Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tuesday Night Music: The Decembrists

Forgotten TV Shows

This follows the format of other medical shows of the time--and of all times. Brilliant doctor, grateful patients who seem a bit too close to the doc. I loved it at the time.
Chad Everett, who died last week, was a hunk. He was a fixture on TV for many years. He got his start in Detroit at Wayne State University. Not much more to say about Medical Center. Ben Casey, Marcus Welby and Medical Center were all popular at the time.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Movie Music: Casablanca

How I Came to Write This Book: John Kenyon

How I came to write "Cut."

I had this image of a guy sitting on the subway with a cooler in his lap, but this one wasn't filled with his lunch. It contained a human heart. Who was he? How did he come to have a heart in a Playmate cooler? Why was he on the subway?

I knew if I answered these questions in the right way, it would make an interesting story. I wrote, slowly, making sure to ask more questions of the story as I answered others. When I was done, it was a revelation. This was a real story. I had written a handful of others, but they felt more like exercises, mimicry. This was the first one that felt truly worthy of an audience. I called it "Cut" and sent it to Thuglit, a newly discovered home for crime fiction in the web.

Todd Robinson, the man behind Thuglit, responded quickly, telling me he liked the story and wanted to run it. We worked through some edits, all of which made it better, and he scheduled it for one of his issues. When the story hit, I really felt like I had accomplished something, that this whole writing thing might pan out. Someone with a great eye for stories had deemed mine worthy of an audience, and now it was out there, earning praise.

A short time later, Todd contacted me to say he wanted to include the story in a print anthology. That book, Blood, Guts and Whiskey, includes the likes of Sean Doolittle, Tom Piccirilli and even Eddie Bunker. To say I was over the moon to be published in the same collection with these contemporary favorites and a hero of mine is to be a master of understatement.

That first publication was five years ago, a time during which I have written and published a couple dozen more stories, hacked away at a novel or two, and started my own magazine. But it is that first story that kicked everything into gear. That's why I called my collection The First Cut. It's an homage to that first swing, a reference to the first cut on an album (which is why it leads off the collection). There is much more to come, but it all starts with that.

Another guy with a great eye for stories, Brian Lindenmuth, picked things up from there. I liked the manuscript I submitted, and decided that these stories were worthy of another audience. So call this a story of
perseverance, practice and having smart, talented people willing to help you along the way.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Night Poetry: Yeats

How I Came to Write This Book: Red Baker by Robert Ward

Although Mr. Ward did not write this piece for this series, but in response to my review on Friday, I thought it fit in with it perfectly as it explains where the book came from. It seemed a shame to not post it in a more prominent place than the comment section of the original post. So here it is.

Hi. This is Robert Ward, the author of Red Baker. Thanks for reminding people about my novel. I'm glad you couldn't put down. What i wanted to do was to write a deadly honest book about the real guys I knew in Baltimore and how they really lived. No bullshit genre crap with white knights charging around saving the world and turning down sex because they are too virtuous. This is how these guys really live. I grew up there and every guy I knew who was married had a "side" girlfriend. That is every guy that could have one did. The other guys either wanted to, but were too broke or too unattractive to get one or too afraid of their wives to do it. It was a macho culture. Yes, it's wrong and the guys who did it were tortured by what they did, but they did it anyway. Like the guys in Goodfellas, except most of them were very petty criminals. They lived hard lives with very few of the pleasures that middle class or upper mid class people have. Their work was backbreaking. They got into fights. They had wild senses of humor. Then their jobs were taken away and what little they had was also taken from them. Some of them killed themselves. Some of them went nuts. Some of them -very few-retrained and became computer workers. Some of them, like Red, turned to petty crime with disastrous results.

I wish you had also mentioned that Wanda, Red's wife, is a strong and self-reliant person who won't put up with his shit for long.

My novel won the PEN West Award as the Best Novel of 1985, and if you look on the Barnes and Noble site right now you'll see that they compare it favorably with The "Great Gatsby" and "The Grapes of Wrath."

One final thing...fifty per cent of all marriages now end in divorce. Millions of people are cheating, but for some reason, if you write about working class people they are supposed to be noble and self sacrificing, like, say The Waltons. That's not art, that's sentimental bullshit. Wealthy people cheat and go to shrinks and say how "conflicted they are. Then go cheat again. Poor people cheat and when they feel guilty, which they do, get drunk. In the end, both classes are doing the same thing. But only one of them is considered ok. More bullshit. I don't approve of any of it. But as a writer I understand it. Thanks again.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saturday Night Music: The Drifters

Time Enough at Last

We were reviewing old TWILIGHT ZONE episodes as we walked the other night and probably ALFRED HITCHCOCK got mixed in too and it occurred to us (and probably lots of others too) that if the protagonist wanted anything on some of the more moralistic episodes--like to be pretty, smart, to write a best seller or to read books all day long, he/she were bound to get slapped in the face for it.

