Oct 192014
I don't know much about the gang pulps and haven't read many stories from them, but this one has a nice cover and the first three authors in the table of contents are E. Hoffmann Price (misspelled on the cover), Norman Daniels, and G.T. Fleming-Roberts. With a line-up like that, I suspect this issue was worth reading.
Oct 182014


Posted: 16 Oct 2014 10:42 AM PDT
The Peninsula is “a comma of land hooking into the sea southeast of Melbourne” in Victoria Australia. It is a tourist destination known for its beaches, wineries, and coastal towns. It is sparsely populated, beautiful, and, recently, the stalking ground for a sex killer. One woman was found dead on the Old Peninsula Highway—a lonely road treading the eastern coast of the peninsula, cutting south and west—and another has disappeared.

Inspector Hal Challis, the regional homicide specialist, is assigned the investigation. The search is headquartered in the fictional city of Waterloo. A city with a small police force, and an even smaller CIB—Criminal Investigation Branch—squad. The killer is careful and clean. The only significant lead is the track of a rare brand of tire near the dumping site of a victim—

“There was no semen. The killer used a condom. There were no fingerprints. The killer used gloves. What he’d left on his victims wereabsences, including the absence of life.”

The Dragon Man is a beautifully written police procedural. The main plot is supplemented with crisscrossing subplots. An overzealous constable. A series of house burglaries. A frightened woman trading sex for drugs. And Hal Challis. An almost broken, flawed man. A man who is married to a woman who, along with her lover, attempted to kill him. A man who is underestimated by most, and a man who is likable, and, at times, real.

“He drove on. Christmas Day. With any luck, someone would find a body and free him from Christmas Day.”

The setting is rendered with care, and the small details—a bucket in the shower to catch the water for additional use in the garden, dry draught-like conditions of mid-summer heat, herons feasting on mosquitoes—create a real world believable place. A place that is familiar, but simultaneously exotic. Mr Disher also plays with morality. The police often behave more consistently with the criminals they chase. One steals evidence from the police locker. Another attempts to blackmail a woman for sex during a traffic stop.

The Dragon Man is the real deal. It is the first novel (of six, so far) featuring Hal Challis. It is something of a cross between literature and police procedural. It is economical, meaningful, and a wonderfully entertaining novel.

Oct 182014

THE SEA HAWK. First National Pictures, 1924. Milton Sills, Enid Bennett, Lloyd Hughes, Wallace MacDonald, Marc MacDermott, Wallace Beery, Frank Currier, Medea Radzina, William Collier, J. Lionel Belmore. Based on a novel by Rafael Sabatini. Director: Frank Lloyd. Shown at Cinefest 26, Syracuse NY, March 2006.

   The Sea Hawk was a substitution for the originally scheduled L’Argent (1929; Marcel L’Herbier, director) L’Argent was certainly the film I was looking forward to with the most anticipation. However, although 1′d seen The Sea Hawk more than once and have a Turner showing on tape, I didn’t miss the opportunity to watch it again.

   Some of you will be familiar with the Errol Flynn remake (WB, 1940), although the silent version is more faithful to Sabatini’s novel than the later version, which eliminates the extensive Moorish section that’s one of the glories of this film.

   When Sir Oliver Tressilian (Sills) is betrayed by his villainous younger brother and delivered into the greedy hands of rascally Jasper Leigh (Beery), his Christian upbringing is so damaged by his sense of outrage that when he falls into the hands of Moorish pirates, he quickly becomes Sakr-el-Bahr, the uSea Hawk,” Muslim scourge of the high seas, and the favorite of Asad-el-Din, Sasha of Algiers, much to the chagrin of the Sasha’s favorite wife and heir apparent son.

   Enid Bennett, the lovely star of Hairpins, and Sir Oliver’s intended bride until his betrayal, is imprisoned in unbecoming costumes that mask her beauty until she’s captured by Moorish pirates (guess who?) and put up for auction, her clothes in tatters that reveal something of her native charms, and sold to… guess who again?

   Beery is a rascal, but lovable, and Sills is a splendid corsaire, with a focused rage that distinguishes his portrayal from that of the rakish, devil-may-care Flynn. I like both portrayals and both films.

   Now, the downside: this was, for much of the screening, an inferior print that only occasionally incorporated a reel of superior quality, most notably during the Moorish episodes. Of course, 1 missed the great score that Korngold composed for the sound remake, but the accompanist was more than competent.

 Posted by at 7:58 pm
Oct 182014
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Prozini

MEL ARRIGHI – Alter Ego. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1983. No paperback edition. TV movie: CBS, 1987, as Murder by the Book (with Robert Hays as D.H. ‘Hank’ Mercer / Biff Deegan, and Catherine Mary Stewart).

