Saturday, July 31, 2010
In the meantime...
Also check out my review of Solitary Man here.
Please forgive any mistakes--long drive home (7 hours) in pouring rain.
The Summing Up, July 30, 2010
Joe Barone, A Catskill Eagle, Robert Parker
Paul Bishop, The Neon Flamingo, W. R. Philbrick
Bill Crider, Even the Wicked, Richard Marsten
Scott Cupp, Lisa Kane, Richard Lupoff
Alec Cizak, Pop. 1280, Jim Thompson
Loren Eaton, Nightmare Alley, William Lindsay Gresham
Martin Edwards, The Man Whose Dreams Came True, Julian Symons
Cullen Gallagher, Prairie Raiders, Harry Whittington
Ed Gorman, Someone is Bleeding, Richard Matheson
Glenn Harper, Riotous Comedy, Tom Sharpe; Indecent Exposure, Tom Sharpe
Randy Johnson, The Best Western Stories of Ed Gorman, Ed Gorman and Marin Greenberg
George Kelley, Pedigree, Georges Simenon
B.V. Lawson, The Spoilt Kill, Mary Kelly
Evan Lewis, Gene Autry and the Ghost Riders, Lewis B. Patten
Steve Lewis/David Vineyard, It Couldn't Matter Less, Peter Cheney
Todd Mason, Anno Dracula, Kim Newman, The Cipher, Kathe Koja, Prime Evil, edited by Douglas Winter
Eric Peterson, Dutch Uncle, Peter Pavia
Steven Powell, The Other Girl, Theodora Keogh
James Reasoner, Combat General, William Chamberlain
Richard Robinson, The Philosophical Corps E. B. Cole
Kerrie Smith, The Director, John Gardiner
Kevin Tipple, Memory of a Murder, Earl Skaggs
Friday, July 30, 2010
Keep in mind books you "loved" in college on August 20th.
Michael Malone is from Ayrshire, Scotland. He is a published poet and
working towards being a published novelist. Meanwhile he blogs over on May
Contain Nuts (http://mickmal1.blogspot.com/) on everything from books to
family. He is also a regular reviewer over at www.crimesquad.com
The Ballad of Lee Cotton by Christopher Wilson
If you had been anywhere near me in the summer of 2005 I would have worn your ears off talking about this book. I had an enthusiasm bordering on the obsessive and I would have tugged at your shirtsleeve until you picked the book up and bought it for yourself.
Lee Cotton, in his own words “gets himself born in November 18, 1950” in Eureka, Mississippi at the same time as his mother’s neighbour, Jimmy Cooder’s Charolais bull finds itself dangling from a tree. This event causes a media storm “because bulls never show no natural enthusiasm or aptitude for tree-climbing”. And from the off you are aware that you are in the hands of
a fascinating narrator.
Lee is a white child born to a black mother and in his early life learns to deal with the problems this presents. His Icelandic father, from whom Lee has inherited his “straw-blonde hair, buttermilk skin and blue eyes” doesn’t hang around to offer explanation to the local populace for this misplaced child. Instead, Lee has to work out for himself how he should observe the
customs of the day. Should he sit in the back of the bus with the blacks? What if someone comes on who doesn’t know he’s “a black soul in a white wrapper”, should he then sit in front?
Lee's troubles continue when he's a teenager and falls for the wrong, local (white) girl, Angelina, who is unfortunately the daughter of one of the most violent racists in town. Once Daddy discovers his daughter is seeing a black boy (even if he is a white black boy) he organises a violent assault on the kid, leaving him for dead and far from home -- which allows Lee to start
over with a new identity. All-white this time.
Lee is drafted, but gets to avoid Vietnam because the beating left him with some special (psychic) abilities that the Army is willing to explore. He gets posted in the middle of nowhere, with a load of other mind-freaks. He doesn't mean to escape from the army, but accidents do happen – on this occasion involving a high-speed car crash and a dangerously placed whisky
bottle. He’s rescued by a doped up plastic surgeon and forced to adopt another guise...as a woman.
If all of this appears to be far-fetched it most assuredly is, but such is the writer’s skill that you allow the measured, thinking part of your brain some respite and just hitch along for the ride. And what a ride it is. Wilson has littered this novel with ideas and surprises that are touching,
dramatic and hilarious in turn. He takes great risks as he does so but in his winning narrator, the bold Lee himself, he has created a device that allows him to pull off everything he attempts. Lee Cotton is flighty, quirky, naive and fun and he and his actions are described in an energetic,
inventive prose that never lets up for the duration of the “ballad”.
This is a rambunctious, romp of a tale told in faultless American idiom (from an Englishman) that never takes itself too seriously but one which offers much in the way of insight and entertainment.Quite simply, get yourself a copy, turn off your weird-o-meter and dive in.
Alec Cizak is a writer from Indianapolis. His crime fiction has appeared in Beat to a Pulp, A Twist of Noir, and Thuglit. More disturbing works of his can be found in the anthologies Ruthless and D.O.A. He attempts to maintain a blog as well:
Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson
So this is shaping up, in some ways, to be the year Jim Thompson again breaks to the surface of American popular culture just long enough to pick up a handful of new fans. The Killer Inside Me, considered his most famous book, has been made into a movie that has the Polite Police screaming bloody murder because Jessica Alba gets slapped around. As usual, things are being taken out of context, but so what? That’s the new spectator sport in America, isn’t it? What is being missed, however, is the fact that Thompson did, essentially, a rewrite of Killer about ten years later. It’s called Pop. 1280 and is, in my opinion, a much, much better book.
