Saturday, October 31, 2009
And she finished her first year and has started a second. These are not easy books either. Could you read a book a day plus write a literate review of it? In my earlier days, when I was home with two kids, I read three or four books a week. They were split about evenly between so-called literary novels or non-fiction and so-called crime fiction. On the whole, I read better stuff then than now. I reviewed them with a word or two-good, so-so, lousy. Nothing like the reviews on this site.
Take a look at her list and imagine reading books like this every day. You must have to build up the muscle. I didn't peruse her site long enough to find out how she has the time for this. And this is a good example of why I don't read a book a day and why I don't write 1000 words.
Could you read a book a day even if you had all day to do it?
Friday, October 30, 2009
Side Note: It used to be a fairly common, I think, for Hollywood studios or publicity machines to take pictures of their stars reading-perhaps to show their literacy. It is much harder to find pictures of today's stars with a book in hand and--almost impossible to find one of a musician or athlete reading, for instance. When did reading start to look nerdy or unattractive? Well, that's why we're here, isn't it?
The Summing Up, Friday, October 30, 2009
Paul Bishop, First Blood, David Morrell
Tom Cain, The Dolly Dolly Spy, Adam Ament
Bill Crider, Hot Cargo, Orrie Hitt
Mike Dennis, The Blonde on the Corner, David Goodis
Pete Dragovich, Bird Dog, Philip Reed
Martin Edwards, The Man Who Killed Himself, Julian Symons
Jerry House, The Bad Children, Shirley Jackson
Ray Foster, Billy, G.F. Newman
Ed Gorman, The Dark World, Henry Kittner
Randy Johnson, The Whispering Master, Frank Gruber
George Kelley, The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
Margot Kinberg, Going for the Gold, Emma Lathen
Rob Kitchin, The Small Back Room, Nigel Baldwin
Steve Lewis/Mike Tooney, Whodunit? Houdini?, edited by Otto Penzler
Terrie F. Moran, The Anastasic Syndrome and Other Stories, Mary Higgins Clark
Todd Mason, Welcome, Chaos, Kate Wilhelm, A for Anything, Damon Knight
Eric Peterson, Darkly the Thunder, William Johnsonte
James Reasoner, Secret of Death Valley, William Heuman
Rick Robinson, Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens, Michael Gilbert
Kerrie Smith, Fallen in the Pit, Ellis Peters
R.T. Garden of Vipers, Jack Kerley
Wallace Stroby, The Killing, Lionel White
THE SUMMING UP, Friday, October 30, 2009
Kerrie Smith reading.
GOING FOR THE GOLD, Emma Lathen
Friday’s Forgotten Books is such a wonderful opportunity to discover books that I might otherwise never have heard of that I was pleased and honored when Patti asked me to contribute.
Going for the Gold was written by Emma Lathen, the pseudonym of Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Henissart, and first published in 1981. It’s the 18th in the John Putnam Thatcher series.
In the novel, the Sloan Guaranty Trust bank is selected as the official bank of the 1980 Winter Olympic games in Lake Placid, New York. So John Putnam Thatcher, who’s a vice-president for the Sloan, is sent to Lake Placid to supervise the bank’s operations during the games. Shortly after Thatcher arrives at Lake Placid, Yves Bisson, a French ski jumper, is murdered by a sniper’s bullet as he is making a jump. At first, everyone believes that a terrorist has struck. But then, Roger Hathaway, manager of one of the Sloan’s Lake Placid branches, reports that the Sloan has lost half a million dollars to a counterfeit scheme. Thatcher is able to put these two seemingly-unrelated events together when it’s discovered that a traveler’s check that Bisson passed was counterfeit. What’s worse is that Bisson’s not the only one who seems to have been passing counterfeit traveler’s checks, and it’s not long before Thatcher figures out that Bisson must have been involved somehow in a huge swindling operation.
At this point, suspicion begins to fall on several of Bisson’s skiing teammates, the French team coach, and some fellow competitors, and their backgrounds and relationships to Bisson and to each other are carefully scrutinized. While Thatcher is making sense of the counterfeit scheme, another competitor, Tilly Lowengard, is disqualified from the Olympics when it’s discovered that she made a ski run while under the influence of a drug. She maintains her innocence, and before long, it’s clear that she, too, is a victim of a ruthless killer. Just then, a blizzard strikes, stranding everyone in Olympic Village – including the murderer. Thatcher realizes he’ll have to act fast if he’s going to figure out who’s been stealing money and covering up the theft with murder.
Going for the Gold gets the reader involved very quickly. Bisson’s murder shocks everyone and it’s easy to get caught up in the action as the local police and the security staff at Olympic Village scramble to protect the other competitors. The tension and suspense stay strong as Thatcher carefully works backwards through Bisson’s last few days to try to figure out how he might have been involved in the counterfeit scandal and who might be behind it. Adding to this is the reality that many competitors and visitors to the games face when they realize that their traveler’s checks are worthless and they’re temporarily stranded in Lake Placid. There’s also the suspense and interest generated by the inter-relationships among the competitors, especially as it’s discovered that several of them are keeping secrets.
There are also several interesting sub-plots in Going for the Gold. For example, there’s a secret marriage, another budding romance, theft from the Olympic Village food stores, and the struggles that everyone faces to deal with the heavy snowfall. Those sub-plots are well-woven into the central plot, so they aren’t distracting. They also add an interesting layer to the characters.
Perhaps the most gripping thing about the novel, though, is the snowstorm that strikes during the investigation. The snowstorm traps everyone in Olympic Village and adds to the sense of imminent danger. It also makes a fitting backdrop for the climactic scene in which the killer tries to strike one last time.
Besides the suspense, Going for the Gold features interesting characters. Since these are Olympic competitors, they come from several different countries, and all of them seem to be there for different reasons. As Thatcher finds out about their backgrounds, the reader gets to know these competitors. Thatcher, too, is an interesting and likeable sleuth. His background is in money and finance, but he’s also skilled at dealing with people, and provides a calming presence amid the hysteria that’s caused by the murder, the theft and the blizzard.
