Ed Gorman

ED MCBAIN by Dana King

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Dec 202014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

ED MCBAIN  by Dana King

ED MCBAIN  by Dana King
Work on the web site continues, with the soft deadline I set for myself of January 1 looking eminently doable. (The text and graphics are ready, with a few updates required. All that remains is to get the colors to match on all 34 pages.) Included in the pre-planning work were inspections of other writers’ web sites. I wasn’t interested in making mine as elaborate as some. What I cared about were what kinds of things were included elsewhere. I was able to find a consensus, and lost several hours wandering the halls of various writers’ sites.

Among those I enjoyed most was Ed McBain’s. He’s been dead almost ten years, so I’m not sure why I checked. Maybe to see what a more or less bare bones site looked like, if anything was there at all. Turned out he did (does?) have a site, though it has not been updated since 2010, when he was made an honorary citizen of Ruvo, Italy.

The site consists of what you might expect from the web presence of an author with his background. The navigation bar links to pages titled Home, Newsdesk, Booked, Bios, etc., Forum, Links, and Contacts. It’s the “Newsdesk” page that caught my eye. In it is a page called Articles by the Author. These are essays—blog posts, essentially—written by McBain between May 23, 2002, and March 18, 2004. (He died July 6, 2005.)

The posts are priceless. (For those of you who are unaware, “Ed McBain” is a pen name of Evan Hunter, who was born Salvatore Lombino.) Evan Hunter a Ed McBain. He writes of growing up in “the big, bad city” in such a way even a country boy such as myself gets it. Why an author should never fake it. His contract with the reader. Books he abandoned, and why. Altogether there are nine. I read them all, and can’t pick a favorite.

What I like best is how they work so well as vehicles for McBain to speak candidly and directly to the reader. The wit found in his books is present, as are the little bits of whimsy. Phrasings just different enough to let you know this came out exactly how he wanted it, if not quite how you expected. In “Trials and Errors,” he writes of four novels he began as Evan Hunter, never to finish any of them; one only got three paragraphs written. This essay concludes with, “I've never started an 87th Precinct novel I didn't finish,” which, to me, spoke volumes about how he felt about his seminal, and most successful, series.

In “About That Novel,” Evan Hunter explains how he writes a novel, in the guise of explaining to you how to write one. All writers should read this, regardless of your level of experience. That’s not to say you should then follow his advice to the letter, but everyone who has made the effort will appreciate what he’s talking about.

for the rest go here:

Crossroads Press Holiday ebook Bundle #2

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Dec 202014

Holiday Bundle Featuring Twenty Novels of Mystery and Suspense ONLY $2.99 at: Amazon   B&N   Smashwords The second of our series of holiday bundles, A Murder of Mysteries features twenty novels of mystery and suspense by various award-winning and bestselling authors. For $2.99, you're getting twenty novels, each the first book in a continuing series, containing almost 1.5 million …
The second of our series of holiday bundles, A Murder of Mysteries features twenty novels of mystery and suspense by various award-winning and bestselling authors. For $2.99, you’re getting twenty novels, each the first book in a continuing series, containing almost 1.5 million words in total, and a savings of more than $70 if each title was purchased separately. This bundle is only available for a limited time, so purchase your copy before it’s gone.
Titles included in this collection:
Too Late to Die – by Bill Crider – Book 1 of the Dan Rhodes Mysteries
Death is a Cabaret – by Deborah Morgan – Book 1 of the Antique Lover’s Mysteries
A. P. B. – by Dave Pedneau – Book 1 of the Whit Pynchon Mysteries
Switch – by William Bayer – Book 1 of the Janek Series
Blood Moon – by Ed Gorman – Book 1 of the Robert Payne Mystery Series
The Turner Journals – by Robert J. Randisi – Book 1 of the Detective McQueen Series
The Hanged Man – by T.J. MacGregor – Book 1 of the Mira Morales Series
Pink Vodka Blues – by Neal Barrett, Jr. – Book 1 of the Blues Series
Dead on the Island – by Bill Crider – Book 1 of the Truman Smith Mysteries
A Hard Day’s Death – by Raymond Benson – Book 1 of the Spike Berenger Rock ‘N’ Roll Mysteries
Prophecy Rock – by Rob MacGregor – Book 1 of the Will Lanza Mysteries
The Changing – by T.M. Wright – Book 1 of the Biergarten Series
A Minor Case of Murder – by Jeff Markowitz – Book 1 of the Cassie O’Malley Mysteries
Sins of the Flash – by David Niall Wilson
Case File – by Bill Pronzini – part of the Bill Pronzini Mystery Collection
Rough Cut – by Ed Gorman – Book 1 of the Jack Dwyer Mystery Series
Murder, Sometimes – by Patricia Lee Macomber – Book 1 of the Jason Callahan Mysteries
Tango Key – by T.J. MacGregor – Book 1 of the Tango Key Mysteries
One Dead Dean – by Bill Crider – Book 1 of the Carl Burns Mysteries
Tangier – by William Bayer – Book 1 of the Foreign Detective Series

