Friday, April 30, 2021


Here is Ron Scheer reviewing Ed Gorman in 2014. R.I.P. buddies.  

Ed Gorman, Riders on the Storm

Ed Gorman’s new Sam McCain mystery is set in 1971 and reflects some of the civil turbulence of those Vietnam years as they wash over a small Iowa town. 

Plot. A hawkish Senator is trying to ride a waning tide of patriotic enthusiasm to keep himself in office. But his handpicked candidate for a Congressional seat gets murdered after an altercation with a fellow veteran who has made public his opposition to the war.

That John Kerry-sympathizing vet is quickly suspected of the crime by the new sheriff, and the man’s best friend, McCain, has an uphill battle finding evidence of his innocence.  

Time and tide. Gorman remembers the early 70s well (Janis Joplin is heard on the radio at one point singing “Me and Bobby McGee”). The novel is aptly named for the mournful Doors song, “Riders On the Storm,” which recalls the darkly violent and divided mood of a time marked by the growing national ambivalence about Vietnam. He is also a sharp observer of small-town politics and social distinctions.

The portrayal of women in the novel does much to fix its particular point in social history. Whether wives, lovers, or others, they are mostly untouched by the feminist creeds that came to dominate public discourse about gender roles in the years that followed. Gorman shows them as attractive and sexy, reliant on the men in their lives, homemakers and loving mothers of small children.

Ed Gorman
Two, however, emerge as professional women, one of them McCain’s own girl Friday, bracingly independent and unapologetically resourceful. Another seems able to blend marriage and career, though we don’t learn quite everything a candid review would reveal about her until well after she gets involved in McCain’s attempts to rescue his falsely accused friend.

While Gorman does not necessarily endorse it, there is much of the 1970s indulgence in extramarital sex, booze, and other pastimes that had a generation smugly confident in themselves because they were under 30. But you can feel the earth shifting under McCain’s feet as the 1960s recede into the hazy distance behind him.

Wrapping up. This is an enjoyable novel that has as much fun capturing the time and place of its setting as puzzling over the clues pointing to the solution of the mystery it poses. Whether westerns or crime fiction, you know you’re in good hands with Ed Gorman. I recommend this one.

Riders on the Storm is currently available in print and ebook formats at amazon and Barnes&Noble.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "The Housebreaker of Shady Hill" John Cheever

This is one of John Cheever's most well-known short stories and you can find it online in the New Yorker archives. There a ton of discussion about it as well as Ph.D dissertations that consider it. It offers a critique of the new suburbia that was going on at the time. 

It begins when a young man, working his way up in the plastic industry, is sent to fire a man well above him in the pecking order. What he sees at the man's apartment embarrasses the man who manages to pull himself together and then fires Johnny as a witness to his disgrace. Johnny is very given to feeling sorry for himself, is estranged from his mother, and somewhat at odds with most everyone. Now struggling to keep up his life-style, he robs his next door neighbor of his wallet. He does this at night while they are sleeping in the same room as the wallet.  

Johnny thinks a lot about money, about his privileged childhood, about the unfairness of what's happened to him. When his birthday comes and his children give  him a ladder, he immediately ties it into his being a second-story man although of course, the kids don't know about that. His poor behavior sparks a fight with his wife. The story ends with his returning the money and almost getting caught by a police car. 

Now there is a lot more to it than this but so much of it is interior thoughts it is hard to sum up. Some of it is amusing and some of it is pathetic. It is both a defense and a critique of the banlieue. Cheever is a master of the literary short story.

"Shady Hill, as I say a banlieue, and open to criticism by city planners, adventurers and lyric poets, but if you work in the city and have children to raise, I can't think of a better place."

Banlieue is the French word for suburb. 

