Sunday, January 31, 2010
Ava Gardner reading.
Winter's Bone (Daniel Woodrell) won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. I can't wait to see this one!!!
Milton T. Burton has some stories posted on his blog.
Any fans out there to tell me which of his books I should try?
How about you? What writer have you been meaning to read? Maybe we can help each other.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
The delightful Kerrie Smith at Mysteries in Paradise passed the torch onto me with a Creative Blogging Award. Thanks. I will never read as many books as Kerrie. She's an inspiration to me as a reader and I could not do Friday's Forgotten Books without her. The award asks me to tell seven things about myself and pass it on to other bloggers.
1) I didn't know I had a fear of heights until I climbed a sand dune in Michigan and turned around. I couldn't come back down. Everyone with me reminded me I couldn't fall off of a sand dune, but it didn't matter. I had to crawl down backward on my stomach so I couldn't see the height.
2) I only started writing when a class I was signed up for on the American Indian had too many books on the syllabus. I switched to a poetry writing class.
3) When I was a kid I had one of the first Batman comics but traded it for an Archie.
4) My paternal grandfather worked in a cigar factory and fathered and raised nineteen children on his salary. They lived in a three bedroom house and all the boys slept in the attic.
5) My maternal grandfather was an architect who fathered and raised one child. He was an architect on the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh.
6) The two boys (well, they were sixteen and seventeen at the time) I dated before I met my husband also became professors (religious studies and biology). Destined for the life I led, I guess.
7) I won an award for the student with the most school spirit when I graduated from high school.
Anyone who has a link of here also has a creative blog so I'm not choosing anyone in particular.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Femme Fatale: Gloria Grahame
The Summing Up, Friday, January 29, 2010
Patti Abbott, Rector of Justin, Louis Auchincloss, Nine Stories, J.D. Salinger
Paul Bishop, The Nebraska Quotient, William J. Reynolds
Bill Crider, Campus Doll, Edwin West (Donald Westlake)
Mile Dennis, Web of Murder, Harry Whittington
Martin Edwards, Suspects, David Thomson
Ray Foster, Tamiko, Ronald Kirkbride
Ed Gorman, The Luck of Ginger Coffey, Brian Moore
Chris Jones, Meg, A Novel of Deep Terror, Steve Alten
Randy Johnson, The 13th Immortal, Robert Silverberg
George Kelley, Web of Murder, Harry Whittington
B.V. Lawson, Suddenly at His Residence, Chritianna Brand
Leopard 13, Deliverance, James Dickey; Movie: Kelly's Heroes; Tunes: Indiana Wants Me, R. Dean Taylor and Turn Back the Hands, Tyrone Davis
Evan Lewis, Flash Casey-Detective, Geroge Harmon Coxe
Todd Mason, The Year's Best Horror Stories, Gerald W. Page, editor
Terrie Moran, Portraits of Murder, Alfred Hitchcock
Scott Parker, Batman: R.I.P. Grant Morrison & Tony Daniel
James Reasoner, The Window with the Sleeping Nude, Robert Leslie Bellem
Rick Robinson, essay on "The Joy of Discovery"
Kerrie Smith, The Death of the Joyce Scholar, Bartholomew Gill
Kevin Tipple, The Sweet and the Dead, Milton T. Burton
Jeri Westerson, The Body on the Bench, Dorothy B. Hughes
Femme Fatale: Ida Lupino Reminder: you can find all 20 months worth of forgotten books here.
Is it me or are too many people dying lately?
While you may know Kevin R. Tipple mainly by his book reviews, his short
fiction has appeared in such magazines as “Lynx Eye,” “Starblade,” “Show and
Tell,” and "The Writer's Post Journal" among others and online at such
places as "Mouth Full Of Bullets," "Crime And Suspense," "Mysterical-e" and
others. His story “By The Light Of The Moon” is available in “THE CARPATHIAN SHADOWS VOLUME TWO” anthology available from him, online and through bookstores. Examples of some of his published work can be found on his
website at http://kevinrtipple.com/
Milton T. Burton broke onto the crime scene a few years back with his
powerful debut novel, “The Rogues’ Game.” Set in an unnamed West Texas small
town, the book tells the tale of an unnamed narrator who arrives in town to
play cards and carry out an act of revenge. The con is the thing and the
heavily atmospheric and complex book twists and turns all the way to the
end. While I really enjoyed that book, I think his second novel, which came
out in 2006 is a bit better.
Titled “The Sweet And The Dead” the book is set in the fall of 1970 in
Mississippi where Manfred Eugene "Hog" Webern is deep undercover in Biloxi.
Hog is a retired Dallas County Deputy Sheriff, a good man, and a damn good
cop despite the word on the street. It is coincidence and nothing more that
he got into some money at approximately the same time his former partner was
gunned down and a couple of other nasty things happened. The word on the
street is that Hog is dirty which makes him a perfect candidate to
investigate from the inside the group dubbed the "Dixie Mafia."