   Hank Mercer is a New York mystery writer, author of such modest best sellers as Death Is My Bedmate and Kill Me Tender. Biff Deegen is Hank’s series sleuth, a hard-boiled private eye patterned after Mike Hammer. Hank is tired of Biff and Biff’s uncouth style; he wants to scrap him and begin a new series about an erudite, tasteful detective named Amos Frisby.

   His editor, Norman Wagstaff. is of course opposed to the idea vehemently. But to placate Hank, who after all is one of his top authors, he agrees over lunch to the following bargain: If Hank can solve a real-life mystery, using Frisby’s methods of deduction, then he trade Riff in for Amos/

   What precipitates this bargain — and what starts Hank off on his all-too-real mystery — is a matchbook dropped on their lunch table by a well-dressed woman, containing the scrawled words “Help me.”

   The mystery involves a valuable statue called The Etruscan Dancer, some urbane crooks, some not so urbane crooks, sexy Marisa Winfield, a poker game, a daring rescue accomplished by Hank using methods better suited to the Human Fly, a chase through the Lexington Avenue subway and, as it were, the piece de resistance: Biff Deegen.

   Biff, you see, steps out of the pages of his own books to become a character in Hank’s real-life mystery.He doesn’t really come to life, of course; he is merely an anthropomorphized figment of Hank’s overworked imagination, his creator’s alter ego. But that doesn’t stop him from becoming Hank’s detective “partner,” sneering at the likes of Amos Frisby and appearing at tense moments to advise Hank on the finer points of physical combat (“Kick him in the balls!”).

   This amusing and affectionate spoof of both genres seems to have been intended as the first of a series– it is billed on the dust jacket as “A Hank & Riff Mystery” — but so far no second book has appeared. Arrighi’s other criminous novels are much more serious in tone; these include such first-rate titles as Freak-Out (1968), The Hatchet Man (1975), Turkish White (1977), the Hitchcockian thriller Delphine (1981), and Manhattan Gothic (1985).

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

NOTE: Mel Arrighi died in 1986 at the relatively young age of only 53. If it so happened that he wrote another book in this series, it was never published before he died.

 Posted by at 6:08 pm
Oct 182014

Guest Blogger: Dani Looney 

NYCC cosplay
With all the talk in the mystery world about Boucher-con, Marilyn thought it would be a good idea (which she may later regret) to let me be a guest blogger and write about my experiences at New York Comic Con.    

In the beginning, comic conventions were pretty much just for comics.  Buying and selling them, sharing the art, and premiering new story arcs.  Over time though, these conventions have become something much bigger.  Not only are they celebrating comics, but now they include a wide range of media.  Movies, television, books, and video games are all included under the umbrella of a comic convention.  Since it is now cool to be a “geek” and with the growing number of superhero movies, the explosion of gaming culture and the popularity of shows like “The Big Bang Theory”, Comic Con has become a 4 day extravaganza of all things “nerd”.   There are plenty of panels, screenings, games, vendors, and celebrities to draw even the most introverted of us out into public. Those running the show very quickly figured out that the quickest way to our hearts was to offer us a chance to buy merchandise from our favorite shows, and also offer us a chance to discuss and find out more about the things we loved.

As an avid reader and as a fan of things including, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Marvel, etc., Comic Con allows me 3 days of non-stop fun.  Not only do I get a chance to meet some of the actors portraying my favorite characters, like Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch last year, but I am also surrounded by other who enjoy these things and who are just as enthusiastic as I am.  Most of us have created cosplays, costumes, of our favorite characters, and quite a few attendees put some serious time and effort into these costumes.  The creativity that attendees put into their cosplays can be seen in what they can come up with.  Just this year, I saw a man dressed as the many characters Johnny Depp has played, as well as quite a few gender bends of male characters.  We all praise each other’s creativity, take pictures, and discuss our loves without fear or worry of others thinking we are “obsessive” or “crazy” or “too involved” (and those are some of the kinder things said).  It is easy to find friends while waiting in line for a panel and begin sharing theories over what the next series of Sherlock will be like, or how we are enjoying the newest regeneration of the Doctor.  Overall con going is a very enjoyable experience and the people in charge are continually trying to make things better.  This year there was even a new harassment policy about how cosplay is not consent.  This was a very welcome reminder that just because someone is dressed up, no matter how scantily, that it is not okay to just touch and take pictures of them.  As a woman, I was very appreciative of this new policy, and how it was a reminder to people that asking before touching is a good thing. 

