Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Duets: Alison and John


I am really excited that in a few weeks, I will be able to take Kevin to the zoo again. With that thought in mind, I thought a new flash fiction challenge might be fun and would also force me to write a story I have had in mind for a few weeks.

The challenge is this: write a story that is set in a zoo. The zoo can be incidental to the plot, but that's the setting.

I am thinking April 2, 2012. How about a story not longer than 1200 words?

I know there are more sites that take flash than ever so if I write alone, I write alone. Let me know.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday Night Music: Massive Attack


Ernest Lubitsch made TROUBLE IN PARADISE in 1932 and it's nearly impossible to over-emphasize what a great movie this is. There is not a hair nor a line of out place. Marcel waves-- that's the word for the thirties hair styles, I think. Tried to think of it all day on Saturday when we saw this on a huge screen at the Detroit Film Theater.

What a treat.

Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins play two jewel thieves who chance on each other in Venice and are delighted at their shared profession. They are proud of it and their pride in being the best at their craft elevates everything that comes along.

Down the road they come upon Kay Francis, the heiress to a purse company. The two join forces to swindle her but trouble in paradise ensues.

This is so witty, charming, clever, and fun, I can't think where Hollywood has gone so wrong in 80 years. Lubitsch was able to take the tricks he learned in advancing a story in the silent days with the ability to now include banter, wit and sophistication. This is a pre-code film and that makes it even better.

I know we have actors good enough to bring this off today because none of these actors are anything special. I know we have writers who could do justice to a film like this. So I have to say that it's Hollywood itself that settles too easily now for teen romances that don't have a witty line or a clever plot to offer. Such a shame.

See this if you can. Lovely. And on a big screen it holds my interest so much more than on the small one.

Todd Mason will have more links later this morning.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Night Music: Heartless Bastards

Male Society

Male Society.

Phil is teaching a class on utopias and dystopias in the University's Honors College. He has 18 women and two men in the class. This configuration is not unusual in the Honors College. Women here seen to be willing to work harder in general.

He asked them last week, what would an all male society look like. I'll tell you their thoughts after you tell me yours.

What attributes would you list?


How I Came to Write This Collection: Chris Rhatigan, WATCH YOU DROWN

In May 2010, I sent a short story to Christopher Grant at A TWIST OF NOIR. He wrote back a few short hours later saying the piece was exactly the kind of thing he was looking for. It was the first time I'd been published—and I was thrilled. Earning the support of a writer and editor who I respected was awesome.

From there, I became immersed in the online crime fiction community. I published stories at a lot of different sites that I dug, places like YELLOW MAMA and PULP METAL MAGAZINE and SHOTGUN HONEY. Pretty quickly, I built up a nice cache of stories, and I considered releasing a collection.

But I wanted to do it right. There were a lot of ebooks coming out. Some were fantastic. Others were terrible. And a good number were decent, but maybe not ready for prime time.

Obviously, I wanted mine to be in that first category.

After talking with a few trusted sources, I decided to keep my collection 1) short, 2) in one genre, and 3) only stories that I really believed in. I even went back and polished already published stories.

I took my leanest crime/noir stories and put them together. Found an order that made sense. Some of these stories are published, some are unpublished. I sent the collection out to those trusted sources and got some excellent suggestions. Then I sent it over to Jason Michel with Pulp Metal Fiction, who made all the formatting and cover art happen.

So what category will my ebook belong in? Well, the reviews have been good so far!

Chris Rhatigan is the editor of ALL DUE RESPECT. WATCH YOU DROWN is available at Amazon and Amazon UK for 99 cents/63 pence. If you dig short fiction, check out his blog, Death by Killing.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Am I a Book Banner?

What do you think?

I walked into my library today and on the shelf found Quentin Rowan Markam's Assassin of Secrets. I debated what to do, not believing that the librarians could not have heard any of the brouhaha about it. But they had not. When I informed the librarian, I felt like a book banner. She looked at me as I was the crazy lady who is always at the computer by the window playing bingo. And I felt strange.

But should this book be on the shelf?

And then another odd thing happened, the librarian checked on Amazon, looked up, and said to me, "It's a very valuable book. There's a copy for $250."

"Yes," I said, "but that's because Mulholland pulled most of the copies. And because some people like to collect such things."

I am not sure that book is not back on the shelf as I write this. Should it be? And if it is, shouldn't there be a warning that every word "even the thes and the ands" are a lie. (Thanks Mary McCarthy for a good line.) I am not a thief.

What do you think? Should libraries put this book on the shelf and allow people to believe Markam wrote it?

Or should it be burned?

Girls in Their Summer Dresses, Irwin Shaw

To my mind, this is one of the great short stories. I have probably read it a dozen times over the years.

A husband cannot stop looking at other women when he and his wife are out for a Sunday stroll. And she can't help noticing that instead of listening to her plans for the day, (which includes seeing a baseball game, he is looking at women. Relentlessly, as he always has.

When pushed, he lists all the reasons he looks at women. And it's a comprehensive list-an addiction for him.

Although he claims to have been faithful for the five years of their marriage, the lust in his heart is as lethal as an affair(s) would have been.

What short story sticks with you?


Friday, February 24, 2012

THE SUMMING UP, Feburary 24, 2012

Check out my review of CHRONICLE.