The narrator of Pop. 1280 isn’t confused about his psychotic condition. He’s so aware of it that he plays stupid to everyone else in effort to hide his sociopathic tendencies. As he bumbles around other people, he drops little bits of cynicism that reveal Thompson’s working class sympathies. The book is also one of the most honest reflections of racism in the history of American literature. In the middle of the novel, Nick, the sheriff, is forced to shoot Uncle John, a black man who has the misfortune of knowing Nick has committed at least one murder (at that point, I believe, he’s actually killed three people.) Uncle John pleads with Nick, who gives him a speech in which he essentially states that their roles in society have already been determined and there’s nothing either can do about it. It’s cynical and, nearly forty years after it was written, still difficult to disagree with.
Nick is a realist and, at the core, a man who is comfortable having no moral center. As he prepares to shoot Uncle John, he says, “What I loved was myself, and I was willing to do anything I god-danged had to to go on lying and cheating and drinking whiskey and screwing women and going to church on Sunday with all the other respectable people.” In one sentence, he lays out the hypocrisy of polite society, suggesting everyone else has a comparable amount of dirty laundry they use religion to apologize for. Pop. 1280 is real honesty, the kind that scares the crap out of hypocritical finger-wagging Polite Police who know damn well we all have smudges on the inside. I like The Killer Inside Me. I love Pop. 1280 and I think anyone who appreciates genuine crime fiction will feel the same.
Ed Gorman is the author of TICKET TO RIDE, SLEEPING DOGS and many other fine novels. You can find him here.
SOMEONE IS BLEEDING, Richard Matheson
While Richard Matheson would go on to become a major figure in the fields of fantasy and science fiction with such distinguished works as I Am Legend and his The Shrinking Man, his first novel was solidly criminous — a book whose influences ran heavily to James M. Cain and Hemingway.
Someone Is Bleeding is the devious tale of writer David Newton who meets a lovely but deeply disturbed young woman named Peggy Lister and falls into tormented love with her.
Peggy is surrounded by men whose overwhelming desire in life is to possess her. As we learn, Peggy's psychological problems are enough to scare off all but the most dedicated lovers. She has an understandable but pathological distrust of men because she'd been raped by her father.
For its era, Bleeding was a surprisingly complex psychosexual tale. Peggy, a dark goddess who literally rules the lives of her men, is all the more chilling for the sympathetic way in which David sees her for most of the book. She is the helpless, beautiful woman-child that many men fantasize about and long to protect as proof of their own masculinity.
As the novel rushes to its truly terrifying climax (it is an ending that must rank, for pure horror, with the best of Fredric Brown and Cornell Woolrich), we see how much Peggy comes to represent the pawn in a quest. Her men are willing to scheme, lie, and die to have her.
Matheson also gives us an exceptionally good look at the Fifties and its snake-pit moral code, its demeaning view of women, its defeated view of men. He packs an icy poetry, a bittersweet love song, and moments of real terror into this debut.
Someone Is Bleeding is a satisfyingly complex, evocative study of loneliness, romance, sexuality and pathology.
Steve Lewis/David L. Vineyard
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Megan at the Tigers game.
I went to the library today for some audiobooks to take on a long drive. We thought a biography might be fun. We came home with four crime fiction novels and David Sedaris.
Whose biography would you be most interested in reading on a long car trip? Give me some ideas?
Monday, July 26, 2010
On tabletops in my house, love objects await my attention, legs spread. I mean books you people with dirty minds.
Books I started and didn't finish because you told me someone else was better--you claimed I'd have a better time with someone else. And so I drifted away. Promiscuity is my name. Alas.
I'd like to compare the number of crime fiction novels published thirty years ago to those published today. Does anyone have any idea about whether there were a lot less books out then or if it just seems that way. I did read more-- 3-4 books a week and now maybe 1-2. Then and now, I read a lot of traditional fiction. Can it be possible in these times of declining readership, we are publishing more books than ever? What do you think? How do the number of books published each year compare with the number published in 1980?
Friday, July 23, 2010
Check out my review of AJAMI-a real gem if you can find it or rent it. And THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE.
THE SUMMING UP, FRIDAY, JULY 23, 2010
Cameron Ashley, Guns, Ed McBain
Joe Barone, Valediction, Robert Parker
Paul Bishop, Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan
Bill Crider, The Greatest Crime, Sloan Wilson
Scott Cupp, A Mirror for Observers, Edgar Pangborn
Martin Edwards, The Small Hours of the Morning, Margaret Yorke
Christopher Fowler, Here, Away from it All, Maryann Forrest
Cullen Gallagher, The Song Saturday Night, Charles Williams
Ed Gorman, Plunder Squad, Richard Stark
Glenn Harper, Money to Burn, Ricardo Piglia
Randy Johnson, Capture the Saint, Burl Barer
George Kelley, The Dark Country, Dennis Etchinson
K.A. Laity, You Can't Do Both, Kingsley Amis
B.V. Lawson, The Habit of Fear, Dorothy Salisbury Davis
Frank Loose, The Blue Room, Georges Simenon
Evan Lewis, Seven Slayers, Paul Cain
Steve Lewis/Max Collins, The Hoods, Harry Grey
Brian Lindenmuth: List of Forgotten Books for Future Review
Todd Mason, Superhorror, edited Ramsey Campbell; The Moon's Wife, A. A. Attanasio
Terrie Moran, Mongoose, R.I.P, William Buckley
James Reasoner, Malai Woman, A.S. Fleischman
Richard Robinson, Iron Lake, William Kent Krueger
Pete Rozovsky, Song Dog, James McClure
Kerrie Smith, Case for Three Detectives, Leo Bruce
Kevin Tipple, Jasmine's Fate, Randy Rawls
**Also the thousands of books recommended in the last 28 months can be found here.
Cameron Ashley lives, drinks and writes in Melbourne, Australia. He's one of the CRIME FACTORY bosses. The zine can be found here: www.crimefactoryzine.com
GUNS, Ed McBain
Guns, by the prolific Ed McBain (real name Evan Hunter), is pretty much a classic textbook on how to throw your character into a hole and let him do nothing but dig. First published in 1977, Guns is also one of those rare McBain novels that stands alone from his 87th Precinct series and for readers understandably nervous about tackling a writer with such a gigantic series of cop novels, it’s the perfect entry point to the man’s work. The only problem with that is it's arguably his masterpiece.
