What writers have rarely let you down? Who is your go-to writer?
What writers have rarely let you down? Who is your go-to writer?
by Francis M. Nevins
Usually I try to have my column finished by the end of each month so it can be posted around the beginning of the next, but having a February column ready by late January proved impossible. Reason One: To my surprise and delight, a book of mine that came out last year, a little trifle called Judges & Justice & Lawyers & Law, was nominated for an Edgar by Mystery Writers of America, which meant that first I had to decide whether at my advanced age I wanted to come to New York late in April for the Edgars dinner, and second that I had to find a decent place to stay that wouldn’t cost me a pair of limbs that I still need.
Reason Two: I was recently asked to write something for the 75th anniversary issue of EQMM, which comes out next year, and have been spending time trying to cobble something together that would be worthy of the occasion. I’m happy to report that the piece is coming along nicely.
Reason Three: I’m also trying to put the final touches on another book — one that has nothing to do with our genre and wouldn’t be nominated for an Edgar even if pigs started to fly — and last-minute glitches have been gathering on the horizon like Hitchcock’s birds.
Reason Four: Keep reading.
Reason Five: I simply couldn’t think of anything relevant to the genre that I wanted to say, so finally I decided to give up the idea of a February column and shoot for March. Bang.
A number of years ago I devoted part of a column to a Stuart Palmer story, now more than 80 years old, which begins at a St. Patrick’s Day parade on which the APRIL sun is shining down. I couldn’t imagine how that howler got past any editor but at least took comfort from the fact that the story never appeared in EQMM and therefore that the gaffe didn’t get by the eagle eye of Fred Dannay, probably the most meticulous editor the genre has ever seen.
A week or two ago I stumbled upon another Palmer story for which I can’t say the same. “The Riddle of the Green Ice” first appeared in the Chicago Tribune (April 13, 1941) but was reprinted in Volume 1 Number 2 of EQMM (Winter 1941-42) and included in The Riddles of Hildegarde Withers (Jonathan pb #J26, 1947), a paperback collection Fred edited.
In the first scene the display window of a jewelry store on Manhattan’s 57th Street is smashed and the thief gets away. Palmer specifically tells us that the robbery took place on a “rainy Saturday afternoon”. A few pages later he gives us a scene that occurs on the following Monday, which he solemnly assures us is “four days after the shattering of the jewelers’ window….”
Yikes! How in the world could an eagle-eyed editor like Fred Dannay have missed that? Palmer’s story also appears in Fred’s collection The Female of the Species (1943), and sure enough the same gaffe pops up in that printing. Double yikes!!
In another column dating back a few years I wrote that of all the authors Anthony Boucher reviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle back in the 1940s, Ray Bradbury, who had just died, was probably the last person standing. Recently I learned I was wrong. Surviving Bradbury by several years was Helen Eustis, author of the Edgar-winning novel The Horizontal Man (1946), who died on January 11 of this year at age 98.
Well, technically perhaps I wasn’t wrong. The book was published during Boucher’s tenure at the Chronicle and he mentioned it a few times, for example when MWA awarded it the best-novel Edgar, but he never actually reviewed it for the paper. I wonder who did. Except for her later novel The Fool Killer (1954), Eustis never wrote anything else in our genre. Our loss.
For anyone like me who began seriously reading mysteries in the Eisenhower era, the name of John Dickson Carr was then and still is one to conjure with. He’s been dead since 1977, but no one has yet come close to taking over his position as the premier practitioner of the locked-room and impossible-crime type of detective novel.
We never met but I remain eternally grateful to him not only for giving me countless hours of reading pleasure, but also for telling his readers that in a small way I reciprocated. In the last full year of his life he reviewed my first novel for his EQMM column (March 1976) and called it the most attractive mystery he’d read in months.
Since his death he’s been the subject of at least two major books: Douglas G. Greene’s biography The Man Who Explained Miracles (1995) and S.T. Joshi’s John Dickson Carr: A Critical Study (1990). Now those volumes are about to be joined by a third. James E. Keirans’ The John Dickson Carr Companion will run around 400 pages and include an entry for every novel, short story and published radio play in the canon and just about every important character in any of the above, not to mention sections on such subjects as Carr-related alcoholic beverages, automobiles, weapons, London landmarks and Latin quotations.
How do I know so much about this as yet unpublished book? Because I’ve been asked by the publisher (Ramble House) to run my aging eyes over the book in pdf form and make any corrections I think it needs. That, amigos, is Reason Four behind the absence of a February column. I don’t know precisely when the Companion will be ready for prime time, but my best guess is a few months from now.
I haven’t finished going over the entire book yet but there’s one Carr-related literary incident that I’m willing to bet Keirans doesn’t mention. To know about it you have to have read the published volume of the correspondence between the Russian emigre novelist Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) and the distinguished literary critic Edmund Wilson (1895-1972). Nabokov — or, as Wilson called him, Volodya — was fond of mystery fiction; Wilson — or, as Nabokov called him, Bunny — hated it.
