Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Behind the Black Mask is No More

I was disappointed to find out today that Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards have discontinued their podcast Behind the Black Mask: Mystery Writers Revealed. You can read their goodbye message here. The good news is that all their episodes are still available, and the change seems to have come, not out of a lack of interest, but because both men have kids, and jobs, and other good things to put their effort into, including a possible book based on their other podcast, Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir, which still seems to be going strong. (And Shannon, I'm glad to see that Turner Classic Movies thing worked out. You'll have to introduce me to Rose McGowan at some point.)

Wednesday Paperback Cover

Who knows what 2009 will hold? This guy. That's who. He's a doctor.

Monday, December 29, 2008


With the news that actress Ann Savage passed away over Christmas, I went poking around and found that you can watch her in her most famous role, as a femme fatale in Detour, at the Internet Archive. It's short and very much worth watching if you haven't seen it, or even if you have. Her performace is one of the highlights.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Vintage Sleaze

Vintage sleaze is a Web site dedicated to, well, vintage sleaze. See what some of your favorite authors wrote before they made it big. If collecting old paperbacks is your thing, some of the books are for sale, and you can buy them.

(Thanks to
Gonzalo Baeza for the heads up.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hard Boiled Sentimentality

I've been kind of lazy this week in terms of blogging. It's been a combination of issues with my Internet provider and real life issues of consequence that must be attended to, so there will be no book review, or deep thoughts on anything this week. I can, however, give you a book recommendation. I have, in my spare time, started reading Leonard Cassuto's Hard-Boiled Sentimentality. Cassuto, a professor at Fordham University, advances the thesis that the hard-boiled heroes who emerged in the Twenties and Thirties owe a debt to the sentimental fiction of the Nineteenth Century (think Harriet Beecher Stowe). I'm about halfway through the book right now, and my impression so far is that Cassuto has oversold his thesis, but you can say that about 99 percent of literary criticism. Cassuto seems to put a lot of stock in the fact that hard-boiled fiction often deals with personal and familial relationships, as does sentimental fiction. Of course, all fiction deals with personal relationships, so I stand less than convinced that Harriet influenced Hammett.

There is, though, a lot of good stuff. Cassuto's analysis of The Maltese Falcon is particularly trenchant and timely, as he discusses the book in light of the Great Depression. As he frames it, the mad hunt for the black bird is a metaphor for the rampant stock speculation that occurred before the big crash. I found this particularly interesting given my interest in how crime fiction and capitalism coexist, given the fact that our economy seems to be crumbling around us.

His section on Jim Thompson is also well worth reading as Cassuto takes on The Getaway, which is a novel about trust, and Thompson's most important work, where he takes the romantic idea of the debonair, lone wolf criminal to it's logical conclusion.

Perhaps I will have more to say once I've plowed through the rest of the book. Until then, you can read Sarah Weinman's review at the LA Times.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wednesday Paperback Cover

Quit corrupting the noble American farmer with your big city wiles dammit!
(courtesy of Eric Beetner)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The New Relevance of Detective Fiction: The Big Sleep and Captialism

The PI novel has been pronounced dead many times, and it still manages to stick around. It is a genre that serves, among other things, as a critique of the excesses of American capitalism. It often pits the detective's code of behavior in contrast to the success at all costs values that lead to success in the marketplace. This contrast is especially relevant now that the economy is floundering and the extent of the incredibly crude and vast nature of Wall Street corruption, which is coming to light. New York lawyer Marc Dreier was found to have been selling fake promissory notes to investors. The only difference between Drier and a guy selling DVD player boxes full of bricks out of the trunk of his car is, well, I can't think of one. And let us not neglect Bernard Madoff, who ran a $50 billion ponzi scheme. He is no doubt the envy of boiler room operators everywhere.

This economic turmoil presents and opportunity to examine the relationship of the PI novel and its relationship to between the detective novel and American capitalism. In this first entry, I will examine Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, as it is in many ways the archetypal PI novel, and Marlowe's manner and value system have been imitated many times over.

Many, many detective novels involve a rich man, or family calling on the detective to clean up a mess. The iconic novel in this vein is, of course, Chandler's The Big Sleep, which begins with Philip Marlowe, "wearing [his] powder blue suit, dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with blue clocks on them." Marlowe informs the reader that he is dressed up because he is "calling on four million dollars."

The four million dollars Marlowe is calling on belongs to one General Sternwood. Despite his title and his wealth, however, Sternwood is weak. "a cripple paralyzed in both legs with only half his lower belly." Sternwood needs the young, healthy Marlowe to deal with his family problems, which he is unable to cope with. His daughter, Carmen, has fallen prey to a blackmailer. In the course of cleaning up this routine depravity, Marlowe uncovers the true extent of the depravity of Sternwood's family. He, literally, finds out where the body is buried.

Significantly, Marlowe does not share this secret with General Sternwood, who is on his deathbead. Sternwood gets to die in peace. Marlowe bears that for him.
Sternwood's frailty and the wild, self-indulgent behavior of his daughters stand in contrast to Marlowe's youth, reponsibility and integrity. Sternwood, for all his worldly success, has failed as a father, and his daughters have nothing in the way of moral values or even common sense. Carmen is shown, in the end, to be insane. She is so self-centered that to reject her is a death sentence. She is the embodiment of success-at-all-costs values, and if she cannot succeed in seducing someone, then she tries to own them through murder.

