Another Short Break.

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Apr 012015

Hopefully I’ll be posting again by Thursday, but the last past week has been filled with doctors’ appointments for both Judy and me, car problems, a 20-minute visit with our tax accountant yesterday, but a 30-minute trip each way, and on and on. I’ve been on the go a lot, and I’m pooped. But lunch with Paul Herman on Sunday was fun, and luckily the weather seems to turned the corner for the better, and it’s about time.

There is plenty of material backlogged and ready to post, including Mike Nevins’ column for April, but the past couple of days, I’ve simply run out of time. I’ll take tomorrow off as well, to catch my breath, but after that I’m planning on being back to business again.

PS, from Mike Tooney: You might want to alert your readership to this: for those with access to the MHz network, they’re re-broadcasting ‘THE VANISHING OF PATO’ this Friday, April 3rd, at 9:00 P.M. EST/PST for free. (Viewers with a Roku device have to pay $4.99 for a pay-per-view.)

As you may recall, we posted a review on MYSTERY*FILE about a year ago here:

 Posted by at 3:40 am

A Discussion: THE FUTURE OF TV WATCHING, by Michael Shonk and Randy Cox.

 General  Comments Off on A Discussion: THE FUTURE OF TV WATCHING, by Michael Shonk and Randy Cox.
Mar 142015

INTRODUCTION: The following discussion between Michael Shonk and Randy Cox has been taking place mostly in secret, as a series of comments following a review, of all things, a sci-fi movie called The Monolith Monsters. The discourse changed, as it sometimes does, into a conversation about TV viewing in the past and carrying over into the future.

I thought the exchange interesting and even important enough to rescue from a comments section already several days old and in an out of the way place where no one would be likely to come across it. Please read and enjoy, and feel free to respond on your own, if you wish.

michael Says:
March 11th, 2015 at 1:16 pm e

Randy, I am sure Steve doesn’t mind us using this place to have a virtual email exchange:)

I remember back in the 70s when I memorized the TV schedule and made sure to watch every show at least once.

Now I rarely watch TV series on TV. I find my favorites and buy season pass at iTunes. Many of the new series offer the premiere episode for free there so I pay less and less attention to what is on TV tonight. At the moment I am considering either Netflix or Hulu to add to Acorn for streaming TV series so I can watch whatever I want to watch depending on my mood.

There is some great stuff on TV today no matter what your taste. I buy season passes for BLACKLIST, JUSTIFIED, PERSON OF INTEREST (speaking of comic books), and SHERLOCK (whenever its on). I watch regularly ARCHER, DOCTOR WHO, and VENTURE BROTHERS (whenever it is on). Acorn gives me a better and more up to date British fix than PBS and BBC America. YouTube offers me the past. I just finished watch season one of MR ROSE and now am watching ADAM ADAMANT. My TV offers me sports and the El Rey network.

TV has never been better…I just don’t watch much of it on my TV.

Randy Cox Says:
March 11th, 2015 at 4:29 pm e


While I still watch some TV shows on TV I have found that I am able to enjoy them more fully on DVD. The lack of commercial breaks helps me to concentrate on the story.

michael Says:
March 11th, 2015 at 6:39 pm e

I have DVDs as well, heck I have three DVD players, one with a VCR. I did have to adjust to the lack of commercial breaks, especially if the show aired on the Big 4. Shows that air on commercials networks are written differently from movies or those on networks such as HBO. Every commercial break demands a mini climax and tease to hook you and get you to stay and wait for the show to return. Even without the breaks on the DVD the story still has them. The TV shows on networks with no commercials can tell a story with a pace and structure that increases the drama rather that make artificial stops to keep the audience from straying. It is one of the seldom mentioned and lesser reason shows such as GAMES OF THRONES work better on HBO and suffers if copied by any major commercial network.

Randy Cox Says:
March 12th, 2015 at 9:48 am e

I have also discovered that I can fall asleep just as easily in front of a DVD story as a TV show.

