Sunday, February 28, 2010

MY TOWN MONDAY-Detroit's Winter Blast 2007 "96 Tears"

Your worst habit (according to others)

My husband has the larger desktop computer. As soon as he scoots, I head into his room to take advantage of the larger screen. I leave myself little notes on his desk-stick-ems. They accumulate. He keeps buying me tablets to use for my notes, but still I grab those 2x3s to put book titles and such on. Now we can't remove the stick'ems from his desk entirely (already thought of that solution) since he uses them to mark off pages he's going to write about.

After a few days, and I swear they grow even if they're not fed, there are dozens. Fridays are especially bad--guess why.

Okay, what drives the person you live with crazy about you? Or vice-versa. (Phil never met a drawer that needed closing).

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Summing Up, Friday, February 26, 2010

The Summing Up, Friday, February, 26, 2010

Joe Barone, The Chinese Parrot, Earl Derr Biggers
Paul Bishop, Marked Man, Mel Stein
Bill Crider, If the Coffin Fits, Day Keene
Martin Edwards, Spells of Evil, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
Ray Foster, The Sentinel Stars, Louis Charbonneau
Leighton Gage, The Light of Day, Eric Ambler
Ed Gorman, The Inner Circle, Jonathan Fast
Jerry House, A Likeness to Voices, Mary Savage
Randy Johnson, Tales of Well Fargo, Frank Gruber
George Kelley, Preferred Risk, Edson McCann (Lester del Ray & Frederik Pohl)
Rob Kitchin, Old Flames, John Lawton
B.V. Lawson, Voice Out of Darkness, Ursula Reilly Curtis
Evan Lewis, Dead and Done For, Robert Reeves
Steve Lewis (Frances Nevins) The Campion Books, Margery Allingham
Brian Lindenmuth, Tapping the Source, Ken Nunn
Todd Mason, Rita Rudner: I STILL HAVE IT...I JUST CAN'T REMEMBER WHERE I PUT IT (2008) and Dick Gregory: FROM THE BACK OF THE BUS (1965)
Eric Peterson, The Zoot Marlowe Books, Mel Gilden
James Reasoner, Abu-The Dawn-Maker, Perley Poore Sheehan
Brian Ritt, The Gangland Sagas of Big Nose Serrano, Anatole Feldman
Rick Robinson, Sherlock Holmes by Gaslight, Philip A. Shreffler, editor
Kerrie Smith, The Case of the Chinese Boxes, Marele Day
Dave White, The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, Buster Olney

Friday's Forgotten Books, February 26, 2010

Michelle Williams reading.

YARDS by Anatole Feldman

Bio: Brian Ritt thanks Patti Abbott for posting his review on her blog.

&n bsp; ****************************

Serrano Of The Stockyards,
the first novel in The Gangland Sagas Of Big Nose Serrano, is Anatole Feldman’s blend of Edmond Rostand’s play, Cyrano de Bergerac, with the gangland pulp tales of
prohibition-era Chicago during the height of that city’s brutal and bloody gang wars.

In brief, Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is a masterful poet, wit, and swordsman. He is courageous and adheres to a strict code of honor. He also, to his shame, has a grotesquely enormous nose. Cyrano’s insecurity about his looks keeps him from declaring his love for Roxane, a beauty who is both intelligent and sincere. Baron Christian de Neuvillette is a handsome soldier who also loves Roxane, but who lacks the ability to articulate his feelings. Cyrano teams-up with Christian, and composes a series of poetic love letters to Roxane, allowing Christian to sign his name. The play is set agains t the background of the wars between France and Spain.

In Feldman‘s Serrano of the Stockyards, which first appeared in the pages of the pulp Gangster Stories, Cyrano becomes Big Nose Serrano, Roxane is now Annie (Will Murray, in his introduction, is rightfully stymied over how Feldman missed using the name “Roxy”), and Christian de Neuvillette sports the moniker Chris Webber. The battles between France and Spain are now the battles of the booze barons.


Here lies the remains of Bull La Rue
&nb sp; A lousy rat and yellow too.
He cracked too wise about my nose
So now he’s turning up his toes.
"The year is 1930, and after blasting his way into Chicago’s underworld only two years ago, Big Nose Serrano has already gained a legendary reputation." Rival gang bosses all want him on their side, but he is, “the lone wolf of gangdom, standing alone, shooting alone; asking help from no one but giving it frequently.” He has risen to power through a combination of “the might of his gun, courage, wits, and brawn.” But he has a peculiar quirk. Rather than blasting his enemies at first sight or planning an ambush, Serrano, “through some romantic and chivalrous distortion of his brain”, always issues a formal challenge before he fights his foe, and names the time and place they are to meet. A 1920’s gangland version of a duel, in other words.

As for Serrano’s protruding proboscis? His sniffer? His sneezer? His snout? His snoot? He is of two minds about it. At one point in the story, while looking in a mirror, he calls it, “A noble nose, a Roman nose, a nose so sacred that all men bow their heads and avert their eyes when it passes; a nose so ferocious that all men tremble when it is mentioned.” (Paging Dr. Freud!) But with his next breath: “God, you’re an ugly mutt, Serrano.”

Chris Webber is a young cannon looking to “crash the elite of Chicago’s underworld.” But he has two obstacles. One: Webber needs to distinguish himself from a large number of young, eager, and ruthless competition all vying for a spot in the top gangs. His second problem? The poor sap’s fallen in love. And love is “bad business when one is young and ambitious,” even though the jane he’s tumbled for is “the classiest, swankiest, most desirable bit of perfum
ed fluff that ever played a sap for a sucker or rammed a rod into a rat’s ear.” Her name is Annie.

Annie and Chris initially meet at the speakeasy of a gang boss named LeBrett. Annie likes Chris’s good looks and nerve, but for her to tumble for a guy, he’s got to have more: “He’s got to tell me things. Pretty things. He’s got to have a heart and a soul. He’s got to have more than the ability or guts to pull a gat and pump lead.”

Big Nose Serrano is also in love with Annie, but is too insecure about his looks to let his ardor be known.

Annie asks to privately meet with Serrano at LeBrett’s headquarters, whose mob he has recently joined. Annie confides in Serrano: she’s in love with Chris Webber. But she knows Chris is young and inexperienced and she asks Serrano a favor: keep an eye on Chris, befriend him, protect him. Serrano--downhearted that he is not the object of Annie’s affection, but remaining her loyal friend--agrees.

Serrano runs into Webber at a local speakeasy. He tells Webber of Annie’s love. She knows a local gang boss named Gilley is gunning for Chris and wants him to lay low, but wants him to write to her. Chris confides in Serrano. He has no gift of gab. He gets tangled up in words. Serrano’s proposes a solution: he’ll write the letters, Webber will sign his own name.

At the story’s climax, LeBrett’s gang (which now includes both Serrano and Webber) fight a hell-for-leather shooto ut with Gilley and his gang. Serrano and Webber both play central roles in the bullet barrage. One lives, one dies, and a confession is made.