“A Real Nice Guy” by William F. Nolan

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Dec 192014

Gravetapping by Ben Boulden

Posted: 18 Dec 2014 07:31 PM PST
“His name was Jimmie Prescott and he is thirty-one years of age. Five foot ten. Slight build.”

He is a loner. A sniper. A killer. The sort of sniper who sets up over a busy city street and randomly chooses a target. A victim. It is the spontaneity that thrills him, and, by his own reckoning, he is the best. The best because he has 41 notches on his rifle, and, while there have been a few close calls, he has no real fear of capture.

“A Real Nice Guy” is a stylish crime story written by William F. Nolan, a favorite author of mine, originally published in the April 1980 issue of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. It is something of a battle of sociopaths—both bad, of course—and while the ending is less than surprising the journey is ideal. The prose is smooth and, especially the non-dialogue narrative, is something like a brassy jazz riff—

“He was a master. He never missed a target, never wasted a shot. He was cool and nerveless and smooth, and totally without conscience.”

It is short. Third person, and very much worth seeking out. But, in the interest of fairness, that is exactly what I think of all Mr Nolan’s short work.

I read “A Real Nice Guy” in The New Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction, published in 2013 by Running Press, and edited by Maxim Jakubowski.

IN DEFENSE OF GOD by Lenny Levinson

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Dec 192014
IN DEFENSE OF GOD by Lenny Levinson

Let’s face it - God has gone out of style.  Many consider God a delusion, an anachronism, a fallacy, a big scam.

I still believe in God.  How can anyone still believe God in this modern technological age?  I must be stupid, superstitious, unscientific and/or narrow-minded, right?

I believe in God because I’ve been forced by the nature of my mind to confront a certain nagging question:  HOW DID LIFE BEGIN?

Scientists theorize that life began in some warm primordial pool of water in some sleepy lagoon somewhere, aided by natural selection, random mutations and perhaps cosmic rays.  But specifically, how did life actually begin?  Scientists cannot answer that question definitively, or create life itself despite multi-million dollar laboratories filled with the latest gene-splicing and other jazzy equipment.

Modern science believes that nothing simply happens, therefore everything is caused.  Modern science does not believe in spontaneous generation.  

Well folks, if nothing simply happens, and everything is caused, what caused life to begin?  According to the rigorous principles of science and logic, it seems reasonable to postulate that SOMETHING had to jumpstart life, some force, energy, intelligence, spark or imperative.  And that force, energy, intelligence, spark or imperative has been called, by various people at various times, God, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, the Dharmakaya of Buddhism, the Great Spirit of the Plains Indians, Yusn the Lifegiver of the Apaches, the Logos of the ancient Greeks, the Force of the Star Wars movies, or the Tao which often is translated as The Way, or the term I prefer, the Process.  Spinoza believed that God and scientific laws were one and the same.  And these are only a sampling of the many names and concepts of God.

In order to explain the God phenomenon, many books have been written such as the Bible, the Koran, the Buddhist sutras, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, etc.  These books were written long ago by people at an earlier stage of human consciousness.  They were trying to describe the indescribable, which produced a language similar to mythology and poetry.  Admittedly, these books are not precise scientific documents, but why should the truth of science always trump the truth of poetry? 

On NPR a few years ago, a renowned scientist atheist was asked the big question:  How did life begin?  He replied:  “Just because I can’t explain how life began - that doesn’t mean I’m going to believe in some kind of god.”

That is the crux of the matter.  Atheists, agnostics and other types of non-believers shrink from confronting the big question, evidently because they’re afraid of where it will lead.  Why, it might cause them to consider the possibility of some kind of Great Spirit or God jumpstarting life, but unfortunately God and religion are so terribly unfashionable these days, and all their friends will stop talking with them, no one will take them seriously anymore, and they will be considered stupid, superstitious, unscientific and/or narrow-minded.

