Mar 262015

CROSSING JORDAN. “Pilot Episode.” NBC. 24 September 2001 (Season 1, Episode 1). Jill Hennessy, Miguel Ferrer, Ken Howard, Lois Nettleton, plus a large ensemble cast. Creator/screenwriter: Tim Kring. Director: Allan Arkush.

   Please forgive the lack of screen credits. This is the only episode of Crossing Jordan I’ve seen so far, and I haven’t yet placed names with faces, nor do I know how long some of the faces will last. I didn’t include any names in the guest cast, either, since most of this first episode was devoted to introducing the characters, not the story itself.

   Which was OK, or maybe even more than that, but if you’ll allow me, I’ll get to that in a minute. The series was on for six years, and I won’t lie to you: I’d barely heard of it before buying a box set of DVDs of the first season. I can’t tell you why it’s been under my radar all this time.

   Or maybe I can. (A) A lack of time to follow everything that’s on TV, even crime-solving shows, and (B) an assumption that new shows won’t last, so why start watching them, but missing one like this one that does catch on, and it’s too late to catch up with the story line, or so I think.

   Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh (Jill Hennessy) is a medical examiner who insists on helping the police solve the cases her dead bodies involve her in, against all of their wishes. She’s beautiful, smart-talking, feisty, has a problem with anger management, and as a direct result, she has run out of places to work until her former boss, Dr. Garret Macy (Miguel Ferrer), convinces his superiorss to hire her back at the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

   I gather her father (Ken Howard) doesn’t stick around for the entire series, but at least during the first season he’s an ex-homicide detective who helps Jordan solve her cases by playing a version of killer/victim to re-enact the crime given the facts as she has them. He’s glad to see her again, but Jordan has problems, in the pilot, at least, with the fact that there is a new woman in his life, Jordan’s mother having been murdered when she was a child. This may explain some of the chips on her shoulder.

   There are quite few others in the ensemble cast, as I said earlier, all of whom get a brief introduction and some exposure in this first episode. The story itself is interesting without being overly memorable. It turns out that a young prostitute, found dead in an alley and suspected of dying of a drug overdose, is actually a virgin. It is then discovered that she came to Boston looking for her father, and — well, I needn’t tell you everything, need I?

   I do like the characters, and so did the general viewing public, given that the series lasted for so long. It’s one I’ll keep watching, at least through the first season, which is all that’s been officially released on DVD. (The problem being rights to the music played in the back ground.)

 Posted by at 3:12 am
Mar 262015

The book featured in this week's podcast review, Corpse Diplomatique, was the third in the series of books by Delano Ames to feature Dagobert and Jane.

The first book featuring this rather odd couple was called She Shall Have Murder, published in 1948. I first reviewed this book several years ago - and enjoyed it. Here's how I summarized it:

Jane works in the office of a London law firm. As with most law firms, it has its share of difficult clients. One of those clients, a Mrs. Robjohn, who believes that she is being spied upon and followed, is found dead one morning, the apparent victim of an accident involving a gas line. The police – and almost everyone else – are satisfied with the verdict of accidental death.

Jane’s boyfriend, Dagobert, however, is suspicious. And he is soon able to prove – to his and Jane’s satisfaction, at least – that the old woman must have been murdered. We are never told exactly why the evidence did not make the police suspicious, but this IS a mystery novel, after all, and the fictional detectives have to be given some leeway.

At any rate, Jane and Dagobert set out to investigate further. I should mention that Dagobert is unemployed – which, at this point in his life, appears to be a chronic condition – and he is quite happy to have the amateur detective work to fill up his time.

There's more, to be sure - and you can listen to the original podcast review by clicking here. I'm happy to say that the Manor Minor Press has a Kindle edition of She Shall Have Murder available. They also have an e-book version of Corpse Diplomatique as well, and they say they're trying to get hold of the other Dagobert and Jane books. They're entertaining, funny and good reads.

Mar 252015
“Take the long view of the writing life. There are peaks and valleys. I’ve always felt you must be a first-rate version of yourself; not a second-rate version of another author. I also believe it’s foolish to chase the market, because if you do, you’ll always be looking at its backside. I’ve always written what I love to write.”

