Friday, April 30, 2010

The Summing Up, Friday, April 30, 2010

Check out my review of THE JONESES at Crimespree Cinema.

The Summing Up, Friday, April 30, 2010

Patti Abbott, collections by Bobbie Ann Mason, John Updike, Lorrie Moore, Barry Hannah, Edward P. Jones, Tim O'Brien, Marly Swick, Simply the Best Mysteries (Hutchings), Hard-Boiled, Pronzini and Adrian, Damn Near Dead, Duayne Swierczynski

Paul Bishop, On the Fringe, Gregory G. Barton
Craig Clarke, My Lolita Complex and Other Tales of Sex and Violence, Max Allan Collins & Matthew Clemens

Bill Crider, Hickey & Boggs, Philip Rock
Martin Edwards, The Man Who, edited by H.R.F. Keating
Cullen Gallagher, Old Time's Sake, James Reasoner
Ed Gorman, The Collected Stories of Ernest Hemingway
Randy Johnson, Best of Beaumont, Charles Beaumont
J. Sydney Jones, The Zimmerman Telegram, Barbara Tuchman
B.V. Lawson, Blood Lines, Ruth Rendell
Evan Lewis, Sherlocko, the Monk, Gus Nager
Brian Lindenmuth, New Noir, John Shirley
Todd Mason, This Life She's Chosen, Kristen S. Lunstrum, The Man Who Made Models and Other Stories, R. A. Lafferty
Scott Parker, Jungle Tales of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Eric Peterson, The Specialists, Lawrence Block
Deb Pfeiffer, The Collected Stories of John O'Hara
Richard Prosch, Gunslinger, Ed Gorman
Richard Robinson, The Department of Dead Ends, Roy Vickers
Cindy Rosmus, The Short Stories of Vladimir Nabokov
Sandra Seamans, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Slay Ride, edited by Robert Arthur
Kerrie Smith, 21 Collections of Short Stories by Agatha Christie

Friday's Forgotten Books: Friday, April 30, 2010

Short Story Edition

Deb Pfeiffer was a technical writer for almost 20 years, then, after several years as a stay-at-home mom, I had an unanticipated career move into the public schools where I currently work in a junior high school library. I'm not a writer and I don't have a blog, but I love to read and find lots of new (to me) books and authors by reading book-related blogs.
The Collected Short Stories of John O’Hara, selected and with an introduction by Frank MacShane (published in 1984). Deborah Pfeiffer

John P. Marquand and John O’Hara were the pre-eminent chroniclers of American life in the first half of the 20th century; and, in a way, their bodies of work describe the tension that existed between the privileged WASP class of Marquand’s world and the second-generation of (predominantly Catholic) Irish, Italian, German, and Polish immigrants who came of age before World War II and about whom O’Hara wrote so perceptively. O’Hara’s characters may not be able to get into the “right” schools or join the “right” clubs, but with their strength and drive they bring a vitality that two hundred years of entitlement has leeched out of Marquand’s characters. If you read O’Hara’s and Marquand’s work side-by-side, you’ll see much of the American assimilation saga played out there on the page.

Unfortunately, if John O’Hara is remembered today, it is as the writer of sexy 1950s blockbuster novels such as BUTTERFIELD 8 and RAGE TO LIVE (both of which were made into indifferent movies). But John O’Hara’s real m├ętier was the short story. For over fifty years, starting in 1927 and ending just before his death in 1970, the prolific O’Hara published more than 200 stories in the New Yorker alone (not to mention many more stories that appeared in other publications); in fact, O’Hara was, in large part, responsible for shaping what we now consider to be the classic "New Yorker short story.”

The stories in this collection represent that half-century span, the first was originally published in 1927, the last in 1966. They range in length from a couple of pages to novellas. These are not stories with twists or surprise endings; they are character studies of people defined and limited both by their own choices and by social factors beyond their control. Outcomes proceed organically from the interactions of characters and the fundamental underpinnings of their personalities. Many of them are set in and around the fictional town of Gibbsville, Pennsylvania, and are narrated by Jim Malloy, the local doctor’s son, a fictional stand-in for O’Hara. A few others are set in New York or Los Angeles. One of the best of the L.A. stories is “Nautica Jackson,” about the devastating revenge committed by a woman who discovers her husband is having an affair with a movie starlet.

My favorite story in this collection is “Imagine Kissing Pete,” which explores thirty years in a mismatched marriage. Bobbie marries Pete on the rebound in 1929; friends assume the couple will soon divorce. But the Depression hits, there isn’t money to divorce, then the children come, and the couple remain married through ups and downs, separations, the Depression, downward mobility, hard times, the war, and eventual post-war prosperity. This is not a happy marriage—there’s heavy drinking (every O'Hara character seems to easily consume a fifth a day), casual (and not-so-casual) infidelity on both sides, anger, recriminations, and physical violence, but the marriage endures. The story ends with Bobbie and Pete attending the graduation of their youngest child from an Ivy League school in 1959.

The last story in the collection, “We’ll Have Fun,” is one that I wished would continue and have a happy ending for the main character, a hard-drinking Irish-American named Tony Costello. Costello loves and understands horses, picking up odd jobs from horse owners when he can and spending all of his money on alcohol But horses are on the way out; the rich owners who used to employ Tony are now buying automobiles; stables are being converted to garages; blacksmiths are closing their businesses. Then Tony helps a well-to-do woman who has inadvertently purchased a very sick horse. At the end of the story, Tony and the woman are planning a horse-buying trip together. Tony—despite his faults—is so committed to his love of horses that I was hoping he would be able to squeeze a happy ending out of his life. O’Hara promises no such thing, wisely ending the story before Tony’s drinking and haphazard lifestyle ruin another opportunity for him.

It’s unfortunate that O’Hara’s short stories are not more widely-read today. In their subtlety, range, social awareness, and precise dialog, they are a match for any of the more popular anthologized short stories of the last century. Anyone looking for reading material that is both entertaining and meaningful would not go wrong picking up a volume of O’Hara’s short stories.