Was the show as punitive as it seems in retrospect? Did a lot of episodes mete out punishment for pretty mundane and harmless desires or ambitions or do we only remember those? For instance in the episode with Burgess Meredith, Time Enough at Last, he just wants the time to read. Why must he be punished for that?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Beautiful Women of the Silver Screen: Claudia Cardinale

The Summing Up, Friday, July 27, 2012

Patti Abbott, Red Baker, Robert Ward
Sergio Angelini, Jonathan Latimer
Yvette Banek, Small Vices, Robert B. Parker
Joe Barone, The Big Bad City, Ed McBain
Brian Busby, Existenz, David Cronenberg
Bill Crider, The Source of Fear, Bill S. Ballinger
Scott Cupp, Agatha h and the Airship City, Phil and Kaja Foglio
Martin Edwards, A Minor Operation, J.J. Connington
Curt Evans, Invitation to Kill, Gardner Low
Ed Gorman, The Long Loud Silence, Wilson Tucker
Jerry House, The Evening Standard Second Book of Strange Stories
Randy Johnson, Mirror Friend, Mirror Foe, George Takei and Robert Asprin
Nick Jones, First, Tom Gault and Simone Lia
George Kelley, Pulling a Train, Harlan Ellison
Margot Kinberg, In the Shadow of the Glacier, Vicki Delany
Rob Kitchin, The Rocksburg Railroad Murders, K.C. Constantine
B.V. Lawson, Ghost of a Chance, Kelley Roos
Evan Lewis, Shakedown, William Campbell Gault
Steve Lewis/Dan Stumpf, Say it with Bullets, Richard Powell
Todd Mason, Houseful of Laughter, Bennett Cerf
Neer, Sir John MacGill's Last Journey, Freeman Wills Croft
J.F. Norris, The House Next Door, Lionel White
James Reasoner, Ramrod, Walt Coburn
Gerard Saylor, Devil's Own Ragdoll, Mitch Bartoy
Ron Scheer, In the Valley of Havilah, Frederick Thickstun Clark
Kerrie Smith, Mrs. McGinty's Dead, Agatha Christie
Kevin Tipple, The Poacher's Son, Paul Doirin
TomCat, Moonflower, Beverly Nichols
Prashant Trikannad, The Continental Classics Vol. XIV, The Vampire, Jan Neruda

Friday's Forgotten Books, July 27, 2012

Next week will be a week off unless someone can gather links.

Ed Gorman is the author of the Dev Conrad and Sam McCain series of novels. You can find him here.

Rereading the books of your youth can be disappointing. The adventure novel you thought was so thrilling now seems to be strictly by the numbers where the hardboiled mystery is downright silly.

For most of us there are a few exceptions, novels and stories first read at twelve or thirteen or fourteen that can be read and respeced even in adulthood. For me one of those books is The Long Loud Silence by Wilson Tucker.
I still remember the first time I saw it. Since it was first published in 1952 I estimate I saw it then or at the latest in 1953. That would have put me at twelve or thirteen. I'd just started buying science fiction magazines.

In those days we lived in a big barn of a house on the edge of town because it was inexpensive. There were a lot of cool things about the location. It was right across from the stadium for Triple AAA baseball, a deep fast creek ran through the property and forbidden train tracks ran on the hill behind us. And one afternoon a week a Bookmobile was parked in the lot of the small supermarket that had a great selection of magazines and paperbacks and comic books.
I always went immediately to the science fiction section in the Bookmobile. This was during the tine of the post war sf boom so there was a decent selection. I pulled out a copy of the Tucker book and was immediately dazzled. The supermarket paperbacks were laid out by genre. The Ballantines were my favorite because of the stunning Richard Powers covers. I knew nothing about Powers or art but I'd hold those novels and just stare at them and let them take me away to some abstract dangerous mordant dimension that nobody but Powers could define. I can't say I even understood them on any objective level but I certainly felt them. They were a hell of some kind. It was no wonder he was the perfect fit for J.G. Ballard a decade later.

The Powers hardcover cover of the Tucker novel was also perfect but I can't tell you why. It just IS.
Recommendation number two was the dedication. Today this has no resonance but in `53 it was at least "naughty" if not shocking. "For the The Toronto Science Fiction Society for the hell of it." Pretty damned cool and ballsy. This was a book I had to read.

