Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday's Forgotten Books, June 23, 2017

Todd will be taking the helm next week as we travel to Stratford to see GUYS AND DOLLS, H.M.S. PINAFORE and THE BACCHAE. Thanks, Todd

Andrew Nette is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, reviewer and pulp scholar.
He is the author of two novels, Ghost Money, a crime story set in Cambodia in the mid-nineties, and Gunshine State.
He is co-editor of Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980, which will be released by PM Press in late 2017.

The Song Is You
, Megan Abbott
The Song is You is only the second Megan Abbott book I’ve read, but it’s cemented her place in the select group of authors whose work I recommend to friends with undisguised envy about what awaits them.
Hell, can Abbott write and her take on post-Second World War Hollywood is distinctive and razor sharp.
The Song Is You focuses on Gil ‘Hop’ Hopkins, a studio publicity man/fixer/pimp whose beat is “the world of trouble between mid-night and seven am”. Whether it’s rescuing starlets from opium dens and rough trade or procuring quickie abortions for leading men and studio heads who want to maintain their happily married public personas, it’s just a job for Hopkins.
He does what he’s told and doesn’t ask questions until he gets involved in the disappearance of starlet Jean Spangler, two years missing with no clues other than a mysterious note and a swirl of rumours. They shared a moment, if you can call it that, the night before Jean disappeared. A group of them had been drinking hard and they ended up in a seedy harbour side bar, where Hop left Jean in the company of a couple of big name studio crooners with a reputation for playing very rough.
Girls like Jean, drawn to Tinseltown from dust bowl towns across America with stars in the eyes and hopes of making it big, are a dime a dozen in Hop’s world. He’d hardly given her a second thought until a friend of Jean’s makes contact, accusing him of being one of the people responsible for her disappearance.
Soon, fueled by guilt and the need to protect his own arse he’s investigating every last detail about the night in question.
There’s a hard-bitten female journalist who is also looking into Jean’s disappearance, plenty of mob connections and a whiff that Jean may have been involved in her own illegal scam. There’s also plenty of sex. It positively oozes from the pores of the story, amid the mood lighting, calypso music, tiki torches and martinis.
The parallels between The Song Is You and Ellroy’s Black Dahlia are obvious, their noir sensibility, the era they are set in, their mix of fact and fiction, right down to their raven-haired party-girl victims. But there’s something about Abbott’s book that sets it apart.
I think big part of it is her less is more style. This allows her to hint at horrendous events, introduce the sleaziest characters and take us to the very worst places, without collapsing into clichΓ©. She’s also a master of allowing class, sex and social observation to collide in a way that does take away from the precision of her plot and characters.

Sergio Angelini, THE BURNING COURT, John Dickson Carr
Mark Baker, FORCE OF HABIT, Alice Loweecy
Yvette Banek, WAY STATION, Clifford D. Simak
Les Blatt,A SCREAM IN SOHO, John G. Brandon
Bill Crider, LOST HORIZONS, James Hilton 
Scott Cupp, The Continental Op: The Complete Case Files by Dashiell Hammett, 1923 – 1930, Edited by Richard Laymon and Julie M. Rivett 
Martin Edwards, THE CASE OF THE GILDED FLY, Edmund Crispin 
Curt Evans, BOMBAY MAIL, Lawrence Blochman
Richard Horton, CASTLE GARAC, Nicholas Monsarrat
Jerry House, Two by Edgar Rice Burroughs
George Kelley, WAR AND PEACE, Leo Tolstoy
Margot Kinberg, FALLING ANGEL, William Hjortsberg
B.V. Lawson, THE GRAND BABYLON HOTEL, Arnold Bennett
Evan Lewis, POPEYE, E.C. Segar
Todd Mason, THE DUTTON REVIEW, ed. Jerome Charyn et al
Matt Paust, GOD'S RED GIFT, Louis S. Warren
Gerard Saylor, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, Neil Gaiman
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, DARK PASSAGE, David Goodis
TomCat, DEATH INVITES YOU, Paul Halter

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Watched BECOMING CARY GRANT last night (Showtime) It  was more poignant than jolly and only told the story from the vantage point of his unpublished memoirs.. I have to wonder if there is any film clip more often shown than the one from NORTH BY NORTHWEST where he flees from a murderous crop duster.Can you think of one?Also what is your favorite Cary Grant movie? Nearly impossible to choose just one.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tuesday's Forgotten Movies: THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST (1988)

This was one of my favorite Anne Tyler novels and the movie is faithful to the book. William Hurt nails his role. And Geena Davis does too. Like so many of Tyler's characters these are uniformly eccentric yet lovable people. And the Baltimore setting works (hope it isn't Toronto again) .
When a travel writer loses his wife (neither can recover from the death of a child), he moves back in with his siblings and finds a dog whisperer to help him with his dog and eventually with his life. A nice little movie. Kathleen Turner is in it too little though. This was directed by Lawrence Kasdan who also directed Hurt in THE BIG CHILL.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Things That Make Me Happy

Spending Father's Day with Phil, Josh and Kevin (as well as Julie, Kevin's mom). A nice day indeed.