In a letter dated December 10, 1943 and addressed to Wilson and his then wife, novelist Mary McCarthy, Nabokov indicates that he’d recently read a whodunit entitled The Judas Window. The title of course is that of the novel published in 1938 under Carr’s pseudonym of Carter Dickson, but Nabokov’s letter seems to indicate that he thought the book had been written by McCarthy.
“I did not think much of [it], Mary. It is not your best effort…. [T]hat lucky shot through the keyhole is not quite convincing and you ought to have found something better.” How could such a mistake have happened? Wouldn’t the Dickson byline have been on any copy Nabokov might have read? However it happened, you’d expect that either Wilson or McCarthy would quickly have corrected Nabokov’s misapprehension.
But in fact there’s not another word about the book anywhere in the correspondence, and the editor of the collection of letters, Prof. Simon Karlinsky, was unfamiliar with detective fiction and printed Nabokov’s words without comment. Somehow I wound up with a copy of the first edition of the correspondence (Harper, 1979) and wrote to Prof. Karlinsky with a correction. In the revised and expanded edition (University of California Press, 2001), both Carr and I are acknowledged in footnotes to the Nabokov letter.
I have another bundle going on that’s a no-brainer buy – it features six outstanding novels for .99, and is in Kindle Unlimited, so can be read basically for free. The books include novels by not only yours truly (BLACK), but NY Times and USA Today bestselling authors like Diane Capri, Cheryl Bradshaw, Jack Patterson, Mark Dawson, and Emma Jameson.
The bundle’s called Six Feet Under, and should be on everyone’s must-read list.
Download it if you’re in Kindle Unlimited, and read the books for free. A deal like this only comes along about once a century, which may be a slight exaggeration, but only a slight one. It’s an incredible deal. If you love your country, care about puppies, kitties, or the warm smiles of newborns, want to deal a body blow to those who would crush our way of life beneath their sandals or boots or whatnot, you’ll download it without hesitation. If you have any sort of faith or belief in a higher power, whatever it might be, you will download this bundle. If you want to change the world in small increments and build a better future for everyone, you’ll download it – a portion of its earnings goes toward my bar tab, which should be reason enough to read at least 10%, as though any more reasons were necessary.
Just do it. You’ll be glad you did.
“Hawksbill Station” by Robert Silverberg
Ben Boulden at Gravetapping
Posted: 28 Feb 2015 11:03 AM PST
I’m a new arrival to the school of Robert Silverberg. I read The Book of Skulls in 2005 and I’ve made a point to read at least some Silverberg every year since. A few weeks ago I found a TOR Double—No. 26—that featured “Press Enter” by John Varley on one side and Robert Silverberg’s “Hawksbill Station” on the other. The TOR Double contained the text of the original story published in Galaxy in 1967. The story was expanded and published as a novel in 1968. A novel I have not yet read.
Hawksbill Station is a penal colony used to segregate political dissidents from the general population. It is much like the Soviet gulags of the mid-Twentieth Century, except there are no guards, no fences and no returns. A wall of time, two billion years long, separates Hawksbill and the society that created it. It is on an Earth that has yet to witness its fish crawl from the sea. The camp’s only connection with the future, what the men call “Up Front,” is a device called the Hammer and Anvil—a time machine that only operates from the future to the past. And it is the lifeline of the small penal colony. It is where the new inmates, and the meager supplies arrive from.
“Hawksbill Station” is an intriguing story. It alters the Cold War prison tale into dystopian science fiction. While the model of the prison is clearly based on the Soviet-style gulag, the story is as much about capitalism as it is about communism. The idea: oppression is oppression no matter its wrappings. With that said the politics of the story are less important, much less, than the story itself. The setting, as dark and desolate as it is, has a beautiful surreal sense—picture an Earth with no mammals and no flora inhabited by trilobites, a wild ocean, and several dozen men.
The story is only 86 pages in mass market, but Mr Silverberg, with a sparse and seemingly simple prose, is able to create both the world and the characters in a detail that many writers are unable to do in three- or four-hundred pages. He makes the characters, all of them, sympathetic and likable. The antagonist is two billion years from where the story is told and is really nothing more than the shadow of a bogeyman.
“Hawksbill Station” is the real deal. It is a science fiction story that tells something of who we are as a culture, and more importantly, what we are as individuals. It is a truly excellent story.
This review originally went live June 20, 2012 in, mostly, the same form. I still haven’t read the expanded novel version, but it is very much on my reading list.
For several months now, my social media feeds have been filled with posts about Amazon's production of Michael Connelly's popular Harry Bosch series. It's always exciting when a beloved character is brought from the page to the big or little screen, although I think we can all agree that the results can often be disappointing.
Now, having finished the series on Amazon, my overall reaction is meh.
Full disclosure: I don't count myself as a Harry Bosch fan. I'm not not a fan, either--it's just that I've only read one of the books and I don't even remember which one it was. I liked it well enough, but for whatever reason it didn't compel me to rush out and read the rest of the books in the series. They do remain on my TBR list, however.