In the marketplace, money is the goal. People start business to get money. Money isn't enough for Marlowe though. When Marlowe confronts Vivian Sternwood with evidence of her sister's crime, she offers him fifteen thousand dollars. The offer prompts a sarcastic response from Marlowe, who sneers,

" I'm a very smart guy. I haven't a feeling or a scruple in the world. All I have is the itch for money. I am so greedy for money that for twenty-five bucks a day and expenses, mostly gasoline and whiskey, I do my thinking myself, what there is of it; I risk my whole future, the hatred of cops, and of Eddie Mars and his pals, I dodge bullets and eat saps, and say thank you very much, if you have any more trouble, I hope you'll think of me, I'll just leave one of my cards in case anything comes up...With fifteen grand I could own a home and a new car and four new suits of clothes. I might even take a vacation without worrying about losing a case. That's fine. What are you offering it to me for? Can I go on being a son of a bitch, or do I have to become a gentleman, like that lush that passed out in his car the other night?"

Marlowe puts integrity above financial gain and Vivian, clearly unused to someone like Marlowe, quickly capitulates to his demand to put Carmen in an institution. Marlowe's refusal to take the money is a repudiation of the get ahead at any cost. If his main aim is to make money, then he surely would have taken the money. Marlowe is that most revered of Americans, the small business owner, and yet he would sacrifice financial security for principle. With this ending, Chandler lays down the groundwork for many PI novels to come, particularly the novels of Ross MacDonald, whose novels almost always involve wealthy families, hidden secrets and class tension.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bettie Page meets Ellery Queen

Recently deceased Pin up queen Bettie Page was the cover girl for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine at least twice. Not exactly the sort of magazine she's usually associated with.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

This is Pulp Fiction on BBC7

Hear classic pulp fiction short stories read on BBC7 radio. Right now you can listen to stories by Gil Brewer, Jim Thompson and Paul Cain.

Donkey Punch becomes Sucker Punch

Ray Banks' second novel is getting published in America in February, and somewhere along the line it has undergone a name change. Published in the UK as Donkey Punch, it has been retitled Sucker Punch for its U.S. release.That may be because the publisher was squeamish about publishing a book whose title is taken from a potentially lethal and almost certainly mythical sexual manueuver, (link NSFW), or because Banks' book had everything to do with boxing and absolutely nothing to do with sexual manuevers of any kind. They may also not want to confuse people into thinking it's related to the recently released UK film Donkey Punch (which actually involves said punch and seems about as appealing as being punched.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wednesday Paperback Cover

Today's cover comes from reader Eric Beetner. Submissions for the Wednesday Paperback Cover are always welcome.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

William Marling, a professor of English at Case Western Reserve University, has a fascinating Web site on detective fiction with articles on famous authors and works of hard boiled fiction. I would spend all day reading this if I didn't have to work. (via.) I'm not sure how I managed to overlook this site, but I'm going to be spending some quality time there this week.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Free Books from Bleak House

I am back from my vacation, and regular posting should resume shortly. As I checked my inbox for the first time in a week, I found a message from Bleak House Books about their holiday promotion, which involves giving away books. That's right. Get a free book. All you pay is shipping and handling. It's difficult to beat that kind of deal. Bleak House has a ton of great titles to choose one, so don't miss out on this deal.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Review of The Spoke

Bitter Lemon Press performs an invaluable service by making foreign language crime fiction available in English. They’ve opened the door for many worthy authors whose work would otherwise be unknown to a large audience of crime fiction readers. Bitter Lemon’s most fascinating find, by far, is Swiss author Friedrich Glauser, author of the Sergeant Studer novels.

Glauser, who wrote in German, was a junkie, a jail inmate, member of the foreign legion and a mental patient. He started writing novels in an asylum and was a prolific letter writer. Unfortunately, there is very little biographical information about him in English, which makes him something of an enigma. His novels, including the latest to be translated by Mike Mitchell, The Spoke (Bitter Lemon Press, 2008), are conventional detective stories up until the point that they’re not. Studer, who is laconic and rational, also depends on dreams to guide him and sees nothing strange about it. It is also true that it is seldom the dead who are the real victims.

As with The Chinaman, the real victims in The Spoke are the living. The novel finds the marriage of Studer’s daughter interrupted by the discovery of a murder at the hotel where the wedding party is staying. Complicating matters is the fact that Studer’s first love is married to the hotel’s consumptive owner. What at first appears to be an open-and-shut case of murder over a woman turns into something more complicated when Studer starts questioning the shady characters hanging around the hotel. Studer’s patient interrogations and his innate skepticism get him ever closer to the truth, and when he finally arrives the crimes surrounding the murders loom larger than the deaths.

