Thursday, September 29, 2016

Betty Fedora, Issue Three

Thanks BETTY FEDORA for including my story along with these other terrific writers. Available in print or ebook.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Forgotten Movies: AFTER THE FUNERAL (Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot episode)/FIVE LITTLE PIGS

Okay, this was one of the better Christie's I've seen. It was smoothly done, well-acted, great period detail. I couldn't begin to guess the murderer until it was nearly over. And yet, for me, it suffered from the same problems many of the Christie's suffer from. There are simply too many characters to sort through and few are developed well. Every character gets to do a walk and talk with Poirot. And in the end, we spend fifteen minutes hearing him put it together.

I am not sure that the world Christie created ever existed. As a teenager reading her, it certainly was not a world I knew at all: people dressing for dinner, filling a country house with family and friends, elegant cars pulling up a long driveway, servants listening at doors,a  murderous lower middle-class woman taking her revenge. (That seemed to happen quite often).

So although I am not so much an admirer of the whodunit plot she insisted on, I am an admirer of what Christie achieved. How she either created or captured a world I never knew. And these BBC productions, with their excellent casts, sets, and direction capture it a second time. And David Suchet will always be Poirot for a generation or two. He gets is so right.

Here is an article in the Irish Times with many crime fiction writers talking about Agatha if you haven't seen it.


Okay, the next night we watched FIVE LITTLE PIGS, which I thought quite brilliant.  There were many fewer characters and they were well developed indeed. Although we have the denouement at the end there is a final twist that is clever and makes perfect sense. I would rate this as the best Christie I have seen so far.


Watched the ABC MURDERS, which was also awfully good. I have done Christie an injustice by remembering her novels as too much one thing.  Close to as good as FIVE LITTLE PIGS.

Also we knew we had first read the name Megan in an Agatha Christie novel.  This was it.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The First Crime Writers You Read

I have told the story of finding a table full of Agatha's on the boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ about 1968. Phil and I sat in the ocean on low chairs reading them one after another. So Christie was my first venture in crime fiction after the ones for kids. And after her, I read Ruth Rendell, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, John D. Macdonald, Ross Macdonald, Margaret Millar, Sjowal and Wahloo, Nicholas Freeling, Rex Stout, Emma Lathen, Patricia Moyes and so on.

Every once in a while, someone online talks about their early reading and I realize there were many writers I never touched. I never read Erle Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen, Mickey Spillane, David Goodis, Jim Thompson, Dashiell Hammett, James Cain, Horace McCoy and so many more.

Why? Well basically I read what my library bought. (It was a very long time before I bought many books other than those at used book sales). And I doubt my libraries bought any fiction that was not published in hardback. Or anything too violent. That would eliminate the writers found on spinner racks. If I opened a book and it seemed  too male-oriented I probably didn't read it either. Unlike Megan, I was not particular attracted to the more noirish stories. But soon I also wasn't attracted to cozies. I fell somewhere in between. Ruth Rendell would probably sum me up.

A long way of getting to my question: who were the first adult crime fiction writers you read?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Books, September 23, 2016

The Evil Days by Bruno Fischer (archives of Ed Gorman) 
Bruno Fischer had one of those careers you can't have any more. There's no market for any of it. He started out as editor and writer for a Socialist newspaper, shifted to terror pulps when the newspaper started failing, became a successful and respected hardcover mystery novelist in the Forties and early Fifties, and finally turned to Gold Medal originals when the pb boom began. His GMs sold in the millions. His House of Flesh is for me in the top ten of all GMs.

Then for reasons only God and Gary Lovisi understand, Fischer gave up writing and became an editor for Colliers books. But he had one more book in him and it turned out to be the finest of his long career.

Fischer shared with Howard Fast (Fast when he was writing mysteries under his pen names) a grim interest in the way unfulfilling jobs grind us down, leave us soulless. Maybe this was a reflection of his years on the Socialist newspaper. The soullessness features prominently in The Evil Days because it is narrated by a suburban husband who trains to work each day to labor as an editor in a publishing company where he is considered expendable. Worse, his wife constantly reminds him (and not unfairly) that they don't have enough money to pay their bills or find any of the pleasures they knew in the early years of their marriage. Fischer makes you feel the husband's helplessness and the wife's anger and despair.

The A plot concerns the wife finding jewels and refusing to turn them in. A familiar trope, yes, but Fischer makes it work because of the anger and dismay the husband feels when he sees how his wife has turned into a thief. But ultimately he goes along with her. Just when you think you can scope out the rest of the story yourself, Fischer goes all Guy de Maupassant on us. Is the wife having an affair? Did she murder her lover? Is any of this connected to the jewels? What the hell is really going on here?

Sometimes we forget how well the traditional mystery can deal with the social problems of an era and the real lives of real people. The hopelessness and despair of these characters was right for their time of the inflation-dazed Seventies. But it's just as compelling now as it was then when you look at the unemployment numbers and the calm reassurances by those who claim to know that the worst is yet to come.

All this wrapped in one hell of a good tale by a wily old master. 
Margot Kinberg, IN THE BLEAK MID-WINTER, Julie Spencer-Fleming
B.V. Lawson, FIRST COME, FIRST KILL, Richard and Frances Lockridge
Steve Lewis/William F Deeck, WEREWOLF, Charles Lee Swem
Neer, Three Vintage Mysteries Written Under Pseudonyms
J.F. Norris, WILD JUSTICE, George Birmingham
Matthew Paust, ELIMINATION, Ed Gorman
Reactions to Reading, PIETR, THE LATVIAN, George Simenon
James Reasoner, TRAILS WEST, Eugene Cunningham
Richard Robinson, GROTTOS OF CHINATOWN, Arthur J. Burks
Gerard Saylor, THE PAPERBOY, Pete Dexter, SEDUCTION OF INNOCENT, Max Allan Collins
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, BLUNT DARTS, Jeremiah Healy
TomCat, NECK AND NECK, Leo Bruce
Westlake Review, SMOKE

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What Makes a Sentence Great.

and here is a link to Prof. Jenny Davidson's piece on that subject. I am a great fan of her blog called Light Reading and I would read any book she recommended because she reads across all genres. A reader who can see the beauty in every kind of writing.

So give me a great sentence.Of course, in crime fiction, a first sentence would certainly be this one.

"When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon." James Crumley  The Last Good Kiss


"Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write." Judgment in Stone  Ruth Rendell