Oct 202014
 

Jeff Cohen

Here's the (mostly) final update on the MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE: Thanks to all who posted pictures of themselves with the first Asperger's Mystery from E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen! We all greatly appreciate your effort and hope that you enjoy the book! Donations are being made to the Autism Spectrum Education Network (ASPEN). While the Challenge is officially over, we'll keep donating for those who continue to post pictures!

And on to business.

Just for the record: My son is actually nothing like Samuel Hoenig. Seriously.

I understand why I get the question. If I were in the position of those who ask it, I would probably do the same. It's not at all too large a leap to attempt. But the honest fact is, there is very little connection.

Samuel is the "hero" (he would not ever consider himself such) of Question of Missing HeadTHE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD, the aforementioned Asperger's mystery. He is 29 years old in that book (sorry, Josh Getzler--in my mind Samuel's in his 30s because I'm already past Book #2), lives at home with his mother, prefers working by himself, has a driver's license but doesn't drive, and is formal in his language and meticulous in his observation.

He has Asperger's Syndrome, which until recently was a disorder and is now a nebulous part of the autism spectrum, but that's a whole other story. (Grammar fans: I do in fact know there is no such word as "nother.")

My son Josh (not Getzler) is 25 years old, lives at home with both his parents, prefers working by himself, drives pretty much every day, and is not at all formal in his language nor especially meticulous in his observation.

But he does have Asperger's, and that's why people ask.

I've written about Josh before. In fact, I wrote two non-fiction books about raising him (and other people raising their children with AS) long before Samuel ever came to life on the page. I've occasionally posted about him here, and if there's anybody out there who's looking for an employee doing... just about anything, he's still mostly available. Don't hesitate.

In the Aaron Tucker series, back when I was a feckless youth of 43, I included Aaron's son Ethan who--waddaya know!--had Asperger's. That was mostly because nobody knew what it was in 2002 and I figured I could reach some and educate them while writing what I hoped was a funny mystery. And sure enough, the 38 people who read those books often get in touch to let me know they learned something, which makes me proud.

So because I have mentioned Josh's Asperger's in public, and now I write an adult character who has AS, people naturally assume he's the inspiration for the character. And I suppose he is, in that I wouldn't have known much about Asperger's or autism or a number of other things if I had not been Josh's dad. But the similarity ends there.

My Josh is a graduate of the Drexel University film and video program and has made a few short films. He lives at home because he managed to get out of college and enter the absolute worst economy since Tom Joad graduated from Hard Knox. He'd love to be making enough to rent his own apartment. Sure, he likes his parents, but maybe living on his own wouldn't be so awful.

Samuel lives at home because he likes it, enjoys his mother's company, and if he were being completely honest, the thought of being in his own place probably scares him a little bit.

Josh is working part-time at a movie theater and wants to make, or assist in the making of, film or television. Samuel owns a business called Questions Answered, which he operates out of a former pizzeria.

Samuel's Asperger's makes it difficult for him to process idioms and understand body language. Josh might have had those challenges when he was 10, but he's learned enough that it doesn't really seem to slow him down much anymore.

Samuel asks everybody what Beatles song is his/her favorite. Josh likes to talk about comic books, superhero movies, and Doctor Who. It's not at all unusual for a person with AS to have an intense interest in one subject.

The things Samuel does in THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD, including investigating the theft of a frozen specimen from a cryonics lab and the murder of a scientist, are things Josh wouldn't ever do. And if a loud alarm were to sound, while Samuel is almost incapacitated, Josh would be uncomfortable and probably annoyed.

Samuel would probably never make a film in which a baby devours his babysitter (off-screen) for fun. That's all I'm saying.

So if you want to know whether I wrote Samuel because I've grown up with Josh, sure. There is much to learn from people with any type of autism spectrum disorder. I've become a better person through knowing my son. It helps write with compassion when necessary.

If you believe that  Samuel is based on Josh? No. They're really very different. 

But thanks for asking.

 

P.S. Pitchers and catchers report in 116 days.