Glauser is not to be missed. The Spoke is the final novel in his Sergeant Studer series, and also the last to be translated into English. Start with Thumbprint, the first in the series and go from there. Glauser is an author worth getting to know.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Review of Fifty-to-One

To commemorate the publication of the fiftieth Hard Case Crime title, publisher Charles Ardai has penned a comic what-if novel set fifty years ago about a not-too-ethical paperback pubisher who stirs up some trouble when he publishes a supposedly true account of the robbery of a mafia owned nightclub that was actually penned by a young dancer from South Dakota. Hijinks ensue when it turns out there really was a robbery at the club in question, and the owner is out for blood. To make the novel a bit more fun, Ardai has used the titles of each of Hard Case's fifty titles in chronological order as chapter titles. The result is an entertaining, if overly long, caper. Ardai does a pretty good job in working the book titles into the story, although there are some groaners (the Zero Cool chapter, for instance).

Fifty-to-One is not as good as the novels Ardai has published under his Aleas pseudonym, but it's not meant to be a masterpiece. It's meant to be a love letter to the golden age of paperback novels and a thank you note to the loyal fans of his publishing venture. With cameo appearances by some writers Hard Case aficianados will appreciate, joyful deployment of genre cliches and a color insert of Hard Case covers, this is a book for people who have shelves crammed with paperbacks old and new.


I am officially on vacation until sometime around the middle of December. That means a vacation from the blog too. I've got a couple of reviews set to auto post, but I'm gonna be somewhere else thinking about other things for a while. I will return, however.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wednesday Papberback Cover

I wonder how much he spends on hair gel each month.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

An Interview with James Reasoner

Over at The Tainted Archive, there's an interview with James Reasoner. It's primarily about his Westerns, and the format of the layout can make it hard to read at times, but it's still worth reading. (via).

Wednesday Paperback Cover

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pulp on the Web

PBS has an interesting article about Sci-fi pulp magazines and how they're adapting (or failing to adapt) to the Web. It doesn't focus on crime or mystery fiction, but it does point out that Dell, which publishes Asmiov's and Analog Science Fiction also publishes Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines, and I think that they're pretty much in the same boat in terms of declining circulation and failing to attract new readers (I mean, how many people even know who the hell Ellery Queen was any more? Alfred Hitchock at least has some name recognition.) I know I tend to think of Plots with Guns or Thuglit as the places to go to read new crime short stories. I might pick up a copy of AHMM or EQMM if I happen to see them on a shelf (which isn't often), but it's hardly must read material.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Review of Chasing Smoke

Bill Cameron's Chasing Smoke (Bleak House, 2008), the follow up to his debut, Lost Dog, isn't a proper sequel to that book. It shifts the focus to Portland detective Skin Kadish, who played a supporting role in the previous book. Wracked by bladder cancer, Kadish is on leave and not looking to get involved in any investigations, so he is less than thrilled when his partner has him picked up and brought to the scene of an apparent suicide so she can get his thoughts. Kadish isn't interesed until he learns that the dead man's death is one of many, all apparent suicides, by cancer patients who happen to share the same doctor, who also happens to be Kadish's own oncologist.

Despite the fact that he might be dying, Kadish can't let go of the case once he starts thinking about it. Without any official police support, Kadish launches his own investigation, without being sure a crime has been committed, risking his job and his relationship with his partner to find the truth.

Cameron has crafted a solid mystery novel, and he does a good job of keeping the reader guessing as to exactly what is happening. Kadish is an appealing character who straddles the line between hardass detective and victim of human frailty, and the conclusion and fallout are satisfying. Overall, Chasing Smoke is an entertaining, well plotted mystery well worth checking out.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Twist of Noir

There's a new short fiction blog to check out. Christopher Grant has launched A Twist of Noir, which is taking submissions for crime fiction stories up to 3,000 words. There are only a couple of stories up right now, but I'm sure the number will grow as word gets out.

From the submission guidelines:

What I'm looking for are well-written, engaging and interesting crime and noir stories.

I will accept flash and short stories only; no novel-length tomes, please.

I will accept both unpublished and reprinted work. If it's a reprint, please let me know and, if possible, indicate where it was originally published.

Flash fiction up to 1000 words.

Short stories up to 3000 words.

And, of course, you retain all rights to your work.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wednesday Paperback Cover

What does this title mean? Seriously. Someone tell me.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Amphetamine Logic at Crimewav

I know you've been dying to hear the sound of my voice. Well, your prayers have been answered. You can hear me reading my short story "Amphetamine Logic" at A big thanks to Seth Harwood, for 1) asking me to read it and 2) taking the time and effor to put it up. And no, that's not my pipe in the picture. Must be Seth's.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Altman's The Long Goodbye

I finally watched Robert Altman's 1973 version of The Long Goodbye, a film that tends to inspire intense feelings on the part of fans of Raymond Chandler. I can see how a movie buff would enjoy it. It's a well done film. I can see how a casual fan of detective movies would enjoy it. It retains enough of Chandler's novel to be interesting. However, I can't see how anyone who has ever read the book could like it.

The Long Goodbye is Chandler's moment in the sun. It's his greatest work. Sure, he's best known for The Big Sleep, but it cannot compare to The Long Goodbye. The Big Sleep is a great detective novel. The Long Goodbye is a great novel. It's Chandler's comment on a broken world full of disappointment dressed up as a whodunit.

