Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A shout out to Juri Nummelin and the ongoing saga of Spike Morelli

Juri Nummelin, who blogs at Pulpetti, made some comments, on this post and this one, that have been helpful with regard to the issue of the identity of Spike Morelli. He noted that Steve Holland, who wrote The Mushroom Jungle and a biography of Stephen Frances (Better known as Hank Janson) did not mention Frances ever writing as Morelli. I've tried to get in touch with Holland, but he's got two blogs and no public email address. If anyone out there knows how to reach him let me know.
So, with Frances eliminated as a suspect, that leaves this possibility, as well at the possibility that Morelli was more than one person.
While Morelli was probably not Frances, the two had their book covers done by Reginald Heade. The more I see of Heade's work, the more I am intrigued. He drew some rather lurid covers for a lot of witers. One of whom, we are all familar with. He had a knack for drawing women with gravity defying clothes. Not much is known about Heade. He had a thing for this one redhead. I wonder who she was.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Review of Robbie's Wife

Robbie's Wife by Russell Hill is a story that's been written before, but it is still a worthy entry in Hard Case Crime's growing list of original titles. Hill's novel tells the story of aging screenwriter Jack Stone, who tries to jump start his ailing career by selling off all his belongings and taking off for England to write a screenplay. Jack finds himself at Sheepheaven Farm, run by Robbie and Maggie Barlow. After Jack gets one look at MaggieROBBIE'S WIFE he is infatuated and decides to stick around.
The setup should sound familiar. It's The Postman Always Rings Twice set in England. Hill's story, however, is a little more subtle. Jack and Maggie do not plot to do away with her husband. Jack, who goes from infatuation to obsession in a matter of days, comes up with that idea by himself.
Robbie's Wife will not please fans of quick and dirty crime fiction. The first two-thirds of the novel are devoted to Jack's travels and his efforts to write a screenplay as he becomes more and more fixated on Maggie. The slow pace would be difficult to bear if Hill, a poet, were not such a gifted writer. Hill takes his time, but the result is a rich setting and a set of fully fleshed out characters.
Hill's skill shows in the story as well. One page in the reader knows what is going to happen, but Hill still manages to surprise the reader when the climactic moment of violence arrives. The denouement also contains an unexpected turn, although the ending itself is the only one possible.
Despite the sense of déjà vu any avid fan of crime fiction will experience, Robbie's Wife is still worth reading. The path it treads may be well worn, but there is still enjoyment to be found in seeing the familiar from a fresh perspective.

(FYI: I finally figured out how to do an image link, so feel free to click on the picture above.)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

An Ethical Question posed by my favorite author, and yours: Spike Morelli

I read another chapter of This Way For Hell by Spike Morelli this morning. As you will recall (If you don't recall you can read about it here) the book's protagonist, private investigator Shaun O'Malley, has just finished feeling up a dead girl under the guise of checking her pulse.
Now, in the very next chapter, O'Malley breaks into an apartment while following a lead. It's a woman's apartment. She comes home. Our, ahem, hero hides in the shower. You don't need to be psychic to see what's coming next: That's right the woman in question goes to take a shower. O'Malley, gentleman that he is, punches the woman when she pulls back the shower curtain. Then, this:

She was dead weight in my arms. I carried her into the bedroom and laid her down on the bed. As I covered her naked body with a sheet I ran my hands over her breasts and couldn't help thinking what a time I could have had if my visit had been a social one.

So, there you have it. One chapter he's feeling up a corpse. The next, a live, though unconscious, woman. My question to you, dear reader, is, which act is more reprehensible? Feeling up a dead girl or feeling up a live one? I'm being serious. I can't decide which act should repulse me more.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

March is Small Press Month

I have discovered that March is Small Press Month. According to the Small Press Month Web Site:

Small Press Month, now in its 11th year, is a nationwide promotion highlighting the valuable work produced by independent publishers. An annual celebration of the independent spirit of small publishers, Small Press Month is an effort to showcase the diverse, unique, and often most significant voices being published today. This year's slogan is Celebrate Great Writing.

I haven't seen much publicity for this anywhere, at my local independent bookstore or library, or on the Web for that matter. As a matter of principle, I'm behind the idea one hundred percent. If I didn't think small publishers were doing good work, Independent Crime wouldn't exist. I wish I'd known there was a Small Press Month back in January. Then I could have prepared, maybe sent out a questionnaire to some crime fiction publishers and posted profiles here. Oh well, there's always next year.

