Aug 302014
 
IT’S ABOUT CRIME
by Marv Lachman

BILL CRIDER – Too Late to Die. Walker, hardcover, 1986. Ivy, paperback, 1989.

   Mystery novels with a rural policeman as the leading character are a rare breed. One of the best of them is Too Late to Die by 8111 Crider.

   Crider’s hero is Dan Rhodes, Sheriff of Blacklin County, Texas, and most of the action takes place in and around one of that small county’s smaller spots, Thurston (population 408). The book is true its country locale (with characters like Billy Joe Bryan, the retarded local “Peeping Tom”), but there is an intelligence at work here which gives this work a sophistication not often found in backwoods mysteries.

   The local settings ring with such truth that they completely convinced this city slicker who was brought up in The Bronx. I especially liked the scenes at the general store and the debate at the school during Rhodes’ reelection campaign. They all work to strengthen a good detective story.

   Anyone familiar with Bill Crider’s work in reference books and fan magazines should not be too surprised that this is one of the best first mysteries of 1986.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 8, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1986 (slightly revised).

 Posted by at 11:24 pm
Aug 302014
 

liam and tjOkay, where do I start?

Couple of days ago I put together five sets of eight assorted Scudder paperbacks. We mentioned them on Facebook and they sold out overnight @ $49.99 a set. I was encouraged enough to do the same for Bernie R—six sets this time, eight titles per set, mostly mint paperbacks but we offered them as signed reading copies. Same deal, same price. Mentioned them on Facebook and four sets sold in a couple of hours. We’ve got two sets left. I may be able to put together some more sets down the line, if and when I open the right box, but no guarantees.

THE UPDATE UPDATED: The two sets sold, almost as soon as the post went out. Well, gee—I got busy as a nitpicker picking nits, and put together six more sets. Same deal, eight nice fresh reading copies, some UK editions mixed in, and all of them signed by The Big Fellow.

I’m thinking of putting together a multi-copy set of the Tanner series. I’ll have to see how many copies we can spare. (The reason we have all of these paperbacks is LB’s agent used to need them for foreign submission; now, in an age where everything is electronic and moves magically through cyberspace, that’s not as necessary as it was.)

While I was looking for things, I found a lost box of The Burglar in the Rye. We were down to one or two copies, having discarded several with ripped covers and other disasters, and they were pegged at $24.99, but we’ve got enough on hand to put ‘em on special at $9.99. Facebookers grabbed a batch, and last I looked we have 19 left. These are hardcover first editions in brand-new condition, and of course I got him to sign them.

The steady ka-ching! that greeted the price drop on Rye led me to hunt some more, and guess what? We’ve got an equally good supply of the Dutton hardcover first editions of The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza and The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian. They’re firsts, they’re signed, and they’re the same format as Rye—and, duh, the same price. $9.99.

Oh, before I forget. The Burglar Paperback Reading Copy set is US-only. We can ship the individual hardcover books internationally, but note that the per-copy shipping charge is double what you’d pay for the book itself, so you may or may not feel it’s worth it. I’m not sure I worded all of this as well as I could have, or as he would have, but click the links and the pertinent shipping information will appear.

David Trevor for LB’s eBay Bookstore

PS—I couldn’t decide which book to illustrate in this post, so decided instead on a still from A Walk Among the Tombstones. Just because I like it. That’s Liam Neeson as Matthew Scudder and Astro (aka Brian Bradley) as TJ. But you figured that out, right?

 

 Posted by at 6:22 pm

The Joe R. Lansdale Binge of Summer ’14

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Aug 302014
 
I spent all of July and the beginning of August on a Joe R. Lansdale rampage. I read a selection of his books-- some I had read previously, years ago, and others were new to me-- and I'm happy to tell you Lansdale is every bit as terrific as I remembered. It was about 25 years ago, I guess, I first discovered him. I was working in an independent book store at the time, and THE DRIVE-IN caught my eye; even then, I was enraptured with what you might call "trash culture"; that is, B-movies, surf and garage punk, cheesy Americana, etc, and THE DRIVE-IN looked right up my alley.

Oh yes, it definitely was. THE DRIVE-IN threw me for a loop and quickly became one my very favorite books, and Joe Lansdale became one of my very favorite writers. I sought out all of his available books at the time, read them in a near-frenzy of fan-worship, preached the Lansdale gospel to everyone I knew.

But over the years I sort of lost track of him a little. He released book after book, becoming steadily more popular, but I had moved on and shifted my obsession to the great paperback original writers of the '50's and early '60's.

