Monday, December 31, 2007

Salute to Bill Crider

Somewhere today (can't find it again) I saw (I think) a brief story conveying the (to me) astonishing fact that toniight the two Hilton sisetrs Paris and Niki will hostess a club party and be paid $500,000. I guess because I'll always be a prairie boy the simple amorality of this is staggering. Homeless shelters, cancer research, orphanages--there isn't some better way to spend $500,000.

Happy New Year

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Jury Duty

I've never served on a jury and I don't want to.

This afternoon I saw a rerun of a true crime show that focused on a cop accused of murdering his mistress. The police department fiercely fought what appeared to be the evidence at first but finally gave in and arrested him. He was found guilty and sentenced to eighty years in prison. There were those who felt he should have been given the death penalty.

His mistress was found in a burning house. She'd been stabbed multiple times. The DA contended that in panic the cop first contrived the scene to look like a burglary and then decided to set it on fire. A good deal of the evidence rested on the local fire marshal's assessment of the time the fire had been set and how long it had been burning. The cop argued that he arrived at the scene when the house was on fire. A neighbor said he saw the cop rush in to save her but was too late.

The cop foolishly took a lie detector test without consulting a lawyer. He failed. I'm with Ted Kennedy on this one. Lie detectors are a joke, deadly ones in some cases. The cop also did something else foolish. When the DA got him on the stand the cop got sarcastic and belittled the DA and the oter cops he now saw as his enemies. Not exactly a good way to impress the jury. He was sentenced and sent off to prison.

A young woman who'd known the cop most of his life so believed in his innocence that she left her teaching job and went to law school just so she could work on his case and prove his innocence. This wasn't a romance. She was happily married. She just didn't believe her friend had done what the DA had accused him of doing.

Over nine years the woman has become a lawyer and gotten two highly regarded fire experts to help her dispute the tesimony of the fire marshal. The cop is interviewed throughout the hour and he struck me as beleivable.

This is why I wouldn't want to be on a jury. If I been impaneled on the first jury I'd have voted for conviction. But if I'd been able to hear the two fire experts I probably would have voted him innocent.

I'm not smart enough to make judgements on a man or woman's life. I'd want to hear a videotaped confession as well as a videotaped scene of the murder being committed before I made up my mind.

Unless the defendant was OJ of course. That one I could've voted guilty on without undue doubts.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Power

The other night Bill Crider wrote about how much the novel I Am Legend has meant to him over the years. Same here. It's my favorite science fiction novel. I've read it as recently as a year ago. It never loses its power for me.

Another novel I first read in 1956 is The Power by Frank M. Robinson. You may know the name because he's written blockbuster international bestsellers as well as award-winning science fiction novels.

The Power was his first novel. If Cornell Woolrich had ever used the paranormal in any coherent way he'd have done something like The Power. It's a perfect noir, a dark chase novel through Chicago as a small group of scientists try to find out which of them has The Power. Robinson enriches the book by giving us, on the fly, a wry look at academia of that era. He also gives us a man so alone and desperate as to make Richard Kimble of The Fugitive look like a game show contestant. Like I Am Legend, I reread this every so often. I yet to come across a single moment in it that I would change in any way.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The 25th Hour

I watched the 25th Hour again last night. I've recommended it before. Flawed as it is--the first act needed to be trimmed--it is still one of the most powerful crime films I've ever seen simply because it doesn't rely on any of the neo-noir tropes so fashionable today. It is the story of an intelligent, otherwise decent young man so fucking stupid he started dealing drugs. And in so doing lost his claim on both intelligence and decency.

The film takes place in the final 24 hours before he goes to prison. Ed Norton as the dealer, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as his hapless friend, Rosario Dawson as Norton's lover and Anna Paquin as the teenage student Hoffman is fixated on form a crushing ensemble. The acting is flawless.

The final twenty minutes, in the scene with Norton's father and the scene with Norton and Hoffman and another friend, are as good as anything I've seen in the last fifteen years.

I am a lonely voice recommending this movie but I think it will eventually get its due.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Coen Brothers western; Spector on Ike

From the Hollywood Reporter

Coen Brothers to Make Spaghetti Western
Filmmaking siblings Joel and Ethan Coen are set to make their goriest film ever - a Spaghetti Western featuring scenes of primitive torture methods. The brothers, whose notoriously gory new film No Country for Old Men has been tipped for Oscar glory, are desperate to make a film about the days of cowboys and Indians battling it out in the Wild West of America. But - as Joel warns - it won't be one for the faint-hearted. He says, "We've written a western with a lot of violence in it. There's scalping and hanging ... it's good. Indians torturing people with ants, cutting their eyelids off." Ethan adds, "It's a proper western, a real western, set in the 1870s. It's got a scene that no one will ever forget because of one particular chicken."

From Roger Freidman The New York Post

Music legend and murder suspect, Phil Spector, isn't trying to make friends or curry favor with old pals while he waits for a second trial. He turned up at reviled R&B legend Ike Turner's Los Angeles funeral on Friday and gave an impromptu speech that laid into both Tina Turner and Oprah Winfrey.

Spector, according to our spy in the Greater Bethany Community Church in Gardena, Calif., was among several celebrity mourners including Bonnie Raitt and Little Richard who gathered to say good-bye to the Grammy-winning musician.


"First of all, the things that were said about Ike, that were in that piece-of-trash movie they made about him were ... (applause), it was a piece-of-trash movie. I haven't seen the movie but it was told to me, and [Barney] Kessel was the world's greatest guitar player in the world and the only reason that Ike didn't play on 'River Deep, Mountain High' was because Ike was the second greatest guitar player in the world. I treasured him and everybody knew it except Ike. That's how good he was

"B.B. King told me at a party with Doc Pomus and Joe Turner and Ray Charles sitting there that Ike Turner was the only guitar player he wouldn't play behind. That's how good he was. But Ike never boasted. He came to parties with me and I'd say, 'play, play' and Ike would never play.


"Ike could play circles around Eric Clapton and Eric knew it. I had someone once ask me what's the difference between Ike Turner and Eric Clapton. I said, 'you don't know the difference between Eric Clapton and Ike Turner? That's funny, why don't you ask Eric, Eric knows.'"

"Ike made Tina the jewel she was. When I went to see Ike play at the Cinegrill in the '90s after his absurd reason for being sent to prison for no reason other than being a black man in America, there were at least, and I counted them, five Tina Turners on the stage performing that night, any one of them could have been Tina Turner."

A sentimental Iowa Christmas tale

Septic tank snares D.M. man
What’s this?
Christmas Eve downright stunk for Robert Schoff of Des Moines, but he was able to laugh about it by Tuesday.

Firefighters had to rescue the 77-year-old when he got stuck in the opening to his septic tank.

He had dug a hole and reached inside to find a clog when he lost his balance and became wedged.

"It wasn't good, I'll tell you what," said Schoff, of 4300 N.E. 27th St. "It was the worst Christmas Eve I've ever had,"

The 5-foot-5-inch, 135-pound Schoff hollered, screamed, and hoped his wife, Toni, would hear his cries for help.

He waited for an hour until she walked by a window and noticed feet in the air.

"I saw these kicking feet and ran out, but couldn't get him out," Toni Schoff said.

She went to the house and called 911, and two Polk County sheriff's deputies arrived to yank her husband out.

A Delaware Township rescue crew took Schoff to the hospital, where he was treated for bruises and a ruptured eardrum.

"How that happened, I don't know," he said. "I thought it was the end of my life. Thank God my wife saw me. I don't think I could have stood staying in there much more. She's my lifesaver."


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Quotes of The Day

By Heather Havrilesky from Salon

Dec. 26, 2007 | When I was in third grade in Catholic school, one of the girls in my class wrote "Fuck You" all over the stalls of the girls' bathroom in red Magic Marker. When I walked into the bathroom and saw those words, I didn't think, "Oh my God! Who would do such a thing?" I thought, "Wow, Tracy Griffin is going to be in big trouble for this one!" Among the dutiful Catholic students who suspected that God would punish them for merely talking in class, Tracy Griffin stood out like a hungry pit bull at a free-range chicken ranch.

But anonymity is never really the sociopath's goal, least of all now, when the mentally unstable have the media savvy to know how to get their message across, whether they're marching into Hillary Clinton's campaign office with fake explosives taped to their chests or mailing detailed videotaped tomes to the appropriate department at NBC News in order to clarify the nuances of their upcoming suicidal killing spree.

IWhile formerly scorned loose cannons of the celebrity magazine world like Star and InTouch -- plus newly minted rags like TMZ and Gawker -- gained massive audiences by serving up appetizing pap to feed our worst impulses, an odd group of attention-seeking celebrity sociopaths rose to the occasion with increasingly aggressive public displays of affection for themselves and no one else. These were the Tracy Griffins of the entertainment world, an unruly gaggle of whoring celebrity sea donkeys who kept the rubberneckers in their thrall by showing up half-dressed and half-conscious wherever they knew flashing cameras would be present.


But in this head-spinning year of celebrity obsession and backlash, did we gain anything by listening in on Alec Baldwin's private phone message to his daughter, or watching camera-phone footage of David Hasselhoff drunkenly scarfing down a hamburger, or reading Charlie Sheen's alleged e-mails to his ex, Denise Richards? While none of us are above snickering at a rare glimpse of a celebrity during a particularly low moment, those glimpses are so common these days that they're really not all that amusing anymore, particularly when they're followed by a slew of Op-Eds, follow-up pieces and 15 million Web posts about whether Baldwin or Hasselhoff or Richards is a good parent, talented actor, upstanding citizen, worthwhile human being, on and on and on until our minds are thoroughly scrambled. You may have clicked on Perez Hilton or Gawker out of casual curiosity, but when you woke up three hours later, your head filled with an addled jumble of unsubstantiated gossip and idle judgment plus a dizzying volume of disconcertingly passionate opinions from the unwashed masses, your worldview and your priorities were irretrievably skewed, like it or not.