THE SUMMING UP, Feburary 24, 2012

Patti Abbott, The Summing Up, W. Somerset Maugham
Sergio Angelini, The Empty Hours, Ed McBain
Yvette Banek, The Singing Sands, Josephine Tey
Joe Barone, One True Sentence, Craig McDonald
Brian Busby, The Woman Who Couldn't Die, Arthur Stringer
Bill Crider, Horror Times Ten, Alden H. Norton, ed.
Scott Cupp, A Political Fable, Robert Coover
Martin Edwards, The Murder of Sleep, Milward Kennedy
Elizabeth Foxwell, Keep it Quiet, Richard Hull
Ed Gorman, The Honest Dealer, Frank Gruber
Jerry House, Dog in the Sky, Norman Corwin
Randy Johnson, Miami Mayhem, Marvin Albert
George Kelley. The Star Hunter, Edmond Hamilton, The Alien, Raymond F. Jones
B.V. Lawson, The Adventures of Romney Pringle. R. Austin Freeman
Evan Lewis, The Honest Dealer, Frank Gruber
Steve Lewis/Ray O'Leary, Bones and Silence, Reginald Hill
Todd Mason, Women Should Be Allowed, Wilma Shore
J.V. Norris, The Leprechaun Murders, Adrian Reynolds
Richard Pangburn, Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lisa Barackman
David Rachels, Power Trip, Don Tracy
James Reasoner, Strictly for the Boys, Harry Whittington
Richard Robinson, Islands in the Sky, Arthur C. Clarke
Gerard Saylor, Lost, Michael Robotham
Ron Scheer, The Magic of Blood, Dagoberto Gilb
Kerrie Smith, Harmful Intent, Robin Cook
Kevin Tipple, Houston Homicide, Bill Crider and Clyde Wilson
TomCat, The Sleeping Bachus, Hilary St. George Saunders

Friday's Forgotten Books, February, 24, 2012

Last week's tribute to the books of Donald Westlake seemed to have been enjoyed by writers and readers and several people have suggested we do it again. Here are some tentative choices for another round. Of course, the author must have quite a large number of books for it to work out. Whose books would you like to write/read about?

Agatha Christie
John D. MacDonald
Georges Simenon
Nicholas Freeling
Margaret Millar
Ruth Rendell (although she is still alive. Dead might be better for our purposes if not hers).
Ross Macdonald
Reginald Hill (also wrote under Patrick Ruell)
Patricia Highsmith (almost enough)

Who else? I think reviews from writers with only one character like Sue Grafton might be tedious to read. That might be true of a few here. I am thinking Simenon might work. He has many standalones as well as the Maigrets. Millar has about twenty some novels although some might be difficult to get your hands on. John D. has both Travis and standalones. Ross is mostly Archers. Parker, mostly Spenser. Rendell would be a good choice in many ways because she has a series and standalones written under two names. I am thinking of early April. What say you?

Ed Gorman is the author of the Sam McCain series and the Dev Conrad series as well as countless westerns, anthologies and other good stuff. You can find him here.

The Honest Dealer by Frank Gruber

The Honest Dealer

Dick Lochte wrote a guest piece for the Rap Sheet awhile back that I found mighty pleasing in my dotage. Here are some quotes from his choice for a Forgotten Book.

"OK, I’m not sure you have to read The Honest Dealer. If Frank Gruber were still alive, I doubt that even he would consider his 1947 book a necessity. But every now and then, after working my way through a couple of dozen contemporary crime novels, with their elaborate back stories and casts of thousands and plots that call attention to social and/or political ills, I like to treat myself to the kind of mystery that initially lured me to this genre--a yarn written for the sole purpose of providing sheer, unpretentious reading pleasure.

"The Honest Dealer does that in spades. The literary equivalent of a classic B-movie of the 1940s, it immediately draws you in, moves at a breathless pace, has the requisite moments of suspense and humor, and ends with a surprise villain, neatly thwarted. There are a lot of books from the ’30s and ’40s that meet those requirements, but, for my money, Dealer is one that does it best.


"I wonder what Gruber would think of some of today’s most popular series heroes--sociopaths, alcoholics, whiners, bitter loners, paranoiacs, and worse. Would he go with the market flow and come up with his version of the depressed detective? I’d like to think he’d pawn his typewriter and buy a horse."

Ed here: The horse reference is to a plot element.

I happened to read this book awhile back myself and I think Dick does a fine job of ennumerating its many fine if slight virtues, the biggest of which being that it's just a hell of a lot of fun to read.

As somebody who receives a moderate share of review copies I know what Dick means by the all-too-modern novel. I not only read them, I also write them. But there is so much hype attendant on the Serious ones--publicists and reviewers vying for the grandest superilative--that I often pick up a simple well-told story for a respite from all the Seriousness.

Thank God there are among the younger writers people who are serious about their writing but are a true unpretentious pleasure to read. To name a few Megan Abbott, Jason Starr, Duane Swierczynski, Tom Piccirilli, Allan Guthrie. They speak in their own voices, share their observations of our sometimes forlorn luckless species and yet never forget to amuse, bemuse, shock, outrage and comfort while demanding that we keep flipping those pages.

Damned good storytellers.

As was, in a less ambitious way, Frank Gruber.

Patti Abbott, THE SUMMING UP, W. Somerset Maugham.

Who could not like a book with the line, "Though I have loved a good many times, I have never experienced the bliss of requited love. I have most loved people who care little or nothing for me and when people have loved me, I have been embarrassed." (the last bit saves it from being too maudlin).

Or "In my twenties, the critics said I was brutal, in my thirties, they said I was flippant, in my forties they said I was cynical, in my fifties they said I was competent and now in my sixties they said I am superficial."

