Sunday, October 04, 2015


For You Philadelphia-Area Ghost Lovers

I've talked about both Lynda Jeffrey Plott and her spectacular mother, Adi-Kent Jeffrey here before. She was the first writer I ever knew and her subject matter-local ghost stories-- was delightful. Her famous ghost tours are still going strong many years after her death. Come here Lynda talk about her amazing mother and her books.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

On Hiatus Until After Bouchercon

If you are in Raleigh, please make yourself known to me. Or come to my panel on CRIME IN THE METROPOLIS on Friday at 1:00. Let's have a drink or coffee.

Todd will do FFB next week. Thanks, Todd.

Oh, and this. Listen to Me Marlin on Crimespree Magazine

Friday, October 02, 2015

Ed McBain Day on FFB, October 2, 2015

                                       Ed McBain Day, October 3, 2015

(From the NYT obituary by Marilyn Stasio)

Evan Hunter, Writer Who Created Police Procedural, Dies at 78

Evan Hunter, the author who as Ed McBain virtually invented the American police procedural with his gritty 87th Precinct series featuring an entire detective squad as its hero, died yesterday at his home in Weston, Conn. He was 78.

In a 50-year career, Mr. Hunter, sometimes as Ed McBain and sometimes using other names, wrote a vast number of best-selling novels, short stories, plays and film scripts. With the publication of "Cop Hater" in 1956, the first of the 87th Precinct novels, he took police fiction into a new, more realistic realm, a radical break from a form long dependent on the educated, aristocratic detective who works alone and takes his time puzzling out a case.

Set in a New York-like metropolis named Isola, "Cop Hater" laid down the formula that would define the urban police novel to this day, including the big, bad city as a character in the drama; multiple story lines; swift, cinematic exposition; brutal action scenes and searing images of ghetto violence; methodical teamwork; authentic forensic procedures; and tough, cynical yet sympathetic police officers speaking dialogue so real that it could have been soaked up in a Queens diner between squad shifts.

Lending humanity to the grim stories that flood the 87th Precinct is a revolving ensemble cast that includes Detective Steve Carella, the heart and conscience of the squad room; his gentle, deaf wife, Teddy; the rocklike Detective Meyer Meyer, whose father refused to give him a first name because he didn't want to name him for "some goy"; Bert Kling, the rookie cop who plays Candide to his hard-bitten elders; and Fat Ollie Weeks, the equal-opportunity bigot.
For all the studied muscularity of his style as Ed McBain, Mr. Hunter considered himself an emotional writer rather than a hard-boiled one. "I think of myself as a softy," he once said. "I think the 87th Precinct novels are very sentimental, and the cops are idealistic guys." He was also a stern moralist, and in many of his novels, this aspect surfaced as a keening lament for the battered soul of his city.
"This was a city in decline," he wrote in "Kiss" (1992). "The cabby knew it because he drove all over this city and saw every part of it. Saw the strewn garbage and the torn mattresses and the plastic debris littering the grassy slopes of every highway, saw the bomb-crater potholes on distant streets, saw the black eyeless windows in the abandoned tenements, saw public phone booths without phones, saw public parks without benches, their slats torn up and carried away to burn, heard the homeless ranting or pleading or crying for mercy, heard the ambulance sirens and the police sirens day and night but never when you needed one, heard it all, and saw it all, and knew it all, and just rode on by."

The hard, blunt prose could not disguise a sophisticated stylist who hated to be pigeonholed as a genre writer. "Not procedurals," a character in "Romance" (1995) protests when someone slaps that label on books he writes. "Never procedurals. And not mysteries, either. They were simply novels about cops. The men and women in blue and in mufti, their wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, lovers, children, their head colds, stomachaches, menstrual cycles. Novels."
Although other practitioners adopted the conventions that continue to distinguish the realistic police procedural from the hard-boiled American private-eye novel and the genteel British detective mystery, many critics considered Mr. Hunter's command of the form to be matchless, an assessment with which he no doubt would have concurred.