Banking has changed dramatically since this book was written, and so has bank security. So in some ways, the novel is a little dated. There are also some dated references; for instance, some of the competitors are from the Soviet Union. It doesn’t suffer too much from that limitation, though. The interesting characters, solid suspense, and nicely focused plot make this book worth a read. No wonder that, almost thirty years after I first read it, I still enjoy it.
Jerry House is convinced he was never a bad child. He can be reached at email@example.com.
THE BAD CHILDREN by Shirley Jackson
I hope Shirley Jackson is not a forgotten writer. The House on Haunted Hill is a classic of the genre, The Road Through the Wall and We Have Always Lived in the Castle are burned into my memory, her semi-fictional humorous memoirs Raising Demons and Life Among the Savages paved the way for Jean Kerr and Erma Bombeck, and I doubt anyone who has read "The Lottery", "Charles", or "One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts" has ever forgotten the stories.
The Bad Children (Dramatic Publishing Company, 1959) is Shirley Jackson's riff on fairy tales. Subtitled A Musical in One Act for Bad Children, the play gives us Hansel and Gretel as the little shits they really were. ("You always say no. Like when we wanted to go out on Hallowe'en and burn down people's barns...") Other characters include their long-suffering parents ("Please don't make us take them back"), a morally ambiguous [though kind-hearted] witch ("I never stole anything in my life, but right now I am going to give back everything I ever happened to get by accident, kind of"), a grumpy enchanter ("Well, I won't eat griddle cakes without butter"), and a hapless rabbit ("No rabbit needs to put up with this kind of thing for one single instant...I'm going back to my old home in Mr. MacGregor's cabbage patch.") Although published fifty years ago, The Bad Children has the same delicious slyness found in the latest Terry Pratchett novel.
I don't know how readily available this is. I got my copy through an Inter-Library Loan; I suggest you do the same.
You can fine Mike Dennis here. He has a forthcoming novel THE TAKE, debuting in 2010.
THE BLONDE ON THE STREET CORNER, David Goodis
"Ralph stood on the corner, leaning against the brick wall of Silver's candy store, telling himself to go home and get some sleep."
Ed Gorman is the author of THE MURDER ROOM and the new anthology BETWEEN THE DARK AND THE DAYLIGHT. You can find him here.
The Dark World by Henry Kuttner
always enjoyed as well as an original paperback series about a psychiatrist. He was friend and mentor to both Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson.With his wife C.L. Moore he produced a large volume of stories, a long list of which are considered classics today.He died way too young at age forty-four. I still remember reading about his death one eighth grade afternoon when I picked up the new Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I was shocked and saddened. I'd read so many of his novels and stories I felt as if he'd been a personal friend. Since we are in an era where vampires and werewolves and warlocks are fashionable I thought I'd introduce many of you to Kuttner (and probably C.L. Moore's) legendary short novel The Dark World currently available from Paizo in a handsome new edition.Edward Bond returns from World War Two to be confronted by his
identical twin with whom he shares a body--a twin from another dimension into which Bond is cast. There can't be many more strange and colorful worlds than the one he finds here. From the trade paperback: "Sucked through a portal to the Dark World, Bond finds himself trapped between two warring factions. On one side is the Coven: a werewolf, an immortal, and a beautiful witch eager to acknowledge Ganelon as their
sinister ruler. On the other is the white sorceress Freydis and her band of forest rebels that want nothing more than to see the warlock’s head on a spike. Will Edward/Ganelon join with the rebels to release the oppressed world from the grip of a tyrannical, sacrifice-hungry god—or embrace the Coven to become the world’s greatest villain?" If you're into fantasy, this book offers mystery, a real sense of dread, myriad wonders and some of the niftiest plotting you'll find this side of--well, Henry Kuttner. To say that "The Dark World" has been "homaged" to death over the years would be to understate the case. It shows up in a number of famous novels. Here's an irritable quote from the excellent site Science Fiction and Fantasy reading Experience.
"MZB (or, Marion Zimmer Bradley, for those unfamilliar with this "fiction factory" brand) said: "I consider the works of Henry Kuttner the finest fantasy ever written"; Roger Zelazny cited "The Dark World" as a seminal influence on his Amber series; now - both these writers have contributed to many 300-pages-plus reworkings of the same ideas that Kuttner put in 100 pages here. When reading the novella (for that
is what it is, really) today you will be struck how often you may have read same stuff in modern "door-stopper" trilogies - diluted and laundered for a publisher's fun and profit. However, here is the genuine article, the novel that started it all. It has color, adventure and the sense of wonder needed (required!) for publication in "Startling Stories" and the accompanying brevity. God bless Henry Kuttner. Wish he was more often reprinted nowadays." If you're a fantasy pulp fan, this is a book you'll enjoy reading again and again.
Steve Lewis/Mike Tooney
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Jean Harlow reading.
"Well, I'm standin' in line in the rain to see a movie starring Gregory Peck,
Yeah, but you know it's not the one that I had in mind.
He's got a new one out now, I don't even know what it's about
But I'll see him in anything so I'll stand in line."
-- Bob Dylan and Sam Shepard, "Brownsville Girl"
This is borrowed from Steve Weddle's post on Do Some Damage last Monday but the topic sticks with me? I have a feeling it is more about directors now than actors. But who would you stand in line to see in a movie? I'm talking about a long line, maybe in the rain. Or alternately, who was the last actor/director you stood in line to see?
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Steve Weddle recently posted a link on facebook to this. (People of Wal*Mart) and suggested along with Keith Rawson) that Aldo, Gerald and I host a flash challenge using this site as our inspiration.
What I would like to propose is a 750-800 word story that is set, or at least partially set, in a Wal*Mart Store.
It could also be a story that refers to such a store in a meaningful way. If you take exception to Walmart, name it something else. We'll know what you mean.
Post the story on your own blog or on Aldo's Powder Burn Flash . I'm thinking of November 30th. Please don't post your story ahead of time--it throws things off. Let Aldo know if you want him to post it. Let Gerald or me know if you're "in" as soon as possible.
Walmart shoppers: beware.
Monday, October 26, 2009
I was perusing a list of books I read in 1987-88. Most of the so-called mysteries still rang bells--probably because the network of bloggers and websites on crimespot and other similar gathering places keep them alive.
