Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Short Story Wednesday, "My Mother's Yellow Dress: Ann Packer from MENDOCINO AND OTHER STORIES

Ann Packer is known for her best seller A DIVE FROM CLAUSEN'S PIER, which came after her first collection, MENDOCINO AND OTHER STORIES. 

In "My Mother's Yellow Dress," the narrator, a gay man who has just lost his mother, remembers a party from his youth. His mother, clearly a handful but beloved by him, wears a very short and very sharply yellow dress at a party his father hosted as Head of the English Department. The marriage ends sometime after this and his father goes to California where his son rarely sees him. 

This is a coming of age story, where Buddy is watching the drunkenness and sexual behavior of adults for the first time.  He is embarrassed and perhaps titillated by what he sees.

 A homeless man, hungry, also plays a part in the day. This story could have been an episode of MAD MEN. You have to work a little to put it together, to see what the author is trying to say. It moves a bit through time too with scenes between Buddy and his adult lover who are making their way through the AIDS crisis. The writing is very good but perhaps a bit too many strands for a short story. 

I liked CLAUSEN'S PIER when I read it. An interesting premise of a woman whose fiancee is paralyzed after a dive and the dilemma of leaving a paraplegic. 

Kevin Tipple

George Kelley

Monday, June 27, 2022

Monday, Monday

Another alarming week on so many fronts, but let's not go there. 

I am looking forward to Megan's visit on 7/1-7/3. Hoping her plane is one of the few that seem to arrive on time. These very short trips don't allow much wiggle room.

I went to see Phantom of the Open because I like Mark Rylance and the reviews were good but it was truly awful. Who makes a two hour movie about a guy who plays his first round of golf at the British Open. It was a Monty Python skit at best. This is the second goofy British movie I have seen of late. Desperation prevails. Put a movie theater down the street from me and this is the result. There are so few movies for adults this summer and like climate change it will probably get worse. 

Enjoying The Bear (FX and Hulu). I always liked Lip on Shameless and he really gets to shine here. Also watching Dark Winds and rewatching Mad Men. Also The Split

Reading The Good Detective (John McMahon) and Dear Edward. 
Listening to Somewhere in Time, Richard Matheson. So much better than the movie.

So what's going on with you?

Friday, June 24, 2022


 (reviewed by Bill Crider in 2012)

Reid Bennett is the entire police force in tiny Murphy's Harbour, Ontario, Canada.  Of course he gets a lot of help from his German Shepherd, Sam.  While he's on vacation, he's approached by a woman who asks him to find her son, who's joined an outfit that supposedly trains mercenaries.  Bennett is a little reluctant, but he agrees.  Before long, he's on a wilderness adventure that involves lots of shooting and a serious wildfire.  He recovers the son, but that's just the beginning, as Wood starts springing the plot twists.  

If you're looking for villainous villains, lots of action, a little sex, and a very cool dog, you've come to the right place.  There are a few plot problems, not the least of which is the faithful Indian companion deus ex machina, but Wood's writing is strong and his pacing is exemplary.  Bennett is a hero like Jack Reacher, tough, strong, and sure of himself.  I'd think Reacher's audience would like him a lot.

Ted Wood is a Canadian author who had a good bit of success in the U.S. with this series.  I believe there were ten books in all.  He wrote a couple of others as Jack Barnao, and I liked those, too.  He might not be completely forgotten, since I believe the books are available for Kindle. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Short Story Wednesday, "Detroit Skyline, 1949" from SHILOH AND OTHER STORIES by Bobbie Ann Mason


Of course, it you are about to choose a story in an anthology and you see one with your hometown in the title, that is probably the one you will choose. Bobbie Ann Mason won awards for this collection of stories and the novel that followed it, IN COUNTRY. She was an especially influential writer in the eighties and was known for her use of KMART realism where she peppered her stories with specific names and titles-something wasn't done as much before her. In other words, she replaced a name like Five and Dime with Woolworth's. This can be overdone, of course, but on the whole I like specificity, do you?

