Ed Gorman

Mar 262015
Gold Medal Corner -- John McPartland

This is a little essay I did for Steve Lewis's Mystery*File. I'm reprinting it here because Duane Swierczynski recently read a McPartland book and wrote about it in his blog. Now Ed Gorman has joined in the fun with a reprint on his own blog.

Gold Medal Corner
by Bill Crider

If people of a certain age (that would be my age) remember John McPartland at all, it’s probably because of his 1957 “breakthrough” novel, No Down Payment. But the truth is hardly anybody remembers even that. (Try a google search if you don’t believe me.) Probably even fewer people remember that both before and after the publication of his “big” book, McPartland published novels with Gold Medal. And they were good ones.

Probably my favorite is The Kingdom of Johnny Cool (1959). Written years before Mario Puzo thought of The Godfather, this is a crackerjack novel about the Mafia (McPartland calls it the Outfit). The title has a couple of meanings, as there are two Johnny Cools in the novel, one young, one old. The young one is the killer, the man who’s going coast-to-coast to kill five men in one day. How he does it, what he becomes in the process, and what happens to him are just a few of the things the book is about. Although there are only 160 pages, this novel has enough details about the Outfit and the way it operates to make even Puzo blink. I seem to recall that Puzo said he made everything up. McPartland may have done the same, but it certainly sounds authentic, as do the all the details of police procedure that are introduced after the murders. The book had at least two Gold Medal printings, and they probably weren’t small ones, but I’m surprised it didn’t do even better. 

Maybe it would have, in a different time. McPartland was restricted by publishing conventions of the 1950s, so he couldn’t be nearly as explicit as Puzo was able to be later on. For example, after a young woman with the unlikely name of Dare Guiness is raped, Johnny takes revenge on the killers by stabbing them with a knife from Dare’s kitchen. And then: “There was a tradition for bodies like these two, a tradition that required the use of the knife once more on each of them. Johnny did this and left the bodies where they lay on the gray sidewalk near the garage.” Readers these days (and probably those days, too) knew what it was that Johnny did, but specificity in that sort of thing seems mean bigger sales. McPartland did his best. And even with the restrictions, this is a brutal book, maybe even a little shocking for 1959, and the ending is a real downer. 

But there are a couple of lighter moments, including some snappy patter that wouldn’t be out of place in an Arnold Swarzenegger movie of a few years ago. After a couple of killings in Las Vegas, Johnny gets on a package tour bus and sits down next to a guy counting his winnings. The guy wants to talk:

“Boy, I murdered them here,” he said. “How did you do?”
“I did all right,” said Johnny.

McPartland’s books are well worth reading if you like hardboiled action, as I do now and then, and the writing’s fine, too. The Wild Party is another good one, as are the others I’ve read.

If McPartland was so good, why didn’t he make a bigger impact on the crime field? One reason might be that he died at the age of forty-seven. He was already dead by the time The Kingdom of Johnny Cool was published. Too bad he didn’t stick around longer. A lot longer.

Gold Medal Media Bonus: In 1963, The Kingdom of Johnny Cool was made into a movie with the shortened title of Johnny Cool. It starred Henry Silva and Elizabeth Montgomery, and it made a big impression on me and my date (who’s still my date to the movies, by the way). I thought it would make Silva a big star. He was a brat-packer at the time, and Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis, Jr., make cameos in the movie. The real revelation, though, is Montgomery. Wotta performance! After you see her in this movie, you’ll never be able to think of her as that cute Samantha again.

Non-Gold Medal Media Bonus #1: After you see Johnny Cool (which will be next to impossible, as I don’t believe it’s available), you should watch Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai (1999). Supposedly it’s based on some French film, and I might be the only major movie critic who noticed that it’s sort of a remake of Johnny Cool. Forrest Whitaker is the star, but the old Mafia guy is (a great touch) Henry Silva.

