Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Amazon Reviews

I read this on Hilary Davidson's blog last week. She wrote:

"I’m dubbing July my own personal Amazon Review Month. Each day, I will write one review of a book I truly enjoyed. My only criteria is this: would I recommend the book to a friend? If so, it’s worthy of a review on Amazon. I’m not planning to write epic reviews detailing the book’s content, just three or four lines about what I found so engaging about it.

What I’d like to suggest is that you make July your own personal Amazon Review Month, too. I suspect that if enough of us review books we loved, we can entice others to read them, too. Who’s in?"

I'm in. I've posted half a dozen already, A lot of the books I've enjoyed this year have very few reviews on Amazon. Only certain kinds of people post reviews. And only certain kinds of books draw reviews. In a time of diminishing print reviews, it seems like a good thing to do.

I am not sure if it matters though. Do you take amazon reviews seriously? Do they influence your reading choices at all?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Bad Guys in B movies

I'm working on a story where I'd like to use some B movie villains or A movie second banana bad guys. Now dead. Can anyone remind me of a few?
My thinking cap went missing. Thanks!

Sunday, June 27, 2010


DISGRACE, by J.M Coetzee was a book I greatly admired. It's the story of a disgraced English professor in South Africa, whose humiliation only begins with his near rape of a student. He is unable to protect either himself or his daughter in the story that follows. It is a marvelously complex and brave novel that puts an unlikable person in harm's way and watches him squirm--and yet conveys some humanity in him. His daughter is complicated, too, and her decisions are not easy to understand. The situation in South Africa is likewise enigmatic to us. I didn't see how all this "complexity" could be captured on film.

And yet it is and by an actor I have no great liking for. Only someone like John Malkovich could bring the preposterous level of arrogance necessary to the story to the screen. It is beautifully, if bleakly, filmed.

Sometimes a film is as good as the book. What ones are the best?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

NEXT, James Hynes

I have a review of SPLICE up at Crimespree Cinema.

I finished James Hynes' NEXT a few days ago. My husband read it first. We were drawn to it because of its fine reviews, its setting (Ann Arbor, MI-down the road), its milieu (academia-sort of), and because its editor's publishing Megan's next book. (I wanted to see what sort of book interested her.)

NEXT is an unusual and highly original book. Much like in MRS. DALLOWAY (although in NEXT we are only privy to just one person's interior thoughts), we spend a single day inside our narrator's head, watching him go about his often prosaic business. (How many of any of our days are anything but ordinary and yet we find it unusual in a novel)

In this case, Kevin Quinn has traveled from Ann Arbor to Austin on a job interview. He has a prestigious but rather dull-- and sometimes humiliating--job back in Michigan and is interviewing for a similar one. It's the kind of job one finds on the fringes of academia--for people who can't quite cut loose from their college town--underpaid and under-respected.

Kevin's fifty years old but seldom thinks about much other than the women he's loved. He's a bit pathetic, and what happens to him over the course of this half-day in the Texas heat emphasizes this.(And oh, how well Hynes captures Austin in the summer). We pity Kevin, we despair for him, we're bored by him, we're embarrassed for him, but mostly we identify with him. His thoughts are the sort we might have on a day when our future might be about to begin in a new place .

The final quarter of the book makes what has gone before it resonate. It also shatters our idea of what all of it meant. It's a shocking conclusion (although the foreshadowing is there).

At one point, a cab driver tells our hero,"You need to pay attention, man." Kevin does need to pay attention and so do we. Or what happens "next" for all of us might come too early or too late.

Highly recommended.

What's the last book you read that still had you thinking a few days later?

Friday, June 25, 2010

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, June 25, 2010

REMINDER-Next week is an offweek. Happy Fourth!

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, June 25, 2010

Patti Abbott, The Church of the Dead Girls, Stephen Dobyns
Joe Barone, The Man Who Went Up in Smoke, Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo
Paul Bishop, The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, Joe McGinnis, Dynamo: Triumph & Tragedy in Nazi Occupied Kiev, Andy Dougan
Bill Crider, Maracaibo, Stirling Silliphant
Scott Cupp, A Vampire Named Fred, Bill Crider
Martin Edwards, The Crime of the Century, Kingsley Amis
Ed Gorman, The Killer, Devil on Two Sticks, Wade Miller
Glenn Harper, The End of Lieutenant Boruvka, Josef Skvorecky
Maxim Jakubowski, Tony & Susan, Austin Wright
Randy Johnson, Star Surgeon, Alan E. Nourse
George Kelley, The Leavenworth Case, Ann Kathering Green
Evan Lewis, Cold Death (Doc Savage) Laurence Donavan
Steve Lewis & Curt J. Evans, The Problem of the Green Capsule, John Dickson Carr
Brian Lindenmuth, Four Corners of the Night, Craig Holden
Todd Mason, Dames, Danger, Death, edited (probably) by Leo Marguiles
Laurie Powers, Sandhill Boy, Elmer Kelton
James Reasoner, The Crime Spectacularist, Lester Dent
Richard Robinson, In Kensington Gardens Once, H.R.F. Keating
Kerrie Smith, FORGOTTEN AUTHOR: Joan Fleming
Steve Weddle, The Boys on the Bus, Tim Crouse

Friday's Forgotten Books, June 25, 2010

Goodis writing.

REMINDER-Next week is an offweek. Happy Fourth!

Steve Weddle ( blogs about crime fiction at DoSomeDamage. Weddle also
works with John Hornor Jacobs on NEEDLE. This year his short fiction has appeared at Beat To A Pulp, Crime Factory, and A Twist of Noir.


The US Presidential campaigns of 1968 and 1972 provided for some great journalism. Norman Mailer had a nice one about the Miami/Chicago conventions in 1968. Hunter S Thompson went gonzo for next campaign with his FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL ’72. And Jules Witcover was all over everything, of course. And then there was that Watergate book.

