from fine writer Lev Levinson REMEMBERING TONY

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Jan 312015

Tony was one of the most civilized, generous, reasonable people I ever met.  But he had one serious weakness which proved fatal.  He liked rough trade.

“Rough trade” refers to violent underclass men.  Tony picked them up in the Times Square district during that long-ago era before Times Square became a branch of Disney World.

I don’t know why Tony paid for sex, because he was good-looking, around six foot three, slim, good posture, well-dressed, charming, and worldly, having traveled extensively when in the Navy, and then as companion to wealthy men, one of whom was from a country Tony referred to as “Pseudo Arabia.”

Perhaps Tony tired of ordinary free consensual sex and wanted forbidden thrills, which probably also explained the Marquis de Sade.

Tony and I were neighbors and friends for 26 years.  We lived in the same deteriorating apartment building near 9th Avenue on the edge of Hell’s Kitchen, New York City.  Occasionally he invited me to parties in his pad, or homes of other people.  He was Puerto Rican and sometimes brought me Puerto Rican food that he or members of his family had prepared, because he knew I liked “comidas criollas”, since I’d been married once upon a time to a Cuban.

He never made a pass at me, although we were alone on numerous occasions.  He even became friendly with one of my girlfriends, to whom he gave an expensive bicycle he no longer used.  He told me she was “very much in love” with me, which came as a big surprise, and indicates how obtuse I was and probably still am.

Everyone in our eight-story building of over 100 apartments knew that Tony liked rough trade.  Often we’d see them entering or leaving the building with him.  Nobody ever complained because Tony was well-liked, and everyone was all too aware of his own or her own personal weaknesses.  There were many visitors, sleepovers and unconventional living arrangements in that building of mostly unmarried people.  And New Yorkers mind their own business.

Tony lived on the seventh floor of the building, I on the sixth.  One evening I was home alone, reading, when I heard a commotion on the stairs next to my front door.  It sounded like horses galloping down the stairs, then they were gone.  I didn’t think much about it because many strange people lived in the building, including me, and many odd events had occurred within its walls over the years, a few perpetrated by me.

Next morning I learned that Tony had been beaten nearly to death by rough trade who also ransacked his apartment.  He was found unconscious on the floor by his roommate, who also was gay but they weren’t lovers.  His roommate had spent the night elsewhere.  The tumult I heard on the stairs apparently was Tony’s assailants fleeing the scene of the crime.

When Tony returned home from the hospital, he looked like a different person, gaunt, traumatized, facial features altered by his horrific experience, far different from the usual nonchalant Tony I’d known.

When I finally spoke with him alone in his apartment, he explained that he’d been home alone watching tv, his roommate having gone out, when someone knocked on his door.  Of course, one of the big no-nos in Manhattan was:  “Never open your door without looking through the peephole first.”  But Tony broke the rule, because he assumed it was one of his friends who lived in the building, so he opened the door without looking.  Two big guys were there, and proceeded to beat him to a pulp.

Tony told me he’d never seen them before, but I and everyone else in the building never believed that scenario.  We assumed that two of his rough trade sex partners returned to do a number on him, and he enthusiastically received them until firsts started flying.  They never were apprehended, by the way.

Tony’s personality was changed totally by the experience.  No longer was he charming, happy-go-lucky, immaculate in appearance, good storyteller and raconteur.  Instead he became morose, shaved sloppily, dressed haphazardly, often smelled as if he’d pooped his pants.  He seemed to have suffered brain damage, losing around 20 I.Q. points, quite different from the sharp thinker I remembered.

Previously he’d been talkative, now barely spoke at all.  I didn’t know what to say to him.  Conversation requires at least two participants.  Gradually our friendship fizzled out.  We said hello when passing on the sidewalk, or meeting in the elevator, but that was it.

Then I noticed something strange.  Occasionally when I left the building, I noticed Tony across the street, gazing gloomily at the entrance to our building, or looking up at the window of his apartment seven stories high.  I didn’t know what to make of it.

Then one day I rode the elevator down, the door opened and I stumbled into chaos in the lobby full of my tenant neighbors,  One of the women, Gina, stark consternation on her face, said excitedly to me, “Tony just jumped out his window!”