As a result, I didn't really have a strong image of Harry in my mind. Titus Welliver did a decent job portraying the character. He succeeded in making Harry appropriately intense without being overbearing, which is a hard balance to achieve, especially if the writing is weak.
So. Is the writing weak?
Yes and no. Overall, I think Bosch's writers did an okay job with it. But parts of it were just a bit too cliched and there were too many lines where I rolled my eyes at my husband and said "Really?" I've seen the TV series compared to the Wire and I just have to shake my head. The Bosch TV series just doesn't have the same depth, in my opinion.
One of the series' biggest strengths is the cinematography. It's filmed like a love letter to Los Angeles and having just moved out of the city, it made me long for the good, bad, and ugly of it; a bittersweet reminder of how much I love LA.
The Bosch TV series is watchable, even enjoyable. If they make a second season, I'll probably give it a try, time permitting. But I wouldn't classify this as "must-see" TV. It's solid if you like procedurals. I'm not sure how a true fan of the Bosch novels would find it. For me, it stands well enough alone, but just well enough.
Title: Father and Son
Author: James T. Farrell
Cover artist: James Avati
Estimated value: $8-10
- This is as dynamic as Avati gets. This is Avati tripping balls. This is Avati's dark twisted fantasy. This is porno-vati. I mean, that one guy's hand is adjacent to that woman's ass. Ass-adjacent! Call the censors.
- Why would you name your kid "A. Stormy Adolescence?" That's just cruel.
- "Hey, lady. Lady! I come bearing snakes … it's a metaphor."
- All main people in Avati paintings are lit like religious figures. Beatific. Haloed in light.
- I do (sort of!) like the way this pictures is posted and pillared into three parts, a triptych, with the salacious stuff happening on the ends, but our primaries still framed in a place of relative innocence in the center.
- We get it. One's old, one's young. It's called Father and Son, for god's sake. Move along.
- I really want this to be a 500pp. novel (!) about a guy who stops trying to understand his son and just takes him to a whorehouse.
- Unflinching! This novel will not flinch. Tickle it. Pretend you're going to punch it. You'll see.
Father Michael took a cowbell off the window ledge and marched downstairs to ring it.
Sorry, this is all I can think of right now:
[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
No, really. I've never seen Star Wars, but that’s not quite what I mean. Forgive me if I’m preaching to the choir here, but I don’t know which radio shows have crossed the Atlantic and which are still well-kept secrets over here.
OK. The lovely BBC has a show called I’ve Never Seen Star Wars, in which minor celebrities (usually the kind who actually have a personality; it’s a good show) are asked to do several things they’ve never done before and maybe would never have thought of doing, then give each activity a score out of ten. For instance, the witty, erudite editor of a satirical magazine baked a cake from scratch, without benefit of packet mix; and an even more erudite and not-easily-pleased TV anchorman known for refusing to suffer fools read The da Vinci Code.
They usually surprise themselves, and with that in mind, it’s possible that my own personal I’ve Never Seen Star Wars moment last week doesn’t quite qualify. But I choose my new experiences carefully these days, so it could be the closest I’m going to get.
I went to a big arena rock concert.
Give or take a couple of teenage pop concerts (remember Johnny Tillotson? The Four Pennies? No? OK, so I’m even older than Jeff. You wanna make something of it?) in which the music was drowned out by screaming thirteen-year-olds, until last week I had never been to any kind of rock concert, much less the kind that fills a 12,000-seater arena and blasts you with sound for two hours straight so that it takes three days for your hearing to recover.
I thought I’d left my rock music days behind decades ago, and there’s not much modern so-called popular music that appeals to me; but one band has stayed with me ever since I first encountered them in the sleepwalking weeks after my daughter was born, and again a decade and a half later when they had their biggest revival and she discovered them herself. I admit it freely, with no shame; I’m a Queen fan.
I am not a joiner-in. I don’t sing along with the Last Night of the Proms, or clap the rhythm of the finale of a popular musical. But that night I stamped, clapped, yelled, ‘We will, we will rock you!’ and sang along to We Are the Champions; heck, I even did the Mexican wave for Brian May’s stereoscopic selfie. I couldn’t help myself; it just came naturally. And I’m here to tell you, Adam Lambert who came second in American Idol is as close as they’ll ever get to a singer like Freddie. Not that anyone will ever replace Freddie, of course.
So what does any of this have to do with crime fiction? Absolutely nothing; I just wanted to share.
But how about this? Are you listening, all those people in Erin’s post who wouldn’t be seen dead reading a crime novel, in case it messes with your credentials as Serious Intellectuals? No, of course you’re not, but if you are listening and know one or more of those people, why not choose a crime novel to recommend to them, without telling them it’s a genre novel, of course, and ask them to give it a score out of ten when they’ve read it?
My choice would be Reginald Hill’s The Woodcutter. I still have no idea why that book didn’t win every fiction award in sight, crime and everything else. Well, maybe not science fiction and fantasy, but everything else.
And just for the record, the TV anchorman I mentioned several aeons ago in this post not only read The da Vinci Code and gave it nine out of ten for page-turning; he sat up all night to finish it.
The cake apparently tasted OK too.