Ed Gorman is the author of the recent Ticket To Ride and The End of It All and Other Stories. You can find him here.

Forgotten Books: The Collected Stories of Ernest Hemingway

If you grew up in the Forties or Fifties it was impossible to imagine that the literary luster of Ernest Hemingway would ever dim. I've never
known of a writer as imitated (usually badly) as ole Papa.

He loved it. He carefully crafted the public persona of adventurer and man's man the press and the people loved. Novels such as A Farewell To Arms and For Whom The Bell Tolls outsold the books of his contemporaries.

But time and taste caught up with him and we now see that Hemingway's novels weren't quite as good as we once thought. He certainly had no Gatsby to brag of nor even a Grapes of Wrath by the despised Steinbeck; Papa believed he was a terrible writer. For me the only novel of his worth reading now is The Sun Also Rises. It's not a great novel but it's fascinating one and much truer to the real Hemingway than the novels he wrote afterward.

But then there are the short stories. Back in the day his collected stories were referred to with great reverence as The First Forty-Nine.
Many of them were reprinted dozens if not hundreds of times around the world, textbooks included. They still deserve the reverence paid them back then.

From his story of death and dying ("A Clean, Well-Lighted Place") to his sad and ironic tale of a soldier who came back from the First World War too late for the parades ("Soldier's Home:) to the stories set in Upper Michigan this is American literature at its finest. This was Hemingway before he became Papa--the confused boy-man who went to war and then set himself up in Paris to write.

In numerous stories here he proves himself the equal of Faulkner (whom he saw as his main competition--he'd already arrogantly written off his old friend (and the guy who got him his Scribner contract) Fitzgerald) in experimenting with point of view. The line, as several critics
mentioned at the time, went from Stephen Crane to Mark Twain to Hemingway, that pure American voice. If you read Crane's The Blue Hotel
before you reading Hemingway's Collected Stories you'll hear the echoes throughout start the book.

For readers and writers alike, this is one book that should be in every serious collection. There was no more vital and powerful voice than
Hemingway's in his early stories (and I don't include The Old Man And The Sea which I never much liked; way too self-consciously Important). Today they're just as pure and perfect as they were when first published. All hail Hemingway.

I'd pick this up as soon as possible.

My Ten Favorite Collections (at least for today) Patti Abbott

Simply the Best Mysteries, edited by Janet Hutchings. This volume, put together in 1998, collected some of the best stories to win Edgar Awards that first appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. It included stories such as Patricia Highsmith’s “The Terrapin,” Stanley Ellington’s “The Blessington Method” and Philip MacDonald’s “Dream No More.” A very impressive lineup, one that makes the case for the enduring contribution EQMM made to the mystery short story.

Hard-Boiled, edited by Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian. This collection from 1995
includes stories from the 1930s through the 1990s, giving the reader a goodoverview of the genre as well as introducing him/her to writers that mostly wrote novels like Chandler, Hammett and Himes. Also here are James Reasoner, Ed Gorman, James Ellroy and Lawrence Block.

The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien (1990). This is one of the finest collections of
stories centering on the war in Vietnam, or any war, that I’m familiar with. The title story, which lists the items found in a soldier’s backpack is a complete knockout. I have been trying to get my book group to read this for years. Maybe someone out there will.

Too Far To Go, John Updike (1979) This is a collection of stories that Updike wrote about the Maple family, closely mirroring his own, early in his career. It traces a marriage in freefall and finally dissolved. “Giving Blood” in my very favorite, but all of them are sad, cogent, true.

Shiloh and Other Stories, Bobbie Ann Mason (1982). These are the kind of stories you sink into. She along with Carver were known for creating the Kmart school, where brand names and contemporary names are important to her sense of place and time. This either dates or makes her stories more personal, depending on your view. Most of them take place in southwestern Kentucky. She can create beauty from the speech of ordinary people.

Airships, Barry Hannah. Hannah died just a few months ago, but back in 1978 Airships knocked everyone out. These stories are about as noir as it gets. You never can predict where a story is going. Just try “Coming Close to Donna” some night. The people and stories in Treme came from writers like Hannah, only a state away.

Lost in the City, Edward P. Jones. This collection of stories, published in 1992, introduced Edward P. Jones to the world, and then he went away and did something more practical to support his family until he got a large award and wrote THE KNOWN WORLD. These stories are about ordinary African-Americans living in Washington D.C. Each one is a gem.

Damn Near Dead, edited by Duane Swierscynski (2006) This is one of the strongest collections of stories on a single theme I’ve ever read. I’m sure most of you have read this collection, but several stories won awards, one at least went on to become a novel which won an Edgar. And Bill Crider's story was nominated for one, too. Stuart MacBride’s humorous tale will split your sides. I swear there is not a dud in the bunch.

Self-Help, Lorrie Moore (1985). I could have chosen her other collections just as easily. Every story of Lorrie Moore’s crackles with humor, sharp observations. I chose this collection because it contains, “How to Become a Writer,” which begins with the advice: “First, try to do something, anything else….It is best if you fail at an early age. Say fourteen….Show it to your Mom…She’ll say, “How about emptying the dishwasher.” Many of her stories are written in the second person and she pulls it off. Brilliant.

The Summer Before the Summer of Love, Marly Swick (1995). Bet you never heard of this one. Swick does not shy away from sorrow, sex, strife. Simply another great female short story writer whom no one outside the rarefied air of literary journals, now disappearing, has heard of. I have shelves full of books by Antonya Nelson, Jean Thompson, Joy Williams and on and on. All good.


Paul Bishop
Craig Clarke
Martin Edwards
Cullen Gallagher
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Brian Lindenmuth
Todd Mason
Scott D. Parker
Richard Prosch
James Reasoner
Rick Robinson
Cindy Rosmus
Sandra Seamans
Kerrie Smith

Other Picks

Bill Crider
J. Sydney Jones (non-fiction)
Eric Peterson (not a collection)

Thursday, April 29, 2010


I am going to suggest here that the first reality show premiered back in the late fifties and was called American Bandstand. I came to the show a few years later. Probably around 1960-61. At that time, American Bandstand was on the air for ninety minutes a day and a national show. What made it special for me was that it took place in Philadelphia (my hometown) and the possibility of being on the show was never far from my mind.