That was pretty stupid of me. When I finally caught up to him, I was very happy to discover that Lansdale had only gotten better and better in the intervening years. He really is a remarkably original voice, and even though his work is closer to mainstream now than it ever was, he is still fearless, still wry and crude, still a writer's writer.

I read a total of 13 Lansdale's in a row on this binge, which took me about halfway through the ones I have on my shelf. Maybe next July I'll tackle the rest...

Here are my notes on the Great Summer Lansdale Binge, in no real order:














COLD IN JULY

When a burglar breaks into his home, husband and father Richard Dane is forced to shoot him down. Dane isn't a violent man, and the event is traumatic for him-- but when the burglar's father, Ben Russel, comes seeking revenge, Dane finds himself confronting the darkest parts of his own heart. 

That set-up in really only the starting point of this highly unpredictable novel. Bizarre circumstances push Dane and Russel into the role of allies, and their journey leads them to discover a very dark and very disturbing conspiracy that changes both men forever. 

I first read this one some twenty years ago. It was among the first two or three that turned me into a serious Lansdale fan and one I've been itching to re-read for some time. It stands up very well, even though Lansdale has definitely gotten better and his voice more distinctive since. Terrific book.


SAVAGE SEASON


This first of what would become a series about Hap Collins and Leonard Pine is just a terrific book, and I loved it as much on this second reading as I had waaay back in 1990. When Hap's ex, Trudy, shows up, Hap and Leonard get drawn into a search for hidden money. Trudy has hooked up with some old '60's radicals who have big plans for the cash. Things go south, of course, and the last half of SAVAGE SEASON is riddled with tension and double-crosses that come at a lightning pace. There's a huge, amazingly suspenseful action sequence at the climax that just blew me away. Vintage Lansdale.


MUCHO MOJO


While SAVAGE SEASON, the first appearance of Hap and Leonard, was kind of a "caper" novel, this one is more a straight-up mystery. Well, as "straight-up" as you could expect from Lansdale, anyway... and if you know Lansdale, you know he doesn't really do "straight-up". 


Leonard's uncle dies, leaving Leonard a house, lots of money, and a dead boy hidden under the floorboards, along with an assortment of moldering kiddie porn mags. This unsavory discovery sets Leonard and Hap on a quest to clear Leonard's uncle's name and nab the real killer. Along the way, they uncover more victims, and since all the victims are wayward black boys, the police aren't much help. 

At its heart, this is a novel about the politics of race in E. Texas, and Lansdale doesn't flinch when it comes to that subject. It's a solid mystery novel, too, even if the bad guy(s) are somewhat telegraphed. But what really makes MUCHO MOJO shine, just like all the other books in this series, is the terrific relationship between Hap and Leonard; a straight white guy and a gay black guy with a friendship that is as deep and strong as any you'll ever read about. Their banter is witty and affectionate and feels very real. While the other relationships in the novel-- especially Hap's doomed romance with Florida-- maybe fall a little flat, all is forgiven when Hap and Leonard are on the page together. 

ACT OF LOVE


Joe Lansdale's first published novel, from 1981, was released in the early days of the serial killer craze that gripped the reading and movie-watching public in the '80's, the zeitgeist that culminated in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, but kept hobbling along after that until most of us were sick unto death of serial killer stories. 


The story is simple: a depraved killer, The Houston Hacker, goes around slicing up women, and a detective, Marvin Hanson, pursues him. There are a couple of twists and turns near the end as Lansdale keeps us guessing who the killer is. Hanson's family is put in danger when the Hacker decides he's getting too close. That's about it.

It's hard to make any sort of judgment about it all these years later, because all the tropes we're so familiar with now probably weren't so overdone then. And being a huge fan of Lansdale, it's kinda hard for me to be harsh about this one. But compared to the work Champion Joe would do later, ACT OF LOVE is, honestly, not great. There's very little of the writer he would become evident here; none of those eccentric character tics, none of that exceptional dialogue or black humor. In fact, ACT OF LOVE is pretty much a humorless book, and the violence is unrestrained and almost immaturely graphic, to no real purpose. I don't know. Maybe I'm judging too harshly, as right before this one I read THE BOTTOMS, which is Lansdale at his very finest. Maybe it's not fair to compare a writer to himself 25 years ago. 

But regardless, the Lansdale we have now is, without question, one of the finest and most original writers working. Unless you're a hardcore fan or a completest, though, I'd suggest skipping ACT OF LOVE.

