Gravetapping: A MAMMOTH MURDER by Bill Crider

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Sep 132014

Gravetapping by Ben Boulden

Posted: 11 Sep 2014 02:03 PM PDT
“Bud Turley, called Bud Squirrelly by those who thought he had a lot of peculiar ideas, put the gigantic tooth down on Sheriff Dan Rhodes’s desk and said, ‘I want you to take custody of this tooth, Sheriff’”

With that opening, the very essence of both A Mammoth Murder and Bill Crider’s character Sheriff Dan Rhodes is laid bare: humorous, witty and entertaining. A Mammoth Murder was originally published in 2006 by St. Martin’s Press, and it is the 13th mystery to feature Blacklin County Sheriff Dan Rhodes.   

Bud Turley found the tooth in Blacklin County’s version of the Bermuda Triangle. A patch of dark timbered country called “Big Woods,” which is home to a mean-spirited pack of wild hogs, rattle snakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, and rumors of Bigfoot. Turley is certain the tooth he found belongs to the later and he wants Sheriff Rhodes to protect it until an expert—a local community college teacher—can look at it the next day.

A report of a dead body in Big Woods interrupts Rhodes’s enjoyment of the tooth. The dead man is Bud Turley’s best (and only) friend Larry Colley whose body is discovered alarmingly close to where Bigfoot’s tooth was found. The death toll rises when an elderly shopkeeper is found dead in her store. Rhodes is certain the murders are connected, but he is continually bothered by a feeling of missing something both important and obvious.

A Mammoth Murder is a charming, sly, and entertaining novel. The mystery is quirky and sincere. The dialogue is sharp and genuinely funny; most of it coming from the mouths of Rhodes’s dispatcher and jailer, Hack and Lawton. The two jab at each ferociously and enjoy, more than just a little, playing with Rhodes’s patience.

The story is bolstered by a colorful cast—Bigfoot hunters, amateur crime writers, a local newspaper reporter better at her job than Rhodes would like, and Rhodes’s wife Ivy, who put him on a low fat diet and knows nothing about his daily Blizzard from Dairy Queen. Not to mention Hack and Lawton.        

The mystery is great, too. There are enough red herrings to keep the reader interested, and just enough action to make it exciting. Even better, there is something of a cold case thrown in—a young boy was killed in Big Woods ten years earlier, and Sheriff Rhodes is certain it is connected with the two recent killings—and the resolution is very satisfying. 
Sep 132014
Eye-catching cover by Mel Crair on this issue of EXCITING WESTERN from late in that pulp's run. There are some good authors inside, too: Tom Roan, Frank Richardson Pierce, Hascal Giles, William Hopson, and T.C. McClary. The lead story is by Lee Floren, not one of my favorites, but his Buck McKee and Tortilla Joe stories from this era are usually pretty good.
Sep 132014
liamwithgunAs you might possibly have heard, unless you’ve been trekking in Bhutan or meditating in an isolation chamber, A Walk Among the Tombstones opens Friday, September 19, all over the US and the UK and most of the rest of the world. (October 15, I believe, in Australia. As late as mid-November in a couple of other countries.)

I’m preparing this newsletter in a hotel room in Los Angeles, where I came for a guest shot on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. If you set up your TiVo to record it, well, a presidential address jostled the TV schedule, and you may have missed it. We can’t have that, can we? So just click the link and you get to see it all—except for the film clip Craig showed, which I guess they can’t bundle in. But hey, that’s okay. You’ll see all that this coming weekend, in A Theater Near You.

The promotional campaign for the picture, and the buzz that goes with it, is beyond anything I can recall. The posters are on every subway platform in New York and, from the looks of things, every bus in London. Overseas, some of the media placement has been downright spectacuar. The film trailer’s running in theaters and turning arcdetriompheup in TV commercials. I’ve been getting tons of interview requests, and, media slut that I am, I’ve been saying yes to damn near all of them.

