Saturday, October 31, 2015

Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 30, 2015



My childhood seemed to occur on the borderlands of political correctness and non-political correctness. Some of the Hardy Boys books I read were of the original, non-PC variety; others (many times the same title) were ones rewritten for a kinder, gentler generation. Most of the non-PC books I read as a boy dealt negatively with racial and ethnic stereotypes, including this week's selection. So please forgive me. Hey, I was a pretty naive kid growing up on a farm; what the hell did I know?

Only five pa
ragraphs into the story, we hear Washington White for the first time: "Yas sir, Perfessor, I'se goin' t' saggasiate my bodily presence in yo' contiguous proximity an' attend t' yo' immediate comglomerated prescriptions at th' predestined period. Yas, sir!" Two paragraphs later, we learn that Washington (surprise! surprise!) is a negro; his race being the opposite of his last name. (How I managed to grow up without believing all Blacks were loyal, uneducated, cowardly companions is completely beyond me.)

Five Thousand Miles Underground was the third of eight books in the Stratemeyer syndicate's Great Marvel Series, this one written by Howard R. Garis (who also wrote many of the early Tom Swift books). The adventure features a motley crew consisting of ace inventor Mr. (sometimes called Professor) Henderson, plucky teenage orphans Jack Darrow and Mark Sampson, old hunter Andy Sudds, ex-farmers-now-assistants Tom Smith and Bill Jones (doomed forever, I fear, to remain in the backgrounsd) and the aforementioned Stepin Fe...I mean, Washington White.

In the second book in the series, this crew had discovered a hole in the earth (don't ask). Now Henderson has created a flyin
g boat, The Flying Mermaid, to explore the mysterious hole. So off they go, having amazing adventures every chapter. After being attacked by a maddened whale and surviving a cyclone, they come across a burning ship and managed to rescue fourteen men. Thirteen of the men, alas, are ne'er-do-wells who mutiny and take over the flying boat. Jack and Mark, being clever, pluckish lads, outsmart the mutineers and trick them into jumping overboard (don't ask). Soon they find the hole in the earth and begin their descent. (In the book's illustration, the flying part of the flying boat has a distinctly phallic look; if this was some sort of symbolism, it went way over my ten-yearhold head.) During the descent, they lose consciousness.

When our heroes awaken, we discover that they have descended five thousand miles and have landed on an world floating inside earth--complete with
sun and seven moons (one central moon and six revolving around it -- don't ask). We also discover that Jack is accident-prone; he immediately gets gobbled by a giant man-eating plant. OK, so they rescue him, and a few chapers later he (I think; I skimmed this part) gets captured by the half-vegetable/half animal snake-tree and gets rescued again. The water in this world runs thick as molasses, and the sky seems to change color often. We meet giant insects, dangerous walking fish and weird animals that seemed cobbled together from every beast the author could think of.
You can't have an underground world without an underground civilization. This one is inhabited by giant, mis-shapen men with the soft consistency of snow (don't ask). Hankos, their king, speaks an odd mixture of ancient Latin and Greek (don't ask) and (I gather) is the only one to do so (don't ask). Hankos, being scientifically-minded, had somehow managed to up to the earth's surface, where he shrank to the size of a normal human being (don't ask), and, finding himself just a short distance from Mr./Professor Henderson's island. Did I mention that Henderson had an island? It turns out that Hankos managed to sneak aboard The Flying Mermaid and had been hidden there all along through the many adventures (don't ask). By the way, Hankos grew to his normal giant-size when he got back to the centre (note the British spelling) of the earth. Thankful that they brought him home, Hankos took the crew to the Temple of the Treasure at the top of an underground mountain (don't ask), and let them have at it. Suddenly an earthquake (skyquake? don't ask) closed the mysterious hole in the earth. We our heroes trapped? Well, no. Turns out there was another mysterious hole in the earth that could be reached by a (five thousand mile? don't ask) geyser.

Anyway, everyone gets home safely and the boys decided to use their newly-gained wealth to get an education. One hopes it was in plot development and physical science.

As a ten-year old, I ate this stuff up. (Back then, WTF was not in my vocabulary.) Even
today, I think it's pretty cool.

[Five Th
ousand Miles Underground was published by Cupples & Leon in 1908. The other seven books in the Great Marvel Series were Through the Air to the North Pole, Under the Ocean to the South Pole, Through Space to Mars, Lost on the Moon, On a Torn-Away World, The City Beyond the Clouds, and By Spaceship to Saturn.]

Sergio Angelini, TRICKS, Ed McBain
Yvette Banek, DEATH OF AN AIRMAN, Christopher St. John  Sprigg
Brian Busby, THE WINE OF LIFE, Arthur Stringer
Bill Crider, THIS GUN FOR GLORIA, Bernard Mara (Brian Moore)
Scott Cupp, EARTHBOUND, Richard Matheson
Martin Edwards, THE RED REDMAYNES, Eden Philpots
Rick Horton, THE COUNT'S MILLIONS, Emile Gaboriau
Jerry House, RAPTURE, Thomas Tessler
George Kelley, Three Versions of Hitchcock's WITCHES BREW
Margot Kinberg, LONG WAY HOME, Eva Dolan
B.V. Lawson, THE AIR THAT KILLS, Margaret Millar
Steve Lewis, MORTAL TERM, John Penn 
Neer, THE FACE IN THE NIGHT, Edgar Wallace 
Paust, Mathew, DAUGHTER OF TIME, Josephine Tey
Reactions to Reading, LITTLE BLACK LIES, Sharon Bolton
James Reasoner, FRANKENSTEIN LIVES AGAIN, Donald Glut
Richard Robinson, TOP TEN, Alan Moore
Kerrie Smith, BALLAD OF A DEAD NOBODY, Liza Cody 
Kevin Tipple, TEXAS NOIR. Vol 1, Milton T. Burton
TracyK, DEAD IN THE MORNING, Margaret Yorke 
Westlake Review, BROTHERS, KEEPERS

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Jonathan Ashley's Book Shelf

What books are currently on your nightstand?
Best of the South (Last Ten Years) - Short Story Anthology
War of the Dons - Peter Rabe
Last Notes from Home - Frederick Exley
Cold Spring Harbor - Richard Yates

Who is your all-time favorite novelist?
Probably a tie between Frederick Exley and Richard Yates.