New Review The Cemetery Man by Bill Pronzini

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Dec 182014

book cover of   The Cemetery Man

Mystery Scene says

"Most people  might think of MWA Grandmaster Bill Pronzini as a novelist, but he's also had a long and distinguished career as a writer of short fiction. The Cemetery Man and Other Darkside Tales brings together 19 stories from five decades. Many of them are quite dark, but the title story offers a glimpse of humanity where it's not expected. . . . An excellent introduction by Ed Gorman."    Bill Crider

(From the introduction)
Unlike any other body of work in the genre, Nameless is a history of San Francisco over a period of five decades; a history of American culture from the time of the hippies through the new century when peace and love, brother, are not only forgotten but downright anathema to a country becoming more and more right-wing; and a fictional autobiography, if you will, of a detective who is very much like his creator. In fact, when Bill finally gave him a name, no one was surprised when it turned out to be “Bill.”
I began this introduction by alluding to the Nameless novels because they are not only the dominant part of Bill’s worldwide reputation, they also have a lot in common with the most neglected part of his work—his brilliant, urgent stand-alones. And the stand-alones have even more in common with Bill’s short stories.
“This land is populated by ‘sons of Cain,’ men doomed to walk alone. One of the
 major themes that comes from this is loneliness, or fear of apartness.”
(about John Steinbeck) StudyMode.com

Certainly there are times in the Nameless books when the mood of the detective fits the description above, but it is in such stand-alones as Blue Lonesome, A Wasteland of Strangers and The Crimes of Jordan Wise that Bill’s work begins to resonate with the same sense of doom as John Steinbeck, one of Bill’s favorite writers.
Three of the stories here have historical settings—“McIntosh’s Chute,” “The Hanging Man” and “Hooch” and show a particular kinship with Steinbeck’s work.
Bill’s early years were not unlike Steinbeck’s,  young working-class man taking whatever jobs he could find while he wrote on the side:
“I haven’t held any other jobs since 1969. Before that: plumbing supply salesman, warehouseman, office typist, car-park attendant, part-time civilian guard for a U.S. marshal transporting federal prisoners from one lockup to another by car (sounds a lot more exciting than it was; mostly just boring road trips. But I did get one short story out of the experience).”
And so we come to the stories in this collection.

 (Ed here: Here's one of the most haunting)

“Out of the Depths”
One of the most fascinating women I’ve ever encountered in crime fiction. And some of the finest dialogue Bill has ever written.
In what could have been a predictable take on traditional noir themes Bill, through the character of Shea, creates a classic story of isolation and terror.
The same can be said for Tanner, the epitome of the macho adventurer, who invites himself into her house in a Caribbean setting similar to The Crimes of Jordan Wise. He is real and yet at times not real. “He came tumbling out of the sea, dark and misshapen like a being that was not human. A creature from the depths . . .” These images open the story.
Shea must see him not only as a threat to her life but a sexual threat as well, for the subtext to this story is that of a frightened and betrayed woman who ultimately is as afraid of herself as much as she is of others.
Bill is a fine horror writer and a good deal of his crime work is tinged with horrorific effects. As I said, the dialogue here is among the finest Bill has ever created. As ominous and omnipresent as Tanner is, the story is Shea’s, whose words, collectively, are a bitter confession of her entangled and failed life.
Will she be raped? Will she be murdered?
Does she even care?
A true masterpiece.

And Other Darkside Tales

238 PAGES  $14.95
ISBN: 9781935797708

Available in Trade Paperback and Kindle editions.

Forgotten Films Employees Entrance

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Dec 172014

Employees Entrance

Ed here: I saw this film the other night and was astonished by how amoral, sophisticated, amusing  and psychically painful it was in places. Being a good Catholic boy I had this burning crush on Loretta Young when I was in Catholic grade school (she was in many of the Catholic movies). But I had no idea she was ever in movies like this one. She is so so sexy and genuinely vulnerable here I want to see more of her pre-Code movies. What a babe and what an actress. I found this excellent piece on the film.  BTW Warren Williams gets knocked sometimes but man he's also at the top of his game here.

