Tuesday, March 31, 2015

From Lynda Scheer

From Lynda Scheer

Ron is now in hospice. On heavy pain meds, he mostly sleeps, but at times wakes up and is able to speak. The women taking (excellent!) care of him are Spanish-speaking, and he has begun to volunteer quite a few Spanish words and phrases, which delights them. Still enjoys eating--his meals are homemade and puréed. We think he would approve of the residence--a ranch house on a dusty road out in the country (fortunately only six miles from our house) with chickens out back and a Fresh Eggs sign on the front fence. Our children and me, though sad beyond words, are utterly relieved that he is in a safe place and not in pain. He wrote of our son on his blog--they were reunited for a few days and got to speak with one another. 

Love to all of Ron’s friends from Ron and his family.

Ron Scheer’s blog is called BUDDIES IN THE SADDLE and is a compendium of information about Ron’s favorite topic and you can guess what it is. He is also the author of several books about early Western novels.

Sorry to dispense so much sad news. Life is just too hard some days.

From Sandra Seamans

 I posted this on facebook and thought I had put it here too, but did not. Go give Sandra your love. No one does more for short story writers in blogland.


Forgotten Movies: 1955

Boy, 1955 was a great year for movies as you can see from the list here. 


This was one of my favorites when I saw it decades later. Doubt I saw any of them at the theater that year.  The big disappointment of a few years ago was its remake.

Wait a minute. I think I saw this one. Still gorgeous today.

What is your favorite movie from 1955?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Forgotten Movies: THE EGG AND I (1947)

Perhaps because I have an inordinate fondness for MRS. PIGGLE WIGGLE books by Betty MacDonald and perhaps because she wrote the book THE EGG AND I too, I was primed to love this movie as a kid and I did. I also had a fondness for Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray, which didn't hurt my chances of loving it.

Bob and Betty are two city slickers. After the war, Bob decides to make his living raising chickens. Farm life has its challenges, especially for Betty who is used to silk stockings and taxi cabs. This has all the sort of scenes you might expected. It is aided by the great Marjorie Mann (Ma Kettle).

MacDonald wrote the screenplay and Chester Erskine directed. And while looking at it on IMDB I discovered there was a brief MRS. PIGGLE WIGGLE series in the nineties starring Jean Stapleton. Sorry I missed it.

Friday, March 20, 2015

One-Hit wonders-I'M TOO SEXY

My review of GETT is up on Crimespree Cinema.

Friday's Forgotten Books, March 20, 2015

Anyone up for doing this next week? Forgot I am out of town. 

Hey, and pick up the May issue of AHMM to read "The Continental Opposite" by Evan Lewis. 

Under the Skin by Michel Faber
(Review by Deb)


Michel Faber’s Under the Skin was originally published in 2000.  It enjoyed a brief resurgence last year when Scarlett Johansson starred in an apparently rather loose film adaptation (I haven’t seen it, so I can’t say how loose).  Under the Skin can be read as an allegory—of gender imbalance, of the exploitation of the have-nots by the haves, or of the evils of factory farming—but I prefer to read it as straight-up science fiction and let the allegorical chips fall where they may.  This is helped by Faber’s well-crafted writing, full of vivid descriptions of the beauty of rural, coastal Scotland, juxtaposed with scenes of gruesome violence—and, be forewarned, this is a book with a number of horrifically-gruesome scenes.

We initially meet Isserley, the book’s main character, as she drives along the motorways of Scotland looking for muscular, well-built male hitchhikers.  Based on her exacting physical requirements, we first assume her goal is obvious: Isserley must be looking for men for sexual purposes.  However, as soon as she picks up a man (always giving him at least a couple of passes by first), Isserley asks a series of questions designed to elicit the answers she needs:  Does the man have family, friends, a job?  Are there people who will miss him and immediately raise an alarm if he goes missing?  Isserley has found the divorced and unemployed often give her the responses she requires—which is that the man in question has no support network and will not be missed for a long time.

While Isserley asks her roundabout questions, we see her through the hitchhikers’ eyes: a short woman, barely tall enough to reach the pedals, with thick glasses and long auburn hair that obscures most of her face.  Each man notices—and some admire—Isserley’s extremely large breasts.  Several also notice her damaged hands which appear to have been burned or undergone surgery.