Non-Gold Medal Media Bonus #2: And after that, see if you can find the movie version of No Down Payment. I’m betting you can’t, but give it a try. It’s one of the better “lost” movies of the 1950s, with Joanne Woodward and Tony Randall, who proves here that he could do a lot more than just play the comic sidekick in movies with Doris Day and Rock Hudson. This is one of the best portrayals of suburbia ever, or at least of what people thought suburbia was like in the 1950s. I’ve never read the book, but I really should, one of these days.

Posted by Bill Crider at 8:46 AM 
Mar 262015
TELEVISION|Gregory Walcott, Actor Known for ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space,’ Dies at 87

Gregory Walcott, Actor Known for ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space,’ Dies at 87
Gregory Walcott, a character actor whose résumé included numerous television westerns, several Clint Eastwood movies and prestige films like “Norma Rae” — but who was probably best known as one of the stars of “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” often called the worst movie ever made — died on Friday at his home in the Canoga Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. He was 87.
His death was confirmed by his son, Todd Mattox, who said Mr. Walcott had been in poor health for some time.
When Mr. Walcott, a tall, ruggedly handsome Southerner, was offered the key role of a pilot in “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” the idiosyncratic director Edward D. Wood Jr.’s low-budget 1959 oddity about aliens who bring the dead back to life, he had already been in the hit Henry Fonda Navy comedy “Mister Roberts” (1955) and other movies. He said in a 1998 interview that the “Plan 9” script “made no sense” but that he took the job because one of the producers was a friend of his.
“I thought maybe my name could give the show some credibility,” he said.
The film seemed destined to be no more than a footnote in Mr. Walcott’s busy career. He was a regular on the 1961-62 police series “87th Precinct” and had guest roles on “Bonanza,” “Maverick” and virtually every other TV western. He acted alongside Mr. Eastwood on “Rawhide” and in “The Eiger Sanction” (1975), “Every Which Way but Loose” (1978) and other movies. Often cast as an authority figure, he played lawmen in Steven Spielberg’s “The Sugarland Express” (1974) and Martin Ritt’s “NormaRae” (1979).
But “Plan 9 From Outer Space” slowly developed a following for its cheap effects, its stilted dialogue and a ragtag cast that included the one-name TV personalities Vampira and Criswell as well as Bela Lugosi, in footage shot shortly before his death in 1956. To Mr. Walcott’s embarrassment, “Plan 9” became a staple at bad-film festivals and the movie with which he was most often associated.
He was born Bernard Wasdon Mattox on Jan. 13, 1928, in Wendell, N.C. After graduating from high school and serving in the Army for two years, he hitchhiked to Hollywood and before long had given himself a new name and was landing small film roles.
In addition to his son, Mr. Walcott is survived by two daughters, Pamela Graves and Jina Virtue, and six grandchildren. His wife of 55 years, the former Barbara May Watkins, died in 2010.
Mr. Walcott came to accept his bad-film fame with good humor. His last screen role was a cameo in Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” (1994), about the making of “Plan 9” and its eccentric auteur. Mr. Mattox, his son, said that when a bar called Plan 9 Alehouse opened near his home in Escondido, Calif., last year, he gave the owners, with Mr. Walcott’s blessing, a copy of his “Plan 9” script to use as wallpaper in the men’s room.
“I didn’t want to be remembered for that,” Mr. Walcott told The Los Angeles Times in 2000. “But it’s better to be remembered for something than for nothing, don’t you think?”
A version of this article appears in print on March 26, 2015, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: Gregory Walcott, 87, a Star of ‘Plan 9’. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe

Mar 252015
From Carolyn Hart:
Annie and Max will be back
Dear Ed,
    I’d announced that Don’t Go Home would be the last Annie and Max but I changed my mind. Definitely intend to write #26, God willing! Love – Carolyn

Posted: 23 Mar 2015 02:16 PM PDT
Michael Crichton was a writer who knew how to write, and what he chose to write seemingly meant something to him.  His later novels tended to deal with science, technology and ethics, and his early works—particularly the novels written “as by”—dealt with both youth and culture in a strikingly simple and meaningful manner.  His 1968 novel A Case of Need written as by Jeffery Hudson is not only the best of his early works, but it is also arguably his best novel.