(Hat tip to January Magazine)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hard Case Crime News

Hard Case Crime will be holding a reading at 7 p.m Sunday April 22 at KGB in New York City. It will feature Charles Ardai, Max Philips, Jason Starr and Peter Pavia, who will all read from their new novels.
Next week will see the release of Robbie's Wife, the first Hard Case Original (as opposed to reprint) in quite a while. Hard Case's reprints have always been hit or miss, but the originals, with the exception of The Colorado Kid, ( which I hate with the fiery intensity of a million suns) have all been winners.
Hard Case is giving away 10 free copies of Robbie's Wife. To enter email with your name and mailing address by midnight Feb. 27 (Eastern time.) The catch is they are asking everyone who wins to write an online review somewhere. That's not much to ask. I would enter, but I've already got a copy of Robbie's Wife, and I intend to review it next week.

Thoughts on Book Cover Porn

Over at The Rap Sheet, J. Kingston Pierce has an interesting post on paperback cover revisionism. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I like to post links to what I call "book cover porn." My use of the term porn is tongue-in-cheek and has as much to do with the visual appeal of the book covers as it does with any overtly sexual content (although that's not absent.)
I agree with Pierce that we live in strange times when book covers that would fly in the Fifties wouldn't fly now.
You can log onto the Internet and look at pictures of (insert your favorite sexual act here), but heaven forbid someone browsing in a bookshop might see a drawing of a naked lady. Sheesh.

This is currently my favorite book cover. It's got it all: a naked woman, a gun, liquor and money. If there's something missing I don't know what it is.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Some thoughts on Spike Morelli

I got the two books I ordered by Spike Morelli today. When I got home from work I read the first four chapters of This Way For Hell. It's nothing spectacular, but I wasn't really expecting it to be. It's a private eye story where the dead bodies pile up ( 3 in four chapters), and every woman is a "dame." Every one. Always. It's pretty sordid stuff, and by the fourth chapter the main character is beating the hell out of some poor woman to make her talk. Oh, and her dress comes off in the process. This woman gets shot by a mysterious assailant while being interrogated, which sets you up for this very funny bit of writing;

"I put my right hand down inside the brassiere and felt her breasts. The flesh was firm and under other circumstances I would have enjoyed myself, but right then it didn't mean a thing. She was deader than yesterday's front page."

Because checking her wrist for a pulse wouldn't have afforded a cheap thrill.

There's also jacket copy on the inside back cover promoting other books from the Leisure Library. See if you can resist:

White Slave Racket
by Roland Vane

From Britain to France to Spain vicious vice ring lures innocent girls to evil life in the foulest dens of iniquity. This tale is woven around the horror and sordidness one group of girls went through before they were rescued.

Hot Dames on Cold Slabs
by Michael Storm

Three hot dames from the sticks hit Chicago looking for suckers to support them in ways to which they were never accustomed. How they got their suckers and what happened to them among the tough guys of the underworld makes good reading.

No Prude
by Jules-Jean Morac

Parisian photographer's model can never be a prude--at least not for long. Embroiled with dope and stolen gems, young model leads life of luxury, sensualism and vice. Vicious sadism finally blows the top off racket. Real excitement on every page.

Monday, February 19, 2007

News From Bleak House Books

Bleak House has info about Craig McDonald's debut novel up on their Web site. It's about Pancho Villa's severed head. There's no release date listed, but it sounds interesting. The second book McDonald sold to Bleak House is entitled Rogue Males, and is a book of interviews, presumably similar to this one, he did for PointBlank. I don't have any info on what writers will appear in the book, or when it will be released.

They also announced this:

These Guns for Hire Goes Audio

You've read our collection of hitman stories from authors like Lawrence Block, Max Allan Collins, Ken Bruen, J.A. Konrath, Sean Doolittle, and Marcus Sakey. Now it's time to have them put in work and read the stories to you. Starting in March, we'll be adding FREE mp3s of the authors reading their own stories.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Allan Guthrie's been busy

Allan Guthrie's been busy this weekend. He posted this article about Dan Marlowe, on his Noir Zine, and said it's a sign of things to come. That's good to hear, since the site was last updated in January of last year. Of course, Guthrie's got an excuse for not updating the site. He's got four books coming out in the next year, at least in the UK. I know Hard Man will make the jump across the Atlantic, but I'm curious to know what the other projects are and if and when they'll be making it to America. I'm sure all will be revealed in due time.
I've got my ARC of Hard Man and one of my goals for this week is to sit down and read it. I'm definitely going to review it, but I'm not sure when it will appear here. It's coming out in April in the UK with Polygon, which is an independent publisher, but it's being published by Harcourt in the States in June. That's plenty of time for me to write a review and try to find a place for it. I'm in a position where I can freelance again, so I think I might give it a shot. Wish me luck.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Spike Morelli, the mystery deepens, plus more book cover porn

I found the entry below on this page, which appears to be about British postwar paperbacks:

Spike Morelli (Stephen Frances), Coffin for a Cutie (1950).