I loved all of Maugham's books way back when (especially CAKES AND ALE) but this is my favorite. Originally published in 1938, this is not quite a memoir, not quite a book on writing, this is in fact, a summing up. If you want to read an erudite book that looks at the writing (and reading) life more than the writing craft, this is an excellent one. In the self-deprecating way of the quotes above, you are introduced to a very wise man. Self-deprecation and modesty are such great traits. Too bad they are not valued on this side of the pond.

I hope you can find a copy with bigger print than mine.

Sergio Angelini
Yvette Banek
Joe Barone
Brian Busby
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Elizabeth Foxwell
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/Ray O'Leary
Todd Mason
J.V. Norris
Richard Pangburn
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple

Thursday, February 23, 2012

My Life at the Theater-SPRING AWAKENING

Based on Frank Wedekind's play of the same name, Spring Awakening depicts a dozen young people making their way through the thrilling, complicated and mysterious time of sexual awakening.

This production won a bunch of awards and was on Broadway from 2007-2009. We caught it near the end of the run.

1984s Favorite Crime Writers

The Armchair Detective


The one and only. The late and lamented. The standard by which all other non-fiction mags are judged. This quarterly was around forever (or at least since 1967). It began as a mimeographed newsletter by Allen J. Hubin, spent a few years under the sponsorship of the University of California, and eventually found a home with Otto Penzler, as part of his Mysterious Press. The journal of record for the entire genre. A bit stodgy at times, and it was usually out of date by the time it finally came out, but back issues are well worth hunting down. It's still recommended, and it is still missed.(From THE THRILLING DETECTIVE SITE)

In 1984, a reader's survey by THE ARMCHAIR DETECTIVE listed these authors as their favorite in order of preference:

1. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
2. Agatha Christie
3. Raymond Chandler
4. Dorothy L Sayers
5. Rex Stout
6. Dashiell Hammett
7. Dick Francis
8. John Dickson Carr
9. Ellery Queen
10. Robert B,. Parker
11. Ross Macdonald
12. Edmund Crispin
13. John D. MacDonald
14. P.D. James
15. Ngaio Marsh
16. Ruth Rendell
17. Ed McBain
18. Josephine Tey
19. Emma Lathen
20. Elmore Leonard

With a couple exceptions, it holds up pretty well thirty years later. But who would you add; who would you take away?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Duets: Tony and Stevie

My Oscar Picks

As a person that sees more than 75 movies at the theater per year, I've paid for the right to name my favorites (on my blog at least). These are not the ones I think will win. But the ones that I enjoyed most. Or the ones that surprised me.

Best Picture. MONEYBALL. I did not expect to either understand or like it. After all, it dealt with sports and money-two of my least knowledgeable areas. The movie was able to make both understandable. The acting was great. Those locker rooms felt right. Brad Pitt had his own story within it. It will never win-I think it may have one of the poorest chances, in fact.

Best Actor-Brad Pitt. He made TREE OF LIFE tolerable and he was splendid in MONEYBALL. I am not a Brad Pitt fan, but this was his year. That French fellow can wait. And DESCENDANTS was not George at his best. He doesn't play schlub as well as he plays debonair.

Best Actress-Viola Davis. Oh, Streep was great in IRON LADY, but I disliked the movie too much to pick her. Viola was never flashy in THE HELP. She was quiet, careful. I think if Streep has a weakness it would be at doing a role like this one. A role where an accent or attitude didn't dominate. Maybe I have forgotten such a part, but I can't think of one.

Best Supporting Actor-I have only seen three of the performances. Jonah Hill was very good, but I would go with Plummer whose role was pivotal. He was beautiful and brave as a man who gets to be himself for about five minutes.

Best Supporting Actress. Octavia Spencer. If Davis was the quiet heart of THE HELP, Octavia was its angry voice. She just stole every scene she was in. I did not expect to like the movie as much as I did. And I wouldn't mind seeing it win BEST PICTURE. My only gripe with both the book and the movie is that a white woman saves the black women. It would have been so much more effective to have them save themselves. Or at least have a black woman return to the town and write their stories.

Best Director-Scorsese for Hugo. It was a lovely film and I wouldn't mind if this won Best Picture either. The director of MONEYBALL wasn't nominated. Ridiculous that movies but not their directors should be nominated. Or a director (Mallick) but not his film.

Anyone out there have a favorite? What to you think of the nominations? Do you even watch the show?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesday Night Music: The Turtles

Forgotten Movies: THE SWIMMER

I have talked about this movie before in some context but here it comes again.
In 1968, Frank Perry took a great John Cheever story and made a terrific film. It is the story of a man, living in suburban Connecticut, who comes up with the idea he can swim from pool to pool in his neighborhood, finally arriving home. The element of time in this movie makes it especially interesting. The time of year, the state of the swimmer, the time of life, changes that occur as he makes his swim. Only Burt Lancaster could look so fetching in his late fifties. An amazing little film. One of my favorite small films for sure.

I bet Todd Mason has some other links for you.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Hey, if you're in the NY area, stop by St. Mark's Bookshop and see Megan and other writers from THE SPEED CHRONICLES. St. Mark's recently was saved from disappearing. Show up and show your support.