According to Will Murray’s introduction, Anatole Feldman was an unsuccessful playwright during the early 1920’s. In 1929, Feldman started selling stories to two of the earliest gangster pulps, Underworld and The Dragnet Magazine. Feldman wrote twelve Big Nose Serrano “novels” (as the pulps typically called their feature stories, though they were really much closer to novelettes) over a five-year period. Serrano’s initial appearance, which I reviewed here, appeared in the May 1930 is sue of Gangster Stories. Serrano appeared in four more issues of that pulp, in three issues of Greater Gangster Stories, and his final appearance was in the May 1935 issue of The Gang Magazine. Off-Trails publication of THE GANGLAND SAGAS OF BIG NOSE SERRANO, VOL. 1 contains four novels.

Regarding Feldman’s writing, I had great fun reading his handling of 1920’s gangster slang. Also, the story really moved: windows crash, lead splatters, and gats bark (although they don’t sneeze or cough, like the roscoes of my favorite pulp character, Dan Turner). In other words, fast-paced action an
d tough-talking dialogue aplenty.

Serrano's hardboiled verses were always amusing. When I flipped through the other three stories in the volume, I found that Feldman scaled back on the verse for stories two and three, but then not only increased the amount for the fourth story, but also adde d a parenthetical note at the end of each verse, such as: From The Complete Works of Serrano, From the Precepts of Serrano, From the Rubaiyat of Serrano, From The Unexpurgated Edition of The Sonnets of Serrano, etc. The other three novels in Vol. 1 are The Gang Buster, The Gunless Gunman, and Dames, Dice, and the Devil.

Will Murray’s introduction notes that in later stories, Serrano evolves into more of a Robin Hood-type character, helping the depression-era poor and fighting political corruption. In “Stockyards”, Serrano is definitely a larger-than-life, invulnerable super-gangster. I see him as a pre-pre-precursor to the men’s action-adventure characters of the 1970’s like The Executioner, The Butcher, The Death Merchant, etc.

My only major disappointment was that I didn’t get to see a rendering of Serrano’s stupendous schnozzola. The cover speaks for it self, and the facsimile illustrations from the original story shows Serrano’s nose with only a slight bump near the bridge. I would have preferred either no illustrations, leaving the look of his nose completely to my imagination, or at least a good old college try at drawing the profound pickle-puss.

Overall rating: five sneezes.

Ed Gorman is the author of TICKET TO RIDE and assorted other fabulous novels and stories. You can find him here.

The Inner Circle by Jonathan Fast

This novel came along shortly after the books of Stephen King launched the horror boom. If its storyline owes anything to a classic horror writer it's Robert Bloch. A) Because it concerns a diabolical plot that spans most of the last century and B) Because it's steeped in Holywood lore, this time circa 1979.

Louis Pinkle is a Los Angeles magazine writer who is peddling a screenplay every chance he gets. When his old friend and mega TV star Tony Valenti shows up at his apartment one night pleading to stay and insisting that somebody is trying to kill him, Pinkle manages to ease him out the door. Pinkle wakes up to read in the paper of his wealthy friend's death in an automobile accident. He of course believes that it was no accident at all.

Why I've enjoyed reading this book several times since its publication is not so much the plot, which works very well, but rather its grace notes, its rich human observations and the way Fast makes loopy LA architecture a real part of the story.

"There's a malady I call Dr. Chauvinism that everybody suffers from: my Dentist is The Best Dentist in New York City; the surgeon who did my uncle Murray's surgery is the best Surgeon on the East Coast..."

"I was going through a dry spell at the time, six or seven months without a woman. Celibacy in the East isn't isn't so bad, but out here in the West where the sun superheats your skin and the women walk around half or three-quarters naked, and every
billboard displays vast vistas of flawless flesh, it's worse."

"Once he said to me, `Kitty, are you scared of dying?' And I said, `Yes, I suppose I am. I've never thought about it much.' And he said, `Kitty, that's why I write so much. I think if I leave enough paper with my name on it, people will have to remember me after I'm dead.'"

Then there's a beautifully done scene when a detective visits the badly beaten Pinkle in the hospital. Now there are a lot of ways to write this scene but I've never read one like this before.

"I'll make this as brief as possible, Mr. Pinkle."

Asks him name, birth date, profession. After profession, cop says: "What do you think of Saul Bellow?"


"What's your opinion of his work?"

"I...I like it."

"But don't you think the Nobel prize should have gone to Graham Greene?"

"Maybe." His voice became animated and he began to gesture with his hands, enormous hands with black hairs on the back.

"What I mean is, Bellow is basically a photographer like Roth and many of the other modern Jewish writers. His prose is marvelously descriptive, but does he have anything to say?"

"I don't know. Does he?"

(Turns out the cop is in a writing class and offers to "share" his short stories with Pinkle.)

I was laughing out loud when I read this because when we were in a clinic one day waiting for the results of a test a doc came in with said results but decided that since I'd written writer for my occupation we'd do a little book chatting first. Carol finally said: "How did the test come out?"

I just like this book. I like the voice and I like the slant on life and I like the people. Fast wrote a number of science fiction novels in addition to this and then gave up fiction for teaching. Our loss. He had the touch.

Jerry House lives in Southern Maryland. He can be reached at


Stanley Withers is an insignificant adman about to lose his third job within five years. Rasputin is a cat who has gone through some 2000 life cycles and is currently enjoying the easy life; he had been sent by a local coven to help Stanley get his last job. Neither realizes that Jessica, Stanley's preternaturally ageless wife, is a witch. But, then again, Jessica doesn't realize that Rasputin is a familiar. Jessica herself has been living under the radar of the local coven. It gets confusing.

Jessica calls on her Aunt Persy, one of the most powerful witches that ever existed, to come and help her husband. This sets in motion a struggle between witches with Jessica's 14 year old son as the prize. To complicate things (from the cat's point of view) is that Rasputin's body dies early in the book.

I don't know what to make of this book. At times it reads like when Bell, Book and Candle goes bad; at other times it reminds me of a mash-up of Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife and an alternate reality Thorne Smith; one reviewer evoked the name of Shirley Jackson. I enjoyed the book, especially the sections narrated by Rasputin, but did not know which side I was supposed to root for. That, I suppose, was the point as the book came to a happy (?) but morally ambiguous and disturbing ending. Recommended.

A Likeness to Voices by Mary Savage, Torquil, 1963, cover design by Si Coleman. Dell, 1965, cover design by Rocco Negro. (The Dell edition cover blurb calls it "a supernatural Peyton Place", not really.) Savage is evidently a pseudonym for Mary Dekker. This was her third novel; a fourth, The Coach Draws Near (1969), also sounds interesting.

Joe Barone
Paul Bishop
Bill Crider
Martin Edwards
Ray Foster
Leighton Gage
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Rob Kitchin
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis (Frances Nevins)
Brian Lindenmuth
Todd Mason
Eric Peterson
James Reasoner
Rick Robinson
Kerrie Smith
Dave White

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Come Talk About the Best Movies with me at Crimespree Cinema

It's right here. What films should have/have not won?

