Monday, September 29, 2008

TCM Honors Paul Newman on October 12th

In honor of Paul Newman, who died on September 26, TCM will air a tribute to the actor on Sunday, October 12th, replacing the current scheduled programming with the following movies:

Sunday, October 12 Program for TCM
6:00 AM The Rack
8:00 AM Until They Sail
10:00 AM Torn Curtain
12:15 PM Exodus
3:45 PM Sweet Bird of Youth
6:00 PM Hud
8:00 PM Somebody Up There Likes Me
10:00 PM Cool Hand Luke
12:15 AM Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
2:15 AM Rachel, Rachel
4:00 AM The Outrage

Mad Men

It is only when I read a comprehensive analysis such as this one (recommended by Wallace Stroby on his blog today) that I realize just how many subtle references in Mad Men slip by me. Some of them are offered at the speed of light, like Betty Draper's choice of reading matter as she falls entirely apart (Ship of Fools by Katherine Porter).

What makes Mad Men great is the need for the viewer to intuit or decipher what Betty's up to. What any of them are up to. It's rarely spelled out because the characters all seem to act without discussion and in isolation. Such confiding is actually scorned, especially with men. Being a "real" man then was especially difficult.

I think people of my generation (baby boomers) are not used to watching television carefully enough to pick up rapid-fire allusions such as those tossed out of Mad Men, The Shield, The Wire. It requires a deep focus that we never had to extend to television. I used to read a book while watching TV, for Pete's sake. It was the book that required the attention.

Similarly I remember the struggle my parents' generation had with watching movies that were not chronological in their story-telling. They needed to learn a new language as I do now.

I need to learn how to watch TV again. I may pick up overt visual hints (product placement and that sort of referencing), but the more subtle visual and audio allusions are getting away from me. Do you notice this, baby boomers?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My Town Monday: Detroit--City Mouse

Clair Dickson and I live 90 minutes apart yet our lives are very different or so I surmise from her MTM blogs. We both spend a lot of time in front of our computers and our weather's similar, but when we walk out the door, there's an entirely different vista awaiting.

Although I often complain about Detroit, I can't imagine not living in a city. Or near one. My husband grew up in the country and could easily reinsert himself, but me....I don't settle in easily. What would I do there?

The reasons I like city life: arthouse movies on a regular basis, and the Detroit area has four venues showing them; major cultural institutions: a symphony, museums, theaters, an opera house, etc; access to sports teams for my husband and son if not myself; public transportation to get to work. I barely drive. (Although Detroit is pretty poor in this regard); live music. Bookstores: new ones, used ones, specialty ones.

I am a pretty voracious consumer of these sorts of things, leaving my carbon footprint, size 6, all over the place. I like diverse restaurants and the people who come with them. Give me an Arab/Thai dive any day.

I guess I've never built up the inner resources to entertain myself very well in pristine surroundings. I need stimuli and plenty of it. I admire those who can forge a life without needing so much...much, but I think you have to be born to it. Or be "saved" from cultural neediness.

When I go on vacation, I go to other cities. I just don't "get" country life. Cows scare me, for one thing. Hate the smell of skunks and manure. All those stars in the country sky are pretty horrific too. It's supposed to be dark at night.

Where is the sound of gunfire and ambulances in the country? Where is the smell of garbage and asphalt? Where is the feel of cement beneath my feet?

I may end up in a retirement village in the bucolic confines of the country. But since I'll probably never leave the facility, I'll never know the difference.

Take it away, Clair. Persuade me that country life is the way to go.

Check out more My Town Monday posts at the wonderful Travis Erwin's blog

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Your Favorite Paul Newman Film

I am torn between choosing one where his physical perfection and romanticism is most in evidence, the part of him that made me crazy at 15, or the ones I most enjoyed. I guess I'll go with Hud, which has both elements.

He ranks pretty high on my list of heroes. Lots of sad deaths lately.

A Guy Walks Into the Room

and he turns out to be someone who collects sports cars from the 1960s. WHAT!

Suddenly you spend an hour or more identifying sports car from his era. You know nothing about this subject. Where did he come from? Where does his hobby come from?

When this happens to you in your writing, do you slam the door on him and his research-demanding hobby, regard him as someone trying to hijack your plot? Or do you go with it, even if you must now spend an hour or more looking at cars online?

Are you suspicious about whether this is a good sidebar for your story? Do you ever wonder if you're looking for a way to go online and fool around instead of cranking out words? Is he a ridiculous diversion or a gift from your unconscious?

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Summing Up, Friday, September 26, 2008

Next week I'll post a combination of reviews of forgotten books and reviews or discussion of banned books. I'll probably do the forgotten books first and then the banned books a few hours later so as not to confuse. Please feel free to submit either (OR BOTH), just give me a day or two jump on it since I continue to have blogger problems. The following week, we'll take a week off for Bouchercon but resume in full force on October 17th.

Thanks for all of the wonderful reviews over the last six months.

Suzanne Aruda, Trader Horn, Alfred Aloysius Horn
Patrick Shawn Bagley, Hell House, Richard Matheson
Paul Bishop, The Golden Keel, Desmond Bagley
David Cranmer, High Lonesome, Louis L'Amour
Bill Crider, (writing from the Kroger's store in Alvin, TX) The (Old) Man in the Corner (Baroness Orczy
Jane Finnis, The Caves of Steel, Issac Asimov
Lesa Holstine,
The Good Friday Murder, Lee Harris
Randy Johnson,
The Other, Tom Tryon
Brian Lindenmuth,
The Jones Men, Verne Smith
Rafe McGregor,
The Night of the Generals, Hans Hellmut Kirst
The Sense of the Past, Henry James
Terrie Farley Moran, First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped Presidents, Bonnie Angelo
Scott D. Parker,
Top of the Heap, Erle Stanley Gardner
Nancy Pickard,
Why They Kill, Richard Rhodes
James Reasoner,
The Fast Buck, Ross Laurence
Kerrie Smith,
When in Rome, Ngaio Marsh
Susan Smith,
The Last Refuge, Chris Knopf
Barry Summy,
The Last of the Crazy People, Timothy Findley
Wallace Stroby, The Out is Death, Peter Rabe
Tom Whitmore,
King & Joker, Peter Dickson