Bandstand began as a local program in Philadelphia on October 7, 1952. Back then it was hosted by Bob Horn and was called Bob Horn's Bandstand. In July of 1956, the show got a new host 26 year old, Dick Clark. ABC picked the show up, and it was renamed American Bandstand.

Dick Clark, 26 years old at the time, was conservative in dress and manner (as were the students who appeared on the show every day; nice dresses required for the girls; suits and ties for the boys). 'American Bandstand' soon became a major stop for such acts as Jerry Lee, and became a showcase for new talent, including Frankie Avalon, Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, Fabian and others. (Two of the biggest hitmakers during the late 50’s never appeared on "Bandstand"--Elvis Presley didn’t need the show; Rick Nelson was already a TV presence on his family’s sitcom 'The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet'.) Another popular feature was Rate A Record, with teens giving the latest 45 RPM song a score ranging from 35 to 98. (Not that the teens were always perceptive. In 1963, Clark played a song that was a hit in Europe but was going nowhere in the US at the time. Without exception, the 'Rate A Record' panel gave mediocre scores to She Loves You by The Beatles.) (From an online source)

Today, it may seem like the reason kids watched the show was to be introduced to new songs and to see/hear favorite singers/groups. But the primary reason, my friends and I watched the show was to follow the romances of the couples who were regularly on the show. To see who Carmen was dancing with. To see what kind of dance someone had just invented and to learn it. To see if Dick Clark let his disdain for most of the kids show. To see if someone was dancing closer than the producers allowed. It was all about the people, the personalities.

Not that we didn’t enjoy Frankie Avalon or Fabian or Connie Francis. But their performances were fairly static compare to what came later on MTV, plus they generally lip-synched their songs. It is said that B.B. King was the only performer not to mime his song.

Musicians to make their TV debut on American Bandstand include Linda Ronstadt, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Cyndi Lauper. You can see a lot of stuff about American Bandstand online. As you might expect. Just don't tell me that Arlene and Kenny are not still an item.

Check out the other memories of forgotten music at Scott D. Parker's blog.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Home or Away?

DVD or at the theater. It makes a huge difference to me in my enjoyment of a movie. I think I might have enjoyed BROKEN EMBRACES at the theater. Number One, I wouldn't have fallen asleep, Number Two, I wouldn't have gotten a phonecall, Number Three, I wouldn't have watched it over two nights Number Four, I would have been able to read the subtitles better. Number Five I wouldn't have gotten up to check my email. And so on.

I can pretty much say, I never enjoy movies on the television. And I think I am going to stop watching them there.

Does it make a lot of difference to you?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Will Midlist Books Surive?

P.S. This week is Forgotten Story Collections on Friday.

Near the end of this piece, the author says that without some sort of institutional support only the trashy and brilliant books will survive.

Do you think this will be the case? Is the midlist or middle-brow book disappearing from our shelves as we speak? Richard Wheeler thinks so. So do I. Do we know any writers that write for readers who want neither genre, junk, or literary novels anymore? I would categorize Anna Quindlen as such. Do genre writers escape this label? There used to be so many-Michener, for example

Monday, April 26, 2010


I went to my favorite used bookstore last week--where there is one perhaps twenty foot double aisle of "mystery" books, but I have always been puzzled on why so many authors are never there. I was waiting for Phil to pick me up (he was at a nearby nursery) when I happened to walk over to an aisle labeled adventure and action. This aisle also turned out to be crime fiction, too, and was filled with the books I assumed the story didn't have.

I picked out a few and went to pay for them and told the clerk that I had almost missed the books because I assumed that all crime fiction would be together. He was supremely uninterested, of course. Does this happen in used bookstores in your area? Or even new bookstores? Are there too many places to look for the same sorts of books? This store also files all the quality paperbacks in a different spot. And some of the crime fiction is under straight fiction. So in order to make sure they don't have a book, I have to look in at least five places. Six if I include the under a dollar tables?

Seriously, this bookstore has a great supply of almost every genre-if you can just figure out where they file it. They seem to have no inventory list at all. When I mentioned Simenon, he looked on amazon and decided if they had it it would be under quality paperbacks. Yes, I said, but earlier editions were not necessarily quality paperbacks. I am sure he thought I was crazy. Maybe I am to think they would want to sell books enough to know where they keep them.

One Week To Sweet Dreams

With an end date of May 3rd, I have these names to post for stories next Monday. Please send me your link if I don't know it. Or let me know if you're posting it on Powder Burn. Let Aldo know, too. It's not too late to add your name. (Or take it away--I can easily understand you were not inspired, didn't have time, etc).

Also it might be nice to list titles--so let's say email me by Friday with your title if you read this. Otherwise I will do my usual fishing trip.

Loren Eaton
John Weagly
Fleur Bradley
Cormac Brown
Chris La Tray
Richard Prosch
Rob Kitchin
Paul D. Brazill
Eric Peterson
Kathleen A. Ryan
Cameron Ashley
Keith Rawson
Katherine Tomlinson
Jimmy Callaway
Deegan Stubs
David Barber
Steve Weedle
Sandra Scoppettone
Dana King
Welles Fan
Kieran Shea
Evan Lewis
Christopher Grant
Patti Abbott

Saturday, April 24, 2010

What Happened Next

For Jason Duke's contest.

What Happened Next

Patricia Abbott

He agreed to meet her for lunch, deciding uneasily on a sleek, anonymous restaurant at the top of an office tower. He’d been there once before, but all he remembered was the ride up, a rocketing glimpse at jigsaw puzzle people, buildings, and random pieces of sky.

She tracked him down through the Internet, her email signed, “Margaret Olson.” It wasn’t a familiar name. His father always referred to her as “your mother”—the nameless person who—“washed the storm windows before storing them,” “dressed like a gypsy,” and “baked a chicken with garlic and lemon inside it.” Within a few weeks of her desertion, every sign of Maggie Bolden was discarded, given away, or burned. Then it grew easier to avoid her name.

