Saturday, January 31, 2015

A VERY clever post for football Sunday by Fred Blosser

by Fred Blosser

Forget “Deflategate” and other, more troubling allegations of wrongdoing in real-life pro football that have made headlines in the past few months.  Here’s today’s question in the hours leading up to kickoff in Super Bowl 49:  How and where do the cultures of pro football and crime intersect in the world of fiction?  Here are some examples that come to mind immediately . . .

William Campbell Gault’s Southern California PI, Brock Callahan, was known as “The Rock” from his pro football days.  Brock was the Rock long before Dwayne Johnson.  Philip Marlowe played football, although probably in college, not professionally, where, in “a slight miscalculation in an attempt to block a punt, I blocked the guy’s foot instead” (THE LONG GOODBYE, Chapter 8).  If Marlowe played collegiate ball in the mid-1920s, I like to think that he may have lined up against my dad, Ernie Blosser, and his old High Point College, N.C.,  team in some parallel dimension where reality and fiction overlap.  If that was the case, I wonder if it was Dad’s foot that accidentally broke Marlowe’s nose?

Richard Stark’s Parker robs a football stadium in THE SEVENTH (1966).  In not entirely coincidental casting, when THE SEVENTH was made into the mediocre but interesting movie THE SPLIT (1968), the Parker character was played by Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Jim Brown.  THE LAST BOY SCOUT (1991) opens with a star player running amok on the field with a gun during a big game.

My own favorite story combining crime and football is more obscure.  By my quick count, “Call Your Murder Signals!” was John D. MacDonald’s 80th published story, a 12,000-word novelette appearing in the June 1948 issue of DIME DETECTIVE.  How prolific was JDM in his journeyman years as a pulp writer?  Just consider that, at the time, he had only been writing professionally for two years.  That’s how prolific.

Like most of MacDonald’s other protagonists, the lead character of “Call Your Murder Signals!” isn’t the usual private eye or police detective pulp hero.  Benjamin “Tige” Gaynor, war hero and former All-American lineman, is coach of a pro football team called the Port Davis Travelers.  Tige runs afoul of an influential gossip columnist on the local paper, Welch Williams.  Tige is Williams’ rival for the affection of the columnist’s secretary, Ann Lowry.

Williams runs a column insinuating that Tige has compiled evidence about a shady betting racket that includes crooked players on the Travelers team as well as politically prominent figures.  The column suggests that Tige plans to use the information to blackmail the ringleaders and their henchmen, or failing that, to spill the details to the cops.

The column sets up Tige for a one-way ride with two players whom he’d kicked off the team on suspicion of trying to throw games, Bill Garson and Dane Jorgasen.  Garson shoots Tige with a .32, and thinking him dead, throws him out of the speeding car on a lonely road.  Deftly, MacDonald covers this backstory in a few paragraphs of terse exposition.  The novelette opens mid-action as Tige regains consciousness:

“Without knowing how it happened, I was on my face in the shallow ditch, and my hands were no longer tied. My right arm was twisted under me at a funny angle. I burned in a dozen places. My cheek rested in a puddle, and the rain beat down on me.

“The legs were gone, too. Oh, they were there, but they were old stockings filled with sand and putty.”

On the slender chance that someone may someday rescue and reprint “Call Your Murder Signals!”, I don’t want to reveal much more of the story.  Suffice to say that JDM introduces another female character, Kelly Wharton, as Tige Gaynor, badly bloodied but determined, sets out to even things with Williams, Garson, Jorgasen, and the higher-ups behind the  gambling racket.  Twelve more double-columned pages of the 17-page story remain, crammed with action and dire complications for the hero.

There’s a little bit of Raymond Chandler influence in JDM’s wordsmithing.  The description of Welch Williams from Tige’s first-person perspective calls to mind the polished but ruthless thugs who inhabit Chandler’s pulp tales and novels: “Welch Williams is a pretty boy with muscles who writes a dainty little column which nibbles with icy teeth at the foibles of the four hundred in Port Davis.  The guy is rough.”

Nevertheless, MacDonald has already put his personal stamp on content and style.  He’s already forged the terse, wry prose that characterizes his work, with full expression in his novels from the 1950s onward, as in this exchange between Tige and pert, wholesomely attractive Kelly Wharton:

“She was suddenly serious.  ‘You should be dead, Benjamin.’

