Friday, January 31, 2014

How About a Great Dance Scene; THE GREAT BEAUTY

My review of THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is up on Crimespree Magazine.

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, January 31, 2014

After this posting, I will be gone all day and not be available to post any links until Saturday.

Next week, SHIRLEY JACKSON. Hope I have some takers.

 THE GIVER, Lois Lowry (patti)

This is a YA book written in the nineties. I understand that a movie starring Jeff Bridges is coming out and I thought I would read it ahead of the film.
Jonas lives in the utopian/dystopian future. In his world, sameness is the guiding force. Each family has two children, a boy and a girl, and their future is sealed at age 12. There is no war, no suffering, no colors. Literally, no colors. Anything that might lead to disharmony is forbidden and people that meddle with this organization are sent off. Jonas is chosen to be a receiver. This turns out to be a rather onerous chore. There is only one giver and he is very old and will hand down the necessary information for Jonas to do this job--a job neither of them can much stand by the time the year of training runs out.

It is hard for me to imagine teenagers wrestling with this book. There are no romances, no talk of clothes or sports. Jonas has no real relationships other than the one with his mentor and another with an infant. I can think of very few adult novels that have dealt so unflinchingly with such a theme. Is harmony and equality worth the price of freedom and choice.

I thought it was a marvelous book and very deserving of the awards it has won. But this is a harsh story from beginning to end. Read it if you dare.Thinking about it, it reminded me of Ursula LeGuin's. story "The Ones Who Walk Away From the Omelas" and Jackson's "The Lottery."

Sergio Angelini, THE CAVES OF STEEL, Isaac Asimov
Joe Barone, WOLF, NO WOLF, Peter Bowen
Brian Busby, A LOT TO MAKE UP FOR, John Buell
Bill Crider, SON OF FLETCH, Gregory Mcdonald
Martin Edwards, INFORMATION RECEIVED, E.R. Punshion
Curt Evans, THE EAMES-ERSKINE CASE, H. Fielding
Elizabeth Grace Foley, NO HIGHWAY, Neville Shute
Elizabeth Foxwel, TI'S ABOUT CRIME, MacKinlay Kantor
Jeff Flugel, Tarzan, The Centennial Art, Scott Tracy Griffin
Jerry House, THE POKER CLUB, Ed Gorman
Nick Jones, INTRIGUE, Eric Ambler
George Kelley, THE ART OF MYSTERY AND DETECTION, Peter Haining
Margot Kinberg, THE GUARDS, Ken Bruen
Evan Lewis, BENEFIT PERFORMANCE, Richard Sale
Steve Lewis, KILLER SOLO, Dave Hiltbrand
Richard Robinson, RETURN OF THE DINOSAURS, Resnick and Greenberg
Gerard Saylor, March Violets, Philip Kerr
Michael Slind, CHASING THE DEVIL'S TAIL, David Fulmer
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, THE REMAKE: AS TIME GOES BY, Stephen Humphrey Bogart
Yvette, THE RELUCTANT WIDOW, Gerogette Heyer

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


The Ghost Story

I am reading THE MASTER, a fictionalization of the life of Henry James by Colm Toibin and in it he has a debate between James and a friend about whether a story has to offer a rational explanation for  ghostly occurrences.. In other words, be frightening but within the bounds of possibility.

James thought no. He believed a ghost story should be able to suggest anything at all.

Any examples for either approach? 

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tuesday Night Music: Phil Ochs

Forgotten Movies: GET SHORTY and BLOOD SIMPLE

We watched both of these films last week. I liked them both very much when they came out. I saw them both at a theater and haven't seen them since. I was surprised at the one I thought held up the best.

GET SHORTY, based on the Elmore Leonard movie seemed overly busy with sidebars of humor and a multiplicity of characters. It was hard to even say conclusively what the movie was about--making a movie, I guess. Travolta does not wear well for me. He is always Travolta. The extreme violence mixed with humor is unnerving at points. Yes, I laughed several times and stuck with it until the end, but it seemed dated and having half the characters with a sub-par IQ seemed stretching it. (1995) I know this is Leonard's specialty but was anyone other than Rene Russo playing with a full deck.

