Friday’s Forgotten Books, Friday, November 22, 2013

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Nov 222013

Chris Knopf, Dead Anyway (2012), Jeff Meyerson

People always ask (I know, I ask too) how you decide what to read next.  Might as well ask, how do you decide what to read, period?  I have a list of favorite authors whose books I read when they come out but for newer writers or ones I don’t know I tend to lean on recommendations from friends, reviews here or on other blogs, plus newspaper and magazine reviews.  If they sound interesting to me, I’ll check them out.
Chris Knopf had two earlier series set in the Hamptons but this is the first in a new series.  Apparently Bill Crider reviewed it when it came out last year but somehow his review did not make enough of an impression on my brain until I read his review of the sequel a few weeks ago, linking back to his Dead Anyway review.  Then I thought, this sounds good. And it is.
How’s this for starting with a bang?  Arthur Cathcart, an overweight 40ish guy working at home doing market research and other high end computer research, married to a gorgeous woman who owns a real estate firm near their home in Connecticut, comes home from a walk to find his wife sitting on the couch and a man holding a gun on her.  The man insists she answers five questions written on a paper, and to emphasize his seriousness, he shoots her husband in the thigh.  She answers the questions only to have the man, clearly a hired killer, shoot her in the head and kill her.  Then he shoots Cathcart, who somehow doesn’t die.
Now you may be able to resist seeing what happens next, but I sure couldn’t.  Cathcart is gravely injured and decides (with the help of his physician sister) to stay dead and use his computer skills to discover who killed his wife and why, not easy in the post-9/11 world.  But first he has to recover enough physically and mentally to be able to act.  Along the way he gets some help from a woman named Natsumi Fitzgerald, who throws her lot in with his.
I really enjoyed this one and will be reading the sequel as soon as it comes in to the library.  Definitely recommended.

THE FIFTH CHILD, Doris Lessing, Patti Abbott

Doris Lessing was one of the writer’s whose works have meant a lot to me. Staring with THE GOLDEN NOTEBOOK (for me), she captured the experiences of women of our time. She wrote difficult feminist novels, science fiction novels, and horror with THE FIFTH CHILD.
THE FIFTH CHILD has pretty much haunted and influenced me since I read it. The idea here is a family with four lovely children decide to have a fifth. And the fifth pretty much  destroys all the equanimity they have enjoyed–all the smug self-satisfaction. 
 Ben looks rather horrid, eats insatiably, and acts even worse: he is abnormally strong and violent.  Neither his mother or father are able to bond with him. They are afraid of him and afraid of the feelings he has aroused in them because they regarded themselves as natural parents. His four sibling are also afraid. Age only exacerbates his tendencies. 
This is a terrific idea to me. To take a family that prides itself on being supportive and loving and throw something into the mix that will make them doubt what they believed themselves to be. This is not a novel for everyone. But it is one that makes you think. 

Can a child be evil from birth? Can a genetic mishap cause such a thing?

Sergio Angellini, A MAGNUM FOR SCHNEIDER, James Mitchell
Brian Busby, A STRANGER AND AFRAID, Marika Robert
Bill Crider, SKYLAR, Gregory Macdonald
Scott Cupp, DARK TANGOES, Lewis Shiner
Martin Edwards, THE GREEN-EYED MONSTER, Hugh Wheeler
Curt Evans, BANNER DEADLINES, Joseph Commings
Jerry House, GREAT DETECTIVE STORIES ABOUT DOCTORS, Ed. by Gross Conklin and Noah D. Fabricant
Randy Johnson, VENGEANCE VALLEY, Luke Short
Nick Jones, COUNT NOT THE COST, Ian Mackintosh
George Kelley, THE DOOMSTERS, Ross Macdonald
Margot Kinberg, LINE OF SIGHT, David Whish-Wilson
B.V. Lawson, A GENTLEMAN CALLED, Dorothy Salisbury Davis
Steve Lewis/Allen J. Hubbins, WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING, John Riggs
Todd Mason, HORRORSTORY, Volume Three, edited by Gerald W. Page and Karl Edward Wagner.
Neer, HEADS YOU LOSE, Christiana Brand
THE Novelettes Blog, BURY ME DEEP, Megan Abbott
Juri Nummelin, MURDER’S SO UNPLEASANT, Frank Struan
James Reasoner, THE THIRD SEDUCTION, Jack Lynn
RIchard Robinson, THE UNCOMPLAINING CORPSES, Brett Halliday
Gerard Saylor, A PAINTED BIRD, Jerzy Kosinski
Ron Scheer, TEXAS GOLD, John Reese 
Michael Slind, THE LAST KASHMIRI ROSE, Barbara Cleverly
Kerrie Smith, PIETR THE LATVIAN, Georges Simenon
Kevin Tipple, ON DANGEROUS GROUND: STORIES OF WESTERN NOIR edited by Ed Gorman, Dave Zeltserman and Martin Greenberg
TomCat. DEATH POINTS A FINGER, Will Levinrew
Prashant Trikannad, A GENTLEMAN FROM MISSISSIPPI, Thomas Wise
James Winter, DESPERATION, Stephen King 

Friday’s Forgotten Books, Friday, November 15, 2014

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Nov 152013

Ed Gorman, THE GARNER FILES, James Garner with Jon Winikur

I wish I hadn’t read this book.