Oct 202014
 

TRIGGER FINGERS. Monogram Pictures, 1946. Johnny Mack Brown, Sam Hurricane Benton, Raymond Hatton, Jennifer Holt, Riley Hill, Steve Clark, Eddie Parker. Director: Lambert Hillyer.

   By the time the 1940s came around and almost every movie that Johnny Mack Brown made was a western, and a B-western at that, he was not exactly fat, or perhaps even overweight, but he was, shall we say, chunky, and not exactly what a small kid’s idea of what a western star should look like.

   The small kid being me. My cowboy heroes were Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lash LaRue and the Durango Kid. After that came a bunch of other fellows: Rex Allen, Monte Hale, Johnny Mack Brown and a few more. I won’t mention any that I omitted, so not to embarrass anyone, but I will point out another reason I might not have mentioned one of your facorites, such as the fact that Hopalong Cassidy’s movies never seemed to play in my small Michigan town.

   In any case, Trigger Fingers is the first movie starring Johnny Mack Brown that I’ve seen in maybe 65 years, and even though there wasn’t much a plot, nor even a lot of action, I enjoyed it.

   Turns out that someone wants some land owned by Raymond Hatton’s character, and when his son is framed for killing a fellow card player, that someone and his gang think they have a means of forcing a sale through a little judicious blackmail.

   Little do they know that Hatton has a good friend in Sam “Hurricane” Benton, who’s calm demeanor and soft Alabaman drawl belies a quick wit and even quicker trigger finger. I don’t know if that’s where the title of the movie comes from, but it works for me.

 Posted by at 2:42 am
Oct 192014
 

  AGATHA CHRISTIE – The Boomerang Clue. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1935. First published in the UK as Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Collins, hardcover, 1934. Reprinted many times in both hardcover and paperback, including Dell #46, mapback edition, no date [1944]. TV movie: London Weekend Television, 1980 (Francesca Annis & James Warwick). TV movie: ITV, 2009 (an episode of Agatha Christie’s Marple).

   Don’t get the wrong idea about that last TV series adaptation. This is not a Miss Marple mystery, and not only was a very loud outcry about shoehorning a character into the story who didn’t belong there, but also how they badly botched the story line itself, or so I’ve read.

   I’ve not seen this particular Marple adaptation, but (speaking generally) if there’s a perfectly fine story line that you’re working from, why mess around with it? Perhaps the producers thought that people watching their adaptation had never read the book. Perhaps the plan was to pull the rug out from under the feet of those who had, to give them a “surprise” ending.

   But do you know, it doesn’t really matter. We’ll always have the book, and it’s a good one. I don’t know why, but I’m always surprised to pick up an Agatha Christie novel and discover all over again how readable she is. I started this one rather late at night, thinking to read a chapter or so, and an hour later I’d finished ten. Chapters, that is. It isn’t easy to write stories that read as easily as this, but it has to be one of the reasons Christie’s books are still in bookstores today and 99.9% of her contemporaries are not.

   This one begins with a young Bobby Jones (not the famous one) hitting a golf ball and doing dreadfully at it, trying mightily several swings in succession, but hearing a cry, discovers a dying man lying at the bottom of cliff. He had fallen perhaps, as Bobby and his golfing partner believe, not to mention the police and the coroner’s jury, but we the reader know better.

   Before he dies, though, the man utters a dying question: “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” We are at page 9 and the end of Chapter One, and anyone who can stop here is a better person than I.

   Assisting Bobby in his quest for the truth, especially after surviving being poisoned by eight grains of morphia, is his childhood friend, Lady Frances Derwent, whom he calls Frankie. Together they make a great pair of amateur detectives, continuing to investigate the case even after the authorities have written the man’s death off as an accident.

   The tone is light and witty, as if investigating a murder is a lark, but this intrepid pair of detectives do an excellent job of it, even to the extent of faking an automobile accident and inserting an “invalid” Frankie into their primary suspect’s home.