Kevin story of the day. We are discussing herbivores v. carnivores. Going through fish, animals, dinosaurs. He is getting most (or some) of them right. He's only three after all. He likes them to be herbivores, of course.

"Fish are our friends not our food." (sacred text of Finding Nemo)

Then he brings up sheep, so I say, "what do you think sheep eat, Kevin?"

With very little pause. "I think sheep eat samwiches."

What Show Do You Miss Most Now That It's Gone

Books instead of readers for a bit.

James Reasoner mentioned a movie with John Corbett on his blog last week, and it reminded me of how much I enjoyed Northern Exposure in its day. Quirky (okay sometimes too quirky), different setting, varied plots, arcs but not ones that shut you out if you missed a week. Men and women of different ages and different economic means.

What show do you miss?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Shame on voters in Troy, Michigan.

Allow me one rant--first in a long time-- although I promised myself to resist political posting. I just need to get this off my chest. I reserve the right to remove this post should I need to.

The city of Troy, Michigan will close its library, nature center, community center and museum and lay off 47 police officers after voters rejected a tax hike yesterday. This is not an isolated case, of course. Not even in southeastern Michigan.

Shame on the people who led this anti-tax charge. Don't they understand with property values falling, local governments have to raise money somehow? Institutions like those cut in Troy are important to society. We are already stripping the schools of every enhancement activity. And now comes community institutions. Soon those who can afford it will send their children to private schools in greater numbers and our great public school system will be just for the poor and be treated as such. Anti-tax people have wreaked havoc with Michigan over the last thirty years but see themselves as heroic somehow. Our property taxes fell by about $600 this year. I'd much rather pay that $600 than lose a library or park or cops. If someone is unemployed, of course, their situation is different and possibly they need exemptions.

I'd like to believe that a single altruistic or public-minded or progressive intention was involved in the tax revolt in Troy, but I can only see these people as selfish, irresponsible, arrogant and short-sighted. Who will want to live in Troy, Michigan without a library or enough cops? So the housing values in Troy will drop further--their children will suffer for it.

Troy used to be a progressive city. People in Troy, Michigan are not poor by any stretch of the imagination. They can support these institutions by paying what they've been paying in taxes. But they won't. A city without a library is a pretty arid place. Troy is home to 81,000 people--who have no cultural life now--unless they go to some other city who values such things. Troy, the very name Troy connotes culture. But not in Michigan, I guess.

Books in 1990

Here's a site that might point you toward some new blogs that discuss crime fiction if you don't already know about them (and spend enough time reading them).

I read 60 books in 1990. I was taking classes and working so the number wasn't great.I have to say, I don't remember at least half of them. Movies seem to leave more of an impression with me. Or maybe I see the movies a second time.

The ones I put a star next t
o include: SOME CAN WHISTLE, (McMurtry), JULIAN'S HOUSE (Judith Hawkes), NICE WORK (David Lodge), ENEMIES, A LOVE STORY (Singer) still don't remember it much, CLEAR PICTURES, (Reynold Price), PICTURING WILL, (Ann Beattie), AFFLICTION, (Russell Banks), CONTINENTAL DRIFT, (Russell Banks), WILDLIFE, (Richard Ford), BECAUSE IT WAS BITTER AND BECAUSE IT WAS MY HEART (Oates), THE EXPENDABLES (Antonya Nelson), A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD, Michael Cunningham.

There is a list of crime/genre fiction including books by Ruth Rendell (GOING WRONG), Aaron Elkins (ICY CLUTCHES), BURDEN OF PROOF (Scott Turow), NEMESIS (Oates), SLEEP AND HIS BROTHER (Peter Dickinson), DARK HALF (Stephen King), Elizabeth George (WELL-SCHOOLED IN MURDER.
I see now why I haven't read the number of books some of you have. I WAS READING LITERARY FICTION. If I go ten years earlier, there are twice as many crime as lit-ten years later the same. What was I thinking in 1990? My kids were in college. Maybe I was trying to keep up with them.

Was there a time when you passed up genre fiction for literary stuff?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Here, There and Everywhere

I was changing the POV in a WIP yesterday from third to first and after I finished, I decided I'd probably missed dozens so I used the edit feature that allows you to search out words. I searched for "her "and "she" to change them to "my" and "I."

Inadvertently, I noticed I had a preponderance of "here" and "there" in the ms. as it picked up the "her" in both of those words.

Most of the "here" and "there" were unnecessary. I got rid of dozens. I'd never noticed this before. How we locate something with these words too often. "Come over here" instead of "Come over."

It was an interesting exercise in many ways because I noticed repetitions of other words too. In a longer piece like this, the over-usage was hidden.

What mistakes do you find yourself making as writers as you edit? Or what mistakes do you find as readers in other people's work. Too few commas, too many. Not enough help in attributing dialogue? Too much. There are many ways to go wrong. Using the passive voice too often.

In a book I recently read, the protagonist was constantly driving around. Maybe he did, but it got boring reading about it. Another problem-too much nodding and shrugging. Characters need to move but it has to be more interesting.

Count how many times a character nods. Way too much in my case.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Good Government

People are often critical of government. Compare two recent activities: trying to get seats on a plane and filing for social security.

After Internet attempts and telephone calls aplenty, I still have no seats on an upcoming plane trip. This has happened repeatedly over the last few years. You hit a snag and there is no real person to discuss it with. The airlines are insistent that you figuring it out yourself. I've had similar problems with Comcast, Amazon, etc. I finally just gave up on the money Amazon owed me for returned goods. If my time has any value at all, I had to or go nuts.

Two weeks ago, I filed a short form online to begin receiving Social Security benefits. It took me ten minutes. Yesterday I got a call from a very polite woman, checking to see if there was an error in my having reported no income in 1997 (I didn't work that year). She asked me if I was sure I want to start collecting early. I said yes. She said she was processing my request and the first check would come within a few weeks.

The government was able to take care of a complex procedure in a total of 15 minutes. They were polite and thanked me for my time. I didn't speak with someone in India. I didn't have to follow a million prompts. No one insinuated I was dumb.

Government can work well. I don't want to debate that this may not always be the case. But sometimes it is. And I wanted to say it. Thanks, USA.


It's not difficult to find a play to attend in Detroit. We have quite a few professional theaters-showing Broadway imports as well as local productions. There are theaters at most of the colleges. We also have many local community groups. Saturday night I was lucky enough to see the Rosedale Community Players put on a version of TWELVE ANGRY MEN that would do any acting group proud.

They staged it a little Lutheran Church, with music supplied by the church's minister. Dinner was served and a sterling production followed. The production was followed by a very interesting discussion of both the play and how the production came together. Actors discussed how they found the moment when their character went from voting guilty to not guilty. How they came to believe in their character's conversion. It was just a lot of fun. Most of the actors had been part of the group for many years, playing many parts. I doubt that I got more out of the movie with Henry Fonda and other fine actors of that era.

Do you support community theater in your hometown? You might be surprised at how good it is. I sure was.

