, written by John Gunnison of Adventure House.
The Pulpster #23 can be purchased for $13, postage paid in the United States. Buyers outside the United States will pay more. Please write to Mike Chomko at firstname.lastname@example.org or 2217 W. Fairview Street, Allentown, PA 18104-6542 for further instructions. You can also write to Mike about Pulpster back issues or visit our “program book” page for a list of what issues are available.
by Francis M. Nevins
In the years I’ve written these columns, death has overtaken a number of mystery-writing colleagues to whom I’ve said goodbye here. Till this month, all of them have been older than I. Now it falls to me to commemorate one who was more than five years younger. That is scary.
On August 14, in Pompano Beach, Florida, a man who ranked with the finest private-eye writers of his time, and was a friend of mine for more than twenty-five years, shot himself to death. Jeremiah Healy was 66.
The last time I saw him was in the fall of 2011, at the St. Louis Bouchercon. He looked fantastic, a trim handsome dude with thick gray hair and mustache and a beautiful girlfriend and (in his own words) the body of a 19-year-old paratrooper. He brought to mind a character in a radio soap opera my mother listened to when I was a small child, a fellow who, whenever asked how he was doing, would reply “Sittin’ on top o’ the world.”
Why Jerry took his own life I won’t discuss except to say that, unknown to me, he’d been battling prostate cancer and clinical depression and alcoholism and perhaps other dark forces for years. In the magnificent words of Pope Francis, who am I to judge him?
Like me, he was a law professor. When his career as a crime novelist began, he and I were the only mystery writers who had come to the genre from legal academia. In PI fiction it was the age of Robert B. Parker and of regionalism. Like Parker’s Spenser, Healy’s PI John Francis Cuddy was a jogger and amateur chef who lived and worked in Boston, a city he knew well and described almost like a human character.
Parker I suppose was the Hertz of the area’s mystery writers and Healy the Avis, but for a variety of reasons — two of them no doubt because we shared the same day job and got to be friends — I always preferred Jerry‘s books over Parker’s. Spenser was single and Cuddy a widower who often visited his wife’s gravesite, and spoke to her, and was, or thought he was, answered.
(Several widowers in movies directed by John Ford also spoke to their wives but never had dialogue with them. I once asked Jerry if he’d gotten the idea from Ford but he said he hadn’t.)
One of Parker’s lasting innovations was to put his protagonist in a monogamous relationship with one woman, and as the death of Cuddy’s wife faded in time he followed in Spenser’s footsteps with Susan Silverman by getting monogamously involved with a female prosecutor.
Healy’s first novel, Blunt Darts (1984), struck me as very good but perhaps too much in the shadow of Ross Macdonald. The New York Times called it one of the seven best mysteries of its year. His second, The Staked Goat (1986), I thought one of the finest PI novels I’d ever read. Almost thirty years after its publication I still say it belongs on any sensible short list of the great books of the genre since the death of Lew Archer’s creator.
Number four in the series, Swan Dive (1988), begins with Cuddy obliging a lawyer friend by agreeing to bodyguard Hanna Marsh, who has left her sadistic husband and is seeking both a divorce and the luxurious marital home.
Roy Marsh, not only a wife-beater and womanizer but a cocaine dealer on the side, tries to persuade Hanna to drop the suit by disembowelling their daughter’s cat. Cuddy goes outside the law to teach Roy a lesson in litigation etiquette, but a few nights later when Roy and a hooker are murdered in a fleabag hotel, all the evidence points to Cuddy, who is menaced not only by the police but by Roy’s coke-dealing compadres hunting for a missing shipment of their stock in trade.
Healy carefully balances whodunit and mean-streets elements, skillfully draws characters (many of whom speak Ethnic English, a trademark in this series), gives us the usual sharply observed tour of metro Boston, and even imparts some movement to Cuddy’s long-stalled relationship with the lovely assistant D.A. whom at this point in the saga he refuses to sleep with out of loyalty to his dead wife.
Yesterday’s News (1989) brings Cuddy to the decaying port city of Nasharbor, where a woman reporter on the local paper supposedly committed suicide less than twelve hours after hiring him to look into the murder of one of her confidential sources, a petty porn merchant claiming inside knowledge of police corruption.
It’s a briskly paced and tightly constructed novel, bringing to life a number of social and professional environments, with richly varied characters and relationships and sleazoid dialogue in the manner of George V. Higgins punctuated by short bursts of action.
You could never have guessed from Jerry’s first five novels that he was a law professor or even the holder of a law degree. It was only with Cuddy’s sixth full-length case that his creator’s two careers came together.
The title of Right to Die (1991) perfectly captures its theme. Cuddy is brought to the not totally fictitious Massachusetts Bay Law School to investigate a string of obscene anonymous notes to Maisy Andrus, a fiery law prof who not only publicly advocates legalized euthanasia but admits that she euthanized her dying first husband, a wealthy Spanish doctor, and got away with it. (Why she wasn’t extradited to Spain to stand trial, and even got to keep all the property her husband left her, are questions I fear are never adequately answered.)