But a lot of the mainstream or literary fiction I read was from authors I know longer hear mentioned: Charles Dickinson, William Wharton, Nancy Price, Anne Bernays and so on. I wonder if the crime fiction community is doing a better job at keeping names alive than the literary community. Is the link tighter here or am I missing the equivalent of crimespot for other types of fiction? Any one know?
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Are writers reflecting the zeitgeist or are they leading the way? Have we lost the ability to be excited or moved by normal humans? Have men who don't bite your neck lost their romance? Have woman who can't spit out a spell become mundane in literature? What is it about the times we live in that invites this phenomena and do you find books or movies with zombies and vampires intriguing? Have you read any? Writing one yourself?
John Rickards touched on some of these issues with his post yesterday on why sci-fi and fantasy fans are more likely to come out to see their favorite writers. Does the influx of other-wordly creatures through books and movies allow us an escape that we crave? Tell me.
In other news, BETWEEN THE DARK AND THE DAYLIGHT is apparently ready for purchase. And although Bill Crider has claimed authorship of "and 27 more of the best" I'd like a piece of that action.
Thanks to David Cranmer (Beat to a Pulp) for first publishing the story and Ed Gorman for including it here.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Kieran Shea reading (at Bouchercon)
Okay, I am on new crusade to get pictures of "real" people reading again. Some of you must have a picture you can send me or a friend to take one. See how lovely Martin and Kieran looked today.
The Summing Up, Friday, October 23, 2009
Russell Atwood, Freaks, Michael Collins
Jack Bates, Empire of the Ants, Bernard Werber
Paul Bishop, Point of Honour, Madeleine Robins
Claire2E, Pirate, A.B.C. Whipple
Bill Crider. Among the Gently Mad, Nicholas Basbanes
Deb, The Parasites, Daphne du Maurier
Martin Edwards, Faces in the Dark, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcefac
Cullen Gallagher, It's Always Four O'Clock Iron Man, W.R. Burnett
Ed Gorman, Hardboiled America, Geoffrey O'Brien
Randy Johnson, Top Ten, Ryne Douglas Pearson (reissue of 1956 book)
George Kelley, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym on Nantucket, Edgar Allen Poe
B.V. Lawson, Night and Fear, Cornell Woolrich
Steve Lewis/Frances Nevins, The Crime of the Century (and other work) Anthony Abbot
Todd Mason, Anthologies from AMAZING edited by Joseph Ross, Ted White, Martin H. Greenberg and Isaac Asimov, and MH Greenberg on his own.
Eric Peterson, Plunder of the Sun, David Dodge
Richard Prosch, West of Abilene, Vingie Ross
James Reasoner, Baal, Robert McCammon
Rick Robinson, The Way the Future Was, Frederik Pohl
Kerrie Smith, Maigret and the Madwoman, George Simenon
Charlie Stella, The Ripley Books, Patricia Highsmith
R.T. Darkness and Light, John Harvey
Steve Weddle, All the President's Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
Jim Winter, Neuromancer, William Gibson
Martin Edwards reading.
Steve Weddle graduated with an MFA in poetry from Louisiana State University.
Weddle, a former English professor, now works for a newspaper group in
Virginia and writes fiction.
Each Monday, he blogs about reading and writing over at DoSomeDamage.
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
How’s this for a great story? A Yale grad and Navy lieutenant tries to get a reporter’s job at the Washington Post, but only gets a two-week tryout. His boss doesn’t like him enough to hire him, but gives him a job at a weekly paper in the suburbs. In 1971, he moves to the Post.
One night five guys were arrested for a break-in. This metro/crime reporter covers it along with someone who was never mistaken for a Navy lieutenant, the child of communists who’d begun work at the Washington Star as a copy boy when he was a teenager.
Together, these two young reporters -- one a Yale-graduated, Navy lieutenant with little journalistic experience and the other a disheveled reporter with plenty of experience but no comb -- solved a political mystery that would unseat the US President.
All The President’s Men was published in 1974 and is every bit as procedural a mystery as anything you will ever read.
Bob Woodward, with a degree from Yale and hardly any writing experience, works a contact from his Navy days to keep pointed in the right direction.
Carl Bernstein travels to Florida to dig through files and check stubs, finally finding a link to a Presidential slush fund.
Together the two of them sneak around the suburbs of Washington, DC, talking to secretaries and accountants, all of whom fear for their safety.
The prose is straightforward and gripping, with enough suspense to make you forget about Dan Brown.
All The President’s Men is a fantastic mystery, a timeless exploration of power, greed, and corruption, with clearly defined villains and heroes who continue to find themselves well out of their depths.
Political thriller, mystery, procedural, all thrown together with an incredible narrative, this book should be read by every mystery lover out there because it truly contains a gripping story that you can’t put down.
Deb-About me: I was a technical writer in the financial and software industries for the better part of two decades. Then, after being a stay-at-home mom for several years, I went to work in the public school system. I currently work in a junior high school library. I love to read across all genres, but mysteries are my favorite. I also enjoy reading blogs about books—I’m always discovering new (to me) authors and titles.
Charlie Stella's new book, JOHNY PORNO, debuts in 2010. MAFIYA is out now. You can find him here.
The Parasites by Daphne du Maurier
(Note: The following is reworded and expanded from an abbreviated review I posted several months ago in the comments section of John Self’s Asylum blog in response to his request for du Maurier reading recommendations.)
I first read The Parasites in the early 1970s when I found it in a box of used books someone had given my mother. I was captivated by its intriguing narrative structure (three characters simultaneously narrate the story in the first person) and wonderfully evocative scenes of Europe between the wars. I can’t understand why the BBC hasn’t snatched up The Parasites and rescued it from oblivion by producing a glossy Masterpiece Theater-type miniseries from it. With a prestige author like Daphne du Maurier and glamorous settings, the book would seem to lend itself to that sort of adaptation. Instead the book languishes, forgotten and unappreciated.
Obviously Daphne du Maurier is not a forgotten author; she wrote a number of books and short stories that are considered classics and are still popular today, including Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, The Birds, and Don’t Look Now (each of which made the transition to film). However, The Parasites (published in 1949) is truly forgotten: even in du Maurier biographies, The Parasites is referenced only fleetingly and dismissively; yet, I think it’s her best book. True, it has none of the supernatural elements of Don’t Look Now, none of the atmospheric dread of Rebecca or The Birds, none of the romance of The King’s General, but it is redolent of a certain time and place and effortlessly conjures up pre-war Europe with controlled, confident writing and a very adroit narrative style.
