Jul 212014
The Penetrator #21: The Supergun Mission, by Lionel Derrick July, 1977  Pinnacle Books Mark Penetrator Hardin once again heads down into Mexico, courtesy author Mark Roberts. Researching the “wetback situation” (as it’s constantly referred to throughout the book, as well as on the back cover), the Penetrator gradually becomes involved in a plot that involves an island kingdom outside of
Jul 212014
First of all, I've never been a big fan of role-playing games. I don't have anything at all against them, mind you. I only played once, but I had a good time. However, over the years I've read and enjoyed quite a bit of gaming-related tie-in fiction, and Dan Wells' novella THE BUTCHER OF KHARDOV certainly falls into that category. This is based on a game called Warmachine (I think; I got a

Tiger trapper caught on film

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Jul 212014
Anyone who looks into the history of the Tasmanian tiger will tell you that the real experts were the old trappers. Turk Porteous - who features in this video - knew more about the nature of thylacines in the bush than any university professor, simply because he observed them at first hand. In his acclaimed book, Tiger Tales, Col Bailey talks about his experiences of dealing with the old bushmen and trappers of Tasmania, how they observed the tigers in their natural habitat, and comes to precisely the same conclusion. That there are no 'real experts' these days, because they have all died out, those bushmen with the experience to say they knew and understood the tigers.

:: For a limited time only, THE LAST TIGER, is available as part of Amazon's Summer Sale at the low price of £0.99.

"The Last Tiger presents the reader with a unique storyline that takes historical fiction to a new dimension."
                                 -Col Bailey, author of Shadow of the Thylacine
Jul 212014

Jeff Cohen

My children, who are in their 20s, do not really grasp the idea of episodic television.

Oh, they get that there's a new chapter in a television series every week, and that they have to wait until the next one is aired (or if they're binge-watching, 15 seconds)  to find out what happens next. They get, mostly, that the story doesn't just play from beginning to end in one shot.

But they don't know very much about the way television was back in my 20s. When the same characters showed up every week, but for the most part they dealt only with the problem posed by the current episode's writer(s), they solved it, and they they disappeared until a whole new set of challenges showed up seven days later.

On shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or  1180207320_1F Troop, there was no concept of a story arc. There was a story and that was it. Next time there would be another story. That's how television worked.

Things changed in the early 80s when Hill Street Blues and shows like it challenged viewers with continuing storylines that were not concluded at the end of the week's show. You'd have to wait to see what was going to happen, and sometimes it could take quite a while. Characters would recur from season to season. Viewers were rewarded for their attention with callbacks to previous episodes.

Now, television (particularly in one-hour drama) is almost entirely made up of stories that stretch over longer periods of time. And like most other things, it has some good and some less than good to it.

The new show  Halle-Berry-ExtantExtant is an example: Starring Halle Berry, it tells the story of an astronaut in the elusive "near future" who returns from a 13-month mission to discover that she is pregnant despite her belief that such a thing is not possible. Not surprisingly, answers to the main story questions were not provided at the end of the first episode.

And I'll tell you, I'm just tired of the whole thing.

Lost was the breaking point for me--years of hints, quandries, theories, suggestions, and in the end, the answers given were just as irritating as not knowing. I have avoided some you'll-never-guess shows since then, and not avoided others I wished I had.

You're wondering what this has to do with crime fiction publishing, and you have a point. Consider this: each novel in a series--and I'm trying to complete the second book in one series so I can start the seventh in another--is an episode of a television series. The same characters usually reappear, a new plot is introduced for them to confront, and their relationships will possibly shift or change depending on the circumstances of the story.

Except: I solve the mystery at the end of each book. The reader (who finishes a book it takes me around three months to write in an odd number of hours) is not asked to wait a year until the next installment shows up to (maybe) get some answers to the burning questions.

At the same time, though, there is continuity. Characters grow; they develop. I don't have patience for a character who is the same in book #5 as in book #1. If the silly bugger didn't learn anything from the first four experiences, I can't expect him/her to be any smarter about the situation now. 