Bob Wallace is a Texas Ranger and a man that Hog has worked with before more
than once and a man that Hog trusts without question. Wallace tells him that
Curtis Blanchard, one of the chief felony investigators for the Mississippi
Department of Public Safety wants Hog to come to Mississippi, hook up with
Jasper Sparks, head of the aforementioned Dixie Mafia, and gather enough
evidence to bring Jasper and as many others as possible down. Hog agrees for
several reasons and before long finds himself deep undercover in a twisting
case that seems to know no end.
In both of Milton’s books, the tales twist and turn on themselves and
features a main character full of internal demons and unresolved guilt who
is seeking his own form of justice. A dark hero who finds a brand of honor
in the criminal element and one isn’t sure about the character’s motivations
until the final word on the last page.
Books that I simply can’t say enough good things about or do justice to in
reviews. The author, like his characters, goes quietly about his business
and eschews the limelight and self promotion that so many routinely engage
in on every forum possible. Milton T. Burton deserves considerably more
acclaim than he is getting and his books deserve a place on your reading
Patti Abbott: Books that meant a lot to me:
THE RECTOR OF JUSTIN, by Louis Auchincloss, who died this week. Rather than try to jog my memory to speak about a book I read 45 years ago, let me refer you to a piece by Jonathan Yardly. Auchincloss may have written about and from a particular class, but he did it well.
Nine Stories-I bet you've read this one.
Ed Gorman is the author of A TICKET TO RIDE and editor of the anthology BETWEEN THE DARK AND DAYLIGHT. You can find him here.
The Luck of Ginger Coffey, Brian Moore
When I was but a lad I read an interview with Graham Greene in which
the master said that “Brian Moore is my favorite living novelist.” Who?
I’m afraid that the “Who?” still pertains today. Despite accolades from
every conceivable quarter Brian Moore never came close to getting the
readership he deserved, this despite seeing at least three of his
novels turn into well-received feature films and TV movies.
He is a literary dazzler of the highest order. After I’ve
pistol-whipped somebody into agreeing to read one of his books, I
generally hand them a copy of The Luck of Ginger Coffey, a novel I’ve
read at least ten times in forty-some years.
The situation is this: as long as he was in the Army, Irisher James
Francis Coffey was all right. His life was laid out for him. But when
Coffey (much like Moore himself) takes his wife Veronica and their
daughter and moves to Montreal he fails at a series of jobs he
considers beneath him (John D. MacDonald did the same thing—he said
bosses resented him telling them how to run their businesses after he’d
been there two days). His various failures have taken their toll on his
marriage. Veronica can’t take any more of his daydreams. (He will be
Somebody by God.)
A man named Gerry Grosvenor befriends him and gets him a job as a
proofreader. Coffey promises Veronica that he’ll take this only until
his “break” comes along. In other words he’ll quit or get fired soon as
he usually does. She leaves him, taking her daughter and the little
money Coffey has, and flees to Gerry Grosvenor.
We then follow the disintegration of James Francis Coffey in a country
not his own wandering lost in the pipe dreams he’s had since childhood.
Hilarious, brutal, sad, loving, we watch Coffey try to face reality
while winning back his wife. We’ve all known Coffeys; a fair share of
us WERE Coffeys in our twenties. But, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, if
you use a type then your burden is to turn him or her into a true
person. And what a person Coffey is, so vividly alive that half the
book you want to get your hands around his throat and squeeze real real
tight; and the other half buy him a beer and say for God’s sake, man,
and start talking to him as if you were his father. Now cut out the
bullshit, Coffey. For your sake and for your poor little daughter’s.
This book is so elegantly written, so perfectly conceived and rendered
that I hold it as a marvel of novel writing. If you’ll give it a
chance, I think you’ll agree with me.
By the way, this became a fine motion picture with Robert Shaw as
Coffey (a bit older than Coffey in the novel but excellent casting
nonetheless) and the wonderfully wistful Mary Ure.
By The Way #2 Brian Moore wrote two at least two Gold Medal novels and
one Dell in his hungriest days. Somewhere between them he published The
Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne which won a number of notable European
literary prizes. He got the awards but no money to speak of so he went
back to paperbacking.
Wreath for a Redhead (1951) (U.S. title: Sailor's Leave)
The Executioners (1951)
French for Murder (1954) (as Bernard Mara) GM
A Bullet for My Lady (1955) (as Bernard Mara)  GM
This Gun for Gloria (1957) (as Bernard Mara) GM
Intent to Kill (1957) (as Michael Bryan)
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwick) in Double Indemnity.
Who's your favorite in either a novel or movie?
Here's a site that discusses the subject from AMC.
Here's a list of actresses that portrayed the most vivid ones.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
She may say it needs a lot of work and that will give me pause over what to do.
