Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween Music


Is it harder to scare people on the page than on the screen? I think so.  Especially if the screen is one in the dark theater. I can't recall ever jumping at something I read. More like a shiver down the back than a jump or scream.

What is the scariest book or story you ever read? I would choose TURN OF THE SCREW by Henry James. It scared me as a kid. I like the ambiguity of the story. James wasn't fond of the typical ghost apparently.  Runnerup would be CUJO but I am scared of dogs anyway.

Friday, October 28, 2016


Friday's Forgotten Books, October 28, 2016


STRANGLEHOLD, Ed Gorman (from the archives)

A few years ago, I read Ed Gorman's first book in the Dev Conrad series (SLEEPING DOGS) and asked him if he planned on writing another one. He said he was mulling it over. It felt like a perfect fit for Ed then and the second book just solidifies that feeling. Ed knows the world of political campaigns well and his portrait of it is completely convincing.

Dev is a political consultant, called in by campaigns to straighten out messes more often than not. Not as a "cleaner" or anything sinister, but more to give advice, succor, and to straighten out the kind of trouble a life in politics seems to encourage. Dev is a guy easy to spend time with. He reminds me of Jim Rockford or Travis McGee.

This time his client is a Congresswoman who's acting strangely and worrying her family and staff in the midst of a campaign. She's disappearing for hours at a time. Much of her support comes from her wealthy stepmother who doesn't like the behavior she's witnessing and is used to calling the shots. The candidate had a troubled youth and there's worry she's returned to her errant ways.

Dev follows the trail to some nasty adversaries and into the Congresswoman's back story, which is an interesting one. As I said, Ed Gorman knows politics and every note is pitch perfect here.

What I love about Ed's books are three-fold. He is a great instructor (for anyone learning to write) in the art of moving a plot along without any lag time. At the same time, he is able to work in little asides: humor, cynicism (and who over fifty doesn't have that) and his knowledge about how politics work--all without even seeming didactic or dull. Thirdly, and I have said this before, Ed likes women. He writes about them well; his protagonist treats them well. Do you know how rare this is lately?

If I was in trouble, Dev Conrad (or Ed Gorman) would be the first one I sought out. Look for this book: Stranglehold. The time is right for a look at politics through Ed Gorman's eyes. His vision is clear.

Mark Baker, SUNSET EXPRESS, Robert Crais
Yvetter Banek, "Skeleton Crew"
Les Blatt, MURDER IN PICADILLY, Charles Kingston
Brian Busby, RECALLED TO LIFE, Grant Allen
Bill Crider, Four by Alistair MacLean
Martin Edwards, DUMB VENGEANCE, Stella Tower
Richard Horton "An Ace Double" 
Jerry House, SORRY, WRONG NUMBER, Allen Ullman, Louise Fletcher
George Kelley, CORNERED and THE LONG RIDE, James McKimmey
Margot Kinberg, THE FIXER, John Daniell
Rob Kitchin, A GENTLE AXE,  R.N. Morris
B.V. Lawson, AH, SWEET MYSTERY, Celestine Sibley
Steve Lewis/William Deeck, DEATH ON THE SET, Victor MacClure
Todd Mason, "Helen Hoke: Anthologies
J.F. Norris, THE LISTENER, Algernon Blackwood
Matth Paust, FAHRENHEIT 451, Ray Bardbury
Reactions to Reading, WHAT STRANGE CREATURES, Emily Arsenault
James Reasoner, MURGUNSTRUMM, Hugh B. Cave
Richard Robinson, Birthday Swag 
Kevin Tipple, STUFF TO DIE FOR, Don Bruns
TracyK, QUOTH THE RAVEN, Jane Haddam

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Do You Remember When the Mask Was the Main Thing in a Costume?

Man's Best Friend

Continuing on the theme of friendship, we watched two shows last week where dogs starred . "Grandpa" was an episode of HIGH MAINTENANCE, an HBO anthology. It is told entirely from the dog's POV. He falls in love with his dog walker and like all romances, it has its ups and downs.

Then we watched DUMB WITNESS, a Hercule Poirot, where a fox terrier has the key to the mystery. I have never had a dog but this one was a temptation.

What are some other books/movie dogs that stand out for you?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tuesday Night Music: American Honey


 The death last week of Michael Gleason reminded me of an old favorite.

REMINGTON STEELE was on TV from 1982 to 1987 and starred Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan. It was a light romantic detective series. Their chemistry worked for a while-and then it didn't. But in the early years, it gave us lots of pleasure. More a romance than a detective series, it still managed to put out 20 some episodes a year with concrete plots.

It began like this:

Try this for a deep, dark secret. The great detective Remington Steele? He doesn't exist. I invented him.

