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.
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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.--“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.
“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?”
READ MORE: “An Interview with David Markson,” by Joey Rubin (Bookslut); “David Markson, R.I.P.,” by Sarah Weinman (Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind).
dealing with mortality, the loss of longtime friends and the existential
traps everyday existence.
Why I write poetry by Tom Piccirilli
available exclusivey from crossroads press
The links can be found at IN REFERENCE TO MURDER (B.V. Lawson's site) right here.
Evan Lewis will be manning the helm next Friday, February 6th.
This 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.
Between 1931 and 1958, Pines published more than seventy rough-paper magazines. His titles included ARMY-NAVY FLYING STORIES, BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, CAPTAIN FUTURE, DETECTIVE NOVELS MAGAZINE, EXCITING LOVE, EXCITING NAVY STORIES, FANTASTIC STORY QUARTERLY, FIVE SPORTS CLASSICS MAGAZINE, THE GHOST SUPER-DETECTIVE, GIANT WESTERN, G-MEN, HOPALONG CASSIDY’S WESTERN MAGAZINE, THE MASKED DETECTIVE, MASKED RIDER WESTERN, POPULAR BASEBALL, POPULAR DETECTIVE, POPULAR FOOTBALL, POPULAR ROMANCES, R.A.F. ACES, RANGE RIDERS, THE RIO KID WESTERN, RODEO ROMANCES, STARTLING STORIES, STRANGE STORIES, TEXAS RANGERS, THRILLING CONFESSIONS, THRILLING FOOTBALL STORIES, THRILLING MYSTERY, THRILLING WONDER STORIES, TOP DETECTIVE ANNUAL, TRIPLE WESTERN, and WEST. In 1939 Pines debuted a couple of comic book lines, publishing AMERICA’S BEST COMICS, THE BLACK TERROR, COO COO COMICS, EXCITING COMICS, THE FIGHTING YANK, HAPPY COMICS, NEW ROMANCES, REAL LIFE COMICS, SUPERMOUSE, THRILLING COMICS, and many other titles through 1956. Paperback books under the Popular Library banner were added to the mix in 1942. They were still being published in 1977 when the company was purchased by CBS.
Although 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.)
A group of British ex-pats have settled themselves into a cozy unnamed village outside of Accra in the Gold Coast colony of West Africa. Stephenson for some reason sets his story in an unspecified year in the 1950s, but it must be before 1957 when the colony became the independent nation of Ghana. Within the first couple of pages I knew I was probably in for trouble when I noticed that the characters’ names were taken from a box of crayons. Harry and Sally Gray, Jimmy and Heather Brown, Hetty and Tweeny (!) Green, Robert Gold, Dennis and Mona Silver, Mr. and Mrs. Blue... You get the picture. There’s Miss Scarlett, too! Yes, Ann Scarlett with two Ts who instantly made me think that Stephenson was trying to pull off a parody of Clue. Or for Stephenson, I guess, Cluedo is more accurate. No such luck. In fact not one person in the story ever comments on the ridiculousness of everyone having a rainbow array of surnames.
The story begins with a New Year’s Eve party with lots of drinking and dancing and transparent exposition clumsily handled. The cast of characters are introduced in dizzying (but colorful) succession. The women chit chat endlessly about clothes, gossip about characters we never meet, and indulge in other pointless banter. The men practically slap each other on the back while tossing off cocktails and speaking like the worst sort of British stereotypes. "The war" is mentioned repeatedly. I’m guessing they are all WW2 veterans, but no one is ever very specific about which war they are talking about. Only Dennis Silver’s entrance brings any kind of interest and mystery to these opening chapters when he begins an info dump monologue on African witchcraft. This seems to be taken verbatim from the two books Stephenson felt it necessary to acknowledge in the “Author’s Note” that precedes the first chapter. Those books are Sir James George Frazer’s seminal study on symbology, rites and rituals in religion The Golden Bough and Religion and Art in Ashanti by R. S. Rattray. In an offhand comment that concludes an early chapter (not cleverly hidden among the rest of the chit chat) we get the tantalizing tidbit that Sally Gray and Hetty Green look remarkably similar from the back in their striking black gowns. An alarm bell couldn’t have sounded any louder to signal an imminent mistaken identity murder.
Sure enough a day later Sally Gray is found murdered in the locked and barred sitting room of the Green’s jungle bungalow. Entry to the house is only via French windows serving as doors that line a veranda extending alongside the entire perimeter. The veranda is covered with a fine mesh of mosquito netting and all the windows and doors are faced in burglar bars. (see the map below) But the front door is locked from the inside as is the rear entry to the house. Summoned by terrifying screams three men run to the house and break down the door. But it’s too late. Sally has died from a fatal strike to the chest from a tribal bow and arrow. How on earth did the murder use the weapon and escape from a locked and barred house? No holes are found in the netting outside the veranda and the bow is nowhere to be found.
|Plan of the Green's Bungalow (click to enlarge)|
Nothing is made of these names. To a mystery fan like me this was more than troubling. Such an obvious choice is rife for possibility in a detective novel and was completely ignored. Not even a joke mentioned in passing by any of the characters. Nothing! A writer like Ellery Queen for example would have made a choice like this and run with it planting red herrings all over the place related to the surnames, maybe even reserving an entire chapter to what seems like a coincidence but in fact a sinister design. Not so with Stephenson. It must’ve been a case of the writer chuckling privately to himself. I kept rolling my eyes.
In one of the most patronizing parts of the book Finch (the primary detective) talks in Pidgin English to the servants. They also reply in pidgin English making it seem as if the book has been transplanted to the Limehouse district of a Sax Rohmer novel and the Africans transformed into the worst kind of Yellow Peril novel supporting cast. It doesn’t help that all of the Africans refer to all of the European characters as Master or Missy. Sometimes you just can’t overlook this kind of petty racism.
Darkest Death would’ve been a much better book with its promising plot and exotic setting in the hands of a much more talented writer. I can imagine how gasp inducing the finale would have been had this been a John Rhode book or one by Carr or Queen. In the hands of this mediocre writer the locked room mystery is a fizzle with a borderline preposterous solution, the revelation of the murderer comes with a lame forced confession, and the climactic pursuit of the villain on the run that leads to the beach and ends in a swimming race with half naked policemen trying their best to prevent a suicide by drowning. Stephenson tacks on a happy ending coda in which our detective heroes raise glasses in a champagne toast commending themselves on a job well done while simultaneously congratulating Stalky Heron for snagging Ann Scarlett as his wife to be.
Well, they can't all be winners, gang.
READING CHALLENGE update: My first book on the Silver Age bingo card. It covers S2 - "Book set anywhere except the US or England"
Today’s your last chance to enter to win an advance copy of Michael Robotham’s forthcoming novel from Goodreads. Have at it!