Altman's adaptation captures none of the emotional resonance of the novel. It dispenses entirely with the relationship between Terry Lenox and Marlowe. Their friendship is the novel's driving force, and the movie puts them on screen together once at the beginning and once at the end. Elliot Gould as Marlowe is left trying to convince us of the depth of the relationship on his own. He fails. His protestations that Lenox was his friend ring hollow.

This hollowness affects the rest of the movie. With no background, Marlowe's quest to clear Lenox's name seems unbelivable, and when the final confrontation comes it has no resonance. Not only does the movie's climactic scene have no emotional resonance, it takes the easy way out, tacking a Mickey Spillane ending onto a Chandler story. The ending of Chandler's novel is a great moment. When Marlowe finally tracks Lenox down and confronts him it's all done with words, but Marlowe manages to eviscerate his former friend regardless, and the reader can feel the detective's heartbreak and Lenox's desperation. Altman managed to turn Marlowe into a cold blooded killer. It's disgusting. Chandler's detective was a lot of things, but he was never a murderer. It's a cheap, shitty Hollywood ending, and it deserves nothing but scorn.

There was a documentary that came with the DVD version of the film. In it, Altman says that he was worried when people started complaining that his film "wasn't Chandler," but quit worrying when he realized those people "really meant it wasn't Humphrey Bogart." Altman was wrong. People weren't complaining that it wasn't Bogart. They were complaining it wasn't Chandler, and they were right. It's not Chandler. It's not even close.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Gangster Squad

Here's something for the James Ellroy fans. An interactive video and slideshow gallery from the LA Times documenting the LAPD's post WWII Gangster Squad, a unit formed to combat organized crime in the city.

Say goodbye to your afternoon. (

Did you know that Max Baer Jr. (Jethro from the Beverly Hillbillies) used to hang out with Mickey Cohen? You do now. Who the hell knows what Ellie Mae got up to?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Review of Gun Work

The latest offering from Hard Case Crime, Gun Work, by David J Schow, a writer probably best known for his film adaptation of Jim O'Barr's The Crow, is a brutal, carefully constructed, relentlessly grim, and very satisfying tale of revenge. It's got hard men, dangerous women, a sordid setting, luchadors, and enough gun porn to make Wayne LaPierre a happy, happy man. It's as if Schow has tapped into some dark, testosterone filled vein in the male psyche and directly translated it onto the page. Did I mention the luchadors?

Gun Work starts simply enough. Barney, a fomer soldier, current firing range employee and general badass gets a call from Carl Ledbetter, a man who saved his life in Iraq. It seems Carl's wife has been kidnapped in Mexico, and Carl needs Barney's help to get her back. Barney goes because he feels obligated and because he likes being the go-to-guy in these situations. He's a hard case who needs no one and has no real commitments. Barney waltzes into the situation with a pretty cocky attitude, and things soon take a wrong turn, and his mission goes from one of recovery to one of revenge.

Along the way Barney is exposed to both the very worst and best that the human race has to offer, and Schow's novel is, like all good works of art, more than it seems on the surface. Schow delivers the goods in terms of action, but Gun Work also asks questions about how good and evil can exist side by side, growing out of the same soil, and it makes a strong statement about the necessity of learning to accept kindness with gratitude and repay it with friendship. Of course it also points out that it also helps to be a good shot.

Schow has written several other novels that are all out of print. If they are half as entertaining as Gun Work, their unavailability is a real shame.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Review of An Ice Cold Paradise



Lives in a tropical climate?


Lucky at gambling?


Unorthodox living arrangement?


Makes a living helping others, but isn't really a private detective?


Travis McGee, right?


Debut author Terry Holland is obviously quite familiar with the work of John D. MacDonald. There are worse influences to have as an author. But the main weakness of his debut, An Ice Cold Paradise (Point Blank, 2008), is that he's a little too familiar with MacDonald, and he might have cribbed a little too much. Holland's hero, Terry Pines, is an ex-con, and ex Army Ranger who lives in Honolulu where he owns an apartment building which he bought with proceeds he won playing the ponies. He rents the apartments to an eclectic cast of characters and runs a sideline where he specializes in being a badass for hire.

An Ice Cold Paradise finds Pines searching for his ex-cellmate's missing son, a G.I. stationed in Hawaii. Pines takes the case from the missing man's beautiful aunt, and the two of them are soon up to their necks in murder, gambling, arms running stolen jewels and Mormon fundamentalism. It's a lot, maybe a little too much, but Holland manages to fit it all together, even if he does also borrow MacDonald's tendency to indulge in dialogue and philosophy, which slows the story down in spots. Still, it never stalls out completely, and the action picks up in the final act, when it counts the most.

Holland's debut is, for all its faults, still solid. He's got something here. The reason why MacDonald wrote so many Travis McGee novels is because they appealed to readers. Here's hoping he can bring Pines out from under the shadow of his influences and find a way to make him his own man.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Demolition's Dead

No sooner does editor Bryon Quertermous publish an issue of Demolition with a story I wrote, then he announces he's pulling the plug on the whole endeavor. If you're keeping score, that's Demoliton and Hard Luck Stories that have folded this year.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wednesday Paperback Cover

Evolution has gone wild! Someone call Kick-Ass Science Fiction Jesus to save us!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Summer Issue of Demolition

The long delayed summer issue of Demolition is out. It features my heartwarming story of family reconciliation Goodbye Baby. I expect someone from The Hallmark Channel will be calling shortly.

