Dec 202014
 
IT’S ABOUT CRIME
by Marv Lachman


FRANCIS BEEDING – Death Walks in Eastrepps. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1931. [Insp. Wilkins]. Mystery League, US, hardcover, 1931. Reprinted several times, including Norton, US, hardcover, 1966; Dover, US, trade paperback, 1980.

   Francis Beeding’s Death Walks in Eastrepps comes well recommended. Vincent Starrett called it one of the ten best mysteries of all time when it came out, and he repeated this as late as 1965 when he did an outrageously bad introduction for a hardcover reprint in Norton’s ill-fated Seagull Library of Mystery and Suspense.

   I had better document my charge. Though he doesn’t actually disclose the killer, Starrett gives away almost every other surprise. This, mind you, is not in a critical work dissecting a classic but in the introduction to a new edition that readers are presumably ready to start.

   Starrett even commits a careless error, claiming that Beeding’s famous numbered series of Colonel Granby novels were published in order, e.g., The One Sane Man, The Two Undertakers, The Three Fishers, et al.

   Actually, the first book in the series was The Six Proud Walkers (1928). It was followed by The Five Flamboys (1929). The One Sane Man did not come along until 1934, by which time Beeding had already used five numbers in his titles.

   Just because Vincent Starrett had an off day is no reason to miss Death Walks in Eastrepps. The edition to buy and read is the brand new paperback by Dover. It has no intro duction and needs none. The book speaks for itself, a throwback to a time when authors felt the need to provide mysteries that were long, inventive, and contained many surprises.

   A series of murders takes place in an East Norfolk resort town. The puzzle is a good one, though the identity of the killer is far from impossible to guess. Things move at a fast pace, and a bonus is the excellent description of the effect of these murders on a resort during its summer season.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1981 (slightly revised).


 Posted by at 12:30 am
Dec 192014
 

Way back at the beginning of the year a mystery novel by a certain Literary Fiction Author was published, and said author proceeded to make a number of derogatory comments about crime fiction and those who read it. I had the opportunity to respond in an editorial in Crimespree Magazine, and that response is below.

As we celebrate the season, I wish you joy, happiness, and light. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be a part of this community.

 

I’m an only child, but I didn’t grow up alone. I solved crimes with my buddy Nancy Drew. I hung out with the good men and women of the 87th Precinct in Isola. I rode the Orient Express with Monsieur Poirot. I fished with Santiago and had a crush on Doc in Monterey.

As I got older, my extended family grew. I got sober with Matt Scudder and ate lunch with Bernie Rhodenbarr and Carolyn Kaiser. I tromped around the French Quarter and peered into Louisiana’s misty bayous with Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel. I followed Serge all the way to Florida. I hiked into the dark woods of Maine with Charlie Parker. I was shown around LA by Harry Bosch, Joe Pike, and Elvis Cole. I fell in love with Copenhagen while following Louise Rick. I sang along to Hank Williams with Tom Thorne. I glimpsed evil with Tony Hill. I crept through Edinburgh’s alleys with Rebus. I rode around The Hollows with Jones Cooper.

I could go on (and on), but you get the idea. These characters and stories—and the authors who create them—have made my life infinitely richer. They have contributed to how I view and interact with the world, giving my perception and understanding of human nature layers and depth I would otherwise lack.

Crime fiction is not about crime any more than science fiction is about science or romance is about sex. It is about the human condition. It is about aspects of society we might prefer to ignore. It is rife with social commentary that gives us room for thoughtful consideration. It is delivered in prose that can be sharp, languid, or both.

I often hear people say that readers like mysteries because they enjoy seeing good triumph over evil. I don’t necessarily agree. For me, the best mysteries are less about the solution or even seeing justice served. They’re about the process, about how human beings interact with each other and the world around us often in the most trying of circumstances.

Crime fiction is sometimes dismissed as being less “deep” or “worthwhile” than other forms of fiction. I would venture, though, that this dismissal comes from people who aren’t familiar with the books that have enlivened my five decades on the planet. These stories are clever, insightful, intelligent, astute, and sometimes funny.

I’m a fairly well-educated person with a decent vocabulary, and yet I frequently look up words used in the books I read. So those who think that crime fiction is written with less literary flair than other forms of fiction are also sorely mistaken.

In addition to giving me glimpses into locales real and imagined, crime fiction shows me aspects of history through a unique lens, one of the personal perspectives of characters (and, by extension, authors). It also captures the cultural details of particular eras that might otherwise be lost.

Crime fiction consistently occupies spots on bestseller lists because it engages readers with stories and characters that range from clever and light to terrifying and gruesome. Some stories follow formulas, yes, because those formulas work, especially when they’re used by authors with remarkable storytelling skills.

I’m incredibly lucky to know a lot of people who read and some who write crime fiction. They are among the finest people on the planet. To those who sneer at readers and authors of genre fiction generally and crime fiction specifically, I say: meet my tribe, my family. Get to know us. We might surprise you. 