What book might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
Rabbi Jesus by Bruce Chilton, a study of the historical, Rabbinical Jesus.

Who is your favorite fictional character?
Ignatius Reilly from John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces.  I felt more comfortable with being an outsider after reading of Reilly's expoits.  Neither of us can get along very well in society and, like Reilly, I have spent more time and energy avoiding becoming a regular Joe than it would have taken to just behave myself. At one point, I almost changed my name legally to Ignatius.

What book do you return to?
A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley. One of the funniest and, simultaneously, saddest pieces of work I've ever encountered. A true triumph.

Jonathan Ashley is the author of Out of Mercy and The Cost of Doing Business. His work has appeared in Crime Factory, A Twist of Noir, LEO Weekly, Kentucky Magazine and Yellow Mama. He lives in Lexington, KY. 

OUT OF MERCY  has been praised by heavyweights such as Jerry Stahl ("The kind of flat-out, heart-stopping, psycho-emotional thrill ride that just might put this author on the map with the giants."), Scott Phillips ("A savage, horrifying and gut-bustingly funny Western.") and Benjamin Whitmer ("Hard, stark and brilliant, Out of Mercy is the best Western I've read in years.").

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Happy Songs

Charles said he could not listen to a sad song the other day. I realized something then. I don't always listen carefully to the lyrics of songs. I go more for the sound of it rather than its narrative.
Anyway, what is your favorite happy song? Charles and I want to know.

( The one above comes from the time Phil and I were getting together. I wonder if that has an influence on what makes you happy._

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Continuing with the vein of humor on TV, this was one of my favorite episodes of DVD. Definitely influenced by THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

Monday, October 26, 2015


I am always amazed at how often someone will say how funny something is and I will not find it very funny at all. Happened most recently with the TV show "You're the Worst." It has also happened with stand-up comedians, movies, novels, etc. Also happened yesterday when we saw a play that promised side-splitting humor. Not!

So I have come to the conclusion that what you think is funny depends on a lot of things, but probably, most importantly, your age.

I have never found Mel Brooks funny. Nor most of the comics of the 1950s TV shows (Benny, Burns and Allen, Gobel, Phil Silver.). On the other hand, I find FRIENDS very funny. SEINFELD, was a riot to me at age 42, I wonder if it would be funny now. And ALL IN THE FAMILY and MARY TYLER MOORE. SNL in its heyday.

Too blue, I don't enjoy it. Too mean, same thing. Too vulgar, nah.

Now some people are not all that turned on by comedy . My mother never watched comedy other than political humor: Stephen Colbert, Letterman, THE DAILY SHOW, Mort Sahl. 

What do you think is the most universally admired TV comedy? The one that most people found funny then and find funny now. I am going with the first three years of MASH. What would you add?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 23, 2015

(From the archives)

Heath Lowrance
The Name of the Game is Death, by Dan J. Marlowe
“Forgotten book” might be the wrong way to describe Dan J. Marlowe’s The Name of the Game is Death. For hard-core fans of brutal, fast-paced noir, the book is anything but forgotten-- it is, in fact, considered a cornerstone of the genre. But despite that, in the fifty years since its first publication it’s been out of print more often than in, and most casual readers of crime fiction have never heard of it. For me, The Name of the Game is Death is one of the essential five or ten books in the world of hardboiled/noir.
The story: a career criminal calling himself Roy Martin (more on his name later) holes up after a botched bank robbery, while his partner sends him monthly allotments of their take. But when the money stops coming, Martin suspects the worst and sets off to find out what happened. The small town he finds turns out to be a cesspool of corruption and hypocrisy that makes even Martin’s twisted morality seem sane and rational by comparison.
In the hands of most writers, this rather simple plot wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy, but Marlowe paints a vivid picture of Martin, not just through his actions but also in a set of chilling flashbacks to Martins’ youth and young manhood, where all the signs of a sociopathic personality begin to emerge. And the steps Martin takes to find out what happened to his partner and to retrieve his money reinforce him as a deeply disturbed man.
Quite simply, he enjoys killing and hurting people; in one memorable scene, he’s unable to become sexually aroused for intercourse, and admits to himself that the only thing that really turns him on is bloodshed-- in a later scene, he brutalizes a woman who attempted to set him up, and he’s able to “perform” without a hitch.
So all in all, Roy Martin is a seriously messed-up sociopath, with barely a redeeming feature-- aside from a fondness for animals. Why do we find ourselves almost rooting for him? Because almost everyone else he encounters is a hollow, lying hypocrite. Martin is the only character who is actually true to himself… much to the horror of everyone else.
The climax to Th e Name of the Game is Death is stunningly violent, very dark, and totally chilling-- not the sort of ending that would cause you to expect a sequel. And yet Marlowe did indeed bring the character back a few years later for a book that was almost-but-not-quite as good as the first, One Endless Hour. In that one we discover that Martin’s name is actually Drake (which is how he’s often referred to when discussing The Name of the Game is Death).
More books about “The Man with Nobody’s Face” would follow, each one a bit softer than the one before, until almost all signs of the near-psychopathic Martin were gone, replaced by a repentant crook who now worked for the government.
But lovers of dark, violent tales will always remember him as the blood-thirsty killer calling himself Roy Martin.