LOST ECHOES


After a mysterious childhood illness, Harry Wilkes is left with a strange condition-- loud noises cause visions of past horrors to come to him in crippling clarity. Now in college, he has shut himself off from the world and turned to boozing to numb the vision's power. When he meets Tad, an older alcoholic, they work together to find their "centers", until Harry's childhood friend/crush Kayla shows up begging Harry's help in finding her father's murderer. And the results could end up killing them all.


This is an exceptionally strong novel, even for Lansdale. The characters are fully realized in all their flaws and weaknesses, and the subject of alcoholism is treated with remarkable insight and realism. A terrific thriller.

FLAMING ZEPPELINS


This volume contains two short novels, "Zeppelins West" and "Flaming London"; in the first, Buffalo Bill Cody's travelling Wild West Show winds up in Imperial Japan on a secret mission, where Cody (who, by the way, is just a head in a Mason jar), Wild Bill Hickok, Annie Oakley, and Sitting Bull rescue the Frankenstein Monster from an evil shogun. Then, with the Japanese in pursuit, they crash in the ocean, are rescued by Captain Bemo (standing in for Captain Nemo), and taken to the Island of Dr. Momo (standing in for Dr. Moreau). And that's just the beginning. You might get the impression that this is a seriously goofy, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, romp, and you'd be right. It's wildly anarchic and over-the-top.


The second volume,"Flaming London", continues the bizarre fun, as Ned the Seal (introduced as a minor character in the first one but taking more center stage here) teams up with Mark Twain and Jules Verne to battle invading Martians a la War of the Worlds. Along the way, they encounter a giant steam man, a talking Martian ape, pirates lost in time, and the Flying Dutchman.

So, yeah. Crazy stuff. Lansdale without a filter, basically. The first novel has a nice, flying by the seat of your pants feeling, as if Lansdale is making it up as he goes and is having a helluva good time. The second one is more cohesive, and maybe a bit more satisfying in the long run. But both of them are well worth reading.

DEADMAN'S ROAD


DEADMAN'S ROAD contains all of Lansdale's tales of the Rev Jebidiah Mercer, the gunslinger preacher who wanders the West destroying supernatural evil wherever he finds it. The bulk of the volume is taken up by the short novel DEAD IN THE WEST, in which the tormented Reverend arrives in Mud Creek, Texas, the target of a vengeful Indian curse and hordes of flesh-eating zombies. In the other stories, Reverend Mercer has his head on a little straighter (which isn't saying much, the guy's a mess) and vanquishes werewolves, goblins, and demonic bees.


All the stories are fun and profane in the best Lansdale tradition. Not too many writers can balance grim against funny, horrifying against goofy, the way Joe Lansdale can, and the result of that is a handful of stories that only HE could have written.

THE BOTTOMS


I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is probably Lansdale's most fully realized novel that I've read so far. It is entirely gripping, with terrific and believable characters, pitch-perfect pacing, and, in the last fourth, almost unbearable suspense. 


Like several of his other more "serious" novels (please note I use serious in quotation marks) THE BOTTOMS takes place in Depression-era East Texas. Young Harry and his little sister Tom find the mutilated corpse of a black woman, and as horrifying as it is, it's only the beginning in a string of murders that ultimately lead to the lynching of an innocent black man for the crime. Harry's father, who acts as a part time constable, has his hands full trying to find the murderer while keeping the KKK from taking further steps in the black community. 

More than a few times, THE BOTTOMS made me think of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD; the comparison is inevitable. The narrator is a young person who's father is often the sole voice of reason in a town stained by ugly institutionalized racism. There's even aBoo Radley of sorts, near the end. And speaking of that ending... the last chapter is just flat-out terrifying.

THE TWO-BEAR MAMBO


The third Hap and Leonard book, and the strongest so far. At the request of their cop friend Hanson, the boys head off to Grovetown, Texas, in search of Hanson's girlfriend (and Hap's ex) Florida. What they find is a kind of throwback town, full of Jim Crow types. No sir, they don't like "coloreds" in Grovetown. Trying to get a bead on where Florida has vanished to, Hap and Leonard find themselves in pretty serious straits, asking questions that are making some of Grovetown's more illustrious citizens nervous-- and a little past the halfway mark in THE TWO-BEAR MAMBO, our heroes get a pretty shocking reminder of their own mortality with a pretty brutal beat-down. Of course, it takes a whole mob of folks to do it, but it's enough to make the boys start second-guessing themselves. 