Go here ShadowsandSatin for the entire piece http://shadowsandsatin.wordpress.com/2011/09/17/forbidden-pleasures-employees-entrance-1933/

Employees’ Entrance (1933) stars the dashing and delightfully bad Warren William, Loretta Young and Wallace Ford. It’s one of the first pre-Code movies I ever owned, part of the Turner/MGM/UA “Forbidden Hollywood” series, and it’s a gem. The film’s principal characters are Kurt Anderson (William), the ruthless manager of a giant department store, who will do anything to succeed; Madeleine Walters (Young), who pays a steep price when she goes to work in Anderson’s store; and Martin West (Ford), who is hired as Anderson’s protégé and is secretly married to Madeleine.  Based on a play by David Boehm (who was later nominated for an Oscar for the 1944 Spencer Tracy starrer A Guy Named Joe) and directed by Roy Del Ruth, Employees’ Entrance is, as my treasured VHS copy declares, “filled with forbidden pleasures!”  Here are some of the reasons why I love this film:

Kurt Anderson is not a nice guy, but he sure is fun to watch. In one scene, he fires a 30-year employee of the store, in front a room full of co-workers, because the man is “too old, too set.” The distraught former employee later commits suicide. When Anderson is told, he observes, “When a man outlives his usefulness, heought to jump out of a window. That’s the trouble with most men – they don’t realize when they’re through.” In another scene, after a store detective mistakenly detains a newspaper editor’s wife for theft, Anderson gives the woman a concert grand piano to compensate for her inconvenience, and tells the guard he’ll take ten dollars a week out of his salary until it’s paid for. When the man protests that it will take him the rest of his life to pay the debt, Anderson retorts, “I doubt if you’ll live that long. Get out.”

In typically scandalous pre-Code fashion, Kurt appears to be a benevolent benefactor when he hires the job-seeking Madeleine, but after treating her to a much-needed meal, he winds up seducing her. And later, when Madeleine gets drunk at a party following a fight with her husband, Kurt invites her to sleep it off in his room – and you can just guess what happens.

Dec 172014
Ed here: I grew up reading Archie comics.They were among my favorites.  I know he has to be updated but by a sociopathic marginally talented exhibitionist?

Lena Dunham is Writing Some “Incredibly Contemporary” ‘Archie’ Comics
By Isabella Biedenharn on Mar 3, 2014 5:48pm
When you’re a sought-after media darling (Lena Dunham), all you have to do is mention during a Q&A that you like something (the characters of Archie), and soon enough, that thing’s new Chief Creative Officer (Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa) will be barreling down your door to get you to work with them. The Girls showrunner has signed on to write a four-part story to be published in 2015, as part of Aguirre-Sacasa’s new flagship program “to take Archie’s Pals and Gals outside of comics and into different media.”
The team isn’t spilling any plot points, but Aguirre-Sacasa says: “It’s really, really funny. It’s incredibly contemporary. It’s a classic Archie story, with a definitely unique, Lena spin, and it’s going to be set in Archie continuity.” But before you get your hopes up for a naked Betty and Veronica experimenting with crack in Bushwick, A.V. Club is pretty sure the project will be more “family-friendly” than Dunham’s previous work. [via Vulture]
Dec 162014

From Classic Film & TV Cafe

Name: Dr. Richard Kimble

Portrayed by: David Janssen

TV series: The Fugitive

Occupation: Pediatrician before getting arrested for his wife's murder.

Lifestyle: Since he was constantly trying to evade police Lieutenant Philip Gerard, Kimble rarely stayed in one place for long. His occupations included: truck driver; farm laborer; bartender; chauffeur; construction worker; fisherman, masseuse, bellhop, and carnival worker.

Family and Friends: Father was Dr. John Kimble, who had a heart attack and retired to a home in the country. Had a strained relationship with his brother Ray, but was very close to his sister Donna Taft (who appeared in five episodes). Deceased wife was Helen Kimble; her sister Terry was in love with Richard. Kimble developed feelings for several women during his years on the run. In the final episode, "The Judgment," he appeared to have found true love with Jean Carlisle (Diane Baker).

Trademark: Quick, slight smile with only one side of the mouth turned up.

Adversaries:  Stafford, Indiana detective detective Philip Gerard (who appeared in 37 episodes) and Fred Johnson (10 episodes), the one-armed man who murdered Helen Kimble. Interestingly, Kimble had encounters with both Gerard's wife (the two-part "Landscape With Running Figures") and son Phil Jr. ("Nemesis").

Useful Skills:  He was a physician!

