We’ve just added a ton of new eBooks from Peter Israel!
I never know what to write about on my days here. So I thought maybe I would comment on two I have read recently and two that are moving to the top of my to read pile.
Behind Closed Doors - Elizabeth Haynes
I loved this one and plan to read more in the series. I got this one in my Left Coast Crime swag bag. The story skips around – from ten years ago to the recent past and to the present. IMO, the transitions were seamless.
Ten years ago, 15-year-old Scarlett Rainsford vanished while on a family holiday in Greece. Was she abducted, or did she run away from her severely dysfunctional family? Lou Smith worked the case as a police constable, and failing to find Scarlett has been one of the biggest regrets of her career. No one is more shocked than Lou to learn that Scarlett has unexpectedly been found during a Special Branch raid of a brothel in Briarstone.
The Two Faces of January – Patricia Highsmith
I love Highsmith. It’s incredible how she gets into the head of a sociopath. If you liked the Ripley books, chances are you will like this one as well. I plan to go back and reread the Ripley books soon.
On my to read list:
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town – Jon Krakauer
Missoula, Montana, is a typical college town, with a highly regarded state university, bucolic surroundings, a lively social scene, and an excellent football team — the Grizzlies — with a rabid fan base.
The Department of Justice investigated 350 sexual assaults reported to the Missoula police between January 2008 and May 2012. Few of these assaults were properly handled by either the university or local authorities. In this, Missoula is also typical.
Dead Wake – Erik Larson
On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack.
Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger’s U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small—hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more—all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.
I recently picked up Thunderstruck by Larson, but will probably set it aside and read Dead Wake first. So many books to read, so little time.
CURTAIN AT EIGHT. Majestic Pictures, 1933. C. Aubrey Smith, Dorothy Mackaill, Paul Cavanagh, Sam Hardy, Marion Shilling, Russell Hopton, Natalie Moorhead, Hale Hamilton, Ruthelma Stevens. Screenplay: Edward T. Lowe. Director: E. Mason Hopper.
This rather wretched murder mystery movie has only one thing going for it: C. Aubrey Smith in a rather unusual role for him, that of Jim Hanvey, the detective character created by Octavus Roy Cohen. Although the credits don’t mention it, but Curtain at Eight, the movie, was based on Cohen’s book The Backstage Mystery (Appleton, 1930), and what the resemblance is, I’d like to say slim to none.
Unless, that is, there is a monkey in the book — or rather a chimp — although none of the characters in the movie know the difference. If you cant stand chimps in movies any more than I can, avoid this film. I stuck it out, though, so I can’t follow my own advice, then why should you?
Murdered on the stage as they are celebrating his birthday is actor and notorious womanizer Wylie Thornton (Paul Cavanagh) — one of those scenes when the lights go off and wouldn’t you know it, a shot rings out. There are moe than the usual number of suspects, and before the movie is over, the dopey homicide detective on the case (Sam Hardy) has locked up almost all of them, along with another one who simply wanders in at about the two-thirds mark.
Thankfully also on the case is Jim Hanvey, played by Aubrey Smith as a tall, lanky, homespun (aw, shucks) sort of guy, with a shank of unruly hair — a far cry from Smith’s usual role as a British officer and a gentleman. His portrayal of Hanvey is also a far cry from that of Guy Kibbee, who was the star of Jim Hanvey, Detective (Republic, 1937). To me, Kibbee sounds as though he’s be more appropriate as the character, as Kevin Burton Smith describes him on his Thrilling Detective website: “…full-time good ol’ boy. He’s fat, slow-moving, [with] fishy eyes…”
Besides the chimp, Curtain at Eight is plagued by a script that could have used a lot more time to stretch out and introduce the real players in the story, not the chimp and not the dopey guy from homicide. Between the two, the two must take up half of the movie’s sixty minutes running time, or did it only seem that way?
I’ll bet bits and pieces of the movie came from the book, picked up from here and there and strung together in some hope of a coherent mystery plot, and not succeeding. Maybe even the chimp came from the book, but I hope not.