Sergio Angelini, A THREE-PIPE PROBLEM, Julian Symons
Mark Baker, HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, Sir. Arthur Connan Doyle
Yvette Banek, MESSAGE OF THE MUTE DOG, Charlotte Murray Russell
Joe Barone, DEADLY DANCE, M.C. Beaton
Elgin Bleeker, 13  FRENCH STREET. Gil Brewer
Brian Busby, OUR LAST FAREWELL, Pierre Trudeau
Bill Crider, DETECTIVE FICTION, ed. Robin Winks
Scott Cupp,  PS Showcase #3: Mad Scientist Meets Cannibal by Robert T. Jeschonek
Martin Edward, HENBANE, Catherine Meadows
Curt Evans, THE LABOURS OF HERCULES, Agatha Christie; The Return of Harriet Rutland: Knock, Murderer, Knock! (1938), Bleeding Hooks (1940) and Blue Murder (1942) reissued by Dean Street Press
Ed Gorman, BLACK FRIDAY, David Goodis
Rick Horton,  A Forgotten Ace Double: Warlord of Kor, by Terry Carr/The Star Wasps, by Robert Moore Williams
Jerry House, STOWAWAY TO MARS, John Wyndham
Nick Jones, VOTE X FOR TREASON, Brian Cleeve
Margot Kinberg, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, James Cain
B.V. Lawson,  Detective Fiction: Crime and Compromise, Dick Allen and David Chacko
Evan Lewis, THE VAMPYRE, John Polidori
Steve Lewis, VANISHING LADIES, Ed McBain
Todd Mason, ILLITERATURE, Carol Lay
Mathew Paust, A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND, Flannery O'Connor
Reactions to Reading, WINTER'S BONE, Daniel Woodrell
James Reasoner, KINCADE'S LAST RIDE, Marshall Grover
Gerard Saylor, THE SWEET FOREVER, George Pelecanos
Westlake Review, TWO MUCH, Donald Westlake 
Kevin Tipple. MURDER TAKES A BREAK, Bill Crider
TomCat, THE SEA MYSTERY, Freeman Willis Crofts
TracyK, THE OLDE  ENGLISH PEEP SHOW, Peter Dickinson 


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Tiny Houses

There is at least one if not more shows about tiny houses on TV. And these houses are tiny, some only 200 or so square feet. I am more interested in the people that want them than the houses themselves. Saving money-maybe but most of these tiny houses have pretty nice interiors. Most of the hunters are women and my theory is this is the playhouse they never got as a kid. Much like the sports car is bucking bronco boys wanted.

What do you think? Does a tiny house appeal to you? Do you understand what the charm is?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Forgotten Movies, The L-Shaped Room



Forgotten Movies: The L-Shaped Room

I read the book by Lynne Reid Banks before I saw the movie. She also wrote two sequels to the story as well as the terrific kid's book THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD.

This is the 1962 story of a pregnant French girl who finds a room in a boarding house when her father kicks her out and gradually comes to find a home there too. Other than Leslie Caron in the starring role, the cast is fairly unfamiliar to me although that is Brock Peters playing the horn. One of those movies where you could wallow in its misery. My favorite kind at fourteen (and sometimes now). One of the many British movies about the working class from the fifties and sixties. It is rare now to find movies that treat urban blue-collar people seriously although perhaps it was then too. American audience, in particular, like glamour in their movies, I think.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Books/Movies That Teach You About Something

I am particularly drawn to stories that describe how a job is performed, how a new chore is learned. That is what drew me to the book and movie of THE MARTIAN. Also the Robert Redford film of last year (ALL IS LOST)
about his struggle to not drown.
Also loved the section in American Pastoral where you learned about making gloves. Or the parts of BURN NOTICE where you got information on being a CIA operative.

What are some of your favorite stories or films where you learn how something is done? 

Friday, October 16, 2015


Right here.

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, October 16, 2015

 Thanks for collecting last week's links, Todd.

Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson (reviewed by Ed Gorman) (from the archives)

Let's begin with a tale of woe. Mine.

Years ago I was asked to contribute a forty thousand word novella to a YA series about shapeshifters. You know, beings humans and otherwise who can transform themselves into other kinds of creatures. I immediately thought of Jack Williamson's The Wolves of Darkness, a grand old pulp novella set in the snowy American West and featuring enough creepy
violence and tangled romance to make it memorable. It even has its moments of sweeping poetry.

Reading Williamson's piece showed me how to write my own. A few days after the young editor received it he called to rave. And I do mean rave. The best of the entire series. Eerie and poetic. Yadda yadda yadda. For the next forty-eight hours I was intolerable to be around. It
was during this time our five cats learned to give me the finger. My swollen head was pricked soon enough. The young editor's older boss hated it. He gave my editor a list of reasons he hated it. I was to rewrite it. I wouldn't do it. I said I'd just write another one, which I did. Old editor seemed to like this one all right but he still wasn't keen on how my "characterizations" occasionally stopped the action. Backstory--verboten.

Shortly after this werewolves began to be popular. I spoke to a small reading group one night and told them about Wolves of Darkness and then about Williamson's novel Darker Than You Think. Everything I love about pulp fantasy is in this book. The werewolf angle quickly becomes just part of a massive struggle for the soul of humanity. As British reviewer
Tom Matic points out:

"According to its backstory, homo sapiens emerged as the dominant species after a long and bitter struggle with another species, homo lycanthropus, whose ability to manipulate probability gave it the power to change its shape and practice magic. These concepts, fascinating as
they are, might make for dry reading were they not mediated via a gripping thriller riddled with startling plot twists, that blends scientific romance with images of stark bloodcurdling horror, such as the kitten throttled with a ribbon and impaled with a pin to induce Mondrick's asthma attack and heart failure, and the pathetic yet fearsome figure of his blind widow, her eyes clawed out by were-leopards. With its scenes of demonic mayhem in an academic setting and the sexual and moral sparring between the two main characters, it almost feels like a prototype of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer in a film noir setting."