Colley Donato, low-rent stick-up artist, is our protagonist, trying to stay afloat in McBain’s seedy seventies New York City, a whole “fuckin world full of junkies and hookers and fuckin armed robbers.” Ex-con Colley, of Italian descent, grew up in Harlem and has engaged in armed robbery for most of his life. NYC is suffering through a stifling heatwave and Colley’s trying to get the rest of his stick-up crew, Jocko and getaway driver Teddy, to postpone their latest job until the cool change hits – people get unpredictable in the heat. He's also got the heebie-jeebies over the fact that it's stick-up number thirteen for the crew. Jocko’s ex-stripper wife and all-round Amazon, Jeanine, burns through money like I do McBain books, and Jocko, broke, insists the convenience store job goes down. Things, of course, go bad and Colley’s on the run through the nastiest parts of New York, with cops swarming on his ass, and a New Jersey so unfamiliar it has its own hillbillies.
Most likely an illusion caused by levels of consummate skill and craft, the book feels like it poured out of McBain – moving so fast in parts it’s almost difficult to imagine his typing keeping up with his thoughts. McBain was so gifted with pacing, chopping up sequences with taut punchy tough-guy writer sentences, then throwing in long run-ons, he seemed to be a writer who enjoyed teasing his audience to the point that he controlled the speed at which they read. Colley’s in deep shit from the first chapter and the fact that the book rarely slows and his predicament only worsens are further evidence of McBain's gift with a story.
In Colley, McBain gives us a paranoid, delusional scumbag, prone to flights of fancy, who needs a gun in his pocket so feel truly empowered. When Colley is weaponless, his confidence is down, his paranoia and fear heightened. Each time he gets a gun, he becomes a new man, recharged, ready to throw himself into the chaos, sure that he can beat the insurmountable odds stacking up higher and higher against him. Breaking up the narrative are sequences on Colley’s past, his troubled upbringing, his gang days, the first time he shot a man. McBain plays with it all here – including the idea of a gun as a stand-in phallus – but this is such a fun, dark, sleazy book, it never feels like a ham-fisted character study set in a society on the skids. The supporting cast is deftly constructed – unique individuals all – and the dialogue and interplay between them, from the opening discussion about postponing the robbery to Colley’s interactions with prostitutes and even wannabe-heroes during a diner robbery, are terse, tense and frequently funny.
Currently out of print, Guns is an incredibly tasty 190 page piece of pulp that’s easily stood the test of time like only true classics do. Old copies seem pretty easy to find online, from my cursory search (I saw a copy for eighty-nine cents on amazon) and I recommend you seek one out. It was the first real crime novel I ever read and, to this day, upon re-read number three for this piece, it honestly remains one of the best.
Frank Loose lives in Atlanta, GA and works as a freelance cinematographer.
When he isn't shooting, he's reading.
The Blue Room, Georges Simenon
The Blue Room opens with pillow talk between two lovers.
“Have I hurt you?”
“Are you angry with me?”
“No.” It was true. For the present, everything was true because he was living through it now, at this moment.
At this moment, Tony and Andree are in the blue room of the Hotel des Voyageurs where they have met eight times over the course of a year for afternoons of lovemaking. For Tony, that’s all it is–––carefree sex. For Andree, it is much more.
“Could you spend the rest of your life with me?”
The words scarcely registered, or so it seemed at the time. He noticed them no more than shapes and smells. How could he guess that he was to live through this scene ten times, twenty times, more times indeed than he could count, each time in a different frame of mind, seeing it each time in a different light?
Andree has been secretly in love with Tony since they were schoolmates ten years ago. He moved away, but returned with a wife and daughter. Andree, too, is married–––to a frail sickly grocer. She feels trapped in their arranged marriage. She sees in Tony everything she has ever wanted. Things are fine until their eighth tryst when their post-coital conversation sets in motion events from which there is no escape.
Simenon wrote this story in quite a captivating style, manipulating time, as all writers do, but in quite a creative way. He inter-cuts the linear story of Tony and Andree with snippets of dialogue between Tony and a judge, and Tony and his lawyer. The impression early on is that Tony has been charged with some crime, but that is not what they talk about. Rather, the judge wants to learn about Tony and Andree’s relationship, about Tony’s wife, his daughter, his job. These snippets, in turn, setup flashbacks. In most crime and mystery stories, the question “what is going to happen next?” propels the story along, and that is certainly true here, but it is not Simenon’s main concern. Rather, he seems more interested in the torment and anguish of the man, Tony Falcone, as events, seemingly beyond his control, play out to their inevitable tragic conclusion.
It’s a short read, 140 pages, and offers a kind of agonizing suspense. And in the end raises questions about the relationship between thoughtless, selfish behavior and guilt for the actions of others. Simenon is best known for his Inspector Maigret crime series, but he also wrote stand-alone titles, like The Blue Room, which was written in 1963 and last published in 2002 as part of Orion’s Crime Masterworks series. Highly recommended.
Ed Gorman is the author of TICKET TO RIDE and the editor of forthcoming anthology BY HOOK OR BY CROOK. You can find him here.
Plunder Squad by Richard Stark
One of the ways Donald Westlake kept his Parker novels fresh was to vary the the success his man had as a professional criminal. Sometimes the magic worked, sometimes it didn't.