Sometimes a character will show up as a minor player in a book and I'll realize s/he has something that can be interesting in the series. 9780738741512_p0_v1_s260x420Two books later, it would be a major omission to the reader if that character weren't involved in the action.

So there is both the Old Television and the New Television in mystery series. On the one hand, people will develop and change. On the other hand, they won't change a lot, at least not very quickly. Because that's the way life is: People tend to evolve rather than have an epiphany every time something happens to them and completely change their personalities in accordance with their new self-understanding.

On the one hand, the story will conclude at the end of the book. On the other, the characters' lives are (usually) not over, and that means their stories go on to the next installment. (In the Guesthouse books, they can go on even after the character dies, which adds a level.)

The one thing I won't do is introduce a story that is huge to the characters and make a reader wait until the next book to resolve it. I won't leave a pregnant Halle Berry wondering what the hell happened for however many episodes Extant will go on. That's not how I write.

Oddly, my children do read my books, and it doesn't seem to bother them.


P.S.: Of course we're sorry to see our pal Ben LeRoy leave DEAD GUY, but this Thursday we'll be thrilled to welcome the wonderful Terri Bischoff of Midnight Ink to the fold! Make sure you check out DEAD GUY this Thursday (and every one thereafter) to welcome Terri and get her distinctive perspective on the publishing scene.

Jul 212014
William F. Deeck

FRANCIS ALLAN – First Come, First Kill. Reynal & Hitchcock, hardcover, 1945 Bantam #34, 1946.

   In the midst of her honeymoon, Linda Gordon (née Payne) has to return to New York City because her father had, most unlike him — he’d never done it before, you see — committed suicide. Or so it would seem.

   Luckily, Mr. Payne had previously called in John Storm, private detective, to investigate an attempt at extortion by a singularly strange woman. Storm concludes Payne was murdered, a crime committed by a cool and devious person for gain, and Linda might be next.

   Besides Linda, four men inherit under Payne’s will. Since only one of them is both cool and devious, he must be the murderer. He should have been easy to spot also because he had had to carry a body that had been buried for two weeks without benefit of mortician. Bound to leave its mark, one would think, but this does not occur to Storm.

   Allan’s characters do a lot of gasping, occasionally half gasping. Curiously, the asthmatic doesn’t; instead, he sneezes. They also do a significant amount of communicating with their eyes, which are hot, or sick and vacant, or ex-pressing animal fury, or half angry, though which half is not made clear.

   A strange choice for Bantam to reprint early in its history.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

Bibliographic Notes: Francis K. Allan (1916-1997) was a prolific writer for the detective pulps. Assuming the link will stay fixed, you can find a list of some his stories here. Allan was also the author two other hardcover novels: The Invisible Bridge (Reynal, 1947) and Death in Gentle Grove (Mason/Charter, 1976).

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Jul 212014
In my capacity as a journalist, I’ve had plenty of opportunities over the years to interview famous people. On various occasions, I have quizzed Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, architect-futurist Buckminster Fuller, Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, singers Sarah Vaughn and Judy Collins, politicians Eugene McCarthy, Patty Murray and magician Harry Blackstone Jr., architects Philip Johnson and Robert A.M. Stern, Columbo creator William Link, and authors ranging from Ross Macdonald and Robert B. Parker to Lyndsay Faye, Max Allan Collins, Elmore Leonard, and Philip Kerr.

But I have never been so excited--or so nervous--as I was when I scored an interview with James Garner in 2011. With his first-ever memoir, The Garner Files, due for imminent release, I’d contacted his publisher, Simon & Schuster, to inquire about chatting with the renowned actor turned author. I knew it was the longest of long shots; Garner was a very private man, notorious for steering clear of media exposure. But I figured, what the hell, I’ll try anyway--what did I have to lose? And wonders upon wonders, he said yes. Or at least his co-author, Jon Winokur, did. Winokur told me to send him my list of questions via e-mail, and he’d persuade Garner to answer them.