A book that isn’t read much anymore, but should be, is THE BOYS ON THE BUS by Tim Crouse, who was covering the campaign for ROLLING STONE magazine. Crouse was in his mid-20s and decided to cover the coverage. The conversations between journalists are great. The race for deadlines. The inside details. Crouse had a good eye and a better ear, knowing that the untold story of the people writing the stories was as entertaining as anything. Hunter S. Thompson, R.W. "Johnny" Apple, Jules Witcover, Robert Novak, Haynes Johnson, and many others come and go and the reader gets to see how stories develop and how the coverage met or didn’t meet up with things.

From Crouse’s book: "The fact that [some reporters] thought that McGovern had a chance to win showed the folly of trying to call an election from 30,000 feet in the air. . . . The reporters attached to George McGovern had a very limited usefulness as political observers, by and large, for what they knew best was not the American electorate but the tiny community of the press plane, a totally abnormal world that combined the incestuousness of a New England hamlet with the giddiness of a mid-ocean gala and the physical rigors of the Long March."

One things that’s nice about the book is that you get to see how these reporters riding along with the campaign work as a team. Crouse calls it “pack journalism,” a term we still use. "The press likes to demonstrate its power by destroying lightweights, and pack journalism is never more doughty and complacent than when the pack has tacitly agreed that a candidate is a joke."

Crouse never loses touch with the readers or the writers, seeming to appreciate all sides. THE BOYS ON THE BUS is a great story for those interested in politics, campaigns, journalism, and the inside looks you get when someone dives into something full force. A great read, still in print.

Patti Abbott

Church of the Dead Girls, Stephen Dobyns

CHURCH OF THE DEAD GIRLS takes place in one of those little towns in the Finger Lakes section of New York State near Utica. The town has been losing jobs and people for half a century. But disappearances suddenly are not due to a lack or jobs or a desire for more cultural offerings. Janice McNeal, a woman of ill repute, is murdered in her own home, her arm amputated. Her son, though seemingly bereft, arouses suspicion when he bites off a classmate's ear. Next three young girls vanish inexplicably, bundles of their clothes later turning up.

A Marxist study group at the local college and a vigilante squad of rednecks also comes under suspicion. The unnamed narrator, a high-school biology teacher, secretly keeps a collection of nasty objects submerged in formaldehyde. No one here is beyond or above suspicion. Some sort of mass hysteria has come about, reminding the reader of WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP.

This book examines the sort of hysteria that can overtake a small isolated community. Despite its title, it's a horror story-- a vivid and scary tale from the author of the Charlie Bradshaw Saratoga Springs crime fiction novels. Dobyns is also a poet. This is, no doubt, his darkest book.

Ed Gorman is the author of TICKET TO RIDE and many other wonderful novels. You can find him here. Wade Miller was of course Bob Wade and Bill Miller. They collaborated on a few dozen novels until Miller died of a heart attack in the office they shared. He was forty-one.

Much of their finest work was done for Gold Medal. The Killer is a fine example. A rich man named Stennis owns a number of banks. His son works in one of them. During a robbery his son is killed. Stennis hires a big game hunter named Farrow to find the notorious bank robber Clel Bocock and his gang. When Farrow locates them he is to call Stennis who wants to be there to watch them die. Farrow is a unique character and not just because of the big game angle. He's middle-aged and feeling it, something rare in that era of crime fiction.

The search for Stennis--and the love story that involves Bocock's wife--takes Farrow from the swamps to Iowa (including, yes, Cedar Rapids) to Wisconsin to Colorado. The place description is extraordinary. Probably too much for today's readers but the Miller books are filled with strong cunning writing. Same for twists and turns. For the length of the first act you can never be sure who anybody is. They're all traveling under assumed names and with shadowy motives. The only thing that binds them is Clel Bocock.

For anybody who thinks that Gold Medals were largely routine crime stories, this is the noel you should pick up. Stark House published this a few years back (still available) along with Devil On Two Sticks, one of the most original mob novels I've ever read. There's also an excellent David Laurence Wilson introduction on the careers of the two writers.

Wade Miller got lost in the shuffle of bringing back the writers of the fifties and sixties. This book, so strong on character and place and plot turns, will demonstrate why more of their books should be in print.

Joe Barone
Paul Bishop
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Glenn Harper
Maxim Jakubowski.
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis and Curt J. Evans
Brian Lindenmuth
Todd Mason
Laurie Powers
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Kerrie Smith

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Creative Writing Class Assignment

Subject: FW: Creative Writing assignment

A Creative Writing professor told his class one day: "Today we will experiment with a new form called the tandem story. The process is simple. Each person will pair off with the person sitting next to his or her desk.

As homework tonight, one of you will write the first paragraph of a short story. You will e-mail your partner that paragraph and send another copy to me. The partner will read the first paragraph and then add another paragraph to the story and send it back, also sending another copy to me. The first person will then add a third paragraph, and so on back-and-forth.

Remember to re-read what has been written each time in order to keep the story coherent. There is to be absolutely NO talking outside of the e-mails and anything you wish to say must be written in the e-mail. The story is over when both agree a conclusion has been reached."

The following was actually turned in by two of his English students:

Rebecca (PINK)

Bill (BLUE).


(first paragraph by Rebecca)

At first, Laurie couldn't decide which kind of tea she wanted. The chamomile, which used to be her favorite for lazy evenings at home, now reminded her too much of Carl, who once said, in happier times, that he liked chamomile. But she felt she must now, at all costs, keep her mind off Carl. His possessiveness was suffocating, and if she thought about him too much her asthma started acting up again. So chamomile was out of the question.

(second paragraph by Bill )

Meanwhile, Advance Sergeant Carl Harris, leader of the attack squadron now in orbit over Skylon 4, had more important things to think about than the neuroses of an air-headed asthmatic bimbo named Laurie with whom he had spent one sweaty night over a year ago. "A.S. Harris to Geostation 17," he said into his transgalactic communicator. " Polar orbit established. No sign of resistance so far..." But before he could sign off a bluish particle beam flashed out of nowhere and blasted a hole through his ship's cargo bay. The jolt from the direct hit sent him flying out of his seat and across the cockpit.