The Parasites begins on a rainy afternoon in England in the late 1940s. Three step/half-siblings (their parents had a “yours, mine, and ours” situation) are spending the day together. Maria Delaney is a successful West End actress; Niall Delaney is a songwriter in the Noel Coward/Cole Porter vein; Celia Delaney is an artist whose talent has never flourished because she has been too busy looking after “Pappy,” her widowed father. Maria’s husband accuses the three of them of being parasites, of using their talent, charm, and family connections to avoid life outside of their own charmed circle. This prompts them to spend the rest of the afternoon reflecting on their lives, trying to determine if the accusation is true.
The siblings’ memories begin with their youth as the children of entertainers (a dancer and a singer) who performed across the continent during the 1920s & 30s. Their parents may have been grande artistes, but they were dreadfully negligent toward their offspring, as indicated in this paragraph where the siblings describe their upbringing—
We were too greatly indulged; a shocking thing. We were permitted to eat rich food, drink wine, stay up to all hours, roam about London and Paris on our own, or whatever other city we happened to be living in at the time; so from an early age we were cosmopolitan in outlook, belonging to no particular country, with a smattering of several languages, none of which we ever learnt to speak with fluency.
You hear the tone—self-mocking, world-weary, with just enough self-awareness to keep you interested. In addition, du Maurier uses an ingenious device: the book is written in first person from the point of view of all three siblings. In some places, you’re not sure which character is narrating, the point-of-view goes back and forth between the three. Take, for example, this passage describing their childhood preparation for bed:
We stole along in our night clothes. Maria, her fair hair short and curling like a boy’s, wearing her own nightgown tucked into a pair of Niall’s striped pyjamas, with Niall slopping along behind in Truda [the nanny]’s bedroom slippers, because he had been unable to find his own. Celia trailing a stuffed monkey, brought up the rear.
Du Maurier excels at this very difficult narrative technique, sustaining it without flagging for the length of the novel.
As the book progresses, each sibling remembers people and events from the past and wonders if they indeed have been parasites—feeding on other people and on each other. Their memories include superbly atmospheric scenes of the entertainment and theater world of pre-WWII Europe. Du Maurier was intimately familiar with this world—her grandfather was George du Maurier, the writer who created Trilby and Svengali, her father was Gerald du Maurier, the most famous actor of his day, and her cousins were the “lost boys” of J. M. Barrie (who was a close du Maurier family friend).
Darker memories emerge: As a young teenager, Maria loses her virginity to a predatory older man; Niall remembers the woman he abandoned after she had supported him and helped him become famous; Celia thinks back to Pappy’s final years when he drank too much and was surrounded by hangers-on who always left Celia to repair the damage and pick up the tab. Hovering over all of their memories is the quasi-incestuous relationship between Maria and Niall (they are not technically related, being step-siblings, but their connection is so strong it excludes others, including Maria’s husband).
By the end of the book, changes are coming and each sibling has to grapple with how their lives will be different. But du Maurier has one more surprise left—an event that may devastate the siblings, but perhaps allow them to break out of the closed circle in which they have lived their lives. We’re not sure—the ending is ambiguous. What we are sure of is that we have just finished a remarkable book that deserves to be better-known and more frequently read.
Jack Bates grew up in Macomb County, Michigan. He got his first rejection letter at 18 from Saturday Night Live who turned down his sketch for 'religious, ethical, and moral reasons.' Thirty years later he writes a PI series for Mind Wings Audio Books. He hopes to eventually write the old fashion way- as a book.ie Howard reading.
Empire of the Ants, Bernard Werber
1991 might be pushing it for labeling a book ‘forgotten’, but in a span of 18 years, it is possible it’s gotten ‘lost’. Bernard Werber wrote Empire of the Ants almost twenty years ago. I read it about ten years ago. Portions of it have stuck with me. If there’s one thing I like about a book it’s an image that does just that. The final scenes in EOTA are so vivid and shocking I still find myself squinching- you know: closing my eyes, tightening my fists, scrunching down my neck.
Empire of the Ants is set in a 21st century Paris falling under the effects of global warming. Jonathon Wells is the protagonist and he is eager to discover what happened to his uncle who had become obsessed with ants. Wells moves his family into what he thinks is his uncle’s abandoned house hoping to unlock the mystery. Once there, he discovers a locked door with this warning: Above all else, never go down in the cellar. Well, guess what begins to happen. One by one, people do go down in the cellar until at last Wells must go as well to find his son and wife. He reaches a point where he discovers there is no turning back- literally. He can’t.
At the same time as Webber gets us involved with the humans, we begin to relate to the plight of an ant known as the 327th male. Werber hypothesizes that ants communicate through pheromones and smell (something my acoustical engineer father-in-law denies: ‘They have mandibles. They click!’). When the 327th male is ambushed by compatriots he has conspired with to overthrow a current queen ant, he is stripped of his antennae. No longer able to communicate with his female friend who will be queen, he struggles through a self-identity crisis. He is a lone ant unable to share his scents and thus becomes unrecognizable, which will cost him in the end.
As horrifying as some of the moments are in this book, Werber also manages to make the reader laugh. One scene that comes to mind is when a male ant confront a vast stretch of black surfacing- a road. The male ant is desperate to deliver information to the colony but fears the rush of the loud, heavy shadows- cars. Summing up his courage and convincing himself that ants are far superior to the beings zooming past, the ant moves forward in his short lived mission and discovers all too late the deadly bite of hubris.
But like I’ve said, the true entertainment in this book is the startling images Webber leaves the reader with at the end. They still freak me out all these years later.
The Ripley series, Patricia Highsmith
Ripley Under Ground ... book two in the series (of 5) was equal to the debut. The dark, somehow sympathetic, sociopathic Tom Ripley is a few years removed from his murder of Dickie Greenleaf and Freddie Miles. He’s married (rich) and although doing well enough for himself, he has a small percentage in the side business of art forgery. When an art aficionado figures out the scam, Tom tries a few different tricks to keep the buyer from blowing the whistle ... and when all else fails, Tom whacks him.
