Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books, April 29, 2011

Please check out Rick Robinson's blog right here for the links

Ed Gorman is the author of TICKET TO RIDE and edited ON DANGEROUS GROUND. You can find him here.

MISCHIEF, THE UNSUSPECTED by Charlotte Armstrong

I believe it was Anthony Boucher who once described Charlotte Armstrong as a mixture of Cornell Woolrich and Shirley Jackson. I'm not sure I quite agree with that but it's headed in the right direction anyway.

Armstrong was pure 100% white bread. Well-bred, middle class if not upper middle class, traditional in virtually every respect, her forte was gently undermining the kind of women's fiction you found in the slicks of the 1940s and 1950s. (I've always remembered how she challenged the masculinty of a girl friend's lover. "He's the sort of man who's interested in women's hats." An her own lover says: "Lord." She was also good at spoofing the Martha Stewarts of her day. You could tell what she thought of a woman just by how she set her table. Too fancy was deadly.)

Her fiction is...odd. Nearly everybody in her stories is neurotic and overmuch. My favorite Armstrong is Mischief, a short novel that made a much-denigrated film called Don't Bother To Knock, which features a chilling performance by a young Marilyn Monroe as a mentally unbalanced babsyitter. It's a flawed movie but for me an entertaining one.

Her greatest success was with her novel The Unsuspected which became a smash hit with Claude Raines. The problem with the film is that running time doesn't permit all the really slick plot twists Armstrong brought to the novel. It's ominous undertone about how media monsters are created is extremely relevant to today.

She died way too young, at sixty-four, at the h eighth of her popularity. Her stories were regularly adapted for TV. She won the Edgar for her novel A Dram of Poison which again struck me as an...odd book. A clever book, a well written book, but one that always left me cold.

You see her at her best, I think, in her short stories, many of which are stunning. And you have to applaud the slick magazine editors of the time for publishing some of them. She published two collections during her lifetime and you won't find a bad one in the bunch. And a few of them are stunning, dark as noir but played out against middle class setting and situations. Even most of her cozier material has an edge (with one goofy exception,that being A Dram of Poison).

I don't think she was nearly as good as Margaret Millar, whom she resembles in some ways, nor Elizabeth Sanxay Holding, whom she also resembles, but she is certainly worth sampling from used stores or the internet.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thursday Night Poetry: Edna St. VIncent Millay

FFB Links

Contributors: please send your Friday Forgotten Books links to Richard Robinson.


How I Came To Write This Book:

Cathi Stoler, Telling Lies

Call me suspicious. I can’t help it. It’s probably from reading too many spy novels when I was a kid. Or from watching how people try and get over on each other with everything from cheating at cards to Bernie Madoff and his ultimate Ponzi scheme. Anyway, being suspicious is part of my nature.

Months after the horrific events on 9/11 over 1600 people were still missing. Friends and families continued to post photos and messages on the subway walls in high-traffic areas in New York such as the Times Square and Union Square subway stations. Temporary tents for the Coroner’s team went up at the corner of 30th Street and First Avenue to process the remains that were unearthed. Hundreds of funerals and memorials were held for friends and family members.

These were the sights I saw every day as I went to work and walked around the city. All these people missing and unaccounted for. Could it be possible that one or two of them were actually still alive? What if someone had used the events of that fateful day to disappear, to change their lives and start over as someone new? What I wondered, would prompt a person to do this? The chance to escape retribution for a crime? Money? Despair? Sex? The more I thought about it, the more certain I became that someone had taken the opportunity that 9/11 had afforded him or her to disappear.

Unfortunately, life intervened and other suspicious scenarios took over my brain. Reading the newspaper will do that to you. Identity theft was becoming a bigger and bigger problem and I began working on a novel about this subject. Yet, I never forgot my 9/11 theory and, eventually, I decided to write about it. The outcome was Telling Lies.

Telling Lies is a complicated story. While a missing person post 9/11 is the catalyst for my plot, it also involves another hot topic often in the news: the high-priced, cutthroat world of International art. Combining these issues, I added in two take-no-prisoners protagonists, Magazine Editor, Laurel Imperiole, and Private Detective, Helen McCorkendale, mixed them up with the NYPD, the FBI, then tossed in a priceless painting stolen by the Nazis and topped it off with the Israeli Mossad—there’s that the spy thing again.

Here’s a mini synopsis of the novel:

How many lies does it take to get away with murder?

When a chance encounter in Florence’s Uffizi Museum plunges Women Now editor Laurel Imperiole and private investigator Helen McCorkendale into an investigation of missing persons and stolen Nazi art, the women find themselves ensnared in a deadly maze of greed and deceit.

Could the man Laurel bumped into have been Jeff Sargasso, an art dealer and friend who perished in the World Trade Center on 9/11? Was it possible he was still alive and had disappeared without a trace?

Searching for answers, Laurel and Helen thread their way through a sinister skein of lies that take them on a whirlwind journey that could end in death.

There you have it. With all that’s going on in my story, I think anyone’s suspicions would be aroused enough to read more. Or, at least I hope so.