He bumped his head and died almost immediately, but not before he felt one last pang of regret for psychically brutalizing the one woman who had ever had feelings for him. Soon afterwards, Earth stopped its pointless hostilities towards the peaceful farmers of Skylon 4. "Congress Passes Law Permanently Abolishing War and Space Travel," Laurie read in her newspaper one morning. The news simultaneously excited her and bored her. She stared out the window, dreaming of her youth, when the days had passed unhurriedly and carefree, with no newspaper to read, no television to distract her from her sense of innocent wonder at all the beautiful things around her.

"Why must one lose one's innocence to become a woman?" she pondered wistfully.

( Bill )

Little did she know, but she had less than 10 seconds to live.

Thousands of miles above the city, the Anu'udrian mothership launched the first of its lithium fusion missiles. The dimwitted wimpy peaceniks who pushed the Unilateral Aerospace disarmament Treaty through the Congress had left Earth a defenseless target for the hostile alien empires who were determined to destroy the human race. Within two hours after the passage of the treaty the Anu'udrian ships were on course for Earth, carrying enough firepower to pulverize the entire planet. With no one to stop them, they swiftly initiated their diabolical plan. The lithium fusion missile entered the atmosphere unimpeded. The President, in his top-secret mobile submarine headquarters on the ocean floor off the coast of Guam , felt the inconceivably massive explosion, which vaporized even poor, stupid Laurie.


This is absurd. I refuse to continue this mockery of literature. My writing partner is a violent, chauvinistic semi-literate adolescent.

( Bill )

Yeah? Well, my writing partner is a self-centered tedious neurotic whose attempts at writing are the literary equivalent of Valium. " Oh, shall I have chamomile tea? Or shall I have some other sort of F--KING TEA??? Oh no, what am I to do? I'm such an air headed bimbo. I guess I've read too many Danielle Steele novels!"



( Bill )




( Bill )

In your dreams, Ho. Go drink some tea.


A+ - I really liked this one.

Forgotten Music, June 24, 2010

Doesn't seem to be a way to cut the size of the font. Sorry.

REALLY ROSIE, Music by written and sung by Carole King, story by Maurice Sendak based on his books.

Perhaps because I was already a Carole King fan, and this came along at the moment when my kids were ready for it, this is one of my favorite all-time albums. (Yes they were still albums then). This was from an era when children's movies, TV shows, and music was scant.

REALLY ROSIE was a musical, a TV show, an album, but first of a series of books.

The musical is based on Sendak's books: Chicken Soup with Rice, Pierre, One was Johnny, Alligators All Around (which comprise The Nutshell Library: The Sign on Rosie's Door (1960). Sendak based the story on a theatrical little girl he knew as a child.

The story takes place on a summer day in the life of a group of several neighborhood friends, including Pierre, Alligator, Johnny, and Chicken Soup (from the Nutshell Library books), and Rosie and Kathy from The Sign on Rosie' s Door. Rosie who loves on Brooklyn's Avenue P, directs and stars in an movie based on her life. The quality of Sendak's illustrations and story and King's music made this a winner at the time.

A half-hour television special (animated) aired in February 1975. It was directed by Maurice Sendak, with Carole King voicing the title character. An album based on the songs by King and lyrics by Sendak is still around. A production, directed opened on October 14, 1980. It ran for 274 performances. But it is the music that reverberates for me. Both King and Sendak are still alive. King is on tour with James Taylor. Sendak, now 82, published his first pop-up book in 2006.

We knew all the songs from Really Rosie by heart. I still do.

Check out Scott Parker's blog for more forgotten music.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


THE GLASS ROOM by Simon Mawer (Man Booker short-listed) was a fine novel. I highly recommend it. It's about the various inhabitants of an architecturally significant house in Czechoslovakia from 1929 until quite a while after the war.

But what I want to talk about here is the wonder of finding a book that you can read effortlessly. A book where the writing or story or characters--something-- just keeps you turning the page. I am not even sure whether it was the subject, the prose, the time of day-who knows. But this book boosted me out of a reading funk. It certainly wasn't the traditional page-turner.

Do you ever find yourself enjoying a book without knowing quite why? A book that isn't your usual thing? Maybe that's it. I needed to read a book about evil Nazis yet again. They never get old.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The greatest actor

in Westerns. We've talked about the greatest westerns of them all, but who was the most believable cowboy. Enlighten me. Who would star in the Western to end all Westerns--living or dead? I guess John Wayne portrayed cowboys most often, but I kind of favor Gary Cooper myself.

("Dad was a true Westerner, and I take after him", Gary Cooper told people who wanted to know more about his life before Hollywood. Dad was Charles Henry Cooper, who left his native England at 19, became a lawyer and later a Montana State Supreme Court justice. In 1906, when Gary was 5, his dad bought the Seven-Bar-Nine, a 600-acre ranch that had originally been a land grant to the builders of the railroad through that part of Montana.)

Monday, June 21, 2010

My Town Monday, Detroit Passport to the Arts

Come on over to Crimespree Cinema and tell me what your favorite summer movies are.

Phil's Clematis.

Great Lakes Chamber Music Program for June 19, 2010

Schumann Andante and Variations in B-flat major, Op. 46

Chopin Selected Songs
Barber Capricorn Concerto, Op. 21
Hummel Septet in D minor, Op. 74

This concert was part of the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival and the last performance on our Detroit Passport to the Arts ticket-the greatest bargain in cultural offerings today.

If you live in the Detroit area, seek it out. Next year's schedule is now posted. And for $109 you can go to a play, an opera, two classical music concerts, a dance performance and a film festival. You even get a reception afterwards.
Sometimes you get a behind the scenes tour. My goodness, what are you waiting for.

We are already signed up for next year. We are not the target audience here, but the nicest thing about this program was seeing some dark heads amidst the gray. I am excited that in these times, some wonderful people in Detroit found a way to bring youth into these theater. Yay, Natalie. Yay, sponsors.