   Before continuing, I’ll stop a moment here and point out that Bobby is the son of a vicar and a former Naval officer, while Frankie’s father is a Lord and extremely wealthy. The difference in social standing means little to Frankie, all but oblivious to her wealth, but it does to Bobby, who finds himself more and more infatuated with the young beautiful wife of a doctor they suspect is behind the plot, to Frankie’s displeasure, although the woman may be the man’s next victim herself. (This does not mean that Frankie is averse to using her position in life to help their investigation along.)

   The tone does get darker as Bobby and Frankie close in on the killer, and at the same time, the threads of the plot get more and more complicated. I’d have rather the story stay focused on the detection, but toward the end it becomes more and more a thriller. It couldn’t be helped. The essential clue is there all of the time, but nothing could be deduced from it until the book has only 15 pages to go, but making the renamed US title at lat make sense.

   In summary, here’s a book that’s immensely fun to read, with a delightful couple doing the honors in investigating a crime the police do not even realize was a crime, dreaming up various scenarios and coming up with sundry plots to incriminate the killer. Coincidences abound, but who cares?

 Posted by at 10:01 pm
Oct 192014
 















Bogie and Bacall: Dark Passage (1947)
from the criminal element




In tribute to the late Lauren Bacall, we’re looking at the four classic films she made with husband and screen partner Humphrey Bogart between 1944 and 1948: To Have and Have NotThe Big SleepDark Passage, and Key Largo. Last week we looked at Hawks’ The Big Sleep. Today we’ll look at Delmer Daves’ Dark Passage.
Dark Passage doesn’t get any respect. It’s a fine film noir that has two things working against its reputation: 1) a hokey stylistic device, and 2) the fact that it is the least of the Bogart/Bacall vehicles.
I’ll deal with each of these criticisms in a moment. First however, the plot: Bogart plays Vincent Parry, a convict who has just busted out of prison when the film starts. He’s picked up by a talkative motorist named Baker (Clifton Young). It doesn’t take Baker long to figure out that Parry’s a fugitive, so Parry slugs him, takes off on foot and is picked up by another motorist. She’s Irene Jansen (Bacall), and surprisingly she already knows who Parry is and wants to help him. It turns out that Parry was convicted of killing his wife, and Irene followed his trial in the papers, convinced of his innocence. Before long, Parry undergoes a facelift and sets out to track down his wife’s killer.

Because the story involves plastic surgery, the makers had to come up with a way to handle Parry’s transition from one face to another. Their solution was to have the pre-facelift sections of the movie told from Parry’s point of view through a subjective use of the camera (i.e. the camera functions as his eyes, so we never see his face). The subjective camera was a hot concept in 1947.Orson Welles had planned to use it in his proposed adaptation of Heart of Darkness before abandoning the idea as unworkable. Robert Montgomery picked up the idea and shot his entire adaption of Raymond Chandler’sThe Lady in the Lake with a subjective camera. The results there were disastrous. Here, the technique is a bit distracting, but Daves is able to blend it a little more seamlessly into the story. For one thing, although much of the first forty minutes of the film is done subjectively, not all of it is. Daves gives himself the freedom to alternate between Parry’s point of view and a more conventional point of view that includes establishing shots. It also helps that once the facelift occurs we cut to Bogart’s lovely visage. While the subjective camera stuff is gimmicky, it has the virtue (unlike in Montgomery’s film) of serving a purpose and solving a problem presented by the story.
The other obstacle standing in the way of Dark Passage’s reputation is that it has the unfortunate distinction of being lumped together with the other Bogart/Bacall films (To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Key Largo). Those movies are masterpieces (at least the first two are), and I will grant that Dark Passage does not rise to their level.
However, this is quite a fine piece of work. For one thing, Bacall is excellent. She has to carry the first half of the movie by herself because Bogart isn’t onscreen, and she also has to make Irene’s rather odd character believable. She carries off both of these tasks with great skill, and her work here is far more interesting than in Key Largo, where her job mostly consisted of staring at Bogart with longing for two hours. When Bogart does appear onscreen, he’s as good as she is. His Vincent Parry is an underacknowledged swerve for the actor. Parry isn’t a superhero like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. He’s a normal guy who’s in over his head.
The first two Bogart and Bacall movies were all about the sexual tension between the leads. They were falling in love onscreen and having an affair offscreen. By the time they made Dark Passage, however, they were married. The sexual tension of the earlier work—which also owed something to the airy touch of director Howard Hawks—is here replaced by gravity. Bacall has a way of looking through Bogart, stripping him of any defensive shield. And Bogart’s mournful visage—especially his dark, heavy eyes—seems weighed down by a deep-seated knowledge of failure. This quality is perfect for Dark Passage, based as it is on an early novel by the great David Goodis, an author incapable of writing about heroes. His characters are sad, lonely, broken people. This movie glosses things up a bit, of course, but the last few scenes between Bogart and Bacall have a fragile emotionalism unlike anything else in their work together. The last shot of the film is probably the sweetest one they ever shared.
The rest of the cast is equally good. In particular, Clifton Young is a sleazy joy as Baker, the slugged motorist who resurfaces later in the movie to make trouble for Bogie and Bacall. And it is always good to see Agnes Moorehead. Here she plays Madge, an old friend of Parry’s and the key to unlocking the mystery at the center of the movie. When she was used right, there was no one more hypnotically watchable than Agnes Moorehead, and here she’s used right.


