Sep 172014
 

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.

Sep 172014
 

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 Admiration of…. Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder novels

by allonymbooks

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.

liam and tjI’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.

 Posted by at 1:42 pm
Sep 172014
 
Aside from being a swell guy, Ben Solomon had a story in the Shamus Sampler and writes the kind of hardboiled PI fiction in the style that started it all. Because his stories are now being collected in a handy volume I figured it might be nice to have him tell all of you about his influences...

A Writer Under the Influence
By Ben Solomon

The Great Edgar with his great head propped upon a scarecrow frame, awash in absinthe or opium or both. Dylan Thomas spitting and slurring poetry through sprays of whiskey at the White Horse Tavern.
Romantic images, after a fashion. Bleak and dark, stark takes on the artistic life. The stuff of sickness, ill spirit, madness. The stuff of creative myth and bloated legend.
A pathetic panorama of writers and painters sprang to mind when Sons of Spade suggested I riff on my influences. My reflection pales and runs and hides behind vast quantities of coffee, an over-indulgence in vaping. Tame egresses by anyone's comparison.
Of course they had in mind the influences behind my latest book.  What inspired me, moved me and otherwise sparked the fire behind "The Hard-Boiled Detective 1"? It sure wasn't no contract with Doubleday. No Helen of Troy, either. Chalk it up more to the likes Rocky Sullivan and Cody Jarrett.
You could say I grew up with James Cagney. The golden age of Hollywood, presented on late night TV, dazzled and captivated me throughout my childhood. Fairy tales, King Arthur and other bedtime stories gave way quick to "Angels With Dirty Faces," "I was a Fugitive From a Chain Gang" and "Flash Gordon." I'm not talking about glitz and glamour or sheer spectacle. What got me most were rough and tumble characters telling a hard-nosed tale, larger than life performers dominating the silver nitrate, their patter and manner and dress. The energy and spirit of those flicks captured me like nothing else.
For a crash course in narrative form, you can't do any better than the Warners gangster cycle. Plotting, pacing, character arcs and dramatic arcs, comic relief and the big finish—those movies had it all, with plenty of action and sex thrown in, too.
The work of Bogart, Huston and Hawks led me to books. S.S. Van Dine, Hammett and Chandler led the way, the simplicity and strength of Chandler making the greatest impact on me.
Funny thing, it took a bad boy writer of the form to impel my taking a crack at it. My first read of a trio of Mike Hammer stories by Mickey Spillane knocked my socks off. Sure, this wasn't no Dashiell Chandler, no great shakes in the literature department. But Spillane was like Black Mask grown up. Adult comic books in words. For me, this work translated that hard-boiled spirit from the cinematic screen to the page.
It's awful subjective when a piece of creative razzle-dazzle knocks the stuffing out of you. But I saw plenty in Spillane's work. I could taste Edward G. Robinson's cigar, feel Bette Davis's stiff swagger, run with George Raft down the sidewalk.
Those yarns made me want it, to capture the zest of those films, to interpret and reinvent every flavor I got from those movies into the black and white combination of letters on the page.
Call it homage. Call it a valentine. Short stories on mugs and molls and murder, a celebration of a vanished era, a world where losers outnumber winners, where right and wrong spar like some two-headed jack-in-a-box. Call it "The Hard-Boiled Detective 1."


Ben Solomon, a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, lives and writes in Chicago.  He launched his ongoing, short story series in February 2013, offering three yarns a month to subscribers. His sleuth has appeared in e-zines across the web as well as the 2014 anthology "The Shamus Sampler II." Another adventure is scheduled to appear in an upcoming anthology published by Fox Spirit Books.

"The Hard-Boiled Detective 1," the first collection from Solomon's series is available in paperback from Amazon.

The eBook is available from many distributors, including:
Untreed Reads
OmniLit.com
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
and coming soon to Apple iBooks, etc.