Okay, nothing to do with either DP2A or the terrific music we heard last night but here's a little gripe.
I am happy to go early to a classical music concert and hear the pre-concert talk. I heard one last night about the composer (Barber) and it was interesting. It even gave me an idea for a story.

However, a new trend is taking hold. For the third time lately, one of the musicians or the conductor, gave a few minutes' lecture before the piece began--right as the lights went down. This is a really bad idea as far as I'm concerned. When those lights go down, I need to be transported by the music, not the pianist or conductor talking. Do your 'splaining before the concert begins. If people don't come to the talk, they will still enjoy the music. The music should be enough. No explanation necessary.

It's as if a director came out on the stage before a play began and said, "Now in this act, Arthur Miller is trying to demonstrate the shallow nature...." Bad idea right?

Is it just me that finds this annoying? I know pop musicians talk to their audience (except for Bob Dylan) but the atmosphere is very different. Let it just be me and the music.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

What Makes a Good Book Title?

I have a new story "At the Café Sabarsky" at Beat to a Pulp. Thanks to David and Elaine once again.

Charles Gramlich is wrestling with various ideas for a title for his new book. I am always wrestling with titles, too. What makes a good book or story title? Is a title even important? What is the best book title you've ever heard? Was the book as good as the title? Or did the quality of the book enhance the title?

I prefer titles that describe the book and are short. I am too old to remember titles like: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

I also like place names for titles: Gorky Park, Starvation Lake, L.A. Confidential, Miami Blues, Shelter Island, Mystic River, Fargo. Setting is important.

What do you think about titles? Did a title alone ever make you buy a book? Did a poor title put you off?

Friday, June 18, 2010

THE SUMMING UP, Friday,June 18, 2010

Writers writing. Guess who?

I'm going to have to take a week off on Friday, July 2. You can all probably use a week off for the holiday weekend, too.

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, June 18, 2010

Joe Barone, Ceremony, Robert B. Parker
Paul Bishop, Red Coat, Richard Hoyt
Bill Crider, Malay Woman, A.S. Fleischman
Scott Cupp, Blind Voices, Tom Reamy
Ed Gorman, The So-Blue Marble, Dorothy B. Hughes
Glenn Harper, Violetta, Pieke Biermann
Randy Johnson, Davy, Edgar Pangborn
George Kelley, The Prisoner, Thomas M. Disch
Chris La Tray, The Real Cool Killers, Chester Himes
B.V. Lawson, Death Watch, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Evan Lewis, Mike Hammer, The Comic Strip, Mickey Spillane
Steve Lewis/Art Scott, Trinity in Violence, Henry Kane
Todd Mason, My Name is Aram, William Saroyan, Ride With the Sun, Harold Courlander, The Storytelling Stone, Susan Feldman
Terrie Moran, Friday, the Rabbi Slept Late, Harry Kemmelman
James Reasoner, Brand of the Black Bat, G. Wayman Jones (Norman A. Daniels)
Mark Terry, Out on the Rim, Ross Thomas
Stanley Trollip, The Song Dog, James McClure
Kerrie Smith, The Secret of Hanging Rock, Joan Lindsay

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, June 18, 2010

Patricia Highsmith reading.

I'm going to have to take a week off on Friday, July 2. You can all probably use a week off for the holiday weekend, too.

Also-starting today Glenn Harper at International Noir will be posting forgotten foreign reading. It is so much in the news right now I thought we needed an expert to help us out. You can find his first review here.

Also I have a movie review at Crimespree Cinema.
Check it out when you finish with the great book recommended today.

Mark Terry is the author of the Derek Stillwater thriller series, which includes THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK, THE SERPENT’S KISS, and his most recent novel, THE FALLEN. In addition, he is the author of the bestselling Kindle novel, DANCING IN THE DARK, as well as several
standalones, DIRTY DEEDS and CATFISH GURU. Visit his website at

OUT ON THE RIM by Ross Thomas

When Patricia asked me if I would be interested in writing a review of
a “forgotten book,” the very first book that popped into my head was
“Out On The Rim” by Ross Thomas. Thomas died in 1995 and while he was
alive published numerous crime and caper novels with truly memorable
titles like “Voodoo, Ltd.,” “The Fools in Town Are On Our Side,” “Ah,
Treachery!” and “The Eighth Dwarf.”

Ross was a master at what I would probably call the caper novel, although his capers often had an element of the political thriller and/or the crime or espionage novel. It’s not clear to me if he was abestselling author, although I think he was fairly well known withinthe mystery-reading community while he was alive, and certainly he wasa compadre of authors like Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block. I do know that outside the sometimes claustrophobic world of mystery
fandom, whenever I mentioned Ross Thomas I got baffled looks. Their loss, because Ross Thomas wrote extraordinarily entertaining novelswith memorable characters, dazzlingly elegant prose and plots filled with effortless twists and turns.

Although Ross did not exactly have a recurring main character, heoccasionally returned to several. I’ve always thought of “Chinaman’s Chance”, “Out On The Rim” and “Voodoo, Ltd.” as a trilogy in that they primarily have the same characters, although really only three characters are in all three books: con men Artie Wu, Quincy Durant,and Maurice Overby. Artie is known for being something like 40th inline to the Emperor of China; Quincy, who is his partner, is typically referred to as “that fucking Durant” by everyone who has encountered him before, which tells you a lot about crossing Durant; Maurice Overby is typically called “Otherguy” because when arrested, it invariably turns out that the “other guy” did it.

In “Out On The Rim,” Booth Stallings, a 60-year-old expert on terrorism, is fired from his job at a Washington think tank and on thesame day, offered $500,000 to head to the Philippines and offer $5 million to a terrorist leader Booth was acquainted with, in hopes of persuading the man to retire. (Or perhaps to funnel $5 million to the terrorist in hopes of funding his attacks on the Aquino government).