John Berry is a pathologist at a Boston hospital and the novel opens with a heart surgeon ranting about losing a patient on the table.  Berry doesn’t pay much attention because this is how the surgeon deals with the stress and anger of a lost patient.  The rant, like everything in the novel, has the subtle feel of reality and prepares the scene for the main crux of the novel: an abortion gone wrong.  A procedure that was illegal when the novel was published and no less controversial than it is today.

Dr. Art Lee is an OBGYN and an abortionist.  He is also one of John Berry’s best friends.  When a young woman dies in an ER hemorrhaging from a botched abortion, Dr. Lee is the primary suspect.  This sets the novel in motion—John Berry is certain his friend didn’t perform the procedure and he wants to clear Dr. Lee’s name, but his motives become less clear as the novel unravels.

A Case of Need is a crossroads novel between Mr Crichton’s early pulp adventure novels and his larger, more complex modern novels.  It is something like a DMZ between the John Lange thrillers and The Andromeda Strain.  It features many of the hallmarks of his later works, particularly cultural and medical ethics, but it is wrapped in a damn terrific mystery.  It won an Edgar in 1969 for best novel and it represents Crichton’s talent at its highest.

What truly separates A Case of Need from the herd is its setting, theme and dialogue.  The setting is the world of medicine.  It clearly focuses the reader’s attention on not only what it is like, or was like, to be a work-a-day physician, but it also thematically explores the ethical decisions that lurk in the industry.  It gives a murky representation of abortion and its relation to both physicians who perform the procedure and those who do not. And the dialogue is vintage Crichton; it moves the story forward in quick and linear fashion.

There really isn’t anything about the novel that is weak or underdeveloped.  The prose is strong and vivid—

“All heart surgeons are bastards, and Conway is no exception. He came storming into the path lab at 8:30 in the morning, still wearing his green surgical gown and cap, and he was furious.”

The mystery is plotted perfectly and the suspense is built as well as any novel I have read.  It begins with what appears to be a moment of subterfuge—the angry heart surgeon—but ties the seemingly out-of-place opening scene perfectly into the theme of the story; the imperfect surgeon struggling with his own limitations and balancing the imperfections of society with the needs and demands of his patients.

A Case of Need is a terrific novel that is as relevant and entertaining today as it was forty years ago.  In a sense it is very much a novel of its time, but it also has a timeless quality in that the questions it never quite answers will continue to debated generations from now.  And it very well may be the evidence we need to prove Michael Crichton was from another world.  He really was that good, and this novel proves it.
Mar 242015

Lost Classics of Noir: The Big Heat by William P. McGivern

criminal element

I first saw Fritz Lang’s 1953 film noir The Big Heat decades ago, and I just viewed it again this week. This time I watched it immediately after readingWilliam P. McGivern’s novel of the same title. This is the latest in my series of posts where I rave about an underappreciated noir novel while commenting on a better-known film that was made from it. Lang’s big screen feature is, of course, a gem, and one that any fan of film noir should get to know if they don’t already. McGivern’s work of fiction, which originally appeared in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post, then was published as a novel in the same year as the movie’s release, deserves lofty status among those who appreciate hard-edged crime tales as they appear on the printed page.
There’s little difference in the plotline between book and movie, but for present purposes I’ll focus on the story as it is told in the novel. The primary character is Dave Bannion: a sergeant of detectives in a homicide bureau in Philadelphia. Bannion is a big man; much is made of his hulky build in McGivern’s book, whereas he comes across as being of more normal male stature via Glenn Ford’s portrayal of him in the movie. He has a temper that he needs to keep a watch over, to make sure he doesn’t use his great bulk to do bodily harm to others when it’s not warranted. Bannion is a family man, happily married to his good-natured wife and a loving father to their young daughter. He’s also an honest law enforcement agent. In the beginning of the novel (this is not in the movie), some of the detectives on his team are holding a black man on suspicion of a crime, and are ready to work him over physically to sweat a confession out of him; but Bannion feels their grounds for suspecting the man are flimsy (and racially motivated, although that’s only implied in the book), and he tells his boys to let the guy go.