Randy Cox Says:
March 12th, 2015 at 6:30 pm e

Michael, I’ve been working my way through the 1966-71 Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows via Netflix. I guess you certainly can’t call it a decent story and the acting is only so-so. Steve was once tempted by a deal for getting the entire series in one chunk. If he succumbed we haven’t heard about it.

I watch a few episodes and then take a break.

michael Says:
March 12th, 2015 at 10:10 pm e

I remember DARK SHADOWS. i grew up in a neighborhood of about a dozen and a half kids my age. One summer we would all run inside to watch DARK SHADOWS. Then school demanded our time again and I never saw another DARK SHADOWS.

Binge viewing, watching multiple episodes of the same TV series, is nothing new. We did it with VCRs and once holiday TV marathons (such as Thanksgiving of TWILIGHT ZONE) became popular. But it seems so easier on streaming. It really gives you the feel and rhythm of the series that you miss waiting a week or more between episodes.

Randy Cox Says:
March 12th, 2015 at 10:58 pm e

I was really a fan of Dark Shadows in its day, but I could only see it during vacations and breaks from the college where I worked. One of the first episodes I saw was the one that introduced Barnabas Collins and I also remember the very last episode where they lampooned the show with the final voiceover that said that investigation proved this was no werewolf after all, but just a wild animal.

I saw a few episodes when it was syndicated and I remember seeing a few of the VHS copies of episodes and thinking that to collect those was madness because there were more than 1,200 episodes. Then came DVDs and I came upon a collection of the very first episodes before Barnabas Collins and bought it thinking it might be fun to see how it all began.

At some point I came to my senses and realized that to get all of the dvds would be expensive and (as my brother said) I might not want to watch them more than once. So I started subscribing to Netflix. Each disc has 10 episodes and that’s enough. I need frequent breaks because I lose track of the story, even with the aid of good episode guide.

Randy Cox Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 9:48 am e

I should probably add that I turned 30 when Dark Shadows began so there was none of this “running home from school to watch” that I read about so much. I started watching mainly because one of the actresses was from my state of Minnesota and would be mentioned in the entertainment column of one of the Twin Cities newspapers. I tried one episode and was not impressed, but the one I tried sometime later that ended with a hand reaching out of a coffin to grip Willie by the neck was memorable!

You mentioned SHERLOCK in number 32. The Brits don’t beat a good thing to death and there have been only 3 series with 3 episodes each. (I think another series is planned.) It’s fun to see how they will twist elements from the original stories to fit the 21st century.

michael Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 2:42 pm e

Much has been made about the difference between the e-book and print, but in reality it has not changed the basic way we read a book – words, sentences, chapters, etc.

The digital world has changed how we watch TV. And more is coming. From days of limited choices to a possible future that will offer us an unlimited number choices much like books do, from days when you had to adjust your schedule to fit your TV watching to days when you can watch nearly any TV series from any year whenever you fell like it. From small black and white only pictures to 60inch TV screens with Ultra HD 4K (and beyond). TV entertainment itself has changed from Ad agency run TV shows to independently made shows airing on YouTube.

The future of publishing has settled in and while the e-book will become an increasing popular format, print will survive.

It is the future of the visual medium, TV and film that are in chaos. How will viewers enjoy the visual programs of the future remains unknown.

Randy Cox Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 7:45 pm e

And what will be the next new thing?

michael Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 9:33 pm e

Too many possibilities to be sure. Mobile and streaming seems to be where the money is heading.

A la carte cable will fail. One the political clout of the huge multi-corporations that own the networks (such as Comcast) will slow the process until the companies will be able to find a profit with that system or control its replacement system (most likely streaming which is cheaper). Two, why spend money for one network if you only watch one program? Logically the next step for cable providers if it wishes to survive is find a way to offer programs not networks in its packages.

The networks were created as a distributor of programming. It is a function not necessary anymore. This is why the corporations that own the networks (and CBS) are involved in cable networks and their own production studios. And why they, especially CBS, are interested in their own streaming services.