While Silence isn't a classic in the way I Am Legend is, it shares some of the virtues of the Matheson book. First of all it is a small, focused story.
Tucker's novel opens up in an Illinois hotel room with Army Corporal Gary trying to work through not only a terrible hangover but also a memory blackout. He'd really hung one on. Little by little he comes to realize that while he was passed out his world had changed radically. The town he's in is now deserted except or a few corpses. He finds only one survivor, a nineteen year old girl who joins him in stealing a car and heading to Chicago. But Chicago has been destroyed. Not only has it been nuked bacteriological bombs were also used. Not everyone is killed by the attack; luck and an immunity to the bacteria used has spared a few people.

After the girl runs away, Gary discovers another shocker. The entire eastern third of the country has been quarantined. All bridges have been closed except one. And anyone who tries to cross it will be shot in sight by the U.S. Army.
Gary's bleak, twisting adventure begins in earnest.

Tucker was pure prairie boy so this is very much a Midwestern story and I mean every aspect, people, landscape, sights, smells, tribal rituals. It is by turns cunning, harrowing and unpredictable. And it is cooly told. There's a certain detachment in the authorial voice, Hemingway-lite if you will. I think this works well, to play against the melodrama that would appeal to most writers and readers. Here it reminds me of what Tim Lebbon did in his brilliant "White," another apocalyptic story.
It is also definitively of its time. The Atomic Age. Mutually Assured Destruction. Duck and Cover. And of course that wonderful musical comedy known as The McCarthy Hearings in which a bellering drunken Mick promised to name a large number of Commie spies in our government but somehow never got around to doing it. He just satisfied himself with smearing dozens of innocent people and thereby depriving them of the right to make a living.

An interesting footnote here. The science fiction writer Cyril M. Kornbluth wrote that Tucker’s original ending had Gary eat his woman friend but his editor talked him out of it.
As for Wilson “Bob” Tucker himself, he was one of the first publishers of an sf fanzine way back in the late 1930s. He was one of the most prominent fans of all time, highly sought after and much respected for his reviews of novels and films. With his good friend Robert Bloch he kept many conventions lively and memorable. Rumor had it that he rarely said no to a drink.
Professionally he wrote numerous mysteries and science fiction novels. In sf his major achievements are probably The Long Loud Silence, (1958), The Year of The Quiet Sun (1970) and Resurrection Days (1981). Remarkably the latter two are admired by both traditionalists and New Wave writers and readers alike.

He was a good friend of Roger Ebert and Ebert, in recalling his days as an sf fan in the late Fifties and early Sixties, included a brief portrait of Tucker hauling three teenage fans—Roger, Vic Ryan and a nineteen year old Ed Gorman—to a convention in Cincinnati. I doubt Bob (not to mention Cincinnati) was ever the same.
Though tame by contemporary standards I think it’s well worth looking up.

Red Baker, Robert Ward

In one sense this was a riveting, well-written, timely (despite its age) novel. I couldn't put it down. In another sense, I dreaded every word of it. Red Baker is laid
off from his factory job. An alcoholic, self-pitying bastard, it is hard to summon up much sympathy for him despite this. He cheats on his wife, ignores the kid he claims to revere, and has a past that includes acts of crime. He is perfectly willing to let his wife support him as he turns down jobs that would help keep the family afloat. I can't remember a less likable protagonist than Red Baker. And yet he is entirely plausible. Every word of this novel rings true. Not a word seems misplaced.

I am certain there are a million Red Bakers roaming the streets, convincing themselves that they have been mistreated by everyone they come across, that they are worthy of a better hand than life has dealt them. Ward captures a character we all know in real life but seldom come across as the protagonist of a novel. He is not good enough and not bad enough for most writers to spend time with. This is a deadly honest and serious book.

I highly recommend this novel if you can manage enduring its protagonist. There is nothing to like about him, yet there is much to like about the book. Much.

Sergio Angelini
Yvette Banek
Joe Barone
Brian Busby
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Curt Evans
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
Nick Jones
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg
Rob Kitchin
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/Dan Stumpf
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
James Reasoner
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple
Prashant Trikannad

Megan on Cheerleaders in Popular Culture


Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Life at the Theater: NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY

This was a kind of macabre movie but it looks like it became a musical when we saw it six years ago at the Meadowbrook Theater in Rochester, MI. Not much point putting the Rod Steiger film on here. But here is a clip from a recent production. A serial killer, lots of compliant women, a ton of musical numbers. I have little memory of this one despite a good local cast.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Opening Credits

Most Relaxing Music

What piece of music in any genre does it for you?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday Night Music: Errol Garner


is shipping on Amazon. How do they manage those discounts?

