Saturday, February 28, 2009

Here's one for the science fiction readers.

Bogart reading.

Perhaps it's because I saw an evocation of the apocalyptic world of modern Naples in GOMORRAH last night (great film, incredibly depressing) but I woke up today wondering if any writer had ever presented a post-apocalyptic world resulting from economic collapse. It seems to me that writers usually envision war, plague, environmental disaster, invasion from outer space, mutant species evolving. But surely some writer must have blamed their brave new world on economic collapse. Can you think of any?

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Summing Up. Friday, Feburary 27, 2009

Michael Cera and Clark Duke reading.

Thanks to all of today's contributors.

I am out of town on March 13, so perhaps we can all take that week off and refuel. But I'll be here next week on the 6th and then again on the 20th and so on.

THE SUMMING UP, FRIDAY, February 27, 2009

Paul Bishop, Bombship, Bill Knox
Nathan Cain, Carny Kill, Robert Edmond Alter
Michael Carlson, Something in the Shadows, Vin Packer
Cathy Cole, Tory Bauer Mysteries, Kathleen Taylor
David Cramer, Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends, Allen Barra
Bill Crider, Pink Vodka Blues, Neal Barrett Jr.
Gary Dobbs, Shatterhand and the People, B.J. Holmes
Martin Edwards, Death and Transfiguration, Stephen Murray
Elizabeth Foxwell, Doctor Syn, Russell Thorndike
Cullen Gallagher, Miami Purity, Vicki Hendricks
Ed Gorman, The Cutie, Donald Westlake
Lesa Holstine, Shirley McClintock series, B. J. Oliphant
Jerry House, Children of the Night, John Blackburn
Randy Johnson, Ingathering, Zenna Henderson
George Kelley, The Mordida Man, Ross Thomas
Eric Mayer, A Case in Camera, Oliver Onions
Scott D. Parker, Star Wars, George Lukas
Eric Peterson, River, Roderick Thorp
R2, The Metropolis Series,Lonnie Cruise
Ray, Triggernometry, Eugene Cunningham
James Reasoner, "Stirrup High and Western Word Wrangler", Walt Coburn
Kerrie Smith, Madam Will You Talk? Mary Stewart
Jason Starr, Edith's Diary, Patricia Highsmith
Steve, The Dream Detective, Sax Rohmer
Paul A. Toth, An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser

Friday's Forgotten Books

Lauren Bacall reading.

The whole list from last April is here.

Ed Gorman is the author of many western, crime novels and anthologies. His most recent novel is SLEEPING DOGS. You can find him at

Donald E. Westlake's The Cutie, previously known as The Mercenaries, works very well as a both first novel and a glimpse into the Westlakian future. The new Hardcase edition is welcome indeed.

Clay is the bought-and-paid for fixer of mob boss Ed Ganolese. If he dresses better than the others who work for Ganolese and is a little cleverer with the patter and is attempting to woo a woman who has serious doubts about the state of his soul , he is nonetheles a pretty typical foot soldier at heart. He does what the boss says and that occasionally means killing somebody.

Billy-Billy is a sad junkie-dealer who gets framed for a murder he claims he didn't commit. He turns to Clay for help because he too is a member of the Ganolese family albeit not an important one. Clay would just as soon give him an "accident." But for some reason this nobody junkie is important to the boss and the police alike. The city is being torn apart by people searching for Billy. But why? The plot twists back on itself beautifully at several points and the mystery becomes all the more mysterious.

All this will become familiar to Westlake readers not to mention Stark readers. Mobsters, civic corruption, paid murder, merciless cops and a man like Clay who doesn't question the morality of what he's doing--he just does it. The only difference between The Cutie and later Westlake is the style. It's more garrulous than even the two novels that would soon follow it. But this isn't to suggest that it's weak in any way. It isn't. It's a strong, tough, original approach by a man who would soon make the crime novel all his own.

Jerry House has an eclectic taste in reading material and has things in his past that shouldn't be mentioned. Nonetheless, he fells that he is pretty boring. His most significant and proudest accomplishment was marrying the (still) beautiful Catherine 39 years ago.

CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT by John Blackburn.

From the Fifties on, British author John Blackburn had a reputation for fast-paced thrillers mixing mystery, science fiction and horror. When I was in high school, my French teacher raved about this great book he had just finished, A Scent of New-Mown Hay, which seems to be Blackburn's best known book.

Children of the Night (Putnam's, 1969; first printed in England in 1966) takes place in the small Yorkshire village of Dunstonholme, a place with a long history of tragedy, bloody death and supposedly supernatural occurances -- dating back to the 1300's. Now, whatever has cursed Dunstonholme appears to have come back. A ship explodes, an old man sails over a forty-foot cliff in his wheelchair, two young toughs are butchered in a stolen boat, a farmer is trampled by his pet bull, an elderly vicar is impaled on stalagmites...

All circumstances point to a centuries old cult, perhaps possessing the power of telepathy, and the possibility of Armageddon. The plot moves at break-neck speed. Blackburn must have had a great time writing this one. Characters are painted with a broad brush, some just this side of stereotype. Throughout the book is a sly, often biting, humor. Think the bastard offspring of Sidney Horler and John Wyndham. This is not even close to being great literature, but is competent writing that gave me a few hours of pure pleasure.

I know Patti Abbott has a one book-one author rule, but I'm going to be going back to Blackburn. Sorry, Patti.

Eric Mayer along with Mary Reed write John the Lord Chamberlain Mysteries. Visit his website at for further information.

A Case in Camera
By Oliver Onions
1920 The MacMillan Company

"The tale I am setting out to tell has to do with the killing, on a May morning in the year 1919, by one young man by another who claimed, and still claims, to have been his friend." So begins Oliver Onions' 1920 mystery A CASE IN CAMERA.

Onions is probably best known for his classic ghost story The Beckoning Fair One but the English writer produced more than 40 novels and short story collections in a variety of genres to considerable critical acclaim. His 1946 novel Poor Man's Tapestry won the prestigious James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In fact, the New York Times reviewer of A CASE IN CAMERA opined that those familiar with Onions' earlier mysteries, such as In Accordance with the Evidence (1913) would be disappointed. He goes on to say, however, that the book is "...solely on its own merits ... a very ingenious mystery story, here and there somewhat carelessly written, but interesting, well worked out and baffling..."