Plunder Squad is a long (for a Parker novel) and intense study of how things can go wrong in trying to plan and execute a robbery. Not anywhere as easy as you thought.
Parker is near broke and in bad need of money. As often happens he's forced to deal with people who overestimate their worth as professionals. In this novel we meet a number of them. We also meet a woman who is familiar to readers of Parker books, the sullen horny slut who has affixed herself to the man who has the idea for the heist. Parker knocks several points off the man's score for even having her around. Inevitably she means trouble not just for her honey bunny but for all of them involved in the robbery. She is contrasted, later in the book, by the crisp, pretty, bright young woman who is a helpmate to her criminal boyfriend.
Plunder Squad is a maze of false starts and bad turns. The heist Parker eventually settles on is complicated and requires the kind of skill and oversight only he can bring to the job. As usual the story is enriched by all the men involved, each with different needs and capabilities. And with different degrees of trustworthyness. In a book of this length you really get into Parker's head and pick up on his paranoia and general distrust of those terrible creatures known as human beings.
This is a major addition to the Richard Stark canon, a relentless and often bleak look at life on the wrong side of the law. Though in the Stark books cops often have fewer scruples than cons.
Christopher Fowler (Please be sure to read this most interesting piece in January Magazine)
Steve Lewis/Max Collins
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Check out this story, Detroiters. One of our most sacred institutions John King Books is in trouble. Go buy a few books and keep him alive.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Phil's front garden (left side).
1.Why do I still need to tell delivery men how to get to my house? If I know about mapquest and google maps and GPS systems, why don't they?
2. Why do waiters say, "Are you still working on that," as if you're building a house? Also why do they say, "No problem," after you order? Or, "good choice."
I think someone needs to work out banter for them. At least they have stopped sitting down at the table and introducing themselves.
3. When there are many empty spaces in a parking lot, why does a car pull right up next to you just when you're about to get out? Even when it's clear you just pulled in.
How about you? Get it off your chest?
Sunday, July 18, 2010
I'm always bemoaning what happened to Spenser over time. But what series detective continued to be interesting and have gripping cases over the years? Who wears their age best?
Saturday, July 17, 2010
I'm not going to attempt to post a coherent review of INCEPTION because I don't have one. I loved the movie, but I can't explain it, can't even say why I enjoyed it in any coherent way. How could I like something I only sketchily understood? In order to write a review, I'd have to rely on someone else's explanation--which I can't do.
Phil came away from it with a completely different explanation of the events than I had. His synopsis was more orderly and well thought out than mine, yet I am not sure it's correct either. I am hoping to hear from some of you about what you thought took place. Let me know.
I also want to remind animal and photography lovers out there of my friend Olivia's blog, capturing life at the zoo in D.C. She is a marine biologist, a great writer and an excellent photographer. Those three elements make her blog a treat to visit every day. If you know others who might appreciate her diary of life at the zoo, please pass her URL on.
Friday, July 16, 2010
THE SUMMING UP, Friday, July 16, 2010
Paul Bishop, The Outcasts, Steve Frazee
Bill Crider, The Hundred Dollar Girl, William Campbell Gault
Scott Cupp, The Lovecraft Papers, P.H.Cannon
Mike Dennis, Jimmy Bench-Press, Charlie Stella
Martin Edwards, Dead Man's Bag, Catherine Arley
Cullen Gallagher, Buchanan on the Prowl, Jonas Ward
Ed Gorman, Baby Come on Inside, David Wagoner
Glenn Harper, The Going Rate, John Brady
Randy Johnson, The Last Hunt, Milton Lott
George Kelley, Cahena, Manly Wade Wellman
Rob Kitchin, Cogan's Trade, George V. Higgins
Clair Lamb, The Secret Lovers, Charles McCarry
Chris La Tray, The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien
Evan Lewis, The Dada Caper, Ross H. Spencer
Steve Lewis/Dan Stumpf, Of Tender Sin, Dave Goodis
Steve Lewis/David Vineyard, The Tiger in the Smoke, Margery Allingham
Todd Mason, Fast Lanes, Jayne Anne Phillips, Quick Shots of False Hope, Laura Kightlinger
Terrie Moran, Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith
James Reasoner, Gun Hand, Frank, O'Rourke
Richard Robinson, South of Sula, George F. Worts
Sandra Ruttan, Wait Until Twilight, Sang Pak
Ron Scheer, The Blind Corral, Ralph Beer
Kerrie Smith, The Hyde Park Murders, Elliott Roosevelt
Ronald Tierney, Diva, Delacorta
Kevin Tipple, Seven by Seven, edited by Tony Burton
In case you didn't notice, THE RAP SHEET concluded its weekly series of posting reviews of forgotten books last week. They'll post reviews only on an occasional basis from now on (although we have one up today).
I want to thank J. Kingston Pierce for being my partner in crime for the last 100 weeks. His advice and camaraderie helped immeasurable in keeping the project going.
Although I am not quite ready to hang up my saddle ( until some of the folks who write reviews every week grow tired or run out of books to suggest) I'm going to stop recruiting reviews to post on my site at the end of August. I've recruited reviews from hundreds of people and frankly begging their participation has lost its appeal.
However, if you are a reader of the series and have not contributed a review, I would love to have you contact me. You only need to be a reader to apply for the job. We don't require "smancy pants" credentials around here.
I want to thank those people who almost to a soul managed to turn in a review exactly when they said they would. And words cannot express my gratitude to the people who review books weekly or often. "You guys are the best."
SPECIAL TOPIC-August 20th-My favorite book when I was college aged. What book excited you between the ages of 18-25. Send me your links.
