Feb 262015
Depth Force #4: Battle Stations, by Irving A. Greenfield July, 1985  Zebra Books Once again coming off like the men’s adventure equivalent of a soap opera, the Depth Force series continues with this fourth novel that picks up immediately after the events of the previous volume, with not one word of helpful background material to catch up the reader. Battle Stations follows the same
Feb 262015
I'd read good things about TERMS OF ENLISTMENT, the debut novel by Marko Kloos and the first novel in a new science fiction adventure trilogy called Frontlines. I decided to give it a try and am glad that I did, because I thoroughly enjoyed it. (Minor spoilers ahead, but not as much as you'd get from reading Amazon reviews of this book.) The narrator/protagonist Andrew Grayson is a so-called

Deadly To Bed by Don Tracy

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Feb 262015
While to some the murdered wife of an Army captain was the perfect spouse, but to others she was the next Mata Hari. Giff Speer is told to find out who she really was and why someone needed her dead.
The nymphomaniac wife of an army officer is found murdered in her own bed. Three months later, the case remains unsolved and all the leads seemed to have dried up.  Sergeant Giff Spear of the Military Police is called in to solve the deadly dilemma of the beautiful war bride who was more dangerous dead than she was alive. 
Printing History
Written by Donald Fiske Tracy (1905-1976)
Perma Books
 Posted by at 4:46 am
Feb 262015
Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:         

OMOO OMOO THE SHARK GOD. Screen Guild Productions as Lippert Pictures Inc., 1948. Ron Randell, Devera Burton, Trevor Bardette, Pedro de Cordoba, Richard Benedict, Mate Richards, Michael Whalen, Rudy Robles. Written & directed by : Leon Leonard.

   Two disparate books come together in one desperate film in Omoo Omoo the Shark God. Herman Melville is one of those Great Authors whose power has always…. well has always escaped me somehow. I labored through Moby Dick in college under duress, and fifty years later found Billy Budd a crashing bore. I can enjoy Conrad, Marlowe, Shakespeare and even de Quincey, but I find reading Melville akin to eating Brussels sprouts. Blame my literary taste buds.

   At the other end of the spectrum, I thoroughly enjoyed a recent book called Talk’s Cheap, Action’s Expensive: The Films of Robert L. Lippert (Bear Manor Media, 2014) by Mark Thomas McGee. For those unfamiliar, Lippert was a producer of dubious ethics and even dubiouser taste, releasing films from the late 40s to the 60s. To his credit, we have The Last Man on Earth, The Fly, Rocketship XM, the Quatermass movies and the early films of Sam Fuller.

   On the debit side, we have the other 70 or so films he bears responsibility for, almost all of them done quickly and artlessly with both eyes on the budget: Films like The Lost Continent (’51) with Cesar Romero and those crummy dinosaurs; King Dinosaur (’55) with even crummier monsters; Fingerprints Don’t Lie (reviewed here earlier;) the Lash LaRue movies; Sins of Jezebel; Queen of the Amazon; Superman and the Mole Men; The Alligator People, a whole bunch of British B-movies with faded American stars.

   I could go on, but you get the point, or if you don’t you won’t. Lippert’s favorite actor was Sid Melton and his most-used actress was Margia Dean, with whom he was sleeping. I rather enjoy Lippert’s films myself. Some are touched with genius, some amusingly inept, and some are simply jaw-droppingly awful, but they all have that sense of quiet desperation Thoreau spoke of so movingly.

   And oddly enough, the talents of Lippert and Melville once met, in a remarkable little film called Omoo Omoo the Shark God.

   Well anyway the credits tell us this is based on Omoo, though I don’t recall any cursed idols, budding romance or native blood-brothers in Melville’s autobiographical novel. Perhaps writer/director Leon Leonard saw something in it I didn’t. (I told you I had a critical blind spot there.) Or maybe the film is an extended commentary on the book, a fictional critique and thematic riposte.

   I guess we’ll never know. All I can say for sure is that the story revolves around an obsessive sea captain guiding his ship back to a remote island in search of some mystical black pearls he stole from the eyes of a native idol years ago and hid someplace. Romance blooms along the way between the Captain’s daughter and our hero (Devera Burton and Ron Randell), and once we get to the island sundry complications ensue, including hostile natives, greedy sailors and some sort of curse.