Booth, skeptical, nonetheless thinks it would be an interesting adventure to not only walk away with half a million dollars, but to scam the client out of the entire $5 million. He hooks up with Wu, Durant, Overby, and the client’s overseer, former Secret Service agent Georgia Blue, and off they go to the Philippines. But it quickly becomes clear that not only is there more going on with the client than an attempt to buy off a terrorist, but that everybody on this team has plans of their own to get hold of the entire $5 million. The fun of it is, you can’t always tell who and how.

“Out On The Rim” gives new meaning to the term “plot twists” and Thomas also does the reader the wonderful service of having a major plot twist at the end that not only surprises, but gives the entire story an entirely different meaning. A wonderfully satisfying caper by
a master writer working at the top of his craft.

Ed Gorman is the author of THE END OF THE WORLD AND OTHER STORIES, THE MIDNIGHT ROOM and A TICKET TO RIDE. You can find him here.

The So-Blue Marble, Dorothy B. Hughes

I'm not sure exactly when Freud became an influence on popular culture but certainly in the Thirties and Forties his beliefs could be found in crime fiction and crime movies. Hitchcock sanctified him in Spellbound and many lesser directors followed suit.

One of the most prominent of Freudian tropes was phantasmagoria, the sense that the protagonist is lost in a chaos that may or may not be real. A nightmare or is he really about to die?

Dorothy B. Hughes certainly plays with this trope in her famous novel The So-Blue Marble (1940). Her lovely protagonist, saddled with the unlovely name Griselda, decides to visit New York and stay in her ex-husband's apartment, at his request. They haven't seen each other for four years during which he's become a major reporter for NBC worldwide and she's become both a writer and an unlikely (and unhappy) movie actress.

This is the Vogue magazine world just before the war. Everything is ridiculously expensive, everything ridiculously elegant, people, clothes, cars, apartments alike. There are always limos standing by and champagne to be drunk.

Griselda is accosted in chapter one by a pair of diabolocially handsome twin brothers, one blond one dark haired, called the Montefierrow Twins by everybody who knows them. They most frequently are seen in tops hats, tails and carrying gold-handled canes, one of which has a dagger on its tip. In any kind of company other than their international che-che world these two would be dead in under five minutes.

The lads want a blue marble that they believe Griselda has. This is the McGuffin. A lot of people want the marble. Only the twins are willing to kill for it, something they do frequently. The marble isn't just a marble of course and there are hints that spies from three different countries have been searching for it, too.

The phantasmagoric aspect comes in when you realize that at times the story teeters on the brink of being unbelievable. It really does have the quality of a nightmare. The writing and social observation are so well done--Hughes, a Yale Young Poet in those days, obviously knew this turf well--you're swept up in all the calamity without worrying about some of the stranger twists and turns.

The most interesting character in the book is Missy, Grisedla's seductive sixteen year old sister. A true psychopath and the lover of one of the those god awful twins. Humbert Humbert would find her enchanting no doubt.

This is the novel that set Dorothy B. Hughes on a career that would include two of her novels becoming Bogart pictures, the best of which, In A Lonely Place, is a noir icon. This is a swift, tart, dark novel set in the months before Pearl Harbor. The coming war is felt on every page.

Joe Barone
Paul Bishop
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Chris LaTray
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis and Art Scott
Todd Mason
Terrie Moran
James Reasoner
Rick Robinson
Kerrie Smith
Stanley Trollip

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Are You Influenced

Writing. Notice the gun. Ever feel like that? Ever sit around naked? I have never sat around naked once. Even when alone, I take pity on God.

Are you ever influenced by a book's receiving a lot of attention? Did you rush out and buy THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO? How about THE DAVINCI CODE? (I see Karen Olson is talking about this too).

Are you more likely to read a book like Justin Cronin's THE PASSAGE because it is causing a media frenzy?

How calculating should an author be when writing a book. What sort of writer thinks I bet people will love a book with vampires or werewolves or mutilation or secret ancient texts?

I just read an interview with Muriel Burbery (ELEGANCE OF A HEDGEHOG) who said she gave no thought to such a thing when writing it. And I doubt most writers do. Most writers can't even tell if something is commercial or not, I imagine.

I read one of Cronin's earlier books, MARY AND O'NEIL when it came out and sent him a fangirl email, something I almost never do. I think it was the only time I ever did it, in fact. But I have to say I am somewhat disappointed that he is so clearly going for the best seller with this one. His earlier books sold around 70,000 copies. That seems like a very good number to me. Not Stephen King or Janet Evanovich territory but still...

Is Cronin wrong to try for a more commercial success. Can a huge blockbuster be as good as a smaller book? I'm sure it can. But most of them aren't. Maybe James Michener pulled it off. Anyone else?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Are there any Gildas out there?

I was watching a tribute to Rita Hayworth on TCM while I cleared the dishwasher the other day and various men were talking about how much they loved Rita in her heyday.

It occurred to me that few actresses seem to earn that devotion now. How about it? Is there any current actress that evokes that?

Phil says its because cosmetic surgery has make all actresses in their twenties and thirties look the same--and all older actresses look the same, too, due to surgery too.

What do you think? Is there any actress today as desirable and unique as Rita, Veronica and those others forties/fifties icons?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Olivia Ambrogio

Olivia Ambrogio is the daughter of friends of ours and has just set up house in D.C. She earned her doctorate in marine biology from Tufts where she researched the sex life of snails. She is also a fantastic short story writer. And you will see what great photos she takes. I wish I had had her with us in Paris.

She has started a blog that details life at the D.C. zoo--just down the road from her new place. Give her a look.

WORK OF ART: The Next Great Artist (BRAVO)

We don't watch reality shows but George turned us on to TOP CHEF last year so when I saw this show was coming on, we gave it a try.

The Premise: fourteen artists compete for a show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and $100, 000. The guy to the left did this in half a day. And didn't win. And he's 22. So you can see these artists, like the chefs in Top Chef, are not art school students. The first challenge was to paint a portrait of one of the other contestants.