Clair Lamb's business, Answer Girl, provides research, editing, writing and publicity services. Her clients include The Mystery Bookstore-Los Angeles and many published and unpublished authors. She keeps a personal blog at www.answergirlnet.blogspot.com.
Friday’s Forgotten Books: THE SECRET LOVERS by Charles McCarry
Thanks to the fine work of the Overlook Press, Charles McCarry seems to be enjoying something of a rediscovery. If you’ve heard of him, the title you probably know is The Tears of Autumn (1974), McCarry’s extraordinarily plausible alternate history of the Kennedy assassination. At the center of that book is CIA operative Paul Christopher, whose investigation leaves him outside the organization and exiled from everything he loves.
But what does Christopher love, or what did he? The Secret Lovers, published three years after The Tears of Autumn but set three years before the Kennedy assassination, in 1960, tells the story. The title is a pun, referring not only to lovers who hide their relationships, but to the people like Christopher and his colleagues who love secrets for their own sake.
We meet Paul Christopher in Berlin, where a German courier passes him a manuscript written by a Russian dissident. The courier is killed in a hit-and-run accident moments later, and Christopher must find the source of the leak that led to the courier’s death.
The urgency of this search parallels the desperation Christopher feels about his marriage to Cathy, a beautiful and mercurial American who has only the vaguest understanding of Christopher’s real job. All Cathy knows is that some portion of Paul’s mind is constantly preoccupied, hidden from her, unavailable. Her need for his undivided attention spurs her to more and more irrational behavior — public infidelities, tantrums, fights.
Regardless of the leak within his operation, Christopher’s mission is to get the Russian dissident’s manuscript published. A key part of this plan is Otto Rothchild, a legendary, semi-retired agent now living in Paris with his wife Maria, herself a former agent. Otto is confined to a wheelchair, the victim of a mysterious medical disorder; Maria has given up her professional life to care for him. Otto and Maria are the Christophers’ only friends as a married couple, and Maria is one of the few people who can understand Cathy’s torment.
Of course, since The Secret Lovers is a spy novel, nothing is as it seems. Christopher’s loyalties make him vulnerable at every turn. That those loyalties will betray him is not a surprise. How they betray him is truly shocking. The Secret Lovers is a violently romantic novel, in the classic sense of that word: the characters act not out of logic, but out of raw emotion. It’s one of those rare books that demands a reader’s heart as well as her mind, and is my favorite Cold War espionage novel.
Ron Scheer reads, writes, teaches, and mostly keeps it simple in Los
Angeles and the Coachella Valley of Southern California
The Blind Corral
By Ralph Beer
Ralph Beer should have written a whole truckload of novels by now, but all I know of is this one, long out of print, plus a collection of his essays about ranching called In These Hills. I say “should have” because he writes with such precision that you want to slow down and relish each sentence. He’s a writer’s writer. The detail, the word choice, and the capturing of mood, situation, and character are just about perfect.
The story of The Blind Corral is told through the perspective of a young man, Jackson Heckethorne. It’s the post-Vietnam 1970s, and he’s returning home to the family ranch outside Helena, Montana. His family has made a living on the ranch for three generations, but only his aging grandfather lives there now.
Jackson has had some hard luck. An accident on a firing range has put him in a military hospital, and before that there was a brief rodeo career that went nowhere. His return home is supposed to be only temporary, but like wild horses drawn unwittingly into the blind corral of the title, it is not easy for him to leave. Instead of returning to Canada and a woman who waits for him there, he spends a bitter winter on the ranch with his grandfather, who is dying.
There is an aching melancholy and a sense of loss throughout the novel. Ranching no longer supports itself, and ranch families that had once put down roots are selling out to developers. There are reminders of the Indians who lost this land a century before, and now it is being lost again.
Jackson’s worldly adventures have left him empty and without direction. You wonder if what you’re seeing are symptoms of PTSD. Meanwhile, ranch work, the turn of the seasons, and the familiar landscape offer a lost connection to life itself. And there is the company of his father and grandfather, without whom he would be a victim of his growing loneliness.
His fate is played out in a man's world where women, if they figure at all, are as tough and independent as the men. The toughness is a strength that protects them, but leads just as surely to emotional isolation. When an old man dies, the best that can be said of him is that "he was hard on horses; he never forgot a grudge; he either liked you or he didn't."
Sounds a little on the downbeat side, yes, but there is also a quiet beauty in this novel. The land, though scarred and abused, still consoles the soul. And the reader feels both sorrow and admiration for these characters who remain resilient in the face of obstacles. Beer regards each of them as a surviving fragment of the old West, clinging to a kind of dignity in a new West that is diminished and shallow by comparison.
I first found this novel while looking for fiction set in Montana almost a decade ago. The feeling I had while reading it, and the appreciation I felt for Beer’s craft as a writer, have never left me. I would love to see this forgotten novel rediscovered.
Mike Dennis can be found here.
By Charlie Stella
"None of the rules apply unless you're high up enough to dictate them down. Even then, sooner or later, the rules get changed on the fly."
That's NYPD Detective John DeNafria clueing his new partner into the world of Organized Crime in Charlie Stella's 2002 novel of the New York streets, Jimmy Bench-Press. Former boxer Alex Pavlik is DeNafria's partner. He's new to the OC unit, fresh out of homicide and ready to kick some mob ass. Pavlik has a reputation for being a loose cannon, not entirely on board with inconvenient rules such as Miranda rights, so DeNafria has to keep a close eye on him.
Brooklyn mob soldier Jimmy Mangino is about to find out how the rules apply to him. He's a street-level guy, fresh out of prison and back in the rackets. He cuts an intimidating figure and can bench-press four hundred pounds. I'm not a weight-lifter and even I know that's a hell of a lot of poundage to lift. Yes, Jimmy is one tough dude.