Your Favorite Gambling Movie/Novel

Grandson story first. Kevin is three. We were in Panera's on Thursday and as we got ready to leave, he said, "Are you my conscience?" I was taken aback--that he knew the word, that he could even say the word, but finally said, "I don't think I can be your conscience, Kevin." I started to launch into a more philosophical response but from behind me, I heard someone say. "Psss. Maam, it's a line from the movie, FINDING NEMO." I turned around to find two twenty-somethings laughing.

Ed Gorman was talking about LUCKY AT CARDS, a Hardcase Crime book and SMART MONEY, an old movie from 1931 the other day. Both works were about gambling. What's your favorite work that features gambling?

THE GAMBLER. James Caan gave his best performance in that one, I think. How about you? LOST IN AMERICA was a good comic look at gambling and my favorite Albert Brooks movie.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Funny or Not Funny

I saw the animated short featuring Wallace and Gromit last weekend and I laughed once in thirty minutes. I just don't find their routines funny although some British humour, I find very funny indeed (Absolutely Fabulous, The Office) etc. I can even laugh along with Mr. Bean on a generous day. British humour got funnier after I lived there and could get some of the references and understand some of the regional accents.

As discussed elsewhere this week though, humor is very subjective. Do you find Wallace and Gromit funny? The audience I was with did and I felt like I had missed something.

Whose humor puzzles you and whose do you immediately get? In books, Charles Willeford's Hoke Mosley books knock me out. No one was funnier to me than Richard Pryor in the seventies; Bob Newhart and Bill Cosby in the sixties, Jean Shephard anytime. What about you?

Friday, February 19, 2010

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, February 12, 19, 2010

Two week worth of books here and as usual I am truly humbled by the number of authors, let alone books, I have not read.
Rob Kitchin has set out on a mission to read the books commenters on his blog voted as essential reading-this is the first review.
Thanks to Fred for his thoughtful essay on Hammett and his times.

I am going to take a week off in March-the 19th.

All of the books--two years worth-- are still listed here.
Don't forget Scott Parker's Forgotten Music project begins next week.

THE SUMMING UP, February 12, 2010

James Benn, No Orchids for Miss Blandish, James Hadley Chase
Paul Bishop, Casting in Dead Water, David Leitz
Bill Crider, A Bullet for Cinderella, John D. MacDonald
Ray Foster, Rawhide, Franc C. Robertson
Ed Gorman, Resurrection Row, Anne Perry
Randy Johnson, Murder in the Guroom, H. Beam Piper
George Kelley, The Three Roads, Ross MacDonald
Steve Langton, Final Cut: Dreams & Disasters in the Making of Heaven's Gate, Steven Bach
Chris La Tray, The Call of the Wild, Jack London
Evan Lewis, Fast One, Paul Cain
Steve Lewis: Curt J. Evans, Trial by Jury, Craig Rice
Calum MacLeod, The Most Dangerous Game, Gavin Lyall
Todd Mason, Paper and Ink Fiction Magazines
Scott Parker, The League of Frightened Men, Rex Stout
Eric Peterson, The Strange Case of Edward Gorey, Alexander Theroux
James Reasoner, Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
Rick Robinson, Star Surgeon, James White
Kerrie Smith, The Long Way to Die, James N. Frey

Friday, February 19, 2010

Eric Beetner, The Real Cool Killers, Chester Himes
Paul Bishop, Pay the Devil, Jack Higgins
David Cranmer, Ava Gardner: Love is Nothing, Lee Server
Bill Crider, To Kiss or Kill, Day Keene
Mike Dennis, The Gambler, William Krasner
Brian Drake, The Black Mask Boys, ed. William Nolan
Martin Edwards, Double Blackmail, GDH and M Cole
Ray Foster, Andersonville, MacKinley Kantor
Ed Gorman, The Beats by Seymour Krim
George Kelley, The Grifters, Jim Thompson
Rob Kitchin, The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
Randy Johnson, Primary Target, Max Allan Collins
Chris La Tray, The Island of Dr. Moreau, H.G. Wells
Evan Lewis, Not Too Narrow-Not Too Deep, Richard Sale
Steve Lewis Thomas Baird, Forfeit, Dick Francis
Todd Mason, The Book of Sand, Jorge Luis Borges. The Castle of Crossed Destinies, Italo Calvino
Karen Olsen, Alley Kat Blues, Karen Kijewski
James Reasoner, The Buntline Special, Lou Cameron
Rick Robinson, The Case of the Vanishing Beauty, Richard Prather
Kerrie Smith, Rumpole for the Defence, John Mortimer
R.T. Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters, Lellenberg, Stashower, and Foley
Fred Zackel, Dashiell Hammett

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, February 19, 2010

This should have gone up last week, but it came to me after I left town.

Fred Zackel is the author of COCAINE AND BLUE EYES and other fine stories.

Happy Valentine's Day, folks.

Yes, February 14th is Valentine's Day.

Dashiell Hammett's novel "The Maltese Falcon" was published on February
14th, 1930. Saint Valentine's Day. Exactly one year to the day after the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago. A great day to be a gangster, eh? Unless you're on the wrong side
of the gun.

But, hey, let's look at Dash Hammett when he was writing The Falcon and the
world he was living in. He is young and attractive. He is in his Dangerous Thirties. A redhead
like the young Mark Twain. Living in San Francisco. How cool!

But let me put you in his shoes, okay?How would you kill time waiting to die?
I'm talking about you being so infected with tuberculosis that your spouse and your kids cannot live with you because you could infect them on your way to the grave. And the Government is who's telling you that your wife and kids cannot live with you.

You are a hundred percent disabled. And you can contaminate and thus kill those you love the most. Everybody KNOWS you are dying. Oh, but it is a hot time to be alive. You live in the hottest, most sophisticated city in the United States. A city just back from the dead.

Twenty years earlier the Great Earthquake & Fire -- aka The Really Really Big One -- had done a Katrina on your city. Your city was destroyed, maybe more thoroughly than N'Orleans was.

San Francisco fought back and rebuilt itself. In many ways, the Crookedest City in the USA cut some corners, took some shortcuts, broke a lot of laws, did many unethical and immoral business stunts, fiddled with the books behind its back, and rose like a phoenix from its own flames. Within 20 years of the disaster, too.

Now, when Hammett lives in San Francisco, the City is even better, bigger, richer, and prettier than before the Really Big One. Everybody in America is rolling in dough. Everybody has got mucho money. The economy is Roaring. The Stock Market is Roaring. And you get in on it
with next to nothing, pal, for just ten cents on the dollar.

You're a Fool if you don't invest. Gamble all you got and get rich quick, pal. Hey, everybody's doing it. Hey, so far the sub prime problems we have today have not led to the Great
Depression, right? So we are chump change to the $ of the 1920s.

Go for a walk in your city. For the first time in history, half the population of America lives in cities. Automobiles everywhere. Prohibition is Roaring. Making every red-blood American a hypocrite. The Feds say making or selling alcohol is a felony. Buying or possessing
alcohol is not a crime. Prohibition was our nation's one shot at being Moral. Prohibition gave us
speakeasies, Al Capone and the Mob, drive-by shootings, Tommy guns, bathtub
gin, and you know the rest.