I expect I will have more to be happy about next week. This week sort of ran over me with doctor and dentist appts. A movie I expected to like but really didn.t. Books I expected to like but didn't.

Hope you had more to be happy about than I did.

Most of my satisfaction came from TV shows. MASTER OF SEX, BETTER CALL SAUL and I LOVE DICK. It took me the entire series to get to a good place with I LOVE DICK. But GRANTCHESTER and THE TUNNEL are back tonight. So maybe next week is going to be euphoric.

REMINDER: HEIST NOVELS FOR FFB on July 14. Let me know if you think you are too busy to be doing this.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday's Forgotten Books, June 16, 2017

LEVINE, by Donald Westlake (reviewed by Dana King, archives)

Donald Westlake is best known for humorous crime fiction under his own name, and for the dark Parker stories published under the Richard Stark pseudonym. Levine, a 1984 collection of short stories originally published in mystery magazines between 1959 and 1984, is something else entirely.

Abe Levine is a detective in New York's 43rd Precinct. A gentle man, Levine is morbidly aware of his entry into what were then referred to as "the heart attack years." A common thread through all the stories is the frequency with which Levine's heart skips a beat, and how conscious this makes him of the fragility of life. His distaste for artificially hastened death, and his almost humanitarian desire to see those responsible brought to justice, must always be weighed against the effects of his efforts on his own deteriorating heart.

Few literary cops combine Levine's gentle and fragile nature with his passion for justice. The introduction to the collection contains Westlake's explanation for Levine's creation: "It has become the convention that policemen, professional detectives, are 'hardened' to death, 'immune' to life untimely nipped…It was the idea of a cop, a police detective, who was so intensely aware of his own inevitable death that he wound up hating people who took the idea of death frivolously that led me to Abe Levine."

LEVINE is, unfortunately, out of print, so the public library or a used bookstore will be required. While Abe Levine stands apart from Westlake's better known characters, the careful plotting and mastery of craft present in all of his work is not lacking. Anyone looking for something different from a familiar hand could hardly do better than to hunt up a copy of LEVI

Sergio Angelini, FAT OLLIE'S BOOK, Ed McBain
Mark Baker, BLOOD WORK, Michael Connelly
Yvette Banek, A BLUNT INSTRUMENT, Georgette Heyer
Joe Barone, BLOOD HOLLOW, William Kent Kruger
Les Blatt, THE RELIGIOUS BODY, Catherine Aird
Bill Crider, THE CRITIC'S CHOICE: THE BEST OF CRIME AND DETECTIVE TV, Max Allan Collins and Allan Javna
Scott Cupp, THE DEEP BLUE GOODBYE, John D. MacDonald
Martin Edwards, THE LYTTLETON CASE, R.A.V. Morris
Curt Evans,  Kindertotenlieder: A Question of Inheritance  and Easy Prey  by Josephine Bell
Richard Horton,  Space Captain by Murray Leinster/The Mad Metropolib by Philip E. High
Jerry House, TOM SWIFT AND HIS BIG TUNNEL, Howard. R..Garris
George Kelley, THE STAR TREK READER, James Blish
Margot Kinberg, RED INK, Angela Makholwa
Evan Lewis,  BIG RED'S DAUGHTER and TOKYO DOLL, John McPartland
Steve Lewis, DREAMING OF BABYLON, Richard Brautigan
Todd Mason, ALIEN CARGO, Theodore Sturgeon
James Reasoner, LATIGO, Frank O'Rourke
Richard Robinson, ORBITAL DECAY, Allen Steele
TracyK, BADGE OF EVIL, Whit Masterson
Westlake Review, THIEVE'S DOZEN, Donald Westlake

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Marlins Go to Championship Game

My thoroughly excellent son took a team that was 1-11 last year and got them to the Championship game. Every kid played, every parent supported them. No one was anything but happy with our boys. Couldn't be prouder of mine.Saturday will be the final game! GO MARLINS!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

My Best 25 Movies of the New Century

THE NEW YORK TIMES film critics listed their picks on Sunday. Here are mine. What would you add? Take away? (No particular order)
BEFORE SUNRISE (and its sequels)
THE DEPARTED (and the earlier Korean version, I(NFERNAL AFFAIRS)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Forgotten Movies: LOVE CRAZY

Celebrating their fourth anniversary, things get out of hand (as you might expect) and to avoid legal hassles, Powell pretends to be crazy. Lots of physical comedy in this one. Did Powell ever look young? Would anyone looking like Powell be a leading man today? But nobody did it better and with Loy, they both shine. Lots of fun but I'll take THE THIN MAN over this trifle.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday Night Music

Things That Make Me Happy

Although we had horrible weather over our two weeks on Cape Cod, we still had a good time. Phil walked his way back to his pre-treatment strength. And that was nearly a year ago now. A lost year in some ways but not in all ways.
We saw an interesting play (SEX WITH STRANGERS) a terrific cello concert, one good movie (WONDER WOMAN) and spent a lot of time with good friends. Not much reading took place although Phil enjoyed DODGERS (Bill Beverly) and THE HOLY THIEF (William Ryan). I read and discarded books. We ate a lot of seafood. Probably a poisonous amount.

