Wednesday, October 31, 2012


From the people behind CRIME FACTORY, comes HORROR FACTORY just in time for Halloween (or practically). Now available on KINDLE with a POD to follow.

Featuring interviews with champion Mojo storyteller Joe R. Lansdale; the “scariest guy in America” Jack Ketchum; and Lawrence D. Cohen and Tommy Lee Wallace discussing the making of ‘Stephen King’s IT with Lee Gambin.

New fiction by Ed Kurtz; David James Keaton; Andrez Bergen; Anonymous-9; Patti Abbott; Edward J. Rathke; Garnett Elliott; Matthew C. Funk; S.J.I. Holliday and John Hunt.

Clive Barker’s Harry D’Amour and the occult gumshoe phenomenon gets dissected by Ryan K. Lindsay; the life, death and career of the Maniac Joe Spinell is exhumed by Addam Duke; 10,000 pages of Japanese horror comics king Kazuo Umezu is injected into your brain by Cameron Ashley, and the Nerd of Noir, Peter Dragovich, plans your evening viewing.

This is my first story about an imp.

Opening Credits: Bullitt

What's Going on.

When Minor Characters Threaten To Sabotage a Show.

At first, Kalinda seemed like a great character on a great show. But over four years, her past, (referred to often) was still too murky and I began to lose interest. Strutting around only goes so far. And this year, with the addition of a sadistic husband, I dread seeing those black boots walk down the hall on THE GOOD WIFE. IN a TV show that manages to be lucid about other issues, why this enigma,

The supporting character problem is a potent one. If you don't develop them somewhat, there is not enough interaction on a TV show-or you lose all interest in them. JUSTIFIED has not done very well by Winona for instance. If you blinked last season you missed her. Marie got very little airtime on BREAKING BAD this year. And Betty Draper has pretty much signed off. (And what do these characters have in common?).

But not all supporting characters are equal. Large casts can't give equal time to all of its players. THE CLOSER never developed its supporting characters beyond the squad room and that was okay. (I do wish they had never introduced her parents however).

Now Kalinda's storyline is both underdeveloped and referred to too often. I have read several articles about this recently so I know my frustration with it is shared.

What supporting players should have been developed more on a TV show you like? Which ones less? Who is the best supporting character in TV history? If you watch THE GOOD WIFE, should they pull the plug on Kalinda's back story or do you still care?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ocean City, New Jersey

We were a poor family. But every summer, for one week, we took a vacation at Ocean City, New Jersey. It was a family town, a place for people who wanted to spend time on a beach, to go to a modest amusement park at night, to go to a family restaurant.. No drinking, no gambling--the kind of place you could take your kids.

This is Ocean City, New Jersey today.There is no way, Ocean City, New Jersey, a half an hour south of Atlantic City is going to come back without help. Please donate to the New Jersey Food bank right here. Donate to the New York foodbank too.

How I Came to Write This Book: Fleur Bradley

                                           How I Came to Write This Book, Fleur Bradley

Double Vision is a story for reluctant boy readers, so when I tell people about the book, they assume I have boys. Actually, I have two daughters. But when I would go to my oldest's school for those open house type events, and she would get the teacher's praise, there was always that boy in the back of the classroom. Twinkle in his eye, a few friends in tow, watching. Waiting to see what trouble he'd get into.  

That's the kid I wanted to write a book for. Because that boy is probably a pain in the neck in the classroom, probably doesn't like to read all that much, but has plenty of skills. Just not the kind that will get you good grades in school.

Main character Linc Baker in Double Vision is that kid. After he gets into deep trouble, he ends up taking the place of a lookalike junior secret agent, goes to Paris, and uses those trouble making skills for good use. The story is fast-paced, fun--the kind of story that lets kids see that the class troublemaker could be a hero. 

I like the Linc Bakers of the world. I hope this book gets them reading.

Thanks, Patti!


F.T. Bradley

Double Vision (Harper Children's, Oct '12)
ALEX RIDER meets THE DA VINCI CODE when a regular kid goes undercover in Paris...
Find out more about Linc and his first mission at

Forgotten Movies: Brother's Keeper

This 1992 documentary, directed by Joe Berrlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, broke the mold of what came before it because---well, listen to the director above. Up until this movie, documentaries were expected to have a POV and this one did not.