"Detroit, Skyline, 1949" is the story of a visit by a mother and daughter from Kentucky to Detroit, where family members have moved for better jobs. Nine-year old, Peggy Jo (probably Bobbie Ann) is especially eager to see the sky-scrapers. It turns out the city buses are on strike and the family has no car so this dream is not realized. The differences between life in rural Kentucky and urban Detroit get a lot of attention and the TV is a new thing for Peggy Jo. A lot of the story also concerns the "red scare" going on at that time and how unions were blamed for introducing socialists into the factories. Her mother has a miscarriage during the visit and Peggy Jo is a bit overwhelmed by so many issues. Perhaps I was too. This story seemed to have one too many themes for its own good. But the writing is always great and her characters jump off the page. The title story is especially terrific in this collection. I have not read any of her more recent books, has anyone? 

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House


George Kelley  


Monday, June 20, 2022

Monday, Monday


Saw this strange movie at a theater. It's a sort of spoof about the minutes missing on Rosemary Wood's record of Nixon's conversation. It didn't work for us and we were the entire audience. Plus the sound system in this tiny theater was not good. Or maybe it's partly my making do with one hearing aid as they replace the battery. 

Went out to lunch in Metamora, a town of 600 people and maybe more horses. The White Horse Inn has been there in one form or another since 1850. This is unusual in the Midwest.

Have been watching the films referenced in YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS PODCAST on the erotic eighties. So I have watched NO WAY OUT, DIRTY DANCING and a few more. 

Also watching THE OLD MAN (Hulu), where Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow give a master class in acting. Also FOR ALL MANKIND and DARK WINDS.

Strange weather -- two cool days following two hots ones. Looks like more high heat on its way.

Reading THE PLOT (Jean Hanff Korelitz)  but slowly. THE NEW YORKER had such a great issue that has been keep me busy. 

Watching the hearings and finding it horrific.

What about you? 


Friday, June 17, 2022

FFB: ZIGZAG, Bill Pronzini

  Ed Gorman's last review...

   You can’t fake it, the kind of mastery Bill Pronzini shows in all his writing, whatever the genre, whatever the length.  And his years of writing Grand Master-level material inform every single line and scene in this new collection. Included are two new novellas and two short stories well worth reprinting. 
   The novellas are equally strong. “Zigzag” demonstrates that the simplest of mishaps—a minor accident investigation—can take you places you may not want to go. Nameless really earns his private eye money on this one. 
  The melancholy truths of “Grapplin’” shows us the emotional power that underpins so much of Pronzini’s most celebrated work over the years even though it also manages to be filled with kind and gentle truths. On this one Nameless shares the spotlight with his new business partner Tamara.      
   The two short stories are strong and fresh. They illustrate that no matter what form Pronzini uses, he makes it his own.  
   My favorite here is “Revenant.” Pronzini has always done well by the supernatural even though he is certainly a skeptic.      
   What we have a here is a spin on road rage. A strange man named Antanas Vok piled his car into an embankment, blaming Peter Erskine and his wife Marian for the crash. Witnesses say otherwise. Vok’s wife dies in the accident and Vok stands there screaming threats at the Erskines. He will make sure that they will be dead, too.
     A year later, Vok is still stalking them and they are scared. The police have been no help. Lately the harassment has taken a turn into the occult.
     The black host is the Satanic version of the Roman Catholic host. When you touch it the residue sticks to both your fingers and your clothes.  Vok has sent them a black host to show them his power over them.
     Supernatural power? Erskine doesn’t believe it and neither does Nameless. Marian Erskine can’t decide what she believes.  
    Oh, and there’s one other small problem. How can Vok be sending them black hosts when he’s been dead for some time?   
    Nameless is surprised when he meets Marian who spends a good deal of her time in a gazebo-like creation that could only be found in the type of posh gated community the Erskines live in.
   Marian turns out to be substantially older than her husband and very frail. Namesless notes that in today’s one percent culture it’s all right for older women to have trophy husbands. Peter isn’t exactly a pretty boy but close. Marian’s obvious drinking problem adds just one more confusing psychological layer to the meeting. 
    The Erskines beg Nameless to take the case and ultimately he chooses to because the fee they offer him is so good and he’s just so damned curious about what’s really going on here.
    This is the way to tell a supernatural story—sardonically.  Pronzini show us that no matter how bizarre the world of the supernatural is, the human world is always stranger.
   A five star collection. Perfect for a wide range of readers.   


Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Ed Gorman

 I have been asked to write a short piece about Ed Gorman for the next NoirCon program. If any of you can add something to this, please do. Scott Cupp is doing a remembrance of Bill Crider. Thanks.

Short Story Wednesday: From The Best American Short Stories of 2021: Switzerland, Nicole Krauss

 This edition was edited by Jesmyn Ward. 

I have never read Nicole Krauss before although a friend recently passed on her novel, THE HISTORY OF LOVE. Why did I choose this story? That question interests me: how do people pick the story to start with. In this case, it was the third one I tried. As usual, the George Saunders one was hard to get into. I was tempted by two writers I did know: Kevin Wilson and C. Pam Zhang but eventually this won out. 

It's the story of a teenager who is placed in a school in Switzerland, mainly to get her out of the way while her father finishes a trauma course in medical school. Too young to board at the school, her parents find her a room in a boarding house (kind of amazing that a 13 year old would be on her own) where two other girls also board. They are older than her (18) and are toying to various degrees with their sexuality. The more interesting, Soraya, is Iranian and is having an affair with a banker but is also engaging in relationships with other men. Our narrator is fascinated by this glimpse into adult life and this has impact on how she goes on to see herself.  She sees the power Soraya can wield but also its limitations.

Soraya disappears one night and her father flies in to look into this. An engineer to the Shah, he has sent his daughter to Switzerland with its promise of safety. Soroya returns and the threesome soon is separated. Our narrator looks for her off and on but never finds her. Our narrator admires Soroya's recklessness but it doesn't suit her in the end. 

"She (Soraya) had gone further than anyone I knew in a game that was never only a game, one that was about power and fear, about the refusal to comply with the vulnerabilities one is born into." 

Jerry House

George Kelley

Monday, June 13, 2022

Monday, Monday

Had a nice trip to DC except for the two bad flights--not Delta's fault. Apparently we can expect more turbulence due to climate change. But on the flight there, the flight attendants hit the deck on a real jolt, lightning struck the gate, the airport closed for a few minutes and our luggage took two hours to unload. Delta gave us 5000 miles though. Other than that though I had great weather and a nice time. Always a great place to visit.

Rushed over to catch Benediction on my return. Sure is nice having a theater two blocks away. Although getting there with this construction is a challenge. They have marked out a path for pedestrians, but it is very muddy from the work and rain. When I complained about this the foreman said, "I can't install grab rails in the air, Lady."

Watching FOR ALL MANKIND on Apple and BORGEN on Netflix. Also started IRMA VEP.

Broke down and ordered AMC+ but it seems like I can only play the last two episodes (5 and 6) of BETTER CALL SAUL. Anyone know how to access the first four episodes of Season 6?


Rewatched THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, after an interview with Alan Arkin on Criterion. A real cast of character actors of that era in this film. I had forgotten half of them.

The scariest thing I've seen ever was the first night of the January 6th hearings. So glad that guy took videos from multiple angles. 

Cancelled my trip to Bouchercon. I think those days are over for me. I never found it easy to navigate once Phil wasn't with me. (Even when he was). And I can't tail Megan because it's business for her. 

I feel like reading a certain kind of mystery that I can't quite put my finger on. I was reading a journal of short stories from 1992 and I realized how much the writing style in short stories  at least has changed and how much I preferred the style back then, which was clear and straight forward. No multiple POVs. No multiple time frames. I am a simple reader, I guess.

(Found a novel. The new Emma Straub. This Time Tomorrow. Yay!)

So what's up with you?

Friday, June 10, 2022


(Ed Gorman from the archives)

I've written before about Richard Neely. He wrote standalone crime novels that pretty much covered the entire range of dark suspense. I mentioned that in the best of them the weapon of choice is not poison, bullets or garrote. He always preferred sexual betrayal.

