Robert Bloch, at least to the small but select audience of this blog, needs no introduction. He is one of the great writers to graduate from the mid-Twentieth Century pulp racket, and—like all true pulp writers—if it sold, he wrote it. He worked several genres including crime, horror, science fiction and fantasy. He is best known for his fine novel Psycho—later transformed into its faithful film adaptation Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho—but his work has a depth and quality rarely seen. If Mr Bloch wrote it, it is likely pretty great.
On the far side of great is his 1958 story “The Hell-Bound Train”. It won the 1959 Hugo Award, and it is the best science fiction story—short or otherwise—I have read in a long time. It features a young bindlestiff called Martin. His father “walked the tracks for the CB&Q” until he met with a drunken accident and his mother ran off with a traveling salesman. He skipped the orphanage and drifted with the rails. He tried his hand at crime, and on a cold and lonely November midnight he determined to go straight—
“No sir, he just wasn’t cut out for petty larceny. It was worse than a sin—it was unprofitable, too. Bad enough to do the Devil’s work, but then get such miserable pay on top of it!”
Martin’s dream of a straight life is interrupted by the unexpected appearance of an unfamiliar running train. The windows dark. Its whistle “screaming like a lost soul.” The conductor who steps from its forward car is off—the way he drags a foot when he walks, and his nonstandard technique of lighting his lantern with his breath. It takes only a moment for an offer of a ride to be tendered, but Martin negotiates a deal. He will gladly ride for a single wish in exchange. He wants, at his own choosing in a moment of happy contentment, to stop time. The conductor accepts the bargain, and Martin is certain he fooled the devil. He finds a job in the nearest town and plots his own happiness, looking for that moment where he wants to spend forever.
“The Hell-Bound Train” is brilliantly executed. Its narrative is seemingly simple, but the simplicity is misleading. A study of misdirection, really. It shows the reader enough to make a conclusion (incorrectly) about where the story will finish, fulfilling that expectation in a way, and then taking it further. And that final step takes the story from pretty good to great. It is very much like the best of The Twilight Zone , and a shame it was never treated in an episode.
“The Hell-Bound Train” was originally published in the September 1958 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I read it in the anthology The Hugo Winners, Volume 1 edited by Isaac Asimov and published by Fawcett Crest in 1973.
JAMES M. REASONER – Texas Wind. Manor, paperback original, 1980. Point Blank, softcover, 2004.
Rumor has it that Manor has gone bankrupt. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but the fact remains that I haven’t seen any of their product in over a year, and distribution was pretty good around here before that.
And I have never seen this book anywhere for sale. If James Reasoner hadn’t sent me a copy personally, I’d have never seen it period. All this leads me to the fairly safe conclusion that if you haven’t obtained a copy for yourself by now, you probably won’t.
It’s a pity, too, because it just may be the best book Manor ever published. They evidently never knew what they had either, because the back of the book is filled with ads for their western novels.
And this is a private eye book, for crying out loud. Cody’s home town is Fort Worth, and I guess maybe he wears cowboy boots, but that’s about it. He’s hired to find a missing daughter, who maybe has run off with her best friend’s boy friend — or has she been kidnapped?
There are a few false notes here (one of which led me into thinking up a whole new ending), and I thought Cody’s love affair with Janice, the new light of his life, came on too fast, but Reasoner has a deceptively smooth, easy-to-read style that helps you forget you’ve read hundreds of stories like this a hundred times over.
Never really flashy in any sense of the word, but a solid job through and through.
[UPDATE] 03-28-15. I was correct about the Manor edition becoming a collectible. The last time I looked, which was 10 minutes ago, there was not a single copy available for sale on the Internet. Luckily a softcover edition was published a short while ago, and I’m sure it’s also available online as an ebook.
I’ve not read the book since I wrote the review above, and now that I’ve reminded myself of that unfortunate fact, I intend to do something to do about that as soon as I can.
Little, Brown launched their annual Peeps dioramas of current and forthcoming books, and I assure you that Mulholland Books is not one to shy away from sugary tableaus of crime. Above, our homage to David Morrell’s Inspector of the
Everywhere you look you will find a book close at hand. In my car’s trunk, under car seats, car glove box, bookshelves, closets, tote bags, the bathroom, coffee tables, nightstands, in dressers under clothes, and that’s not including the 700 books on my NOOK and Kindle devices! I am not even sure where to start!
I said to myself I would take all duplicates and pass them on to others for their reading enjoyment. HaHaHa this did not work, I just could not do it. Instead I purchase copies for my friends. Even when I have the ARC, HC release, MM release and e-Book version of a title. When I really like a story and/or author I purchase their audiobooks in addition.