A live one. A first-person “Southern” novel, with young white-trash guy fleeing the swamps with a black friend (who’s subsequently murdered) and taking up small-time crookery as photo-blackmailer. Several women are involved along the way, not to their benefit. There’s a sexy nightclub show, and a nude with a mutilated face swimming at night.The narrator has no problem with hitting, beating up, sleeping with, or in one instance shooting women. The style reminds me a little of Boris Vian’s I’ll Spit on Your Graves. The atmosphere is mostly unquiet, the course of events unpredictable. The book feels as though the author had been in the States . Six other titles are listed in BLIC, This Way for Hell isn’t among them.

I wrote the foregoing without knowing that Morelli was Frances.

As you can see the author claims that Morelli was one Stephen Francis. Unfortunately, the page's author does not say how he came to that conclusion, although he does mention this book.
Did I speak to soon in this post, when I said Morelli was William Newton? Or is the page excerpted above wrong? More research is required.

Here's the book porn I promised.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

More About Spike Morelli

A while ago I posed the question, "Who is Spike Morelli?" after having seen some pulp covers of books by someone under that name. It turns out that Morelli was one of many pseudonyms of one William Newton, who wrote many books under many names from the early Fifties to the the mid-Eighties. The list on the last link is far from comprehensive, however, because I can think of two titles he wrote as Morelli that aren't listed. I'd imagine there are other books I don't know about that are missing as well.
Now that I know what Spike Morelli was Newton, I would like to find someone who has read something he's written. I asked on the Rara-Avis mailing list because I figured if there were somewhere on the Internet I could find a person familiar with an out-of-print crime author it would be there, but I struck out.
So, I'm throwing it open again. Has anyone read Newton under any of his names? Does anything ring a bell? If not, never fear. Newton's books aren't exactly rare, so I ordered a couple early ones off of Abebooks today. If he's worth reading I'll find out and let you know.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Book Cover Porn

Go ahead and look. You know you want to.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Of Bathrooms and Book Covers

When I got my copy of The Blue Cheer (out this week, by the way) I couldn't help but notice that there was something over the right shoulder of the guy on the front cover. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was a urinal. I shrugged, and thought maybe there would be some explanation for why there was a photo of a guy in a bathroom on the front cover. Alas, no urinals or public restrooms figured in any way in the story. I went ahead and wrote my review, and I enjoyed the book, but I want to know some things.

1. Why was the guy on the front photographed in a bathroom?

2. Was leaving the urinal in the background intentional?

3. How do these decisions get made?

You can scroll down, or click here to read my review and see the cover in question.

Friday, February 9, 2007

What's Up New Caledonia?

A little more than a week ago I registered this blog with Statcounter. I figured if I'm going to be serious about this I should know who's reading Independent Crime and where they are. I looked at the info for the first time the other day, and I've got to say I've been fascinated by the data. Most people find the site through, and I haven't had a huge number or hits, but I've had visitors from most major cities in the U.S., several from Canada, and also the U.K. Someone from Dublin ran a search for American Skin. Could Ken Bruen be reading my blog? I hope so.
I've also had visits from three cities in China, as well as Japan and Thailand.
The visit that intrigues me most, however, is the one from New Caledonia. I didn't even know that New Caledonia existed before someone from that tiny island located on the Tropic of Capricorn visited my site. Now I can say I've learned something blogging. That visitor didn't stay long, and they've only visited once, but if you are that visitor and you happen to be reading this, get in touch. My email address is over on the right side of the page. I want to know what's going on in New Caledonia.

Mickey Spillane Correction

In this post, I called Dead Street, which will be published by Hard Case Crime in November, Mickey Spillane's final novel. As you can see here, that was an incorrect statement to make. Spillane, although still dead, has two more novels coming out. From this point on, due to the sheer volume of posthumous material available, I will now be referring to Mickey as Tupac Spillane.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Little Girl Lost, The Movie

According to Variety, Charles Ardai and James Polster have entered into a deal with Papazian-Hirsch Entertainment, producers of HBO's Rome, to make feature projects based on Hard Case titles. The first such project, according to the article, will be Little Girl Lost. Ardai and Polster will collaborate on the screenplay. This is very cool.

(Thanks to Mike Burch who posted this to the Rara-Avis mailing list.)