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House   


George Kelley

Richard Robinson 

Matt Paust 

Monday, April 26, 2021

Still Here


I saw JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH and SOUL to finish off my Oscar viewings. I liked JUDAS more than I expected because the two lead performances were so strong. And I liked SOUL about as much as I expected given my reaction to Pixar's need to turn everything (IN AND OUT and UP) into a philosophy classroom. But the music and animation were great.
I have had good luck with ordering things online over the last year, but this week when I strayed from Amazon, Costco let me down by delivering the wrong thing and making me go to the store to return it. Which means I have to get a friend to drive me there, wait while I stand in the return line, drive me home. Costco got my last online order. 
Read Sigrid Nunez book that I liked but not as much as THE FRIEND.

MARE OF EASTTOWN looks promising. 
I tried to watch CONDOR and saw two episodes but then PRIME told me I had to subscribe to EPIX to get the rest. Well, guess what. I get EPIX with my cable package but episodes 3-5 are no longer there. 
So I guess that's the end of CONDOR. 
Rewatched CROUPIER and SHOOT THE MOON this week. Both were great, but Bob Seger's STILL THE SAME has been in my head since I watched STM. 
Weather has been mostly cold and rainy. Expecting a break this week. Oh, the weeds, the weeds.
What about you?

Friday, April 23, 2021

FFB-Joe Bonney Series by Jack Livingstone


Jack Livingstone wrote four (to my knowledge) books about his deaf detective, Joe Binney, which I quite enjoyed in the 1980s. The series was brought to mind after seeing THE SOUND OF METAL, about a musician going deaf. A deaf musician is certainly a more serious handicap than in a detective but Joe had to work around his deafness too. He was not born deaf but acquired it in the Korean War. Anyone else read him?

1982: A Piece of the Silence

1984-Die Again, Macready

1986-The Nightmare File

1987 Hellbent for Homicide (also known ad Hellbent for Election)

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Two Years Ago Tomorrow


April 23, 2019

Two years gone

and you missed the world mutate

how strange to imagine you

out on the road among the masked

trying to parse

what can't be understood

weaving through contesting slogans

inked during curfews

washed out by moonlight

seeing men scale hallowed edifices

unchecked and merciless

defiling doctrines once sacred

Two years and the world you knew

is more gone than you.


A William Maxwell short story

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "My Father's Friends" from ALL THE DAYS AND NIGHTS, William Maxwell

William Maxwell wrote one of my favorite novels, TIME WILL DARKEN IT, but despite having his collected stories I have read none till now. He has divided the book into traditional short stories and something he calls improvisations. This is what he says about the improvisations. "I wrote them to please my wife. When we were first married, I would tell her a story in the dark. I had no idea where they came from. Sometimes I fell asleep and she would shake me and say, "What happened next?" I would struggle through the layers of oblivion and tell her." 

That is perhaps my favorite story of all. How nice to make up stories for your wife.

"My Father's Friends" is about a visit made by a man after his father's death to two friends who were not well enough to attend the funeral . The first friend was man his father fished with and our protagonist finds much in common with this friend and they become friends. The second man golfed with his father and he is a harder man to like. He is critical of the man's now dead father, claiming he liked women too much. The story ends with an aunt telling our protagonist that as the second friend's wife lay dying she told him he was the dearest husband any wife ever had. So this statement helps the man to find goodness in the friend. The story is very well written but more a memory perhaps than a story. I will have to read more of them. 

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 


Richard Robinson 

George Kelley 

Matt Paust 

Todd Mason

Monday, April 19, 2021

Still Here

In Michigan the virus is bad enough now that two-year olds are supposed to wear masks. I think that this is going to put them in a therapist chair twenty five years from now, but what can we do? If only their fathers would get their shots or wear their masks. Only 40% of men are getting shots compared to 60% of women. Now part of this is because the early shots went to school teachers and health care workers who are mostly women. But still. Then I read an article in SLATE that basically said wearing a mask outside (unless the street is very crowded) in  pretty unnecessary. Who knows and it seems like the medical profession has no idea either. 

Watching THE ACCIDENT on Hulu, which is pretty scary. Also scary is the Swedish doc series on HBO, PRAY, OBEY, KILL. Until COVID I never knew how many cults there were in the world. Why are so many documentarians attracted to cults?