As for director E. Mason Hopper, he had a long career making silent films, but he made only one more with sound, the truly abysmal Hong Kong Nights (First Division Pictures, 1935), a spy film in which one of the major stars, the hero’s good buddy and constant sidekick, simply disappears half way through the movie, never to be seen or mentioned again. I watched it a short while ago, and I’m almost embarrassed to say that I did.
The screenwriter, though, Edward T. Lowe, went to much better things, including worthwhile entries in the Charlie Chan, Bulldog Drummond, and Sherlock Holmes series, not to mention a couple of Universal horror movies in the mid-1940s.
Note: For Dan Stumpf’s comments on this same film, which I didn’t read until just now myself, go here. We clearly watched the same movie, but he seems to have found more charm in it than I did.
Little Molly Messenger is kidnapped on a sunny June
morning. Three days later she’s returned, apparently
unharmed. A few days later, the brakes go out on Molly’s
An accident? Maybe. Except that it turns out that Chris,
Molly’s mother, is the IT manager at a large Chicago bank
and may have misappropriated three million dollars. Molly’s
father hires PI Georgia Davis to follow the money and investigate Chris’s death.
Doubleback reunites PI Georgia Davis (Easy Innocence)
with video producer Ellie Foreman (An Eye For Murder,
A Picture Of Guilt, An Image Of Death, A Shot To Die For).
The two women track leads from Northern Wisconsin to
an Arizona border town, where illegal immigrants,
muggled drugs, and an independent contractor come into play.
Finally, if you are Bouchercon-bound this fall, two of my
works are eligible to be nominated for an Anthony Award
(the deadline for nominations is in 2 weeks):
-- Nobody's Child is eligible for Best Paperback Original
-- "No Good Deed," about the unlikely friendship
between a former KKK member and a young black
boy in prison, is eligible for Best Short Story. I
t was published in the Fiction River Special Crime Edition,
WGM Publishing. I
f you'd like to read the story, let me know. I'll get it to you.
Hilary Davidson has been a guest, a subject, or a topic at DoSomeDamage 836 times in the last five years. That’s not surprising, of course, as she has a hardback or paperback book dropping every three months.
Hilary’s debut novel, The Damage Done, won the 2011 Anthony Award for Best First Novel, and the Crimespree Award for Best First Novel. The book was also a finalist for a Macavity Award and an Arthur Ellis Award. The novel’s main character, Lily Moore, is, like Hilary, a travel writer. While their personal lives have little in common, they do share a few things, such as a love of vintage clothing, classic Hollywood movies, and Art Deco design. The second book in the series is The Next One to Fall (Tor/Forge, 2012) and the third is Evil in All Its Disguises (Tor/Forge, 2013). Read the reviews. Hilary’s first standalone novel, Blood Always Tells, was published by Tor/Forge in April 2014 and released as a trade paperback in March 2015.On the occasion of the paperback publication of Blood Always Tells, Hilary took a break from racing across the airport to answer a few questions.
DSD: You've had hardbacks and ebooks and paperbacks and anthologies and magazines come out with your name in them. How is a paperback release different from the others? What makes it special?
Hilary Davison: I get excited over any book release, but paperbacks are near and dear to my heart because that's what I grew up reading. Part of that was convenience — from the time I was 12, I had at least two hours a day of commuting time, and I spent it reading. The other part of the reason was financial: why buy a hardcover when I could buy two or three new paperbacks with the same amount of money? So when a book of mine comes out in paperback, I feel like it's reaching an entirely new audience. I'll buy paperbacks by authors I've never heard of, just because they sound interesting. Hardcovers, no. More than anything, I'm excited to get the book into more readers' hands.
DSD: You just did a Noir at the Bar recently. By my count, you've done 87 of these. Do you find them much different than when you read by yourself in a bookstore? How are these different?
