Jan 302015

A savage ambush...twenty men slaughtered in a brutal massacre...a fortune in gold stolen! This was a crime big enough and bold enough to bring the Outlaw Ranger to the wide-open settlement of Cemetery Butte, where a powerful mining tycoon rode roughshod over any who dared to oppose him. But even that atrocity doesn't prepare G.W. Braddock for the evil that awaits him, stretching bloody hands out of the past. 

Gritty, compelling, and packed with action, the saga of the Outlaw Ranger continues in BLOOD AND GOLD, the third exciting installment in this series from bestselling author James Reasoner.

 on Kindle

The Ringer gets some press

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Jan 302015
It can't have escaped both of you, my dear readers, that The Ringer is about to kick off at Ayr Gaiety Theatre on Feb 11-12.

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.

OR CALL 01292 288235


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Jan 302015
By Andrez Bergen

While most people conjuring up the Tristan/Tristram and Isolde/Iseult tale of yore probably think love-potion histrionics, armour, amore, King Arthur, much bodice-ripping, Richard Wagner’s opera, or James Franco in one of his lamer film roles, I steer towards something far nicer: A book of myths and legends that I grew up with, illustrated by the great Alice and Martin Provensen.
Martin collaborated on Disney fare like Dumbo and Fantastia, but you might know him best for his creation (in 1952) of Tony the Tiger for Kelloggs. I actually have a coffee mug with that on it. Alice worked with the Walter Lantz Studio, creators of Woody Woodpecker. But it was their imagery as pair that caused the most impact, with eight books making the New York Times list for best-illustrated tomes each year they were published.
Anyway, Alice and Martin are bloody brilliant artists.
My dad picked up for me the myths and legends book I mentioned when I was in primary school, and I call it simply (suitably) Myths & Legends — though the official title is the somewhat long-winded Golden Treasury of Myths and Legends Adapted from the World’s Great Classics (originally published in 1958) with the stories adapted by Anne Terry White. 
So I always dug the tale of Tristram & Iseult (also known as Tristan & Isolde) for the artwork as much as the words and had it in mind for years to adapt the story in some way, somehow. I did pay homage in my novel One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, but on New Year’s Eve I got the bug in my “creative” bonnet to have a swing at the yarn — as a comic book.
Hence Trista & Holt.
Now, before you cough, splutter and/or soapbox that comic books are not real literature and belong nowhere near noir or on this site, let me point you in the direction of writers Alan Moore (who did V for Vendetta, Marvelman and Watchmen, all three of which have appeared on university curriculums apparently — though don't quote me), Frank Miller (Sin City and some of the best Batman and Daredevil escapades), Matt Fraction (Hawkeye) and the great Ed Brubaker — who rebooted Captain America with the 'Winter Soldier' saga and has done comics with names like Criminal and Fatale
So get over it.
If you didn't hack, choke or get judgemental at the mention of sequential stuff, all the better.
Anyway, over Christmas/New Year I was also entrenched in another Dashiell Hammett/Raymond Chandler binge. I do them frequently. But this time I caught up on 95% of the Continental Op stories, along with The Glass Key, The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man (yet again), as well as Marlowe in Playback and The High Window.
So I had this big hardboiled detective vibe happening in my brain, while polishing off my Bullet Gal series — which is hardboiled noir set in the '40s.
And when I started the new comic, of course these influences were going to hang heavy — along with the comic book work of Brubaker, Fraction, Miller, Moore and the pioneering Will Eisner (The Spirit).
Which brings me to the new comic series, the first issue of which will be published at the end of February via IF? Commix [iffybizness.weebly.com] in Australia.
Hell, there's even a Facebook page [facebook.com/tristaandholt] where I put regular work-in-progress rubbish and waffle on a bit more than here.
What's the score?
Well, it's the 1970s and set in an unnamed city in which crime families flourish and the police pinch pennies from those with most power. Our heroes are members of rival clans, star-crossed heirs apparent destined to find love, loss and betrayal.
I have no idea what encouraged me to flip the coin three pages into the new series and set the time frame as the '70s. 
Sure, some of the best crime/gangster movies were made then like The Godfather, The Anderson Tapes, Dirty Harry, The French Connection and A Clockwork Orange — but it's also the era of flares, disco, The Star Wars Holiday Special and CHiPs.
Which makes it all the more fun to tackle. With a serious bent, I swear.