From Maureen Dowd from The New York Times

"Now the melancholy days have come,” Groucho Marx wrote to pal and fellow comic Fred Allen on Dec. 23, 1953. “The department stores call it Christmas. Other than for children and elderly shut-ins, the thing has developed to such ridiculous proportions — well, I won’t go into it. This is not an original nor novel observation, and I am sure everyone in my position has similar emotions. Some of the recipients are so ungrateful.

“For example, yesterday I gave the man who cleans my swimming pool $5. This morning I found two dead fish floating in the drink. Last year I gave the mailman $5. I heard later he took the five bucks, bought two quarts of rotgut and went on a three-week bender. I didn’t get any mail from Dec. 24th to Jan. 15th. ... For Christmas, I bought the cook a cookbook. She promptly fried it, and we had it for dinner last night. It was the first decent meal we had in three weeks. From now on I am going to buy all my food at the bookstore.”

From a review of the Craig Unger book on Truthout

Unger traces the origins of Bush's foreign policy to the 1970s, when prominent bureaucrats and writers gathered around such converts to conservatism as Irving Kristol and Albert Wohlstetter. The neocons scored their first big success in 1976, when two of their allies in President Ford's administration, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, created a group outside the CIA to assess the Soviet threat. That panel, dubbed Team B, was staffed by neocon worthies and led by Richard Pipes of Harvard University. One of the group's advisers was a Wohlstetter protege named Paul Wolfowitz.

Team B concluded that the CIA had vastly underestimated Soviet power and that supporters of detente were merely assisting the Kremlin's drive for world domination. It was an imaginative assessment, given that the economy of the USSR was crippled and its military infrastructure was suffering as CIA officers pointed out. Pipes's group held, for instance, that the USSR had probably deployed a top-secret antisubmarine system, even though U.S. intelligence had found no credible evidence of such a program. As Unger writes, "The absence of evidence, [Team B] reasoned, merely proved how secretive the Soviets were!" It was a bold preemptive attack on fact and logic.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Truth about Chuck Norris

Cinema Retro carries a story tonight about the Chuck Norris folks being unhappy because a spoof book called The Truth About Chuck Norris has been written.

Here's Cinema Retro:

Chuck Norris is sure in the news a lot lately. He's now suing author Ian Spector in an attempt to get his new book The Truth About Chuck Norris withdrawn from distribution. Norris' lawsuit also lists Penguin publishers as co-defendants. At first glance, it might seem that the martial arts icon is being a bit thin-skinned. Spector's book is an obvious farce that centers on web-based Paul Bunyan-like tall tales relating to his image as a seemingly invincible action star. Among the witticisms found in the book:

• Chuck Norris can charge a cell phone by rubbing it against his beard.
• When an episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger” aired in France, the French surrendered to Chuck Norris just to be on the safe side.
• Chuck Norris was the first person to tame a dinosaur.
• Chuck Norris once visited The Virgin Islands. Afterward, they were renamed The Islands.
• Every piece of furniture in Chuck Norris’s house is a Total Gym.

Ed here: It doesn't say much for Chuck Norris' fans if they believe this. Nor for Norris himself. (I keep rubbing my cell phone against my own beard but so far no luck.)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Suspicious Origins

Back in the late 70s and early 80s I reviewed mysteries for the local paper. The editor asked me to cover the entire field from cozies to hard boiled. At first I wasn't sure I wanted to sort through any but the hardboiled stacks but gradually I found writers in every sub-category of crime fiction that I enjoyed and admired.

One of my most pleasant discoveries was Patricia MacDonald. Her first novel Unforgiven was not only a clever stalker tale but also an exemplary piece of writing. She had major stuff from the git-go.

This weekend I'm reading, for the second time, a recent novel of hers called Suspicious Origins. This deals with a woman who has a falling out with the older sister who raised her. The two haven't spoken in years. Then the older sister dies in a fire before they ever resolve their differences. The woman goes to the snowy New England town for the funeral where she meets, among many others, her sister's husband and the little niece she's been trading cards and letters with for years. On the night of the funeral, the fire chief tells her that what appeared to be an accidental fire was actually arson, intended to kill both the mother and the daughter. The husband was working late--midnight--at the time. Thus the mystery is set in place.

What makes the book remarkable is the writing. Nothing flashy or trendy. Just sound solid sentences that create a picture of a society and its people in quiet but vivid strokes. Deft, evocative passages that stay with you. And characters so richly drawn they only enhance the page-turning edge of the plot.

In the era of James Patterson and all his clones reading a novel so full of real everyday life and real everyday people in a Hitchcock-tight novel is a pleasure not to be taken lightly.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Lawless by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Brubaker-Phillips have produced two of my favorite graphic novels, COWARD and now LAWLESS. If you crossed Richard Stark's Parker with Get Carter and set it all in America you'd have a good sense of what these remarkable stories are about.
Tracy Lawless escaped the slums of his country by becoming a professional military man battling in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he comes back when he hears that his troubled little brother was killed, a little brother he now feels he selfishly deserted. He should've stuck around and seen that the kid had the same chance of escaping the mean streets he did.
The novel runs on two tracks, forward and backward. Forward Lawless prowls the badlands in seach of the people who killed Rick. Backward he discovers the sad violent life the kid led.
The artwork is as dark and evocative as the writing. The mean streets have never looked meaner. The characters are neurotic enough to be different and psychotic enough to be believable in this urban-hell context. There are a few scenes that are as rich as anything I've seen in contemporary hard boiled novels.
Lawless is well worth your money and your time.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

More Top Ten

I didn't realize until I read the responses to last night's top ten favorites (not best; simple saying they're my favorites) that all but one of them is black and white. So tonight I mention color fims.

1.Taxi Driver
2. Get Carter
3. Point Blank
4. Body Heat
5. The Cooler
6. Night Moves
7. True Confessions
8. The Grifters
9. The Long Goodbye
10. The Outfit

And man I don't know how I forgot to inclue Doible Indemnity last night. Maybe my favorite noir of all.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Top Ten Noirs

Dave Zeltersman has suggested that I list my ten favorite noir films. My problem is that my choices vary according to my mood. But because several million people have been asking for the list. Here goes.

1. Out of The Past
2. Night and The City
3. The Third Man
4. Kiss Me Deadly
5. The Big Combo
6. Gun Crazy
7. The Anthony Manns-- Desperate Railroaded T-Men Raw Deal
8. Chinatown
9. In A Lonely Place
10. Sweet Smell of Success

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hooray for Hwood sort of

David Rensin has spent decades in Hollywood. He set many of his memories to paper in the excellent The Mailroom. Freddie Fields, one of the two or three most powerful agents in Hwood history, asked Rensin to help him write his memoirs. While they spent a good number of hours together--they were long time friends--Fields didn't live to complete the book. Now Rensin has a blog and is recounting some of the stories Fields told him.

The url below will lead you to a long and complicated story about the many many blind alleys that somehow led to the making of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. There are only two constants in the story--scripter William Goldman and star Paul Newman. Finding a Sundance made for many tangled troubles.

Originally Jack Lemon was suggested as Sundance but the studio didn't want him. Then names such as Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen began buzzing around the project. The McQueen episode is the most interesting part of the piece. My interpretation of the tale is that McQueen felt he wouldn't get enough attention if he co-starred with a luminary like Newman. He presented this as a difficulty with the billing. Who's name would be first?

Fascinating stuff.

News for writers

I hope this is okay to post here. If not, apologies in advance, and it won't
happen twice.

Folks, just thought I'd mention: I'm the new president of Novelists, Inc.,
and I urge you to think about joining, if you're not already a member!

Novelists, Inc. is a multi-genre organization for writers who are
multi-published in book-length fiction. Founded by romance writers almost 20 years ago,
it's still heavily romance, in terms of membership, but also has a fair number
of mystery, thriller, and mainstream writers, and quite a few cross-genre
writers. Sure could use more sf/f writers, though!

The monthly newsletter is terrific. There's a free sample copy available
electronically on our website at

Our annual national conference has (as per Del Rey VP Betsy Mitchell's
comments from the 2007 conference) an unusually high level of professionalism and
professional experience on offer. This year's conf will be in NYC end-March, and
the speakers and program and updates are all on our website at (again)

One of our new features is the Legal Fund, where we pay for up to two
billable hours of consultation with a literary lawyer (we have a list of approved
attorneys whom we researched and interviewed) for members who have a
publishing-related legal problem and want to assess their options and risks. (Ex. You've
been plagiarized, and you don't even know where to start, in terms of
addressing the problem. Ex. Or you sold a book to a small press which has published
your book without ever paying your advance, and has stopped even returning your
calls or emails. Ex. A bad press you dealt with has decided to sue you for
defamation after reading in your public blog that you were unhappy with the
way they did business.)

We've also recently established a collaborative relationship with Tekno
Books, to develop and market anthologies and collections written exclusively by
Ninc members. First book project is currently being worked on, second book
project will start up in spring 2008.

Any questions, contact me at Meanwhile, information for
prospective members, as well as applications, etc., and plenty of info about
Ninc, is at

Laura Resnick

See AOL's top rated
recipes (

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

Messages in this topic (1) Reply (via web post) | Start a new topic
Messages | Files | Photos | Members

Earn your degree in as few as 2 years - Advance your career with an AS, BS, MS degree -
Fed Lowers Rates Again - $270,000 Mortgage for $1,498/Mo. No Credit Check Needed No Credit Check Needed - Estimate New Payment.
Yahoo! Groups
Change settings via the Web (Yahoo! ID required)
Change settings via email: Switch delivery to Daily Digest | Switch format to Traditional
Visit Your Group | Yahoo! Groups Terms of Use | Unsubscribe
Visit Your Group
Star Wars on Y!

Discover new content

Connect with other

fans & upload video.

Build a web site

quickly & easily

with Sitebuilder.
New web site?

Drive traffic now.

Get your business

on Yahoo! search.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Heroes and Villains

And no I don't mean that great overlooked Beach Boys song.

TCM is running a short piece that offers different Hollywood opinions of Alfred Hitchcock the man. David Raskin fairly spits when talking about AH. Martin Landau canonizes him.

I've always run into the same disparity of opinions when I've recommended agents to other writers. Agent A is a career-saving man among men who once dragged three orphans from a burning fire with his teeth. That's one opinion. The other opinion has it that Agent B is a sub-literate crook who takes the first offer an editor makes. And after he rescued three orphans from a burning fire with his teeth, he sold them to a sex-slave operation.