Will there be any bookstores left?

How far do you have to go to a brick and mortar bookstore? We have a B & N not too far away, but after that, miles and miles.

Forgotten Movies: That Cold Day in the Park

Ah, Sandy Dennis. No one ever brought a stranger presence or delivery to a film. This is an early Altman film. (You can see most of it on you tube if nowhere else).

A lonely woman brings home a vagrant (to keep her company) and provides for his needs, even going so far as to provide him with a sexual partner (not herself).

Sandy Dennis died young. In a house full of cats. Would you expect anything else? Wow. I miss you, Sandy.

Sandy Dennis studied under noted thespian and teacher Uta Hagen before gaining fame for her work on Broadway. There she won two consecutive Tony Awards for her performances in A Thousand Clowns in 1963 and Any Wednesday in 1964. In 1966, she was given an Academy Award for best supporting actress in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe. She won a Golden Globe in 1970 for her role in The Out-of-Towners.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Movie Theme Music

Who Haven't You Read But Should

Phil's lilies smell like cinnamon. Gorgeous.

I remember my mother telling me that I wouldn't like Mickey Spillane. For some reason that piece of advice stayed with me and I have never read him.

Who haven't you read?

How I Came to Write This Book/Found a Press: Tom Vater

The Devil’s Road to Crime Wave Press - Tom Vater

Back in May, I was sitting down with my friend Hans Kemp, kicking literary business ideas back and forth – we’d recently collaborated on a wonderful non-fiction project (www.sacredskinthailand.com) - when Hans reminded me that I had a crime novel, The Cambodian Book of the Dead, in my drawer, and another, The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu, that was about to go out of print.

We founded Crime Wave Press - a Hong Kong based fiction imprint that endeavors to publish the best new crime novels from Asia and about Asia – then and there. Now, the first two books are out, a third is in production for September, first reviews are rolling in, we’re enjoying modest sales and Crime Wave Press is officially launching at the UBUD Writers Festival in Bali in October. We are pushing away from the scene of the initial crime, into an uncertain, barely illuminated but intriguing future. And we’re well positioned to ride our crime wave. Hans Kemp has been publishing books about Asia for twenty years and I am a seasoned writer of non-fiction books, screenplays and articles.

It’s been a long road to Crime Wave Press. I first traveled through Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal in the early 90s, taking notes. By chance I met a group of friends who had done the old hippie trail from Europe to India in the 1970s. Their tall stories gave rise to The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu, a kaleidoscopic pulp thriller following two generations of drifters embroiled in sex, drugs and murder on the aforementioned overland route. First published to some critical acclaim in 2005, the book quickly disappeared, along with its publisher. The new Crime Wave Press edition is meaner, leaner and is about to be republished in print in October.

So this is a call to arms of sorts. Crime Wave Press is looking for authors. Visit the Submissions page on www.crimewavepress.com.

The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu


The Cambodian Book of the Dead


Crime Wave Press


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Night Poetry: Beckett

When Your University Is Out to Get You.

Wayne State University is one of three research universities in Michigan. It has a student body exceeding 30, 000. It has a medical school, a law school, a business school and all the rest of the accoutrements of a major university. It educates many first-generation college students. With its urban mission, it is never going to have the graduation rates of U of Michigan, but tap anyone in southeast Michigan on the shoulder and it is likely they or their family members got a degree of some kind at WSU.

At the same time, the administration has always been at odds with the faculty-dating back to the eighties and a particularly contentious President. The administration sees faculty as employees, not as the bedrock of a university. Not what a university is about.

There are more administrators than faculty and the number continues to grow. As faculty take flat salary increases, the administration averages 9%.

Most, not all, of the faculty is productive. My husband, for example, has written 14 books, over fifty articles (each over 20 pages and in major journals) dozens of book reviews, presented more than a hundred conference papers. He has won awards for his teaching and research, been awarded a Distinguished Fulbright award and so on. Many faculty members have similar records.

Now the university has turned its contract negotiations over to a law firm known for an intolerance of unions. Negotiations have begun with the strong suggestion that the administration intends to possibly eliminate tenure, reduce health, eye and dental care, cut salaries, fire faculty and staff at will. The elimination of tenure would be a first in the country. It is hard to explain tenure to people outside the profession, but if you can be fired without cause, you cannot just go down the street and find another job. Universities don't work like that.

