Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Friday's Forgotten Books
was nominated for a Special Service Award at Spinetingler's annual love fest.
If you care to vote for the people who participate in Friday's Forgotten Books-people like Bill Crider--who has written a review every Friday for two years, go here and do it. Regardless, I am honored for all of us to be noticed. Two years worth of books now. I hope a few of them have found new readers.
P.S. Last I checked, the voting mechanism was down, but you have a month to vote. There are lots of other categories to consider. Congratulations to all the nominees.
The entire two years worth of choices are here.
Amy Tan reading.
This may sound sexist, and I guess it is, but I am going to make a blanket statement (and please tell me I am wrong) that men feel more passionately about music than women. At least adult men do. Adult women seem to find new passions--at least from what I see around me.
Looking at Scott Parker's Forgotten Music-or the pieces Jed Ayres is running. It's the men who write rhapsodically about music.
It's the men who seem to find a personal meaning in a song. Or in the music itself-the actual notes on the score. I have heard men in person, not just online, talk about concerts, CDs, and groups with as much passion as women speak of Jane Austen or The September Issue of Vogue. Do you think this is true? Or am I living in my own little vacuum?
Growing up when I did the most important things about music were the words-or whether you could dance to it. Somehow I missed loving guitar riffs and such.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Spring Issue of Mysterical-E is Up
with my story "Escapes." As well as ones from Mike Dennis, B.J. Bourg and a host of other writers. Stop by.
Monday, March 29, 2010
George's Meme: The Ten Books That Most Influenced Me
You can find George's choices here. The idea was not to think about it too much. And I didn't. Plus I wrote this list at four in the morning when I couldn't sleep-- so it may be spacey. And, as George said, it might be a different list next week.
The Bible-I've probably read most of the Bible. I spent most of my childhood in church, went to a Christian high school and college. It certainly has had a huge impact on my thinking. It's history, it's poetry, it's a plan for living.
The Diary of Anne Frank-I read this obsessively as a child. It led me to read every book about Nazis and the war and the Holocaust, I could find. I will never forget how finding out Anne's fate at the end of her diary made me feel at age 10. I will never forget how visiting their hidden rooms in Amsterdam made me feel at age 50.
Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis. This book stands in for all the books I read in my teen years and early twenties, books that were written by muckraking writers-Upton Sinclair, John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck, Theodore Dreiser and so many more. I think they formed my world view as much as the first two on the list. A shame that no one reads them now.
The Great Gatsby, Scott Fitzgerald-I fell in love with Zelda and Scott as a teenager. Read all his books and stories, biographies about each of them, her stab at a novel. All of it. But this was his masterwork and arguably American's masterwork.
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen. I've read this book many times and am always charmed by both this book and her other five. I know many men don't get it. They think it's about tea parties and balls (Or at least my husband does). But it captures a strata of society as well as work by Dickens or any other writer.
The True Believer, Eric Hoffer-I don't know how or why I read this book, but it made a tremendous impression on me and explained many of the things I wondered about after reading a work like Anne Frank's diary. It deals with the nature and dangers of fanaticism.
I don't know how it's regarded today, but it immediately jumped to mind (at four o'clock).
The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan. A Bible of another kind. Also Our Bodies, Ourselves. Someone actually was talking about female frustrations, aspirations, bodies, orgasms, aging, disenfranchisement, roles.
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath. Another obsession. Her poetry especially the poems in Ariel and this novel blew me away. Words could be scorching and beautiful at the same time.
Coming of Age in Samoa, Margaret Mead. I know she's not considered to be as brilliant as she once was, and that she manipulated her studies and her subjects possibly. But the idea of studying the way people live-finding the patterns in it, amazed me. Also books by Colin Turnbull such as The Forest People and The Mountain People.
Die A Little, Megan Abbott. This knocked me out for reasons you all understand.
What books have most influenced you?
Here's Fleur's list.
James Reasoner's list.
Randy Johnson's list.
Evan Lewis' list.
Cap'n Bob Napier's list
Scott Parker's list.
K.A. Laity's list.
Phil Abbott's list
The Liberal Tradition in America, Louis Hartz
Rabbit Run, John Updike
Sovereignty: An Inquiry into the Political Good, Bertrand de Jouvenal
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche
The Mountain People, Colin Turnbull
The Nick Adams Stories, Ernest Hemingway
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John LeCarre
Walden, Henry David Thoreau
American Pastoral, Philip Roth
Jeff Meyerson's list
1. The Hardy Boys — Rick has already mentioned this, I believe, but it’s the first time I got interested in a series, in collecting, in reading books in order (not that it mattered).
2. Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo. Our library used to have “summer loans” so you could take out books for 2-3 months if you were going away. I picked this. “I am Edmond Dantes!” This got me interested for teh first time in injustice, and payback, and the bad guys getting what they deserve.
3. Douglass Wallop, The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant. You may recognize it as its adaptation as Damn Yankees. My mother subscribed to Readers Digest Condensed Books and I picked this off the shelf to read. It also made me want to read unabridged versions.
4. (General) Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. First time I can remember reading a book after seeing a movie, a practice that continues to this day.
5. Osa Johnson, I Married Adventure: The Lives of Martin & Osa Johnson. Another summer read, this exciting story of the Kansas-born husband & wife adventurers was pretty exciting to a kid in Brooklyn.
6. Richard Wright, Black Boy. One of the few books we had to read in school that has really stayed with me for over 40 years. Really vivid writing, a tale of incredible abuse and perseverance.