Four brothers live together in a shack in central New York. And when I say together, the four of them slept in the same bed and always had. When one brother dies, another is arrested. The townspeople come to believe that Delbert has been railroaded into a confession by the big-city cops. Certainly, he is mentally diminished and probably did not understand issues like waiving his rights.

This film covers much of the trial, community meetings, even benefits the town held to raise money for Delbert's defense. You won't come away from this with any definite answer on why he was killed or by whom, but you will learn a lot about the people involved. It was a real knockout in 1992,

For more forgotten movies, see Todd Mason with the links.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Movie Themes: Psycho

Hurricane Sandy Music: Here Comes....

What Single-Authored Story Collection Do You Come Back To

I am going with two: LOST IN THE CITY, Edward P. Jones and DANCE OF THE HAPPY SHADES, Alice Munro. Both were their first books and perhaps it is the old-fashioned writing style that pleases me. The authors write believing you have the time to read. Neither was in too much of a hurry to tell the story.
A lot of more recent short stories seem to dive into the water without poising on the board for a minute or two, giving it a little bounce before the plunge. Before I beat this metaphor to death, what are your favorite single-author short story collections. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Difference of Opinion at a Dinner Party

From Wikipedia, this is the plot of Shel Silverstein's THE GIVING TREE.

The Giving Tree is a tale about a relationship between a young boy and a tree. The tree always provides the boy with what he wants: branches on which to swing, shade in which to sit and apples to eat. As the boy grows older, he requires more and more of the tree. The tree loves the boy very much and gives him anything he asks for. In an ultimate act of self-sacrifice, the tree lets the boy cut it down so the boy can build a boat in which he can sail. The boy leaves the tree, now a stump. Many years later, the boy, now an old man, returns, and the tree sadly says: "I'm sorry, boy... but I have nothing left to give you." But the boy replies: "I do not need much now, just a quiet place to sit and rest." The tree then says, "Well, an old tree stump is a good place for sitting and resting. Come, boy, sit down and rest." The boy obliges and the tree is very happy.

Guest One at a dinner party said this story was a family favorite, handed down to the next generation as an example of selflessness. No story ever made more of an impression on her children. The book was a popular gift at baby showers and birthdays. Giving is the most important thing to learn.

Guest Two said, she hated this story. For her, the tree was a mother. A mother that was expected to give everything until she was all used up and completely spent. Shouldn't the child have seen this before the tree became a stump. Wasn't the tree's happiness a form of masochism?Or sadism on the part of the child?

Both of these women are giving, caring, lovely people. How can they differ so much? Is the tree a mother? Does the tree teach selflessness?

What do you think?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Beautiful Women of the Silver Screen: Charlize Theron

The Summing Up, Friday, October 26, 2012

 The Summing Up, Friday, October 26, 2012

Patti Abbott, Sleep and His Brother, Peter Dickinson
Sergio Angelini,  The Wench is Dead, Fredric Brown
Yvette Banet, River of Darkness, Rennie Airth
Joe Barone, The Laughing Policeman, Sjowall and Wahloo
Brian Busby , The Unchanged East, Robert Barr
Bill Crider, The Good Old Stuff, John D. MacDonald
Scott Cupp, The Weird, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
Martin Edwards, The Death Wish, Elizabeth Sanxay Holding
Curt Evans, The Arm of Mrs. Egan, Willain Henry Harvey
Ed Gorman, The Ever-Running Man, Marcia Muller Jerry House, In His Shadow, Dave Zeltserman
Randy Johnson, The Cutter Book
George Kelley Cold Hand In Mine: Strange Stories, Robert Packman
Margot Kinberg , Dying to Sin, Stephen Booth
Rob Kitchin, Death in Tuscany, Michele Guittiari
B.V. Lawson, Let's Talk of Graves, Worms and Epitaphs, Robert Player
Evan Lewis, Fortress of Solitude, Lester Dent
Steve Lewis/Dan Stumpf, Confesssions of a (English) Opoim Eater, Thomas De Quincey
Todd Mason, The Book of Fritz Leiber, The Best of Fritz Leiber, The Worlds of Fritz Leiber
Neer, Twelve Red Herrings, Jeffrey Archer
J.F. Norris,A Female Detective, Andrew Forrester
Richard Pangburn, Inside Job, Connie Willis
Deb Pfeifer, Uncle Paul, Celia Fremlin
James Reasoner, Raider of the Seas, Warren Hastings Miller
Richard Robinson, Nemesis, Agatha Christie
Ron Scheer, Death Valley Slim and other Stories, Pauline Wilson Worth
Kerrie Smith, A Quiver Full of Arrows, Jeffrey Archer
Kevin Tipple/Patrick Ohl, A Beast in View, Margare Millar
TomCat, Stalking Dragon, Mike Resnick