Why not fire professors making high salaries and replace them with recent Ph.Ds? Or how about going to an all online institution? Or use adjuncts to teach every course?

Can you imagine what the chances are that this university will be now be able to attract any quality professors or researchers in the coming years. Detroit is a hard sell anyway. This will make it an impossible one. And all of this comes with a strong union in place although the state's attempts to make this a "right to work" state may abolish it.

Even if this is just a negotiating ploy, the damage to the university's reputation and its ability to recruit top-notch people is permanent.

I always thought that a university had a soul that a corporation didn't share. That educating students was its primary mission. Obviously that is no longer true at Wayne State. I used to be proud of my state and the university where we worked. All of it is gone.

Wayne State's motto, on billboards everywhere, is AIM HIGHER.


A clarification from a better informed source.

While striking out the Board Of Governors Statutes on de-tenuring, which include peer review and due process, the administration team did not strike out Academic-freedom Statute, even though the very statute (Appointments, Tenure, Employment Security Status, Termination and Dismissal Policies and Procedures) they want eliminated states, "Tenure is a means to certain ends, specifically 1. "Academic freedom."

The most important thing about universities is academic freedom. Without the freedom to explore alternative modes of thinking about the world, whether in politics, philosophy, literature, or science, we stagnate and ultimately wither as a society, as a species. To put people on a regime of quantified "production" as if they were turning out cars destroys the intellectual enterprise of a university and damages our students and our future. Not that for a moment we're arguing that people making cars should make less than a living wage with benefits that allow them to live a middle-class life.

How to Stay Ahead

is up at BEAT TO A PULP.

Have a great Sunday.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Saturday Night Music: Patti Smith

Brooklyn Zoo

Megan, Darcy, Alison & Chris moved to NY in 1994. You know about Megan.

Alison became an actress. moved to L.A., and has been in several TV series over the years. Chris, the editor of the Rutgers Law Review, has a brilliant legal career in Denver with two young sons.

Darcy started out as a free lance writer but felt something was missing. So she went back to school for many years, got a Ph.D. in psychology and became a psychotherapist. This is about her year as a resident at a mental hospital in Brooklyn. She is in practice now full-time, has a darling daughter and another on the way.

How could I ask her to write this herself, but here she is thanks to you tube.
Another book on police psychologists is on the way.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Beautiful Women of the Silver Screen

The Summing Up, Friday, July 30, 2012

Check out my review of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN at Crimespree Cinema.

The Summing Up, Friday, July 30, 2012

Patti Abbott, Maigret and the Tavern on the Seine
Sergio Angelini, Maingret Stonewalled
Bill Crider, The Watchmaker
Ed Gorman, The Yellow Dog
Jerry House a link to an essay
Randy Johnson, The Man Who Watched Trains Go By
George Kelley, Three Bedrooms in Manhattan
B.V. Lawson, Maigret Sets a Trap
Steve Lewis, /Francis Nevins, The Strange Case of Peter, the Lett
Todd Mason, essay
Jeff Meyerson, The 13 Culprits, The Little Doctor
J.F. Norris, The Hatter's Phantoms
Deb Pfeifer, Across the Street
James Reasoner, Red Lights
Richard Robinson, Maigret and the Headless Corpse
Kerrie Smith, The Murderer
Prashant Trikannad, essay
John Weagly, The Yellow Dog

And other forgotten books

Joe Barone, Fever Season, Barbara Hambly
Scott Cupp, Firespell, Chloe Neill
Martin Edwards, Middle-Case Murder, Bruce Hamilton
Curt Evans, Death of a Banker, Anthony Wynne
Margot Kinberg, The Last Detective
Rob Kitchin, Shaman Pass, Stan Jones
Evan Lewis, A Task for Zorro, Johnston McCulley
Ron Scheer, Scarlett of the Mounted, Marguerite Merrington
Michael Slind, The Little Sister, Raymond Chandler
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, The Marble Orchard, William F. Nolan
TomCat, The Locked Room, John Sladek

Friday's Forgotten Books, July 20, 2012: Georges Simenon

There is a possibility I may be out most of the day, so if your post was not up at nine, it may not go up. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Georges Simenon (1903-1989) was born in Liege, Belgium. As a young man he worked as a baker, journalist, and bookseller and published his first novel at seventeen. He went on to write more than two hundred novels, becoming one of the world's most prolific and bestselling authors. His books have sold more than 500 million copies and have been translated into fifty languages.

Maigret and the Tavern by the Seine.

As an indication of how long something can sit on my TBR pile, I bought this book in 1985 at the second Borders store to come into existence. The receipt was still inside. And I have many books purchased even earlier. Heck I have some I bought before my wedding.

