Monday, August 31, 2009

"Raising the Dead"

I am very proud to be part of an all-female issue of Back Alley. Thanks to Richard for his hard work on our behalf.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Once Upon A Time in the West

I think the reason I've put off watching this movie for forty years is because of a misunderstanding about what the term "spaghetti western" meant. I was under the impression that the term implied a sort of cheap tribute made by foreign directors who really didn't understand the American west. Don't ask me where I got this idea-probably dating from a time when any western was looked upon as cheesy. There was a time, my young friends, that westerns, sports and war movies were looked upon as militaristic war mongering. Okay, it was the sixties and I was caught up in it.

How wrong I was and how glad I am I finally watched this great, great movie. It is pointless for me to sum it up here because I know everyone has seen it. But a few impressions. So much of this movie is conveyed through close-ups of faces and especially eyes. I wonder if Leone didn't hire actors on the basis of unusual eyes. The bright blue of Fonda's eyes, the indeterminate color of Bronson's, the deep pools of brown rimmed with black of Cardinale's.

Every shot is a masterpiece of lighting, shadow, choreography, texture, music. I think you could watch this movie without dialog and still come away satisfied. The swishing of the dusters' as the men strode around was artful in itself. The cinematography is thrilling. I have never seen that landscape look more gorgeous yet arduous, barren.

A few more impressions: Henry Fonda's walk, Cardinale's tumbling hair, the hints that Robards has been wounded, the scenes of the railroad going up as almost a background chorus to the action, the Chinese workers, the significance, finally revealed, of a harmonica, the slow, slow pacing, the willingness to linger, Cardinale's hands going through the drawers, the pilings of wood taking shape. Couldn't you smell that freshly cut wood? Couldn't you see the sweat on the faces of the men swinging iron.

These are all the directorial decisions of a master film-maker. And I could listen to Morricone's music forever.

Is this the best western of them all--or just the most artful one? What Western do you rank#1?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Books About Work

The Beast reading.

There used to be many novels that dealt with the workplace. Look back at books like THE JUNGLE, the novels ofTheodore Dreiser, the novels of Steinbeck, or ever Sinclair Lewis. We learned about various professions once upon a time. Malamud told us how a grocery store works. We learned about the life of vets, farmers, doctors, teachers, scientists.

The workplace seems to be a rare setting nowadays. Is it because of the death of the lower- middle class novel? Is it because most writers are college instructors or don't have day jobs. Are they coming from a different milieu? Or has the workplace become boring? If a novel is set in a workplace, it is used only for interactions between employees. There are a few exceptions I can name. Philip Roth told us much about glove factories in American Pastoral. O'Nan set a book at the Red Lobster of late. But on the whole, we are interested in family dynamics, relationships, other things.

Did work become too dull to describe? Can you think of a novel that told you about how something was made or done? Are the lives of ordinary people being overlooked in novels?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Found by Frank Loose on Biblio for $15!!!!

To the Greatest Senator-RIP

He was human and subject to the imperfectability of being so, but he never forgot the people he served and no one served them better. There is an excellent documentary on HBO about him.

I truly believe his generation, and the Kennedy family, had a better sense of public service and duty than the men who have come since him.

Family Statement “Edward M. Kennedy—the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply—died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port. We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever. We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all. He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it’s hard to imagine any of them without him.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Eating apples in Sienna. Now that was a vacation.

We're going out to look at a few used bookstores this afternoon. I only have about 500 used books waiting to be read. But there are two new stores so we'll give them a whirl.

What book would you most like to see on a used bookshelf? What's the one you're always hoping to find. For me, it's that Marlowe one-NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH.

FRANK LOOSE HAS FOUND ME A COPY FOR $15 on Biblio. Thanks so much to him and to all of you who checked into it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Best Biopic Ever?

Someone in Newsweek last week picked ALL THAT JAZZ (Bob Fosse) as the best biopic in his/her opinion.

I'd choose RAGING BULL (Jake LaMotta). For me the strength of a biopic other than veracity and providing the relevant facts of a life, is style, an interesting approach, a portrait that is not all black and white. Gandhi. Good person, dull picture IMHO. The Harvey Milk picture in 2008 would have been stronger if they could have found some weakness/darkness in him to balance the brave public servant aspect. Saints make boring subjects. Today I saw the biopic doc about Gertrude Berg. They alluded to a darker side to her but only obliquely. The doc was saved though by its portrayal of the times along with the woman.

How about you? What film did it right? Do you mind seeing people portrayed too favorably?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Summer's Over-in Michigan at least

And as usual, there were so many things I meant to do and didn't. Well, it wasn't much of a summer here. What summer activity didn't you get around to? I never once had a picnic this year.

Friday, August 21, 2009

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, August 20, 2009

Tom Franklin (SMONK) reading.



Patti Abbott, THE LATE SHOW
Cullen Gallagher, THE HOUSEMAID
George Kelley, THE GIFT
Todd Mason, * See bottom
Scott Parker, PI
Eric Peterson, DUDES
John Weagley, BARTLEBY


Paul Bishop, Kill Me in Yoshiwara, Earl Norman
Vicki Delany, Modesty Blaise, Peter O'Donnell
Ed Gorman, The Power, Frank M. Robinson
Kerrie Smith, Death of a Dormouse, Reginald Hill
R.T. The Empress of India, Michael Kurland

Todd Mason's movies


Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, August 21, 2009

Elvis reading.