I am hoping to learn more about art from the judges in this series. Some of the artists do the kind of work I find challenging. Maybe I will see its merits after three months. Or maybe I will see it has none.
We enjoyed the first one and agreed with the choice of the artist who was eliminated. He painted a clown--never a good idea.
It was on Wednesday night at eleven here. I assume it will move to ten when the earlier show concludes.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

That book on the other side of the bed?

Out the window in Paris--away from the angel wings.

Can you tell me what your husband/wife/roommate is reading right now? Do they read the same sort of books you read? Do you pass books back and forth ? Do they understand your taste in books or do you have to give them suggestions when your birthday comes around? Do you know theirs?

Phil is reading ZOO STATION, by David Downing, a spy novel.

Friday, June 11, 2010

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, June 11, 2010

Ernest writing.

Please check out my latest movie review on CRIMESPREE CINEMA.

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, June 11, 2010

Paul Bishop, The World Cup Murder, Pele with Herbert Resnicow
Bill Crider, Embassy, Keith Laumer
Scott Cupp, Stress Patterns, Neal Barrett, Jr.
Pete Dragovich, The Mortal Nuts, Pete Hautman
Martin Edwards, Three Core Lead, Clare Curzon
Ed Gorman, Women of Wonder ed, Pamela Sargent
Jerry House, Lois the Witch, Mrs. Gaskell
George Kelley, their memory was a bitter tree, Robert E. Howard
Randy Johnson, The Death in the Willows, Richard Forrest
Leopard 13, Fail Safe, Eugene Harvey & Burdick Wheeler
Even Lewis, Murder in the Mudhouse, Jonathan Lattimer
Steve Lewis/David Vineyard, Midnight Plus One, Gavin Lyall
Brian Lindenmuth, Lethal Injection, Jim Nisbet, Circus Parade, Jim Tully, Shark-Infested Custard, Charles Willeford
Todd Mason, The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher, Martin Gardner, The BS Factor, Arthur Herzog, Completely Doomed, ed. Anon
Jeff Meyerson, B Movies, Don Miller
Richard Prosch, Drygulch, Harry Whittington, First Blood, David Morrell, Infinity Beach, Jack
James Reasoner, Starhaven Ivar Jorgenson )Robert Silverberg)
Rick Robinson, The Detective in Hollywood, John Tuska
Kerrie Smith, Ask a Policeman, Detection Club
Steve Wylder, Up Til Now, Eugene McCarthy

Friday's Forgotten Books, June 11, 2010

Laura Lippman writing.

The Nerd of Noir (also known as Pete Dragovich) is a crime critic for Spinetingler Magazine ( and Crimefactory ( You can find links to all the shit he's written at his blog, which is ever-so fucking creatively called "Nerd of Noir" ( He lives in the Twin Cities and some folks complain of his cursing.

The Mortal Nuts by Pete Hautman
Back in the early- to mid-nineties, I remember every other crime novel had Tarantino's name on it somewhere, usually in a blurb or two like "reads like Tarantino on mescaline" or some such silly bullshit like that. It was fairly obvious marketing and even kind of annoying, but it was effective. Hell, such blurbs got me interested the comic crime authors of the day, guys like Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen and Joe R. Lansdale, for example. But the works of certain authors of that particular era in book marketing (i.e. my formative reading years) have not remained so popular. Fellow Minnesota boy Pete Hautman is still a very prolific writer, but is more commonly known these days a writer of YA novels (he won the National Book Award for Young People with Godless). Back in the nineties he was mainly pumping out violent, wild-ass, poker-related crime novels set in our home state, and you better believe that shit still holds up.
The best place to start of the bunch would have to be his third novel, The Mortal Nuts. It's the story of an old ex-cross-country poker player named Axel Speeter who runs a taco stand every summer at the Minnesota State Fair. The rest of the year Axel seems content to live in a Motel 6 and watch his big screen TV, his quarter of a million dollar nut stashed under his bed in Folgers cans. His sometime girlfriend Sophie makes for decent company, but her stupid-hot daughter Carmen is all kinds of trouble. When she whispers of Axel's fortune in her skinhead idiot boyfriend James Dean's ear, trouble starts coming Axel's way via a fucking baseball bat.
Not to be a writer for O Magazine or some corny shit like that but this is the perfect book for summer. Well, perfect if your idea of relaxation is reading is something foul, violent and funny, anyway. It's got a great sense of place (about which I am clearly fucking biased), the pace is swift, and the prose makes it all go down smooth. But like the books of (later period) Leonard and Hiaasen, what you're reading this shit for is the hilarious characters and dialogue. James Dean is one of my favorite dumbass bad guys in a genre and era filled with, well, classic dumbass bad guys. From his horrible tats to his ridiculously weak theft schemes, the guy's a retarded gem. Carmen is a femme fatale for the slacker era, a girl who can manipulate men, but doesn't want to work too hard at it. Axel is a masterfully rendered variation on the crotchety old Midwest guy, someone stubborn enough to be infuriating but strong enough to take on all-comers, his advanced age be damned.
If you dig this shit you should try his other three novels in this particular universe: Short Money, Drawing Dead, and Ring Game. Just a few years back he wrote another stellar crime novel set in the gambling world (though this time taking place in Arizona) called The Prop that kicked all kinds of ass as well. When you look at how much shit Pete Hautman has put out in his nearly two decades long career, you can see that writing young adult novels is clearly working out for him. Bully for him, but the Nerd has his gnarled, eczema-stained fingers crossed in hopes that he dips back into comic crime toot-fucking-sweet.

Jeff Meyerson

Don Miller, B Movies (Ballantine, 1987; originally published by Curtis Books, 1973), 360 pp.

