Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tuesday Night Music: THE NATIONAL

Five Years of Forgotten Books: Day 30

Andrew Nette is a Melbourne writer. He blogs at

The Song Is You
, Megan Abbott

The Song is You is only the second Megan Abbott book I’ve read, but it’s cemented her place in the select group of authors whose work I recommend to friends with undisguised envy about what awaits them.
Hell, can Abbott write and her take on post-Second World War Hollywood is distinctive and razor sharp.
The Song Is You focuses on Gil ‘Hop’ Hopkins, a studio publicity man/fixer/pimp whose beat is “the world of trouble between mid-night and seven am”. Whether it’s rescuing starlets from opium dens and rough trade or procuring quickie abortions for leading men and studio heads who want to maintain their happily married public personas, it’s just a job for Hopkins.
He does what he’s told and doesn’t ask questions until he gets involved in the disappearance of starlet Jean Spangler, two years missing with no clues other than a mysterious note and a swirl of rumours. They shared a moment, if you can call it that, the night before Jean disappeared. A group of them had been drinking hard and they ended up in a seedy harbour side bar, where Hop left Jean in the company of a couple of big name studio crooners with a reputation for playing very rough.
Girls like Jean, drawn to Tinseltown from dust bowl towns across America with stars in the eyes and hopes of making it big, are a dime a dozen in Hop’s world. He’d hardly given her a second thought until a friend of Jean’s makes contact, accusing him of being one of the people responsible for her disappearance.
Soon, fuelled by guilt and the need to protect his own arse he’s investigating every last detail about the night in question.
There’s a hard-bitten female journalist who is also looking into Jean’s disappearance, plenty of mob connections and a whiff that Jean may have been involved in her own illegal scam. There’s also plenty of sex. It positively oozes from the pores of the story, amid the mood lighting, calypso music, tiki torches and martinis.
The parallels between The Song Is You and Ellroy’s Black Dahlia are obvious, their noir sensibility, the era they are set in, their mix of fact and fiction, right down to their raven-haired party-girl victims. But there’s something about Abbott’s book that sets it apart.
I think big part of it is her less is more style. This allows her to hint at horrendous events, introduce the sleaziest characters and take us to the very worst places, without collapsing into cliché. She’s also a master of allowing class, sex and social observation to collide in a way that does take away from the precision of her plot and characters.

Forgotten Movies: I LOVE YOU ALICE B. TOKLAS

There are very few good movies from the sixties and this is certainly not one of them. But any movie with Peter Sellers has something going for it. I guess.

A thirty-something square falls in love with a hippie and decides to "drop out" himself.



It all revolves around grass brownies. Didn't every movie in the sixties toy with this? It seems like it. Too bad it wasn't better but it is a time piece. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Movie Theme Music; Two for the Road

Five Years Of Forgotten Books; Day 29

Gar Anthony Haywood is the award winning author of the Aaron Gunner series, two thrillers written as Ray Shannon, and most recently CEMETERY ROAD.

FAULT LINES by Teri White

One of the greatest compliments a book reviewer ever paid to something I'd written was "the best Elmore Leonard rip-off since Elmore Leonard."Publisher's Weekly was referring to my 2003 standalone MAN EATER, but the reviewer could have easily said the same thing fifteen years earlier about Teri White's terrific crime novel, FAULT LINES (Mysterious Press, 1988). I have yet to come across another book that nails the quirky, deceptively scary flavor of a Dutch Leonard novel quite so flawlessly.
True to the often-imitated but rarely duplicated Leonard formula, White populated FAULT LINES with a cast of off-beat, complex characters and then spun a tale in which their separate misadventures would ultimately collide.
Bryan Murphy is an ex-New York City cop who, forced into early retirement by a near-fatal heart attack, now makes his home in Los Angeles, where's he's bored to tears. So bored that he strikes up an uneasy friendship with an ex-con named Tray Detaglio, who's only recently gotten out of the joint. Detaglio's trying to find his ex-girlfriend Kathryn Daily, a cold-hearted hustler and pole dancer who claimed to be pregnant with his child when he last heard from her, but his clumsy attempts to track her down only land him in jail. When Murphy bails him out, being the only person Detaglio could think of to call for help, the two strike a deal: Murphy will look for Kathryn if Detaglio will take over some home repair work Murphy's weak heart prevents him from tackling himself.
Meanwhile, Kathryn---having aborted Detaglio's child years ago---is shacking up elsewhere in L.A. with two more ex-cons, former cellmates Dwight St. John and Chris Moore. Psychotic career criminals who make Detaglio look like an altar boy, Dwight and Chris seem resigned to pulling one stupid, meaningless liquor store robbery after another, until Kathryn offers them a chance at something much better: the Big, once-in-a-lifetime heist they've always dreamed of pulling. One of Kathryn's many ex-boyfriends, post-Tray Detaglio, was mobbed-up drug dealer Michael Stanzione, and before she left him, she learned all there was to know about where Stanzione likes to keep a cool half-million in his palatial Beverly Hills mansion. . .
Get it? It's a terrific set-up, and White works it all to perfection. Tight plotting, solid dialogue---it's all here. But Kathryn---hot, sexy and oh, so wicked---is the poisoned straw that stirs this drink. Bedding and playing all three men at once---Dwight, Chris and Tray---as if they were suckers in a shell game, she leads the reader on a hardcore thrill ride reminiscent of. . .
Well, yeah: a great Elmore Leonard novel.