The maitre d’ showed him to the table, whispering that “the lady” was already seated. Margaret Olson wore the sort of dark, silky dress wealthy women bought for luncheons—no sign of the gypsy about her now. He was the one with damp palms and a too-tight collar.

She half-rose, and he saw, with a start, that she was arthritic, nearly deformed, in fact. The ideas he came with: that he’d strangle her, throttle her, drop cyanide in her coffee, were pushed aside. A cane lay on the floor beside her chair. “Patrick, so good of you to come. I know it couldn’t have been….” Her eyes were still young: bright blue and large in her thin, scorred face.

Seated, he busied himself with his silverware and water glass. “The whitefish should be good.” He hadn’t even looked at the menu.

Michigan and its whitefish. I’d forgotten.” She took a sip of her cocktail and reached for her purse. For a second, he wondered if she was searching for a gun—if perhaps he wasn’t the only one who’d come with murder in mind. But she pulled out an envelope of photographs. “Go ahead, look,” she commanded and, as obedient as the five-year old she last knew, he did.

The photos seemed to have been taken at a park somewhere. His two brothers and he wore Detroit Tigers tee-shirts, tube socks and the shapeless athletic shorts popular in the early eighties. Richard and Chuck were young teenagers, Pat, a decade younger.

His mother—Margaret Olsen nowadays—wasn’t in any of them.

“A park near Ann Arbor,” she said. “Where’s that waiter?” She raised a hand, bare but for a small garnet ring. With hands as deformed as hers, short, unpolished nails seemed appropriate. The waiter hurried over and took their order. “Would you like to keep them?” she said when he’d gone, nodding toward the envelope. “The photographs? Maybe your brothers would like them, too. I have copies at the hotel.”

He shook his head, and stuffing the envelope into his pocket, suddenly rose. “They—they….Look, I thought I could do this, but I can’t.” Could she possibly not understand how much they hated her? That mutual hatred of their mother was the one thing the three brothers shared.

“Patrick. I shouldn’t have….” She paused a second. “It was the last day, you know. I took a camera along on the last day.”

Swallowing hard, he threw his napkin on the table, resisting the urge to cover his ears, to drown out her voice, unfamiliar and intimate at the same time. He tossed three twenties down. “You can get back to your hotel okay, right?” She nodded, resigned.

He nearly knocked down the coat check girl, who stepped aside, her back glued to the wall as if it were a routine maneuver. Didn’t notice the elevator doors were standing open, or that the quick trip down reassembled those disparate puzzle pieces. The sun was still shining, the engine barely cool when he got back to the car. Less than thirty minutes had passed.

Back home, Pat took two aspirins and sat wearily on the one remaining chair in his living room. Stef had taken the rest of their furniture to her new job in Chicago, forcing him on moving day—as the three men waited impatiently—to choose a chair to keep behind. He’d chosen the one that seemed most masculine, not realizing it wasn’t the one he preferred. She laughed about it on the telephone later. “How like you not to know what chair you sit in every night. Or in what city you want to put that chair.”

He lined the photographs up on the small table he had trash picked, having no memory of that day, no recollection of his brothers being so young. Rick and Chuck were obviously embarrassed at having their pictures taken and made faces or moved their heads as the photographs were snapped. But Pat, at five, smiled eagerly at the photographer. Upside down on the monkey bars, he could count his ribs.

Maggie Bolden took little with her. He’d been told this now and then by aunts with hands over their mouths, frightened of angering his father. A small suitcase, a few books, some clothes, her cassettes. He wondered what music she’d listened to—was it Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, jazz, or classical? Why take her music and not her sons? His father roamed the house in an alcoholic daze for days, looking for definite proof of her flight. Only weeks later could Tom Bolden pinpoint things that were missing—and then only with a cousin’s help. “Did she wear a blue raincoat,” Pat heard him say once. “Did she like mystery novels?”

Patrick picked up the phone an hour later. “Got back okay then?”

Her hotel was on the river, encircled by offices, condos, lofts, all daringly installed in abandoned factories a few years before the bust. He was impressed with the air of prosperity the area seized from who knew where. Two blocks west, burned, deserted houses waited demolition.

Today she wore a lilac suit, the jacket hanging from her shoulders like the vinyl bag from an expensive store. He’d no idea where to take her, what he wanted from her, or she from him. “Could we drive out to the country?” she said suddenly, solving the problem.

He headed toward Ann Arbor, wondering if one or both of them intended to relive their last day together. Would he hang on the monkey bars for a picture again? Would he smile eagerly into her eyes as she snapped away? “Why did you come back here?” he asked after a long silence. “Why now?”

She shrugged, holding a cloth in those misshapen fingers as she cleaned her sunglasses. “I nearly came back last year, you know—when your father died. But we decided it wasn’t a good idea. Oh, yes,” she said seeing the surprise on his face. “I kept up with things.”

Was he supposed to admire this? And we? Who was we? The man who put that ring on her hand, who bought her expensive clothes. Pat waited for her to explain it, but she didn’t. “So I decided to wait a year. That seemed like the right amount of time.”

“Showing Dad some respect, huh?” His eyes narrowed as he slipped off 1-94 onto a state road. “Was it Dad’s fault? Your leaving, I mean. Did he hit you, beat up on you?”

This was certainly possible. His father veered between violence and neglect with his sons, seldom finding a characteristic in any of them to like. One son was too smart for his own good. Another was lazy. The third, a delinquent—a ne’er do well. “Did he have other women?” Pat put his foot on the gas. “He hinted there was another man. That you ran off with someone.” He took a deep breath. “Or were three sons too much?”

She shook her head quickly. “Tom would’ve preferred it be another man. Sort of thing he could understand.” She paused. “Did he hit me, you ask? Oh, why blame it on him. Let’s say, I left because I couldn’t stay. Not with a man who made every day a living hell—a man who hated me. But I shouldn’t have left my sons with him and that certainly wasn’t why I left. It was why I stayed so long, in fact.” Her voice had a rote quality to it. Like she’d rehearsed these lines many times. “I should’ve at least taken you, Patrick? Your brothers were nearly grown and could take care of themselves.”