Start: 7:00 pm

St. Mark's Bookshop presents:An evening with Akashic Books featuring editor Joseph Mattson and contributor Megan Abbott plus Ishrat Syed, contributor to Mumbai Noir. TUESDAY, February 21th at 7PM The reading will take place at:St. Marks Bookshop31 Third Avenue (at 9th Street)New York, NY 10003 subway: 6 to Astor Place, N/R to 8th Street, L to 14th St/3rd Avenuethis is a free event for more information please visit the shop, call (212)260-7853 or email stmarksbooks@gmail.comAn evening with Akashic Books featuring editor Joseph Mattson and contributor Megan Abbott plus Ishrat Syed, contributor to Mumbai Noir. Following the international success of the Noir Series, The Speed Chronicles marks the launch of a new drug-based sister series - THE SPEED CHRONICLES! "The perfect stocking stuffer for your uncle in AA."--New York Observer "Just reading the table of contents for this fucker makes me want to hop in my time machine, zoom back to 1966, and find those two dubious physicians who used to write me scripts for Dexedrine, even though I was too tall and skinny to live already. Mainline this book now!"--James Ellroy

What was the most recent piece of music you bought?

I removed word verification. Let's see how that works.

Mine was the soundtrack from the dance movie Pina, but I know most people don't buy entire CDs anymore. I downloaded music on my MP3 when I got it, and four years later the same tunes are on there and I never play it. The energy involved in downloading a whole new repertoire seems too great. So I still buy CDs. And friends burn me ones they think I will like. (Thanks, Kathy).

Now that you can usually listen to samples from all the songs on a CD on Amazon, I don't buy as many duds as I used to.

Anyway, what was the last piece of music you bought?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Jin Miyake: Lilies of the Valley

An Idiot Abroad

(Someone's bucket list)

An Idiot Abroad is a British show, which I noticed on Fleur's blog, is an amusing and interesting show on the Science channel. The idea is that a list of 100 things that would appear on many bucket lists takes our guide to various places and challenges. It's basically a travel show played for laughs.

Do you have a bucket list--things you want to do before you die? I hope some of you are more daring than I am.

I have almost no sense of adventure in me. Or at least adventure that demands physical or dare- devil acts. I am working on a list but so far I am stuck. How about you? I could say I would like to learn to play the piano but I know that isn't going to happen. I would think there has to be some sense I might do it to put it on the list. Some chance I would at least try to make it happen.

Okay, I thought of one. Drive the car. You can see where I am coming from.

Friday, February 17, 2012

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, February 17, 2012-Donald Westlake Day

Just a few more...

Originally I had thought of getting everyone's title beforehand so we'd not have repeats, but then I thought it would be more fun just to see how many titles we could cover. We only have two repeats out of all the reviews.

THE SUMMING UP, Friday, February 17, 2012-

Patti Abbott, MEMORY
Yvette Banek, KAHAWA
Bill Crider, CAMPUS DOLL
Cullen Gallagher, THE JUGGER
Randy Johnson, JIMMY, THE KID
Nick Jones, JIMMY, THE KID
George Kelley, SLAYGROUND
Todd Mason, ENOUGH and the film, ORDO
David Rachels, PLUNDER SQUAD
James Reasoner, GANGWAY (with Brian Garfield)
Kerrie Smith, THE HOT ROCK
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, GOD SAVE THE MARK

Martin Edwards: A Collection of Reviews by Ross Macdonald
Jerry House: Uncollected short stories of John D. MacDonald
Ron Scheer: Gwendolen Overton, The Heritage of Unrest
Richard Pangburn: Stephen Dobyns' SARATOGA BACKTALK
Karyn Reeves: Cakes and Ale, W. Somerset Maugham

DONALD E. WESTLAKE DAY on Friday's Forgotten Books

Join us today in celebrating the publication of Donald E. Westlake's final book, THE COMEDY IS FINISHED by Hard Case Crime.

Mr. Westlake was born in 1933 and died in 2009. He published more than 100 books under several names and won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of American three times as well as many other awards. He is certainly one of the pivotal writers in crime fiction.

Thanks to Naomi Johnson for this link to an interview with Westlake from 1973.

Jeff Meyerson
Donald E. Westlake, Dancing Aztecs (M. Evans, 1976)

As a New Yorker I am sensitive to how my home town is portrayed in fiction. If you're going to set a book here make sure to get it right. This is something you never have to worry about with Donald Westlake - think of the Dortmunder series - and that is certainly the case here, in what might be the quintessential New York City mystery by the late Grand Master. It is also, to my mind, his comic masterpiece.

The Dancing Aztec of the title is a thousand year old gold statue of a dancing priest worth $1 million, shipped to New York with a dozen or so others and, naturally, lost among the copies. Hustler Jerry Manelli has to quickly find where all the statues were delivered and find the real one before one of the unsuspecting recipients discovers he or she has the valuable one. This necessitates a raucous whirlwind around New York, which can serve as an accurate travelogue of New York in the 1970's, along with (as Bill Pronzini once put it in another review) hoodlums, con men, “a yam-fed Descalzan beauty,” union thugs, street thugs, a Harlem mortician, a Wall Street financier, a drunken activist, a college professor, “a visitor from another planet” and dozens more.

I remember discussing it with Bill at a long-ago Bouchercon and agreeing that no one does black street dialect like Westlake. If you can read this one without laughing out loud repeatedly you are made of stone. Highly recommended.

Donald Westlake’s Trust Me On This (Mysterious Press, 1988)

Reviewed by Anita Page

Reporter Sara Joslyn, driving down a deserted road on the way to her new job, passes what looks like a body hanging out of a car. She makes a U-turn, because she is, after all, a reporter, and discovers that the person halfway out of the car is better than dead—he’s been murdered. First day on the job and she’s going to walk in with a story about a man with a bullet in his brain.

Poor Sara. She fantasizes accolades when she presents her discovery to her new editor, Jack Ingersoll, but instead gets: “On what series is he a regular?”

As you may have guessed, this isn’t The New York Times. It’s the Weekly Galaxy, a supermarket tabloid with a hunger for celebs and a very relaxed attitude toward truth in journalism. Forget the body, Jack tells Sara, and assigns her instead to a piece on the beer and potato chip diet.