“ ‘Huh?  What’s this Benjamin?’

“ ‘Your name. We got it off your driver’s license. Dad says that you are called Tige.  That name sounds as though you ought to be scratched behind the ears.  How did you get it?’ ”

“Call Your Murder Signals!” earns cover billing, if not the cover illustration by the great Norman Saunders, and a wonderful double-page black-and-white interior drawing (uncredited -- Stan Drake, maybe?) from the climactic scene: Williams holds a gun on Tige as Ann Lowry watches in a sexy nightgown and robe.  The blurb on the magazine’s contents page is pure pulp platinum: “Snap into kill formation, boys, and -- CALL YOUR MURDER SIGNALS! When the trigger toughs tried to bench him for keeps, All-American Gaynor decides he’d rather do-in than die.”

MacDonald’s pulp stories turn up occasionally in new anthologies.  Maybe “Call Your Murder Signals!” will be retrieved after 67 years.  At least, in the words of Jake Barnes, isn’t it pretty to think so.

Friday, January 30, 2015

from fine writer Lev Levinson REMEMBERING TONY


Tony was one of the most civilized, generous, reasonable people I ever met.  But he had one serious weakness which proved fatal.  He liked rough trade.

“Rough trade” refers to violent underclass men.  Tony picked them up in the Times Square district during that long-ago era before Times Square became a branch of Disney World.

I don’t know why Tony paid for sex, because he was good-looking, around six foot three, slim, good posture, well-dressed, charming, and worldly, having traveled extensively when in the Navy, and then as companion to wealthy men, one of whom was from a country Tony referred to as “Pseudo Arabia.”

Perhaps Tony tired of ordinary free consensual sex and wanted forbidden thrills, which probably also explained the Marquis de Sade.

Tony and I were neighbors and friends for 26 years.  We lived in the same deteriorating apartment building near 9th Avenue on the edge of Hell’s Kitchen, New York City.  Occasionally he invited me to parties in his pad, or homes of other people.  He was Puerto Rican and sometimes brought me Puerto Rican food that he or members of his family had prepared, because he knew I liked “comidas criollas”, since I’d been married once upon a time to a Cuban.

He never made a pass at me, although we were alone on numerous occasions.  He even became friendly with one of my girlfriends, to whom he gave an expensive bicycle he no longer used.  He told me she was “very much in love” with me, which came as a big surprise, and indicates how obtuse I was and probably still am.

Everyone in our eight-story building of over 100 apartments knew that Tony liked rough trade.  Often we’d see them entering or leaving the building with him.  Nobody ever complained because Tony was well-liked, and everyone was all too aware of his own or her own personal weaknesses.  There were many visitors, sleepovers and unconventional living arrangements in that building of mostly unmarried people.  And New Yorkers mind their own business.

Tony lived on the seventh floor of the building, I on the sixth.  One evening I was home alone, reading, when I heard a commotion on the stairs next to my front door.  It sounded like horses galloping down the stairs, then they were gone.  I didn’t think much about it because many strange people lived in the building, including me, and many odd events had occurred within its walls over the years, a few perpetrated by me.

Next morning I learned that Tony had been beaten nearly to death by rough trade who also ransacked his apartment.  He was found unconscious on the floor by his roommate, who also was gay but they weren’t lovers.  His roommate had spent the night elsewhere.  The tumult I heard on the stairs apparently was Tony’s assailants fleeing the scene of the crime.

When Tony returned home from the hospital, he looked like a different person, gaunt, traumatized, facial features altered by his horrific experience, far different from the usual nonchalant Tony I’d known.

When I finally spoke with him alone in his apartment, he explained that he’d been home alone watching tv, his roommate having gone out, when someone knocked on his door.  Of course, one of the big no-nos in Manhattan was:  “Never open your door without looking through the peephole first.”  But Tony broke the rule, because he assumed it was one of his friends who lived in the building, so he opened the door without looking.  Two big guys were there, and proceeded to beat him to a pulp.