And the scariest of all was QUO VADIS, AIDA on Hulu, a nominee for best foreign film. It's about the slaughter by the Bosnian Serbs of the people of Srebreneca in 1995. Mankind is just hard to like most of the time. 

Still really enjoying the Mike Nichols biography. I have two books to pick up at the library because the six hundred unread books on my shelves never seem to get read. It's sort of like when I was a teenager and always liked the boy I wasn't dating. What does get read is my bookclub books though. We discuss BUDDHA IN THE ATTIC, Tuesday night. Next comes THE OVERSTORY.

Got to see Megan interview Willie Vlautin this week. Most of these interviews end up on you tube a few days later so if you are interesting in any author on a virtual book tour you can catch him/her that way. I think these interviews work very well, better than seeing the author just talk about their book at a bookstore. Megan, a big Vlautin fan, knew the book so well, it was like a college class. A lot of writers are not particularly good at just giving a book talk but by having another author interview them and discuss the book, it really becomes vivid. 

Now play readings I have been watching are less successful in many cases. Most plays need movement and some costume changes and scenery to succeed. Also some actors are much better than others at not seeming to read the script. 

Enough about me, what about you?

Thursday, April 15, 2021


Sorry this one is up a day early.

THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak was chosen by my book group as their April selection. (In 2009)

When I learned it was a YA book, I groaned.
When I learned it was about the Second World War in Germany, I groaned again.
Then I found out it was about a ten-year old girl orphaned and sent to live with a foster family. Jeez, I thought. Can't we ever read a happy book?

THE BOOK THIEF was not a happy book. But it was a highly original book-much more so than most adult novels I read. I don't even understand why someone classified it as YA. Is every book with a YA hero classified as YA? But this is a book teachers might choose for teens. I think my grandson read it in seventh grade.

The narrator in THE BOOK THIEF is Death and he tells the story from the standpoint of someone overwhelmed with his mission during the war. Death has his hands full.

But THE BOOK THIEF is even more the story of a young girl who loses her family and is sent to live with a foster family in a small German town. She can't read at first but values books greatly and collects them in whatever way she can. Her foster father reads to her every night from the improbable books she finds or steals. The family is kind, both to her and to a Jewish man fleeing the Nazis who is hiding in their basement.

This book certainly humanizes the German people. We watch them starve, freeze and die. Certainly its portrait of Nazis is acute. But with THE READER and this book, the trend is now to understand the Germans were victims of Hitler and fascism too. Maybe it is time to think about this.

It's really hard to do that though, knowing the smell of gassed bodies was mere miles away. Still, THE BOOK THIEF is a book worth reading.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Jean Thompson's "The Widower" from her collection Who Do You Love?

This was s National Book Award Finalist in 1999. It's not hard to understand why. Thompson writes gorgeous short stories. She has several other collections as well as a few novels.

A young couple is looking for their first house. A contender, at their price  point, is the home of a widower. Unlike most homeowners, he hangs around as they look through the house, both pointing out its good features but calling attention to others. A doctor, he has recently lost his wife. Over the course of the story, he will give husband man three stories of how his wife died. They vary especially in his feelings toward the event. Was it a long happy marriage or was he glad to be rid of her? 

A heart attack drops the price of the house and the couple buy it. The widower still stops by to see what improvements they are making. The wife is tolerant of this but the husband finds it irking--perhaps because it makes him doubt their ability to have a long and happy marriage. Great story. Great writer.

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 

Richard Robinson 

George Kelley 

Todd Mason 

Matt Paust

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Willie Vlautin's Virtual Book Tour


Willie Vlautin's virtual book tour for The Night Always Comes lands at City Lights Bookstore in S.F. tomorrow and Megan will be interviewing him. Here is the link. It is free but you have to register.

You can also catch him at other book stores.

Once registered you will get information on how to link up. These links usually work well. 