It made me happy that the cellist (Amit Peled) is touring with six of his students from the Peabody School of Music. One was only seventeen. All of them were great cellists. Maybe classical music will survive.
I am happy to announce that Polis is going to publish my story collection: I BRING SORROW AND OTHER STORIES OF TRANSGRESSION in early 2018. A lot of them appeared in places unseen by most people and a few are brand new.
Glad to be back though. I have a lot of work to do and it's been a while since I could say that.
And here is a crazy sign we saw in an elevator.
Every fifteen minutes!!!! All of the directions seem strange. I almost took the stairs.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

On a Hiatus Here Until June 12th.

I will check in with your blogs however.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday's Forgotten Books, May 19, 2017

Todd will be collecting links for the next three weeks. I will return on June 16th.


This is the kind of book I used to read all the time twenty years ago and now I remember why. Indridason is a master at plot, creating memorable characters, and evoking Iceland during World War II and today. His detective has a compelling personal life, is likeable,and gets the job done. Indridason balances POVs masterfully-there's never a moment when you wish the writer would get back to solving the mystery.
I can't think of anything that didn't work in this book and this is from someone with adult onset ADD. (From 2007).

Sergio Angelini, THE LAST DANCE, Ed McBain;
Mark Baker, YIP, TUCK, Sparkle Abbey
Yvette Banek, SHE DIED A LADY, Carter Dickson
Les Blatt, ABC MURDERS, Agatha Christie
Brian Busby, GLENGARRY SCHOOL DAYS, Rev. Charles W. Gordon
Bill Crider, RAFFERTY LAST SEEN ALIVE, W; Glenn Duncan
Scott Cupp, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HOLMES, Loren Estleman
Richard Horton, THE PARADOX MEN, Charles Harness, DOME AROUND AMERICA, Jack Williamson
George Kelley, A TREASURY OF GREAT SCIENCE FICTION, ed. Anthony Boucher
Margot Kinberg, SISTERS OF MERCY, Caroline Ovington
Rob Kitchin, THIRTY-THREE TEETH, Colin Coterill
B.V. Lawson, THE FBI: A CENTENNIAL  HISTORY, Dept. of Justice
Evan Lewis, THE ADVENTURES OF SAM SPADE, Dashiell Hammett
Steve Lewis, THE SURFSIDE CAPER, Louis Trimble
Todd Mason, THE BEST OF MYSTERY, edited by Harold Q Masur
J.F. Norris, MY BONES AND MY FLUTE, Edgar Mittelholzer
Matt Paust, A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, John Irving
Reactions to Reading, WHERE ROSES NEVER DIE, Gunnar Staalesen
James Reasone, KI-GOR AND THE ANIMAL KINGDOM, John Peter Drummond
Richard Robinson, Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm, Gil North
Gerard Saylor, BLOOD OF VICTORY, Alan Furst
TomCat, THE RUMBLE MURDERS, Henry Ware Eliot
TracyK, Blanche on the Lam, Barbara Neely
Westlake Review, MONEY FOR NOTHING, Part 2

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Forgotten TV: First Episodes: 30 ROCK

(Not from first episode)

I never watched 30 ROCK much when it was on. At the time, I didn't like most of the cast for one reason or the other: bully, can't understand him, disliked  her in Ally McBeal. Really I was wrong about most of it. So I just watched the first episode. I don't know if it was considered a pilot or not.
Anyway, I was mostly admiring of how well Tina Fey and her writing partner wove the characters in and how likable Tina was in her role. (Megan met her at a party and said she was just as nice and down to earth in real life). I will never be fond of Tracy Morgan but I thought he was reasonably good in the part. And Baldwin was terrific from his first line. Although it is hard to see him as anyone other than Trump now. Although that fit too. I think I will watch more 30 ROCKS.

Monday, May 15, 2017


You People, You Make Me Happy


Things That Make Me Happy

Memories of our two trips to Amsterdam. One for six months and one for a week. The tulips dominate the landscape and Dutch culture in general. We lived across the street from the main flower market and the smell of flowers was much in the air.

Two good  movies this week. NORMAN with Richard Gere playing a fixer (or would be fixer) and THEIR FINEST about the British film industry making a propaganda film to buck up spirits. I love movies about making a movies. Do you have a favorite?

Remembering all the good times we had with my mother before her death in 2009. How horrified she would be by the presidency of Donald Trump. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.
Enjoying the Letterman bio although I sure don't come away thinking much of him. It is the story of how a man with little talent was able to get those with a lot to work for him. Maybe that is a talent.