"I feel that there is no other writer of police procedurals in the world from whom I can learn anything," he told John C. Carr, editor of "The Craft of Crime," "and in fact they all learn a lot from me." There wasn't any point in his reading the competition, he said. "That's like Michelangelo watching an apprentice paint in the white of an eye."
His peers shared that assessment. The Mystery Writers of America awarded Ed McBain its Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement in 1986, and in 1998 he was the first American to receive a Cartier Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain. Though his popularity with readers never flagged, by the early 1990's his 87th Precinct novels were particularly in vogue. And while earlier books in the series, like "Eighty Million Eyes" (1966), "Sadie When She Died" (1972) and "Fuzz" (1968), continue to be admired as vintage McBain, later, more complex works like "Widows" (1991), "Mischief" (1993) and "Money, Money, Money" (2001) racked up more robust sales in the United States and abroad. Ms. Gelfman, his agent, estimated that in 50 years of writing, he had sold more than 100 million copies of his work.
Despite his popularity, Mr. Hunter could give the impression of a literary talent who felt he had not been given his due, mainly because of the limited success of film and television adaptations of his books. Although several of his 87th Precinct novels were turned into films, and a number of the novels were adapted for television in Japan, it rankled that an American television series, "87th Precinct," was a failure in the 1960's.

Instead, the show that revolutionized prime-time crime drama was "Hill Street Blues" in the 1980's. 

Mr. Hunter had nothing to do with that series, but he ruefully held to the conviction that it had drawn its concept, characters and dramatic style from the McBain novels.
Despite his renown as Ed McBain, it was as Evan Hunter that the author had his first taste of literary acclaim, before he was 30. That was in 1954 for "The Blackboard Jungle," a somewhat autobiographical novel about a young teacher whose ideals are shattered when he is assigned to an urban vocational high school with a half-savage student body. The next year it was turned into a successful movie with Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier. Mr. Hunter followed "The Blackboard Jungle" with other best-selling novels, including "Mothers and Daughters" (1961) and "Last Summer" (1968).
He also adapted some of his novels for the movies, including "Fuzz," a 1972 film starring Burt Reynolds, and "Strangers When We Meet" (1960), starring Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak. But the most acclaimed of his 75 or so screenplays was the one for "The Birds," the classic 1963 film that he and Alfred Hitchcock adapted from a story by Daphne du Maurier.

Until illness sidelined him, Mr. Hunter had been collaborating with the composer Charles Strouse and the lyricist Susan Birkenhead on a musical stage version of the 1968 film comedy "The Night They Raided Minsky's," about burlesque theater in New York.
For many years, the Evan Hunter and Ed McBain bylines were strictly separated to avoid any confusion or shock that readers of Evan Hunter's "serious" books might feel when exposed to the "mayhem, bloodshed and violence" that were Ed McBain's meat and drink. The author later acknowledged a fusion of the literary styles he once considered distinct. "Evan Hunter and Ed McBain are truly becoming one," he said in 1992, and in 2001 the two wrote the novel "Candyland."
Neither name was his original one. He was born Salvatore Lombino on Oct. 15, 1926, inNew York City, the only child of a postal employee, Charles Lombino, and his wife, the former Marie Coppola. He started writing while serving in the Navy during World War II. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Hunter College and held a teaching job that he would later draw on for "The Blackboard Jungle."
Though his Italian immigrant ancestry would inspire him to write a generational saga, "Streets of Gold" (1974), he changed his name in 1952, believing that "prejudice against writers with foreign names" led publishers to reject their work. "If you're an Italian-American, you're not supposed to be a literate person," he said in 1981.
Mr. Hunter's first two marriages, to Anita Melnick and Mary Vann Hughes, ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Dragica; a son with Ms. Melnick, Ted, of San Miguel, Mexico; two sons with Ms. Hughes, Mark, of Paris, and Richard, of Monroe, Conn.; a stepdaughter, Amanda Finley of New York; and two grandchildren.
Mr. Hunter's first divorce, in 1973, led to the appearance of a new character, Matthew Hope, a Florida divorce lawyer. Hope became an Ed McBain hero in a separate series of novels, all bearing fairy-tale titles like "Goldilocks," the first, in 1978. After a dozen books, he quietly retired the series in 1998.
After a heart attack in the 1980's, Mr. Hunter modified his routine of writing 10 hours a day just about every day of the week. One result was fewer, darker, more thoughtful books and a new philosophy: "When it's no longer fun, I'll stop."