It’s exhausting, but so what? Writing’s a wonderful life, and I wouldn’t change it for anything, but it’s rarely what you’d call exciting. For all the satisfaction of sitting in a room or hours on end in the company of figments of one’s own imagination, it doesn’t often make the heart pound and the blood race. But lately things have turned exciting, and I have to say I’m enjoying it.

So while I’m at it, let me share some news that’s also pretty exciting. I believe I mentioned—quietly, elliptically—that I wrote a book in July. As I told Craig, I went to Philadelphia, holed up in an apartment on Rittenhouse Square, and came home a month later with a book written. What I didn’t get the chance to tell him was that it’s a down-and-dirty noir thriller, characterized by my Hollywood agent as “James M. Cain on Viagra.” (Charles Ardai, who’ll be publishing the book a year from now at Hard Case Crime, might want to put that line on the cover.) The title is The Girl With the Deep Blue Eyes, the setting’s a small town in Florida, an artist’s already working on the cover painting—and I can’t wait to see it. Soon as I do I’ll give y’all a sneak preview.

But let’s get back to the movie, because it’s just so much fun. One happy effect of all the billboards and bus posters is that book sales have shot skyward. The book Craig held outthewindowup—and gave away to the studio audience—is Hard Case’s movie tie-in edition, and besides flying off the racks in airports and supermarkets, which everybody expected, it’s also having a surprisingly strong online sale. So is my trade paperback, available online or—if you want a signed copy—at our eBay bookstore. And ebooks of have been, well, spiking skyward at Kindle and Nook and pretty much everywhere. Ka-ching!

The sales are mostly A Walk Among the Tombstones—no surprise there—but like any proper rising tide, this one’s raising other boats as well, as readers drawn by the movie go on to work their way through the Scudder series. The first of the Scudder short stories, “Out the Window,” has been absolutely surging, and people who read it and like it tend to pick up the complete collection, The Night and the Music. (The story’s exclusive to Kindle, but the collection’s widely available.)

I’ve seen the movie, as I believe I mentioned, but that was nine or ten months ago, and Lynne and I can’t wait to see it again. A lot of you have asked if they’ll be filming other books in the series, and I’m not the only one who hopes so. Scott Frank, who’s done such a brilliant job as writer and director, wants to do more, and Liam Neeson would welcome another star turn as Matthew Scudder. Ultimately, it depends on the numbers. If the movie’s a big success, there’ll be more. Fingers crossed, huh?

Although it’s okay to uncross them long enough to reserve your tickets for opening weekend…



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Twitter:  @LawrenceBlock

 Posted by at 5:54 am
Sep 122014
Producer David O. Selznick once said of Ingrid Bergman: “She had an extraordinary quality of purity and nobility and a definite star personality that is very rare.”

We couldn’t agree more.

One of the reasons I love classic film is the extensive number of “deep tracks”– those little hidden gems waiting to be discovered and shared. Alright, so maybe not all deep tracks are “gems”, but it’s still loads of fun to discover new-to-me movies. A few years ago during a Robert Montgomery marathon on Turner Classic Movies, I managed to catch the strange psychological thriller Rage in Heaven. Released by MGM in 1941, and directed by W.S. “One-Take Woody” Van Dyke, Rage in Heaven stars Montgomery, the charming George Sanders, and a young, delightfully fresh-faced Ingrid Bergman. Discovered by David O. Selznick after seeing her performance in the Swedish film Intermezzo (1936), Bergman was immediately signed to a contract. She made her Hollywood debut in 1939 with the remake Intermezzo: A Love Story, co-starring Leslie Howard. Bergman instantly won the affections of American moviegoers. And although her iconic role in the romantic classic Casablanca was three years away, Bergman quickly established herself as a Hollywood mainstay.

In the film, Robert Montgomery is Philip Monrell, heir to a British steel magnate. He’s also completely insane. After escaping a mental institution in France, Philip reunites with his best friend, or more accurately his best “frenemy”, Ward Andrews (George Sanders). Ward is unaware of Philip’s mental illness and led to believe that Philip has been on holiday in “the wilds of Africa” (imagine that line in Sanders’ distinctive voice, paired with an endearing “old boy” for good measure). The two friends travel to Philip’s home to visit his mother, who has been very ill. While her son was away, Mrs. Monrell (Lucile Watson) employed Stella Bergen (Ingrid Bergman) to act as a secretary and companion. Upon their arrival to the Monrell estate, Philip and Ward are greeted by the luminous Stella. Both men are immediately struck by her beauty and innocence. There is an instant connection between Ward and Stella, causing Philip’s deeply rooted jealousy of Ward to slowly rear its head.