Forgotten Books, Friday, September 26, 2008

Suzanne Arruda, Author of the Jade del Cameron Mystery series set in 1920’s Africa

by Alfred Aloysius Horn

Come on board a steamer bound for the African Ivory Coast in the 1870’s. Slip up previously uncharted rivers
and trade for rubber and other goods with cannibal tribes. Meet the founder of Rhodesia, and take a missionary woman upriver.
Join a secret fraternity, the Egbo society, to worship a jungle spirit and meet a living white goddess. In short,
travel with Trader Horn.

Most people who have heard of Trader Horn will likely associate it with the 1931 motion picture of the same name.
And while that film is a classic, the book that it is based on is a rare gem among African tales.
Trader Horn is not a fictionalized adventure tale. It is the real account of Alfred Aloysius Horn who went to sea as a young man around 1870 and became the first white man to pilot some of the rivers in Western Africa.

When he recounts his experiences, it’s as an old man, down on his luck and peddling housewares to housewives. It’s in this capacity that he meets South African novelist, Ethelreda Lewis. She convinces him to write down his memories and turn them into her for publication. Ms. Lewis takes these accounts as Mr. Horn wrote them, then adds her records of their personal conversations. And therein is one of the treasures of this volume. We hear the true voice of the man.

That voice is not one of false bragging nor of disdain for the wild tribesmen that he met. It’s one of a genuine good soul who truly loved Africa and its peoples. Instead of a treatise on horrifying peoples and hyped up tales of bravado, we see the Ivory Coast through the eyes of someone who truly appreciated it. It makes his accounts of battles and near escapes all the more believable since they aren’t painted over with self-pride or feelings of superiority.

In short, for all who have seen the movie, the book is better.

Rafe McGregor is the author of the forthcoming The Architect of Murder. You can find him at: Go look at Rafe's other nine choices.


It probably seems strange to choose, as a ‘forgotten’ book, one that is not only still in print as a mass market paperback, but was also made into a very successful film. The Night of the Generals was released in 1967, five years after the novel was first published (in German), with Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif in the lead roles. O’Toole had recently appeared as T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia and played his part to perfection alongside an all-star supporting cast which included the likes of Christopher Plummer and Harry Andrews. Forty years on, however, the novel behind the film is largely forgotten, and only kept in print by Cassell Military Paperbacks; Cassell produce some excellent books, but their line is almost exclusively military history and biography. Kirst himself was a Second World War veteran who wrote both war and crime fiction, the former illustrating how the Nazi influence had corrupted the traditions of the Wehrmacht, and the latter concerning a detective in 1960s Munich.

Despite being set during the Second World War, The Night of the Generals is very definitely crime fiction, a clever murder mystery presented in the style of a police procedural. It shares some similarities with Nelson Demille’s The General’s Daughter, but is larger in concept – concerning a series of crimes committed over fourteen years – and faster paced, beginning with the protagonist – Major Grau – and the Polish police at the first crime scene, in Warsaw in 1942. A witness gives evidence as to the uniform of the killer, from which Grau is able to identify the suspect as one of three German generals in the city. Two years later, in Paris, Grau and the same three generals are reunited by the murder of a second woman. It’s impossible to reveal more of the plot (which differs from the film) without spoiling the end, suffice to say that a third murder occurs in Dresden, in East Germany, in 1956. The film is good, but as is so often the case, the book is better. A really tense, gripping mystery, full of surprises.

Nancy Pickard is the award-winning author of The Virgin of Small Plains and Seven Steps on the Writer's Path

by Richard Rhodes

Means, motive, and opportunity are the three classic clues in a crime story, but they bore me, even though I’m a mystery writer.
They may point to a killer, but they’re a shallow approach to thinking about violent crime. Much more interesting, at least to me
is the deeper issue of why and how people become victims or perpetrators.

The most believable explanation I’ve ever read of how a person becomes a violent criminal is contained in Richard Rhodes' book about the biography and theories of the criminologist, Lonnie H. Athens, PhD. The book, Why They Kill, came out in 1999
from Knopf, and failed to catch on with the general public even though Rhodes is a Pulitzer Prize winning author of big, important books. I think the problem with this book is two-fold: it is awkwardly balanced between biography and reportage, when it might have been more smoothly mixed, and the main thrust of Athens’ discoveries goes against the grain of conventional
thinking on the subject. Take this sentence, for instance:
Violentization is an authentic developmental process, and unless someone has undergone it . . he will not become a dangerous violent criminal.
If that bold and unequivocal statement catches your attention, then you may want to read the entire book that supports it.
My own copy is heavily underlined, asterisked, and highlighted. It has changed forever the way I view certain clichés such as the “nice guy/good neighbor” killer or the “bad seed” criminal.
The contents of Why They Kill are startling, revealing, and could be revolutionary if enough people paid attention to them.
I don’t think that will happen, but I appreciate this chance to give this book a little boost from the sidelines.

Tom Whitmore was a partner for over 30 years in The Other Change of Hobbit (,
a science-fiction specialty store with an excellent mystery selection. He wrote reviews for Locus ( for several years, and is now living in Seattle.

KING AND JOKER by Peter Dickinson

Peter Dickinson is on my list of the best writers of fiction of the twentieth century. No one book can show just how amazing his range is. King and Joker comes close. It's an alternate history set in its own time (1972), featuring a British royal family that is quite different from the one we had then. It's a mystery, with more than one murder and very skillfully planted clues to allow any reader who wants to try to figure out whodunnit to do so. And it shows just how good Dickinson is at writing from the point of view of a particular character.