You can also read stories by Christa Miller, Kieran Shea and Doug Perry.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Download An Ice Cold Paradise

Debut author Terry Holland's book An Ice Cold Paradise is out in print from Point Blank Press this month. It's also available as a free PDF on the author's Web site. It's the first of a planned series, in the Travis McGee mold, featuring veteran and ex-con Harry Pines. I'm reading it now, and a review should be forthcoming, but you can check it out for yourself. There's also an excerpt from the as-yet unpublished second novel in the series.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Joe Gores on the Maltese Falcon

Every once in a while Youtube is good for something. The video above links to the first part of a long discussion between authors Joe Gores and Mark Coggins on Hammett and the Maltese Falcon. It runs through six parts, and its made me late for work, so I thought I'd share.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Wednesday Paperback Cover

Remember, just because you're handicapped doesn't mean you can't be the emperor of lust in a temple of sin.

(Thanks to Seth Harwood who sent this image from the paperback collection of Berkeley resident and book publicity guru Peter Handel.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Busted Flush Press Gets A Blog

David Thompson, owner of Busted Flush Press, has started a blog. There's only one entry at the moment, but I'm sure that will change soon.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Review of The First Quarry

Max Allan Collins' work runs the gamut from unreadable through indifferent all the way to quite good. It's hard to put a finger on why exactly his work varies in quality so much, but it does, especially when he tries too hard to imitate his idol, Mickey Spillane. Collins' last Hard Case offering, Deadly Beloved, was a Spillane imitation that fell flat. His latest offering, The First Quarry, however, is a strong outing for one of Collins' best characters.

As the title implies, The First Quarry is the story of the eponymous blue collar hitman's first job. The story picks up with Quarry waiting in an empty house across the street from his first target, a philandering creative writing professor. The story goes back and forth between the past and present to explain how Quarry came to work in his chosen field. Of course, what should be a simple job turns out to be more complicated than Quarry could ever imagine. Before it's all over Quarry will have crossed paths with a private detective, two organized crime syndicates, and a scorned wife.

Collins keeps the book moving with masterful pacing, and he also keeps it short. There's not anything in the story that doesn't need to be there, and the book can be read in a couple of hours, making it a perfect way to kill an afternoon. A solid entertainment.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wednesday Paperback Cover

It doesn't really have the same ring as Three Men and A Baby.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Your Failed Bailout Theme Song

Does it get any more appropriate than this? It's been playing in my head for the past week or so every time the news comes on. Obvious, I know, but still.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Review of Tattoo

Pepe Carvahlo is a detective, but he is just as much a sensualist. He thinks just as much about food and women as he does a case. He is capable of great cruelty, but he is not the jealous type-his girlfriend, with whom he has an open relationship is a prostitute. He walks the streets of Barcelona in search of the truth, a good meal and sex, although not necessarily in that order.

In Tattoo (Serpent’s Tail, 2008), Manuel Vasquez Montalbon has his private detective searching for the identity of a man who washes up on the beach whose only identifying mark is a tattoo reading, “Born to Raise Hell in Hell.” Carvahlo is hired for this task by the owner of a hair salon, and he quickly finds himself on his way to Amsterdam in pursuit of the dead man’s name.

To say the plot of Tattoo, which appeared in Spanish in 1976, and has been translated into English for the first time by Nick Caistor, is slight is an understatement. It won’t take anyone very long to figure out what is happening. The attraction of the book isn’t the plot, but the character. Carvahlo is the type of guy who can get beaten and thrown in the canal in Amsterdam and still want to hit the city’s red light district. He’s irrepressible and yet committed to finding the truth about a dead man he never knew. It’s the author’s juxtaposition of animal desires with moral complexity that makes Carvahlo worth getting to know.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wednesday Paperback Cover

Was there a sale on this outfit at Macy's or something?

Barney Rosset and Grove Press in the NYT

The New York Times has an article on Grove Press publisher Barney Rosset. Grove Press is famous for publishing William S. Burroughs and Henry Miller (on a side note, I loathe Mr. Miller's work). He also took heat for publishing Lady Chatterly's Lover. Whatever you think of Miller or Burroughs or D.H. Lawrence, their work is definitely not pornography and you've got to admire Rosset's willingness to fight for the right to free expression. As a bonus reason to check out the article, let me just say that it's not every day you see the phrase "Victorian spanking porn" in the Old Gray Lady. It should be, though. It would probably help circulation.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Yet More Stark

While I've been distracted Bruce Grossman weighed in on the new Richard Stark reprints (no prizes for guessing what he thinks), and Time Out Chicago ran a little piece on Parker's latest comeback. (The latter link via).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wednesday Paperback Cover

I found this one at a used bookstore this weekend.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Review of The Fourth Victim

Reed Farrell Coleman’s latest effort, The Fourth Victim, (Bleak House, 2008) published under his pseudonym Tony Spinosa, is an excellent novel and a good example of why Coleman may always be a cult figure, relegated to an artistic life of critical acclaim without commercial success.

