Nov 212014
 
Kirkus Reviews this week unveiled lengthy and often overlapping lists of what its critics believe are the Best Books of 2014. Within that inventory, you will find 12 categories of fiction--everything from Best Literary Fiction to Best Fiction with a Touch of Magic. Under the heading Best Mysteries and Thrillers are these 16 titles:

Bird Box, by Josh Malerman (Ecco/HarperCollins)
The Bones Beneath, by Mark Billingham (Atlantic Monthly Press)
Broadchurch, by Erin Kelly (Minotaur)
Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes (Mulholland)
Children of the Revolution, by Peter Robinson (Morrow)
The Killer Next Door, by Alex Marwood (Penguin)
The Long Way Home, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
Night Heron, by Adam Brookes (Redhook/Orbit)
One Kick, by Chelsea Cain (Simon & Schuster)
Reckless Disregard, by Robert Rotstein (Seventh Street)
The Red Road, by Denise Mina (Little, Brown)
The Secret Place, by Tana French (Viking)
The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith (Mulholland)
The Son, by Jo Nesbø (Knopf)
Those Who Wish Me Dead. by Michael Koryta (Little, Brown)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, by David Shafer (Mulholland)

In addition, Megan Abbott’s The Fever and C.J. Sansom’s Dominion appear within the Best Popular Fiction category.

Most of the selections here are not very surprising, but I was interested to see both Bird Box and Night Heron make the cut, as neither of those debut novels had been on my radar during the last dozen months. (Which just goes to show that none of us is perfect.) What do the rest of you think of Kirkus’ picks?
Nov 212014
 
Evan Lewis will be hosting FFB next week.



(From the archives)

This was the first Sam McCain book I read back in 2009 and what a pleasure it was. All of Ed Gorman's novels are a treat to read. You enter a world that is mostly filled with benevolent, well-drawn non-stereotypical characters.

And then Ed throws in the monkey wrenches that set that peaceful Iowa world on its ear. There is murder and mayhem but you are never offended. We have a gentleman here.
And then he sets things right in a humane and compelling way.

Especially fun for me were the sixties touchstones-and I really admired the way he caught it on the cusp of a new era-and captured it without overplaying its markers. Sam McCain feels young, vibrant, and on the edge of adulthood himself.

What I liked most about Ed's books is his obvious admiration and enjoyment of women. This is unusual in the books I read. His women are rarely shrews or nags or harpies. All of them seem like a romance or an adventure is just within their grasp--young and old.

My very favorite Gorman book is SLEEPING DOGS, but this is right up there. They all are.

Sergio Angelini, John Dickson Carr
Yvette Banek, SILVER MEADOW, Barry Maitland
Joe Barone, CARIOCA FLETCH, Gregogy McDonald
Brian Busby, Basil King
Bill Crider. SHOOT, Douglas Fairbain
Martin Edwards, DEATH OF A MILLIONAIRE, G.D.H. and Margaret Cole
Curt Evans, THE FARM AT PARANOA, Laurence Kirk
Ray Garraty, DOG STARS, Peter Heller
Ed Gorman, FAST LANE, Dave Zeltserman
Rick Horton, THE SHEIK, E.M. Hull
Jerry House, LITTLE TICH: A BOOK OF TRAVELING, Harry Ralph
Randy Johnson, THE AVENGERS BATTLE THE EARTH-WRECKER, Otto Binder
Nick Jones, THE FNGER OF SATURN, Victor Canning
George Kelley, TROS OF SAMONTHRACE, Talbot Mundy
Margot Kinberg, THE HOUSE WITHOUT A KEY, Earl Der Biggers 
Rob Kitchin, THE MIDNIGHT SWIMMER, Edward Wilson 
B.V. Lawson, AH, SWEET MYSTERY, Celestine Sibley
Evan Lewis, HOME IS THE HANGMAN, Richard Sale
Steve Lewis/Dan Stumpf, HOT ICE, Robert J. Casey
Todd Mason. QUARK 4. ed. Samuel Delaney, SATURDAY EVENING POST
Neer. MADEMOISELLE DE SCUDERI, E.T. A. Hoffman
J.F. Norris, THE KILLING OF KATIE STEELSTOCK, Michael Gilbert
James Reasoner, IN THE HILLS OF MONTERREY, Max Brand
Richard Robinson, ILL WIND, Nevada Barr
Gerard Saylor, FATALE, Jean-Patrick Manchette
Ron Scheer, QUITTING TIME, Robert J. Conley
Kevin Tipple, KINGS OF COLORADO, David E. Hilton
TomCat, MISSING SUSAN, Sharon McCrumb
TracyK, MURDER WITHIN MURDER, Richard and Frances Lockridge
Prashant Trikannad, THE HARDY BOYS: THE TOWER TREASURE, Franklin Dixon
Nov 212014
 