7. James Clavell, Shogun. I’d read and loved his earlier Tai-Pan but this one just blew me away.
8. Vincent Bugliosi, Helter Skelter. I can still remember reading this late at night in 1975 after my wife was asleep and it scaring the crap out of me.
9. Norman Mailer, The Executioner’s Song. This introduced me to a world I never knew. A brilliant job by Mailer.
10. Jack Finney, Time and Again. The first – and one of the best – of many time travel books I’ve read. Yes, if given the chance I’d do it.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Turn It Off for Earth Hour
Hat tip to Fleur for reminding us.
Turn your lights off at 8:30 tonight to celebrate Earth Hour. You can do it. Even the Eiffel Tower is doing it.
Think of all the story ideas that an hour of darkness might generate.
LET IT RIDE
I made a deal with myself not to review current crime fiction on this blog very often. It's hard not to become a publicist if you do because could I really say anything unfavorable about books by people I know online? People I admire, even love, from afar. And if it's only going to be good stuff, what's the point?
But it's damn hard for writers to get any attention now that print media is dying so from time to time, I like to mention a book.
Because I had a wee bit of involvement with LET IT RIDE (it features a Detroit resident and the story begins on the bridge to Windsor, Ontario) and saw it first in ms. I wanted to mention it. LET IT RIDE.
I think John McFetridge is a great writer, amazingly proficient in a number of tasks. And this is a book that lets him display his wide-ranging talents amply. I wish I could juggle POVs, sub-plots, settings, voices as he does so nimbly here. Toronto never seemed more real, or more scary, than it does in LET IT RIDE. That's John's gift as a writer, making every scene, every character, sparkle.
My story is definitely an anomaly in here, but the big boys let me play anyway. Check out the amazingly big and beautiful second issue with stories and features by some of your favorite writers. And give Keith Rawson, Cam and Liam a hand for producing two of these babies in three months.
You can find it here.
Friday, March 26, 2010
THE SUMMING UP, Friday, March 26, 2010
Hat tip to Rittster.
Died. John McPartland, 47, husky, bushy-haired chronicler of suburban sex foibles (No Down Payment), successful freelance journalist; of a heart attack; in Monterey, Calif. McPartland, who once wrote, "Sex is the great game itself." lived as harum-scarum a life as any of his characters, had a legal wife and son at Mill Valley, Calif., a mistress at Monterey who bore him five children and who, as Mrs. Eleanor McPartland, was named the city's 1956 "Mother of the Year." Later, McPartland's legal widow submitted the daughter of an unnamed third woman as one of the novelist's rightful heirs.
The Summing Up, Friday, March 26, 2010
Miachael Atkinson, The Great Zapruder Hoax, James Fetzel
Paul Bishop, Billingsgate Shoal, Rich Bayer
Bill Crider, The Venetian Blonde, A.S. Fleischman
Martin Edwards, The Lawyer's Secret, Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Dan Fleming, The Texas Bank Robbing Company, Giles Tipette
Ed Gorman, The Last Night, John McPartland
Naomi Johnson, A Parade of Cock-eyed Creatures, George Baxt
Randy Johnson, Tarzan and the Valley of Gold, Fritz Leiber
George Kelley, The Crooked Hinge, John Dickson Carr
B.V. Lawson, A Private Inquiry, Jessica Mann
Evan Lewis, And Suddenly Death, Cleve F. Adams
Dennis McGough, Cold Comfort, Don Bredes; Before She Does, Steven F. Havill
Eric Peterson, Detroit P.D. series, Tom Logan
Bill Prozini/Steve Lewis, Trans-Siberian Express, Warren Adler
James Reasoner, Island of Kings, Blaine Stevens (Harry Whittington)
Rick Robinson, Death at Hallows End, Leo Bruce
Pete Rozovsky, The Papers of Tony Veitch, William McIlvanney
Kerrie Smith, Spy Story, Len Deighton
R.T. Foolish Undertaking, Mark De Castrique
Friday's Forgotten Books, March 26, 2010
Naomi Johnson is a sometime writer of short stories and co-blogger, with Corey Wilde, at The Drowning Machine. In her previous life she was a financial analyst with an unused degree in criminology.
A PARADE OF COCKEYED CREATURES OR DID SOMEONE MURDER OUR WANDERING BOY? by George Baxt (1967)
Detective Max Van Larsen really isn't interested in finding the Blaney's missing teenage son, Tippy. The Blaneys are an unpleasant pair and Tippy sounds like an overindulged, petulant brat. Max just isn't interested. He's too busy feeling guilty for not grieving over the deaths of his wife and son in a car crash two weeks prior. He never wished them dead, but he sure never loved them either. But Max works in the Missing Persons section of NYPD, and he dutifully begins to try to track down the errant young man. Enter the eponymous cockeyed creatures and Max soon learns that his initial impression of Tippy was erroneous. Sorting his way through the 1960s weirdness of Greenwich Village, Max begins to respect and care about the missing boy. Along the way Max has to deal with some fake antiques and smuggled heroine and, among all those cockeyed creatures, one killer.
Included in the "cockeyed creatures" are a lonely high school teacher who threatens her students with deportation when she's not contemplating how to land Detective Van Larsen as a husband; a cape-wearing student who can predict death and is known to everyone as Whatsisname; one Madame Vilna, a bombastic former star of the Yiddish theatre; a sculptor who spends his spare time sniffing children's undies; a masochistic junkie; and a lisping Satan.