:: Andrez Bergen blogs here: https://andrezbergen.wordpress.com
Jan 302015
(Editor’s note: This is the 133rd installment in our series about great but forgotten books. Today’s tribute comes from Steve Nester, host of Poets of the Tabloid Murder, a weekly Internet radio show heard on the Public Radio Exchange [PRX]. Nester is also a freelance writer, who has become a frequent contributor to this series; his last entry looked back at 1940’s They Don’t Dance Much, by James Ross.)

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.--“

“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?”
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.

READ MORE:An Interview with David Markson,” by Joey Rubin (Bookslut); “David Markson, R.I.P.,” by Sarah Weinman (Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind).

Forgiving Judas poetry by Tom Piccirilli

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Jan 302015

Reviewers are saying that these are Tom's most personal poems yet
dealing with mortality, the loss of longtime friends and the existential
traps everyday existence.

Why I write poetry by Tom Piccirilli
Poetry is like writing 10 sentence short stories.  They are self-contained screams of self-indulgence.  When the writing is good its faster--much faster than prose--and sometimes you just need that speed to capture the essence of what you're trying to say.  Metaphor isn't frowned against and rhyme and meter are easily sidestepped, if you so choose.

available exclusivey from crossroads press
Jan 302015

Thrilling Detective 1931-11This 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.


Action Comics 1938Although 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.)


 Posted by at 1:30 pm
Jan 302015
I hadn't read a Shadow novel in quite a while and was in the mood for one, so I picked a story that I'd heard was pretty good, THE MAN FROM SCOTLAND YARD, which appeared in the August 1, 1935 issue of THE SHADOW. It turned out to be a decent choice, but before I talk about that, I'm going to wallow a bit in nostalgia. Consider yourself warned. I have a long history with The Shadow. I
Jan 302015
An unusual setting of West Africa in the 1950s, a locked room murder involving death by bow and arrow, evidence of tribal witchcraft rituals in the surrounding village, and a cast of characters whose names seem inspired by the board game Clue. There’s even a map of the scene of the crime. Sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t it? So much opportunity for a send-up of the traditional detective novel or an intriguing homage to the works of John Dickson Carr. Why then is Darkest Death (1964) such a dreadful mess? It’s a greater mystery than the one Ralph Stephenson presents us in the pages of his alternately boring and quirky detective novel.

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)
 When the police arrive the story starts to become interesting. But I immediately noticed more funny business with the names: Supt. Stalky Heron, James Raven, and Charles Finch. Apparently having tired of his Crayola muse Stephenson resorted to a Peterson Field Guide for the rest of his characters' names. Only the local doctor escaped the bird dubbing. His name is MacGregor. No real relief though for MacGregor is saddled with a cartoon Scottish dialect. Six of one, half a dozen of the other as my mother used to carp.

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.

Ashanti warrior
The detective work leaves a lot to be desired. An obsession with fingerprints and police photography mixes with the usual endless parade of suspects being interrogated in Q&A sessions. In an effort to avoid revealing the dirty secrets among the many adulterous men who were keeping company with the trampy Hetty Green the Europeans accuse the African servants and obfuscate the police work with gossip of witchcraft. Silver, the anthropology expert, points out Green’s missing black cat is a sure sign of some local having kidnapped and slaughtered it for an essential ingredient used in an invisibility spell. Isn’t it possible Sally Gray’s murder actually involves supernatural methods? When Silver fails to convince the police the rest of the men (and a few women) offer more accusations against the African servants because, you know, they’re just plain shifty and some of them have filched spare change and food from their employers.

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"
 Posted by at 6:50 am