Telling Lies was officially released on April 11th and is available at

Cathi Stoler was an award-winning advertising copywriter. Telling Lies is her first mystery/suspense novel. Other novels in this series will include Keeping Secrets, which delves into the subject of hidden identity, and, The Hard Way, a story about the international diamond trade. She has also written several short stories including Fatal Flaw, which was published online this April at Beat To A Pulp and Out of Luck, which will be included in the upcoming New York Sisters in Crime anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices. In addition to Sisters in Crime, Cathi is also a member of Mystery Writers of America. You can contact Cathi at

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wednesday Night Poetry: Billy Collins


There is a child in my grandson's preschool class named Phineas. Now I know names like this are now popular. But I always think this name is limiting--especially for a future detective. Phineas could never feature as a free swinging, muscular, gun-toting hero.

But he could take on more Sherlockian characteristics. Or at least so it seems to me.

What are your favorite fictional names?

Hard to beat Lew Archer, Travis McGee, Lisbeth Salander, Angel Dare, V.I. Warshawski or Jack Reacher, isn't it? Can a wrong name put you off? Would you believe in the toughness of Lisbeth Salander if her name was Mary White?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

RIP, Phoebe Snow

Forgotten Movies, April 26. 2011: Imitation Of Life

Oh, boy, was there ever a sudsier Douglas Sirk movie than this one? Or one I watched more often growing up? How could you beat the mother-daughter combos of Lana Turner and Sandra Dee and Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner. A struggling actress hires a housekeeper to care for her child. The housekeeper has a child of the same age. There are more troubles inside this prettily wrapped package than one can imagine. Get out your tissues before sitting down. They don't make pictures like this one anymore.
For more choices, see Todd Mason directly.

Monday, April 25, 2011

"We Had Bodies Then"

Camille Paglia has a piece in Salon about how Taylor was part of the last generation of film actresses who had real bodies. Neither she nor I am talking about Liz's years of excessive weight but her years before 1975.

Gloria Swanson says in SUNSET BOULEVARD, "We have faces then."
Taylor could say similarly, "We had bodies then."

Do you ever wonder if the dearth of nude scenes in movies might be because today's actresses are not all that appealing naked. I don't think anyone would want to see Paltrow without clothes nowadays. And there are a hundred others right behind her.

My husband says it is easier not to eat at all than to eat sensibly. Or is it a form of mutilation like tattoos and body piercing? Or is it a desire to punish oneself? Or to prove you have the most marbles. Or no marbles.

Paglia mentions the two actresses in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. And this is true. Both of them looked too fragile to take out the garbage. Lose the fat on your face after a certain age and it is aging.

This is not a new topic, but pictures of Liz in her prime brought it home.

I guess it was Gloria Vanderbilt who said you could never be too thin. But can you? What do you think? Is there an actress today that wears a size larger than 4? Do men like these bodies? Most men seem to think Christine Hendricks from Mad Men looks just fine but women speak differently.

How thin is too thin?


How I Came To Write This Story: The Wicked Woman’s Booty

When Jason Michel asked me to write a fun, campy, cliché pirate serial back in late 09’ to lighten up Pulp Metal Magazine, I was surprised to say the least. Hello? I was a horror writer. And who ever heard of a woman writing pirates? And I had no experience writing a “… to be continued!”. I was unsure, but Jason Michel has always believed in me and encouraged me to go beyond my comfort zone. After finishing up Devil’s Eye last year, I was reading Arabians Nights and was completely enamored with the piece. An idea struck, and the The Wicked Woman’s Booty was born.

I have been asked many, many times where do I draw my inspiration? Is it Pirates of The Caribbean? That makes me laugh every single time. Sure I think Jack Sparrow is fun. I liked the first one, but every one after that is kinda (you know) LAME. I love Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (he is a writing god to me!). The old black and white pirate movies like Blackbeard are awesome. Goonies is one of my favorites too. I enjoy these, but they don’t inspire my pirates so much. Music. Music definitely inspires. I have a whole playlist full of goodies including Slayer, AC/DC, Fused, Alestorm, Apocalyptica, Rob Zombie, Nick Cave, Therion, Rise Against, and a little bit of Metallica. Watching Cyndi Lauper kick her heels up in Goonies R Good Enough is its own kind of inspiration. I sing along with her on pirate Sundays. But sticking with literature, Arabian Nights inspires my pirates the most. The audience will understand as the Wicked Woman sails deeper into the Sea of Imagination. On that note, here is the real honest to goodness reason I love pirates:

One of my grandmothers lived in a Viking town, right off Puget Sound. Every August, they had a parade on Front Street, and we’d go. This one summer, the temperature was off the charts. The smell of sweat, beer, cigarette smoke and cotton candy was so thick you couldn’t swim through it. Wasps kept pestering us. I was shooing them away from my little sister when the Viking ship float drove through.

We cheered and laughed. The Vikings on board sang chanties in a thunderous choir. They had long rugged beards, wore helmets, armor, and swords. The drunks in the crowd sang along with them.

I don’t know if it was the sun, the band, or the beer, but something in the air was begging for trouble. The band in front of the float played harder, the Vikings in the float sang louder. They did their garrrrs! at the crowds and the women flirted back. It was all so exciting. Surreal. And when all the Vikings yelled and jumped ship --there was a down right ruckus.