- David Morrell
Mar 252015
From Carolyn Hart:
Annie and Max will be back
Dear Ed,
    I’d announced that Don’t Go Home would be the last Annie and Max but I changed my mind. Definitely intend to write #26, God willing! Love – Carolyn

Posted: 23 Mar 2015 02:16 PM PDT
Michael Crichton was a writer who knew how to write, and what he chose to write seemingly meant something to him.  His later novels tended to deal with science, technology and ethics, and his early works—particularly the novels written “as by”—dealt with both youth and culture in a strikingly simple and meaningful manner.  His 1968 novel A Case of Need written as by Jeffery Hudson is not only the best of his early works, but it is also arguably his best novel.

John Berry is a pathologist at a Boston hospital and the novel opens with a heart surgeon ranting about losing a patient on the table.  Berry doesn’t pay much attention because this is how the surgeon deals with the stress and anger of a lost patient.  The rant, like everything in the novel, has the subtle feel of reality and prepares the scene for the main crux of the novel: an abortion gone wrong.  A procedure that was illegal when the novel was published and no less controversial than it is today.

Dr. Art Lee is an OBGYN and an abortionist.  He is also one of John Berry’s best friends.  When a young woman dies in an ER hemorrhaging from a botched abortion, Dr. Lee is the primary suspect.  This sets the novel in motion—John Berry is certain his friend didn’t perform the procedure and he wants to clear Dr. Lee’s name, but his motives become less clear as the novel unravels.

A Case of Need is a crossroads novel between Mr Crichton’s early pulp adventure novels and his larger, more complex modern novels.  It is something like a DMZ between the John Lange thrillers and The Andromeda Strain.  It features many of the hallmarks of his later works, particularly cultural and medical ethics, but it is wrapped in a damn terrific mystery.  It won an Edgar in 1969 for best novel and it represents Crichton’s talent at its highest.

What truly separates A Case of Need from the herd is its setting, theme and dialogue.  The setting is the world of medicine.  It clearly focuses the reader’s attention on not only what it is like, or was like, to be a work-a-day physician, but it also thematically explores the ethical decisions that lurk in the industry.  It gives a murky representation of abortion and its relation to both physicians who perform the procedure and those who do not. And the dialogue is vintage Crichton; it moves the story forward in quick and linear fashion.

There really isn’t anything about the novel that is weak or underdeveloped.  The prose is strong and vivid—

“All heart surgeons are bastards, and Conway is no exception. He came storming into the path lab at 8:30 in the morning, still wearing his green surgical gown and cap, and he was furious.”

The mystery is plotted perfectly and the suspense is built as well as any novel I have read.  It begins with what appears to be a moment of subterfuge—the angry heart surgeon—but ties the seemingly out-of-place opening scene perfectly into the theme of the story; the imperfect surgeon struggling with his own limitations and balancing the imperfections of society with the needs and demands of his patients.

A Case of Need is a terrific novel that is as relevant and entertaining today as it was forty years ago.  In a sense it is very much a novel of its time, but it also has a timeless quality in that the questions it never quite answers will continue to debated generations from now.  And it very well may be the evidence we need to prove Michael Crichton was from another world.  He really was that good, and this novel proves it.
Mar 252015
One of the most important reasons I developed the Shamus Sampler series of anthologies was that the Private Eye Writers of America didn't seem to put out theirs anymore. Lucky for me, they're back with this one, as always expertly edited by Robert J. Randisi. I'm sorry he didn't do introductions for each tale, used to love those.
The running theme, as can be guessed a bit by the title is sex. Some graphic and kinky, some more implied. Some tales didn't really seem to be real PI tales to me, but of course that wasn't advertised either. A LOT of them are, I'm happy to say, though.
Among the writers are Carolina Garcia-Aquilera, Justin Scott, Gary Phillips, Jerry Kennealy, Michael Bracken, Christine Matthews, Robert J. Randisi, Warren Murphy, Ted Fitzgerald, Dick Lochte, and John Lutz. I loved seeing Max Allan Collins with a Nate Heller story and Jerry Kennealy put in a short and sweet Nick Polo tale. The fact there's a VI Warshawski tale in it should sell some extra copies. Some tales are a bit raunchier than others, Bracken's probably the more hardcore one. If you don't like that kind of stuff, don't worry, it is at the beginning but  not indicative to the rest.
Special mention should go to Ted Fitzgerald's Tex Texeira who is a PI that does background checks for a nudie magazine. I thought that idea was very original and the tale very enjoyable. @Ted: if you are reading this, be sure to contact me for an interview.
Mar 252015
Man, as much as I love Ace Atkins writing Spenser, here's a guy that would be able to continue that series really well. This is totally new book featuring Wyatt Storme that will have me pick up the reprints coming soon as well for sure.
Wyatt Storme is an ex-football player and Vietnam veteran who is visited by his old pal and psycho sidekick, the ex-CIA agent Chick Easton. Chick asks him for help protecting a bad boy movie-star during the shoot of a Western movie. There's also an old enemy of Storme lurking around.
Storme is a really cool guy, a real John Wayne kind of guy. Tall, honest, kind to women and a bit of a loner. He also gets in quite a few witty lines in the Spenser veign. Chick is an almost superhuman sidekick, where there's of course some comparisons to Hawk
The story is paced well with enough twists and action and a shift to the POV of Storme's old enemy that nevers confuses or annoys.
Great, old-fashioned PI writing and a MUST for fans of Spenser, Elvis Cole or my own Noah Milano.
One of my favorite books of the year so far.
Mar 252015

