Friday, September 22, 2023

FFB: THE BOYS IN THE BOAT, David James Brown

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT: NINE AMERICANS AND THEIR EPIC QUEST FOR GOLD AT THE 1936 BERLIN OLYMPICS. A book about rowing? Seems improbable that anyone could make it a page turner but David James Brown succeeded.

The reason he was able to do this was because he was able to pull in so much beside the University of Washington's rowing program in the thirties. The book looks at the problems of poverty in the 1930s, the dust bowl, Nazi German's rise to power, the Olympic movement, the story of rowing itself, the lives of the coach, the boat builder, and some of the athletes. Most especially it gave us the life of Joe Rantz, a rower who had an exceptionally hard childhood. His summer job while in college was hanging from cliffs and using a 75 pound drill to build a damn. Most of the boys came from humble means, which means we cheer for them all the more. Brown was especially adept at exploring the psychology of successful rowing. A very particular sort of sport.
I enjoyed this book immensely and am looking forward to a forthcoming film about it which is directed by George Clooney.


Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: STRANGERS IN TOWN, Ross Macdonald

From the archives

Strangers in Town: Three Newly-discovered Mysteries by Ross Macdonald, edited by Tom Nolan
(Review by Deb)

Containing three short stories (only one of which was published in Macdonald’s lifetime), written in 1945, 1950, and 1955 respectively, Strangers in Town displays some of the earliest themes, characterizations, plot twists, and motifs that are found in Macdonald’s longer works.  In each one of these stories, we see elements emerge that will be explored more fully in future mysteries, including the development of Macdonald’s series private investigator, Lew Archer.
The first story, Death by Water, was published in 1945 in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine under Macdonald’s real name, Kenneth Millar.  Written while Millar was serving on a naval vessel in the Pacific Theater of WWII, the story features Lew Archer prototype, p.i. Joe Rogers, who is investigating the drowning death of a wealthy man.  Was it just an unfortunate accident or was he deliberately killed?  And, if the latter, who is the killer?  The man’s younger, wheelchair-bound wife has only a few months to live herself.  The man’s stepson is on a navy ship (much like Millar himself when he wrote this story) and therefore unable to have committed the crime.  How about the dead man’s brother, who struggles to live on a limited income?  And where was the wife’s personal nurse when the death occurred?  Millar manages to pack a lot of suspects and motives into a few pages, but what I found most interesting about the story was the reference to ALS (aka, Lou Gehrig’s disease) just a few years after Gehrig himself succumbed to the condition.
Lew Archer appears in the next story, 1950’s Strangers in Town, where he is hired by a woman to prove that her son did not kill a pretty, secretive young woman who was renting a room in her house.  Archer has to travel to a dusty town in the California desert to investigate this one.  As in much of Macdonald’s longer fiction, the small California community in which the story is set is a character in itself.  What I liked most about the story was the sympathetic and dignified treatment of African-American and Hispanic characters (the victim and the alleged killer are both black; the attorney defending the young man is Mexican-American)—they are depicted neither as caricatures nor noble stoics, but as fully-realized characters with the standard human mix of decency, faults, and failings.
The final story in the collection is 1955’s The Angry Man which features several frequent Macdonald themes:  The mentally-ill and the often callous treatment they receive from law enforcement and society as a whole; wealthy but dysfunctional families; the lengths to which people who have no money will go in order to get it; and the juxtaposition of a character’s surface persona with their inward self.  You can also see Macdonald working on the technical problem of how to have a first-person, non-omniscient narrator receive and communicate information without the story devolving into one long piece of exposition (I think Macdonald handles this type of narrative extremely well in both his short and long fiction).  Neither this story nor Strangers in Town was published in Macdonald’s lifetime.  He decision not to publish these works was not because they did not measure up to his standards but for quite the opposite reason:  He liked what he had written so much that he wanted to expand upon it and develop the material into longer works.
As entertaining as these short stories are, I found the most interesting thing about the book to be its long, informative introduction written by Tom Nolan which quotes extensively from letters Millar/Macdonald wrote to his wife (fellow novelist, Margaret Millar—herself an FFB honoree some time ago) while he was serving in the Navy.  During long, occasionally dangerous, deployments, Millar was able to read extensively from the ship’s library and continue to write fiction and develop his ideas for writing first-person murder-mysteries narrated by the hard-boiled but moral private investigator who ultimately became Lew Archer.

 George Kelley


Steve Lewis 

Casual Debris

Monday, September 18, 2023

Monday, Monday

Because Megan was taking the train to Rhinebeck, NY, (up the Hudson), to give a talk on SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, I decided to watch it last night. I thought I had seen it before, but I am not sure I ever have. What a terrific movie and what a great screenplay by Ernest Lehman.  I spent the rest of the night watching talks with and about Lehman on you tube.I loved how they cast this movie with mostly regular looking people. Even the love interest is not the typical glamor-puss. I wish Tony Curtis had made more movies of this caliber. The only other real classic is SOME LIKE IT HOT.

I had a big crush on Tony Curtis as a thirteen year old and had a photo of him on my bulletin board. I used to send to the studios for photos of the movie stars I loved and they would send back (machine) autographed pictures.  (Troy Donahue, George Maharis, Tab Hunter, Anthony Perkins, Rock Hudson). 

