Dec 182014
 
Cartoon ©2014 by Nina Paley
Alexander Pope wrote "A little learning is a dang'rous thing/Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring" Oh, I like a very deep drink from that mythical fount of knowledge. Spare the sipping straw and hand me a ladle. Better yet give me one of those yard long glasses -- the Coachman's Quaff! I'll be there for hours gulping away until my thirst for little known facts is quenched. I can't help it but I am one of those people whose curiosity never dies and who can't keep his fingers away from the Google search box. Throw an arcane nugget my way. Go on! I will not sleep until I find out exactly what it means or refers to. For your reading delectation here's another potpourri of esoterica gleaned from my reading of obscure murder mysteries and adventure novels.

1. Almoner is an odd word I’ve never seen nor heard in all my fifty plus years. In the some hospital scenes in the suspense thriller Give Me Back Myself (review coming soon) I understood an almoner to be a person who arranges for welfare benefits for indigent patients. It was never really explained outright. The word was dropped into conversation and I had to glean meaning from the context. Further internet searching taught me that the word dates back to the medieval era when almoners were more prominent as distributors of alms. Usually an almoner was a monk, priest or other member of the clergy. It’s a distinctly British word (explains why I’ve never heard it even in all my decades working in hospitals) but I suspect that its use is probably passé these days. Anyone serving in a hospital as an almoner is almost certainly called a social worker or perhaps even may be a chaplain with extended duties.

2. Chances are if you’re a drinker you’ll know what a Manhattan is. But have you ever heard of a Bronx cocktail? Never came across it in books or bar menus. Never heard it ordered by my worldly college drinking pals who were known for their predilection for unusual potent potables. A Bronx turned up in a list of cocktails Waldo Lydecker ordered in Laura. I was hoping for something strange but a Bronx is a nothing more than a standard martini (gin mixed with both sweet and dry vermouth) plus orange juice. No olive, of course. Sounds dreadful, frankly. Who wants to ruin good gin with fruit juice of any kind?

3. Reading The City of Whispering Stone was like getting a crash course in 1970s Iranian politics and culture. It enlightened me about that country’s oppressive past and how the Shah, despite his charismatic persona as portrayed in US media of the 1970s, was a pretty nasty fellow especially regarding his suppression of political dissenters in consort with SAVAK, the Iranian secret police.

4. I have for some years now been reading and writing about witchcraft and devil worship as a motif in the detective novel. I thought by now I knew everything there is to know about the history of witchcraft in Europe and America. Wrong! Though I was hip to Matthew Hopkins, the infamous Witchfinder General, and his nightmarish campaign against witches in 17th century England I did not know of his book The Discovery of Witches. In Witchwater G. M. Wilson also tells us that within this notorious memoir, more a handbook for torture than a historical document, Hopkins lists the names of the most popular witch’s familiars. Paddock and Graymalkin who are beckoned by Macbeth’s Three Weird Sisters are there as well as Pyewacket (Kim Novak's pet in Bell, Book and Candle). Another cat familiar named Elemauzer is mentioned too, though it is spelled Ilemauzar in the illustration below taken from a copy of Hopkin's original text. And it is a stray black cat named Elemauzer that ultimately provides the detective in Witchwater with his most important piece of evidence.



5. Cultural enlightenment in art, music, and theater came to me at the most unexpected times. I learned all about the Mexican silversmith trade in Kathleen Moore Knight’s excellent South of the Border mystery The Blue Horse of Taxco. Charles Willeford fooled me into thinking that numerous artists and painters he invented in The Burnt Orange Heresy were real so compelling were their portraits. Imagine how frustrated I was when no one turned up in my Google searches. I actually started to laugh as my own gullibility. A Sad Song Singing by Thomas B. Dewey gave a documentary feel to the early 1960s folk music and coffeehouse and hootenanny scene in New York City’s lower east side.

6. Had I been as curious as I usually am a when I encountered the names of François Arago, Boisgiraud, and Sir Humphrey Davy, pioneers in the field of electromagnetic physics, I would’ve had one of the most ingenious mysteries I read this year ruined. And of course I’m not telling you the book’s title or even who wrote it. If you’ve already had the pleasure of reading this particular book you’re sure to know the title and author.

Tjitjingalla corroboree, circa 1901
7. One of my favorite reads of 2014 was The Glass Spear, Australian writer Sidney Courtier’s first novel and a corker of a mystery. Within its pages I uncovered a treasure trove of Aussie lore and Aboriginal rites and celebrations including the corroboree, a ceremonial ritual involving tribal costumes and masks, dance and acting as well as kurdaitcha, a kind of aboriginal magic usually tinged with evil intent.