I had a plan for this week’s post.

The plan was this. Here in the UK there’s a radio show called Desert Island Discs. It’s been running for decades – literally; the first one was in January 1942, and it’s now on its fourth presenter. The premise, for those not in the know, is that a celebrity with an interesting past chooses the eight records (it dates back before the days of vinyl) they would want with them if they were cast away on a desert island. Don’t ask me why it’s eight, and definitely don’t ask me how they’re going to play them. It’s just a radio show.

Music doesn’t do it for me; if I was choosing my eight discs they would include things like the original recording of Under Milk Wood with Richard Burton, and a wonderful long-player I’ve owned since I was fifteen (I think it’s only available in vinyl), of excerpts from Hamlet, also with Richard Burton.

So rather than discs, for purposes of this week’s post, I was going to choose my eight desert island books. Which in one way is far more practical than discs.

Except now I’m on the spot, and forced to make the choice, I’m finding it difficult bordering on impossible – OK, just impossible – to pare the list down much below twenty. And even then, I want Complete Works compendium versions of so many authors’ books that it’s pretty clear how I’m going to end up on the desert island in the first place: the ship will sink under the weight of all those books. And no, I don’t want them on an e-reader, thank you very much; my usual objections aside, there’d be nowhere to recharge it.

So, to give myself more time to consider the extremely important issue of which eight books am I totally unable to live without, I’m sending out a challenge.

Which eight books, or failing that which eight authors, would you want to find on your desert island?

No prizes or giveaways. Though maybe I’ll get some titles to add to my book wishlist.

Mar 252015

MICHAEL CRAVEN – The Detective & the Pipe Girl. Bourbon Street Books, trade paperback; 1st printing, 2014.

   I’m going to go back a way before I begin. I don’t know the exact year it was, but it has to have been sometime in the early 1970s, soon after my wife and I moved to this house in Connecticut where we’ve lived ever since. The local comic book dealer put on a pulp and paperback convention, and Paul you can tell me if I’m wrong, but as I recall, it was in Wethersfield, the next town over.

   The guest of honor, or one of them — that I don’t remember — was Mike Avallone. Among other things, he was the creator of Ed Noon, the leading protagonist in quite a few private eye novels. During the panel of size one he was on, he was lamenting the “death of the PI novel,” among other matters. In the Q&A session that followed, I had the temerity to point out that there were these new guys in town, a fellow named Spenser and another chap who shall remain Nameless.

   Mike, of course, would hear nothing of it. They’ll soon be gone, was his response, and soon enough, mark my words, he said, nobody will be writing about private eyes any more. I guess you know where this is going. Here it is, nearly 50 years later, and not only are PIs not dead as a genre, they may be more plentiful than ever before. (I may be exaggerating there. Robert B. Parker and Bill Pronzini, each in their own individualistic way, were responsible for a big boom renaissance in the field, starting in the early 70s and continuing on into the 80s and today. You can fill in the names of the other authors who came along on your own, I believe.)

   Mike was wrong, but while I obviously didn’t press him on the point, I felt then as I do now, that much of his complaint was that publishers didn’t want any any more adventures of Ed Noon.

   Forgive the long intro, but this, all of the above, is what came to mind while I was reading The Detective & the Pipe Girl, the first recorded case of a Los Angeles-based PI named John Darville. (Craven has written on earlier book, Body Copy, a PI novel with ex-surfer turned Malibu private detective Donald Tremaine as the leading character.)

   I haven’t read the earlier book, but I have so far managed to not read it. Not yet, that is, based on how much I enjoyed reading this one.