My review of LOOPER is right here. 

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 26, 2012

UNCLE PAUL by Celia Fremlin
(Review by Deb)

Celia Fremlin's UNCLE PAUL, published in 1959, is a novel of psychological suspense that takes place in a run-down seaside town at the tail end of the 1950s in "Austerity Britain."  The story involves two sisters, Meg and Isabel, and their older half-sister, Mildred.  Many years before, Mildred was briefly married to a charming bigamist (the "Uncle Paul" of the title) who had attempted to murder his first wife and would doubtless have done the same to Mildred if he hadn't been identified and arrested.

It has been fifteen years since Paul went to prison.  Mildred has long been remarried to a wealthy man who provides for her materially but leaves her feeling dissatisfied emotionally.  She fills her life with endless rounds of clothes shopping and hair maintenance (one of Fremlin's wonderful touches is how she describes Mildred's ever-changing wardrobe and hairstyles).  Meg and Isabel (who were just school girls when Paul was arrested) are now, respectively, a single, working woman and a widowed mother of two young children who has just recently remarried.  Isabel and her family have gone to the coast for a holiday and Mildred has joined them, renting a nearby cottage.  But when Mildred discovers that the cottage is the very one where she spent her honeymoon with Paul, she is gripped by a strange fear that Paul is on his way to claim her once more.  Isabel, a dithery woman, distracted by the demands of her family and easily moved to tears, feels overwhelmed by Mildred's concerns and contacts Meg, who reluctantly agrees to join her sisters to try to allay Mildred's fears.

Meg is perceived (by herself and by her siblings) as the sensible, level-headed sister, and she arrives at the shabby little caravan where Isabel and family are staying with every expectation of logically dismantling Mildred's fears about the possibility of Paul's return.  She persuades Mildred take a room at the local down-at-heel hotel in town, offering the stay at the cottage in her sister's place.  Fremlin's descriptions of the cottage (primitive, weed-choked, with no electricity or running water) and Meg's attempt to explore it at twilight with the aid of only a candle begin to ratchet up the tension.  Yes, Meg is a woman of common sense, but isn't there something lurking about outside (or is it inside) that cottage?  Fremlin does an excellent job of showing how even the most sensible among us can easily fall prey to our imaginations when the environment is conducive.

As the story progresses, the action moves between the cottage, the caravan, and the hotel, with the sisters, other family members, and assorted minor characters in various combinations going back and forth between the three locations.  Fremlin's writing of domestic details, conversations between adults and children, and English class-consciousness are unsurpassed.  The writing is economical--not a word is wasted--so read carefully for clues and foreshadowing! 

The suspense continues to build as some truly fightening events occur and both Meg and Isabel begin to question if either of the men in their lives could possibly be Paul.  Isabel knew her new husband, a former Army officer, only briefly before marrying him; and Meg has known her new boyfriend, Freddy, for little more than a month.  Neither man seems to be Paul, but both the women discern vaguely-remembered elements of Paul in them.  (It is, incidently, a sign of how things have changed that Freddy's patronizing attitude, admitted selfishness, and so-called witticisms at the expense of others, notably Meg, could have been considered charming just 50 years ago; now, we would recommend any woman run a mile from such a "Peter Pan" character.)