I always loved excitement, so I studied and apprenticed, and put my name on an office. But absolutely nobody knocked down my door. A female private investigator seemed so . . . feminine. So I invented a superior. A decidedly masculine superior.

Suddenly, there were cases around the block. It was working like a charm. Until the day he walked in.

With his blue eyes and mysterious past, and before I knew it, he assumed Remington Steele's identity.

Now I do the work and he takes the bows.

It's a dangerous way to live, but as long as people buy it, I can get the job done.

We never mix business with pleasure. Well, almost never. I don't even know his real name.

We know what happened to Pierce Brosnan but what happened to Stephanie Zimbalist? 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Monday Night Music: Copperhead Road


Friendship is a common theme in children's literature but less so in adult literature. I just read ANOTHER BROOKLYN where four teenage girls in seventies Brooklyn sustain each other through a lot of difficulties. But they are still children. In books for adults, there is, of course, OF MICE AND MEN and THE GROUP but what else. In KRAMER V KRAMER, Ted  and Margaret forge a friendship, which was somewhat novel at the time. The idea that a man and a woman could be friends and not romantic interests.

The Lansdale books about Hap & Leonard stand out. And the Walter Mosley and Robert Parker series.What else?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 21, 2016

Todd Mason will have the links today. Decided Phil needed a special trip for his birthday this week.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Where I Ate Dinner at a Child.

When I was a kid this was the only restaurant in my neighborhood. That would have been the mid-sixties. Was your neighborhood this spare on places to eat? How often did you go out to dinner as a kid? Where did you go? What did you order? Linton's had no ambience and was pretty much like the diner, Littleton's, that was right down the road. We went out to eat a lot when we went to the shore in the summer. But not much beyond that. Christmas Eve found us at Linton's though. An odd tradition.In retrospect, I believe there were restaurants for the adult crowd, but not the sort of place children were welcome.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Forgotten Movies: HOSPITAL (And the forgotten career of George C. Scott)

George C Scott and Diana Riggs starred in this very black look at a city hospital. Arthur Hiller directed the Paddy Chayefsky script in 1971. T hey don't make this sort of movie anymore. Life is too dark to joke about now.George C. Scott was such a figure then. Has anyone heard of him now?I guess he's most remembered for PATTON, my least favorite of his films. Biopics seldom work for me because they are never nuanced enough.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Who Never Disappoints?

I am going with Tana French. Although I was not as much in love with THE LIKENESS as her other books, (I just couldn't buy the major premise) all of her others have been strong and interesting studies of Dublin, of the Irish, of social problems, of the police in Ireland for me. Maybe a tad too long for my taste, but lovely writing, lovely plotting.

Who never (or rarely disappoints you?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

November 2, Ed Gorman Day

I believe November 2 would have been Ed's 75 birthday. Let's talk about his books, his presence among the crime fiction community on that day. Reviews, reminiscences, whatever you like to do on November 2nd. I will post here or link.

Ed Gorman

Very few people reached out to me earlier in my writing life than Ed Gorman, kindly including stories of mine in two of his yearly anthologies. Sending me copies of his books. Giving me encouragement numerous times. And being part of FFB  almost from the beginning. He loved having his review featured, and I was happy to do that. He sent me an email now and then, offering encouragement, talking politics, telling me about a new book. I will miss him very much. Although we never met in person, I felt I knew him well. At least I have his blog to peruse. Hope now one takes it down.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 14, 2016

(From the archives)
Charles Benoit is the author of Noble Lives, Relative Danger, and Out of Order

Uncle Dynamite by P.G. Wodehouse

My favorite fantasy about winning the lottery isn’t having the cash to travel all around the world or buying some fancy sports car—it is the blissful knowledge that if I had buckets of the stuff, I’d have a lot more time for reading.

Not (yet) being a lottery winner and paparazzi target, I have to seek out books that cram as much good stuff into one reading as possible, and as a fan of the comic caper novel, that means lots of phony felonious types, rare and priceless/worthless objects, setup plans as intricate as an HDTV manual, multiple mistaken identities, late night crime scene follies, plots that take twists and turns worthy of the Gordian Knot, and a Criminal Mastermind that’s equal parts George Clooney, Cary Grant, John Cleese and Steve Martin, with a heavy dash of a drunken Peter O’Toole. And all of it has to be superbly written with laugh-out-loud chapters, head-slapping brilliant phrases and dialog that fizzes like a champagne cocktail.

Given my caper novel needs, you would assume that I’d make straight for the masterful works of Donald Westlake and you would be correct. Except we’re talking forgotten books and no mystery reader worth the title would forget Westlake. The book I’d like to recommend today has everything you’d expect to find in the best Westlake caper, but—and I know this sounds impossible—this one’s even better. It’s Uncle Dynamite, and it’s by the only author who could out Westlake, Westlake, the inimitable P.G Wodehouse.

