Friday, December 31, 2021


From the archives: Bill Crider's review. Bill and Judy.

Forgotten Books: FLIGHT TO DARKNESS -- Gil Brewer

Gil Brewer's not really forgotten.  In fact, he's having something of a revival now, what with the recent reprints by Stark House Press and the proposed four-volume collection of his stories to be published by Dancing Tuatara Press in cooperation with Ramble House.  And now New Pulp Press is re-issuing Flight to Darkness, originally published by Gold Medal in 1952.

This is one of those stories that Brewer and Gold Medal did so well, with the first-person narrator pushed from one seemingly impossible situation to the next.  Eric Garth is hospitalized after the Korean War for "battle fatigue."  He keeps having a dream that he's beaten his brother to death, and he's afraid that if he's released from the hospital, he'll make the dream come true.

Then he meets a nurse named Leda.  Wow.  Leda is one of those Gold Medal women who exudes sex appeal.  She is sex appeal.  Eric has to have her.  He knows she's trouble, but she's impossible to resist.  Eric wins his release, and the next thing he knows, he's framed for a hit-and-run accident.  Then he's locked away in another hospital.  Leda and his brother show up to visit him, and now they're man and wife.

Eric escapes and returns to his hometown.  His brother's a wealthy man, and he has no intention of giving Eric his half of the family business.  Leda gets Eric in bed again.  Then Frank is brutally murdered in just the manner of the dream.

Leda is as bad as they come, and Eric is just as driven as she is.  When it comes to depicting people like this, all rough edges and raw emotion, Brewer comes close to his friend Harry Whittington.  Both can grab a reader on the first page and wring him out for a couple of hundred more.  If you like the old paperbacks with their fast action and blue-collar desperation, grab this new edition and give Brewer a try. 


Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Short Story Wednesday; "I'll Be Waiting" Raymond Chandler

Supposedly Chandler did not much like this story himself and regarded it as inauthentic, a story written for Saturday Evening Post rather than one of the pulps he usually favored. It has all of the elements of a typical pulp crime story: a house dick, a femme fatale, the man she is waiting for, the man who is waiting for him. But a heck of a lot of the story spends its time describing the hotel--in fact, we know more about the hotel than we do about any of the characters. Perhaps you need to read more of this sort of story to get it. I  have to admit though, I could draw a picture of that hotel from lobby, to bar, to elevator, to penthouses.  If I could draw, that is.

In their anthology of hardboiled fiction, editors Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian regard the story as “a superbly atmospheric night-piece” and respond, “Chandler was a perceptive critic of others’ work, although less so of his own.” Indeed, still frequently included in anthologies, the story today is considered by many readers and critics as among his best and most polished (with a superb twist ending), and it has even been adapted for film twice, most recently in 1993 as an episode of Showtime’s Fallen Angels directed by Tom Hanks. 

From the website Story of the Week, Library of Congress, 

Kevin Tipple 

Jerry House 

Todd Mason

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Favorite Movies of 2021

Power of the Dog


West Side Story

The Card Counter




There are so many I haven't seen yet and a few of these might fall off the list as I see more. And I have to go back to keeping track of these on Letterbixd, Anyway 1 and 2 won't change.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Monday, Monday

Enjoying Frank Rich's memoir, GHOST LIGHT. Tried the Beatles doc but it didn't hold my attention. Now I have to figure out how to cancel Disney again.

A quiet holiday here. How about you? Kevin drove the family down from Rochester for a walk and a porch sit. In Michigan you can drive at fifteen with your parents if you completed a driver's ed class. They leave for a skiing trip today. I bet he does some of the driving for that too. 

Josh and I did a zoom call with Megan where we mostly talked about movies, books. No snow yet in MI.

and TV. When they were kids we always went to a movie on Christmas Eve and we had fun remembering them. We did this because it was just the four of us and we needed to have some rituals. The worst movie we ever saw was one with Andy Kauffman called Heart Beats, I think. Actually we saw a lot of lousy ones over the years. Also face timed with my brother and his wife.