I have agreed to be tortured by the dentist this morning so if anything goes amiss I should be back by noon.

These movie posters keep getting lost as I drag them down so they're up here instead.

See you in two weeks (September 11) for more forgotten books.

Movie Edition

Kent Morgan
co-writes a sports column for the Prime Times newspaper and his work has appeared in The Cooperstown Review, Deadball Stars of the American League, Senior Softball USA, Face-Off and the Winnipeg Sun.

Forgotten Movie: Paperback Hero

When it comes to movies with hockey content, most are easily forgotten. After all, who remembers the first major Hollywood movie with hockey content - Manhattan Melodrama starring Clark Gable. Or which movie with hockey starred a future president of the United States. The answer to that one is Hell's Kitchen with Ronald
Reagan. The one hockey movie that people do remember is Slapshot with Paul Newman playing a minor league coach. Up here in hockey country aka Canada, Slapshot usually rates a the top of any list of hockey movies.

But it doesn't top my list and when I mention Paperback Hero as my favorite I'm often greeted with a blank look. That may be because Paperback Hero was filmed in 1973 and despite winning some awards, it seldom has been shown on TV and never made it to DVD. And try to find a VHS copy. Picture if you will Keir Dullea, the star of 2001: A Space Odyssey, back on earth playing a small town Saskatchewan hockey player named Rick Dillon, Known as Marshall, he wears a pro hockey team jacket, drives a red convertible across the Prairie wheat fields, and totes a six-shooter. On the ice, he's the big gunner on the local hockey team and a big man around a very small town. After World War II and throughout to the late 1960s and early 1970s, every Prairie community had a Rick Dillon - the guy who everyone claimed was good
enough to make the pros, but for reason never did.

In my Manitoba town, it was the guy whose father made him
stay at home and help run the family taxi business. That's why Paperback Hero rings true to me as a hockey
film even though I had trouble accepting Dullea as a hockey player. And they all certainly weren't losers like Dillon who is told by Joanna (Dayle Haddon), the college-age daughter of the team's owner, "You're a big joke, Rick. Five years from now nobody will even remember you."

Because it's been so long since I've seen
this movie, the plot is a little hazy. But I've never forgotten Dillon's love scene with local waitress Loretta (Elizabeth Ashley) in the shower of the local rink. The best place I've found to get more information on this forgotten movie is www.canuxploitation .com, a complete guide to Canadian B-film.

Jeremy Lynch is the entertainment editor for Crimespree magazine and rambles about film, television and more at


First aired: March 21st, 1998 on HBO. Written by Walter Mosley, adapted from his novel of the same name

I don't think my demands of a film are too much, a combination of some of the following is wanted: be entertaining, invoke emotions, provoke thought.

ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED, ALWAYS OUTGUNNED hits home runs in all three categories. I found myself watching a part of society that is far removed from my own, drawn in by realistic characters and reduced to tears by the fate of one.

Laurence Fishburne stars as Socrates Fortlow, an ex-con recently paroled after a over a decade in prison for double murder. Socrates has moved to Los Angeles to make a go of it. When the film opens we see him collecting cans and living in a shack. Despite conditions that most of us would find unbearable, Soco seems to take things in stride, making the most of what little he has.

But that does not mean he doesn't want more. As a fifty-something, large black man, work is not exactly easy to find. He is deemed too old for a construction job and too...I guess scary is the only way to say it...for a job at a grocery store in a nicer white neighborhood. Despite these setbacks, Soco never gives up, continuing to push forward in hopes of a better life, even when met with resistance.

Because it was adapted from a collection of stories, there is no real central storyline. The bulk of the film is Soco's experiences in the neighborhood and how his actions affect those around him . He becomes a mentor for a teenager (Daniel Williams) in the foster system, eventually finding him a good home, drives a violent junkie out of the neighborhood and helps a dying friend ease his pain by illegally purchasing narcotics.

The most interesting aspect of Soco is that Mosley does not portray him as a paragon of virtue or a man of total goodness. His own pride often works against him and his actions may not always be considered right. But he puts thought into those actions and clearly does what he THINKS is right, even if it is not always legal. Despite his past, and his rough nature, Socrates is truly noble man with strong moral fiber.

Fishburne's performance is amazing. After watching him in numerous mediocre films, I had forgotten that he is a powerful actor that can deliver the goods. Here, he truly becomes Soco. Having read the book previously, I immediately bought LF as Soco. He is exactly what I imaged the character to be. Fierce in his beliefs and desires, sometimes frustrated by inability to achieve his goals.

He is surrounded by a solid cast that offers up impressive performances. For me, Bill Cobb stands out especially as Right Burke, an older friend that ultimately loses a battle with cancer, yet goes out on his own terms. In the final scene between Cobb and Fishburne, my own eyes filled with tears. We see a man (Soco), who is used to being able to fix things through action, unable to help his friend (Cobb). The lost look in his eyes, as he realizes he is powerless to help, is one that I have seen (and likely had) more than once when a loved one has been nearing the end. Cicily Tyson, Williams and Natalie Cole all do nice jobs in support.