And then of course we have book reviews. How is it possible that a novel is brilliant and an abomination to another? After the AH bit I picked up a magazine that reviewed a novel I'd recently read. I'd seen only one review of it and that had been the type your Mom would write. But the review I read today was written by someone who seemed to have a personal grudge against the writer (as perhaps he does--you never know).

I mention all this because a reader wrote me about how difficult conflicting reviews make it for the book buyer. True enough. In self-defense I've developed a list of reviewers whose judgement I trust. Don't always agree with them. But in many instances their rationale for liking or disliking a book seems reasonable and informed to me. Though here you run into the rep of the reviewers. There are two whose work I like especially. But there's a group who dismiss them superficial and dull.

The late Pavoratti, as I've mentioned here before, said that all you can do is play to those who love you. It's difficult for some of us to imagine that there is somewhere in the vast universe who actually dislikes our work--or worse, dislikes us personally.

Catch the the clever TCM piece on AH and you'll begin to understand the wisdom of Shakespeare's advice to keep your own counsel. Despite what some of those crummy sleazy twisted bastards might think.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


'People like strange, distasteful things today. We need to give children magic and hope'
--Mickey Rooney

I was catching up on reading the Guardian today when I came across an unsettling photograph of Mickey Rooney in costume for a new performance.

As someone who's facing old age, I don't want to sound insensitive or uncharitable but I wonder if there isn't a time when performers shouldn't just let it all rest.

This isn't just true of performers, of course. Virtually everybody reaches a time when it's probably best to rest. And just about every career seems to have people who stay too long. Surgeons, commercial pilots, name a few careers that get dangerous for folks at the mercy of those who won't retire. And writers, too, of course, peak and decline.

But we see performers at work. Being seen is the essence of their work. That's why it's so painful to watch somebody like Rooney--who I never liked even when I was a kid and supposed to--keep hamming it up. "People like strange, disasteful things." And I can't think of much that's sadder and more pathetic than the strange, distasteful sight of a ham staying too long at the fair.

I know this sounds cruel and I'm sorry for that. But I don't apply my performer-aversion just to age. Dennis Hopper irritates and embarasses me as much as Rooney does. Hopper was none too bright as a hippie; now he's added smugness to his act as he whores for the capitalists.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Extras Finale

Well, the 90 minute Extras finale has come and gone. I haven't seen a positive review. Most were mixed at best and a few almost angry that a series this good should end on so strained a note. The jabber on the Seinfeld finale was similar.

Last night we learned that Gervais doesn't do straight drama with any originality or even vitality. His forte seems to be bitter comedy with melancholy underpinnings. At that he's a genius.

Too much much last night, though lingering on Ashley Jensen's face so often was effective not only because of her sweet looks but also because you rarely see a middle-aged woman celebrated this way.

The big name gambit of having famous actors behave badly was either overdone or underdone. For just two examples, Clive Owen was too much of a jerk; George Michael was so understated I didn't quite get the point of his appearance.

The guy who played the agent could give Jeremy Piven some pointers on how to be sincerely avaricious without being a bad guy. He interpreted his role intelligently. If you're willing to do trash, I can make you some money. None of Ari's frantic bullshit.

The reality show segment was clumsily paced and unfocused and way to much to be beleivable, though the old Gervais wit was on display with the woman whose "celebrity" was based on the fact that her son was murdered. She is apparently trying to ride tragedy into cheesy fame.

For me the most enjoyable parts of the show involved Merchant as Gervais' incompetent agent and his sidekick Barry. I'd like to see a half hour for them, a day at the office maybe. Their scenes as cell phone salesmen were fine, especially the dance they did whenever one of their phones rang. A weird riff on the Marx brothers (just as there was at least one weird riff on Seinfeld).

I'd give the finale a B though maybe I'm being just as sentimental as Gervais was being last night.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Blonde

I wasn't sure that anybody could or would write a novel quite as crazed as Downtown by Ed McBain but damned if Duane Swierczynski hasn't done it.

In Downtown the hapless protagonist endures an unending series of con jobs and con artists on a winry Christmas Eve. In The Blonde journalist Jack Eisley meets his own kind of con artist, the lovely Kelly White of the title, who doses Eisley with the McGuffin that sets everything in motion, including a government agent straight out of Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia. All on a single night in Philadelphia.

Swierczynski gets better every time out and his handling of what amounts to screwball spy fiction is masterful. The story keeps you flipping the pages, the characters are believable and unique and the construction extraordinary. Swierczynski really understands how to set up, pace and pay off a scene. One more thing he shares with the late McBain.

The Blonde is a straight shot of pure pleasure. You'll like it, too.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Attention writers: A new market

When I was but a lad my room looked like a book annex. Stacks of Imagination, Manhunt, Galaxy, Mike Shayne, Gold Medals, Ace Doubles, Ballantines etc.

In my college days my room was still filled with mystery and sf but supplemented with Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Dreiser, Roth, Evergreen Review and the precursors of Flower Power...the City Lights poets and the invective of the first underground newspapers.

In the Seventies my various apartments were lined with bookcases that contained all the above plus runs of Westlake and Block and Rendell.

And all of the above could be found in the basements of the houses Carol and I bought over the next twenty-seven years. Lots of money for unreliable contractors for built-in bookcases.

And then with the cancer giving away about sixty to seventy per cent of all of it so Carol wouldn't have to deal with it all when my time came to shuffle off.

But there was one constant. Books were books and magazines were magazines. You could see that at a glance. You could pick them up and hold them if you still had any doubts.

But then came the internet and duffers like me had to undergo the Phil Dickian-like trauma of confronting a world that was evolving and redefining itself every few days. And after my initial knee-jerk sneering and scoffing I began to dig it. And still do. What a wonderful world the net is.

The evolving and redefining bit I mentioned? Well, every once in awhile I, in my dufferness, can still be forced to face the fact that the net will never rest in the way it defines what we call books and magazines.

Here, an excerpt from a recent Galleycat:

Posted by Ron | 08:04 AM | Trends | Email this post

"Mobile Novels" Already Big in Japan
After spotting my item earlier this about Harlequin serializing romance novels by email, a reader steered me towards an article that ran last week in The Times of London on Japan's "mobile novel" phenomenon, and the "anxious debate about the nature of literature and the future of reading in Japan" provoked by the success of the keitai shosetsu.

"Five of the year's most successful novels, including the top three, were first written for downloading on mobile phones before being republished in book form," Richard Lloyd Parry reported, describing their format as "short, simple sentences using relatively few characters, featuring melodramatic plots heavy on violence, sex and tear-jerking sentiment."

Ed here: I already have my title ready if the mobile novel people ever contact me. I Want To Screw Your Bloody Brains Out On Valentine's Day.

I think that pretty much covers all the mobile novel bases doesn't it?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mystery history

The other night Martin Edwards posted a particularly thoughtful piece on British writer W.J. Burley : "Although Burley wrote in popular genres, his work is quiet and generally eschews melodrama, but he excelled at the evocation of place and mood. He may not belong in the Premier League of crime writers, but his was a career of solid and lasting achievement."

I agree about Burley. He worked in watercolors rather than the violent hues popular the last four decades. Martin compares him to Simenon and I think that's both fair and accurate. You can probably find a title or two of Burleys at your local library. He's well worth trying.

Which leads my to the Mystery File blog

Here's a site that covers virtually every aspect of mystery history. Hard-boiled, cozies, popular authors, forgotten authors. And great cover reproductions. For me the covers of the Forties were particulary stylish (not all of them God knows) and memorable. Editor Steve Lewis publishes substantial pieces by writers such as Bill Pronzini and Francis Nevins on writers who deserve to be rediscovered or at least briefly remembered.

It's always interesting to see where we came from.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ross Macdonald

My good friend Bill Crider reminds us that it's Ross Macdonald's birthday.

I certainly salute the man under his pen name Ross Macdonald and his real name Ken Millar. In fact I'll go as far to say that Millar and his wife Margaret Millar were the two best crime writers of their generation. For me nobody brought true novelistic talents to the private eye novel that Ken did--nor true novelistic talents to the traditional crime novel that Margaret did.

This would be a good time to choose their finest novels for rereading. For me that would be The Chill and The Way Some People Die by Ken and How Like An Angel and A Stranger In My Grave by Margaret.

It's also time to reread Tom Nolan's superb biography of Ken.

Thanks for reminding us, Bill.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The final word on JDM

This is one of the off-line letters I got on the John D. MacDonald issue. I think it's an interesting way to end the discussion:

Hi Ed,

Well, I'm in my (late) thirties and I love JDM. But I
grew up with my Dad reading him and a lot of
westerns--L'Amour and Luke Short--so maybe I have JDM
appreciation in my DNA. (Sorry for all the
abbreviations.) Deep Blue Good-By, Dead Low Tide etc
are some of my favorites. And I love the social
commentary, even if it is a little dated. His
observations about human nature are not dated at all.
I think you're right that Leonard is the right writer
for these times--a little slick, a little quirky, a
little self-consciously hip. I tend to like his
westerns better these days, although some of his crime
novels--like Cat Chaser--are excellent of course.

Hope you are well. My novel hits the streets on
January 29th, so I'm getting excited.

Take care,


David Jack Bell |

Ed here: Me, too, with the westerns. And his crime stuff up to and including Unknown Man Number 89, 52 Pick-Up and Ryan's Rules. My favorite Leonard flat out is Valdez Is Coming. Yes I'm a heretic and will burn in hell.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Old and new

I received three off-blog letters about the John D. post the other night. Two of the people were in their Thirties and felt that he was a slow read. And one was in his Fifties and thought he read just fine.

I make a point of their ages because I think it's an important consideration. Folks from age forty-five and up were raised in a very different culture from those who came after. Happy News was inaguarated in 1968. The dictum there was that people wouldn't sit still for any TV news story longer than sixty seconds. Anchors also began their inane blabbing to on-air subordinates. Ted Baxter reigned.