What's new with you? 

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Merry Christmas

 Hoping your day is merry and bright. This was Christmas 2019. Glad we didn't know what was ahead.

Friday, December 24, 2021

River-Joni Mitchell 


At the very end, Mitchell says she wishes there was a song for those who are lonely at Christmas. This song certainly gets that across. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Christmas is Canceled-Humbug

 Megan has 18 friends with Omicron and has decided it is better not to expose me to a potential case and Josh and his family were also exposed to someone who came down with Covid a day later on Sunday. So Christmas is canceled here. I just can't take a chance on getting any variant that would delay my radiation so I am quarantining. You can imagine how depressing this is. I may be here all the time or not at all. If not, have a safe Christmas where you are. And be careful!

Short Story Wednesday, "Dr. H.A. Moynihan from A MANUAL FOR CLEANING WOMEN bu Lucia Berlin


I found this at Toadvine Books,  a lovely mostly used bookstore two miles away. I shouldn't be buying books because I have toted perhaps 50 bags of books to library donation bins. But I always meant to read this collection and it was a nice clean copy. Such nice people running the store too.

This is one of the scariest stories I have ever read. And Jerry might not want to ever read it. It is the story of a girl helping her grandfather, a dentist, out over a summer. It describes everything about his very eccentric practice, but most of all it describes her aiding him in pulling all the teeth from his mouth and installing dentures that perfectly resemble the teeth he has pulled. The description goes on for pages and if the man hadn't been such a mean old bastard, it might have been harder to read. I love descriptive writing and Berlin is a master of it.In fact, I can't remember ever reading such a fulsome description of anything, much less a dental office. Can't wait to see what her next story is about. 

Jerry House  



Todd Mason 

Casual Debris

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Favorite TV shows of 2021

 And boy, I watched a lot of them.

1. For All Mankind (Apple)

2. Reservation Dogs (Hulu)

3. Succession (HBO)

4. Scenes from a Marriage (HBO)

5. Hacks (HBO)

6. The White Lotus (HBO)

7. It's a Sin (HBO)

8. Maid (Netflix)

9. Ted Lasso (Apple)

10. Only Murderers in the Building (Hulu)


Of course, I only have access to some of the streaming channels and I didn't include anything from Britbox or Acorn as they may be older. 

What were your favorites?

Monday, December 20, 2021

Monday, Monday


Streamed DISNEY to see THE BEATLES, GET BACK. Hope it is worth it because the last time I streamed Disney I had trouble getting rid of it. And I am not even sure where I am being billed for it. 


Loved WEST SIDE STORY. Especially the more realistic street scenes. The guy here who plays Riff was especially terrific. (Mike Faist) Sadly it seems to be completely bombing. It's already disappearing from theaters here.

Enjoying the soundtracks of Jonny Greenwood, who did the music for the great POWER OF THE DOG. I think movie sound tracks are my favorite way of listening to music now.

I am always admitting I missed a lot of the music of the seventies and I think I know why. As I watched the documentary on SESAME STREET, I realized I knew every song they played. So apparently that was what I listened to in the seventies. 

SHETLAND (BRIT BOX) is well done but I really like two or three episodes arcs and not a sixer. Characters from the first episodes are a vague memory now.

MAUD DIXON-not far enough along to know if I will like it. I loved the Ann Patchett essays though. 

Found a wonderful new (to me) used book store near me. That is two stores now not far away and this one also carries new books. Megan's book was in the window. That made my day. And they didn't even know she was a Michigan girl. 

Don't know if I can bear to watch STATION ELEVEN (HBO MAX). When I read it some years ago there was no pandemic going on. Awfully close to home now. 

What about you?

Friday, December 17, 2021

FFB: FAKE I.D. Jason Starr

(from the archives) 

Reviewed by Ed Gorman.

Fake I.D. by Jason Starr

Jason Starr is the poet of pathological lives. In Fake I.D. he gives us Tony Russo, gambling addict and bartender/actor, who believes, despite enormous evidence to the contrary, that someday real soon now he will reap a bonanza with his gambling just as he knows that he will soon enough be King of Hollywood. Gold at the track and movie star pussy forever.

