Sunday, May 30, 2010
Friday, May 21, 2010
From THE PARIS REVIEW.
What are some of the problems you have dealt with often and expect to deal with in the future?
The Clockmaker, Georges Simenon
Dave Galloway is a watch repairman in Everton, New York. His orderly life is turned upside down when
his 16-year-old son, Ben, runs away from home to elope. Both Ben and the girl are teenagers.
(Dave’s wife had abandoned him as well, when Ben was just one year old.) Ben has been Dave's sole interest in life but now wants nothing to do with his father.
Ben has stolen a gun, robbed his girlfriend's father, and killed a man for his car. While a manhunt goes on, Dave inexplicably poses for news photographers and answers any question put to him. He is ineffectual in his actions until it is too late, not getting the advice he badly needs.
Ben expresses no remorse for his crime, seems proud of his actions, in fact. While the trial is underway, Dave tries to make sense of Ben’s crime. This section of the novel tells the back story of Dave's actions or inactions in the past. He find similarity in what Ben has done and acts of both he and his father. Their actions are those of men who are submissive or whipped until they fight back in a destructive way. Dave's apparent closeness to his son is predicated on such "acting out" rather than on desire for marriage and family.
This book was made into a film where it's setting was change to France, much like Red Light of a few years ago. The New York setting never sat right and I wonder why Simenon felt like he had to set some of his books in the U.S. But other than that, this was a brilliant study of a man swallowed up by the society he lives in and unable to communicate his isolation.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Friday, May 14, 2010
Thursday, May 13, 2010
This 1968 film is on TCM Saturday (May 15th) at noon. If you have never seen it, it's a surreal adaptation of the John Cheever story, starring the great Burt Lancaster who wears a swimming suit for the entire film.
It's truly an original, directed by Frank Perry, who made some fantastic movies in the sixties and seventies, and is seldom mentioned today. What studio would make this film today?
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
So who's going? I am trying to work my nerve up.
Big is scary but so is small. I want to see my hometown again though. Maybe I can offer a tour of my teenage hangouts. Oh, right, I don't drive. I wonder if Vic's Steaks is still there.
We'll have to take the H and S buses and the subway. Or the train. I bet you're getting excited.
Monday, May 10, 2010
In my current WIP, about a mother and a daughter-first their names were Iris and Ivy. People said they sounded too much alike, so I changed the mother's name to Lily. But pure as a lily-she wasn't.
So I decided I'd call her Eve but people said Eve and Ivy sounded too much alike.
So now their names are Eve and Christine. These names finally feel right and I am sticking with them.
As a reader, do you give much thought to character names? Do you ever say, I just don't believe in a villainous woman named Mary. Or a saintly woman named Eve. Or do you seldom think about names at all? I can't ever remember thinking a name didn't suit a character as a reader, but I sure think about it all the time as a writer.
What character names were perfect? Lew Archer, surely.
Luke Skywalker was such a great name that I know an attorney who changed his name to it. No kidding!
Saturday, May 08, 2010
Few TV shows have ever foregrounded music like TREME is doing on HBO. But I remember a time when music was nearly absent on TV in dramas and comedies. When did it begin to pick up speed even as background? I remember Cosby using jazz quite a bit. I even remember The Waltons using country music now and then.
But what shows first made you look for the musical credits? When did it become so important in setting the mood? Anyone pinpoint it?
Friday, May 07, 2010
Check out my review for Mid-August Lunch on Crimespree Cinema.