Movies changed, too. Action flicks, riding the back of spaghetti westerns, were as much spectacles as stories. The movie Help influenced films, too. Fast cuts, disjointed narrative lines, images for images' sake.

If you grew up under the influence of all this (and many many other changes in popular culture) I can see why John D might read slow. He came from a time when fiction was fixed on sociology. He was an enormous fan of John O'Hara. Open any O'Hara novel and you'll see half page long paragraphs. You'll find an indelible impression of the world he's working in. Sociology. Backstory. Writing.

Take a look at any early 87th Precinct and compare it to the later ones. From 1992 or so they haul ass as they never had before. The reader doesn't get all those great rambling takes on mores and morals that McBain was so good at. The marketplace had changed.

These days long books make me groan. I like short books. I've even been known to enjoy a Stuart Wood (but not for several years) and James Patterson (before he decided he wanted to make enough money to buy France). But not a steady diet thereof. There are plenty of thoughtful writers in our field, everybody from Laura Lippman to S.J. Rozan to Nancy Pickard to Michael Connelly. These and many others are the ones that give lasting pleasure.

I think Elmore Leonard is probably the right writer for this time. He reads fast, he's fun and he's clever as hell. He likes to say that he leaves out stuff other writers leave in. I think he's on to something there.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Joseph Lewis

I watched Gun Crazy last night and was struck as always by the folk tale power of the story and the bravado with which it was directed. Mystery writer Mike Nevins has written a long and to me definitive piece-interview on Lewis' career and through it I came to understand Lewis' notion that to have suspense you first need to have characters who are slightly askew. You never quite understand their motives so you never quite know what to expect from them.

Most evaluations of Lewis' career speculate what he would have done with A picture budgets. He ended up doing a lot of TV work. He made a good deal of money but presumably wasn't as satisfied with his Bonanza stories as he was with his more personal work. He started in westerns and finished in westerns.

As for what he would have done with A-picture money...who knows. But there's at least a chance that he was most comfortable working with the money he was given. Hard to imagine that pictures as gritty as Gun Crazy and The Big Combo could have been shot the way he wanted them to be in an A-picture environment. These are films that took no prisoners and Hwood, especially in those days, wasn't real keen on grim movies.

I found this evaluation of Lewis by David Thomson, my favorite film critic:

"There is no point in overpraising Lewis. The limitations of the B picture lean on all his films. But the plunder he came away with is astonishing and - here is the rub - more durable than the output of many better-known directors...Joseph Lewis never had the chance to discover whether he was an "artist," but - like Edgar Ulmer and Budd Boetticher - he has made better films than Fred Zinnemann, John Frankenheimer, or John Schlesinger." - David Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, 2002)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

JDM Redux from Fred Blosser


You made an interesting observation a couple of weeks ago, "I was shocked when I saw how quickly John D. MacDonald started to fade after his death. I've given his books to several thirty-somethings and to a person they find him 'slow.' " I've been thinking about that reaction. I was big into MacDonald when I was 19 or 20. His books could be easily found in any newsstand, corner drug store, or bus station, kept perpetually in print (or so it seemed at the time) by Fawcett. I never thought of him as slow; far from it. I generally ran through each book in no more than a couple of sittings.

I had hoped for more reaction to your comment than it received. Maybe in itself, that's a measure of how much MacDonald has slipped below the radar, even among crime fiction buffs. If newer readers find him slow going, could it be for these reasons?

--He didn't write in the pared-down, dialogue-driven style now employed by James Patterson, John Sandford, and John Grisham, whose names are as ubiquitous on bookshelves today as JDM's once was. At random, I recently picked up one of MacDonald's Gold Medals, DEADLY WELCOME. At 160 pages, it should be as much of a fast read as they come. Nevertheless, MacDonald devotes as much space to describing his sleepy, stagnant Florida backwater setting as he does to finding out whodunit. For a reader who comes to the novel from Patterson, there may be too much sensory description, not enough straight-ahead action.

--The familiar conventions of today's crime fiction -- serial killers, female sleuths, self-loathing police officers, wacky petty criminals or colorful Mafia goons, detectives defined by vocation (forensic examiners) or ethnicity (Navaho tribal cops) -- are largely absent from JDM's fiction. Could "slow" mean that these younger readers had difficulty adjusting to a novel that lacked those kinds of touchstones? Maybe. Along the same lines, fans of Carl Hiassen, Elmore Leonard, or Tim Dorsey are likely to be disappointed that DEADLY WELCOME, the Travis McGees, and JDM's other novels set in the Sunshine State lack the off-the-wall wackiness and demented characters of the modern Florida crime novels.

--And then there's the fact that society as a whole has changed so much since MacDonald's heyday. How much is the average, thirty-something reader likely to identify with the mindset that generally informs JDM's novels, in which a capable male protagonist drives the action, female characters are usually subsidiary, and crime is an aberration in a generally orderly, forward-looking society?

You compared JDM's relative slide into obscurity with Ross Macdonald's resurgence. Ross benefitted from the fact that, toward the end of his career, he picked up some acclaim and recognition from the academics. That may have helped Ross to keep going in recent years, if at a lower level of commercial success than in his high-water period between THE UNDERGROUND MAN and his death. To my mind, the current incarnation of the Archer novels, in the Vintage trade pb editions, is more likely to appeal to the cult, scholastic crowd than to the casual surfer of popular fiction.

Fred B.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Stark House; Brian Keene

Hello Mystery Fans:

I just want to announce that Stark House Press has just signed a contract with Harry Whittington's Estate and will be bringing back three rare short novels by Whittington in one edition next November 2008.

The novels are:

To Find Cora -- originally published as Cora is a Nympho by Novel Books in 1963 -- To Find Cora is Harry's original title, and much truer to the story.

Like Mink Like Murder -- originally published only in French in 1957 as Mink, then rewritten later by Harry as Passion Hangover for one of the sex lines and published under a pseudonym -- again, Like Mink Like Murder is Harry's title.

Body and Passion -- originally published by Original Novels in 1952 under the Whit Harrison pseudonym -- a strange story of switched identities that will keep you guessing until the end.

Three hard-to-find books in one volume, with a new introduction by Whittington specialist, David Laurence Wilson. Three compelling stories from one of the noir masters. Three novels of suspense and hardboiled action.

We hope you are as excited as we are.

Greg Shepard, publisher
Stark House Press
My police buddy Mark sent this along from Brian Keene's blog. Brian's Ten Best Books of The Year

6. THE COLLECTED ED GORMAN, VOLUME ONE by Ed Gorman: This is the first volume of PS Publishing's 'The Collected Ed Gorman' (which you have probably already determined by the title) and all I can say is, "It's about time!" I've been hoping for a complete collection of Ed Gorman's short fiction for years, but figured it would be a daunting task for any publisher, simply because the man is so prolific. Kudos to PS Publishing for undertaking the task, and boos to you if you haven't yet read him. This volume focuses on his crime, mystery, and suspense tales, and includes the fan favorite "Moonchasers", as well as an introduction by Lawrence Block. There is a deep, underlying nostalgia and sadness in many of these stories, and they moved me in a way most fiction doesn't anymore.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

steve badger - Anthony Mann

The older I get the more I feel close to the work of Anthony Mann. I suppose being a crazed paranoid loser helps but my appreciation for his skills both with character and style grow every time I see one of his films.

I don't know who Steve Badger is. I ran across this site yesterday and think it's worth checking out. Here are a couple samples of his assessments of Mann's work.

3) The Naked Spur, 1953. Jimmy Stewart made eight films with Anthony Mann. Five were westerns. Many film critics consider The Naked Spur to be the finest western ever made. Besides Stewart there are four other characters, played by Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh, Millard Mitchell (also in Winchester '73) and the always watchable Ralph Meeker (memorable in Jeopardy and as Mike Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly). Technically Ryan is the villain, but each male character is nuts in his way. Meeker in particular personifies heroic villainy, if that is possible. When watching the sunny, breathtaking scenery of The Naked Spur, I always think of the darkness of Mann’s film noir movies. Mann’s command of both interior darkness and panoramic light is an amazing accomplishment.

6) Raw Deal, 1948. Here we discover something Anthony Mann loves to film as much as shadows: co-star Marsha Hunt’s face. Aside from how beautiful it is, one reason may be because she is the only sympathetic character in this movie -- and she isn’t even the most likeable! (That honor goes to the #2 villain played by John Ireland.) The lead bad guy here is perhaps the heaviest heavy in the history of American film: Raymond Burr. Perry Mason fans unfamiliar with Burr’s film noir work are in for a jolt here when he throws burning alcohol on a party guest when she accidentally bumps him: "She should have been more careful." True to Anthony Mann movies though, that scene isn’t the creepiest. That distinction goes to John Ireland and the deer antlers... YOW!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Top Ten Most Irritating People On TV

Everywhere I look I'm seeing top ten lists. In no particular order here are the people whose presence on the tube deeply offends me.

Ty Penninngton-the "host" of Extreme Makeover. His breathy and contrived way of talking really really really irritates me.

Charles Gibson-a smug loudmouth who, except for the "news" people at Fox, is the most local TV of anybody on a network news show

The Kardashian Women who can't even get people to watch the youngun's sex video for free

Barbara Walters a hard unlovely imperious and profoundly silly woman

All the comedians Keith Olberman uses on his show--none of whom happen to be funny

Tom Brokaw--who died and left him historian? He was a lightweight when he was on the air and he ain't no different now. He fronts the books, folks, he don't write them.

Flava Flave--I only watched him once, that being the episode where the young woman went number two on his rug. She said she wanted to get his attention. Do I have to elaborate?

Don Rickles--I seem to be alone in finding him trite, dull and a jerk. Somebody should've flattened him a long time ago. Ninth grade humor.

Trey Parker--another icon who should be pumping gas. Hate South Park and the new show (to judge by the promos) looks even worse. Fart jokes in the promos?

Tim Russert--smoke but no fire. He loves the theatricality of asking pointed questions but twenty minutes after the show is over you realize you haven't learned anything. The political equivalent of a Vegas lounge act.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Can Do

In Sunday's LA Times Richard Rayner wrote a perceptive review of Otto Penzler's The Big Book of Pulps. He admires it, as how can you not?