And there is the missing Tippy, too, real name Henry Thorpe Blaney. The character of Tippy is revealed through Max's encounters with the cockeyed creatures, and what shines through the teen angst and petulance is Tippy's loyalty, his intolerance of deceit, and the artistic bent that outshines all of the older artists he associated with. He is the sun around which all of the characters orbit, and as Max warms to him so does the reader. Baxt was much too smart to fall into the trap of allowing his characters to be either all good or all bad, including the precocious Tippy. What's remarkable is that even when the bad is revealed, it's often done with dark, deft humor.
In general, mysteries from the 1960s don't age well. The authors tended to cling to formula and strove too mightily to be hip, with too little success. In some ways, particularly in the early going in this book, Baxt was as guilty as many another crime writer of that era in sticking to formula. But once he had the set-up in place to get his detective out on the street, Baxt pretty much threw away the conventions. In fact, no less than the great Anthony Boucher wrote of this book in The New York Times Book Review: "...those who were revolted by early Baxt should try this new one. They will find the same unpredictably absurd invention, the same brilliant techniques in dialogue and narrative (plus some virtuoso cross-cutting), this time devoted to a warm and loving portrayal of people in all their improbable variety... If you have never suspected that the crime novel of the absurd could have charm, try this one."
Hey, if you're not persuaded to read this book by the man for whom Bouchercon is named, then I'm not going to have any luck in that regard either. But don't be fooled by Boucher's "warm and loving portrayal" comment either. Baxt's forte was the sharp barb and swift rejoinder. He had a good eye for phonies, too, as this book proves. This is a book to be read not so much for the mystery, which is of its day, as for Baxt's acid wit and observant eye for human foibles. It may never rank among the classic mysteries of all time, but you won't forget these characters in a hurry.
Dan Fleming is the writer/co-creator of Warrior Twenty-Seven, (www.warrior27.thecomicseries.com) the independent comics anthology. His daily thoughts on all things crime related can be read at My Year In Crime (www.myyearincrime.blogspot.com) . He lives in Bangor, Maine, where the weather is enough to drive anyone to criminal activity.
Giles Tippette, The Texas Bank Robbing Company
Ed Gorman is the author of A TICKET TO RIDE and many other novels and story collections. He also edits a yearly anthology. You can find him here.
Forgotten Books: The Last Night by John McPartland
I've never had any luck learning anything about John McPartland's background. But I know one thing from reading his novels. He wrote with an emotional authenticity rarely apparent among the pb original boys.
In the Fifties he was a Gold medal regular. Late in that decade, he wrote NO DOWN PAYMENT based on a screenplay of the same name. Simon & Schuster published in hardcover. A nice step up for McPartland.
The Gold Medal I have here is THE LAST NIGHT, a 1959 title that I believe was McPartland's last novel of any kind. He vanished after that. (I learned later that he died about this time. He had to be very young.)
The set-up is this: beautiful young beatnik girl is accused of murdering her mentor-psychiatrist with whom she lived (sexlessly) on a house boat. The narrator is the drunken, brawling Irish Catholic lawyer hired by the state to defend her.
Her name is Ripley Aldrich (huh?) and she more-than-not works as a combination Holly-Golightly-earth-mother of radiant Audrey Hepburn looks.
The writing (as in most McPartland books) avoids most of the paperback original cliches and gives us people and scenes we haven't seen before (there's an especially crazy-drunk-believable interlude with the lawyer bar-hopping with three Swedish sailors who want to get drunk and beat up people all in the spirit of fun). The prose, at its best, is fresh, vital, roughneck, exact, even, at certain points, truly poetic (his various descriptions of night are luminous). The voice is unique, a vulnerable but tough blue collar voice too wise to be macho. If there's a flaw
it's some of the bad guys; he could've made them a little more individual. But they aren't on stage long anyway.
The third act is structurally brilliant. He pays off a number of plot points he plants so early you forget about them...and he throws in a major surprise that turns the entire book around (even if the event that allows it happen is highly unlikely). The novel is a true social utterance about the prevailing morality of the Fifties played against the Beat working class streets McPartland obviously knew first hand.
This may well have been McPartland's Gold Medal masterpiece. He obviously had great ambitions for the paperback original (he even worksin a very sly reference to another excellent and ambitious Gold Medal writer, Vin Packer), bringing a literate, humane and sometimes amusedviewpoint to dime store literature. He coulda been a real contender.
This is well worth your time looking up. #
How's this for a capper? I just Googled John McPartland writer and
found a new entry from 1958. A Daytona newspaper reported that a judge had found that McPartland had fathered three children by three different women. The estate (of undisclosed
value) was being challenged. Somehow I don't have a hard time believing that.
Steve Lewis/Bill Prozini
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Thanks to Paul Brazill for sharing this wonderful commentary on the meaning of art.
What are a few of your favorite page-turners? I hate long flights and need a good one for coming and going in May to make me forget I am sitting in a huge trash can after the first hour.
Paperbacks preferred for their weight. (We're in a fifth floor walkup)
P.S. Love JUSTIFIED but wonder if there is a bigger arc coming or it's going to be small stories about Kentucky lowlife.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Stephen D. Rogers
When I first contemplated trying my hand at writing crime stories, I looked at the various venues for short stories that were around at that time. A writer by the name of Stephen D. Rogers kept popping up. He was everywhere, and I started to wonder if he was actually a team of writers ala James Patterson. But no, the style was unique, pristine, succinct in each story. His alone.