Williamson couching his shapeshifters in terms of science fiction lends the story a realistic edge fantasies rarely achieve. The brooding psychology of the characters also have, as Matic points out, a noirish feel. And as always Williams manages to make the natural environment a
strong element in the story. He's as good with city folk as rural. And he's especially good with his version of the femme fatale, though here she turns out to be as complicated and tortured as the protagonist.

This is one whomping great tale. If you're tired of today's werewolves, try this classic and you'll be hooked not only by this book but by Jack Williamson' work in general.. 

Sergio Angelini, READY REVENGE, Catherine Arley
Mark Baker, BLACK ICE, Michael Connelly
Yvette Banek, THE UNFINISHED CLUE, Georgette Heyer
Les Blatt, DEATH OF AN OLD GOAT, Robert Barnard
Bill Crider. THE BABY SITTER, Andrew Coburn
Scott Cupp, BEASTLY BONES, William Ritter
Martin Edwards, THE COUNSELOR, J.J. Connington
Curt Evans, Lady Carew's Secret, THE ABBEY COURT MURDER
Ed Gorman, LEMONS NEVER LIE, Richard Stark
Rick Horton, NORWOOD. Charles Portis
Jerry House, A YANK AT VALHALLA, Edmund Hamilton
Nick Jones, John Smith Spy Novels, Jimmy Sangster
George Kelley, SPECIAL WONDER, ed. J. Francis McConas
Margot Kinberg, CROSSBONES YARD, Kate Rhodes
Rob Kitchin, SIGN OF THE CROSS, Anne Emery
B.V. Lawson, A CRIME REMEMBERED, Jeffrey Ashford
Steve Lewis, WHAT REALLY HAPPENED, Brett Halliday
Todd Mason, WORKERS WRITE! TALES FROM THE COURTROOM edited by David LaBounty, LOVECRAFT: A SYMPOSIUM by Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, August Derleth, Arthur Jean Cox, et al.
J.F. Norris
Juri Numellin, GOODNIGHT MOOM, Jack MacLane
Mathew Paust, SARKHAN, Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer
James Reasoner, THE HORN HUNTERS, H. Bedford-Jones
Richard Robinson, MAIGRET'S PIPE, Georges Simenon
Kerrie Smith, THE SHIVERING SANDS, Victoria Holt
R.T. MR. HIRE'S ENGAGEMENT, Georges Simenon
Kevin Tipple, SHOT TO DEATH, 31 Stories by Stephen D. Rogers
TracyK, THE GLASS-SIDED ANTS NEST, Peter Dickinson
Westlake Review, HOT STUFF, Donald Westlake

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bouchercon 2015

Bad picture of my panel, which I think went well. I was lucky enough to have four panelists who were chatty but not greedy: Laura Caldwell, Edith Maxwell, Rory Flynn (Stona Fitch) and Steph Cha. They were smart and it was a  pleasure talking to them,
We talked about crime in the metropolis to a crowd of about 50. Certainly not a huge draw but I attended ones with fewer people. Thanks to Jeff and Jackie, George, Jeff Pierce, and the Agnews from Aunt Agatha's in Ann Arbor, Phil Abbott, Fred Zackel, Jen Conley, Megan, Richard Moore and some people I didn't know. And probably a few I am forgetting. It was kind of a blur.

I attended two panels with Megan on them right after mine, and maybe about four others. Megan's panel with Bill Crider, Lawrence Block, Karen Slaughter and question-asker Mark Coggin was a lot of fun. That panel must have had 300 people.

I didn't do all that much of the conference thing-I spent my time mostly with the Meyersons, George and a few others. George was right. The book room was a bust. When I think back to my first Bouchercon in 2006, the difference is amazing. So many cool book sellers at that one. Here is was almost entirely panelists' books.

Raleigh had good food but not much else. There are almost no stores, no movies-so for once coming back to Detroit wasn't so bad. I should have done better with meeting new people or looking for old ones but a bad knee and allergy maladies kept me under the weather. Also our hotel was poorly placed although next door to two great restaurants.

I guess I will never be good at this sort of thing. Which is why I sit in a room and write. Online I am gregarious and with people I know and trust too. But put me in a room with hundreds of people and I falter. Sorry if I could have met you and didn't. I know you would have been wonderful.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Book Review Club, Wed. October 14, 2015: THE MOST DANGEROUS BOOK, Kevin Birmingham

This is the story of the travails James Joyce endured in getting ULYSSES out into the world early in the twentieth century. It also recounts his personal health agonies as someone suffering from syphilis. A disease he probably contracted at a very young age. Syphilis can take many forms and with Joyce it attacked his eyes. Joyce grew up in Dublin, married Norah, and they immediately left to never return, spending most of their lives in Paris.

Joyce had his champions, but many, including luminaries like Virginia Wolfe, took a long time to see the merits of the book. Even today there are passages that are shocking in their sexual bluntness and use of crass language. However, people like Ezra Pound took up its cause and helped him find small magazines that would publish excerpts as it wound its way through court battles.

Although parts of this book were interesting, I felt it was a book I should have read after reading a straight-forward biography of Joyce. Or at least after having gotten though ULYSSES.

Where I was anxious to learn about the man, I more often learned about the road to publication. It was certainly well written and researched but I longed to understand more about why he felt it necessary to write the book he did and in the way he did. And was it his relationship with Norah that fed the fires.

For more reviews, see Barrie Summy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Gig Young plays an ad executive who takes a Sunday drive, has some car trouble, and finds himself within walking distance of his hometown, called Homewood. He walks into town and back into his past, reliving a painful incident but remembering the good things too. A merry-go-round plays an important part in this drama. It's typical Serling, didactic yet compelling.

Carousels or merry-go-round feature in so many stories. I find them haunting because the horses faces always seem tortured to me. And the music always feels like its trying too hard to be jolly.