Getting the Team Together

What is your favorite movie where the story begins with someone assembling a group or team in order to achieve a goal? I'll start with THE SEVEN SAMURAI.

Say Something Good About Detroit

Edmund Alyn Jones was a first year graduate student at the Hilberry Theater when he knocked people's socks off playing RICHARD III. Since then we have seen him play OTHELLO, and play parts memorably in other Hilberry productions of THE MOUSETRAP, OF MICE AND MEN, DETROIT. He is perhaps the finest actor I have seen in my thirty-some years of Hilberry attendance. You knew it the first time he walked on the stage. And he is one of the only young actors I have seen who can play an older man persuasively.

I am so hopeful Mr. Jones will make his way onto bigger stages. I wish him well. He has given me much pleasure.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sunday Night Poetry: Derek Walcott

Five Years of Forgotten Books: Day 28

Jared Case is a graduate of The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation and the Head of Cataloging for the motion picture collection of the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY. He is the curator of the film noir series that runs in January and February at the Dryden Theater and is, himself, a “pre-published” author. You can read his thoughts on film noir, crime fiction, kooky criminals and local authors at A Case of Murder (http://caseofmurder.blogspot.com). (bio from 2009)

DIE DREAMING, Terence Faherty

Owen Keane is the perfect example of a character that illuminates the prosaic by highlighting the idiosyncratic. His background is like no other: On a religious retreat between his junior and senior years in high school he came across a boy who claimed he could talk to God. When this claim was proven a deceit, his faiths were shaken: his faith in God, his faith in Man, and his faith in The Truth. This event was never far from him, and his crises of faith were internalized, affecting his belief in God, his belief in himself, and his belief in his ability to find the truth. Hoping to tackle all of these crises simultaneously, he abandoned Mary, the woman who would be the love of his life, and entered the seminary. When his failure at the seminary coincided with Mary’s abandonment of him for his college roommate, Harold Ohlman, Owen began to wander, doing odd menial jobs, and ending up in a liquor store. In a fit of pique, he attended his tenth high school reunion under the guise of a private investigator, and Owen Keane, the amateur detective was born.
This backstory is specific enough to be unique, and yet the sum is the same for many of us. Our lives have been an accumulation of events that led us to question the world around us. And to this end, Owen Keane has many of the same investigative tools we all do. As a fan mystery fiction and mystery film, Owen has been indoctrinated into all the tropes and clichés of the detective’s process. His experience is our experience as he references Dashiell Hammett, or Nero Wolfe, or Double Indemnity. This makes him acutely self-aware of his place in the genealogy of detective fiction, but the broad shoulders he stands on don’t prevent him from jumping to the wrong conclusion or following a lead because he hopes it to be true. His failings are our failings, even as his cynical, self-deprecating exterior belies an underlying belief in the goodness of men and women, and the belief that he will be able to effect positive change through the search for truth.
In fact, his currency is truth. Rarely does he get paid for his services, and even then it only covers expenses. But if he can uncover the truth, not necessarily for himself, and not even necessarily for the victim, it adds to a growing tapestry of truth, something that he can point to as a basis for a belief in his ability to find the truth, which supports a belief in himself and in mankind, which holds up the possibility of a belief in the existence and effectiveness of God, despite the fact that faith requires neither proof nor support. Yet this is what drives him to toil in the long shadows of Sam Spade, Nick Charles and Travis McGee.
DIE DREAMING, the fourth book in Terence Faherty’s “Owen Keane” series, is perhaps the best, taking this mystery-fan/faith-in-crisis context and grafting it onto a mystery story that inverts the mystery story expectation of beginning-middle-end. Owen Keane, 28 and feeling a bit of a failure, decides to play a self-deprecating joke on his high school classmates, The Sorrowers, by running an ad for the Owen Keane Detective Agency in the 10th reunion program. But one of The Sorrowers is a jokester herself and sets up a fake mystery to lure Owen into an embarrassing situation. Owen falls for the ruse, but is saved by another classmate. In the meantime, however, a true mystery surfaces when loose lips mention an event that was suppressed 10 years ago and that tied The Sorrowers together in a code of secrecy. Owen’s investigation stumbles along, following false leads and shaky assumptions, but his dogged determination does eventually reveal the truth. It also reveals that there are as many victims as perpetrators, and in the end Owen decides that the truth, now discovered, is sometimes better left buried.
This decision comes into question 10 years later when one of The Sorrowers turns up dead. Owen must come to terms with his responsibility in the death and determine whether the truth did come out, and if someone would kill to keep it hidden. His investigation takes him back to his hometown and his 20th high school reunion. He starts to look at The Sorrowers and the mysterious event that took place 20 years ago, but he has to take into account the changes that have taken place in the last 10 years, when the end of his last investigation became the beginning of this new crime. He discovers that relationships are even more complex than they appeared, and that crimes can have implications generations removed from the original event itself.
There is no better feeling than finding a piece of art that resonates with you, unless you get to share that discovery with someone else. Terence Faherty and Owen Keane were such a discovery for me, and I hope that, by sharing the discovery with you, they will pass from the realms of the forgotten.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Saturday Night Music: CATHY'S CLOWN

This may not be their best song, but it is the first one I remember. I was in seventh grade and we were allowed to dance after eating lunch. A daily trial for some I am sure. But I loved to dance and remember dancing to this. Some sort of twisty motion.