Stephen D. Rogers now is the author of SHOT TO DEATH, a collection of some of his favorite short stories. (ISBN 978-0982589908) .
For more information, you can visit his website, www.stephendrogers.com
Here's what Stephen has to say about one of the stories in his new collection.
So begins one of the 31 stories contained in SHOT TO DEATH (ISBN 978-0982589908). Within that beginning lurks the ending to the story and everything that happens between the beginning
and the end. Or at least it seems that way to me.
Strangely enough, perhaps, I found conflict in that bit of dialogue. While I am not a professor, I've been many times called "professor" and more often than not with at least a bit
In the social groups I traveled, the educated were never quite trusted. I was the enemy in their midst.
A guest doesn't belong. A guest is invited. As such, a guest can be uninvited, can be declared unwelcome.
"The Professor" is a private investigator, and the person speaking is a mobster. The private investigator has safe passage ... for now. The private investigator is present at the whim of an all-powerful dictator.
The private investigator has been invited into the closed circle for a reason. As long as he fulfills that purpose, as long as he pleases the person who can have him killed with a word, the private investigator is there as the mobster's guest.
The word "guest" brings to mind "guess." The PI has been invited to provide an answer but the best he can hope to do is guess. And then deal with the consequences if he guesses wrong or is con is discovered.
Why does the mobster bring in an outsider unless he can't trust the insiders?
What does the mobster want from "the Professor"? What will the mobster want in the future? How does the private investigator address both those questions?
All that remained was the writing.
For a chance to win a signed copy of SHOT TO DEATH, click on
over to http://www.stephendrogers.com/Win.htm and submit your
Then visit the schedule at http://www.stephendrogers.com/Howto.htm
to see how you can march along.
And then come back here to post your comments. Phew.
"Terse tales of cops and robbers, private eyes and bad guys, with an authentic New England setting."
- Linda Barnes, Anthony Award winner and author of the Carlotta Carlyle series
"Put yourself in the hands of a master as you travel this world of the dishonest, dysfunctional, and disappeared. Rogers is the real deal--real writer, real story teller, real tour guide to the dark side."
- Kate Flora, author of the Edgar-nominated FINDING AMY and the Thea Kozak mysteries
"SHOT TO DEATH provides a riveting reminder that the short story form is the foundation of the mystery/thriller genre. There's something in this assemblage of New England noir to suit every aficionado. Highly recommended!"
- Richard Helms, editor and publisher, The Back Alley Webzine
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
ART and ALL THAT
On my recent trip to NY, I spent a lot of time in art museums. What I noticed was a lot of installation art. I think I've said before here, I don't get most installation art.
What is a room full of newspapers pasted on the floor, some painted blue, supposed to tell me. What are a hundred monitors playing the same footage all about? What do orange peels mean? Art may be beautiful, it may tell us a truth about ourselves, it may point out illusions, it may capture a time, point up injustice, it makes you look at something in a new way. I'm sure the last is what most installation art is meant to do. But is everything worth looking at?
Clearly installation art's only for museums large enough to hold it-nobody would ever buy such art. So if you're creating art solely for museums, don't you enter into a pact with curators on some level. It's either get picked up by a museum or you're trash. Literally.
I also noticed many pieces featuring sex and violence. One piece was a naked woman twirling a hula hoop made of barbed wire. In the museum, PS I, the art from the sixties was just about being naked. But by 2010, nakedness didn't cut it so they had to find something that did.
At the MOMA, Marina Abramović's work is given a whole floor. The artist herself sits on the first floor all day long staring at whoever cares to sit across from her. Is this more than a gimmick? It makes a small point, but then what? Other exhibits had naked people two inches apart, people back to back, etc. Such a static use of live bodies.
Do you think one hundred years from now this art will be more than a curiosity?
My husband says that since we have come to respect non-representational art, we will acquire a taste for this, too. Do you think so?
What pieces of art move you most? What's art to you?
Monday, March 22, 2010
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Fess Parker's Death
Brings to mind the notion of men in the movies or on TV who particularly captured your fancy as a kid.
Davy Crockett was brave, courageous and bold. Plus he seemed like a nice guy to come home to. Who spoke to you? Who was your fictional Dad--the one who was more glamorous, less strict, more interesting than yours?
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Price is no object, nor accessibility
THE SUMMING UP, Friday, March 19, 2010
Alexandra Shulman reading.
Since a lot of people went ahead and reviewed a book yesterday, I thought, for a sense of completion, I would post a list.