The Fourth Victim picks up with his odd couple of Joe Serpe and Bob Healy, former NYPD detectives, investigating the murder and robbery of another former cop, who also happens to share a second career in home heating oil delivery with the two protagonists. The dead cop, named Rusty Monaco, happens to be the fourth victim in a string of robbery/murders of oil delivery men, and he also saved Serpe’s life once on the job. Serpe feels honor bound to look into the death and Healy feels honor bound to help Serpe.

Serpe and Healy have a strained relationship because Healy was the internal affairs investigator responsible for ending Serpe’s career. Serpe was a hot shot rule bending narc, while Healy was a law and order watcher of the watchmen. Reunited by chance years later, the two men teamed up to solve a murder in Hose Monkey, the first Tony Spinosa novel, and in the second book they are business partners and friends, although it is an uneasy friendship. Coleman’s starting point is a conventional one. Odd couplings are the stuff of Hollywood thrillers. Ask Mel Gibson and Danny Glover or Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy. Two people with different personalities come together. After some friction the two quit bickering long enough to fight a bad guy and learn something about themselves and each other in the process. It's trite, but Coleman, if he followed this well worn path, could have a bestselling series on his hands. He's a talented writer and his plots will stand up with the best of them.

Coleman rejects the easy route, however. While The Fourth Victim is firmly rooted in the tropes of the crime genre, Coleman refuses to give into the genre’s worst tendencies, which include glorifying violence and pat solutions to complex problems. In Coleman’s world murder begets murder and even good men end up being party to bad acts in the pursuit of justice. No one gets away clean, and redemption comes in small measures. Serpe and Healy do find out who killed their fellow cop, but there is no bullet filled climax. There are no witty one liners. There is no sneering bad guy who stops a well deserved slug with his face. There is no grand criminal conspiracy. There is just another body to be buried.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Review of Small Crimes

In 1952, Jim Thompson published The Killer Inside Me, a novel about Lou Ford, a small town sheriff who, while maintaining a personable, if somewhat dim fa├žade, hides the heart of a psychopath. It has earned its place among the classics. Thompson revisited the same situation in Pop. 1,280, with small town Sheriff Nick Corey bearing a strong resemblance in character to Ford. Thompson so defined this little subgenre that in order to avoid being anything but a pale imitation of the original any author who wants to approach it had better have a good twist.

Dave Zeltserman’s Small Crimes (Serpent's Tail, 2008) succeeds in paying homage to Thompson’s work without lapsing into imitation because his dirty cop, Joe Denton, is only fooling himself. Everyone else in the tiny Vermont town where he lives has him all figured out. How could they not? As the story begins Denton is getting out of jail after serving seven years for disfiguring the local district attorney with a letter opener. He walks out the door determined to turn over a new leaf, but no one wants to make it easy for him. The DA, understandably, has a grudge and is trying to get the dying local crime lord to make a deathbed confession that will put Denton in prison forever. The local sheriff wants Denton to take care of either the DA or the crime boss, to avoid the nasty repercussions a confession could bring, and Denton’s own parents are determined to keep him from seeing his two daughters.

Zeltserman makes good use of the first person point of view, constantly challenging the reader to use external cues to try and figure out the extent of Denton’s self deception. It keeps the story interesting. He also keeps the story moving, and it never stops to let the reader catch his breath. As the tension and body count grow, Small Crimes goes from being entertaining to disturbing. Zeltserman gradually lets the reader in on Denton’s secrets, and he goes from being sympathetic to being outright scary. It’s a story that will get under your skin and stay with you long after it ends. Thomspon would be proud.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wednesday Paperback Cover

I can't believe you forgot to pick up the milk!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

There's Something About Parker

If you follow this blog, you know that Donald Westlake's best known creation, professional thief Parker, has been on my mind of late. In the last two weeks I've read the first three Parker novels' The Hunter, The Man with the Getaway Face and The Outfit, and I've also watched the director's cut of Payback, director and screenwriter Brian Helgeland's adaptation of The Hunter featuring Mel Gibson.

Helgeland's film is much different than the film that made it to the screen. It has a third act that follows Westlake's book much more closely and the overall tone of the film is much more in keeping with Westlake's vision of Parker. The theatrical version of Payback made Porter (the Parker character) accessible via a wisecracking voiceover (voiceovers are almost always a bad sign in a movie) and provided a happy ending. I liked the theatrical version well enough, but the director's cut was much better. With the voiceover gone, Gibson's character was much more self-contained and mysterious. The DVD had a documentary about the making of the film, and how the suits and Gibson (who was a producer) had second thoughts about the level of violence, ambiguous ending and the very nature of the character. The director's cut Porter hits his ex-wife and shoots people in cold blood. He's not a psycho, but he's not exactly a thief with a heart of gold either.