They grabbed shrieking women off the street and threw them into the ship. People scattered and ran for their lives (!) Children lost their cotton candy. Babies cried. The band played on and I remember the sound of beer bottles breaking. I was genuinely terrified, frozen like a deer watching. At one point, the crowd parted. My eyes locked with one particular young Viking, the spell broke and he chased me through the crowd. I screamed and hollered, horrified, terrified and delighted at the same time (where was my mother!?!). Anyway, he finally caught me, threw me up in the air and let out this Viking war cry that I will never forget. I just remember screaming, half scared out of my wits and half absolutely thrilled because I knew it was all in fun. He set me down, grabbed my chin and said, “That’s a pretty lass.” He put his Viking hat on my head covering my eyes. By the time I pulled the helmet off, he was gone and my mom had found me and was asking me why I had run away. I don’t think she would remember it today. But I will never forget.

I understand there is a vast difference between Vikings and pirates. (Give me WWF smackdown! Pirates vs Vikings!) But… close enough. I hope The Wicked Woman’s Booty brings to the audience the same thrill, scare, tease, and delight I felt in that instant when that Viking held me in the air and gave his war cry. You can find all seven episodes (so far) at Pulp Metal Magazine here or you can find more info at my site here.


Exiled in deep southern Texas, Jodi is a Seattle author hoping to write her way back to the Pacific Northwest. She writes omnivorous fiction favoring fable, suburban punk, pulp, horror, and bizarro.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


I really admire THE BIG BANG THEORY. Here's a successful show that could have skated along (Like Two and A Half Men or How I Married Your Mother) for years on a formula. It had a breakout star with Jim Parsons and it could run him to death--like Robin Williams on Mork and Mindy or Michael J. Fox on Family Ties way back when.

But someone somewhere said, "Hey, let's stop using Sheldon in every scene. Let's even stop focusing exclusively on those four guys and one girl every week."

So they brought in three more actresses that have made the show much more versatile. Now we hear conversations between the women, who are equally funny. Turns out these writers knew how to write for women as well as men. They broadened the world on BBT. And guess what, the women are written to be as smart as the men. Perhaps smarter.

What other shows do this/have done it? What shows managed to evolve over time?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saturday Night Music: Richard Hawley



By Kenneth Wishnia, author of THE FIFTH SERVANT (Harper Collins; February 2011, but perfect for Passover themes!)

This is the book I was born to write.


Like many of my generation (we’re talking teenagers in the 1970s), my friends and I were attracted to the quasi-medieval and Celtic mythological worlds of Tolkien, LeGuin, Led Zeppelin, and other alternatives to the drab reality of fading post-1960s hippiedom. I’ve wanted to write a story set in the Middle Ages since I was about 13, when I was living in France (my mom was doing her doctoral research on French labor history) with direct access to genuine medieval castles, cathedrals and other locales, as well as the Cinémateque Francaise, which is how I managed to watch the 1920 German expressionist version of The Golem on the big screen in all its terrible glory. (Talk about an inspiration!)

But something funny happened on the way to my “medieval” story. First of all, when I began to do the research for this book, I found that the Renaissance offered a lot more possibilities for a compelling story than the Age of Faith. If I had set this novel in the 14th century, when Christian mobs were convinced that the Jews were responsible for the Black Death, the battle lines would have been much more clearly drawn: many Christians of that period viewed the Jews as inhuman creatures, literally the spawn of Satan. So my story would have been much more clear cut, much more good vs. evil, white hats vs. black hats, us vs. them.

But the Renaissance ushered in numerous upheavals within the Church, and a shift to a mercantile economy, and the dominant attitudes towards Jews began to change from sheer racial hatred to more of a “Gee, I don’t feel like paying back my debts. Let’s go ransack the ghetto and burn the ledger books.” In fact, the Jews were expelled and invited back to Prague so many times that Rabbi Judah Loew (1520?-1609) gave a sermon in 1573 comparing the situation to fickle lovers quarreling. (A partial list of expulsions, attempted expulsions and pogroms in Prague alone yields 24 occasions between 1494-1568, or an average of one every 3 years.)

So moving the time period up to the Renaissance provided a lot more room in the story for complexity and ambiguity, qualities which help distinguish quality “literary” writing from run-of-the-mill genre writing.

In that sense, The Fifth Servant is the culmination of years of work developing my craft as a crime writer and as a scholar in the field of Judaic studies.

I drew on both of these traditions to create a story that combines a refined literary style with a page-turning plot that will appeal to a broad range of readers.

One of the reasons for writing this book was just plain balance: So many historical mysteries fall under the genre heading of “cozies”--light-hearted plots in which evil is depicted as an aberration that can be exposed and excised, allowing the world to return to a state of normalcy, even innocence. Well, the Jewish experience of European history is anything but cozy and innocent, and I wrote this novel partly in reaction to that.

The period I chose--March, 1592--was attractive for many reasons. First and foremost, the great Rabbi Judah Loew of the Golem legends was active in Prague at the time. It was also a time when people were on the cusp of modernity, but they weren’t there yet: science was advancing, but the discoveries of Galileo still lay more than 15 years in the future. People still believed in evil spirits and magical cures, and interfaith marriage was punishable by death. (Full disclosure: I am married to a Catholic. So there. Ha ha ha.) In fact, our relationship inspired the “forbidden love” subplot in the novel. And I have to admit that I sometimes get a bit of a thrill from the knowledge that our “cohabiting” would have caused major riots 400 years ago.

