Robert Morley as Uncle Arthur
Nathalie Delon as Charlotte
Jack Hawkins as Sir Anthony Skouras
Corin Redgrave as Hunslett
Derek Bond as Lord Charnley
Warm sunshine and beautiful places to sit and enjoy it; good wine, good food, and the occasional bad-for-me-but-what-the-hell treat; an outing or three to interesting places; and books stacked high enough to last the entire fortnight. What more could anyone ask of a holiday? Or vacation, depending which language you’re speaking?
On which subject, I even spoke a little French, and was told I spoke it very well. It probably isn’t true; I think people were being kind because I tried to speak it at all, and I certainly didn’t make a great fist of understanding what was said back to me, but we got by.
It wasn’t just sunshine, wine and time to read. We visited a domaine which produced pineau des Charentes (another name for nectar of the gods); tasted wine and wobbled down steep cobbled streets in St Emilion, not necessarily in that order; got lost outside Bordeaux; gazed at the harbour and walked round the aquarium in Saint Rochelle; and even caught up with an old friend who upped sticks and moved to the Charente Valley a few years ago and has never regretted it for a moment.
But mostly there was a lot of sunshine, not a little wine and books, books, books.
First up, my lovely daughter, who volunteers in a charity secondhand bookshop once a week, had unearthed a rare copy of a YA book by my very dear and sadly departed friend Douglas Hill, but he wrote fantasy, not crime, so I’ll just say it was great fun and I shall treasure it.
Then I decided I’d better stop hogging The Thrill of the Haunt, the most recent Haunted Guesthouse Mystery by your friend and mine, E J Copperman, since it was much in demand by two of my fellow vacationers. Reading that took a couple of days; I like to savour E J’s wit and neat hand with a turn of phrase. When I’d finished it and passed it on, lovely daughter came up trumps again, with An Open Spook, an eBook novella in the series which she’d stowed on one of those dinky little mini-computer things which we non-techies don’t know how to switch on. (No, it’s not a K*****. It’s MUCH cleverer than that, and even got us out of trouble when Bordeaux threatened to turn adventure into nightmare – see above. Besides, she feels much as I do on the K***** score.)
After that box, or possibly electronic device, of delights, I embarked on The Critic, by an author I’d never sampled before, though he’s been out there for years: one Peter May, who seems to have settled in a wine-producing area of France, and in this case had written about... a wine-producing area of France. And since we were staying in, yes, you guessed, it all felt quite cosy. Not that the book was in the least cosy; there were elaborate and occasionally gory murders, code-cracking, a great protagonist and a lot of detailed wine-related research by the author, which enriched the background and didn’t hold the action up at all. So of course I felt I owed it to him to do some wine-related research of my own, and it didn’t hold up my reading pace either.
A week or so before we set out, my good friend Zoë Sharp had filled a gap on the S shelf of my extensive book collection with Die Easy, the latest full-length adventure for her brilliant kick-ass heroine Charlie Fox, and another not-too-slim volume containing six short stories and a novella called Absence of Light, all also featuring the mettlesome Ms Fox. They kept me on the edge of my seat, and lasted – just – till the night before we arrived home.
So if you still have holidays, or even vacations, to come, and are looking for reading matter to fill the free hours, I strongly recommend each and every one of the above. Preferably the print editions where available, to maintain a centuries-old tradition that really shouldn’t be allowed to die. Thanks, Zoë, E J, Peter and Douglas – a real collection of treats.
Thanks also to my good friend Chris Nickson, who had far more important things to do while I was away, but still found time to post in my place last week. Not only is he permanently writing, reworking and gestating about five projects at once; he also organized a hugely popular launch event last week, for the first in his new series.
And now, three days after we returned, it’s business as usual, and feels as if I’ve never been away.
In this interview Block also shares insights into the craft of writing as well as his experiences (numerous adaptations based on his work) with Hollywood including a few stabs he took as a screenwriter.
This blog post, by UK writer EJ Knight of the Allonym Books Collective, is such a thoughtful and perceptive take on Matthew Scudder’s New York that I wanted to share it with y’all. It seems especially apt today, with the opening of A Walk Among the Tombstones just two days away. The film, I’m delighted to report, makes great use of the city of New York, with scenes on location throughout the varied neighborhoods of the Five Boroughs, leading to a climax in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. But let me turn it over to EJ Knight:
In a timely addition to the series of occasional blogs about other crime writers, allonymbooks author EJ Knight ponders the crime novels by Lawrence Block from which the imminently released film A Walk Among The Tombstones is drawn.