At no point does AO ever feel preachy. It seems to embrace the idea that solutions are different for everybody and folks may resolve the same situation in different ways. In the hands of a lesser writer, this could have been reduced to simply being another examination of race and/or the plight of the poor, but Mosley avoids letting those aspects overshadow the characters. Race and economic class certainly are a part of AO but,because of excellent writing and strong performances by the cast, the character stand front and center.

Is Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned a great film? I don't know if it is, but it has a good script and is filled with outstanding acting. As I said, it made me think about how right and wrong may be perceived differently by individuals and also moved me to tears, all the while keeping me entertained. What more can one ask for?

Anthony Ambrogio is the author of You're Next: Loss of Identity in the Horror Film -All Through the Night

These comments are excerpted from my article about All Through the Night, an essay printed in Peter Lorre (2004), one of the volumes in Midnight Marquee Press’s Actors Series.

All Through the Night, a film ripe for rediscovery, is a minor masterpiece. By now—by rights—All Through the Night’s reputation should be enormous, if only for its pivotal position in Humphrey Bogart’s filmography. Following his 1941 classics, High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon, this important transitional movie cemented Bogart’s star status a year before Casablanca (1943) set his superstardom in concrete. All Through the Night was a popular film in its time “Its box-office receipts were even better than those of The Maltese Falcon,” report A. M. Sperber and Eric Lax in Bogart (New York: William Morrow and Co., Inc., 1997), p. 180. In fact, All Through the Night is, in many ways, a kind of “trial run” for Casablanca. (Sperber and Lax think so, too: “What began as an unpretentious little comedy—though with a budget twice that of The Maltese Falcon—was in some ways a zany dry run for Casablanca” [Bogart, p. 172].).

Working against All Through the Night is the fact that it isn’t Casablanca. It lacks that film’s credentials and cachet, despite its stellar cast, which includes future Casablanca stars Bogart (a cynical hero not quite as world-weary as Rick Blaine), Conrad Veidt (Nazi spy Ebbing, as civilized and sinister as Major Strasser), and Peter Lorre (playing a psychotic hitman). In addition, reliable contract player Ludwig Stössel, who appears (uncredited) as Casablanca’s memorable émigré Mr. Leuchtag—practicing his English at Rick’s café. (“What watch?” … “Such watch!”)—has a significant supporting role in All Through the Night.

All Through the Night features many reliable contract players who don’t appear in Casablanca but who nevertheless give All Through the Night the same excitement and richness that Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, et al bring to Casablanca: Frank McHugh, Jane Darwell, Barton MacLane, Edward Brophy, Wallace Ford, James Burke, and Martin Kosleck. All Through the Night is further distinguished by a trio of later tv greats: a pre-Uncle Charlie (My Three Sons) William Demarest, a pre-Sergeant Bilko Phil Silvers, and a pre-Ralph Kramden Jackie Gleason. For good measure, Judith Anderson (Rebecca’s Mrs. Danvers herself) turns up as a very lady-like, veddy English Nazi.

Of course, lousy pictures have been made with great casts—but All Through the Night isn’t one of them. Brilliantly scripted by Leonard Spielgelgass and Edwin Gilbert from a story by Spielgelgass and Leonard Q. Ross (pseudonym of humorist Leo Rosten), the movie is a model of economy and wit that moves, like Casablanca, with the usual Warner Brothers lightning pace—thanks to the efforts of director Sherman and editor Rudi Fehr (whose credits include Key Largo [1948], House of Wax [1953], and Dial M for Murder [1954]).

All Through the Night was Sherman’s first A picture. His directorial début was The Return of Dr. X (1939; Bogart’s only horror film); his most recent movie had been Underground (1941), a melodrama about German resistance to Nazism. Sherman had written for other Bogart pictures (Crime School [1938] and King of the Underworld [1939]); thus, familiar with the colorful argot of streetwise characters, he was a good choice to guide Bogart in his first unequivocal lead in an A picture, full of colorful argot, about American anti-Nazism.

Sherman went on to a respectable Warner Brothers career. He helmed a couple of classic Bette Davis films (Old Acquaintance [1943], Mr. Skeffington [1944]) and some less-than-classic Joan Crawford films (The Damned Don’t Cry [1950], Goodbye, My Fancy [1951]). He was “gray-listed” in the red-scare fifties and ended his theatrical film career with fare like The Young Philadelphians [1959] before doing tv work. Sherman’s credentials can’t compare to those of Raoul Walsh, John Huston, and Michael Curtiz (who auteured Bogart’s High Sierra, Maltese Falcon, and Casablanca, respectively). If Sherman were a more prestigious director, All Through the Night’s reputation would be enhanced.