Another aspect of Bannion’s character that is shown in McGivern’s book is the fact that he likes to wind down in the evening with a reading from one of his philosophy books. I like McGivern’s omniscient narrator’s words about this aspect of Bannion’s character:
Bannion read philosophy because it was a relief from the dry and matter-of-fact routine of his own work . . . I read philosophy, he thought, because I’m too weak to stand up against the misery and meaningless heartbreak I run into on the job every day . . . I want to read something which puts sense into life.
And here’s some more on Bannion from the book, words that illustrate what I said before about the detective’s physical build and how he needs to keep control over his use of it:
Bannion’s body was like an engine; he could hook it to a job and it would run all day. He was no body-lover, no beach athlete. He felt an impersonal regard for his strength, as if he were merely a steward whose job was to keep it functioning at par. Bannion had learned that the more able a man is to stop trouble, the less of it he is likely to meet. And he didn’t want trouble, he didn’t want to use his hands on people. When circumstances forced him to, or when his temper jerked him out of control, he inevitably felt disgusted with himself and degraded. He knew the wild streak inside him and had tamed it, or frustrated it rather, by being strong enough to stop trouble before it started.
The story of The Big Heat gets going when a cop from Philly dies, in an apparent act of suicide. Bannion visits the home of the man — Deering in the book and Duncan in the movie — just to pay his respects to the guy’s widow and to make sure there isn’t a possible homicide angle that might need looking into. Deering’s wife tells Bannion that her husband was worried about his health and that this is likely why he killed himself. Bannion leaves the home satisfied that nothing happened here other than a man of the law deciding to end his life.
for the rest of this post go here:

Dark Screams Great Anthology only 99 cents

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Mar 242015


Dark Screams: Volume One is currently discounted to just 99 cents this week, so if you have a way to spread the word, that would be greatly appreciated.  The featured authors are Stephen King, Kelley Armstrong, Bill Pronzini, Simon Clark, and Ramsey Campbell.

Here are some links for easy reference:

* Amazon.com:

* Barnes & Noble:

* iTunes/iBookstore:

* Kobo:


Volume Two was published on March 3, 2015.  The featured authors are Robert McCammon, Norman Prentiss, Shawntelle Madison, Graham Masterton, and Richard Christian Matheson.

* Amazon.com:

* Barnes & Noble:

* iTunes/iBookstore:

* Kobo:


Volume Three will be published on May 12, 2015.  The featured authors are Peter Straub, Jack Ketchum, Darynda Jones, Jacquelyn Frank, and Brian Hodge.

* Amazon.com:

* Barnes & Noble:

* iTunes/iBookstore:

* Kobo:


Volume Four will be published on August 4, 2015.  The featured authors are Clive Barker, Lisa Morton, Ray Garton, Ed Gorman, and Heather Graham.

* Amazon.com:

* Barnes & Noble:

* iTunes/iBookstore:

* Kobo:


Volume Five will be published on October 6, 2015. The featured authors are Mick Garris, Kealan Patrick Burke, Del James, J. Kenner, and Bentley Little.

* Amazon.com:

* Barnes & Noble:

* iTunes/iBookstore:

* Kobo:

Best wishes,
Brian Freeman
Managing Editor

Cemetery Dance Publications
132-B Industry Lane, Unit #7
Forest Hill, MD 21050

410-588-5901 [phone]
410-588-5904 [fax]


Big Celebration for Gunsmith #400

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Mar 232015

Every single month since 1981, a new book in The Gunsmith Series by: Robert J. Randisi a.k.a. J.R. Roberts has been published. On April 1, 2015, the 400th book will be released! Can you imagine--a one-author series, 400 books? And he's written other series besides, in multi-genres. This celebration is in honor of not only a prolific writer, but an extraordinarily talented author.