I discovered Leonard Maltin's movie criticism back in 1972 - yes, he's been around forever! - and over the years I've read many, many books about the film industry: biographies and autobiographies, reviews, interviews, lists of favorites, screenplays, you name it, I've probably read it. Back in the early 1970's Maltin was involved in a project publishing a series of film paperbacks, of which the one I most remembered was the late Don Miller's B Movies.
Miller covered the heyday of the B picture (meant to be the second movie in a double feature, by the way) from the early talkies to the end of WW II. He covered the studios, the directors and writers, and the actors, with pieces of the popular series of the day (Andy Hardy, Blondie), and did it in such an entertaining way that I had a list of hundreds of titles to watch out for back in the early cable days. They weren't all classics by any means, but there was a lot of enjoyment to be gotten from these (mostly) unpretentious entertainments, as well as from reading Miller's book.
Sadly, I loaned my copy to a friend and, Curtis Books being what they were, it came back to mean literally in pieces. Happily, I was recently able to get a copy of the sturdier Ballantine reprint, with 32 pages of pictures, cross-indexed by actor, director, and title. If you have any interest at all in the movies of the 1930's and 1940's - and if you don't, you should - I highly recommend you seek out this book. There are many happy hours of reading ahead for you.
Miller wrote one more book before his untimely death, Hollywood Corral, and as the title suggests it is about westerns. I haven't read it yet.

Ed Gorman is the author of TICKET TO RIDE and numerous other novels and anthologies. You can find him here.

Forgotten Books Women of Wonder ed. by Pamela Sargent

Duffers like me seem to have a difficult time reading a fair share of contemporary science fiction. I always says it's because we're not smart enough to appreciate it and I'm only half-joking. The majority of sf I've read in the past five years is better written and generally better conceived and contrived than most of the work I read when I was a major fan of the stuff.


Pamela Sargent is one of my favorite sf writers. She's been at it for decades and has produced a major body of work. She writes with a style and grace that makes reading her a real literary pleasure. Same for her characters. They are complex, sometimes even unlikable but always real and relevant.

She's done double-duty as an anthologist of note. For no particular reason I took her 1974 anthology Women of Wonder ("SF Stories By About Women")down from the shelf and damned if it didn't remind me of how much I enjoyed and admired the sf of the late 60s and all the of the 70s.

While there are classics here such as Judith Merrill's That Only A Mother and The Ship Who Sang, the splendor lies in the women shrugging of the strictures of the old male-dominated field and kicking some ass all on their own. Kit Reed's The Food Farm is flat out startling and as pertinent today as it was several decades ago. A scathing commentary on body image.Then we have Kate Wilhelm and Carol Emshwiller ransacking coventional notions of gender and sex and Ursula K. Le Guin establishing her genius with a single story, Vaster Than Empires and More Slow.

There's even a pulp story not intended for the faint of her. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's False Dawn (The basis for her later novel of the same title) is a grisly but effecting adventure story set in a future earth turned back to savagery.

So many different styles, structures, tones. And so much fine storytelling. If you want to wander off the crime reservation for the length of one excellent anthology, pick this one up. I think you'll like it as much as I did.

Jerry House lives in Southern Maryland. He can be reached at

LOIS THE WITCH by Mrs. Gaskell

Elizabeth Cleghill Gaskell was one of the most popular authors of the mid-Nineteenth Century, earning accolades from Dickens and others. Today, she is best known for her novel Cranford, which was recently televised on Masterpiece Theatre, and for her often-reprinted ghost story "The Old Nurse's Tale". One of her most fully realized and unjustly forgotten works was the short novel Lois the Witch, first serialized in 1859 in Charles Dickens' All The Year Round magazine.

Lois the Witch takes place in 1691, just as the witch hysteria began to take hold in New England. Newly orphaned Lois Barclay has arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, to live with her mother's brother, whom she has never met, and his family. Here she finds an atmosphere quite unfamiliar; by the harsh Puritanical standards of her uncle's family, Lois' life in England was quite sinful. She had also arrived to find her uncle gravely ill, tended with cold devotion by a stern wife who hates him and who would come to resent Lois. The remainder of Lois' new family consisted of Manasseh, the eldest and only son, a reknown hunter given to fits of madness and religious hysteria, Faith, the elder daughter, a moody and sullen girl whose fantasy world is taking reality in her mind, and Prudence, the younger daughter -- selfish, contrarian, and a trouble-maker.

Salem was a dangerous place. The town was surrounded by deep woods, harboring blood-thirsty Indians. The threat of famine and disease was ever-present. The hard-core Puritans were purging those they consider lesser. The few Indian servants in Salem were prone to spread legends and superstitious tales. Cotton Mather, in near-by Boston, was battling to save souls from witchcraft, for, despite threats and hardship, witchcraft was the most-feared danger to the Puritans.

Lois' uncle dies, leaving her at the mercies of his family. Manasseh begins to hear messages from God, telling him to marry Lois -- an idea she firmly rejects. Faith begins to believe Lois has stolen the affections of a man from her. Prudence is jealous of the attention two of her playmates are receive when the claim to be possessed by Satanic forces. The combination of a harsh winter and disease has taken many of the village's elders. Although Lois came from a more liberal household, she is still a child of the Seventeenth Century and believes in witchcraft; she worries about the effect it might have on her, her new family, and the community.

Mrs. Gaskell weaves her story skillfully, letting the menace take shape and grow slowly to its logical end.

Although Lois the Witch is a "forgotten" book, it is not forgotten on the internet and can be read for free on several sites. The novel can also be found in several collections of Mrs. Gaskell's works. If not in print, it should be available through your local library.


Paul Bishop
Bill Crider
Martin Edwards
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/David Vineyard
Brian Lindenmuth
Check out more forgotten books essays on Spinetingler by Brian. And here.
Todd Mason
Richard Prosch
James Reasoner
Rick Robinson
Kerrie Smith

Leopard 13
Steve Wylder

**Scott Cupp ( has been a professional writer for more than 20 years, having published short fiction in a variety of anthologies including RAZORED SADDLES, OBSESSIONS, THE FAR FRONTIERS, 100 VICIOUS LITTLE VAMPIRES, SOUTH FROM MIDNIGHT and others. He edited CROSS PLAINS UNIVERSE with Joe R. Lansdale for the 2006 World Fantasy Convention. A story will also appear in DAMNED NEAR DEAD 2.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I Just Have to Congratulate My Daughter

(at the Edgar Awards with her co-nominees)

for being nominated for an Edgar, the Hammett Prize, the LA Book Prize, the Macavity, the Anthony, and the Barry Awards for BURY ME DEEP.