   I first saw James Garner the night “Maverick” appeared on a Sunday night way back in 1956. I’ve been a fan of his acting ever since.
   To repeat I wish I hadn’t read this book; even more I wish he hadn’t WRITTEN it.
   I don’t know who Jon Winokur is but he has served Garner poorly. I’m not naive enough to believe that the Garner of movie and TV fame is the Garner of reality. But Winokur (or Garner who did after all have the last word) should have given us an impression beyond that of an inexplicably angry man who carries so many grudges it’s amazing he can stand upright.
   The most irritating issue in the entire (and frequently irritating book) is Garner’s treatment of Roy Huggins.  Now I have mixed feelings about Huggins as a man. He named names to House UnAmerican Activities so he could keep his own enviable career going. I’ve written before that I don’t know what I would’ve done in the same circumstances. Fifty-fifty I would’ve named names.
   That said Roy Huggins is one of the giants of television. He created among other shows “Maverick,” “The Fugitive” and “The Rockford Files.” Note that “Maverick”created Garner’s stardom and “Rockford” helped sustain it.  He quotes  Huggins’ line: “I love Jim Garner and he hates me.” Garner agrees and then bitterly brushes Huggins off.
   Garner is nice to film and tv crews, supports liberal causes, loves his wife and daughter, appreciates what some writers, directors and actors have done for him. I believe all this. I don’t think he’s this terrible guy.
   But all the people he’s punched or wishes he’d punched (we get it he’s a macho man), all the people he thinks have ripped him off or let him down, all the people he mocks or belittles…you know some of this would add texture and spice to the average Hollywood autobiography. But here the tone of these incidents and opinions quickly begin to make you wonder why, after all his success, he’s still so troubled by a life he’s clearly earned and deserves…but a life that leaves him singularly unsatisfied.
   The other negative is that Winokur speeds through numerous moments that could easily have been expanded and developed. If they had been there wouldn’t have been so much room left for all the bitching and misery.

Ed Gorman is the author of the Dev Conrad series of political crime novels. You can find him here. 

DIRTY WORK is the debut novel from Mississippi writer, Larry Brown, and it seemed appropriate to read it around Veteran’s Day since that’s its subject matter. I picked it up in Mississippi last month and just wish I had picked up more of them. I have RABBIT FACTORY around somewhere and will dig it out now.

Walter James and Braiden Chaney are two Vietnam Vets lying side by side in a Vet hospital 20 years after the war. Chaney has basically spent the entire time in a hospital since the war left him with no arms or legs. James is newly admitted with some sort of brain trauma from a bullet lodge in his head. He has also been badly scarred from his years in Vietnam. 
The two men eventually trade war stories, but this book does much more than that. It painted the lives of the sort of men who couldn’t dodge the war–the down and dirty life they led in northern Mississippi. Much of Chaney’s thoughts are dream-induced and almost biblical in theme. Who could spend 20 years in a bed and not retreat to such a place?

The two men do a lot of drinking with the beer Chaney’s sister smuggles in.  They also smoke a lot of pot. Their stories are different and the same. It was men like these two who served in Vietnam and never recovered from it. They either died in body or died in spirit. An amazing and thought-provoking book.

Sergio Angelini, THE WINTER MURDER CASE, SS Van Dine
Yvette Banek, FOR OLD TIME’S SAKE, Delano Ames
Brian Busby, THE CROOKED GOLFERS, Frank L. Packard
Bill Crider, HIS BROTHER’S WIFE, Clay Stuart (Harry Whittington)
Scott Cupp, BLOOD OF THE LAMB, Sam Cabot
J. Escribano, BLACK ICE, Michael Connelly
Curt Evans, NO LOVE LOST, Margery Allingham
Ray Garraty, A HOUSE IN NAPLES, Peter Rabe
Jerry House, BATTLE ON MERCURY, Lester Del Rey
Nick Jones, THE SANDBAGGERS, Ian Macintosh
Geroge Kelley, BLACK MONEY, Ross Macdonald
Margot Kinberg, ONCE UPON A LIE, Jill Patterson
B.V. Lawson, MRS. KNOX’S PROFESSION, Jessica Mann
Evan Lewis, DONT’T CRY FOR ME, William Campbell Gault
Steve Lewis, MY LOVELY EXECUTIONER, Peter Rabe
Todd Mason,FACES OF FEAR: Interviews by Douglas Winter; DARK DREAMERS: Interviews by Stanley Wiater; CUT! HORROR WRITERS ON HORROR FILM, edited by Christopher Golden
J.F. Norris, DESERT TOWN, Ramona Stewart
Juri Nummelin, THE POWER OF THE DOG, Don Winslow
James Reasoner, SADDLES, SIXGUNS, SHOOTOUTS, Charles Beckman, Jr (Charles Boekman)
Kelly Robinson, WILLIAM TELL TOLD AGAIN, P.G. Wodehouse
Richard Robinson, BENCHMARKS, GALAXY BOOKSHELF, Algis Budrys
Ron Scheer, ADIOS, HEMINGWAY, Leonardo Padura Fuentes
Michael Slind, THE ORIGIN OF EVIL, Ellery Queen
Kerrie Smith, THE CAVALIER CASE, Antonia Fraser
Prashant Trikkannad, PERJURY, Stan Latreille
Kevin Tipple, WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES, Lawrence Block
James Winter, HENRY VI, PART 3, William Shakespeare
Zybahn, ROOM, Emma Donaghue

Friday’s Forgotten Books: Ross Macdonald Day

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Nov 082013

Ross Macdonald was born Kenneth Millar in Canada in 1915. He was abandoned by his father at an early age, perhaps setting into motion the themes he would pursue in his stories. 