I have a million short stories in my head and can easily entertain myself with writing them. I know I'll never earn money from writing shorts, never be read beyond the tiniest of tiny circles, but damn I never thought I'd have this much in life creatively. I wasn't raised to be successful in the larger world.
I don't mean this to be a knock on my parents. They were comfortable with living quietly and thought I'd be too. Small aspirations can keep you safe from disappointments. Opening the door to something in a wider world wasn't for them. Maybe the Internet has helped open such doors.
Were you raised to try for the bigger things? Did you parents push you out of their nest or warn you that you might fall (fail) if your tried to fly?
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Need I say more. Garage sale purchase last Saturday.
This cheers me up when I walk in my front door. It's really big (this is a six foot wall) and the frame is bright red. Wouldn't you like to see the rest of my artwork? Nah, you wouldn't.
What about you? Are you given to January impulse buying?
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Hat tip to Jeff Meyerson for this question.
Boy, there are so many, it's hard to know what to pick.
But I am going to go with Revolutionary Road, last year and Brian DePalma's Black Dahlia of several years ago. It's always especially hard when you're a big fan of the books.
What about you?
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Jason Starr reading.
People who still have their Christmas decorations up-outside. They can do what they like inside but get those reindeer and colored lights off of your lawn. Face up to the cold relentless winter ahead.
My husband says people who incessantly talk about this bugs him.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Aunt Agatha's Bookstore
The Summing Up, Friday, January 22, 2010: Book and Music Edition
Ace Atkins, The Drowner, John D. MacDonald
Paul Bishop. Early Autumn, Robert Parker
Paul Brazill, The Post Punk Peter Hamill, Richard Sanderson
David Cranmer, Lars Gullin
Bill Crider, Nervous Norvus
Mike Dennis, Street 8, Douglad Fairbairn
Martin Edwards, "What Am I Doing Here" Burt Bacharach and Hal David
Cullen Gallagher, The Avenger #27: The Purple Zombies, Kenneth Robeson (Ron Goulart)
Ed Gorman, The Ham Reporter, Robert J. Randisi
Jerry House, No Man's Land, Eric Bogle
Randy Johnson, Running Jumping Standing Still, Spider John Koerner and Willie Murphy
George Kelley, Goffin and King: Song Collection, 1961-67
B.V. Lawon, The Man Who Didn't Fly, Margot Bennet
Evan Lewis, The Silver Beatles
Julie Lewthwaite, The Man Who Was Magic, Paul Gallico
Todd Mason-see here.
Kent Morgan, Spotlight on Jacy Parker
Scott Parker, Apparat Organ Quartet
Eric Peterson, Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands: Snake in the Radio; Patricia Vonne
James Reasoner, Michael Murphy and Steve Fromholz
Rick Robinson, The Exotic Sounds of Martin Denny
Kerrie Smith, The Strange Story of Linda Lee, Dennis Wheatley
Cathi Stoller. The Work of Irwin Shaw
Dave White, LA Requiem, Robert Crais
Charlie Huston reading.
Beginning on the last Thursday in February, Scott Parker will host a monthly opportunity for people to talk about forgotten music. Let him know if you will post something.
And be on the lookout for Keith Rawson and Cameron Hughes' CRIMEFACTORY beginning on Monday.
'Julie Lewthwaite lives by the seaside in the north east of England and is a business writer who occasionally ventures into crime fiction (as Julie Wright or, more recently, Julie Morgan). She promises to pick just one name and stick to it soon.'
Paul Gallico, The Man Who Was Magic
I first read The Man Who Was magic when I was off school sick for a day and despite my (genuine - honest, guv!) illness, I could not put the book down. I've read it several times since, as often as possible in one sitting, and I enjoy it as much now as I did then. I think the reason is that this is perhaps the first book that really opened my eyes to the wickedness, the shallowness, the greed, the duplicity of which people are capable. Not bad people, the villains in black hats or with stubbly chins who skulk in shadows and menace gangs of smart kids: just people.
The basis of the book is that Adam, who practises 'simple' magic, goes to Mageia, the city where the world's great magicians may be found, to take part in their annual competition of magic. Adam is desperate to win as he wants to be admitted to the Guild of Master Magicians and to have the opportunity to learn the secrets of these great artists. What he does not know is that all these magicians are mere illusionists, so when he nervously performs his well practised, 'simple' trick of unscrambling an egg, he causes a sensation: the apprentice magician has done the impossible. Many adventures follow, with friends made, perils faced and lessons learned, and Adam ultimately triumphs by acknowledging the basic greed inherent in people's natures and using it as a means for escape, leaving older, wiser and better equipped to face the future.