I also grew up in a thoroughly secular household where the primary emblems of Jewish culture were bagels and Woody Allen movies, which isn’t a bad start, but it meant that I had to do a great deal of research to write this book. I studied the Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, Jewish history, Czech history--in all, I gathered 1,200 pages of single-spaced notes, 3 handwritten notebooks, and a 42-inch pile of drafts [see attached photo].

This research represents the Jewish education I never had. Yet I also managed to include a fair amount of humor in it as well. After all, the Jews have a long tradition of using humor in the direst of situations, which in some ways resembles the gallows humor in the cop novels I’ve written. (Yes, I actually found places for “cop humor” in 16th century Prague.) Some things never change. And oddly enough, one of the goals of the historical novel is to point that out.

Kenneth Wishnia was born in Hanover, N.H. His first novel, 23 Shades of Black, was nominated for the Edgar and the Anthony Awards and made Booklist’s Best First Mystery list, and was followed by four other novels, including Soft Money, which Library Journal listed as one of the Best Mysteries of the Year, and Red House, which was a Washington Post Book World “Rave” Book of the Year in 2002. His short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Murder in Vegas, Queens Noir, and elsewhere.

Friday, April 22, 2011

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, April 22, 2011

Thanks to all of our reviewers today. I wasn't able to stop by due to eye allergy issues.
For my review of SOURCE CODE, please check out Crimespree Cinema.

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, April 22, 2011

Yvette Banek, A Little Neighborhood Murder, A.J. Orde
Joe Barone, The Sounds of Windee, Arthur W. Upfield
Paul Bishop, Footprints on the Ceiling, Clayton Rawson
Bill Crider, A Touch of Danger, James Jomes
Scott Cupp, Quarantined, Joe McKinney
Martin Edwards, The Mystery of the Butcher Shop, Gladys Mitchell
Ed Gorman, The Vengeful Virgin, Gil Brewer
Jerry House, The Golden Eagle Mystery by "Ellery Queen, Jr." (1942)
The Green Turtle Mystery by "Ellery Queen, Jr." (1944) (Frank Belknap Long
Portrait of Ambrose Bierce by Adolphe de Castro (1929)
Randy Johnson, The Caspak Series, Edgar Rice Burroughs
George Kelley, Rudyard Kipling's Tales of Horror and Fantasy
Rob Kitchin, The Rainy City, Earl Emerson; 30 for a Harry, Richard Hoyt
B.V. Lawson, Crime Scenes: Movie Poster Art of the Film Noir: The Classic Period, 1941-59)
Evan Lewis, The Sherlock Holmes Book of Quotations, Bruce Beaman
Steve Lewis/Jeff Meyerson, The French Key, Frank Gruber
Todd Mason, Hell's Cartographers, edited by Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss
J. Norris, Dead Man's Walk, Richard Prather
David Rachels, Soft Touch, John D. MacDonald
James Reasoner, The War of Two Worlds, Poul Anderson
Gerard Saylor, The Ipcress File, Len Deighton
Ron Scheer, The Bullet Meant for Me, Jan Reid
Kerrie Smith, Grim Pickings, Jennifer Rowe
Kevin Tipple, The Troubleshooter, Austin S. Camacho

Friday's Forgotten Books, April 22, 2011

Next week Richard Robinson will host Friday Forgotten Books. You can send your link here.
He is on PST so things may come up late and the summary will be on Saturday.
Thanks so much, Rick. Patti


Ed Gorman is the author of STRANGLEHOLD, A TICKET TO RIDE and numerous other books, anthologies and stories. You can usually find him here.

The Vengeful Virigin, Gil Brewer

F. Scott Fitzgerald once noted that Hemingway (then at his peak) wrote with the authority of success while Fitzgerald (then in the dumps) wrote with the authority of failure.

The authority of failure is what animates virtually all of Gil Brewer's work and certainly The Vengeful Virgin is no exception. In outline it's nothing new--a very James M. Cainian scenario in which a TV repairman gets involved with an eighteen year old temptress who is taking care of a dying old man (and one we don't take to at all). He's promised to leave her a fortune when he dies. The trouble is he's dying very slowly. It won't surprise you that the temptress has thoughts of inviting the Reaper in a little ahead of schedule.

What makes this one of Gil Brewer's most successful novels is that a couple of the plot turns are truly shocking and that he is in complete control of his material. He paces this one well right up to the end. And the end is a powerhouse.

I mentioned the authority of failure. In Brewer's case it's usually because his protagonists let their dissatisfaction with their lot justify whatever they need to do. They generally learn too late that maybe the old TV repair gig wasn't so bad at all.
Noir is frequently about failure of various kinds and here, as in most of his work, the Brewer protagonist searches for redemption--from mediocrity, from ennui. Redemption takes the form of lust in Brewer's world but what his protagonists really seem to be after is life on their terms, pleasure and singularity in a world where most people are members of the walking dead.
A nifty little novel with the power to jolt.
Contrast this attitude with the reckless but doomed romantics of Charles Williams (whom I prefer). They're smarter than Brewer's men and there's rarely any self-pity. They seem to be on some kind of quest, which is a twist on the Cain-style tale. Yes they meet a bad girl. Yes they do something stupid. But what gets them through is enormous energy and a sense of mission and an undertow of anger. They're like Brewer's men, too, failures. But they are the tarnished knights that Phillip Marlowe and all his imitators only pretended to be.