The first hour, our guest will be The Gunsmith himself, Clint Adams. The second hour, we'll have Gunsmith creator Robert Randisi, Troy Smith of Western Trail Blazer, and Western Fictioneers president Cheryl Moss Pierson. We hope Mike Stotter of Piccadilly Publishing is able to be here, too.

Yes, there'll be prizes! You could win one of three copies of The Gunsmith #400: The Lincoln Ransom, signed by one of the most incredible writers of our time. We'll also give away some digital copies of the book. But the biggest prize is that right here at this Facebook event, you can chat with Robert Randisi himself!

To preorder your Kindle copy: http://amzn.com/B00TWFOAX2

Women by Lev Levinson

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Mar 222015
Women by Lev Levinson

How can any man hope to understand women?   By studying them.   We can never hope to understand them as well as they understand themselves, but we can become enlightened to a certain extent if we pay attention. 

I believe that women are somewhat cautious around men.  They don’t speak with us as they speak among themselves.  And naturally the reverse is true.  Men don’t speak with women as we speak among ourselves.

This morning I watched a great movie which also happened to be quite educational about women, appropriately titled “The Women,” released in 2008 and based loosely on a movie of the same name released in 1939, directed by George Cukor, starring Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford at the peaks their careers. 

This newer version isn’t a remake.  It’s very different although the plot is roughly similar.

Both films show no men at all, not even walking on sidewalks or appearing in stores.  It’s totally a woman’s world, a woman’s movie to the max.

Art both magnifies and condenses life.  That’s what this movie does.  It describes women’s concerns from their point of view, written and directed by a woman, Diane English.

“The Women” proved yet again that women aren’t like men at all.  Compared to women, men are pragmatic, focused on goals, similar to blunt instruments like hammers.  Women are subtle creatures, similar to microscopes.  Whereas a man might punch another man in the mouth, women are experts at psychological warfare.  They will destroy you and put you in an insane asylum, and you won’t even understand what happened.  And when they go to war against each other, you don’t hear any gunshots or punchouts, only words and plots producing rips and slashes that go deep psychologically.

Once I asked a girlfriend:  “What makes women tick?”  She replied:  “Men make women tick.”

Although no men appear in this movie, men are discussed constantly.  In fact, the movie primarily is about men, secondarily about friendship, and thirdly about careers.

According to this movie, women need and love men, but constantly are being betrayed in large and small ways.  That’s what the plot really is about.  This evidently is a woman’s reality, how they view their lives.  In this movie, women respond by helping each other through their varying crises.  Women evidently are very important to other women as support groups, and men become problems to be managed.  That’s how they see us and we’d better get used to it because there is no escape from women unless a man enters a monastery, and even in monks’ cells there probably are women dancing through men’s imaginations, which is where they live most intensely.

The cast was absolutely magnificent.  Could not have been better.  Meg Ryan probably can be considered the star; she was superb.  The next most important role was played by Annette Bening, who never gave a bad performance in her life.  I won’t list the entire huge cast but everyone was wonderful, especially Candace Bergen as Meg’s mom.

And now I’m gonna get philosophical.  Men need women, and women evidently need men.  Often we work at cross purposes because we’re not alike.  Sometimes we let vanity interfere with our ability to love each other.  And sometimes we yield to temptations, because temptations can be difficult to withstand.

This movie proved to me once again that men must be very cautious in dealings with women, because women are very sensitive to slights, neglect and what they consider insults.  We must beware of casual remarks that might be misinterpreted by wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, girlfriends, and women colleagues, because they’re always searching for deeper meanings, and apparently expect to be betrayed and abandoned because they see it happening around them all the time.

Above all, we men must always remember that “Girls just want to have fun,” as Cyndi Lauper tried to teach us.  That’s the key to getting along with women.  They will tolerate a certain amount of bullshit if they’re having fun most of the time.