The movie tells the story of “Gloves” Donahue (Bogart), a New York City gambler who’s not above stacking the odds in his favor. When Mr. Miller (Ludwig Stössel), the German baker whose cheesecake is the only kind Gloves eats, is killed, Gloves’ mother (Jane Darwell) involves him in the murder investigation. Gloves’ reluctant participation turns earnest when he learns there’s a femme to cherchez: Leda Hamilton (Kaaren Verne), who sings at a night spot owned by Gloves’ rivals, Marty Callahan (Barton MacLane) and Joe Denning (Edward Brophy). While Gloves is at the club, Denning is murdered, and Gloves is accused of the crime. In the course of clearing himself and fingering the real culprits, Gloves and his sidekicks Sunshine (William Demarest) and Barney (Frank McHugh) uncover a nest of Nazi spies operating in Manhattan and thwart a plot to blow up a battleship in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Outwardly, this plot sounds nothing like Casablanca, but in several significant ways it is, albeit in modified, comic form. Like Casablanca, All Through the Night features a shady, apolitical protagonist who forsakes neutrality in favor of socially conscious engagement—spurred on (at least in part) by the love of a good woman. That good woman, as in Casablanca, is “a mysterious European woman running from a past she can’t explain” (Bogart, p. 173), but the comparison stops there. All Through the Night lacks Casablanca’s strong and compelling female lead. German-born Kaaren Verne, who plays Leda Hamilton, is pretty but no Ingrid Bergman. And Leda is a much more light-weight role than Ilsa Lund, though I always suspected that Verne’s Leda was meant to be “Bergmanesque”—an impression confirmed by Sperber and Lax: “Hal Wallis settled for her after he was unable to get his first choice, David O. Selznick’s recent discovery, Ingrid Bergman” (Bogart, p. 173).

Second-choice Verne probably got the nod because she had starred in Sherman’s Underground. Her best year in the movies was 1942: besides All Through the Night, she also appeared in King’s Row and Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon. (She also met Peter Lorre on the set of All Through the Night, fell in love, and began an affair, culminating in their 1951 marriage after Lorre divorced his first wife. She and Lorre subsequently divorced.) Verne had neither the distinguished career nor the talent of Ingrid Bergman; if she had—or if All Through the Night had starred Bergman instead—its reputation would be greater.

All Through the Night lacks Casablanca’s tragi-romantic dimension: the love triangle that complicates and adds dramatic depth to the story, wherein disappointment in love initiates the hero’s initial withdrawal from engagement and the return of his lover allows him to renew his activism. This raises the issue of class—in terms both of caste and aesthetics. There’s no doubt that Casablanca’s romantic couple is classier than its All Through the Night equivalent. All Through the Night features no self-sacrifice, no lines comparable to “The problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world” or “We’ll always have Paris.” (All Through the Night’s final exchange between heroine and hero is “I … feel it’s about time someone knocked the Axis back on its heels,” and “Excuse me, baby. What she means is it’s time somebody knocked those heels back on their axis.” —Funny, but certainly not as classy.)

Of course, the world situation changed dramatically between January, 1942, when All Through the Night came out, and January, 1943, when Casablanca went into wide release. Nothing in All Through the Night—filmed before Pearl Harbor—can have the portentousness and resonance of Rick Blaine’s “If it’s December 7 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York? … I bet they’re asleep in New York; I bet they’re asleep all over America.” So we really can’t fault Warner Brothers for spinning a comic yarn rather than a grimmer fable of war.

Warner got into enough trouble as it was. The studio, whose Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) had pioneered the anti-Nazi propaganda film, had come under pressure from isolationists and America Firsters. Given the political climate in the States, Warner probably decided to take a more “light-hearted” approach to its axis-bashing to diffuse criticism. On September 26, 1941, while All Through the Night was shooting, Harry Warner was testifying before the Subcommittee of the Committee on Interstate Commerce on Moving-Picture Screen and Radio Propaganda, denying charges by isolationist Senators Gerald Nye and Bennett C. Clark that Warner products like Sergeant York (1941) and Confessions were designed to “create war hysteria.” He claimed that both films were factual portraits, one of a hero of the Great War and the other of a Nazi spy ring which had operated in New York City. (Not that he changed any isolationists’ minds. Pearl Harbor did that—or at least forced them to keep quiet for the duration.)

Aljean Harmetz thinks All Through the Night “was typical of a dozen or more early war movies in which Hollywood simply grafted old-fashioned Americanism onto its gangster and gambler heroes” (Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca—Bogart, Bergman, and World War II [New York: Hyperion, 1992], p. 295). She cites Alan Ladd’s Lucky Jordan (1942) and Cary Grant’s Mr. Lucky (1943) as further examples. But, just as Confessions was based on a true story, so, too, was All Through the Night. Malvin Wald—producer Jerry Wald’s brother—supplied the idea, inspired by an incident that occurred when he was working for the weekly Brooklyn World in 1936:

The editor [of the World] was acquainted with several Jewish gangsters who resented the Nazis’ holding meetings in Yorkville, the purpose of which was to spread Hitlerism and anti-Semitism. The gangsters would learn where the meetings were to be and tipped off the editor. Whereas the police could do nothing, the gangsters were free to break heads and disrupt the proceedings, and the photographers for the World would be on hand to chronicle the attempt to bring Hitler to America. (Malvin Wald, quoted in Bogart, p. 172)

Like Casablanca, All Through the Night’s multi-national factions (here represented by Donahue and Callahan’s rival gangs and an assortment of ethnic types—Wyoming cowboys, a Jewish waiter, a Chinese laundryman, a black servant, etc.) unite against a common, ruthless enemy. But All Through the Night lacks Casablanca’s “seriousness of purpose.” Its climax—wherein the diverse, “warring” parties (“The people you said you would split into angry little groups. You can’t beat them, Ebbing”) band together to break up the Nazis’ meeting—is satisfying but cannot compare to the emotional shivers Casablanca still creates when Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) leads Rick’s band in “La Marseillaise,” drowning out the Nazis’ singing, or when Captain Renault (Claude Rains) finally declares himself on the side of the angels by telling his men to “Round up the usual suspects.”