I have become such a fan of Patricia Highsmith’s work, I have gone and ordered books outside the Ripley series. The mark of great writers for me is their ability to sustain a high quality of product. Highsmith achieved that in spades within the series and I can’t help but assume she did so outside the world of Thomas Ripley.
How’s this for a Ripley Under Ground teaser:
A pair of flies, insane as usual, were annoying Tom. He pulled one out of his hair. They were zooming around his night table. Late for flies, and he’d had quite enough of them this summer. The French countryside was famous for its variety of flies, which outnumbered the variety of cheeses, Tom had read somewhere. One fly jumped on the other’s back. In plain view! Quickly Tom struck a match and held it to the bastards. Wings sizzled. Buzz-buzz. Legs stuck in the air and flailed their last. Ah, Liebestod, united even in death!
If it could happen in Pompeii, why not at Belle Ombre, Tom thought.
Ripley’s Game ... here our likeable sociopath takes on the mob (yes, that mob, the one in Italia) ... with mentions of Joe Colombo (Thomas is, after all, Americano) and capos and all forms of organized crime as it attempts to establish itself in Hamburg, Deutschland (yes, Germany) … this was a fun read that was written in a slightly different manner from the other Ripley’s. In this one, Ripley is slighted at a party and feels a need to take a shot back at the guy who did the slighting (usually he just kills them), but before long he goes from screwing with the guy’s head to helping him whack a capo on a train. No spoilers here, except to say Highsmith shocked the shit out of me with this terrific addition to Ripley world. Much of the novel doesn’t include Ripley himself but when he returns, it’s in all his sociopathic splendor and he’s taken arms (and hammers) against the real mafia.
For those of yous who like novels that come in bunches (series), you’re really missing out on some terrific writing and wonderful storytelling. Patricia Highsmith’s work is incredible, pure and simple.
Ed Gorman is the editor of BETWEEN THE DARK AND THE DAYLIGHT, newly released. You can find him here.
Hardboiled America, Geoffrey O'Brien
How's this for a resume (from Wikipedia): "Geoffrey O'Brien (b. 1948) is a widely published author, editor, book and film critic, poet, and cultural historian. In 1992, he joined the staff of the Library of America, (later) becoming editor in chief. He has been a contributor to Artforum, Film Comment, The New York Times, Village Voice, New Republic, Filmmaker and, especially, to the New York Review of Books."
With cred like this you might expect his writing to be hoity or at least toity. Nope. No matter what he's writing about O'Brien is a pleasure to read. He has a voice and style all his own. And he's never more compelling than when he's writing about "Lurid Paperbacks and Masters of Noir," the sub-title of Hardboiled America.
There is no equivalent to this study of the largely forgotten writers who were conduits to the present day likes of Lehane and Pelecanos and Zeltserman. Even if these men never read the paperback writers of the Fifties they could not escape their influence. It was everywhere, adapted to radio and movies and comic books. And O'Brien is masterful at tracing the hardboiled vision from generation to generation.
O'Brien takes seriously the writing of such people as Day Keene, Harry Whittington and Brett Halliday and many other paperback men and women. He's opinionated of course. His take on John D. MacDonald and Dorothy Hughes never fails to rankle me. But his observations on the work of Jim Thompson and W.R. Burnett and Ross Macdonald and Charles Williams are eloquent and so well reasoned I reread them several times a year. He also brings in literary writers whose work was sometimes in the spirit of hardboiled. Nelson Algren is a natural. But I'm glad he referenced Calder Willingham, too. A fine novelist whose short stories in particular are so dark they can disturb your sleep for a few nights.
Then there is a checklist of hardboiled novels from 1929-1960. Again there is nothing like this anywhere else. You'll encounter names you've never heard of as well as the paperback staples of the various eras. I was so taken with the checklist I once called O'Brien and asked him if he'd let me reprint it in a coffee table book I was editing on noir. He didn't bother to hide his irritation. His checklist, he said, was one of the selling points of the his book. Why would he let me reprint it? He was right of course. But what the hell, it was worth a try.
If you don't have this book in your collection then you don't have a serious collection. Period. O'Brien is a savvy and witty writer and his words are complemented by a healthy number of black and white paperback cover reproductions. Get this book
Claire2E (Women of Mystery)
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Pam Anderson reading.
How many women of my years wake up thinking about zombies. I bet the number is pretty small--but larger now that they are showing up frequently at the multiplex and in novels.
This is my question. Why don't zombies have any distinct personalities? Why do they have to be a faceless hoard? Some of our vampires seem to have more personality than the real people in their stories. They dress well and are generally handsome, if pale. But give me an example of one attractive, personable zombie. I can't think of one. Is it set down in a rulebook somewhere? Werewolves get a better rap than zombies too. So do ghosts.
Who decided zombies should be consigned to such a fate? If I have missed a movie or story where zombies get to be real players, fill me in.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
It is quite clear to me after four of these things that I am not of the Bouchercon ilk. Instead of chatting up the many people I hoped to meet (too numerous to mention but I eyed Neil Smith, Bill Crider, and Victor Gischler longingly several times) I did the tourist thing.
Heck, I don't care about meeting Laurie King or Michael Connelly. I want the guys/gals I meet on blogland.
I went to the symphony, the Benjamin Harrison house (longest tour ever and I am determined to write a collection of docent stories someday), the art museum, toured the historic district and saw "Where the Wild Things Are."
There is a long list of people I'd hoped to meet and I struck out completely. My fault entirely. Calls from Megan saying why didn't I come over and meet.....Well, it was a damn long walk and who hangs around that long.
But this is not the true Bouchercon experience. I fall somewhere between fangirl and writer and the spot on that continuum is not a comfortable one.
Back to my Bouchercon. Missed the first twenty minutes of WTWTA though because the ticket seller thought we wanted to see Zombieland and sent us the wrong way. (Already saw it).
So my version of that movie will always begin with Max sailing out to sea. Never mind his family problems or their relationship to the creatures he meets. My version has no resonance beyond what actually happens on the island where he lands. Loved it although I spent too much time wondering whose voice that was. To me, it was about the problems of being a king-or the heaviness of the mantle of leadership. Missing that first bit obviously skewered my perception. Okay maybe it is about motherhood too. The creatures needed a mother more than a king.