Paul Gallico is undoubtedly better known for others of his titles: The Snow Goose and The Poseidon Adventure spring to mind; and whilst I have enjoyed many of his stories over the years, I always come back to this one. Perhaps it's the place and time it takes me back to - it is certainly very tame indeed by the standards of the books I tend to read now - but for me this is a true forgotten treasure and an enduring pleasure. (And as a bonus Mopsy, Adam's talking dog, really can talk!)
Ed Gorman is the author of books such as TICKET TO RIDE, THE MIDNIGHT ROOM, and SLEEPING DOGS. You can find him here.
The Ham Reporter by Robert J. Randisi
But the novel I'd like to discuss here is Randisi's 1986 historical The Ham Reporter first published by Doubleday in 1986 and reprinted last year (along with The Disappearance of Penny and still available) by Stark House.
It's nice to think that Gene Barry's TV depiction of Bat Masterton was historically accurate but unfortunately--and I thought Barry was a good actor--it wasn't. Now that you've recovered from your shock I'll note that Randisi gives us the real story. Masterton ended up in New York working on a newspaper as a columnist and reporter. And because he was outspoken he got into one hell of a lot of trouble.
One such moment came when Masterton wrote a column accusing a boxing promoter and his minions of fixing a prize fight. The promoter blazed back accusing Masterton of having concocted his own reputation as an old west gunfighter and claiming that Masterton only shot young cowboys in the back.
During all this Masterton became friends with Damon Runyon. The Ham Reporter deals with how they get caught up in this and other battles in the New York City of 1911. Randisi brings the city to real life, high and low alike. There's a particularly good chapter on the street gangs of New York. It has the same resonance as Borges' piece on Billy The Kid who, as most people forget, was a NYC street ganger himself.
I've probably read this novel four times over the years. I like the people, the local color and the way Randisi demonstrates how press wars (Fox News anybody?) are nothing new.
A fine, rich novel that just about any reader will enjoy and appreciate.
Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands: Snake in the Radio (Bloodshot Records 2006)
I wanted to approach this weeks Forgotten music with the thought "what would James Reasoner dig?" Which is to say, what could I write about that someone who likes crime and western novels and has written about enjoying classic country and Rock'n'Roll would like.
There were a lot of answers, but the one that kept coming to mind was the 2006 album Snake in the Radio by Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands.
I discovered the album after seeing an ad for it and reading a review in No Depression magazine. In the ad, Pickerel is shown lying on the floor a red telephone to one ear, a old pulp crime magazine in the other. A bottle of soda rests next to him. It's an image that evokes a time and a place and a feeling. I ran out to my local record shop and picked up a copy and have been hooked ever since.
The album runs the gambit of the 'Alt County' sound, a bit of classic country balladry, some up- tempo roots rock, and a dash of honky-tonk. Pickerel has a haunting plaintive voice that fits the songs. Sometimes he whispers, and sometime it's the voice of a barn-dance caller. My favorite tracks from the album are the title track with its lament about the state of radio, and the bouncy Sin Tax Dance.
A 2008 follo
w up album Cody’s Dream is also worth checking out.
More on Pickerel can be found at http://www.bloodshotrecords.com/artist/mark-pickerel
No Man's Land by Eric Bogle
My Forgotten Music pick is a song that has haunted me since I first heard it. World War I was a travesty from the beginning, starting when three pig-headed and selfish cousins (Willie and Georgie and Nickie) got involved in a
stupid pissing contest and no one backed down. It brought us trench warfare and mustard gas and Armistice Day/Veteran's Day/Remembrence Day and way too many dead.
No Man's Land opens with a wanderer pausing to rest by the the grave of a young soldier in France. As he talks to the dead soldier, he begins to ask questions: And I see by your gravestone you were only 19 When you joined the glorious fallen in 1916. Well, I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?
And then the bittersweet chorus: Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the pipes lowly? Did the rifles fire o'er you as they lowered you down? Did the bugles sound The Last Post in Chorus? Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?
The song pays sincere tribute to fallen soldiers everywhere, as well as reminds us how meaningless and tragic some wars are. I play it often throughout the year, and make a point to play it every Veteran's Day. No Man's Land has also been recorded as Willie McBride and as Green Fields of France; the original title, though, carries the message best. There are a number of versions availa
ble on Youtube. Lyric's are available on Bogle's webside. Singer/songwriter Bogle is an Australian by way of Scotland. His best-known song is The Band Played Waltzing Matilda (also about World War I) and he has a remarkably diverse and powerful catalog.