Correction: July 8, 2005, Friday Because of an editing error, an obituary of the novelist Evan Hunter yesterday misidentified the mother of two of his three sons. His first wife, Anita Melnick (not his second, Mary Vann Hughes) is the mother of Mark Hunter and Richard Hunter, as well as Ted Hunter.

See also: 

January Magazine tribute
Thrilling Detective Tribute 

BLOOD RELATIVES by Ed McBain (Ed Gorman)

    Most mystery readers have their favorite 87th Precinct novels. Mine would include HE WHO HESITATES because McBain has the sly ability to give us an 87th in which the 87th appears only a few times. The other would be GHOSTS because McBain manages to wrap one hell of a ghost story inside a police procedural.
   For me the most enriching 87th is BLOOD RELATIVES. This is not to say that it's the finest in storyline or surprises or shock or bravura writing. But for me it is one of the most intriguing takes on romantic love I've ever read.
   The opening chapter is a stunner. Muriel Stark, who is seventeen, is savagely slashed to death as her cousin Patricia watches helplessly. The slaughter of a white girl from somewhat privileged family insures both a police and a press frenzy. But Patricia has difficulty picking out a culprit in the line up--indeed she picks out a cop. And the suspects the 87th boys and girls pursue all seem to have some of those damned alibis. (Note: McBain gives us a particularly gaudy cast of low lifes here. But as he frequently does he brings them to full and sometimes sad reality.)
   All this is to say that BLOOD RELATIVES is very good and in the tradition of the shorter 87ths. But what makes it remarkable is how, using the dead Muriel's diary as a means of understanding the complicated relationship she had with not only Patricia  but also Patricia's brother, McBain is able to write an eloquent commentary on romantic love and sex. 
   I've reread the diary entires several times because they so perfectly capture the rite of passage many of us go through at some point in our lives. The entries are by turns tender, naive, painful, foolish, wise, mysterious and never less than riveting.
  I knew Evan Hunter somewhat (among other things we were both diagnosed with cancer with eight days of each other) and I asked him if he thought most readers would appreciate the remarkable work he'd done with Muriel's voice and experiences. He said he hoped so but probably most readers read for plot and nothing more. I hope he was wrong.


Reviewed by Barry Ergang

Matt Cordell makes it plain on the first page: “I’m a drunk…I drink because I want to drink. Sometimes I’m falling-down ossified, and sometimes I’m rosy-glow happy, and sometimes I’m cold sober—but not very often…I live where being drunk isn’t a sin, though it’s sometimes a crime when the police go on a purity drive. I live on New York’s Bowery.”

Five years prior to the events in the novel, Cordell was a private detective who owned an up-and-coming agency. When he returned home after being away for two weeks on a case and caught his wife of four months in bed with one of his operatives, he severely clubbed the man with his gun. “The police were so kind, the bastards. They understood completely, but they took away my license and my gun and my pride.”

Cordell, who is now divorced and a self-described bum and drunk, labels he seems to apply with conceit as much as, if not more than, lamentation, and who lives for his next drink above all else, is approached by an old acquaintance from their childhood days. Johnny Bridges has inherited the tailoring shop from his father and has partnered with a man named Dominic Archese. He wants to hire the detective to look into cash register thefts, of whom he suspects Archese, that have occurred over a six-month period. Cordell initially balks at the idea, but eventually consents to examine the register and shop doors for signs of break-ins. When they discover Archese shot to death and Bridges apparently framed for his murder, Cordell advises Bridges to call the police and a good lawyer, but to keep him out of it. In return, he’ll try to find the real killer.

Cordell subsequently meets Christine Archese, Dom’s widow; Christine’s sister Laraine Marsh, with whom he becomes intimately involved; Dave Ryan, who works for Bridges and Archese but who is actually an aspiring musician; Dennis Knowles, a private detective of dubious character; and Fran West, who works for Knowles and to whose charms Cordell is not immune.