I looked past her through the door window to a body sprawled on the pavement.  Gina explained that she was cooking something in her kitchen, when she heard a loud slam outside.  Her apartment window was on the first floor near the entrance.

Somebody already had called 911.  I still needed to go somewhere, despite this real-life human tragedy.  Which meant I had to walk past Tony.  I opened the door and stepped outside.  He was lying partially on his side, blood pooling around his smashed head, most horrible sight of my life.  I was stunned, stared, felt sick, couldn’t believe my friend and neighbor Tony lay crumpled there.

I couldn’t simply stand and gawk, nothing I could do for him, so continued to my appointment, don’t remember what or where.  When I returned later, Tony was gone.  The super had tried to clean up the blood, but a stain remained.

I had difficulty accepting that Tony actually committed suicide, and wondered what he thought as he dropped to the cement.  Was he glad that soon his pain would end?  Or did he think perhaps he shouldn’t have jumped, but it was too late?  What terrible anguish passed through his mind during those final seconds?  He had been raised Roman Catholic, and surely knew that Holy Mother Church considered suicide a sin.  Did he fear the eternal fires of hell?  Or prefer them to the hell he was living through on earth?

I don’t know what the moral of this story should be.  Perhaps we should be more careful about who we sleep with, because they might be monsters beneath their sexy exteriors.

I’ll aways miss Tony because he was essentially good, unusually kind, remarkably insightful and intellectually stimulating most of the time.  I hope the Catholic God took into consideration Tony’s essential goodness, because we don’t ask for our sex drives, which often are very difficult to manage.  They probably cause us more grief than anything else, except the deaths of people we love.

So rest in peace, Tony, wherever you are.  Sorry I didn’t visit you in the hospital, but you know how obsessive I can be about my novels-in-progress.

Often I don’t realize how much certain people mean to me - until they’re gone.

Jan 302015

Perhaps British author, critic and man-about-town Mike Ripley needs to check his calendar. Although we are still in January, he has just published his February column for the Shots Crime & Thriller eZine, "Getting Away with Murder." As always, it's a good look at the state of crime fiction in the U. K. (primarily).

In this month's edition, Mike is off on his usual round of publishers' parties, drinks, new books, drinks, new publications, new/vintage Penguin Book covers (take heart, Green Penguin fans!), old mystery movies, a French police drama series on TV, and drinks. Also: a former US basketball star's first mystery for adults, starring Sherlock Holmes's older brother Mycroft; Sarah Weinman's new blog, including her critique of some narrators of new "domestic suspense" novels who appear to be "TSTL" (Too Stupid To Live); a couple of James Bond, er, "continuation novels"; a forthcoming mystery convention in Italy sponsored by Chianti producers (yes, please); and some chatty previews of books coming down the road - at least, so far, in the U.K. Go read, go enjoy. By the way, this is his 99th column - and he insists the next one, number 100, will be his last...

Jan 302015

A savage ambush...twenty men slaughtered in a brutal massacre...a fortune in gold stolen! This was a crime big enough and bold enough to bring the Outlaw Ranger to the wide-open settlement of Cemetery Butte, where a powerful mining tycoon rode roughshod over any who dared to oppose him. But even that atrocity doesn't prepare G.W. Braddock for the evil that awaits him, stretching bloody hands out of the past. 

Gritty, compelling, and packed with action, the saga of the Outlaw Ranger continues in BLOOD AND GOLD, the third exciting installment in this series from bestselling author James Reasoner.

 on Kindle

The Ringer gets some press

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Jan 302015
It can't have escaped both of you, my dear readers, that The Ringer is about to kick off at Ayr Gaiety Theatre on Feb 11-12.

There's even been some great coverage for the play in the press with the Daily Record, Evening Times, Scots Mag, Ayrshire Post, Highland Times, Rutherglen Reformer and many more running very nice stories.

There's more to come, so will post those when they appear, but in the meantime to keep you informed, and amused, there's a Pinterest page and a video trailer.