 

Dec 192014
 
Today I reached the million word mark for the year, the tenth year in a row I've written that many words. Since I recently calculated the total wordage for my career as approximately 21.5 million, that means I've done almost as much in the past ten years as I wrote in the 28 years before that. But I've had some excellent opportunities and wanted to make the most of them. The first time I

“A Real Nice Guy” by William F. Nolan

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Dec 192014
 

Gravetapping by Ben Boulden


Posted: 18 Dec 2014 07:31 PM PST
“His name was Jimmie Prescott and he is thirty-one years of age. Five foot ten. Slight build.”

He is a loner. A sniper. A killer. The sort of sniper who sets up over a busy city street and randomly chooses a target. A victim. It is the spontaneity that thrills him, and, by his own reckoning, he is the best. The best because he has 41 notches on his rifle, and, while there have been a few close calls, he has no real fear of capture.

“A Real Nice Guy” is a stylish crime story written by William F. Nolan, a favorite author of mine, originally published in the April 1980 issue of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. It is something of a battle of sociopaths—both bad, of course—and while the ending is less than surprising the journey is ideal. The prose is smooth and, especially the non-dialogue narrative, is something like a brassy jazz riff—

“He was a master. He never missed a target, never wasted a shot. He was cool and nerveless and smooth, and totally without conscience.”

It is short. Third person, and very much worth seeking out. But, in the interest of fairness, that is exactly what I think of all Mr Nolan’s short work.

I read “A Real Nice Guy” in The New Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction, published in 2013 by Running Press, and edited by Maxim Jakubowski.

IN DEFENSE OF GOD by Lenny Levinson

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Dec 192014
 
IN DEFENSE OF GOD by Lenny Levinson

Let’s face it - God has gone out of style.  Many consider God a delusion, an anachronism, a fallacy, a big scam.

I still believe in God.  How can anyone still believe God in this modern technological age?  I must be stupid, superstitious, unscientific and/or narrow-minded, right?

I believe in God because I’ve been forced by the nature of my mind to confront a certain nagging question:  HOW DID LIFE BEGIN?

Scientists theorize that life began in some warm primordial pool of water in some sleepy lagoon somewhere, aided by natural selection, random mutations and perhaps cosmic rays.  But specifically, how did life actually begin?  Scientists cannot answer that question definitively, or create life itself despite multi-million dollar laboratories filled with the latest gene-splicing and other jazzy equipment.

Modern science believes that nothing simply happens, therefore everything is caused.  Modern science does not believe in spontaneous generation.  

Well folks, if nothing simply happens, and everything is caused, what caused life to begin?  According to the rigorous principles of science and logic, it seems reasonable to postulate that SOMETHING had to jumpstart life, some force, energy, intelligence, spark or imperative.  And that force, energy, intelligence, spark or imperative has been called, by various people at various times, God, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, the Dharmakaya of Buddhism, the Great Spirit of the Plains Indians, Yusn the Lifegiver of the Apaches, the Logos of the ancient Greeks, the Force of the Star Wars movies, or the Tao which often is translated as The Way, or the term I prefer, the Process.  Spinoza believed that God and scientific laws were one and the same.  And these are only a sampling of the many names and concepts of God.

In order to explain the God phenomenon, many books have been written such as the Bible, the Koran, the Buddhist sutras, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, etc.  These books were written long ago by people at an earlier stage of human consciousness.  They were trying to describe the indescribable, which produced a language similar to mythology and poetry.  Admittedly, these books are not precise scientific documents, but why should the truth of science always trump the truth of poetry? 

On NPR a few years ago, a renowned scientist atheist was asked the big question:  How did life begin?  He replied:  “Just because I can’t explain how life began - that doesn’t mean I’m going to believe in some kind of god.”

That is the crux of the matter.  Atheists, agnostics and other types of non-believers shrink from confronting the big question, evidently because they’re afraid of where it will lead.  Why, it might cause them to consider the possibility of some kind of Great Spirit or God jumpstarting life, but unfortunately God and religion are so terribly unfashionable these days, and all their friends will stop talking with them, no one will take them seriously anymore, and they will be considered stupid, superstitious, unscientific and/or narrow-minded.

Dec 192014
 
Stephen Dusack has a bit of a problem. After suffering major injuries in a train derailment he is under the care of both doctors and psychiatrists. He has been interviewed multiple times about his life history and each time he tells his story about growing up in South Africa, working for a mining company, and recently leaving that country for England where he hoped to start life anew in the little village of Studdold all the medical staff tend to give the impression that they doubt his veracity. They all think he is David Orme and send Stephen home with Orme's secretary and business associate Howard Downey. Broke and without even having started his new job Dusack reluctantly agrees. At Orme's massive estate protected by electronic gates and a gun toting chauffeur Stephen's identity crisis plunges into a nightmare world of conspiracy, paranoia and murder attempts.