We saw a museum exhibit about the Everly Brothers in Coronado. Great fun.


Alistair MacLean's BREAKHEART PASS

J. Kingston Pierce is the editor of The Rap Sheet, the senior editor of January Magazine, and the author of two recent non-fiction books, San Francisco: Yesterday and Today and Seattle: Yesterday and Today. 

My introduction to Scottish author Alistair MacLean came in high school, when one of my English teachers assigned us all to read The Guns of Navarone, a 1957 thriller centered around the efforts of a specialist team of Allied commandos, during World War II, to silence the notorious weaponry at a German fortress in the Aegean Sea. Most of the books we’d had to read that year were pretty quiet stuff, along the lines of Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories. Navarone was something else altogether, an adventure novel that read more like one of the high-stakes action tales in my grandfather’s 

Argosy magazines than it did a work that some earnest curriculum planner thought would be healthy grist for the minds of teenage boys. If this was what the future of English classes held in store, I thought, let me at it! 

Predictably, though, Navarone was an aberration; afterward, we went right back to reading safe “classics.” But by then I had developed an appetite for MacLean’s edge-of-the-seat yarns. Done with Navarone, I dove into Puppet on a Chain, then Fear is the Key, Ice Station Zebra, Bear Island, The Way to Dusty Death, and finally, during my sophomore year in college, Breakheart Pass. 

That last novel, published in 1974, wove MacLean’s traditional, best-selling formula of manifold tight plot twists and a cynical protagonist facing long odds into the tapestry of the familiar American western. Supposedly set in the 1870s, the story takes place primarily aboard an ill-fated Union Pacific train steaming east to west across northern Nevada in the midst of a daunting snowstorm. Among the passengers are the governor of Nevada, Charles Fairchild; his mid-20s, black-haired niece, Marica; a tough-shelled cavalry officer, Colonel Claremont, who’s accompanied by two train cars full of troops; Indianfighter-turned-U.S. marshal Nathan Pearce and his newly acquired prisoner, John Deakin, a taciturn ex-university lecturer wanted on multiple counts of arson and murder; and an expert on tropical diseases, Dr. Edward Molyneux. The doctor’s seemingly inappropriate presence is soon explained by word that the train’s next destination, Fort Humboldt--commanded by Marica’s father--is under epidemic assault by cholera. Molyneux is reportedly taking medicine to the fort, along with coffins. 

Things start to go amiss from the first, though. A couple of Claremont’s men disappear even before the train sets off from its final remote town stop. Then the doctor is discovered dead, and the locomotive’s fireman tumbles from a high overpass into a yawning ravine. When the last three train wagons--“the troop-carrying coaches and the brake van”--come uncoupled from the rest of the cars, and careen off backward into a forested gorge, it’s plain that some wicked mind is behind all of these “accidents.” Suspicion naturally focuses on Pearce’s captive, Deakin, who appears unperturbed by the lethal calamities occurring around him. However, the fact that Deakin was shackled at the time of at least one passenger death seems to absolve him of blame. But if he isn’t responsible, then who is? And what do those disasters have to do with mislabeled coffins in the train’s supply wagons, or Deakin’s nocturnal wanderings over the roof of the hustling express, or Paiute Indians being welcomed 
at Fort Humboldt? 

Author MacLean was allegedly past his prime when he wrote Breakheart Pass. Yet pretty much everything one could want in a historical thriller is found in these pages: rampant deceptions, plots designed to incite fear, abundant greed, calculated homicides, unexpected heroics. (Well, everything except sex: MacLean thought such complications only hobbled the pace of storytelling.) And the whole adventure takes place within a winter that’s as unforgiving as the villains who hope to profit from the carnage. MacLean’s prose may have been more pedestrian than poetic, but he could definitely keep readers on the edge 
of their seats. 

I will not be the first reader, or the last, I’m sure, to remark on the author’s confusion of historical facts. While MacLean makes clear in the book that America’s Civil War has been fought and finished, and the United States Secret Service (founded in 1865) is active in bringing malefactors to justice, he confuses things by mentioning that “the Big Bonanza strike in [Nevada’s] Comstock Lode” occurred some months ago. Actually, that rich discovery took place in 1859, when Nevada was still part of the Utah Territory. Two more years would pass before Nevada broke away, and it wasn’t until 1864 that it became the 36th state in 
the Union. I can only imagine that MacLean decided that such discrepancies were OK if they contributed to his story’s intent. 