Did meet Kieran Shea (thanks for seeking me out). And dined with George Kelley and his wonderful wife, Diane. Lunched with Megan. Looked in vain for Phoenix Noir--why no booth for them or Hard Case Crime?
I gues it is too hard for me to walk up to people and say hi. So HI to all the people I hoped to meet but didn't. I am sorry to have missed you... for the fourth time.
Monday, October 19, 2009
DETROIT, Michigan — Three men died within 16 minutes of each other while running a marathon in Detroit, officials said.
Temperatures were cool and emergency personnel stationed throughout the course were able to reach all three men seconds after they collapsed on Sunday morning, race officials said.
The first man to collapse was Daniel Langdon, 36, who fell at about 9:02 am (1302 GMT) between the 11- and 12-mile markers.
Rick Brown, 65, collapsed in the same area at 9:17 am (1317 GMT). A minute later, Jon Fenlon, 26, collapsed just after finishing the half-marathon in 1:53:37.
It was not clear whether Langdon and Brown were competing in the full or half marathon.
Deaths at marathons are relatively rare, with various studies placing the risk at between one in 75,000 and one in 126,000 participants.
More than 19,000 people participated in the marathon sponsored by the Detroit Free Press and Flagstar bank.
"On a day when so many people bring such energy and challenge themselves to do their utmost, this news is very difficult to hear," Free Press editor and publisher Paul Anger said.
"Our deepest sympathies are with the families."
This is just too sad and macabre.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
I am finally facing the fact that summer is over. Damn! It never seemed like summer at all.
At the beginning of summer, I bought a floppy green hat to wear in the sun. Never wore it once.
What didn't you do this summer that you intended to do? I have a horribly long list but I'll settle on wearing that green hat.
THE SUMMING UP
Paul Bishop, The Bruiser, Jim Tulley
Marshall Browne, Who Killed Palomino Molero, Mario Vargas Llosa
Bill Crider, Murder, Harold Adams
Martin Edwards, The Jackals, Frederic Valmain
Randy Johnson. Marooned, Martin Caidin
George Kelley, Gideon's Day, John Creasey
B.V. Lawon, BOUCHERCON 1997-review
Donna Moore, The Corpse Who Moved Upstairs, Frank Gruber
Open Range, God's Little Acre, Erskine Caldwell
Scott Parker, Batman & Tarzan-Claws of the Cat Woman, Darkhorse Comics
Eric Peterson, I Want to Be Your Joey Ramone, Stephanie Kuehnert
Richard Prosch, Adventure, edited Chris Roberson
J.R. Big Lobo, Marshall McCoy & Leonard F. Meares
Rick Robinson, The Double Take, Roy Huggins
Kerrie Smith, Murder's Little Sister, Pamela Branch
R.T. The Minotaur, Barbara Vine
Jim Winter, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
Friday, October 16, 2009
Orson Wells reading.
The Summing Up will appear next week.
If any of this gets screwed up, I'll fix it on my return. If I have to pay $20 a day to use wireless internet, I won't.
The Rap Sheet
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Who was just nominated for a National Book Award. WSU Press (my alma mater, place of employment, and my husband is on the Press' board) just began publishing fiction a few years ago and what a triumph for the City of Detroit and a university that educates the children of that city.
American Salvage is a volume of short stories (yay!) that knocked me out when I read it. Talk about hard-boiled.
I went to Bonnie's reading last spring and she knocked me out, too. If you want to see why visit her website.
Or look at this picture. Three cheers for the little guy--even if she's not so little.
Kevin and Julie reading.
1 9 5 9-Top Ten Best Sellers
F I C T I O N
1. Exodus, Leon Uris
2. Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
3. Hawaii, James Michener
4. Advise and Consent, Allen Drury
5. Lady Chatterley's Lover, D. H. Lawrence
6. The Ugly American, William J. Lederer and Eugene L. Burdick
7. Dear and Glorious Physician, Taylor Caldwell
8. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
9. Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris, Paul Gallico
10. Poor No More, Robert Ruark
How many have you read? How many have you heard of? (5 read for me, but these books were still popular in the next decade when I was old enough to read them). Never heard of 10.
Notice, no crime fiction (unless 10 is). That would rarely be the case today. At least two of these are great works of fiction (IMHO). Are we producing any books as great as 5 & 8?
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Sean Connery reading. Elegant, no?
Okay, I am not a big talking book person. What's your favorite audiobook? I need something for a six-hour trip. Well, twelve if you include coming and going? Something that will really make the hours pass? I know from the past that the reader is half the allure.
Hey, want to read a copy of my SIL's book Hummingbirds. This blog is giving away five of them.
Monday, October 12, 2009
I don' t talk much about the older guy in this picture. Josh is a prosecutor in Macomb Country, Michigan. He works in the appellate division, trying to keep felons in jail. This week he was successful with the State Appellate Court in two cases.
Steven Grant's was a high-profile case. He killed and dismembered his wife, Tara, up, stuck her in a freezer in the garage, called the cops and reported her missing. With two children at his side, he was interviewed (tearfully) again and again. Finally he took off barefoot and was chased across the state, arrested, tried and sentenced to a very long term. His appeal was based on not being able to get a fair trial due to the publicity surrounding his case, publicity he was largely responsible for. (A book on this murder came out this week following one last January).
Josh's other case was a mother who stabbed her two young daughters to death, claiming voices told her to do this. She claimed these voices also told her to kill herself but said she had trouble doing this since she had used a knife to kill the two small children (plus the family pets). There were no wounds on her.
Sometimes it worries me that I have two children who spend their days thinking about murder.
But what's a mother to do. Congratulations to Josh for two cases well-prosecuted.
A few other My Town Monday posts can be found at Clair Dickson's blog here.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
On NPR, I listened to a woman who'd basically centered her life around the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder, even moving to the town where she lived on the Great Plains. I have met people like this in real life, people who are curators or docents at houses of famous people like the Alcotts or the Brontes, or those who make pilgrimages, write books about it, or collect memorabilia. A childhood passion becomes a lifelong one.