OR CALL 01292 288235


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Jan 302015
By Andrez Bergen

While most people conjuring up the Tristan/Tristram and Isolde/Iseult tale of yore probably think love-potion histrionics, armour, amore, King Arthur, much bodice-ripping, Richard Wagner’s opera, or James Franco in one of his lamer film roles, I steer towards something far nicer: A book of myths and legends that I grew up with, illustrated by the great Alice and Martin Provensen.
Martin collaborated on Disney fare like Dumbo and Fantastia, but you might know him best for his creation (in 1952) of Tony the Tiger for Kelloggs. I actually have a coffee mug with that on it. Alice worked with the Walter Lantz Studio, creators of Woody Woodpecker. But it was their imagery as pair that caused the most impact, with eight books making the New York Times list for best-illustrated tomes each year they were published.
Anyway, Alice and Martin are bloody brilliant artists.
My dad picked up for me the myths and legends book I mentioned when I was in primary school, and I call it simply (suitably) Myths & Legends — though the official title is the somewhat long-winded Golden Treasury of Myths and Legends Adapted from the World’s Great Classics (originally published in 1958) with the stories adapted by Anne Terry White. 
So I always dug the tale of Tristram & Iseult (also known as Tristan & Isolde) for the artwork as much as the words and had it in mind for years to adapt the story in some way, somehow. I did pay homage in my novel One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, but on New Year’s Eve I got the bug in my “creative” bonnet to have a swing at the yarn — as a comic book.
Hence Trista & Holt.
Now, before you cough, splutter and/or soapbox that comic books are not real literature and belong nowhere near noir or on this site, let me point you in the direction of writers Alan Moore (who did V for Vendetta, Marvelman and Watchmen, all three of which have appeared on university curriculums apparently — though don't quote me), Frank Miller (Sin City and some of the best Batman and Daredevil escapades), Matt Fraction (Hawkeye) and the great Ed Brubaker — who rebooted Captain America with the 'Winter Soldier' saga and has done comics with names like Criminal and Fatale
So get over it.
If you didn't hack, choke or get judgemental at the mention of sequential stuff, all the better.
Anyway, over Christmas/New Year I was also entrenched in another Dashiell Hammett/Raymond Chandler binge. I do them frequently. But this time I caught up on 95% of the Continental Op stories, along with The Glass Key, The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man (yet again), as well as Marlowe in Playback and The High Window.
So I had this big hardboiled detective vibe happening in my brain, while polishing off my Bullet Gal series — which is hardboiled noir set in the '40s.
And when I started the new comic, of course these influences were going to hang heavy — along with the comic book work of Brubaker, Fraction, Miller, Moore and the pioneering Will Eisner (The Spirit).
Which brings me to the new comic series, the first issue of which will be published at the end of February via IF? Commix [] in Australia.
Hell, there's even a Facebook page [] where I put regular work-in-progress rubbish and waffle on a bit more than here.
What's the score?
Well, it's the 1970s and set in an unnamed city in which crime families flourish and the police pinch pennies from those with most power. Our heroes are members of rival clans, star-crossed heirs apparent destined to find love, loss and betrayal.
I have no idea what encouraged me to flip the coin three pages into the new series and set the time frame as the '70s. 
Sure, some of the best crime/gangster movies were made then like The Godfather, The Anderson Tapes, Dirty Harry, The French Connection and A Clockwork Orange — but it's also the era of flares, disco, The Star Wars Holiday Special and CHiPs.
Which makes it all the more fun to tackle. With a serious bent, I swear.

:: Andrez Bergen blogs here:
Jan 302015
(Editor’s note: This is the 133rd installment in our series about great but forgotten books. Today’s tribute comes from Steve Nester, host of Poets of the Tabloid Murder, a weekly Internet radio show heard on the Public Radio Exchange [PRX]. Nester is also a freelance writer, who has become a frequent contributor to this series; his last entry looked back at 1940’s They Don’t Dance Much, by James Ross.)