Oh, and the White House and Congress are crooked as hell, too. Who would ever have thunk it that members of the President's Own Cabinet were selling America's stored-for-emergency strategic oil supplies to big corporations? The Teapot Dome Scandal was what America called it. And folks on the street couldn't stop talking about it.

Back then, the Attorney General for the USA had to resign because he accepted bribes. America's Top Cop was a Crook!? Wow, what a role model. And the Secretary of the Interior was also accepting bribes, and he ended up going to prison, the first member of the Cabinet ever to go to jail! And other members of the Administration got convicted and sent to jail, too.
And some government guys, rather to go to jail, committed suicide.

Uncle Sam was crooked!? Say it isn't so, Joe. (Remember that slogan, folks.) But then, the unimaginable happened. The President died. In office. But not in Washington, D.C. President Warren G. Harding, from Ohio (yep) is generally rated one of the worst presidents America ever had. As a husband, Harding disowned by his father-in-law, who was so disgusted that he wouldn't talk to his daughter or her spouse for the first eight years.

As a US Senator, Harding missed two-thirds of all his roll calls, even missing the chance to vote on legislation he proposed. He was a shameless opportunist, a real political animal, if I'm not being oxymoronic. At times he publicly opposed legislation that privately he supported, because
publicly opposing it was good politics. He thrived in the smoke-filled back rooms.

Harding himself said he was at his best when he was "bloviating," which is shooting the sh--, ah, chitchatting with his buddies over his livelong and weekly poker games.

Oh, and him and his cronies were known as The Ohio Gang.

Privately, when discussing the Teapot Dome scandal, Harding complained about "My God-dammed friends!" Harding was very handsome and very charming, and the ladies liked him. He got nominated and then elected president because, as everybody said, "he looked like a president." Really, that's what they said. In the first national election that women could vote in.

The whisperers also said he cheated shamelessly on his wife. Why, there were claims that the President of the United States had illicit sex with another woman in the White House. They said he had sex with the woman in a closet while the Secret Service guarded the closed door in case his wife chanced to come by.

The President of the United States having illicit sexual relations in the
White House? Oh, I am shocked, shocked! It's unimaginable, right?Harding, who had just been visiting up in Alaska, being the first president who ever visited the future state, had received a really long secret message that "shocked him" to the core about the Teapot Dome scandal.

Harding and his entourage tried rushing back to Washington. Staying overnight in San Francisco, the President . took ill. Food poisoning? (I dunno.) Which became pneumonia. Which might have led to a heart attack, or maybe a stroke. The President died in a luxurious hotel, the Palace, in downtown San Francisco. A half-dozen blocks downhill from the apartment building where
Dashiell Hammett would be living alone, unemployable, waiting to die from tuberculosis.

And under their breath, every American back then is whispering how Somebody -- god knows who -- but Somebody assassinated the President of the United States to cover up how high the Scandal goes. Yep. That the President of the United States was poisoned. To cover up more heinous crimes, the whisperers said. The history books claim that Harding died of natural causes while staying in the Palace Hotel in San Francisco on August 2, 1923.

And I suppose Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. (He did. But nobody believes it, right?)

On the other hand, the US Surgeon General was part of Harding's entourage, and he never examined the body. Or if he did, he never commented publicly on what he examined.

Even more suspicious, the President's wife Florence refused to permit an autopsy.
Yep, no autopsy on the dead President. Couldn't happen now, of course, but this was back in the Roaring Twenties.

Some gossips are bold enough to whisper that Harding got poisoned by his own wife. She acted real strange when he lay in state. She spent an hour along with the corpse; folks said she whispered, well . . . There are differing versions of what she said.

And Dash Hammett, you live a few blocks away from where the President died. Your wife and daughters cannot live with you. You and your family are allowed only occasional visits.

Sometimes you leave your apartment. Gotta get a loaf of bread or a bottle of rye. And the women you see around you on the streets of San Francisco have stopped looking or acting like your mom, or your sister, or your daughter, or the girl next door.

Women got short hair. They got short skirts. They smoke cigarettes in public. They drink bathtub gin out of the same glass you use. They stay out late at night. They don't take being docile no more. They are Independent. And they can do without you.

And you are in your Dangerous Twenties, good-looking and attractive, a disabled war vet living on the scraps that are falling off the table. A disabled war vet coughing up blood in your handkerchief. An ambulance driver, like Hemmingway and John Dos Passos, but. Of all the luck. You got sick before you saw combat. You caught that influenza that killed maybe 20 to 50 million people over an eighteen month period. The flu that actually ended The Great War. Oh, they called it an armistice, but soldiers on both sides were too sickly or dying to fight.
Yeah, the War to End All War ended because of soldiers dying of flu.

And you spent years in a veteran's hospital. Hell, you fell in love with the nurse who nursed you back to health. You two got married, had kids together. Her name is Josie, only you pronounce it Jose, and even though you will never live together, you will dedicate your third book "The Maltese Falcon" to her. You went off to war, found out it wasn't honorable or noble, just bloody and violent and absolutely senseless because you lived and the guy next to you
died and . . . You are Samuel Dashiell Hammett (May 27, 1894-January 10, 1961) and you are
killing time and waiting to die. Bored, lonely, frustrated, you start
writing detective stories.

Pulp fiction. Bad guys and good guys. Bad girls and good girls. Everybody's got a gun in his hand.
Kiss kiss bang bang. Fantasy writing, eh? Fantasy, as best-selling novelist Sue Grafton once said, is the Great Equalizer. She took up writing detective stories because only guys were having all the fun. She writes the best-selling alphabet series. You know, "B is for Burglar." "U is for Underwear."

Grafton was a Hollywood scriptwriter who could not get past the glass ceiling that the white men of Hollywood had erected. So she went around them. She now sells millions, yes, millions of copies of her California mysteries.

Fantasy is a way of getting through the day when life sucks. The Great Equalizer, eh?

Unlike some other writers in this pulp genre, Hammett could write from personal knowledge. He had been a real detective with the Pinkerton Agency. Of course he had been snitching on unions for big corporations, and what he had done has soured him on Big Business. But he had been a real detective. Once he investigated the theft of a ferris wheel. Steal a ferris wheel? Go
figure. Detective stories start with Catastrophe. Something has gone Terribly Wrong
in the world. "Say it isn't so, Joe."

Oh. Yeah. That phrase. That's what American kids were saying, after theydiscovered that The World Series was crooked. That gamblers had rigged the Series. That the Great American Heroes of the ballpark were criminals and bums.

No, I am not going to talk about Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds or the Patriots stealing signals from other teams. No cheap shots from me. Remember those guys coming out of the cornfields in the greatest baseball movie ever, "Field of Dreams?" Yeah, Shoeless Joe and his teammates threw the World Series. Maybe. But who really knows how far the crooked goes.