BLOOD SIMPLE (1994) seems as brilliant now as it did then. It is a simple plot with just a few characters and yet it manages to be much more compelling than GET SHORTY IMHO. The small cast is perfect in their parts. It is atmospheric and character driven. Loved it.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Opening Credits: IN HER SHOES


D.G. Wills is one of my favorite bookstores in La Jolla or anywhere. He has books that no one else carries and events that no mainstream bookstore would bother with. Many of them have been recorded and can be found on his website.

Friday night, we were fortunate enough to squeeze into the store to hear Noah Isenberg who has written the definitive biography on Edgar G. Ulmer: EDGAR G. ULMER: A FILMMAKER AT THE MARGINS.  Now I am betting you have all seen DETOUR and perhaps THE BLACK CAT, RUTHLESS and BLUEBEARD. But he made many other pictures, some good, many bad in his tumultuous years in Hollywood. His is perhaps the prototypical story of Hollywood's use and misuse of directors from the thirties to the sixties. His daughter, Arianne, was also on-hand to enlarge on Isenberg's themes with personal reminiscences. Both she and her mother were called upon for assistance in all things over the course of Ulmer's life.

Mr. Isenberg was a delightful speaker. He left the majority of time for questions, which gave Arianne and him time to do what he referred to as their "Borscht-belt Routine." 

He has also written a study of the film DETOUR. 

Noah Isenberg directs Screen Studies at Eugene Lang College-The New School for Liberal Arts, where he is also Professor of Culture and Media. The recipient of various grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Austrian Fulbright Commission, the International Research Center for Cultural Studies (IFK) in Vienna, and the Humboldt Foundation, he has published his work in such diverse venues as Bookforum, Moving Image Source, Film Comment, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Criterion Collection, Film Quarterly, The Nation, the TLS, Threepenny Review, the Wall Street Journal, the New Republic and the New York Times. He's currently at work on a new book, Everybody Comes to Rick's: How 'Casablanca' Taught the World to Love Movies, for W.W. Norton (and Faber & Faber, in the UK). More info can be found at:

And from the critics:
J. Hoberman-The season’s must read (months if not years from paperback): Noah Isenberg’s long-awaited biography “Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins” (University of California Press). Ulmer—whose CV includes “People on Sunday,” “The Black Cat,” “Detour,” four Yiddish talkies, a half dozen bargain basement classics and as many indescribable oddities—had a life that was every bit as interesting as his film. The writing is scholarly but, given the material, charged with irony and full of pep.


Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins, Noah Isenberg

  • Director Edgar G. Ulmer is perhaps best known today for Detour, considered by many to be the epitome of a certain noir style that transcends its B-list origins. But in his lifetime he never achieved the celebrity of his fellow Austrian and German émigré directors--Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, Fred Zinnemann and Robert Siodmak. Despite early work with Max Reinhardt and F. W. Murnau, his auspicious debut with Siodmak on their celebrated Weimar classic People on Sunday, and the success of films like Detour and Ruthless, Ulmer spent most of his career as an itinerant filmmaker earning modest paychecks for films that have been forgotten.

    In Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins, Noah Isenberg, Director of Screen Studies at the New School and author of Detour (BFI Film Classics, 2008), provides the little-known details of Ulmer's personal life and a thorough analysis of his wide-ranging, eclectic films--features aimed at minority audiences, horror and sci-fi flicks, and genre pictures made in the U.S. and abroad. Isenberg shows that Ulmer's unconventional path was in many ways more typical than that of his more famous colleagues. As he follows the twists and turns of Ulmer's fortunes, Isenberg also conveys a new understand- ing of low-budget filmmaking in the studio era and beyond.
And here is a podcast if Noah isn't coming your way and you would like to hear more about the book.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Kurt Weill Sings Kurt Weill

Friday's Forgotten Books, January 24, 2014

 PLEASE DON'T FORGET SHIRLEY JACKSON DAY on February 7th. A review of a short story or two will be very welcome. 

BODY OF LIES, David Ignatius by Phil Abbott

Perhaps the most valued accolade for a spy novelist is to be compared to John le Carre. David Ignatius enjoys this status. In fact, the paperback edition of The Body of Lies (2007) includes endorsements from an unlikely pairing.  Both Seymour Hersh and George Tenet endorse the novel for its accuracy. I have not read other works by Ignatius, but on the basis of this one reading, the le Carre connection is a bit strained. The protagonist, CIA field agent Robert Ferris, is hardly a George Smiley. He is an athletic young man, a former college wrestler, with a voluptuous (and faithful) wife in Washington DC and a wispy, though a bit politically self-righteous, blonde mistress in Amman. While there is some bureaucratic infighting, which is the other part of LeCarre's tradmark, the bulk of the novel is action-based. There are several shoot-outs, a kidnapping and "enhanced" interrogations.