Originally appearing as a serial in Western Story in October and November of 1924 under the pseudonym John Frederick, this is more of a historical novel than a traditional Western. It seems to be Faust's attempt to cash in on the popularity of Johnston McCulley's character Zorro, who had been appearing in the pulps for several years previously. Set in Spanish California in 1817, the novel
Nov 212014
 
I'll have to restrain myself when writing this review.  I'd like to discuss just one aspect of this book in length. But if I did then I would reveal one of its most devious parts. I noticed how Michael Gilbert turned his focus away from Superintendent Knott, who is meant to be the protagonist and lead detective, and suddenly spent a lot of time on a supporting character. I thought it a subtle but telling change in point of view. And it's doubly telling for his near genius method of misdirecting the reader while letting us follow this character's actions. Anyone who is looking for a top notch example of a thoroughly contemporary update of the traditional detective novel would do well to find a copy of The Killing of Katie Steelstock (1980) or as it is published in the UK Death of a Favourite Girl, a much better and suitably ironic title for the story. Gilbert didn't quite fool me, but he pulled off quite a few gasp inducing twists in the final chapters.

At first glance this novel seems to be a routine police procedural with a veritable army of coppers on the case. Scotland Yard, CID, local and area policeman are all enlisted to help solve the bludgeoning death of a local girl who has become sort of a reality TV star of the 1980s. She was well known for being a panelist on "The Seven O'Clock Show", a game show and had made several TV commercials as well. Another story of a local girl who "made it big" in the eyes of her hometown fans. On the surface Katie Steelstock is the "favourite girl." But her brutal death will lead to the truth of who she really was. The routine case becomes extremely involved and will uncover blackmail, suicide, sordid photographs and explode a houseful of skeletons in closets among the townspeople. Turns out the favorite girl was really rather a bad apple. And rotten to the core.

UK 1st edition
(Hodder & Stoughton , 1980)
There are lots of crime novels that tell this story of a victim who appears to be good then turns out to be the opposite, but Gilbert makes his telling utterly fascinating from the get-go. We meet the entire town's population and learn of their relationships while they enjoy themselves at a dance. The young people pair up taking turns on the dance floor while the oldsters sit out on the sidelines watching and gossiping. Secret moonlight trysts take place, we listen in as old hens dish the dirt on the kids and their parents, and slowly realize that this town is seething with pettiness, jealousy and enmity. Something bad is bound to happen.

Lurking in the background is Jonathan Limbery, a volatile and outspoken young man who rants his opinions in a weekly newspaper. When he isn't mouthing off in print he is disrupting church services with his vehement accusations.  Limbery has amassed a following of young schoolboys who admire his rebellious nature and think he can do no wrong. They are eager to defend him when he becomes the prime suspect in the death of Katie. Seems he was not only outspoken in his political diatribes but was a jealous lover as well. The townspeople whisper their own accusations of what goes on in the boys' choir Limbery has organized with his coterie of young admirers.  And it isn't the choice of songs they're worried about.

US first edition (Harper & Row, 1980)
My favorite parts of the book were the contrast between the rural police and the ultra urban but not so urbane Knott whose prejudicial views of country policemen are put to the test when they continue to outperform him during the investigation.  There are obvious biases from both side, but Knott is made to look a fool more than once.  Sgt. McCourt reads up on the use of plaster cast techniques so he can get the tire tracks and footprints at the scene of the crime just right but never lets Knott know.  Sgt. Shilling displays some surprising knowledge of women's cosmetics and deduces that the lipstick and eyeshadow in Katie's handbag can't be her own.  He even goes so far as to sample the shades on the back on his hand like a woman about to get a makeover.  Even quaint period giveaways like the use of a computer to ID a typewriter by its font and taking a matter of minutes rather than weeks got a few smiles from me. The book is filled with nifty touches like these.  Gilbert is constantly finding ways to subvert the reader's expectations and shake up the tired formulas of the standard whodunit.