Are our childhood passions deeper than ones that come later? Why did I merely pass my passion for the books of Maude Hart Lovelace to my child rather than keep the flame going myself? Are their adult characters in adult books that hold as significant a place in our hearts as Harry Potter, Robin Hood, Thomas the Train, Nancy Drew, Tom Sawyer, The Little Mermaid, Anne Frank, Tarzan, Superman, Betsy, Tacy and Tib? What passions did you have and did they stick?
Saturday, October 10, 2009
We adults griped the whole way about what a shame it was that it was raining, that we couldn't see very well, that it was all outdoors on such a night. Our almost 3 year old didn't say much, just walked along in his Elvis costume (picked for its glittery guitar).
At the end of the 75 minute trek, as we headed for the gate, relieved to be almost in the car, he said, "Can we do it again?"
What was a chore for us was heaven for him. If only we had known it from the beginning? Sorry, Kev. We'll do better at the Zoo Boo in two weeks, rain or shine.
Friday, October 09, 2009
Next week, I will list the usual suspect with links as I will be out of town. If any of the usual suspects does not have a review, please alert me.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Dick Adler, The Cracked Earth, John Shannon
Victor J. Banis, Island Song, Alan Chin
Paul Bishop, The Mystery Box, Fredrick Highland
Bill Crider, Family Values, K.C. Constantine
Martin Edwards, Patterns in the Dust, Lesley Grant-Adamson
Ed Gorman, In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck
Randy Johnson, Ballroom of the Skies, John D. MacDonald
Lois Karlin, Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
George Kelley, The Other in the Mirror, Philip Jose Farmer
B.V. Lawson, Good Cop, Bad Cop, Barbara D'Amato
Steve Lewis/Bill Prozini, Stiffs Don't Vote, Geoffrey Homes
Todd Mason, Fatal Rendevous, Milo Manning
Donna Moore, Ashes by Now, Mark Timlin
Eric Peterson, Hicksville, Dylan Horrocks
Richard Prosch, Trail Town, Ernest Haycox
James Reasoner, The Hide Hunters, Lewis B. Patten
Rick Robinson, Trouble in Bugland, William Kotzwinkle
Kerrie Smith, Satan in St, Mary's, P.C. Doherty
Jay Stringer, The Walkaway, Scott Phillips
R.T. The Limehouse Text, Will Thomas
Jim Winter, Beyond the Beyond, Lee Goldberg
Dave Zeltserman, Mixed Blood, Roger Smith
Starting out with a new feature this week: recent books that were missed. This is a hard time to get noticed with the dearth of print reviews. So send me reviews of recent books that never appeared on the radar as well as old forgotten ones. Here's one Dave Zeltserman read recently.
Dave Zeltserman's book, PARIAH, is out October 1, a follow-up in theme to SMALL CRIMES. Next up, KILLER. You can find him here.
MIXED BLOOD by Roger Smith can’t be considered a forgotten book, not with the hardcover version coming out last March and the trade paperback version being published this December by Picador, but this sledge hammer of a Cape Town crime novel deserves to be discovered by a much larger audience.
What got me interested in Mixed Blood was Smith and I both had movie deals announced for our bank robberies gone bad books within days of each other, and I thought it would be interesting to see his take on it. This being Smith’s first novel, and it taking place in an area I knew nothing about (Cape Town, South Africa), I wasn’t too optimistic when I bought my copy. Less than a page into it I was hooked as I found it a riveting crime novel with this compulsory vibe to the writing, the style reminding me of both Elmore Leonard and Richard Stark.
Mixed Blood has a lot of moving parts with the plot involving an American, Jack Burn, on the run after participating in a bank robbery that ends badly. He has brought his family to Cape Town, South Africa and a seqeunce of events caused by a home invasion from a couple of gang members and a very corrupt and desperate cop, send Jack’s, his wife’s and son’s lives spiraling out of control.
This is a very violent book, but unlike a lot of today’s violent hardboiled books where the violence is over-the-top and has a cartoonish, smirky quality, here the violence is played realistically and in an unsentimental manner. This is powerful stuff, depicting Cape Town as a violent city where life is cheap and there exists little hope for the lives trapped there by poverty and prejudice. Mixed Blood moves at lightening speed towards its inevitable conclusion with Jack and his family doomed by his earlier actions. Without a doubt this is one of the best crime debuts I’ve read in years. The writing has such a mature quality to it that it’s nearly impossible to believe it’s a first book. I’ve since been able to read Smith’s next book, Wake Up Dead, which is out next year, and it’s even better. Readers who love hard hitting, realistic crime fiction—the type of stuff that Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake excelled at—need to discover this book, because Smith’s the real deal, and one of the most exciting new voices in crime fiction I’ve come across.
Victor J. Banis is the author of more than 160 published works in a career spanning nearly half a century. He has been called the "godfather of modern popular gay fiction" (Thomas Long, PhD). Learn more at http://www.vjbanis.com
By Alan Chin
Zumaya Boundless, 2008
When it was first suggested to me that I write something for this blog, my mind went quite awhirl. Crime, she suggested? Oh, the choices available. Who, today, other than the occasional scholar, has read James M. Cain's Serenade, though in many ways it is his best work? But the very field of crime novels (perhaps the most American of all literary genres) conjures up so many delicious possibilities, so many reads permeated by Chandler's "scent of fear." Hammet's The Glass Key, perhaps? Is that really his "least interesting work," as some have suggested, or, as others have described it, "his most accessible?"
But wait. Not necessarily a crime story, I was told, which opens a still wider door. What of Maugham's The Summing Up, surely an elegant (if, as it turned out, several years premature) coda to the remarkable life of a man who still today remains an enigma. Or Forster's Maurice, whose essence is the mystery of one's own nature, and truly remarkable for having been written in 1914, so far ahead of its day that it dared not be published until 1971?
In the end, though, and not without great mulling about, I chose what might be considered, length notwithstanding, a "small" book, one which has not been around long enough to be described as forgotten, though I do think it has been unjustly neglected. Nor is it quite a crime story, though there are crimes in it. Violent crimes, yes, but more significantly, in my opinion, crimes against love, which surely ought to be heinous enough for any reader.