This was actually Simenon's 10th or so book although he wrote it in 1932, the second year of publishing books. Apparently he wrote a book in about three weeks, roughly the time it takes me to write a story. Good thing I don't support this family.

I have read perhaps a dozen Simenons, but this is one of only a couple Maigrets. I found this an enigmatic book in many ways. (Incidentally this book has had many titles over the years).

It begins with a man's execution, a man who will not rat on his accomplices. To satisfy the policeman (Maigret), he gives him some information on another crime--a man that drowned in the Seine a few years earlier. White Maigret thinks this over, trying to find out who drowned and the circumstances of the crime, he goes to buy a hat and overhears a man mention the tavern near where this crime took place.

He follows the man and becomes enmeshed with a group of people that hang out there. A strange Linkgroup that initially is holding a mock wedding. Maigret, who is supposed to join his wife for a holiday (and this is a running joke in the novel), can't stay away from his new friends and their afternoon imbibing. It is only when one is murdered that the case begins.

The solving of the case is not particularly interesting but his fascination with this group carries the story. I would certainly not rank this Maigret with some of the excellent standalones I have read by him. But I wanted to try a Maigret...and I did.

Georges Simenon, The 13 Culprits (Crippen & Landru, 2002; original French edition, 1931).

Georges Simenon, The Little Doctor (Harcourt, 1981; original French edition, 1943).

Jeff Meyerson

As some of you may know I’ve read over 100 books by Simenon since my first Maigret (Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett) in January of 1972, including every Maigret that is available in English. I thought of doing the short stories - many of the Maigret stories have appeared in Maigret’s Christmas and Maigret’s Pipe, but I decided to do these two other short story collections instead, on the grounds that I doubt many of you have read them.

In the period of 1929-30 just before Maigret came forth, Simenon wrote three other series of short tales, originally published under his ‘Georges Sim’ pseudonym. They are Les 13 Mysteres (The 13 Mysteries), Les 13 Enigmes (The 13 Enigmas) and the current volume, Les 13 Coupables (translated by Peter Schulman and published in their entirety in English for the first time here).

The stories were originally published in two parts in the French magazine Detective, first the problem without the solution, which readers were invited to try and solve, and then two weeks later the author’s solution. The detective in this series was the shrewd examining magistrate Judge Froget, who questioned the thirteen “culprits” in the various stories. While I wouldn’t call these vintage Simenon they provide a look into his writing just before Maigret burst on the scene and give a picture of late 1920’s Paris at the lower end of society.

The Little Doctor, as country doctor Jean Dollent is affectionately called, is something very different, more your traditional Golden Age type stories set in the French countryside. These are classic “puzzle” stories and the doctor has a definite knack for solving them. I got my really nice first edition in dust jacket some years ago - I read the book 12 years ago - but I just checked ABE and there are paperback copies and ex-library hardbacks available for around $5.00. It’s well worth checking out.

ACROSS THE STREET by Georges Simenon

(Review by Deb)

About me: I was a technical writer for the better part of two decades, and then I became a stay-at-home mom for several years. Then I went back to work in the public school system. I currently work in a high school special education classroom with severely autistic students. It is challenging work, but very rewarding. I love to read across all genres, but mysteries are my favorite.

ACROSS THE STREET puts us firmly in REAR WINDOW territory, but with a definite Gallic flavor. Yes, a murder is committed (or, more accurately, a death that could have been prevented isn't) and, yes, it is observed by a neighbor from an opposite window; but just when we think we know where the story is going, Simenon upends our expectations in this non-Maigret novel first published in English in 1945 (but, based on a few references in the book, taking place some time in the 1930s).

In a Parisian neighborhood where facing buildings have floor-to-ceiling windows, we meet Dominique Sales, a poor spinster approaching forty. Although she comes from a large, extended family, Dominique chooses to live alone in the small apartment where she nursed her widowed father through his final illness several years before. Poverty has forced Dominique to rent her spare bedroom to a newlywed couple, Albert and Lina. Although the sound of their vibrant love-making upsets her, she is not above spying on them through the keyhole. Dominique does not confine her voyuerism to her tenants, however. Aside from repetitively darning her few items of clothing and remembering her childhood as the petted daughter of a military man and his delicate wife, Dominique's only pastime is watching the lives of her neighbors from the large open windows of her bedroom. In this manner, she becomes obsessed with the Rouets, a wealthy family who live in the building "across the street."