I read the book a few months ago and enjoyed it as I have all of his books. One of the few writers who writes about everyday people. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Still Here

 Reading LUSTER, which has to have some of the best reviews of a debut novel I have ever seen. It is the story of a young Black woman who gets drawn into a white family who've adopted a Black child. The writing is extremely sharp, you feel like every word has been honed--perhaps too much at times. But I certainly am in awe of such a prodigy. On her cover picture, she looks about 25. It is not my kind of book exactly. Do you feel like you have a particular kind of book that is likely to speak to you? Maybe she is just too young but Rebecca was very young and that books speaks to me. Maybe she is too much of this time and place. I am not sure but although I certainly admire Leilani's use of the language and her complex thoughts, it is not a book that draws me in. 

Enjoying Happy Hour, a five-hour Japanese movie on Kanopy. They have broken it into three parts and it concerns four 37 year old women in Japan in 2015.I get Kanopy through my library as well as Hoopla.

Finish Shtisel, which I really enjoyed and they were kind enough to provide some happy endings. Also watched This is a Robbery, a 4-part doc on Netflix about the robbery of the Isabel Gardner Museum in the nineties. Somewhat overly long. Three parts probably would have been better. Also the magnificent Ken Burns doc on Ernest Hemingway.

Also plugging away at the Mike Nichols bio, which is very well done. 

We celebrated Josh's birthday this weekend. Nice to be together without masks since we all have had our shots. Interesting learning how gym was conducted in Kevin's virtual school. Virtual gym turns out to be his Mom filming him doing various things like sit-ups and playing catch. How much this generation is losing with this pandemic going on and on. Half of Michigan has just given up on any sort of social distancing. And you can guess who they voted for. 

How about you?

Friday, April 09, 2021

Classic Faces

Kevin at 3, classic look at what I can do with clay.

Kevin at 14, classic teenage exasperation.



(From the archives)

Ed Gorman: Loser Takes All, Graham Greene

I mean no disrespect when I say that I imagine Graham Greene conceived of Loser Takes All (one of his self-described "entertainments") as a film before he decided to write it as a short novella. It's big and colorful and hangs on two cunning twists that neatly divide the piece into curtain act one and curtain act two.

The story concerns the honeymoon of Mr. Bertram and his bethrothed, Cary. They are planning to go on a modest short vacation when fate, in the the person of Dreuther, an incalculably rich man for whom Bertram is a lowly assistant accountant, intervenes. Bertram solves an accounting problem that nobody else in the incalculably vast corporation can figure out so Dreuther rewards him with the promise of a honeymoon on his yacht and nights of glamor in the casinos of Monte Carlo... Cary is thrilled.

Well, they go to Monte Carlo but soon learn that Dreuther has forgotten his promise. They are left to make do with their pitiful finances. They can't even pay their bills. Then Bertram, a math whiz, goes to a casino and tries out his own system for winning. And even more than that he begins to see how he can bring down Dreuther...

The rich men of the Fifties are perfect matches for the Wall Streeters of today. Their greed and lust is literally without bounds. Greene creates four distinctive scenes of black comedy when dealing with them. But even more, at the point when Cary sees her new husband change because of his winnings, Greene begins to examine the morality of greed. He also, in the midst of the action, gives us a painful subplot about adultery.

I was re-reading William Goldman's Adventure's In The Screen Trade the other day and found this salute that I'd forgotten: "I think Graham Greene was the greatest novelist in English this century."

If you read Loser Takes All, you'll begin to see what Goldman was talking about.


Wednesday, April 07, 2021

First Wednesday Book Review: REMAINS OF THE DAY Kazua Ishiguro

I read this book when it debuted in 1989 and I also saw the wonderful movie with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson on its release, but I decided to listen to it again on audio. The wonderful Simon Prebble read it and sounded so much like Anthony Hopkins I had to check and recheck. After reading this book in '89 I read NEVER LET ME GO in the early nineties, which is my very favorite of Ishiguro's books and one of my favorite books of all time. His new book KLARA AND THE SUN also sounds wonderful and I may have to buy it right now.