But he wants to become a made man, and that's where his problems begin. He does strongarm jobs for the higher-ups, like knocking off porn case witnesses and running protection rackets around town. He hopes these little errands will ingratiate him with "the skipper" and move him ever closer to his eagerly-awaited induction ceremony.
Standing in his way are DeNafria and Pavlik, who are working on a low-grade extortion case. They have Mangino in their sights and they hope he will lead them to much bigger fish. From here, the novel moves swiftly along, parallelling the developments in the case, only taking occasional time out for each of the two cops to anguish and commiserate with the woman in his life.
The book is populated by assorted mob lowlifes and their put-upon victims, all of whom Stella has drawn to perfection. His dialogue is fine-tuned to the point where the reader can very nearly hear the actual voices of each character: pitch, inflection, the whole shebang. He clearly has a grip on the material.
Stella is the author of several other novels revolving around New York wiseguys, all of which have been well-received by readers and critics alike. Jimmy Bench-Press, which was his second novel, drips with violence, but in a different kind of way.
A comparison can handily be drawn to Val Lewton, movie producer from the 1940s, whose RKO films such as The Cat People, The Body Snatcher, and I Walked With A Zombie suggested much more horror than was actually shown. Lewton was given microscopic budgets to work with, so he was forced to improvise, but he also firmly believed that the images of horror which resided in the minds of his viewers were much more powerful than anything he could put up on the screen. Once he tapped into those dark corners of their imaginations, audiences of the day had nightmares after coming out of his movies.
Stella, however, has no such money constraints. He can splash all the blood he wants on his pages, and there are indeed some red stains. No surprise there, of course--it's the mob, right? But the novel is at its most effective when the reader can feel the violence lurking in Mangino's threatening persona. All he has to do is nod or grunt and right away you know the mayhem he's capable of causing. As with Val Lewton's moviegoers, Stella's readers can easily conjure up horrific images without seeing them played out on the page.
Jimmy Bench-Press rings with authenticity and is an excellent introduction to the world of the low-level criminal footsoldier.
Ed Gorman is the author of TICKET TO RIDE and other novels. You can find him here.
Baby, Come On Inside by David Wagoner
David Wagoner is a celebrated poet who has written a number of novels. My favorite is Baby, Come On
Inside for the simple reasons that it's so instructive aout the male ego. It also deals well with the spiritual meaning of the so-called mid-life crisis.
The fifty-year-old pop singer Popsy Meadows couldn't exist today. He's a lineal descendent of Sinatra and all the other bar room crooners who came after. But back when the book was new in 1968 crooners could still be
seen all over TV variety shows and making major bucks in Vegas.
Popsy has big problems. He's afraid he's losing his voice and he's sure he's losing his mind--the booze has caught up with him and he finds it difficult to remember exactly what has been happening to him. Desperate,
he returns to his home town in search of The Perfect Girl and to resolve his bitter relationship with his parents.
Popsy rents the entire floor of a hotel and invites many of his show biz friends--including some of his wives--for a drunken binge that will certainly never be forgotten by this burg. Wagoner deftly finds the sorrow in all the excess as his foolish and forlorn Popsy attempts the impossible--to not be so "Popsy" any more.
For me the seminal scene is when Popsy goes to visit his parents in the dingy bar they run. The extended scene reminds me of a similar one in Jim Thompson's Texas By The Tale. Bleakness and anger played off the
seeming frivolousness of much of the book. One critic at the time compared the novel to a Preston Sturges movie and that is an apt comparison.
I've reread this two or three times over the years and it always gives me pleasure. Wagoner knows almost too much about fractured people and how they delude themselves. He also knows how to show the reader a hell
of a good time.
Chris La Tray
Steve Lewis/Dan Stumpf
Steve Lewis'David Vineyard
Thursday, July 15, 2010
BREAKING BAD is a show that gets it right. It manages to be scary, compelling, sad and truthful every week. The acting and atmosphere are extraordinary. And Walt White (Bryan Cranston) shares the screen with other characters who have stories too. There is so little slack in each episode, I am breathless by the end.
What TV shows manage to hold your interest?
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Do this happen to you much? A story that started out well suddenly feels off and you can't figure out why. Why did I lose my interest in it? Is it a sign it stinks?
When this happens, how do you deal with it? Push on through or leave it alone for a while. Does it usually turn out okay in the end or is it a SIGN?
Years later can you tell the ones that hurt from the ones that felt good?
Monday, July 12, 2010
Is there anyone out there besides me still watching this shipwreck? Once my favorite TV show, I am soooooo sick of watching Tommy drink or not drink. A million drunks have been cured since Tommy tipped the bottle.
What ever happened to sharing the stage with the other characters on the show? And if Tommy is speechless one more time at the antics of the women on the show, I give up. Nobody looked on with eyes apopping this much since Spankey on the Little Rascals/Our Gang.
At 50, he shouldn't be so easily shocked. Why can't the writers come up with a new arc? Why is this show still on? Why am I still watching it? What did you watch long past its due date?
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Lisa Cholodenko (THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT); Debra Granik (WINTER'S BONE)Nicole Holofcener (PLEASE GIVE) Maren Ade (EVERYONE ELSE (a German film).
Four recent and fine movies by female directors. Are women finally getting their foot in the door? Again. Or will they fade away the way Penny Marshall, Allison Anders and Amy Heckerling did 20 years ago?
Now all these films are domestic dramas, but Kathryn Bigelow showed us last fall that women can direct war and action films, too. Does seeing that a film was directed by a female have any impact on you? Have you ever seen the films Ida Lupino directed in the fifties? Are they worth putting on my netflix list?