To my astonishment, this movie received mostly very bad reviews, whereas I thought it brilliant.  Perhaps women critics didn’t like their secrets being exposed so mercilessly.  Perhaps feminist film critics don’t approve of a movie so focused on men.  Perhaps men critics thought the movie too feminine and silly.

According to Wikipedia, Roger Ebert of the “Chicano Sun-Times” was one of the few critics who enjoyed the film. He awarded it three out of four stars and commented, "What a pleasure this movie is, showcasing actresses I've admired for a long time, all at the top of their form ... Diane English ... focuses on story and character, and even in a movie that sometimes plays like an infomercial for Saks Fifth Avenue, we find ourselves intrigued by these women ... `The Women’ isn't a great movie, but how could it be? Too many characters and too much melodrama for that, and the comedy has to be somewhat muted to make the characters semi-believable. But as a well-crafted, well-written and well-acted entertainment, it drew me in and got its job done.”

I disagree with Roger.  I though it a great movie just like the original “The Women.”  And quite an educational experience which I cannot recommend highly enough.

Mar 222015

On a November day in 1863, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, President Abraham Lincoln spoke briefly at the dedication of a cemetery for soldiers fallen in the recent battle. He said, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here today", but this prophecy proved incorrect as Lincoln's remarks became one of the most famous speeches of all time. 

But what if, haunted by an unexpected tragedy, the words spoken by Lincoln that day were different, words that irrevocably changed not only the course of the Civil War but also American history itself? 

THE BLOOD OF THE FALLEN is a tale of Alternate History from master storyteller and bestseller James Reasoner, author of the Civil War Battles series. A compellingly different view of the bloody clash that defined a nation, this story originally appeared in the anthology ALTERNATE GETTYSBURGS.

(This is one of my few ventures into the field of Alternate History and also one of my favorites of all the short stories I've done. It's never been reprinted since it first appeared in 2002.)


Mar 212015

March Newsletter, volume 4, issue 3  2015
Last month we announced the coming of Black Gat Books, our new line of mass market books premiering in May. It’s hard to top that news, so we’re going fall back on a little bit of in-house promoting this time. Specifically, the Stark House Crime Club.
The Newsletter goes out to a lot of folks who haven’t signed up for the Crime Club but still want to hear about the new titles. And we can certainly understand that. But perhaps it’s time to re-state just what the Crime Club has to offer for those who were thinking about joining.
First of all, members of the Crime Club get their books first. Before Amazon or bookstores are shipped a single copy, the Crime Club copies go out. The very first thing we do when the new books arrive is to send these copies down to the post office. We used to have our Amazon orders drop-shipped from the printer, but even though that saves us some money, one time the Amazon customers got their copies first. So we make sure that doesn’t happen again, and we have the printer ship all the copies to the Stark House warehouse first.
So that’s the first benefit. You get your books first.
Crime Club members also don’t pay shipping costs for their books. Sure, you get a discount from Amazon, but they charge you shipping unless you order $25 worth of stuff at a time. We don’t make you order anything else. We just ship the one book freight free. And tax free as well—we still pay the tax at our end, but California customers get their books without being charged sales tax.
And beyond that, we try to circumvent the destructive efforts of the post office by mailing the books in a cardboard mailer. Sometimes the post office crushes the package anyway, but we are quick to replace those copies so you get a new copy of each Stark House book in pristine condition.
After the book is shipped, we bill you via paypal. Clean and easy. And if you want to pay by check or money order, that’s okay, too.
Those are the main benefits of joining the Crime Club. Of course, you also get each new, monthly Stark House crime book without missing anything. That goes without saying.
Sometimes, in addition to the monthly crime books, we toss some odd titles into the mix. For example, when we publish one of our turn of the 20th century treasures, we always send out an email and ask first before shipping those, even if it’s the monthly release. We love them, but we appreciate the fact that not everyone likes their fiction 100 years old. If the monthly release is outside the regular genre of mid-century mystery/suspense/noir fiction, we will always give you a choice.
So there you have it: five or six good reasons why you should join the Stark House Crime Club.  If you’re interested, just email us at griffinskye3@sbcglobal.net , and we’ll set you up. All we need is your email and physical address to get you started.
And speaking of crime books, W. R. Burnett’s Little Men, Big World / Vanity Row arrives today. Burnett wrote Little Caesar and High Sierra, both made into excellent crime movies with Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart. Our two-fer represents the second and third books in his Urban Trilogy, which began with The Asphalt Jungle, filmed by John Huston in 1950 with Sterling Hayden and Sam Jaffe, and currently available in a kindle edition.
These three books represent Burnett’s attempt to dramatize the gangland disintegration of the big city “in three stages: status quo, imbalance and anarchy,” according to the author.  Through a series of finely drawn characters on both sides of the law—both the crime bosses and underlings as well as the cynical newspaper reporters and honest police captains—the reader is immediately pulled into each story. Little Men, for example, focuses on a fellow named Arky, who controls the gambling in the city, but who also finds himself in charge of a small baby that needs caring for while trying to juggle his relationship with his lover, Anna. Each character is interestingly multi-faceted, whether on one side of the law or the other, and you find yourself caring about them whether you agree with their moral stance or not. 