I was so enthusiastic, I spent a whole day writing and polishing my questions, and then cutting their number down to just over two dozen that I thought were the best. I shot them Winokur’s way … and then waited. I imagined all the things that could go wrong: Garner might decline at the last minute to respond; maybe he would look through my queries and decide they were too intrusive or not interesting enough; or he might have conflicting responsibilities that would prevent his sitting down with Winokur on my behalf. I’d never crossed my fingers so hard for luck, hoping everything would go my way.

As I’ve written before, I was introduced to Garner by my father, who was a big fan of the 1957-1960 ABC-TV Western series Maverick. But I became an even more ardent admirer of this actor’s work. Not only did I watch all of Maverick, but I never missed an episode of Garner’s 1974-1980 private-eye series, The Rockford Files. Aside from several of his earliest film work and a few of his later pictures (including Tank and The Last Debate), I have seen all of his performances. I’m particularly fond of his starring roles in The Great Escape (1963), The Americanization of Emily (1964), Marlowe (1969, based on Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister), Support Your Local Gunfighter! (1971), Skin Game (1971), Murphy's Romance (1985), director Blake Edwards’ Victor, Victoria (1982) and Sunset (1988), Streets of Laredo (1995), and Twilight (1988). I bought the full six-year run of The Rockford Files when it came out in DVD sets, and have since picked up his complete series Nichols (1971-1972) and Bret Maverick (1981-1982). To call me a Garner fan is like calling Bill Clinton a politician; the term simply doesn’t seem adequate to the circumstances.

(Left) Garner in 2004

Of course, I was not alone in my adoration. The obituaries published today demonstrate how respected Garner was. This comes from The New York Times:
Mr. Garner was a genuine star but as an actor something of a paradox: a lantern-jawed, brawny athlete whose physical appeal was both enhanced and undercut by a disarming wit. He appeared in more than 50 films, many of them dramas, but as he established in one of his notable early performances, as a battle-shy naval officer in “The Americanization of Emily” (1964)--and had shown before that in “Maverick”--he was most at home as an iconoclast, a flawed or unlikely hero.

An understated comic actor, he was especially adept at conveying life’s tiny bedevilments. One of his most memorable roles was as a perpetually flummoxed pitchman for Polaroid cameras in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in droll commercials in which he played a vexed husband and Mariette Hartley played his needling wife. They were so persuasive that Ms. Hartley had a shirt printed with the declaration “I am NOT Mrs. James Garner.”

His one Academy Award nomination was for the 1985 romantic comedy “Murphy’s Romance,” in which he played a small-town druggist who woos the new-in-town divorced mom (Sally Field) with a mixture of self-reliance, grouchy charm and lack of sympathy for fools.

Even [Jim] Rockford, a semi-tough ex-con (he had served five years on a bum rap for armed robbery) who lived in a beat-up trailer in a Malibu beach parking lot, drove a Pontiac Firebird and could handle himself in a fight (though he probably took more punches than he gave), was exasperated most of the time by one thing or another: his money problems, the penchant of his father (Noah Beery Jr.) for getting into trouble or getting in the way, the hustles of his con-artist pal Angel (Stuart Margolin), his dicey relationship with the local police.

“Maverick” had been in part a send-up of the conventional western drama, and “The Rockford Files” similarly made fun of the standard television detective, the man’s man who upholds law and order and has everything under control. A sucker for a pretty girl with a distinctly ’70s fashion sense--he favored loud houndstooth jackets--Rockford was perpetually wandering into threatening situations in which he ended up pursued by criminal goons or corrupt cops. He tried, mostly successfully, to steer clear of using guns; instead, a bit of a con artist himself, he relied on impersonations and other ruses--and high-speed driving skills. …

In his 2011 autobiography, “The Garner Files,” written with Jon Winokur, Mr. Garner confessed to having a live-and-let-live attitude with the caveat that when he was pushed, he shoved back. What distinguished his performance as Rockford was how well that more-put-upon-than-macho persona came across. Rockford’s reactions--startled, nonplussed and annoyed being his specialties--appeared native to him.