One of the ways he hopes to hurry his dreams along is by stealing ten thousand dollars from the bar where he works. He has a chance to buy a share of a race horse and thus become a (another fantasy) a gentleman of the horsey set (his daydream about standing in the winner's circle with a movie star lady practically going down on him is especially embarrassing and pathetic). But being the good businessman he is, he takes the ten grand and goes to Vegas where he is real real sure he will play this into much much more. He returns home broke of course.

Being a good sociopath Tony must now replace the money he lost in Vegas. This quest, and it is nothing less, involves more stealing and not incidentally murder. Starr gives us a trio of women who become indelible in the reader's mind. My favorite is Janene. Like Frank, the man who owns the bar where Tony works, she is sensible, intelligent and honest. It is from her that he lifts jewelry.

Starr has one of those quintessential New York voices. Because Richard Price's Ladies' Man is one of my favorite novels I kept hearing riffs on that in this book especially when Starr was writing about the bar and the people who work there and hang out there. Starr has an almost surreal eye and ear for manners and he can be both witty and chilling at the same time. He's excellent with boozy conversation.

Starr is on record acknowledging his debt to certain of the paperbacks of the 1950s and 1960s and the pace and punch of his novel certainly demonstrate that affection especially when all of Tony's sweaty plans begun to unravel. But the book is wholly Starr's and it's a sound, strong good one. So many writers try hard to replicate Jim Thompson by using similar material. Tony Russo's heart is as dark as any of Thomson's sociopaths but his environment and his style could not be more dissimilar. Lew Ford wouldn't know what to make of him.

Because of his social eye and because of his ambition to include the wider world in his work, Jason Starr is among my favorites of the neo-noir writers. Fake I.D. is a gem of treachery.


Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Short Story Wednesday "The Babysitter's Code" Laura Lippman from PLOTS WITH GUNS

I bought PLOTS WITH GUNS at the first Boucheron I attended in 2005 in Chicago. I went with Megan because it was just after her first book, DIE A LITTLE, came out and she knew no one in the mystery community. Of course, the convention would turn out to be the one where everyone's focus was on what was going on in New Orleans. 

Megan immediately made friends and I didn't see much of her after that. But I had fun wandering around the book stalls and going to panels and one of the things I did was go to an authors signing of PLOTS WITH GUNS.  "The Babysitter's Code" does feature a gun but it is not a crime story. It's the story of a teenage babysitter who enjoys dressing up in a glamorous mother's clothes and brandishing a gun. That is until the husband finds her. It's a sad little story but the writing is pure Lippman and delightful. I have read many of the stories over the years and although most of the writers are still around some have disappeared to my knowledge. 

Todd Mason

Kevin Tipple 


George Kelley 

Steve Lewis

Monday, December 13, 2021

Monday. Monday

Rochester Michigan at Christmas. It is lit up for blocks.

I lost my power again on Saturday and had to stay over night with a friend. This is the sixth time in the last nine months and further confirms that I need to move. So I will look in a few months. I will be farther away from some great friends, but hopefully I will make some new ones. Pragmatism must rule.

Listening to a lot of Johnny Greenway music since I heard his score for Power of the Dog, which is my pick for the best movie I saw this year. Although Passing was awfully close and there are quite a few I haven't seen. So weird that both of them were on Netflix. How things have changed.

Reading Heron Cry by Ann Cleeves, the second in a new series. Also essays by Ann Patchett. 

Tried the new Sex and the City show, which was pretty ridiculous. Still I cried when Big died. They've added a lot of characters that may be of darker skin but are still pretty homogeneous. Waiting to watch the last Succession tonight. What a piece there was in The New Yorker about Jeremy Strong. He is a bit bonkers. 

What about you?