HD: I love doing events with other writers. I know it's not the same as musicians jamming, but there's a similar collaborative spirit behind it. Everybody brings something to the table, and you never know what's going to happen, or how it will all turn out. It's different from doing solo bookstore events, because those don't change much from town. At a Noir at the Bar, I can read whatever I want because I'm not trying to sell anything!
DSD: We're coming up on crime fiction conventions and conferences from now until, heck, December, it seems. What kind of panel would you most like to see and what sort of authors would you want to see on it?
HD: I was just at Left Coast Crime, and I love that conference's mix of serious panels and fun ones. I was on one panel about violence in crime fiction, and another that was basically a game show. Both were great. One change I'd like to see is more genre-mixing on panels. By that, I mean don't put all the cozy writers on one panel and the hardboiled/noir ones on another. One of my favorite panels at LCC was the Cozy-Noir Summit that Katrina Niidas Holm moderated. Mixing it up is a great way for readers to discover new authors, and it makes for lively conversations. Also, I think audience members should be able to throw things at panelists who set their books in front of them. It's a panel, not an infomercial.
DSD: Do you start with a scene and work out? Do you start with an outline and follow it? Are there points you want to hit – a climax at the end of act two, for example.
HD: All I've learned from writing my books is that I can't outline. The upside is that the endings of my books are a surprise to me as much as anyone. That's also the downside. It's a tough way to write, stumbling blinding in the dark until I hit on something that makes sense. Honestly, it makes for a lot of false starts and wasted words. The one thing I hold onto is knowing the emotional arc of the story. I know what my main character is struggling with, and what demon s/he will face. That was definitely true of BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS. I knew the words Desmond Edgars was going to say in the last scene, even though I had no idea how I was going to get him there.
DSD: Do you feel as if you have become a better writer throughout the Lily Moore series and would you have done things differently in the early books?
HD: I think writing is one of those jobs where the more you do it, the better you get. I know there are exceptions to this, but it's generally true. What I struggle with is wanting to do new and different things with each book, so I feel like my learning curve is steep. The standalone I'm finishing now is largely narrated by a man who killed his wife. I've told plenty of short stories from a villain's point of few, but it's much tougher with a novel.
There's probably nothing I would change about the characters or the emotional arcs of my early books, even though I'd love to go back and clean up the writing. The ending of THE DAMAGE DONE will always break my heart. The first part of BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS has the same effect. There are legit reasons for certain characters to die, but that doesn't make me feel any better about killing them.
DSD: You recently won a Derringer Award for your short fiction. What’s it like to be a winner? (asking for a friend)
HD: Winning the Derringer meant so much — in no small part because writing short fiction is my true love. Novels break my brain and cause me no end of angst. They're satisfying when they're done, but until that moment, late in the game, they're actually kind of hellish. Stories are different. Writing short stories is more like a game of "What if?" I have the opening scenario in mind when I start writing, and then I follow it wherever it goes. The genesis for "A Hopeless Case," the story that won the Derringer, is awful: when I was in high school in Toronto, I walked down to a subway platform just as a woman jumped in front of an incoming train. But writing about a person in that scenario makes me process it differently. Instead of being horrified by what happened, I'm creeping under the person's skin, trying to understand them. Even when the subject matter is dark, it humanizes it.
Hilary Davidson's Blood Always Tells is a twisted tale of love, crime, and family gone wrong, by the multiple award-winning author of The Damage Done and Evil in All Its Disguises.
What are three things you know now that you didn't when you started as a fiction writer?
1. Writing is easy. Writing something that is good, that other people want to read, that other people want to represent, that other people want to actually spend hard-earned money on? That is HARD. But as my father used to say, if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.
2. Writing is subjective. REALLY subjective. Before I began writing, I knew, on some level, that not everyone liked the same books (substitute: movies, songs, flavors of ice cream, Spice Girls). But I sorta figured that most people didn’t have wildly divergent opinions about the same work. Boy, was I wrong! It’s amazing to me how two people can feel totally different about the same book or story. “How can any self-respecting publishing house put out this dreck?” versus “That’s the best book I’ve read all year.” And that happens more often than you might think. Of course, this is a good thing (usually).