The novel begins as painter Philip Esdaile is holding a breakfast party at his Chelsea studio to celebrate his election to the Royal Academy. The gathering of friends, many of whom had served in the recent war, proceeds in a normal manner until Esdaile goes down to the cellar for a bottle of orange curacao. While he is gone two aviators crash onto his studio roof tangled in a parachute.. One of the men -- who in what seems a wild coincidence, is an acquaintance of Esdailes's -- has survived. The other is dead, not from the fall but from a gunshot wound.

The story that unfolds presents a fascinating mystery while managing to transgress most of the rules of the genre, starting with the fact that the journalist narrator is conspiring with Esdaile and his friends to keep the facts of what they refer to amongst themselves as "the Case" from the police. A cast of well wrought characters, ranging from a wealthy newspaper owner, to war returnees and a local political agitator, allows Onions to examine topics seemingly far removed from murder -- the state of society, the role of the press, democracy.

No one who has read The Beckoning Fair One -- which may as easily
recount a psychotic delusion as a haunting -- will be surprised that A Case in Camera has a psychological bent. Crimes are committed by people, rather than by weapons or poisons. As the narrator puts it, "First one person acted as according to the laws of his individual being he had to act and another did the same, and then another did the same and so on until the phenomenon was complete."

Yet much of the novel's fascination lies in the manner the most peculiar crime was committed. As the facts are revealed, the method of the killing becomes increasingly inexplicable. And why was Esdaile in the basement for so long at just the moment of the murder? Why for that matter would the assumed killer have murdered his friend? And why are the friends trying to hush things up?

A Case in Camera manages to combine the psychological novel with an impossible crime. It is unruly, idiosyncratic, and well worth reading.

Paul A. Toth's first novel, "Fizz," and its successor, "Fishnet," are available now. His third novel, "Finale," will be published in 2009.
Look for him here.

An American Tragedy by Thomas Dreiser

They may still teach this novel in literature classes, but how many people read it by choice? Not many. And that won't change, unless Oprah recommends it. That's a shame because here's fiction not only steeped in the socioeconomic climate of the author's time but ours as well. The destructive ambitions, encouraged by the free market and all its glittery lures, remain unchanged. The worst result -- murder -- remains unchanged. The "magnetism" of the elite: unchanged. Better, it's the kind of "classic" that's no less a page turner. Whether or not Oprah recommends "An American Tragedy," Paul does.

P.S. My one author-one book rule didn't take effect until I passed sixty last year. You young'uns would be crazy to heed it.

More Forgotten Books:

Elizabeth Foxwell Steve-on-the-slow-train Eric Peterson Bill Crider
Martin Edwards Paul Bishop Scott D. Parker
Ray David Cranmer
Lesa Holstine Kerrie Smith
Cathy Cole R2 Cullen Gallagher
James Reasoner George Kelley Jason Starr Nathan Cain
Michael Carlson Gary Dobbs Randy Johnson

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Movies on DVD

Saul Bellow reading

Despite finding some fairly mediocre TV shows and movies on DVD format pretty quickly, there are a large number of movies still not available. TCM has a list here.
I would particularly like to see a PBS movie from 1981 of a favorite short story of mine by Irwin Shaw: Girls in Their Summer Dresses (Jeff Bridges and Carol Kane). It sits waiting on my netflix saved list with a bunch of others--like Looking for Mr. Goodbar.
I was excited to hear THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE comes out in April finally.
What movie are you waiting to see again on DVD? What is the most egregious omission?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What to Do?

Sally, Buddy and Rob reading. (If you have to ask, you're too young.

Every once in a while, my stories begin to drift and I can't expect to publish them in any crime zines. I try to punch up the crime element, but basically these are stories about people in trouble and crime may only enter into it peripherally. These stories are always a problem because when the literary outlets see any crime at all they look on it as genre writing and most of the crime zines want fairly crime-heavy tales.

What do I do with these stories? I have a bunch of them waiting for inspiration. I can ratched up the crime a bit or remove it still further. Or go back to writing the novel. Oh, boy remember that novel?

Do you write stories that fall in between? Even more importantly, do you read them? How pure do you expect a story on a crime zine to be? Are you disappointed when there's no body count? Is it enough to read about someone in jeopardy--even if it's more spiritual than physical?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What College Class Has Been the Most Useful

Kirk Douglas reading.

Dr. Mark Weiss taught physical anthropology in the late 1980s and early 1990s at WSU in Detroit and was an expert in DNA evidence when it was a newish field. His special gift was in determining the sex of sexually ambiguous corpses. Or in at least assigning a gender as best he could.

I had never enjoyed any science-related course until I took this one. And I enjoyed every minute of it. It is still useful today. I would say n0 more than a week or two goes by without some mention of fossils, or forensics, or Neanderthals that I don't think of him. What class did you take in college or grad school or high school that has meant the most to you? Especially the unexpected ones.

Monday, February 23, 2009

MC5 Doing Ramblin Rose/John Lennon's John Sinclair Song

And the chick at the beginning is the best reminder of the sixties I've had in a longggggggggg time. Don't pass her up if you want to know what it was like. Or remember.

And for John Lennon and Yoko's song

Life Imitates Art-or Vice-Versa

For eerie similarities between recent revelations in the real-life disappearance of Chandra Levy and what Reed F. Coleman's Mo Prager discovers in a similar case in the fictional THE JAMES DEANS, go here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Town Monday: Detroit's John Sinclair

John Sinclair reading at WSU in the 1960s.

It is difficult to sum up John Sinclair and his place in the Detroit's sixties-seventies art, writing, and activist scene in a short web post. He was, and is, one of those true impresario types who is impossible to define quickly. Yes, he's a poet; yes, he's an activist; yes, he's a producer. He was both a product of his times and a producer of those times.

John Sinclair was born in 1941 in Flint. He dropped out of graduate school at Wayne State University to become an integral part of the local jazz and poetry community, founding the Detroit Artists' Workshop. The group produced a huge number of concerts, readings, books, etc, putting Detroit on the map creatively in the sixties.