The Summing Up, Friday, March 19, 2010
Paul Bishop, Murder in the Marais, Cara Black
David Cranmer, Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends, Allen Barra
Bill Crider, The Screaming Mimi, Fredric Brown
Loren Eaton, Naomi's Room, Jonathan Aycliffe
Martin Edwards, Wall of Eyes, Margaret Millar
Ed Gorman, The Birthday Murder, Lange Lewis
George Kelley, The Three Coffins, John Dickson Carr
B.V. Lawson, Miss Pink at the Edge of the World, Gwen Moffat
Ed Lin, The Adventures of Max Latin, Norbert Davis
Eric Peterson, The Brendan Voyages, Tim Severn
Richard Robinson, The Case of the Little Green Men, Mack Reynolds
Todd Mason, Forgotten Magazines
Friday, March 19, 2010
No Forgotten Book Links Today
Thursday, March 18, 2010
If You Have to Wonder Which Ex
Jen Aniston Talks About Reuniting With Her Ex
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
THE SUMMING UP, Friday, March 17, 2010
Paul Bishop, John Mcnab, John Buchan
Bill Crider, The Soft Arms of Death, Richard Hayward
Mike Dennis, Swag, Elmore Leonard
Loren Eaton, Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem
Martin Edwards, Sudden Departures, Jonathan Ross
Ed Gorman, Trauma, Graham Masterton
Randy Johnson, "Drag" Harlan, Charles Alden Seltzer
George Kelley, The White Bikini, Carter Brown
Chris La Tray, Evidence-NYPD Crime Scene Photographs, Luc Sante
B.V. Lawson, The Port of London, Josephine Bell
Evan Lewis, Sabotage, Clive D Adams
Steve Lewis and Marvin Lachman, I Wake Up Screaming, Steve Fisher
Todd Mason, The Meteor, Friedrich Durrenmatt
Scott Parker, Gateway, Frederik Pohl
Eric Peterson, Call It Courage, Armstrong Sperry
Richard Prosch, Blizzard, Roy V. Alleman.
Rick Robinson, Ringworld, Larry Niven
Kerrie Smith, Seven Suspects, Michael Innes
R.T. Dirtmouth, Alan Singer
Stephen Thompson, BATMAN VS THREE VILLAINS OF DOOM, Winston Lyons
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Pick a Title
I'll be away for a week, but I need some help. I was calling my second WIP-DARKNESS TAKES A DAUGHTER. I was never completely happy with it and my first reader hates it. So here are some alternate titles I've come up with.
Tell me what you think. The novel is about the mother from hell and how her daughter finally is able to leave her behind. Any ideas are welcomed. All of these are lines from songs, poems, the Bible.
DEPART FROM ME
I NEVER KNEW YOU
DEPART FROM ME, I NEVER KNEW YOU
WHY MY MOTHER MADE ME
HOW MY MOTHER MADE ME
HARD IS THE FORTUNE
SHOULDN'T I HAVE THIS? (The mother is a thief)
I MADE YOU TO FIND ME
WHAT SHE TOUCHED
AND BE A VILLAIN
MY MOTHER MADE ME
BULLET WITH WINGS
DON'T TELL ANYBODY ANYTHING
IF IT MAKES YOU HAPPY
Friday, March 12, 2010
Friday's Forgotten Books, Mary 12, 2010
eight years, mainly at BOOKSTEVE’S LIBRARY. His writing has also appeared from Bear Manor Media and he has worked behind the scenes on various books over the past year. In spite of all this hard work, he remains technically unemployed. He can be found
in Northern Kentucky living with the world's most understanding wife, the coolest son ever, a dysfunctional dog and at least two cats.
BATMAN VS THREE VILLAINS OF DOOM, Winston Lyons
I’m known for an interest in old television and comics so I chose for my review a novel that combines the two…literally. Batman Vs. Three Villains of Doom by the pseudonymous “Winston Lyon” was originally published in the year of Batmania, 1966. To the best of my knowledge, it was the very first prose appearance of Batman and Robin and it isn’t at all bad. It is, however, rather an odd bird in and of itself.
Although ostensibly a tie-in to the then-new and phenomenally hot Batman TV series, Batman Vs. Three Villains of Doom is in actuality a bizarre hybrid of parts of that series and the more serious (by comic book hero standards at least) 1950’s DC comics stories of the Dynamic Duo.
The author seems to have been given at least some access to the TV series or perhaps simply early scripts as we have the familiar bust of Shakespeare opening the Batcave entrance, Alfred (who was deceased at that time in the comics!) protecting the characters’ secret identities from Aunt Harriet and over the top scenes such as Bruce Wayne reading and memorizing every story from a score of daily newspapers.
On the other hand, we also have the Batcave entrance being in the Wayne Manor living room as opposed to the private study, the batsignal displayed on the side of the tallest building in Gotham and we are introduced to “Inspector” O’Hara, the Irish cop.
As for this book itself, there’s a natural tendency to presume that it might be the source material for the Batman feature film that was made and released before the end of the year but it was not. There are three of the same four villains from the movie, there’s a yacht and there’s a scene where the Caped Crusader has to get rid of a bomb but the similarities end there. “Lyon” would, himself, go on to also novelize the Batman movie, but that’s another book and another story.
At 128 pages, this is a short novel but nicely laid out. In the beginning we are shown a conference of criminals in which the Joker, the Penguin and the Catwoman are all introduced as competitors for crimedom’s “Tommy Award,” a gold-plated tommy gun, to be presented for killing Batman. Tellingly, the characters are all described as they looked in the old comics instead of their television incarnations, with the Joker being tall and thin (a description that would never have fit Cesar Romero!) and the Catwoman having a “smoothly furred leotard” and a long green cloak.
Batman and Robin have already gotten wind of this confab, however, and arrive to break it up, capturing Catwoman in the process but being themselves bested by the Penguin. We then see Penguin take his shot at winning the award with a long, realistically paced chase scene and a genuinely thrilling blimp crime.
When the Tuxedoed Terror inevitably fails in his ultimate quest, the Joker takes his turn. It is pointed out that this is the truly insane Clown Prince of Crime from the early comics or as he returned in the 1970’s. The Joker is genuinely scary in some of his scenes, both to the other characters and the reader as well.