Spending Mother's Day with my son, daughter-in-law, grandson and DIL's mother plus Phil. A lovely day. 

What about you?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday's Forgotten Books, May 12, 2017

From the archives Ed Gorman


Before he became known for his excellent biographies of Robert Mitchum, Ava Gardner and Samuel Fuller, Server wrote and co-edited several books about noir. I collaborated with him on two of them. His knowledge of noir films made me feel like the tourist I am.

He also wrote one of the finest books on pulp fiction I've ever read, Danger is My Business. It's filled with full colors of cover from every genre of pulps and stories about the writers and artists and editors who made them so successful for two decades. Just one example--do you know how Myrna Loy got her last name? I didn't. It turns out the mysterious Peter Ruric, author of Fast One and several classic hardboiled Black Mask stories, gave it to her when she was still a dancer in a nightclub. Very little is known about Ruric who's real name was George Sims and who was born not far from Cedar Rapids.

Each genre gets it own chapter-horror, adventure-western, private eye, romance and sex, hero pulps and science fiction as well as a chapter on the so-called Fiction Factories that ruled pulp land.

The romance and sex chapter surprised me. These pulps took real risks given the prevailing morality of the era. Robert Leslie Bellems set the tone for the naughty hardboiled male writers while women turned in the real erotica.

Same with the horror pulps. Looking at the covers I'm struck by how many of them depicted female bondage. The scantily clad (and usually great looking) heroines were always tied up by some fiend.

We all know how a lot of blurbs work. One writer wants to help another writer so he praises the book. You can usually tell when the blurb writer is log rolling. "I don't think I've ever read a novel as stupendously suspenseful or as monumentally wonderful or as Nobel-worthy as Sure I Killed, I Killed Him Good. And there's print on every page! Honest!"

But here are two blurbs that ring true for sure.

"Danger is My Business Takes me back forty years to my beginnings. Thank God for the pulps!" Elmore Leonard

"Danger is My Business is pure gold. It is so much fun to read. Lee Server's enthusiasm is well-matched to a writing style so witty and a knowledge of the subject so wide-ranging that Danger I My Business is a total page-tuner, as involving as any of the magazines he's opened for us." Donald E. Westlake

This is a book that belongs in your library.

Sergio Angelini
Yvette Banek, MURDER BY THE CLOCK, Rufus King
Joe Barone, BOUNDARY WATERS, William Kent Kruger
Les Blatt, BODY UNIDENTIFIED,  John Rhode
Brian Busby, THE PYX, John Buell
Bill Crider THE VERSE BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD, Frank Rowsome Jr. 
Scott Cupp, KITT'S PEAK, Al Sarrantonio
Martin Edwards, NO MURDER, H.C. Bailey
Curt Evans, MURDER IN PASTICHE, Marion Mainwaring
Richard Horton, Three SF Novels from Scholastic, Del Rey, Key, Silverberg
Jerry House, THE TIME TUNNEL, Murray Leinster
George Kelley, BLACK MAN'S BURDEN, Mack Reynolds
Margot Kinberg, LONESOME POINT, Ian Vasquez
Rob Kitchin, ONE OR THE OTHER, John McFetridge
B.V. Lawson, BLUE OCTAVO, John Blackburn
Evan Lewis, THE CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS, Erle Stanley Gardner
Steve Lewis, THE CASE OF THE VELVET CLAWS, Erle Stanley Gardner
Todd Mason, TURNING POINTS edited by Damon Knight; DREAM MAKERS: VOLUME II interviews conducted by Charles Platt
J.F. Norris, HELL ON FRIDAY, William Bogart
Matt Paust, AN ACCIDENTAL NOVELIST, Richard Wheeler
James Reasoner, THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN FUTURE Edmund Hamilton
Richard Robinson, FLASH CASEY, DETECTIVE, George Harmon Coxe
Gerard Saylor, AGENT 6, Tom Robb Smith
Kerrie Smith, INSIDE THE BLACK HORSE, Ray Girard
Kevin Tipple, FINN, Jon Clinch
 TomCat, A CASE OF SPIRITS, Peter Lovesey
TracyK, THE BUTCHER'S BOY, Thomas Perry
Zybahn, THE BOTTOMS, Joe R. Lansdale

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

First Wednesday Book Review: MY BELOVED WORLD, Sonia Sotomayor

What a terrific book. SCOTUS' Justice Sotomayor will charm you with the first incident in her memoir. As a very small child, she is diagnosed with diabetes and is forced to give herself shots. She is the most competent one in her family and this continues throughout this book. She comes from a poor family, gets only a mediocre secondary education, and still goes on to excel in ivy league schools.She manages to be modest and awe-inspiring at every turn. She is honest about the failure of her marriage. She recounts the times people asked her outright if her success was due to affirmative action. A wonderful book. A wonderful woman. Everyone in my book group loved this one. A rarity.