I think of this episode as a very typical one. Well done and reflecting Serling's obsession with whether the past can be rewritten or not.  You can see it in any number of places. Gig Young is terrific in the part.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Returned Home to a Nearly Complete Kitchen

Just in time because cooking outside is losing its charm. But now the rest of the house looks like it needs updating!

Friday, October 09, 2015

Sunday, October 04, 2015


For You Philadelphia-Area Ghost Lovers

I've talked about both Lynda Jeffrey Plott and her spectacular mother, Adi-Kent Jeffrey here before. She was the first writer I ever knew and her subject matter-local ghost stories-- was delightful. Her famous ghost tours are still going strong many years after her death. Come here Lynda talk about her amazing mother and her books.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

On Hiatus Until After Bouchercon

If you are in Raleigh, please make yourself known to me. Or come to my panel on CRIME IN THE METROPOLIS on Friday at 1:00. Let's have a drink or coffee.

Todd will do FFB next week. Thanks, Todd.

Oh, and this. Listen to Me Marlin on Crimespree Magazine

Friday, October 02, 2015

Ed McBain Day on FFB, October 2, 2015

                                       Ed McBain Day, October 3, 2015

(From the NYT obituary by Marilyn Stasio)

Evan Hunter, Writer Who Created Police Procedural, Dies at 78

Evan Hunter, the author who as Ed McBain virtually invented the American police procedural with his gritty 87th Precinct series featuring an entire detective squad as its hero, died yesterday at his home in Weston, Conn. He was 78.

In a 50-year career, Mr. Hunter, sometimes as Ed McBain and sometimes using other names, wrote a vast number of best-selling novels, short stories, plays and film scripts. With the publication of "Cop Hater" in 1956, the first of the 87th Precinct novels, he took police fiction into a new, more realistic realm, a radical break from a form long dependent on the educated, aristocratic detective who works alone and takes his time puzzling out a case.

Set in a New York-like metropolis named Isola, "Cop Hater" laid down the formula that would define the urban police novel to this day, including the big, bad city as a character in the drama; multiple story lines; swift, cinematic exposition; brutal action scenes and searing images of ghetto violence; methodical teamwork; authentic forensic procedures; and tough, cynical yet sympathetic police officers speaking dialogue so real that it could have been soaked up in a Queens diner between squad shifts.

Lending humanity to the grim stories that flood the 87th Precinct is a revolving ensemble cast that includes Detective Steve Carella, the heart and conscience of the squad room; his gentle, deaf wife, Teddy; the rocklike Detective Meyer Meyer, whose father refused to give him a first name because he didn't want to name him for "some goy"; Bert Kling, the rookie cop who plays Candide to his hard-bitten elders; and Fat Ollie Weeks, the equal-opportunity bigot.
For all the studied muscularity of his style as Ed McBain, Mr. Hunter considered himself an emotional writer rather than a hard-boiled one. "I think of myself as a softy," he once said. "I think the 87th Precinct novels are very sentimental, and the cops are idealistic guys." He was also a stern moralist, and in many of his novels, this aspect surfaced as a keening lament for the battered soul of his city.
"This was a city in decline," he wrote in "Kiss" (1992). "The cabby knew it because he drove all over this city and saw every part of it. Saw the strewn garbage and the torn mattresses and the plastic debris littering the grassy slopes of every highway, saw the bomb-crater potholes on distant streets, saw the black eyeless windows in the abandoned tenements, saw public phone booths without phones, saw public parks without benches, their slats torn up and carried away to burn, heard the homeless ranting or pleading or crying for mercy, heard the ambulance sirens and the police sirens day and night but never when you needed one, heard it all, and saw it all, and knew it all, and just rode on by."

The hard, blunt prose could not disguise a sophisticated stylist who hated to be pigeonholed as a genre writer. "Not procedurals," a character in "Romance" (1995) protests when someone slaps that label on books he writes. "Never procedurals. And not mysteries, either. They were simply novels about cops. The men and women in blue and in mufti, their wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, lovers, children, their head colds, stomachaches, menstrual cycles. Novels."
Although other practitioners adopted the conventions that continue to distinguish the realistic police procedural from the hard-boiled American private-eye novel and the genteel British detective mystery, many critics considered Mr. Hunter's command of the form to be matchless, an assessment with which he no doubt would have concurred.

"I feel that there is no other writer of police procedurals in the world from whom I can learn anything," he told John C. Carr, editor of "The Craft of Crime," "and in fact they all learn a lot from me." There wasn't any point in his reading the competition, he said. "That's like Michelangelo watching an apprentice paint in the white of an eye."
His peers shared that assessment. The Mystery Writers of America awarded Ed McBain its Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement in 1986, and in 1998 he was the first American to receive a Cartier Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain. Though his popularity with readers never flagged, by the early 1990's his 87th Precinct novels were particularly in vogue. And while earlier books in the series, like "Eighty Million Eyes" (1966), "Sadie When She Died" (1972) and "Fuzz" (1968), continue to be admired as vintage McBain, later, more complex works like "Widows" (1991), "Mischief" (1993) and "Money, Money, Money" (2001) racked up more robust sales in the United States and abroad. Ms. Gelfman, his agent, estimated that in 50 years of writing, he had sold more than 100 million copies of his work.
Despite his popularity, Mr. Hunter could give the impression of a literary talent who felt he had not been given his due, mainly because of the limited success of film and television adaptations of his books. Although several of his 87th Precinct novels were turned into films, and a number of the novels were adapted for television in Japan, it rankled that an American television series, "87th Precinct," was a failure in the 1960's.

Instead, the show that revolutionized prime-time crime drama was "Hill Street Blues" in the 1980's. 