REMAINS OF THE DAY is the story of a butler, one that heads a very large staff for a very prominent English gentleman. He takes his position so seriously that he allows his father to die in an upstairs room alone while he handles an important affair for his employer. Although Stephens seems like a highly intelligent man, he gets most everything wrong in this story. He puts so much faith in his employer that he believes following the lead of Germany in the 20s and 30s is the right step. He fires housemaids because they are Jewish, he allows a possible romance with the housekeeper to go off course. In fact, he often treats her dismissively. And most of all, he doesn't understand that he is not irreplaceable, that he is just a small cog in a wheel that he can never have a hand in turning. The most superficial tasks in running a house become his entire world. And so he misses what he might have had and instead supports a Nazi supporter for the duration. He has constructed his life around performing tasks at the highest level. This gives  him far more pleasure than it should.

This is an unusual book for a young man to have written because it is filled with tips about the life and duties of a butler. You feel sorry for what Stephens has lost but understand that his father, a butler before him, has made the man. But you also despise often his behavior and pomposity. A very complex character.

Highly recommended. 

For more First Wednesday reviews, see Barrie Summy.

Short Story Wednesday: "Snuff" from the 2014 The Best American Mystery Stories ed. by Laura Lippman

 Jodi Angel "Snuff"

 Every once in a while you get a story where the detail is so specific and so well rendered that you feel you are with the characters. In this story a brother calls his sister to give him a ride home. He has been watching a snuff film that he is way too young to have seen. (No one should have seen this one). Begrudgingly she comes to get him, questioning what he is doing way out in the country. On the way home, they hit a deer. They stop the car, not knowing at first what they hit. The deer is already dying but when the sister puts her hand on the animal, she feels something moving around inside. The two try to save the baby but, of course, fail. 

Now this isn't much of a plot, but what makes it really work is how well the writer describes everything they see and do. You not only feel that the author must have experienced this, but you wonder how she was able to take in the details so exactingly. The details of what the night was like, what the road was like, what the car was like, the things they did to try and save the baby. And, of course, that snuff film plays with the brother's emotions as he watches his sister fail.  Excellent. 

Jerry House

Tracy K 

George Kelley

Monday, April 05, 2021

Still Here

 Criterion is running a Dirk Bogarde festival this month and CAST A DARK SHADOW was an eerie start. Ever seen it? Bogarde plays a man who marries and then kills his elderly wife for her money. But none too smart, he misunderstands the terms of her will. A somewhat surprising story line and Bogarde's dark acting made it work. It looks like the other films are just as dark. 

Megan got her first shot and is coming out right after her second. It will have been a year and a half since I saw her. Only for two days, but I will take what I can get gladly. Not too long ago we were figuring it would be July so May looks pretty good.

I saw my first Jerry Lewis film--in maybe ever--this week.It was as goofy as I imagined but it has a kind of charm. Lots of singing. Lots of totally improbably sequences. 

As I am reading the Mike Nichols bio, I watched CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, which held up well. I saw it last in the theater at age 21 and was pretty mystified by it. Still am a bit. The bio is very good btw.

Watching Shtisel on Netflix, which is a good palate cleanser to Carnal Knowledge and the Bogarde movie.

Finally finished the first three seasons of The Handmaid's Tale, which was well done indeed although horrifying most of the time. Elizabeth Moss is such a terrific actress.

So what's new with you?

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Friday, April 02, 2021


(from the archives)


COMPULSION by Meyer Levin

(Review by Deb)

Meyer Levin's COMPULSION is a lightly-fictionalized account of the sensational Leopold and Loeb murder case that gripped the nation in the mid-1920s.  Meyer's fictionalization (published in 1956) is very light indeed, with much of the dialog being taken verbatim from transcripts of police records and court testimony.  Even so, the novel is more than just a retelling of a senseless and horrific crime, it is a perceptive study of what the French call a folie-a-deux, wherein two people who are utterly toxic for each other are none-the-less hopelessly attracted to each other and, in the thrall of that attraction, commit acts that neither would necessarily have done without the dark-mirror image of the other goading them on.