Once Isserley is confident that her passenger will not be missed, she activates a mechanism in the car that instantly renders the hitchhiker unconscious.  She then drives to a remote farm where a group of her compatriots take charge of the victim while Isserley retreats to a dilapidated cottage to bathe and sleep.


As the story progresses, Faber cleverly teases out the basic facts: Isserley and the other farm workers are from another planet, one of fast-dwindling air, water, and food resources.  On their home planet, “human beings” (as they refer to themselves) are quadrupeds with prehensile tails and a somewhat canine appearance.  Isserley has been surgically-altered to resemble a “vodsel” (Earth) woman (apparently, only pornography was available as a template for the surgery, hence Isserley’s massive breasts).  The surgery has left Isserley by her own estimation neither a human being nor a vodsel, living a half-life, scarred and in constant, excruciating pain, requiring daily stretching exercises just to keep her body from seizing up.

Isserley is not happy with her lot; she rails against the elites of her home planet who have mutilated her and the cluelessness of the men on the farm (only one of whom has also been surgically altered to resemble people of Earth), but she revels in her access to the beach, to water, to rain, to snow, and to fresh air.  She mourns the loss of her beauty, destroyed by the surgery she underwent, but she doesn’t miss the claustrophobic horrors of toiling underground on her home planet.

In true fiction fashion, a conflict arises when a stranger comes to town.  In this case, the stranger is Amlis Vess, stowaway on a cargo ship from the home planet and son of their world’s richest man (who also happens to be Isserley’s boss).  Amlis is equal parts infuriatingly entitled, supremely handsome, and surprisingly clear-eyed and sympathetic.  Despite his patronizing attitude, Isserley (and the reader) must admit some of what Amlis says makes sense:  apparently, “human beings” used to be “vegetarian,” but since the introduction of highly-prized and extremely-expensive vodsel meat on their home planet, new sicknesses are cropping up and people there are dying inexplicably.

While at the farm, Amliss commits an act of foolhardy idealism that puts the entire operation at risk.  Even though Isserley is angry at Amliss for what he has done, his comments about the cruelty of farming and eating vodsels make sense to her.  This leads her to being further dissatisfied with her situation and questioning the entire farming set-up.   All of this information is communicated elliptically, left for the reader to fill in the blanks, as is the knowledge that the Elite of the home planet are preparing to send more workers to harvest more meat and that perhaps they have even designed some sort of breeding program as is evidenced by their request for a “female vodsel with intact eggs.”

Isserley’s on-going anger and distraction leads her to make several devastating mistakes.  She picks up a hitchhiker who we can see right away is bad news—but Isserley, in her fog of misery, fails to register the warning signs until it is too late.  The subsequent scene is horrific and difficult to read.  Not long after this dreadful encounter, Isserley chooses a victim without sufficient vetting, unaware that he has strong family ties and will be reported missing immediately.  Within 24 hours of this mistake, Isserley sees on a news program that the police are searching for the missing man.  Of course, by that time, it is too late for the hitchhiker, but Isserley realizes that her act has inadvertently exposed the activities of the farm to the authorities and it may now be too late for all of them.  Faber’s writing has been so strong and Isserley’s story so sympathetic and affecting that we now worry that time is running out for her.

I must admit, the ending let me down somewhat.  After setting up several intriguing possibilities for Isserley’s future, Faber ends the story with a tragic, if perhaps inevitable, fashion.  It’s a testimony to Faber’s skill that, despite the distasteful work Isserley does, we want a happier ending for this odd, almost endearing, “human being.”

THE MAGUS, John Fowles

Sometimes I think the quality of the books I read has deteriorated over the years. Or maybe the time I devote to reading has decreased. Or maybe I am not as smart. Or maybe writing itself has declined. But this was a favorite book of mine back in the seventies along with Fowles' THE COLLECTOR and THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN. I think this became almost a cult book. Does anyone still read Fowles now? I don't know.

Nicholas Urfe is a young Oxford graduate and aspiring poet. After graduation, he decides to leave England. He takes a post teaching English on a Greek island.  Struggling with depression and loneliness, he contemplates suicide While wandering around the island, he stumbles upon an estate and meets its owner, a wealthy Greek, Maurice Conchis. They develop a friendship, and Conchis slowly reveals that he may have collaborated with the Nazis during the war.
Nicholas is soon into Conchis's psychological games. At first, Nicholas takes Conchis, (what the novel terms the "godgames)" to be a joke, but the games grow more complex and he is sucked in. Nicholas loses his ability to determine what is real and becomes a performer in the godgame.
This sounds sort of absurd to me now. But I forget the vulnerability of the young. And the persuasiveness of a lunatic when rich.