A good-hearted but talkative neighbor, a snake, a missing hat box, a deep well, a fortune teller--all play their roles in the escalation of fear and terror for the three women.  To say much more about this tightly-plotted, satisfying book would be unfair.  This and Celia Fremlin's other books are well worth seeking out.  You will not be disappointed.

 Ed Gorman is the author of two long running crime fiction series as well as countless anthologies, westerns, and assorted short stories. You can find him here.

 Forgotten Books: The Ever-Running Man by Marcia Muller

Graham Greene spoiled me as far as thriller writers go. His thrillers (or "entertainments" as he chose to call them) always worked on at least three levels, the tension of the story itself and then the characters and the milieu they inhabited.

Cardboard cut-outs of Washington and its people just don't do it for me, whether CIA or FBI, the men too bold (though always with that One Serious Flaw) and the women too beautiful (though always with that One Serious Flaw). Thriller Writing 101.

Marcia Muller In her exciting new novel The Ever-Running Man shows us how to write a thriller that honors the Greene method--tension-filled story, with believeable characters in a carefully detailed milieu.

Private investigator Sharon McCone's husband is one of the owners of RKI, a security company that competes with the best and the brightest in the business. But RKI, home office and affiliates, has been set upon with a domestic terrorist who uses explosive devices with deadly cunning and precision. McCone, barely escaping such an explosion, glimpses the man who means to make things ugly for the company.

RKI hires McCone to see what she can find out. The search is intense, a relentless hunt to discover and stop the killer before he wreaks any more damage.

But in the course of the search McCone is forced to confront certain truths about herself, her husband and his business partners. Muller gives us the world as it is--the world of Starbucks, reading the Sunday paper, the inevitable misunderstandings in marriage--seamlessly enhancing the chilling plot.

An A+ suspense novel.

SLEEP AND HIS BROTHER, Peter Dickinson (Patti Abbott)

This is the fourth of the six Detective James Peeble books, the most famous probably being the first THE GLASS SIDED ANTS' NEST or the second THE OLD ENGLISH PEEP SHOW.. I read this book in 1989 and most of the others too, enjoying Peeble and his world.
This book takes place largely in a hospital for children with a peculiar illness: cathypny. Children with this disorder (fictional surely) barely move, are very chubby, lethargic, but lovable. Peeble comes to the institution on other matters but is fascinated with the children. As are their caretakers seemingly. (I wonder how many mysteries take place in institutions like this. Let's name them sometime). A side effect of the disorder is the children are psychic and herein lies the rub. What will evil forces do to use the kids for their own ends. It is up to Peeble to save them.

Sergio Angelini
Yvette Banek
Joe Barone
Brian Busby 
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Curt Evans
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg 
Rob Kitchin
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/Dan Stumpf
Todd Mason
J.F. Norrisl
Richard Pangburn
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple/Patrick Ohl

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Life at the Theater: HENRY V

We saw this at Stratford Shakespeare Festival this summer. A nicely mounted production but not my favorite play by any means. The actor playing Henry played Lenny in THE HOMECOMING last season and oh, my I liked him better in that. He was transfixing in that play.

I have to admit Shakespeare's history plays leave me cold except for Richard III.Am I a philistine?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Opening Credits: Halloween

What is your favorite TV Science Fiction Series?

And let's give a lot of latitude here. I am going with STAR TREK, THE NEXT GENERATION although there are many close competitors (The X Files, Battleshop Galactica). I love TNG combination of adventure, character, great plots and heart. How about you?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday Night Music: Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman

If this doesn't make you smile, nothing will.

Was Alexander Hamilton President?

If you put a face on money, people expect him to have been a President, I think. Franklin too.


I took a lot away from this show--one of the secrets of being an adult was knowing the ways of the flirtatious Bob Collins, a photographer who chased his models every week. Although I was 7-9 when this show aired, I remember it fairly well. Adored by his secretary,(Ann B. Davis) Bob was also joined in the cast by Rosemary DeCamp, as his sister, and Dwayne Hickman, as his nephew (who learned to chase girls too). The series was the first ever mid-season replacement and ran for about three years in the late fifties.But coming into it at a fairly advanced age, I think Bob Cummings soon seemed a bit old (for the networks at least) to be chasing models and they never were able to develop other story lines.BACHELOR FATHER was another show that mimed the girl-chasing theme, if a little less leeringly at around the same time. Apparently girl-chasing men were popular in the early days of TV.