Sara will eventually do some sleuthing, and Westlake pulls off a nice suspenseful climax, but the murder is an afterthought. We’re here to hang out in a newsroom where editors pace their squaricles—taped lines on the floor delineating walls and doors—trying to stay alive and earn their enormous salaries by pitching stories like “Jogging Causes Nymphomania” and “Desperate Aliens Search for Rogue Planet Earth.”

The characters are an appealing mix of evil, lunatic and charming: the despot publisher whose office is an elevator; the three perpetually drunk Australians known as the Down Under Trio; Sara and Jack, whose initial antipathy guarantees that they’ll end up together.

And then there are the wildly comic scenes that read like something out of a Marx brothers movie. Here’s a glimpse of the Down Under Trio in the Veterans’ Bar & Grill:

“The sight of a fairly respectable-looking, neatly dressed in suit and tie, fifty-one-year-old Australian leaping about the bar, up onto chairs and back down onto the floor, suitcoat tail flying, hand firmly holding drink as both hands pretended to be tiny kangaroo paws boxing, the whole while honking, was so captivating that everybody had to do it, beginning with the retirees and finishing with the widows.”

In the end, the murder is solved, of course, and Jack and Sara go off into the sunset, but you’ll be glad to know you can meet up with them again in Westlake’s Baby, Would I Lie?

Part of this review ran previously at Women of Mystery.

Deb Pfeifer was a technical writer in the financial and software industries for almost 20 years. After a few years as a stay-at-home mom, I went back to work in the public school system. I now work in a classroom with autistic students. It is very challenging, but also very rewarding, work. I love to read across all genres, but mysteries are my favorite.


With the frequent appearance of those latest technological marvels, the cell phone and the fax machine, Donald Westlake's WHAT'S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN? places itself firmly in the mid-1990s. What I found interesting, reading the book some 16 years after its publication, is not so much the story's rather naive reliance on things like fax machines or its Ocean's Elevenish Vegas heist plot or its rogues gallery of Dortmunder and his associates, but Westlake's far-sighted view of media moguls like Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump, upon whom Max Fairbanks, the villain of the piece, is clearly based.

Amoral, assured, wealthy beyond measure, with plenty of politicians in his pocket, Max Fairbanks is also posessed of a petty vindictiveness that, the reader knows with pleasure, will be his undoing. It is this pettiness that compels Fairbanks take Dortmunder's "lucky ring" (left to Dortmunder's girlfriend May by her late uncle) when Dortmunder is being arrested for burglarizing Fairbanks's house. (A house that, in all fairness to Dortmunder, Max shouldn't have been in either.) The theft of the ring sets the plot in motion. Dortmunder only wants to get his ring back, but his ever-expanding circle of associates have other ideas: If Dortmunder is going to break into Fairbanks's various residences anyway, why shouldn't they come along and see what else is available? So while Dortmunder makes several unsuccessful attempts to retrieve his ring, his "colleagues" stage ever-more successful thefts of Fairbanks's property.

Eventually (thanks again to the marvelous fax machine), Dortmunder tracks Fairbanks to a flashy hotel and casino in Vegas, and Dortmunder must leave his comfort zone of New York and head west--with "friends" in tow, of course. Dortmunder's attempts to blend in with the Vegas crowds by wearing bright bemuda shorts and shirts is one of the book's funniest scenes. Meanwhile, the friends execute an elaborate plan to steal millions from the casino and an NYPD detective takes a suspicious look into the previous robberies of Fairbanks's homes, which, to the cop's eyes, appear to be inside jobs.

It will be no spoiler for those familiar with Westlake's work to say that by novel's end Westlake has masterfully pulled all these plot points together: The good are rewarded, the bad are punished, and Dortmunder gets back his lucky ring, although--considering the "luck" it gave Max Fairbanks--Dortmunder's not sure he's going to wear it again.

MEMORY, Donald Westlake, Patti Abbott

The story goes that Westlake's agent advised him against pursuing publication of this novel because it would derail his reputation as a crime writer. What a loss.

MEMORY is a classic mid-20th century American novel. I think it would stand quite credibly with novels like THE MOVIEGOER and STONER.

The only crime in the novel occurs on page one when Paul Cole is badly beaten by the husband of a woman he's slept with while on the road with a touring show.

The beating affects his memory. Each day, his past becomes murkier and the necessity of supporting himself more difficult. His situation takes him to strange and unpredictable places. We feel sorry for this man although we suspect from that first page that we wouldn't have liked the first Paul Cole.

One of the many charms of the book is the way that Westlake allows the reader to take this journey with Cole. We put our foot down right behind his as he suffers this debilitating condition. Nearly every action, Cole takes, we can imagine taking too.

Nothing untoward happens; this is a very realistic book. And when the end comes, it is entirely fitting and right for the story. Heartbreaking yet never maudlin. This is the work of a master.

I am so happy that Hard Case Crime rescued this novel from oblivion.

And for the new one. Here's Ed.

THE COMEDY IS FINISHED by Donald E. Westlake

"The rediscovered Donald E. Westlake novel, THE COMEDY IS FINISHED, is getting some great reviews. Regular readers of these updates know that I had the manuscript for the novel in my basement (actually a drawer in a cabinet in my basement, with other Westlake materials). Don and I had explored revising the novel for publication under both our names (or possibly a joint pseudonym) after he had difficulty finding a publisher for an unfunny Westlake novel about a Bob Hope-style comedian. The book didn’t really need any work, but he was sick of looking at it, and I had some ideas about streamlining, and addressing some complaints editors had expressed about the political content. But when the similarly plotted film “King of Comedy” came out, Don called me and scrapped the project." Max Allan Collins from

Yes, thanks to Max and Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime we're now able to read what may well be the last original Donald Westlake to see print.