There are two viewpoint characters in this book. The first is the thirteen-year-old Princess Louise, the daughter of the royal family who is discovering that her family is much more complex than she thought. She's been raised with the difference between public and private faces: not every schoolgirl gets followed by cameras as she enters the schoolyard. Her family has more faces than that: and the faces start showing as a practical joker starts leaving unpleasant surprises for various members of the family. It's apparently illegal in the UK to write fiction featuring the current British royal family as characters, which gives Dickinson a very good chance to write about the complexities of a very unconventional family that has to appear totally conventional. Louise learns to come to grips with the fact that her parents have been involved in a long-term polyamorous relationship -- one that even predates her conception. Dickinson looks at what love may mean in a non-traditional family, and did so at a time when very few people were willing to explore it.

The other viewpoint character is the venerable governess Miss Durdon (known within the family as Durdy), who has raised three generations of royal children. Many of the crowned heads of Europe have passed through the kingdom of her nursery. She's now completely bedridden, able to move just two fingers of her left hand, and subject to going drifting in time to a period when she was just starting out as a governess. Back then, she chose between personal love and love of the family of royals. The choice is an explicit and specific one, and she remembers it well. Durdy and Louise use very different languages: it's always obvious who's speaking. And they're both concentrating on what family really means, and what bonds are important. Their choices are very different, and very clearly right for each.

King and Joker seems to have slid under a lot of people's radar screens. It's a strong statement in favor of people making their own decisions about who is and isn't family, the pernicious nature of trying to make only one type of family or love acceptable, and what it can mean to take a stand. This book was well ahead of its time. Re-reading it for this comment gave me the same kind of shock that some people have on re-reading Heinlein and discovering that he'd predicted metal detectors at (the equivalent of) airports. Sympathetic lesbian characters and fully polyamorous families weren't common in literature at all then. They're commoner now, but still not fully accepted.

All that political and social commentary aside, it's a cracking good read. It's well paced, with some very good unexpected revelations that are headslappingly obvious once they're revealed. The question of what the joker will do next, and who will be targeted, gets more gripping as the jokes get less pleasant. Read the book first for the top-notch mystery story it is; come back to it for the politics. Any really good book succeeds on more than one level.

Check out these sites for more forgotten books:

Steve Allan
Patrick Shawn Bagley
Paul Bishop
Joe Boland
David Cranmer
Bill Crider
Jane Finnis
Lesa Holstine
Randy Johnson
Brian Lindenmuth

Terrie Farley Moran

Scott D. Parker

James Reasoner
Kerrie Smith
Susan Smith
Barrie Summy
Wallace Stroby

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Three Books for a Desert Island

What's the point of taking books along I've already read? Instead, what three books would you take along that you haven't read but are pretty sure you'd enjoy.

In other words, what books have you just not got around to yet? No matter how extensively you've read, there must be three.

These are my picks.


(Disclaimer: I am a Democrat and Obama supporter)

but I have to mention this. What happened to truth in advertising? This may be happening from PACs on both sides, but in Macomb County here, right down the road, a group of people is being stealthily targeted with ads suggesting that Obama has disreputable friends, like Kwame Kilpatrick and Reverend Johnson. The ads are all racially oriented and run in white areas.
Obama and Kilpatrick have never been friends and indeed don't get along. They have some footage of Kilpatrick introducting Obama to the Detroit Economic Club that they use. And Obama distanced himself from Reverend Johnson long ago. Is anyone really responsible for the things their clergyman says?
Reagan Democrats were not able to hand the state over to Bush in the last two elections but will the race card make Michigan go Red? Unions are working hard for Obama but is it enough. Are their similar ads in other swing states?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Hereby Suspend All Political Posts on This Blog

throughout the election because I am tired of the rancorous comments.
I state here that I am an Obama supporter and am working in his campaign. So I am not trying to mask my true posture as has been suggested.
I find it strange that people who never comment on anything else on here, find their way onto this blog when a political discussion comes up. Anybody else notice this? Are we being monitored?

Monday, September 22, 2008

FDR on the Banking Crisis

Who removed these safeguards and why?

FDR's speech on the banking crisis.

Check out Megan reading "Cheer" on Crimewav
Crimewav is my weekly treat. How nice to have a someone read me a bedtime story again.


What I need to do to take me away from so much stressful news is to write something short and sassy. Will you join me? It's been six months.

Aldo Calgagno, Gerald So and I are ready to challenge flash fiction writers once again. I hope you're in the mood.

Since women have become a bit of a political football of late, I have a choice of two lines to use in a 750 or so word story. Both lines come from an obscure and strange Kay Francis movie from 1932 called

"I have been faithful to you, Cynara, in my fashion."

"Call no woman respectable till she's dead."

Change the name to whatever suits you if you choose line 1, although it's hard to beat Cynara for mystique.

We're thinking of an end date of October 20th. Aldo will post stories for those without sites on
Powder Burn Flash . And Gerald So and I will post the links for those who do have blogs. Hope to hear from you.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

My Town Monday: Detroit's Neighbor to the West-Dearborn

Dearborn's large (almost 25 square miles), populous (close to 100,000 residents), young (median age is 34½) and Arab (almost a third of its residents claim Arab descent). That number's probably too low, as Dearborn is home to the largest population of Middle Eastern residents anywhere outside of the Middle East. It's a city where the Arabic and English alphabets are both displayed. Students exiting the high school I often pass appear to be almost entirely of Arabic descent based on their dress.

Dearborn's past — and hopefully its future —are linked to Henry Ford. He lived here (his house remains), he built the Rouge Plant there, and developed subdivisions for his employees. Most buildings and residential homes have some tie to the man.