Little Men, Big World / Vanity Row by W. R. Burnett; introduction by Rick Ollerman (978-1-93358667-0, $20.95)

Our next trade paperback two-fer is Liz / Syndicate Girl by Frank Kane, who made his career writing about the exploits of detective Johnny Liddell in a series of 30 books published in the 1950s and 60s. But he also wrote a few stand-alone novels, and we’re bringing you two of them, the first novel being the story of a woman whose road to success is paved with murder and mayhem, the second a hard-hitting thriller about a corrupt city and the man who stakes his life to clean it up.

Liz / Syndicate Girl by Frank Kane; introduction by Robert J. Randisi (978-1-933586-59-5, $20.95)

Plus we’ve got new titles coming up this Spring and Summer by Douglas Sanderson, Peter Rabe, Darren R. Leo (an exciting new author), Bruno Fischer, Malcolm Braly, Rick Ollerman and Gil Brewer. It’s going to be a great year for Stark House. We hope you get in on the excitement by joining the Crime Club, but no matter whether you do or not, we thank you for your continued support!
Greg Shepard, publisher
Stark House Press
P.S. A few more details for those who are new to the newsletter or who would appreciate a bit of additional clarification:
All Black Gat Books are 4.25" x 7" and will be $9.99 each.
All regular trade paperback two-fers are 5.5" x 8.5" and will be priced at $20.95.
All regular trade paperback three-fers (published irregularly—the next one is due in July) are 5.5" x 8.5" and will be priced at $23.95. 
As a member of the Stark House Crime Club, you will automatically receive each new trade paperback crime book. We were going to address this in the next newsletter, but if you are a member of the Crime Club and wish to automatically receive each new Black Gat Book as well, please let us know by responding to griffinskye3@sbcglobal.net, and letting us know so we can sign you up for those as well. They will start with 3 titles in May and then single new titles will be published every 3-4 months in addition to the monthly two- and three-fers.

Mar 202015

 by  Cullen Gallagher:

“I’m pretty much of a failure in life, Helen. Does it matter to you?”

“No. Nothing matters to me.” Her voice had a resigned quality and yet it was quietly confident. There was a tragic look in her brown eyes, but her mouth was smiling. It was the smile of a little girl who knows a secret and isn’t going to tell it. I held her hand in mine. It was a tiny, almost pudgy band, soft and warm and trusting. We finished our drinks.

That’s the sort of one-two punch Charles Willeford delivers again and again in Pick-Up (Beacon Books, 1955). First, a sobering dose of existentialism, concentrated into a solid brick of reality that hurts to swallow, then he follows it up with an enigmatic description that belies the surface simplicity of the text. Just what is that smile on her face? Who is this walking female contradiction, at once a world-weary lush and a small child, and who lives for love and yet loves because there is nothing left to live for. And if the man is a failure, why does he even continue to try, even if all he tries for is death?