He managed a band (MC5). He helped organized the FIFTH ESTATE, a counter culture newspaper that still exists. It is impossible to list here all of the publications, groups, concerts, communes, etc. Sinclair led or was involved with. He became particularly active in the music scene, believing this was the most effective way to influence the country's youth in sixties' causes. He organized the White Panther Party in 1968, a group demanding economic and cultural freedom and fashioned along the lines of the Black Panthers.

Drugs, of course, were a big part of the counter-culture and Sinclair ran into repeated trouble with the police for his drug use (pot). In July 1969, Sinclair was sentenced to prison for ten years when he offered an undercover cop a joint. In prison, he wrote Guitar Army and published prolifically. He began his lifelong interest in prison reform.

After two years in prison, a huge demonstration on his behalf called the Free John Now Rally was headlined by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Fifteen thousand people attended the event in Ann Arbor's Chrysler Arena. Three days later, the Michigan Supreme Court, on its own volition, overturned his conviction, reaffirming Sinclair's contention that the state laws regarding marijuana use were unconstitutional and void.

Sinclair's activism continued after his release. The White Panthers became the Rainbow Multi-Media Party. Sinclair managed rock groups, produced a weekly radio program, helped to institute prison and drug reform.

John Sinclair is a sought after performance poet thirty years later. In 2005, he founded Radio Free Amsterdam, an experimental internet radio station (
He shows up on the station every Monday for his personal podcast from various locations.

In 2008, he became editor-in-chief on the anthology series Headpress. He continues to perform regularly, marking the Obama inauguration by performing a series of poems accompanied by a live bad at Cafe OTO in London.

A documentary 20 to LIFE: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOHN SINCLAIR recounts the events of his life. His radio show can be found here.

And his website here. John Sinclair is a Detroit original.

Tribe reminds me that annual Ann Arbor Hash Bash began due to John's interment. Also there is apparently a documentary about MC5 available.

(Thanks to Woody Haut for reminding me of John Sinclair. Please correct anything I got wrong.)

One thing interesting to note here and already evident from the comments, you will find as many nay-sayers in Detroit about Sinclair and his accomplishments as proponents--much like Michael Moore or even Tom Hayden. But he's an interesting fellow and worth remembering as a Detroiter.

As always, check out more My Town Monday posts at the site of new home owner, Travis Erwin.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


John D. MacDonald reading (I hope it's him. Never saw him this young)

Okay, our fabulous Subaru Forrester with 110, 000 miles on it must suddenly be-something about gaskets. We just have one car so nursing it along is kind of chancy. I loved Subarus but they make no hybrids and there are foreign. Living in Detroit, we tend to notice this more than in most places and I have felt guilty having a foreign car--even though it was the best car we ever owned.

Our plans were to buy a Ford Fusion Hybrid in the fall. But the time is now. One Ford Dealer says he can get us one in 2-3 months. Another says we'd enter a lottery to get one and it could be late summer or fall. I tend to think Dealer #2 is the more honest.

I really wanted to buy 1) a US car 2) a hybrid 3) a reliable car 4) not an SUV. It seems that I can't achieve all of these things.

What would you do? Which priority should I scrap? Will your next car be US or is it only living in Detroit that makes that a priority?

Friday, February 20, 2009

THE SUMMING UP, FRIDAY, Febuary 20, 2009

Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennett reading.

For the complete list of forgotten books, see

And you, yes you! You who are reading this and has a book you think should be remembered. Please write up a short review of it and send it to me at
This project can only continue if some new people come along now and then.
All readers are welcome. Doesn't have to be a long or fancy review. I WANT YOU!

Patricia Abbott, This Beast Must Die, Nicholas Blake
Elaine Ash, The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde, Erle Stanly Gardner
David Jack Bell, South of the Big Four, Don Kurtz
Paul Bishop, The Cold Light of Dawn, Graham Ison
Michael Carlson, A Better Valkyrie, Stephen Marlowe
Cathy Cole, David Cole's Laura Winslow mysteries
David Cranmer, The Religion of the Founding Fathers, David L. Holmes
Bill Crider, The Blue Kimono Kill, Walt Sheldon
Martin Edwards, Dust and Heat, Michael Gilbert
Travis Erwin, Prey, Ken Goddard
Cullen Gallagher, The Weeping and the Laughter, Vera Caspary
Ed Gorman, Paper Doll, Robert Parker
Charles Gramlich, Kalak of the Ice, Jim Kjelgaard
Lesa Holstine, The Last Song Dogs, Sinclair Browning
Randy Johnson, Agent of the T.E.R.R.A. Series, Larry Maddock
George Kelley, Accounting for Murder and other books in the series, Emma Lathen
Terrie Moran, Vendetta, Ed Gorman
Juri Nummelin, Hester Roon, Norah Lofts
Scott D. Parker, Gotham Central, Vol. 1, Brubaker, Rucka, Lark
J. Kingston Pierce, Night of the Panther, E.C. Ayres
Ray, The First Fast Draw, Louis L'Amour
James Reasoner, Anarchaos, Curt Clark (Donald Westlake)
Kerry Smith, Such is Life, Joseph Furphy
Jim Winter, Killer's Wedge and Till Death, Ed McBain

Friday's Forgotten Books, February 20, 2009

Richard Burton reading (as if that's the most interesting aspect of this photo)

For a list of all books chosen for Friday's Forgotten Books since its inception, go here.