Sergio Angelini, SPEAK OF THE DEVIL, John Dickson Carr
Yvette Banek, RIVERS OF LONDON, Ben Aaronovich
Joe Barone, THE BARRAKEE MYSTERY, Arthur W. Upfield
Les Blatt, JUMPING JENNY, Anthony Berkley
Brian Busby, THE LAND OF AFTERNOON, Gilbert Knox
Bill Crider. MR. JUSTICE, Doris Pischeria
Detective Beyond Borders, THE CONCRETE FLAMINGO, Charles Williams
Martin Edwards, MYSTERY IN THE CHANNEL, Freeman Wills Croft
Curt Evans, ENTER SIR JOHN, Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson
Elisabeth Foley, THE TURMOIL, Booth Tarkington
Ed Gorman, THE HANDLE, Donald Westlake
John Hegenberger, THE AVIATOR, Ernest K. Gann
 Rick Horton, A GOD AND HIS GIFTS, Ivy Compton-Burnett
Randy Johnson
Nick Jones, GIRL'S STORY, Lauren Weinstein and Lynda Barry's ONE HUNDRED DEMONS
George Kelley, MURDER AT THE FOUL LINE, edited by Otto Penzler
Margot Kinberg, THROUGH THE CRACKS, Honey Brown
Rob Kitchin, THE NINE TAILORS, Dorothy L. Sayers
K.D. Laity, THE BLANK WALL, Elisabeth Sanxay
B.V. Lawson, LONELYHEART 4122, Colin Watson
Evan Lewis, THE CONTINENTAL OP, Dashiell Hammett
Steve Lewis, THE DEVIL'S ELIXIR, Raymong Khoury
J.F. Norris, LONELYHEART 4122, Colin Watson
James Reasoner, COMMIE SEX TRAP, Roger Blake
Richard Robinson,  Song of the Sky by Guy Murchie
Kerrie Smith, THE CARTER OF LA PROVIDENCE, Georges Simenon
R.T.  PRODIGY, Dave Kalstein
Prashant Trikannad, NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH, James Hadley Chase
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, UNFAITHFUL SERVANT, Timothy Harris

Thursday, March 19, 2015

One-Hit Wonders; DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY

Memo From Melbourne

Docklands Melbourne
South Bank of Yarro development

Professor Robin Boyle is an urbanist from the Detroit area. He is on a sabbatical in Melbourne, AU. I asked him to describe what he saw for my blog. 
Robin and his wife, Christine, came to the Detroit area from their native Glasgow. He has taught urban studies at Wayne State for twenty-five years and been a major player in the resurgence of Detroit.
Chris has taught German at The International School

Memo from Melbourne
Take me to the River
March 2015

This city lives on coffee. Within our city block there are at least twelve cafes open at 7 o’clock ready to dispense long blacks, flat whites and other seemingly exotic coffee beverages to bleary-eyed office workers. By ten they’re back for another jolt, escaping their computer screens in the high-rise office buildings that tower over the streets. By noon they're down at street-level, perhaps this time sipping a macchiato as they eat lunch on the ubiquitous marble plinths that surround the office entrances. And I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that by 3:00 pm they are back at the espresso machine. Based on the Melbourne coffee exchange market this adds up to $14 per day, just for Joe! Did I say that you’d be hard pressed to find a Starbucks? These are all small, often locally owned, businesses, with Turkish, Greek, Italian and Chinese cafes within minutes of our door. You want more? Check out The Student’s Guide to Coffee in Melbourne, one of scores of websites dedicated to the black bean and its beverages.

Our apartment is in the heart of downtown, at the edge of the financial district but only minutes from Southern Cross railway station and a few more from the Yarra River. The redevelopment of the South Bank of the Yarra, especially the construction of a public promenade in front of commercial development, is a model of walkable public spaces delivered through exquisite urban design. There are three, sometimes four, levels of public or semi-public spaces for strolling, sitting, eating or just people watching along the river. The blue-stone walkway connects several slightly wider plazas, activated by street performance, artists, pop-up cafes or the occasional drunk. The riverbank faces north so it gets the sun from mid-morning to dusk. The planners put in plane trees from the get-go so there’s plenty of soft shade, if needed. But behind this urban gem lies a mess of late twentieth century office and residential high-rise towers, with more behemoths on the way. The towers are disconnected by an unreadable streetscape used mainly for getting the workers and residents’ cars out of grossly expensive underground car parks. Parked only once. Cost $19 for 55 minutes!