What will probably happen is the content providers will drop the middle man and sell directly to the viewer. Watch what happens to HBO Go and the CBS streaming that will start soon. It could be an early sign of the future demise of cable.

Free TV future is really hard to predict. The broadband its on is worth a fortune. Politically, it would be unwise for free TV to vanish – the poor and those who don’t want to pay for TV would be upset as well as the rich powerful people who own and run your local TV station. I see free TV following the example of free radio with nearly all live programming.

Who would have guessed what the cellphone did to the land phone?

The discussions I have read see the future home with a large 60 inch+ TV screen in the home’s living room. It will be connected to a box such as Apple TV which will connect you to all your mobile devices including video games and the single desktop computer you have in your bedroom. You will attach a sound system such as Bose for theatre like sound.

Programs will stream into the main TV or your mobile devices. Pictures will become more and more lifelike but will still try to keep the feel of film. Film will be like LP, where a small but supportive group keeps the format alive.

Movie theaters will survive, people will always need a place to go, but it needs to find some solutions to the major problems it faces. It needs to find a way to make a profit while lowering costs to the moviegoer, not only for the ticket but the popcorn and drinks as well.

There will be fewer theaters and bigger ones. The movie house needs to return to being an event (see today’s IMAX) and because of that the studios will continue to focus on the huge blockbusters and send its smaller movie stories to the local household via TV and streaming.

The technology can do all of this and more if the big money and politicians let it.

Randy Cox Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 9:48 pm e

It’s still a bit of a case of 99 channels and nothing’s on.

Regarding landline phones, I called on someone at his apartment complex and pushed the buttons beside his name at the door to tell him I was there and heard the voice tell me the number was not in service. I say down and waited and he soon came out to tell me the device didn’t work because he doesn’t have a landline phone.

I was watching the special features on a DVD and all the behind the scenes stuff. PBS makes specials out of this sort of thing to promote the new seasons and raise money. Sometimes the interviewees pat themselves on the back a little too much, but they certainly wouldn’t bad mouth their bread and butter.

michael Says:
March 13th, 2015 at 10:32 pm e

Randy, looking for something to watch in this possible TV future will offer more choices than a library has books. I have heard people tell me there is nothing to read, so you could be right.

NOTE: Michael and Randy continued their conversation briefly in its old location, unaware I had diverted it over here:

Randy Cox Says:
March 14th, 2015 at 12:22 pm e

Lots of choices require much thought and decision, maybe more than we have time to decide. Shows will be available in so many venues just like movies. You used to have to wait for a movie to show up on TV so you could see it again, then wait until it would be available on VHS then DVD. I remember someone telling me the waiting time between versions would someday be non existent and the DVD would be released along with the film premiere (maybe on the way out of the theater). Have we reached the point where a TV show could be launched and canceled in the same breath?

michael Says:
March 14th, 2015 at 4:09 pm e

Randy, movies and TV programming will remain separate as long as there are movie houses. The economic system of the two is different.

But I am sure you remember the direct to video movies of the past. Those are not as successful as in the past. Why, I am not sure, it may be caused by the increase in piracy. Why buy a cheap rip-off of the current hit film in the theaters when you can download the hit film itself.

The time between films and released on DVD and streaming has shorten perhaps due to piracy.

TV shows today are available to download on iTunes a day or two after the episode aired. It is one of the reasons the networks have pushed Nielsen to find a way to count us computer TV viewers.

For example, I buy a season pass at iTunes for TV series I would have bought the DVD. I bought the season pass for PERSON OF INTEREST shortly before the season premiered. Every week a day or so after the newest episode aired I am emailed letting me know it is ready to watch. If I were to wait for the DVD I would have to wait months after the season had ended.

TV programs have been cancelled after one episode. One of the most famous was TURN-ON (February 5, 1969 ABC). Tim Conway was the host and has joked the series was cancelled midway through the first episode.