He completed a Ph.D at the University of Michigan but ended up using his talents as a crime fiction writer rather than a scholar. His wife, Margaret Millar, a great talent in her own right, shares something with her husband beside a genre: both write psychologically attuned mysteries that examine the family in all its complexity. Few of their books do not delve into family secrets, grievances, ill-treatment. Macdonald’s first novel was published in 1944. 

He died in 1983, suffering from Alzheimers. The Millars had one daughter who they lost early on. A grandson died prematurely too.

Most critics regard Macdonald as one of the greatest practitioners of the craft and his hero,  Lew Archer as one of the great detectives. Perhaps few characters have inhabited so many books and revealed so little of a personal nature. But he is the prism through which some of the most complex crime stories of the time passed. And he could sure solve a crime. 

Strangers in Town: Three Newly-discovered Mysteries by Ross Macdonald, edited by Tom Nolan
(Review by Deb)

Containing three short stories (only one of which was published in Macdonald’s lifetime), written in 1945, 1950, and 1955 respectively, Strangers in Towndisplays some of the earliest themes, characterizations, plot twists, and motifs that are found in Macdonald’s longer works.  In each one of these stories, we see elements emerge that will be explored more fully in future mysteries, including the development of Macdonald’s series private investigator, Lew Archer.
The first story, Death by Water, was published in 1945 in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine under Macdonald’s real name, Kenneth Millar.  Written while Millar was serving on a naval vessel in the Pacific Theater of WWII, the story features Lew Archer prototype, p.i. Joe Rogers, who is investigating the drowning death of a wealthy man.  Was it just an unfortunate accident or was he deliberately killed?  And, if the latter, who is the killer?  The man’s younger, wheelchair-bound wife has only a few months to live herself.  The man’s stepson is on a navy ship (much like Millar himself when he wrote this story) and therefore unable to have committed the crime.  How about the dead man’s brother, who struggles to live on a limited income?  And where was the wife’s personal nurse when the death occurred?  Millar manages to pack a lot of suspects and motives into a few pages, but what I found most interesting about the story was the reference to ALS (aka, Lou Gehrig’s disease) just a few years after Gehrig himself succumbed to the condition.
Lew Archer appears in the next story, 1950’s Strangers in Town, where he is hired by a woman to prove that her son did not kill a pretty, secretive young woman who was renting a room in her house.  Archer has to travel to a dusty town in the California desert to investigate this one.  As in much of Macdonald’s longer fiction, the small California community in which the story is set is a character in itself.  What I liked most about the story was the sympathetic and dignified treatment of African-American and Hispanic characters (the victim and the alleged killer are both black; the attorney defending the young man is Mexican-American)—they are depicted neither as caricatures nor noble stoics, but as fully-realized characters with the standard human mix of decency, faults, and failings.
The final story in the collection is 1955’s The Angry Man which features several frequent Macdonald themes:  The mentally-ill and the often callous treatment they receive from law enforcement and society as a whole; wealthy but dysfunctional families; the lengths to which people who have no money will go in order to get it; and the juxtaposition of a character’s surface persona with their inward self.  You can also see Macdonald working on the technical problem of how to have a first-person, non-omniscient narrator receive and communicate information without the story devolving into one long piece of exposition (I think Macdonald handles this type of narrative extremely well in both his short and long fiction).  Neither this story nor Strangers in Town was published in Macdonald’s lifetime.  He decision not to publish these works was not because they did not measure up to his standards but for quite the opposite reason:  He liked what he had written so much that he wanted to expand upon it and develop the material into longer works.
As entertaining as these short stories are, I found the most interesting thing about the book to be its long, informative introduction written by Tom Nolan which quotes extensively from letters Millar/Macdonald wrote to his wife (fellow novelist, Margaret Millar—herself an FFB honoree some time ago) while he was serving in the Navy.  During long, occasionally dangerous, deployments, Millar was able to read extensively from the ship’s library and continue to write fiction and develop his ideas for writing first-person murder-mysteries narrated by the hard-boiled but moral private investigator who ultimately became Lew Archer.

The Chill, Patti Abbott

I found reviewing this book exceedingly difficult. The plot is very complicated and stopping at a point where not too many reveals have been mentioned is nearly impossible. So I will err here on the side of telling too little rather than too much.

Archer is hired by the callow youth, Alex Kincaid, to find his new wife Dolly, who has suddenly disappeared. Archer takes the case when it is clear the police are uninterested and finds Dolly quickly, but of course complications arise. 

A man from her past has shown up at their hotel. This and the death of her college advisor, Helen Haggerty, has sent her into flight. She claims, in fact, that she’s caused Helen’s death. Archer puts Dolly into a rest home with a man who has treated her in the past for similar incidents. Kincaid hangs around to keep an eye on her.

It seems that Dolly is linked to a number of mysterious deaths over a long period. The dean of the college Dolly attends also figures into the story at multiple points. He is dominated by his mother although puts up less of a fuss than you might expect.

This is very much a story about family relationships and how children can be manipulated by adults. The past has the present in a stranglehold in this book. Try as they might, the characters in THE CHILL are helpless but to follow a path they sometimes had no hand in making. Although many characters in THE CHILL only appear on the page for a minute or two, they are each given the traits to be memorable. Archer himself is the least memorable and I think Macdonald planned it thusly. 
My favorite line, and one that sums up much of the plot, is “I’m beginning to hate old women.”

Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar), The Archer Files: The Complete Short Stories of Lew Archer, Private Investigator, Including Newly Discovered Case Notes (Crippen & Landru, 2007)

In 2001 Crippen & Landru had a major coup by publishing three newly discovered Ross Macdonald stories (two featuring Lew Archer) in Stranger in Town.  Millar’s biographer Tom Nolan wrote a long introduction and put the stories in context.  It was a must have book for fans.