If you know Wodehouse, you can stop reading here and call it a day. There’s nothing I can say that can add to The Master’s reputation, and if you don’t know Wodehouse, it’s your loss. But even if you hold Wodehouse in as high esteem as I do (highly unlikely, but I throw it out there just to be sporting), and you haven’t read Uncle Dynamite, well, all I can say is that your quest to discover a meaning to your life is about to be realized.

Lord Ickeham—the Uncle Fred of the title—is the sort of whirlwind you can only encounter in the kind of English clubs where rolls are tossed at the dinner table and vast sums are wagered on the likelihood that the waiter will trip as he carries a tray of cocktails across a shaving cream—covered 13th century Persian carpet. It’s his massive brain that is put to the task of pinching a plaster bust from a country home, a bust that secretly hides a cache of jewels, hidden to avoid paying the customs duty. The bust resides in the stately country home of Sir Aylmer Bostock, a retired colonial governor who collects ghastly African curios and who once went by the nickname “Mugsy.” There’s Uncle Fred’s lovesick nephew, Reginald “Pongo” Twistleton; the lovely Sally Painter, ex-fiancee of said Pongo; the headstrong Hermione, the current Pongo fiancĂ©e; Pongo’s pal, Bill, who gazes at Hermione in the way young Romeo used to gawk at fair Juliet; Elsie Been, the straight talking saucy maid who's in love eith Constable Harold Potter, the very same Constable Harold Potter, who had once arrested Lord Ickeham and Pongo during a fracas at the dog races, the self-same dog racing arrest in which Lord Ickeham supplies the false names of George Robinson and Edwin Smith of 14 and 11 Nasturtium Road, East Dulwich. When Constable Potter points this inconvenient truth out to our Lord Ickeham, the peerless peer of the realm simply states that he is, in fact, Major Brabazon-Plank, noted Brazilian explorer…who just happens to arrive for an extended stay at Sir Aylmer’s forementioned country home. And, being a caper novel, there is a bonny baby contest to be judged.

If this sounds impossibly complicated and preposterously ridiculous, then I have done my job well and admirably.

It is one sad shortcoming of the modern educational system that Uncle Dynamite is not required reading in every school in the land, and as a result, this word-perfect caper novel is seldom read by otherwise intelligent and well-meaning mystery readers. Track this book down, give it a read, and if you are not in total agreement that it is indeed, if not the Greatest Single Work of Fiction Ever Written, it’s still a fun read.

You can thank me later.

Sergio Angelini, THE POWER OF THE DOG, Thomas Savage
Yvette Banek, SILENCE OBSERVED, Michael Innes
Les Blatt, LAMENT FOR A MAKER, Michael Innes
Elgin Bleecker, COCKFIGHTER, Charles Willeford
Brian Busby, SEA LORD, William C. Heine
Bill Crider, WINTER GIRL, Harry Whittington
Martin Edwards, THE END OF THE WEB, George Sims
Richard Horton, THE LIVING END, Stanley Elkin
George Kelley, WHO THE DEVIL MADE IT and WHO THE HELL'S IN IT, Peter Bogdonavich
Margot Kinberg, INSIDE THE BLACK HORSE, Ray Berard
Rob Kitchin, THE HUMAN FLIES, Hans Olaf Lahlum
B.V. Lawson, SPENCE AT MARBLY MANOR. Michael Allen
Steve Lewis/Barry Gardner, DOUBLE-MINDED MEN, Philip R. Craig
Todd Mason, Isaac Asimov, autobiographical works 
Neer, A Baker's Dozen from the Delhi Book Fair 
J.F. Norris, THE GODDESS, A DEMON, Richard Marsh
Steven Nester (RAP SHEET), JUNKY, William Burroughs
Matthew Paust, ALL DAY AND A NIGHT, Alafair Burke
Reactions to Reading, THE RED THUMB MARK, R. Austin Freeman
James Reasoner, YOU'LL GET YOURS, Thomas Wills
Richard Robinson, Unfinished Series
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, FIELDS FOR PRESIDENT, W.C. Fields
TracyK, A PERFECT SPY, John LeCarre

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Wednesday Night Music


What happens when a  public housing project and an exclusive private school share the same street. That's what this excellent documentary looks at. And it's a sad story. The average salary of the families living in the project is $20,000, half the private school's tuition. The film also looks at the high line and its impact, good and bad on the area (Chelsea).

Chelsea is on the west side of Manhattan in the 20s and 30s. I saw this on HBO but it's getting a theatrical release too.