Today, the Big Four networks are trying the direct to series route for some. MICHAEL J FOX SHOW was the most famous where no pilot was done and a full season of episodes were ordered.

Now a few of those such as Fox’s HIEROGLYPHICS that received a full season order was cancelled during filming without ever reaching the air.

 Posted by at 5:58 pm


 General  Comments Off on CRIME FICTION AND THE MYSTIQUE OF TRAINS, by David Vineyard.
Feb 142015
by David Vineyard

   A train is the ideal environment for a mystery or thriller. There is a closed society that is relatively isolated for long periods (certainly in earlier times) and short of leaping to their possible death there is no where for the suspects to go between stations.

   There are a variety of venues from private and semi-private compartments, sleeping cars, baggage cars, dining area, public cars and lounges to stage action in, and enough places to hide to make it both a challenge to find someone and difficult not to be seen. There are borders to be crossed, exotic cities to reach, dangerous and elegant trestles to cross …

   Then there is the romance of the machine. No other mode of transportation ever caught the publics imagination quite like a train. Add to that the original great train robbery by Charles Peace, Jesse and Frank James, the Orient Express, the Trans Siberian, the famous hijacked Confederate train in the Civil War, and other famous trains and it was a natural.

   Doyle used them frequently, Canon Whitechurch did a whole series with Thorpe Hazel, and so on. Half of Frank Packard’s output seemed to be set on or about trains. Graham Greene used them for The Orient Express, Ministry of Fear and Travels with My Aunt, and one figures in Ambler’s Background to Danger. Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming both used them more than once. There was the Rome, Paris-Lyon, Shanghai, Irish, and other Express trains and bestsellers like Dekobra’s The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars.

   I’m not sure there was ever another form of transportation as well suited to suspense, drama, melodrama, romance, mystery and adventure.

   Ships are too big, planes too small, the train though is the ideal size with limitless possibilities for mischief. Some like the Orient Express even lived up to the hype. It still had that exotic feel when I rode what was left of it in the seventies — it has been restored and runs its classic route since — but the cigar smoking gilded cherubs were still on the ceiling of the dining car.

   Then too, trains were an adventure you could actually experience. Few people could afford a passenger liner, few needed to fly, but anyone might make a journey on a train. We forget just how common train travel was, easily up into my early twenties even in this country.

   Few things are familiar and exotic, common and romantic, or mythic and down to earth, but trains are. If nothing else how many little boys, and some little girls, dreamed of adventure on those Lionel trains of our childhood?

 Posted by at 2:20 am


Aug 042014
by Dan Stumpf

   Not a review per se but something I wanted to put out to the others here and see if it got any reaction. A College Professor once told me that the function of Innocence is to be destroyed. Well maybe, but I’m not sold on the notion.

   I was discussing Out of the Past and a few other films yesterday, and reflecting on the value of Innocence: When I first watched Out, I knew nothing about film noir and so wasn’t prepared for the plot developments or the ending — which made them much more powerful.

   Nowadays you can’t get close to it without knowing in advance that it’s one of the essential noirs, and setting your expectations accordingly. Similarly, there;s something magical about being 15 and watching The Maltese Falcon or Angels with Dirty Faces, not knowing the endings. Or being 19, going to an all-night drive-in-movie triple feature and seeing Night of the Living Dead before it had such an awesome rep, when it was just another monster movie.

   In each case, my enjoyment of the film was keyed by not expecting, not knowing in advance… Doesn’t happen much anymore. These days I’m more likely to hear a film praised or a scene described or a book synopsized, and build up my expectations. By the time I saw The Searchers I’d heard so much about it, it couldn’t possibly live up to my mental hype; had to see it a few more times to really appreciate the film for what it was.

   So I’m just wondering if anyone here has similar memories of reading or watching something that turned out to be a classic, and if you can still recall that first youthful thrill of discovery.

   Or am I just getting into my dotage?

