Friday, October 29, 2021



Not exactly a forgotten book since C.J. Box's BLUE HEAVEN won the Edgar in 2009. But I have been meaning to read it and since I did, here is my review. This is a masterful book that manages to tell a fairly complex story in a completely lucid way. There is no fat in the story. It takes place over 48 hours and you can feel those hours ticking by at breakneck speed.
Two kids in northern Idaho watch the murder of a man, see that they've been spotted, and are immediately on the run. They are lucky enough to find the barn of Jess Rawlins, a rancher who is one of the few good men left in his neck of the woods. He is also a hard-luck guy who has lost almost everything. But Jess must hide the kids, figure out if their story is true, and determine just who the murderers are and why. Can he trust that what they think they saw really happened. And is it fair to keep the kids away from their worrying mother.
Blue Heaven is a term for the part of northern Idaho that is now a haven for ex-policeman. And some of those ex-policemen have taken over Jess's town for their own purposes. The is an exciting read and a nice introduction to this part of the country. Not a false step in the story and Box creates great villains and great heroes. Not an easy thing to do

( From the archives)

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

A Halloween Story: The Angel Deeb, published in Deadly Treats in 2011



                                  The Angel Deeb

                                   Patricia Abbott

         “Mr. Deeb?”

A middle-aged Asian woman stood in the doorway, looking around. She’d no reason to know who a Mr. Deeb was in midst of the crowded room, but spotted me immediately. I was the only white man in a threadbare clinic in the depths of Detroit. I rose, following her into one of the cubicles.

“What brings you to see the doctor today?” she asked, motioning to the examining table. I looked at it warily; things were getting too real. Me, sitting on that paper sheeting, hearing the telltale crinkle beneath my sweating thighs after weeks of putting it off.

            I cleared my throat, debating whether to tell her the truth. The facts were so ridiculous that I decided to be vague. “I’m having some problems with my back.”

 I was mumbling and she leaned in to hear me. “Lower?” she asked, jotting something on her clipboard.

            I pointed to the spot. Both spots to be precise.

            She looked at me over the top of her glasses. “When you say problems, do you mean you’re experiencing pain? Do you have difficulty in raising your arms, for instance?”

We looked each other in the eye.

“A bit.” There was some tenderness in the area, but that was the least of it.

She waited for me to continue, but when I didn’t, said, “Would you please take off everything above the waist, Mr. Deeb?” She handed me a gown, took my temperature, checked my blood pressure and pulse. “The doctor will be with you in a minute.”

The door closed behind her, and after hopping off the table, I began to read the cautionary literature covering the walls. Thirty-five minutes later, an Indian doctor, roughly half my size and weight, entered the cubicle.

“Mr. Deeb?” he said, holding out a delicate hand. I shook it.

He promptly washed his hands, glanced at the clipboard, and said, “Sorry for the wait. Back pain, yes?”

I swallowed, nodding. “Probably see it all the time. Right?”

I was badly in need of some reassurance after the literature I’d just read. It was hard to believe anyone got out of here without a grim diagnosis.

“Yes, back pain’s a common complaint. Can you tell me more about your particular problem?”

I don’t know why I was so reluctant to tell him. Was it fear of a dire diagnosis or embarrassment at my particular problem’s oddity? For several weeks, I’d noticed a growth on both sides of my upper back. Felt it more than saw it, of course, because it was in one of those places that’s hard to spot for the affected person. No matter how I positioned myself and my mirrors, it mostly eluded me, taunting me almost.

“I seem to have some sort of… enlargement.” The word growth seemed laden with implications I didn’t want to introduce into our conversation. “See?” I flexed my shoulders and what were actually “enlargements” appeared.

The doctor’s face grew pensive as he began to examine my back. After a minute or two, he straightened up. “It’s called a winged scapula. Or, in your case, scapulas. Your shoulder blades are pushing out. Have you always had them? It’s often congenital.”

 “Noticed it for the first time a few weeks ago.”

 In fact, I’d turned over in bed one night and rocked on one of the little nubs. Twisting left, I quickly found the other one. I was a virtual rocking chair.

“Did you hurt yourself on the job recently?”

I shook my head.

“Play sports?”


The doctor sat down on his wheeled stool, planting his heels on the floor to steady himself. “Well, you must have done something. Your thoracic nerves are damaged. Someone slam you into a wall?” I shrugged and he sighed. “What do you do for a living, Mr. Deeb?”