His naturalness led John J. O’Connor, writing in The New York Times, to liken Mr. Garner to Gary Cooper and James Stewart. And like those two actors, Mr. Garner usually got the girl.
The Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara offers a few of her own thoughts on what made the characters Garner portrayed so welcome:
Unlike virtually any other TV hero before them, Bret Maverick and James Rockford (who was, after all, also written by Roy Huggins as a revamp of Bret) eschewed guns and violence, preferring to talk their way into and out of trouble. In another actor’s hands, both would have been supporting roles, the weaselly if likable friend of the more macho lead. But Garner, with his great hair, handsome face and “relax, fellas” demeanor, managed to make even an aversion to physicality manly--his breakout movie role was a soldier who adhered to deeply held convictions of wartime cowardice in “The Americanization of Emily,” but still got the girl.

Tall and broad, Garner was clearly capable of taking down any bad guy, he would just rather not.

This is not to say he was one-note. In a career that spanned six decades, Garner played every sort of man: the scrounger in “The Great Escape,” the oblivious American gangster in “Victor, Victoria,” the quiet but passionate neighbor in “Murphy’s Romance,” the devoted husband in “The Notebook.” He appeared with Tommy Lee Jones and Clint Eastwood in “Space Cowboys,” stepped in as Grandpa Egan on “8 Simple Rules” after the death of series star John Ritter in 2003. But to all he brought an essential decency, a quick intellect and an admirable intolerance for delusion, denial and other forms of bull.

And he managed to do it without coming off as self-satisfied, which is simply miraculous.

Garner, who famously hesitated in taking the role in “Murphy’s Romance” because he thought he was too old to play a romantic lead and didn’t want to look like a fool, had an air of rueful self-awareness that he used to ground most of his characters in a very no-nonsense reality. It wasn’t humility so much as a sense of proportion, something so unusual in a lead character or a lead actor that it became a hallmark of a Garner performance--he didn’t think too much or too little of himself because he’d rather not be thinking of himself at all.

More than anything, he was a star who didn’t appear to need every ounce of oxygen in the vicinity to shine. And as with Halley’s Comet and other rare celestial objects, it will be a few years before we see anything like him again.
It’s not hard to understand, then, why I was overjoyed to interview Garner in 2011, even if it was only through e-mail. Here was a man--a modest man, by all accounts--who’d been a part of my life for almost as long as I could remember living, and I had finally been given the chance not only to thank him for the joys he’d brought me as an actor, but to ask him his opinions of the roles he’d taken and the people he had known and the memoir he had, at last, taken time to produce.

When, after a few days of my waiting in front of the computer, Winokur sent me Garner’s responses to my numerous questions, I could hardly stop from smiling. I posted the first part of our exchange on the Kirkus Web site and the remainder of it in The Rap Sheet. My only regret was that my father was no longer around to read either installment. He would’ve enjoyed our exchange.

Back in 2004, James Garner received the Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild. During his acceptance speech, he said, “You look at the list of wonderful actors who have been recipients of this award, and I’m not all sure how I got here. I’m just so humbled to be a part of such a distinguished group. And, well, we actors, we seldom know how we are perceived by others, but this wonderful award lets me know, say, ‘Hey, Jim, you must have done something good.’”

Something good, indeed. Something not to be forgotten. Something that touched every one of us who was--who is--a Garner fan.

* * *

For a man who devoted himself to an on-screen career, there can be no better way to honor Garner’s work than with a few video clips. Let’s begin with a very familiar one--the closing credits from Maverick, including that show’s theme song.

Next comes the trailer for Marlowe, featuring Bruce Lee:

James Garner played alongside Lou Gossett Jr. in Skin Game:

In the March 1974 pilot film for The Rockford Files, Lindsay Wagner (later to star in The Bionic Woman) plays a bikini shop owner who hires Rockford to prove her down-and-out father was murdered:

In this witty scene from My Fellow Americans (1996), Garner portrays an erstwhile Democratic president, while Jack Lemmon plays his longtime rival, a former Republican president.