The Detective says, "I can fix it. I can solve it. I can bring Order back into the World. I can end the Chaos." Well, that's what the traditional detective could do.

But here on the edge of the Western Shore, a young good-looking guy writes
hour after hour to kill time while he waits to die. Poor and sickly and lonely, killing time and typing and waiting to die. It's the Roaring Twenties. Everybody but you is having the Time of their Lives. Twenty-three, skidoo! And all that jazz.

He writes pulp fiction at first. But he evolves and matures and starts writing stuff nobody has ever seen before. Hammett is in his mid-thirties when he finished "The Maltese Falcon." An
instant best-seller, it becomes a classic, if not THE CLASSIC DETECTIVE
NOVEL. Fame and fortune are his.

But the Falcon becomes much more. The novel is made into a movie three times. The second one features a very very young Bette Davis with peroxide blonde hair like Marilyn Monroe.

But that third film version directed by a rookie John Huston (go figure)
becomes one of the CLASSIC DETECTIVE FILMS. Ooops. More than that, the 1941 movie with Humphrey Bogart becomes one of the greatest movies ever made.

Go figure. But Hammett does not know this when he is writing alone in a San Francisco
apartment. Over a four or five year period, he wrote five novels that
changed the face of American fiction.

Red Harvest.
The Dain Curse.
The Maltese Falcon.
The Glass Key.
The Thin Man.

And success came. At the Great Depression starts, Hammett is rolling in dough. He is Hollywood's Darling. Fame and fortune are his buddies. He becomes internationally famous.

But fame and fortune change him. By the time he turns forty, Dashiell Hammett has finished his writing career. He lives almost another thirty years, but the writing has disappeared.

For the rest of his life, Hammett lives off and on the dissolute life. Too much booze. Pissing away all the money he gets. Gambling the rest of his days. Involved with left-wing politics, marginal politics. Going to prison for his beliefs.

But there is the Other Side of the Story, too. Like Hammett enlisting in the Army FOR THE SECOND TIME when he was too old, because he was at heart still a patriot.

Yeah. Hammett fought in both World Wars.

Would you pull strings to enlist in the second war when you are a disabled vet and it was the first war that slapped a permanent but undated death certificate in your hand? Guess what.

Once again Hammett came out of the war sick enough to die any day now, this
time with emphysema. Hey, buddy, first you go off to the first world war, you never see combat,
but you get TB. Then you go off to the next world war a couple dozen years later, again you don't see combat, you get sent to the Aleutian Islands off Alaska in the freaking winter, and this time you get emphysema. Sheesh.

Hey, buddy, you got to stop going off to war. War is killing you, pal. First TB and then emphysema? Whew. Bad luck for a chain-smoker. Later on, at the end of his days, he would get diagnosed with lung cancer and be dead in two months. And get a hero's burial in Arlington National Cemetery, on the other side of the hill from where President John Kennedy is

Well, folks, go look inside the Falcon now. Look for the fingerprints of a guy in his mid-thirties killing time while he's waiting to die. Look at how the sentences are constructed.

"Samuel Spade's jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more
flexible v of his mouth..."

Sam Spade lives on the margins of San Francisco society. He lives in an efficiency apartment. His bed folds down out of the wall. He has no car. No family. No one to love. He carries no gun.

Look at his face on the very first page: A yellow that is sickly. One wonders if Hammett got this image from a mirror in his apartment. And then Corruption knocks on his door.

One more thing: Check out the Flitcraft Parable. How come it is there, eh?

Good luck & best wishes.

And enjoy. After all, you never read it before, right?

Ed Gorman is the author of A TICKET TO RIDE, THE MIDNIGHT ROOM and a recent book of short stories, THE END OF IT ALL. You can find him here.

The Beats by Seymour Krim

To me Seymour Krim was one of the most interesting figures in the rise
of Beat culture. He was more of a traditional literary man than a Beat
and was thus able to be bridge between the followers of Jack Kerouac
and the skeptics who disdained them he was birthing even. He had an
understanding of both sides.

For those not around at the time the hatred of Beats turned into a
literary lynch mob. Here's the father of neo-conism, Norman Podhoretz,
vile and ugly as always to anybody who doesn't share his fascist
leanings: "(Beatism is for the crippled of soul...young men who can't
think straight and hate anyone who can.") Norman Mailer took exception
to Podhoretz one night in a debate in Brooklyn and ripped into him,
exposing him for creep he was. It was rumored that Mailer was sober
when this happened.

But Podhortez wasn't alone. The Beats were decried by most
"respectable" (i.e. mainstream and dull) critics who were defending the
kind of literature that was putting everybody to sleep.

Into the breach came Seymour Krim, a passionate and powerful cultural
reporter who, among other things, turned his terrible mental breakdown
in the fifties into true literature. With the late Knox Burger as his
editor at Gold Medal Krim edited The Beats, one of the two or three
best books ever assembled about the Beats as both serious writers and
cultural phenoms.

How's this for a list of names from that time: Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg,
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, William Burroughs, Hubert Selby,
Jr., Anatole Broyard and (yes) Norman Podhoretz's rant "The Know-
Bohemians." And many more--a heady brew of fiction and non-fiction
alike. There's even a piece from Krim's own much longer piece on his
breakdown "The Insanity Bit." The excerpt from Mailer's "The Deer Park"
is riveting and demonstrates that the novel was unjustly trashed in
its time (Mailer famously took out an ad in the Village Voice
reprinting the worst of the reviews: "Total trash. Belongs in the
garbage can." Etc.)

This is a serious book and a great read, covering everything from the
subject of beat New Orleans of the time to the pleasures and perils of
hitch-hiking. The cover is a black and white photo depicting an Allen
Ginsberg look-alike sitting across from a very fetching young woman
everybody wanted to know a lot more about.

He had a terrible breakdown and ended up in a psych hospital. His
writing illuminated both his soul and his era. And being a traditional
literary man he took work where he could find it,

Eric Beetner
Paul Bishop
David Cranmer
Bill Crider
Mike Dennis
Brian Drake
Martin Edwards
Ray Foster
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Rob Kitchin
Chris La Tray
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis
Todd Mason
Karen E. Olson
Eric Peterson
James Reasoner
Rick Robinson
Kerrie Smith

Thursday, February 18, 2010


If you want to see what kind of movie director, Debra Granik, makes before WINTER"S BONE comes out, take a look at this little gem from 2004. It's a downer and since it's set in upstate New York in winter, also depressing, but Vera Farmiga should have received some awards for her portrayal of a druggie Mom trying to get it together. You love her, you hate her, you can't take your eyes off of her.

And it is so easy to see why Granik would be attracted to WINTER'S BONE after this. The locations might be separated by miles but not by circumstances.

Can't wait.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Fessing Up

Bald Faced Liar-revisited. FWIW.

1. TRUE -My husband lived in New Hope, PA and Liza Minnelli was there in the summer of 1964 playing at the Bucks Country Playhouse in Time Out For Ginger. They hung out after the show for the length of its run. Liza would stand up and belt out a song at the least provocation. She continues to do so.