   I’ve been thinking about it, and while I’m sure that every other review that you read of this book will tell you what a “pipe girl” is, I’m not going to. I’ve checked on Google, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the term is Craven’s own invention, and once again I’m going to let him tell you about it when you read this book, and if you’re a PI fan, I hope you will.

   Darville, who tells his story himself, is hired in this book by a famous but now aging film director to locate a girl he had a small affair with before his wife found out. Which he was OK with, he says, but he was able to stay in touch with her until recently. The phone number he has for her is not working, and she is not returning his attempts to talk to her again.

   So, OK, the plot’s not a new one, but Craven has is own voice, or Darville does, in a usual but still different wise-ass sort of way, and while we meet many obvious Hollywood types while Darville tries to track the girl down (which he does, and I’ll say no more), we also get a guided tour through all parts of the many neighborhoods that make up the greater Los Angeles area, with many asides as he does so. Since I was there not too long ago, the names of the towns and the streets and his digressive impressions of them were very familiar to me.

   The plot is not without its flaws, and I could include a few of them in this review, but once again I’ve decided not to, except for one, the long overly expository ending, easily excused, I think, in the overall scheme of things. It’s also a happy ending for Darville personally, I’m happy to say, and he concludes the book with a few truths about life, of which the least is the following, but it still resonated with me when I read it for the first time:

    “If you ever find yourself standing outside a crowded restaurant in the hot sun on the weekend waiting to be seated for brunch, it may be time to rethink things.”

 Posted by at 1:41 pm
Mar 252015
Once again two stories unfold at once in Charity Ends at Home (1968), Colin Watson's fifth satiric exploration of life in the less than idyllic village of Flaxborough. Mortimer Hive is a private detective working on a routine divorce case yet as an apparent former Foreign Office worker he acts if he is on a spy mission. When reporting to his client he resorts to absurd code names and narrates his surveillance of the philandering couple in a grandiloquent jargon.

While Hive is alternately flirting with the local barmaid and making his telephone reports Inspector Purbright and the Flaxborough police are investigating the peculiar drowning death of Henrietta Palgrove who was found upended in her ersatz wishing well used as a home for her pet goldfish. Mrs. Palgrove was noted in Flaxborough for her avid volunteerism and her ongoing letter writing campaign to her favorite charities. Pet charities, one might say. Quite literally. Mrs. Palgrove was devoted to rescuing animals, most especially dogs. She had recently fired off an insinuating letter to the secretary of the Flaxborough and Eastern Counties Charity Alliance (FECCA) threatening her with exposure of mismanagement of funds from the Rover Holme charity. And who is that secretary? None other than the irrepressible Lucilla Teatime.

The two plotlines converge when Purbright's team begins questioning Leonard, Mrs. Palgrove's husband. It soon becomes apparent that Leonard is not only considered the prime suspect in his wife's death but is also somehow involved in the case Mortimer Hive is working on. But is Leonard Hive's client or his target? a series of anonymous letters proven to have come form Mrs. Palgrove's typewriter also add a bit of mystery to the case. It appears she was in fear for her life and the content implies a murder conspiracy had been in place. Miss Teatime proves to be quite a linguistic sleuth using her knowledge of charity publicity to make sense of the ambiguous letter solving one mystery that Purbright failed to see through.

 The ending may a bit to similar to Watson's previous book (Lonelyheart 4122) with another scene in which the killer tries to silence someone who knows too much. Still, Charity Ends at Home is as lively and engaging as all of Colin Watson's crime novels. This time Watson unsheathes his satirist's rapier wit and targets the indifferent authority of schoolmasters, the bluster of self-important civil servants, the paradoxical selfishness of charitable work and the zealotry of its devoted volunteers.

Mortimer drives the story with Miss Teatime riding shotgun compared to her starring role in Lonelyheart 4122. Despite his pompous speech, his chauvinistic view of women and his undeserved vanity Mortimer Hive is a thoroughly affable character. In the dialogue sequences with Miss Teatime we get a hint of not only a close friendship but some shady business in their past. It's clear that Hive and Miss Teatime are miscreants of one sort or another but Watson isn't letting us know exactly what they got up to in their checkered past. It's one reason that you'll want to keep reading more books in the series. I'm going to be a bit let down when I get to the end. There are only nine left for me to read out of the total of twelve books.

* * *

Reading Challenge update: Silver Age card, space E6 - "Borrowed from a library"
 Posted by at 12:07 pm