Yvette Banek
Joe Barone
Paul Bishop
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Rob Kitchin
Rob Kitchin 2
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/Jeff Meyerson
Todd Mason
John Norris
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple

Thursday, April 21, 2011


How I Came to Write This Story (or, The Dog Did It)

“The dog did it.”

Well, that is what the cat would say, isn’t it? And even if that doesn’t eventually prove to be the case – and I’m not telling – that basic sense of a species, and its prejudices, is at the heart of Dogs Don’t Lie, the first of my new pet noir series.

I’m not saying cats are mean spirited. Far from it. As a lifelong cat person, I know how social, how warm, how interactive these wonderful creatures are. But when looking to create fully fleshed characters, I have to envision their dark sides, too.

And so, along with a healthy sense of self esteem – something all cats possess – I’ve come to believe that they may just have to hold some prejudices about their rival house pets. After all, don’t we all think we’re just a little more smarter than … the other guy?

But if writing cats is easy for me, writing dogs isn’t. And when I came up with the idea for Dogs Don’t Lie, I realized that I needed to get away from just cats. The spark for Pru Marlowe, my bad-girl animal psychic, came from the hard-boiled babes and broads of true noir, and I just couldn’t see one of them only communicating with kitty cats. In fact, when I started the full-length version of this book (it began with a short story), I realized I needed a good, bloody murder to kick it off – and a loyal, loving, but perhaps not particularly articulate animal to take the blame. I needed a dog.

Lily, a white pitbull, became my animal “dumb blonde.” The not-so-bright fall-gal who loved too much, and is set up for murder. It just seemed right that a pit, and a rescue dog at that, would be an obvious suspect when her person is found, dead, with his throat ripped open. I’d spoken to enough people to know about pit’s fearsome reputation – but also to learn about the fierce loyalty they can show to their owners. I did enough research to know about their breed weaknesses (a certain lack of reticence, which would make a dog more suspect) as well as their strengths.

I’ve long believe that if I were going to write animal characters, they had to be characters first – full-bodied depictions – and they would have to be true to type. Yes, I anthropomorphize. You can’t write talking animals and not give them human traits. But I believe that if I give them a full range of human traits – a little vanity, some jealousy, maybe even some ugly prejudices of their own – I can create animal characters that are true to their species, entertaining to readers, and, in some strange way, real feeling. (Or, as real as any fiction can be – given the usual suspension of disbelief.) So while I’m obviously taking some liberties, I’ve sought to create characters that animal lovers will recognize.

This has been work for me. I’ve had to stretch to understand the dogs (and one ferret) who populate my series debut, but it’s been worth it – and in addition to spending time with animals themselves, I’ve spoken with dog- and ferret-lovers, to rescue professionals, and vets, who can tell me about each species quirks and charms. I consider this the most fun type of research, and key to making my animal characters realistic, as opposed to cutesy.

As I work on the next book in the series, Cats Can’t Shoot, I’m exploring their individual personalities a little more. When I came up with Lucy, a toy poodle, for example, I realized that to survive as a toy in a tough dog’s world, she’d have to have some tricks. Suddenly I was writing a teacup-sized character who knew more about feminine wiles than my heroine, Pru Marlowe, did. Wil Pru learn from her? Some of my readers have noted how tough Pru is. I like to think of her as the kind of character we can all relate to – who we’d all like to be, at least sometimes. I worry more about that than if people like her. But I want this series to show her, well, not exactly softening. But maybe getting to know the world of humans as well as the world of animals. It’s all about character for me, whether two- or four-footed. And, yeah, maybe the dog did do it.

Clea Simon is the author of 11 books, most recently Dogs Don’t Lie (Poisoned Pen Press) and Grey Zone (Severn House), the third in the Dulcie Schwartz mystery series. A former journalist, she lives in Somerville, Mass., with her husband and their non-homicidal cat. She can be reached at and on Twitter at @Clea_Simon .

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


When people say government programs don't work, this is the one I think of first: a program that has worked almost seamlessly for seventy some years. Any shortfall in their accounts has come because money had been borrowed from it to meet other needs.

Millions of people have had decent old ages because of this FDR initiative. My parents, poorish all their lives, felt more security after sixty-five than at any time before it.

A lot of legislators would like to see it go because they aren't so interested in people that need help at the end of life. Or people who need any government programs during their lives. They truly believe if you can't take care of yourself, too bad. Or they think, why not allow private insurers to take this on.

Can you imagine how a program such as Social Security would be run in private hands? Has your insurance agent ever called you up to explain that you were paying too much? I bet not. Has you health care provider ever sent you a note saying you should get that surgery your doctor mentioned?

But a woman called us a few weeks ago and spent twenty minutes explaining that we were not getting the best deal from Social Security the way we set it up. A few months ago, they sent me a check, telling me they had underpaid me (my mistake) for the first nine months I collected. They seem determined we should get the most we have coming. A private insurer would never do this because our money would be coming out of the company pocket. A conflict of interest exists whenever a private company services the public.