My parents live in a 1100 person senior living facility called Henry Ford Village. Many of the streets reference Ford and his accomplishments. The Ford Center for the Performing Arts sits at the major intersection. "The Henry Ford" is a huge complex with historical homes transported there, an historical museum, a car museum, trips to the new Rouge, and many other enjoyable activities, both indoors and out. Many weddings take place here. The parks bear his name. If Michigan has a Pontiac and a Cadillac why not a Ford? Doesn't sound like a city, I guess.

Dearborn has taken a lot of raps over the years for excluding neighboring Detroiters from their parks and recreational activities but now Dearborn has a growing African-American population.
It is an interesting community that is striving to keep its youthful population by providing night life, college life, and a vibrant restaurant scene. Hopefully it will succeed. And likewise the car company that resides there.

Check out more My Town Monday posts at the wonderful Travis Erwin's blog:

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I AM LEGEND, Richard Matheson

And I am enthralled with a book as fresh as yesterday.

Not being much of a horror/sci fi reader, however, I have a question for anyone who is. In books about vampires, the humans always seem to have to learn the ways of vampires.

But "new" vampires, always seem to immediately understand the rules and oddities of their kind. Is this a misconception? Are there novels where vampires struggle to understand that they cannot be outside in daylight. Or that mirrors are dangerous things?

Is there a rulebook for new vampires or are they converted to vampirism with the instructions embedded?

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Summing Up, Friday, September 19, 2008

Thanks to everyone. Hope next week is more stressfree.

Patrick Balester, The Unquiet Night, Patricia Carlon
Charles Benoit, Uncle Dynamite, P.G. Wodehouse
Bill Castanier, Crooked Tree, Robert C. Wilson
Bill Crider, The Black Glove, Geoffrey Miller
David Cranmer, The Crime of Colin Wise, Michael Underwood
Jen Forbus, White Doves at Morning, James Lee Burke
Lesa Holstine, Triple Play, Elizabeth Gunn
Scott Parker, The Case of the Velvet Claws, Erle Stanley Gardner
Louise Penny, The Franchise Affair, Josephine Tey
Kerrie Smith, Halloween Party, Agatha Christie
Delores Gordon-Smith, The 12:30 from Croyden, Freeman Wills Croft
August West, The Last Detail, Darryl Ponicsan

A correction that blogger won't make

Scott Parker's blog can be found at

Friday's Forgotten Books, September 19, 2008

With heartfelt thanks to Clair Dickson who found a way to blindside blogger. Any typos are mine because I had to retype all of it.

Patrick Balester is the author of
In the Dismal Swamp. You can find him at Picks by Pat.

The Unquiet Night by Patricia Carlon

The Unquiet Night by Patricia Carlon was originally published in the 1960s in Great Britain. Available in the U.S. only in the past few years, the novels of Patricia Carlon are still virtually unknown here. Yet she wrote some of the most suspenseful novels ever to come out of Australia and this may be her finest work.

“He hadn’t meant her to die.” With that opening sentence, we are drawn into the world of Mart Deeford, a young man with a violent temper who strangles a pickup date in a small park on a late Sunday afternoon.

Convinced he can be identified by a woman he sees in the park after the crime, Mart begins to hunt for her and the young girl. He poses as a shopkeeper who needs to find a girl with ponytails who left a parcel in his store. By taking advantage of other people’s good nature and eager desire to help, he eventually tracks down the woman, Rachel Penghill, who is oblivious to the danger she faces until it’s too late. He tricks Rachel into opening her door, and then leaves her entombed in a vault in her small shop. It is only then that we begin to feel the slow terror grow as Rachel realizes that she has been victimized not by a thief, but by a murderer. As the air is consumed, the tension mounts.

Her only hope is to be missed, yet as the night turns into day, repairmen, milkmen and friends move across her threshold, only to step back before they can discover that Rachel has not gone to a jewelry convention in another town, but is gasping for breath just a few yards away. She begins to realize just how isolated her existences has become, and the nosy friends and neighbors she has pushed away become ironically important.

This novel will keep you guessing until the last page. I highly recommend it, and hope more readers will be as thrilled as I was to discover the work of Patricia Carlon.

Charles Benoit is the author of Noble Lives, Relative Danger, and Out of Order

Uncle Dynamite by P.G. Wodehouse

My favorite fantasy about winning the lottery isn’t having the cash to travel all around the world or buying some fancy sports car—it is the blissful knowledge that if I had buckets of the stuff, I’d have a lot more time for reading.

Not (yet) being a lottery winner and paparazzi target, I have to seek out books that cram as much good stuff into one reading as possible, and as a fan of the comic caper novel, that means lots of phony felonious types, rare and priceless/worthless objects, setup plans as intricate as an HDTV manual, multiple mistaken identities, late night crime scene follies, plots that take twists and turns worthy of the Gordian Knot, and a Criminal Mastermind that’s equal parts George Clooney, Cary Grant, John Cleese and Steve Martin, with a heavy dash of a drunken Peter O’Toole. And all of it has to be superbly written with laugh-out-loud chapters, head-slapping brilliant phrases and dialog that fizzes like a champagne cocktail.

Given my caper novel needs, you would assume that I’d make straight for the masterful works of Donald Westlake and you would be correct. Except we’re talking forgotten books and no mystery reader worth the title would forget Westlake. The book I’d like to recommend today has everything you’d expect to find in the best Westlake caper, but—and I know this sounds impossible—this one’s even better. It’s Uncle Dynamite, and it’s by the only author who could out Westlake, Westlake, the inimitable P.G Wodehouse.