Classic quote: "I didn't kill my wife."

Classic episodes: "Landscape with Running Figures"; "The 2130" (a computer is used to track Kimble); and "Corner of Hell" (Kimble saves Gerard from moonshiners).

Posted by Rick29 at 5:00 AM 9 comments 

Recommend this on Google
TUESDAY, JULY 26, 2011

The Fugitive, which aired from 1963-67, frequently appears on lists of the greatest U.S. television series ever broadcast. Its reputation is well-deserved. The first three seasons are so strong that it's difficult to pare down its best episodes for a top five list. Still, here's how one Fugitive fan would rank them:

Kimbles tries to avoid capture...again.
1. Landscape With Running Figures – Unofficially known as “the episode with Mrs. Gerard”, this season 3 two-parter has Kimble narrowly evading Lieutenant Gerard…only to come to the aid of a temporarily-blind Mrs. Gerard (Barbara Rush). The exceptional script provides a rare glance into Gerard’s private life and the impact of his obsession to capture Kimble. At one point, a frustrated Marie Gerard casually remarks: “Life without Kimble…what a pretty dream that used to be.” Barry Morse, whose character is often used to simply further the plot, takes advantage of an opportunity to shine here. 

Suzanne Pleshette as the
concerned mother.
2. All the Scared Rabbits – A divorced mother (Suzanne Pleshette) hires to Kimble to drive her and her daughter from Iowa to California. What they don’t know is that the little girl has stolen a rabbit from her father’s laboratory—and it’s infected with a lethal strain of meningitis. This gripping, suspenseful episode is a great example of an episode where Kimble’s plight takes a backseat to the events surrounding him.

3. Moon Child – When the police pursue Kimble during a manhunt for a serial killer, the fugitive takes refuge in a dilapidated structure filled with dark passageways. At his wit’s end, Kimble is befriended by a young mentally-handicapped girl. This taut episode balances its chilling moments (involving the real killer) with Kimble’s touching relationship with the young girl.

4. Corner of Hell – On the run from Gerard, Kimbles stumble into the hideout of a family of moonshiners. At first, they want to get rid of him, but their plans change when he proves his worth. However, when Gerard tracks Kimble to the moonshiners’ hideaway and flashes his police badge…well, they don’t take kindly to the arrival of the law. This is one of the best of several episodes that placed Kimble in a moral quandary. In this case, does he flee, knowing that Gerard is certain to be murdered? Or does he help the man trying to capture him?

Gerard, bound in a chair, watches as Kimble (far right)
makes a plea to save his nemesis.
5. Dark Corner – Kimble finds a sanctuary on a farm where he is befriended by a young blind woman (Tuesday Weld), who must cope with a devious sister…but all is not what it appears to be. Plot twists weren’t commonplace during The Fugitive’s run and when they did appear, they were typically twists of irony. This atypical episode goes for the shock value and succeeds nicely. 

Tuesday Weld plays the blind young woman who
shelters Kimble in "Dark Corner."

Honorable mentions: “The Witch” (a young girl make false accusations against Kimble); “Dossier on a Diplomat” (Kimble finds sanctuary in a foreign embassy); "The 2130” (a businessman uses a computer to track Kimble's whereabouts); and “Nightmare at Northoak” (Kimbles attains unwanted celebrity status when he saves children from a burning bus).

The Newsroom finale

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Dec 152014
Ed here: I actually enjoyed the previous week's episode, the only time I've ever enjoyed anything written by Aaron Sorkin. So I watched last night's episode with hope I'd like this one too. But it was high Sorkin hokum start to finish. I know a number of you disagree with me. Any time I mention Sorkin I hear from you. He has a large and earnest following. I read the reviews this morning. Here are two very mixed and one good one. I should say here I understand why people like his material. He's very skilled--even genius--at structuring his dramas. For me the trouble is the self-conscious dialogue and the endless contrivances. Carol and I like "Nashville" which is even more contrived--a violent plot turn every other scene--but it's soapy fun.  Nobody could take these lives seriously and that's built into the writing. Sometimes you can hear the writers laughing--let's see how about if the Mayor of Nashville starts seeing a hooker on the side. That ain't gonna happen but it sure stirs the pot. Sorkin's problem as I see it is that he does the same sort of thing but he wants to be seen as
a great dramatist.