Elaine Ash writes and edits for a living. She is Editor-at-Large for Beat to a Pulp, a weekly ezine for short stories of all genres. Blog: Website:

THE CASE OF THE BLACK-EYED BLONDE, ERLE STANLEY GARDNER When I was around ten years old, I pulled a yellowed paperback from the family bookcase called The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde written by Erle Stanley Gardner. It was my first introduction to lawyer Perry Mason, and the tale was lurid and politically incorrect. I loved it. Gardner died at the age of eighty-one in 1970, the author of more than seven hundred fictional works, including 127 novels, 400 articles and more than a dozen travel books. He also wrote under the pseudonyms A.A. Fair, Kyle Corning, Charles M. Green, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenny, Les Tillray, and Robert Parr. In the mid-1960s, Gardner’s novels sold around 20,000 per day. He is considered one of the best-selling mystery writers of all time with 325 million books distributed globally.Gardner could have stepped, larger than life, from the pages of one of his own novels. He attended law school for only a month, when he got suspended for making a boxing ring in his dorm room, and a professor got knocked down during a demonstration. The school sought a warrant for his arrest and Gardner claims he “skipped town one jump ahead of the sheriff.” Gardner eventually settled in California where he studied law on his own and passed the state bar exam in 1911, qualifying him to practice law as an attorney.In 1921, a dozen years before his first Perry Mason sale, Gardner broke into print with a story he sold for fifteen dollars entitled, “Nellie’s Naughty Nighty.” His mother read the title and was so scandalized, she refused to read another word. After that first sale, Gardner faced repeated rejection. "I wrote the worst stories that ever hit New York,” he later admitted. "My stories were terrible...I didn't know how to plot [and] I had no natural aptitude as a writer." Sweet fortune smiled eventually, but Gardner had bitter criticism to face first. His novelette, The Shrieking Skeleton was under consideration at Black Mask magazine, and the circulation manager sent a scathing note to the editor, saying, "This story gives me a pain in the neck . . . it's pretty near the last word in childishness, and the plot has whiskers...” The story was "puerile, trite, obvious, and unnatural.” The note was accidently sent to Gardner, who sat down and rewrote the story over three nights, carefully fixing everything the note mentioned. He mailed it back to the embarrassed editor, who purchased it for $160.Perry Mason became arguably the most famous fictional lawyer of all time, featured in more than 80 novels and short stories. Gardner personally cast actor Raymond Burr—dark, handsome and velvet voiced—for the TV role, and episodes still run today on television all over the world.The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde is still my favorite Perry Mason, and it’s even more entertaining today because of its little political-editorial asides by Gardner, that don’t get in the way of the plot. I love this dialogue from the black-eyed heroine, has a job reading stories to a rich man, and she passes his opinions along to Perry Mason: “He claims that the great American trouble is that we are too credulous. He says our national trait is to believe everything that’s dished out to us and then, when the gilt paint wears off the gold brick, to blame everyone except ourselves.”Gardner wrote that in 1944. The more things change the more they stay the same. Of course there’s lots of derring-do, with help from trusty, recurring characters Della Street and Paul Drake. Lt. Tragg and the crusty men of his force are always hot on the trail, but they stay a step behind Perry and his sleuthing, at the best of times. Gardner had a formula for Perry Mason novels, and it made them them reliable pulp escapism. No matter how dire the situation, Perry always solved the case in court, the bad guys were vanquished and justice was served. No wonder the books are still selling, and the series is still on TV.A magnificent collection of Gardner’s manuscripts and papers reside in The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center in Texas, described as, “one of the most complete records of a writing career ever made.” The library features a model of his study room, on display for viewing by visitors.Finally, Gardner is the author of the best piece of writing advice ever: “It’s a damn good story. If you have any comments, write them on the back of a check.”

David Jack Bell’s first novel, THE CONDEMNED, was released by Delirium Books in 2008. His next novel, THE GIRL IN THE WOODS will be released by Delirium in August of 2009. You can visit his website at

South of the Big Four by Don Kurtz
Published by Chronicle Books 1995

I grew up in Southwest Ohio, just twenty minutes from the Indiana border, but I never appreciated the Hoosier state until I went to colle
ge there. People will think I’m crazy, even some Indiana residents, but for my money Indiana is the most beautiful state in our union. Get off the interstate, take a state highway through the farm land and small towns. It’s a little like going back in time. South of the Big Four by Don Kurtz is a novel about Indiana. It’s also about farming, and family, and adultery, and business, and more than anything else it’s about people who stubbornly go on and fight for what they believe in regardless of the odds. It’s as beautiful as the state it takes place in, as straightforward as its people. It’s a great book, and it deserves a wide audience.

The novel is narrated by and tells the story of Arthur Conason, a thirty-year-old ore boat worker who returns to his hometown—the fictional Delfina—after being temporarily laid off. With nothing better to do, Arthur moves into his childhood home—now empty and owned by someone else—and goes to work as a hired hand for the county’s most prosperous independent farmer, Gerry Maars. Arthur can be a difficult character to like. He’s distant from his family, often cold and judgmental toward others. When he becomes entangled in the lives of others in the town—including those of his brother’s family as well as a young waitress he meets—the results aren’t always pretty. But Arthur believes in work. He works and works and works.
Gerry Maars is the opposite of Arthur. He’s deeply connected to the community. He always does the right thing. And where Arthur falls back on cynical pessimism, Gerry Maars embraces outsized optimism. No problem can’t be conquered. There’s no obstacle too big for his power of positive thinking. What the two men share is the simple belief that a job worth doing is worth doing right. No matter what. They make an unlikely team, and their friendship is the heart of the book.

If you’ve ever wondered about the life of an independent farmer, this book will show it to you. The long hours, the battles against the weather and faulty equipment. It depicts the desperate struggle to hang on, to coax the bank into one more loan, one more extension. But the book isn’t relevant simply to farmers. How many independent businesses have fallen by the wayside, trounced by the encroachment of the Wal-Marts and Blockbusters of the world? This is a story about the little guy, the one who late twentieth century American life steamrolled. Sure he gets back up, wipes the blood off and prepares for the next round, but how long can he keep taking the beating? At what point does he quit? Kurtz—and Conason and Maars—might say never, and as a reader, you’ll cheer them on, but look around. The hour is getting late.

The novel moves quickly, at times with the pace of a thriller. There’s a terrific scene leading up to a shooting that will have you squeezing the pages until your knuckles pop. The descriptions of the landscape and our relationship to the land are breathtaking. Perhaps more than any book I have read, the characters in South of the Big Four have stayed with me the longest. I wish like hell I could know what they were doing now. I’d love to find that diner in Delfina where they have breakfast, just for the chance to hear their voices again. I don’t drive through Indiana as much as I used to, but when I do, and I see a lone farmer in a field, churning up the ground late in the evening as the sun sets, I like to believe it’s Gerry Maars, fighting the good fight and keeping on keeping on. If you read South of the Big Four, you’ll want to believe the same thing too.

