Friday, November 16, 2018

Friday's Forgotten Books, November 16, 2018


THE BLONDE ON THE STREET CORNER, David Goodis (Mike Dennis)

"Ralph stood on the corner, leaning against the brick wall of Silver's candy store, telling himself to go home and get some sleep."

That's the opening line of The Blonde On The Street Corner, a 1954 novel written by David Goodis. Of course, Ralph doesn't go home. Instead, he spots a blonde across the dark street and gawks at her. She eventually calls him over to light her cigarette, which he does.

Now, at this point, one might expect that Ralph would be irresistibly lured into a tight web spun by this dazzling femme fatale, resulting in his eventual moral destruction, if not death. But Goodis doesn't write that way. In fact, the blonde is fat, sharp-tongued, and lives in the neighborhood. Ralph knows her, and knows that she's married. She propositions him right on the corner, but he rejects her. "I don't mess around with married women," he tells her. Then he goes home.

Much to the reader's surprise, this encounter does not trigger the plot of the novel. In fact, it would be right to say that the novel has no plot, in the usual sense. Ralph returns to his impoverished Philadelphia home, where he lives with his parents, and spends the rest of the book wallowing in misery with his friends, all of whom are in the same boat as he: in their thirties, usually unemployed, and filled with unrealistic dreams. One of his friends says he is a "songwriter", but no one has ever recorded any of his songs. Another wants to be a big-league baseball player, but lasted only a week on a class D minor league team. They spend most of their time leaning up against buildings, wearing only thin coats against the bitter Philadelphia winter, and wishing they had more money. They talk a good deal about going to Florida, where they can get jobs as bellmen in a "big-time hotel", convinced this would jump-start their desperate lives.

The book goes on like this pretty much all the way through, with no moving story line, but it's Goodis' prose that keeps you riveted to the page. No one can paint a picture of a hopeless world better than he can. For Goodis, Philadelphia is a desolate place, whose bleak streets offer little in the way of promise. Many of his novels were set there, and they all shared that common trait. Life in that city is, for him and his characters, usually an exercise in futility. These are people who walk around with twenty or thirty cents in their pockets, who cold-call girls out of the phone book asking for dates, and for whom escape to Florida is always right around the corner. The finale provides the mortal body blow to Ralph, stripping him of the last shred of his dignity.

The Blonde On The Street Corner is a potent novel, filled with the passions and despair of its characters. All through this book, you find yourself longing to run into characters whose lives mean something. Then, you realize there aren't any.

 Mark Baker, CHASING THE DIME, Michael Connelly
Les Blatt, THE LONG DIVORCE, Edmund Crispin
Brian Busby, THE EMPTY SACK, Basil King
Crossexaminingcrime, STAIRWAY TO MURDER, Osmington Mills
Martin Edwards, VANISH IN AN INSTANT, Margaret Millar
Richard Horton, PARADISE NEWS and THE BRITISH MUSEUM IS FALLING DOWN, David Lodge
Jerry House, SECRET UNDER ANTARTICA, Gordon R. Dickson
George Kelley, A RIVAL FROM THE GRAVE, Seabury Quinn 
Margot Kinberg, THE MURDER OF MY AUNT, Richard Hull
Rob Kitchin, THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS, Jason Arnopp
Evan Lewis, THE MASK OF DR. FU MAN CHU, Wally Wood (and Sax Rohmer)
Steve Lewis, ONE FALSE MOVE, Kelly Roos
Todd Mason, TROUBLE VALLEY, Lee Hoffman
J.F. Norris, THE ROSES OF PICCARDI, Simon Raven
Only Detect, MURDER ON THE LINKS, Agatha Christie
Matt Paust, MISTAKENLY IN MALLORCA, Roderic Jeffries
James Reasoner, BRAND FIRES ON THE RIDGE, Ernest Haycox
Richard Robinson, THE WILL OF THE DEAD, George Mann
Gerard Saylor, THE ZEALOT, Simon Scarrow
Kevin Tipple, WHERE THE KILLING STARTS, Ted Wood
TomCat,  THE CASE OF THE MISSING MEN, CHRISTOPHER BUSH
TracyK, DEATH ON THE NILE, Agatha Christie

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

IN PIECES, Sally Field






This was a well-written book and it covered the early years of Field's life very well. But suddenly, when she is still in her thirties, it begins to rush through the last thirty years as though she had reached a page limit. Or as if her career had ended, which it had certainly not. I am not sure why. Whether she did not have the time to process it. Whether she found it dull. Certainly the first thirty years examines events carefully and with pain. This lady had a lot of hard times. I have read novels where this happened. Where the childhood was what interested the author. But not so much a life. A life in pieces, I guess. Still the writing is wonderful and her humility admirable.