“Pat,” he said, wiggling away from her even though she hadn’t touched him. “I prefer being called Pat.” The light turned green and he pulled out too quickly, nearly hitting a car. “And Rick and Chuck weren’t grown yet—not even in high school.” His voice had grown angrier, and he shut his mouth with resolve not to sour a second day.

When he saw the familiar store with its cheap woven baskets and colorful rugs, he knew where he was. Had he always meant to come out here? “Thought you might want to see Rick’s house—he lives out this way.”

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” She gripped her handbag the way older women do. “You said Rick wouldn’t want to see the pictures. And if not the photos then certainly not me.” She sighed. “He was always the one most like your father. Like Tom.”

Pat gave a half-laugh. “Yes, he was most like Dad. But let’s show you where he lives at least.” He made several turns and pulled up in front of a split-level. The yard was unkempt. Circulars littered the lawn, soggy from an early morning shower. The house needed paint, the attention of someone handy with tools and such, but it seemed unlikely to happen.

Together, they peered at the house. “I don’t think he’s home. Pat.”

“I’ll knock just in case.” He got out of the car, strangely jaunty now, and headed up the walk, skirting a stray dog leash and his overturned bowl.

The elderly man next door put down a pair of trimming shears and walked over, flipping his shades up to reveal teary eyes. “Allergies,” he said, wiping them with a handkerchief. “I shouldn’t be outside. Look, he’s never up this early on a Saturday,” he said, jerking his head toward the house. “You don’t wanna wake him.”

“Maybe I’ll check anyway. Give a knock.”

“Suit yourself,” the man said, heading back toward his shrubbery. “He won’t like it though.” He turned around suddenly. “Ain’t puttin’ the house up for sale, is he?” he asked hopefully. Pat shook his head.

“Maybe we should go,” his mother called from the sidewalk. She was standing outside the car. “Patrick! This wasn’t a good idea.”

“Pat,” he corrected her and knocked louder.

Suddenly the door swung open, and his brother stood before him wearing briefs and a Dire Straits tee shirt. He looked at Pat as if he’d never seen him before. “Patrick?” he said, trying unsuccessfully to focus his red eyes.

“I’ve brought someone out to see you. Mother’s in from wherever it is she’s been for thirty years.” Pat stood back, giving Rick a clear view.

Rick looked wearily at the car, blinking his eyes until they focused. “Still a little prick, aren’t you, Pat?” Each word came out louder than the last. He reached behind him and came through the doorway with a baseball bat in his hands. “Always knew there was a good reason for keeping this bat next to the door. He started toward his mother, giving the bat an experimental swing. “Fuckin’ bitch,” he said, in a low growl, raising the bat. “You’re gonna get what you deserve….”

“Now look, Rick,” Pat yelled, inserting himself between his brother and mother. “You don’t want to do anything…”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his mother trying, unsuccessfully, to climb back in the car, shielding her face from her son’s words. It wasn’t clear to him that he didn’t want his brother to reach her, to smash her self-satisfied head into smithereens. Did he want that? Rick was still moving forward, pushing his much lighter brother along with each step. Backing Pat down to the sidewalk.

“I’m dialing 911,” said a voice from behind the fence. All three of them froze and looked over. “Probably be here in about five minutes.”

There was a long pause. “Guy calls 911 on me every few months,” Rick said, tossing the bat on the lawn. It spun a few times before stopping. “S’okay, Methuselah. I’m goin’ inside. As for you,” he said, looking at his brother, “Get the fuck outta here.” He narrowed his eyes as he looked toward the car. “Looks older than Dad did even. Ugly bitch. Monster!” he yelled even louder, growing agitated again.

Patrick got back in the car, watching uneasily as his brother staggered back toward his house. Could he be drunk at noon? “Patrick, why did you do that?” Margaret Olson removed her sunglasses. “I understand you want to punish me. But why Richard? You must’ve known how he’d react!” Her voice was indignant.

Pat put the key in the ignition. “Why him? Why Richard?” He copied her inflection. “Well, Dad pretty much put Rick in charge after you took off. Rick showed even less aptitude for mothering than you. That wasn’t the first time I’ve seen his baseball bat, or his fist, or the dark floor of a closet, or the buckle on his belt. Usually he doesn’t put a weapon down so easily.”

She winced. “Didn’t your father step in?”

“You must know the answer to that one.” He sighed. “Chuck put an end to it once he outgrew Rick. It was a long time ago now.”

She was saying something, but he still was turning over the image of Rick going at her with the bat in his hand. Would Rick have pummeled her with it? Didn’t she have it coming after all? Showing up here as if things could be fixed.

He headed back to 1-94 since there was no point in making the trip home a long one. A trailer carrying half-a-dozen motorcycles edged in front of him, barely giving him time to hit the brakes. Pat watched in horror, more horror than he’d felt at Rick’s house, as the truck skidded on some oil and the back gate swung open. The metal ramp slapped down, then bounced, spouting sparks each time it made contact with the asphalt. The last motorcycle in the fleet began an inexorable slide down the ramp. Driverless, it appeared to be manned by an otherworldly force. Pat hung back for a minute, trying to put enough distance between his car and the truck to pass.

He was able to pull into the left lane in time to see the first motorcycle hit the road, bounce twice, and topple over. A second cycle began the slide. Patrick accelerated more, hearing horns, screeching brakes, a random scream, a skid. No sound of a crash though, and miraculously, in his rearview mirror, he saw the truck pulling off onto the shoulder. Two black motorcycles lay in the road, toppled. A man had sprung out of a car and was diverting traffic.

“At least no one was hurt,” he murmured, almost to himself. “Miracle.”

“No thanks to you taking me there,” his mother said. Locked in her own misery, her own recent trouble, she’d missed the entire event. He was astounded. Did those sunglasses blind her? “Or are you talking about your childhood again?” She sounded bored. “Is that what you mean?”

