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

THE SUMMING UP, 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

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 30, 2009

Kerrie Smith reading.

Margot Kinberg is a mystery novelist and Associate Professor at National University, Carlsbad, California. She was born in Pennsylvania, where she graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She taught at the University of Delaware and Knox College, then moved to California where she lives with her husband, daughter and dogs.


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 Thatch
er 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, an
d 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 way
s, 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

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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
HenryKuttner wrote every kind of pulp fiction there was. He excelled at science fiction and fantasy. He also wrote three mysteries that I've
always enjoyed as well as
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.

Paul Bishop
Tom Cain
Bill Crider
Pete Dragovich
Martin Edwards
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Rob Kitchin
Steve Lewis/Mike Tooney
Todd Mason

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Who Would You Stand in Line to See?

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?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New Flash Fiction Challenge: Walmart, I Love You.

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

Even More Forgotten?

Dorte reading.

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?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Vampires, Zombies, Witches, Oh My

I know Todd Mason is going to dispute this, but I really believe we have become quite obsessed as a society with supernatural beings. Why?

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

THE SUMMING UP, 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

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 23, 2009

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 Washingt
on 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 acco
untants, 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.

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.

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 Paras
ites 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 boo
k 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-kn
own 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 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 becom
e 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 horrifyin
g 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.

Charlie Stella's new book, JOHNY PORNO, debuts in 2010. MAFIYA is out now. You can find him here.

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

Paul Bishop
Bill Crider

Martin Edwards

George Kelley

B.V. Lawson

Todd Mason
Eric Peterson
Richard Prosch
Randy Johnson

James Reasoner
Rick Robinson
Kerrie Smith
The Rap Sheet-Ed Lynksey

Cullen Gallagher
Steve Lewis
Jim Winter
Claire2E (Women of Mystery)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Zombies V. Vampires

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

My Bouchercon

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

MY TOWN MONDAY-Is it the air?

Three runners die in Detroit marathon-(from A.P.)

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

What You Didn't Do?

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, Friday, October 16, 2009

Ralph Richardson reading.


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

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cheers for WSU PRESS and Bonnie Jo Campbell

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.

Fifty Years Ago

Kevin and Julie reading.

1 9 5 9-Top Ten Best Sellers


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

What audio book should I read?

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.

Free Giveaway of HUMMINGBIRDS

Elizabeth reading.

Hey, want to read a copy of my SIL's book Hummingbirds. This blog is giving away five of them.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Stairs v. Escalators (Hat-tip to Monkey Cage)

MY TOWN MONDAY: Josh Abbott, Macomb County Prosecutor

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

Childhood Passions

A friend is looking for an online writing group, if you have any ideas about locating one, please comment. Thanks.

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


Last night, we wadded through the rain in Greenfield Village (recreation of historical homes village--I bet you have one in your area). It might have been lovely on a dry night with lighted pumpkins along the way, people dressed up like scarecrows and headless horseman, pumpkin, nursery rhyme characters, a few stations handing out candy (although not nearly enough for the price).

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.