But across the river, on the north bank, there’s another walkway that takes you from downtown east along the Yarra, under Federation Square to the Birrarung Marr Park and on to the largest concentration of sports facilities you’ll ever see: the legendary “MCG” - Melbourne Cricket Ground, Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne Park, AAMI Stadium and more. Tucked alongside this walkway, and squeezed beside the rail platforms at Flinders Station and the river is a new bar/café: The Arbory. This is a model of adding a commercial amenity to an existing public walkway without in any way minimizing the accessibility of the route. The new linear café is no more than 5 meters wide yet the designer has filled a dead space by adding the kitchen, bar and seats (looking out over the river) and maintained a walkway through the facility.

Back to the South Bank. I have mixed feelings about the Crown Casino that sits close to the Yarra at Clarendon Street. As in Detroit, this is one big building catering to the tourists and the locals alike. This is the only full service casino in a gambling-addicted city that is replete with betting shops, Tatts (the lotto), and bars offering Pokies (slots machines). The Crown Casino has its own bridge over the Yarra to whisk the gamblers into its subterranean parking. Its own freaking bridge across the river! Yet you can walk into this monster through a dozen different doors straight off the promenade or the street, eat in a massive food court, drink at several bars, or go to the movies. Pedestrian-friendly and mixed-use, you bet.

Walk west for five minutes and you are into the South Wharf, with the same clashing of great public walkways and spaces, up against (mainly) nondescript 1990’s commercial development.  London, Dublin, Melbourne. Eh. Biggest issue here is the omnipresent conflict between bikes and pedestrians. In some parts, walkers take their life in their hands as Lycra-clad cyclists speed by on their way to … who knows. 

Just over the river, is the Docklands. This once-industrial area is still under reconstruction and could be a great urban neighborhood, but don’t hold out too much hope. Again, they are trying to make good use of the public streets and re-use the original wharfs, and there’s a dedicated tramline into the CBD. But after 6:00pm, when the offices empty and the coffee addicts make their jittery way to the station and on to the suburbs, the concrete plazas feel forlorn and at times even intimidating. To describe the architecture in Docklands as eclectic and garish is an understatement. Red, yellow and green panels jolt the eye. And that's just the façade of the NAB headquarters. The blue and pink finish on the soaring, elliptical, residential towers looks, well, simply awful.

Without getting too technical, the Docklands are not being planned, per se. In the context of market-led development, seven companies have been selected by the State of Victoria to design their own “precincts” spread across the 190ha. waterfront. Within a very broad set of parameters, developers have free-reign in terms of use and scale of development in each precinct and there doesn't appear to be obvious design guidelines, at least for the blocks.  By a build-out date of 2025, these seven developers are charged with delivering office space for 60,000 employees and more than 20,000 new residents. 

The results of the first phases of development are confusing and disconnected. The new public spaces appear as an afterthought. The limited retail buildings, mostly bars and restaurants, lie close to the waterfront but separated from the tall structures behind. And the bars and cafes integrated with the offices are closed or empty in the evening. Will the docklands survive this architectural assault? Not sure. I wouldn’t take the bet.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

One-Hit Wonders: Lovin' You, Minnie Ripperson (1975)

Great Fictional Sidekicks

There are so many great sidekicks in literature. I guess this is one of my favorites. It's not always easy to get it rights. Emma Peel may have been too divertingly pretty in THE AVENGERS. Iago might have been a lot more interesting than Othello.  Same for Lady MacBeth. Hap and Leonard (Lansdale) might be too evenly balanced to consider one a sidekick.

Who are some of the other great ones?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Because Of the Obscene Comments

I will be going to moderating comments again. Sorry.