Now to get to the best part of Comic Con for me: the books.  Since attendance this year topped 150,000+ people a day, publishers were ready with new releases and lots of new authors.  I found myself circling the few book aisles and chatting with the people working the booths.  Many times I was friendly and polite enough to snag some free ARCs.  There were also buttons, stickers, book samplers, and tote bags just being given away as you walked past a booth.  In total, I think I walked away with eight to ten books and around six of those were free.  Some of the free books being given away were part of a signing that was going on.  I was able to meet fantasy writing veteran Robin Hobb, who was happy to hear about the independent book store I worked in and that they were still around.  Many new authors were also in attendance and were encouraged to see how busy the publishing booths could get and how many readers were out there and wanting to take a chance on a new author.  The best part of these booths was the people working them.  Their enthusiasm for books and authors was contagious and I really loved being able to share my own love of books with them.  Many of them were very encouraged at seeing how many people stopped at their booths to ask about new releases and their favorite authors.  I garnered quite a few compliments on my own female Percy Jackson cosplay, which then of course led to discussions of what we all thought of the last book in the Heroes of Olympus series, as well as a few cries of, “No spoilers! I haven’t finished yet.”

Books were not only just available on the main floor, but this year there were quite a few literary panels that were incredibly interesting to go to.  There were panels for young adult readers, Doctor Who fans, ones for fantasy fans, and ones for fans of any kind of books.  Some of my favorites were, “Damsels in Distress Need Not Apply” and “How Game of Thrones Changed Fantasy, or Did It?” .  All of these panels featured authors talking and discussing different subjects.  A big topic of many of the panels was the representation of female characters.  It was very refreshing to see authors really looking at how women are presented in books, especially these genres where it’s easy to make them damsels who do nothing but be rescued.  Many authors are noticing that a good portion of their fan base is female and is craving unique strong female characters, and they are actively trying to give us these characters.  Marvel is really trying to show that comics are not just for boys anymore and have been trying to really incorporate more female heroes, including a new incarnation of Thor where a woman is worthy of the Mjolnir as well as separate arcs for characters like Black Widow and Captain Marvel.  No longer are they in skimpy costumes and armor that only covers the “important” bits, but they are taking charge and showing everyone that they are just as capable as any of the male superheroes out there.     

Sadly, Comic Con is now over.  I had a blast and would not change a thing.  After some great panels, a few autographs, numerous lines, a few hugs for a fallen Castiel, and one very damp day as Han Solo, you would think I’d be bone tired and very sore, and truthfully I very much am.  Carrying around multiple tote bags, early mornings, and lots of walking have left me very exhausted.  There are two things I know for sure though; I don't regret a single bit of it, and I cannot wait for next year.    

Oct 182014
The Angry Redhead makes a return appearance on this vivid cover by Tom Lovell. This looks like a good issue, with stories by some of my favorites like Harry F. Olmsted, Walt Coburn, and Gunnison Steele. Popular Publications had not only some of the best covers on Western pulps, but some of the best titles, too. I mean, how can you not want to read "Legion of the Lost Frontier" or "The Derelict
Oct 182014
Today in Traveling The Globe we venture into the USSR to a place where Napoleon had trouble conquering. Moscow

by George Snyder

Taking the place of one of the Soviet Union’s leading assassins, Nick Carter sneaks into Moscow to find and destroy a new Soviet weapon.

Moscow At Noon Is The Target
by Chet Cunningham and Dan Streib

An elite group of former special forces soldiers has banded together as the Brigadiers and have staged startling audacious robberies in several Iron Curtain nations. Moscow vows that if the Brigadiers were to strike again, there would be war.
Moscow Coach
by Philip McCutchan

A radical British communist in onboard a train headed to Moscow with the aim of killing the man next in line for leadership of the Soviet Union. Shaw's task is to stop him from creating an international incident.
Moscow Roads
by Simon Harvester

Trying to track down a traitor inside the intelligence organization, Dorian Silk is drawn to a trade fair in Moscow. That move puts him in the middle of the enemy camp with few friends and fewer options.
 Posted by at 7:30 am

Why I’m Worried As Hell

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Oct 182014

So, hurricane, looting, civil unrest. Quite a month for me, September was.

Now here we are in mid-October, and I’m watching the headlines about the U.S. ebola spread and shaking my head.

Why? Well, let’s see. First, out of pure self-interest. The area of Mexico I live in sees a ton of American tourists. There are direct flights from places like Dallas every day. Which means that an outbreak of a contagious pathogen in the U.S. is only a few hours flying time from me. And because Mexico is dependent on tourist dollars it won’t do what it should, which is stop all travel from the U.S., where, in spite of the double-speak of the media, there is now an active ebola outbreak whose scope and severity is a big question mark.