All Through the Night is a Bogart vehicle, but it is not just a Bogart vehicle: he takes everybody else along for the ride. It is actually an ensemble piece, sparked by Bogart and Demarest and Bogart-Demarest-McHugh performing as a wise-cracking comedy duo/trio in their scenes together, and marked by a colorful cast of supporting characters spouting the kind of rapid-fire dialogue that distinguished so many Golden-Age Warner Brothers films.

Patti Abbott-THE LATE SHOW (1977, Directed by Robert Benton, Starring Art Carney and Lily Tomlin)

A woman ( Tomlin) comes to a private eye (Carney) about a missing cat. He takes the case and his search for the cat turns into a complicate crime story with a dead body at the end. The mystery is not without interest, but the real story, the thing that makes it hum, is the relationship that begins between Carney and Tomlin. Both the screenplay and the actors create real, idiosyncratic yet sympathetic people. Movies from the seventies seemed to be able to combine genre and believable characters. The one doesn't come with the other very often lately.
For anyone who has only seen Art Carney in THE HONEYMOONERS, this will be an eye-opener and the atmosphere is dead-on.

John Weagley is the author of THE UNDERTOW OF SMALLTOWN DREAMS and many crime fiction stories.“The Undertow of Small Town Dreams” (it’s currently available from Twilight Tales Publications)The Undertow of Small Town Dreams” (it’s currently available

fBARTLEBY (2001) Screenplay by Jonathan Parker & Catherine DiNapoli Directed by Jonathan Parker

First off, I should confess that I’ve never read Herman Melville’s classic novella “Bartleby the Scrivener.” The closest I’ve come is reading Peter Straub’s brilliant re-imagining “Mr. Club and Mr. Cuff.” So, I’m not the best person to talk about how this movie works as an adaptation of the source material.

What I can talk about is how I think this movie is a brilliant piece of absurdism.

The plot of BARTLEBY, in half-a-nutshell, is about an office where one of the workers (Bartleby) won’t do any work. With the response “I would prefer not to,” Bartleby leads his workplace into a strange, quiet chaos.

Crispin Glover is excellent in the title role. His quirky weirdness brings a depth to the role that few other actors would’ve been able to achieve. He’s surrounded by a solid, interesting cast of great actors (Maury Chaykin, brilliant in the Nero Wolfe TV series), good actors (David Paymer and Glenne Headly) and “Are they still working?” actors (Joe Piscopo, who’s actually not bad).

BARTLEBY definitely isn’t for everyone (many of the people I’ve recommended it to have responded with a polite “We’re glad we watched it.”) but I highly recommend it for anyone interested in a bit of tranquil oddness and David Lynchian eccentricities.

Rich Robinson has written reviews and columns for The Crime Record, Mystery News, Deadly Pleasures and other periodicals, and publishes his own commentary & review newsletter, Lethal Interjection.

Green For Danger
Sally Gray, Trevor Howard, Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill) – Well cast and nicely produced with good acting, this is an intriguing whodunit sure to please any mystery fan. Worth seeing even if you’ve read the book and know the culprit. Recommended.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Thanks for the nomination in the field of special features.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Do You Ever Look af the Ending of a Book Before You Get There Legitimately


A family that reads together....

I belong to a book group with about ten other women. Two or three of them always read the last few pages of a book first. This is incomprehensible to me. Even if it's not crime fiction (which it almost never is, alas) why would you want to read the ending first?

These women claim that they need to be prepared for the worst. That the suspense ruins a book for them. That knowing the ending allows them to focus on the story.

Does anyone out there share this need and if so, why? Would you ever watch the end of a movie before watching what came before it? My husband does this all the time. Drives me crazy too. If I miss the first ten minutes, I don't want to watch it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What Was the Worst Ending Ever in a Movie?

My candidate of the moment is SO LONG AT THE FAIR, a British film circa 1950. It's the story of a brother and sister (Jean Simmons) who arrive in Paris in 1889. The brother disappears early on and a local artist (Dirk Bogarde) steps in to lend her help. Everyone at the hotel claims the sister arrived alone; her brother's room has disappeared as well.

Well, I actually should spoil this to save you from watching it. But I better not. Suffice it to say, what seems like a thriller for 80 minutes turns out to be something else. You can't rip the atmosphere out from under a movie in the last five minutes and have it succeed. Yet viewers on IMDB seem satisfied with the film despite some salient questions that are never answered. Beats me

There are probably better choices for the worst ending ever, but this one was new for me.

What is your choice as worst ending ever?

Monday, August 17, 2009


Jack Paar reading.

SAVING GRACE provokes more discussions than any other TV show between my husband and me.

I like Grace. I don't mind the angel, the spirituality, her free-spiritedness, the emphasis on the lives of the police officers, the high emotional arc to each episode, the sobbing.

My husband really dislikes all these things. He wants it to be about Grace solving crimes, not f******* men, nor leaning on the shoulder of her guardian angel, not sobbing over life with her friend, or getting bombed in their favorite bar.

I don't want any more by the numbers shows like Law and Order or CSI. I am bored with that approach.

How do you feel about shows that have a high emotional content? Do you prefer that shows be about crime or about life. Can't the two mix? And what's wrong with an angel here or there?