Complications arise when there’s a second murder, and when some of the forenamed folks give conflicting stories to Cordell, who then must try to determine which of them is telling the truth and which is lying. Still another complication is police detective Miskler,
who is neither the stereotypically stupid nor irreceptive investigator.     

Originally published relatively early in the career of the estimable Evan Hunter (born  Salvatore Lombino), who wrote under a number of pseudonyms, the most famous and important of which was Ed McBain, this novel first appeared as a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback under the title I’m Cannon—for Hire, bylined Curt Cannon. (See the Matt Cordell/Curt Cannon article at The Thrilling Detective website for more information.) It’s a short, fast-paced, hardboiled novel which is an engrossing—and recommended—read.

© 2015 Barry Ergang

Derringer Award-winner Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. Some of it is available at Amazon and at Smashwords. His website is

ME AND HITCH, Evan Hunter (Patti Abbott)

This is a slim book that deals with Hunter's time with Hitchcock on the scripts for THE BIRDS and MARNIE. He had written scripts for A.H. before so when the director believed he had a chance to make less of a genre film with Daphne DuMaurier's short story, THE BIRDS, he hired Hunter, who he believed to be a fine writer.
Hunter was nonplussed about just how he could make a full-feature film, and one that would satisfy Hitch's ambition, from the short story. Every day he would work on it and was called in by Hitch who would ask him to tell him the story so far. More often than not, they disagreed on the parts of the two women, played by Tippi Hedren and Suzanne Pleshette. It was interesting to watch Hitch make Pleshette as dowdy as possible in order to emphasize the brittle beauty of his current blonde, a very inexperienced and thus malleable Hedrin.

More and more, the script became scenes with birds attaching Hedren and other actors. As Hunter says, "The trouble with our story is that nothing in it was real. Hitch has bought a bizarre novella about plain people attached by the gentlest of creatures. He had then hired a realistic novelist from New York to change these characters into the sort of sleek, beautiful people he liked to see on the screen: the Cary Grants and Grace Kellys of the world. Even if the script had worked--which it didn't--Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor were no Grave Kelly and Cary Grant. But Hitch never gave it an honest shot. He told me that he felt he was entering a Golden Age of his creativity and THE BIRDS would be his crowning achievement."

Not satisfied in the end with Hunter's script, he had other writers add scenes that weakened what was already a weak story. 

The book also details the personal relationship that developed between the two families, which was strange too.

When it came to MARNIE, the situation grew worse. "There was no doubt in my mind that he had decided to film the Winston Groom novel only because he saw it as a vehicle for Grace Kelly." His attempts to lure her back went unmet and it was Hedren again. In the end. he fires Hunter.

This was an enjoyable and quick read. For further illumination, you can watch the movie THE GIRL where all of the travails of making the film are detailed.

Mothers and Daughters by Evan Hunter
(Review by Deb)