And reading this book again now, I find myself more able than I was originally to overlook them. The building of tension, not the exposition of historical events, was the author’s purpose in these pages, and he succeeded marvelously. Even today, and knowing how it all ends, every time I sit down with Breakheart Pass or watch the 1975 Charles Bronson film adaptation of that tale, I feel anew the frisson of anticipation, wondering who will survive that dangerous train ride ... and how the men behind the crimes on board will be brought to justice. That’s great storytelling for you! 


This has one of the best premises ever. A police detective, failing to bring cases to a satisfactory conclusion, manoeuvers a group of small time crooks into a major crime so he can solve it.

This film was just released in the U.S. for the first time. We saw it at our local art museum theater. 

Not a perfect movie, but fun. And Romy is gorgeous.

What is your favorite premise in a movie?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Five Years of Forgotten Books: Day 26

Michael Koryta is the author of five novels, including the 2008 LA Times Book Prize winner, Envy the Night, and the forthcoming The Silent Hour. (bio from 2009)

TOMATO RED, Daniel Woodrell

In a literal sense, Daniel Woodrell's "Tomato Red" doesn't meet forgotten book standards as it is neither an old text, nor, I suspect, forgotten by a single soul who actually read it. Overlooked, then, let's say if you like noir, hardboiled crime, or clever mysteries, you definitely won’t be disappointed. Falling Angel is one all it that, and agree that such a thing is a damn shame because Woodrell is as good a writer as anyone alive. There's no easing into the story in Tomato Red -- we pick up our narrator, Sammy Barlach, riding a good crank high and breaking into a mansion with a pair of "trailer-park bums," the sort Sammy imagines are the only crowd that will have him. From there you're along for a swift, insightful, and tragic ride narrated in a way only Woodrell can manage. There's a touch of Twain in the observations of his protagonist/narrator -- "You might think I should've quit on the burglary right there, but I just love people, I guess, and didn't." -- and a dose of James Agee in his handling of rural social class frustrations (rage?) but the writing is all his own, and there aren't many writers out there who can come close. Is Tomato Red as powerful and fully realized a novel as Winter's Bone or The Death of Sweet Mister? No. But it's a hell of a book, one that can make you laugh out loud in the first half of a sentence and then twist your heart in the second, and when you find a writer capable of such feats, you ought to read every word they put on paper.

My review of THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES is up at Crimespree Cinema. 

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, April 28, 2013

Desperate Characters by Paula Fox (the first forgotten book)

It's difficult to remember, thirty years on, New York in the seventies, The City was facing bankruptcy, the streets were dangerous, frequent strikes left unattended garbage for the rodents, buildings crumbled. Paula Fox's novel Desperate Characters perfectly captures that time along with the similarly disintegrating marriage of Sophie and Otto Bentwood. The story begins with an unexpected cat bite. "Because it's savage," Otto answers Sophie's puzzled, "why?" It was a cat she was trying to feed that bit her. This well-intentioned act, this McGuffin, sends the couple off on a weekend odyssey, where ominous events continue to haunt the childless couple. They find little solace in each other and there is no easy resolution at the end. The quiet desperation that suffuses their story is heart-breaking. The writing is haunting, lucid, and succinct.

Fox has also written two books about her life (Borrowed Finery and The Coldest Winter), a few other novels (The Widow's Children) and many children's books. But nothing is finer than this one for me.

Ed Gorman is home again. Yippee!

TEXAS WIND, James Reasoner

We all have books we go back to several times over the years. For me one of the finest private eye novels I've ever read is Texas Wind by James Reasoner. It is a virtually perfect utterance, a story of a man, an era and a place.

While the set-up is familiar, "a missing daughter job" as Hammett once began a story of his, the op here, named Cody, gives us a Texas I'd never seen before and a private eye who might be the guy you have coffee with at the donut shop counter a couple days a week. The reality is what makes the dark surprises of the book stay real. A real person is telling you the story.

Texas is too often writ so large it becomes comic without meaning to be. James' social observations are worth the price alone. My favorite is a scene where Cody, a Southerner, wonders about a man because he's a Northerner. I've seen this written so many times by Yankees that it was a jolt realizing that it cuts both ways. I loved it.

Filled with exciting incident and humane observation, Texas Wind is one of those books that should be read by everyone who wants to write a mystery novel. This will show you how.

Livia Washburn, James' talented and lovely writer wife, is also a talented and lovely artist. Who knew? Here's her new cover for Texas Wind.