From Fred Zackel: 

I saw this paragraph in a 30 January 2015 BBC article about the "Psychology of Everyday Evil."
" ... relevant to internet trolls. “They appear to be the internet version of everyday sadists because they spend time searching for people to hurt.” Sure enough, an anonymous survey of trollish commentators found that they scored highly on dark tetrad traits, but particularly the everyday sadism component – and enjoyment was their prime motivation. Indeed, the bug-crushing experiment suggested that everyday sadists may have more muted emotional responses to all kinds of pleasurable activities – so perhaps their random acts of cruelty are attempts to break through the emotional numbness." They get up in the morning, get their first cup of the day, and then they go looking for people to spew hate on.

Forgotten TV: BUFFALO BILL (1983-84)

BUFFALO BILL was on TV for a year and a half in the mid eighties. Dabney Coleman played an egotistical, often obnoxious, TV show host. Geena Davis and Joann Cassidy also starred. If you prefer likable characters, this was not the show for you. Obviously Brandon Tartikoff did not because he cancelled the show precipitously and has said it was his biggest mistake . This show was copied by THE LARRY SANDERS show a few years later. Loved both of them but found BUFFALO BILL a bit more lovable due to his buffoonish antics.  Coleman never quite found the perfect vehicle for his talents. A shame.

Monday, March 16, 2015

One-Hit Wonders, AFTERNOON DELIGHT, Starland Vocal Band, 1976


This was one of those times when I really wished I had read the book first. I liked many things about the movie, especially the look of it, the setting (Greek) directorial decisions, and the chemistry of the two male leads. But for me it also needed chemistry between the female and both male leads. And, as so often is the case, Kristen Dunst was unable to convince me that she felt particularly passionate about either man, especially the one she should for plot purposes. 

I find her a curiously cold actress. Not untalented but only effective in certain parts--much like Grace Kelly. I certainly recommend seeing this movie because of its richness in suspense, the look of it, the story. You will forget, at times, it wasn't filmed in 1962 when it is set. The music could come from any movie made during that period. There are times you would swear Alfred Hitchcock must have directed it. As always I was impressed with Oscar Issac and Viggo Mortensen. But on the whole, a disappointment as she doesn't provide the motivation necessary.

What movie didn't work for you due to a lack of chemistry. Does that ever happen in a book? Does an author ever fail to inject enough romantic sizzle into his/her characters?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, March 13, 2015

From the archives

review by Heath Lowrance
The Name of the Game is Death, by Dan J. Marlowe
“Forgotten book” might be the wrong way to describe Dan J. Marlowe’s The Name of the Game is Death. For hard-core fans of brutal, fast-paced noir, the book is anything but forgotten-- it is, in fact, considered a cornerstone of the genre. But despite that, in the fifty years since its first publication it’s been out of print more often than in, and most casual readers of crime fiction have never heard of it. For me, The Name of the Game is Death is one of the essential five or ten books in the world of hardboiled/noir.
The story: a career criminal calling himself Roy Martin (more on his name later) holes up after a botched bank robbery, while his partner sends him monthly allotments of their take. But when the money stops coming, Martin suspects the worst and sets off to find out what happened. The small town he finds turns out to be a cesspool of corruption and hypocrisy that makes even Martin’s twisted morality seem sane and rational by comparison.
In the hands of most writers, this rather simple plot wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy, but Marlowe paints a vivid picture of Martin, not just through his actions but also in a set of chilling flashbacks to Martins’ youth and young manhood, where all the signs of a sociopathic personality begin to emerge. And the steps Martin takes to find out what happened to his partner and to retrieve his money reinforce him as a deeply disturbed man.
Quite simply, he enjoys killing and hurting people; in one memorable scene, he’s unable to become sexually aroused for intercourse, and admits to himself that the only thing that really turns him on is bloodshed-- in a later scene, he brutalizes a woman who attempted to set him up, and he’s able to “perform” without a hitch.
So all in all, Roy Martin is a seriously messed-up sociopath, with barely a redeeming feature-- aside from a fondness for animals. Why do we find ourselves almost rooting for him? Because almost everyone else he encounters is a hollow, lying hypocrite. Martin is the only character who is actually true to himself… much to the horror of everyone else.
The climax to Th e Name of the Game is Death is stunningly violent, very dark, and totally chilling-- not the sort of ending that would cause you to expect a sequel. And yet Marlowe did indeed bring the character back a few years later for a book that was almost-but-not-quite as good as the first, One Endless Hour. In that one we discover that Martin’s name is actually Drake (which is how he’s often referred to when discussing The Name of the Game is Death).
More books about “The Man with Nobody’s Face” would follow, each one a bit softer than the one before, until almost all signs of the near-psychopathic Martin were gone, replaced by a repentant crook who now worked for the government.
But lovers of dark, violent tales will always remember him as the blood-thirsty killer calling himself Roy Martin.