Comedy deals with the comedian Koo Davis (think Bob Hope) being kidnapped just after taping another one of his uninspired and frequently self-congratulatory TV shows by a small group of mismatched hippie would-be revolutionaries.

The novel cuts back and forth between Koo using his captivity to relive his life and his captors arguing among themselves about how to best use the comedian as a bargaining chip with the powers that be. Westlake (and the readers) have a good time with Koo. Westlake avoids caricature and gives us a man who no longer understands the entertainment world--not even hanging out with generals and sports stars gives him much cache anymore--and must now face what a lousy father and husband he's been. He even wonders if he's "worth" kidnapping.

The captors are headed up by a secretive young man named Peter who is constantly being prodded by Mark, a sociopath who is dangerous even to the group itself. The others include a wistful theorist named Larry and two women, Liz, deeply troubled and confused and Joyce who held the studio job that secured the kidnapping.

Westlake makes all the charactersindividuals and it is their sniping, arguing even fighting that make the novel a real page turner.

These are the children of the faux Revolution as well as the Revolution of hippie Los Angeles with all the bravado and naivete that marked their fury. It's interesting to contrast their portraits here with an earlier novel Westlake wrote, Murder Among Children as by Tucker Coe. This appeared at the start of the Flower Power days and his take on hippies was much more benign.

Westlake was frequently a social critic in his novels and he is no less so here. He captures the late 70s perfectly, the waning times of Up Against The Wall Motherfucker as disco music played in the background. The kidnappers here are stranded in time--the cops were now killing Black Panthers in cold blood and getting away with it. The Revolution, such as it was, was long over.

While there are similarities between The Comedy is Finished and King of Comedy, King is entertaining and admirable but cold; Westlake's book is hot with fear, remorse, lust and violence. The reader is constantly speculating on how it'll end and who'll still be alive on the last page. The tight structure--we basically have the house the hippies are ensconced in and the scenes with the lawmen--embellishes the suspense and heightens the twists.

A fine novel in all respects. And all thanks to Max Collins and Charles Ardai for giving it to us.

Sergio Angelini
Yvette Banek
Jack Bates
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Cullen Gallagher
Naomi Johnson
Randy Johnson
Nick Jones
LinkGeorge Kelley
Rob Kitchin
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
Eric Peterson
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Trent Reynolds
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang
John Weagley

You can find more FFB reviews of other authors at Jerry House, Martin Edwards, Ron Scheer, Richard Pangburn.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Life at the Theater-ART

We saw ART in New York at the Royale Theater in 1998. It was a big hit and starred Alan Alda, Victor Garber, and Alfred Molina. Yasmina Reza, the playwright went on to write other plays including THE GOD OF CARNAGE. ART was a meatier play than CARNAGE IMHO.

Ghost Stories

In a recent issue of THE NEW YORKER, in a review of a new collection of M.R. James' stories, Anthony Lane quotes Virginia Woolf as saying, "it is pleasant to to be afraid when we are conscious that we are in no kind of danger." This was a quote from a longer essay by Woolf entitled " The Supernatural in Fiction."

This quote explains to me why some people are able to read and watch ghost or horror stories without feeling threatened. Part of their brain tells them that they are safe. They have a certain detachment from the goings on.

It is not like this for me. If the story is well done, I cannot tell myself that because my entire brain believes I am in danger like the people in the story.

How is it for you? Are you able to step outside the story? Can you watch or read it without feeling threatened?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Duets-Jo Stafford and Ella Fitzgerald

How I Came To Write This Story" Loren Eaton

"King Flounder" Loren Eaton, GRIMM TALES

If you’d told me five years ago that I’d publish a crime story based off of a Grimm’s fairy tale, I’d have laughed. For some reason, I never read many fairy tales as a child, and speculative fiction replaced crime fiction in my reading stack soon after graduating from college. Back then, I didn’t see myself getting much exposure to either in the future. But a funny thing happened: I found Patti’s blog, Peter Rozovsky’s Detectives Beyond Borders blog and the fairy-tales-retold anthology Black Swan, White Raven. Suddenly, I had new (and old-become-new) reading material. Then John Kenyon of Things I'd Rather Be Doing issued a call for what would eventually become the Untreed Reads anthology Grimm Tales. How could I miss the opportunity?

Even though I possessed scant knowledge of fairy tales beyond the Disney-fied versions, I knew one I wanted to adapt -- “The Fisherman and His Wife.” In the story, a henpecked husband keeps asking a magical flounder for more and more blessings at the command of his greedy wife. If you haven’t read it, let’s just say its ending feels about as bleak as anything in noir. I’d also recently watched The Godfather and knew I wanted to plunk a semi-likeable Mafioso down in the Florida Keys, a place not too far geographically speaking from where I live. I once fished the salt flats around Key West and knew that flounder sometimes made it that far north. And the ending, well, I always liked that bit where Michael Corleone flagrantly plugs Sollozzo and McCluskey in an Italian restaurant. Hopefully, I captured some of that bravado in the conclusion of “King Flounder.”

Anyway, I suppose that’s how I came to write this story!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tuesday Night Music: Billie Holiday


There is an excellent article in the New York Times today on how Eugenides (THE MARRIAGE PLOT) researched the work of yeast geneticists so thoroughly even a yeast geneticist was amazed. (Always read the Science section).