3. Before I began writing fiction, I’m not sure I even knew anybody who claimed to be a writer. (You know, those unkempt weirdos always mumbling to themselves and gesturing insanely in the air—I steered clear.) Now I know plenty of “writers,” and they are the most intelligent, witty, fascinating, generous, friendly, engaging, erudite (look it up, people!), welcoming, gregarious, and informative people I’ve ever met. Did I mention how welcoming they are? It’s difficult to be a wallflower at a mystery convention no matter how hard you try, trust me. (Based on the above description, I’m not sure I belong, but if you don’t tell anybody, I won’t!) I mean, it’s actually COOL to be a writer!
3A. Writers drink. A lot. Especially mystery/thriller writers.
GET CHRISTIE LOVE! ABC, made-for-TV Movie,22 January 1974. Teresa Graves, Harry Guardino, Louise Sorel, Paul Stevens.. Screenplay: George Kirgo, based on the novel The Ledger by Dorothy Uhnak. Director: William A. Graham.
I don’t have access to my copy of the book, and it’s been far too long for me to remember anything about the novel, but it’s fairly obvious that there’s been some changes made. Uhnak’s series character was the police woman Christie Opara, not Christie Love, and I’m sure she was white, not black. The police work in the book was “real life,” and the police work in the movie was “made for TV,” or in other words, sheer flights of fancy, more often than not.
Which is not to say that the movie is not entertaining, for it is, and the “gimmick,” the surprise that makes the ending work, is probably the same in both the book and the movie – or why else use the book as the basis for the movie in the first place?
I should start at the beginning. The villain, Enzo Cortino, is a drug dealer, whose activities are recorded, the police discover, in a ledger that Cortino’s girl friend, Helena Varga, keeps in her possession. Christie Love’s assignment, given to her by Captain Reardon, in pseudo-blustery fashion, is to get the ledger.
Some general comments follow, more or less in the same order as they struck me while watching the film, which is available on DVD. While Graves had a limited range of acting ability, mostly smart to sassy, she is easy on the eyes and more-or-less convincing in close hand-to-hand (karate-related) combat with various of Cortino’s minions, one of whom goes over the balcony on the losing end of one of rough-house struggles she finds herself in.
In one of the opening scenes, introducing her to the viewer, she is (of course) posing as a hooker in an attempt to nab a guy who’s been bad to prostitutes. One guy whose overtures she turns down calls her a nigger in frustration. Her retort, as she sashays off: “Nigger lover.” My jaw dropped.
This was an era (1974) when cops were routinely called “pigs,” and so they are here. As a cultural artifact, this is a gem in the rough. The background music is typical 70s jazz, or what passed for jazz at the time, in suitably ersatz-Mancini fashion. It’s most noticeable during car chases and other moments of great importance.
Christie’s own mode of transportation is a yellow Volkswagen convertible, and as soon as you realize that that’s her car, you begin to wonder if it will survive the movie. You will have to watch to find out, as critical plot points like this should never be revealed by reviewers in advance.
The most important plot detail that also surprised me, and for whatever reason, it’s the one that has stuck with me over all the years since I watched this movie the first time, is the semi-love interest between Christie and the interminably shaggy Reardon. She archly refuses his semi-advances until perhaps the closing scene.
Hints are all we get, but a black and white romance, in 1974? That’s all that we could get. (When did Kirk kiss Lt. Uhara? Sometime in the 60s, I’m sure, but – as I recall – one of the two was possessed by an alien entity, and so it didn’t count.)
Harry Guardino did not survive the cut and did not appear in the follow-up television series, which lasted only a year, nor as I recall, was there any more hanky-panky between Christie and her superior(s), nor even the hint of any. I have not been able to locate, so far, any of the shows from the TV series on either video or DVD, but I watched them at the time, and strangely enough, I enjoyed them more than Angie Dickinson’s show, whatever it was called.