Les Blatt, MURDER GONE MINOAN, Clyde B. Clason
Brian Busby, THE TOWN BELOW, Roger Lemelin
Bill Crider, ANY WOMAN HE WANTED, Whit Harrison
Martin Edwards, THE SECRET OF HIGH ELDERSHAM, John Rhode
Ed Gorman, BONJOUR, TRISTESSE, Francoise Sagan
John Hegenberger, THE LAND, Robert K Swisher
Rick Horton, THE GREAT IMPERSONATION, E. Phillips Oppenheim
Jerry House, THE ZANZIBAR CAT, Joanna Russ
Randy Johnson, THIEVES FALL OUT, Gore Vidal
Nick Jones, WAR GAMES, Anthony Price
George Kelley, LOVECRAFT'S LEGACY, ed. Robert E. Weinberg
Rob Kitchin, BRIGHTON ROCK, Graham Greene
B.V. Lawson, THE SIX MEN, E. and M.A. Radford
Evan Lewis, DEAD AT THE TAKE-OFF, Lester Dent
Steve Lewis/William Deeck, THE MASTER MYSTERY, Austin J Small
Todd Mason/Mildred Perkins, 11/22/63, Stephen King
J.F. Norris, THE LATE MRS. D, Hillary Waugh
James Reasone, THE BUZZARDS OF ROCKY PASS, L.P. Holmes Pete Rozovsky, BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL, Elliott Chaze
Bill Selnes, PRARIE HARDBALL, Alison Gordon (recently deceased after a distinguished career in sports reporting and mystery fiction
Kerrie Smith, THE HUNTING DOGS, Jorn Lier Horst
R.T. CROSS, Ken Bruen
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, MASTERS OF NOIR, Vol 4
Prashant Trikannad, THE CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS, Erle Stanley Gardner

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Charlie Mingus: Reincarantion of a Lovebird

House Hunters

We are in the process of looking for a new house nearer to my son and to MOVIE THEATERS and also to our friends who all live on the other side of Detroit.  We would consider renting but the area only has garden apartments and we're past the stage where that is appealing.

We live in a very large but vertical house now. In other words, three floors. Much more space than we need at 2400 square feet. 

We go back and forth in what we really require in a house. What things do you require?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Blossom Dearie: True to You in My Own Fashion


No, not the book and not the movie although John Houseman is in both, in the role he seemed born to play. “

"The study of law is something new and unfamiliar to most of you, unlike any other schooling you have ever known before. You teach yourselves the law, but I train your minds. You come in here with a skull full of mush and, if you survive, you leave thinking like a lawyer."

This series debuted in 1978 and was on for four years. James Stephens played the leading role of a student at Harvard Law.  Four years was probably too long. Law school itself is only three. But it was an intelligent drama that did not feature cops or hospitals, a rare thing then and now. And based on my son's experience in law school, fairly accurate.

Monday, March 09, 2015

The Last Line

A list of great last lines from novels right here. 

Hard to beat this one from THE LONG GOODBYE (Chandler)  ''I never saw any of them again — except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them."

What is your favorite last line?

And wishing the very best to Ron Scheer, our dear friend, undergoing treatment in Palm Springs Hospital.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Friday, March 06, 2015

Keren Ann: BYT

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, March 6, 2015

(Oddly I could not get a cover of the book to stick on here).

THE WITCHING NIGHT, Leslie Waller (reviewed by Anthony Ambrogio)

THE WITCHING NIGHT, by Leslie Waller (writing as C. S. Cody), came out in 1952. I think it had a hardcover publication before its Dell paperback incarnation.

It's certainly a better-written book than MARK OF THE MOON*** (though I have to give MARK higher marks when it comes to cover design, front and back). You can tell that almost from the first page of this first-person narrative. Waller has a good way with words; his protagonist is cursed by a suburban Chicago cult and suffers the headaches of the damned, and damned if his descriptions of the hero's torments weren't enough to make ME start feeling as if I needed an aspirin.

So the narrative pulls you along as the skeptical hero gets thrust into this dark world of banally evil, slimily evil, and perhaps-inadvertently-evil characters (the last of which is, of course, a beautiful, alluring woman).