In the course of the review he wrote a line that fascinates me, even though I'm not sure I understand it. Or understand it as he meant it anyway.

"Writers don't really write what they know; they write what they can."

According to my dictionary can means "to be capable of." Over a quarter century of knowing writers of various kinds I've heard a fair number--even a few of the best sellers--talk about the books they wish they'd written. Or could have written. In the case of genre writers this frequently means a literary novel or a genre-bending book that leaves a permanent mark on the field.

I've mentioned before that while I was poundiing them out for men's magazine back in the `60s and `70's, I entered a Scribners short story contest. They were looking for pieces that dealt with alcoholism. Since I'd recently given up drink and drug I didn't have any trouble dealing with the subject. Ultimately twelve stories were selected and they appeared in an anthology.

One of the Scribners editors called me and asked me if I'd thought of expanding the story into a novel. While I'd sold some stories to some very minor literary magazines, and while I'd always wanted to be Fitzgerald or Mailer, I'd never really thought of writing a literary novel before.

With his guidance, I began. I spent six months struggling with one hundred pages or so. At that point I realized that I don't have the talent for writing unplotted stories. I was bored. I gave it up.

I don't feel I've deprived the world of any great novel. I know better. But Rayner's "can" has stayed in my mind for forty-eight hours. "Can" not only in terms of skill but also in terms of acceptance in the marketplace. Are literary careers much different from acting careers? Do a lot of writers live out their years writing only what the market will buy or taking only what comes along? And are some writers trapped by success, writing virtually the same book over and over again because of the money involved, like a stereotyped actor the p[ublic will accept in only one role?

I don't have any answers to these questions. And my questions may be inane or misplaced. But Rayner's "can" really got to me.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Mr. Monk in Outer Space

I've been waiting for a novel that combines a mystery with elements of Galaxy Quest. And now I've found it.
In the sleek new adventure Mr. Monk in Outer Space Lee Goldberg takes our favorite neurotic deep into the lives of those involved with the cult TV show Beyond Earth (this after confronting another case that may be a murder that is not a murder--only Monk). The producer of the show has been murdered by a guy dressed up like one of the series characters.
You know you've landed in an alternate universe when you meet "Mr. Snork, security chief of the starship Discovery," one of the many fans also dressed up like peoples on the show. The ones who wear elephant trunks being my favorite.
The only thing goofier than the fans is when Monk looks at them and says "I don't associate with freaks like that." And then proceeds to do some riffing on the Sixties to "prove" that they're all "high on LSD." A great scene.
This is probably my favorite Monk book because it contains a gag that is in my top ten of Monk jokes (Monk being the favorite show of Mr. and Mrs. Gorman).
"You remember a cop named Monk?" Stottelmeyer asked.
"Wasn't he the guy who ticketed a hundred people outside a movie theater for not lining up according to height?"
And indeed he was.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

From Fred Blosser THE BURGLARS

Ed, for possible interest by the gang,

I wonder how many besides me remember THE BURGLARS, from 1971, based on David Goodis’ THE BURGLAR. I found it recently on a DVD from Alfa Digital, and on watching it again for the first time in 30+ years, I found myself liking it a lot more than I remember liking it when I saw it in the theater in 1972, when it had a brief U.S. release.

Then: I think I was disappointed in large part because I was expecting a violent noir-ish crime movie along the lines of other late ‘60s and early ‘70s films like POINT BLANK, GET CARTER, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, and DIRTY HARRY. I didn’t find much noir in THE BURGLARS, which was mounted as one of those shiny, big-name international productions that enjoyed a vogue at the time. (In this case, Jean-Paul Belmondo and director Henri Verneuil for the French market, Ennio Morricone’s jazzy soundtrack for the Italian theaters, Dyan Cannon and Omar Sharif for U.S. marquees, and a solid supporting cast of Euro-movie types like Robert Hossein and Jess -- not to be confused with Jessica -- Hahn.) I was also familiar with Verneuil's 1969 THE SICILIAN CLAN, which was almost as glitzy but nevertheless more noir-ish and more tightly knit.

Now: I would give Verneuil more noir credit than I did at the time. I haven’t read Goodis’ novel or seen the earlier movie version from the late ‘50s, but from other reviews, I infer that Goodis was just a point of departure for Verneuil, not a template for mood or style. Still, Omar Sharif’s sleazy police detective, who discovers that Belmondo and his gang has burglared a fortune in emeralds from a millionaire’s villa, and decides to grab the stolen goods for himself rather than arrest the culprits, is a dependable noir type. And Sharif, wearing a cool white fedora and white trench coat, turns in a pitch-perfect performance, just the right mix of charm and nastiness.

And three decades on, I seem to find the movie’s meandering style – constructed around the lengthy burglary that opens the movie, followed over the course of the story by four big action set pieces – more tolerable than I did then. Maybe because so many of today’s action flicks are even more meandering, to the point of frustration, as the viewer checks his watch at the two-hour point, and realizes that the film has at least another half hour to run – PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and LORD OF THE RINGS, anyone? At least Verneuil kept his running time under two hours.

Dyan Cannon, playing a magazine centerfold whom Belmondo picks up in a swank bar with a mellow Morricone lounge tune playing in the background, seems to randomly move in and out of the storyline – but pay attention, because as it turns out, her character serves a venerable noir function as well, including the classic bit (probably now verboten for fear of offending audiences) where the leading lady gets slapped around by the leading man. Verneuil compounds the sin by giving the scene a would-be comic edge. Cannon has an electronic "clapper" in her apartment (probably cutting edge high-tech in those days). Slap, the lights in the apartment go out. Slap, on again. Slap, off again.

Belmondo apparently did his own stunts in scenes where he eludes Sharif by jumping onto the sides of buses in moving traffic, sprints across the roofs of cars when the traffic stalls, and gets ejected over a hillside by a dump truck. I’m sure the stunts were set up with great care to minimize any risk of the star getting hurt, but still, it’s nice to see the old movie style where the stunts interact with real props, not with a phony CGI green screen, and the action hero’s movements are limited by the physical laws of the real world. I wish the Alfa Digital DVD were better than it is (it appears to have been struck from an aging print with less than optimal DVD technology), but it’s the only one on the market.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Hugh B. Cave

Imagine this:

Bitter winter. Midnight. You're driving as fast as you can to an urgent appointment. On your right you see a wide frozen lake gleaming in the moonlight. A bit further on you see an amusement park that is closed for the season, everything shiny with ice. But as you come upon it you hear an impossible clamor--the thunderous sound of the ferris wheel starting up. Then comes the sound of a woman screaming. You stop the car to watch in disbelief as the ferris wheel car holding the woman begins its climb up the tracks, tracks covered in ice that will certainly hurl the car to the ground when it reaches the top.

Now is that a hook or is that a hook? We're trapped in an ice-snow-rain storm out here so I spent my free time checking out websites I'd hadn't read for a long time. One of them ran a long piece on the career of Hugh B. Cave, a man who made his mark in horror and fantasy but who also did some exotic crime work for the detective pulps. The piece made me grab a collection of his called Bottled in Blonde about (get this) a private eye who is always half-drunk while working on a case. The above opens one of nine adventures that appeared in Dime Detective in the Thirties.

Cave's work as a crime writer compels because of the unsettling horrific aspects of the stories, a Weird Tales star picking up some of the small time money the tec boys are chasing.

Cave had a long run in the slicks as well as the pulps and in the Fifties Cave had three NY Times bestsellers. He wrote and sold fiction well into his nineties.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The sins of private eye writers

I ran across this from the editors of Thrilling Detective today. Great stuff. And of course being the simpleton I am I've used several of these trite devices myself.

Any story that begins with the P.I. sitting at his desk, drinking from the office bottle.
Any story that begins with a sultry woman walking into a PI's office while he's sitting at his desk, drinking from the office bottle.
Any woman with "legs up to here."
The Mafia. C'mon, guys, get with it. Give the Sicilians a break. There are tons of hard-working Russians, Iranians, Irish, Jamaicians, Hiatians, Greeks, Jews and WASPS who'd like proper respect paid for their great contributions to organized crime.
Arab terrorists (see above).
Any P.I. who flashes a photostat of their license. I mean, photostats? Who uses that term anymore? Hello! It's not 1929, anymore. And by the way, gunsels aren't actually guys with guns...
Excessive references to jazz. Nothing wrong with jazz, really, but jazz snobs are a dime a dozen these days. Anyone fifty or under who listens exclusively to jazz is probably a geek or a snob. It's more likely they grew uplistening to the Stones or the Sex Pistols or Garth Brooks or Elton John or Nirvana or Motown or soul or Public Enemy or the Beatles. And chances are they're still listening to 'em. There's no shame in admitting pop culture exists. Name-dropping Mingus or Charlie Parker doesn't make you an intellectual.
The detective should be a man or woman of their times. At least Amos Walker KNOWS he's an anachronism.
Private eyes who drive classic automobiles or brightly-coloured sports cars. C'mon, forget Magnum, P.I. What sort of idiot tails someone in a car that draws attention to itself? Can't you just see it? "Hey, Mugsy, isn't that the same 1955 cherry-apple red T-Bird convertible in immaculate condition, with the mag wheels and the white pinstriping that was behind us yesterday?" "No, Bugsy, it must be another one."
And be very careful before using any of these:
(These are from our mailbag, compliments of our readers)
The bourbon in the drawer
The fedora and the trenchcoat
The stacked secretary
The psycho sidekick who does all the dirty work that the virtuous P.I. won't.
The treacherous femme fatale (this is probably the most predictable plot twist of all).
Obsessive fitness. All that jogging is tiring us out...
Tedious subplots and tragic pasts force-fit into the story to make the P.I. look more human, or have more depth, with no connection to the main plot.
Faux literary self-reflection after using violence.
Extensive Vietnam flashbacks. Okay, so Vietnam was to another generation of PI's what WWII was to Hammer. I recognize this. I understand it. I don't even mind the occasional reference to service. But guys, if I wanted to read a friggin' war novel, I'd read a friggin' war novel.
Let's put political correctness on the hanger next to the lime green leisure suit. And gratuitous political uncorrectness right beside it.
Serial killers. Hammett gave murder back to the people who commit it for a reason, remember? Serial killer stories are too often just cozies with more blood and less tea.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Troubled waters

Martin Edwards has posted a nice tribute to Peter Haining, the anthologist who seemed to be everywhere from the 70s well into this decade. I had one direct experience with Haining. He bought an original story of mine. He was professional in every respect and not afraid of flattery. I appreciated the breadth of his anthologies. I probably own twenty or more of them. His pulp books are especially fine.