The Summing Up, Friday, May 7, 2010
Joe Barone, Gideon's Day, J.J. Maric (John Creasey)
Paul Bishop, Modesty Blaise, Peter O'Donnell
Craig Clarke, The Twisted Thing, Mickey Spillane
Bill Crider, Epitaph for a Loser, James T. Doyle
Mike Dennis, Backflash, Richard Stark (Donald Westlake)
Martin Edwards, Released for Death, Henry Wade
Ed Gorman, Bloodmarks, Bill Crider
Naomi Hirahara, Blanche on the Lam, Barbara Neely
Randy Johnson, Mum's the Word for Murder, Brett Halliday
George Kelley, Who Fears the Devil, Manly Wade Wellman
Rob Kitchin, Roseanna, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
Steve Lewis, The Legion of Time, Jack Williamson, Into the Slave Nebula, John Brunner
Masters of the Maze, Avram Davidson
Evan Lewis, The Living Shadow, Maxwell Grant (Walter Gibson)
Brian Lindenmuth, Mall, Eric Bogosian
Todd Mason, The Real People, Algis Budrys, Ghost Breaker, Ron Goulart
James Reasoner, A Great Day for Dying, Jack Dillon
Kerrie Smith, Slight Mourning, Catherine Ayrd
Brian Solomon, The Case of the Yellow Mask, Robert J. Hogan
Hannah Stoneham, Unicorn Sisters, Ursula Holden
Kevin Tipple, Antler Dust, Mark Stevens
Brian Solomon is a an editor by day and prolific blogger by night. In between, he somehow manages to be a husband and father, and maintain an idyllic home in suburban Connecticut. He is the author of Standard of the Day, a blog/labor of love in which he spotlights different selections from the Great American Songbook. He is particularly fond of the work of Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer.
The Case of the Yellow Mask
By Robert J. Hogan
This was the third of only seven novels published in the pulp series The Mysterious Wu Fang during late 1935 and early 1936. As with all the old-school pulps of the 1920s-1950s, it was released on newsstand in a paperback format slightly larger than the mass market paperbacks of today, yet smaller than a magazine; and printed on cheap, newspaper stock.
The series is also notable for being one of the only ones to ever star a villain, and not a hero like The Shadow or Doc Savage. And although a blatant knock-off of Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu character, Wu Fang is nevertheless imbued with a tantalizing readability thanks to the snappy, action-packed prose style of Robert J. Hogan, best known for his war series G-8 and His Battle Aces.
The Case of the Yellow Mask tells the story of Wu Fang's sinister plot to acquire a mask that will give him the ability to control men's minds. Only three men, Jerry Hazard, Val Kildare and young Cappy have what it takes to stand in his way and foil his dastardly plot. Along the way, they travel halfway around the world, leaving a trail of dead bodies and near-death experiences in their wake. The cover is rendered by Fu Manchu artist John Richard Flanagan, and epitomizes the coded sexuality so often present in the pulps as well (it also prefigures a scene in that ultimate cinematic pulp tribute, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.)
I first came across The Case of the Yellow Mask in reprinted form as part of Adventure House's High Adventure series, and was immediately cast under the spell of the pulps. I became so fascinated by the Mysterious Wu Fang, in fact, that I even ventured to New York's Chinatown, just to check out the address described in the book as being the crime lord's secret headquarters. (Although the building did look remarkably as described, it was by this point a Chinese fast food restaurant...)
The Case of the Yellow Mask is pure lowbrow fun in the grand pulp fiction tradition, filled with lurid descriptions of politically incorrect henchmen, heavy handed action sequences, lightning fast dialog and a never-ending supply of thrills and adrenaline. Hogan himself was reportedly less than proud of his work on Wu Fang, but I, for one, found it impossible to put down. Not only that, but it sparked a lifelong love affair with pulp novels that continues to this day.
by Richard Stark (Donald E Westlake)
(Yes, the cover really does cut off the publisher’s name at the bottom)
Review by Mike Dennis, 2010
"We live and learn." That's what Parker says to an adversary immediately before shooting him point blank in the eye.They don't come much tougher than Parker, and he's his usual hardass self in the muscular 1998 novel, Backflash, by Richard Stark.
After walking away from a heist with $140,000, he plans to take it easy for awhile, laying up with Claire, his longtime lover, in someone else's summer cottage amid the woods of upstate New York. But of course, he can't stay out of action for long, or there would be no series.
He's approached by Hilliard Cathman, former state government employee turned consultant, to do a job. It seems a new gambling boat will soon be unveiled, slated to cruise along the Hudson River. Cathman has the blueprints of the boat, as well as security details, schedules, locations of the safes, and all the things a man would need to hijack a cash-bloated gambling ship. The only thing missing is the team to do it.