Phillip (Robert Montgomery) enjoys having Stella (Ingrid Bergman) and Ward (George Sanders) over for dinner and mind games. While Ward is called away for work, Philip aggressively courts Stella in an attempt to win her affections, and ultimately her hand in marriage. Although he succeeds in both, Philip’s growing paranoia that Ward will take Stella away from him begins to manifest into full-blown psychotic obsession. Once Ward returns to England, Philip concocts a series of elaborate situations where Ward and Stella are alone, in an attempt to catch them in an adulterous act. All of Ward and Stella’s interactions are entirely innocent, but Philip’s psychosis seriously impedes his judgment. Obviously. His perpetual mistrust torments Stella, and she seeks comfort with Ward. This only fuels Philip’s neurotic belief that Stella has been unfaithful from the start. Philip’s obsession reaches a disturbing climax, and Ward and Stella fear for their love of one another…and their lives.

Rage in Heaven isn’t a top-tier film, but I place some of the blame on the confinements of the Production Code, low budget, and troubled production. Although the story suffers, the performances from Montgomery, Bergman, and Sanders make up for the inadequacies. According to the esteemed Kim Morgan at Sunset Gun, Montgomery unintentionally gives a brilliantly nuanced performance as the psychotic Philip Monrell:

Reportedly, Montgomery didn’t want to make the movie, he wanted a break or vacation from his MGM contract but was forced into the role. In retaliation he delivered his lines as flat as possible within this super melodramatic milieu. Well, his angry decision worked, and he’s just so strange that we utterly believe this millionaire is a suicidal madman, one step away from the loony bin he left at the beginning of the movie.

George Sanders is superb as the kind-hearted Ward Andrews. Known more for playing a cad in films like Rebecca and All About Eve, Sanders is delightful as romantic lead. Ingrid Bergman’s seemingly effortless and natural acting style, which we all know and love, was apparent even in those early performances. Although their pairing seems odd, Bergman and Sanders make a wonderful on-screen couple. They would come together again 13 years later in Roberto Rossellini’s Journey to Italy (Viaggio In Italia) in 1954, which was during Bergman’s exile period from Hollywood. She would gloriously return in 1956 in Litvak’s Anastasia, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Take that, you disgusting finger-pointers and gossip hounds!

Rage in Heaven is available through Warner Archive and nice addition to your home library, if only to round out your “George Sanders as a lover” film collection.

Written by Jill Blake
Her excellent blog is BlackMaria
Sep 122014

by Erin Mitchell

I read an article a couple of weeks ago that discussed online venues that are “crucial” for authors. It covered the usual suspects—website, Facebook, Twitter—and…LinkedIn.

I should mention right up front that the article I read was not written by an American. For whatever reason, LinkedIn has a much better reputation outside the U.S. People take it more seriously as a viable venue for professionals to discuss matters of import.

Over here, though, it remains primarily for young people seeking jobs and misguided individuals sending spam.

As you might have guessed, I don’t see LinkedIn as a venue for authors, crucial or otherwise. (I’m talking about fiction. For nonfiction, it might be helpful, depending on the topic.)

If you already have a LinkedIn account, there’s no need to rush out and delete it. In fact, I recommend leaving it alone; deleting a LinkedIn account rates on a scale of difficulty right up with hacking into a bank. Which is hard.

LinkedIn has tried to reinvent itself more times than I can count, most recently as a sort of grown-up Facebook, where instead of wishing people happy birthday, you congratulate them on work anniversaries, promotions, or new jobs. You can also “endorse” specific skills people say they have.

But ultimately, LinkedIn is what it has always been: a way for people to look for new employment and contact people they don’t know but have some (often tenuous) connection to.