Why novelist David Markson put a bullet in the head of his excellent but truncated (just two books) Harry Fannin detective series in order to write experimental fiction is a mystery and, as a hipper-than-thou character might say in one of these novels--which you really need to read--a real drag. May Markson (1927-2010) rest in peace, and may his vaunted later literary work be appreciated and remain available forever; however, he had a talent for the detective genre which he laid to rest way before its time, leaving an appreciative audience hanging. His skill at observing and endowing the dull with sparkle is equal to Raymond Chandler’s. His plots are intriguing enough to hold interest, but not so convoluted as to send the reader off chasing his or her tail--something the great Chandler admitted to doing, though he seemed helpless to stop himself. Epitaph for a Dead Beat (1961) is a well-plotted private-eye novel, a sharp parody of the Beat Generation, and the last in Markson’s series. Somewhere I just know there is a coffeehouse where detective-story aficionados are snapping their fingers in pleasure that both of these novels (Epitaph for a Dead Beat and 1959 predecessor, Epitaph for a Tramp) are still in print.

Wry and brainy and much-wounded, the underemployed narrator, Harry Fannin, is a regular guy. He drives a Chevy and lives on the outskirts of the hippest neighborhood around, New York City’s Greenwich Village. Fannin sticks out like a sore thumb, making him the nonconformist, but no one is able to put down their copy of Howl long enough to see it. The beatniks are insecure, insular, and insolent, as one confronts Fannin hissing, “I might have known you’d be a square. The complacent, scoffing masses--dear God, a religious revelation could appear on their television screens and they’d phone for the repairman.” Although the neighborhood teems with artists and posers, literary types real and affected, Fannin is the most literate character in this novel. He tosses off allusions, wordplay, and insight--making it new, as Ezra Pound admonished, in a manner in which few of this book’s actors do, so stiff is the adherence of those humorless hipsters to the draconian code of serious art which, in their minds at least, separates the doers from the schmoozers, and which saps the joy from the act of creating.

As this murder mystery and missing-person tale begins, Fannin wanders into a Village bar, “a bleak, untinseled cavern as long as a throw from first to second base.” There, flailing poet Ephraim Turk confronts and slaps femme fatale Fern Hoerner, after accusing her of corrupting his girlfriend, Josie Welch. With a “laugh like cashmere,” Fern knows how to turn on the femininity and is the obvious Miss Wonderly to Fannin’s Sam Spade. No pushover, she can hang with the men and turn the louche into lady as easily as changing her earrings.
She was drinking beer from a bottle, lifting her head and tilting her chair against the wall like a man might do. The way she did it would’ve made it acceptable at a DAR meeting.
Fern is cool and possessed in the face of Turk’s aggressive haranguing, but Fannin sees the flint beneath her skin.
I looked back at the girl. Whatever it was, she wasn’t buying. She wasn’t even in the shop. She lifted the bottle deliberately, gazing at him the way she might gaze at a rain she knew she did not have to go out into.
When Fannin acts chivalrously, escorting Fern home--only to find roommate Josie dead--the classic cat-and-mouse game of a P.I. trying to solve a case on the word of self-motivated corroborators, with the police on the other side trying to crack it, begins. As he wades into the affair, Fannin finds no real surprises, just confirmation that beatniks are not as beatific as they claim and that the dollar is still the holiest thing in town.

In time Fannin pieces together a solution to the crime. But there are plenty of pieces and players involved, including a dead novelist and a calculating ex-wife who’s taken possession of his groundbreaking manuscript to claim it as her own; two sisters who try blackmailing that ex-wife, only to have their efforts backfire with their deaths; and the sisters’ wealthy father, who dies merely because he unwittingly got in the way. The noirish sideshow of Fannin’s old college football teammate, who’s now a high-class pimp, makes for a diverting red herring, but above all else there is Fannin’s humanity and realism, revealed quietly and sometimes puckishly, as when he finds the second extorting sister dead. With no clues and a mounting body count, curiosity prompts him to consider opening the locket around her neck, but he stops, thinking “There would be a picture of Philo Vance inside, sticking his tongue at me. I looked at the knife instead.”

Markson has the types down pat, from the cop with “a face which had already seen everything twice, and had been bored the first time,” to the dippy beatniks who come off sounding like a couple of Borscht Belt veterans playing to a younger crowd in the Poconos.
Behind me two others were raving. “--Hitchhiked all the way? Well, man, I hope you read On the Road.--“

“Now how could I read when I’m on the road? I mean, I’ve got my duffle in one hand and I’m using the other to thumb with, so how could I read a book?”
Beneath the catch-the-crook hustle, P.I. novels can be either intense looks into human character or mirrors of their times. Epitaph for a Dead Beat is both. It’s a slap in the face of an artistic movement perverted into a pretentious social phenomenon. The hubris needed to take one step further into the shadows to see how much truth is hidden there is what makes gumshoes tick, and Harry Fannin possesses that with none of the heavy-handed moralizing of so many fictional P.I.s. That makes him all the more real, and all the more missed.