P.S. Next year will be the last for this show. Too bad.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Storyteller or Wordsmith?

Jimmy Stewart reading.

In her book on the history of the Clarion Workshop, Kate Wilhelm provides a lot of great advice on improving writing skills. At one point, she suggest there is a difference between writers who are story tellers and those who are wordsmiths.

Storytellers have a story to tell and are not always mindful enough of how it gets told. I think these are the people who emerge from the oral tradition, who hold forth at parties I go to. Wordsmiths are more interested in getting each word right--the story might not be there at all. Of course, both aspects need to be integrated to succeed at writing. But probably one aspect will always dominate the other.

I know I am a wordsmith. The story emerges as I write most of the time (or sometimes it never does). That's why I strongly prefer editing to writing. I have to force myself to get new sections down and not just reword old ones. What about you?

Dave's Book Group

Dave White has an idea. He'd like to host an online reading group and here are his choices for the first read. Go here to hear about the whole idea.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Political Misperceptions

Birthers and Truthers Compared (From the Monkey Cage)

Brendan Nyhan compares the prevalence of conspiracy theories about Obama’s birthplace and 9/11. Here is the money graph, with responses broken down by party:


He concludes:

…both party’s bases are disturbingly receptive to wild conspiracy theories.


Wilkipedia on the Giant Airships of 1896.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Summing up, Friday, August 14, 2009

The Summing Up, Friday, August 14, 2009

Paul Bishop, Dead Man's Letters, Erle Stanley Gardner
Bill Crider, Goodnight, Moom, Jack MacLane
Martin Edwards, The Lucky Policeman, Rupert Penny
Travis Erwin, Bridie & Finn, Harry Cauley
Cullen Gallagher, Difficult Lives, James Sallis
Jack, The Raging Moon, Peter Marshall
Randy Johnson, Spares, Michael Marshall Smith
George Kelley, The Maze of the Enchanter, Clark Ashton Smith
Rob Kitchin, M*A*S*H, Richard Hooker
B.V. Lawson, The Hand in the Glove, Rex Stout
Todd Mason, Going Our of Our Minds, Sonia Johnson; Magic Mommas Trembling Sisters, Puritans and Perverts, Feminist Essays. Joanna Russ
Stephen Miller, Modus Operandi, Robin Winks
Donna Moore, Walk the Dark Streets, William Krassner
Kent Morgan, Paul Hemphill's Novels
Eric Peterson, The Chuckin; Whatsit, Richard Sala
Kathy Ryan. LIFE LESSONS:Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About the Mysteries of Life and Living, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler.\
James Reasoner, The Man from Lordsburg, Jack Slade (Peter Germano)
Richard Robinson, Traitor's Purse, Margery Allingham
Kerrie Smith, The Vanished, Bill Prozini
Charlie Stella, The Boy Who Followed Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
Rendevous at Kamakura Inn Marshall Brown
David Vineyard, One Man's Muddle, E. Baker Quinn

Friday's Forgotten Books, August 14, 2009

Next week we're reviewing forgotten movies. Let me know if you're doing one.

Charlie Stella is the author of Mafiya: A Novel of Crime (January, 2008) Pegasus Shakedown: A Novel of Crime (June, 2006) Pegasus
Cheapskates: A Novel of Crime (March, 2005) Carroll & Graf
Charlie Opera: A Novel of Crime (December, 2003) Carroll & Graf
Jimmy Bench-Press: A Novel of Crime (December, 2002) Carroll & Graf Eddie's World: A Novel of Crime (December, 2001) Carroll Graf


Hedonism or Good Deed Doing?

Dark without gratuitous violence and as existential as it gets, The Boy Who Followed Ripley was (and remains) a wonderful Patricia Highsmith psychological thriller that makes the reader wonder yet again just what it is that motivates her wonderfully dark creation, Tom Ripley. If he’s supposed to be just another hedonist, it doesn’t show in this brilliant offering. Tom shows signs of genuine humanity when dealing with a runaway young man (Frank Pierson, age 16) who has crossed the ocean in flight from patricide (after shoving his wheelchair bound, very wealthy, dear old dad off a cliff).

Never mind the spoilers here, amici; this book is too good not to read (although I’ll do my best to leave you somewhat hanging). This Ripley installment takes place during the Carter (here) Chirac (
there) years when Tom is married to a wealthy young French woman (Heloise) and living in France in Ripley’s estate (Belle Ombre). Tom still deals in the world of high end art (frauds and otherwise) and hasn’t lost his sense of survival (at any cost). Whether or not he’s a sociopath is a good question since he thinks/discusses his past murders (yeah, plural) as if he were thinking/talking about cars he’s owned. Although his first and most famous murder, that of Dickie Greenleaf, can at times still haunt Tom, it’s not like he regrets clubbing the rich S.O.B. to death (although let me point out that he does, in fact, regret clubbing a Mafioso, one of his later murders, to the same end).

Ripley is the ultimate survivor who once had nothing more than a suitcase and some clothes, but by book four, through a combination of cold blooded murder(s), an ability to adapt and learn, connections earned through his reputation and (no doubt) a ton of luck, now has everything.

So why ta
ke up with this kid who has sought him out from across the Atlantic? Ah, there’s the rub. Has he suddenly become, as the man behind the curtain once put it, a “good deed doer”? Or does Tom see some of himself in young Frank Pierson, a boy who wasn’t exactly crazy about his father but didn’t hate him either; a boy who just might have spotted a golden opportunity when dear old dad was taking his usual gander at a sunset from his favorite spot a few feet from a deadly drop to the rocks way down below.