Check with Todd Mason for more forgotten films and TV shows. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Great Movie Themes: A Summer Place

Your Favorite Adult Series

 George sent this piece from the WSJ, which was very enjoyable so I am posting the link.

I am not really talking about series like the Poirot novels--where he is essentially the same character and the same age throughout the books. But instead a series where the characters change over time. Where we get a peek at the changes occurring in the world outside them too.

In the non-crime fiction world, I would have to pick Updike's Rabbit books. I was eager to read each one as soon as it was published. And I think he did a great job in capturing each era. Runner-up Richard Ford's series about Ralph Bascombe, beginning with THE SPORTSWRITER and ending with THE LAY OF THE LAND.

In the crime fiction world, I have two favorites-the four Kate Atkinson books about Jackson Brody and the Henning Mankell books about Kurt Wallender. There are many, many more I could have chosen, but I want to leave some for others.

What series do you like? 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saturday Night Music: Thin Lizzie


Last week's NEW YORKER has a fabulous piece about the writer, Hilary Mantel, who just won the Booker for second time for her novel BRINGING UP THE BODIES, a sequel to the 2009 Bookered. WOLF HALL. Among the many interesting details of her life are several good ones about her writing process.

One of my favorites was this "Sit quietly and withdraw your attention from the room you are in until you're focused inside your mind. Imagine a chair and invite your character to come sit in it. Once he is comfortable, you may ask him questions."

The first time she tried this when she was writing a novel about a giant, the giant came in but before sitting down, he tested the chair to see if it would take his weight.From then on, she knew this technique would work for her and it has.

Have you ever tried such a technique, writers? What do you do to get inside the head of a stubborn character?.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Beautiful Women of the Silver Screen: Gong Li

The Summing Up, Friday, October 19, 2012

Patti Abbott Ghost, Alan Lightman(link below)
Sergio Angelini, Veronica's Room, Ira Levin
Yvette Banek, Ethan Frome. Edith Wharton
Joe Barone, Hornswaggled, Donis Casey
Brian Busby, The Fabulous Kelley, Thomas P. Kelley, Jr.
Bill Crider, Frontier Lawyer, Lawrence L. Blaine
Scott Cupp, Road Trip, Mark Finn
Martin Edwards, Les Magiciennes, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
Curt Evans, The Third Eye, Ethel Lina White
Elisabeth Grace Foley, Wind of Destiny, Sara Lindsay Coleman
Ed Gorman, Having Wonderful Crime, Craig Rice (link below)
Jerry House, No lLade of Grass, John Christopher
Randy Johnson Juvenile Westerns
Nick Jones, Peter George
George Kelley, American Science Fiction, 1953-56; 1956-58, ed. by Gary K. Wolfe
Margot Kinberg , Raven Black, Ann Cleeves
B.V. Lawson, A Time for Pirates, Gavin Black
Evan Lewis, Silent are the Lead, George Harmon Coxe
Steve Lewis, The Jansen Directive, Robert Ludlum
Todd Mason, The Encyclopedia of Folk, Country & Western Music by Stambler & Landon; Blues Who's Who by Harris; The Official Punk Rock Book of Lists ed. Wallace & Manitoba
Neer , V is for (the ) Vision, Dean R. Koontz
Stephen Nester, True Confessions, John Gregory Dunne
J.F. Norris, The Deadly Truth, Helen McCloy
Juri Nummelin, The Captain Must Die, Robert Colby
Richard Pangburn, Thurber on Humor, Thurber
David Rachels, Ask the Parrot, Richard Stark
James Reasoner, The Cage, Talmadge Powell
Richard Robinson , A Caribbean Mystery, Agatha Christie
Gerard Saylor, Blood's a Rover, James Ellroy
Ron Scheer, The Red-Blooded, Edgar Beecher Bronson
Kerrie Smith, Well-Schooled in Murder, Elizabeth George
Kevin Tipple, The Last Call, George Wier
Prashant Trikanna, Murder on the Links, Agatha Christie 

A review of ARGO is up at Crimespree Cinema. 