Saturday, July 10, 2010
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Detroit Passport to the Arts 2010-2011 Season
Friday, October 22, 2010
Michigan Opera Theater
The Mikado Friday,
November 12, 2010
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Rachmaninoff and Dvořák
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Of Mice and Men
February, 2011 TBD
Detroit Film Theater
Oscar Shorts Saturday,
April 16, 2011
Eisenhower Dance Ensemble
20 Years of Dance in Detroit Saturday,
June 18, 2011
Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings and
The Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival
Music of the 'Spheres
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Friday, July 09, 2010
Bill Crider, The Tell-Tale Tart by Peter Duncan
Scott Culp, The Spider vs the Empire State by Norvell Page
Ed Gorman, No Way To Treat a Lady by Harry Longbaugh (William Goldman)
Glenn Harper, Obsessions by Julia Kristeva
Randy Johnson, The Kissed Corpse by Asa Baker (Davis Dresser, aka "Brett Halliday")
BV Lawson, Shroud of Canvas by Isobel Mary Lambot
Le0pard13, Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, plus film and song choices
Steve Lewis, Die a Little by Megan Abbott
Todd Mason, This Fabulous Century edited by J. Korn(?), and The Brittanica Book of the Year edited by divers hands
July 9, 2010
Patti Abbott. Iron Gates, Margaret Millar
Paul Bishop, Offside, Manuel Vazquez Montalban
Bill Crider, Shakedown, Richard Ellington
Scott Cupp, The Orphan, Robert Stallman
Martin Edwards, Shadows Before, Dorothy Bowers
Jose Ignacio Escribano, Trouble is My Business, Raymond Chandler
Jen Forbus, The Killing of the Tinkers, Ken Bruen
Cullen Gallagher, Homicidal Lady, Day Keene
Ed Gorman, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Judith Rossner
Glenn Harper, Dark Angel, John Dale
Randy Johnson, The Stalking Moon. Theodore V. Olsen
George Kelley, Hard-Luck Diggings, Jack Vance
Chris LaTray, The Education of an American Soccer Player, Shep Messing and David Hirshey
Evan Lewis, Tros, Talbot Mundy
Todd Mason, Or All the Seas With Oysters, Avram Davidson; The Persistence of Vision, John Varley
James Reasoner, Tonkking, Dan Cushman
Richard Robinson, The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
Kerrie Smith, Witness Before the Fact, Elizabeth Ferras
Jen Forbus is a former high school English teacher who loves nothing better than to talk books with fellow book lovers. These days she works for the National Association of College Stores to pay the bills, but her true loves are her two chocolate labs, four cats, and her crime fiction blog. Why she still lives in Northeast Ohio where the dreaded snow comes every year is one of the world’s great mysteries.
THE KILLING OF THE TINKERS, Ken Bruen
Published (in the U.S.) by St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2004
THE KILLING OF THE TINKERS is the follow-up to Ken Bruen’s smash beginning of the Jack Taylor series, THE GUARDS. Returning from a short self-exile to London, Taylor finds himself back in Galway and back to his old habits when he’s approached to investigate who’s been killing young Tinkers, a gypsy group. When he agrees to take on the case, he takes on all the hate and intolerance that follows this band of travelers.
Taylor continues to succumb to his drug and alcohol addictions while investigating the Tinker case, and his wife from London shows up in Galway, much to everyone’s surprise.
Ken Bruen has without a doubt taken his place at the table of the great crime fiction writers. One of his signature writing elements is his allusions and direct quotes of other works and writers. His respect for and knowledge of the genre is astounding. But his unique style and voice have stretched the genre, and it is his work that is now influencing other writers. It will be his work that is alluded to and quoted for years to come. THE KILLING OF THE TINKERS, originally published in 2002, found its way to the U.S. two years later in 2004 and has since joined the crime fiction Canon.
Bruen addresses the subject of prejudices in a multitude of ways throughout THE KILLING OF THE TINKERS. Of course, there is first the outcast group of the Tinkers. In addition, Ken’s friends Cathy and Jeff give birth to a less than “perfect” child and they fret the life their child will have. And of course, Jack Taylor, himself, faces the role of outcast in his daily life, having been dismissed from The Guards, abusing drugs and alcohol, nursing a poor relationship with his mother.
The loner, alcoholic detective has become cliché in many ways, but Bruen manages to keep Taylor fresh and distinct. There’s nothing cliché or stereotypical about Taylor. Once the reader thinks he/she has Jack figured out, Bruen throws a twist in the game. The twist is never outlandish or unbelievable, just unexpected. Ultimately, that’s what makes readers connect with Taylor. Despite the darkness and despair, there’s always a tiny sense of some kind of hope. It may come in the most unexpected ways, but it’s there.
Ken Bruen is also very poetic in his writing style, which works to enhance the emotion of his novels. And when he accents that with the dark humor, THE KILLING OF THE TINKERS is a book that simply touches every corner of a reader’s soul.
José Ignacio Escribano was born in the middle of last century in Madrid, where he was educated; got his first job, married and had a daughter. Together with his family he left Madrid to live and work as a commodity trader on four continents. He has family ties in the other two. He considers himself a citizen of the world. By the end of the last century he returned to Madrid and began teaching. His interest, International Trade and Finance. He enjoys reading crime fiction.Trouble is My Business by Raymond Chandler.