That was a question I didn’t want to answer—maybe the real reason I’d put off coming here. Telling a doctor you’re a pickpocket doesn’t earn anyone’s respect. I’d never been asked about my occupation by a doctor before, but I had my share of queries from other sources and remembered the look on their faces. I was a thief, a petty criminal, a small-time crook. None of these terms garner admiration.

“I’m unemployed at the moment.”

Not so unusual in Detroit in 2010.

“I used to load trucks,” I added, suddenly inspired. I loaded trucks for the Free Press in the nineties. It was the best, if not only, legitimate job I ever had.

The doctor smiled, pleased to have an explanation to hang my winged scapulas on. “If you heaved weighty merchandise up, you may have done some damage. Odd that it didn’t develop before now, but still….I’ll give you some literature on your condition along with a set of strengthening exercises. Let’s give it three months to see if things have improved. Of course, call the office if the condition deteriorates.”

The word deteriorate hung in the air like a bat in flight.

He had me push against a wall, flex various muscles, raise my arms. He took several photos, even pulling a video camera out of a filing cabinet. “First time I’ve seen wings on both scapulas,” he muttered, mostly to himself.

The nurse showed me out, giving me several leaflets with exercises to do. I made another appointment, paid my bill, and left.

I read the literature thoroughly and began the recommended exercises. Thinking back on it, my natural ambidexterity was probably why it was a two-sided condition. And I decided it was reaching rather than throwing or lifting that had brought about the condition. I’d reached a lot over the last ten years: primarily into pockets or to grab purses dangling from shoulders or hands.  I’d reached my hands across aisles and through windows on cars, buses, subways, trains. Lots of times, well, most of it, the object I was reaching for was on the move: a man or woman walking down the street, occasionally someone on a bike. Once or twice, a car took off before I extract my hand. Grabbing a purse, for instance, was rife with problems if it didn’t easily detach. My long arms, which had served me well, turned out to be weakly ligatured.

I decided to stop reaching for things as much as possible, but I only had so many ways to make a living. I contented myself with mailboxes, the ones people install by the road. Problem was, often some wing nut would swing around the corner just as I stuck my hand into one—or the front door would open despite the bogus mail carrier’s uniform I wore. I began to wonder if I was losing my touch. My hearing wasn’t good enough now to pick up a car’s motor before it closed in on me. My intuition also seemed to be faltering. I was the beneficiary of a declining skill-set in every way at forty-four years of age.

Despite doing the exercises, regardless of getting more rest and modifying my behavior, the wings continued to grow—alarmingly. It became difficult to lie on my back so I slept on my stomach with a pillow between under knees to ease the pressure. I needed to go back to the clinic and ask to see a specialist, but I didn’t. It was just too damned weird. I’d built my life on being as invisible as possible, on fitting in without a fuss, and now I didn’t. My shirts began to look odd, so I purchased larger jackets with shoulder padding to hide my growths. Soon I moved on to capes. More than once, I thought of the Kafka story I’d read in tenth grade. Was I turning into something else? Was a metamorphosis taking place?

After a half-dozen wasted efforts (empty mailboxes, ones filled with flyers or magazines), I finally stumbled on a box on a quiet suburban street the next week. Red, gold and orange leaves drifted over the macadam as I studied my quarry from behind an evergreen. The size of the mailbox attracted me. The residents must be receiving packages of some heft to install this behemoth contraption. A scarecrow stood propped beside it, its arm draped around it. A plastic black cat nestled nearby.

Halloween was a holiday that meant very little to me as a childless man, and its decorations even less. Somehow over the years,  it had become an extravaganza rivaling Christmas. Creeping up, I pushed the stuffed doll aside, but luck wasn’t with me. I heard the front door opening before I’d even fully pulled the mail out. Fleeing, I took the entire contents along—sticking it under by arm. Back to the car and departure post-haste.

Had the occupant of 5 Pillsbury Road spotted me? I was pretty non-descript except for the bulge under my cape. Back home, I sorted through the sizable packet of mail. What I was hoping for, of course, were checks I could quickly cash or financial information I could make use of. There were rarely any saleable items in mailboxes. No stray pieces of pricey jewelry or expensive electronics. Constant references to mail theft by the press had seen to that.

Today, there was a good-sized package from a medical facility, however, and although I generally kept my distance from drugs because of the people they attract, I opened it. Selling drugs might tide me over—painkillers, anti-depressants, Ritalin, anti-anxiety drugs. There was a market for almost any drug and I knew a guy or two who would middle-man me.