Friday, December 10, 2021

FFB-Stephen Sondheim: A Life, Meryle Secrest

The good news: I do not have to have chemo. The bad new: I can't get in for radiation until sometime in January so California is pouf. Watch out, I may turn up on your doorstep if you live in a warm climate.

I am not quite done this but it's the only older book I have been reading. And it is terrific. Ms. Seceste wrote a book on Leonard Bernstein before this so she was primed for Stephen. 

Sondheim was born to rich parents who had little time for their son or each other. But his life took a big turn when his now divorced mother bought a house down the road from Oscar Hammerstein in Doylestown, PA. Sondheim was like a second son to the Hammersteins and wanted to be as much like his surrogate father as possible and certainly succeeded. He went to fine schools and colleges and by twenty-five was writing the lyrics for West Side Story. It was pretty much pure success after that. Yes, there were disappointments (Merrily We Roll Along) but even that has many lives after its original bust. People are now comparing him to Shakespeare as far as his impact on culture. His mentorship of singers, writers, composers is amazing. 

I have to admit I still don't understand why some of his songs are so beloved-I think I have a very conventional ear-but others like Send in the Clowns, I can see. You can see pretty much everything he has done on you tube. Especially great is his ninetieth birthday celebration. May we all die like Sondheim-going to two of your own works and having a great Thanksgiving dinner.

Thursday, December 09, 2021

I Scream, You Scream

This looks very similar to the refrigerator I grew up with. Notice the freezer section. There was room  for two ice cube trays and a package or two of meat. So there was never any ice cream on hand. During the school year, we went to store selling ice cream after church on Sunday. My father always tried (and for the rest of his life) to get butterscotch ice cream. If they tried to persuade him on butter pecan or rum raisin he usually refused it. I remember walking the length of the boardwalk in Ocean City, N.J. looking for butterscotch.

My mother went for butter almond (not butter pecan) which seems to have disappeared in the fifties.  My favorite was black raspberry. Only Jeff, my brother, varied but mostly he got vanilla fudge. So my parents were often frustrated by their substitutions as we stood outside (my father was obsessed with keeping the car clean) and licked our cones as quickly as we could. Nothing like being cold to make ice cream less desirable. This flipped in the summer when we stood outside in the heat after church, the ice cream sliding down the cone faster than we could lick. No one ever got in a cup. I am not sure why.

In the summer, three ice cream vendors came by: Mr. Softee, Jack and Jill and Good Humor. You never knew what order they would come in so waiting for your favorite could be a mistake. Jack and Jill had the plainest offerings, mostly popsicles and dixie cups. Mr. Softee was predictably soft serve ice cream. Good Humor was the best and the most expensive. There wasn't always money enough for the best or even any of them sometimes. But the waiting game was torturous when you were headed inside a row house at ten, with no air conditioning or even a fan for many years. 

It took me a long time to realize that actually I often didn't feel that great after eating ice cream. I had been raised on goat's milk and apparently no one thought ice cream might not be a good thing for someone who had trouble with cow's milk. 

When I met Phil (who always ordered vanilla!) there was a store next to his Dad's store that sold exotic flavors before other stores did.New Hope was a tourist town and this store was one of the reasons.

The line to buy ice cream from Gerenser's in New Hope, PA was a half an hour wait. They made their own ice cream and it was worth getting a stomach ache now and then. I remember taking my parents there and the delight on both of their faces when both butterscotch and butter almond were on the menu.  Those were ordinary flavors to a store that offered Princeton Tiger Tail, Cherries for George, African Violet and Ukranian Rose Petal. 

Oh for those simple pleasures. 

What is your favorite ice cream and did you have a place you always went?

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: THE SWIMMER, John Cheever


After watching the film, THE SWIMMER, a few days ago. I decided to go back and reread the short story. The film was made by Frank Perry in 1968 from a script by his wife who often worked with him in film projects. The movie starred Burt Lancaster in a stunning performance. 

