Don’t Forget. Enter Now!

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Mar 272015
 
Today marks the conclusion of our contest to give away three copies of The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, edited by Kate White. If you missed The Rap Sheet's earlier post explaining what this handsome volume is all about--and offering an excerpted recipe from the cookbook--click here.

If you haven’t entered the drawing yet, well, what the hell are you waiting for? The process could hardly be simpler. Just e-mail your name and postal address to jpwrites@wordcuts.org, and be sure to write “Cookbook Contest” in the subject line. Entries will be accepted until midnight tonight. The three winners will be chosen completely at random, and their names listed on this page tomorrow.

Sorry, but at the publisher’s request, this contest is open only to residents of the United States and Canada.

Feeling lucky?
Mar 272015
 
Striking ruthlessly out of the night, the Ghost Riders are the most brutal band of outlaws ever to plague Texas. Leaving death and devastation behind them, they raid town after town, slaughtering, looting, and burning. Dressed in white robes that conceal their identity and seemingly unharmed by bullets, the Ghost Riders may not even be human!  Facing the greatest challenge of his career,
Mar 272015
 

Whisperer in DarknessWhisperer in DarknessWhisperer in DarknessHoward Phillips Lovecraft’s fiction has been adapted numerous times to film, often badly. Most of the efforts to transform the horror master’s prose to the silver screen have yielded far more groans than screams of terror. The best known motion picture to be inspired by Lovecraft’s work is probably Stuart Gordon’s cult favorite, RE-ANIMATOR, a horror-comedy loosely based on the author’s “Herbert West–Reanimator,” a story originally serialized in HOME BREW in 1922. Gordon’s film, released in 1985, went on to gross nearly three-million dollars and was followed by a pair of sequels–BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR (1990) and BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2003).

Although financially successful, devoted fans of the author have called Gordon’s film “a desecration of Lovecraft.” Even the film’s admirers, such as Curt Holman in PASTE MAGAZINE, have labeled it “not Lovecrafty.” Holman writes, “RE-ANIMATOR more closely resembles a zombie film than Lovecraft’s signature brand of occult sci-fi.”

It was left to an organization devoted to the live-action role-playing game CTHULHU LIVES, to create two of the most faithful adaptations of the work of H. P. Lovecraft. In 2005, the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society released THE CALL OF CTHULHU, a silent movie based on the story, originally published in WEIRD TALES in 1928, that introduced the author’s most famous creation, Cthulhu. Filmed by Andrew Leman and Sean Branney, with cinematography by David Robertson, THE CALL OF CTHULHU was an official selection at more than thirty international film festivals and winner of numerous awards.

In 2011, the Society followed with an adaptation of Lovecraft’s THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS, a masterful blending of horror and science fiction that originally ran in the August 1931 issue of WEIRD TALES. With Branney and Leman again collaborating with David Robertson, THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS ran in selected theaters nationwide and was again screened at film festivals across the globe.  Mirroring the style of such classic horror films of the 1930s as DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, and KING KONG, this entertaining film features an “atmosphere of barely-controlled hysteria.”

As part of its celebration of the 125th anniversary of H. P. Lovecraft’s birth and his relationship with WEIRD TALES, the leading supernatural fiction magazine of its time, PulpFest 2015 is very pleased to offer fully authorized showings of both THE CALL OF CTHULHU and THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS. The films will be respectively shown on Friday, August 14th and Saturday, August 15th, beginning at 11:30 PM. Each will be paired with an episode from ROD SERLING’S NIGHT GALLERY that originally aired in 1971–“Cool Air” and “Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture.”

To thank the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society for their generosity in allowing us to exhibit their films, PulpFest has offered to help the organization with a couple of research projects.

Other than her collaborations “The Curse of Yig,” “Medusa’s Coil,” and “The Mound,” the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society is looking for copies of any pulp stories published by Zealia Brown Reed Bishop. It is thought that she had a number of stories published, probably in romantically inclined pulps, and most likely credited to Zealia Reed or Zealia Bishop, depending on the year in which they were published.

Andrew Leman recently explored a trove of letters from Lovecraft to Bishop, in which he names a number of her manuscripts on which he had worked. Click here for a list of their working titles. Some of these stories may have never been published or they may have appeared under other titles. Zealia’s last name was Reed when she was writing these stories, and she didn’t marry Mr. Bishop until later in life. So if any of these stories were published, it probably would have been under the name Zealia Reed or Zealia Brown Reed. The stories are not weird tales or science fiction, but domestic or love fiction.

Additionally, the Society is seeking high quality scans of any advertisements placed in WEIRD TALES by H. P. Lovecraft for his services as a revisionist. It is thought that one ad appeared in the August 1928 number of “The Unique Magazine,” but there were probably others published at an earlier date.