READ MORE:An Interview with David Markson,” by Joey Rubin (Bookslut); “David Markson, R.I.P.,” by Sarah Weinman (Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind).

Forgiving Judas poetry by Tom Piccirilli

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Jan 302015

Reviewers are saying that these are Tom's most personal poems yet
dealing with mortality, the loss of longtime friends and the existential
traps everyday existence.

Why I write poetry by Tom Piccirilli
Poetry is like writing 10 sentence short stories.  They are self-contained screams of self-indulgence.  When the writing is good its faster--much faster than prose--and sometimes you just need that speed to capture the essence of what you're trying to say.  Metaphor isn't frowned against and rhyme and meter are easily sidestepped, if you so choose.

available exclusivey from crossroads press
Jan 302015

Thrilling Detective 1931-11This summer, PulpFest 2015 will salute Ned Pines’ Standard Magazines, also known as Beacon Magazines, Best Books, Better Publications,  Nedor Publishing, and others. It’s most widely known by its nickname, the “Thrilling Group,” bestowed upon it for its use of the word “Thrilling” in many of its titles.

One of the leading publishers of the pulp era, Pines began operations during the Roaring Twenties. In the early years of the Great Depression, he was asked by The American News Company to start a chain of pulp magazines that it would distribute for him. Hiring former literary agent and Frank A. Munsey employee, Leo Margulies, to be his managing editor, Pines launched THRILLING DETECTIVE, THRILLING ADVENTURES, and THRILLING LOVE in late 1931, each selling for a dime. Within two years, the line was expanding, first with THE PHANTOM DETECTIVE, and soon thereafter with THE LONE EAGLE, SKY FIGHTERS, THRILLING RANCH STORIES, and THRILLING WESTERN.


Action Comics 1938Although many pulp collectors find much of the fiction published by the Thrilling line to be somewhat bland, average, or “run-of-the-mill,” they often find the cover art to be quite striking.  So why are we celebrating Standard Magazines in 2015? The pulp line, after all, turns 84 this year. That’s hardly a sexy anniversary. However, many leading figures in the history of Pines Publishing have notable anniversaries in 2015: Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, THRILLING ADVENTURES writer and creator of the first comic book is 125; Tom Curry, western writer and creator of The Rio Kid, and Leo Margulies, managing editor of the “Thrilling Group,” are 115; Norman Daniels, who created the Black Bat and wrote many Phantom Detective, Candid Camera Kid, and Masked Detective stories, and Thrilling publisher Ned Pines are 110; and Mort Weisinger, editor of CAPTAIN FUTURE and other Thrilling magazines, as well as editor of the Superman books for DC Comics, and Leigh Brackett and Henry Kuttner, both noted writers for Standard’s line of science-fiction pulps, are 100 years old. That’s eight reasons to make 2015 the year for Standard Magazines.

So here’s your chance to wish all these giants a “happy birthday” as PulpFest 2015 pays tribute to this leading pulp magazine publisher. The action begins on Thursday evening, August 13th and runs through Sunday, August 16th at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus, Ohio. Click here to learn how to register for “Summer’s Great Pulp Con” and join your friends at the “pop culture center of the universe” for a salute to Ned Pines and the “Thrilling Group!”

(To learn more about Ned Pines and Standard Magazines, pick up a copy of THRILLING DETECTIVE HEROES, edited by John Locke & John Wooley, published by Adventure House, one of the leading purveyors of pulps and pulp reprints. It’s available for $20.)

(Pictured above are the first issue of THRILLING DETECTIVE, dated November 1931 and featuring artwork by an unknown cover artist; the first issue of THRILLING COMICS, dated February 1940 and featuring cover artwork by Alexander Kostuk; and the first issue of DC Comics ACTION COMICS, dated June 1938, and featuring cover artwork by Joe Shuster and the initial appearance of Superman.)


 Posted by at 1:30 pm