2. TRUE- My brother and two friends borrowed an older brother's car at age seventeen and set out for Woodstock. They were stopped as they cruised through the town and the car searched. A very small amount of grass was found in the glove compartment. They spent the night in jail. The judge buried the paperwork, which turned out to be trouble later on when my brother got a government job and they did a background check and something stuck out. Nobody knew about the judge's desk drawer.

3. FALSE -Although we attended the same institution, I never dated Michael Ford. He was there a few years later. Well, make it a decade.

4. TRUE-In a misguided attempt to elope at age 18, which took us across eight states via a Greyhound bus, a boyfriend and I finally found ourselves in Virginia and entered his house while his parents were away on a cruise. The neighbor across the street saw the garage door opened and called the cops, believing the boy to be at college in Massachusetts. They arrived with guns pulled. And as Todd pointed out, the ardor faded after this.

I should have dated Michael Ford. He probably didn't do things like this since he became a minister.

5. TRUE-I had a series of books as a child where the animals were dressed like humans. The one with a goat dressed like a grandmother scared me the most. This began to haunt me and has ever since. If I see a dog with a coat on, I have to look away. I can barely tolerate Donald and Mickey. Does anyone else remember this series? No, wait a minute. I don't want to know.

6. TRUE-Megan moved to Brooklyn in 1994. On visiting her, we looked out the window and saw a guy wearing gloves in the summer entering the apartment across from hers (the building was U-shaped). The cops came, wrote our story on his palm, and as we all looked out the window at the window in question, the guy exited from the same window. They chased him down in the alley, cutting him off at the end. He was released later though. He had stolen too little to be worth prosecuting.

7. TRUE-Yep, my great grandfather, an orphan, worked his way through college and law school, won elected office and couldn't resist paving his own street in the Kensington area of Philly first.
So politicians were always dumb or corrupt or something, I guess.


When in Rome, Dear John, Couples Retreat, Did You Hear About the Morgans, Leap Year, Valentine's Day, New Moon--these are some of the date movies that have been foisted off on us recently. Mostly movies with lackluster plots and crummy production values.

Look at what we had in the past on the video above. So many of these older movies had sizzling dialogue. Now the words sit there like week-old bread. There is no creative investment in them.

Is the date movie now the equivalent of the reality show? Cheap and generic. What was the last good date movie you saw? I can't remember any recently so help me out.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bald Faced Liar, Maybe?

1. Thank the person who gave this to you. (Thanks, Evan).
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who nominated you.
4. Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth - or - switch it around and tell six outrageous truths and one outrageous lie.
5. Nominate seven "Creative Writers" who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies.
6. Post links to the seven blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know you nominated them.

Truth or Lies?
1. My husband dated Liza Minnelli the summer before we met.

2. My brother was arrested at Woodstock.

3. I dated President Ford's son, Michael, when he was a student at Gordon Theological Seminary and I was a student at the college.

4. Two police officers pulled their guns on me in Virginia Beach in 1966.

5. The thing I am most scared of-animals dressed in clothes.

6. When Megan first moved to New York, I spotted a second story man climbing into her building, called 911, and the police caught him.

7. My great grandfather was chased out of office as City Comptroller in Philly for paving his street first.

Deserving Recipients of this Award:
(No hard feelings if you don't want to play).
J. Kingston Pierce
Clair Dickson
Randy Johnson
Fleur Bradley
Loren Eaton
Any woman of mystery

My Truth(s) or Lie(s) will be revealed in a day or two. Best guesser wins a No-Prize.

While I'm Catching My Breath

Wow. Just froze my bottom off in Florida. Good to be back in Detroit where I know to put on a winter coat in February.

Anyone watching the Olympics? This is my problem-either I give it a pass or I find myself watching every event and crying over the back stories of people who are competing in the moguls. Whatever moguls is?

It's all or nothing--so I choose nothing usually. How about you?

Also is Bob hitting the black hair dye too hard? I have made this mistake myself. Always pick a shade two lighter than your original one-according to my hair dresser.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday's Forgotten Books, February 12, 2010

I am sorry if someone got omitted or an error appears. I will correct any problems as I can.

James Benn is the author of the Billy Boyle mystery series set during World War II. He is working on book five. You can find him at

James Hadley Chase
No Orchids for Miss Blandish

James M. Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1934) and Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon, 1930) are often cited as the fathers of crime noir, often in the company of Raymond Chandler.

These three put their mark on the genre, a mark as genuinely American as the authors and their settings. Los Angeles and San Francisco were distinct New World settings for this new, groundbreaking genre in which the hero is a lone, violent, individualistic man who makes his own rules and lives by his own code, perhaps a reaction to the cozy and conventional British mysteries of the day.

But there’s an Englishman in this noir family tree. James Hadley Chase came out with No Orchids for Miss Blandish in 1939,and extinguished any faint light of hope that may have remained in the hardboiled universe, as if the story had been telegraphed from the dark side of the moon.

That Chase borrowed themes and characters heavily is fairly clear. What is remarkable is that he composed this story at all. Inspired by a reading of The Postman Always Rings Twice, he set out to write an American gangster novel, armed only with what he could learn from encyclopedias and books about Depression-era settings.

Chase also firmly put the rape of a kidnapping victim at the center of the narrative, pulling so few punches (for his era) that in subsequent editions, some of the most violent acts were deleted.

The Miss Blandish of the title is the beautiful, red-haired daughter of a rich tycoon, who is known as the Meat King, a wonderful moniker for a book in which so much flesh is violated in so many ways. Miss Blandish (she never has a first name) is kidnapped by a gang inspired by the real life Ma Barker and her brood. Here, Ma Grisson sees in Miss Blandish not only the potential for ransom, but in a warped gesture of motherly love, as a source of love for her brutal and sadistic son Slim (not to mention a cure for his impotence).

Using drugs and a rubber truncheon, Ma Grisson turns Miss Blandish into a sex slave for Slim. After months of captivity, with the police and the FBI ineffectual, the Meat King father hires private eye Dave Fenner to track down the gang and free his daughter. He does have one requirement, though. “Better dead than deflowered”.

By the time Fenner is introduced, the reader will be yearning for a hero, after the violence and death that precedes him. But Chase does not relent in his theme, focusing on getting the job done, whatever the cost. Might is indeed right, so much so that George Orwell, in his famous essay Raffles and Miss Blandish in Horizon Magazine, October 1944, equates Chase’s realism with Fascism, primly stating that “in lowbrow fiction one still expects to find a sharp distinction
between right and wrong and between legality and illegality.”

Given the state of the world in 1944, Orwell’s concern about fascist tendencies infecting the populace through “lowbrow” fiction is understandable. Overblown or not, he was dead on about the lack of any sharp distinction in Chase’s debut novel. When Fenner needs information from a gun moll, he succeeds by threatening to burn her boyfriend’s face with an electric grill. When he turns Eddie Schultz, who has critical information but who won’t spill the beans, over to the police for a good old fashioned third degree, Eddie takes the punishment. It’s Fenner who gets impatient.