It was drugs, but the wrong kind. Along with the medication, the styrofoam box was filled with Polar packs and air bags. The accompanying pamphlet advised it was insulin for Type One diabetes. The instructions addressed the issues in administering the medication to a child. I’d intercepted a shipment that would soon expire if I didn’t return it. A child was waiting for this at that house at 5 Pillsbury Road. It would have to be returned. None of my activity had ever endangered a child, and I was not about to go down that road now.

I parked several streets away that night, not sure if my car had been spotted in the afternoon by whoever opened that front door on Pillsbury Street. It was a good night for loitering being Halloween, and it grew dark quickly the way it does in late October. I made my way along the suburban streets, just another costumed reveler among hundreds. Hadn’t E.T. gotten away with this stunt thirty years earlier? I’d left my cape at home despite the chill temperatures and my wings were freed for once. A hint of euphoria came with it, too.

“Look, an angel,” a small boy cried, pointing. But I’d disappeared before his father could turn and question the height and weight of that angel.

 My goal was to set the box on the porch, ring the bell, and disappear. It anyone spotted me I’d be just another costumed trick or treater. I made my way to 5 Pillsbury Road. The front walk was festooned with lighted skulls and tombstones, and I nearly put my foot inside an overturned squash.

“You’re here then,” a tiny but assertive voice said from the bay window nearest the door. The child was about six, I’d guess, and dressed like a princess. A gold crown perched lopsided on her head. Her hair was too short and messy to pull off such an elaborate headpiece though.

“Me?” I said, after looking around. “I think you have the wrong guy.” I placed my package on the step and turned to go.

“Then you aren’t my guardian angel?”

She adjusted her crown, using her reflection in the window for a mirror. A line of winking pumpkins on a table outside lit her view.

“No, I’m just trick or treating. Same as the rest of ‘em.” I motioned to the distant hordes and began to skulk down the walk.

“Not me,” she reminded me. “I’m to stay inside.” She paused. “And that’s sort of ridiculous, you know.  What you just said. A grown man trick or treating.” She peered at me through the dark. “Those aren’t real wings then?”

“Nope.” I was nearly at the gate and turned. “Hey, see that package on the porch.” I pointed. “It’s for you.” I pointed again when she didn’t move. “You might want to fetch it and take it inside.” Where were her parents? “It needs to go in the fridge.”

 “I can only open the door if you’re my guardian angel.” She was quite adamant. “I’m not allowed to open it to strangers.”

I sighed. Maybe I could be her guardian angel for the length of time it took her to open the door. “Okay, I’m your guardian angel.”

“I thought so. And those are real wings?”

I nodded and fluttered them, rising a few inches from the ground at the same time, something I hadn’t even known I could do. I heard a deep intake of breath, and then she smiled and disappeared, opening the front door a few seconds later.

“You shouldn’t open the door to strangers,” I said as she picked up the package. “I'm the one exception. You need to get that package into the refrigerator pronto.”

“I know what it is,” she said, sounding bored. “It comes every week. I was hoping you’d bring me a greeting gift.”

“A greeting gift?”

“You bring one to your hostess when you come to their house the first time. Something like guest towels, flowers, or coasters made of tile.” She frowned. “Or in my case, perhaps something more suitable for a princess.”

“Never heard of that custom before. Look, why don’t you shut the door now and I’ll be on my way. You’re going to catch a cold.”

She did just that, returning to her position at the window before I could escape. “What’s your name anyway?”

“Deeb,” I said, without thinking.

“That’s a funny name for a guardian angel. I suppose I can get used to it though.”

“Sure, call me Deeb.” What did it matter if we never met again?

“You can call me Princess Isabella.” I nodded. “And next time you come, try and remember to bring me a greeting gift.”

I nodded again. “I’d better be off.”

“I especially like barrettes if you can’t think of anything else.” I was at the gate now and held up a hand. She waved back. “See ya.”

The streets were filled with children by now. Taking a circuitous route in case I was being followed, I made my way back to the car. There was a tattered wallet on the road beside it. It had fifty bucks inside and nothing else. I pocketed the money surreptitiously. Well, even angels have to make a living, I told myself. And one good deed a day was enough.

Or at least until I grew into my wings.