   This is all done in typical Lippert style, played out on cramped sets and filled out with stock footage. I don’t believe there’s an original exterior shot in the whole movie. But one can clearly see the thematic references to Moby Dick: the mad captain, compelled to pursue a horrible fate; the inversion (White Whale becomes Black Pearls) and the incredible boredom as the story moves like a becalmed iceberg. The studio jungles are about what you’d expect from a movie like this, helped a bit by Benjamin Kline’s expert photography, and Albert Glasser’s music tries hard to convince us something’s going on, but this is basically an hour of nothing much. And yet…

   And yet I find myself wondering what prompted writer/director Leon Leonard to this tawdry madness in the first place. He had no previous experience writing or directing for the movies; his only other screen credit is a bit part in an obscure Rudy Vallee short, Campus Sweetheart, and he seems to have worked mostly in the Theatre as a musical director. So how did he come to bring Melville to the screen?

   Whence this film?

   I tell you, it’s enough to make a man think.

 Posted by at 2:42 am
Feb 262015

As I look back on the books I've reviewed over the past nearly-eight years on the Classic Mysteries podcast, I find, according to the Backlist page, that I have reviewed more than 20 of Rex Stout's books, most of them featuring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.

Over at the Wolfe Pack's group page on Facebook this week, there has been some discussion about which Nero Wolfe books are personal favorites. I must admit that my favorite still is The Doorbell Rang, written in 1965, at a time when there was still an air of "The Untouchables" around the FBI and its leader, J. Edgar Hoover. Some disillusionment was beginning to set in, however - and nowhere is that more clear than in The Doorbell Rang.

My podcast review, written before this blog was in place, summarized the book this way:

Here’s the situation: a very wealthy woman comes to Wolfe’s office on West 35th Street in New York. She has read an unflattering book about the FBI, and has bought ten thousand copies of it and sent them to friends, government officials, and others whom she believed should read the book. As a result, she says, she has been harassed by the FBI. She believes they have tapped her telephone, spied on her movements, and generally made her life miserable. She wants to hire Wolfe to stop the FBI.

It takes some persuading. Neither Wolfe nor his assistant, Archie Goodwin, is a fool. They know that if they do get involved, the FBI will shift its harassment to them. They could wind up losing their licenses as private detectives.

But Wolfe’s ego – and Archie’s too – make them accept the case, even though Wolfe doesn’t have any immediate answer to the question: how do you persuade the entire FBI organization – not to mention its boss – to stop doing what they won’t even admit they are doing...

And so battle is joined. Wolfe comes up with a plan, all right, and it’s one of the most delightful, daring and ingenious charades he has ever created. Along the way to finding an answer to his problem, he solves a murder which the New York City police have, in effect, been told by the FBI not to solve. It’s not often that Wolfe finds his old nemesis, New York City homicide detective Inspector Cramer, cheering him on…but that’s one of the many odd developments in this case.

It required a fair amount of courage for Rex Stout to write this one. It's by no means typical of the rest of Nero Wolfe's cases, most of which are great murder mysteries. In this one, the murder is secondary to the battle between Nero Wolfe and the FBI - and what a marvelous solution it is.

And this book has one of the best closing lines of any of Rex Stout's books...

If you haven't read this one yet, go get it and enjoy it. 

Bundle o Joy

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Feb 262015

Just a quick note. My breakout novel, Fatal Exchange, is part of an awesome action/adventure bundle with some top notch authors at StoryBundle. The way it works is you can get the bundle for amazingly cheap, and if you elect to step up and pay a few bucks more, get even more amazing reads from the likes of Lawrence Block, CJ Lyons, J. Carson Black, and Vincent Zandri.

Go check it out. Part of the money goes to charity, part to the organizers, and a sliver to paying my bar tab.

Would that sliver were larger, but hey, can’t have everything.

You can find out all about the bundle here. It makes the perfect anytime gift for in-laws, that relative you kind of despise but have to be nice to, the co-worker you wish would choke on his/her own tongue and asphyxiate while you chortle with glee…virtually anyone you want to give something to and seem wildly generous while in reality doing so on a shoestring.