In 2007 Crippen & Landru topped that with the volume at hand, which contains not only the stories from the previous book but those from the earlier Archer collections, The Name is Archer (1955) and Lew Archer, Private Investigator (1977), as well as 11 “case notes” that were ideas for possible future stories, written between 1953 and 1965.  This time Nolan’s introduction is about the character, Lew Archer. 

Whether you are a long time fan or a neophyte to Macdonald’s work, reading him for the first time, this is a book you need to get, whether you regularly read short stories or not.  It is great having all of them together in one place and the book is highly recommended.  I don’t know if it is still in print but you should definitely check It out.  It is 350 pages of terrific reading. 

One final bonus.  The book has been designed to look like a Bantam paperback of the 1960s by “Jeff Wong (after Mitch Hooks)” with a portrait of the author.


 The Zebra-Striped Hearse (1962)

This is mid-period Archer, originally published just over 50 years ago, in between two of his most memorable books, The Galton Case and The Chill. The plot seems as old as humanity and still timeless today.  A somewhat immature 24 year old woman, anxious to get out from under her domineering father’s influence, falls in love and plans to run off with artist Burke Damis after a very short acquaintance.  But when Lew Archer is hired by (retired) Colonel Blackwell to break up the romance he finds disturbing indications that Damis is not who he says he is.  Indeed, is he really a con man and is he in fact connected to two earlier murders?

Archer runs all over Southern California and travels as far south as Mexico and north to Lake Tahoe and the complicated plot takes many turns until you realize things are not nearly as simple as they first seem.  The titular hearse of the title is not metaphoric, by the way, but an actual vehicle that plays a part in the solution.  Macdonald fans probably read this one years ago but I didn’t and I’m glad I corrected that oversight now.

both the above by Jeff Meyerson

Ross Macdonald Reviews

Books to the Ceiling, THE WAY SOME PEOPLE DIE
Brian Busby, I DIE SLOWLY
Bruce Grossman, THE BLUE HAMMER 
Laura Langer, THE IVORY GRIN
Evan Lewis, BLUE CITY
Richard Pangburn, THE THREE ROADS
James Reasoner, THE ARCHER FILES
Michael Slind, FIND A VICTIM
Kerrie Smith, THE CHILL
Kevin Tipple/Patrick Ohl, THE DROWNING POOL
Prashant Trikannad,THE NAME IS LEW ARCHER

And elsewhere in blogdom
Yvette Banek, MURDER ON THE BLACKBOARD, Stuart Palmer
Joe Barone, A VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS, Nancy Pickard
Martin Edwards, DEATH HAS A PAST, Anita Boutell
Curt Evans, THE MARK OF CAIN, Carolyn Wells
Ed Gorman, EYE IN THE RING, Robert Randisi
Margot Kinberg, A CARRION’S DEATH, Michael Stanley 
J.F. Norris, MASTERS OF THE MACABRE, Rusell Thorndyke
Ron Scheer, THE CABIN BOOK, Charles Sealsfield
Prashant Trikannad, THREE YOUNG RANCH MEN, Captain Ralph Bonehill

Friday’s Forgotten Books, Friday, October 25, 2013

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Oct 252013
Next week, B.V. Lawson will be our host. And two weeks from day, we will celebrate the work of Ross MacDonald

Crossroad Blues, Ace Atkins

Nick Travers, a former football player, is now employed by Tulane University in New Orleans teaching the history of the blues. In his spare time, he is a “tracker” and scholar, seeking gap-filling information about blues singers in the last century. His particular interest is in Guitar Slim. Travers also plays blues at JoJos Blues Bar.
A Tulane colleague, who was following leads about some missing Robert Johnson music, goes missing himself, and Travers, knowing the area and the people, agrees to look into it. Along the way, he tangles with a tantalizing redhead, a wily albino with more information than is good for him, a lethal Elvis lookalike and other dangerous types following the same path, looking to score from supposedly missing records Johnson made before his death.
Atkins is so highly skilled at evoking atmosphere-you feel like you’re traveling down through the Delta with him, stopping at jukes, having a po boy on the road or a beignet in New Orleans, listening to some great music. He creates a believable protagonist, who wrestles with some dangerous adversaries as well as the question of how to keep the blues alive without exploiting it. This is fine crime fiction, but it is these other elements that makes the novel zing. 
It’s hard to believe a 25-year old had the nerve and talent to write this exciting and evocative book. You can feel the excitement and enthusiasm of its young author in every sentence.

Sergio Angelini, DEATH IN CAPTIVITY, Michael Gilbert
Bill Crider, SCRATCH ONE, John Lange (Michael Crichton)
Curt Evans, RASPBERRY JAM, Carolyn Wells
Ray Garraty, A SHROUD FOR JESSO, Peter Rabe
Ed Gorman, NIGHTMARE ALLEY and GRINDSHOW, William Lindsay Gresham
Jerry House, HARLAN ELLISON’S MOVIE, Harlan Ellison
Randy Johnson, THE OUTFIT, Richard Stark
Nick Jones, A MAGNUM FOR SCHNEIDER, James Mitchell
George Kelley, RAYGUNS OVER TEXAS, edited by Richard Klaw
Margot Kinberg, THE BIG SLEEP, Raymond Chandler
Rob Kitchin, JADE LADY BURNING, Martin Limon
B.V. Lawson, THIS ROUGH MAGIC, Mary Stewart
Evan Lewis, CONAN, THE ROGUE, John Maddox Roberts
Steve Lewis/William Deeck, DEATH IN HIGH HEELS, Chrisitana Brand
Todd Mason LEARNING TO DRIVE, Katha Pollitt; SEDUCING THE DEMON, Erica Jong 
 Neer, THE MUSICAL COMEDY CRIME, Anthony Gilbert
J.F. Norris, THE COOK, Harry Kressing
Juri Nummelin, THE BATTLE, Brian McDermont
James Reasoner, LADY, Thomas Tryon
Richard Robinson, The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus ed. by Brian W. Aldiss
Gerard Saylor, JITTERBUG, Loren Estleman
Ron Scheer. RED HAWK TRAIL, Max Brand
Kerrie Smith, NO MAN’S LAND, Reginald Hill
Kevin Tipple. Patrick Ohl, THE WEST END HORROR, Nicholas Meyer
Prashant Trikkanad, ACTION COMICS #1
James Winter, HENRY FOUR, PART TWO, William Shakespeare, THE GREEN MILE, Stephen King
Yvette. CIRCLE OF SHADOWS, Imogen Robertson