 Kevin Tipple

George Kelley

Richard Robinson 

Jerry House 


Monday, October 25, 2021

Monday, Monday


I have tried to keep busy this week. Saw BERGMAN ISLAND at a theater, but it was gone the next day. There were two of us in there. I don't see how theaters are going to survive. At least not ones that show movies like this. I think it is available for streaming though. Also watched FOUND on Netflix, the story of three Chinese girls adopted by US families and their attempt to reconnect with the mothers forced to give them up with China's one child policy of the past. Watching THE MISSING, Season 2, which is very good. It's on Amazon Prime but you may have seen it on Starz already. 

Still reading the Hailey Mills memoir, which is kind of annoying. Does everyone she meets have to be wonderful and brilliant. Although I keep reading it so it must have something going for it. I watched her in THE PARENT TRAP to see how it holds up and what holds up best is Brian Keith's interesting performance. Child actors today are a lot more natural than she was in the part.  I am not sure if I ever saw another one of her movies, but I did see THE FLAME TREES OF THIKA on Masterpiece many years ago.  

The Lions. Eek! Doesn't Detroit deserve one good football team in a lifetime.

So what's up with you?

Friday, October 22, 2021


State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

I cannot say I found this an entirely successful outing for one of my favorite writers. This is the story of a trip by a female scientist to a primitive part of the world. And the best part of the book is the evocation of that world. How alien it seems to us. And to Dr. Singh. Snakes, rats, cannibals, disease, drugs that are almost as difficult as the problems they solve. It's part of her assignment.

When a scientist for a pharmaceutical company disappears, his death is assumed, and another employee is sent to check on the details. The company is investigating the ability of a group of natives to both resist malaria and to have babies into their seventies. The second ability has the most cache for the company. Dr. Singh meets up with an early nemesis--the doctor who presided over her failure as a gynecologist. Now she is part of the research taking place in this remote place.

I found much of this book interesting, but I have to say the characters seemed more like voices for the moral quandary the doctor finds herself in than fully fleshed out characters. There is too much discussion of the morality of scientific research to fully engage the reader. And yet, I finished the book so it had to have something. Maybe you will find it too.

Yesterday I heard a discussion on THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW podcast about books that attempt to address societal ills to such a degree that they lose the advantage a novel has over non-fiction. Creating characters that touch the reader. There are a lot of non-fiction books that address problems. The problems in novels should be mostly character-based. This came from Thomas Mallon and after struggling through THE OVERSTORY (Powers) and this, I agree.


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Stories from THE SUMMER BEFORE THE SUMMER OF LOVE, Marly Swick


This has been one of my favorite collections of stories since I came across it in the nineties. Marly Swick, now a retired English professor in Missouri (I think), seems to have written all of her stories and two novels in the nineties and early 2000s. Since that was the time I was writing mainstream short stories too, I bought a lot of collections. Swick's are very straightforward, easy to read stories. 

The title story is about the breakup of a marriage and much of it takes places during a trip to see the Beatles that the mother takes her daughters on. When she leaves the hotel room in the night and her slip is returned in a paperbag the next day, it drives the older daughter out of the house. It also changes the daughter's taste in music overnight from the Beatles to the edgier groups. 

The second story "Ghost Mother" is a favorite of mine. Two screenwriters are adopting a baby from a mid-western teen, who moves into their house for the end of the pregnancy. It is a very poignant yet not sad story and some of it is framed in how the writer might write it in a screenplay.The reader expects the surrogate mother to be exposed in some way and this never happens to our relief. 

Just noticed we have been doing this for more than a year. Don't feel obliged to keep it up if it's getting old. 

Kevin Tipple


George Kelley 


Monday, October 18, 2021

Monday, Monday


Saturday night my family and I went to see CLUE at Meadowbrook Theater. I have gone there for many years although recently they are inclined to show far lighter fare than they did in the past. I guess this is true for a lot of theaters. This was a very young audience, maybe composed of students from Oakland University which is on the same campus. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Although the plot is not great, the staging and acting was terrific. So many clever bits with choreographing it. 

Friday I went with a friend to the DIA and we concentrated on parts of the museums I usually miss: African and Islamic art. The museum was fairly empty but it is a huge place so it takes a lot of people to make it feel full. The Detroit Film Theater was beginning this weekend showing the documentary about the Velvet Underground, but we didn't stay for that. 

Kevin is still enjoying school. Friday night his economics teacher took a group to play laser tag. It raised money for the food pantry his classes run. Kevin seems to be enjoying his classes and the camaraderie they seem to foster at this school. 

Been watching GOLIATH, which I am not crazy about. Also MAID, which is depressing too. Hard to find a series that isn't a bummer nowadays. So I end up watching SEINFELD quite a lot. Looking forward to SUCCESSION tonight.