Mr. Hunter had nothing to do with that series, but he ruefully held to the conviction that it had drawn its concept, characters and dramatic style from the McBain novels.
Despite his renown as Ed McBain, it was as Evan Hunter that the author had his first taste of literary acclaim, before he was 30. That was in 1954 for "The Blackboard Jungle," a somewhat autobiographical novel about a young teacher whose ideals are shattered when he is assigned to an urban vocational high school with a half-savage student body. The next year it was turned into a successful movie with Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier. Mr. Hunter followed "The Blackboard Jungle" with other best-selling novels, including "Mothers and Daughters" (1961) and "Last Summer" (1968).
He also adapted some of his novels for the movies, including "Fuzz," a 1972 film starring Burt Reynolds, and "Strangers When We Meet" (1960), starring Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak. But the most acclaimed of his 75 or so screenplays was the one for "The Birds," the classic 1963 film that he and Alfred Hitchcock adapted from a story by Daphne du Maurier.

Until illness sidelined him, Mr. Hunter had been collaborating with the composer Charles Strouse and the lyricist Susan Birkenhead on a musical stage version of the 1968 film comedy "The Night They Raided Minsky's," about burlesque theater in New York.
For many years, the Evan Hunter and Ed McBain bylines were strictly separated to avoid any confusion or shock that readers of Evan Hunter's "serious" books might feel when exposed to the "mayhem, bloodshed and violence" that were Ed McBain's meat and drink. The author later acknowledged a fusion of the literary styles he once considered distinct. "Evan Hunter and Ed McBain are truly becoming one," he said in 1992, and in 2001 the two wrote the novel "Candyland."
Neither name was his original one. He was born Salvatore Lombino on Oct. 15, 1926, inNew York City, the only child of a postal employee, Charles Lombino, and his wife, the former Marie Coppola. He started writing while serving in the Navy during World War II. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Hunter College and held a teaching job that he would later draw on for "The Blackboard Jungle."
Though his Italian immigrant ancestry would inspire him to write a generational saga, "Streets of Gold" (1974), he changed his name in 1952, believing that "prejudice against writers with foreign names" led publishers to reject their work. "If you're an Italian-American, you're not supposed to be a literate person," he said in 1981.
Mr. Hunter's first two marriages, to Anita Melnick and Mary Vann Hughes, ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Dragica; a son with Ms. Melnick, Ted, of San Miguel, Mexico; two sons with Ms. Hughes, Mark, of Paris, and Richard, of Monroe, Conn.; a stepdaughter, Amanda Finley of New York; and two grandchildren.
Mr. Hunter's first divorce, in 1973, led to the appearance of a new character, Matthew Hope, a Florida divorce lawyer. Hope became an Ed McBain hero in a separate series of novels, all bearing fairy-tale titles like "Goldilocks," the first, in 1978. After a dozen books, he quietly retired the series in 1998.
After a heart attack in the 1980's, Mr. Hunter modified his routine of writing 10 hours a day just about every day of the week. One result was fewer, darker, more thoughtful books and a new philosophy: "When it's no longer fun, I'll stop."

Correction: July 8, 2005, Friday Because of an editing error, an obituary of the novelist Evan Hunter yesterday misidentified the mother of two of his three sons. His first wife, Anita Melnick (not his second, Mary Vann Hughes) is the mother of Mark Hunter and Richard Hunter, as well as Ted Hunter.

See also: 

January Magazine tribute
Thrilling Detective Tribute 

BLOOD RELATIVES by Ed McBain (Ed Gorman)

    Most mystery readers have their favorite 87th Precinct novels. Mine would include HE WHO HESITATES because McBain has the sly ability to give us an 87th in which the 87th appears only a few times. The other would be GHOSTS because McBain manages to wrap one hell of a ghost story inside a police procedural.
   For me the most enriching 87th is BLOOD RELATIVES. This is not to say that it's the finest in storyline or surprises or shock or bravura writing. But for me it is one of the most intriguing takes on romantic love I've ever read.
   The opening chapter is a stunner. Muriel Stark, who is seventeen, is savagely slashed to death as her cousin Patricia watches helplessly. The slaughter of a white girl from somewhat privileged family insures both a police and a press frenzy. But Patricia has difficulty picking out a culprit in the line up--indeed she picks out a cop. And the suspects the 87th boys and girls pursue all seem to have some of those damned alibis. (Note: McBain gives us a particularly gaudy cast of low lifes here. But as he frequently does he brings them to full and sometimes sad reality.)
   All this is to say that BLOOD RELATIVES is very good and in the tradition of the shorter 87ths. But what makes it remarkable is how, using the dead Muriel's diary as a means of understanding the complicated relationship she had with not only Patricia  but also Patricia's brother, McBain is able to write an eloquent commentary on romantic love and sex. 
   I've reread the diary entires several times because they so perfectly capture the rite of passage many of us go through at some point in our lives. The entries are by turns tender, naive, painful, foolish, wise, mysterious and never less than riveting.
  I knew Evan Hunter somewhat (among other things we were both diagnosed with cancer with eight days of each other) and I asked him if he thought most readers would appreciate the remarkable work he'd done with Muriel's voice and experiences. He said he hoped so but probably most readers read for plot and nothing more. I hope he was wrong.


Reviewed by Barry Ergang

Matt Cordell makes it plain on the first page: “I’m a drunk…I drink because I want to drink. Sometimes I’m falling-down ossified, and sometimes I’m rosy-glow happy, and sometimes I’m cold sober—but not very often…I live where being drunk isn’t a sin, though it’s sometimes a crime when the police go on a purity drive. I live on New York’s Bowery.”

Five years prior to the events in the novel, Cordell was a private detective who owned an up-and-coming agency. When he returned home after being away for two weeks on a case and caught his wife of four months in bed with one of his operatives, he severely clubbed the man with his gun. “The police were so kind, the bastards. They understood completely, but they took away my license and my gun and my pride.”