In the course of his post, Martin remarks on a dilemma I've mentioned here before. He talks about trying to secure permission for certain stories:

"The co-operation I received from the families of such writers as John Creasey and Leslie Charteris was generous indeed. Sadly, the agents of one deceased writer - popular in the past, but now out of print - demanded such a high reprint fee that it wasn't possible to include the story. This struck me as short-sighted, for there was a chance to introduce a new generation of readers to a gifted practitioner of classic detection. And it's salutary how quickly even very popular writers slip out of the public eye within a few years of their death."

I know there are some people who think the process of reprinting old stories is easy. Most of the time, yes. But there are always pieces you have to do battle for, usually, in my experience, with descendents rather than agents, though I did have an agent ask fifteen thousand dollars for a novel that had been out of print for nearly forty years.

My most unpleasant experience came with the sharp-tongued widow of a once-prominent writer who said that I was trying to "steal" her husband's story. A 1936 story, never reprinted, for which I offered one hundred dollars. The story was three thousand words long. She told me how how much he used to get for novels; and she told me at great length how much he made writing for the studios. I wanted to point out that nothing of his had been in print for more than twenty years but by then I was too tired of the whole thing to argue anymore.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Robert E. Howard

You either love Robert E. Howard or you hate him. That's the way it always seems, anyway. I like some of his stuff a lot and some of his stuff not at all. When he was bad he was unreadable. To me.

One of the characters I think might work especially well for the screen is Solomon Kane. Here's a note from Mediabistro:

Posted by Ron | 11:41 AM | Book Fairs | Email this post

Pressed to name a Robert E. Howard character, some people might be able to come up with Conan the Barbarian; ask for two, and they might mention Red Sonja (although that's only half-right). If you've got a hardcore Howard fan, though, he might mention Solomon Kane, the protagonist of a series of stories written for Weird Tales in which a 16th-century Puritan wanders the earth, like Cain in Kung Fu, fighting evil with his sword and pistols.

Ed here: In the hands of the right screenwriter, the Puritan angle could give the storyline the depth most adventure movies lack. Not that I don't find The Fanastic Four deeply and profoundly moving, you understand.

Monday, November 26, 2007

City Heat

The always interesting Cinema Retro pointed me to a Nathan Rabin piece on City Heat, the excrutiatingly terrible movie that co-starred Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds. Rabin mentions that some bad movies are remembered and some totally forgotten. He thinks City Heat is one of the forgotten ones and I have to agree. I haven't thought about it in years.

I remember watching it in disbelief. It was a piece of crap in just about every way a movie can BE a piece of crap. There's nothng worse than bad comedy and this--except for the opening, as Rabin points out--was about as bad as any comedy I've ever seen.

Here are some quotes:

"At the time City Heat was filmed, Reynolds and Eastwood were two of the biggest box-office attractions in the world. So their pairing must have filled the minds of studio executives with ecstatic images of cash registers c-c-chinging happily. As Hit And Run, a book I recently read about Peter Guber and Jon Peters’ disastrous reign running Columbia-TriStar, makes abundantly clear, perception is as important, if not more important, than reality in Hollywood. So the studio execs must have been able to wow peers at cocktail parties for months by crowing, “So, we’ve got Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood in a period action-comedy from Blake Edwards.” Of course, if their partygoers were to ask “Yeah, but how’s the script?,” they’d just blankly stare at them and repeat, “Yeah, so we’ve got Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood in a period action-comedy from Blake Edwards. How cool is that? It’s gonna be huge.” (Ed note--Eastwood replaced Edwards inexplicably with Richard Benjamin presumably because Benjamin would take orders.)


"Eastwood became an archetype while even at the height of his powers; Reynolds always felt ersatz. I have a lot of respect for Reynolds’ minimalist work in movies like Deliverance, Semi-Tough, and The Longest Yard, but Reynolds nevertheless went from being a very poor man’s Marlon Brando, all coiled intensity and internal brooding, to a K-Mart version of Clark Gable.

"Both men worked extensively with co-stars lower down the evolutionary ladder than them. Eastwood famously worked with Clyde The Orangutan on Any Which Way But Loose and Every Which Way You Can. Reynolds worked extensively with Dom DeLuise until the corpulent cut-up’s feces-throwing, agitated screeching and baboon-humping made further collaborations impossible. Both men found their romantic travails splashed across tabloids. But where Eastwood’s acrimonious break-up with Sondra Locke only added to his aura as a tormented artiste, Reynolds’ high-profile fling with human Barbie Doll Loni Anderson made them the proto-Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson."

This is an entertaining pice both about a bad movie and two careers that veered off in very different directions. For the rest go here:

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Literary Immortality

Sarah Weinman has an interesting piece about all the American writers who've died in the past year. She wonders which of them well continue to be read in the future. She mentions everybody from Mailer to Styron to Sidney Sheldon. I'd agree with her that the smart money is on Vonnegut. I'd also agree with her (as I noted here earlier) that all the condescending obits to the contrary ("not a stylist"), no other writer had the popular culture impact of Ira Levin. Can you say Rosemary's Baby. Can you say Stepford Wives. For the rest of her fine piece read here:

I was shocked when I saw how quickly John D. MacDonald started to fade after his death. I've given his books to several thirty-somethings and to a person they find him "slow." Ross Macdonald faded just as quickly following his death but he's certainly had both a critical and commercial resugurence. Plus Tom Nolan's written an outstanding biography of him.

Of course there's literary immortality and there's literary immortality. There are writers who will not only be read beyond their years but taught as well. There was a David Goodis convention last year. (The Baker Street Irregulars aren't all that different from the David Goodis fans in intent, though I'm pretty sure that Conan Doyle was a wee bit different in personality from David Goodis.) Some of the more scholarly magazines (Clues, for instance) still deal with writers long passed. These are the benchmarks of literary immortality as it's been known up now.

But the egalitarian nature of the internet guarantees hundreds of writers at least a shadow of remembrance. Ed Earl Repp was one of the most god awful writers who ever hacked out a living for the pulps (and later for Hollywood) but I just Googled him and he's got four entries and he's been dead since 1979. I doubt the entries get many hits (even when I was nine I knew that The Radium Pool was bad news) but for those interested, he's there.

And Thrilling Detective, to name just one site, has catalogued and examined at some length the careers of dozens of hardboiled and noir writers who--in an earlier age--would have been remembered by only a handful of ardent fans.

Take your choice. Mother Internet loves all her writers.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Interesting letter

Dear Mr Gorman,

I'm glad to see that Max Allan Collins' "Ms Tree" is back and in novel

Growing up in Scotland in the 50s and 60s American comics were a real
splash of colour and excitement in a country that still had war-time
rationing in the year I was born. Even at my present age (52) I still
have a real fondness for them.

The extra-sized "Ms Tree" quarterly series that DC produced was top
notch and I was sorry to see it cancelled. Your own "back-up" feature
using the golden-age character "Midnight" was superb and led to me
reading any of your books that I can get my hands on.

Glasgow, being a busy port way back when (in the Victorian era often
called "the second city of the British Empire") as kids we used to
pick up very quickly on American books, comics and music. It was also
known as "cinema City" because it had more cinemas per head of
population than any other european city. Westerns and crime films were
the favourites.

There is a street market called the "Barras" ( the vendors used to use
wheel barrows for their merchandise) in the East end of the city where
I used to be able to pick up comics and books as a kid. I was down
there for the first time in ages a week or so ago and managed to find
a couple of your Westerns ("The Sharpshooter" and "Graves' Retreat")
for £1 each. For just a few minutes it was like being 14 all over
again! Really enjoyed both of them. I always find that your Westerns
read more like historical mysteries than more traditional "oaters".

Anyway, I just wanted to drop you a line to say how much I enjoy your
work and really look forward to reading news on your "blog". I'm just
about to head off to see my team (Glasgow Celtic) playing in our
football ( or soccer) league.

Best wishes,

Bill Carlin.

Ed here: Thanks for writing, Bill. And for the interesting glimpse of Glasgow. And of course for the compliments. I've never thought of my westerns as historical mysteries but I guess that's what they really are. Thanks for pointing that out.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Deadly Beloved

One of the great things about the Ms. Tree comic books by Max Allan Collins and artist Terry Beatty was that they actually told a story. In the age of "blow `em up real good" super-heroes that's saying something (my favorite super-hero movie is Galaxy Quest, if that tells you anything).

What's especially fine about Deadly Beloved, the Hard Case introduction to Ms. Michael Tree in novel form, is that Max is able to bring the same hard-boiled rough and tumble flavor and tension of the comic books to the printed page. And the bonus is that he's able, in this form, to give us a richer portrait of Michael Tree, who took over her husband's private detective agency after his death.

Marcy Addwater is accused of killing her faithless husband and his bimbo lover. The police feel that there's enough evidence--Marcy caught them together--to charge the woman. Ms. Tree steps in to help. This looks like too much of a frame to satisfy her, especially when she begins to learn a few deadly things about the husband and his girl friend.

This is a one-sitting read because the suspense is so good (Max creates great mystery plots) and the writing sizzles all the way through. I'd be surprised if this isn't the first in a series.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A story of heartbreak

I'm rereading The Lonely Silver Rain by John D. MacDonald. It's certainly the most mordant of all the McGees, many bloody deaths and a far more somber McGee who is much aware of his own mortality throughout. The structure's always fascinated me. It seems to start and stop at three different points. But JDM wraps it up neatly. There's one very funny bit.
McGee had warned this local woman about marrying a local TV weatherman. McGee spotted him immediately for the bounder he proved to be. McGee runs into the woman and here's how she tells her story about how they moved Philadelphia for a better weather job. But once there he dumped her.