(If you are able to help with either of these projects, please contact Andrew Leman at leman@cthulhulives.org or Sean Branney at branney@cthulhulives.org. To view a trailer of THE CALL OF CTHULHU, click here. To view a trailer of THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS, click here. The one-sheet, pictured above, is copyright 2015 by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society.)

 Posted by at 1:00 pm
Mar 272015
 
I've become a big fan of Charles Boeckman's Western pulp stories over the past couple of years, but WHEN THE DEVIL CAME TO ENDLESS is the first Western novel of his that I've read. Published by Avalon in 1996, it came out long after the pulp era was over, but it shows that Boeckman had lost none of his top-notch storytelling ability. Endless is a small town in West Texas, and as the book
Mar 272015
 
There is nothing more satisfying to a mystery novel addict like me that to decide upon reading a certain type of book, chose one fairly at random and from the first amazing sentence to the final paragraph be thoroughly entertained.  I wanted to read a good old fashioned puzzling whodunit this week after indulging in too many suspense style crime stories. One with a gory murder or two, a weird murder method and enough clues to keep me guessing whodunit to the end. Never did I imagine that the book I chose would deliver on all counts, that it would surpass every expectation and that I would actually figure out the culprit and hit all the proper clues and motivations in coming up with my solution. Every single one!

You couldn't find a more unusual detective novel than Knock, Murderer, Knock! (1938)  From it's quasi Shakespearean allusion in the title to the quote lifted from The Pickwick Papers that serves as the novel's epigraph a hardcore mystery fan couldn't ask for a more literate and witty refresher in the genuine traditional mystery. Harriet Rutland in her debut as a mystery writer not only adheres to the tenets of the fair play detective novel she adds her own subversive spin to a motley group of what at first appear to be just another assortment of cliche country house archetypes. Among the large cast of characters are two retired career soldiers, a haughty aristocratic doyenne, a dithery hypochondriac, a lady author of detective novels, one sexy young femme fatale, a variety of servants including maids, housekeeper and chauffeur, a no nonsense police inspector and the mysterious detective consultant who seems to be mucking up the investigation. Not one of them ever descends to the level of cliche.

Rutland gives each one a jab of her satirist's poison pen. Colonel Simcox spends much of his time knitting multicolored socks instead of reminiscing of his old soldier days. He's more interested in mastering his knitting and purling and wondering what do with the green yarn when he needs to work on the blue. Mrs. Dawson, the lady author, who brags of having written three books and is starting on her fourth has not had a single work published though her agents keep promising great offers are in the works. The aristocrat is a big phony whose title comes via her now dead husband, a former grocer who made his money in the flour business and earned a honorary title from his philanthropy once he became wealthy. The hypochondriac claims to be abused at the hands of her cruel nurse but in fact spends much of her day devising ways to cause her own near fatal accidents.  Here is the first sentence on the novel in which we meet the accident obsessed matron:
Mrs. Napier walked slowly to the middle of the terrace, noted the oncoming car, looked around to make sure that she was fully observed, crossed her legs deliberately, and fell heavily on to the red gravel drive.
The car misses Mrs. Napier, thankfully, but not a soul goes to her aid. They would much rather laugh at her and insult her.  Mrs. Napier does this sort of thing every day at the Presteignton Hydro where the novel takes place. Nurse Hawkins begrudgingly goes to pick her up all the while Mrs. Napier complains of bruises and manhandling.  Dr. Williams, the director of the resort, wants to murder her. So do a lot of the others. But it's not Mrs. Napier who ends up dead at all.  It's the sexy and alluring visitor Miss Blake.

Some deadly looking vintage knitting needles
Appropriately, size 13.
Miss Blake has been turning the heads of all the men and arousing the ire of the women. Her wardrobe is scandalous, her manner brazen, her humor off color. Miss Blake is vivacious and goodnatured and everything the other women residents at the Hydro are not.  Following the weekly amateur talent night where Miss Blake stood in as piano accompanist for all the singers and became the focus of nearly everyone's attention she is found dead in the lounge. Slumped over in the settee, the maid finds Miss Blake still wearing her slinky evening gown and a knitting needle sticking out of the base of her neck. Someone apparently didn't care for her music. Or her love of life.

Throughout the novel Rutland continually brings up the insidious nature of gossip and the prejudices and bigotry of all the residents at this health resort. It's clear she is having fun ridiculing the small-mindedness of hypocrites but there is something sinister about the way most of the characters are so mean spirited in their hatred for one another.  The atmosphere is one of brooding menace and there is evil at work here amid all the satire. At the Presteignton Hydro the clacking of knitting needles is like the clanging of a death knell.