8. Joanna Cannan’s near parody of a detective novel The Body in the Beck was rife with literary allusions to -- of all things -– mountaineering poetry! I learned more than I have ever wanted to know about those minor poets from the dusty halls of truly forgotten literature.

9. Even new books have a lot to teach me. I had a full-on immersion in the Inuit culture while reading The Bone Seeker by M. J. McGrath. Though I didn't get a chance to review this book during my hectic summer it was a highly unusual mystery that I recommend to readers who like an anthropological challenge. You may come away with a whole new appreciation for Nunavut cuisine which includes pickled walrus flippers and aalu, a dipping sauce made from caribou meat, fat and blood.

10. I got a pages of info dump when reading Syndrome E, another contemporary thriller, ranging from the neuromarketing trend in advertising to the fundamentals of splicing and editing 16mm celluloid. But the most gruesome bit of arcana came when I read of a shameful part of Quebec's history in the tragedy of the Duplessis orphans.  There's an example of a horror story in real life that one hopes is never repeated.
 Posted by at 6:02 am
Dec 172014
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by George Kelley & Marcia Muller


DESMOND BAGLEY – Flyaway. Doubleday, hardcover, 1979. First published in the UK: Collins, hardcover, 1978. Detective Book Club, hardcover 3-in-1 edition [no date]. Fawcett, paperback, 1980. Also: HarperCollins, paperback, 2009, paired with Windfall, also by Bagley.

   Picking the best Desmond Bagley high-adventure novel is difficult because they are of uniformly high quality; most critics agree that in the past ten years, Bagley has surpassed the old masters such as Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean with such expert novels as The Vivero Letter (1968), set in the remote Mexican jungle; The Snow Tiger (1974), a tale of an avalanche in the mountains of New Zealand’s South Island; and The Enemy (1978), which deals with computer technology. Bagley’s novels mix carefully researched background detail with a great deal of action and momentum, involving his reader thoroughly in his adventurous plots.

   Flyaway may be Bagley’s finest work, a slight cut above the others. When Paul Billson disappears into the Sahara Desert,aircraft-industry security chief Max Stafford departs London for Africa to track Billson down. Max learns that Billson, whose father was a legendary there some decades ago, intends to clear the Billson name; the public still believes Billson’s father deliberately vanished over the Sahara so his wife could collect a fortune in insurance benefits. Max catches up with Billson — after much difficulty — but then both men find themselves hunted by forces intent on protecting the secret of Billson Sr.’s disappearance.

   This novel is superior high adventure; Bagley’s attention to technical detail and his evocation of the desert milieu are impeccable. Bagley drew upon personal experience in the aircraft industry for this novel, which gives it added substance and credibility.

         ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

 Posted by at 10:10 pm

‘Tis the season…

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Dec 172014
 

Here’s a newsletter that went out Monday to subscribers:

‘Tis the season…
…to sit around doing next to nothing, at least in our house. I should have spent the past several weeks peppering you with newsletters, reminding you of all the perfect gifts reposing on the virtual shelves of LB’s eBay Bookstore, and instead I’ve done sweet Fanny Adams, and it’s hard to say why. My Frequent Companion and I spent Thanksgiving in Scotland, as the guests of an Unemployed Former Talk Show Host of Scottish Origin, and I suspect we came back slightly jet-lagged. Alas, we seem to have embraced the ensuing inertia as a Way of Life.

Ah well. I’ve bestirred myself as best I can, and will supply some seasonal suggestions to gladden the hearts of those bold-faced names on your gift list without kicking holes in your budget. But first a couple of announcements:

~ If you missed A Walk Among the Tombstones during its too-brief theatrical run, the DVD goes on sale January 13. I think it ought to work almost as well on the small screen.

~ Defender of the Innocent, the complete 12-story Ehrengraf collection, is still available as a Subterranean Press hardcover, and in ebook and audio form as well. The Mysterious Bookshop and VJ Books have a limited number of autographed copies.

~Don Sobczak, whose audio rendition of Defender has been winning ears and minds everywhere, has taken on the tricky task of bringing John Warren Wells to life. First up is one of JWW’s best-selling titles, Wide Open: New Modes of Marriage, and I think audio fans will like what he’s done with it.