“Both,” he said, not mentioning the accident he’d just averted. His voice shook, but she didn’t notice.

“I don’t know what I expected coming here,” Margaret Olson said with irritation as they approached her hotel. “I thought some kind of connection….” She put her hand on his arm. “I’ll be here another day. Maybe Stephanie and you…” He shook her hand off, reached over, and opened her door, waiting impatiently while she made her way. She walked stiffly, cane in hand, to the hotel doors.

He drove home quickly and called his wife. Told her about the accident, but not his mother. That could wait. Told he was coming to Chicago to sit on the proper chair. She laughed once she understood his meaning.

Although there were cards and the occasional awkward phone call growing up, he’d only one memory of his mother and that one perhaps induced by a photograph—yes, another photo—that an aunt had shown him. She’d drawn him aside at a family gathering in Toledo, whispering that he shouldn’t ever mention what she was about to show him. “Tom’d kill me,” she said, screwing up her face.

She held out a picture of a young boy and a woman on a horse at a fair or a circus perhaps. “That’s her,” the aunt had said. “That’s Maggie.”

What he thought he might actually remember must’ve happened after they climbed down from the horse, or perhaps before they climbed on. Someone—a man—maybe his father warned his mother not to stand so close to the horse’s hind legs. “You don’t want to test him,” the man had said. “Horses are known to kick if you stand there.”

Pat remembered his mother, bristling with anger, scooping him up, his legs flying with the sudden movement, fear clutching at his stomach. She’d stood even closer to the horse’s rear after that: the horse nervous for a moment, shifting its weight, whining. He could feel his mother’s heart pounding under her shirt as she stood her ground with him clutched to her.

And suddenly it was over, and she put Pat down and began grooming the horse. “Don’t tell me about horses, Tom,” she’d said.

Was his name Tom? Was it his father trying to protect him? It could’ve been some other name she’d said. He was uncertain about that. Or about what happened next. Or what happened the day after that. Even the day she disappeared was lost to him. Even that day.

Friday Night in Detroit

Although I occasionally despair for Detroit, it's a city that offers many cultural events to its residents. Last night, we had dinner at a Japanese-Korean restaurant with a mostly young Asian crowd, students from the College for Creative Studies, we then walked across the street and saw a sweet, Italian film Mid-August Lunch with an older crowd-many Italian-Americans among them at the Detroit Film Theater, then walked upstairs and saw a Afro-Cuban concert with a younger crowd of mostly African-Americans.

All of this took place with a block and within three hours. Nice to have this available.


Detroit Institute of Arts
Omar Sosa Afreecanos
April 23 7 & 8:30 p.m.
Cuban-born Omar Sosa is one of the most versatile jazz artists on the global scene today. He's a composer, arranger, producer, pianist, percussionist, bandleader, ethno-musicologist extraordinaire. He fuses a wide range of world music and electronic elements with his native Afro-Cuban roots to create a fresh and original urban sound. On stage, Sosa is a charismatic figure, inspiring his fellow musicians with his dynamic playing and improvisational approach to the music, full of raw emotional power and humor. Bet he gets the audience to its feet and to join him in singing a chorus or two this week at the always dynamic Friday Night Live! series at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

How was Friday night in your town?

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Summing Up, Friday, April 23, 2010

My review of MOTHER is on Crimespree Cinema. This was one of the best movies I've seen in quite a while.

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, April 23, 2010

Joe Barone, The Judas Goat, Robert B. Parker
Paul Bishop, Heller-The Oil Rig, Frank Roderus
Jimmy Calloway, Lovers and Losers, Howard Hung
Donis Casey, The Virgin in the Ice, Ellis Peters
Bill Crider, The Spotted Panther, James Francis Dwyer
Martin Edwards, Detection Medley, ed. John Rhode
Ed Gorman, Danse Macabre, Stephen King
Randy Johnson, The Best Western Stories of Steve Frazee, edited by Pronzini and Greenberg
George Kelley, The Selected Stories of Fritz Leiber
K.A. Laity, Lucky Him, Richard Bradford
Even Lewis, The Secret Museum of Womankind
Steve Lewis/ Dan Stumpf, Ghost Gold, Tom West
Brian Lindenmuth, Waste, Eugene Marten
Todd Mason, Scholastic Books of Poetry for Children, Scholastic Books
Jim Napier, Murder Fantastical, Patricia Moyes
Scott Parker, Justice" The Avengers #1, Paul Ernst
Eric Peterson, Yellow Dog Party, Earl Emerson
James Reasoner, Alaska Steel, John Benteen (Ben Haas)
Rick Robinson, A Body for McHugh, Jay Flynn
Kerrie Smith, Science and the Art of Detection, C.R.M. Cuthbert

Friday's Forgotten Books, April 23, 2010

DONIS CASEY is the author of the award-winning Alafair Tucker Mysteries. The fifth Alafair Tucker Mystery, Crying Blood, will be published by Poisoned Pen Press in the spring of 2011. You can find her:


I have always loved historical novels. I’ve been a voracious reader since childhood, and would read anything I could get my hands on, but I would always choose a historical novel above any other genre. For me, a historical novel is like a cheap vacation. I love to go to a place and a time and live there for a while.
I discovered English author and scholar Edith Pargeter when I was in my twenties, and she quickly became one of my favorite historical novelists. The day came, of course, when I had read every historical novel of hers that I could find here in this country. Though I’m always happy to reread a good book, I did find myself hungry for any new historical dish by Pargeter. It didn’t take much research on my part to find out that under the pseudonym Ellis Peters, Edith Pargeter had created a fabulous series of historical mysteries featuring a Benedictine monk by the name of Brother Cadfael. The Brother Cadfael mysteries are set in Twelfth Century Shrewsbury, close by the Welsh border, during the long war between King Stephen and the Empress Maud for the English throne. Cadfael may be an elderly monk, but that doesn’t mean he’s innocent of the ways of the world. He gained all the skills necessary to untangle the knottiest mystery during his young manhood and middle age, when he served as a soldier and a sailor in the Crusades. There is little of human nature he hasn’t seen. And since he is also an accomplished herbalist, growing and mixing medicines for the Abbey, he is an expert on the properties of plants and poisons.
Each of the Cadfael novels is a fascinating read, but one of my favorites is the sixth, The Virgin in the Ice. This book stands out not just for its intriguing puzzle and indelible evocation of the Medieval English world, but because the reader learns much about Cadfael’s former life, and how the past has touched the present.
Two noble young people, seventeen-year-old Ermina and thirteen year old Yves, go missing, along with their companion and guardian, Sister Hilaria, following an attack on the city of Worchester by the Empress’ troops. The children’s uncle, newly returned from the Holy Land to serve as an officer in the Empress’ army, asks if he can be allowed to search for them in enemy territory, but the local Sheriff refuses permission.
Brother Cadfael is in the area, at the request of the head of the Priory of Bromfield, tending to a monk who had been seriously wounded in the fighting, and volunteers with several others to search for the children and their Benedictine nun companion. By chance, Cadfael finds the boy, Yves, sheltering from the blizzard with a forester. Yves tells him that they had been safe with a local lord during the battle, but his headstrong sister had run away with a suitor. Equally as impulsive, Yves had left Sister Hilaria at the manor and set out to find Ermina. As Cadfael and the boy are returning to Bromfield, they cross a frozen stream, where Cadfael spots the shadowy form of a woman’s body, frozen in the ice. Fearing that she is Ermina, he keeps his discovery a secret from Yves.
The next morning, Cadfael, his friend Deputy Sheriff Hugh Beringer, and a few other monks, chip out a block of ice containing the body and bring it back to Bromfield Priory, where they lay it in the chapel. As the ice thaws, Cadfael realizes that the young woman doesn’t fit the description of the missing Ermina. The mystery of the woman’s identity is solved when Yves tells Cadfael and Beringer that she is Sister Hilaria, whom he had left safe in their sanctuary. The nun had been raped and murdered, and because of some of the things he said while raving with fever, Cadfael fears that the wounded monk he is tending may have done it.
And where is Ermina? She has left her erstwhile suitor, who she has discovered is a cad, and arrives at Bromfield Priory, saved by an attractive young Syrian-born squire, who her uncle has sent incognito into the king’s territory to find the children.
What follows is a ripping tale of close calls, treachery, and narrow escapes. How seemingly unrelated events eventually weave together to create an amazing, but totally believable tale, is a testament to Peters’ skill as a story teller. She creates haunting images of winter; blizzards and wind like knives, cold stone castles, the beautiful young figure frozen in the ice beneath Cadfael’s feet. Her characters are capable of inhuman cruelty, as well as great acts of kindness and compassion, cowardice and heroism. Actions of a past long gone affect the events of the present, and change Cadfael’s life.
I had never had anything against mysteries, but neither was I a mystery addict in any sense of the word. But Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mysteries rocked my reading world and inspired me to write historical mysteries of my own. Peters’ voice - the very way the books are written - evoke the times and the place with the language she uses. The character of Cadfael himself captured me. He is wise, tolerant, and world-weary, a man of his times. He has a true warmth, and by that, I don’t mean sentimentality or emotion, necessarily. I mean a deep humanity and heart that transcends even his formidable intellect. I want to spend time with him, and that is the secret of a successful fictional character. The setting, 12th Century Shrewsbury, is evoked so strongly that the reader comes away with the sense that she knows what it must have been like to live in that time and place. The Virgin in the Ice contains everything I love about historical novels, as well as a clever, thought-provoking, always surprising mystery.

Jimmy Callaway lives and works in San Diego, CA. For more rays of sunshine, please visit


One day, a couple years back, I finished a full shift down at the Sev, came home, and got dumped by my girlfriend.

The next day, I finished a full shift down at the Sev, came home, and found out that up until recently one of my best friends had been sleeping with another ex of mine.

The next day, I didn’t have to work. I sat and read Lovers Are Losers in one sitting.

They say a liberal is just a conservative who hasn’t been mugged yet. I hold that the inverse is true: a conservative is just a liberal who’s been crushed by the bleakness of humanity, the futility of it all.

The hero of Lovers is Christopher Powell, and, in short, he’s pretty much a prick. Well, that’s a little unkind. Let’s put it this way: Powell is a hard man living in a hard world, a hard man who became that way in order to protect the good things in his life, which he can mostly count on one hand. Only thing is his world isn’t hard because of, say, racial inequality or economic stratification or even existential misgivings. No, it’s more to do with the evils of marijuana cigarettes, pre-marital sex, and even (gasp!) lesbianism.

It’d be less than honest for me to say that I didn’t have a chuckle or three at this ham-handed, early ‘50s white-bread morality which pervades the novel. And perhaps I was in an impressionable state of mind when I first read it, but this sort of outlandish lunkheadism on the part of the protagonist (and, it’s fairly safe to assume by extension, the author) was not as invasive or distracting as it could have been. For one thing, it was at least more subtle than Mickey Spillane’s stuff or Isaac Asimov’s, wherein the black characters all speak strictly in Old Plantation (“Yassuh, boss, I’s gwine ta shine yo’ shoes up real nice!”). For another, it is consistent throughout the work, so even if the characters are somewhat two-dimensional, all of them remain equally so. Give a hack like John Irving the same cast, and he’ll see to it that all the male characters are sympathetic and all the females are evil, evil, evil.

But what strikes me the most is simply the well-orchestrated, hardboiled-as-all-hell prose:

“Powell whistled. ‘I’ll bet you were hard to get, Carmen, really hard. Like catching a cold.’”

“[H]er red, half-open mouth was like a fresh knife-wound.”

“‘Thanks a lot,’ Johnston said. ‘Mind telling me how you got them?’ ‘Illegally,’ Powell said and hung up.”