If you know Wodehouse, you can stop reading here and call it a day. There’s nothing I can say that can add to The Master’s reputation, and if you don’t know Wodehouse, it’s your loss. But even if you hold Wodehouse in as high esteem as I do (highly unlikely, but I throw it out there just to be sporting), and you haven’t read Uncle Dynamite, well, all I can say is that your quest to discover a meaning to your life is about to be realized.

Lord Ickeham—the Uncle Fred of the title—is the sort of whirlwind you can only encounter in the kind of English clubs where rolls are tossed at the dinner table and vast sums are wagered on the likelihood that the waiter will trip as he carries a tray of cocktails across a shaving cream—covered 13th century Persian carpet. It’s his massive brain that is put to the task of pinching a plaster bust from a country home, a bust that secretly hides a cache of jewels, hidden to avoid paying the customs duty. The bust resides in the stately country home of Sir Aylmer Bostock, a retired colonial governor who collects ghastly African curios and who once went by the nickname “Mugsy.” There’s Uncle Fred’s lovesick nephew, Reginald “Pongo” Twistleton; the lovely Sally Painter, ex-fiancee of said Pongo; the headstrong Hermione, the current Pongo fiancée; Pongo’s pal, Bill, who gazes at Hermione in the way young Romeo used to gawk at fair Juliet; Elsie Been, the straight talking saucy maid who's in love eith Constable Harold Potter, the very same Constable Harold Potter, who had once arrested Lord Ickeham and Pongo during a fracas at the dog races, the self-same dog racing arrest in which Lord Ickeham supplies the false names of George Robinson and Edwin Smith of 14 and 11 Nasturtium Road, East Dulwich. When Constable Potter points this inconvenient truth out to our Lord Ickeham, the peerless peer of the realm simply states that he is, in fact, Major Brabazon-Plank, noted Brazilian explorer…who just happens to arrive for an extended stay at Sir Aylmer’s forementioned country home. And, being a caper novel, there is a bonny baby contest to be judged.

If this sounds impossibly complicated and preposterously ridiculous, then I have done my job well and admirably.

It is one sad shortcoming of the modern educational system that Uncle Dynamite is not required reading in every school in the land, and as a result, this word-perfect caper novel is seldom read by otherwise intelligent and well-meaning mystery readers. Track this book down, give it a read, and if you are not in total agreement that it is indeed, if not the Greatest Single Work of Fiction Ever Written, it’s still a fun read.

You can thank me later.

Louise Penny is the author of the forthcoming THE MURDER STONE, Book 4 in the Armand Gamache mysteries, which began with the award-winning STILL LIFE.

The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

I'm not totally convinced she's been forgotten - I sure hope she hasn't.
But this is my small contribution to helping spread the word. For many
years my favorite Tey book was the remarkable, The Daughter of Time.
Infact, I was resistant to reading The Franchise Affair - perhaps out of a
misguided sense of fidelity to The Daughter of Time. I didn't want to be
seen playing footsy with another one of Tey's creations. Or, more likely,
it was the ridiculous title. The Franchise Affair? I ask you. It sounds
like love among the french fries, or groping in the donuts.

Instead, when I finally succumbed and read The Franchise Affair I was
treated to what I now believe is the best mystery of all time. My heart was
quite stolen.

There's no body, no murder in The Franchise Affair, though it is based on
the 18th century case of Elizabeth Canning. Like all of Josephine Tey's
books it's about appearances vs reality. Perceptions and manipulation.
Duality. What else drives a really great mystery? Not blood, not a body -
but what's eating away at the marrow. Our deepest selves, hidden, masked.
Then agonizingly revealed.

On the surface The Franchise Affair is about a fresh-faced young woman,
barely more than a girl, who accuses an elderly woman and her spinster
daughter of kidnapping and holding her in their dreary old home on the edge
of the village.

Like all of Tey's works this one is short, almost novella length. And
crystalline in its clarity. It is, in short, brilliant. Disturbing, witty,
sightful. And more horrific than any body count could ever achieve.

Josephine Tey - a pen-name for Elizabeth MacKintosh - wrote all 6 of her
mysteries between 1947 and 1952. Then she died, in her mid-50's. Almost
nothing is known of the woman. No photograph exists of her. Like her
books, she's a mystery. A real woman lurking behind a made-up one. But I
have happily given my heart to her.

A few more forgotten books

Scott Parker

Lesa Holstine
Jen Forbus
Bill Castanier
Kerrie Smith
Delores Gordon-Smith
Bill Crider
David Cranmer
Paul Bishop
August West

Thursday, September 18, 2008

ALA Banned Books Week

It has been suggested to me by Andi Shechter that on Friday, October 3rd, we review banned books on this site.

The American Library Association has named the entire week banned books week. Here's the site:
You will find many lists of books there that groups or individuals have attempted to ban over the last few centuries.

Karen Olson at First Offenders has also asked FOFO to "adopt" one of these books and talk about it.

So joining along with the Andi, the ALA and Karen, please consider writing about a banned book on October 3rd. It might be helpful to include a line or two about what the objection to the book might have been. I'll post reviews here or links to your site if you let me know you'll have one.

Banned books have been in the news a lot recently. Maybe it's time to take a look. Since I already read one for FO, I'll take the Alice books, a YA series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sarah Palin's Favorability Rating

Here is a place to fact-check various questions about the candidates.

This data and words is from
the Monkey Cage and John Sides at GWU).

Sarah Palin Favorability Ratings
Out of curiosity, I made this graph of Palin’s favorability ratings (data here, here, and here; this may not be exhaustive):

This is a nice lesson — e.g., for an undergraduate class — in the process of “opinionation,” where a large fraction of the public suddenly acquires an opinion.

In the last week, Palin’s favorability rating has, well, paled. This demonstrates the consequences of a highly visible campaign: it is difficult for any Republican or Democrat candidate to command sustained attention without attracting roughly equal proportions of detractors and admirers. In a September 4 Rasmussen poll, Palin’s favorability was 1 point higher than McCain’s or Obama’s. Nine days later, according to a Sept. 13 poll by Daily Kos, it is slightly lower than theirs (49% vs. 55%; however, given the margin of error, it isn’t conclusively lower).