Davies spent most of his writing career riffing on themes of identity confusion and amnesia. He wrote in all genres often blending and hybridizing well known tropes of detective fiction (amnesia victims) and science fiction (mind altering drugs) into a kind of new subgenre of his own invention. Psychogeist (1966) tells of a young man who cannot remember who he is and alternates with his hallucinatory dreams of an alien world that parallel the story of his recovery from amnesia. Or is he actually an alien who crash landed on Earth? Probably his best known crime novel treatment of identity loss is his second novel Who Is Lewis Pinder? (1965), originally titled Man Out of Nowhere in the UK. Give Me Back Myself (1971) belongs with Davies' crime fiction novels. It presents the story of Stephen's search for his true identity as a tale of an unbelievable conspiracy with no introduction of either supernatural or science fiction elements.

In these amnesia novels we are always hoping for the hapless protagonist to find at least one ally who will believe his story, help him uncover the truth and bring the villainy to light. Stephen finds his allies quite by accident when he asks for directions of his next door neighbor Ambrose Kenny. Later Kenny's daughter Fran will stop by for her weekly visit and she will turn out to be both confidante and detective cohort. The manner in which Stephen and his two allies slowly uncover the plot is done with ingenuity and a few startling surprises. You have to credit Davies with a fertile imagination in continually finding new methods to essentially tell the same story repeatedly.

Though his books are out of print copies of nearly every one of Davies' fascinating books are easily found in the used book market at very affordable prices. I'm sure many of his books, not just Give Me Back Myself, can be find both in US and UK libraries as well.

I read this book for both Bev Hankins' Silver Age Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge and Rich Westwood's 1971 Mystery Reading Challenge. For more on L. P. Davies breathtaking displays of variation on the theme of amnesia and identity confusion see Sergio Angelini's reviews of Man Out of Nowhere and The Alien.
 Posted by at 1:52 pm
Dec 192014
 
I will be taking a week or so off here. If someone else wants to collect the links next week, that would be great. If this is incomplete today,  I apologize. 




Sergio Angelini, BLACK ALICE, Thomas S. Disch, John Sladek
Brian Busby, NANCY MCVEIGH OF THE MONK ROAD, Henry Mainer
Bill Crider, SHOOT THE PRESIDENT: ARE YOU MAD?, Frank McAuliffe
Martin Edwards, CASUAL SLAUGHTERS, James Quince
Curt Evans, THE TIN TREE, James Quince
Rick Horton, THE BONDAGE OF BALLINGER, Roswell Fields
Jerry House, QUICK FIXES: TALES OF REPAIRMAN JACK, F. Paul Wilson
Randy Johnson, CALYPSO, Ed McBain
George Kelley, MISTLETOE MYSTERIES, edited by Charlotte MacLeod
Margot Kinberg, THE SNATCH, Bill Pronzini
K.A. Laity, RED HARVEST, Dashiell Hammett
B.V. Lawson, UNDER THE SNOW, Kerstin Ekman
Evan Lewis,  HARD GUY, James Lawson
Todd Mason, FANTASTIC STORIES OF THE WEIrD AND WONDROUS, ed. Martin Greenberg
J.F. Norris, GIVE ME BACK TO MYSELF, L.P. Davies
James Reasoner, Christmas at the Ranch, Elmer Kelton
Richard Robinson, FREDERICK NEBEL
Kevin Tipple, PROTECTORS, ed. Thomas Pluck
TracyK, DEATH IS DISGUISE, Caroline Graham
Prashant Trikannad, BULLET PROOF, Frank Kane
Dec 192014
 
CHRISTMAS AT THE RANCH is a collection of three autobiographical essays by Elmer Kelton that was published in 2003 by McMurry University in Abilene, Texas.  Kelton writes about childhood Christmases spent on the ranch where he grew up and where his father was the foreman, as well as other holiday seasons spent at his grandparents' ranch. The middle section of the book concerns the Christmases
Dec 192014
 
Another holiday season, another Advent Ghosts Day. Loren Eaton who blogs at I Saw Lightning Fall invites writers to dabble in a yuletide drabble each year at this time. It's his way to help honor the Victorian tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas time and also bringing together the blogging and writing community. Drabble? That's a short short story, a micro story I'd call it, of exactly 100 words. No more, no less. Below is my contribution for this wintry ghostly time of year. It's a twofold tribute to Victorian ghost stories and the cautionary tales that warn children to behave themselves...or else.

"Eyes Full of Tinsel and Fire"

The little boy placed the Yule log on the andirons along with kindling, struck a match and set the log ablaze.  He sat there transfixed by the crackling and popping sounds and the dance of the yellow and orange flames.  It was his private fire, his alone.

Then an explosive pop and the log split in two. Smoke poured into the room like a carpet of soot unfurling. Out of the smoke a scaly clawed hand was reaching for something.

And a scratchy snarling voice cried out from the hearth, "Playing with matches again? Here's your coal, you naughty boy!"


For more Christmas themed drabbles please visit Loren's blog where he has collected the links to all the participants' blogs. There are also a few stories posted here for those who don't have blogs. They make for quite a variety of chilling holiday visions and events.
 Posted by at 4:09 am