Friday’s Forgotten Books, October 11, 2013

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Oct 112013

George Kelley will host this endeavor next week.

For Halloween; Sara Waters Favorite Ghost Stories and Waters’ THE LITTLE STRANGER is high on my list.  I read THE DEMON LOVER (Bowen)  recently and it is a marvel.

Sarah Waters is the author of THE LITTLE STRANGER, a ghost story.

The Monkey’s Paw” by WW Jacobs
This is one of the most anthologised of all ghost stories, and its “be careful what you wish for” message has become one of the clichés of the genre. Every time I read it, I realise how economical it is: we never see the son who, summoned up by the diabolical power of the monkey’s paw, has dragged his mangled body out of its grave and back to his parents’ house; we only hear his baleful knocks at the door. But it’s the anticipation that makes it so hair-raisingly good.

Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu
This story of a beautiful revenant and her fascination with teenage girls is about a vampire rather than a ghost, but it can’t be beaten. Most memorable is the “very strange agony” into which her voluptuous wooing plunges the story’s unworldly narrator: “Sometimes it was as if warm lips kissed me, and longer and more lovingly as they reached my throat . . .”
A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
As far as I know, none of Ishiguro’s fiction is actively supernatural, but his novels have a brilliant strangeness to them, which makes reading them always an unnerving experience. Here his Nagasaki-born narrator has become so detached from her own traumatic past, she has effectively turned it into someone else’s life. As in many great ghost stories, the result is a tightly controlled narrative surface, with half-glimpsed, terrifying depths.
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This is a brilliant depiction of a woman’s decent into insanity. But the room in which its unnamed protagonist slowly loses her wits is definitely a “haunted” one: the ghosts are other women, trying furiously but fruitlessly to “shake the bars” of the claustrophobic patterns in which they are trapped.
“The Specialist’s Hat” by Kelly Link
All of Link’s stories are wonderfully odd and original. Some are also quite scary – and this, from her collection Stranger Things Happen, is very scary indeed. It’s the story of 10-year-old twin girls in a haunted American mansion, being instructed by an enigmatic babysitter just what it means to be “dead”.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The definitive haunted house story, and one of the novels that inspired a fabulously scary film, the 1963 The Haunting (1963).
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
I’m not really much of a James fan, but I think this has to be on my list, if only because the story – of a lonely governess whose charges may or may not be being haunted by the ghosts of wicked servants – has been such an influential one. As far as chills go, I actually prefer the two films for which it provided the inspiration: the 1961 The Innocents, with a fragile Deborah Kerr, and The Others (2001), with a demented Nicole Kidman.
“The Demon Lover” by Elizabeth Bowen
In many of her novels and stories, Bowen beautifully captures the eerie atmosphere of wartime London, with its blitzed, abandoned houses. In this story, a middle-aged woman tries to evade an assignation with the sinister soldier fiancé, lost to her many years before.
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
Watching a BBC adaptation of this several Christmases ago, I got so frightened, I was sick. Admittedly, I had eaten a lot of Christmas pudding – but Hill’s story is terrifying, a classic of the genre. The “woman with the wasted face”, made so malevolent by the loss of her own infant that she destroys the children of others, is a fantastic creation.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
“Not a house in the country ain’t packed to its rafters with some dead Negro’s grief,” one of the characters points out, when Sethe, the novel’s protagonist, suggests fleeing from the spiteful spirit inhabiting her home. One of the great fictional studies of slavery and its scars, Beloved is also a sublime literary ghost story: a meditation on the ways in which individuals and communities – an entire nation – can be haunted by the violence and injustice of the past.

Ed Gorman is the author of the Dev Conrad series of political thrillers.

I like to read while I eat. Lately I’ve been working my way through David Thomson’s enormous Biographical Dictionary of Film at lunch time. Thomson is the most interesting and entertaining flm critic since Pauline Kael–and every bit as frustrating. When I disagree with him, I want to all him up and read him his rights–before violating every one of them.

Today I read his take on Edmond O’Brien. Thomson notes going in that movie stars aren’t supposed to sweat. That makes them too much like everybody in the audience. Part of movie stardom is inaccessability, fantasy. But what a clever hook because beefy O’Brien sweated all the time, especially in his most memorable movie DOA. He was also fat, frequently out of breath, devoutly neurotic and often frightened. He was, in other words, pretty much like the people in the darkness watching him on the big screen. An Everyman of sorts.

In the course of his entry on O’Brien, Thomson makes clear that he enjoys the odd-ball actors and actresses far more than he does the stars. Thus he finds Warren Oates vastly more compelling than Robert Redford and Jeff Goldblum more intriguing than Paul Newman.