Garner appears with actress Mariette Hartley in this 1983 Polaroid commercial, one in a very popular series:

A short TV profile of Garner as “a living legend”:

READ MORE: James Garner Has Died; These Five Roles Will Remind You of His Greatness,” by Todd VanDerWerff (Vox); “James Garner (1928-2014): A Different Kind of Macho Movie Star,” by Noel Murray (The Dissolve); “James Garner, Rockford Files Star, Dies Aged 86” (BBC News); “R.I.P., James Garner,” by John DuMond (Nobody Move!); “James Garner” (Classic Forever); “Remembering James Garner’s Iconic Jim Rockford” (Guns, Gams & Gumshoes).
Jul 202014

Pulp Culture PirateOn June 30, 2014, the pulp community not only lost a great collector, but even more so, a great friend. Frank M. Robinson was 87 years old at the time of his passing. A science-fiction and thriller writer, editor, speech writer for gay activist Harvey Milk, and a movie actor, Frank was known in the pulp community as the leading collector of top-grade pulp magazines.

Although he majored in physics in college, Frank Robinson always wanted to write. He sold his first story to Astounding Science Fiction in 1950. Following the Korean War, Robinson studied journalism and soon began a career as an editor, first with Science Digest and later with Rogue and Playboy. In 1974, The Glass Inferno was published, a novel written by Robinson and Thomas Scortia. Later filmed as The Towering Inferno, Frank invested much of the proceeds he received from the book in his pulp collection. Years later, the sale of the Frank Robinson Pulp Collection attained almost legendary status among the pulp community.

Winner of the 2000 Lamont Award, Frank Robinson was the author of The Power, Pulp Culture, Science Fiction of the 20th Century, and other works. On Thursday, August 7th, beginning at 8 PM, PulpFest will pay tribute to this fine writer and editor, great collector, and good friend who recently passed. Be sure to be at the Hyatt Regency Columbus for “Remembering Frank Robinson.”

Click on the illustration to learn more about the image.

Jul 202014
Allen J. Hubin

GEOFFREY MARSH – The Fangs of the Hooded Demon. Tor, hardcover, 1988; reprint paperback, 1989.

   I’ve not before encountered Geoffrey Marsh and his Lincoln Blackthorne series, of which the present The Fangs of the Hooded Demon is the fourth. Blackthorne is a tailor in New Jersey, of all things, to whom incredible experiences accrue.

   If Demon is any guide, these tales are part mystery and crime, part unresolved fantasy and mysticism, with Blackthorne functioning more or less in the role of private investigator. Or maybe a land-bound Travis McGee.

   Here he’s hired, or maybe forced, to track down the titular fangs, which are bejeweled false teeth with reputed powers of rejuvenation if the right ritual is used at the right time. Various aged and villainous Hollywood rejects want the fangs desperately, and the peril-around-every-corner chase leads to New York, then to Oklahoma, and finally to the oozing swamps of Georgia.

   Frantic and imaginative, and I suspect quite enjoyable if your tastes run to this sort of thing.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

Bibliographic Note: It is now known that Geoffrey Marsh was one of several pen names used by Charles L. Grant (1942 – 2006), a noted horror and fantasy writer whose books sometimes verged into crime fiction territory, as did the Blackthorne novels.

      The Lincoln Blackthorne series (as by Geoffrey Marsh) –

1. The King of Satan’s Eyes (1984)
2. The Tail of the Arabian, Knight (1986)
3. The Patch of the Odin Soldier (1987)
4. The Fangs of the Hooded Demon (1988)

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The Rockford Files (1974-1980)

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Jul 202014
James Garner (1928-2014) portrays Los Angeles-based private investigator Jim Rockford

In the 1970s, Roy Huggins had an idea to remake Maverick, but this time as a modern-day private detective. Huggins teamed with co-creator Stephen J. Cannell, and the pair tapped Garner to attempt to rekindle the success of Maverick, eventually recycling many of the plots from the original series. Starting with the 1974 season, Garner appeared as private investigator Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files. He appeared for six seasons, for which he received an Emmy Award for Best Actor in 1977.

In Remembrance Of
James Scott Bumgarner (April 7, 1928 to July 19, 2014)

 Posted by at 4:32 pm