For more reviews see, Barrie Summy right here. 

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Forgotten Movies: 1984

This version of the movie was made in 1984 and starred John Hurt, Suzanna Hamilton and Richard Burton. It was directed by Michael Radford. It is very faithful to the book. Winston is a low-level bureaucratic who is following the rules of Big Brother until he falls in love with Julia (Suzanna Hamilton) and begins to question them. He and Julia are whisked away, tortured, reeducated, and find themselves entirely indoctrinated by the end. Horribly depressing and meant as a commentary on Stalinist Russia at the time of the book's printing (1949), Orwell really socks it to you. And,  of course, you can't help but see parallels with today.The book and movie are newly popular.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Things That Are Making Me Happy

FARGO, THE LEFTOVERS, and BETTER CALL SAUL continue to delight me with their offbeat plots, terrific soundtracks, great acting, and gorgeous look. Damien Lindelof (LEFTOVERS) Noah Hawley (FARGO) and Vince Galligan and his writing team (BCS) have invented a new sort of TV show where many episodes function as short stories, separate from the story arc.

Phil continues to regain strength. Six months of chemo took a toll on us but things look a little rosier now. Thanks especially to the friends who have been along side us through this. You can never have too many friends. I really appreciate this more than ever now.

GRADUATION is a Romanian movie about a father whose daughter is assaulted on the eve of taking an important exam, which will allow her to go to Cambridge and escape the hard life people still live in Romania. They have some tough decisions to make. There is no pretty scenery in this one. So why does this make me happy? It's the artfulness of the film. It's the questions it poses. It's the quality of the acting and directing and the story.

It is making me happy that Phil is going to two men's groups. One is just ten men or so kicking whatever comes up around: sports, health, politics, restaurants in the area. The other is more formal. They bring a speaker in every Wednesday (hump day) and so far they have had a guy who spent 29 years in jail and was finally released, a guy running for City Clerk in Detroit who discussed its problems, and a guy from the World Bank. These activities were not available in our old neighborhood. So glad we moved even though we live in the money pit.

I am going out to dinner tonight with a new friend I have grown to like a lot. Here is her story. I wish I had the talent to tell it. If you have the time, this is really worth reading. Ina Silbergleit

Friday, May 05, 2017

Friday's Forgotten Books, May 5, 2017

Thanks, Todd, for minding the baby.