Monday, November 12, 2018

THINGS THAT ARE MAKING ME HAPPY

Read two enigmatic books this week: IN PIECES by Sally Field and MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON, Elizabeth Strout. In both books the central character never felt fully understood. Will talk about the Field book tomorrow. This is the second time I read LUCY BARTON and the same issues I had the first time held true. I was never sure what exactly the author's point was. If it was about mother love-I never really felt she demonstrated it. Her mother was ghostlike to me.

Saw FIRST MAN, which was good if not great. I guess biopics never completely work for me and it is hard to top THE RIGHT STUFF when it comes to astronauts. But this was well made, well acted and about as good as it could be.

Rewatching SUCCESSION on HBO and enjoying it more the second time around. And I must say I think THE DEUCE's second year was pretty terrific. (Megan bowed out early on this season so this has nothing to do with her involvement). 

Had dinner with friends several nights and lunch with friends several days. As I have said before, I cherish my friends. They have carried me through some rough years.

How about you?

Friday, November 09, 2018

Friday's Forgotten Books, November 9, 2018

IN A TRUE LIGHT, John Harvey  (Kent Morgan from the archives)

In 1998, John Harvey won the first-ever Sherlock Award for the best detective, Charlie Resnick, created by a British author. When he decided to stop writing the Resnick series, he opted to write a standalone where he could use his interest in both art and music in the storyline. The result is this book which received well-deserved raves from book reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic. Sloane is a 60-year-old painter who is just out of prison after serving time for duplicating fine art for a dealer. He takes the rap and doesn’t squeal on the dealer who promised him 20,000 pounds on his release. After he collects the money, he is contacted by a woman in Italy who tells him a prominent artist with whom he had a fling in New York when he was 18 is dying and wants to see him. She claims that Sloane is the father of her estranged daughter, who is a jazz singer in the States, and asks him to find her. This takes him back to New York where he discovers the younger woman is involved with a man who beats her and has ties to organized crime. Sloane isn’t convinced that the woman is his daughter and despite the fact that she doesn’t seem to want him in her life and any help with her problems that includes drugs, he can’t stop himself from getting involved. The story moves back and forth from New York to London and Pisa and Harvey’s characters jump off the page as Sloane attempts to resolve his issues as well as the woman’s problems. This is one of the few books I have read in recent years that I didn’t want to put down.

Mark Baker, DEATH ON THE NILE, Agatha Christie
Les Blatt, THE CONQUEROR, E.R. Punshon
Elgin Bleecker, GUNS OF BRIXTON, Paul Brazill
Brian Busby "Grant Allen" 
crossexaminingcrime, ROCKET TO THE MORGUE, Anthony Boucher
Martin Edwards, THE SHOP WINDOW MURDERS, Vernon Loder
Curt Evans, THE ELECTION BOOTH MURDER,   Milton M. Propper
Elisabeth Grace Foley, REST AND BE THANKFUL, Helen MacInnes
Richard Horton, SKIN HUNGER and SACRED SCARS, Kathleen Duey
Jerry House, STAR OVER BETHLEHEM AND OTHER STORIES, Agatha Christie Mallowan 
George Kelley, END OF THE LINE, Burt and Dolores Hitchens
Margot Kinberg, DESERT  HEAT, J.A. Jance 
Rob Kitchin, SIRENS, Joseph Knox
B.V. Lawson, VOICE OUT OF DARKNESS, Ursula Curtiss
Evan Lewis, THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION, Nicholas Meyer
Steve Lewis, SHADY LADY, Cleve Adams 
Todd Mason,  THE AMERICAN FOLK SCENE ed. David DeTurk & A. Poulin; BOB DYLAN: DON'T LOOK BACK transcribed & ed. by DJ Pennebaker et al.; DANGEROUSLY FUNNY by David Bianculli
J.F.Norris, MAYNARDS'S HOUSE, Herman Raucher
James Reasoner, THE COMPLETE MIKE SHAYNE, PRIVATE EYE, Ken Fitch and Ed Ashe 
Richard Robinson, THE WAY THE FUTURE WAS, Frederick Pohl
ONLY DETECT, DARKNESS TAKE MY HAND, Dennis Lehane 
Kevin Tipple, CORKSCREW, Ted Wood 
TomCat, THE HOUSE OF STRANGE GUESTS, Nicholas Brady
TracyK, THE BIRTHDAY MURDER, Lange Lewis

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Forgotten Movies: THE GAZEBO

This is an odd little film. Glenn Ford is a TV writer who is being blackmailed over some salacious photos of his wife taken years earlier. She is now a Broadway star. He pays up until he can't any longer and then decides to knock off the blackmailer. Carl Reiner plays his police detective friend. Almost the entire film revolves around this idea and although it is funny at times and dark at others, it seemed like a play more than a movie. They seldom venture outside of the living room and the backyard gazebo. Debbie doesn't get to do much at all. Glenn Ford is better at comedy than I would have expected though.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Things That Are Making Me Happy