 Posted by at 11:59 pm

WHAT IS A CRIME CLASSIC? by Josef Hoffmann.

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Apr 032012
by Josef Hoffmann


   If we were to believe the language of publishers, booksellers and collectors, there is a multitude of so-called “crime classics.” And yet not every crime novel that has exercised a certain appeal on a particular number of readers, even decades after its publication, deserves the attribute “crime classic.”

   At a time of “retromania” (Simon Reynolds), at a time in which computers, the internet and e-books can and perhaps will tend to compile, store and make accessible all texts, longevity in itself is not sufficient as a criterion.

   The term “crime classic” denotes a distinction, a seal of quality, which raises the novel concerned above the average, especially when books are produced and distributed more or less industrially in masses. So which crime novels have the prerogative to maintain a presence and to claim the attention of generations of readers?

   If we try to determine the particular characteristics of a crime classic, we might concentrate on the intrinsic qualities of the narrative text, such as an ingenious plot and lustrous prose, or on extrinsic features such as its continuous presence in the book market over decades and special regard among literary critics.


   At any rate, “classic” in the sense of a crime novel does not mean that it corresponds to the literary-aesthetic ideals of a so-called classic era, that it distinguishes itself from romantic or realistic or other epochal styles, or that it demonstrates a particularly exquisite language.

   Classic is also not identical to nostalgic. That said, any nostalgic reading need, satisfied by a certain crime novel that revives good old or bad old times, does not necessarily mean that the novel is not a crime classic.

   It seems obvious to assume a complex interplay of the intrinsic and extrinsic qualities of a crime novel, which ultimately lead a particular crime novel to stand the test of time, to still appear “fresh” even after decades have passed, and to enrich its reader.

   I now intend to examine more closely how such interplay works, creating tradition and literary history.

   While Edmund Wilson’s infamous polemic “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” might be arrogant, it does provide an opportunity to undertake certain differentiations. A distinction must first be made between “crime classics” and the classics of world literature.


   “Crime classics” are not classics that also happen to be crime novels. “Crime classics” require other criteria of attribution. If we were to apply Wilson’s standards of modern classic literature (James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann), there would be at most a dozen crime novels that would meet these standards and deserve the title of “classic.”

   Using Gertrude Stein’s criteria for “masterpieces” would produce even fewer. In her view, masterpieces do not describe the things of reality, recognised by the reader to his enjoyment; rather, they create and embody a being in themselves, something fundamentally new. This is the case in very few crime novels, if at all in any.

   Furthermore it should be noted that a “crime classic” is not automatically every work by any crime author who has also written, among other things, a few “crime classics.” If, for example, we consider the best, most successful crime novels by Agatha Christie to be “crime classics”, this does not mean that her weaker publications should also achieve this status.


   Crime authors are rarely so perfect, from a literary point of view, to suggest that those who have written a number of “crime classics” will never dip below this level, and always write masterfully. Such an assumption is disproved by many weak crime novels by good authors.

   Ultimately, the criteria for all subgenres of crime novels are not the same. Different standards apply to the traditional whodunit, which make the novel a “crime classic,” than to a gangster story or a psycho thriller.

   In a whodunit much more emphasis is placed on a perfectly structured, thoroughly logical and at the same time original plot, on the clever distribution of “clues” throughout the text and a surprising and plausible solution to the riddle than is the case in a gangster story.

   What is required of all “crime classics,” however, is that they demonstrate a certain superior level of prose, and that their specific dramatic suspense works.

   One criterion that is insufficient to qualify a novel as a “crime classic” is some random innovation; e.g., a particular method of murder or a criminal deduction technique, which is presented in a novel for the very first time. In spite of the innovative element a crime novel might still be written using lousy language and a sloppy plot, so that the predicate “crime classic” is not appropriate.


   Equally insufficient is the fact that a crime writer (or his works) was read widely at the time and showered with praise by critics. I question, therefore, whether even a single work by Edgar Wallace deserves to be considered a “crime classic” although he was appreciated by highly competent authors such as Gertrude Stein, Dashiell Hammett and H. R. F. Keating.