I’ve always thought Delmer Daves was an underrated director. For one thing, his movies unfailingly have a great physicality. This made him a strong hand at westerns (3:10 to Yuma, The Hanging Tree), but it also served him well in his noir work (The Red House). His films usually have atmospheres achieved through their excellent utilization of black & white photography and even more through a mastery of art design, set decoration and camera work. Daves wasn’t a realist, but he had a realist’s eye. In Dark Passage you can almost smell the cheap apartments, the cigarette smoke, and the alcohol. Some of the film was shot on location in San Francisco, and he exploits that glorious city as well as anyone ever did.
Dark Passage isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s a damn good piece of work and one that I never seem to tire of seeing again.

Jake HinksonThe Night Editor, is the author of The Posthumous Manand Saint Homicide.
Read all posts by Jake Hinkson for Criminal Element.
Oct 192014
 

Exciting news about one of my favorite authors, Arthur. W. Upfield, the creator of Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte of the Queensland, Australia, police. Upfield has long been nearly impossible to find in print - in the U. S., I believe only The Bone Is Pointed and The Bachelors of Broken Hill have remained in print out of the 29 novels featuring Bony.

Apparently, Upfield's estate has released e-book versions of all 29 of the Bony novels, in a variety of popular formats. According to Wikipedia, this website (with links to the available books) is maintained by Upfield's grandson, William Upfield, and it promises that all 26 of the Boney television series which was made from the novels will be made available as downloads.

If you're not familiar with Upfield and/or with Bonaparte, you should be. Bony (note that the TV series did add an extra "e" to the name "Boney" to make it clear how the name should be pronounced) was a half-White, half-Aboriginal detective. Writing at a time when such characters were rare, Upfield made Bony a wonderful, warm character, a man who never failed to solve the most difficult case because of his abilities inherited from his White father and Aborigine mother. He has been out of favor among the politically correct in Australia and elsewhere, which merely reinforces my low opinion of political correctness. 

I've reviewed five of the Bony books on my podcast over the years, and you can find those reviews on my backlist page (just scroll down to "Upfield"). I haven't done more because they have been so hard to find - I didn't think it would be fair to my readers. Now that they have all been released as e-books, I intend to go back and review several more of my favorites. If you like traditional mysteries, made more exotic by the Australian outback setting of so many, with a wonderfully warm and charismatic central character, you will love Arthur Upfield's books about Bony.

This is exactly what I have believed e-book publishing should be about: making great books available to a new generation of readers (and, I hope, generating some additional income for the authors' estates as well). Bravo, Mr. Upfield, bravo!