The narrator, a doctor, has a wise-cracking receptionist (who, for some reason never explained, is never given a name or is clearly described; she's the one who tells the "formaldehyde" knock-knock joke -- the only part of the book that I remembered; it occurs around page 167 of this 256-page, so I know I must have read at least that far the first time through).

What I didn't like about the book is that the seemingly polite demon society with which he gets involved (think along the lines of THE SEVENTH VICTIM or maybe the folks in ROSEMARY'S BABY) is never adequately described -- not their motives (though he speculates about them) nor their demises (why what happens to one person happens to her is never made clear -- not to me, at least), nor their exact relationships to one another. Maybe we're supposed to speculate, but I was waiting for that one moment, that one chapter, when All Was Revealed, which I didn't get.

The central love-hate relationship between him and the apparently unwitting priestess of the cult also seems to have ups and downs based on the exigencies of plot rather than any logical unfolding.

I couldn't help but wonder if the original ms. of THE WITCHING NIGHT was much longer but that the publisher told Waller to cut it down (which may be why he resorted to a pseudonym).

Well, for what it is, it's an engrossing page-turner. And maybe I shouldn't carp too much. MARK OF THE MOON has a long explanation at the end, tying up all sorts of loose ends, but, since it's inferior in terms of execution, it's not particularly satisfying, so who knows if clarification and explanation would have made THE WITCHING NIGHT any better?

(Anthony added this to explain where this comparison came from) He purchased both books recently but read MARK OF THE MOON first.

***"John Norris is probably right when he describes MARK OF THE MOON as ersatz Dennis Wheatley -- not particular well written or engrossing. (Of course, I confess that I only read one Wheatley novel, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, and, although the story was of interest, I wasn't particularly impressed with the writing in that book.) I'm a little more than a third of the way through MARK OF THE MOON, and I can attest to the less-than-scintillating writing. The writer is dropping big clues as to the cultish conspiracy at the heart of the book (though the clueless protagonist is having a hard time putting anything together); it's not a slog to get through the pages because one does want to see where everything is going to end up (and if the expected twists do occur), but it's no page turner. And the plot is familiar to anyone who's seen any of Hitchcock's spy thrillers or films like ROSEMARY'S BABY.

"I am sure I read this book when my dad had it, but I remember nothing about it except for one detail, which the protagonist can't figure out yet. The title mark is a small, crescent-shaped brand that a number of women sport under their left breast. I imagine it will prove to indicate that they are initiates into the cult. The protagonist's wife had such a mark; she told him it was a birthmark. Now she's gone, fled back to the little French village where she was born, taking their year-old son with them -- which is what has brought our hero back to this place where he spied for the Allies during WWII (and met his wife, a member of the Resistance). Since some 20 kids have disappeared from the region in the last two years, there's little doubt in the reader's mind that child sacrifice plays a part in these unholy rituals, but the protagonist hasn't figured it out yet. Oh, well, he's got 120 pages to go."

I thought that I had written to SOMEone (apparently not you) when I finished MARK OF THE MOON, but I couldn't find that letter anywhere. (This e-mail system online is very unwieldy and doesn't let me search of messages the way I would like.) Well, MARK OF THE MOON, although it holds one's interest (partly because the reader wonders when the protagonist is going to wise up and catch up with him), isn't the greatest -- there's one really stupid part where he wakes up in a cave and accidentally tips over a candle, which burns a message that's left for him so that, going by the letter's charred remains, he makes all sorts of misinterpretations. Talk about contrivances! And there was too much of him stumbling around in that cave for my tastes. But his climactic battle with the main bad guy is pretty well described -- the writer actually makes it exciting. His attitude toward the major woman in the plot is typical, I guess, of male attitudes of the time, but it's kind of annoying. (Can't say more without giving stuff away.)