If you’re an author looking to contact people with expertise in a specific, narrow area, LinkedIn would have been your best bet once upon a time. Now, you’re better off with Google. (Again, unless that person is outside the U.S., in which case LinkedIn could be helpful. Maybe.)

If you’re looking for an agent or publisher, LinkedIn is of no use to you whatsoever. Anyone you contact through there won’t want to be contacted that way. Trust me.

And if, having read all of this, you are still compelled to sign up for LinkedIn, please, for the love of whatever you believe in, do not pay them money. Their cheapest “premium” subscription is $287.88 per year. If you have that much money to throw around, please give it to your favorite charity.

LinkedIn was a good idea when it started, but it has become utterly stagnant. Maybe they’ll reinvent themselves next week and become something useful for the book world. Stranger things have happened. If that does, I’ll be sure to let you know. 


Headlines that shouldn’t be true but are

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Sep 122014

Stephen Colbert’s slam on Fox’s Brit Hume last night was too off-color
for this headline

Cops fatally shoot Utah man carrying a sword, but they won’t say why

Sarah Palin: ‘I owe America a global apology because John McCain should
be our president’

Ben Carson tells Bill O’Reilly: ‘I’m not sure’ that domestic violence
is widespread

Hannity guest: Rice’s wife ‘knocked herself out’ on elevator railing so
he’s the ‘bigger victim’

Mass. woman arrested after three dead babies discovered in filthy
condemned home

Fox’s ‘liberal’ Bob Beckel tells female colleague her legs are why she
has a job

Sarah Palin: ‘I owe America a global apology because John McCain should
be our president’

Stephen Colbert’s slam on Fox’s Brit Hume last night was too off-color
for this headline

Cops fatally shoot Utah man carrying a sword, but they won’t say why

If you’ve had sushi in California in the last four years, you probably
ate tainted ‘flush rice’

After the riots, Ferguson businesses long for normal: ‘People are too
scared to come down’

Texas teen Tyler Holder sentenced to life in prison for rape, murder of
6-year-old neighbor

Michael Dunn will be retried on murder charges for killing 17-year-old
over loud music

Anchorage police confirm Palin family involved in heated Saturday night

 Witchcraft-obsessed townsfolk try to drive out teen who opened Naughty
Girls Donut Shop

Texas textbooks once again pushing exaggerated claims about religion’s
role in US history

Hannity guest: Rice’s wife ‘knocked herself out’ on elevator railing so
he’s the ‘bigger victim’

ESPN: Ray Rice told NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in June that he hit
his fiancee

Michael Dunn will be retried on murder charges for killing 17-year-old
over loud music

Watch warrantless police raid onKY dive bar: ‘If you’re clean, you get
to go out the front door’

Ben Carson tells Bill O’Reilly: ‘I’m not sure’ that domestic violence
is widespread

Colorado woman pointed rifle at kids over boy practicing the clarinet
in yard

NC deputy won’t be charged after leaving K-9 overnight in hot patrol
car, where the dog died

James Foley’s mother ‘embarrassed and appalled’ by US government actions

Mass. woman arrested after three dead babies discovered in filthy
condemned home

AZ GOP vice-chair calls for sterilizing poor women: If you want a baby,
get a job

Maryland GOP candidate: ‘Women want equality,’ Ray Rice just gave ‘some
of it’ to wife

Road-raging George Zimmerman faces no charges after threatening to
shoot another driver

Sep 122014
“We need to confront fear. A lot of these issues going on around the world right now are about humanity at their worst. People often talk about monsters—”Oh, that man is such a monster, he murdered all those people. He’s inhuman. How could he do that?” But the fact of the matter is, there aren’t any monsters. It’s only us and everything we’re capable of. And I think we absolutely have to look that in the eye, unflinchingly. We have to confront the darkness, and stare at the abyss, and find that the only thing staring back is us, and what we do, the good and the bad. And we have to find a way of living with that—of living with ourselves, and also attacking it.”

- Lauren Beukes, author of Broken Monsters