Ed Gorman is the author of many crime and western novels and anthologies. His most recent is Sleeping Dogs. Find him at

Paper Doll, Robert Parker

I haven't read Robert B. Parker regularly for years but occasionally I'll look back down the list for a book I haven't picked up. The other day I bought a copy of Paper Doll (1993) and I'm glad I did. This is Parker at his best.

Boston swell Loudon Tripp hires Spenser because the police haven't found the murderer of his wife. Tripp is obsessed with the woman, painting for Parker a portrait of a beautiful, elegant lady whose good works and kindness would have made the saints envious.

The action jumps back and forth from Boston to South Carolina as Spenser begins to paint his own portrait of the woman, one very different from Tripp's. The plot reminds me of a few of Hammett's Continental Op mysteries about wealthy families--lies upon lies, delusions upon delusions, false starts and dead ends that Spenser must s
omehow turn into truth. The South Carolina chapters are especially fine. Parker gives us a small Southern town that skirts the usual cliches because of a compelling relationship between an old black man and the old white man he works for. Neither is a fool and they are a long way from saints.

Susan isn't around much, Hawk even less. This is mostly Spenser working with a bulldog Boston detective named Quirk and a younger Boston cop whose lover is dying of AIDs. There is a long fight scene that is a small masterpiece. If I taught a writing class I'd use a few of the South Carolina chapters to show students what a scene should do, ebb and flow and then pay-off.

A book filled wi
th real menace and real sadness. When Parker's on he's got few peers.

Patti Abbott

THE BEAST MUST DIE, Nicholas Blake. Nicholas Blake was the pseudonym for Cecil Day-Lewis, the poet laureate of England toward the end of his life and Daniel's father. From the 1930s to the 1960s, he wrote a series of mysteries featuring detective Nigel Strangeways. I enjoyed all of his novels and remember THE BEAST MUST DIE
most fondly. In the story, a crime writer's son is killed by a careless motorist and the man determines to have his revenge, but fate intervenes.

What makes this book especially interesting is Blake's examination of the possibility of an ethical murder. The novel was made into what is reputedly an excellent movie by Claude Chabrol in the sixties (yes available on DVD). All of Blake's books are enjoyable due to the superb writing and psychological acumen.

Nicholas Blake was chosen recently as one of the fifty best crime writers. The Times wrote,
"The most intense of his thrillers, The Beast Must Die, still impresses as one of the most darkly compelling of psychological novels, in which a detective fiction writer plots a perfect murder, one he himself will commit. Blake's resourceful and well-read amateur investigator Nigel Strangeways is a distinctive sleuth, inveigling his way into the trust of his suspects via a loquacious charm."

Here are more forgotten books.

Bill Crider
James Reasoner
Martin Edwards
Charlie Gramlich
George Kelley
Jim Winter
Scott Parker
Juri Nummelin
Paul Bishop
David Cranmer
Lesa Holstine
Cathy Cole
Kerrie Smith
Travis Erwin
J. Kingston Pierce
Randy Johnson
Terrie Moran
Cullen Gallagher
Michael Carlson

Thursday, February 19, 2009

William Hurt

Ginsburg reading.

When I was critical of Season 2 of Damages last week, someone commented, "But what about Hurt's performance?" And that's true. It's a knockout.
William Hurt has chosen to play difficult, weak, diffident men over the years. Look at his characters in Broadcast News, Accidental Tourist, The Big Chill, Altered States or my favorite Body Heat. Has any other actor chose more thorny roles? He's rarely played an heroic figure.
What's your favorite Hurt role-- if you admire him too?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My New Hero

One Nation Under God

Clark Gable reading.

This map put together by political scientists for Congressional Quarterly indicates the religiosity of various US states. You can see a full discussion of it at The Monkey Cage. In even the least religious states, more than 50% of the respondents said religion was an important part of their life. What I wonder is why the US continues to exhibit such religiosity? Other than Islamic nations, such religious fervor is mostly absent in other nations. What would your explanation be? Has success made us religious? Or is it part of our heritage more than in other countries?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Let the Right One In

Naomi Novik reading.

It's hard to imagine a vampire movie, a movie about children, a movie about Swedish angst or a movie about the societal ills that is more powerful than this one. The scariest parts are the ones where no vampires are at work. If it comes your way, or when it comes out on DVD, I can't recommend it highly enough. The two performances by children are knockouts. It is as bleak as Detroit in February. Oh wait, it's Sweden. See it.

What movie recently knocked you out?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

MTM, Famous Detroiters-Albert Kahn

Kermit reading.

Albert Kahn was one of the foremost American architects of his day and certainly the best known of Detroit. Born in German, he immigrated to Detroit in 1880.

His father Joseph was trained as a rabbi. His mother Rosalie had a talent for the visual arts and music. As a teenager he got a job at the architectural firm of Mason and Rice. Kahn won a year's scholarship to study abroad in Europe.

Albert Kahn Associates was founded in 1895. He developed a new style of construction where reinforced concrete replaced wood in factory walls, roofs, and supports. This gave better fire protection and allowed large volumes of unobstructed interior. Packard Motor Car Company's factory built in 1907 was the first development of this principle.