While Inspector Palk and Mr. Winkley, the mysterious "free lancer" who casually inveigles his way into the murder investigation, are trying to make sense of the murder the killer manages to strike two more times. And each time the murder weapon is a steel knitting needle.


Not much is known about the writer. Olive Shimwell, who wrote under the pseudonym Harriet Rutland, is rather a mystery herself. I attempted to try the magic of internet searching and remarkably discovered that she at one time lived in a house in Ireland that was on the very grounds of a popular Victorian and Edwardian era hydropathic resort. (see above illustration of the grounds) It was called St. Ann's and was shut down in the late 1920s. I'm tempted to spend a couple of weeks sending out emails to the locals in Blarney to see i perhaps anyone remembers if the house known as Hillside on St Ann's Hill was part of the hydropathic estate. It seems more than likely.  And it really is too much to believe that it is pure coincidence that her first mystery novel is also set at such a health spa.

Sorry to report that this book is yet another one of those ridiculous rarities in the mystery world as the lack of a dust cover on this post will probably signify. After five years of hunting for a copy I finally found one and paid close to $60 for it. There isn't a single copy for sale today.  According to Worldcat.org there are only seven copies in university libraries that subscribe to that library database and about six in British, Scottish and Australian libraries. You may want to try your own local library.

I've reviewed her second novel The Poison Fly Murder, about some devilry amongst some fly fishing vacationers in Wales, previously on my blog.  It was published under the much better title Bleeding Hooks in the UK. I enjoyed that one as well. Soon her third and last book, Blue Murder, will be reviewed here as well.  Of the three Blue Murder is the most easily found in the US since it was reprinted by the estimable Detective Book Club and it can be found in a three-in-one volume along with The Yellow Violet by Frances Crane and The Gift Horse by Frank Gruber. Should you ever be lucky to come across any of Rutland's mysteries I suggest you grab it.  They're as odd as they come and exceptional mysteries to boot.

*   *   *

Reading Challenge update:  Golden Age card, space O1 "TBR Pile first lines"

  
 Posted by at 5:54 am
Mar 272015
 
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE. RKO Radio Pictures, 1947. Lawrence Tierney, Ted North, Nan Leslie, Betty Lawford , Andrew Tombes, Harry Shannon, Glen Vernon, Marian Carr, William Gould. Screenwriter-director: Felix E. Feist, based on a novel by Robert C. Du Soe.

   You don’t watch the crime film, The Devil Thumbs a Ride, for the rather formulaic plot about an outlaw on the run. No, you watch for it for the noir atmosphere, set as it is in the late 1940s on one shadowy and violent Southern California night.

   Most of all, you watch it for Lawrence Tierney. He portrays Steve Morgan, an inveterate liar, a forger, and a murderer.

   Directed by Felix Feist, The Devil Thumbs a Ride is a taut thriller, economical on time, but rich in black humor, cynicism, and suspense. Replete with believable, punchy dialogue, the film tells the story of the diabolical Morgan, who after killing a cashier in San Diego, hitches a ride with Jimmy Ferguson (Ted North), a traveling salesman from Los Angeles who was in town for a drunken birthday celebration. The two men end up also giving a lift to two women they encounter in a gas station parking lot and off they go.

   There’s murder, mayhem, and madness a plenty. Look for the close up shots of Tierney’s eyes. It’s not fancy camera work by any means, but they tell you all you need to know about who’s the charming devil in this one. Tierney was one of a kind, no doubt about it.

 Posted by at 4:53 am
Mar 272015
 

ROBERT AMES – Awake and Die. Gold Medal #518, paperback original; 1st printing, September 1955.

   Not much seems to be known about the author. This is the third of three crime novels he wrote for Gold Medal, the earlier ones being The Devil Drives (1952) and The Dangerous One (1954), both of which I own, but this is the first of the three that I’ve read. In Crime Fiction IV, Al Hubin tells us that Robert Ames was a pen name of Charles Clifford, but that he was not the same Charles L. Clifford who wrote While the Bells Ran, which I reviewed here some short time ago.

   Unless, maybe? At the moment this is all I know, so it’s possible that the two are one and the same. To stay on the safe side, however, let’s assume they’re not. It makes no difference, really, in whether this is a book you’d enjoy reading or not.

   Awake and Die is told in first person a hunky young war veteran named Will Peters who came home from Korea with a bullet removed from his head and a 50% disability pension. He’s working as a clamdigger along the Jersey shore as the story begins, which it does with some gusto, right off the bat.

   First he meets a the girl of his dreams on a dock, dressed in white shirt with nothing underneath, red shorts and with long tanned legs. She’s married but that doesn’t seem to stop her from having all eyes for Will. Nor he for her, for that matter.

   Will, however, is encumbered with a live-in lady friend who has become increasingly tiresome to live with, and another young female acquaintance who with a little encouragement, wouldn’t mind taking the other woman’s place.