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 19, 2012

I am thinking Ray Bradbury for our next author. Perhaps on December 7th. Maybe some people can do a short story or two in lieu of a novel. Or a work of non-fiction or a critical look at him. What do you think?

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

Having Wonderful Crime

I just finished reading Craig Rice's 1944 novel Having Wonderful Crime. Rice is, of course, the grand dame of mystery mixed with screwball comedy. I hadn't read the novel in thirty years so I came to it fresh. And I was surprised.

Yes, it's larky in its plotting, and as usual smart-ass in its dialogue but there are moments that are serious and amazing.

As an alcoholic, I became all too familiar with blackouts and hangovers that kept me in bed for two and three days. Rice opens the book with a long scene involving a man who lacks the strength to get out of bed. He is beseiged by the furies and terrified of what he might have done. This is one of the most powerful morning-after scenes I've ever read. I think most alcoholics would agree with me. And Rice, a terrible alcoholic herself, knew what she was writing about first hand.

Then there's part of a scene in which Rice (using interior monologue) assess a room full of glamorous people and their worth on the glitz scale. Her observations are worthy of Tom Wolfe at his best and nastiest.

This book makes a good case for what we call today the traditional mystery. It's a pleasure to read as pure entertainment but there's a also a wicked social voice relating the reality of this particular time and this particular strata of society. Despite her reputation, I don't think she's hardboiled. At least not in this book. She's just a very good storyeller reporting back from the eyries of the wealthy and privileged. And laughing up her silk sleeve.

Ghost, Alan Lightman (Patti Abbott)

I am reluctant to review a book I can't quite recommend but since I read it with this purpose in mind, here it is. Seemed like a good choice for this time of year. Those of you who like metaphysics might enjoy it however.
David is a man who is adrift in life, not as disastrously as Quell in THE MASTER, but similarly. He takes a job with a man even stranger than he who is a mortician. David shows an aptitude for dealing with the clients and is soon a fixture in the business. Then one day he makes the mistake of talking about a vapor he saw rising from a body. His explanation of what he saw is never more concrete (if vapor even can be) than this. A vapor with the suggestion of an intelligence is as far as he goes. He is immediately picked up by all sorts of crackpots and a paranormal society (gee, this really does evoke THE MASTER) and his divorced wife briefly returns, believing him to be more interesting than she had thought. Everyone thinks his experience has something to offer them, except David. He remains as enigmatic by the book's end as at its beginning.Maybe the vapor is a manifestation of David's personality.

A strange little book that is almost as difficult to explain as that puff of vapor. Lightman is also the author of EINSTEIN'S DREAMS, a much praised book

Sergio Angelini
Yvette Banek
Joe Barone 
Brian Busby
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Curt Evans 
Elisabeth Grace Foley
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
Nick Jones
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis
Todd Mason
Stephen Nester
J.F. Norris
Juri Nummelin 
Richard Pangburn
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson 
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple
Prashant Trikannad

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My Life at the Theater: THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY

We saw THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY at the Abbey Theater on September 29th. What a special place to see this scary work by Oscar Wilde. The young actor playing Dorian was in his first play and he was marvelous. Sweeping around like the narcissistic prig he was. The production never showed the painting. They used a huge frame with a blank background. At first, I found it jarring, but eventually it came to seem like a good decision. Horror is scarier imagined, I think.

For anyone who's interested, I have an interview at Tom Pluck's Belly Up to the Bar. It's because I am widely known for my drinking prowess. 

Your Favorite Bogie Movie

And I gotta go with Casablanca here because damn, it's one of my favorite movies. Maybe the very favorite. What about you? There is an awfully long and great list to choose from.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Opening Credits: Taxi Driver

Wishing Megan

the best of luck with the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award in UK tomorrow night. She's going up against three heavy hitters: Robert Harris, Neal Stephenson, and Charles Cumming. Can a cheerleader triumph?