THE SWIMMER is a very surreal story and it is amazing to me that the film captured that so well. Ned is a man in his late fifties who decides to traverse the eight miles to his home through suburban swimming pools. All of the pools (almost) belong to his country club set friends. In the movie, he has conversations with a lot of them, but the book only includes a few. As he moves through the country side, the season starts to change and so too how he is greeted by these friends. It is clear he has fallen from grace, from affluence, but I don't want to tell you too much because it will detract from your enjoyment or at least appreciation of the story. 

If anything the story spells things out a little more than the movie. In the movie, Lancaster spends the entire 100 minutes in a swim suit. He uses his body to show you the passage of time. Is this a ghost story? Are the pools actually passages of time? You tell me.

This would be on my list of the greatest stories of the 20th century along with "A Good Man is Hard to Find," and "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been" and "The Lottery" to name a few. Cheever was a master at tone, description, character. He is knocked about writing only about the upper classes but what do you do when that's the world you know. And he is certainly critical of that group in this story. 

Jerry House

Kevin Tipple

George Kelley 

Monday, December 06, 2021

Monday, Monday


Lots of good stuff to watch, read, listen to. Listening to a new podcast called Dead Eyes about an actor who lost his job in Band of Brothers because Tom Hanks claimed he had dead eyes. Of course, he goes on to recount other stories like his. Been watching and listening to a lot of stuff about Sondheim. I have to admit that I don't quite have an ear for him even after a lot of listening this week. 

Love Ann Patchett's essays in this new collection, These Precious Days

If you have never seen The Swimmer, based on a Cheever's short story and made in 1968 by Frank Perry, it is one of the most unusual films I have seen. (this was my second viewing) Starts out sad and gets sadder, but Lancaster is brilliant.  

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is also an unusual film. Directors from that era seemed to feel freer to take their time and try out different sorts of shots. Jodie Foster just rips up the screen in her few scenes. A great loss that she no longer acts. And Ellen Burstyn, who got an an Oscar for this, is terrific.

Line of Duty is starting to bother me. You almost need to sit there with a list of police acronyms in your hand to follow the plot. I appreciate verisimilitude but they take it to a fault. Like The Long Call, another police story but the main guy comes from a religious cult background. And is gay. Found the exploration of the man this created interesting. 

First visit with the oncologist today. Wish me luck. I can only take so much more of this. The New Yorker has dubbed 2021 as Purgatory. I haven't managed to make my way out of hell. 

What about you.

Your favorite serial killer. Women crime writers weigh in.

Friday, December 03, 2021


From the archives: Randy Johnson

FFB: Black Is The Color – John Brunner

Brunner was an early find, third I believe, behind Heinlein and Norton. The early stuff was mostly from the Ace Doubles. Black Is The Color is a little bit different. From 1969, part spy novel, it has a plot line that would fit into things happening today.

Mark Hanwell, a disillusioned young man returns home to London after six months in Spain where he’d met and worked for The Big Famous Writer he only ever refers to as Hairy Harry. It didn’t take long for him to realize his hero had feet of clay, making the bulk of his money selling pornography and weed. In fact, the last four pieces of writing under his name had been written by Mark.

Home, he goes looking for a woman who’d sent him a few letters early on, then stopped. A singer, he traced the bank d she’d been with falling into as different a world as he’d ever run into.

Sadism was part of it, voodoo, a plan to start a race war in England, Mark finds his work and the man she’d taken up with, a South Africaner.

I’d never heard of this book before I came across it. Good stuff


Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Short Story Wednesday



Richard Robinson

First Wednesday Book Review: Oh, William, Elizabeth Strout

 Elizabeth Strout is probably my favorite writer and Oh, William is a continuation of the story she began in MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON. I love her unadorned, plain-speaking writing style, I like her characters and find them completely credible, I love her affection for even the worst of them. Lucy Barton is introduced as a patient in a hospital after an operation went bad. She spends a month there ruminating on her life and especially on her horrific childhood. Her mother visits her-something unexpected because of the way she treated Lucy as a child. But William calls her in because it is hard for him to visit with a job and two children to care for.