   Three women interested in him, as pleasant as that may sound, is at least two more than Will can handle. At the same time that Will has plans for his live-in lady friend, unfortunately for her, quite coincidentally Mrs. Grace (the one on the dock) has a husband she is no longer very fond of, to put it mildly.

   Two, no make that three deaths later, Will’s destiny is in the hand of Chris, female acquaintance number three, plus (quite surreally) a hermit who lives on the shore and does not speak except ventriloqistically through his three companions, a dog, a cat, and a seagull. A recently demoted cop named Rogers hangs tight on Will’s tail constantly, wanting his old job back, and knowing just how he’s going to do it.

   The story that plays out from here is more than competently told, but while there is a twist or two along the way, I had in mind a couple of even better ones. Toward the end of the tale a couple of questions I had about the telling are answered, so all of the loose ends are tied up, but in true noir fashion, not too happily for most of the participants. I’ve read better along these same lines, but equally so, I hasten to add, many that were a whole lot worse.

 Posted by at 2:15 am

Guest post – Tom Pitts – The Novella is Dead

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Mar 272015
 

image001Coughs, comes up to podium, remembers sage advice: Open with a joke. Open with a joke!

Um … The novel walks into a bar, followed by the novella.

Bartender says, "What's with the new guy?"

The novel says, "It's a long story."

(Stolen from @IsTheNovelDead on twitter)

A few years ago, when I tried to pen my first longer work—the piece that eventually became Knuckleball—a friend told me, "The novella is dead!"

image003I'm happy to say this friend (I'm looking at you, Joe Clifford!) was wrong.

Although, I'm not sure he was wrong at the time.

They're always proclaiming something is dead. God is dead! Rock'n'Roll is dead! Or my personal favorite: Disco is dead!! But there was something a bit more sinister at work here. The publishing industry really did their best to kill off the novella—the brunch of literature, the Opie-size opuses, bite-sized book, the orphan of the epic.

It wasn't really that reader's appetites for shorter works had died off. Far from it. The reality of printing skinny little hardcopy books that had to be shipped, invoiced, and stored (thus keeping the price close to what a full-length novel would be) made it tough to rationalize keeping them in the game. If a customer saw a big fat book for 12.99 and a thin volume for 10.99, they'd most likely pick up the bigger tome to get more bang for their buck. Who could blame 'em? The big houses saw their out and gave the novella the squeeze.

image006Enter the eBook—enter the era of the 99 cent book. Hate on 'em if you must, but the eBook continues to eclipse their older, heavier brothers with ease, convenience, and price. Now it's possible to crank out plenty of shorter works without the price-heavy network necessary to get novellas to the readers.

And the public responded. Turns out they dig novellas. In spades.

The publishers responded too. From Don Delillo's Point Omega to Eric Beetner's Dig Two Graves, the publishing world has been kicking out tiny tomes left and right.

johnsonI don't know about y'all, but when I'm trying out a new author I often want to dip my toe in the water. Get a taste. When I first tried out Denis Johnson, I bought Nobody Move, his noir novella. (Loved it, by the way, although a lot of his hardcore fans didn't. It did the trick. I'm now a fan. I went on to read Tree of Smoke and other longer works of his. Train Dreams, another tight little novella of his remains a personal favorite.)

I just finished, The Drop, Dennis Lehane's superb novella. It's perfectly balanced and great example of a shorter book packing a punch. Tough to argue with success via satisfaction.

In fact, when my own novella, Piggyback, was published by Snubnose in 2012, I felt like I was in the midst of a novella renaissance. A novella-lution. Okay, that phrase doesn't work too well, but you know what I mean.

One Eye Press answered the call in a big way and decided to put out a series of novellas—their Singles series. There're a few other publishers, both big and small, that have been doing the same thing.

You might say it's the shorter attention span of readers these days, or the ease of e-publishing, or the aligning of the planets. Whatever the reason, there's something nice and satisfying about a novella.

oeps-knuckleball-pitts-3dcover-bWhen I think about Steinbeck's the Red Pony or Of Mice and Men, or even the goddamn Great Gatsby—which by most folk's measurements would be classified as a novella—there's direct and concise quality about a thin tome that gets lost inside of a 500-page doorstopper.

So … here's to the novella.

Oh, by the way, my own novella, my first born, the piece that holds that special place in my heart, KNUCKLEBALL is out now and available from One Eye Press.

Bio: Tom Pitts received his education on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, working, writing, and trying to survive. His novel, HUSTLE, and his novella, Piggyback, are available from Snubnose Press. His new novella, Knuckleball, will be released by One Eye Press is out now. Find links to more of his work at: TomPittsAuthor.com