I’ve visited New York many, many times over the years and, much as my allonymbooks stablemate Evie Woolmore found Warsaw an inspiration for her novel Rising Up, so my slow wanderings around one of the world’s great cities inspired me in my writing. But unlike Evie, the majority of my visits to New York have not been by plane, car or train. They have been in the pedestrianised byways of my imagination, walking slowly, patiently, doggedly in the long shadow cast by Matt Scudder. For while the upcoming adaptation of Lawrence Block’s tenth Scudder novel is being widely praised already for Liam Neeson’s portrayal of Block’s complex ex-cop, for me the Scudder books feature another powerful and dominating character: New York City.
Cities are notoriously as fickle as unfaithful lovers, as sparklingly delightful in summer sun as they can be menacing and unpredictable as the winter twilight encroaches. Yet New York is a faithful mistress to Scudder, much like Elaine, his ex-prostitute girlfriend. She knows him well, her constant presence a reassurance, even if he must share her from time to time with strangers. If man’s inhumanity to man continues to etch deeper marks in Scudder, if – despite all that he has seen and learned of the victims he helps – he still strives to take everything in his stride, it is not the city that will let him down, desert him, shock or betray him. Indeed, while Scudder rarely comments objectively on New York, Block’s characterisations of its inhabitants – racially and culturally diverse, corrupt and noble, timeless and rudely modern, drunk and sober – are New York as much as the basements of churches, the diners and bars, the streets of the Village and the hotel room on the 50s Scudder inhabits. Likewise, Scudder lives around the clock of the twenty-four hour city, as able to assume the respectable routines of the worker bees as he is to sit out the the small, dark hours in bars where the truth glistens deep in a glass of honey-coloured bourbon. He is both constantly Scudder and compellingly desperate not to be him any more. And if New York is a city where one can be anyone one wishes to be, then Scudder’s strength is his silent empathy with the victims who surely wish this had not happened to them.
For Scudder is, it seems to me, in pursuit of the restoration of equilibrium. Nothing can alter the path taken by the wayward bullet that killed Estrellita Rivera. And if in solving the crimes he is not in pursuit of justice as such, then he is certainly watching both sides of the scales, minutely and patiently adjusting and arranging the weight of consequence that will restore some sense of balance to those destabilised by the crimes that happen to them. Over the course of the series of books, Scudder’s own scales are eventually quietly and minutely adjusted by those close to him: Elaine, TJ, Jim Faber. And if the ground beneath him creaks and stirs much as it does when the A Train rattles through columns of steel, then it soon settles again.
EJ Knight is the author of Broadway Murder of 1928, available for Kindle from all Amazon sites.
A review of AWATT will appear shortly on this blog. In the meantime, check out Cadell Blackstock’s consideration of the pluses and pitfalls of adapting Scudder to the screen.
RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO. Universal International, 1954. Audie Murphy, Susan Cabot, Dan Duryea, Abbe Lane, Russell Johnson, Paul Birch, William Pullen, Jack Elam, Denver Pyle. Director: Jesse Hibbs.
While Ride Clear of Diablo may not be the best Western ever made, it’s nevertheless an entertaining one. Directed by Jesse Hibbs, the film stars soldier-turned-actor Audie Murphy as Clay O’Mara, a man who seeks revenge for the murder of both his father and brother at the hands of cow rustlers.
O’Mara’s good with a gun, but he’s still got a lot to learn about how the world really works. It’s this juxtaposition of fluidity with guns and naivety about society that makes Murphy’s O’Mara an interesting character. True, O’Mara’s not the sort of brooding hero that Randolph Scott portrayed so successfully in the Ranown cycle, but he’s a step above the typical gunslinger hero that populated hundreds of 1950s Westerns.
And there’s more to the film than Murphy. Although the former World War II hero got top billing, the real star of the show is Dan Duryea, an actor so incredibly good in portraying bad guys. In Diablo, Duryea portrays Whitey Kincade, a wild-eyed outlaw with a hyena laugh who takes a liking to the green Clay O’Mara.
After a series of twists and turns, Kincade eventually teams up with O’Mara and assists him in capturing and killing the men who were both directly, and indirectly, responsible for the deaths of his brother and father.
O’Mara has another interest besides revenge. Her name is Laurie Canyon (Susan Cabot). She happens to be the niece of the sheriff, Fred Kenyon (a well cast Paul Birch), who hires O’Mara and instructs him, for dubious reasons, to bring Kincade in for justice. She also just happens to be engaged to local attorney, Tom Meredith (William Pullen), who is actually the man responsible for murdering O’Mara’s brother and father. The plot thickens.