The Rouet family consists of an older couple who live in the third-floor apartment and their adult son and his wife, Antoinette, who live in the apartment on the second floor directly facing Dominique's own. Although she has no other interactions with any of them, Dominique constructs entire lives for the Rouet family based on what she observes through the open windows. Simenon so seamlessly weaves Dominique's fantasies into the action of the book that it is easy to forget that almost everything we read about the Rouets is complete conjecture on Dominique's part, the projections of her own imagination.

The Rouet son is frequently ill and requires regular medication, which Dominque sees Antoinette dispensing at regular intervals throughout the day. One afternoon, Dominique observes Antoinette deliberately withholding her husband's medication, and, unsurprisingly, he dies soon after. Everyone assumes the husband died as a result of his illness, only Dominique knows the truth. For several days the street is clogged with a steady stream of people coming to pay their respects. Joining the crowd of mourners, Dominique manages to get into the Rouet's apartment. Once there, she speaks to no member of the family, but examines more closely the rooms she has previously seen only from across the street. This visit helps Dominique formulate even more vivid fantasies of how the Rouets live their lives.

Not long after the husband's funeral, almost against her will (and with much the same compulsion as she feels to spy on Albert and Lina), Dominique sends Antoinette two anonymous letters of the "I know what you did" variety. At this point, we think we know what is going to happen--the women will meet, there will be attempted blackmail, perhaps another murder, and a twist ending. But this is Georges Simenon not Cornell Woolrich, and it is from here that the book becomes less one of psychological suspense and more one of domestic melodrama (in the best sense of the word) involving the crumbling psyches of both Dominique and Antoinette.

Although we're never sure if the anonymous letters have had any effect on Antoinette, her life is spiraling downward as she attempts to prevent her in-laws from discovering that she is frequently slipping out of the apartment to meet a man in a nearby hotel. Meanwhile Dominique doesn't just continue watching the Rouets from her window but starts following Antoinette to her trysts, keeping her distance but knowing exactly where Antoinette is at all times. She also begins following Antoinette's father-in-law to both his place of business and his furtive back-alley rendezvous with underaged prostitutes. Dominique never confronts the objects of her obsession--it is enough for her to observe them and then develop her own fantasies of what they are doing, saying, thinking, feeling.

As Dominique's hold on reality slips away, so does Antoinette's hold on the respectability and security represented by her wealthy in-laws. Neither woman seems capable of stopping the self-inflicted damage of her compulsive behaviors: Dominique can't stop spying on Antoinette, even while she loses connection with her family and her tenants; and Antoinette can't stop the reckless pursuit of her lover, even at the risk of exposure.

As the action accelerates, the writing becomes downright halloucinatory: Events from Dominique's past (did she ever love her father? why was her mother so sad? what happened between her parents the year she was seven?) begin to blend with her present life. She also believes she has been visited (perhaps even touched sexually) by the ghost of an old neighbor. Meanwhile, Antoinette loses her lover and desperately takes up with another man, brazenly bringing him back to her apartment at night even though it means certain discovery by the in-laws she has tried so hard to placate.

What will happen between the two women--the watcher and the watched? Will there ever be a confrontation between them? How will their two lives converge and resolve themselves? As the book speeds to its conclusion, we know only one thing--it cannot, will not, end well for either woman.

Ed Gorman is the author of the Dev Conrad series of political crime novels and the Sam McCain series of fifties-sixties crime novels. You can find him here.

The Yellow Dog by Georges Simenon

The early Maigret detective novels by Georges Simenon bear the stamp of the busy pulp writer he was before finding his voice and mission with the cranky even surly Commissaire.

In The Yellow Dog, a particularly well-plotted crime novel, Maigret travels to the small coastal town of Concarneau where a local wine merchant has been murdered under mysterious circumstances. According to a witness the man was strolling home on a windy night and paused to walk up steps leading to the narrow sheltered porch of a long empty house. Moments later the man fell backwards, dead from the shots.

Once there Maigret meets the four men and one waitress who seem to know much more than they're willing to share with him. He also sees a large yellow dog that keeps appearing at the crime scenes to come. Maigret feels a kinship with the animal which is more than he can say for anybody he meets in the town.

Where did the dog come from? Why does he keep showing up at such odd moments? Does he belong to the person who by book's end kills more people?

This is a serial killer novel. Simenon even casts the local newspaper as one of the villains. The editor has a history of exploiting bad news to the point of making each local tragedy worse. And the killings are no exception. Simenon suggests that it is sop for Frenchmen to a) have mistresses and b) go about armed. Both are factors in the investigation.