Plastic is a good example. Using amnesia as the central device, Dan Mariotte must reconstruct his life. Learning that the beautiful woman at his bedside all these months in the hospital--his wife--may have tried to kill him in a car accident is only the first of many surprises shared by Mariotte and the reader.

What gives the novel grit is Neely's take on the privileged class. He frequently wrote about very successful men (he was a very successful adverts man himself) and their women. The time was the Seventies. Private clubs, private planes, private lives. But for all the sparkle of their lives there was in Neely's people a despair that could only be assuaged (briefly) by sex. Preferably illicit sex. Betrayal sex. Men betrayed women and women betrayed men. It was Jackie Collins only for real.

Plastic is a snapshot of a certain period, the Seventies when the Fortune 500 dudes wore sideburns and faux hippie clothes and flashed the peace sign almost as often as they flashed their American Express Gold cards. Johny Carson hipsters. The counter culture co-opted by the pigs.

The end is a stunner, which is why I can say little about the plot. Neely knew what he was doing and I'm glad to see his book back in print. Watching Nerely work is always a treat. 

Monday, June 06, 2022

Monday, Monday

                      Visiting my brother, Jeff. Stay well and let me know what you are up to. ..

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

First Wednesday Book Review: MONTANA 1948, Larry Watson

Although I am pretty sure I reviewed this before, I could not find it on here. So since I read it again, I will review it. It is one of my favorite books, maybe my most favorite. It has no weaknesses that I can see and all of the things I like most in a novel:

A single narrator, a first person point of view, a small number of characters, an injustice that's addressed, a rural setting, it takes place before technology changed our lives, good characterizations, short length, great writing.

David is an only child living with his father, a sheriff, his mother, and a native American woman, Marie Little Soldier, who helps out since both his parents have day jobs. Also in the picture are grandparents and an uncle and his wife, and a deputy. The uncle is a doctor who has cared for most of the townspeople since he returned from the second world war, a hero. David's Dad had a bad leg that kept him at home. 

When Marie falls sick and they call for the doctor, David's uncle, she refuses to see him. It is soon revealed he has been abusing her as well as other Sioux women for years. His exact actions are not spelled out. 

After this the book is mostly about how the sheriff handles his brother's crime. Will he hide it? Will he prosecute? Much of the pressure to overlook it comes from the grandfather, who almost views abuse of these women as his right. The family and the white townspeople do not see the native Americans as quite equal to them and deserving of the same protection. Even David's father admits he does not like "Indians"

There are a lot of things that enrich this narrative. The problem of the son who stayed home from the war, disappointing his father. How to handle a crime in your own family if you are a law enforcement officer, what your child will take from all this. How to do the right thing and what that right thing is. Is what is right absolute or does it change over time and place.

This is a terrific book as I have said.

For more book reviews, see Barrie Summy

Short Story Wedneday:"Others of His Kind" James Sallis, PHOENIX NOIR

 What are some of the authors you go to first in an anthology? Or is it the length of the story that draws you in? Or perhaps the title? Or its placement in the collection?
With me, if I see the name James Sallis, I will go to his story early on. 

This story had an odd feel about it. Slightly unfinished, like it was part of something bigger, which it turned out to be. In lesser hands, this might have made the story suffer more than it did. But because Sallis is such a master at creating characters, situations, locations, descriptions, it only felt incomplete in a few spots.

A cop asks a woman if she might be willing to speak to an abused girl the department has found. At first she refuses. Her back story turns out to be one of abuse too, and then escape and then years of living alone in a mall and then the typical social services trauma. She eventually goes to see the girl. 

We don't know why he came to her, nor why the few things she said to the abused woman would count for much. Where are they going at the story's end?What makes the story are the details of her abduction and her time as a twelve-year old living in the mall. And the writing, which is terrific.

But because he has made his characters real to us, we don't mind too much. And I will probably look for the novella this became. Because these characters are compelling and that's the trick. 

Todd Mason

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 

George Kelley