Of course, we would expect the usual polarization along partisan lines here, with most Democratic respondents having an unfavorable opinion and most Republican respondents having a favorable opinion.

Hotel Maids

In doing some research I read an alarming story about hotel maids-- how hard they work and little they get paid. With the new plush bedding, their work is truly back-breaking.

Tipping etiquette suggests that they should get tipped $1-2 a day per room. The best way of meeting this obligation is to bring a few envelopes along and put a dollar or two in one every day, labeling it "housekeeper," and leaving in a conspicuous place.

If it is unclear whether the money is meant for them, they can't take it. Only about 25% of hotel patrons tip maids.

Maybe you knew all this already. I did not. We always leave a tip on departing, but not enough. We tip restaurant waitstaff 20%, perhaps because my husband and I were both waitstaff for years.

Maybe in Baltimore, the housekeeping staff will remember that those crime writers at Bouchercon were a generous bunch even if a bit rowdy.

Monday, September 15, 2008

State of Michigan Celebrates ANATOMY OF A MURDER

State of Michigan Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Renowned Michigan Book Anatomy of a Murder by John D. Voelker
(Robert Traver)

LANSING - When Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker, writing as
Robert Traver, penned Anatomy of a Murder, it became a national bestseller and
then a movie starring Jimmy Stewart as a character based on Voelker's
experience as a defense attorney in an Upper Peninsula murder trial. This fall,
the Library of Michigan and organizations around the state will celebrate the
50th anniversary of Voelker's book, as well as his legacy as an attorney,
author and angler.

A series of free events celebrating Voelker and his literary and legal
contributions will take place Friday, Sept. 26 and Saturday, Sept. 27 in
downtown Lansing. An Upper Peninsula celebration kicks off Sept. 18 in Ishpeming
with an exhibit of Voelker memorabilia and personal items. Movie screenings, a
concert and other events in Marquette will honor Voelker through Oct. 20.

"Writing as Robert Traver, Justice Voelker flourished, becoming one of our
great Michigan storytellers," said State Librarian Nancy Robertson.
"As the author of 11 well-loved books, a passionate fly fisherman and a
champion of the law, Justice Voelker gained admiration and respect from his
readers, his fellow sportsmen and his peers in the legal system. These events
celebrate his literary and legal legacy, and his place in Michigan

Anniversary events in Lansing include:

-The opening of the exhibit "Justice John D. Voelker: Bard of
Frenchman's Pond" at the Michigan Supreme Court Hall of Justice, 925 W.
Ottawa St, with a reception starting at 3 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 26.

-A reception and presentation of the Jimmy Stewart stamp issued by the United
States Postal Service in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the publishing
of Anatomy of a Murder will follow the exhibit opening, from 4 to 6 p.m. on
Sept. 26 at Cooley Law School, Cooley Center Lobby, 300 S. Capitol Ave.

-A daylong event at the Library of Michigan, 702 W. Kalamazoo St., on Saturday,
Sept. 27 will feature screenings of the films Trout Madness and Anatomy of an
Author, along with discussions with the filmmakers; a look at Voelker's
courtroom drama Laughing Whitefish; a panel discussion of Anatomy of a Murder
and more. The event will run from 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

All the events are free and open to the public. Registration is not required.
Participants may purchase a boxed lunch on Sept. 27 at the Library of Michigan
for $7.50. For more information about the anniversary celebration and a complete
statewide schedule of events, visit or contact the Library
of Michigan at (517) 373-1300 or

Sunday, September 14, 2008

My Town Monday, Detroit:: 8 Mile Road

If that road sign has any meaning to you, it's probably from the Eminem movie of several years ago or the rap song from a bit earlier. Or maybe it's because the strip has a notoriety from race riots of the sixties or from the years when Coleman Young was mayor of Detroit. But if it's 8 Mile Road in Detroit, you're not picturing bucolic vistas. And you'll find none.

The significance of 8 Mile Road in Detroit is that it's the dividing line between Detroit and its northern suburbs and although its clear demarcation of white and black has been blurred in recent years (some people claiming 10 Mile or even 12 Mile is the new divide) for years it was a daily reminder of how limited the lives of African-American Detroiters were.

Longtime mayor Coleman Young alluded to 8 Mile Road-- as a signifier during his administration in the seventies and eighties, seeing it as a signpost of all that was wrong with the white suburbs and their attitude toward Detroit.
There was truth in his assessment, but his inability to work the suburban governments contributed to the problem, worsened it, in fact. The two mayors since Young, (Archer and Kilpatrick) have been more amenable to overtures from the suburbs. And of course many of those suburbs are no longer as segregated. The exurbs have significant African-American populations now.

Ten years ago or even twenty, the difference between the south side of 8 Mile and the north was jolting. Although the housing stock doesn't differ much, and, in fact, some very nice houses in Detroit lie just off 8 Mile and some rather poor housing in the suburbs lies on the other side, the businesses tell it all.

The Detroit side has check-cashing and liquor stores, strip clubs, places to buy pagers and cellphones, pawn shops and hookers. A few businesses predating Detroit's decline, struggle to hold on.

Until recently the north side had typical suburban businesses. That's beginning to change as the dividing line moves north. The dramatic difference from one side of the highway to the other has blurred.

If pressed to find something positive to say about the stretch, it does have a sort of urban aesthetic -faded signs, symbols of Detroit (wheels, tires, music), motels from an earlier era because none of these things have been replaced.