And now let’s see what we’ve got in the bookstore:

1. A Walk Among the Tombstones. No hardcover copies and no DVDs, but we’ve got signed books in English, French, Polish and Spanish, signed movie posters w/ free lobby cards, and the signed audiobook. Limited quantities on all of these!

2. 8 Matthew Scudder signed paperbacks. Make eight people happy or one person positively ecstatic. We call these books “reading copies,” but they’re new books, individually signed, and the price is $49.99. We have four sets left, and once they’re sold, they’re gone.

3. 8 Bernie Rhodenbarr paperbacks. Same deal, different character. We’ve got five sets of these.

4. Any writers on your list? Jerrold Mundis explains how to Break Writer’s Block Now, and you can get ten friends scribbling furiously for a total price of $29.99 postpaid. Or give them signed trade paperbacks of Write For Your Life or Telling Lies for Fun & Profit. Or a rare hardcover first edition of Telling Lies. Or how about a thirty-year-old copy of Fiction Writers Market? The market information is laughably out-of-date, but the essays and articles are timeless, and the price is right.

5. Bernie Rhodenbarr’s latest adventure came out a year ago this month. Believe it or not, there are people around who don’t yet own a copy. (I know, I know. Go figure.) That’s opportunity knocking—for a good friend, pick up a signed trade paperback of The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons; for someone you genuinely adore, take a deep breath and spring for the Limited Leather-Bound Collector’s Edition. (It comes with a free signed copy of the paperback. So you could buy someone a handsome gift while picking up a choice reading copy for yourself. Or the other way around. I’m, like, just saying…)

6. Bargains galore! Of the 136 titles on offer, 77 listings are prices at $9.99 or less, most of them with free shipping.

7. But not everything’s that inexpensive. Here, for convenience, are some high-ticket items.

Oh dear. I  believe I sense jet lag coming on again, and what’s the point of fighting it? Before I go back to bed, let me urge you to make your selections sooner rather than later—so that we can deliver in timely fashion, and while we’ve still got all your items in stock. (Many are one of a kind.)

That’s it. Merry Everything and Happy Everything Else!

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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 lawbloc@gmail.com with Newsletter in the subject line will get the job done.LB’s Bookstore on eBay
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Twitter:  @LawrenceBlock
 Posted by at 9:52 pm
Dec 172014
 
Julia Courtland was on her way west to marry a man she had never met. Henry Everett, the marshal of Flat Rock, Texas, was the grandson of her uncle's best friend. It seemed like a good match for both of them, and the wedding was scheduled to take place on Valentine's Day.  Grant Stafford thought the young woman who got on the stagecoach at Buffalo Springs was the prettiest thing he had seen

Forgotten Films Employees Entrance

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Dec 172014
 

Employees Entrance






Ed here: I saw this film the other night and was astonished by how amoral, sophisticated, amusing  and psychically painful it was in places. Being a good Catholic boy I had this burning crush on Loretta Young when I was in Catholic grade school (she was in many of the Catholic movies). But I had no idea she was ever in movies like this one. She is so so sexy and genuinely vulnerable here I want to see more of her pre-Code movies. What a babe and what an actress. I found this excellent piece on the film.  BTW Warren Williams gets knocked sometimes but man he's also at the top of his game here.




Go here ShadowsandSatin for the entire piece http://shadowsandsatin.wordpress.com/2011/09/17/forbidden-pleasures-employees-entrance-1933/


Employees’ Entrance (1933) stars the dashing and delightfully bad Warren William, Loretta Young and Wallace Ford. It’s one of the first pre-Code movies I ever owned, part of the Turner/MGM/UA “Forbidden Hollywood” series, and it’s a gem. The film’s principal characters are Kurt Anderson (William), the ruthless manager of a giant department store, who will do anything to succeed; Madeleine Walters (Young), who pays a steep price when she goes to work in Anderson’s store; and Martin West (Ford), who is hired as Anderson’s protégé and is secretly married to Madeleine.  Based on a play by David Boehm (who was later nominated for an Oscar for the 1944 Spencer Tracy starrer A Guy Named Joe) and directed by Roy Del Ruth, Employees’ Entrance is, as my treasured VHS copy declares, “filled with forbidden pleasures!”  Here are some of the reasons why I love this film:

Kurt Anderson is not a nice guy, but he sure is fun to watch. In one scene, he fires a 30-year employee of the store, in front a room full of co-workers, because the man is “too old, too set.” The distraught former employee later commits suicide. When Anderson is told, he observes, “When a man outlives his usefulness, heought to jump out of a window. That’s the trouble with most men – they don’t realize when they’re through.” In another scene, after a store detective mistakenly detains a newspaper editor’s wife for theft, Anderson gives the woman a concert grand piano to compensate for her inconvenience, and tells the guard he’ll take ten dollars a week out of his salary until it’s paid for. When the man protests that it will take him the rest of his life to pay the debt, Anderson retorts, “I doubt if you’ll live that long. Get out.”