What's up with you?

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Short Story Wednesday "Torch Song" John Cheever

Jack Lorey and Joan, both natives of Ohio, meet up again in New York City in the 1930s. Joan is a "big" handsome girl and after failing at a try at modeling becomes a hostess in a restaurant. Jack and Joan meet up, mostly at her parties, over a number of years. Each time, she is with another man who is either ill or will become ill soon after. Is she attracted to such men or is it bad luck? Jack also had a number of bad relationships and more and more they are drawn to each other. The war comes and goes and both of them age and Jack at some point resembles the ne'er do wells Joan is attracted to. 

At the story's end Jack accuses Joan of being a crow, who comes into feed on the sick and dying. I read this story in American Fantastic Tales and it took me quite a few pages before I began to see how it fit into this book. Why was it a fantastic story because it many ways it read like a typical Cheever story about suburbia. By the end, I believed Joan was a carrion, feeding on such men. Or is she a vampire feeding on the blood of the men. Or possibly she is death itself, bringing illness to every man who comes home with her? A very interesting story and of course, wonderfully written. You can find it online, I think. The New Yorker published it too. 

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 

George Kelley 

Richard Robinson

Friday, October 08, 2021

FFB: EAST OF EDEN, John Steinbeck

I was a freshman in college when I read this book. I realized as I reached its end that the feverish pitch of the novel was probably at least partially based on the fact that I was feverish myself—sick in the way that kids that age and away from home get sick. I lay on my narrow bed, skipping classes, skipping meals, and reading EAST OF EDEN. When I was finished, I read four or five more Steinbecks in succession, enjoying them all but not perhaps as much as this one.

It was exactly the kind of book that appealed to me then: a family saga that was long, complicated, sad, over the top perhaps. When I reread it a few years ago, I still enjoyed it but felt a red pencil might have strengthened it.

EAST OF EDEN was published in 1952 and its title refers to the place where the biblical Cain goes after murdering his brother, Abel. The novel begins in Connecticut where Adam Trask and his older brother, Charles, live on a farm owned by their father, Cyrus, whom we later learn he has stolen money. Much of the first half of the novel concerns their relationship with the kindly and noble Hamilton family. After Cyrus’ death, Adam enters the army while his brother Charles stays on the farm and grows rich.

After his release Adam marries Cathy Trask and the couple move to Salinas, California, where she becomes pregnant. She gives birth to Cal and Aron but deserts the boys, shooting Adam while running away to live in a whorehouse. Cathy has few redeeming qualities and seems determined to debase herself and destroy everyone around her.

Adam and his servant, Lee, raise the two boys. One night Cal takes Aron to the house of prostitution owned by Cathy, showing him his mother for what she is. Like their father and uncle before them, the brothers resemble the biblical Cain and Abel. Aron is killed in combat (World War 1) and Cal falls in love with his brother’s longtime girl friend, Abra Bacon. Adam who has suffered a stroke following the shocking death of Aron forgives Cal for his sins.

This is certainly one of Steinbeck’s best novels and a classic for me. Despite its rigid notion of good and evil—people are mostly one or the other—its rich story line, the beauty of the writing and its compelling nature, still make it a favorite. 

What is your favorite Steinbeck novel? 


Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket"

I read many of Hilma Wolitzer's novels years ago. She was one of a myriad of women novelists writing about domestic life in the sixties, seventies, eighties. Her stories are warm hearted; even when her characters are flawed she sympathizes with them. In the title story (1966) a young pregnant woman is waiting in line to pay for her groceries when a young mother blocks her passage, muttering, "There is just no end to it." She says more nonsensical things while her children hang onto her. The mother's distress grows as does her son's who needs a bathroom. The store manager and our narrator try to ID her but cannot find anything in her purse. A crowd gathers with various customers making suggestions. Finally someone knows her and her husband is summoned. That night our narrator is sitting in the bathtub weeping and when her husband comes in she sounds much like the woman who went mad in the supermarket. This story drives home how close all of us are to madness. And maybe especially women in the sixties whose whole life revolved around domestic chores and their children. 

The second story "Waiting for Daddy" concerns a child unable to pin her mother (or grandmother) down on anything concerning the identity of her father. 

I know these summaries make the subjects sound trite or prosaic but the writing is strong and this is the stuff of everyday life.  I find it easier to be successful with a short story that relies on character and mood rather than plot. What do you think? Of course, one great exception to this that comes to mind is Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" which manages to do it all. 