With short stories, you can't throw yourself in quite so far although I read quite a few articles and book chapters to understand work with primates for Monkey Justice. Right now I am trying to understand the concept of the angry ghosts that the Vietnamese believe haunt their country for a story on a vet. It is hard to know where the research should stop and the writing begin sometimes. Even for readers, a book can become an information dump if you're not careful.

What say you writers? Do you get tangled up with the need to relate all you have learned in a piece of fiction? And readers, do you get frustrated with too much information?

Forgotten Movies:Portrait of Jennie

Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotton stole my heart as a kid with the film adaptation of Robert Nathan's, PORTRAIT OF JENNIE. I am a sucker for any film that plays with time.

Cotton plays an artist looking for the perfect subject and he finds it with Jennie. The only trouble is she has changed each time they meet. This is a haunting movie if ever there was one.

Black and white, the final scene is in glorious technicolor.

A perfect Valentine movie. Nathan's novel is fine, too.

Unless he's taking Valentine's Day off, you should find more forgotten flicks at Todd's place.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Who's Your Favorite Actress In Westerns?

Almost every actress between 1930-60 made a Western. But who brings the most credibility to the role?

Joan Crawford looks like she could take out anyone in Johnny Guitar but I'm picking a more traditional role. Like Jean Arthur in SHANE or THE PLAINSMAN perhaps.

What actress played your favorite schoolmarm, wife, saloon girl, or Annie Oakley?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Night Humor: Portlandia

Some of the skits go on too long, but I find this show awfully funny.


If you like dance at all, Pina 3D is a magnificent way to spend a couple of hours. To see the dancers' faces, to see the depth of bodies on the stage, to travel to all sorts of places with them is extraordinary. And the music is just exquisite.

Philippina "Pina" Bausch [1](27 July 1940 – 30 June 2009) was a German performer of modern dance, choreographer, dance teacher and ballet director. With her unique style, a blend of movements, sounds and prominent stage sets, and with her elaborate cooperation with performers during the composition of a piece (a style now known as Tanztheater), she became a leading influence since the 1970s in the world of modern dance. [2]

Pina died unexpectedly just days before Wim Wenders began shooting this film.

Any dance fans out there?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saturday Night Music, THE WHO

Our Neighborhood Murder

I want to add a warning here that this is not a news blog and some of these details are unsubstantiated.

And you have to ask why the Jane Bashara murder, which took place on Middlesex, the street made famous in the Jeffrey Eugenides book of that title, gets so many local, state and national headlines when Detroit, not a mile away has murders every day and gets none. Maybe because only a Charles Willeford, Elmore Leonard or Joe Lansdale could write this.

Interesting details include: Bashara had an S & M club in the basement of a local bar; he is also featured on various S & M websites; he took a very large insurance policy out on his wife just months ago; the hitman (Bashara's handyman) who confessed to the crime appears to be of limited intelligence and has been picked up by surveillance cameras taking a bus home after the murder; the deserted Mercedes has her handbag still in it-wallet too; Bashara is reported to have signed autographs as a local greasy spoon yesterday; Bashara had a long-term mistress and was making plans to introduce another woman to their relationship.

There is more, much more. Any good murders in your neck of the woods lately?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Night Music:

The Summing Up, Friday, February 9. 2012

The Woman in Black is up at Crimespree Cinema.

The Summing Up, Friday, February 9. 2012

Patti Abbott, Sideswipe, Charles Willeford
Serge Angelini, The Terror, Edgar Wallace
Yvette Banek, Misdemeanor Man, Dylan Schaffer
Brian Busby, I Hate You to Death, Keith Edgar
Bill Crider, Starburst, Alfred Bester
Scott Cupp, To Walk the Night, William Sloane, The Last Dragonslayer, Jasper Fforde
Martin Edwards, Murder in the Maze, J.J. Connington
Ed Gorman, Savages, Bill Pronzini
Jerry House, Brief Candles, Manning Cole
Randy Johnson, QB I Ellery Queen
George Kelley, The Miscellaneous Writing of Clark Ashton Smith. ed. Scott Connors and Ron Hilger
Margot Kinberg, Bad Debts, Peter Temple
B.V. Lawson, Detective Fiction: Crime and Compromise, Dick Allen & David Cracko
Steve Lewis/Dan Stumpf, Underdog, W. R. Burnett
Evan Lewis, Lazarus#7, Richard Sale
Todd Mason, Storyteller, Kate Wilhelm; Creating Short Fiction, Damon Knight
J.F. Norris, Post Mortem, Guy CullingfordItalicEric Peterson, The Man with the Iron Badge, Lee Goldberg
David Rachels, The Moon in the Gutter, David Goodis
James Reasoner, The Murder Brain, Brant House (G.T. Fleming-Roberts)
Richard Robinson, Death in the Middle Watch, Leo Bruce
Gerard Saylor, Concrete Blonde, Michael Connelly
Ron Scheer, Arabesques, Anton Shammas
Kerrie Smith, The Poisoned Chocolates Case, Anthony Berkeley
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, Tangled Trails, William MacLeod Raine
TomCat, A Lantern for the Blind, Bertus Aafjes
James Winter, Like Love and Ten Plus One, Ed McBain

Friday's Forgotten Books, February 10, 2012

Next week is Donald Westlake week on forgotten books, so be there or be square.

Ed Gorman writes the Sam McCann series and the Dev Conrad series. You can find his stories in ebooks from the TOP SUSPENSE GROUP too along with Bill Crider and James Reasoner.