Tom decides to help the boy evade his family for a few days and puts him up until a pair of suspicious characters he thinks might be kidnappers appear on the scene. Tom then takes Frank to Berlin in an attempt to evade the pursuit of those potential bad guys and the detective the Pierson family has hired to find young Frank. One can only assume it’s a temporary game Tom is involve
d in; perhaps he misses the intrigue of a life on the run or maybe it’s the potential danger of having his name splashed across the headlines once more in his controversial life, but help Frank Mr. Ripley does (with the caveat that the boy will return to America and his family and the girlfriend Frank is not quite sure really likes him).

A few days on the seamier side of Berlin with some wild nights in a few gay bars, some dealings with people living on the fringe and then a kidnapping and what to do about it makes The Boy Who Followed Ripley a thoroughly entertaining read which will probably find you returning to book one in t
he series in an attempt to understand this wonderfully complex character who seems to know how to get things done (whatever the cost) and barely flinches in doing so.

There’s more to the story following the kidnapping. The world of Ripley doesn’t portend many happy endings and I’m not about to let you in on the secret(s), but at least in this adventure we can sense Tom’s heart does in fact beat almost, not quite, like the rest of ours.

I never would have thought I could so thoroughly enjoy a crime novel where I had to search for curse words and/or graphic violence, but it’s back to book one in the series for this reader. Highsmi
th’s Ripley is a mesmerizing character fully deserving of our attention (in whatever order we read him).

Rick Robinson has written reviews and columns for The Crime Record, Mystery News, Deadly Pleasures and other periodicals, and publishes his own commentary & review newsletter, Lethal Interjection.

TRAITOR’S PURSE by Margery Allingham
first published in 1941
Albert Campion, Amateur Sleuth

Amnesia stories could almost constitute a separate sub-genre. Depending on how they are handled, they can be silly, just entertaining or riveting as is the case here.

Albert Campion wakes up with no memory. Who is he, what’s going on? He finds himself in the small village of Bridge. There, the Bridge Institute is doing research for the government, and in pre-W.W. II England that implies important work. But all is not as it seems. Campion must discover and foil an ingenious plot or disastrous consequences will befall his beloved England.

Campion hasn’t a clue who he is. It’s possible he has assaulted and perhaps killed a policeman. He doesn’t know whether to confide in or flee from the local authorities, nor does he know if he can trust the beautiful Amanda, who seems to know him very well indeed. Also, why is the number 15 so important? As Campion tries desperately to unlock his memory events are rushing to a climax. All of the clues are there - if only he could make sense of them.

Rob Kitchin works at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth where he’s director of a research institute. He is the author of The Rule Book, a police procedural novel set in and around Dublin, and 17 academic books. He edits an academic journal, two book series and has edited a 12 volume encyclopaedia. His passions are reading and writing crime fiction and undertaking research on social issues. He’s presently on a quest to find a friendly agent who’ll help him find a caring home for his novels, Saving Siobhan, a comic crime caper set in Ireland and Manchester, and the sequel to The Rule Book, The White Gallows.

M*A*S*H, Richard Hooker

As a teenager I was a fan of the M*A*S*H TV series and the original 1970 Robert Altman movie and I first read the novel in 1989. I was a first year undergraduate and someone I was sharing a student house with had been collecting all the books in the series (of which there are 15). I also made my way through most of them (I seem to remember he was missing 4 of them). I picked up the first in series in Enniskillen a couple of weeks ago for the princely sum of 99p for a brand new copy. Rarely has so little money delivered such value – a few hours of highly enjoyable reading and several belly laughs.

Loosely based on Richard Hooker’s own experiences with the M*A*S*H 8055th (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) in Korean War during the early 1950s, the novel details the tour of duty of Captains Hawkeye Pierce and Duke Forrest, two young surgeons drafted to perform ‘meatball surgery’ on the unfortunate soldiers wounded on the frontline, and how they raise hell and havoc to blow off steam, trying to remain sane after hours and days at the operating table and the periods of boredom in between. Along for the journey are fellow swamp (tent) residents, Trapper John (chief surgeon) and Spearchucker Jones (neurologist), and a gang of colourful characters all in the same boat including Radar O’Reilly (clerk), Hot Lips Houlihan (chief nurse), the Painless Pole (dentist), Knocko McCarthy (nurse), Ugly John (anaesthetist), Father ‘Dago Red’ Mulcahy (chaplain), Mother Devine (cook), Frank Burns (surgeon) and Henry Blake (chief officer).

‘Talk to me anyhow, Captain. Just talk about anything that comes into your head.’
‘Death is an elephant, torch-eyed and horrible, foam-flanked and terrible,’ Hawkeye commented.

Major Haskell lit a cigarette.
‘You nervous or something?’ asked Hawkeye.
‘Not at all,’ the Major replied nervous
‘Hey, Dad, I’ll give you a nice buy on an elephant. Velly clean. Penicillim. Finest kind.’
‘Captain Pierce, what are you up to? Frankly I can’t decide if you’re crazy or just some kind of a screwball.’