Kevin Tipple 


George Kelley 

Monday, October 04, 2021

Monday, Monday

 Friday was a busy day. I got to see Kevin play tennis, his last match of the year. Then we went to dinner and finally a play called THE NIGHT OF JANUARY 16th. A play by Ayn Rand as you might imagine, championing the idea of these  "special" titans of industry that will make America great. This work has been much produced and there is even a movie of it. And although the cast did a great job with their parts and it was a credible production given our limitations, the work itself feels like something that should have died in the thirties. It is a courtroom drama and uses 12 members of the audience as a jury although that really felt like a gimmick. But it was great spending a whole day with my family. Everyone was masked at the theater and not allowed to use the lobby but it still was awfully close seating. They did have a special air circulation system but these small theaters probably shouldn't be open yet.

Saturday, I went to Cranbrook, which is where the picture is from. Cranbrook is a pretty special place: a school, a center for all sorts of art and artists, gorgeous gardens, a science center, and lots of places to walk. Such a beautiful weekend weather wise too.  The photo above is of the annual garden but there are many interesting perennial gardens, herb gardens, shrubbery, and lovely paths. Plus a terrific Arts and Crafts house to tour. 

Watching THE CHESTNUT MAN on Netflix, which was a scary book and is now a scary series. And the dubbed version is pretty good. Netflix has apparently spent some money getting much better dubbed versions of their foreign series. The only one that didn't work well for me dubbed was LUPIN, because they gave all of those Frenchmen American accents. Think I have said that before.

Reading Hilma Wolitzer's collection of stories. I have been reading her my whole life, I think. And now Meg Wolitzer is perhaps even more well known.

Isn't Sarah Weinman doing a great job with the Crime page of the Sunday NYT? She finds unusual books to review and writes so beautifully. Marilyn Stasio always seemed to review books that everyone knew about anyway. Appreciate Sarah looking further afield for great picks and bringing new writers to our attention. 

What about you?

Friday, October 01, 2021

FFB: BABY MOLL, John Farris

 Reviewed by Ed Gorman (from the archives)

Baby Moll by John Farris

John Farris was my generation's first literary rock star. When his novel Harrison High was published it quickly became controversial because of its honest depiction of life among American teenagers. This was 1959. America still believed that if teens weren't exactly like Ricky and David Nelson they certainly weren't like Elvis. Given the fact that many of these teens would be in the streets protesting the Viet Nam war only a few years later, you can see how badly books such as Pat Boone's Twixt Twelve and Twenty misjudged them.

The paperback edition became a companion to Peyton Place, published a few years earlier, both Great Reads and both purveyors of unpopular truths.

Mr. Farris, now famous, was all of twenty-three when the book was published. But he was no beginner. Born in 1936 he could already claim the following novels in print:

* The Corpse Next Door (Graphic Books, 1956) (as John Farris)
* The Body on the Beach (Bouregy & Curl, 1957, hc) (as Steve Brackeen)
* Baby Moll (Crest, 1958, pb) (as Steve Brackeen)
* Danger in My Blood (Crest, 1958, pb) (as Steve Brackeen)

He was writing and publishing before he could legally buy beer.

Hard Case Crime has now given us a chance to look at some of Farris' early work with Baby Moll appearing this month. And fine work it is.

"Six years after quitting the Florida Mob, Peter Mallory is about to be dragged back in.

"Stalked by a vicious killer and losing his hold on power, Mallory’s old boss needs help—the kind of help only a man like Mallory can provide. But behind the walls of the fenced-in island compound he once called home, Mallory is about to find himself surrounded by beautiful women, by temptation, and by danger—and one wrong step could trigger a bloodbath."

If you have any doubt about Farris' writing skills open the book and read the first chapter. It is both lyrical and ominous, an unlikely combination in a paperback crime novel. This establishes the way Farris even then managed to take some of the familiar tropes of genre fiction and make them entirely his own.

The set-up itself is unique. Mallory called back to save the life of a boss he despises but a man he owes his life. The boss got him off the bottle.

The story, as it plays out, is also all Farris. While parts of the first act brought Peter Rabe to mind Farris takes the gangster novel in a different direction. Given the relationship of the people on the island the book becomes almost Gothic in its entanglements and ambience.

Farris of course went on to write numerous bestsellers, a number of them staples of modern dark suspense and horror, but even here, early on, he was a cunning storyteller fascinated by the perplexity and perversity of the human soul.