Kent Morgan. Spotlight On Jacy Parker - Verve V-8424
I can't find a date on this record, but I must have picked it up in a delete bin in the late 1950s or very early 1960s. I knew nothing about Jacy Parker other than what was in the liner notes. She was described as " a pert pianist from Chicago who, although in her mid-20s, demonstrates ability and jazz sense well beyond her years." She moved to NYC in 1954 to study at Juilliard. Parker said she likes to play "hard" and admires Oscar Peterson, Billy Taylor and Horace Silver. I am attracted to piano players who play and sing the great American songbook and the songs on this LP were what got me to invest my $1.99. I've always said in my next life that I want to come back as a piano player and singer in a saloon. Parker doesn't have great range, but her version of Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill's My Ship is as fine a one as I've ever heard. She leads up to My Ship on side one with I thought About You, Guess Who I Saw Today and Here Comes Trouble Again. I often would play this record late at night back-to-back with Sinatra's Only the Lonely. Once I realized that this record would have a permanent place in my collection, I looked for other albums by Parker and tried to find out more about her without success. It's hard to imagine why an artist with so much talent would disappear after one record.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Happy Anniversary, Phil. (He never reads this).
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
It is very hard to convey the excitement I experienced on reading his first books as they arrived on my library shelves. (No way I could afford hardbacks, nor wait for the paperback).
What made him special to me was his use of things like cooking, a girlfriend, how he got to a desintation, what he wore to pull you into his story. He was accessible--lived in our world. Drank from it.
Literary writers like Bobbie Ann Mason and Raymond Carver routinely did this. But it seemed special in a crime novel. And the plotting was so good. Every woman loved Spenser. He was like a slightly tamed Jim Rockford. I think we let Robert B. Parker go without acknowledging the iconic nature of Spenser, his special place.
What music are you listening to a lot lately?
With me, it's THE DEFINITIVE VINCE GUARALDI-bought it for my husband for Christmas, but it turns out he just like the ones associated with the holidays. (Peanuts music). I love Guaraldi's version of When You Wish Upon a Star.
Phil's listening to The Very Best of Victoria De Los Angeles (opera arias) and at a very high volume, I might add. If I put on the Stones at that volume, he'd have a fit.
How about you? What's on your turntable?
Monday, January 18, 2010
Ray Romano wrote and produced the show. I didn't know Raymond had it in him, but he does. It manages to steer away from being too sweet or too sour. The balanced look at the men is unusual in a TV show. They don't chase down criminals, live in a beach house, cook, save lives, lose weight (although maybe Owen should) or chase aliens, but they are sure easy to spend some time with.
Any newer shows I should be watching?
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Don't you admire young people who take a chance on a city like Detroit and open a movie theater. (Now remember, the city of Detroit has perhaps two other movie theaters).
That's what's happened here--and in one of the city most notoriously poor areas--the famous Cass Corridor.
It used to be called The Burton International School. The lockers, the little boy urinals, and a strange cache of wheelchairs, which frankly terrified me.
But there is also a decent- sized theater with a fine screen, a popcorn stand, a ticket taker, safe parking and a darn creative program coming in the weeks ahead.
The theater is just south of the WSU campus. If you're in the area, come on in. You will be happy you supported such brave souls. Here's their website. We saw Cold Souls last night. You can, too.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
What movies have you seen at a theater more than once on their first run.? Have you ever finished a book and immediately read it again? I did this all the time as a child but can't recall immediately rereading any book as an adult. What books/movies inspire this devotion or study?
PS. Check out my review of A SINGLE MAN on Crimespree Cinema-link to the left. Let me know if you've seen it and what you thought.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Patti Abbott, A Kiss Before Dying, Ira Levin
Ray Banks, Dead Man Upright, Derek Raymond
Paul Bishop, Hotel Transylvania, Chelsea Quinn Yabro
Bill Crider, STONE, MIA HUNTER: Miami War Zone, Jack Buchanan
Martin Edwards, Never Come Back, John Mair
Kate Flora, THE GRYPSTRA AND DE GIER series, Janwillen van de Wettering
Ed Gorman, Death's Sweet Song, Clifton Adams
Randy Johnson, The Fallout, Garry Disher
George Kelley, The Ship of Ishtar, A, Merritt
Rob Kitchin, The Last Good Kiss, James Crumley; The Fugitive Pigeon, Donald Westlake
Evan Lewis, Lady Afraid, Lester Dent
Todd Mason, Waiting for Nothing, Tom Kromer
Terrie Moran, The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins
Juri Nummelin, Criss-Cross, Don Tracy
Scott Parker, Batman: The Black Glove, Grant Morrispn and Tony Daniel
Laurie Powers , Love Story Writer, Daisy Bacon
Richard Prosch, Sundance, Man of Violence, The Bronco Trail, The Trail Ends at Hell, John Benteen
James Reasoner, The Long Midnight, Daniel Ransom (Ed Gorman
Rick Robinson, The Minerva Club, Victor Cannin, edited by John Higgins
Kerrie Smith, The Swaying Pillars, Elizabeth Ferrars
Attorney Kate Flora is the author of eleven books. Her dynamic character, Thea Kozak, returned in 2008 in Stalking Death. Finding Amy: A True Story of Murder in Maine, co-written with a career police officer, was a 2007 Edgar nominee. The story has been filmed for Court TV, Psychic Investigators, and two other TV shows. She has gone in a new direction with Playing God and The Angel of Knowlton Park, (Sept. 2008) gritty police procedurals from Five Star. She is currently writing a new true crime and plotting a light-hearted series. Flora’s stories have appeared in the Level Best anthologies, in Sisters on The Case, an anthology edited by Sara Paretsky, and in Per Se, an anthology of fiction. Flora teaches writing for Grub Street in Boston. She is a partner in Level Best Books, which publishes yearly anthologies of crime stories by New England writers.