Along for the wild ride in and out of Diablo is future Gilligan’s Island star, Russell Johnson, who portrays Jed Ringer, a criminal and a double-crosser who (deservedly) gets it in the chest from Murphy’s character in a dank silver mine. Abbe Lane portrays Kate, a saloon girl and Ringer’s lady friend, who, unlike the men she associates with, turns out to have a conscience.
While there’s not all that much in the way of exceptional cinematography, the action sequences are both well filmed and choreographed, particularly those where Murphy is at the center of attention.
At the end of the day, however, it’s Duryea, not Murphy, who makes this film worth watching. If you like Duryea as a crazed villain with a wild laugh and a devil-may-care grin, you’re just going to love watching Ride Clear of Diablo. It may not be one of the fine character actor’s best-known performances, but it’s surely a memorable one.
JOHN RACKHAM – Dark Planet. Ace Double 13805, paperback original, 1971. Published back to back with The Herod Men, by Nick Kamin. Cover art by Jack Gaughan.
I don’t read nearly as much science fiction as I used to. I don’t care for fantasy, except on occasion the humorous kind. I’m not interested in military science fiction, even though the first three Star Wars movies were a lot of fun. I don’t like long series of books in the same world or universe, especially the big fat thick ones. I know if I ever start one, either I’ll never finish or (wonder of wonders) it is what I’m looking for and it sucks all of the reading time out of my day.
I thought I’d like the new fad, or at least I think it is, of steampunk SF and fantasy — the kind that takes place in Victorian times — but I quickly discovered that a little bit of gaslights, diesel-powered zeppelins and intricately machined robots goes a long way. (If I’m mischaracterizing the genre, I assume someone will let me know, gently, of course.)
I assumed for a while that, even no one’s publishing it, what I like is good old-fashioned space opera, until I tried to read one of E. E. “Doc” Smith’s old Lensman series. No for me, not any more, not stickboard characters like this. Maybe I’m too old for science fiction, both the current variety and last century’s.
Or maybe not. Coming across a duplicate copy of one of Ace’s well-remembered and long-lost Ace Doubles, I gave it a try, and while Dark Planet showed its roots far too clearly, it was a lot of fun to read. I liked it. It’s my era of Science Fiction, circa 1966-72, when I wasn’t yet 30 but had started my teaching career and life was as fine as it could be. Maybe everyone has their own particular niche in terms of favorite reading material, and could it be that I’ve only been reading the Wrong Stuff?
Stephen Query is the protagonist in this one. He’s a misfit in the world of humanity in which he is forced to live. He doesn’t belong. He walks to the beat of a different drummer. He’s been forced out of the Space Service, where he thought he’d found a home, and sentenced to a life of drudgery and loneliness on a world with an atmosphere so noxious that it would dissolve the clothing right off your back. Sentenced there unjustly for disobeying a high-ranking officer’s direct orders. A world that’s fit only as a stopping-off and refitting station for spaceships on their way to fight in another part of the galaxy.
But loneliness he doesn’t mind, and it comes with some dismay to learn that he has been pardoned and is forcibly ordered to ship out and off to war. But the ship is sabotaged, and he and the Admiral and the Admiral’s daughter are forced to make a crash landing on the planet.
The Admiral’s daughter has one outstanding feature, according to the author, and that is her bosom. Her breasts are mentioned with obvious admiration several times, and on a planet where clothing dissolves, along with all other non-living material, we think — or at least I did — we have an inkling where this is going.
Wrong. It turns out that the world, previously unexplored, is inhabited. Not only by the people who eventually rescue the unlucky trio, but there are also sentient beings on the upper levels of the planet. Not only that, but only Query can communicate with them, being a human of other talents, and not only mentally and emphatically, but in a (shall we say) in a more sensual way, or so I gathered — since we the readers do not have the same talents, but need to be given hints at times as to what is transpiring.
Very reminiscent, I thought, of novels of the late 40s, by authors such as Henry Kuttner, in only a slightly upgraded and a bit more sophisticated telling, complete with happy ending.
But the most enjoyable aspect of this short novel (just over 100 pages, but of small print) is that I both did and didn’t know exactly where the novel was going. Not Hugo-winning material at all, in any year, don’t get me wrong about that, but this fit the bill at exactly the time I wanted to read it. Good stuff!