The success of the Packard plant interested Henry Ford in Kahn's designs. Kahn designed Ford Motor Company's Highland Park plant, begun in 1909 where Ford consolidated production of the Ford Model T and perfected the assembly line. On Bob-Lo Island, Henry Ford had a dance hall designed and built by Albert Kahn, which in 1903 was billed as the world's second largest.
Kahn later designed, in 1917, the massive half-mile-long Ford River Rouge Plant. The Rouge grew into the largest manufacturing complex in the U.S., with a force that peaked at 120,000 workers. According to the company website, "By 1938, Kahn's firm was responsible for 20 percent of all architect-designed factories in the U.S."
Kahn was responsible for many of the buildings and houses in Walkerville, Ontario built under direction of Walker family including Willistead Manor. Kahn's interest in historically styled buildings is also seen in his houses in Indian Village, Detroit, Cranbrook House, the Edsel Ford House and the Dearborn Inn, the world's first airport hotel.
Kahn's Conservatory on Belle Isle in Detroit.
Kahn also designed the landmark 28-story Art Deco Fisher Building in Detroit, considered one of the most beautiful elements of the Detroit skyline. In 1928, the Fisher building was honored by the Architectural League of New York as the year's most beautiful commercial structure.
Kahn's firm's Moscow office built 521 factories between 1930 and 1932.
Kahn also designed many of the classic buildings at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. These include the Burton Tower, Hill Auditorium, the Hatcher Graduate Library, and Clements Library.
Kahn's firm designed a large number of the army airfield and naval bases for the United States government between the wars. Kahn's 600-person office was involved in making Detroit the Arsenal of Democracy. Among others, the office designed the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant, and the Willow Run Bomber Plant, Kahn's last building, located in Ypsilanti, MI where Ford Motor Company mass produced B-24 Liberator bombers. Albert Kahn worked on more than 1,000 commissions from Henry Ford and hundreds for other automakers.

As of 2006, Kahn had around 60 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Not all of Kahn's works have been preserved. The Donovan Building, later occupied by Motown Records, abandoned for decades, was demolished as part of Detroit's beautification plan before the Super Bowl in 2006.
Ten Albert Kahn buildings are recognized by official Michigan historical markers.
Battle Creek Post Office
Dearborn Inn
Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant in Warren, Michigan
Edsel & Eleanor Ford House in St. Clair Shore, Michigan
Fisher Building
Michigan Alpha Chapter House of Phi Delta Theta‎
Packard Motor Car Company
The Detroit News
The Detroit Free Press
Willow Run

Dexter M. Ferry summer residence in Unadilla Center, New York; early 19th century stone farmhouse remodeled in 1890. Extant today. Known as Milfer Farm, held by Ferry heirs today. Kahn also designed the "Honeymoon Cottage" on the estate, one of the earliest prefabricated houses built.
Hiram Walker offices, 1892, in Windsor, Ontario
Detroit Racquet Club, 1902 (Kahn designed but was not allowed membership at the time, being Jewish)
Temple Beth El, 1903, Kahn's home synagogue, now the Bonstelle Theatre of Wayne State University
Brandeis-Millard House, 1904, located in the Country Club Historic District of Midtown Omaha, Nebraska is the only known work by Kahn in the state.
The Palms Apartments, 1901-3, on Jefferson Avenue, Detroit
Belle Isle Aquarium and Conservatory, 1904, and Casino, 1907 on Belle Isle, Detroit
Albert Kahn House, 1906, Detroit, Michigan (his personal residence)
George N. Pierce Plant, 1906, in Buffalo, New York
Willistead Manor, 1906, home of the son of Hiram Walker
Battle Creek Post Office, 1907, concrete construction method used again later that year in Kahn's Packard plant
Packard Plant, 1907, Kahn's tenth factory for Packard but first concrete one
Cranbrook House, 1907, at Cranbrook Educational Community
Highland Park Ford Plant, 1908, Highland Park, Michigan
Kaufman Footwear Building, 1908, Kitchener Ontario, recently renovated into lofts
Mahoning National Bank, 1909, Youngstown, Ohio
Kales Building, 1914, 18-story white building at Adams and Park on Grand Circus Park in Detroit built for Kresge Corporation[4]
Detroit News building, 1917
NY Headquarters, Ford Motor Company, 1917, in New York, New York, now home of Sean John and Bad Boy Worldwide
Motor Wheel Factory, Lansing, Michigan, 1918. Currently being renovated into residential lofts.
General Motors Building, 1919, largest office building in the world at that time, GM world headquarters, now State of Michigan offices
First National Building, Detroit, 1922
Detroit Police Headquarters, 1923
Temple Beth El, 1923 (a different building than the 1903 version), now the Lighthouse Cathedral.
Walker Power Plant, 1923, in Windsor
Ford Motor Company Lamp Factory, 1921-1925, in Flat Rock, Michigan
Detroit Free Press Building, 1925
S. S. Kresge World Headquarters, 1927, 5-1/2 story horizontally massed Art Deco structure
Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, 1927, Henry Ford's son's home, built as an English manor house in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan. (Incredibly beautiful place--art deco)
Fisher Building, 1927, major skyscraper of Detroit for decades
New Center Building, 1930, office building in the New Center
River Rouge Glass Plant, 1930
Dearborn Inn, 1931, world's first airport hotel, built and decorated in the Georgian style
Ford Rotunda, designed for Chicago World's Fair, 1934 (burned, 1963)
Dodge Truck Plant, 1938, Warren, Michigan
Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant, 1941, produced 1/4 of American WWII tanks, continued tank production until 1997
Willow Run Bomber Plant, 1941, used by Ford for bombers during the war, then by Kaiser for cars, then by GM for transmissions
Ford Assembly Building, California
now called West Hall, with George Mason) 1904

Much of this comes from Wilkipedia as I am away this weekend. Hopefully next week will see some original obsrvations.
Check out Travis Erwin for some more MTM posts.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

TV Shows That Hold Up

Mad Men reading.

Been watching some old TV shows over the last week. The Twilight Zone doesn't hold up too well for me. They're always going for the same ending-that the character is stuck somewhere. Too much retribution and punishment involved. And it's usually a man. Clearly women were the lesser sex.
Also WKRP seems to rely on drug references and Jennifer's dubious sex appeal to get through most episodes. Was her face real flesh?
MASH is awfully didactic-even if I did agree with it at the time.
NEWHART was not half the show as THE BOB NEWHART SHOW. He needed a sparkplug like Suzanne Pleshette. What TV shows from the past hold up the best for you? I'm voting for TAXI, CHEERS, MTM, THE WALTONS and FAMILY. How about you? (And no making fun of THE WALTONS)

February Love Going Out

Bo Fexler reading.