The film mostly looks at students from the school and the kids in the public housing across from it. A scene late on, when the poor kids see the inside of the school, is truly heartbreaking. Their lack of bitterness is amazing. And we get some surprises from the rich kids too. 

We live in an age of great documentaries. Have you seen a good one lately?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Tuesday Night Music: Nina Simone

Forgotten Movies: THE SWIMMER

Forgotten Movies: THE SWIMMER

I have talked about this movie before in some context but here it comes again.
In 1968, Frank Perry took a great John Cheever story and made a terrific film. It is the story of a man, living in suburban Connecticut, who comes up with the idea he can swim from pool to pool in his neighborhood, finally arriving home. The element of time in this movie makes it especially interesting. The time of year, the state of the swimmer, the time of life, changes that occur as he makes his swim. Only Burt Lancaster could look so fetching in his late fifties here. An amazing little film. One of my favorite small films for sure.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Monday Night Music: MAD WORLD

Because it is.

Your Favorite Fictional Restaurant

As a teenager, I hung out at a place I believe was called Baker's and it was pretty much the same place you saw on Happy Days called Arnold's. As an adult, we have had favorite restaurants to a point but none were as important to me as that soda shop. Did you have a place like Baker's.

I guess this post would mostly be about TV restaurants though. Luke's Diner from Gilmore Girls popped up in Detroit this week. It's popping up all over to get people excited about the return of the show on Netflix.

What fictional restaurant would you like to walk into? There have been a lot when you think of it because it's a good way of getting characters together. Arnolds from Happy Days, Cheers from Cheers, Mel's Diner where Alice and Flo worked on Alice, Roseanne's restaurant on Roseanne, Central Perk on Friends, Archie Bunkers's Place, and so many more.

I'll take Monk's Cafe on Seinfeld, which is really Tom's. How about you?Also did/do you have a favorite place to go?

Friday, October 07, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Books.

(from the archives)
I am a big Larry Watson fan and LET HIM GO did not disappoint. It is a great followup to books like WHITE CROSSES and MONTANA: 1948.

After their adult son is killed in an accident, his widowed wife marries again and leaves the Blackledge's home to go with her new husband to Montana. She takes their grandson with her, of course, and therein lies the problem.

"With you or without you," Margaret Blackledge insists, and at these words George knows his only choice is to follow her.

George takes to the road with Margaret by his side, tracking down the Weboy clan quickly. When Margaret tries to convince Lorna to return home to North Dakota, bringing little Jimmy with her, the Blackledges find themselves mixed up with the entire Weboy clan, a horrific family determined not to give the boy up without a fight. It's more about possession than love with a family like this. 

This slim volume contains a heart-pounding story, unforgettable characters, terrific atmosphere and some of the most beautiful prose you will ever read. I liked it almost as much as MONTANA: 1948, making it still one of my favorite books. Oh, to write like Mr. Watson.  

For the rest of this week's links, see Todd Mason right here.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

First Wednesday Book Club: A MAN CALLED OVE, Fredrik Backman

A MAN CALLED OVE is the story of a Swedish man of 60 who reminds me an awfully lot of Doc Martin. He shares many of his OCD traits, is a curmudgeon, and yet in the end, it is he who most often saves the day. Most of this book details his life after his beloved wife has died, his attempts to do away with himself, and the people he rescues and who rescue him. It just misses being too cute. But because of Ove's often misanthropic views, words, and insights, and also some real tragedies in  his life. it kept me reading to the end. A movie is coming out momentarily. If you are looking for a light read, this will fill the bill.Pretty much an international best seller, it is hard not to like Ove, his wife, his neighbors, his Sweden.

For more book reviews, visit Barrie Summy. 

Tuesday, October 04, 2016


Waiting to become a teen, this was my favorite movie of 1960. Dick Clark plays a new teacher at a high school loaded with cool and troubled kids. There were so few good movie for young teenagers then. The beach blanket sorts just didn't speak to all of us. SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS was probably my favorite. What movies spoke to the teenage you?

What I loved most about this one though was probably the theme song, sung by Duayne Eddy.

Monday, October 03, 2016

The best debut novel

Here is a list. What struck me after a bit was how few of the authors ever wrote a better novel than that first one. Maybe it's better to write a fair first novel and go on to greater things.

The most amazing first novel I ever read was WHITE TEETH by Zadie Smith. She wrote in in her early twenties but it had the maturity of a seasoned writer. A London teeming with immigrants of all ages, she got it perfectly and was equally adept at creating men and women.

My favorite debut novel in the crime genre would be A KISS BEFORE DYING by Ira Levin.

What's your favorite debut novel?

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Lang Lang at DSO

Wonderful concert and he played Beethoven Piano Concerto #4 but this was his encore