   Positive acknowledgement by literary critics is an extrinsic feature. A prerequisite here is continuity over a long period of time, which does not mean that all criticism highlights the same aspects of a crime classic and appraises them positively. Perspective and standards can shift, particularly over the course of decades.

   Not every critic must provide identical reasons for his praise. A further extrinsic characteristic of a crime classic is that it is generally read more than once. Especially in the case of the traditional whodunit a large time span is often left between readings, so that the forgetful reader can try to solve the mystery anew.

   But we should remember Chandler’s criterion that a really good crime novel must also provide reading pleasure even if the last chapter is missing (and even if the experienced reader figures out the end of the story).


   In other words, every crime classic must possess literary qualities and may not profit merely from the uncertainty as to how the story ends. It must touch the reader, so that scenes, lines of dialogue, comparisons or other elements of the novel become indelible in his memory. It may not leave one cold, but instead must challenge the reader to adopt a position for or against the crime novel or some of the statements contained therein.

   More specifically, a crime classic must distinguish itself by means of such a complex power of literary qualities that a single reading, or a reading in a particular historical period, does not exhaust these literary riches, but rather the work provides new aspects for later readings or subsequent generations of readers.

   Upon first perusal in youth, the aspects that play a role and are assessed positively will be different to those in more mature years, or in later life. The manner in which this is caused by a crime novel might well remain a mystery to most readers, upon which critics and literary scholars can continue to work. I only wish to warn against awarding the distinction of crime classic prematurely to all old crime novels that appear, in some way, to be worth reading.

   To conclude, here are some suggestions related to the discussion: Are the following crime novels crime classics or simply cult novels for those in the know?

Dan J. Marlowe: The Name of the Game Is Death (1962), praised by Ed Gorman, Stephen King.


Ted Lewis: Jack’s Return Home (1970), praised by Paul Duncan, Max Décharné.

Simon Troy: Waiting for Oliver (1963), praised by Mary Ann Grochowski, Bill Pronzini.

Richard Hallas: You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up (1938), praised by David Feinberg, E. R. Hagemann.


Vin Packer: Whisper His Sin (1954), praised by Anthony Boucher, Jon L. Breen.

Mildred Davis: The Room Upstairs (1948), praised by Marvin Lachman, Jean-Patrick Manchette.

Norbert Davis: The Mouse in the Mountain (1943), praised by Bill Pronzini, Ludwig Wittgenstein.

James Reasoner: Texas Wind (1980), praised by Ed Gorman, Bill Pronzini.



Italo Calvino: Warum Klassiker lesen?, Munich/Vienna 2003 (English edition: Why Read the Classics, in: The Uses of Literature, 1986)

Raymond Chandler: Raymond Chandler Speaking, edited by Dorothy Gardiner & Kathrine Sorley Walker, London 1962

J. M. Coetzee: Was ist ein Klassiker?, Frankfurt am Main 2006 (English edition: What Is a Classic?: A Lecture, in: Stranger Shores. Literary Essays 1986-1999, New York 2001)

T. S. Eliot: Was ist ein Klassiker?, in: Ausgewählte Essays, Berlin/Frankfurt am Main 1950, 469-511 (English edition: What Is a Classic?, London 1945)

H. R. F. Keating: Crime and Mystery: the 100 Best Books, London 1987

Ezra Pound: ABC des Lesens, Frankfurt am Main 1967 (English edition: ABC of Reading, New York 1934)

Gertrude Stein: Was sind Meisterwerke. Essay, Zürich 1985 (English edition: What Are Masterpieces and Why Are There So Few of Them?, 1940)

Edmund Wilson: Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?, in: Howard Haycraft (ed.): The Art of the Mystery Story, New York 1992, 390-397

      Translated by Carolyn Kelly.

 Posted by at 11:09 pm