The following are excerpts

ny times alessandra stanley

The same could be said of Mr. Sorkin, of course. Despite the virtuosity of the dialogue and the charm of the cast, “The Newsroom” was quickly eclipsed by more knowing, acerbic dramas like “House of Cards” and even “Scandal.” “The Newsroom” re-enacted the real-life battle between old media and new, and didn’t seem to interest either. It had an ardent cult following, but no matter how idealistic and cleverly written, the series shimmered outside the dome of relevance.
Until this season, that is, when two subplots eerily anticipated real-life news: an accusation of gang rape at the University of Virginia and a mutiny at The New Republic magazine. “The Newsroom” started out on the winning side of both, and still lost the argument.
It lost by arguing, so often and so smugly, about everything. Most cable dramas make a virtue of vice, studying the cracks in heroes who aren’t just flawed but irredeemable. “The Newsroom” was obsessed with virtue. In this fantasy newsroom, Will, an irascible but stubbornly ethical and high-minded television anchor, led his band of quixotic reporters at the fictional ACN into covering only news that’s worthy of the name and dignified to debate.
There was lots of comedy, drama and office romance, but “The Newsroom” wasn’t really about the characters, who were all uncannily alike: fast-talking, preachy know-it-alls who told truth to power every time they ordered coffee. Some viewers complained that the show took a condescending view of women, and the ditziness was duly toned down after Season 1. Mainly, the show took a condescending view of its own heroes, turning them all into vessels for one glib, erudite but cantankerous point of view.

 the guardian brian moylan

The problem with Sorkin’s fatally flawed mission is that it could never exist in the real world – or in the USA, at least. What he wants is something like the New Republic, which is being kept afloat by rich people who want high-minded journalism not designed for a mass audience. That is, at least, until Facebook mogul Chris Hughes bought it and now wants to change it into something sustainable, a move met with Sorkinesque flagellation by many in the old media.
   We are entering into a new world where the internet is king and everyone else is still playing catch-up. Journalism will still matter, yes, but without traditional revenue models, someone needs to find a way to pay for it. But Sorkin never bothers to dream up a solution for what the journalism of the future will look like. He just writes off its quality or the balance between gif-based listicles and deep investigative reporting about weighty matters. He’s stuck in the past.
That was the problem with the finale, too. Rather than showing us where everyone might end up, it is busy with telling us how they got brought together three years ago. The Newsroom has always been about rewriting history, telling people in the present how the past should have been reported. We see Charlie (Sam Waterston) recruit MacKenzie, Don (Thomas Sadoski) get demoted and spar with Sloane (Olivia Munn), MacKenzie recruit Jim (John Gallagher Jr), and Will cuss out his flighty new assistant Maggie (Allison Pill).
The episode ends with Will starting another episode of his programming, proving that the news never stops, the machine keeps turning, and life continues on for these characters – Don takes an idealistic job, McKenzie becomes news director of ACN, Jim takes over Will’s show, and Maggie heads off to DC to become a field producer (whatever that is).
The Newsroom finale had many groan-inducing awful moments – Neal (Dev Patel) shutting down ACN’s website, Will’s jam session in the garage with Charlie’s grandsons, Will’s sophomoric jokes about McKenzie’s pregnancy, the complete waste of Tony winner Joanna Gleason playing Charlie’s wife – but the worst of all was the way this show continued to treat its women.