8 Mile Road has always angered Detroit politicians and residents, symbolizing years of real estate practices, suburban edicts, failed busing attempts and declining schools and city services that kept them hemmed in. And it angers the older, white suburbanites who remember a childhood when Detroit was still a vibrant city. You only have to drive a few miles along it to know why that's all changed. Until we take poverty and its impact seriously, 8 Mile Road will continue to be an eyesore and continue to dominate this area as a constant reminder.

Check out Clair Dickson's blog today for 8 Mile Road in her neck of the woods, a very different vista.

And as always, look to Travis Erwin for the usual rundown.


Movies You Expected to Like, But Didn't

Every year, just about now, I read the list of movies opening in the fall and get really excited. I just know I'm going to do nothing but watch great movies and love them. There's nothing I like more than watching a movie on the big screen with the smell of popcorn (my own) permeating the theater. For me, the small screen doesn't cut it except for films I can see no other way. Blame it on my age.

But all too soon, a disappointment sets in, as movies I expected to love, fall short. A few years ago, I expected to love
The Ladykillers. Loved the original from the sixties with Peter Sellers. Love the Cohn Brothers output. They never miss. Until this one. Horrible movie. Just falls flat. How could Hanks, so funny in Bosom Buddies, be so stale? How could the script come up this short? Some actors are always brilliant. But not Hanks.

Similarly I was recently disappointed in
The Italian Job, Alfie and Sleuth. Is it just remakes? No, because I also hated the Woody Allen movie and Brideshead Revisited. What movies did you look forward to mistakenly?

What were your biggest disappointments? Do you expect more from a movie you paid $10 to see than ones you watch on DVD?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Summing Up, Friday, September 12, 2008

D.Z. Allen, The Oblivion Society, Marcus Hart
Paul Bishop, Sir, You Bastard, G.F. Newman
Tony Black, Rilke on Black, Ken Bruen
Joe Boland, Fletch, Gregory MacDonald
David Cranmer, Quantum of Solace, Ian Flemming
Bill Crider, A Game for Heroes, James Graham
Timothy Hallinan, The Christopher West series by Christopher West
C.T, Henry, Old Bones, Aaron Elkins
Lesa Holstine, The Blue Edge of Midnight, Jonathan King
Jay, Tamsin, Peter S. Beagle
Medora, Beyond the Dreams of Avarice, Walter Besant
Christopher Moore, Dirty Snow, George Simenon
Amy Myers, The Golden Crucible, Jean Stubbs
Scott Parker, Guns Along the Brazos, Day Keene
James Reasoner, The Hottest Fourth of July in the History of Hangtree County, Clifton Adams
A.N. Smith, Love is a Racket, John Ridley
Kerrie Smith, Don't Look Now, Daphne DuMaurier
August West, An Eye for An Eye, Leigh Brackett
Dan Wickett, The Blind Pig, Jon Jackson
Dave Zeltserman, Dead City, Shane Stevens

Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Books, September 12, 2008

D.Z. Allen is the editor of the flash fiction site, Muzzleflash and an editor for Out of the Gutter.

The Oblivion Society
, Marcus Alexander Hart

I won’t call this a “forgotten” book. I’ll call it one that not many have had the fortune to find yet. So now that you’ve found it give The Oblivion Society a read!

The book is exactly what I like to read and exactly how I want my novels to read…fast, funny, a little quirky, but with a great voice, strong pacing, a touch of sentimentality, lots of action, and most of all memorable characters that you want to read about and get to know.

The Oblivion Society is one of those all too rare books that I didn’t want to put down. And when I did, I couldn’t wait to get back to it. Marcus Alexander Hart is a fun and exciting writer. You won’t be sorry with this one.

Let’s all hear it for the smaller presses willing to take a chance on books like this. Support them. Love them. They are a writer’s best friend. (Next to cigarettes and bourbon.)

Timothy Hallinan is the author of eight published novels, most recently two Bangkok thrillers featuring expat “rough travel” writer Poke Rafferty. A Nail Through the Heart and The Fourth Watcher, which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, are published by William Morrow. Hallinan has just completed the third novel in the series, Misdirection. He divides his time equally between Los Angeles and Southeast Asia.

Timothy Hallinan, Christopher West Series

West Meets East

As someone who writes mystery/thrillers set in Asia, I keep an eye on the competition. And I'd be lying if I said that I greet with unreserved enthusiasm the publication of a novel by a writer who intends to take a bite out of what I think of, in my less generous moments, as my fictional territory.

So I'm in an awkward position when it comes to Christopher West. West's four novels about police inspector Wang, set in Beijing, are definitely competition – or they would be, if they were still in print and West had a new one coming out. But they're not, and he doesn't, and that's a terrible shame. West is a wonderful writer and he deserves a broad and appreciative audience.

The book that begins the series, Death of a Blue Lantern, is a great place to start. Attending a performance of the Beijing Opera, Wang takes his time leaving the theater, and on his way out he notices a patron who seems to be drunk or unconscious. He's not, of course; he'd dead, dispatched with a tidy knife wound to the back of the neck, destroying the medulla oblongata. The victim proves to be a “blue lantern,” or low-level Triad recruit, and Wang's investigation quickly leads him to the Triad's “Red Cudgel,” or enforcer – and his beautiful daughter, who sings in a foreigners-only nightclub atop one of Beijing's most expensive hotels.

The plot ultimately also involves an archaeological site where precious works of art are being stolen, and a broad and varied cast of characters, almost any of whom might be the person Inspector Wang seeks. It's a great plot, intricate and beautifully structured, but the two most beguiling things about the book (and the rest of the series) are the characters and the setting.

The characters, beginning with Wang himself are nuanced individuals, real people whose differences make them easy to keep track of despite the unfamiliarity of Chinese names, which can be difficult for Western readers to remember. There isn't a flat sketch in the bunch: they all seem much deeper than the printed page.