The Body of Lies then is more of a spy thriller than a meditation on politics and national security. On these terms, Ignatius is quite successful. There are several clever plot twists and captures/escapes, all fore-grounded by the seemingly inexhaustible resources of American technology.  Perhaps the real strengths of this novel is its stunning depiction of cities in Europe and Middle East- West Berlin, Amman, Damascus, Tripoli, Aleppo, Ankara. There are also some fascinating character portrayals, especially Hani, the head of Jordanian intelligence (based on an actual figure, according to Ignatius  in an interview) and the war of terror equivalent of Karla (referred to as Ferris in the novel), Suleiman. I should also mention Ignatius is committed to giving the Arab viewpoint an extended examination which has annoyed some readers.  All in all, this is a good read. Perhaps the le Carre comparison should be laid to rest.

Sergio Angelini,  SADIE WHEN SHE DIED, Ed McBain
Joe Barone, AN AIR THAT KILLS, Margaret Millar
Brian Busby, INTENT TO KILL, Michael Bryan (Brian Moore)
Bill Crider, 5th Annual Edition, THE YEAR'S BEST SCIENCE FICTION, ed. Judith Merrill
Scott Cupp, STRESS PATTERN, Neal Barrett Jr.
Martin Edwards, THE OBITUARY ARRIVES AT TWO O'CLOCK, Shizuko Natsuki
Curt Evans. MURDER AT MANEUVERS, Royce Howes
Ed Gorman, KILLER, Dave Zeltserman
Jerry House, WITH AN EXTREME BURNING, Bill Pronzini
Nick Jones,  The History of Spies, Spying and Spy Fiction: John Buchan, Somerset Maugham, Compton Mackenzie, Graham Greene, Ian Fleming and Michael Gilbert in Eric Ambler's To Catch a Spy (Bodley Head, 1964)
Margot Kinberg, THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE, Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis
B.V. Lawson, MURDEROUS SCHEMES,J. Madison Davis, Donald Westlake
Evan Lewis, SAINT JOHNSON W.R. Burnett
Steve Lewis/Captain Frank Cunningham, THE QUIRT, B.M. Bower
Todd Mason, Helen Hoke.
J.F. Norris, THE CARELESS HANGMAN, Nigel Morland
Anita Page, THE MOONSTONE,Wilkie Collins
Richard Robinson, DEATH OF A GHOST, Margery Allingham
Ron Scheer, THEY DON'T SHOOT COWARDS, John Reese
Michael Slind, BLACK COFFEE, Agatha Christie
Kevin Tipple, COVER OF SNOW, Jenny Milchman
Prashant Trikannad, THE ROME EXPRESS, Arthur Griffiths
TomCat, DEATH SIGNS. H. Edward Hunsinger
Yvette, TRENT'S LAST CASE, E.C. Bentley

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bilbao Song: Lotte Lenya

How I Came to Write This Book: Cathi Stoler



How would you feel if someone took over your life?  Your name? Your bank accounts? Knew everything about your family and had access to every email and text message?
A horrible thought, isn’t it? One that scared me every time I saw another story about identity theft in the newspaper or on TV.

The idea that this could happen to me—or any one of us—was horrible, especially since most people don’t know how to protect themselves from becoming victims. But horrific ideas can often be the stuff of tantalizing mystery plots, or so I thought, and Keeping Secrets came to be.    

While the story is a mystery, it also explores the motivation behind identity theft. Was it just money that someone was after, or something else, such as simply wanting to leave their own lives behind? How would this actually affect a significant other, someone who had no inkling that the person they loved was a fraud?”

Delving into these issues are my two protagonists, Laurel Imperiole, Magazine Editor and Private Investigator, Helen McCorkendale, who I introduced in my first book, Telling Lies. Once again, they find themselves in the thick of things as they pursue their quarry.