She doesn't like me to to use my blog to talk about her, but my goodness! No need to add a comment because it is her achievement and not mine.

I am just glad to claim her as my kid.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Some Thoughts on Paris

A few pictures and some thoughts. We visited the list of places you'd expect and none were a disappointment. We had flawless weather and our flat was fine.

We don't eat expensive food, so it was mostly crepes, omelets and a few fish dinners (It wasn't about the food). Lots of wine though. Rose especially.

Since we had an apartment, we ate at home a lot.
But semi-prepared food as Phil needed a break, plus we had four flights to walk up with groceries.

Our flat was in The Marais, an excellent location that I highly recommend. If you ever decide to go I will give you the email address of the proprietor.

What we enjoyed most was people watching-going to the parks, the festivals, watching the throngs at Notre Dame. Several visits to bookstores, four to movies (Marathon Man, The Lady Vanishes, Fallen Angel and Young and Innocent) and two classical music concerts. And art, of course, but not the larger galleries except for the Pompidou and the Rodin.

Oh, and lots of gardens.

Underground, the Paris Metro is the most well-organized transportation system I know of. Every station and every car on the trains have maps and easy- to- read ones. Above ground, it's a free- for -all with motorcycles, bikes, cars and pedestrians fighting for turf. Paris drivers are the most aggressive I've seen--working on the theory that he who hesitates loses the game. They are the most skilled parkers I've seen also. Woe to the pedestrian who blocks a parking spot even momentarily.

When I was last in Paris (1995), all the women wore scarves. Now many men do too. Somehow they pull it off although my husband would disagree.

How can the French be so good at art, fashion, literature but so poor at plumbing, heating electricity?

Styles in men's sports coats: short, tight, with narrow lapels. Like the early sixties. The jackets pull across the waist.

Styles in women's shoes-they wind up the leg with laces, straps, something. They are complicated. Every boutique seem to carry its own line of exciting and expensive clothing. I have never seen so many different shoes or dresses. I bought an inexpensive scarf and a necklace, two books and a few souvenirs. (It wasn't about shopping either). The French also have many toy and kid's clothing stores with one of a kind things.

The French seem to have more surnames than a single nationality should have. At the cemetery I saw almost no repeats of names.

Everyone under thirty seems to smoke. They may not smoke inside restaurants but they certainly do at the cafe tables. There must be a hundred thousand cafe tables in Paris and there is someone at almost everyone of them. They always face the street rather than each other.

There are more good American movies on the screens in France than in the U.S. That's because there are film festivals of every significant director and actor. Just a few; Cohn Brothers, Hitchcock, Audrey Hepburn, Al Pacino, Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, John Houston, Noir.

This was just over a two-week period.

The bookstores in France were just as empty as the bookstores in my neighborhood.

Paris is vastly more multi-cultural than on our last visit, but not as multi-cultural as London by a long shot.

Our flat was next to a school. Their school day is longer, but they seem to have numerous noisy breaks.

You can easily survive in France speaking no English. I am a testament to that, having never managed more than Merci and Bonjour and those in a horrible accent. People born in Philadelphia can never excise their nasal twang.

No one was ever rude to us. Hope I didn't bore you!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


This was a movie I wanted to like, expected to like, but didn't. And I think it points out my main problem with most science fiction. The entire film rests on a premise that was clear early on. Perhaps I was meant to be touched by the character's plight due to the premise, but I wasn't. A similar premise in NEVER LET ME GO had me sobbing, but not here. Maybe I need words to get points across. Or dialogue. I'm not sure. Or, as I really think, I needed to see it on the big screen rather than at home.

Anyone watch it? What did I miss? Because I truly do feel that I missed something.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Book That Touched You Most

Parisians reading.

You can admire a book for its skill, for its compelling plot or characters, but what about the one in a hundred that really touches you in the deepest place.

I am going with NEVER LET ME GO, by Ishiguro and WINTER'S BONE by Daniel Woodrell. What books have touched you?

Sunday, June 06, 2010

War at the Wall Street Journal

Isn't it nice when the children of friends have a big success? Or, in this case, the daughter-in-law of good friends.

Sarah Ellison, author of the newly published WAR AT THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, is getting rave reviews for her incisive, brave, and cogent account of Rupert Murdoch's takeover of the WSJ. A reporter for the WSJ before the takeover, she had a ringside seat to its unfolding. The book includes a cast of characters and reads like an episode of Dynasty when it isn't alarmingly brilliant, incisive and lucid about the financial aspects of the takeover.

Sarah also managed to also give birth during the writing of her book. Take that Woodward and Bernstein.

If you have any interest in business, in journalism, or in Rupert Murdoch, I think you'll enjoy her account. One of the reviews said it was positively cinematic.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Finishing books

Phil at Shakespeare and Company in Paris (and yes, they had Megan's books!)

Last night a friend (an English professor) told me that she'd just finished a mystery by a fairly famous writer, now dead, and it was horrible. Despite her expertise in nineteenth century literature, she reads a lot of crime fiction and is especially fond of Laurie King, Larson and Nesbo.

I asked her why she finished it since she admitted seeing the flaws in both the solution and the writing early on. She said she almost always finished a book unless it was objectionable in some way.

I never finish books unless I am really enjoying it. In fact, I've discarded books on the first page, midway in and during the last 20 pages. I've also given up on movies on DVD at every point.

She said that she would feel she had truly wasted her time if she did that. Perhaps by finishing it, she's giving the writer time to remedy the flaws.

Do you finish every book? What percentage, if not? Do you give up on page one or two sometimes if the voice or style doesn't grab you?