The setting is riveting, not just because it's China, but because it's China at a specific moment, poised at the opening movement, so to speak of Deng Xiaoping's Communism-shattering economic liberalization, but not far removed from the brutal crushing of the protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Death of a Blue Lantern was written in 1994 and is probably set a year or two earlier. The Party, now widely ignored in China, still inspires (in the novel) a certain amount of dread; West's Beijing is full of people who have come from the countryside, but they are just a trickle compared to the hordes – the largest human migration in history – who have trekked from village to city in the past five or six years. Private businesses have sprung up, but there is not yet the preoccupation with becoming rich, nor is there the vast gulf between the have-alls and the have-nothings that scars present-day China. Some of the book's action takes place in the alleys and hutongs of old Beijing, the vast majority of which have now been swept aside, thousands of them destroyed for the Olympics.

Inspector Wang is a good man who believes in justice, and who is caught up in a system that is changing so fast that it threatens much of what he and those around him believe in. Matters of life and death, guilt and innocence, are immutable, but in West's novel, those issues are confronted in a world where virtually nothing else seems to be permanent. The China in these books is on the brink of the most profound short-term transformation of any nation in history.

Read Death of a Red Lantern. Read everything by Christopher West. He hasn't published a novel (to my knowledge) since The Third Messiah in 2000. If enough of us order his books, maybe some publisher will see what a writer of Christopher West's talent could do with the China of today, the China we all watched, openmouthed, for fourteen days in August.

Christopher G. Moore is the author of the Vincent Calvino crime novel series. Two
novels in that series: The Risk of Infidelity Index /(2007) and Spirit
House (2008) are published by Grove/Atlantic Press. They will also
publish Paying Back Jack in 2009. website.

Georges Simenon, Dirty Snow

Georges Simenon- Georges Simenon the Belgian writer, who died in 1989, authored 200 novels, 150 novellas, among other works and wrote under a couple of dozen pseudonyms. If one had counted all of Raymond Chandler’s books, and for the hell of it, added his bar bills to make another dozen books, Chandler’s output would still remain a small fraction of what Simenon produced. But Simenon’s work rarely features in the discussion of modern fiction. Simenon, the man, is often thought of as a legendary lover. To have one’s fiction largely forgotten and one’s sex adventures remembered is one of those roll of the dice outcomes. In Simenon’s case, the number of conquest he notched up with a sniper’s methodical record keeping vastly out numbered his books.

Simenon’s most famous series beginning in 1931 and ending in 1972 ran for 75 novels; the series featured the French police detective, Inspector Julies Maigret. Simenon also wrote literary novels. Dirty Snow falls in that category and is set in an unnamed country during the occupation by an enemy force. It is most likely drawn on Simenon’s experience of living in France during the Nazi occupation. (Simenon was accused of being a German collaborator during WWII and banned from writing for five years after the war ended.) The lead character named Frank, a nineteen year old, has killed his first man, ambushing him at night, sticking a knife in his ribs and stealing his service revolver. Frank lives with his mother who runs a brothel from her apartment in a building where the inhabitants are hostile to the occupiers and to Frank and his mother, who they suspect are collaborators. Given the soldiers and police who rule with an iron-fist in the occupation are the paying customers at the brothel, their suspicions about Frank and his mother ring true.

Dirty Snow is a chilling example of noir fiction. Those in the black market seize their opportunities, do business with the enemy, enrich themselves with shady deals and murder, and soon act as if they are invincible. The dance between the Occupation authorities and Frank and his friends slowly reveals that behind the curtain of collaboration no one remains untainted or safe; that while fear corrodes the morale of many, leaving an exhausted few to draw upon the strength to resist the occupiers. As a story of occupation, terror, hubris, secrecy and how power causes people to lose their perspective, their sense of humanity and ultimately their life.

Dirty Snow answers the debate between what is noir and what is hardboiled fiction.

Nothing is fiction rolls us through gutter of alienation, throws dirt in our vision of pure white snow as this example of noir writing. Simenon reminds us, that in noir, there is no escape from the darkness of our doomed destiny.

Some of this information comes from Wilkipedia.

Dan Wickett is the man behind Emerging Writer's Network, and editor of Visiting Hours and Dzanc Press

The Blind Pig by Jon A. Jackson

Originally published in 1978, I stumbled upon this book about a decade later, when it was in a trade paperback with a cartoonish styled cover. It had a rave blurb on the cover from James Crumley, who I'd also recently discovered, and had a Detroit setting. As I'd recently been reading Estleman's Amos Walker novels and Kantner's Ben Perkins mysteries, finding another author with a series set in Detroit seemed about right.

I recall opening the book and reading the first page, in which Seargent "Fang" Mulheisen drops a racial slur about a suspect to his African-American partner, and quickly follows with "No offense." There was something about the way he included this so casually that made the story seem a little more real to me - not sheltered.

The book, and at least the first four or five books in the Mulheisen series were well-written, fast-paced, hilariously funny novels. This one, delving into the world of after hour Blind Pigs and jazz joints in Detroit remains my favorite of the bunch though.

More Friday Forgotten Books (and they will appear during the day). Let's cross our fingers for those in Texas).

Dave Zeltserman
C.T. Henry
James Reasoner
Tony Black
Randy Johnson
Amy Myers
Ed Gorman
Lesa Holstine
Kerrie Smith
Bill Crider
A.N Smith
David Cranmer
Paul Bishop
Scott Parker
August West
Joe Boland

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Rant Thursday-Does Halloween Begin in Your Town in early September?


When I took a walk after lunch with my husband yesterday, I couldn't help noticing that people in my neighborhood are already putting up Halloween decorations. Is it like this in your part of town? When did Halloween become a two-month affair? When I was a kid, there were no outside decorations at all. When my kids were kids, only the scary house on the corner had them.

Is there something about Halloween that inspires this new devotion? Or is it just my neighborhood that digs it?