Thanks to all the writers who have joined me in flash fiction challenges--four in the last year. And especially thanks to Gerald So and Mystery Dawg (on Powder Burn Flash). I get a big kick out of these and hope you do too. Thanks for playing along with whatever the challenge is.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Summing Up, Friday, February 13, 2009

Margaret Atwood reading.

Thanks to all of today's contributors. If you'd like to sample a Bernard Malamud story, try "A Summer's Reading" right here on The New Yorker podcasts.

I am trying to set up another blog for the complete list of forgotten books at
Not sure if it works yet. Somehow the two sites are getting confused (at least in my mind).

Patti Abbott, THE MAGIC BARREL, Bernard Malamud
Kaye Barley, FIVE SMOOTH STONES, Ann Fairbairn
Paul Bishop, TIEBREAKER, Jack Bickham
Paul Brazill, TOP 10, Alan Moore
Cathy Cole, K.J. Erickson's series and PL Gaus' Amish series
David Cranmer, OUR MAN IN HAVANNA, Graham Greene
Bill Crider, SHERLOCK HOLMES'S WAR OF THE WORLDS, Manley W. Wellman and Wade Wellman
Gary Dobbs, CUSTER, Will Henry
Martin Edwards, THE PLOT AGAINST ROGER RIDER, Julian Symons
Cullen Gallagher, RED GARDENIAS, Jonathan Latimer
Lesa Holstine, THE BILL DONOVAN MYSTERIES, Michael Jayns
Randy Johnson, BIMBOS OF THE DEATH SUN, Sharyn McCrumb
George Kelley, FACE TO FACE, Ellery Queen (Jack Vance)
Keith Raffel, DEATH OF A UNICORN, Peter Dickinson.
Ray, CHUKA, Richard Jessup
James Reasoner, THIEVES FALL OUT, Cameron Kay
Kerrie Smith, VENOM HOUSE, Arthur Upfield
Jim Winter, LADY KILLER, Ed McBain

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, February 13, 2009

Alice Walker reading.

Cullen Gallagher is a Brooklyn, NY-based film critic and musician who spends way too much time reading old pulp mysteries and hanging out at his local diner where he has a dish named after him. Listen to his music at and visit his blog at

Red Gardenias by Jonathan Latimer

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Jonathan Latimer wrote a series of screwball-hardboiled murder mysteries that were, for their time, decidedly amoral. Even now, there’s an edge to Latimer’s best work that remains undiminished some seventy years later. One can see the influence of Hammett’s The Thin Man, though Latimer’s world is far more zany, cruel, and perverse. Most of the books feature a private detective named Bill Crane who proceeds blindly in a drunken haze, more interested in debauchery than solving cases. While this makes for plenty of laughs, Latimer seems to go against the grain of most private detective novels, subverting some of their iconic principles. Most importantly, Crane is not a “hero” of any sort – he is the complete opposite of Chandler’s conception of Marlowe as a “white knight.” Crane has no moral or ethical agenda – he shows no concern for his clients, or any wish to right wrongs, or make the world a better place. Crime is a playground for Crane, and one gets the impression that he’s glad it exists.

Red Gardenias, published in 1939, is the fifth and final novel in the Crane series, as well as the weakest. The story is classic Latimer – Crane is called to Chicago by a wealthy family to prove that their son’s death was murder and not suicide. But Crane’s presence only seems to invite more trouble: robberies, accusations, and more seemingly “accidental” deaths. And the biggest mystery of all is that not only were all the bodies the victims of carbon monoxide poisoning, but that they all bore the same scent of gardenias. It is a promising premise, but Latimer seems to have run out of steam. Compared to the earlier books, the shenanigans are tame and the jokes more “miss” than “hit.” It just seems that the Crane character has run its course, and that after five books, there isn’t much more that Latimer can do with his character that he hasn’t done already. But if Crane was washed up, Latimer certainly wasn’t at all. In fact, his next book, Solomon’s Vineyard, would be his masterpiece. Crane would be no more, and in his place would be Karl Craven, the extreme manifestation of his predecessor whose hardboiled, perverse existentialism was so shocking that it couldn’t be printed in America unexpurgated until the 1980s.

While not his best, fans of Jonathan Latimer shouldn’t miss out on Red Gardenias, if only to watch the development of a writer and character. Those not familiar with Latimer should start with The Lady in the Morgue, The Dead Don’t Care, or Solomon’s Vineyard (the only one of his novels still in print).

Kaye Barley can be found hosting guest authors at Meanderings and Musings.

Kaye Barley FIVE SMOOTH STONES, Ann Fairbairn

My all time very favorite book ever is a forgotten book that keeps coming backto life like the Phoenix. Published originally in 1966, reissued in the 80s,and about to be reissued again by The Chicago Review Press. But. It isn'treally a forgotten book. At least, not by anyone who ever read it. Its one ofthose books that once read, will become a book you'll push on all your friendsand insist they read. And one reading is never enough. I can't even begin toguess or remember how many times I've read it. Or how many copies I've boughtand given as gifts.FIVE SMOOTH STONES was written by Ann Fairbairn.The basic plot is a simple story of a young black child, David Champlin, beingraised by his grandparents in New Orleans in the 60s. Going on to college withthe help of an extraordinary man who befriends David’s grandfather, and thenDavid. And finally, belatedly joining the civil rights movement. The premisesounds pat, over-done, formulaic, and sappy. However this book is anything butsimple or formulaic or any of those other things. This is an exquisitelywritten powerful story about love, honor, relationships and the willingness tostand up for beliefs. The relationship between the elderly grandparents and theyoung boy is one of the most touching story lines ever written. While David isa memorable character, his grandfather is even more memorable. An indeliblecharacter who will wrap himself around your heart and once there, will livethere forever. As David's story progresses, we meet a host of some of the mostenduring characters found in literature. Friendships are formed and forged thatwill last a lifetime. We meet people who live honest, good lives with highmoral standards, never faltering in their beliefs, or in their willingness tofight for those beliefs, or in their deep abiding love and trust in one another,during one of the most turbulent, heart breaking periods of American history. And topping it all off is a love story that will break your heart, and then haveit soaring to the heavens. David Champlin and Sara Kent's story will neverleave you. I dislike using the word "powerful" while describing a book, 'causeI think its overused and therefore somewhat lacking as a true descriptor, but Ican't seem to come up with a word that works any better or even as well, sopowerful it is.I'm going to do something a little different here, and refer everyone readingthis to the reviews of FIVE SMOOTH STONES on - Smooth Stones Ann Fairbairn/dp/0899668054There are, as of this writing, 91 reviews. 85 of which were given Five Stars. They've been written over a time span of ten years, and most of the people doingthe reviews were people who did something I myself have done for years - seekthis book out in any form available to buy to give to someone they care about.It was a groundbreaking novel in 1966, but one which, I believe, has stood thetest of time, and done so quite elegantly. Ann Fairbairn, whose real name was Dorothy Tait, was born in Cambridge, MA andattended the Leland Powers School in Boston. She worked in newspapers,television and radio and as publicity director for music groups. "Five SmoothStones" (1966), a Literary Guild selection in 1967, won her an enthusiasticfollowing in the United States and abroad. She also wrote "That Man Cartwright"(1970), "Call Him George" (under the pseudonym Jay Allison Stuart in 1960), abiography about New Orleans jazz clarinetist George Lewis, and was in theprocess of writing a third novel at the time of her death. Fairbairn diedapparently of a heart attack at age 70 in February 1972 (from the Boston Globe11/14/1994). Not much information can be found about the life of this amazingwoman who's life was threatened after writing FIVE SMOOTH STONES under apseudonym. Oh my, how I wish she had lived long enough to have finished thatthird novel, and a fourth, and maybe even a fifth. I think she would have, overtime, joined the ranks of great writers.