And the way the U.S. has handled the outbreak so far is beyond criminal. It is so bad it borders on evil.

The administration knew in September that there was a 25% chance of ebola showing up in the U.S. within 3 to 6 weeks. And yet everyone from the President to the CDC lied and said the odds were extremely low. If you have a loaded gun being held to your head, and one of the four chambers has a bullet in it? Those odds aren’t extremely low. They’re way too high. I quote from Reuters: “First and foremost, I want the American people to know that our experts, here at the CDC and across our government, agree that the chances of an Ebola outbreak here in the United States are extremely low,” Obama said.

Except that’s not in any way true. It’s false, misleading…a bald faced lie.

Of course, the CDC has been mishandling public health threats for some time, so that’s nothing new, nor have instances of American presidents lying through their teeth – it’s almost the national passtime to tally the falsehoods these days. But during this little adventure, so far we’ve seen literally countless examples of ineptitude bordering on treasonous. Let’s take allowing a feverish, symptomatic health care worker who was on a watch list as exposed to ebola, to get on an airliner. Flying from a busy Ohio airport into one of the larger hubs – Dallas. When the worker called the CDC and asked if it was acceptable to fly commercial even though she was presenting with a fever, and after one of her colleagues was already diagnosed as the first case of ebola transmission in the U.S., the geniuses at the CDC said, “sure.”

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the ONLY mechanism that has stopped ebola outbreaks the 8 prior times it appeared on the planet was complete quarantine of the afflicted population. Nothing. Else. Works.

Nigeria, a country best known for its larcenous scams, understands this basic, simple truth well enough so that it is now ebola free. Why? Because when it became obvious that the virus was raging out of control in neighboring countries it closed its borders, quarantined its few domestic cases, and 100% contained it.

But the U.S.? Europe? Flights from the afflicted countries are busily transporting people to these supposedly progressive, safe countries on a daily basis.

The same liars that knew there was a 25% chance of it arriving within 3 to 6 weeks are assuring us that the safeguards in place – which consist of taking temperatures and asking questions (the same safeguards that have a 100% fail rate the only time they were tested so far – by the Dallas patient who subsequently died after infecting nobody knows how many yet) – will protect us all. No, sweetheart, they didn’t, and they won’t. They are no more going to stop the spread of ebola in the U.S. than having high school dropouts searching 80 year old grandmothers at airports serves as a meaningful deterrent to organized terrorists. It’s all bullshit. It’s doing things that are ludicrous so you can appear to be taking action. And it doesn’t. Work. At. All.

Anyone with even cursory understanding of epidemiology will take one look at a nation with proven outbreaks, that has no travel restrictions, no effective quarantines in place, and whose borders have a welcome mat out for the afflicted from hard hit ebola epicenters, and cringe, because there is absolutely not a chance in hell of this ending well.

And what did the U.S. just do as its response to a plague that could spell the end of days for the U.S., as well as most of the planet if it runs unchecked? Why, appoint an “ebola czar.” You’d probably think that given the stakes this would be a seasoned public health expert, a doctor with decades of epidemic containment experience, right? Well, what you actually got is a party hack attorney with no more experience in public health and plague containment than my dog.

I just can’t make this crap up. If I wrote it in a novel it would get laughed off the page. “Nobody’s that stupid. The real world doesn’t work that way. There’s no way that the government would do everything possible to seemingly ensure the spread of the virus. One star for realism. Blake’s a moron.”

Last year I wrote a novel that scared the living bejesus out of me, so much so I almost didn’t publish it. That novel, Upon A Pale Horse, chronicles the fictional spread of a deadly virus for which there’s no publicized cure (those determined to spread it of course developed a vaccine in secret, but only for their elite circle), and which has a very high mortality rate – the perfect mechanism to reduce the population of the world by two thirds or more, especially in the “undesirable” areas, while eliminating what remains of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In that novel, rich, privileged madmen, whose bought and paid for politicians kowtow to their whims, engage in social engineering using bio-weapon-developed retroviruses. It scared the crap out of me because as I researched it I realized that even though it was presented as fiction, the science behind it was frightening, and the historical basis for the story was far too plausible, if not eerily factual (don’t even get me started on the chimps used for bio-weapons development in Liberia that were later used in vaccine development, and the history of simian contamination of vaccines, like the polio vaccine).