In typically scandalous pre-Code fashion, Kurt appears to be a benevolent benefactor when he hires the job-seeking Madeleine, but after treating her to a much-needed meal, he winds up seducing her. And later, when Madeleine gets drunk at a party following a fight with her husband, Kurt invites her to sleep it off in his room – and you can just guess what happens.

Dec 172014
 
Ali Karim is The Rap Sheet’s hyperactive regular British correspondent, a contributing editor of January Magazine, and the assistant editor of Shots. In addition, he writes for Deadly Pleasures and Crimespree magazines, and he will be in charge of programming for Bouchercon 2015, to be held in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Entry Island, by Peter May (Quercus, UK):
Hot on the heels of his Lewis Trilogy (which includes the Barry Award-winning The Blackhouse) comes yet another remote-island murder mystery from Scottish author Peter May. Fifth-generation Canadian-Scottish Sûreté Inspector Sime Mackenzie is far from his home in Quebec, having been sent off to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and Entry Island--850 miles from the Canadian mainland--as part of a team investigating the murder of that isle’s wealthiest resident, James Cowell, who operated the majority of boats farming lobsters along the sea coast. Mackenzie’s role is to act as an English-French translator in police interviews with such people as Kirsty Cowell, the deceased’s spouse. Kirsty is the only person to have witnessed what she says was her husband’s death at the hands of a ski-masked killer. She’s also regarded as a prime suspect in that crime. Yet despite her bloodied clothing, Mackenzie feels a closeness to Kirsty, a feeling he can’t seem to shake. May’s novel elegantly blends two story lines, one following the contemporary investigation, and the other recounting the history of Scotland’s Highland Clearances, which influenced Canada’s development. As Sime Mackenzie and the Quebec Sûreté investigate Cowell’s untimely end, we learn there may be a longstanding link to the Mackenzie clan as well as a connection to a more recent tragedy in the inspector’s past. The superlative Entry Island proves that May’s Lewis Trilogy was no flash in the pan. This is a book in which one can get easily lost.

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, by Peter Swanson
(Faber & Faber, UK):

This throwback to the criminally twisted romantic-noir tales of James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, and Patricia Highsmith focuses around an unremarkable Bostonian, George Foss, who (despite his job as the business manager for a literary magazine) has been drifting through life, directionless. But his world-view is shattered when the mysterious Liana Dector (or is she “Jane Byrne,” or somebody else?)--his unforgettable first love, from their college days together--suddenly reappears in his life. I say “mysterious,” because as far as George knew, Liana had committed suicide decades ago under circumstances he never quite understood. Or did she? The situation only grows more bizarre and unpredictable when the woman he knows as Liana asks George for help. There are supposedly dangerous people dogging her trail, led by an enforcer named Donnie Jenks … who has been sent by Liana/Jane’s ex-lover, Gerald MacLean, to exact retribution for a theft that may or may not have occurred. George’s willingness to lend aid quickly brings peril to himself as well as to his on-again/off-again girlfriend, Irene. This is a wild ride of a novel, built on the themes that a broken heart can change a person deeply and that love can be both manipulative and dangerous when it is blind to its consequences. Reading this book may require a seat belt, as its turns are nowhere near safe. Boasting a fabulous femme fatale and a terse writing style that’s astonishing for a debut effort, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart suggests Massachusetts resident Peter Swanson may be someone worth watching closely in the future. A new U.S. paperback edition of this novel is due out in January.

The Last Room, by Danuta Reah
(Caffeine Nights, UK):

A new publication by Danuta Reah (or her alter-ego, Carla Banks) remains a treat for serious readers of crime and thriller fiction. The back story to The Last Room is the Balkan Wars, though its lineage traces back even farther, to World War II and African civil wars. This novel’s opening is a terse, grueling snatch of a vicious attack on a pregnant woman, Nadifa, on Africa’s war-torn Ivory Coast in 2005. This sets the stage for a complex novel that questions whether there can ever be any absolute truth amid the “fog of war.” Moving the story on to Europe in 2007, we follow the aftermath of the suicide of Dr. Ania Milosz, a forensic linguist and expert witness involved in the conviction of a child killer, Derek Haynes. Haynes is currently appealing his guilty verdict in the slaying of Sagal Akindes, the 6-year-old daughter of the aforementioned Nadifa, who’s now an asylum seeker in Great Britain. Neither Ania’s father, retired policeman Will Gillen, nor her fiancé, Dariusz Erland, believes the young woman jumped to her death. And so starts a trail that snakes its way to the deeds of the past, deeds that some wish to see remain hidden forever. The Last Room is highly recommended, a topical novel that really challenges the reader’s understanding of reality.

Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King (Scribner):
Never one to be constrained by the convenient definitions of genre, King’s latest novel is a full-out detective thriller, the first clue to that being the nod to James M. Cain that opens this tale. When longtime cop Bill Hodges finds it difficult to cope with his retirement from the force (a diet of bad TV dinners, daytime TV programs, and holding his father’s pistol in his mouth not being good for his health), he finds solace in returning his attention to an unsolved case. The Mercedes Killer was a madman who drove a top-range SL500 into the crowd at a job fair in a Midwestern American city, killing and maiming many people. But like the morning mist, he vanished from the scene, leaving no trace. Now, though, the driver has reached out to Hodges, sending him a taunting missive that leads to a cat-and-mouse chase between the retired detective and the Mercedes Killer, aka Brady Hartfield. A disturbed young man, the Norman Bates-like Brady supports his alcoholic mother by working two jobs, one as a computer repairman and the other as an ice-cream man, complete with a van and afternoon sales route. Author King does an exceptional job of digging beneath Brady’s vile, empathy-lacking exterior to expose the misfortunes of his existence. Yet Brady isn’t done hurting people; he’s planning an encore to his Mercedes rampage, one that could have far more devastating results. Unable to convince former police colleagues to help him with his unofficial investigation, Hodges turns for aid to a couple of computer wizards: Holly, his lover’s high-strung niece, and his lawnmower man, Jerome. There should really be a sticker on the front of Mr. Mercedes, saying “No bookmark required,” because this is definitely a one-sitting read.

Run, by Andrew Grant (Ballantine):
This first standalone techno-thriller from Grant (the younger brother of best-selling novelist Lee Child) reveals his skill as a master puppeteer, peeling away later upon layer of misdirection and revealing the murky motivations of his characters. At the tale’s outset we find Marc Bowman, a loose-cannon information technology troubleshooter for communications giant AmeriTel, having just devoted his weekend to a covert project--only to then be unceremoniously dismissed from his job and escorted off the company’s premises. When he later recounts this episode to his wife, fellow AmeriTel executive Carolyn, a woman he loves with a passion, he’s perplexed to find her siding with their employer rather than offering him sympathy. The theme of this novel is well summed up by its title: Run. Before you can fire a starting pistol, Bowman is fleeing for his life and sanity, pursued by agents from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the CIA (or at least they appear to be from the CIA). Word is out that Bowman spent the weekend before his termination copying sensitive AmeriTel data onto twin USB sticks, and it seems nobody wants him to keep those. Then just when you think things couldn’t get worse for Bowman, his wife and a large slug of cash disappear, putting this Everyman in the cross-hairs of some very dangerous folk. Run is a pulse-accelerating, sometimes confusing ride through the technological paranoia of our age. Nothing is as it seems in these pages. No one can be trusted. Trust me.
Dec 172014
 
Ed here: I grew up reading Archie comics.They were among my favorites.  I know he has to be updated but by a sociopathic marginally talented exhibitionist?

Lena Dunham is Writing Some “Incredibly Contemporary” ‘Archie’ Comics
By Isabella Biedenharn on Mar 3, 2014 5:48pm
When you’re a sought-after media darling (Lena Dunham), all you have to do is mention during a Q&A that you like something (the characters of Archie), and soon enough, that thing’s new Chief Creative Officer (Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa) will be barreling down your door to get you to work with them. The Girls showrunner has signed on to write a four-part story to be published in 2015, as part of Aguirre-Sacasa’s new flagship program “to take Archie’s Pals and Gals outside of comics and into different media.”
The team isn’t spilling any plot points, but Aguirre-Sacasa says: “It’s really, really funny. It’s incredibly contemporary. It’s a classic Archie story, with a definitely unique, Lena spin, and it’s going to be set in Archie continuity.” But before you get your hopes up for a naked Betty and Veronica experimenting with crack in Bushwick, A.V. Club is pretty sure the project will be more “family-friendly” than Dunham’s previous work. [via Vulture]