Patti Abbott, THE MAGIC BARREL by Bernard Malamud.

Malamud won the National Book Award fifty years ago for this volume. These 13 stories, mainly about first-generation Jewish immigrants in America, portray life in a community or country where one is an outsider---that feeling of not belonging permeates the text. Malamud's world is a difficult one-the view that someone steeped in religious life and particularly Jewish religious life post World War II is bound to have. The stories all feature male protagonists leading the life of an outsider and finding it hard. Religion is never very far from the plot. Moral obligation is nearby too.
In my youth, Malamud was paired with Roth and Bellow but his stock seems to have faded. This, along with THE NATURAL, THE FIXER, and THE ASSISTANT are all brilliant books. I hope they are not totally forgotten amongst younger readers.

lPaul D. Brazill-I was born in Hartlepool, England, forty-six years ago and have lived in London and Warsaw. I left school at sixteen and have worked as an office clerk, a housing adviser and a shop assistant in a toy shop. I currently teach Business English. I’ve written songs which didn’t sell and a screenplay which was lost . I now live in Bydgoszcz, Poland and have recently had two stories accepted by Six Sentences. I blog in an ad hoc, slapdash fashion at

TOP 10 by Alan Moore.

Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct books, which kicked off in 1956 with Cop Hater , have had a strong influence on police procedural novels, films and television series alike. Steven Bochco’s Hill Street Blues, for example, was a television police drama that was first aired 1981 and ran for 146 episodes until 1987 and was almost a structural carbon copy of McBain’s books. The formula was followed by the hugely successful NYPD Blue and many other TV series.

The strangest addition of the 87th Precinct’s lineage, however, must be the hybrid that is maverick writer Alan Moore’s TOP 10 comic which ran from 1999 to 2001.

Like McBain’s novels, Top 10 details the work and day-to-day lives of the police force at one particular police station, in this case the 10th Precinct Police Station in Neopolis, a city in which everyone, from the police and criminals to civilians, children and pets, have super-powers.

One story involves the suspicious death of the member of a boy-band called Sidekix, whose hit single was Holy Broken Hearts, and other pop-culture in –jokes abound, including a clothing store called The Phonebooth and a nightclub called Godz where the Greek and Norse Gods hang out. Deadfellas is a story about vampire gangsters and of course The Invisible Man just has to be a sex pest.

Social issues such as corruption, slum housing and racism are also dealt with in Moore’s inimitable fashion and add to Top 10’s spiked cocktail of post-modernist fun which even those that don’t normally read comic books can enjoy.

Mary Reed


Published in 1917, this novel could well have been subtitled The

Wandering Green Box, for said receptacle appears and disappears more

than once in mysterious fashion. Add to that the peculiar instructions

left by a man now dead concerning the titular timepiece and there's more

than one mystery to solve.

It all begins with young, financially embarassed Alan Craig borrows a

hefty sum, giving as security a will made in favour of the lenders,

Francis Bullard and Robert Lancaster. Craig is about to depart on an

Arctic expedition but before he leaves he goes to Scotland to visit his

ailing uncle, Christopher Craig, who made a fortune in, and owns a

staggeringly valuable number of diamonds from, South Africa.

Time passes but Alan Craig does not return from the Arctic. By then his

uncle is dying, as he tells Bullard and Lancaster, who have been friends

of his for some time. He also reveals he has willed his fortune to the

missing, presumed dead, nephew. But nothing can be done about winding up

his estate, including the diamonds, until the clock stops.

The clock was specially constructed with a mechanism that will stop it a

year and a day after it has been started, a task given to a devoted

servant to carry out once the master has died. It's a sinister sort of

timepiece, for its bottom third is filled with a sluggish green liquid

and the niche the clock occupies is labelled 'Dangerous". Is the strange

matter gas or poison, explosives or some sort of corrosive matter? What

will happen when time runs out and the clock stops working?

Before the reader discovers the answer to that interesting conundrum,

they will have contemplated a veritable Newgate Calendar of crimes

including -- but not limited to -- breaking and entering, blackmail, and

infernal engines. Toss in romantic entanglements and much to-ing and

fro-ing between London and Scotland among other things, and the result

is a novel in which the convoluted skein of events works out smoothly

and those that deserve it get their comeuppance in satisfactory fashion.

Kerrie Smith

Martin Edwards

Bill Crider

James Reasoner

Lesa Holstine

George Kelley
Jim Winter

Gary Dobbs

Keith Raffel

Cathy Cole

Cathy Cole
David Cranmer


Randy Johnson

Paul Bishop