The Daily Beast Kevin Fallon

There were people who were never going to like The Newsroom. And there were people, like me, who wanted to like it very, very much.
Aaron Sorkin’s very particular, very Sorkin-y style of writing and storytelling—whiz-bang banter interrupted by extended grandstanding of implausible eloquence—is polarizing. It is loathed by some critics who find it patronizing, silly, and superficial. Fans, however, relish it, blissfully walking and talking their way through Sorkin’s liberal fantasyland.
Such has been the much talked about run of The Newsroom, which ended Sunday night after three seasons.
The series came to life just as the era of “hatewatching” was at its peak. Given that Sorkin’s weekly hour-long examination of how the government’s watchdog—the news media—has lost its way and its mission dialed up the Sorkin tropes to 11, the series was ripe for “hatewatching” by the writer’s detractors.
For the rest of us, though, while certainly not firing at the level of The West Wing at its heyday or The Social Network, The Newsroom was a bit of comfort food, cooked with Sorkin’s special recipe. There was the curmudgeonly hero with the heart of the gold (Jeff Daniels’s Will McAvoy), the hapless-brilliant ensemble of hyper-sarcastic minions helping along the way, and the signature blend of intellect and emotion: the rapid firing of facts and figures in monologues and storylines ultimately meant to tug at the heartstrings.
Sunday night’s series finale of The Newsroom was weird. The episode that aired before it, which involved a campus rape victim, was highly controversial. And the string of episodes that aired before that were gripping, noble, and simply entertaining to watch. It’s a progression of quality—entertaining to controversial to just plain weird—that has come to define The Newsroom, too. For better and for worse.
First, Sunday night’s weird finale.
Coming after a season focused on two grand story arcs—protecting a source the government wants unveiled and the compromising of news values to cater to the people who hold the purse strings—the episode loosely and with little fuss tied up story lines while offering up a bizarrely kumbaya “how we all learned to get along” flashback hour.
It’s Charlie’s (Sam Waterston) funeral. If you’ve watched a Sorkin series, you know that this guy can write a funeral. Remember Leo’s on The West Wing? Tears just thinking about it. It was strange, then, that rather than use Charlie’s death to tug at heartstrings, which the audience kind of wants Sorkin to do, it was used as merely a venue for eye rolling plot twists (Will and Mack are having a baby, ugh) and wistful nostalgia to take place.
At first, the wistful nostalgia seemed promising, with a look back at how That Speech from the pilot episode came to be from different perspectives. It’s smart to revisit That Speech, Will’s blistering monologue about why America isn’t the greatest country in the world, because it remains the series’ finest moment. It was provocative. It was dangerous. It was kind of true. It won Jeff Daniels an Emmy.
But alas, it wasn’t just That Speech that was flashbacked, too. It was Maggie’s (Allison Pill) first day at the office. It was Don (Thomas Sadoski) and Sloan’s (Olivia Munn) first over-wordy fight. It was how Charlie recruited Mack (Emily Mortimer) to work at ACN in the first place. It was the kind of origin-story flashback episode most series do mid-run when they’re creatively bankrupt and need a break to refocus because they’re running out of ideas. That this kind of episode was The Newsroom finale was…confusing.
The rest of episode—the scenes taking place in the present—alternated between brilliant and schmaltzy. The best moment came when Jane Fonda’s Leona Lansing got to school petulant new ACN owner Lucas Pruitt (B.J. Novak) on his sexist behavior with a blistering monologue on gender pay inequity and the misogyny of the entitled male. It was, simply, splendid to watch.
The web editor who abetted espionage and fled the country to protect his source returned to belittle the young web editor who failed to elevate himself to that impossible level, who simply just wanted to create content that people would read. You know, do his job.
There was also a quintessentially Newsroom moment. Neil (Dev Patel) returns from hiding abroad, where he went to protect his source, and just gives it to the doofus web editor who was ruining ACN’s website with pedestrian clickbait content. “You embarrass me,” he tells him. Yes, the web editor who abetted espionage and fled the country to protect his source returned to belittle the young web editor who failed to elevate himself to that impossible level, who simply just wanted to create content that people would read. You know, do his job.
It was pretentious, it was patronizing. It was elitist and smug. And it was fun to watch. Some critics accuse Sorkin of those things, as if it’s not a self-aware decision to write characters that way, or make those statements. They say the show is those things as if they are insults. But watch The Newsroom through a lens where it is expected to be pretentious and patronizing, and knows that it is, and it not just fulfills its mission, it’s highly entertaining.

As for the rest of the finale, everyone’s storylines were tied up in little bows: Mack is the new president of ACN. Jim is her E.P. Maggie is interviewing for a dream job. No one breaks up. Everyone sings a song of happiness together. (They literally do that.) It’s happily ever after—and all a bit much.
Dec 152014