ROADSIDE PICNIC by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
(Review by Deb, from archives)
Recently, a tape from the 1980s surfaced of the late Steve Jobs discussing—in amazingly prescient detail—the future of computers.  At a time when few people even had a home computer, Jobs was already talking about cloud computing, hand-held delivery devices, and the i-pod prototype.  As Jon Stewart of the Daily Show observed after Jobs's death, it’s like we had a visit from an extraterrestrial who left before he could explain how everything is supposed to work.
This is exactly the position of humans in ROADSIDE PICNIC (first published in the Soviet Union in 1971, and anthologized in the west in 1977): It has been a number of years since extraterrestrials visited the Earth, an event referred to as the “visitation.”  They landed simultaneously in six places, stayed for a couple of days (as one scientist puts it, almost as if they had a roadside picnic), and then left—never to return, but leaving behind an assortment of debris and areas of uninhabitable land called “forbidden zones.”  (As a side note, it’s indicative of how effective anti-littering campaigns have been in the last 40 years that we probably now find it hard to imagine leaving a picnic site without picking up our trash—so the “roadside picnic” analogy, with debris strewn far and wide, isn’t immediately recognizable to us.)
Scientists (and black-market scavengers called “stalkers”) periodically visit these forbidden zones to retrieve the material left behind.  No one is really sure how the aliens used these items, but many are bent to human purposes, such as sparkling bracelets that ease pain and disc-like batteries that replace fossil fuel in cars.  However, there is also great danger in the zones—mine explosions, sudden violent winds, searing heat, gravity-defying earth shifts, and a deadly quicksand-like “slime”—so that most countries have completely shut down access to them.  The only zone that is relatively accessible is in the city of Harmont, which is where ROADSIDE PICNIC takes place.
The book is essentially a series of inter-connected vignettes, most of them featuring a stalker named Red Schuhart, that take place over a number of years following the visitation.  Red’s steely nerves and extrasensory awareness of danger have made it possible for him to make successful excursions into the zone. He is considered one of the best stalkers and is even occasionally employed in a semi-official capacity by the government to retrieve items for scientific study—although there is far more money to be made selling the items illegally on the black market.  But Red’s luck starts to run out when a scientist dies after he returns with Red from an official visit to the zone.  Later, during an illegal foray into the zone, Red’s partner, a stalker named Burbridge, sinks into the slime. Red could have left Burbridge to die, but instead helps him get out.  (It is honorable acts such as his rescue of Burbridge that set Red apart from other stalkers and make us like and admire him despite his dangerous and criminal activities in the forbidden zone.)  As a result, Burbridge survives but loses his legs, and Red ends up in prison—requesting that his share of contraband profit go to support his pregnant girlfriend, Guta.
When Red is released from prison several years later, the city of Harmont is in visible decline. Despite constant vigilance, the government can’t stop a criminal syndicate (under the direction of the legless Burbridge) from making frequent excursions into the zone, flooding the market with artifacts, many of which cause harm or are used in a dangerous way by the shadowy underworld figures who buy them.  In addition, the dead of Harmont are rising from their graves and wandering back to their homes.  This phenomenon is not presented in a spooky, zombie apocalypse way, but in a matter-of-fact tone that makes it easy to accept that Red’s dead father is now living in the apartment with Red, Guta, and their daughter.  The daughter, never called any name but “Monkey” because her body is entirely covered with hair, is suffering from such severe genetic mutations that doctors determine she is not actually human. These mutations are undoubtedly the result of Red’s visits to the zone, but he repeatedly returns there, unable to resist the lure of both the money and the adrenaline rush that the visits provide.
Eventually, Burbridge persuades Red to venture once more into the zone, along with Burbridge’s rather naive and idealistic son, to retrieve the Golden Sphere, an almost mythic item that supposedly grants wishes. Red knows that either he or Burbridge’s son must die in order for the survivor to reach the Sphere—although whether Burbridge or his son realizes this is left somewhat ambiguous.  The last few pages of the book are unbearably tense as the men approach the Sphere while attempting to dodge horrific phenomena, such as skin-blistering heat and a booby-trap known, for reasons that soon become sickeningly obvious, as “the meat grinder.”  The ending can be seen as hopeful, cynical, nihilistic, or all three, depending on your perspective and how you interpret the final paragraph.
If you plan to read ROADSIDE PICNIC, I strongly recommend the 2012 edition, which includes an informative introduction by Ursula K. Le Guin and a long afterword by Boris Strugatsky in which he details the fight the brothers had with the Soviet censorship apparatus.  It took years of tweaking and constant demands for minor word and text alterations before authorities finally approved the book for publication in 1971; it would be another 20 years before the book appeared as the brothers originally wrote it.  Boris Strugatsky’s recent death (Arcady died in 1991) makes his afterword even more poignant.  Strugatsky writes that for decades he kept the hundreds of letters and memos that went back and forth between the brothers and the censors.  He had intended to eventually publish a book documenting the nonsensical, Kafkaesque changes that the bureaucrats required to deem ROADSIDE PICNIC acceptable.  But by the mid-1990s, Strugatsky realized that it was unlikely that anyone would still be interested in the petty squabbles and in-fighting of the now-defunct Soviet bureaucracy and gave up the idea of developing the book.  So ROADSIDE PICNIC stands alone—a testament to the writers’ stubborn refusal to surrender in the face of almost overwhelming government opposition to a simple idea, encapsulated in a rather ironic way by the book’s final wish:  Happiness for everybody, free, and no one will go away unsatisfied!

Sergio Angelini, SHE DIED A LADY, Carter Dickson
Yvette Banek, THE POWER HOUSE, John Buchan
Joe Barone, IRON LAKE, William Kent Kruger
Les Blatt, Arsine Lupin, Gentleman -Thief, Maurice LeBlanc
Brian Busby, Hooked, Ernie Hollands with Doug Brendel
Bill Crider, PASSION CACHE, Harry Whittington
Scott Cupp, MUSRUM. Eric Thatcher and Anthony Earnshaw
Martin Edwards, MYSTERY OF THE THREE ORCHIDS, Augusto De Angelis

Richard Horton, CASUALS OF THE SEA, William McFree
George Kelley, BEST MYSTERY STORIES OF THE YEAR, 1945, ed. David Cooke

Margot Kinberg, CAN ANYBODY HELP ME?, Sinead Crowley
Rob Kitchin, THE DIVIDED CITY, Luke McCallin
Evan Lewis, THE DEEP END Fredric Brown
Steve Lewis/Bill Pronzini, THE SHATTERED RAVEN, Edward D. Hoch
Todd Mason,  THE INVESTIGATIONS OF AVRAM DAVIDSON: Collected Mysteries, edited by Grania Davis and Richard A. Lupoff 
J.F. Norris, WHAT HAPPENED TO HAMMOND?, John Russell Fearn
Matt Paust, WHISTLE, James Jones
James Reasoner, THE BEST OF SPICY MYSTERY, Vol 2 ed. Alfred Jan
Kevin Tipple, MEN IN THE MAKING, Bruce Machart
TracyK, OVER MY DEAD BODY, Rex Stout

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Late Night with David Letterman

This was the only late night comedy show we ever watched. We were too young for Johnny (or at least his sense of humor) and too old for what came later. But this one, on way past our bedtime and our kids' bedtime, we taped and watched the next day. What brings it to mind is that Megan recommended the bio out on Letterman. Plus a friend commented, she could never tolerate Letterman because he would even make fun of people's names. And yes, he did. But somehow it was a program that brought our teenage kids and us together in the mid to late eighties and early nineties. He was our age but had their sensibility. I can still remember watching our son, Josh, laugh from his spot on the floor as Letterman performed his stunts. Some people really enjoy laughing and my son is one.It got to be old hat by the next decade. But for a little while...