The Grijpstra and De Gier series, Janwillem van de Wetering
I'd like to remember the Amsterdam-based detective series by Janwillem van de Wetering featuring Grijpstra and De Gier and The Commisaris, their elderly boss who feeds an equally ancient and stately tortoise lettuce in his garden. I started this series back when I was in law school and read mysteries like bonbons as an antidote to the seriousness of the law. The gap between 1986 and 1994 was painful, but a reader coming to it now won’t have to suffer that pain.
Among his many careers, van de Wetering was a Dutch policeman (he later moved to Maine and lived in a Buddhist monastery) and his experiences illuminate and inform the novels. What makes the series a delight, though, is the deeply developed characters, with all of their quirks and crabbing, their caring and their quarreling. Over the course of the series, they become people you care about. The books also have that wonderful “travelogue” quality of well-set mysteries, so that a reader can get a strong sense of place and culture, along with a gripping mystery story.
The series is long—as the list below shows, and for those of us who love a series, it is always fun to discover one that will keep us reading for months, not weeks. Too often today, a publisher drops a series after one or two books, and if you’ve cared about it, it’s like getting one unsatisfying meal after another. This series, instead, offers a feast:
Grijpstra and de Gier novels
- Outsider in Amsterdam, 1975; Tumbleweed, 1976; The Corpse on the Dike, 1976; Death of a Hawker, 1977; The Japanese Corpse, 1977; The Blond Baboon, 1978; The Maine Massacre, 1979; The Mind-Murders, 1981; The Streetbird, 1983; The Rattle-Rat, 1985; Hard Rain, 1986; Just A Corpse at Twilight, 1994; The Hollow-Eyed Angel, 1996; The Perfidious Parrot, 199
To my great sorrow, the author died in 2008. A few years before, I had the privilege of hearing him speak at a mystery conference, and he told the following story. He had gone up to Bangor from Surry, Maine, where he was living, to talk about a new book at a local TV station. He drove around town for a while, but he couldn’t find the station, so he gave up, and went into a diner. Stephen King was sitting at the counter, trying to eat, and his eating was awkward. Food kept falling out of his mouth. As though thinking he owed van de Wetering an explanation, he wrote, “Dentist” on a napkin and slid it down the counter.Van de Wetering decided to share his dilemma. He wrote: “Can’t find Channel 6,” and passed it back.
King wrote something on the napkin, and slid it back down the counter. It said, “YOU can talk.”
Patti Abbott, A Kiss Before Dying, Ira Levin
I was a great fan of Ira Levin, back in the day. Rosemary's Baby, The Boys from Brazil, This Perfect Day were three of my favorites. But with A Kiss Before Dying, which won the Best First Novel Edgar in 1954, he set a gold standard for the modern thriller IMHO.
The plot sounds ludicrous. A sociopath, on finding the heiress he hopes to marry is pregnant, murders her, believing her father will disinherit her should she have to marry under these circumstances.
His experiences in the war have made him a sort of Ripley character, with a complete belief in his ability to fool people, to do what he has to to get what he believes he deserves. The woman has two sisters and both of these women are seduced by our hero under different guises since he is unwilling to let his chances for a big score with this family go.
Naturally his plan eventually spins out of control. This is a breathlessly exciting novel. Whoever said a protagonist has to be likable has not read this.
It was filmed twice, more successfully with Robert Wagner, in his best if only good film performance. Why did no one else see his good looks and flat acting style made him a perfect villain and boring hero? The film versions eliminated the third sister--always a bit of a stretch in the novel. You can only go to the well so many times. All of Levin's novels are something special to me but this was my favorite.
Ed Gorman is the author of many books including A TICKET TO RIDE. You can find him right here.
Death's Sweet Song by Clifton Adams
Motels seemed to fascinate Gold Medal writers of the early Fifties. John D. MacDonald did at least one book with a motel setting, Day Keene did at least one, too, and I'm pretty sure there were two or three other writers who used motels as the focal point of their stories. John D. in The Crossroads talked about the serious business of running a big motel with all the amenities. But Keene and the book at hand, Death's Sweet Song by Clifton Adams, used failing motels as the reason their protagonists were willing to take a walk on the wild side.
Now Clifton Adams was mainly a writer of westerns and very good ones, too. Donald Westlake always pointed to Adams' The Desperado as one of the best of the Gold Medals (he was also right to note that its sequel, Noose For A Desperado, stunk).