Finally, just when you think it should be over, an escaped Catwoman returns to the plot with the deadliest trap yet for the Caped Crusaders.
“Deadly” is a good word for the criminals’ intentions here, by the way. On the series, the serious consequences of the villains’ attempts at “getting rid of” Batman and Robin were always downplayed and even sugarcoated. Here, that is most definitely not the case. For example, the Joker tricks Robin into leaping at a dummy and then immediately opens a trap door beneath them so that Robin will fall directly into corrosive acid a mere five feet below him! How he survives that very realistic and scary trap is the biggest stretch of credibility that the reader is asked to buy in the entire novel.
Which brings us to the biggest fault of Batman Vs. Three Villains of Doom—it can’t make up its mind as to how serious it wants to be! The parts of the book that play like a straightforward crime story are the best with the author giving almost noir-ish descriptions of settings and fight scenes. On the other hand, the concept of “camp” as popularized by the TV series seemed to completely throw him and he instead relied on a vague Mad-style (or maybe Cracked-style) parody feel in the book’s few attempts at actually treading that fine line.
“Winston Lyon,” by the way, was the pen name for former comic book writer William Woolfolk. Woolfolk had worked on many comic heroes beginning in the 1940’s including Blackhawk and the original Captain Marvel. He even claimed to have coined the latter’s “Holey Moley!” catchphrase. Two heroes he had not worked on before, though, were Batman and Robin.
By the early 1960’s, Woolfolk won praise as one of the main writers for the long-running television legal drama, the Defenders. He became a successful novelist both as Winston Lyon and under his own name, eventually even hitting the bestseller list, a feat his daughter, Donna Woolfolk Cross, would repeat many years later with her 1996 novel, Pope Joan.
Batman fans all have their own idea of how the character “should” be so this unusual and unique combination of serious and silly versions may not appeal to everyone but taken as a product of its time I found it immensely entertaining and, for the most part, very well written by an author who seemed to have quite a good feel for the characters. I wish he had written more Batman stories!
Batman Vs. Three Villains of Doom, with its Adam West cover, was originally published in April of 1966 and is long out of print. If you’re intrigued, however, you can generally find inexpensive copies through EBay, Amazon, Abebooks and all of the usual Internet sources.
Ed Gorman is the author of TICKET TO RIDE and the short story collection THE END OF IT ALL. You can find him here.
Forgotten Books: Trauma by Graham Masterton
Graham Masterton has had one of those long, prolific careers that fall to writers of the first rank who have never had the break they deserve. He's certainly a finer writer and better storyteller than many of the people on the bestseller lists. He's always been more popular in Europe than the U.S. despite boxcar loads of great reviews he gets here.
If you doubt my words I suggest you pick up a paperback called TRAUMA, which was nominated for a Best PB Edgar several years ago. The storyline follows one Bonnie Winter, middle-aged working class woman who sells cosmetics for a company called Glamorex and runs a business that cleans up crime scenes after the police are done with them.
But that's not all. In the course of this novel we see that Bonnie has one other task, that of trying to hold a family together that has drifted apart to a painful degree. I can't recall any suspense novel of recent vintage that so powerfully depicts a woman coming to realize that her life is loveless and wasted. I'll pay Masterton the highest compliment I know--I think Margaret Millar would have loved this novel.
This being a Masterton novel there is an ominous and disturbing undertow of supernatural dread as well. Bonnie begins to find
strange black caterpillars at the crime scenes she cleans up. She will eventually learn of their significance through a series of violent scenes that are breathtaking in their savagery.
Masterton concludes by tying Bonnie's affection for her Glamorex boss, a decent and attentive guy, into both the familial and supernatural subplots. The climax is shocking and unforgettable.
I reviewed this novel when it first appeared. At the time I said that for all that so many current literary writers try to capture the essence of our time, their work looks shallow compared to what this brief sad volatile novel accomplishes. I still say that.
Steve Lewis-Marvin Lachman
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Skim, Skip or Merely Glazed-eyed
David Brooks wrote a piece today about things in an article or book that make people glaze over. I began to think of what sections in a novel do that for me. Here is a list of possible ones. Which ones do you skim or skip? Let's assume they are well written. But not so well done that you couldn't skim it.
WHAT WOULD YOU SKIM?
A car chase
Complicated financial dealings
minutia of prison life
The abuse of a child
The abuse of an animal
Mechanical information-such as how to change a tire, fix an electrical outlet
Mortuary science-how a body is embalmed, forensic stuff
Description of a sporting event
Description of how gloves (or other domestic garments) are made
Descriptions of how a job is performed
A long stretch of dialogue without any narrative
A long stretch of narration without any dialogue
A long flashback to childhood
Rape scenes (not gratuitous)
Torture scenes (not gratuitous)
Gambling, descriptions of how to beat the odds
A horse race
Physical descriptions that are longer than a sentence or two
Poetry, purported to be written by a character
Descriptions of artwork, architecture, fashion
Descriptions of a place. Las Vegas, Calico Falls, Nebraska
Battle scene told in great detail
A cattle drive
Someone preparing a meal from soup to nuts
What did I miss?
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
BIG LOVE ENDS SEASON/THE GRADUATE
Onto better things-THE GRADUATE
Last scene-for those who remember it--Benjamin and Elaine on the back of a bus. Brilliant or disappointing? When I saw it, I found it disappointing--of course I was eighteen. Now I find it brilliant.