And here we are, about 15 months after I published that cheery little tome, and a virulent virus is spreading in Africa, and now, in the U.S., while the public health apparatus takes steps that are about as effective as prayer in stopping the its spread. And the media happily reports lies as though they’re truth. Nobody seems to be going, “Um, what you’re doing has NEVER worked to stop the spread in ANY of the ebola outbreaks. And unlike some mudhole in Africa, your society is highly mobile and travels constantly – isn’t confined to its rural village or one metro area – increasing the odds of it spreading to pandemic levels in no time, because you won’t be able to quarantine a hundred outbreaks as they occur – the direct result of failing to close your borders and pretending to take effective quarantine steps while just posturing.”

I also keep hearing these insane claims that we’re not to worry because there will soon be an antidote or a vaccine. You know, because we have the power of 10 scientists with our superpowers. But of course that ignores that after 34 years of working on one for HIV, there isn’t one. Same bright minds that have been unable to develop one for AIDS are suddenly going to have one within a year or so for ebola. Just cause. About the only positives I’ve seen are announcements by companies in China and Japan that they have possible “promising” treatments – which haven’t been tested on humans, and which, like the promising treatments for HIV in the early days (like AZT, which turned out to be poison), are so speculative as to be happy dreams at this point. Maybe one of these treatments will do something other than enrich the shareholders of the publicly traded companies touting their “progress.” I hope so, but have learned not to hold my breath. Looking at the first ten years of HIV, and the last 35 of ebola, promising isn’t a word I’d toss around lightly.

Folks, I am trying very, very hard not to be alarmist. But when I read the lawyerlike parsing of language that the CDC uses I pucker.

For instance, ebola isn’t “airborne” per the CDC’s definition – if someone sneezes and a cone of mist sprays five or six feet, that’s not “airborne,” because technically that mist isn’t air, it’s droplets – so when you hear pundits saying, “but it’s not airborne” they’re technically correct in the same way Clinton was correct that oral sex wasn’t “sexual relations” – in a way that would be laughed out of any reasonable discussion, but which liars hide behind.

When someone from the CDC, or some well-intentioned talking head, says, “Well, at least it’s not airborne,” they are saying that the virus doesn’t literally float in air. But it does exist in saliva and sweat. So when they’re saying that, to assure you it’s okay to get on a plane or not worry about the guy coughing in the hall, you have to understand who’s doing the saying, and why they’re using misleading, very narrow definitions that don’t mean what you think they do. The fact is that depending upon the viral concentration levels in the victim’s saliva and mucous, of course them sneezing on you, or on a surface you later touch, is going to carry an infectious risk. To say it doesn’t is as big a lie as telling you that the risk of ebola coming to the U.S. is “extremely low” when they knew it was about one in four. It’s a lie designed to deceive you so you won’t panic – not that panicking will do any good. But the point is when you don’t get straight info from those who are supposed to be protecting you? You’re living in a completely different world than the real one, and nature doesn’t reward delusion with much besides misery.

I’ll end this rant with one key takeaway: Just about every ebola expert in Africa is now dead, of ebola, after underestimating its virulence. That’s not a particularly stellar track record for the experts.

I sincerely hope my read on all this is overly pessimistic, and that the party functionary lawyer with zero related experience in anything approaching medicine, or science, or being more than a party hack, directs the efforts of the public health emergency with an adroit hand. I hope that this outbreak proves to be completely different than every other one seen to date and the spread isn’t scary bad. I hope that the same geniuses that allowed an infected victim into the country, and another infected victim to fly while symptomatic, develop some modicum of logic and reason and do something besides take temperatures (which we know doesn’t work) and ask questions (because people tend to lie, especially if they think not doing so is a death sentence) all the while lying about the true risks.

I will be watching this unfold from 1000 miles away, but even that’s too damned close for comfort. I’ll be looking for a small hill town nobody has ever heard of, or a fishing hamlet at the end of a dirt road where they haven’t seen a Gringo for twenty years, because my gut says that in about three weeks we’ll be seeing more ugliness as the inexorable progress we’ve seen in all the other outbreaks continues, and I have no interest in waiting until the crowd understands it’s been lied to, because panicked crowds can do strange things – I just lived through that, and I’d rather pass on a repeat at a much, much, much larger scale. If I’m wrong, which I dearly hope I am, I’ll have gotten a few months of well-deserved relaxation while writing my novels and maybe gotten even more sunburned. If I’m right, I don’t want to consider the lay of the land moving forward.

As always, be well, be good to each other, and try to make a difference, even if it’s only petting a dog or playing with a baby. It may not matter in the scheme of things, but it will to the dog or baby, and perhaps that’s all that really matters in the end.

And of course, buy my crap.