"The bad thing about the situation in Philadelphia, that sports girl (his latest flame to quote Elvis) is a little thing with hips out to here and a tiny mustache. I mean it hurts your pride along with everything else. Stu was okay until he started getting fan mail. He never got any down here because he had the wrong haircut. In Philadelphia they fixed him up. The mail started coming in. He grinned into every mirror he saw and he kept doing things with his eyebrows. And taking an interest in sports. He always hated sports. He throws like a girl."

That is a novel in very few words.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

From Fred Blosser - John Trinian


You commented on John Trinian a few weeks ago. By coincidence, I rummaged through my DVD library a couple of days ago and plucked out a 2000 Image Entertainment edition of Henri Verneuil's 1963 French heist movie "Any Number Can Win" ("Melodie en sous-sol"), and noticed that it was based on a Trinian novel, "The Big Grab." Not having read the Trinian, I don't know how closely the movie followed the book, but it's a good flick, Jean Gabin as a tough old ex-convict and Alain Delon as the younger troublemaker whom he enlists in a plan to rob a casino.

As usual with the French crime movies from that era, there is little violence (wouldn't even show up on today's Richter Scale of Blow It Up Real Good), but plenty of cool ambience. The interplay between Gabin's methodical old pro and Delon's hothead is a pleasure to watch, and the plot drives straight ahead, toward the inevitable stinger of an ending, with nary an ounce of fat.

I'm waiting for the retro interest in the '50s style of the Rat Pack to spill over to a revival of Gallic crime films. Luckily, there are a fair amount of titles on DVD or still available in VHS -- "Rififi," "Le Circle Rouge," "Bob Le Flambeur," "Touchez pas au Grisbi," "Le Samourai," and "Le Doulos." Verneuil's "The Sicilian Clan" from 1969, also with Gabin and Delon (a moderately successful release in the U.S.) is available on DVD from the U.K. and runs occasionally on the Fox Movie Channel, I'm told. I've found another Gabin, "Rififi in Panama," on DVD from France. One that I keep waiting for -- with no luck so far -- is "Riff Raff Girls" ("Rififi Chez les Femmes") from that long-ago year of 1959.

A happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bruno Fischer

Carol and I spent a very enjoyable afternoon lunch (three hours) with Bob Randisi and Marthayn Peligrimas; and Barb and Max Collins. This is the most fun I've had since our previous lunch three months ago. Great folks and great friends.


One way you can tell you're getting old is when the good girl in the Gold Medal novel appeals to you more than the femme fatale.

Somebody wrote me about a review I'd written a few years ago of Bruno Fischer's House of Flesh. In my review I was agreeing with science fiction writer Dave Bischoff's contention that the book is a mystery that combines gothic elements with some really horrorific moments. It's one of Fischer's best novels, a very sleek, dark whodunit that lags only at the very end because he runs out of suspects. There is a particularly nasty scene wherein dogs set upon the remains of a dead horse, the carcass having rotted before they got to it. The word "flesh" has multiple meanings in the novel.

Before responding to the letter I decided to look through the book again. Held up very well. But as I read it I realized that Fischer had made the good girl so appealing--smart, funny, winsome, clean cut--that the protagonist seems sort of dotty to obsess over a rather odd woman whom he finds unattractive (but inexplicably sexy of course), aggravatingly mysterious and frequently irritable.

I know, I know--this is noir land where gonadic response to fate is not only standard but mandatory, thanks to the Law of The Crotch as writ large and eternal by James M. Cain.

The only way I can explain this misjudgement is my age. But an evening with the sweet, amusing good girl promises so much more fun than a few hours in the clutches of The Dragon Lady...

By the time they plant me Ill probably be reading those old-fashioned Harlequin romances. The clean ones.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Jimmy Sangster

For some reason I've owned Jimmy Sangster's autobiography Do You Want It Good Or Tuesday? for years but never reviewed it. I picked it up agaain yesterday and read parts of it and was entertained and enlightened as to the ways and wiles of show biz at every level.

Sangster wrote the early Hammer films including the first Dracula and the second X The Unknown. Those two credits alone put him the driver's seat of the white shimmering Shell Scott Caddy Convertible waiting for him in Pulp Heaven.

He went on to write dozens of more screenplays in England then came over here and wrote even more dozens of TV scripts. The book reads as if it was taken directly from journals. There's no way he could have remembered so many details otherwise.

Sangster comes off as an amiable pro, a man as good at survival as he is at writing. Along the way we meet at least fifty famous people he worked with or for. My single favorite moment is when he is working with William Castle (whom he likes) on a project and Castle produces a script for another project. He says he's having trouble with it and would like Sangster to make some notes and have a meeting with the writer. You know, basically tell this guy how it hould be written.

No author name on the script. Sangster takes it home, makes his notes, Castle sets up a meeting for the following day. Just as the man is coming up the walk, Sangster asks who he is and Castle says "Dalton Trumbo."

Trumbo was sort of the Hemingway of film writers. Talent and street cred to the highest power. He went to prison rather than rat out people to the House UnAmerican Committee. Academy Awards. Usually called brilliant. A giant and among giants.

And, as Sangster says, the guy then writing the Dan'l Boone show for NBC is going to give Trumbo writing advice?

"Listen, Dalton, baby, about this second act, kid..."

It's a fun read.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Today's Washington Post carries an article about the TV series Mannix. Seems that the only way to buy copies of the once-popular show is to buy bootleg on the web. For some reason it has yet to appear on DVD.

I'm sure I'm in a minority when I say that I always found Mannix to be one of the dullest, blandest private eye series I've ever seen. This may have something to do with the fact that its ten year span span coincided with the worst of my drinking and drugging years (I probably mention those years too often but they certainly tainted my take on things) so I don't pretend to offer any kind of objective opinion. He always seemed to be tumbling out of cars--as I was frequently trumbling off couches/chairs/the planet. I recall that he wore a lot of different sport coats and that his attractive black secretary seemed tokenesque even by the standards of the Sixties and Seventies ("Here, let me lick that stamp for you, Mr. Mannix" and assorted other vitally important jobs).

But mostly it was the blandness of the stories and Mannix's reaction to them. Even when he was getting beaten up by the thugs-of-the-week he looked a little disinterested. Maybe I didn't like it because it was never wry or true to the times like Rockford. And it wasn't hokey sociopathic fun like Hawaii 5-0 (McGarrett really needed to be Xanaxed several times a day, preferably by injection).

I was surprised when I saw the Mannix headline. I probably hadn't thought of that show in several years. If it had really been terrible I would've remembered it. But that seemed to be the problem. It wasn't good and it wasn't bad. It just was.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Used books

I see that the subject of buying used books has become a topic again on a few blogs. I suppose it's more relevant than ever given the per centage of books now sold used in both stores and on-line.

I know that there are some writers who feel that we should get royalties ala the way lending libraries of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties paid writers in a few countries. I also know that there are some writers who feel that used bookstores are the enemy.

Speaking as someone whose net worth is way yonder of a million dollars, the bookstore I spend most of my time in is Half Price. Selection, friendly employees and--half price.

I don't know about most of you but I grew up haunting used bookstores. They offer a special thrill because you never know what you're going to find there. My greatest stumble-upon was Richard Matheson's Someone is Bleeding in the original Lion edition, good condtion, one thin dime.

On the recommendation of Martin Edwards, I bought Green for Danger the other day at Half Price for two bucks. Wasn't available in the library nor the chains. Nor can I find Ace Doubles, Gold Medals, Zeniths, Ballantines with all the fantastic (in every sense) Richard Powers covers, the Carter Browns with the McGinnis covers, the Dells with the Maguire covers at and etc. anywhere but used stores.

I realize that I'm probably losing hundreds of thousands of dollars every day by not getting royalties from used bookstores but I guess I'll just have to live with the misery while enjoying those old Dell mapbacks.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson's body of work--suspense, science fiction, western and yes horror--is one of the most inventive, stylish and important in the history of popular fiction. That it will live forever--however you care to define forever--is guaranteed by such seminal works as I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man. Among many, many other achievements.

Gauntlet Publishing has spent a good deal of its existence producing fine volumes of Matheson work that most of us would never see otherwise. The latest is Visions of Death: Richard Matheson's Edgar Allan Poe scripts edited by Lawrence French.

Not only do we have scripts for The Fall of The House of Usher and The Pit and The Pendulum (accompanied by photographs of the actors and others associated with the productions), we also have an introduction by producer Roger Corman, an excellent overview by editor French and a wry afterword by Joe Dante. All of it packaged in the usual slick Gauntlet fashion.

I've been reading Matheson since I was thirteen or fourteen. His work stays not only fresh for me but even more impressive and imposing as the years roll on. It's a particular thrill to read two of the Poe scripts that showed even the fine folks at Hammer how it all should be done.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Congratulations to Bill Pronzini; News from Carolyn Hart

Ed here:

Bill Pronzini hs long been one of my favorite people and favorite writers. If my Jack Dwyer novels have a single overriding influence, it is certainly Bill's Nameless books. Not only do I read him, I study him. And that goes for his short stories, too. He truly gets better and better. He's also truly a master. What a great moment for a great guy and a great writer.

From MWA:
And the 2008 Grand Master is...
Author Bill Pronzini has been selected to receive the coveted title of Grand Master, Mystery Writers of America's (MWA's) highest honor bestowed on an individual. He will be honored at the 62nd Annual Edgar® Awards banquet on Thursday May 1, 2008 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City. The "Edgars," as they are commonly known, are named after Mystery Writers of America's patron saint Edgar Allan Poe and are awarded to authors of distinguished works in more than a dozen categories.

The Grand Master Award represents the supreme level of achievement in the mystery field and was established to acknowledge important contributions to the genre, as well as significant output of consistently high-quality material.

"Bill Pronzini is not only a passionate author and reader of crime fiction – he is also one of the most ardent proponents of the genre," said Daniel J. Hale, Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America. "For forty years he has distinguished himself with consistently high-quality writing and editing in all areas of the field, including creating one of the longest lasting detective series ever."