I think it was Heywood Hale Broun who said, “When a professional man is doing the best work of his life, he will be reading only detective novels,” or words similar. I hope, even at my age, I have my best work ahead of me, but when I was writing The Death of the Detective, in my leisure hours I was exhausting the classic English who-dun-its written between the Wars, favoring Dorothy Sayers and Freeman Wills Croft, while also re-reading Raymond Chandler and re-discovering Nero Wolfe. In this regard I shared the addiction with the likes of William Butler Yeats, William Faulkner and FDR, among others.
My first two novels, the companion novels, Toyland and House Across the White (original title, The Middleman), were psychological thrillers and a modern retelling of a fairy tale. Before taking on the ghost story, my fourth novel, The Moon Lamp, I settled on my favorite genre, the detective story. Originally sketched out as something of a short story in which the detective in his quest of a killer discovers only his victims, with each murder leading both men to the next, the book became seriously ambitious when I added the moral and ironic complication of the detective himself being somehow responsible for the deaths by reason of his continued pursuit of the killer. This seemed to me a wonderful metaphor for the America of my time and place. And the detective as my representative American—or hero, if you wish. So much better for an urban environment than a cowboy.
The novel became enlarged when I added an interwoven subplot of young people and a minor plot of gangsters and made the killer’s victims believable round characters who were either sympathetic or interesting, so that, in a departure from the genre and the movies, the reader would be emotionally effected when their deaths occurred. After all, the tradition in Chicago writing, from Dreiser to Bellow, is compassion. Adding to the novel’s length was my recreation of each particular setting where the corpses were found strewn across the landscape of what is now called ‘Chicagoland”, thereby involving as many varied localities as I could in the crimes.
Many readers would say Chicago was the main character in the book, a response that surprised and disappointed me. Only years later did I come to find there was some justification for this observation. In my day, Chicago, for guys like me, was pretty much an open city, and I felt free to venture where I pleased. After high school, I worked as a mucker (sandhog) digging the subway extension beneath the post office, was a tariff clerk for the CBQ Railroad, the timekeeper on the foundation work for the Inland Steel Building and a merchant seaman on the Great Lakes before graduating from Northwestern University and living on the Gold Coast– across from the Ambassador East, no less.
Some readers, including allegedly mafioso and their children, have claimed the gangster plot is the best piece of the book, and that the gangsters are entirely believable, recognizable characters, perhaps something of a first in American fiction. The question asked then, is how did I come by my insights and knowledge? Henry James said writers should “receive straight impressions from life”, a piece of advice I find irrefutable for a naturalistic writer. Lo and behold, at the age of sixteen I worked as a busboy one summer at a nightclub-restaurant on the outskirts of Chicago owned by a former Capone mobster that was frequented by his fellows in the trade, alone (sometimes to play cards in a closed-off dining room), or with their families. These people not only became human to me, they became ordinary, and for a writer, now accessible to the play of his imagination. For example, I witnessed the tipsy top mobster in Chicago at closing time fail miserably in his attempt to pick up a not-so-exciting waitress, while my boss, a rather comic character who reminded me of Lou Costello ( a new restaurant in the area that threatened to be competition for his restaurant was bombed that summer every time it tried to open) would show up at the restaurant furious after losing a bundle at the track and order the help to drain all the nearly empty catsup bottles into new bottles. Without these contacts I suppose I would have had to take my gangsters from the cliches of movies and television (pre-Sopranos) and yes, probably from crime novels, also.
I have a couple of regrets about the novel. I notice a reviewer claimed I had predicted the practice of criminal profiling. If so, I’m not sure where that occurs in the novel. However I did make two predictions that came true that I cut from the book when I reduced its original text by some twenty percent which included not only blubber but the author’s commentary, prophecies and missteps into outright fantasy. One was the prediction that we would suffer from some new and deadly sexually transmitted disease which I changed to suggest old-fashioned syphilis. It seemed to me that given our new libertine sexual proclivities with limitless partners that such was likely to occur. Hence, soon thereafter, Aids. The other was my direct assertion that the mindless violence on film and television not only deadened us to the pain of violence, but encouraged violence, making it a centerpiece of our culture, a notion that was dismissed as hogwash at the time, but seemed an obvious cause and effect to me. Today this observation is pretty much accepted. So much for my career as Nostradamus.
A final admission. Although the Viet Nam war is never mentioned in this novel, and occurred after the time this novel takes place, it occurred during the time I was writing it with the nightly death count on the news. I like to tell myself my rage against that misadventure, along with my nostalgic love-hate relationship with the lost Chicago of my childhood and youth, were the energy sources behind the novel’s composition. It could even be said, with some hyperbole, that I wrote this book alone in my study in place of publically marching with the thousands demonstrating in the street.
One of my great pleasures of publishing this book, along with receiving a nomination for the National Book Award and seeing the novel on the New York Times paperback bestseller list, were the invitations to join the Mystery Writers of America and the British Crime Writers Association.
The Death of the Detective is available from Brash Books, Toyland and The House Across the White, from Foreverland Press.