In the summer of 1969, a few months before I turned 12, someone gave my mother a bag of used books.  Rummaging through, I took Evan Hunter’s Mothers and Daughters, possibly attracted by the prettily-illustrated cover of the 1969 Signet paperback reprint.  The novel was the first “adult” book I ever read:  Not just adult in theme and story, but adult in execution, featuring flashbacks, stream of consciousness, multiple points of view, and other narrative devices with which I’d been unfamiliar.  These include the slowly-revealed “shocking secret” (still my favorite literary device).  All these years later, the book remains a sentimental choice and I was happy to reread it for this week’s FFB.
First published in 1961, Mothers and Daughters covers the lives of four women from roughly 1940 through 1960, focusing on both the social and personal changes they go through and how the various threads of their lives intertwine.  Amanda Soames is a demure, well-bred minister’s daughter, very much an “ice princess” from far-away Minnesota (sometimes the symbolism is a bit obvious).  Gillian Burke, the Bronx-born daughter of Irish immigrants, is her college roommate, an altogether more boisterous and ambitious woman from a decidedly less refined background.  Amanda and Gillian first meet in 1941 at Talmadge College, Connecticut (a stand-in for Julliard). Amanda is a promising music student, while Gillian pursues dramatic studies. Into the mix eventually comes Kate, Amanda’s niece, adopted by Amanda and her husband because of Kate’s mother’s mental illness.  There’s also Julia Regan, a woman who spends much of her time dwelling on her great pre-war love affair.  Julia is the mother of David Regan—a man who has experienced such severe traumas that he cannot overcome them even with Gillian’s love and support.
Reading the book again, I was struck by some of its insight:  There’s a real Mad Men vibe to the life Amanda and her husband lead in the 1950s suburbs of Talmadge.  You can also see Amanda—who once dreamed of a life as a serious composer, reduced to running errands for the P.T.A. and hosting Boy Scout meetings—struggling with the “problem” that Betty Freidan would be writing about very soon in The Feminine Mystique:  How highly-ambitious, capable, educated women were shunted to the suburbs in post-WWII America, often left with no challenging or meaningful work.  And in Gillian’s thwarted ambition to break into the upper-echelons of the acting profession (every potential “big break” eventually peters out), we can see Hunter’s experience in the entertainment world where he wrote scripts for TV and movies and had a first-hand view of the humiliations and compromises found there.
Julia Regan is, to my mind, the most interesting character in the book.  The oldest of the four main characters, Julia has the most complicated back story and it is she who is the possessor of the “shocking revelation” (not so shocking by our standards, but I think it packed quite a punch 55 years ago). Julia is not a likeable character—she has undoubtedly caused much heartbreak to her husband and her son—but she is written in a way that makes the reader understand (if not sympathize with) her.
Admittedly, some parts of the book have not aged well.  Matthew Bridges, Amanda’s husband, is the sort of domineering Alpha male (who knows what’s best for Amanda and campaigns for her until she gives up in an exhaustion that she is convinced is love) who would be considered toxic in today’s world.  Similarly, Matthew’s flashback to his first sexual experience, which is described in a way that could only be considered “date rape,” would never be presented in such a neutral way today.  And I doubt any parent of a teenage girl would be as sanguine as Matthew and Amanda are about Kate’s relationship with a man twice her age.
But there is also much to admire about the book.  It is packed with information about the mid-twentieth century, everything from methods of treating mental illness to the development of post-war suburbs to the advance of the automobile culture to how television sponsors intervened to change controversial material, no matter how worthy; and all of this information is woven into the lives and stories of the characters so that it doesn’t seem forced or superfluous. The book also does a wonderful job of capturing the post-war zeitgeist in New York and its surrounding suburbs.  If parts now seem dated, other parts could have been written yesterday.  Mothers and Daughters is a worthwhile book that deserves to be better known as part of Evan Hunter’s/Ed McBain’s canon.

Evan Hunter, Find the Feathered Serpent (1952)

Curt Cannon, I Like 'Em Tough (1958)

by Jeff Meyerson 

I've been a fan of Evan Hunter since I read my first 87th Precinct book by "Ed McBain" back in 1973.  (For the record, it was Fuzz.  I'd seen the 1972 movie with Burt Reynolds as Carella, a perfectly cast Jack Weston as Meyer Meyer, and Yul Brynner as their arch-nemesis The Deaf Man.)  Over the years since I've read a large proportion of his oeuvre under various names, without coming close to reading them all.  I have half a dozen unread on my shelves, but the total read is currently 93.  I thought I'd try and pick out something different for this week's reviews, rather than the obvious, and came up with these.

Find the Feathered Serpent was Hunter's first published book, back in 1952 when he was in his mid-twenties, a couple of years before he hit it big with The Blackboard Jungle.  It was in the Winston Science Fiction series, obviously aimed at teenage boys, and should be judged in that context, but in any context I quite enjoyed reading it for the first time this year.  As some of you know I like time travel stories and this is one, even if an even more than usually unbelievable one.  Sixteen year old Neil Falsen gets to go on the first trip in his father's time machine when the latter breaks his leg, and he endsup in the Yucatan several centuries back meeting the ancient Mayans, and teaming up with some off-course Vikings who show up in time to rescue him and his friend.  It isn't something to take seriously but it was a lot of fun to read this fast-moving, entertaining book.