Bill Pronzini started down his path toward the Grand Master in 1969, when he embarked upon his professional writing career. Since then, Pronzini has experienced a prolific career, penning more than 70 novels and non-fiction books, including 32 novels in his popular "Nameless Detective" series and three novels written in collaboration with his wife Marcia Muller (MWA's 2005 Grand Master).

Pronzini is no stranger to critical acclaim for his achievements. He is a six-time Edgar® nominee, including a nomination in 1987 with his wife Marcia Muller for Best Critical Biographical Work, "1001 Midnights: The Aficionados Guide to Mystery Fiction". He is also a recipient of three Shamus awards and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America. Pronzini’s suspense novel, "Snowbound", was the recipient of the Grand Prix de la Litterature Policière as the best crime novel published in France in 1988.

Pronzini joins a notable list of previous Grand Masters. Past recipients of this distinguished Award also include: Stephen King, Ira Levin, Mary Higgins Clark, Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block, P.D. James, Ellery Queen, Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene and Agatha Christie.

Mystery Writers of America is the premier organization for mystery writers, professionals allied to the crime writing field, aspiring crime writers, and those who are devoted to the genre. The organization encompasses almost 3,000 members in three categories of membership that include publishers, editors, literary agents, and screen and television writers, as well as authors of fiction and non-fiction books.

# # # #

The EDGAR (and logo) are Registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by the Mystery Writers of America, Inc.


News from Carolyn Hart

Dear Ed,

I was invited to write a piece for "The Writing Life" in the Washington Post Book World. It will appear this coming Sunday Nov. 18.

There will be two new books in 2008:

DEATH WALKED IN Morrow March 25 2008 -18th in the Death on Demand series. Annie and Max Darling are restoring an antebellum home. Gold coins are stolen from a nearby house and a murder occurs. The crimes seem linked to their house. Annie discovers the secret of Franklin house but death walks in.

GHOST AT WORK Morrow Fall 2008 - 1st in the Bailey Ruth Raeburn series. The late Bailey Ruth Raeburn, an impetuous redheaded ghost, returns to earth to help someone in trouble. She moves a body, investigates a murder, saves a marriage, prevents a suicide, and - in a fiery finale - rescues a child who knows too much.

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving.

Best Regards - Carolyn

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ira Levin; Deborah Lipp

I've now read six Ira Levin obituaries. Only two of them, thank the Lord, informed us that he wasn't much of a stylist. I don't know from style but I do know from cultural impact. When one man writes seven very short novels (A Kiss Before Dying, his masterpiece, being the exception) that have the social impact of Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives and The Boys From Brazil, I'd say he was an amazing and truly important writer. So long, Ira.


That very cool website Cinema Retro led me to culture commentator (and Wiccan and cat lover) Deborah Lipp. Commenting on the original The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three she said something simple and profound about movies (though I'd disgaree that Sierra Madre doesn't have a theme and a powerful one):

"The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is probably best known today as the source for using color-coded pseudonyms during a heist, lifted by Tarantino for Reservoir Dogs. Which is a shame; the movie should be known for its own merits.

"One way to describe Pelham 123 is to tell you what’s not in it. No one on the subway car is related to, or in a relationship with, anyone working in the transit office or for the police. None of the hostages are Lt. Garber’s mother, sister, or childhood sweetheart. There are no coincidences in the plotting or characterization at all. No one in the movie looks like they’re in a movie; no one has perfect features, or exquisite skin tone, or flawless makeup. There’s no romance. But it’s not a “guy” movie, either; the hostages are as likely to be female as male, and there are an unusual number of female roles for a heist movie.

"All of which makes it kind of hard to describe. Some movies are great because they have a sweeping theme, or are startling or innovative, or are romantic, or incredibly witty. But a handful of movies are great because they’re just great movies. They tell interesting stories with a rich array of embellishments. You walk away from them thinking not about love or truth or family or death, but about storytelling, and authenticity. The Man Who Would Be King is such a movie, a great yarn, you might say. So is Treasure of the Sierra Madre. And so is The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. "

for the rest go here

Ed here: Storytelling! What a concept!

Monday, November 12, 2007

How The Western Was Won

Yesterday's NY Times magazine carried several articles about the western film. A.O. Scott has the most interesting take on the matter. I mention this here because over the past few months several non-western fiction blogs have carried debates about the western and what, if anything, it means to today's popular culture.

A.O. Scott:

"The movie western had retreated from its position as a quintessential and vital form of American storytelling, undone by the same cultural tumult that had put paid to other manifestations of midcentury consensus. The newer westerns, the ones made since Vietnam, were either revivalist or revisionist, seeking to bury the old myths or to exhume them.

"And yet the very content of those myths was always, to some degree, their own passing. From the beginning, the western has been saturated with nostalgia, mourning and the sorrowful reckoning of lost things and times past. The sun has been setting for as long as anyone can remember. The official death of the West, after all, was virtually synchronous with the birth of the movies.

"In 1890, the Office of the Census announced the closing of the American frontier, and three years later, in a paper presented at the World’s Fair and Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Frederick Jackson Turner of the University of Wisconsin argued that the Westward push had provided a “safety valve” preventing social tension and class conflict from festering in the American body politic. Over the next century (and to this day), the frontier thesis, as it came to be known, has been debated, debunked, rehabilitated and refined by critics and historians. However dubious or simplistic Turner’s claims have come to seem — American history contains plenty of class struggle if you know where to look for it — he provided a template from which a thousand wagon-train spectacles and cowboy fables (to say nothing of Ph.D. dissertations) would be struck, a sketch of the democratic, individualistic, entrepreneurial ethos of the 19th-century frontier that would find its fullest elaboration in 20th-century Hollywood. The wagon train comes across the prairie, and a little town springs up with wooden sidewalks, hitching posts, swinging doors and plate-glass windows. The honest folk who shop at the general store and read the local newspaper are tough and self-reliant, but also vulnerable, easy prey for bandits and marauders. And then one day a stranger comes to town."

For the rest go here:

Ed here:

I don't know if he says anything new exactly but it's a good an overview of the western movie (and fiction) as I've seen in many years. Even non-western fans will enjoy it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer & other matters

I first read Mailer when I was fourteen or fifteen. The Deer Park. For a prairie boy this peek into the decadent lives of Hollywood outcasts was difficult to understand in a lot of places. But what kept me going was the voice. I'd never heard a literary voice quite like that one. And I've stayed with that voice the rest of my life. His talent was so enormous it overwhelmed him sometimes. He was brilliant, sloppy, infuriating, daft, full of shit, profound, generous, mean, ingenious, scary, pissy, powerful, weak, ugly, hilarious, and fascinating in both his art and life. He put his stamp on American letters more deeply than anybody else in his generation. When I saw him a few months ago in a wheelchair I was shocked. Age comes to us all--except to Norman Mailer. Somehow I'd never thought he would get old and die. What a body of work. What a great troubled spellbinding genius he was. For me he was the last of the literary giants. Franzen me no Franzens, please.


A few weeks ago I reviewed the really cool magazine Pulp Fanatic. It's been pointed out that I gave the wrong e address. Here's the correct one.


Volume two of the Joel Townsley Rogers short story collections has just appeared. It's even better than the first. When I reviewed the first volume last week I forgot to mention publisher Fender Tucker and his excellent publishing company Ramble House. This is a list unlike any other. If you're interested in pulps, older mysteries and the occasional oddball writer memoir (the notes of Jack Woodford) get thee to the following address post haste. You'll have a ball just looking through the website.


Several months ago some film students wrote to ask me if they could make a short film of my story The Long Silence After. They sent me a cut (the credits have to be added to the end). I think they did a good job. Carol can't seem to get on the address they gave me. Maybe you can.

Friday, November 09, 2007


I've been reading Rick Hautala since the early 1980s when he was writing some of the most memorable novels in the old Zebra horror line. His Moonstone sold more than one million copies. Deservedly. He also wrote a number of fine suspense novels, Impulse being my favorite.

Rick's books work because they balance story, character and milieu perfectly. He creates real people who live in real worlds even when some of the effects are supernatural. And then he proceeds to scare the hell out of you. That's why I never miss a new Hautala book.

The publisher Breakneck Radio has reissued one of Rick's best novels Moonwalker in a handsome trade edition for only $14.95.

The set-up is a grabber. In a small Maine town there's an auxillary work force that picks the potato crops with such tireless force they seem not to be human. Think a very special kind of illegal alien. The strange thing is that the townspeople seem strangely unaware of the workers. At least they never seem to talk about them. But then comes a visitor to the small town and he begins to question the screams at night. And the fact that the townspeople simple accept the workforce without being curious about it.

Amazon called it "fresh and creepy" and indeed it is. It's also a fine novel about a cross-section of workingclass and middle-class people making their uncertain way through this most confusing and dangerous of centuries.

Put this one on your to-buy list.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Turner Classics

Who knew: I watched about twenty minutes of a Turner rerun of one of their four Philo Vance movies...he's more obnoxious on film than he is on the page. I remember when Fawcett reissued several of the Vance novels in very nifty packages. I made the mistake of buying two of them instead of the more cautious one. Whoa. Every once in a while I can enjoy a Golden Age Brit but a faux Golden Age Brit doesn't cut it for me. The only thing interesting was that even with all the hoity toity they managed to work a dumb NYC Irish cop into the story.


Later I caught a 1935 Bob Hope short introduced by Robert Osborne. He set it up by saying that the short was shot in Brooklyn and was a result of Hope's Broadway hit Roberta. He came complete even back then, the sort of mincing mannerisms, the wise guy patter, the dame-chasing and of course the cowardice. As Carol said Maybe that's really Hope writ large for the stage and screen. He was interesting but the rest was just tired vaudeville gags.


For western fans--I thought I'd seen all the major silent and early talkie stars in the various small town theaters I haunted after the war. But if I'd seen Hoot Gibson I have no memory of him. I watched a Hoot film--most of it anyway--on TCM and I have to say he's a worse actor than Autry and just about a as unlikely a star. If Gene reminded me of an insurance salesman old Hoot reminds me of a bartender. Roy looks better all the time, that sort sappy teenage enthusiasm wasn't so bad after all.