Fenner turned sour. “Quit playin’ with him, can’t you?” he said to the cops.
“This guy’s tough, ain’t he? Well, get tough too.”

They did. Eddie spilled. The end justified the means. Later, Dave sends in a hat-check girl to look for Miss Blandish in Ma Grisson’s hideout, where she’s killed. No orchids for her, either. Not for nothing does Orwell introduce his description of the novel in his essay with this line:

Now for a header into the cesspool.

No Orchids for Miss Blandish has been said to be one of the bestselling mysteries ever published. It was a huge and immediate success, and was the most popular book among British troops during the Second World War. At the height of the Blitz, it was said that in any bomb shelter, you could find someone reading it. Orwell chalked this up to “the mingled boredom and brutality of war.” My forthcoming novel RAG AND BONE (Soho Press, September 2010), takes place in London during the renewed Blitz of early 1944, and I could not resist placing this book in the hands of a reader sitting out a raid in the Liverpool Street Underground.

Orwell may have been onto something, but his condescending tone is out of touch. In 1940, with the Blitz in full swing, England standing alone against Nazi Germany, and defeat following defeat, this may have been a “daydream appropriate to a totalitarian age” as Orwell characterized it. A British infantryman in the North African desert might sharpen his bayonet, thinking of what had to be done in the coming battle, where might, if it did not mean right, certainly meant life. One of the advertisements for the book laid the claim, that it “will take you by the scruff of the neck and beat the daylight out of you.” Winston Churchill was doing much the same for the British people. Grabbing them by the scruff of the neck for a good shaking awake, at least.

I won’t spoil the ending, but the publisher’s blurb to a subsequent edition will prepare the reader. “The sufferings and ultimate fate of the kidnapped Miss Blandish leave one gasping…” Indeed.

James H. Chase wrote over eighty books in his life, some with the recurring character of Dave Fenner, others with a former CIA agent, but always Americans, even though he paid only three brief trips there. A favorite line is from his thriller Eve, which was made into a film.

Do you know how much this weekend’s going to cost me?
Two friends, thirty thousand dollars…and a wife.

And who is the character talking to? His wife.

Steve Langton

I'm British, live in the county of Derbyshire in the UK and have been married for almos
t 5 years to a wonderful American lady from Illinois.
I currently run a blog in my spare time called 'The Last Picture Show', which is devoted to movies and music. My favourite decade has to be the seventies, when my social interests invariably propelled me to the cinema, or concert halls where I witnessed the punk rock revolution from first-hand.
My tastes in cinema include the works of Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Kieslowski and other auteurs, while I can often be found listening to a wide range of artists, from The Clash to The Velvet Underground, to Abba.
One day, my wife and I hope to settle in America, so she can show me the wonderful country of her birth.

FINAL CUT: Dreams And Disasters In The Making Of Heaven's Gate, Steven Bach

" All art is knowing when to stop."

One of the most unfairly maligned films in recent cinema history? That would certainly be my take on Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate", although the author of this book had good reason to disagree. Apart from the director, the late Steven Bach -one-time studio exec at United Artists - was the only person to be involved with the film from beginning to end, as a $7.5 million budget ballooned to over $36 million.

FINAL CUT follows this incredible story, revealing gross mismanagement, the opposition to the casting of Isabelle Huppert as the female lead and how Cimino slowly dragged United Artists into the abyss, forever changing the way films would be made.

Those who actively detest Cimino's film will find plenty of extra ammunition within this book, though Bach always tries to remain objective and is honest enough to admit his own shortcomings. Naturally, there are a ton of anecdotes and valuable passages of information, not only concerning this film but other projects of the era which either succeeded, failed or still exist on faded manuscript.

We learn how an enraged, John Hurt, issued an ultimatum as his upcoming role in "The Elephant Man " drew ever closer; why no-one from United Artists had seen the finished picture before its opening night, and the reason why Cimino asked that his film be temporarily withdrawn from distribution. Just a few examples of the turmoil surrounding a production that ruined more than one career.

Whether you love or hate 'Cimino's folly', I doubt FINAL CUT will do much to sway your opinion. It's a frank, and often witty account, of a director who thought he was right and by an author who begged to differ, and tailor-made to be read at a single sitting.
With its wonderful tag-line, "What one loves in life are the things that fade" - which could have come straight from the pages of an Edith Wharton novel - "Heaven's Gate" is full of performances that stay with you; magisterial photography; heartbreaking lines of dialogue and a soundtrack seemingly composed from a better place than the mortal coil we inhabit.
Perhaps Steven Bach - battered and bruised from this ferocious war - was way too close to appreciate what had become a troublesome part of his life? Perhaps, but let's leave the last words to Steve.

"The music saved me. I had always liked the music."

Ed Gorman is the author of TICKET TO RIDE and many other novels. You can find him here.

Between the ages of ten and fourteen I probably read a hundred or more
traditional mysteries. In those days, the Fifties, the type I preferred leaned heavily on plot and atmosphere. The ones that dealt with the mysteries of adulthood offered the titillation of modest sexual references but I was too young to understand the emotional underpinnings of all that smart intriguing adult behavior.

I've never outgrown the enjoyment some traditional mysteries give me. Even when I was reading fifteen hard-boiled paperbacks a month I still picked up a traditional at least twice a month or so.

Today I have a list of reliables whom I read each time they publish, one of them being Anne Perry. I prefer her first series, that of commoner Inspector Thomas Pitt and his royal wife Charlotte. Perry writes in a straight clear way that allows for a fair amount of description--necessary if she's to create a believable Victorian era--that somehow never seems to slow the story.

If you haven't read Perry I'd suggest you start with RESURRECTION ROW, an early Pitt and Charlotte notable for its cleverness of plot and its particularly droll skewering of the British royal classes.

The set up is a bit like Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry (a film only I seem to enjoy) in that the corpse of Lord Augustus Fitzroy-Hammond keeps being buried and then keeps reappearing, still dead of course, in hansom cabs and church pews among other places. But make no mistake. For all Perry's occasional ironical comments on the society her books are almost always about evil. They are filthy with it.

In Resurrection Row Perry takes us through a land where the trajectory of one's life is often set at birth. The poor are poor and shall forever be so, often as the handmaidens and fetchers of the wealthy. She gives us a cast drawn from both ends of the class system and lavishes motives on each person. Perry is good at what I call double-back plotting. She likes to give readers a surprise and then quickly trump it with an even bigger surprise. She's master at it.

Don't worry--if you like picture postcards of the Victorian era they're here, everything from the extraordinary mansions to the upstairs-downstairs staff to the opera to the Gilbert and Sullivan
opera that opens the book. Fortunately that's not enough for Perry nor, I suspect, for the legions of readers who've made her an international best seller.

She's got a hangman's thirst for justice and she takes no prisoners.

Paul Bishop
Bill Crider
Martin Edwards
Ray Foster
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Chris Latray
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis

Todd Mason
Calum MacLeod

Scott Parker
Eric Peterson
James Reasoner
Rick Robinson
Kerrie Smith