Sergio Angelini, MEMOS FROM PURGATORY, Harlan Ellison
Randal S. Brandt, CARAMBOLA by David Dodge.
Brian Busby, TORONTO DOCTOR, Sol Allen
Randall S. Brandt, CARAMBOLA, David Dodge
Bill Crider, DARK TRAVELING, Roger Zelazny
Martin Edwards, GARSTONS, H.C. Bailey
Curt Evans, THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS, John Buchan
Michael Gregorio, YARDIE, Victor Headley
Randy Johnson, A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, John Burke
Nick Jones, Richard Stark's Parker Series
George Kelley, THE END OF THE NIGHT, John D. MacDonald
B.V. Lawson, THE ABANDONED ROOM, Charles Wadsworth Camp
Steve Lewis/ Michael Shonk, RISING DOG, Vince Kohler
Todd Mason, INTERSECTIONS: THE SYCAMORE HILL ANTHOLOGY edited by John Kessel, Mark L. Van Name and Richard Butner; MIRRORSHADES: THE CYBERPUNK ANTHOLOGY, edited by Bruce Sterling
Jeff Meyerson, KILLING CASTRO, Lawrence Block
J.F. Norris, BENIGHTED, J.B. Priestley
Ayo Onadate, A RAGE IN HARLEM, Chester Himes
James Reasoner, BEST OFFER, Robert Calder
Gerard Saylor, THE CONSUMMATA, Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Ron Sheer, THE MANTLE OF RED EVANS, Hugh Pendexter
Michael Slind, BLOOD UPON SNOW, Hilda Lawrence
Kerrie Smith, DEATH MASK, Ellis Peters
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, BURN, John Lutz
TomCat, MURDER AT THE ABA, Isaac Asimov
Rich Westwood, REVELATIONS OF A LADY DETECTIVE, William Stephens Hayward
Jim Winter, CHARLIE OPERA, Charlie Stella

Thursday, April 25, 2013

My Life in the Theater: SOME AMERICANS ABROAD

Saw this one in 1999 at the Hilberry Theater as Wayne State. I have absolutely no memory of it but that doesn't mean it wasn't a fine play. I have to begin to wonder if the amount of money I spent in theaters was perhaps excessive given my memory. Ah, well. Someone has to support the theater.

Five Years of Forgotten Books, Day 25

Kathryn Miller Haines is the author of THE WINTER OF HER DISCONTENT and THE WAR AGAINST MISS WINTER, a series set in 1940s New York. (bio from 2008)

FANTOMAS by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain.

Looking for a nefarious villain, a surreal plot, and more absurd gadgets than a Rube Goldberg fire sale? Look no further than Fantomas by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain. Heck, the whole series (32 books authored by both men, 11 additional ones by Allain alone) is worth picking up, if you can find them (the first five have been reissued and are available through amazon.com).

The initial, co-authored series was published in Paris between 1911 and 1913 – one a month, if you can imagine – and features one of the most popular characters in French crime fiction. Part master criminal, part serial killer, part gang leader, Fantomas is the kind of character who seemed ready made for comic books (in fact he makes in appearance in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Utilizing plague infested rats and sulfuric acid infused perfume as readily as knives and revolvers as his weapons of choice, Fantomas is a master of disguise, clever enough to wear the skin of a dead man long before Hannibal Lecter came up with the idea.

And yeah, you find yourself rooting for him, in some sick and twisted way. Vive le Dexter!
In the first book alone, Fantomas murders a Marquise, woos the wealthy, robs royalty, and frames an innocent man by utilizing his impressive skills with theatrical makeup. Of course he has an arch nemesis: the good-hearted Paris policeman Inspector Juve who’s always a day late and a dollar short when it comes to tracking him down. But then, what fun would there be in locking up the master criminal?

There’s no psychoanalysis here; Souvestre and Allain aren’t interested in why Fantomas does what he does. Moral order is never restored and incongruities are often never explained. But Fantomas isn’t just silly fun. He inspired the surrealist movement (Magritte painted pictures of him) and served as the model for American pulp fiction.
And for those of you already familiar with the series, don’t miss David L. White’s Fantomas in America (Blackcoat Press, 2007), a new Fantomas tale inspired by the lost 1920s American serial film based on the character.


I have read very little fantasy. John Lanchester notes the problems with getting people to read fantasy in his excellent piece about GAME OF THRONES in the LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS.


For me, the suspension of my very literal belief in what I see before me in juxtaposition to imagining the possibility of elves, dragons, and other worlds will always stand in my way. The visuals on the HBO series, GAME OF THRONES makes it much easier for me than only seeing those words on a page though. Show me a dragon and I might believe in it. Surely the HBO series, LOTR, and the Harry Potter books and movies have promoted the reading of fantasy than anything in a long time

Also interesting in the article is the idea that a series holds more interest for people than a standalone novel. People want to spend a lot of time in another world once they invest.

What are the great fantasy books besides the Tolkien ones?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Opening Credits: THE SPY WHO LOVED ME

Five Years of Forgotten Books; Craig Johnson Day 24

Craig Johnson is the author of Penguin’s Sheriff Walt Longmire series, The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished, Another Man’s Moccasins and The Dark Horse.(from 2009)