Here’s a short synopsis of Keeping Secrets

Laurel Imperiole, a reporter for New York’s Women Now magazine, has just received a series of emails from Anne Ellsworth, a young woman in fear for her life. Anne has discovered that her fiancé has several aliases and is terrified of what he will do if he finds out. Laurel, who empathizes with Anne, sees an opportunity to rescue her and write a story on hidden identities that will help her readers avoid similar predicaments. Helen McCorkendale, a private eye and close friend, agrees to investigate Anne’s fiancé, David, and Laurel’s banker boyfriend, Matt. Laurel had planned to use Matt as the good guy in the story—the one with nothing to hide—but Anne’s situation, and Matt’s sudden strange behavior, is making her paranoid.
Soon Helen and Laurel find that they have stirred up a hornet’s nest buzzing with vengeful Mafiosi, greedy bankers, and dirty politicians. The women discover that everything is connected, and everyone has something to hide. Will the secrets Laurel and Helen disclose keep them alive or seal their fates?
Keeping Secrets is available at and booksellers everywhere.
Cathi Stoler’s mysteries feature P.I. Helen McCorkendale and magazine editor, Laurel Imperiole in her Laurel and Helen New York Mystery series. Novels with these two protagonists include Telling Lies, Keeping Secrets and coming in April, The Hard Way. She has also published a novella, Nick of Time, and is working on a new series, Bar None, A Murder on The Rocks Mystery. She has had stories published in several print anthologies and online, including Fatal Flaw, a finalist for the Derringer for Best Short Story. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, as well as Sisters in Crime and posts at the blog. Visit Cathi at

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Lenya and Armstrong Sing Mack the Knife

E.L Doctorow

In the NYT on Sunday, Doctorow said that if he too easily sees what an author is up to, he puts the book aside. I do that on occasion myself but only if I don't want to go where an author is going or if the book seems too heavily dependent on plot.

If I see early on that the book is going to be about pedophilia I am unlikely to finish it. If I see it's about a serial killer, I put it aside.

What about you? Do you need to be surprised to enjoy a book? I admit it's a bonus but I don't demand it if the characters are interesting and the voice compelling.

Book Talks 2

Okay, now I want to talk about what a book event should be like. We saw another book talk the night after Chas Smith. I am not going to mention the author's name because there is no point in doing that.

His book talk, and his book is a best seller, was not about the book at all. What is was about was him. It went on for 50 minutes in which he detailed his rise and fall and rise, which entailed a lot of name dropping and a lot of talk about money.  A lot. Certainly this is the primary, if not only reason, he writes.I am not suggesting all books have to strive to be art. But it's hard to listen to someone who only writes for the money. ONLY.

I am not sure that the audience didn't like this, but I sure didn't. I was not there to hear about how many copies he sold and how President Bush sent him a fan letter nor how he needs a lot of dough to keep his kids in private school. This was not his first book but his ninth. Did no one ever tell him that maybe discussing the current book or reading from it might be the way to go?

I doubt he's ever attended another author's event because he showed no sign of knowing how the system worked.

So what should an author do at a book talk?

The best ones I have attended do this: the author talks briefly about herself. The author talks a bit about how the idea for the book came to him: about: its evolution. The author reads from the book-maybe for about 5-10 minutes. The author answers questions for as long as they come. He can expand on the questions where that makes sense. The main thing here is the BOOK.Talk about the book. And please don't say, in front of a book store owner, that you don't care if ebooks prevail over print as long as you make money. Yikes!

What do you like to hear from an author at a signing?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Kurt Weill Week: Ella Fitzgerald, September Song


What a great opening sequence to a 1931 film from Alfred Hitchcock. There is a collection of his earliest films in the condo where we are staying. This one was so interesting. Based on a book by Dale Collins, the film is about a young couple (Joan Barry and Henry Kendall) who, bored with each other, inherit some money, and take a trip around the world. The film details the antics, affairs and ups and downs of this trip. It is fascinating to see just how exotic the world seemed then compared to now. And Barry is just gorgeous. She made only a few more movies before settling into domestic life. Well worth a look. For an early talkie, it seems sophisticated although there are longer periods of silence than we are used to now.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht Week: I'M A STRANGER HERE MYSELF-Ute Lemper

Book Talks

When we are out here in La Jolla, we always go to a ton of book talks. Last week, we heard Chas Smith of WELCOME TO PARADISE, NOW GO TO HELL. I wasn't expecting much but living in a surfing culture for six weeks each winter, I wanted to understand it more.

Well, this was a fascinating talk. Although Chas Smith writes about surfing (and was also a war correspondent) his book is mostly about what has happened to Hawaii due to meth and a sort of belated desire on the part of native Hawaiians to retain their Hawaiianness. 