Feb 262015
Bouchercon board member-at-large John Purcell contacted me the other day, asking if I could alert folks who were on hand for 2014’s “world mystery convention” in Long Beach, California, or have registered for this coming October’s event in Raleigh, North Carolina, to the imminent distribution of Anthony Award ballots. Those ballots will be sent via e-mail this year, and convention organizers want to be sure recipients keep their eyes open for them. Here’s the press release explaining how things will work:
To all Bouchercon attendees:

If you were registered for the Long Beach Bouchercon last year, or the one upcoming in Raleigh, you will be receiving ballots in a day or so (Saturday, Feb. 28) to nominate books and stories for the 2015 Anthonys to be awarded in Raleigh in October.

They are trying something new, and testing the process for future Bouchercons, using a survey site called SurveyMonkey to send and collate the nominations. Those who have attended past Bouchercons may be familiar with the surveys you received afterwards. (Some of you may have opted out of surveys, and if so, you won’t receive the ballot unless you opt back in.)

However, the links to the ballots are being sent via e-mail, and e-mails being what they are, it will be inevitable that many won’t receive them because of spam filters, firewalls, and other reasons. So if you can set your e-mail [preferences] and servers to allow mail from SurveyMonkey (www.surveymonkey.com) or Bouchercon or Anthony Ballots, or just check your spam traps, that will hopefully cut down on undelivered ballots.

If you want some further info, and a sneak peak at the ballot worksheet, check out http://www.bouchercon.info/process.html.

Remember, you are all members of Bouchercon, and the related success of the Anthonys, being fan-based awards, are directly related to your participation.

Happy nominating, and thank you!
One final bit of information, picked up from the main Bouchercon site: “If you do not receive your e-mail from SurveyMonkey by 6:00 p.m., Sunday, March 1, please e-mail B.G. Ritts with your name and whether you were at Long Beach or are registered for Raleigh. If registered at both, you will only receive one ballot.”

Defeatism by the great Lev Levinson

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Feb 252015
”Old Age is a defeatism that overcomes cowardly and weak people.” - Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) Greek writer

I read this line in the 1970s and thought it sounded completely accurate, although I had no idea of what old age would entail.  I swore never to succumb to defeatism when I became elderly, but was blissfully unaware of what horrors lay ahead.

Now I’m elderly (79) and realize it’s more complicated that one-liners from legendary Greek writers.  Because health issues invariably accompany the aging process, and I regret to inform you that positive thinking cannot overcome cancer, heart attacks, arthritis, etc. in the real world.  Illness comes to elderly people regardless of how positively or courageously they might think.  No one gets out of this world alive no matter how enlightened they might be, or how much quinoa and chia they might consume, or how much yoga they do, or what high-minded delusions we might base out lives upon.

But actually, if the truth be told, Kazantzakis wasn’t completely wrong.  Because sometimes elderly people get depressed and surrender long before it’s necessary to check out, kick the bucket, or whatever you want to call it.  The sad truth is that some unfortunate elderly folks have no interests except wallowing in their misery.  I knew a woman who wouldn’t even watch TV.  She just sat, stared into space, felt sad, and prayed to die.  Then one day her prayers were answered.

We elderly people don’t have the stamina we had back in the day, and certain aches and pains cannot be avoided, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t enjoy many of life’s pleasures such as good food and drink, stimulating conversation, spectator sports, and all the arts.  Many of us even can walk, do calisthenics, and bop around at rock concerts.  And some of us are fortunate enough to fall in love again, although it might be imaginary love affairs with movie stars such as Catherine Zeta-Jones.

So ultimately I think Kazantsakis was right.  The defeatism of old age is a state of mind, a point of view, an opinion or a weakness, really, that undermines whatever lingering happiness is available to fogies and geezers.  Avoid that defeatism by all means if you can.

Feb 252015
The amazing Robert McGinnis, nearly 90 years-old and not missing a trick, provides this gorgeous cover for Max Allan Collins' latest "Quarry" novel from Hard Case Crime. I just got this book and it's right on top of the reading pile. Collins' "Quarry" novels, which chronicle the life of a hardboiled professional killer, are among my favorite books - and Quarry one of my favorite protagonists - in the genre. 
Feb 252015



This week’s Featured DJ is Douglas Purdy. Does the name ring a bell? You might know him as Spoonhead on 8tracks, or as the author of Serpents in the Cold

We got a chance to ask Douglas a range of questions about 8tracks and his book- read our interview with him below. If you made a new year’s resolution to read more, check out Douglas’ book, Serpents in the Cold- he even made a playlist for you to listen to as you read! Double whammy! 

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Listening to Purdy’s playlists while reading Serpents in the Cold is a highly-recommended activity.