Doctor Dogbody’s Leg, by James Norman Hall

This almost unheard of book is one of my all-time favorites. As a land-locked cowboy, when my mind is troubled, I go down to the sea. The more romantic side of my nature has been lured by a few authors who saw fit to swash their buckles with a scalpel along with a sword, including C. S. Forrester, Patrick O’Brian, and Gabriel Sabatini. I suppose when they decided to make their heroes doctors, they wanted an erudite narrator who would be capable of uttering more comprehensible statements than “Argh… Shiver me timbers.” Whatever that means. I have to tell you, though that Doctor Dogbody’s Leg is the best.
I stumbled across this slim volume by James Hall, half of the Nordoff/Hall duo famous for the historic Bounty trilogy, in a used bookstore in Boston. The story of the author is as interesting as his novels. Hall, an American, fought in the trenches in World War I before the U.S. joined the war, then as an American fighter pilot—and was the commanding officer of the Hat-In-The-Ring Squadron with such luminaries as Eddie Rickenbacker. Hall explored the Pacific, island hopping on his own, finally settling in Fiji.
I suppose after producing some of the greatest sea-faring literature of our time, James Norman Hall decided to have a little fun later in life, and Doctor Dogbody’s Leg has made me laugh since I read the first chapter where the doc loses his ‘larboard’ leg to an American Indian’s cutlass. . . Then in another where he loses it to a French guillotine. . . And then again when he sacrifices it to the wolves in Russia in the service of Catherine the Great. . . Hmm, that would be three legs, wouldn’t it? Maybe I should explain—in ten chapters, Doctor F. Dogbody loses a leg a chapter, which probably qualifies the naval surgeon as either a human caterpillar or one of the great liars of all time. But after a night in mist-shrouded Plymouth and Will Tunn’s Cheerful Tortoise, repaired with a few old acquaintances from the Royal Naval, Dogbody (Imagine Baron Munchhausen, Harry Flashman and Horatio Hornblower all rolled into one) holds forth and it doesn’t matter if the stories are true or not, they’re just so good; like a bottle of good grog, you’ll find yourself metering each chapter out so that they last.

What Book Sparks the Conspiracy Theories similar to a movie like ROOM 237?

ROOM 237 documents the ideas of a group of people who find hidden meanings in THE SHINING after multiple viewings. This seems to be more common in films than in books. Where multiple viewings of a movie begin to reveal previously hidden insights.

But what books spark such a frenzy over hidden signs, symbols, etc.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Five Years of Forgotten Books, Day 23

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

John P. Marquand and John O’Hara were the pre-eminent chroniclers of American life in the first half of the 20th century; and, in a way, their bodies of work describe the tension that existed between the privileged WASP class of Marquand’s world and the second-generation of (predominantly Catholic) Irish, Italian, German, and Polish immigrants who came of age before World War II and about whom O’Hara wrote so perceptively. O’Hara’s characters may not be able to get into the “right” schools or join the “right” clubs, but with their strength and drive they bring a vitality that two hundred years of entitlement has leeched out of Marquand’s characters. If you read O’Hara’s and Marquand’s work side-by-side, you’ll see much of the American assimilation saga played out there on the page.
Unfortunately, if John O’Hara is remembered today, it is as the writer of sexy 1950s blockbuster novels such as BUTTERFIELD 8 and RAGE TO LIVE (both of which were made into indifferent movies). But John O’Hara’s real métier was the short story. For over fifty years, starting in 1927 and ending just before his death in 1970, the prolific O’Hara published more than 200 stories in the New Yorker alone (not to mention many more stories that appeared in other publications); in fact, O’Hara was, in large part, responsible for shaping what we now consider to be the classic "New Yorker short story.”
The stories in this collection represent that half-century span, the first was originally published in 1927, the last in 1966. They range in length from a couple of pages to novellas. These are not stories with twists or surprise endings; they are character studies of people defined and limited both by their own choices and by social factors beyond their control. Outcomes proceed organically from the interactions of characters and the fundamental underpinnings of their personalities. Many of them are set in and around the fictional town of Gibbsville, Pennsylvania, and are narrated by Jim Malloy, the local doctor’s son, a fictional stand-in for O’Hara. A few others are set in New York or Los Angeles. One of the best of the L.A. stories is “Nautica Jackson,” about the devastating revenge committed by a woman who discovers her husband is having an affair with a movie starlet.
My favorite story in this collection is “Imagine Kissing Pete,” which explores thirty years in a mismatched marriage. Bobbie marries Pete on the rebound in 1929; friends assume the couple will soon divorce. But the Depression hits, there isn’t money to divorce, then the children come, and the couple remain married through ups and downs, separations, the Depression, downward mobility, hard times, the war, and eventual post-war prosperity. This is not a happy marriage—there’s heavy drinking (every O'Hara character seems to easily consume a fifth a day), casual (and not-so-casual) infidelity on both sides, anger, recriminations, and physical violence, but the marriage endures. The story ends with Bobbie and Pete attending the graduation of their youngest child from an Ivy League school in 1959.
The last story in the collection, “We’ll Have Fun,” is one that I wished would continue and have a happy ending for the main character, a hard-drinking Irish-American named Tony Costello. Costello loves and understands horses, picking up odd jobs from horse owners when he can and spending all of his money on alcohol But horses are on the way out; the rich owners who used to employ Tony are now buying automobiles; stables are being converted to garages; blacksmiths are closing their businesses. Then Tony helps a well-to-do woman who has inadvertently purchased a very sick horse. At the end of the story, Tony and the woman are planning a horse-buying trip together. Tony—despite his faults—is so committed to his love of horses that I was hoping he would be able to squeeze a happy ending out of his life. O’Hara promises no such thing, wisely ending the story before Tony’s drinking and haphazard lifestyle ruin another opportunity for him.
It’s unfortunate that O’Hara’s short stories are not more widely-read today. In their subtlety, range, social awareness, and precise dialog, they are a match for any of the more popular anthologized short stories of the last century. Anyone looking for reading material that is both entertaining and meaningful would not go wrong picking up a volume of O’Hara’s short stories.