I am starting to think this may not be a good thing? In my defense I do read my books more than once. I take the best care with each and everyone to not break a spine or damage even one page. My feeling is the story is a gift from the writer that brings me pleasure. So when an author takes the time to visit with me and personalize a book I consider it priceless!
How many of you feel this way? Do you only read a physical book or use an eReader. I am also curious to know if you follow an author do you preorder their books?
Scott D. Parker
First things first: the MVP of GOTHAM is the person in charge of casting. Not sure who that is, but he/she deserves a medal. Or a raise. I have loved getting to see new spins on classic characters with new actors. Benjamin McKenzie as James Gordon is wonderful. McKenzie’s portrayal of Gordon’s goodness tinged with anguish over things he has to do is wonderful. He, along with most of the other, are actors of whom I was unfamiliar before GOTHAM so I’m coming with a blank slate. Donal Logue’s Harvey Bullock, Gordon’s partner, is also good if not a little over-the-top in a more typical partnery kind of way. I’ve enjoyed the progression of Bullock into a true partner even if he didn’t agree or know where Gordon was heading.
David Mazouz plays young Bruce Wayne and he got my vote in the opening scene when, for the first time on film, he screamed after his parents were murdered. I mean screamed. Since then, he’s turned into a stoic lad who wants to know more but is only hampered by his age. But he can sure boss Alfred around. Sean Pertwee is an actor I knew but only from ELEMENTARY. Here, he’s a badass Alfred and he is great. I love the little subtle touches he gives to prove he’s scared to death at the prospect of raising a young, rich orphan. But this Alfred has some military background and that’s starting to come out.
As for the villains, I like that Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) works for the cops. Smith plays the future Riddler as a weirdo that wants to fit in but that no one likes. John Doman as Carmine Falcone conveys such gravitas that he fills the screen with his personality. I think that the choices Jada Pinkett Smith is making are fun in a comic-booky sort of way, but she still has the presence to make her scary.
Above all other villains is Robin Lord Taylor’s Penguin. Oh my! He is my MVP of the entire show. I love the way he’s portrayed as a thinker, a pipsqueak who is not above getting knocked around because he’s thinking five steps ahead. Ten even. I’ve liked the Penguin in the comics because he’s a lot like Marvel’s Kingpin or even Moriarty: he’s a puppeteer who pulls a lot of strings but not ones that can be tied directly to him. Burgess Meredith was great for what he did but Danny DeVito’s version was a little off for me. Now, typically, Oswald Cobblepot is a rich orphan, one on par with Bruce Wayne, but not in GOTHAM. Here, he’s a low minion who has worked his way up the crime ladder and looks to rule the city. Taylor’s characterization of Penguin is shocking (he’ll out and out stab a guy with little thought) and funny, often in the same scene.
The stories are good and fun, successfully bridging the line between police procedural and comic book hijinks. We get disturbing storylines as early as episode 2 (with the abduction of children for a fate not named but implied) that are followed soon by ones featuring a guy who ties his victims to weather balloons and let’s’em rise...then fall. There are long-running story arcs--Gordon’s odyssey as a good man in a bad town is the prime one--but the Penguin’s is one of the better ones. He loves Gotham and will do anything for her, and it’s interesting to see how that plays out episode after episode.
I like that the writers are presenting characters wearing masks--goat mask, red hood--before Batman or other masked villains that we know show up. It’s neat to see them put forth the idea of the power behind a mask. It’s also fun to see nascent versions of the characters we already know.
It’s not all wine and roses, however. That very thing of showing early versions of the characters can be too much. The young Poison Ivy I’m not fond of much (and it was hard to find a good image to use today and not have her in it). She’s just a street urchin out of Oliver Twist. Young Bruce Wayne comes off a little too much like the current Bat-God--the modern version of Batman where he’s thought out every last thing to the nth degree that you can never beat him--and he still needs to be a kid. That’s why I like what they’ve done with Selena Kyle (Catwoman) and how the two of them get along.
There are a few little things but not too much to make me not like the show. I even watched 3-4 episodes on some days. It sucked me in and I enjoyed them all. Like I wrote last fall, I still would have liked to have seen Thomas and Martha Wayne on screen for awhile and I'd love to have seen GOTHAM become the universe where Batman doesn't have to exist.
Next up: catching up on The Flash.
So, GOTHAM watchers: what say ye? Like the show? Dislike the show?
I know, I know. I’ll tell you, my newsletters are like buses. You wait and wait and wait and wait, and then three of them come one right after the other. But I’ve got news, and I’m bursting with it.