Rush’s Hour

 Awards 2014  Comments Off
Oct 192014
 
I haven’t yet spotted a full list of prize recipients online, but Janet Rudolph is reporting in Mystery Fanfare that Los Angeles author Naomi Hirahara has won the 2014 T. Jefferson Parker Mystery Award for Murder on Bamboo Lane (Berkley). The Parker is one of several commendations given out annually by the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association (SCIBA), recognizing “excellence in books that reflect Southern California culture or lifestyle.”

Of Murder on Bamboo Lane--released this last April--Publishers Weekly wrote:
Edgar-winner Hirahara, author of Summer of the Big Bachi and four other Mas Arai mysteries, introduces Ellie Rush, a Japanese-American rookie LAPD bicycle cop, in this highly entertaining series debut. When Jenny Nguyen, a former classmate of Ellie’s at Pan Pacific West College, goes missing and later turns up dead in a Chinatown alley, Ellie’s ties to PPW and Jenny’s friends, including Ellie’s ex-boyfriend, Benjamin Choi, prove useful. Jenny’s boyfriend, controversial artist Tuan Le, is a prime suspect, and he asks Ellie for help. Her aunt, Cheryl Toma, the highest-ranking Asian in the LAPD, also wants Ellie on the case, but has a hidden agenda. Ellie finds herself navigating a personal and professional minefield when she’s assigned to work on the case with handsome Det. Cortez Williams. Readers will want to see more of Ellie, who provides a fresh perspective on L.A.’s rich ethnic mix.
Also contending for this year’s T. Jefferson Parker Mystery Award were The Ascendant, by Drew Chapman (Pocket), and The Disposables, by David Putnam (Oceanview).

Hirahara was nominated for this same prize last year, for her Mas Arai mystery Strawberry Yellow, but the honor went instead to What the Heart Remembers, by Debra Ginsberg.

READ MORE:Naomi Hirahara on Her New Mystery Series ... and the new L.A.,” by David L. Ulin (Los Angeles Times).

Are You In?

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Oct 192014
 
You have only two days left to enter The Rap Sheet’s latest giveaway contest. The prizes this time: four copies of “The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles,” published recently by Herb Lester Associates. Find out more about that map/guide here.

To have a chance at winning one of these high-quality maps--especially perfect for attendees of next month’s Bouchercon in Long Beach, California--simply e-mail your name and postal address to jpwrites@wordcuts.org. And be sure to type “Raymond Chandler Map Contest” in the subject line. Entries will be accepted until midnight tomorrow, October 20. The four recipients will be chosen completely at random, and their names listed on this page the following day.

Sorry, but this drawing is open only to U.S. residents.
Oct 192014
 
Today we spent one more day in Moscow and will be doing some sightseeing in Traveling The Globe. We will visit the Kremlin.

 
The Kremlin Conspiracy
by Sean Flannery (David Hagberg)


The noted Soviet scientist Sakharov has disappeared, possibly kidnapped. Also missing is his invention, a portable laser. Both the KGB and CIA are furiously searching for both as the President is en route for a summit conference.

The Kremlin Conspiracy 
by E Howard Hunt


Working in Europe because of a murder charge pending in the U.S., Neil Thorpe had greatly regretted his missteps three years before but now he is offered a chance to correct his mistakes and possibly fix his broken life.
 
The Kremlin File
by W.T. Ballard


Once again the Soviets have planted missiles in the Caribbean and Nick Carter must destroy them while avoiding the assassins who have been sent to destroy him.

No Kisses From The Kremlin
by H.T. Rothwell

Michael Brooks is sent to East Germany to spy on a test-firing of a new weapon system. He then decides on his own that kidnapping the inventor and smuggling her out was an even better idea.
Secret Mission: The Kremlin Plot
by Don Smith

Phil Sherman was on a business trip, taking an Aeroflot flight from Riga to Moscow, when a hijacker sought to take control and force the plane to the West. In a short gun battle with a Soviet sky marshal, the hijacker was dead and Sherman was in possession of a pack of cigarettes passed by the dying man.
 Posted by at 2:16 pm