Cordell, who is now divorced and a self-described bum and drunk, labels he seems to apply with conceit as much as, if not more than, lamentation, and who lives for his next drink above all else, is approached by an old acquaintance from their childhood days. Johnny Bridges has inherited the tailoring shop from his father and has partnered with a man named Dominic Archese. He wants to hire the detective to look into cash register thefts, of whom he suspects Archese, that have occurred over a six-month period. Cordell initially balks at the idea, but eventually consents to examine the register and shop doors for signs of break-ins. When they discover Archese shot to death and Bridges apparently framed for his murder, Cordell advises Bridges to call the police and a good lawyer, but to keep him out of it. In return, he’ll try to find the real killer.

Cordell subsequently meets Christine Archese, Dom’s widow; Christine’s sister Laraine Marsh, with whom he becomes intimately involved; Dave Ryan, who works for Bridges and Archese but who is actually an aspiring musician; Dennis Knowles, a private detective of dubious character; and Fran West, who works for Knowles and to whose charms Cordell is not immune.

Complications arise when there’s a second murder, and when some of the forenamed folks give conflicting stories to Cordell, who then must try to determine which of them is telling the truth and which is lying. Still another complication is police detective Miskler,
who is neither the stereotypically stupid nor irreceptive investigator.     

Originally published relatively early in the career of the estimable Evan Hunter (born  Salvatore Lombino), who wrote under a number of pseudonyms, the most famous and important of which was Ed McBain, this novel first appeared as a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback under the title I’m Cannon—for Hire, bylined Curt Cannon. (See the Matt Cordell/Curt Cannon article at The Thrilling Detective website for more information.) It’s a short, fast-paced, hardboiled novel which is an engrossing—and recommended—read.

© 2015 Barry Ergang

Derringer Award-winner Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. Some of it is available at Amazon and at Smashwords. His website is

ME AND HITCH, Evan Hunter (Patti Abbott)

This is a slim book that deals with Hunter's time with Hitchcock on the scripts for THE BIRDS and MARNIE. He had written scripts for A.H. before so when the director believed he had a chance to make less of a genre film with Daphne DuMaurier's short story, THE BIRDS, he hired Hunter, who he believed to be a fine writer.
Hunter was nonplussed about just how he could make a full-feature film, and one that would satisfy Hitch's ambition, from the short story. Every day he would work on it and was called in by Hitch who would ask him to tell him the story so far. More often than not, they disagreed on the parts of the two women, played by Tippi Hedren and Suzanne Pleshette. It was interesting to watch Hitch make Pleshette as dowdy as possible in order to emphasize the brittle beauty of his current blonde, a very inexperienced and thus malleable Hedrin.

More and more, the script became scenes with birds attaching Hedren and other actors. As Hunter says, "The trouble with our story is that nothing in it was real. Hitch has bought a bizarre novella about plain people attached by the gentlest of creatures. He had then hired a realistic novelist from New York to change these characters into the sort of sleek, beautiful people he liked to see on the screen: the Cary Grants and Grace Kellys of the world. Even if the script had worked--which it didn't--Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor were no Grave Kelly and Cary Grant. But Hitch never gave it an honest shot. He told me that he felt he was entering a Golden Age of his creativity and THE BIRDS would be his crowning achievement."

Not satisfied in the end with Hunter's script, he had other writers add scenes that weakened what was already a weak story. 

The book also details the personal relationship that developed between the two families, which was strange too.

When it came to MARNIE, the situation grew worse. "There was no doubt in my mind that he had decided to film the Winston Groom novel only because he saw it as a vehicle for Grace Kelly." His attempts to lure her back went unmet and it was Hedren again. In the end. he fires Hunter.

This was an enjoyable and quick read. For further illumination, you can watch the movie THE GIRL where all of the travails of making the film are detailed.

Mothers and Daughters by Evan Hunter
(Review by Deb)

In the summer of 1969, a few months before I turned 12, someone gave my mother a bag of used books.  Rummaging through, I took Evan Hunter’s Mothers and Daughters, possibly attracted by the prettily-illustrated cover of the 1969 Signet paperback reprint.  The novel was the first “adult” book I ever read:  Not just adult in theme and story, but adult in execution, featuring flashbacks, stream of consciousness, multiple points of view, and other narrative devices with which I’d been unfamiliar.  These include the slowly-revealed “shocking secret” (still my favorite literary device).  All these years later, the book remains a sentimental choice and I was happy to reread it for this week’s FFB.
First published in 1961, Mothers and Daughters covers the lives of four women from roughly 1940 through 1960, focusing on both the social and personal changes they go through and how the various threads of their lives intertwine.  Amanda Soames is a demure, well-bred minister’s daughter, very much an “ice princess” from far-away Minnesota (sometimes the symbolism is a bit obvious).  Gillian Burke, the Bronx-born daughter of Irish immigrants, is her college roommate, an altogether more boisterous and ambitious woman from a decidedly less refined background.  Amanda and Gillian first meet in 1941 at Talmadge College, Connecticut (a stand-in for Julliard). Amanda is a promising music student, while Gillian pursues dramatic studies. Into the mix eventually comes Kate, Amanda’s niece, adopted by Amanda and her husband because of Kate’s mother’s mental illness.  There’s also Julia Regan, a woman who spends much of her time dwelling on her great pre-war love affair.  Julia is the mother of David Regan—a man who has experienced such severe traumas that he cannot overcome them even with Gillian’s love and support.
Reading the book again, I was struck by some of its insight:  There’s a real Mad Men vibe to the life Amanda and her husband lead in the 1950s suburbs of Talmadge.  You can also see Amanda—who once dreamed of a life as a serious composer, reduced to running errands for the P.T.A. and hosting Boy Scout meetings—struggling with the “problem” that Betty Freidan would be writing about very soon in The Feminine Mystique:  How highly-ambitious, capable, educated women were shunted to the suburbs in post-WWII America, often left with no challenging or meaningful work.  And in Gillian’s thwarted ambition to break into the upper-echelons of the acting profession (every potential “big break” eventually peters out), we can see Hunter’s experience in the entertainment world where he wrote scripts for TV and movies and had a first-hand view of the humiliations and compromises found there.
Julia Regan is, to my mind, the most interesting character in the book.  The oldest of the four main characters, Julia has the most complicated back story and it is she who is the possessor of the “shocking revelation” (not so shocking by our standards, but I think it packed quite a punch 55 years ago). Julia is not a likeable character—she has undoubtedly caused much heartbreak to her husband and her son—but she is written in a way that makes the reader understand (if not sympathize with) her.
Admittedly, some parts of the book have not aged well.  Matthew Bridges, Amanda’s husband, is the sort of domineering Alpha male (who knows what’s best for Amanda and campaigns for her until she gives up in an exhaustion that she is convinced is love) who would be considered toxic in today’s world.  Similarly, Matthew’s flashback to his first sexual experience, which is described in a way that could only be considered “date rape,” would never be presented in such a neutral way today.  And I doubt any parent of a teenage girl would be as sanguine as Matthew and Amanda are about Kate’s relationship with a man twice her age.
But there is also much to admire about the book.  It is packed with information about the mid-twentieth century, everything from methods of treating mental illness to the development of post-war suburbs to the advance of the automobile culture to how television sponsors intervened to change controversial material, no matter how worthy; and all of this information is woven into the lives and stories of the characters so that it doesn’t seem forced or superfluous. The book also does a wonderful job of capturing the post-war zeitgeist in New York and its surrounding suburbs.  If parts now seem dated, other parts could have been written yesterday.  Mothers and Daughters is a worthwhile book that deserves to be better known as part of Evan Hunter’s/Ed McBain’s canon.