I learned today on facebook that Randy Rohn died suddenly in his sleep on Sunday. At first, he wrote under the name R2 because he was in advertising and didn't want the two to bleed. Although we never met, we corresponded somewhat and I was always amused at his witticisms on facebook. I will miss him. Two hard deaths this week. Online extends the number of people you cheer for and mourn.

Randy Rohn was the author of HANG ON, SLOOPY as well as many short stories. One was chosen for THE BEST MYSTERY STORIES of 2009.

R2/ Randy participated in many of the flash fiction challenges and wrote some entries for Forgotten Books early on. He was a very quick-witted guy. I hope he doesn't mind, but I am posting one of his flash fiction stories here. In this early one, we swapped opening paragraphs.

To quote Randy's last line, "TO THE BADDEST CLOWN AROUND"


This is some flashy fun in which we were all given opening sentences and asked to finish the story. 
My opening was: For all the thrills and excitement I get, the part I hate is getting the blood out of my clown suit.

And here is the story...


For all the thrills and excitement I get, the part I hate is getting the blood out of my clown suit. Club soda doesn’t work nearly as well as they say it does. Spot removers leave a vestigial stain. And the laundry? Forget it. Sometimes I just have to throw the suit away. It’s a pain, no doubt. But it has to be done.

All the beatings and the killings and the bloodshed can’t be helped. It‘s just the way it has to be. Sometimes you have to crack a few eggs to make an omlette.

It started with Augie Doggie. I bumped into him at a backyard birthday party for the mayor’s son.

I was pulling quarters out of the children’s ears, shooting water from my oversized boutonnière---the usual. He was on the other side of the patio, just waving and hugging children one by one. No style. No class. Not even much of a show. I came up behind him and yanked his tail. “What are you doing here?”

“Same as you, entertaining the kids.” He didn’t even try to mimic Augie Doggie’s voice. He turned his back on me.

“I got some advice for you, be out of town by sunset. We don’t like your kind around here. This is a clown town. Always has been. Always will be.”

He didn’t reply.

Soon there were a pack of brightly-colored dogs roaming the streets: Doggie Daddy, Huckleberry Hound. Ruff, Scoobie Doo, and Astro.

I didn’t like it. The other clowns didn’t like it. But we stood by and did nothing. First the canines and then came the other Hannah Barbarians: Quick Draw McGraw, Trixie and Dixie, Magilla Gorilla, Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear, Boo Boo, Cow and Chicken. Our town was turning into a damn zoo of human-sized cutesy animals. I don’t like cutesy,

“We gotta do something,” Henry the Hobo said at the next meeting of the Clown Club. “Costumed characters are taking over. They have to be stopped.”

One of the old timers, Chuckles the Clown, called for restraint. “I say we let it be. They’re not hurting anyone. They’re only doing the jobs we don’t want to do anyway. Church picnics. Small birthday parties. The crap jobs. We can coexist.”

He couldn’t be more wrong. The dominoes started falling. After the animals came the minor heroes, Johnny Quest, the Power Rangers and the Hurculoids. Followed, of course, by the DC and Marvel cost-tumors. We saw our neighborhoods decline, We watched our jobs go. Who wanted a clown when you could have Batman or Spiderman at your function?

When a couple of other clowns and I showed up at the annual sidewalk sale and saw Barney on the stage, I lost it. That had been our gig forever and I wasn’t going to let some pussy purple dinosaur ruin it. When he came off stage we jumped him and beat his purple ass black and blue.

However, the big showdown came during the July 4th Picnic and Fireworks. Someone had invited a lot of costumed characters to the event. No clowns. This had to be stopped. We clowns were not to become the laughingstock of our own town. We met at the Velvet Painting, a clown bar. We devised a plan. We armed ourselves. We came to the show loaded for bear, dogs, and what have you. We had seltzer bottles full of battery acid, cream pies filled with razor blades and gunpowder-packed rubber noses.

You think Superman can only be hurt by kryptonite? Well try jamming an exploding slap shoe up his crimson skivvies. Batman didn’t like bats so well when they were Louisville Sluggers wielded by ten angry clowns. Aquaman couldn’t swim for shit with three clowns on his back. And Yogi Bear hated the tricks we put in his pik-a-nick basket. All in all, it was a massacre. Clowns stomped the shit out of the other kiddie entertainers. Frankly, I dug all the violence. I never felt more alive. The costumed creeps found out we weren’t clowning around. They left town.

Since then, we haven’t seen any costumors. Even the Hamburgler and Mayor McCheese have left McDonald’s.

We’ve elected a clown mayor, related to the Bush family, by the way, and have clown majority in the city council. It was decided by our elected officials that our borders were a little too porous, so we’ve built a wall around the town and set up border patrols. We’re trying to keep our town free of undesirables.