Say what you will, but any guy who can come up with analogies and dialogue like that, the kind I’ll stack up against Chandler or Halliday any old time, a guy like that can have all the obviously right-leaning heroes and chicken-hearted commie villains he wants. Hell, Paradise Lost and The Last Temptation of Christ are two of my favorites, and I’m half a Satanist. It’s all in the delivery, folks.

And of course, Hunt was something of an expert on both conservativism and losing. About twenty years after the publication of Lovers Are Losers, Hunt’s first wife died in a fiery plane wreck, just months before he got sent to prison for almost three years for his direct involvement in the Watergate scandal. Understandably (somewhat so, at least) embittered by this, Hunt however never seemed to waver from his basic white male Republican outlook on life in America until he died a couple years back, right around when I was discovering this book. But given all the horseshit that you, me, and Howard Hunt have had to go through in our lives, one thing remains perfectly clear to me:

A lover is just a loser who hasn’t lost yet.

Ed Gorman is the author of Ticket to Ride, The Midnight Room and editor the forthcoming anthology By Hook or By Crook.


There are certain books you open up with a feeling of coming home. I'm not sure how many times I've read Stephen King's Danse Macabre but it's probably five or six times all the way through. And numerous times when I've opened it to read a specific arc or chapter. I started reading it when I was going through my latest series of radiation sessions and, as always, it made me happy. It's just one of those books.

Ostensibly the book deals with the traditions and tropes of horror fiction, movies, television, radio and comic books. But in the course of discussing horror from its inception to 1981 when the book was first published, King gives us a cultural, intellectual, and sociological overview of both our society and his own life. You're propelled through the book quickly because King has stocked it with so much information, discussion and smart-ass asides. The section on the terrible movie Robot Monster makes me laugh out loud no matter how many times I read it. And yes, there's even a picture of the guy in the gorilla suit and diving helmet. And I still can't believe that Elmer Bernstein, one of the truly great composers of movie music, wrote the music for it.

One of the pieces I was especially taken with this time--maybe because I'd just finished rereading Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury and Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser--is King's comparison of Bradbury-Dreiser. Huh? But he makes his case very well--I imagine King was a hell of a good teacher--noting that he's not saying they're alike in theme or style but in the way they frequently overplay their hands.

King has some occasional fun with science fiction fandom, remarking on its frequent complaint that science fiction novels rarely get much respect from the mainstream press. But as King points out, science fiction reviewers can be pretty savage on their own writers. I remember as a teenager not liking Damon Knight's reviews because of their meanness and, in the case of Richard Matheson, what I felt to be envy. According to Knight Matheson was a hack who could do nothing right. I'd say Richard's had a pretty good run despite Knight's opinion of him, wouldn't you?

The final segment, Horror and Morality, could stand alone as a lecture worthy of a semester's study if you coupled it with reading six or seven of the novels King mentions his discussion of horror's relevance to the culture at large.

Stephen King's written a lot of books. This is one of his best. It demonstrates that he's not only a first-rate storytellert but a first-rate thinker as well.

Joe Barone
Paul Bishop
Bill Crider
Martin Edwards
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
K.A. Laity
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/Dan Stumpf
Brian Lindenmuth
Todd Mason
Jim Napier
Scott Parker
Eric Peterson
James Reasoner
Rick Robinson
Kerrie Smith

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Needling Damages

Yes, Olive is reading Needle and you can too at

Seriously folks, could anyone out there follow the shell game that DAMAGES ended on. Did they need to obfuscate the current season by pulling in strands from Season One and Two.
Maybe they feel this season is their swan song, but killing off or imprisoning almost every major character seemed a bit harsh. What did you think? And why was Patty's prosaic back story given so much attention? Were you surprised given her current actions?
I have so many questions....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Interrupting My Own Post with a Question From Yesterday


If Superman is not a closed text, in other words, if we can tinker with him, at what point does Superman (or Ulysses or Hercule Poiront or any mythical figure) lose his/her Supermanness? What essential characteristics cannot be changed before he disappears. Taking Superman as an example, I'd suggest his weakness in the presence of Kryptonite has to be inviolable. What others are essential?

Sorry if I am boring you, but the whole idea has caught my attention.


I used to read whodunits almost exclusively thirty years ago. But over the years, they began to lose their luster since they can be formulaic.

But some writers do them well and they have the satisfaction of completing a puzzle.

Who writes the best whodunits now? Or who is your favorite classic whodunit writer?

Monday, April 19, 2010


In an essay entitled "The Myth of Superman," writer/philosopher Umberto Eco commented on the narrative dilemma of serialized fiction, using Superman comics as an example. Eco was concerned with delineating the features of a 'closed' text - a classic Superman story is 'closed,' in Eco's terminology, because it is designed to elicit a predetermined response - the mythological iteration of the Superman character. Therefore, nothing can happen in a Superman tale which advances the hero along the life-path: he cannot marry, reproduce or grow old.

Has this held true with Superman comics? Is he still catching bank robbers and stopping trains circa the nineteen forties? Or has he been free from his "closed" environment and allowed to do 21st century deeds?Has his character grown?

Saturday, April 17, 2010


It's been interesting reading the reviews and discussions going on about Twyla Tharp's new show FLY AWAY WITH ME (and it is a show rather than a performance) on Broadway.

Dance reviewers seem disappointed to say the least. Theater critics find a lot more to like. Recently two NEW YORK TIMES critics went head to head on the front page of the Arts section.

We saw this production when we were in New York last month. I was disappointed. I expected to see a modern dance performance and what I got was a Broadway show--but one with only the dance numbers-- no plot and using mostly taped music. The worst of both worlds in some ways. It was a series of pas de deux with none of the exciting moves you usually see in modern dance. Using just two dancers in almost every scene was dull. Modern dance is exciting because of its athleticism. There was little of that here. Nobody was doing anything the typical Broadway dancer didn't do.

But it was fun reading the contrasting reviews. Today another article in the NYT spoke of the discomfort felt when everyone was enjoying a production or movie you did not. This was how I felt watching FLY WITH ME--like I was missing something.

It's hard to remember experiences such as this, but

What's the best thing you ever saw live on stage-be it a concert, play or dance?