There are many people in government who do have your best interests at heart. I can't imagine any corporation that does. Not any private healthcare system, not any agribusiness, not any car company. Anything they do to help you is because your government makes them. Or to compete with a company that does. It's the government who made them install seatbelts, makes them stop polluting water, makes them insure people with pre-existing conditions, makes them stop allowing people to smoke in restaurants, makes them do the right thing.

I don't want to debate this here, I swore I was off of that carousel, but I do want to credit SS with being a well run program that may soon need our help to survive.


On Sunday in the NYT, Gina Bellafonte reviewed Game of Thrones on HBO. She admitted she didn't read or watch this genre, but went ahead and reviewed it negatively. She critiqued HBO for spending so much money and time on such a small audience production. Her review said less about the quality of the production than her aversion toward such stories. I found it troubling that she would agree to review it at all given her negativity.

Should reviewers critique productions, books and movies if they have no respect for the genre. Or no knowledge of it. If you hate romances, why wouldn't you recuse yourself from reviewing one? How can you evaluate one fairly? Aren't you doing a disservice to the people who do like romances? Don't they deserve an unbiased review?

Most of the other newspaper reviews found much to like in this series. Was Ms. Bellafonte out of line in taking this assignment given her taste?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday Night Music: What I Say

What's Been in Your Closet the Longest?

We were having a delightful dinner the other night when Phil looked across the table and asked. "How long have you had that jacket?"

Living in Detroit, I'm usually cold and I am allergic to wool and hate jackets that are stiff, so if I can find a soft, broken-in jacket, I hold on to it.

It is just too easy to throw it on--more like I'd throw on a blanket or bathrobe than an item of clothes. I rarely (okay, not too often) wear (wore) it outside the house.

I've had the jacket since the mid-nineties, which wouldn't be so bad if I wore it occasionally or if it still looked pristine or if it was flattering. But it falls into the area of comfort clothes.

Do you have an item in your closet that is this long in the tooth or am I the only one?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lois Duncan Interview, Appreciation and Book Giveway

Right here.

How well I remember Megan reading Lois Duncan books in her pine-paneled bedroom beneath a huge window looking out on the leafy backyard. I think I even have a few of those books boxed away.

If there were any YA books around when I was 12 in 1960, I missed them and that's a pity. I don't remember reading books for or about girls my age at all. A few of the Maude Hart Lovelace books concerned older girls but I had read them by then.

For me, at 12, I was obsessed with books about the Holocaust and its survivors. Novels by Elie Wiesel, Leon Uris, Boris Pasternak, Herman Wouk, Salinger, Katherine Porter, Issac Singer, Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud and of course, THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK. The event and its aftermath was still every much with us in my largely Jewish neighborhood of 1960. Although I was not Jewish, most of my friends and teachers were. It felt like my story after a while, even if it wasn't.

What books spoke most to you at twelve-thirteen?


How I Came To Write This Story...

Guns Of Brixton

Well, you know what they say: ‘When a one armed man chops down a tree in the forest, a butterfly claps’. No really. The thing is, everything is connected, it really is. And Kevin Bacon is only six friends away from you, even though he isn’t on Facebook.

Anyway, it was a while back. I’d been writing flash fiction for about a year and I had this vague notion of writing something with interconnecting stories. One city. One night. You know the score.

I really liked this idea and I thought – even though everyone told me it was dead hard to do – that I’d give it a go.

So I did. Three or four stories interlocking in London on New Year’s Day. In a 1000 word flash fiction story. Yes, I know.

A pretty daft idea but, you see, Eric Beetner had just launched a Flash Fiction Challenge- when was this? Two years ago? - and I really wanted to enter my story, which was called The Big Blow after the Manu DiBango song.

Of course it didn’t win but I let it marinate and, from time to time, I added bits to it and took bits out until, after about a year, I had the scenario of two interconnecting stories. Simpler. But longer.

For some reason I’d set part of the story in Brixton which, of course, meant I was pretty much obliged to call the story Guns Of Brixton, after the classic song by The Clash. Mark Timlin’s novel Guns Of Brixton then came out via MaxCrime and I considered changing the title but in the end I didn’t.

I was pretty pleased with the yarn, too. It was, at the time, the longest story that I’d written and it felt fairly grown up. Well, for me. And so I sent it to CrimeFactory because, well, who doesn’t want to have a story in CrimeFactory? And they said yes, too, and scheduled it for issue five. And I was chuffed.

Cut to few months later, before CrimeFactory Five ( )had even seen the light of day. I was working in summer school in England and sharing a computer without a load of other people. I had a short time to check my emails and saw that I’d received an email from the legendary Maxim Jakubowski ( coincidently the publisher of MaxCrime, you see how things interconnect, eh? Told you!)

He asked me if I’d like to submit a story for the next edition of The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime, which he was editing. I was chuffed again, wasn’t I?

So, I sent him a few stories but didn’t think I’d be accepted. This was, after all, a book that featured work from the top bananas of British crime writing. Colin Dexter was in the 2010 edition! However, only a few hours later, he emailed me back to say he’d take Guns Of Brixton. Yes, I know. This chuffed goes up to eleven.