Gilbert always finds moments of humor amid what turns out to be quite a sordid story of crime and base human indulgences.  Many of the characters have a sharp and biting wit and there are several zingers I could quote but they would fill up pages more on this post. Most surprising to me was a rare and compassionate depiction of a young gay teenager's secret desires and the tragic aftermath that follows a brazen declaration of love.  The Killing of Katie Steelstock is a rarity in crime novels. Satirically funny on one page, a few pages later shocking the reader with descriptions of seamy activities, further on it tugs at your heartstrings or elicits a pang of grief. Gilbert works his way through a gamut of raw human emotion in this very fine novel that works both as a mystery story and a mainstream literary work.  Highly recommended for those with discriminating taste.

*   *   *

Silver Age Bingo card update: Space I6 - "Book with a woman in the title"
 Posted by at 5:40 am
Nov 202014
 

TED LEWIS – Get Carter. Syndicate Books/Soho Crime, US, softcover, 2014. First published in the UK as Jack’s Return Home, Michael Joseph, hardcover, 1970. First US edition: Doubleday, hardcover, 1970. Reprinted as Get Carter by Pan, UK. paperback, 1971; Popular Library, US, paperback, 1971. Other reprint editions exist. Film: MGM, 1970, as Get Carter (with Michael Caine). Also: MGM, 1972, as Hit Man (with Bernie Casey) and Warner Bros., 2000, as Get Carter (with Sylvester Stallone).

   This is what you might call a “revenge” novel, and that’s with a vengeance, if that’s not redundant, and I don’t think it is. As the story begins, Jack Carter, who works for a pair of mobsters back in London, is heading back to his steel-working home town in northern England (no name given, as far I have discerned), where his brother Frank has just died, supposedly in a drink-related automobile accident.

   Jack, who tells his own story, knows better. He knows his brother, and he knows the men who run the town, better perhaps than they know themselves. Someone is going to pay, and before the book is over, pay they do.

   It does not matter that he and his brother never got along. That Frank’s daughter Doreen, now 15, may really be Jack’s has something to with that, and as a result, Doreen may have grown up way too fast. Also occupying Jack’s mind is that back in London, he has been sleeping with one of his boss’s wives, and once this bit of business is done, is planning to hie off to South Africa with her. He’s a tough nervy bloke, Jack is.

   I’ve not seen any of the movies based on this book, a serious error on my part, but I’ll remedy that as soon as I can, starting with the Michael Caine version. You can tell me in the comments whether the other two are worth tracking down.

   But whether any of these movie versions can match the intensity, brutality and bursts of mayhem of the novel, I’m not so sure. Also involved are child pornography, cheap sex and a surprisingly careless viciousness toward women.

   What you also get is a gritty picture of the working underclass of a small but typical mill town in England circa 1970, when this book first ppeared. The prose reminded me at times of Chandler, while the story is as hard-boiled as anything Hammett might have written. There are not a lot of survivors at book’s end. Jack Carter is cool, cruel and efficient at what he does, and he does a thorough job of it.

   But surprisingly enough, it is the ending itself which is the most disappointing, or so is how I found it. The last two pages nearly undo what should have been one crackup of finale, marred by a bit of near deus ex machina — almost but quite. It’s still a doozy, but unless I missed something, it should have been better.

Note:   By the time this one ends, you might think that may have been strictly a solo appearance for Jack Carter, but no, he returned in two more novels: Jack Carter’s Law (1974), and Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon (1977), both also recently published in the US by Syndicate Books. Ted Lewis (no relation) died in 1982 at the very young age of 42.