Adams did a number of crime novels both under his own name and that of Johnathan Gant. Death's Sweet Song is the best of them about a man who needs money to save his motel who is all too easily talked into crime by a married couple he meets when they rent a room.
What gives the book its flavor is its desperation. Adams, whatever he was writing, worked in one of two modes. One was irony which he kept broad enough so that mass audiences could grasp it. It played off as humor. The other was a sweaty frantic fatalism that gave several of his westerns a true hardboiled edge. The opening page of A Partnership With Death is about as bleak as western fiction, H.R. DeRosso not withstanding.
This is a book that should have at least a small contemporary audience. Adams was an intriguing writer who had his own voice, his own style and his own angle of vision. I wish he'd written more crime novels
Rob Kitchin 1
Rob Kitchin 2
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
"The Takeway" on NPR is listing agencies and ways to help.
On to my diversion.
There's an interesting piece in NEWSWEEK about Psycho, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this month. It claims that Hitchcock movies hold up well and especially Psycho and North by Northwest. Yet when Van Sant redid it a few years back, it was a dud.
These films are fresher than movies from ten years ago despite the changes in fashion and such.
Why do his movies hold up well? Do certain genre movies hold up better than others? NEWSWEEK cited comedies as dating fast. But I still laugh at IT'S A GIFT, HIS GIRL FRIDAY and BRINGING UP BABY. It's often the romantic dramas that seem to fade. I doubt that anyone would sit enthralled by A SUMMER PLACE, PORTRAIT IN BLACK or PEYTON PLACE now.
I'm introducing too many ideas here but does Hitchcock hold up well for you--and if so why?
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Well, yes according to an article by Katie Roiphe in the January 3rd issue of the NYTBR.
Her claim is that hetereosexual male authors who deal with sex explicitly are now attacked.
She cites seeing a copy of a Philip Roth novel tossed into the subway tracks by an irate female reader.
Years ago, male writers were cheered for dealing with sex explicitly. Now they are hammered.
What do you think? Has the way we, and especially male writers, talk about sex changed? Do you need to handle sex with kid gloves? Have we demasculated sex for male writers? I'm just asking-no judgments here.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Addendum-Okay, I have researched this question and come away with the idea I am not supposed to see the military as an an American force but rather an "earth" force. But where are the Spanish, French, and Chinese speaking soldiers? More importantly, was enough care put into the plotline to consider this? Did Cameron mean it as a critique of US policy (and I don't necessarily disagree with some of this) or was he just trying to make a damned exciting movie? Have we finally decided that making the villains Arab or Russian or German was passe? Did Star Wars come in for this critique thirty years ago? I am just asking...
An ongoing discussion between my husband and me--Is Life Art? In other words, can a movie or book that just describes life in an artful way be considered art. I say yes. I am happy to see the day-to-day lives of ordinary people-the small things--played out.
He says that there has to be an "event" or a larger "observation" to make it movie or book-worthy. I guess we are talking more about movies here than books.
French movies seem to excel at reportage of these little moments. American movies never look at them. What do you think? Can an ordinary life be art?
Friday, January 08, 2010
THE SUMMING UP, Friday, January 8, 2010
Paul Bishop, Pomeroy, Gordon Williams
Bill Crider, The Yakuza, Leonard Schrader
Loren Eaton, Mindswap, Robert Sheckley
Martin Edwards, The Blotting Book, E.F. Benson
Ed Gorman, Scratch Fever, Max Alan Collins
Jerry House, Don't Bleed on Me, Basil Cooper
George Kelley, The Case Files of Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective, Robert Leslie Bellem
Randy Johnson, The Final Affair, David McDaniel
B.V. Lawson, The Black Stage, Anthony Gilbert
Evan Lewis, Simon Lash, Private Detective, Frank Gruber
Todd Mason, Sturgeon's West, Theodore Sturgeon and Don Ward
Juri Nummelin, Eaters of the Dead, Michael Crichton
Eric Peterson, The Cross and the Switchblade, Pastor David Wilkerson
James Reasoner, Three Worlds to Conquer, Poul Anderson
Rick Robinson, Murder in Miniature, Leo Bruce
Kerrie Smith, The Chinese Bell Murders, Robert Van Gulik
R.T. Goodbye Columbus, Philip Roth
Cathi Unsworth, I Am Dora Suarez, Derek Raymond
Noel Coward and Getrude Lawrence reading.
No covers for these two. I tried...
Ed Gorman is the author of TICKET TO RIDE among other fine novels. You can find him here.
Scratch Fever by Max Allan Collins
With all the well-deserved kudos being paid to his Quarry series--Quarry in The Middle is not only Max Allan Collins' best Quarry but also one of his finest novels period--I thought I'd pick up one of my favorite entries in one of his other series, the Nolan series.