Did I need to grow into ambiguity? What do you think of this scene?
What's your favorite last scene in a movie and why? Or at least the one that comes to mind first.
Here's a list of some choices.
Some of us don't remember as well as we once did.
Sheer sentiment: AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER and Before Sunset.
Sunday, March 07, 2010
Apparently a lot of people have brand loyalty with cars. They buy the same make or manufacturer of car every time. This has been especially true with Toyota customers. Many now are waiting out the current crisis rather than changing brands.
Over the years, we have had a Renault, a Dodge Dart, a Ford Torino, a Chevy Nova, a Ford Taurus, another Nova, a Jeep Cherokee, a Subaru (best car we ever had) and now a Ford Fusion. Our choices were based on both rational and irrational factors. Closeness of dealer, best price, best review in Consumers Report, etc. My brother almost always buys GM products-as did my father. We have several friends who only buy Hondas. (They don't like the Toyota dealer near us).
Do you have brand loyalty with the cars you buy? Does brand loyalty extend to other purchases-like cereal, books by certain authors, over-the-counter pain medication? Or are you the wild and random buyers that we are? The closest we come to brand loyalty is Snackwell's Devil Food Cookies-and that's because we don't like them enough to eat many.
Saturday, March 06, 2010
The Importance of Titles
Jean Harlow-not reading.
Check out the ten pictures nominees on Crimespree Cinema.
Would you pick up this book if the price was right or it was at your library?
FUNERAL DRESS WHITE, $60.00
Friday, March 05, 2010
THE SUMMING UP, Friday, March 5, 2010
Our entire list is here.
April 30th-forgotten collections
Requests for another forgotten kids' books had been noted. Perhaps the first Friday in June.
THE SUMMING UP, Friday March 10, 2010
Patrick Shawn Bagley, Shadow of the Sun, Richard Matheson
Trey Barker, God is a Bullet, Boston Terran
Paul Bishop Jade for a Lady, M.E. Chaber
Bill Crider, The Splintered Man, M.E. Chaber
Randy Johnson, The Bookman's Wake, John Dunning
Thomas Kaufman, Build My Gallows High, Geoffrey Home
George Kelley, Eighty Million Eyes, Ed McBain
Chris La Tray, The World Swappers, John Bruner
Evan Lewis, No Love Lost, Robert Reeves
Steven Lewis & David Voneyard, No Good From a Corpse, Leigh Brackett
Todd Mason, The Night Bookmobile, Audrey Niffenegger
Eric Peterson, Jack London in Paridise, Paul Malmont
Richard Prosch, Guns Up, Ernest Haycox
James Reasoner, The Range Robbers, Olive Strange
Rick Robinson, Murder a la Mode, Patricia Moyes
Kerrie Smith, Fortress, Gabrielle Lord
Dennis Tafoya, The End of Vandalism, Tom Drury
Richard Wheeler, Moon and Sixpence, W. Somerset Maugham
Friday"s Forgotten Books, Friday, March 5, 2010
I wonder if we could use the last Friday in April, the 30th, as a week to review forgotten story collections-either single writer or anthologies. Although we've done forgotten stories, we've not done this yet and it might be nice to celebrate the beginning of our third year with it.
Reminder I'll be away March 19th and next week, I will post the links on Wednesday since I leave Thursday.
Dennis Tafoya was born in Philadelphia. Dope Thief, his first novel, was published in May 2009 by St. Martin’s Minotaur. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers, and the Liars Club, a Philadelphia-area writers group. He lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. His second novel, "The Wolves of Fairmount Park," is coming from Minotaur in June of 2010.
Tom Drury, THE END OF VANDALISM
I love to re-read. There are certain novels and authors that I return to over and over, both because of the satisfying emotional experience to be found in the books, and also because I think of these books as exercises in successful fiction writing. One of these books is 1994's The End of Vandalism, by Tom Drury. The novel follows the lives of petty thief Tiny Darling, his ex-wife Louise and her new husband, laconic sheriff Dan Norman. The book has very little discernable plot: Dan and Louise fall in love and marry, Louise spars with her mother; Tiny drifts in and out of Grouse County, the fictional setting of this and other Drury books. "Stealing is like being a chef," he says. "You can find work anywhere." Louise and Dan struggle in their marriage, separate and reconcile. The book's epigraph, from the Brothers Karamazov, tells the reader a lot about the winding path ahead, "If you do not attain happiness, always remember that you are on the right road, and try not to leave it."
The characters are all treated with a beguiling generosity and humanity, though the real attraction here is the humor, a gentle wit that's nearly all in the language of the northern plains, the tone and the odd angle between events and the dialogue used to comment on them. Early in the novel Dan asks Louise if she thinks Tiny might be stalking her. She laughs it off, but Dan warns her elliptically, "You know, though, sometimes you drive by a pickup and it might be parked along the shoulder with the flashers on. Now, say there's baled straw all over the road, maybe there's a man, there's a woman, picking up the bales. Well, it's easy to see what happened. But it's too late to tie them tighter, obviously." "O.K," Louise responds, "I'm lost."
It’s Drury’s talent to present wonderfully aimless characters, who can neither see nor arrive at a discernible point, and to present them without straining our sympathy or letting our interest flag. These are characters who struggle in an entirely real and human way to know themselves and their own fitful desires, and they succeed about as often as we do. Later in the novel, as Tiny wanders to Colorado, a man he encounters in a bar quizzes him to discover his suitability for a program he's selling called Lunarhythm: "I don't consider myself a loser, and yet..." to which Tiny responds, "I have lost things."