Been watching the scary DEAR CHILD on Netflix (German). Also watched Eric Rohmer's TALES OF AUTUMN. Still looking for a long series to get me through winter. Gave up on ER and GREY'S ANATOMY. Maybe I will rewatch THE SOPRANOS but I don't know if I want to enter his world again.

Picked up the new Kate Atkinson's story collection and the new Angie Kim, HAPPINESS FALLS. Still working on my book club book, but Tuesday is the day.

Went to Senior Day at the Detroit Zoo this week. Also listened to a Jazz Group practice at the Senior Center. 

I get my shots on the 28th. Wish it were sooner so I didn't have to wear a mask to a play next Sunday. 

What about you?

Friday, September 15, 2023

FFB: THE INNOCENT MRS. DUFF, Elizabeth Sanxay Holding


(review by Ed Gorman)

THE INNOCENT MRS. DUFF, Elizabeth Sanxay Holding 

For some reason, much as I've pushed her, I'd never read THE INNOCENT MRS. DUFF by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding. It is remarkable in many ways, not least because the protagonist, Jacob Duff is drunk for virtually the entire novel. And we see 95% of the book through his eyes. Functionally drunk for most of it but also falling-down drunk in places. Holding's genius was to sustain a sense of
dread that I don't think even Ruth Rendell has equaled. There are times in her novels when I have to put the book down for a few minutes. They are that claustrophobic in mood and action.
That's the first remarkable aspect of the book. The second remarkable aspect is that we see the book through the eyes of one of the most arrogant, self-involved, cold and self-deluded men I've ever encountered in fiction of any kind. I hated the bastard so
much--I'm not enamored of the upper-classes, alas, and Duff embodies everything I loathe about them--I almost gave up after chapter three. I wasn't sure I wanted to learn anything more about this jerk,

But Holding has the voodoo, at least for me. She makes me turn pages faster than any best-seller because what you're rushing to discover is the secrets of her people not just plot turns. All the good folks in
this one are women, especially Duff's younger, beautiful and very decent wife. He constantly compares her unfavorably to his first wife, though we soon learn that he didn't care much for his first wife, either. At
age forty he's still looking for his dream woman. God have mercy on her soul if he ever finds her.

As always with Holding, as with much of Poe, what we have is not so much a plot (though she's as good as Christie) as a phantasmagoria of despair, distrust and suspicion that consumes the protagonist. Is his
wife cheating on him? Is she setting up his death so she'll inherit his estate? Is she turning his young son against him? Has his wealthy aunt, his life-long mentor and mother confessor, taken the side of his young
wife? Has his drinking disgraced him in his small town and are all those smirks aimed at him? And finally, is he a murderer? And why does he have to sneak around these days to drink?

If you're curious about Holding, this is a good place to start. Anthony Boucher always said that she was the mother of all psychological suspense novelists. What's interesting is how few, fifty-some years after her death, have come close to equaling her enormous powers. Not for nothing did Raymond Chandler call her the best suspense novelist of his generation


Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: "Possibilities" Bill Pronzini

This is a somewhat familiar setup-a man seems to be disposing of his wife's body and his neighbors are more than a little interested. They are at his elbow from start to finish. What makes it work so well is how great and natural the dialogue is-and it's almost all dialog. The ending is somewhat of a twist but it really hangs together on the development of the characters and that Pronizini makes them so realistic. A real master. 

George Kelley

Kevin Tipple 

Jerry House

Monday, September 11, 2023

Monday, Monday


How about those Lions!!! Maybe this is our year.

A lot of cloudy weather. Since it so cloudy in Detroit from November to March, I really hate it when this happens earlier. The temperature is nice though. Some lunches and dinners with friends but nothing at the movies to see. Hoping the new Poirot opens and gets good reviews. 

A friend and I went to a couple of plant nurseries on Saturday and at one of them a wedding was about to begin. The groom wore a bright blue tuxedo with brown shoes, which we thought unusual. Black, right? But apparently that's a new trend. The bride was completely traditional. Having a wedding at a nursery seemed odd-it was in the greenhouse, which was fairly dirty because of the leaves blowing in. But it was also sort of nice for a September wedding. 

What month did you marry in and was there anything unusual in your outfits? I think my brother had a maroon tux or maybe it was just the cummerbund. Or maybe that was a prom tux. I would check on it but it's on a top shelf in a closet.

Mine was dead normal except I wore a short gown. Megan did also thirty years later. 

 This was January in Philadelphia, a beautiful day. 

Watching THE SECRET SHE KEEPS, based on a Michael Robotham novel. It's on Prime. Also the PBS Sunday night fare. Contemplating watching HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER since I am listening to Viola Davis' memoir. Boy, can she read it well. 

Still struggling with this book club book. So well written but boy it moves slowly. I think anything I have to read I struggle with. Listening to lots of podcasts as I walk and ride the bike. My PT guy came to the gym in my bldg and worked out a routine for me since I am out of therapy now. A new fun one is TEAM DEAKINS, which interviews film people. I will finally learn what a best boy does.

So what's new with you?