Coming after a collection of poetry (Proletarian Laughter in 1948) and Willeford’s debut novel High Priest of California (1953), Pick-Up follows the doomed trajectory of a pair of alcoholics who meet in a bar and find they share a common sense of futility weighted down by dashed dreams and hopeless futures. Harry Jordan is an aspiring artist who spent World War II painting murals instead of fighting, and who afterwards taught when he lost confidence in his own work, and ultimately gave up teaching when he lost faith in his students. Helen Meredith drank her way out of a staid, middle-class existence ruled by constraining morality, an overbearing mother, and a husband she didn’t love. Neither does Harry show much concern for his wife and child on the other side of the country. Disappointed by the past and unconcerned with the future, Harry and Helen join to drink away the days in desolate companionship.

But then, something like love develops between them. A love that spurs them back to life as much as it hurtles them towards death. Unable to live apart from one another, even long enough to work a job, they realize that the real problem is that they are unable to live. Acting on a suicide pact, they soon realize that are also unable to die. So, the two of them continue to wallow in life’s wasteland of nothingness, all the while hoping and searching for a way out – permanently.

Willeford shares with David Goodis an affinity for characters stuck ‘down there’ – for whom the gutter and the mire are like cozy fixtures to come home to. But it’s important to recognize that these authors aren’t slumming, or dragging their pens through the mud for the sake of dirtying the page. Far from it – they strip away the distractions and complacencies and obligations give life the illusion of order and purpose in order to get to the heart of the matter: to find that common strain of uncertainty that we all have to deal with. Nor is there anything grimy about their prose: there is never the sense that they are exploiting their characters for the sake of shocking sheltered readers. And instead of gutter lingo, their books are filled with the lamentations of those who can no longer cry for themselves or ask for help from others. They speak to no one, yet they speak for everyone, and therein lies the paradox. In screaming loneliness, Pick-Up manages bring us together.

Those who have read Pick-Up are well aware that the last two lines of the novel throw you for a loop that makes you start back at the beginning and re-think all you have just read. I struggled with whether or not to discuss those lines on this blog, because on the one hand I think they merit a discussion, yet on the other hand to reveal them would to spoil Willeford’s carefully crafted novel. In the end, I have decided against it and will leave the novel’s finale a secret. As William Denton notes on RARA-AVIS, “You could analyze Pick-Up with and without the last two lines, and it'd work perfectly both ways. Neither version is better than the other.” I agree, and would only add that what I think Willeford is doing is challenging not only the pervasive archetypes of the hardboiled genre, but also our preconceptions as readers. In the end, I don’t think he’s being antagonistic at all, but instead wants to remind us how universal despair really is.

Pick-Up is currently out of print, though used copies of the 1990 Black Lizard reprint can be found for decent prices. Munseys has made available a free e-text of the book. Those looking for more information on Charles Willeford should check out Mike White’s thoroughly researched essay “Madness in the 20th Century” over at Cahiers du Cinemart. Don Herron also has a nice piece called “Collecting Charles Willeford.” Dennis McMillan also runs an informative site, which includes a nice introduction by Maura McMillan. Lee Goldberg also has a fascinating blog post about a once thought lost manuscript by Willeford. For a complete bibliography, check out RARA-AVIS.

And now for some quotes from the book:

“The Great American Tradition: You can do anything you think you can do! All Americans believe in it. What a joke that is!”

“His large brown eyes, fixed and staring, were two dark mirrors that seemed to hold my image without interest, without curiosity, or at most, with an impersonal interest, the way one is interested in a dead, dry starfish, found on the beach.”

“As far as I was concerned the world we existed on was an overly-large, stinking cinder, a spinning, useless clinker. My life meant nothing to me and I wanted to go to sleep forever and forget about it.”

“Any premise which bases its salvation on blind belief alone is bound to be wrong, I felt. It isn’t fair to those who find it impossible to believe, those who have to be convinced, shown, who believe in nothing but the truth.”