Problem is, Parker isn’t sure he wants to take this job. It seems the only way to rob the ship is to do so while it’s cruising. That means getting back to shore with the money, and that means too much exposure in the middle of the river. He’s also suspicious of Cathman himself. Why would this guy, an obscure lifelong bureaucrat, suddenly want to organize a major armed robbery?
Of course, Parker eventually agrees to the job, but not before he figures out an extremely devious solution to the money/exposure problem. He rounds up his usual assortment of criminal types and they set about plotting the robbery in a very matter-of-fact, professional manner. But he’s still plenty uneasy about Cathman. Stark’s pacing in these Parker novels is always letter perfect, with the plot only slowing down long enough for the character to catch his breath or to contemplate his next move. These moments are usually tinged with suspense, as in a tense scene on the ship immediately before the robbery.
The entire novel takes place in Albany and other smaller towns along the Hudson, and Stark gives the reader an excellent sense of place. Although these locales aren’t that far away from New York City, they still feel like the middle of nowhere, which is exactly how Parker wants it. Less of a problem with witnesses that way.
Backflash is an excellent entry in the long-running Parker series. Beneath all the planning and execution of the heist, there’sa convincing unapologetic defense of the code of criminal justice as meted out by criminals.
Ed Gorman is the author of Ticket to Ride, Ghost Town and numerous fine books of fiction. You can find him here.
Blood Marks by Bill Crider
Serial killer novels have to run a close second to vampire novels in popularity. And serial killer novels have been with us at least since the grandaddy break-out of The First Deadly Sin by Lawrence Sanders back in the early Seventies.
Tiresome as the sub-genre can be (though there are always good ones; the John Lutz books for Kensington are particularly notable) one of my favorites was first published in 1991.
Nine women are savagely murdered. They don't seem to have anything in common. Police psychologist Dan Romain teams up with a investigator named Howland to find the connection that will lead them to the killer.
Crider alternates chapters between the killer, the investigators and Casey Bruckner, a newly divorced mother who's moved to Houston seeking a teaching job. They live in an apartment complex that allows Crider to demonstrate his skills with creating people. If you've ever lived in one of these complexes you know the neurotic responses people have to being stacked on top of each other, especially people with dissimilar interests, tastes and values. One of whom just might be the killer. The ying and yang of sitting around the apartment swimming pool allows Crider to shine.
The police procedural aspects of the novel are believable throughout. No Zounds! discoveries. No faux tough guy talk. And a close examination of a type of killing that is almost too violent to contemplate for very long.
Bill Crider has had a long and successful career working primarily in mysteries but also excelling in horror and westerns. This is Crider at the very top of his form and making the serial killer form all his own. It's a book you'll remember for a long, long time.
And if you don't believe me listen to what Kirkus said at the time: "A striking addition to the serial- killer subgenre--gory, repugnant, and gripping to its last ugly reverberation. "
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
You can find more book review right here on Barrie Summy's blog.
ROGUE MALES, Craig McDonald
I actually don't read a lot of non-fiction, but here I am writing about a non-fiction book two months in a row.
Craig McDonald came to my attention when he did an interview with my daughter, Megan, for a mystery magazine (it is now available with other ones on his website, I think). I was impressed with how knowledgeable he was, how much he knew out about her through her writing, how well-prepared he was to respond to her answers and not just pose another unrelated question, how he looked for ways to make his subject shine, how the interview came off like a couple of people chatting in a coffee shop.
McDonald is also the author of several terrific novels himself, most recently PRINT THE LEGEND. His novels have great historical and psychological depth, showing a skill for research that he brings to this project as well. I am hoping he will write another book of interviews called FEMALE OF THE SPECIES or something like that.
(Art of the Blood, 2006) was McDonald's first foray into a collection of interviews.
ROGUE MALES looks at sixteen men who set the bar awfully high: James Crumley, Elmore Leonard, Daniel Woodrell, Alistair MacLeod, Andrew Vachss, James Ellroy, Max Allan Collins, Stephen J. Cannell, Craig Holden, Pete Dexter, Randy Wayne White, Lee Child, Tom Russell, Kinky Friedman, James Sallis, Ken Bruen.