Trey R. Barker: BOTH BARRELS

                                                            Looking For Mr. Good Boy
                                                        By Trey R. Barker

I heard the murmurs in the hallway, the half-uttered statements at the water cooler. 
“…election fraud….”
“…dirty sheriff….”
Eleven years ago, I moved to north central Illinois and got a job at the local newspaper.  The Sheriff’s resignation and guilty pleas had ended just a few months earlier so tongues still wagged with the white-hot intensity of a blow torch.
Because I grew up in Texas, where we grow dirty sheriffs the size of skyscrapers, where corruption is not just embedded in our DNA…it is our DNA, where election fraud and retaliation ain’t nothing but another day.
A corrupt sheriff?  Boooorrring….
That entire story was yesterday’s headlines, baby.  Yeah, The New Yorker had done stories and the AP had been all over it; the Chicago Tribune had had reporters trolling north central Illinois for months and the Illinois Attorney General had investigated everyone that sheriff had ever talked to, ever arrested, ever slept with, ever even breathed on for crap’s sake.
Besides, I was chasing down the details of a different cop story. ( ). 
In that one, a young officer had tried to serve an arrest warrant on a two-bit bully in a tiny town just outside’a Nowheresville.  The officer ended up dead and the murderer killed another couple in front of their young daughter before blasting it out with cops in a shoot-out that left the murderer with a bullet in his face but somehow alive.
With the exception of trial, the mechanics of that story had played out, but I was tracking down details.  I had a friend who’s fiancée was law enforcement.  The fiancée thought maybe, if I showed the right kind of interest, the cops involved might talk to me.  Not about the shots and the deaths, but about the adrenaline, about the thoughts and pounding hearts.  About what it was like to taste death.
So while my newspaper colleagues were talking about the local sheriff, my interest was miles and miles away.
Up until the water cooler talk shifted.
“…what about the broken gloves…?”
“…and the letter….”
“…no way you can prove intent….”
            “…doesn’t matter…murder is murder….”
            Whoa…hang on.  Murder is a whole different thang, baby. 
            This wasn’t the sheriff’s re-election campaign trying to raffle off a $12,000 Harley Davidson but not selling enough tickets to pay for it so choosing a ‘winner’ who didn’t actually exist (and said winner’s name might have been…might have been…the name the dirty sheriff used when he was undercover on the drug task force) before destroying all the remaining tickets and most of the records.  This wasn’t billing the county for more than 200 cell phone calls made from Illinois to his girlfriend in Texas (Lubbock, in fact, where at the time the sheriff was calling her, I was attending Texas Tech University…how is that for some fucked up synchronicity?).  This wasn’t lying to a grand jury.
            This was murder; Cain and Abel stuff.
            That caught my attention.
            From Estate of Sims v. County of Bureau (7th Cir. #01-2884)
            “In 1999 TMS suffered a fatal heart attack in her home in Tiskilwa, Illinois.   The only person present at the time was Bureau County Sheriff, whose alleged campaign fraud was the subject of a story S was investigating for the local newspaper.”  
            Not the paper I worked for, but one in another county.  And why was another county covering election fraud rather than the local boys?  Because the local boys were scared of retaliation…from the sheriff.
            Then again, so was she.     
            “She had expressed concern to others that [the sheriff] might retaliate against her for writing the story.” (7th Cir.)
            So the sheriff types up a letter and takes it to the post office for bulk mailing to the reporter’s entire hometown.  That letter accused the reporter’s husband of “…past and current felonious criminal conduct.” (7th Cir.)
            I never knew exactly what bullshit the letter was slinging, but there were rumors….
            Whatever it was, it was harsh enough and horrible enough to give the reporter a heart attack.  She was a big woman with a well-known heart condition and when the family sued, they said the sheriff knew the letter would give her a fatal heart attack.  That part is bullshit.  The sheriff didn’t know what the reaction would be.  Yeah, the odds played in his favor, but he didn’t know for sure.
            “At approximately 12:30 p.m., S did suffer a fatal heart attack. [The sheriff] radioed for an ambulance at 12:47 p.m., but by the time the paramedics arrived at 12:54 p.m., S was not breathing and did not have a pulse.” (7th Cir.)
            Now let’s take a look at that right there.  Heart attack at 12:30, he radioed for help at 12:47.  Seventeen minutes, roughly, of watching her gasp and wheeze and clutch her chest and arm.  Did she beg for help?  Was she even able to talk? 
            Before he radioed for help, he called the post office to ask about possible criminal penalties for bulk-mailing defamatory letters and whether or not those letters could be traced back to the person who mailed them.
            Dude was worried about the Feds sniffing around on his post office beef and while he sorted that out, she lay at his feet fucking dying.
            When the inevitable investigation got rolling, when the questions came fast and furious at this sheriff who suddenly found himself under siege, he told everyone he’d wanted to save her by performing CPR…but his rubber gloves kept breaking.
            Not that one broke and he didn’t have any others, but that they kept breaking.  In other words, he replaced them and they broke and he replaced them again and they broke…and again and again.
            (As a quick aside, I now work in law enforcement and I’ve got an entire box of latex gloves in my squad car.  Probably 200 gloves in that box.  The thing is?  I’ve never broken a single glove.  I’ve searched houses and cars, people and even animals wearing bandannas and sweaters.  Never broken a glove.)
            So this was the story, and not even all of the story, there are lots more incidents that came to light during the investigation.  But ultimately, in a deal with the Attorney General’s office, the sheriff pleaded to felony campaign fraud.
Honestly, I’m not sure causation could ever be proven between him and her fatal heart attack, but circumstantially it was fairly straight up.
So the why a man would – allegedly – go to these lengths to head off a story about low-rent campaign fraud rolled around in my head for ten years.  I never really thought about doing anything with it literarily, but I did study on it from time to time.
Then along came Ron Earl.  Sent me an email saying, roughly, write me a story or I’ll blow your balls off with a really small gun so that it doesn’t actually kill you but takes you a while to bleed to death.
How can I turn down an invite like that?
So I started a story.  And it blew.  And I started another.  And it blew worse.  For whatever reason, I couldn’t write squat.
In frustration, I decided to tell Ron Earl to eat my shorts.  I couldn’t get anything working for him so he should move on.  I put the project outta my head and kept working on the new novel (Exit Blood, available next March from Down and Out Books, if you can dig it!).
But while I worked the novel, my brain percolated around the sheriff and the next damn thing I knew, the story “A Good Son” was done.  Obviously some of the details are different, but I did follow out the rumors of what I’d heard was in the letter.
Other than the sheriff showing a letter to a large woman and standing by while she died, nothing in my story happened.
As far as you know, anyway.  And I won’t tell you any different unless you buy really good whiskey…
…and lots of it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What If God Had a Girlfriend?: Simon Rich