And The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime 8 will be out soon. And I’m in there with Ian Rankin, Allan Guthrie, Sheila Quigley, Nick Quantrill, Nigel Bird and all sorts of classy types. And my names on the back cover and I get mentioned in the introduction. No, really.

And guess what? I’ve let Guns Of Brixton marinate some more, too, and it has since developed into a 24,00 word novella. And I’ve even got plans for a follow up!

Well, you know what they say: ‘From little acorns a tree grows in Brooklyn.’ Or Brixton. Yes, I know.

Bio: Spinetingler Award nominee Paul D. Brazill was born in Hartlepool, England - yes, the place where they hung the monkey. He is currently on the lam in Bydgoszcz, Poland. He started writing short stories at the end of 2008. Since then, his stuff has appeared in loads of classy print and electronic magazines and anthologies, such as A Twist Of Noir, Beat To A Pulp, Crime Factory, Dark Valentine, Needle, Powder Burn Flash, Thrillers, Killers n Chillers, and Radgepacket Volumes Four and Five. He writes an irregular column for Pulp Metal Magazine and his blog, You Would Say That, Wouldn't You? is here:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Summing Up, Friday, April 15, 2011

The Summing Up, Friday, April 15, 2011

Patti Abbott, The Liberty Campaign, Jonathan Dee
Yvette Banek, The Baby Game, Randall Hicks
Paul Bishop, Night Judgment at Sinos, Jack Higgins
Bill Crider, Spectra: A Galaxy of Best Sellers
Scott Cupp, Adventures in Time & Space, Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas
Loren Eaton, When Gravity Falls, George Alec Effinger
Martin Edwards, The Hog's Back Mystery, Freeman Wills Crofts
Ed Gorman, The Detective in Hollywood, Jon Tuska
Randy Johnson, Texas Fever, Donald Hamilton
George Kelley, The Lost Continent, C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne
B.V. Lawson, Blue Octavo, John Blackburn
Evan Lewis, Marx Western Playsets, The Authorized Guide
Steve Lewis/David Vineyard, Station Wagon in Spain, Frances Parkinson Keyes
Julia Madeleine, Jana, David Veronese
Todd Mason, Crime and Mystery: The 100 Best Books H.R. F. Keating, All in Color for a Dime, Lupoff and Thompson, Science Fiction at Large, Peter Nichols
J.F. Norris, Broken Boy, John Blackburn
Eric Peterson, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, Michael Weldon
David Rachels, Nude on Thin Ice, Gil Brewer
James Reasoner, Horror's Handclasp, Brant House (G. T. Fleming-Roberts)
Richard Robinson, Nice Weekend for a Murder, Max Allan Collins
Gerard Saylor, Too Late to Die, Bill Crider
Ron Scheer, Winter Range, Claire Davis
Kerrie Smith, Death of an Englishman, Magdalen Dabb
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, Double in Trouble, Richard Prather& Stephen Marlowe

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, April 15, 2011

I seemed to have been struck down by some flu so it may be tomorrow before I post the summary.

Ed Gorman is the author of TICKET TO RIDE, STRANGLEHOLD and edits (with Dave Zeltserman) ON DANGEROUS GROUND. You can find him

The Detective in Hollywood, Jon Tuska

One of the books I pick up two or three times a year is The Detective in Hollywood by Jon Tuska. Because I'm a big fan of stories about the B movie factories of the Thirties and Forties this is nirvana between covers for me.

The book is packed with biographies of everybody from Rex Stout to some of the actors you saw in virtually every Monogram film ever made. The writing is respectful and never giddy and wise instead of wise-guy. Each person from grips to would be geniuses gets his or her due.

Tuska makes even Philo Vance interesting. Not as a character of course but as the name around which a very successful series was run. In the course of a long chapter there's more hard information about running a B movie series than in most full-length books I've read on the subject.

I've mentioned before the story of Leslie Charteris' contention that the B series Saint would become a smash A series if only RKO would convince Cary Grant to take it over. Right Cary Grant. Then one of the top two or three box office draws in the country. Charteris nagged them about this and other matters until they finally dumped the whole series along with Charteris himself.

I've never believed that today's television is the equivalent of the B factories of the Thirties and Forties. Early Warners and Universal was; they ran the tv elements of their studio pretty much the way they'd run them when Bs were usually the bottom pictures on a double-bill. What's most amazing is how many of these films, while not masterpieces, are popular and worth seeing today--when so many of the stumbling pompous A pictures of the time are long forgotten.

This should be a staple in any crime library. From the sad story of Tom Conway to the tale of the resilient Boris Karloff to long choice overviews of Hammett, Chandler and even Hemingway...this is a fine companion for rainy nights.

The Liberty Campaign, Jonathan Dee (1993) Patti Abbott

Gene Trowbridge is an advertising executive living on Long Island and almost ready for retirement. His interest in a neighbor is aroused when a reporter asks him questions about, Ferdinand. Ferdinand confesses to Gene that he's a former Brazilian Army captain who looked the other way in the torture of civilians in the 1960's. But Ferdinand claims it was part of the war against Communism and believes God will forgive him given his choices at the time.