Their feeling is that they have lost their land and now they are losing their "waves" to encroachment from surfers from all over the world. The north shore seems to be much like Woodrell's Ozarks according to Smith. Fascinating topic and it made me want to read the book. And that is the purpose of these events.

Do you go to hear authors read? We are nowhere near a place to do this in Michigan, but here it's six blocks away and we go all the time. Cheers to Warwicks Bookstore who gives us a destination two or three nights a week. Check out their authors schedule if you are in the neighborhood.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Saturday Night Music; Julie London


I am in a condo with a ton of thrillers too. I have never read a Ludlum or a Higgins or a Cussler or a Clancy. Any of them worth picking up? And you have to wonder if Mrs. X read at all. Perhaps these are hers too.

Who writes the best thrillers? Or who wrote the best?On Wednesay night I went to hear Christopher Reich. Details to follow.

Friday, January 17, 2014


We're trying very hard not to say "catch THE FEVER"

Win an advance copy of 's upcoming novel!

My review of HER is up on CRIMESPREE MAGAZINE

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday January 17, 2014

Warwick Bookstore La Jolla
From 2009.

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.

Sergio Angelini, THE ALIEN, L.P. Davis
Joe Barone, A MURDER OF CROWS, P.F. Chisholm 
Bill Crider, PINK VODKA BLUES, Neal Barrett, Jr.
Martin Edwards, SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, Patrick Quentin
Jerry House, Shared Tomorrows:  Science Fiction in Collaboration edited by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg (1979)The Great Science Fiction Series edited by Fredrik Pohl, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Joseph Olander (1980)
Nick Jones, MR. CALDER AND MR. BEHRENS, Michael Gilbert
George Kelley. WHAT IF?, ed. by Richard Lupoff
Margot Kinberg, THE CASE OF THE MISSING BOOKS, Ian Sansom 
B.V. Lawson, THE FORTIETH DOOR, Mary Hastings Bradley
Evan Lewis, "One Man Died," Norbert David
Steve Lewis, THE DESTROYER 47: DYING SPACE, Warren Murphy
Todd Mason, CRIMES AND CHAOS by Avram Davidson (Regency 1962); GATEWAYS TO FOREVER: THE STORY OF THE SCIENCE-FICTION [AND FANTASY FICTION] MAGAZINES FROM 1970 TO 1980 by Mike Ashley (Liverpool University Press, 2006
J.F. Norris, ARMADALE, Wilkie Collins
James Reasoner, RHYMES OF TEXAS AND THE OLD WEST, Robert E. Howard
Ron Scheer, LAST CHANCE CAMP, G. F. Unger  
Kerrie Smith, THE NURSING HOME MURDER, Ngaio March 
R.T. MUDBOUND, Hilary Jordan
Kevin Tipple.Barry Ergang, THE FLOATING LADY MURDER, Daniel Stashower
Prashant Trikannad, THE RENOS, Wolf Lundgren 

Our thoughts are with Randy Johnson today, recovering from foot surgery. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Opening Theme: RAWHIDE


And it seems to be the title was initially even stranger. What are you candidates? (Hat tip to my friend Anthony for suggesting this)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tuesday Night Music: John Coltrane

Books That Don't Let Go

Occasionally I read a book that casts such a spell on me that I have trouble moving on to the next book. It isn't always that the book is a great one although it usually is. It is more that it evokes something so scary, or so fully realized, or hypnotic that I can't let go. 
Does this happen to you? Do you pick up and put down the next five books because you are still in the thrall of that "one."

Here are a few of the ones that did it for me. 

A Favorite Episode of Frasier-Moon Dance

The best episodes of FRASIER for me, in terms of Niles and Daphne, were the ones where they were not yet together. His lusting and her obliviousness to it worked so well. In this one, she teaches Niles how to tango for a society event and when his date backs out, she gets to be his partner. Will never forget his eyes when he saw her in that red dress. Love this show. There were so many great episodes to choose from.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Opening Credits: Alfred Hitchcock Presents


Want to spice up your show? Then find marvelous actors like these to help you. Nick Searcey on JUSTIFIED, Tony Hale on VEEP, John Slattery on MAD MEN, CarrielPreston on THE GOOD WIFE and Margo Martindale on JUSTIFIED and THE AMERICANS. And the greatest of them all: Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut on BREAKING BAD. (And now on COMMUNITY).

Who are your favorite backup players?