Reading this one, it dawned on me finally that I've really developed an emotional attachment to Hap and Leonard. It's hard not to like them, right from the first book, but in this one it really hit home; there were a few moments when I found myself worried about them, which was ridiculous, as I know full well there are more books in the series after this one, and yet... I got so caught up in events I wasn't even thinking about that.

Anyway, the last fourth of THE TWO-BEAR MAMBO goes dark, as Hap and Leonard find it in themselves to get back on the horse and finish what they started, despite their fear and new-found insecurity. And the climax, set during a raging rain storm and the threat of the entire town flooding with them in it, is a nail biter. Great stuff. 

HIGH COTTON


A collection of Lansdale's most popular stories. Very good stuff, and a reminder of what an original voice he was, right from the very beginning of his career. Most of these stories are pretty brutal and pretty graphic. Others, like "Bob the Dinosaur Goes to Disneyland" are surprisingly whimsical, even if they DO have that twisted Lansdale touch.


Favorites include the aforementioned "Bob the Dinosaur", the truly disturbing "By Bizarre Hands", the black comedy "Night They Missed the Horror Show", the action-packed and scary "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road", the Alfred Hitchcock-esque "The Steel Valentine", and the tragic-funny "Godzilla's Twelve-Step Program".

FREEZER BURN

Bill is a loser in the classic mold, a shiftless fella without much brains or ambition. He's been living off his mother's social security checks, but when she dies (and her corpse starts stinking the place up) the pipeline dries up and Bill comes up with a scheme to rob a fireworks stand across the street from his house. The "heist" goes south in a hurry, and Bill has to take it on the lam through a dangerous swamp. He winds up joining a travelling freak show, making friends with a dog boy, and falling hard for the freak show owner's sexy young wife... and of course, the wife has a plan to do away with her husband...

If you've read any old Gold Medal paperback originals from guys like Charles Williams or Day Keene or Robert Edmund Alter, or even if you've read James M. Cain, you already know this story backwards and forwards. But Lansdale does the Lansdale thing with it, making it hysterically funny at times, dark, profane, a little vile on occasion, but compellingly readable. There are lots of surprises along the way, some truly memorable characters and scenes, and seeing the way Bill changes (in some ways he becomes a better person, and in other ways, well... not so much) is fascinating.

Also, I should note, the whole opening segment involving the botched robbery and Bill's escape through the swamp is one of the funniest things I've ever read in my life. It was disturbing too, but I couldn't help but laugh out loud a few times.

BAD CHILI

This one starts with one of the funnier sequences in the Hap and Leonard series, as the boys are attacked out of nowhere by a rabid squirrel; it's a seemingly random beginning that actually becomes relevant at the end. But even if it wasn't, it works as a purely comic scene.

The whole book is pretty funny, really. There's more emphasis on comedy than in the previous books, and that's probably why I like it maybe just a little less. But a LOT happens in this one-- Leonard's boyfriend Raul disappears, Leonard is accused of murder (surprisingly, he's cleared pretty quickly)and the boys investigate a ring of black market gay-bashing video makers. There are lots of quirky characters and quirky scenes, but BAD CHILI maybe doesn't hold together as a whole as well as previous Hap and Leonard novels.

I'm being nit-picky, of course. Even a lesser Hap & Leonard novel is well-worth reading. Some bonus's are the surprise appearance of Jim Bob Luke, from COLD IN JULY, and a really thrilling climax that takes place during a tornado. Poor Hap keeps getting caught in the middle of natural disasters. And of course, the easy camaraderie between Hap & Leonard is a pure joy.

SUNSET AND SAWDUST


Depression-era E Texas: during a violent storm, Sunset Jones kills her husband, the constable, as he attempts to rape her. Much to Camp Rapture's dismay, she inherits his job and finds herself in the middle of a double murder investigation that implicates some of the town's highest officials. And Sunset's life, as well as the lives of her daughter and her friends, is in serious danger.


That summary doesn't do it justice. This is Lansdale at his best. SUNSET & SAWDUST is a suspenseful, darkly comic thriller with all of the great, wry touches Champion Joe is known for. And Sunset is just a terrific character. In this age when too many creators think a "strong female character" is basically just a man in drag, Lansdale gives us a believable and engaging heroine who is strong BECAUSE she's a woman, not in spite of it. You'll definitely root for her.


On the passing of Jerry Healy

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Aug 302014
 

It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Jeremiah Healy. Jerry was a great guy and a terrific writer, and we were proud to re-release his Cuddy novels as eBooks, so that they could be available to a new generation of readers. 