When I was a kid I rarely wondered about the lives of the stars. But I was always curious about character actors such as Elisha Cook, Jr. and J. Carrol Naish. There was a vitality to their performances that the stars were rarely capable of matching. And in the case of Cook, there was a melancholy and weariness that I recognized even then as being much like my own.

Same with the women. The ones I was always excited about were the second- and third-leads. They were the ones I got crushes on. They were often as pretty as the leading ladies, sometimes even prettier. And they frequently had more interesting roles, the bitch, the tart, the victim.

Barry Gifford once remarked that when you see a musical with all those young gorgeous girl dancers you have to wonder what became of them. The majority probably became housewives; more than a few probably took to the streets as parts became harder and harder to come by; and a lucky handful became the wives of powerful Hwood men.

I’ve been watching a lot of silent films of TCM and the same impulse grabs me then, too. Who were they? What happened to them? Did they know they’d become immortal? A full century later I sit in our family room and watch them as–most likely anyway–another century from now people will still be watching them. This is probably heresy of sorts but to me film immortality is far more imposing than literary immortality.

Sergio Angelini, BLACKMAILER, George Axelrod
Brian Busby, THE LONG NOVEMBER, James Nablo
Bill Crider, SAD WIND FROM THE SEA, Harry Patterson
Martin Edwards, FATALITY IN FLEET STREET, Christopher St. John Sprigg
Curt Evans, MURDER IN 913 and MURDER OBLIQUELY, Cornell Woolrich
Ray Garraty, DARK TIMES IN THE CITY, Gene Kerrigan
Randy Johnson, BRAGG’S HUNCH, Jack Lynch
Nick Jones, OUT ON THE RIM, Ross Thomas
George Kelley, NEXT OF KIN, Eric Frank Russell
B.V. Lawson, WOMAN OF MYSTERY, Maurice LeBlanc
Evan Lewis, THE BRAVOS, Brian Wynne Garfield
Steve Lewis/Bill Pronzini, THE FOX VALLEY MURDERS, John Holbrrok Vance
Neer, BLACK PLUMES, Margery Allingham
J.F. Norris, POLICELAN”S HOLIDAY, Rupert Penny
Juri Nummelin, MURDER FORESTALLED, Peter Chester
James Reasoner, RED, Jack Ketchum
Richard Robinson – guest post by Art Scott, ASK A POLICEMANThe Detection Club.
Gerard Saylor, BLACK ORCHID
Ron Scheer, THE BETTER MAN, Arthur Henry Paterson
Kerrie Smith, CHILDREN OF  THE WIND, Kate Wilhelm
Kevin Tipple, Patrick Ohl, THE JULIUS CAESAR MURDERS, Wallace Irwin
Prashant Trikannad, HELL IS TOO CROWDED, Jack Higgins
James Winter, SHOTGUN and JIGSAW, Ed McBain

Friday’s Forgotten Books, Friday, October 4, 2013

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Oct 042013

 Lemons Never Lie by Richard Stark

There are so many twists, turns, starts and stops in Lemons Never Lie by Donald E. Westlake as Richard Stark that the novel becomes a kind of a crime picaresque filled with mugs, thugs, killers, victims and Parker’s redoutable thespian friend, Alan Grofiled. There’s also a lot of notably brutal violence.
The book begins with Grofield visiting Vegas to partake of a robbery that will give him the money to survive one more season in his summer theater. Grofield, in case you didn’t know, is a “purist” when it comes to acting, his chosen profession. No movies or television for him. Stage only. But it takes his other profession, robbery, to support his theater. Only his long-supportive wife understands how hard he works at both careers.
A man named Myers has set up a robbery plan and has called in amateurs to help him. With the exception of a man named Caithcart and a dangerous man named Dan Leach, the group is a zero. As is Myers. Now Myers, who speaks with a boarding school accent, is one of the great villains in Westlake’s world. He is a true sociopathic murderer; a serial killer of a kind. Grofield and Leach decide against working with him.
This is the set-up. There’s an early twist that lets us know just how nasty Myers is. And then the various adventures start. Grofield resembles his friend (and fellow robber) Parker only occasionally. For instance, he loves chit-chat, feels sorry even for a guy who tries to kill him and lets another live that (as reader) you know should be killed on the spot, slowly and joyously.
There’s also a lot of witty humor. Grofield gets into the damnedest conversations with people. Once in a while you may even forget you’re reading a crime novel. Westlake has a great time riffing on all the cliche exchanges you read in most crime fiction. At a couple of point Grofield starts sounding like a TV shrink.
Lemons Never Lie is Westlake at his very best. While there’s a screwball comedy-feel to some of the misadventures, the unrelenting violence reminds readers that the Richard Stark is the master of the hardboiled. The masterful plotting, the wry way the genre cliches are turned inside out, and the earnestness and humanity of Alan Grofield make this a pleasure from page one to the unexpected ending

Ed Gorman is the author of the Dev Conrad series of mysteries. The newest one FLASHPOINT.

A Lost Lady, Willa Cather

I love all of Willa Cather’s books, but this is my favorite. It is short enough to read in an hour or two but deep enough to stay with you forever. Like Wharton’s HOUSE OF MIRTH, this is a story of a woman who is simply unable to survive on her own in the world and makes poor decisions because of that.

When our protagonist meets Marion Forrester, she is years younger than her prominent husband. They live in Sweet Water, a town expected to thrive due to the railway. A young neighbor, Niel Herbert, become infatuated with her and she allows his infatuation. But before very long, the fate of Mrs. Forrester turns sour and young Niel is simply too inexperienced to see her clearly and believes the worst of her. Because he never understood her situation, he is unsypathetic to her fall from grace. Years later, he is finally able to understand her.