As the government closes in, Ferdinand appeals to his friend for help--but Gene is completely at bay with what to do, having lived his life without considerations of questions of morality.
What makes this book work so well is that Ferdinand is a man we come to respect despite his past crimes and the reporter, a man we come to dislike, with poor Gene stuck in the middle. Will Gene begin to live a reflective life.

For a look at a forgotten writer, Stona Fitch's uncle, go here.

Yvette Banek
Paul Bishop
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Loren Eaton
Martin Edwards
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/David Vineyard
Julia Madeleine
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
Eric Peterson
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cottonseed, Drive-By Truckers




When people find out that I'm a practicing attorney as well as a mystery novelist, they immediately think I write legal thrillers, a la John Grisham. While I would by no means object to Grisham-sized advances, I have always had to tell them that no, I don't write courtroom dramas where the brilliant crusading lawyer pulls off some derring-do in front of a jury, whereupon said jury proceeds to completely exonerate his client (who is, of course, always completely innocent and is, moreover, the only client said brilliant crusading lawyer has to worry about).

Problem is, most of that stuff drives me up the wall. You never have just one client, and you don't have the luxury of only being hired to defend the innocent, not if you're used to regular meals and a roof over your head. Don't even get me started on the way these fictional lawyers get away with crap in the courtroom that would get a real lawyer tossed in jail, if not disbarred.

There are, however, certain novelists who have gotten it right. Margaret Maron's first book, for example, provides one of the best descriptions of small town legal practice I've ever run across, possibly because part of her research involved shadowing the Chief District Court Judge in the district where I practice. And one of my literary heroes, George V. Higgins, wrote a couple of books featuring a Boston criminal lawyer named Jerry Kennedy which perfectly portray the blend of idealism and cynicism you have to develop to keep your head on straight in this business (although he does do that annoying one-client-at-a-time thing).

So I'd been toying with the idea of writing “the lawyer book,” as I privately called it. I'd also always wanted to write a classic hardboiled P.I. novel, the kind that starts when the world-weary gumshoe with a cynical exterior, a tough, sassy secretary and a taste for rotgut whiskey meets the client who may or may not be playing him for a fool.

Then, as so often happens with me, it all came together around a piece of music. In this case, it was a song called “Cottonseed” by The Drive-By Truckers. “Cottonseed” is a story song, narrated in the voice of a hardened criminal who's apparently addressing one of those “Scared Straight” classes:

I came to tell my story to all these young and eager minds
To look in their unspoiled faces and their curious bright eyes
Stories of corruption, crime and killing, yes it's true
Greed and fixed elections, guns and drugs and whores and booze

So I'm driving along through rural North Carolina, going from one court to another, and listening to this song cranked up to 11. When it got to this verse:

I used to have a wad of hundred dollar bills in the back pocket of my suit
I had a .45 underneath my coat and another one in my boot
I drove a big ole Cadillac, bought a new one anytime I pleased
And I put more lawmen in the ground than Alabama put cottonseed

I suddenly had a character. And he had a name: Voit Fairgreen. Voit's the bad-ass criminal who hires my jaded lawyer, Andy Cole, to defend his brother Danny on a murder charge, and sets Andy on the path either to his redemption or his destruction, or maybe both. And I knew that along the way, we needed Greed and fixed elections, guns and drugs and whores and booze. So that's how I wrote it.

Lawyers, Guns and Money is available for Kindle:

And Nook:

And other e-book formats:

for only $2.99.

J.D. Rhoades is the author of LAWYERS, GUNS AND MONEY, e-published in February 2011, and another e-pubbed novel STORM SURGE. "Traditionally" published books include the Jack Keller series of thriller novels: THE DEVIL'S RIGHT HAND, GOOD DAY IN HELL, and SAFE AND SOUND, as well as a standalone, BREAKING COVER, all from St. Martin's Minotaur, and coming soon for e-books. In his day job, he practices law in a small town in North Carolina. Visit his Website.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Who is Your Go-to Writer

Most writers are fairly reliable. You get the carra carra orange you paid for. (Love those oranges btw). But everyone has one writer they come to expect more from.

Mine is Stewart O'Nan, who is not only reliable but unexpected in his subjects. Read SNOW ANGELS, followed by SPEED QUEEN, followed by A PRAYER FOR THE DYING and ending with a hit of LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER.

Four completely different books with some others scattered between. His canvass is one of the broadest in literature.

I am reading EMILY ALONE right now and it's a new day entirely. O'Nan is my go-to writer.
Who's yours?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Forgotten TV Shows.: What Should be on DVD but isn't?

My candidate is China Beach. This was a superlative show and I am stunned it has not been released on DVD much less BLUE RAY.

On from 1988-91, this show portrayed military medical personnel on China Beach during the War in Vietnam. Dana Delaney has never found a better part. I doubt there was ever a TV show that made me cry more than this one.

Why the wait? Has the war in Vietnam become a hot potato once again?

Funny how shows like FATHER KNOWS BEST are available on DVD but not this one.

For more forgotten movies or TV shows, visit Todd Mason.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Is A Revolt Underway?

With the price of Michael Connelly's new book-Kindle version. On Amazon there are more than 100 reviews objecting to the price. It seems like this was engineered because the book just came out last week. What is a fair price for a e-book? This one is charging $12.99. Apparently these people feel $9.99 is their limit.

What's a fair price to you?