Oh William picks the story up later. Lucy is now a successful novelist with two grown daughters and has just lost her second husband, who she adored. William was her first husband and she is thrown together with him when he finds out he has a stepsister he never knew existed and needs help coping with it. Lucy takes the journey with him despite herself. 

I am now reading the third story about this family (although written before Oh, William) and it is terrific too.Is anything nicer than being in the hands of a writer you love?

For more First Wednesday reviews, visit Barrie Summy. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

A Little Good News

My pathology report finally came back and there is no cancer in any of the lymph nodes they checked and the margins are clear. So hopefully three weeks of radiation once my surgical wounds have healed and then one of the estrogen fighting drugs. I am still hoping to go to California mid-January but it will be tight. I go to the surgeon today to see how healed I am.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Monday, Monday

 Imagine celebrating Thanksgiving in a week where you also saw two productions of your plays and then dying at age 91. (Maybe Jeff was at the same performance). What a blessing. 

Sondheim has always been a bit of a struggle. I think music in general is a weakness for me. So although I can admire his versatility with lyrics/words I still yearn (too much) for a tune to hum. I watched Sweeney Todd for the first time last night and was astonished at how dark it was. How Sweeney never got to redeem himself, right to the end. Is there a darker story? I downloaded a biography of him (by Meryle Secrest) and am determined to get him more. He actually lived in the same town as Phil for a while.

Reading ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE by Elizabeth Strout. Just can't seem to get enough of her. 

Watched KING RICHARD, which I liked more than I expected to. What a strange and interesting man.

Listening to DEAD EYES, a podcast about an actor who was fired from a Tom Hanks miniseries because Hanks claimed he had dead eyes. This is is exploration of that comment. I listen to podcasts a lot. Mostly ones about books, movies, TV. I have given up on all the political ones. 

A nice Thanksgiving, playing games and laughing although I ran out of steam. Apparently that surgery a week ago takes longer to recover from than I expected. 

What about you? Tired of turkey?

Monday, November 22, 2021

Monday, Monday

Not too much to say here. Watching a show called THE GULF on Acorn and also watched Tic Tic Boom on Netflix. Boy, no one writes many memorable tunes anymore. The music largely seems to advance the plot and it is not something anyone will ever hum as they leave the theater (or sofa).
Still Andrew Garfield was good in the role. Enjoying the TCM podcast on Desi and Lucy. Hoping you have more to say than me.

 My DIL and father.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Give thanks!

 Everything went fine!

Monday, November 15, 2021

Monday Monday

I have been in a lockdown in preparation for getting a Covid test today. If I test positive, everything will be delayed and I have a terrible fear of what happened to Jeff Meyerson last year happening to me. I know I don't have Covid, but what if the test gets mixed up. I have to take it at a hospital and I dread walking through one in Michigan right now. What an insane country we live in and I would move to Canada in a minute if they would let me in. 

Anyway, lots of TV since I can only read 2-3 hours a day and walk for one.  I absolutely loved OH WILLIAM by Elizabeth Strout. I am now rereading some of her earlier work that shares characters with this one (MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON). Ready to begin the new Gary Shytengart book next.

Netflix's PASSING has to be the best movie I have seen this year. Hard to believe it is Rebecca Hall's first directing job. I admired the novel (Nella Larson, 1929) and was worried it wouldn't work as a film, but it is entirely faithful to the book, gorgeously filmed, incredibly acted and the music is sublime. Can't recommend it highly enough.

On a much lighter note, I am also enjoying JOE PERA TALKS WITH YOU, (HBO MAX), LOVE LIFE (HBO MAX) and SOUTH SIDE (HBO MAX). Waiting for the last episodes of DALGLIESH and then I may cancel Acorn because I can't find much else I haven't seen on there. Maybe Brit Box is better. Also enjoying DOCTOR BRAIN on Apple but waiting a week for each new episode to drop is trying my memory. 

Megan has been long listed for the Joyce Carol Oates Literary Prize along with about 35 other writers. 

This will be a difficult week so I probably won't be here again until my procedure is over.  Stay safe and well.

What are you up to?