Forgotten Movies: HIGH AND LOW

This is a brilliant, thrilling film made by Kurosawa in 1963. An executive is poised to take over a company on the brink of financial disaster when his chaffeur's son is kidnapped by men who mistakenly believe it to be his son. The great Toshiro Mifune plays the executive. The train scene is one of the best ever.
This is based on an Ed McBain novel, KING'S RANSOM but Kurosawa and his writers have made some choices of their own. This is an exciting film about a moral dilemma. It was recently remastered.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Great Movie Themes: THE GREAT ESCAPE

Is Daphne DuMaurier A Lesser Writer Than ???

In an article in the Guardian, Daphne Du Maurier is compared unfavorably to Anthony Powell, Evelyn Waugh and other writers. Her writing is called flabby, overwrought. She is judged to be  a near equivalent to Barbara Cartland (no insult intended--I have never read Ms. Cartland).

Now when was the last time you heard anyone say they were reading Powell, I ask you. If a book continues to draw in readers 75 years later, can the writing really be sub-par?Mustn't it have some qualities that are to be admired? Some enduring positive traits?

 REBECCA and MY COUSIN RACHEL astounded me once again when I read them a few years back. They have a power, a pull,  that many other novels of that era did not. Some of DuMaurier short stories are brilliant too. (Don't Look Now, The Birds).

This becomes a tiresome argument, but what other writers have been consigned to second ratedom and continue to be read rather than just talked about in articles like this one? 

Who deserves more respect than they get?