Savages by Bill Pronzini

SAVAGES by Bill Pronzini

F. Paul Wilson once noted that private eye fiction offers the reader a snapshot of a certain time and place. We read Raymond Chandler not only for his fine prose but also for his portraits of Hollywood in the Thirties and Forties. Ross Macdonald showed us a very different Los Angeles due to the differences in time and temperament. And if you want to know what it was like on the angry lower-class streets of Depression Hollywoodland, you could do worse than read a lesser writer named John K. Butler, whose hardboiled cab driver functioned as a private eye without a license.

Today the definitive takes on San Francisco and environs are the Nameless novels and stories by Bill Pronzini. The influence here, if there is a singuar one, would be Hammett and not Chandler. Nameless is working class, competent and only occasionally up for doing the kind of favors that the more romantic Marlowe did so often. Nameless, like the Contintental Op, is a professional not a dashing knight.

A few decades from now the Nameless books will give readers a fascinating look at the past thirty-forty years of life in San Francisco. The social upheavels, the econmically and culturally stratified society, the endless experiments in modern living.

And you can find all this and much more in the Nameless novel SAVAGES. Pronzini tells three stories here. He goes back to work for a wealthy client he never much liked only after she convinces him that there's at least a possibility that her sister was murdered by her husband, a man Nameless couldn't turn anything sinister about when he first investigated him. Nameless not only comes to suspect the husband but several other people who were in the life of the dead woman. He draws these characters with clear and deserved contempt.

The second story deals with an arsonist pursued by Jake Runyon, the partner in Nameless' agency. The trail leads him to a small town where the feel is that of a western town of a hundred years ago. Pronzini, writer of many fine westerns, seems especially at home here with the good lawman and the bad lawman and the townspeople eager to get stampeded into believing any piece of gossip they hear. Interesting that he mixes this sensibility with that of young people into drugs, violence and MTV ennui.

The third story concerns Nameless' woman Kerry and the aftermath of her surgery for breast cancer. She's been pronounced all right but nobody who's had cancer ever quite believes that. Pronzini is especially adept at dealing realistically and unsentimentally with the subject.

Thus we encounter three kinds of savages here--those of the city elite--those of rural blue collar life--and those of the human body, the cancer cells that destroy without fear or favor.

Another excellent entry in one of the most consistently excellent series of the past forty years.

Sideswipe, Charles Willeford- The Hoke Mosley series by Willeford is one of my favorite in crimedom. Somehow he is able to combine great humor, an interesting story and fantastic characters without missing a beat.

Sideswipe is the third book in the series and in this one, Hoke is coming off a nervous breakdown, two daughters who want to quit high school, and a very pregnant, unmarried partner who needs his help. A move away from Miami to a position in hotel management seems like a good idea until a psychopathic career criminal named Troy Louden comes to stay there, bringing along his makeshift gang. This brings Hoke out of his retirement. If you need a laugh, Willeford will supply it.

Serge Angelini
Yvette Banek
Brian Busby
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp andLink
Martin Edwards
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg
B.V. Lawson
Steve Lewis/ Dan Stumpf
Evan Lewis
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
Eric Peterson
David Rachels
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Gerard Saylor
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang
James Winter

Thursday, February 09, 2012

My Life at the Theater, THE WOMAN IN BLACK

We saw this at the Fortune Theater in London in 1995. It has already been on stage for 12 years and is still on stage now. It was genuinely scary and I don't know how they pulled it off with just two actors. The movie version nearly ruined it for me.

Woody Allen

In the Brian Kellow biography of Pauline Kael, film critic of THE NEW YORKER for many years, Kael is quoted as saying, "Allen's obsession with repressive good taste 'is what keeps him from making great movies.'"

I see what she means. Every Woody Allen movie is preoccupied with beautiful New York, London or Paris apartments. With clothes, city scenes and music that you can't forget. Does this keep him from making a great movie? Has he made a great movie--this quote was from the seventies.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Wednesday Night Music: Doc Watson and David Grisham

Friday Night Lights

My recent incarceration led me to watching Friday Night Lights. I'd seen some of it before but not most of it.

In trying to dissect what makes this such a great show, I came up with a few opinions.

Compelling story lines.
Complex characters-no one is all good or bad.
Great location shooting. The show looks like it's set in the real world. Lots of outdoor scenes make it vibrate with life.

Scenes are short, dramatic, and end before you get bored with them.
The viewer is trusted to infer what he/she will from the story. No didacticism.
Scenes are shot in odd and compelling ways. We seldom look the characters right in the face. We get profiles, different lighting, people in the background and foreground, odd angles.
Each character gets appropriate dialog for their age and social stratum.
The music is excellent.
Great casting.

I think FNL has to be one of the best dramas TV has produced. I am not a football fan either. Any fans out there?

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Tuesday Night Music: Daniel Johnston, Devil Town

Forgotten Movies: BEING THERE

It is almost impossible to believe that Peter Sellers has been dead 32 years or that this movie is 33 years old. It seems like yesterday....

This is certainly an odd duck of a movie but it worked for me.
Chance (Sellers) is a gardener who has never left the home of his employer. When the employer dies and no provision has been made for Chance, he goes out into the world.

His simplicity is mistaken for profundity by everyone he meets. He becomes the confidante of politicos in D.C. and offers them advice that seems to be insightful and inspired. Helped by Jack Warden, Shirley MacLaine and Melvyn Douglas, this had a weird and wonderful script from Jerzy Kosinski and was directed by Hal Ashby.

Sellers made this film the year before he died. A nice legacy for us. For more forgotten movies, see Todd Mason.