When Patty Abbott asked me if I would care to contribute with a favourite book of mine to Friday's Forgotten Books, I did not think twice. I’m also most grateful for this opportunity to re-read a long time favourite, an almost forgotten book on my bookshelves: Trouble is My Business by Raymond Chandler. Penguin 1950. 248 pages. ISBN: 0.14.00.0741.5. http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780140109801,00.html#reviews
This is a collection of short stories that were first published in various American magazines:
- "Trouble is My Business" (August 1939, Dime Detective Magazine)
- "Red Wind" (January 1938, Dime Detective Magazine)
- A non-detective story "I'll Be Waiting" (October 14, 1939, Saturday Evening Post)
- "Goldfish" (June 1936, Black Mask),
- And "Guns at Cyrano's" (January 1936, Black Mask)
My copy is dated in 1982 and I probably read it back in 1986. Each story does not provide only an idea of Chandler’s writing but it also raises our interest on each tale. They are not simple sketches of Chandler’s later masterpieces, but they hold their own rights.
I highly recommend all of them but if I have to highlight just one this will be “Red Wind” which is probably best known for its opening lines: “There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”
Red Wind opens with private-eye John Dalmas (in my copy, changed later to Marlowe), sitting in front of a glass of beer at a cocktail bar. There is only one other customer, besides the bartender, a drunkard playing checkers with his empty glasses of straight rye whiskey. The quietness of the place is interrupted when a dark guy rushes in asking for a lady. "Tall, pretty, brown hair, in a print bolero jacket over a blue crepe silk dress." And not only Dalmas/Marlowe but the reader as well is shaken by this description. At this stage the drunkard swept a gun from somewhere and shot the dark guy. “So long, Waldo,” he said and slid towards the door. Dalmas/Marlowe regrets he did not have a gun. "I hadn’t thought I needed one to buy a glass of beer."
I don’t want to give away more of the plot. If you have already read it I hope I have encouraged you to read it again. If you have not read it yet just go and get it, you will not be disappointed.
The Raymond Chandler Web Site: http://home.comcast.net/~mossrobert/
Ed Gorman is the author of A TICKET TO RIDE and many other fine novels. You can find him here.
Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Judith Rossner
When Looking For Mrs. Goodbar was published in 1975 it was such a sensational hit that I put off reading because I assumed it would be not much more than trendy titillation. When I finally got to it I was stunned by how fine a writer Judith Rossner was and how truly her novel reflected the times.
Based on a particularly ugly murder in New York City, Rossner offers us the life of one Theresa Dunn, a lower class but good looking Irish Catholic teacher much respected by her colleagues and much pursued by the men she finds in the singles bars she haunts looking for sex and a release from her self-loathing and depression, the by-product (she has always thought) of polio that left her with a warped spine. Even though surgery corrected the spine, it did not correct her image of herself as as a freak, especially when she contrasts herself with her glamorous sister.
To me this is the definitive novel of the 70s, the so-called "me" decade. Theresa has always sought out men she believes can rescue her in some way--from the bastard professor she had an affair with as a student to the numerous hot shots of various kinds (Madison Avenue, theater) she meets on her nightly excursions. Her illusion is the illusion of the decade, as Rossner suggests, that the freedom she revels in is a spiritual prison. Waiting in the wings was AIDs of course.
Then comes the time when she meets the drifter who will kill her the very night he meets her. Rossner, both her and in all of her novels, demonstrates that serious literature can find mass appeal when the story is as powerful as this one. An overplayed movie version appeared soon after publication of the book but its ham-handedness destroyed the subtle and ironic truths of Rossner's brilliant novel.
Jerry House lives in Southern Maryland. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Wind in the Rose-bush and Other Stories of the Supernatural
by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (whose married name was sometimes preceded by a dash) was a popular 19th and early 20th century author. She has been credited with an astonishing 238 novels as well as several short story collections. Her duties as secretary to Oliver Wendall Holmes, Sr., brought her into contact with many of the literary lights of the day. Amazingly versatile, she produced a number of works of very high standard. In 1902 she began a series of supernatural stories which were published in Everybody's Magazine. One of her publishers, Doubleday Page, had an editorial relationship with Everybody's and brought out The Wind in the Rose-bush the following year. About the same time, however, Everybody's was sold to another company which had no use for "outlandish" or "morbid" stories.
With Everbody's market closed to her, Freeman went on to different kinds of fiction. Our loss. While her other work (both deservedly and otherwise) has faded into obscurity, the six stories in The Wind in the Rose-bush remain among the best of its kind. It was the fashion in turn-of-the-century popular fiction to portray family life in a mawkishly sentimental manner, but in Freeman's stories, the domestic trumped the sentimental. Her characters are real people with real flaws, while the supernatural hides quietly in everyday events, slowly coming into light. Several of these stories are standard fare in anthologies collecting "great" supernatural stories.
Here are the contents:
The Wind in the Rose-bush
The Shadows on the Wall
The Southwest Chamber
The Vacant Lot
The Lost Ghost
Notice that I keep using the word "supernatural" rather than "ghost". Some of the six are true ghost stories; others are ghost stories only by courtesy. Mrs. Freeman does not bother to explain the supernatural in these stories: she allows the reader and the characters to experience it -- which is more than enough. The most accomplished of the stories may be "Luella Miller", who is a woman who may or may not be a psychic vampire and whose influence may or may not have been transferred to her home. In "The Lost Ghost", two gossiping ladies are diverged from telling the expected ghost story by an altogether different ghost story. "The Southwest Corner" gives us a haunted room that grows more menacing as the story progresses. The first of "The Shadows on the Wall" is that of a murdered brother; the next...?
These six stories were later combined with five lesser stories to form the Arkham House publication of The Collected Ghost Stories of Mary Wilkins-Freeman (1974). Despite that title, there evidently several of her supernatual stories that remain uncollected.
Joe Barone (earlier)
Scott Cupp (7/2)
Ed Gorman (7/2)
Glenn Harper (7/2)
Randy Johnson (7/2)
B.V. Lawson (7/2)
Le0pard 13 (7/2)
Steve Lewis (7/2)
Todd Mason (7/2)
Kevin Tipple (7/2)
Steve Lewis/Bill Pronzini