Innit pretty? It’s the book I mentioned late last year, the one I’d fully expected to bring out on Valentine’s Day; well, it took a little longer, but I hope you think it was worth the wait. I love the cover Jaye Manus came up with, and it’s every bit as attractive on the inside, as the same deft hand did the formatting.
In the course of a lifetime of fiction writing, I’ve done a certain amount of nonfiction as well, and in The Crime of Our Lives I’ve collected the critical pieces and trips down Memory Lane that center on the field of crime fiction. Many of my recollections of colleagues appeared in Mystery Scene; others were published in American Heritage, GQ, and the Japanese edition of Playboy. Several were commissioned as introductions. All told, chapter subjects include Edward Anderson, Fredric Brown, Raymond Chandler, Mary Higgins Clark, Joseph Conrad, Ed Gorman, Dashiell Hammett, Gar Haywood, Evan Hunter, Henry Kane, Al Nussbaum, Robert B. Parker, Edgar Allan Poe, Spider Robinson, Mickey Spillane, Ross Thomas, Jim Thompson, Donald E. Westlake, and Charles Willeford. And there’s a personal survey of the genre from its early days, and a recollection of my own early days at Scott Meredith’s bucket shop.
But here, instead of my telling you about it, let me give you a taste:
Evan Hunter: “In his mid-seventies, after a couple of heart attacks, an aneurysm, and a siege of cancer that had led to the removal of his larynx, Evan wrote Alice in Jeopardy. And went to work right away on Becca in Jeopardy, with every intention of working his way through the alphabet. Don’t you love it? Here’s a man with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, and he’s perfectly comfortable launching a twenty-six book series.”
That’s one of five pop-out quotes—the subjects of the others are Fredric Brown, Raymond Chandler, Donald Westlake and Charles Willeford—and I invite you check them all out. They’re all to be found in the book descriptions at Amazon, Nook, Inktera and Scribd, where the TCOOL ebook is already on sale. (It’ll be eVailable as well at Kobo and iTunes, probably within a day or two.)
Okay, I’ll take a few questions.
You’re calling it TCOOL because those are the initials, right? Same as you refer to A Walk Among the Tombstones as AWATT. But what’s that hyphen doing in the headline?
Well, that’s how we found ourselves pronouncing it. And with the hyphen it becomes T-Cool, whom I think of as a clueless white rap artist who never really got anywhere. Gosh, I hope there’s another question—
I get that you’ve published it yourself, and I applaud your industry and enterprise—
Let’s not forget avarice.
—but does that mean it’ll only be obtainable as an ebook? I love ebooks, and I’ll download it and enjoy reading it in that form, but this is the kind of volume I like to have on the shelf as well.
Oh, I do like your thinking. And I’m happy to report that in a matter of days TCOOL will be on sale as a trade paperback. I just ordered a proof copy earlier today, and as soon as I check it and voice my approval, the presses will roll.
That’s welcome news.
And it’s only the beginning, because in a very short time you’ll have the option of owning TCOOL in a splendid hardcover first edition, complete with dust jacket.
Ooh, I want one! How do I get it?
From Amazon for sure, and from other online booksellers as well. Select brick-and-mortar stores will have the book, too.
You know, what I really really want is a signed copy. But I suppose that’s out of the question.
Oh, is that what you think? We’ll have signed copies for sale in LB’s eBay Bookstore, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a number of mystery specialty booksellers have them, too. I’ll be at The Mysterious Bookshop May 7 in aid of Dark City Lights, my new Three Rooms Press anthology, and I expect we’ll have copies as well of TCOOL, in both hardcover and paperback. I’ll let you know more closer to the date.
Do you want to tell us the prices?
Sure, why not? The ebook’s $9.99, the trade paperback’s $16.99, and the hardcover’s $24.99.
That seems quite reasonable.
You think? I’d call it a steal. But for now why don’t you click on one of those links—here they are again, for convenience—Amazon, Nook, Inktera and Scribd. Read the book description and see if it moves you to click on the Buy button.
And, before I forget, this Sunday, March 29, I’ll be on John McMullen’s radio program, The johnmac Radio Show, at 7pm eastern time. The call-in number is 646-716-9756. You can ask me anything, but I’ll warn you right now, I’m not as good as I used to be on State Capitals. For that there’s Google.
PS: As always, please feel free to forward this to anyone you think might find it of interest. And, if you’ve received the newsletter in that fashion from a friend and would like your own subscription, that’s easily arranged; a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org with Newsletter in the subject line will get the job done.
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