Nolan is a mostly retired ex-thief who is forced to learn the hard way that the past is never past. In Scratch Fever, however, the lead character is Jon, Quarry's unlikely but steadfast crime partner, a twenty-something comic book illustrator who also fronts a rock cover band--just as Collins himself does. Jon wants to make it full-time in comics but is having no luck so his income, such as it is, is coming from the band which, as the book opens, is playing its last gig as a
The story here concerns a fetching but deadly woman who once tried to murder Jon with a shotgun. She wanted all the robbery money for herself. But she disappeared and was presumed dead. And the money was nowhere to be found. But then Jon is on stage playing his type of song
(one of the reasons the band is breaking up is because Jon hates the heavy metal and Catch Scratch Fever crap they prefer) when he sees back in the shadows of the big dance barn.
What the hell is going on? Well, nothing that Jon could have foreseen and because Nolan can't give him a hand this time, Jon and the band singer Toni (a smart-ass you gotta love) are left to face a situation that keeps evolving into one perfectly cast suspense situation after another.
If you're at all nostalgic for the early eighties, this is your book. Collins has John O'Hara's eye and ear for era and dialogue. This is a time trip back to the growing emergence of punk and how it played in the bars and dance halls and clubs of Iowa and the Quad Cities. Collins always shows his readers an Iowa few writers ever have. His people tend to be working class or criminal class. His mob guys aren't the romantics of the Godfather but the soldiers of The Sopranos.
To me Collins has always been an exemplary story teller. When I got to the end of the long first chapter--which encompasses little more than two hours of the same night--I went back through it just to study the craft. There is so much energy in Collins' work that you never notice the careful way he lays everything out. This is one of those books where a part of your mind is constantly playing ahead of the pages. In this case you're dreading the inevitable showdown that Jon will have to face.
If you like hardboiled fiction, put the Nolan series at the top of your list. Scratch Fever is like reading on steroids.
Jerry House. DON'T BLEED ON ME by Basil Copper
A sleezy P.I. is hired to find a lost truck and realizes he is over his head when he stumbles upon the driver's body. He turns to Mike Faraday, a tough L.A. private eye, for help. The body goes missing and bullets start flying. A beautiful blonde makes love to Faraday and then is killed. Faraday stumbles upon a hidden kingdom just outside of Los Angeles and has to deal with the nation's trigger-happy army and its meglomaniacal ruler. Along the way, Faraday is beaten and tortured, gets to kiss another beautiful babe, and upstages the FBI. All of this is the part of the plot that makes sense.
Don't Bleed on Me is pure pulp and I loved it. (It's a bit disconcerning to read continuing descriptions of American car hoods as "bonnets" but Britisher Copper freely admits his Los Angeles is one of the imagination.) Copper is best known here for his continuing August Derleth's Solar Pons series and for many fantastic stories with a gothic sensability. The bulk of his writing, however, consists of over fifty books in the Mike Faraday series, of which this was the sixth published. I don't know how many of the Faraday books have been published in America, but those that have been seem to have only been published in large-print editions for the library trade.
Don't Bleed on Me was my first encounter with Mike Faraday. I hope it won't be my last.
Jerry House lives in Southern Maryland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, January 07, 2010
Politics and Prose in DC.
One cool thing we did on New Year's Eve was to attend a performance of Seldom Scene (along with two other groups) at The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA. I know less about bluegrass than almost any other form of music. But I really enjoyed this event.
Any bluegrass fans out there? If so, who else should I listen to? What separates bluegrass from country? I know it's a lot about strings, one strange one called a dobro-or something like that--which is held on its side. I know it comes from the Scottish-Irish tradition. What else?
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
I am going to answer my question of last week first. What makes a good reader? And one answer is the time to devote yourself completely to the book. I'd forgotten how much difference it can make. A book read in a few days makes a much greater impact, I think. It's been a while since I stayed off the Internet, stayed off the computer, stayed away from work, stayed home (or at a good friend's house) and just read. I think my blood pressure dropped ten points. I vow to read more books this way.
Your second assignment, should you choose to accept it, is without looking it up, how would you define Byronic. Other than that the word refers to Lord Byron, that is.
Okay. today's question. You're home on a snowy day. ...
What would your triple feature be? All movies are available to you on snow days. Also would they be movies you had already seen or new ones?
Mine are all movies I've seen many times:
Mr. Blanding Builds His Dream House; The Graduate, Rear Window
Second group. Bringing Up Baby, North by Northwest, Pillow Talk.
Yes, I'm a lightweight. I admit it.
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
There are movies I haven't seen yet, but of the more than 65 movies I saw at a theater, these are my favorites. No real surprises I'm sure. No special order. 2009 was a pretty good year for films if you look beyond the US IMHO. How about you?
Let the Right One In
Up in the Air
35 Shots of Rum
The Hurt Locker