 Posted by at 11:58 pm

My First Novel Fast Lane by Dave Zeltserman

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Nov 202014
 

































I wrote the first draft of Fast Lane in 1990, although the title back then was In His Shadow. This was the first piece of fiction I wrote with the intent of seeing it published. Before then I fooled around at times writing short stories, usually badly aping Ross Macdonald’s style. I knew the stuff I was writing then wasn’t any good, and it eventually all ended up in the trashcan. In fact, my first attempt at Fast Lane was writing it like a Lew Archer novel where it was written from the point of view of my white knight detective who uncovers the sins of the celebrity (and very psychotic) detective, Johnny Lane, and like all my other attempts back then to ape Macdonald, it ended up (rightfully) in the trash. Things changed, though, after I read Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson, followed quickly by Swell-looking Babe, Pop. 1280, and After Dark, My Sweet. These noir novels from Thompson opened my eyes to other ways of doing things, and helped me realize that you can do whatever you want as long as you can make it work. I now saw a new approach to Fast Lane and began finding my own voice, and by the time I was halfway through I started to get excited that I was writing something that could be published.
After the first draft, I started working on a second draft, which I finished in 1991. It was a different world back then, and editors actually responded to well-written query letters. I ended up getting about 10 invitations to send in my manuscript, and about half of them sent me back  encouraging rejections—telling me they liked the writing and the book, and encouraged me to send them my next, but that they didn’t think readers would accept a psychotic private eye. At the time I didn’t realize that selling true psycho noir to a major publisher would be only slightly easier than pulling one’s own wisdom teeth, and instead of wisely taking their advice and working on a new novel (which I wouldn’t do until 1997 with Bad Thoughts), I stubbornly started a third revision of Fast Lane—this time taking advice from several readers and pushing the start of the novel back so I could show Lane acting in a more normal manner with only hints of his psychotic tendencies showing. This required about 60 new pages, and just as I was finishing this, my early version of Microsoft Windows crashed and I lost these new pages. I doubt  I’d be able to do this now—and I can’t swear that I retyped those 60 pages exactly as I originally wrote them—but I’m pretty sure I did. Once I had this version finished, I tried again, and collected more rejections. Sometime around 1993, I had a couple of short story sales, but for the most part gave up writing (at least until 1997), and put Fast Lane away in a drawer.
I’ll jump ahead to 2001. I had two novels—Fast Lane and Bad Thoughts—and I was unable to sell either. I decided to sacrifice Fast Lane (still In His Shadow) to self-publishing in the hopes of getting enough people saying good things about it to get Bad Thoughts published, and so I self-published it on iUniverse. It somewhat worked—I was able to get enough generous writers like Vicki Hendricks, Bill Crider, Ken Bruen, and Gary Lovisi, to blurb it, which got noir readers on Rara Avis to discover it, which led to Luca Conti finding it. Luca was working as a translator with the Italian publishing house, Meridiano Zero, and he convinced the publisher to publish it—and so I had my first book deal—Fast Lane translated to Italian. Eventually, Allan Guthrie (whose first story I published on my webzine Hardluck Stories)  and JT Lindroos  would publish Fast Lane under their Point Blank Press imprint and Fast Lane’s long and tortuous road to publication would come to an end.
One final note. At one point I tried sending Fast Lane to the London publisher Serpent’s Tail, only to never hear from them. Years later after they published Small Crimes, Pariah, Killer, and Outsourced, I sent my editor a copy of Fast Lane, and he rather liked it, telling me if he had seen it years earlier he would’ve fought to get it published. C’est la vie. 

Nov 202014
 

My apologies for not posting last week. I was at Bouchercon and was so caught up in the festivities that I forgot to post. Or it might just be my old age.

I believe that tomorrow Erin will be posting on Bloody Murder, the ad hoc panel that a group of us threw together to celebrate writers on the margins - writers who haven't gotten the exposure or support they deserve. The event itself was amazing. I don't remember how many authors participated, but I know it was over 40. Overall a pretty fantastic event. We should shirts and raised $500 for WriteGirl. MWA graciously provided free Bloody Marys during the event. It sounds like an event like this may become a regular at Bouchercon. This situation was turned into a very positive event and I applaude Bouchercon 2014 and Ingrid Willis for their cooperation and efforts to make it happen.

And then a funny thing happened. Catriona McPherson won the Anthony Award for the Best Paperback Original. I was floored. Of course I loved the book. Catriona's writing is amazing. She absolutely deserved the award. And I can tell you, there are more of these in the pipeline - contemporary suspense stand alones. Two published and three more coming.

For me personally, I suddenly felt legit. Like many authors, I believe a lot of acquiring editors are filled with doubt about our talent. Let's face it, not every book or series we acquire becomes a best seller. Heck, most of us would settle for a good solid seller. We may be acquiring books that we feel are solid and deserve to be published, yet they fail in the marketplace. Winning an Anthony Award is one of those confidence builders that helps to heal the broken heart for those books that didn't commerically succeed. I have to say that I am extremely proud. Of Catriona. Of the Midnight Ink authors who attended the awards and were there to cheer Catriona on. Of the whole Midnight Ink family - our authors, our editors, our sales people, our publicity and marketing departments. Pubbing a book is a group effort. And we all should be basking in glory. I do have the best job in the world. Now if I can only figure out the magical formula to make all my babies succeed.

I am going to wrap this up with a link to the speech Ursula Le Guin made. She was honored for Lifetime Achievement by the National Book Awards. Here is a transcript. Take a quick peek. She is calling out publishers for acting as profiteers rather than creating art. Powerful words by a highly respected pioneer. It's a difficult balancing act - publishing the very best that comes across my desk, yet being constantly aware of the market and the chances for financial success. Ms. Le Guin certainly gives us in the industry something to think about.

Have a great rest of the week y'all.