Alan Chin's Island Song is, for want of a better description, a love story, but it is so outside the boundaries usually pertinent to that genre that I fear I am starting off on the wrong foot by labeling it so. It could also be described as a "gay novel," but I don't think that label is any more appropriate, either. It is a novel about love, but of many sorts and of many aspects, and some of that love occurs between two men, but this is truly not the thrust of the story, only one element of it.
The novel begins on an eerie metaphysical note. An ancient Hawaiian shaman, known to everyone only as "Grandfather," and his grandson, Songaree, come to a small island in the middle of the night to perform a mystical ceremony, summoning the ancient island Gods, Kane and Pele. "Bring forth the Speaker," the old man chants. "Bring forth the Speaker."
The story's focus shifts to Garret Davidson. Two years after the AIDS related death of his lover in San Francisco, Davidson comes to Hawaii to write a book about his lost love. He wants only to be alone in the beach shack he has rented, to stare out at the endless ocean and heal his wounded spirit.
He has rented the shack, however, from Grandfather, who sends Songoree to serve as Davidson's housekeeper and man-of-all trades. At first, a bitter Davidson resists Song's ministrations, but the old Kahuna has his own plans for these two and in time they become entwined in an extraordinary relationship, a relationship increasingly resented by Song's surfer friends. Violence follows, vicious and sudden, like the bite of a great white shark.
Island Song is not only about the love that gradually grows between Song and Davidson, however. There is as well a profound love between grandfather and grandson; the love that both of them have for their island traditions; the love of friends. Even the all-sacrificing love of a dog for his human partner. Most especially there is a love of nature, and of the mystical.
Wafting through it all, like the tropical breeze rustling the leaves of the palm trees, is the author's love for his idyllic island setting and for the interconnectedness that he sees lying beneath the surface of all existence: "All things begin within the density of silence."
Alan Chin has penned an uplifting read that transports one not only to Hawaii, but ultimately and far more importantly to the island that lies within, the island of the heart. What the author would have us understand is that it is on this island where the wounded and the unhappy—and isn't that at one time or another each of us—will find the healing, the peace, they seek. This is its song.
A beautiful book. The real crime here would be in not reading it.
Donna Moore lives in Glasgow. Her first book is GO TO HELENA HANDBASKET.
You can find her here.
ASHES BY NOW - Mark Timlin
Protagonist: Nick Sharman
First Lines: 'That morning, one not much different from any other, I let myself into my flat, kicked off my shoes and opened the fridge to find out what was left there in the way of alcohol.'
Private Investigator Nick Sharman is contacted by 'Sailor' Grant - a man Nick helped to put away for rape and murder twelve years before when he was a young, enthusiastic policeman. It's a case that has preyed on his mind since then. And now Sailor wants Nick to help him clear his name. Edgy, tough, hard-hitting and exciting - this was my first Mark Timlin novel but it definitely won't be my last.
Jay Stringer is a crime writer, blogger and lover of strawberry milkshakes. His debut novel is under submission, and you can find him at dosomedamage.com and jaystringer.com
THE WALKAWAY by Scott Phillips
THE WALKAWAY was literally a forgotten book for me. At least, it was until recently. I had it on my bookshelf, right next to THE ICE HARVEST which I’m a big fan of.
But something about the follow up stopped me from cracking it open. Maybe it was because it was about Gunther. Really? Of all the characters to follow up with?
He didn’t seem to have any pull for me, not compared to all the other characters that had been drawn so vividly in the first book. More fool me.
One of the strengths of Scott’s writing is that he can take that and make you feel foolish. He invests character into every part that he writes, no matter how small, so that there is something there to return to and draw you in. At this point, I couldn’t imagine the book without Gunther.
It’s a complex book to describe, but a very simple one to read. It spans two time periods, one in the 1950’s and one in the 1980’s. The former is a deliciously messed up slice of noir; it has pimps, addicts, sleaze and violence. It has a sex lottery, and a sociopathic soldier who wants apiece of the action. In the middle of this, Gunther Fahnstiel fins himself trying his best to stop everything going to hell.
The 1980’s builds on this story, but is a separate narrative. Gunther got very lucky at the end of THE ICE HARVEST, but that luck didn’t solve all his problems. The end of the decade finds him living in a care home, fighting a losing battle to keep his memory. Through all of that, though, he is still trying to put things right. He knows that he has something out there somewhere that will bring back his wife and help his friends. He just can’t remember what it is or where he left it.
I can’t think of many, if any, books that manage to combine so many dark noir elements with a real heart and tenderness. This has some real heart of darkness stuff, make no mistake, but it boils down to a very simple and moving love story.
It tends to get billed as both the sequel and the prequel to THE ICE HARVEST. And sure, it is both of those. But that doesn’t really do the book justice, it stands alone as one of the best crime novels of this decade or any other.
Ed Gorman is the author of THE MURDER ROOM and many other crime and western novels. You can find him here.
Ed Gorman, In Dubious Battle
It's bracing to remember, in this time when mega-corporations control our lives, to recall a time when people fought back against those who enslaved them.
In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck, a novel I prefer to the preachy and over-calculated Grapes of Wrath, is set in a tiny California town where apple pickers are angry at the growers' association for cutting wages by fifteen cents. The year is 1936 and the forces of the rich and powerful are at war with the powerless workers. Mac and Jim are the lead characters and it is Mac who takes Jim to a meeting of the Communist Party, which wants to convince the workers to strike. They are joined by Doc Burton, a medical man who keeps the worker camp clean so that the cops can't close the place down because of sanitation violations.
Steinbeck's passion can be found on every page, in every detail. The camp and its people are depicted realistically. Steinbeck is not writing a tract. Some of the workers are here just to make trouble; others are stalking horses for the Communists. Others for the growers' association. The poverty, the despair and above all the rage are palpable. As is the sorrow.
For me Jim is the most interesting character in the book because he changes over the course of his experiences. He begins to see that the concept of "the working man's friend" is a lie. The Communists exploit the workers just as the Capitalists do. Doc has his vision of how things should be; Mac believes in political movements; but Jim finds no comfort. The misery he has seen in his years seems a brutal and irrefutable fact of life.
Steinbeck was long ago judged as second-tier to his enemy Hemingway. I never quite knew why. Good as he was, Hemingway could not have painted on a canvas this large and done it with such grace and power. You'll never forget the people you meet here.