These are some of my very favorite writers and McDonald managed to find the essence of each one. No two interviews are alike because he is able to frame his questions to fit the writer, to find out what makes them the writer they are. There is no standardized set of questions up his sleeve.
You can sense how comfortable each writer is with both him and with what he asks them, how they "get" that McDonald "gets" them. This rapport makes for wonderful interviews. You won't come away liking all of these writers--that isn't the point. But you will understand why they write the books they do, what writing is like for them-the process, the ups and downs, their themes and obsessions. And you will want to read their books if you haven't already. Isn't that the point?
I highly recommend both books of essays and the three novels McDonald has written. You won't be disappointed in any of them.
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
R.I.P. Georgy Girl.
Watching the best episode so far of JUSTIFIED, I was reminded of Elmore Leonard's ten rules for writing crime fiction. Justified, based on his work and produced by him, is such a good example of why most of these rules make something work. Not all apply to a television show, but most of them have some equivalent. Last week's episode especially made use of #10.
Ten rules for writing fiction
Elmore Leonard: Using adverbs is a mortal sin
1 Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
2 Avoid prologues: they can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday, but it's OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks."
3 Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.
4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".
5 Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
6 Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.
7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.
8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", what do the "American and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story.
9 Don't go into great detail describing places and things, unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.
Monday, May 03, 2010
Here are links to the stories of some fine writers who took the challenge to write a flash piece of 1000 words using a redhead in a blue dress, an eatery of some type, and the song Sweet Dreams. Some of these may take a while to go up, but most are as I post this.
Mine and R2's is at the bottom. Thanks to all.
I FORGOT MY PASSWORD FOR POWDER BURN FLASH " but great stories, Jimmy, Randy and Cam."-
Thanks to Aldo and Gerald for their help in this.
These some terrific stories.
Ron Phillips "On the Sly"
Eric Peterson, "Electra Blue"
Cormac Brown, "Type"
Fleur Bradley, "Strapped"
Sandra Seamans, "Repeat Offenders"
Loren Eaton, "Sum"
Gerald So, "Bad Timing"
John Weagly, "Friday Night with a Femme Fatale"
Kieran Shea, "Bulls"
Katherine Tomlinson, "Dude Looks Like a Lady"
Kassandra, "Beadie and the Blesser"
Richard Prosch "A Paradigm is 20 Cents"
Evan Lewis, "Skyler Hobbs and the Sweetest of Dreams"
Paul Brazill, "Close Up"
Cameron Ashley, "Super Enka Redhead Blues"
Zipper "Looking for Somthing"
R2, "What He Deserved"
Sandra Scoppettone "Yesterday"
Christopher Grant, "Family"
Wellesfan "Cool Blue"
Kathleen A. Ryan "To Go"
Dana King "Lily in Blue"
Steve Weedle "Blue Dress"
Jimmy Callaway "Everyone's Looking for Elisa Ortiz"
Rob Kitchin "Sweet Dreams"
Keith Rawson "Taking Out the Trash"
David Barber "In an Instant"
"A Good Day for Redheads"
by Patricia Abbott
It took me several foggy-headed seconds to realize the redhead standing in the doorway wasn’t my ex. She was a dead ringer for Adeline circa 1985 though: same body type, same spiky hair, identical vague look in her eyes. Dressed in a shimmery blue dress, the girl couldn’t have been more than twenty-five. I turned away quickly, but her eyes had already latched onto mine, zeroing in the same way Adeline once had.
Was it the music that made me think of her? Sweet Dreams. Who was that redhead who sang it? I turned back to my third Bushmills and shook my head. A good day for redheads—always my weakness.
I felt a tap on the shoulder, but smelled her perfume first. Spicy and sharp, a concoction for sirens.
“Hey, Mister.” The scent rushed up my nose, and my pulse quickened. Damn, if I could help myself.
The bartender, hammering at some ice, looked up and frowned. I got the message—the redhead was trouble. I bore down on my drink.
“Mister,” she said again. Her voice was throaty, irresistible.
A tug on my sleeve, and I turned without thinking. Pretty much how I did everything after a few drinks. Up close, she was even younger. I straightened up a little, “Yeah?”