In the first 150 pages more notes keep popping up and Cuddy goes around interviewing various people with ideological or personal reasons for hating Andrus’ guts, among them a black female minister, a Catholic pro-life fanatic, a Jewish doctor and a neo-Nazi skinhead. The suspects are well drawn and each of them mounts a soapbox on which to orate on issues of life and death.
Things heat up in later chapters, but the climax leaves more nagging questions unanswered. And anyone who can swallow Healy’s biggest credibility sandwich, which consists of our middle-aged PI finishing the 26-mile Boston Marathon four days after getting out of Massachusetts General Hospital with a slug in the hip, is a veritable Dagwood.
Jerry told me that a doctor at Harvard Medical School vouched for the possibility, saying that a bullet would have done Cuddy less harm than the flu, but I still don’t buy it.
Chapter 5 of Right to Die ought to be required reading even for those in legal education who don’t enjoy mysteries. Cuddy, a Vietnam veteran and law-school dropout, visits Andrus’ Ethics and Society class and is exposed once again to that bete noir of jurisprudence, the so-called Socratic Method.
Maisy Andrus’ classroom style, says Cuddy, “reminded me of a black Special Forces captain in basic training who ran the TTIS, the Tactical Training of the Individual Soldier, the most miserable obstacle course I ever experienced.”
For the next several pages we see the Method in action: Kingsfieldesque bullying, rapid-fire cross-examination of hapless students, hypotheticals straight out of the classic police torture scene from Dirty Harry. Later in Andrus’ office she justifies the Method and her dispassionate use of it. Cuddy dissents.
“Have you ever witnessed torture, Mr. Cuddy?”
I thought back to the basement of the National Police substation in Saigon. Suspected Viet Cong subjected to bamboo switches, lit cigarettes, telephone crank boxes, and wires. Walls seeping dampness, the mixed stench of body wastes and disinfectants, the screams….
“No, Professor, I’ve never seen torture.”
The sequence has nothing to do with the plot, but some of the best scenes in Healy’s previous books and especially in The Staked Goat aren’t tied to a storyline either. Standing on its own, this chapter is at once the most even-handed and the most riveting evocation of Socratic Method that I’ve ever encountered in a novel. And yes, that specifically includes The Paper Chase, to which we owe the legendary Professor Kingsfield.
Shallow Graves (1992) comes closer to joining the PI novel and the classic detective tale than any other Healy book I’ve read. The insurance company which once bounced Cuddy for refusing to approve a phony claim hires him back as a freelance to look into the strangulation of Mau Tim Dani, an exotic and rising young fashion model of Sicilian and Vietnamese descent, whose life had been insured by her financially shaky agency for half a million dollars.
The trouble starts when Cuddy discovers that the dead woman’s Sicilian side, her father and his kin, are Mafia; indeed that her granddad is the Godfather of metro Boston. Healy neatly divides our suspicions among a small cast of characters, offers portraits of the worlds of modeling, advertising and organized crime, and holds tension high despite an almost complete absence of violence.
He keeps descriptions to a minimum and relies on long Q&A sequences not only to convey plot points but, as is his wont, to showcase several varieties of ethnically flavored English, from Vietnamese to Japanese to Sicilian to black. Anyone who beats Cuddy to the killer’s identity will have done better than I.
Foursome (1993) takes Cuddy north to rural Maine, where three of the title’s quartet have been slaughtered in their lakeside retreat (very much like Jerry’s own, which I once had the pleasure of visiting) by a crossbow-wielding killer, with Cuddy’s client, the sole survivor of the four, having been charged with triple murder.
Trying to flush out a credible alternate suspect, Cuddy finds several Mainers and even more folks back in metro Boston who might have wanted one, some or all of the foursome out of the way.
This time I spotted the culprit long before Cuddy, mainly because I had come to know intimately how Jerry thought and worked. But he paints in vivid colors the pristine beauty of Maine and the big city’s mean streets and suburbs, skillfully characterizes a huge variety of people through Cuddy’s Q&A with them, and breaks up the interrogations with spurts of raw violence, making this longest of Healy’s novels to that point by all odds one of his best.
There’s hardly need to go on, and besides I’m running out of space. Jerry’s legacy to readers consists of 13 Cuddy novels, two collections of Cuddy short stories, three legal thrillers about Boston attorney Mairead O’Claire, and two stand-alone novels.
His legacy to those who were lucky enough to know him and be his friends is priceless. The countless Web comments on his death share a single leitmotif: what a kind, generous, giving man he was, how supportive and helpful to newer writers. He wasn’t Jewish, but if ever there were a living embodiment of the word mensch it was Jerry Healy. God, what a loss.
"I've been tempted to brand the book Meth Lit, because meth really is a character in this book, and it has affected my life and the lives of those around me in various ways."