I wanted to review one of Hunter's short story collections, but as I don't have a copy of The Last Spin (with its memorable title story) on hand, decided to go with one I did have, I Like 'Em Tough by Curt Cannon.  These six shorts were originally published in Manhunt in 1953 and 1954, and I believe the lead character was called Matt Cordell then.  Here he is Curt Cannon, a formerly successful private investigator (he had several men working for him) who came home one day and found his wife in bed with his best friend.  He beats the guy with his gun butt, which gets his license revoked (though the charges are dropped) and ends up, literally, as a Bowery bum.  He drinks himself insensible and sleeps in cheap hotels or flophouses or, when he has no money, in doorways on the street.

The catch is, however, that people won't leave him alone.  Friends from the old neighborhood keep seeking him out for help in finding loved ones or helping them, and despite everything they pull him back in (as Michael Corleone so memorably said).  The one part I found hard to accept is that several women who you'd think would know better throw themselves as him, despite the smell of his clothes and breath.

I originally read this one in 1981 and found myself racing through it quickly last week.  Hunter was a great storyteller under whatever name he used, and while not everything he wrote was a classic (his Matthew Hope book Mary, Mary was the worst) he was always readable.  I hope this week's FFB will encourage people to give him a try.

Jeff Meyerson

Bill Crider, FIDDLERS
Ed Gorman, GUNS
Jerry House, "The Intruders" 
B.F. Lawson, NOCTURNE 
Scott Parker, Three Reviews 
James Reasoner, GOLDILOCKS
Richard Robinson, KILLER'S WEDGE
Kevin Tipple, KING'S RANSOM 
Violent World of Parker, DOWNTOWN, 

And other contributors

Joe Barone, ACCUSED, Lisa Scottoline
Brian Busby, THE MAYOR OF COTE ST. PAUL by Ronald J. Cooke and HOT FREEZE, Douglas Sanderson
Scott Cupp, DANGER: DINOSAURS, Richard Marsten
Rich Horton, DORA THORNE, Charlotte Mary Braun
Nick Jones, RIPLEY UNDER WATER, Patricia Highsmith
Margot Kinberg, DEATH'S GOLDEN WHISPER, R.J. Harlick
Evan Lewis, A KILLING IN COMICS, Max Allan Collins
Steve Lewis/David Vineyard, THE CANARY MURDER CASE. S.S. VanDine
Neer, THE GHOST OF FLIGHT 451, John G. Fuller
Gerard Saylor, HYENAS, Joe R. Lansdale

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Forgotten Movies: DELIMAN

Although this isn't exactly forgotten (2014), it is fairly obscure. It is playing on Amazon.
This documentary focuses on Ziggy Gruber, who co-owns a large deli in Houston and is also the grandson of the original owner of the Rialto Deli, the first Kosher deli to open on Broadway in New York City in the 1920s. The deli is the main love in this man's life. While the film also covers other famous Jewish delis in Manhattan, Queens, Los Angeles and San Francisco and their histories, the emphasis is on the cultural aspects of the food and how the culture and the desire for this food is disappearing. There were once thousands of these delis and now there's fewer than 150 left in the entire U.S. Such luminaries as Larry King, Jerry Stiller, Fyvush Finkel, Freddie Roman and Alan Dershowitz as well as various deli owners express their love for the culture and the food.

This is the description on IMDB and I would add that it sort of spells a death knell for the deli except as a cultural artifact. The food isn't healthy and younger people have not acquired the taste for it that their parents had. Ziggy is a great character and along with the deli, the love of his life is his grandfather who gave him his first apron at eight.

However nothing beats (for me) a corned beef sandwich on rye with coleslaw, swiss cheese and Russian dressing. I grew up in a neighborhood where this was as common as a hamburger. How about you? When was the last time you had lunch in a deli? I bet unless you live in an urban area, it was quite a while ago.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Religious Themes in Crime Fiction

Margot's review last week of FRIDAY THE RABBI SLEPT LATE reminded me that there are  crime-solving religious folks in the literature. The Pope's visit also brought this home.

Who are your favorite religious sleuths? Or what novel with such themes do you especially like?