“Wonder if you’d take a look at my car?”
“I’m no mechanic, Miss.” Her eyes looked silvery-green in the dim light. Fox-like.
“Worked fine yesterday, but now it won’t start.”
“Kimmy, call Bud at the Sunoco!” the bartender said. “This guy’s busy.”
“Don’t look busy,” she said, catching my eye again. “You busy, Mister?”
The bartender sighed, a sigh that said I couldn’t handle Kimmy. Made me stand a bit faster. Never could resist a siren call. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Name’s Doake if you don’t see me again,” Smiling weakly, I pushed through the door.
“Did you say Dope?” he shouted after me.
Door slammed shut. “Where’s your car, honey?” I asked, blinking in the fierce light. A mosquito buzzed nearby and I slapped on my hat. Seemed to me mosquitoes will hang around all day waiting for a hairless head.
“Out at my house in Shelterville.”
“You walked into town? Why not call a mechanic like the bartender said?”
“I just need a jump.”
I’ll give you a jump alright, I thought to myself. Truth be told, I was thinking of Adeline again—remembering those days when jumping didn’t hurt my knees. But instead I drove Kimmy out to her place. A lop-sided house sat back in the trees, its steps a half-foot off the ground and the door flung open all wild-like. Someone had burned garbage not long ago and my nose stung with it.
“Can see why it won’t start,” I said, peering into the window of an old Escort. A guy heavier than me was slumped over the wheel and dashboard, dressed in a suit that didn’t look like it came from
“Sure,” she said. “Mayor Parker. Came out last night for a pick-me-up”
“Looks like he was disappointed.” I opened the door and pried him loose. A hole bullseyed his middle. I looked around. “He walk out here? Lots of people walkin’ in Shelterville, huh?”
She narrowed her foxy eyes in contemplation. “Look, I gotta get to work, Mister. I got a day job at Safeway’s. Can you get him outta there?”
“Well even if I do, Kimmy, I doubt you can just drive off to work. We got us a murder here.” I noticed traces of blood on the gravel. “Looks like someone dragged Mayor Parker from elsewhere.”
I began following the drops. The blood stopped just east of a large hole. I peered down. It was no natural hole. Someone had back-hoed it into being—its sides were sloped, its base cavernous. At that bottom, a huge fellow sat on a stool. At least, I think there was a stool beneath his deep stratums of fat. Had the same red hair as Kimmy—maybe a tad more orange in it. “Who’s that?”
“That’s my brother, Tiny,” Kimmy said. Tiny grinned, showing me his wall-to-wall choppers. Couple or more were missing, but I’d bet it didn’t slow him down much.
“What’s he doing in that hole?”
“Iffin Tiny gets outta there, he does bad things,” she told me. “Stays down there ‘cept when I throw ‘im that chain.” She nodded toward a chain fastened to a huge metal anchor. The links in that chain would circle a bigger neck than Tiny’s.
“You throw that chain down there last night?”
She nodded. “But it wasn’t Tiny killed Mayor Parker. Tiny just tore up his car a little. Drove it into a ditch. Chased him around some. Had hisself some fun.” Tiny roared his approval, and I stepped back from the hole.
“Tiny’s pretty hungry now. Been waiting a long time for his dinner.” She paused. “That’s where you come in, Mister.”
“Who killed the Mayor,” I asked, mesmerized with the chain of events despite my good sense.
“I did. I blew that hole clear through ‘im.”
“Why d’ya kill him, Kimmy?”
“’Cause I needed to get Tiny his dinner.” I felt her hand at the small of my back, no more than a whisper of heft to it. “Seemed like a good way to get some’un out here. Been known to work before.” She shoved, and I slid down into the hole like a Finn on skis.
“Let me get this straight,” I shouted, once I picked myself up. “You murdered that obese mayor so you could put him behind the wheel of your car, come into town, tell me it wouldn’t start, then drag me out here for dinner.” Could this be her reasoning? “Why didn’t you just feed Mayor Parker to Tiny?”
“Tiny’s not overly partial to government handouts. Ain’t that right, Tiny?”
Tiny roared, his mouth two inches from my ear.