Most of the elements of classic Maigret are here. The weather is as vivid as the characters; Simenon buttresses his sociological look at French life with bleak humor; and his pity for decent people life has treated badly borders on the religious along with his contempt for pomposity and self-importance and cruelty.

There is always a claustrophobic feel to the Maigrets; this allows the reader to experience what the Inspector himself does. I enjoy Dame Agatha but as a forlorn chronicler of humankind Simenon is her superior.

Sergio Angelini
Bill Crider
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
B.V. Lawson
Steve Lewis
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Kerrie Smith
Prashant Trikannad
John Weagly

And other forgotten books

Joe Barone
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Curt Evans
Margot Kinberg
Rob Kitchin
Evan Lewis
Ron Scheer
Michael Slind
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang

Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Life at the Theater: Frankie and Johnny at the Clair De Lune

You may have seen the movie version of this with Al and Michelle. The play was much better. It needs to be small and intimate to work. One of my favorite experiences as a play-goer. We saw in 1990 at the Attic Theater in Detroit. One of Detroit's gems that slipped away.

The play was written by Terence McNally, and in this version, directed by the wonderful Lavinia Moyer, starred two local actors who are always terrific: Mary F. Bremer and David L. Regal. If two people ever lit up the stage, these two did. And neither of them were young or gorgeous. It was on the words and talent alone. It's a first date between a waitress and a cook who have been there before. It's sweaty and desperate and we fall in love with them.

American Novels

What novel best describes America with all its good and bad traits? Is the real American a small town, a rural landscape or all of these. Is it nineteenth century, twentieth century novels. I doubt anyone would chose current novels or ones from earlier than the nineteenth century. Something like THE SCARLET LETTER really only addressed an isolated group of people to my mind. Although perhaps the fervor of the Puritans has remained or returned.

Here is a list of someone's idea of the most pertinent novels in describing the U.S. of A.

If someone from another planet, landed here, what book would you give him to best understand our nation?

Although THE GREAT GATSBY, MIDDLESEX and AMERICAN PASTORAL are contenders, I am going with MILDRED PIERCE. How about you?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What Writer Did You Discover First on TV or in a Movie?

I was reading Gerard Saylor's review of DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER and found it interesting to see how a book read before we were so influenced by the SHOWTIME series and the terrific performance of Michael Hall on that show.

Many times I first discover a writer through a TV series or movie. I think this is especially true with non-U.S. writers. The BBC and PBS have introduced me to many favorites over the years.

But right now, I am caught up with Longmire and ready to read THE COLD DISH. How about you? Who did you find first on TV or at the movies?

How I Came to Write This Story: Court Merrigan

Somerset Maugham

Pulp Ink 2

Court Merrigan

Before I left for Asia in 1998, where I would live for the next decade, I read a lot of Somerset Maugham. He's not much in vogue anymore, stuffy Mr. Maugham, and for good reason; but in his prime he wrote a shit ton of short stories romanticizing early 20th century British colonial life. Tell you the truth, I don't distinctly remember a single one. Debonair white folks in linens and pith hats drinking gin under swaying palms as the devious dark locals plotted and schemed, were recurring set pieces, if memory serves. I doubt those stories were particularly accurate even at the time, but to me, a Nebraska farm boy who'd never been outside the US before I got on that plane, they seemed fraught with exotic wonder.

The real Asia of the present day, of course, has zero in common with those hoary old stories. But reading them at such an impressionable time, they remained with me even as actual Asia made mincemeat of that old racist’s little fables.

Maugham may be a dead letter on this side of the pond, but several publishing houses in Thailand and Singapore continue in his vein, publishing tales of Western good ole boys on the loose in the dirty alleys and empty beaches of erotically exotic Southeast Asia. I've got a couple lying around somewhere; they have titles like Rough Karma and The Burmese Fixer and Bangkok Baby and inevitably, one or more of the characters finds himself, tie ajar, shirtfront stained with sweat, in a go-go bar swigging a Singha and smoking a Krong Thip cigarette.

"Glinty-Eyed Robert" is my attempt at a send-up of the whole genre. I tried to maintain a gentile, Maugham-esque air. It would never do to be uncouth, after all, even in a girly bar. The setting is real enough, I suppose, but the characters - pure caricature. The grizzled foreign correspondent, the stiff Southern wife, the sentimental professor, the cynical cabbie, the lithe and ruthless bar girl (who probably has a heart of gold, though we never get to find out): they're all there.

I strove to gift these stock characters some emotional resonance. Even cardboard cutouts need someone to love them, right? Chris & Nigel gave the thumbs up to the effort, and I couldn’t be happier that this slaphappy little pastiche made into Pulp Ink 2.