‘Well, why don’t you mull it over for a while. You got anything to trade in.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean you want a clean deal on an elephant, or you got some kind of used up elephant you wanta stick me with in return for my best elephant?’

Blending pathos with dark humour, and getting the balance just right, Hooker effectively uses a series of interlinked short stories to unfold the plot. The characterization is superb, as well as the set pieces, and the dialogue is first class. I felt myself smiling often and laughing out loud on a good number of occasions. Unlike the television series, the book lacks an overt political message; it is a book about how people survive and get by in a terrible situation not of their choosing, implicitly an anti-war novel, but not explicitly so. In that sense it lacks the bite of other darkly humorous and satirical books about war such as Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and does little to explore the morality of war or the industries that surround them such as prostitution and black marketeering. Clearly that wasn't Hooker's aim and so the criticism is moot, but for me it would have transformed a very good book into a minor masterpiece.

The other books follow Hawkeye and Trapper John on their return to the United States and has them jetting all over the world on various escapades. The original book was the high point that spawned a media franchise.

Kent Morgan took early retirement from his "real world" job in educational communications in Winnipeg, MB to freelance in sports journalism and public relations, play oldtimers hockey, and, most importantly, get his bibliomania under control. He co-writes a sports column for the Prime Times newspaper and his work has appeared in The Cooperstown Review, Deadball Stars of the American League, Senior Softball USA, Face-Off and the Winnipeg Sun. His goal is to downsize his book collection that includes mystery and sports fiction, but it continues to grow.

Paul Hemphill's Novels

Paul Hemphill, who passed away on July 11, is best known for his non-fiction books that total 11. The subject matter of the onetime Atlanta Journal columnist and magazine journalist included good old boys, country music, minor league baseball, race relations and NASCAR.

His first non-fiction book, The Nashville Sound (Simon and Shuster 1970), was a critical success, made the best-seller lists and sold 75,000 copies in hardback. Leaving Birmingham: Notes of a Native Son (Viking 1993) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. His most recent books were Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams (Viking 2005) and A Tiger Walk Through
History (Pebble Hill 2008) about Auburn football.

Topping my personal list is Me and the Boy (Macmillan 1986) about the author and his 19-year-old son David learning about each other while they walked the Appalachian Trail.

Hemphill also wrote four novels with his first, Long Gone (Viking Press 1979), probably the best known. This story about a Class D baseball team in Florida was made into a TV movie in 1987 starring William L Peterson (CSI) as hard-living and womanizing player-manager Stud Cantrell.

His next novel, The Sixkiller Chronicles (Macmillan 1985), is my personal favorite. Over four decades, the reader follows three generations of Clay men from Sixkiller Gap in North Carolina to Harvard Medical School. Writer Pat Conroy called it "a love song to a disappearing America." Another Southern author, William Price Fox, called Hemphill's novel "an absolutely brilliant book that will be around forever."

Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Note: Fox's own book titled Satchel Paige's America (Fine Ant 2005) deserves that same kind of praise. Hemphill's next foray into fiction was King of the Road (Houghton Mifflin 1989), a story about a 70-year-old long haul truck driver who is determined to make a final run from Alabama to Nevada. This is another father and son book as Jake Hawkins takes his college English instructor son along for the ride and some lessons on
life. Hemphill's own father spent weekdays on the open road when the writer was growing up in Birmingham.

Despite searching for it in new and used bookstores in Florida and Minnesota as well as Canada, I've never found a copy of Nobody's Hero (River City 2002), the author's last novel about a former football player and his relationship with a young black man. In an interview, Hemphill said his agent at the time had no idea how to promote the book so it only sold 800 copies.

You may have noted that four different publishers published his fiction. The few copies of Nobody's Hero available on Internet bookseller sites before his death were expensive. But as always seems to happen right after an author dies, more copies showed up so you now can
pick one up at a reasonable price. My order already has been placed.

Bill Crider
James Reasoner
Kerrie Smith
Cullen Gallagher
Todd Mason
Paul Bishop
Martin Edwards
George Kelley
Kathy Ryan
B.V. Lawson
Randy Johnson
Stephen Miller
Travis Erwin
David Vineyard
Donna Moore
Eric Peterson

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Your Personal Casting Office

I saw an ad in the newspaper today about the return of MAD MEN. One of the best things about that show and other shows I like is the cast (THE OFFICE, RESCUE ME). Someone did a very good job in choosing distinctive and talented actors.

I can think of other TV shows where the cast is not nearly as strong (MONK, for me. Except for the incomparable Tony Shaloub, the rest seem generic and dull. I never felt the cast in CHEERS was especially strong either). Or shows like MY BOYS, where the plethora of male actors seem interchangeable.

What TV show is especially well-cast to you?

How much do you think about your cast in writing? In a short story, the cast is usually very small. I remember in writing classes, people having a snit over having to remember who more than a few people were. So I learned to keep it small.

And I took this idea of small cast with me into my first attempt at a novel. But I think my protagonist in that work would inhabit a small world, being a misanthrope. The second has a bigger cast. It takes place over a lifetime.

Do you think about this much? Do you think, I'd better add a character to provide comic relief. And maybe I need a nosy neighbor or a dog or two. I think I should probably go to a good casting office more often and not just let nature take its course.

Readers: and that's me most of the time. Do you think about the cast in a novel. Does it bother you if it's too large or too small. Too generic.