Just last night, when I was on patrol, I saw a mime trying to sneak in. I asked what he was doing. He didn’t say a word. So I shot him point blank. My gun had a silencer on it.

So listen up all you costumed characters, you mimes, you dancing edu-tainers and magicians, you’re not welcome in Red Skelton City. We have a zero tolerance policy. Our borders are sealed. And we clowns are not afraid to get a little blood on our mitts. We are the baddest clowns around.

Don’t you forget it.


Forgotten TV Shows: Spin and Marty

The Adventures of Spin and Marty was on for three years in the mid-fifties as part of THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB. The series was set at a western boys' camp.Tim Considine played Spin, a boy of poorer means. David Stollery played Marty, who came from a well to do family. Various Mouseketeers lent a land over time, especially Annette, the real crowd- pleaser. I can still sing this song. Each episode occupied about 25 minutes. It alternated with a couple of other series they did. Very enjoyable at the time when we all wanted to be cowboys or cowgirls.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Movie Theme Music: Brokeback Mountain


Ed Lynskey is the author of the newly released Lake Charles among other fine books.(bio from 2009)

The Bait by Dorothy Uhnak. 1968. Simon & Schuster.
One of the delights I’ve experienced in my writing career was the opportunity to conduct a phone interview with Dorothy Uhnak about a year or so before her tragic suicide in 2006. I’d read all of her novels, so I felt as if I’d had prepared enough. I needn’t have worried. She was a pistol, very friendly and engaging. You can read my interview and essay here: http://tiny.cc/ge08r.

The Bait won the 1969 Edgar Award for the best first novel, and Anthony Boucher praised it in his New York Times review column. It introduced her character Detective Second Grade Christie Opara (the surname is Czech) who went on to appear in two subsequent novels: The Witness (1969) and The Ledger (1970). Christie was based on Ms. Uhnak’s own fourteen-year career as a twice-decorated detective with the New York City Transit Police. Christie is a 26-year-old widow living with her small son Mickey and mother-in-law Nora.
After her husband died two years before in a construction job accident, Christie now works for Casey Reardon of the District Attorney’s Squad. En route to a big LSD drug bust, Christie arrests Murray Rogoff for indecent exposure while riding on the NYC subway. She sets off a chain of events that brings her back to clash with Murray under far darker circumstances. Three young ladies have been strangled, and Murray becomes the prime suspect.

I like Ms. Uhnak’s characterization, the precise mannerisms and pitch perfect dialogue she uses. She also injects enough gritty on-the-job realism to her cop tale without going overboard or bogging it down. The scenes showing the cops’ interactions feel natural and smooth. Banter and humor surface even when setting a trap with Christie offering herself as “the bait” for the murderous psychopath Murray. Christie strikes up a romantic interest with Reardon, a married man with a reputation for having affairs. I don’t remember how all that shakes out through the rest of the Opara trilogy.

Murray also wears special glasses to protect his lashless eyes and keep them moist. Ms. Uhnak told me she based his character on a real life perp she arrested who wore such special glasses. The perp left his lasting impression on her. She said she’d searched the police archives to hunt down his old arrest record.

I bought my paperback copy of The Bait from a used bookstore for $1.50. I thought our library system still shelved most of her books, but my online check just revealed all but one title have been culled. Within five years of her death, her books have disappeared. What a pity. She was a first-rate crime fiction writer and one of the pioneer lady authors working in the police procedural subgenre. At any rate, I suspect her used and ex-libris books are readily available for a mere few bucks.

Your Favorite War Novel?

I will pick two. One I read at the right age and one I read about the war that most affected me.

CATCH 22 by Heller surely sums up best the ludicrous nature of war. THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O'Brien reminds me what the war in Vietnam was like.

How about you?

Say Something Good About Detroit: Mike Kelley's Mobile Homestead

Mike Kelley's Mobile Homestead Opens May 11

Mobile Homestead is a permanent art work by late artist Mike Kelley located on the grounds of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. It's both a public sculpture and a private, personal architecture – based on the artist's childhood home on Palmer Road in Westland. Various events will take place inside the structure. When an attempt by the artist to buy the actual home was refused, Mike Kelley built this one.

The sculpture, which almost exactly replicates the vernacular architecture of working class neighborhoods in the American Midwest, will include a community center on the ground floor. The front porch of the home is a mobile unit which detaches from the permanent structure and travels around the city performing various kinds of community services.

Mobile Homestead videos by Mike Kelley will be presented in the Museum Galleries through July 28, 2013.

Saturday, May 11
Opening Ceremony and Remarks

Mobile Homestead and MOCAD Galleries open for viewing.

Live music by The Früt
$6 admission (free for MOCAD members)

Sunday, May 12
Stop by Mobile Homestead for some barbeque, radio theater, an ice cream social and more, organized by MOCAD's Education and Public Engagement curators. Free admission.

Mobile Homestead is commissioned by Artangel in association with MOCAD, LUMA Foundation and Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts with the generous support of the Artangel International Circle. Community programs in Mobile Homestead are supported by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.