Tony told me he’d never seen them before, but I and everyone else in the building never believed that scenario.  We assumed that two of his rough trade sex partners returned to do a number on him, and he enthusiastically received them until firsts started flying.  They never were apprehended, by the way.

Tony’s personality was changed totally by the experience.  No longer was he charming, happy-go-lucky, immaculate in appearance, good storyteller and raconteur.  Instead he became morose, shaved sloppily, dressed haphazardly, often smelled as if he’d pooped his pants.  He seemed to have suffered brain damage, losing around 20 I.Q. points, quite different from the sharp thinker I remembered.

Previously he’d been talkative, now barely spoke at all.  I didn’t know what to say to him.  Conversation requires at least two participants.  Gradually our friendship fizzled out.  We said hello when passing on the sidewalk, or meeting in the elevator, but that was it.

Then I noticed something strange.  Occasionally when I left the building, I noticed Tony across the street, gazing gloomily at the entrance to our building, or looking up at the window of his apartment seven stories high.  I didn’t know what to make of it.

Then one day I rode the elevator down, the door opened and I stumbled into chaos in the lobby full of my tenant neighbors,  One of the women, Gina, stark consternation on her face, said excitedly to me, “Tony just jumped out his window!”

I looked past her through the door window to a body sprawled on the pavement.  Gina explained that she was cooking something in her kitchen, when she heard a loud slam outside.  Her apartment window was on the first floor near the entrance.

Somebody already had called 911.  I still needed to go somewhere, despite this real-life human tragedy.  Which meant I had to walk past Tony.  I opened the door and stepped outside.  He was lying partially on his side, blood pooling around his smashed head, most horrible sight of my life.  I was stunned, stared, felt sick, couldn’t believe my friend and neighbor Tony lay crumpled there.

I couldn’t simply stand and gawk, nothing I could do for him, so continued to my appointment, don’t remember what or where.  When I returned later, Tony was gone.  The super had tried to clean up the blood, but a stain remained.

I had difficulty accepting that Tony actually committed suicide, and wondered what he thought as he dropped to the cement.  Was he glad that soon his pain would end?  Or did he think perhaps he shouldn’t have jumped, but it was too late?  What terrible anguish passed through his mind during those final seconds?  He had been raised Roman Catholic, and surely knew that Holy Mother Church considered suicide a sin.  Did he fear the eternal fires of hell?  Or prefer them to the hell he was living through on earth?

I don’t know what the moral of this story should be.  Perhaps we should be more careful about who we sleep with, because they might be monsters beneath their sexy exteriors.

I’ll aways miss Tony because he was essentially good, unusually kind, remarkably insightful and intellectually stimulating most of the time.  I hope the Catholic God took into consideration Tony’s essential goodness, because we don’t ask for our sex drives, which often are very difficult to manage.  They probably cause us more grief than anything else, except the deaths of people we love.

So rest in peace, Tony, wherever you are.  Sorry I didn’t visit you in the hospital, but you know how obsessive I can be about my novels-in-progress.

Often I don’t realize how much certain people mean to me - until they’re gone.

Thursday, January 29, 2015



Hard Case Crime to Publish THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES New York, NY; London, UK (January 28, 2015) – Lawrence Block, the acclaimed author of more than 100 novels including A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (recently adapted as a feature film starring Liam Neeson), will publish a brand new novel in 2015 through Hard Case Crime, the award-winning line of vintage-style crime fiction from editor Charles Ardai and publisher Titan Books. THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYES tells the story of a former New York police officer, now working as a private eye in Florida, who gets drawn into the web of a local wife who’s looking for a hit man to help her become a widow. Block has described the book as “a down-and-dirty noir thriller, characterized by my Hollywood agent as ‘James M. Cain on Viagra.’ ”

The novel, which will be published in hardcover in September 2015, is Block’s eleventh with Hard Case Crime. The previous ten include Hard Case Crime’s very first book, GRIFTER’S GAME; the erotic suspense novel GETTING OFF; the bestselling movie tie-in edition of A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES; and the classic noir con-man novel THE GIRL WITH THE LONG GREEN HEART. For more than a decade, Block has consistently been one of Hard Case Crime’s most popular authors, in addition to being perhaps the most highly decorated crime writer alive. Among many other honors, Block has won the Edgar Allan Poe Award multiple times and was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, the organization’s highest recognition (previous Grand Masters have included Agatha Christie, Graham Greene, Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King, and James M. Cain).