Aug 302014
 
Liam McIlvanney, a professor of Scottish Studies at New Zealand’s University of Otago, has won the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. Judges of this year’s competition applauded his tale Where the Dead Men Go (Faber and Faber, 2013)--the second entry in his series about Glasgow journalist Gerry Conway--as a “fascinating, brilliant, and challenging” work of fiction. The declaration of McIlvanney’s triumph was made on Saturday evening, following the Great New Zealand Crime Debate event at the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival. McIlvanney is the son of “Tartan Noir” novelist William McIlvanney (Laidlaw).

Judging convenor Craig Sisterson says of McIlvanney’s success: “In a year where we had our strongest, deepest, and most diverse longlist ever, and four truly fantastic finalists, Where the Dead Men Go got the nod for its terrific, page-turning storytelling powered by superb prose, fascinating characters, and an evocative sense of place. It’s the kind of book that lingers in your mind beyond the final page.”

A press release announcing the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award results synopsizes the plot of McIvanney’s latest novel this way:
In Where the Dead Men Go, Glasgow stands on the precipice: of the Commonwealth Games, a national vote on Scottish independence, and an explosive rekindling of a brutal gangland war. Gerry Conway is a jaded, jobbing journo, the golden child fallen, clinging to the coat-tails of his former protégé, Martin Moir. When Moir’s body is discovered as a big story breaks, Conway steps into his shoes; a very dangerous place, as gangsters, politicians, and other predators swirl around.
The book is finally set for release in the United States on October 2.

To capture the Ngaio Marsh Award, Where the Dead Men Go had to surpass three other shortlisted works: My Brother’s Keeper, by Donna Malane (HarperCollins); Frederick’s Coat, by Alan Duff (Vintage); and Joe Victim, by Paul Cleave (Simon & Schuster). “In addition to the award itself,” press materials explain, “McIlvanney wins a set of Dame Ngaio’s novels, courtesy of HarperCollins, and a cheque for $1,000 from the Christchurch Writers’ Festival Trust.”
Aug 302014
 
Agent N3 Is On The Poisoned Trail Of The KGB's 
Deadliest Seek-And-Sting Assassin
Scorpio!


Killmaster #253
Hong Kong. A city crawling with power, money, drugs, murder, and worse. It's here in the bustling center of the Orient that the KGB hired the world's deadliest assassin for a sabotage mission which threatens to jeopardize world peace. And it's here in this blood drenched underworld that Nick Carter takes on his deadliest assignment. To intercept this Soviet freelancer known as Scorpio. Or get stung in the process.....

Printing History
Written by Jack Canon

Berkley Publishing Group
Jove Books
Published by arrangement with The Conde Nast Publications, Inc.
ISBN 515 10128
September 1989
 Posted by at 7:30 am

So these two guys walk into a bar…

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Aug 302014
 

On Thursday, September 4th, at 8pm EST, legendary bestselling author Hugh Howie and I will have an impromptu live chat on Authors On The Air radio. This will be the literary equivalent of a cage fight, no rules, no referee, no limitations on the amount of popcorn consumed. If you don’t tune in, a puppy will…well, you don’t want to know.

Those of you who follow my utterings have no doubt heard me on Pam Stack’s show, which usually quickly deteriorates into name calling, abuse, vulgarity, and profanity that would make a drunk sailor blush.

Why Hugh, who sells more books than Elvis or the Beatles, would sully his otherwise pristine reputation by agreeing to this abuse is beyond me. I’m guessing he lost a bet. Or was drunk. Or both.

Be that as it may, this presents a marvelous opportunity to ask the man anything you like, either calling in, or by leaving the questions you’d most like answered by him in the comments section of this blog. Don’t bother leaving questions for me because I’ll just ignore the uncomfortable ones (which are most, knowing you lot), but Hugh’s way too polite, which is probably why he can buy and sell me like a used Yugo.

So what would you like to know? Whose shirts he wears? Whether he’s jealous he didn’t write JET? What his favorite color is? What’s next in his career? Ask away. No guarantees he’ll answer, but this is your best shot.

In the meantime, clock’s ticking down on my first co-authored novel with Clive Cussler, The Eye Of Heaven, going live on Tuesday. And I’m busy writing away with him on the next installment, so the first one can’t be too terrible. Don’t be a cheapskate – spring the bucks to buy it and find out.

Because, as we all know, the bar tabs don’t pay themselves…

See y’all on Thursday.

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