A beautifully written book and portrait of a complex character.

Bill Crider, Hell’s Cartographers, Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldis
Martin Edwards, CICELY DISAPPEARS, A Monmouth Platts
Curt Evans, HIDE MY EYES, Marjorie Allingham
Randy Johnson, HIDDEN BLOOD, W.C. Tuttle
Nick Jones, RED STORM RISING, Tom Clancey
Margot Kinberg, OUT OF THE SILENCE, Wendy James
Evan Lewis, DARK HEART OF TIME, Philip Jose Farmer
Steve Lewis/Frances Nevins, EIGHT FACES AT THREE, Craig Rice
Ed Lynskey, DR.NO,, Ian Fleming
Todd Mason
Neer, STAR TREK: PRIME DIRECTIVE, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
J. Kingston Pierce, ALISTAIR MACLEAN
Graham Powell, RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY, John Mortimer
James Reasoner, SIN IN THEIR BLOOD, Ed Lacy
Ron Scheer, GUNSIGHTS, Elmore Leonard
Kerrie Smith, MISS MARPLE SHORT STORIES, Agatha Christie; MASTER OF THE MOOR, Ruth Rendell
Kevin Tipple, PARIAH, Dave Zeltersman
TomCat, SHE DIED A LADY, Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr)
Prashant Trikannad, SOMEONE IS KILLING THE GREAT CHEFS OF EUROPE, Nan and Ivan Lyons
James Winter, ROSE MADDER, Stephen King
Zybahn, A SEPARATE PEACE, John Knowles

Friday’s Forgotten Books, Friday, September 13, 2013

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Sep 132013

      B.V. Lawson will have the links next week. Two weeks from today: Patricia Highsmith. 

Ed Gorman’s newest novel is FLASHPOINT, A Dev Conrad mystery

Conan Doyle: Detective by Peter Costello

I always thought that Arthur Conan Doyle was a pretty cool guy. When I was young I was all caught up in almost otherworldly portrait he gave us of Victorian London and environs. The fog, the hansom cabs, the echoing footsteps down the dark alleys, the pitiful ones of Whitechapel, the self-indulgent ones of the aristocracy. And then when I got older and had more appreciation of what it was like for a father to lose a son, the way Doyle turned to mentalism of various sorts…

The one aspect of the Doyle story I’d never paid much attention to was his very real interest in true crime cases. As Erle Stanley Gardner woukd do several decades later, Doyle helped clear innocents and thus help them escape the gallows. And he worked with police from a variety of cities, towns and even other countries when they asked his opinion or advice on matters concerning open cases.

All this is documented in a fine new book Conan Doyle: Detective by Peter Costello (Carroll & Graf, $15.95) that moves as swiftly as a Doyle story while offering us a look at a Doyle most of us have ever encountered, even in some of the better Doyle biographies.

There are chapters on six of the UK’s most famous cases including Crippen, Jack The Ripper and the Irish Crown Jewels. Even when Doyle was wrong in his conjectures, his process of deduction is fascinating to follow. Likewise, even in cases of lesser fame, Costello sets all the crimes in a context that helps give us a vivid sense of the era.

A real treat for several audiences–those who love Holmes, those fascinated with Doyle himself, those interested in the formation of modern crime solving techniques, and those (and there seem to be many) who wished they’d lived in the time of Queen Victoria.

TRAP FOR CINDERELLA, Sebastien Japrisot (Patti Abbott)

This is one of those books that depends on taking you by surprise and it is difficult to review it without divulging details that will detract from that pleasure. A girl wakes up in a hospital. She has just undergone plastic surgery to fix the burns she sustained in a fire at her house in a French resort. Her friend has died in the blaze. Or is she the friend? She can’t remember much, including who she is. A third woman seems to play a role in both scenarios.

The book plays with this idea–who died and who survived. It is a moody, atmospheric
book–reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith. The book won France’s most prestigious fiction award. It is short and dark. Read it when you are fully awake and not drowsing in bed or you won’t know who is who either.

Sergio Angelini, THE FOUR JUST MEN, Edgar Wallace
Brian Busby, FOR MAIMIE’S SAKE, Grant Allen
Bill Crider, WILD, WILD, WESTERNERS, Tom Weaver
Scott Cupp, THE SUPERHUGOS, Isaac Asimov
Martin Edwards, BODY IN THE BECK, Joanna Cannan
Curt Evans, MISCHIEF IN THE OFFING, Clifford Witting
Jeff Flugel. A GENT FROM BEAR CREEK, Robert E. Howard
Ray Garraty, CROSSROAD BLUES, Ace Atkins
Jerry House, THE BEYONDERS, Manley Wade Wellman
Randy Johnson, TROUBLE IS MY NAME, Stephen Marlowe
Nick Jones, A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME, Anthony Powell
George Kelley, THE KING OF SATAN’S EYES, Geoffrey Marsh
Margot Kinberg, DEATH IN THE KINGDOM, Andrew Grant
Rob Kitchin, THE GOOD GERMAN, Joseph Kanon
B.V. Lawson, THE CRIMSON BLIND, Frerick Merrick White
Evan Lewis, “Anyone’s Corpse” Carroll John Daly
Steve Lewis/Dan Stumpf, THE WAY TO ELDORADO, Hollister Noble
Todd Mason, F&SF: A 30 YEAR RETROSPECTIVE and other choices
James Reasoner, RUSTLER’S MOON, L.P. Holmes
Richard Robinson, THE FLOATING ADMIRAL, by members of the Detection Club
Gerard Saylor, REFRESH, REFRESH,, multiple writers
Ron Scheer, THIS OLD BILL, Loren D. Estleman
Kerrie Smith, DEADLY SCORE, Paul Myers
Kevin Tipple, Barry Ergang, THE LORD OF MISRULE, Paul Halter
Prashant Trikannad, BATMAN AND SPIDERMAN
Yvette, MIDNIGHT IS A PLACE, Joan Aiken
Zybahn, FLOATING DRAGON, Peter Straub