Now, it's not surprising that the movie version of Westlake's hard ass character would be watered down. That's what Hollywood does. They need to reach as many people as possible to make as much money as possible. The result of trying to please everybody is usually an inferior product, and I think you can make that argument with Payback, but, on the other hand, there is a validity to the concerns of the suits in this case. Parker is unlike most fictional characters in that he has no redeeming qualities. He is not nice to dogs and children. He does not have any interesting hobbies. He does not give the money he steals to the poor. He has no friends, just associates, and he'll kill them the minute he thinks they might trip him up, and he's not tortured or tormented either. The people he kills and the violent acts he commits never cause him to lose a moment of sleep.

Westlake intended for Parker to get caught at the end of The Hunter, figuring the guy was just too mean for more than one novel, but the editor at Crest, the outfit that bought the book, wanted a series based on the character, so Westlake obliged. So, what is it about Parker, who has now traipsed through around twenty novels, that appeals to people? Is it Parker's complete amorality? Is it his professionalism? Is it his lack of emotion? For me, I think it's his tenacity. In the opening page of The Hunter Parker is walking across the George Washington Bridge. He is broke. A guy offers him a ride and Parker's response is to tell him to go to hell. He then proceeds to go into the city and steal enough money to begin his campaign of revenge. I think that's why I root for him. He's always coming from nothing and pulling himself up out of the gutter. Every time he thinks he's got a problem solved another one comes up and he's got to start all over again. It never gets him down and he never gives up, and that's a good quality to have even if you are a thief.

Wednesday Paperback Cover

Isn't Balsamo a type of vinegar?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Books: Dogs of God

Pinckney Benedict is not a prolific author. He's published a couple collections of short stories, but only one novel. Dogs of God, published in 1994, is a backwoods apocalypse. Set in the mountains of West Virginia, it revolves around two main characters: Tannhauser, a 12-fingered drug lord who imports illegal immigrants to use as slave labor on his marijuana plantation and Goody, a bare-knuckle brawler who makes his living fighting in honky-tonks. There is a large cast of supporting characters, including corrupt lawmen, a hermit and drug smugglers. For much of the novel, the characters go about their brutal business, but their paths gradually converge, and when they do the result is a conflagration so great that those lucky enough to survive come out scarred beyond recognition.

Benedict, a native West Virginian, uses his Appalachian setting to the fullest, and his depiction of men (and it is a book about men, not women) forging a hellish new society in a lawless wilderness gives us a view of human nature as bleak as that in Conrad's
Heart of Darkness or Golding's Lord of the Flies. Men in their natural state, are little different from the insanely destructive wild hogs that populate the woods around them. They have the same animal urges, for sex, for blood, and they act on them without thought or consequence. Even Goody, the moral center of the book, is a fighter. He works beating men bloody in bars for cash. The only difference between Goody and the murderous drug runners is that his fights have rules, nebulous as they may be.

The book's climax is an apocalypse, in the true sense of the word, a "lifting of the veil," for Goody, who, after killing one of Tannhauser's lieutenants in a prearranged bar fight, end up on the plantation just as the shit hits the fan. He ends up, well, I won't spoil it for you, but suffice to say he emerges from the experience with a terrible revelation on his lips. Dogs of God is steeped in rural culture and old time religion, and Benedict's characters are the type of creations Flannery O'Connor would have dreamed up had she ended up with a Y chromosone instead of two X's.

(Thanks to Patti Abbot for the invitation to contribute)

Thursday, August 21, 2008


You already know about Fifty-to-One, the fiftieth book in the Hard Case Crime series, but Bookgasm is reporting that there's going to be a special leather bound edition of only 5o copies, each one autographed by multiple Hard Case authors. It'll only cost $750. Who's going to volunteer to buy one for me?

Bleak House Publisher Ben LeRoy and author Nathan Singer (In the Light of You) have put their heads together to come up with the 32 most Rock and Roll Rock and Roll songs.

Over at Behind the Black Mask Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards interview George Pelecanos.

Continuing my fascination with all things Parker, I present to you an interview with Donald Westlake from the University of Chicago Press Web site.

And to bring it back to rock and roll, the two best bands in the country will be touring together this fall.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wednesday Paperback Cover

Have you checked under the couch cushions?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mystery versus Crime Fiction

Crime fiction is a pretty broad label that can encompass anything from Sherlock Holmes to Lolita. It is, like most labels, artificial. It's also useful. Labels generally are. If you went to the bookstore and the romance and the crime fiction were shelved together with chick lit then browsing at the bookstore would be a less enjoyable experience because everyone would have to wade through ten things they have no interest in to find one thing they might want to look at. Having handy categories is a must, even if the lines can blur at times.

Still, there are some labels that have a pretty clear meaning. Take "mystery" for example. While there are different types of mysteries, it is pretty easy to find the common thread in books as different as The Orient Express and The Maltese Falcon. There are questions to be answered. The author uses unanswered questions to keep the reader in suspense. The term mystery is often abused, though. Many bookstores will label their crime fiction section mystery, even though mystery fiction is a subset of crime fiction. Sometimes it creeps onto book covers as well.