“Lawrence Block is, hands down, my favorite crime writer, and it is a privilege to publish his new novel,” said Charles Ardai. “This is a dark, violent, steamy, disturbing story about a pair of characters who will haunt you long after the book ends.”

About Hard Case Crime Called “the best new American publisher to appear in the last decade” by Neal Pollack in The Stranger, Hard Case Crime has been nominated for and/or won numerous honors since its inception including the Edgar, the Shamus, the Anthony, the Barry, and the Spinetingler Award. The series’ books have been adapted for television and film, with two features currently in development at Universal Pictures, a TV series based on Max Allan Collins’ Quarry novels in development by Cinemax, and the TV series Haven in its fifth season on SyFy. Recent Hard Case Crime titles include Stephen King’s #1 New York Times bestseller, Joyland; James M. Cain’s lost final novel, The Cocktail Waitress; eight lost novels written by Michael Crichton under the pseudonym “John Lange”; and Brainquake, the final novel of writer/filmmaker Samuel New Novel by Lawrence Block 2 Fuller. Hard Case Crime is published through a collaboration between Winterfall LLC and Titan Publishing Group.

About Titan Publishing Group Titan Publishing Group is an independently owned publishing company, established in 1981, comprising three divisions: Titan Books, Titan Magazines/Comics and Titan Merchandise. Titan Books, nominated as Independent Publisher of the Year 2011, has a rapidly growing fiction list encompassing original fiction and reissues, primarily in the areas of science fiction, fantasy, horror, steampunk and crime. Recent crime and thriller acquisitions include Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins’ all-new Mike Hammer novels, the Matt Helm series by Donald Hamilton, and the entire backlist of the Queen of Spy Writers, Helen MacInnes. Titan Books also has an extensive line of media- and pop culture-related non-fiction, graphic novels, and art and music books. The company is based at offices in London, but operates worldwide, with sales and distribution in the U.S. and Canada being handled by Random House.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Libby Fischer Hellmann My brush with The Imitation Game

My brush with The Imitation Game

 The Imitation Game

If you're like me, in addition to a reading addiction, you probably l

ove films. Maybe you've seen The Imitation Game
(It got 8 Oscar nominations!)

Part of the film was shot at Bletchley Park, which is the UK’s 
Government Code and Cypher School -- you know... 
code-breaking and espionage, which is right in my wheel house.

I visited Bletchley Park over the holidays and wrote several blog 
posts about it. If you want to start with the scenes in 
The Imitation Game, head here. If you want to start 
at the beginning and work your way through the series of
 posts (6 of them), head here.  
Did you catch Second Sunday?

Last time I mentioned that I now have a radio show 
called Second Sunday Crime.

My charming guest was award-winning author 
William Kent Krueger. Once you get past the little hiccup 
in the beginning -- still learning the ropes, don't you know -- 
 I think you'll really enjoy it.You can catch the podcast here.

Mark your calendar for the next show on February 8 when 
I interview British thriller author Zoe Sharp. She’s coming 
across the pond to be the International Guest of Honor at the 
Love is Murder Conference.  Zoe writes about Charlie 
Fox, an ex-military woman who now does “close protection.” 
I highly recommend her thrillers.

   Now 99 cents on Kindle 
and others
 An Image of Death On Sale Now!

An Image of Death On Sale Now!
An Image of Death On Sale Now!

I always want you to be in the know when one of my 
books goes on sale. This book holds a special place in 
my heart because it's a crossover novel that has both
 Ellie Foreman and Georgia Davis. It's the third 
(and my favorite) thriller in the Ellie Foreman series. 

In it, a videotape showing the murder of a young 
woman is dropped on Ellie’s doorstep one winter night. 
She and Georgia end up looking into the crime, 
and find out some things they probably wished 
they didn’t know about the Russian Mafia, diamond dealing
, and the repercussions of the USSR’s collapse. 

BTW, because of the characters, 
you could call An Image of Death a prequel to Nobody’s Child.

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