Evan Hunter, Find the Feathered Serpent (1952)

Curt Cannon, I Like 'Em Tough (1958)

by Jeff Meyerson 

I've been a fan of Evan Hunter since I read my first 87th Precinct book by "Ed McBain" back in 1973.  (For the record, it was Fuzz.  I'd seen the 1972 movie with Burt Reynolds as Carella, a perfectly cast Jack Weston as Meyer Meyer, and Yul Brynner as their arch-nemesis The Deaf Man.)  Over the years since I've read a large proportion of his oeuvre under various names, without coming close to reading them all.  I have half a dozen unread on my shelves, but the total read is currently 93.  I thought I'd try and pick out something different for this week's reviews, rather than the obvious, and came up with these.

Find the Feathered Serpent was Hunter's first published book, back in 1952 when he was in his mid-twenties, a couple of years before he hit it big with The Blackboard Jungle.  It was in the Winston Science Fiction series, obviously aimed at teenage boys, and should be judged in that context, but in any context I quite enjoyed reading it for the first time this year.  As some of you know I like time travel stories and this is one, even if an even more than usually unbelievable one.  Sixteen year old Neil Falsen gets to go on the first trip in his father's time machine when the latter breaks his leg, and he endsup in the Yucatan several centuries back meeting the ancient Mayans, and teaming up with some off-course Vikings who show up in time to rescue him and his friend.  It isn't something to take seriously but it was a lot of fun to read this fast-moving, entertaining book.

I wanted to review one of Hunter's short story collections, but as I don't have a copy of The Last Spin (with its memorable title story) on hand, decided to go with one I did have, I Like 'Em Tough by Curt Cannon.  These six shorts were originally published in Manhunt in 1953 and 1954, and I believe the lead character was called Matt Cordell then.  Here he is Curt Cannon, a formerly successful private investigator (he had several men working for him) who came home one day and found his wife in bed with his best friend.  He beats the guy with his gun butt, which gets his license revoked (though the charges are dropped) and ends up, literally, as a Bowery bum.  He drinks himself insensible and sleeps in cheap hotels or flophouses or, when he has no money, in doorways on the street.

The catch is, however, that people won't leave him alone.  Friends from the old neighborhood keep seeking him out for help in finding loved ones or helping them, and despite everything they pull him back in (as Michael Corleone so memorably said).  The one part I found hard to accept is that several women who you'd think would know better throw themselves as him, despite the smell of his clothes and breath.

I originally read this one in 1981 and found myself racing through it quickly last week.  Hunter was a great storyteller under whatever name he used, and while not everything he wrote was a classic (his Matthew Hope book Mary, Mary was the worst) he was always readable.  I hope this week's FFB will encourage people to give him a try.

Jeff Meyerson

Bill Crider, FIDDLERS
Ed Gorman, GUNS
Jerry House, "The Intruders" 
B.F. Lawson, NOCTURNE 
Scott Parker, Three Reviews 
James Reasoner, GOLDILOCKS
Richard Robinson, KILLER'S WEDGE
Kevin Tipple, KING'S RANSOM 
Violent World of Parker, DOWNTOWN, 

And other contributors

Joe Barone, ACCUSED, Lisa Scottoline
Brian Busby, THE MAYOR OF COTE ST. PAUL by Ronald J. Cooke and HOT FREEZE, Douglas Sanderson
Scott Cupp, DANGER: DINOSAURS, Richard Marsten
Rich Horton, DORA THORNE, Charlotte Mary Braun
Nick Jones, RIPLEY UNDER WATER, Patricia Highsmith
Margot Kinberg, DEATH'S GOLDEN WHISPER, R.J. Harlick
Evan Lewis, A KILLING IN COMICS, Max Allan Collins
Steve Lewis/David Vineyard, THE CANARY MURDER CASE. S.S. VanDine
Neer, THE GHOST OF FLIGHT 451, John G. Fuller
Gerard Saylor, HYENAS, Joe R. Lansdale