The recent reprints of Donald Westlake's Parker novels from the University of Chicago are labeled mystery on the back cover. Now the label is undoubtedly intended to help let those stocking shelves know where to put them, but it's not an accurate label for the books. While the Parker novels are crime fiction, there is no mystery element to them. There is never a whodunit element in the books because the reader knows Parker's doing it. The suspense comes from finding out how he's going to pull off the crimes he commits.

Now, I'm not picking on U of C, here. The books are very nice, and I'm reading these old Parker novels for the first time now that they are back in print, and I'm enjoying them quite a bit. It does bother me a little, however, seeing mystery used as shorthand for crime fiction because mystery has a certain meaning, and it promises a reader a certain experience. If you start labeling everything on the shelf a mystery the meaning of the word is eroded. Of course I'm a sticker for precision in language, and I could be the only person in the world who this bothers.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

More on Hunt for Adventure

So Charles Ardai has gotten around to releasing some more information about the forthcoming Hunt For Adventure series. The excerpt below comes from the latest Hard Case newsletter. I'm thrilled to see James Reasoner on the list, although I think his output is somewhere north of two dozen books.

One last tidbit, and then I'll let you get back to your regularly scheduled summertime activities: Our pulp adventure series, THE ADVENTURES OF GABRIEL HUNT (,

continues to rev up, and I'm pleased to announce that the authors contributing books to the series will include Hard Case Crime veterans Christa Faust (MONEY SHOT) and David J. Schow (GUN WORK) as well as James Reasoner (author of the cult classic TEXAS WIND and two dozen other books) and Nicholas Kaufmann (Stoker Award nominee for GENERAL SLOCUM'S GOLD). And me, of course. How could I miss the chance to write of these myself?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wednesday Paperback Cover

As usual in a Reginald Heade cover, gravity doesn't affect clothing.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Welcome to the Jungle. We have some very nice lofts.

What happens to noir when the cities are all full of townhomes and loft apartments populated by nice, educated families with long-term employment and a hefty mortgage? Will people be able to identify with Hammett's San Francisco, Chandler's Los Angeles or Spillane's New York? Will they look at the tenements and narrow alleys in noir films, and ask themselves, where is that?

There's no denying that major American cities are
undergoing a change and have been for a while. As people move back into the cities and developers race to tear down everything that's not bright, shiny and brand new in the mad scramble to accommodate them what is lost? Character? Charm? Affordable housing for all the people who cater to the whims of the new, wealthy residents? What is gained? Lower crime rates? Higher property values? More tax revenue? Gushing write-ups in glossy magazines?

In Los Angeles, mystery writers and tenant groups have both recognized what they have to lose through gentrification, and I have to say I have sympathy since I live in a 60's era apartment complex in Atlanta that's scheduled, at some indefinite point in the future, for demolition and replacement with a billion dollar mixed use (whatever the fuck that means) development. My apartment complex isn't crime ridden. It isn't shabby by any reasonable definition of the word, and it is affordable, which is why I like it. I don't go in for fancy. Granite countertops mean nothing to me. (I sometimes think I'm the only white person in America with a college education who doesn't take a masochistic pleasure in paying too much for housing.)

Still, it's not as simple as tenants good, developers bad, although there is a stunning amount of corruption that always comes along with any big money development. New is sometimes better. There's very little that stays constant in cities or anywhere else. And I wouldn't worry too much about the urban jungle disappearing from our popular imagination anytime soon. In the end, the noir city is just a backdrop. It doesn't make or break noir or detective fiction, which isn't about anything as mutable as a city. It's about the darkness in the human heart, which is something that all of us carry with us always, whether our homes have granite countertops or not.

(This post was, in part, inspired by this one.)


It's Friday, and I've got a bottle of beer in hand and a list of links I've been meaning to post here, so I'm gonna get down to business.

There's an interview with Jason Starr over at Bookgasm, where, among other things, he reveals that there's a movie version of Bust in the works. I think Bust could be worked into an R-rated flick, however, don't hold out much hope for a movie adaptation of Slide. NC-17 films are commercial suicide. The final book in the Bust trilogy, The Max is coming out in September.

There's a new independent publisher on the block. Rudos and Rubes Press. I have not yet had the chance to check out their offerings, but Bookgasm likes one of their launch titles, Devil Born Without Horns by Michael Lucas. The cover's no great shakes, but you know what they say about judging books.

Bleak House author Mark Coggins, inspired by Dell Mapbacks, has created a Google Map of the locations of the crimes in his latest novel, Runoff.

And it's been a while since there's been an honest to goodness book porn link, and I don't think I've featured this site before even though I've known about it for a while.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Monday, August 4, 2008

Late to the Party

So, I finally got around to visiting Seth Harwood's latest project Crimewav, which now features five podcasted stories from various authors including Jason Starr, Gary Phillips, Christa Faust and Vicki Hendricks, who is twisted. Her story "Must Bite" is, uh, freaky. (Part 1, Part 2). You might not want to listen to it if you have a problem with chimp on human action. And if you don't have a problem with that sort of thing, I don;t want to know, so keep it to yourself.

Being able to hear authors read there own work while lying on your bed make's this the lazy man's way to engage with short stories, so if you are wiped out after a long day, as I often am, you can just click your mouse listen. Pretty convenient.