Subscription info about his series and samples can be found here:
http://thehardboileddetective.com/

Sep 172014
 
“For the second book, [I was] interested in Detroit, especially the “ruin porn” photographs we see coming out of the city. It’s incredible to have this decay in the middle of a powerful, wealthy country. But it’s also my secret way of writing about Johannesburg again, as I did in Zoo City—the cities have a lot in common. They look like blighted, terrible places from the outside, with boarded up buildings and crime and poverty and squatters—just brokenness. It becomes a symbol for everything that’s wrong with South Africa and I think people feel the same way about Detroit. But both Johannesburg and Detroit are places that people live and I wanted to get to the spark and fire underneath it all, and explore the ways that makes the place home.”

- Lauren Beukes talks to Bustle about the setting of her new novel, Broken Monsters.

CONCRETE ANGEL

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Sep 172014
 


        


Here it is. Thanks to Jason Pinter at Polis Books for making this happen and for working with me on such a gorgeous book jacket. Hope my words can live up to this cover. And thanks to those who weighed in on my choice. 


Sep 172014
 
An atmospheric and eagerly-awaited debut novel from acclaimed crime writer Patricia Abbott, set in Philadelphia in the 1970's about a family torn apart by a mother straight out of "Mommy Dearest", and her children who are at first victims but soon learn they must fight back to survive. Eve Moran has always wanted “things” and has proven both inventive and tenacious in getting and keeping them
Sep 172014
 
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


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.

 Posted by at 1:52 am
Sep 172014
 

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!

 Posted by at 1:02 am
Sep 162014
 

Danielle Burby 

When Josh asked me to take over his blog for today (because he is still recovering from shoulder surgery), I couldn't, for the life of me, decide what I wanted to write about. Foreign rights? The vote for Scottish independence and the power of the historical narrative to impact life today? Why I love stories that tackle social issues? Nah. But there is something people have been asking me about a lot recently and that I'm never sure quite how to handle. It's something I love discussing, but feel a little bit strange talking about with people who know me in my publishing life. My experience as a junior agent/playwright. 
 
For those who don't know, I am a produced, and agented, playwright. It's a big, crazy, adventure that I never explicitly planned to take, but that brings me some of the greatest pride and joy I've ever felt. 
 
Ultimately, I see my two careers as very different, but complimentary, parts of my life. I strongly believe that being a writer myself makes me much more sensitive to the needs of authors, especially when it comes to communication on the editorial side. I, too, have had people tell me, "I love your work, but please tear up the entire thing and rewrite it." I have been given editorial advice I didn't agree with and stood my ground, defended my choices. On the flip side, I have also learned to hear criticism, no matter how painful it may be, and to accept when I need to make changes. I honestly don't want to tell you how many times I rewrote my first play. I actually changed the ending midway through the play's run, if you can believe it! Now, although the play has already been produced and reviewed, I know I'll have to go in and make more changes if I want it to move up in the production ranks, as I hope it does. 
 
What this means for the writers I work with is that I understand exactly what I 'm asking of them when I write a big fat editorial letter and say, "So look...we need to completely rework the structure here," or, "That character that we both love actually doesn't belong in this particular book," or even, "You might want to consider changing genres." I give my notes with all the empathy in the word and I have the battle scars to prove it. 
 
Working on the agenting side also gives me a very clear perspective as to what it's like out there for writers. It shows me how important it is to be polite and professional at all times, whether you're a writer, an editor, or an agent. I've learned the importance of email tone and how to develop relationships. I think every writer should make a real effort to understand the business side of the industry because sometimes, when wrapped up in the creative side, it can be hard to remember that that's just what this is: a business. 
 
However, it is a business that revolves around creativity. One of my favorite parts of my job is looking into the heart of a narrative and figuring out, with the author, how to bring it to the surface. I love talking to authors about their visions and working as a team to strengthen their ideas and take the book another step forward. As a writer, I know that there's only so far you can bring a story on your own. As a publishing professional, I like to be the person, or one of the people, who helps someone take their novel one step farther. 
 
Ultimately, I'm a fiction junkie and I love being part of the conversation, whether as a reader, a writer, or a junior agent/assistant. So yes, I am both a person who writes and a person who works with writers. I love those duel roles because they give me a broader perspective, and by understanding both sides of the same coin, my love for each is cemented and my ability in each is strengthened. I wouldn't have it any other way.