What late night funnyman do/did you like?

Tuesday, May 02, 2017


This is certainly not a film for those who want a joyful presentation of Emily Dickinson's life. In fact, I can't imagine a more dour one. But Terrence Davies is not known for making happy movies and Emily Dickinson was not known for living a happy life. A recluse in Amherst, only her poetry kept her going. Cynthia Nixon does an astonishing job of capturing a woman who few would find likable. Honest, yes, Intelligent, yes. but willing to enter the ring with anyone who didn't live up to her expectations. The film is dark, sad. And you begin to wonder if being glib and witty is really such a good trait. Maybe being kind and forgiving make for a better life. Recommended if you are feeling strong. And it is all topped off by Bright's Disease which looked like God's punishment for woman who strove for too much fame.When paired with the recent PBS film on the Brontes, we can be glad we are living in the 21st century. There is a scene when Emily asks her father's permission to write poetry between 2-4 at night. He allows it.

Monday, May 01, 2017

What I Would Have Said....

I spent the first fifty years of my life reading-and I read mostly crime fiction. I eagerly awaited the newest Travis McGee, Lew Archer, Spencer, Inspector Wexford, Kinsey Milhone, Inspector Morse. I would like to thank the people in this room tonight and all of their predecessors for giving me so many hours of sheer joy.  I never thought to be in a room with you. Thank you.
I would also like to thank Jason Pinter for taking a chance with a writer of such advanced years. I want to thank my husband and children for giving me support at an age when I should be giving it to them. Thanks to Dan Conaway for serving as my unofficial agent, to Clair Lamb for helping me to shape this book, to Shell Hensleigh for helping me with the photography, and to Mark Glenn for his help on how Detroit Police function, to Sandra Scoppettone, Ed Gorman, Anca Vlasopolos, Bryon Quertermous, and Dennis James for urging me on when I was ready to give up. Thanks to all the editors of zines. magazines, and anthologies that published the stories I wrote for the first ten years. And especially thanks to Brian Lindenmuth for publishing the two ebooks. The panel chair at the Edgars asked if I could see an evolution in my writing and indeed, I can. Yet these gracious editors put those early stories into print, giving me courage to continue writing. 
And thanks to the people of Detroit for providing me with such a rich landscape. The Detroit of 2008 no longer exists but it made (thank goodness) but it make fertile ground for a novel. 

Things That Are Making Me Happy

I had the most fabulous pizza ever at LaGuardia Airport.  It was a white pizza with asparagus, serano ham, manchego, and fried eggs on it. Yes, believe me. It was perfection. I didn't think a pizza could still excite me but this one did. Toss out that tomato sauce and pepperoni.

After the Edgars ended, we walked outside the banquet hall and table after table was loaded with books free for the taking. Brand new books, hardbacks, paperbacks, It was a thrill.

Went to the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station and had...oysters. Mine were fried, Phil's were raw and both were terrific.

It made me happy to share such an event with my daughter and husband. How often does that sort of thing happen.
How many times will I get to be in the same room with Walter Mosley, Mary Higgins Clark, Lee Child, Jeffrey Deaver and so man other illuminaries. I will always be a fan rather than an equal. Too late to change. I am hoping Jeffrey Deaver is okay after his dramatic collapse. It was so sudden I thought for a minute he'd been shot.

Managed to make a quick trip to the Met to see the Irving Penn photography exhibit, which was gorgeous.

Phil's tulips are still blooming....

And you?

Friday, April 28, 2017

An Interview With Dana King

Although Dana and I have not quite met, we have known each other for years on Facebook and on online blogs. Right from the start, his stories impressed me along with his thoughtful blog and our interchanges on Facebook. GRIND JOINT was a favorite of mine a few years back. We catch up with him a few books later here.

Let's start with an elevator pitch of RESURRECTION MALL. 

Televangelist Christian Love has outgrown his church and studio in Pittsburgh. He sees an opportunity to expand his footprint by converting an abandoned shopping center into Resurrection Mall, a facility that caters to religious-themed businesses, with his expanded church and broadcasting facility as the anchor. What he doesn’t take into account is Res Mall is near the center of Penns River’s burgeoning drug trade, where having the Lord on your side isn’t as helpful as one would hope.

1. Did you always plan to write?

Nope. My dream was to play trumpet in a symphony orchestra. Got a Master’s in Music and everything. There was a catch. Remember those ads for the pro golf tour? These guys are good? Well, those trumpet players are really good.