In Levin's book, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb become Judd Steiner and Artie Strauss, neighbors in Chicago's wealthy and close-knit German-Jewish community. (There's a small but telling detail when Judd informs his aunt that he's going out with a girl named Ruth Goldenberg and his aunt sighs, "Oh, Russian-Jewish I suppose.")  Both men were child prodigies who had graduated from university by the time they were 18 years old.  As the book begins, both of them are still in their teens (as is Sid Silver, a newspaperman who narrates part of the book and plays a pivotal role in uncovering some of the evidence).  Adopting the guise of Nietzschean "supermen" who do not need to follow the laws applicable to average beings, Steiner and Strauss plan the "perfect murder."  They eventually kidnap a randomly-selected neighborhood boy on his way home from school.  They kill the boy, pour acid on the corpse, hide the body in a drainage ditch, and then put into motion an elaborate red-herring of a kidnapping-ransom plot.

This perfect murder rapidly unravels, starting with the victim's body being quickly discovered and identified.  Then damning evidence stacks up against the men:  Steiner's glasses--traced to him by their unique hinge mechanism--are found beside the victim, there is blood on the back seat of a car the men have rented, papers typed on Steiner's discarded typewriter match the typing on the bogus ransom notes, and Strauss's attempts to inject himself into the investigation (in order to discover how much the press and police actually know) backfire spectacularly.  Their alibis in shreds, the men confess to the crime, each blaming the other for striking the fatal blow (although, as Sid Silver points out, in that regard, one of them had to be telling the truth).

Considering that the book was written in the 1950s about a crime in the 1920s, one aspect that I found surprising (and rather refreshing) was its refusal to take the "easy" way out and blame the men's actions on the fact that they were closeted lovers, although society at the time certainly did, blaming all manner of depraved behavior on homosexuality.  However, narrator Sid Silver is puzzled by how much stress the authorities place on the men's relationship and asks of it, "In all the history of human behaviour, of the sick and ugly and distorted and careless and sportive and mistaken things that humans did, was this so much more?" 

In fact, Levin does not present the men as sexually "set," but rather most likely bisexual, with Judd being more interested in dominance and submission rather than the gender of his partner, and Artie using his good looks, affable facade, and charisma to attract both men and women.  I was also surprised at the frankness of the book, given the time it was written--Judd's dark fantasies, especially involving rape, are quite explicit.  Levin's book makes us feel if not sympathy then at least some understanding, particularly for the intense and brooding Judd whose infatuation with the manipulative and self-centered Artie is as inexplicable as its dreadful outcome is inevitable.

But I've only covered the first half of the book.  The second half, which centers on the mens' trial, is interesting, although it drags in places due to pages of legal arguments and long-winded explanations of Freudian psychology with which we are now completely familiar.  In order to avoid a jury trial and a sure death penalty, Steiner and Strauss plead guilty in the hopes that arguing before a judge might result in a life, rather than a death, sentence.  Aging lawyer Jonathan Wilk (a fictionalized Clarence Darrow) mounts a brilliant legal defense at their sentencing hearing that saves the men from execution, although they both receive sentences of “Life plus 99 years.”  And, other than a brief coda, there the book abruptly ends, with Steiner and Straus entering prison and fading from public memory. 

But this abruptness works in the book's favor by indicating that there will be other events and other atrocities that will come to overshadow the "crime of the century."  First of all, the rise of "some gangster named Al Capone" (as he is described in an offhand remark by one of Sid's colleagues about a gangland shooting) and the associated violence of Prohibition.  And then the actual "crime of the century"--the Nazi atrocities of World War II and everything the world was to learn about the "Superman" ideal and where it leads.

Meyer Levin wrote this book in part to assist Nathan Leopold in his attempt to be granted parole, which finally happened in 1958. Leopold moved to Puerto Rico, married, worked as an x-ray technician, and died in 1971.  Richard Loeb was not so fortunate: In 1936, he was stabbed multiple times by a fellow inmate who claimed Loeb had made sexual advances toward him.  Although the story was easily discounted, especially since Loeb was covered with defensive wounds and the inmate who killed him was unscathed, no charges were ever filed in his death.