The novel was largely serialized in the New Yorker, which is where I first encountered it, and when it was released it immediately became one of my favorite novels - I've read it over and over, and I guess it's become like literary comfort food. Drury's other books, Hunts in Dreams, The Black Brook, and The Driftless Area, are all peopled with the same hopeful losers, trying to get a purchase on life through nearly imperceptible and fallible effort and a kind of doomed yearning that seems very familiar and almost uncomfortably real.
Trey Barker is the author of 2000 MILES TO OPEN ROAD (Five Star) and short stories on publications such as THUGLIT. You can find him here.
GOD IS A BULLET, Boston Terran
I troll my library shelves constantly. I would love to buy everything I want, but alas…money becomes a problem. So I troll. I look at everything: covers, titles, back copy, how many times it’s been checked out.
This is what I found recently: the cover was a picture of the desert, which I love. I grew up in west Texas and have set many of my own novels and stories there. The cover had gaudy yellow letters that stood out like the red bloom of a sucking chest wound. The title juxtaposed God and bullet and that doesn’t happen very damn often. And the writer’s name intrigued me.
So I took it home.
And read it in about 37 seconds.
I knew nothing of Teran before I read 1999’s God Is A Bullet. In fact, I’d never heard of him, but this book is amazing. It is noir, fast and brutal and fairly stripped down, and filled with the kinds of crazed characters that noir and hardboiled readers expect. It also has crooked cops and people whose actions are – finally – coming back to haunt them.
But at the same time, it is not noir. It is something more than that. It is what I like to think of as American Desert Noir. Think the feel, though not the humor, of Brian Hodge’s Wild Horses. The desert does something to people. It gets to them, and into them in many cases. It changes how they see themselves and their world and if the author does it right, the reader feels every single moment of that transformation.
This is what Boston Teran has done extremely well in this novel. The relationship between his protagonists – one extremely middle class, the other extremely not middle class – is obvious from the first time they meet. They will become close, they will fall in love in the only fashion they are able. But they might well kill each other before they get to that pay off. It’s standard stuff for most genre books, but Teran portrayed that relationship extremely well, perhaps better than any writer I’ve read in a while.
The plot is basic and straightforward. A cop’s ex-wife and her husband are murdered and the cop’s 14-year old daughter is snatched by the murderers. The cop takes a leave of absence to find his daughter. At the same time, there is a woman named Case, a heroin addict who’s been massively traumatized by her time spent with a sort of a wanna be cult. There are machinations and schemes and coincidences and eventually, the cop and Case are on the road together chasing down the kidnappers, who just happen to be the cult members from whom Case recently escaped.
Fine. Good enough. I can suspend my disbelief easily enough.
But woven throughout that standard plot is a journey of moral change ups that left me dizzy. Teran asks incredibly hard questions of his characters and readers and rarely lets either go with the simple answer. There are few writers who do this and fewer still who do it as harshly and brutally as Teran. Laura Lippman, to use but one example (one of my favorite writers) always asks the hard questions, but her prose is so pitch-perfect that the toughest questions are frequently hidden beneath her poetry.
There is no poetry in God is a Bullet, not standard poetry anyway. Not poetry your 7th grade English teacher would appreciate. If there is poetry, it’s something William Burroughs could appreciate. The language is demanding, doubly so in its literarily pretentious present tense, and forces the reader to think and keep up.
On the other hand, the Library Journal hated the damned thing. Their reviewer called the book both “silly” and “distasteful.” The review said everything in the book was simply an excuse for Teran to focus on “graphic violence, depraved sex, and gross obscenities, demonstrating his ‘toughness.’”
That might well be true, but there are enough truths in the book that I could overlook that. Plus, I like ‘distasteful’ books. I like reading books that force me to think about something new or something old from a new point of view. I want books to push me and this one did.
Now, as much as I loved this book, I think everything surrounding it is total bullshit. For instance, the author’s website has a note that it was put together by his friends. There is a letter on the website purported to be from a ‘close friend and business advisor to the author.’ The letter talks about how this friend was a pilot in Vietnam, in law enforcement, is a successful entrepreneur, worked with members of the intelligence community, for the Democratic National Committee, and two presidential candidates. The letter also tells us how this guy introduced Teran to the man who then led him to Mexico on the journey for a lost little girl that become God Is A Bullet. Then there are letter excerpts unearthed by the author’s French publisher.
What the fuck is all that? Come on, that’s just a little too Boys’ Life adventure to be real. Some rumors have the name Boston Teran as a pseudonym for a well-known author…or even a group of authors working together. And, in the reviews for the new book, Giv: The Story of a Dog and America, reviewers are told this book is based on the author’s life. Fine, except we were told God Is A Bullet was based on blah blah blah….
Someone is working too hard to build up a manly buzz around this author and his – or their – work. Come on, the work is good without all the bullshit. The bullshit just serves, I believe, to highlight a cynicism about marketing and readers’ intellects that is exactly opposite what the actual prose demands of readers.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
Now Here Are Two Covers That Grab You.
R.I.P. Barry Hannah-AIRSHIPS was a phenomenal book.
Does anyone find themselves buying a reprint of a book they already have because they like the cover? Besides George, that is? I am tempted to get these two. The covers are so much better than the ones on my copies. And can you ever have too much Woodrell? I think not.