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Review of The Blue Cheer

Cities, in the popular imagination, are sinister places, where innocents are corrupted, everything has a price and vice rules the day. The city stands in stark contrast to rural America, where people go to church, say "please and thank you," and love their spouse and only their spouse.The association of the city with vice and the country with virtue is alive and well today even though more Americans now live in cities than in rural areas. One does not have to look far in the news to see some talking head blathering on about how Blue State Liberals are a grave threat to Red State Dwelling Salt of the Earth.
This false dichotomy has done more than give vapid suits something insubstantial to talk about on 24 hour news channels. It has limited the setting of detective novels. The detective novel is an urban phenomenon. Be it Sam Spade in San Francisco, Lew Archer in Los Angeles, or Matt Scudder in Manhattan, the fictional PI is a character at home surrounded by concrete and steel.It is true, cities do make a menacing, suitably indifferent backdrop to most detective novels, but anyone who thinks the same kind of menace cannot be found in a small town or down some sparsely populated mountain hollow has never spent a significant amount of time in either of those places.
Frank Lynskey's novel The Blue Cheer (PointBlank, 2007) is a pleasure largely because it takes the private investigator genre and sets it in the middle of nowhere. Private Investigator Frank Johnson can't catch a break. Having moved to the (fictional) town of Scarab, West Virginia for some clean mountain living, he walks out of his cabin one evening in time to see a stinger missile blast a drone out of the sky. He goes to the crash scene and finds evidence of the stinger's firing, only to be hit over the head and knocked unconscious. From there, Frank and his neighbor, Old Man Johnson, and ex-CIA agent, are off in search of the source of the missile, which they soon learn is a shadowy organization known as The Blue Cheer.
Lynskey is not new to crime fiction. He has published a slew of Frank Johnson short stories and one other novel, The Dirt Brown Derby, but this novel should raise his profile and get him some much deserved attention. He is a good writer who can nail a character or a setting with simple, well-placed details. He nails small-town Appalachia cold. One of the most enjoyable facets of the novel is the way Lynskey describes the mountains. Anyone who's spent any time there knows the details he throws in; deer munching crabapples, mushy persimmons hanging from tree branches, hawks sitting on power lines, water discolored by coal mining pollution. It all serves to firmly ground the novel.
Lynskey is no less astute with his characterization, and the people who populate Scarab are believable, and Johnson himself is a worthy protagonist. The shadowy organization at the center of the book is another story, however. While Lynskey does drop in a twist, making the Blue Cheer something other than what the reader may be expecting, their motives and plans are never fully explained. Indeed, the reader never really learns the full scope of the organization at the center of the novel's plot. Are they a vast conspiracy, or a bunch of backwoods yahoos? Is the ambiguity intentional? It's difficult to tell, which is frustrating.
The plot also could have been more involved. From the opening it seems like Lynskey is going to have Johnson racing against the clock to foil a terrorist plot to use the missiles. This is not the case, however, and while The villains are truly vile, they never live up to their potential, and the climax is less complicated than it should be.
Despite its flaws, however, The Blue Cheer is a worthy effort. Lynskey has created a good character and taken the PI out of the city, proving that evil lurks in the hearts of men, no matter where they are.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Further signs of the demise of print book reviews

I saw this morning over at Galleycat, where the Associated Press has decided to discontinue its book review package, no doubt because there is less demand for it given the ever shrinking news hole in most newspapers. It's a shame. When the AP kills something like this it's a bad sign. The AP exists to help newspapers get content they don't have the resources to provide on their own, and if there's not enough demand nationwide to justify doing them anymore, it is truly a sign that book coverage in the traditional media is in bad shape.
The flip side of this is, of course, the Internet, which is clearly where the future of the book industry lies. As book reviews do a vanishing act in print, the Internet is where bibliophiles, publishers and authors alike can meet up and write, read about and discuss books without having to worry about column inches.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Lawrence Block on the Late, Late Show

Lawrence Block will be on the Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson Tuesday to discuss his latest Hard Case Crime offering Lucky At Cards. If you can stay up till 12:35 a.m., or have Tivo, check it out. I'm going to try to watch it, but no promises.

The Lefty

Over at The Rap Sheet J. Kingston Pierce has reported that Go to Helena Handbasket by Donna Moore (PointBlank: 2006) has won the Lefty, which is given each year for best humorous crime novel.

Very Funny

I found this via Victor Gischler, who got it from Laura Lippman's site. It's Sex Devil. I almost spewed coffee from my nose while reading this story. It's that funny.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Mickey Spillane's Final Novel

Over at Hard Case Crime they've added to their roster of novels for this year. In November they're going to publish Mickey Spillane's final novel, Dead Street. Spillane has never really done it for me, but I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who will be very excited about this one.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

About Comments

Aldo Calcagano over at Mystery Dawg was nice enough to point out that my comments settings were messed up. The problem should be resolved now, so that anyone can leave comments. I apologize to anyone out there whose burning desire to leave comments on my blog has been frustrated.