Really enjoyed rereading ROSEANNA. The use of a decoy in the book reminded me that you don't see that technique used as much as you used to today.
Enjoyed BODYGUARD and UNFORGOTTEN (it was on Masterpiece Theater a few years ago). Four episodes into HOMECOMING and enjoying it so far.
Saw CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? and liked it moderately. It felt a little flat to me but I can't quite put my finger on it. The sets and wardrobe was perfect. So too the evocation of late eighties NYC. McCarthy and Grant were both good. So why didn't I like it more? I need to see it again.
Maybe because I didn't quite get her as a character. Just not sure.
Enjoyed seeing Kevin on Halloween. He still seems to enjoy it. He dressed as a character from FORTNITE-some popular computer game. The costumes this year were so good. 
What about you?

Friday, November 02, 2018

Friday's Forgotten Books. November 2, 2018


"As the days went by, the evolution of like into love was accelerated.  White Fang himself began to grow aware of it, though in his consciousness he knew not what love was.  It manifested itself to him as a void in his being—a hungry, aching, yearning void that clamoured to be filled.  It was a pain and an unrest; and it received easement only by the touch of the new god’s presence.  At such times love was joy to him, a wild, keen-thrilling satisfaction.  But when away from his god, the pain and the unrest returned; the void in him sprang up and pressed against him with its emptiness, and the hunger gnawed and gnawed unceasingly. "
White Fang - Jack London


CROSS COUNTRY (Ed Gorman from the archives)
 
Herbert D. Kastle wrote a number of science fiction stories in magazines of the 1950s. That's where I first read him. Later in the 1960s he was writing those fat sexy bestseller-type novels that owed more to marketing and Harold Robbins than his presumed muse.

Then in 1974 he wrote CROSS COUNTRY. Here's a quote from one of the reviews: "This novel seems to occupy the same dark and twisted territory as the works of Jim Thompson. Characters interact in a dance of barely suppressed psycho-pathological urges and desires that is as
grotesquely fascinating as a multi-car pileup on the freeway. It
may leave you feeling unclean afterwards, but chances are you will not forget it."

Damn straight. It really is a sewer of sex and terror and blood-soaked suspense. I read it in one long sitting. If it's trash, as some called it at the time, it is spellbinding trash.

IMDB sums up the story line succintly: "After a woman is found butchered in her New York apartment, suspicion falls on her estranged husband, an ad executive who has suddenly left town on a cross-country road trip. He takes along a beautiful girl he met in a bar and a drifter he picked up along the way. A cop sets out after the husband, but he's more interested in shaking him down than bringing him back."

Kastle masterfully controls his long nightmare journey and you buy into his paranoia. He shows you an American wasteland of truck stops, motels, convenience stores connected by interstate highway and darkness. By book's end everyone will betray everyone else. This is survival of the fittest enacted by a Yuppie businessman, sociopathic hippies and a crooked cop. The sheer nastiness of Kastle's existential vision make this book impossible to forget. Thirty-some years after I first read it I still think of it from time to time when hundreds of other novels have fled from memory.

As a vision of hell, it's a small masterpiece.


Les Blatt, THREE PLOTS OF ASEY MAYO, Gladys Mitchell
Brian Busby, MAID OF ARMS, Enid Cushing
Crossexaminingcrime, THE DEADLY PERCHERON, John Franklin
Martin Edwards, AND DEATH CAME TOO, Richard Hull
Richard Horton, THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, Achmed Abdullah
George Kelley, ASTOUNDING: JOHN W. CAMPBELL, ISAAC ASIMOV, ROBERT A. HEINLEIN, L. RON HUBBARD, AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION By Alec Nevada-Lee
Margot Kinberg, MISTAKEN IN MALLORCA, RODERIC Jeffries
Rib Kitchin, RAIN FALLS ON EVERYONE, Clar N Chonghale 
B.V. Lawson, NINE COACHES WAITING, Mary Stewart
Evan Lewis, THE VALLEY OF TWISTED TRAILS, W.C. Tuttle
Steve Lewis, CASE OF THE HAUNTED HUSBAND, Erle Stanley Gardner
Todd Mason, THE WOMEN WHO WALK THROUGH FIRE, ed. Susanna J. Sturgis
J.F. Norris, THE HANDS OF ORLAC. Maurice Renard
ONLY DETECT, SMALLBONE,DECEASED Michael Gilbert
Matt Paust, UNEXPECTED NIGHT, Elizabeth Daly
James Reasoner, COLT CRUSADERS, E. B. Mann
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, E. PLURIBUS UNICORN,  Theodore Sturgeon
TomCat,. DEATH OF A QUEEN,  Christopher St. John Sprigg