2. Do you have a writing routine or do you approach it differently day to day?

I’m very much a routine writer. On work days I write every evening after supper. On days off I get in a couple of hours mid-afternoon, with a set amount of work I have to complete each day. If I miss a day I have to make it up.

3. Do you have a first reader? 

I have a first listener. I read each chapter to The Beloved Spouse as it’s finished, both first and last drafts.

4. Do your ideas for novels start with character, story, setting or something else?

All the ideas for Penns River novels have to be something I can reasonably make happen in the town. How the story progresses and shakes out will have a lot to do with the nature of the characters, but the town comes first.

5. What writers have influenced your writing the most?

Elmore Leonard and Ed McBain early and always. The others have shifted. I see more Joe Wambaugh in my work all the time. I can’t say James M. Cain’s writing has influenced me, but there’s a quote of his I love and try to keep in mind, especially in the Penns River books. (“I make no conscious effort to be tough, or hardboiled, or grim, or any of the things I am usually called. I merely try to write as the character would write, and I never forget that the average man, from the fields, the streets, the bars, the offices and even the gutters of his country, has acquired a vividness of speech that goes beyond anything I could invent, and that if I stick to this heritage, this logos of the American countryside, I shall attain a maximum of effectiveness with very little effort.”) There’s a draft in each book where I work on nothing but getting that voice right. Yes, I know Cain said, “with very little effort.” I ain’t James M. Cain.

6. What do you see as your greatest strength and greatest weakness as a writer?

I think my greatest strength is that I’ve learned how to take advantage of what I do well, and to minimize—hide, even—what I’m not as good at. My books are dialog heavy mainly because I’m comfortable writing dialog. I think my musical training helped me develop an ear where I can read a passage aloud and just know if it sounds right. 

My greatest weakness is a lack of creative spontaneity. I’m not good at thinking up what happens next while sitting at the keyboard. I’ve learned to minimize that by adopting what Charlie Stella calls a “documentary” style. I make rough outlines so I know what has to happen in each scene, then describe it as if it has already taken place. 

7. Is Penn's River a real place?

Yes and no. There are three small towns nestled together on the banks of the Allegheny River about twenty miles from Pittsburgh that are Penns River for all intents and purposes. I make things up as I need them, but I’m so closely tied there I use real maps when coming up with street names and describing directions. Many, maybe most, of the locations I use are real places and I look for excuses to drop them in. For example, if two characters meet for lunch, they’ll go to an actual local restaurant. Of course, if a business is a crime scene or front for a criminal enterprise, I make those up. I’m looking for local flavor, not lawsuits.

8. You have two series now, how are they different? How do you decide what plot idea fits each? Have you ever switched a story idea from one series to the other? 

The differences go back to an earlier question, about my ideas. Penns River stories have to suit the town. Nick Forte stories have to suit Forte. Resurrection Mall is the perfect example. I originally planned and outlined it as a Forte story. I even wrote 40,000 words before I realized it wasn’t going anywhere, outline or not. I took a week off to think about it and realized the problem was the story belonged in Penns River. So I started over from scratch, except for the title and the idea of a religious-themed shopping center. The only things I re-used were the minister’s name (Christian Love), and the tag line for his new mall planned for the site of an old one (“Raised, not razed.”)
Another difference is the Forte stories are in first person and are very much character studies of Forte’s increasingly dark life and world view. Characters in Penns River aren’t as introspective.
Speaking of ideas, I’d like to interject a quick side note. A lot of writers complain when readers ask where they get their ideas. (I’ve even heard of readers who don’t like the question from other readers. Go figure.) I love when people ask where I get my ideas. Readers sometimes think there’s a wall between them and authors, and that an ability to come up with good ideas is the ladder we climbed to get over it. That’s not at all true—all of us are tripping over ideas; the trick is which ones we can write best—but it’s always a good entry point into more detailed subjects and can often spur a good discussion.

9. What writers other than crime writers do you read? 

Aside from crime writers I read mostly non-fiction. Steven Johnson, Richard Feynman, David McCullough, and Cornelius Ryan are favorites of mine. Nicholas Pileggi and Peter Maas are favorites on the crime side.

10. Can beautiful writing make up for an average story? Can a great story make up for dull prose? 

I would much rather read an okay story that’s beautifully written. Let’s face it, The Big Sleep has story issues, as does The Long Good-Bye. They’re both so beautifully written no one cares. James Ellroy’s plots are sometimes indecipherable, but the writing holds me like few others, though not even I would describe it as beautiful. A great story can make up for dull prose, but it had better be a great story. I have in mind a writer who’s sold millions of books that I read strictly because the stories are so good, even though I find the writing ordinary. He’s the exception. I’m far more forgiving of a well-written book with a lesser story. Of course, when both come together—James Lee Burke, for instance, or Dennis Lehane—that’s when life is good.

Thanks for the visit, Dana. And best of luck with the new book.