Friday’s Forgotten Books, Friday, September 6, 2013

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Sep 062013
George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman series (Jeff Meyerson)

Anyone who has read Tom Brown’s Schooldays or seen the 1971 (or other) adaptation of the Thomas Hughes book will surely remember the odious bully Flashman, who does his best to make the hero’s life a living hell. But have you ever wondered what happened to Flashman after his expulsion from Rugby School? Well, Scottish author George MacDonald Fraser did and he made Flashman – later, unbelievably Brigadier General Sir Harry Flashman, V.C., K.C.B., K.C.I.E. the somewhat dubious anti-hero of a wonderfully entertaining twelve book series that I cannot recommend highly enough.

Fraser’s conceit is that a Watson-like box of papers has been discovered and is being serially published retailing the autobiographical adventures of the cowardly – yet wildly successful – rogue as he traveled the world in and out of the 19thCentury British Army. Each book covers a series of adventures in the rogue’s life, including his meeting with most of the important figures of the period, including Lords Raglan and Cardigan at The Charge of the Light Brigade, John Brown at Harpers Ferry, Queen Victoria (who knights him), a young Congressman named Lincoln who saves him from slave traders, and George Armstrong Custer at the Little Bighorn.
Flashman makes no bones about his character. He is a coward who doesn’t hesitate to run away in the face of danger yet he is a wily fighter, a drinker and gambler and carouser with women (he claims to have slept with 480) who somehow manages to use his riding, shooting and linguistic skills (and yes, his skills with the ladies) to save the day and the British Empire.

Fraser clearly did a lot of research for the series, which covers various world events and famous personages between 1839 and 1894, and he portrays the period and events both vividly and (mostly) accurately. Each book has dozens of fascinating footnotes and explanatory notes that enhance your enjoyment, and if you’re at all interested in the 19th Century you could do a lot worse than reading these. It is not necessary to read the books in order, though I’d certainly recommend reading the “origin story” Flashman first. Once you get hooked on Flashy and Fraser’s marvelous style I predict you’ll want to continue with the rest of the series.

Highly recommended.

THE HOURS BEFORE DAWN, Celia Fremlin (Patti Abbott)

Louise Henderson is the mother of three, the last being a baby who cries too much, putting her into a state of constant tiredness and anxiety. Clearly she’s the victim of an undiagnosed case of postpartum depression, but also…
Onto the scene comes Vera Brandon, a teacher who is eager to board in a third floor room. She is able to talk intelligently to Mark Henderson, a source of jealousy for Louise. The new boarder does not seem disturbed the infant’s constant crying at all. Although she’s supposedly employed, Louise begins to wonder just how often she actually leaves the house.
As Louise tiredness mounts, little things begin to go wrong, mostly issues with the baby. Much of the trouble seems to come from that quiet woman on the third floor–someone that seems vaguely familiar to nearly everyone.
Fremlin does a terrific job of giving the reader the domestic details that make this familial portrait come to life.This is a subtle mystery. At times is is funny and at other times suspenseful. And Fremlin gets nearly everything right. This was her first novel, but it seems like the work of a seasoned professional. Obviously she mined a terrain familiar to her.
Fremlin won the Edgar for THE HOURS BEFORE DAWN in 1958. She went on to write 15 more novels. I am pretty sure I read one or two of them back in the day. I will be looking for more.

Sergio Angelino, BADGE OF EVIL,Whit Masterson
Joe Barone, KING’S RANSOM, Ed McBain
Bill Crider, NIGHTMARE AGE, Frederick Pohl
Martin Edwards, THE MISSING LINK, Katherine Farrer
Curt Evans, MISCHIEF IN THE OFFING, Clifford Witting
Jeff Flugel, THE BIG BOOK OF ADVENTURE STORIES, edited by Otton Penzler
Ray Garraty, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, Patricia Highsmith
Randy Johnson, THE FORAGERS, Ben Haas
Margot Kinberg, THE SAVAGE ALTAR, Asa Larsson
Evan Lewis, AN ORCHID FOR A KILLER, Tod Hunter
Steve Lewis, MURDER GONE MINOAN, Clyde B. Clason
Todd Mason, IN SEARCH OF WONDER, Damon Knight
James Reasoner, OFF THE MANGROVE COAST, Louis L’Amour
Kelly Robinson, SOMEONE IS BLEEDING, Richard Matheson
Gerard Saylor, DR. WHO; THE MOONBASE, Kit Pedler
Ron Scheer, RICH MAN’S RANGE, John Reese
Kerrie Smith, THE GREEN MILL MURDER, Kerry Greenwood
Kevin Tipple/Patrick Ohl/Barry Ergang, STRIP FOR MURDER, Richard S. Prather
Prashant Trikannad, THE GIRL FROM SUNSET RANCH, Amy Bell Barlow
TomCat, THE POISON ORACLE, Peter Dickinson
James Winter, INSOMNIA, Stephen King, MICK JAGGER, Philip Norman