Sergio Angelini, 1222, Anne Holt
Joe Barone, THE CROWDED GRAVE, Martin Walker
Les Blatt, SWAN SONG,  Edmund Crispin
Brian Busby, THE WINE OF LIFE, Arthur Stringer
Bill Cride, SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY, Edgar Lee Masters
David Cranmer, TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY, John LeCarre
Martin Edwards, THE RASP, Philip MacDonald
Curt Evan, TIME ON MY HANDS and STRANGER AT HOME, George Sanders
Ed Gorman, HAWKSBILL STATION, Robert Silverberg
John Hegenbergen, TENDER IS LEVINE, Andrew Bergman
Rich Horton, PICADILLY JIM, P.G. Wodehouse
Jerry House, ONLY THE CAT KNOWS, Marion Babson
Nick Jones, THE MAN WHO WROTE BOOKS IN HIS HEAD, Patricia Highsmith
Randy Johnson
George Kelley, OVER MY DEAD BODY, Lee Server
Margot Kinberg, THE DIVIDED CHILD, Ekaterine Nikas
Rob Kitchin, WINTER QUEEN, Boris Akunin
Evan Lewis, EXeCUTUIONER 42: THE IRANIAN HIT, Stephen Mertz
Steve Lewis, THE PARISIAN AFFAIR, Nick Carter
J.F. Norris, CORPSE ON THE WHITE HOUSE LAWN, DiplomatGraham Powell, TRAGEDY AT LAW, Cyril Hare
James Reasoner, THE TRADITIONAL WEST, Western Fictineers
Richard Robinson, PLANETS OF ADVENTURE, Murray Leinster
Kerrie Smith, AN EVENT IN AUTUMN, Henning Mankell
R.T. GARDENS OF THE DEAD, William Brodrick
TracyK, THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS, Agatha Chrisite
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, MASTERS OF NOIR, Volume 3
Prashant Trikannad, ALL'S FAIR, Richard Wormser

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Counting Crows: BYT

The Most Consistent Authors

I read Henning Mankell a lot while in CA. Somehow his themes, his setting, and his detective rarely let me down. He has just enough personal detail, enough police politics, enough stuff about what has happened in Sweden since 1990 to keep me going. And he's pretty good at plotting too.

What writers have rarely let you down? Who is your go-to writer?

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Fleetwood Mac: Big Yellow Taxi

First Wednesday's Book Review Club: THE BOYS IN THE BOAT

I am not sure of the psychology behind this, but every month I find myself resisting reading the book chosen by the dozen women in my book club. Even if it's a book I chose myself! This was one I had not heard of until I was told this would be the March choice. 
And it seemed like a book that would not be very discussable. Lots of times, the books I like the most turn out to lead to poor discussions.
I am not sure about the discussability of THE BOYS IN THE BOAT: NINE AMERICANS AND THEIR EPIC QUEST FOR GOLD AT THE 1936 BERLIN OLYMPICS, but I sure enjoyed reading it. A book about rowing? Seems improbable that anyone could make it a page turner but David James Brown succeeded.
The reason he was able to do this was because he was able to pull in so much beside the University of Washington's rowing program in the thirties. The book looks at the problems of poverty in the 1930s, the dust bowl, Nazi German's rise to power, the Olympic movement, the story of rowing itself, the lives of the coach, the boat builder and some of the athletes. Most especially it gave us the life of Joe Rantz, a rower who had an exceptionally hard childhood. His summer job while in college was hanging from cliffs and using a 75 pound drill to build a damn. Most of the boys came from humble means, which means we cheer for them all the more. Brown was especially adept at exploring the psychology of successful rowing. A very particular sort of sport.
I enjoyed this book immensely and am anxious to hear what my book group members think of it.

For more book reviews, go see Barrie Summy.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Joni Mitchell: BIG YELLOW TAXI

Forgotten Movies-LIVE-IN MAID

This is an Argentinian movie directed by Jorge Daggero made in 2005. It concerns the havoc wreaked on a wealthy woman with the financial crisis of 2001 in Argentina.

Beba and and Dora (wealthy woman and her maid) have been together for thirty years. But gradually, Beba finds herself unable to pay Dora or any of her bills. She is also unable to do any of the chores Dora performs. She is alienated from her daughter and is getting less and less money from her former husband. Apparently they have gone through money left to her from her mother.

This is a character study of the two women, who dance around each other's grievances and issues for ninety minutes. It might be too small of a movie for some but I found the subtlety of their performances a treat.

And the ending is both surprising and inevitable.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Thirty Minutes of Terror at Noicon

A bunch of people read scary three minute stories at Noircon back in October. If this appeals to you, here are the links. For the life of me, I can't remember what I read. I think I am on the first day. Hate hearing my voice, so....

Three Minutes of Terror, Part 1, is now live! Feel free to spread any or all of these links around, whatever you think works best: