Monday, February 29, 2016

My Favorite Books About Growing Up

Of course, there are hundreds of great ones, but the trick is to just pick one or two. I will choose A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, which is one of those books you need to read again as an adult to see how dark it is. And my book group did.

Second, I will choose THE BLUEST EYE by Toni Morrison. Also a heartbreaking story. She went on to only surpass a book that seemed like it would never be bettered.

What about you?


Sunday, February 28, 2016

CONCRETE ANGEL takes place in Philly in the sixties and seventies. Here is Eve Moran and her daughter, Christine. (not really, it's my mom and me) setting out to snatch goods from downtown stores while the staff is diverted by a snowstorm. Perhaps you might consider CONCRETE ANGEL (Polis Books) for a best first novel Anthony Award nomination
 Anyone who attended last year's Bouchercon in Raleigh or is going to this year in New Orleans should have received a ballot. Thanks for your consideration. Incidentally that's a pink and gray 1955 Bel Air that I learned to drive in.

Pass this along if you have a friend who's eligible to vote. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

My Favorite Scene

If I had liked nothing else about HAIL CAESAR, this scene would have put the film into the positive column for me. The dancing was sublime and turning the typical sailors looking for girls to sailors looking for sailors made it zing.

There is a great piece in the Saturday NEW YORK TIMES about filming this scene. 

What is one of your favorite scenes from a movie?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Aaron Goldberg Trio

My Favorite Episode: SEINFELD

I can still watch SEINFELD twenty years later and laugh at it. What show broke as many barriers in terms of themes discussed? None. And this episode surely ranks high on the list of breaking barriers. So if THE SOUP NAZI is my favorite for pure laughs, this ranks a bit higher because of the subject explored.

The Contest”
Season: 4

“The Contest” saw the show at its most risqué. The four characters make a wager as to who can, ahem, control themselves the longest and, of course, all four struggle with their own temptations throughout the episode. Except for Kramer, who is forced to bow out within minutes after seeing a naked woman in the apartment across from Jerry’s and excusing himself.

And Don’t Forget… Elaine tragically misses out on her chance with John F. Kennedy Jr.

Quote: “But the real question is, are you still master of your domain?”

If you have to like all of the characters, this is certainly no ANDY GRIFFITH show. No MARY TYLER MOORE. But if laughing or exploring the 1990s is important, hard to beat it. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

My California Dream

This is our fifth year of spending time in California. We have the routine down pretty well although the rental we had this year was far from perfect. (our original choice came down with a rat infestation.) 
Okay, it was half a block from the most gorgeous beach in La Jolla. That part was good. And I could certainly hear the ocean pounding every night. And I love watching the surfers-never get tired of that. 

But...we were too far from the center of town. Over a mile to get there and that was the far end of town. So we had to drive in (I got Phil to take the bus once). And that means finding parking. And at night, it's a dark drive and our older eyes aren't perfect enough to feel comfortable. So we didn't get out that much after dark (5:30). Plus we seem to have lost a lot of the mail we  had forwarded here. I am sure some bill collectors will be waiting on our porch in Michigan.
Also there was not one comfortable chair in the place. I even bought a desk chair so I could do my edits. And the WiFI never worked all that well. And driving in California will only get to be more of a challenge. The driving is fast, twisty and they always use two lanes where one will do. Movies cost a lot more than in Michigan. Food too.

But that's small potatoes because we are so lucky to be able to escape from Michigan's gray, cold, snowy months. 
In the seven weeks we were here we had one rainy and one or two cloudy days. Every other day was perfect. Between 65-80 and pure sun. 
We went to two very good plays, two very fine musical performances, many movies and many restaurants. We visited all the usual places: Coronado, Balboa Park, Del Mar, many museums and beaches in the area. 

We worked every morning and played after lunch.  

As you read this I am in LA. I came up for a NOIR AT THE BAR on Sunday night. Naomi Hirahara is meeting us for dinner. We are so lucky to be here. 

But I am ready to go home. (Although we have booked a place for next year that is right downtown). 

This is Aaron Goldberg who we were lucky enough to hear play last week. 


Friday, February 19, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, February 19, 2016

Todd Mason will be doing this next week. My review of HAIL CAESAR is right here.
KILLER, Dave Zeltserman (reviewed by Ed Gorman)

Before I say anything about Dave Zeltserman's  novel I have to note that a) Dave is a friend of mine b) the novel is dedicated to me and c) somebody not unlike me makes a brief appearance in the book.

Leonard March is a mob hit-man who turns state's witness to avoid a lifetime in prison. Despite giving evidence he serves fourteen years and emerges a much older man and not just physically. People familiar with his case are amazed that his former employers didn't manage to have him killed while behind bars. And only now, as he emerges from prison, is the public told of just how terrible a man he is. His photograph is everywhere. He is a pariah. He is even dragged into court on civil charges instituted by the loved ones of some of the people he killed. The press, loving a good story, depicts the victims as good citizens even though they were scum just like March. His prison counselor arranges for March to work quietly as a janitor at nights so he can pay rent on a seedy apartment and buy a few groceries.

Several times while reading Killer I forgot I was reading a novel. The book has the feel of an autobiography. Laid out in alternating chapters of present and past we see March at virtually every stage of his life. His father, his mother, his wife, his children are vividly and vitally portrayed here. His quiet father was a blue collar worker whose sixty and seventy hour weeks led only to a melancholy cynicism about the capitalist system. March's wife's death by cancer while March is in prison is especially haunting. She and the children spurned him after the DA's office revealed that he was a hit man. March in his early twenties was a street punk who, despite his self-denials, savored the deaths he visited on his targets.

All the mob tropes are here to be sure. Sleazy stupid parasites who do with pistols and knives what Wall Street and others do with computers and fancy boardrooms. Zeltserman makes you feel each death and there are plenty of them.

But what you take away from the novel is not the mob melodrama but the rich details of March's life. Zeltserman forces the reader to grant March his intelligence, his occasional eloquence and the remorse he feels but cannot understand. In some respects the man who took all these lives is even more monstrous because he's not a psychopath--as he reminds us several times--but a man who has convinced himself that he's just doing a job. His painful love for the children who have deserted him; the last time he spoke to his dying wife on the phone, her laughing despite her enormous pain, always trying to keep everything "nice;" the young waitress who comes to like this "crazy old man" until she finds out who he is--and is then horrified and angry--grueling, perfectly realized scenes . And then then are the shopping scenes where March buys a new bed, sheets, towels, etc. to make his tiny apartment tolerable--the homeliness of the shopping and the cleaning he has to do is the kind of touch that gives the books its unique truth. You don't find many hit-men scrubbing bathtubs and buying used furniture.

These are just a few of the indelible scenes that make the book so fresh and powerful. Killer is a major novel of crime and likely the book that will win Dave Zeltserman a much wider audience.

Sergio Angelini, CRY BLOOD and KILLER IN SILK, Harry Vernon Dixon
Joe Barone,  THE ELEPHANT WHISPERER by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence
Brian Busby, For My Country [Pour la patrie: roman du XXe siecle]Jules-Paul Tardivel [Sheila Fischman, trans],
Bill Crider, FORTUNE IS A WOMAN, Hermes Nye
Scott Cupp, WALKING WOLF, Nancy Collins
Martin Edwards, MURDER BY BURIAL, Stanley Casson
Charles Gramlich,  The Rat Bastards #4: Meat Grinder Hill, John Mackie
Richard Horton, NO SCORE, Lawrewnce Block
Jerry House, CATASTROPHES! ed. Issac Asimov, et al
Nick Jones, BANDITS, Elmore Leonard
George Kelley, THE BEST OF THE BEST 20 YEARS OF SF. ed, Garnder Dozois 
Margot Kinberg, BULLET FOR A STAR, Stuart Kaminsky
B.V. Lawson, MURDER SAILS AT MIDNIGHT, Marion Babson
Steve Lewis/Stephen Mertz, NEGATIVE BLUE, Carter Brown
Todd Mason, KEYHOLE MYSTERY MAGAZINE and SHOCK in 1960 (edited by Dan Roberts and anonymously,
J.F. Norris, THREE GREEN BOTTLES, Dominic Devine
Matthew Paust, BEYOND REDEMPTION, Gary V. Powell
James Reasoner, LARRY'S LUCK, H. Bedford Jones
Richard Robinson, A CONRAD ARGOSY
Kerrie Smith, THE SANTA KLAUS MURDER, Mavis Doriel Hay
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, THE FIEND, Margaret Millar
TracyK, THIRTEEN AT DINNER, Agatha Christie
Westlake Reviews, WHY ME?, Donald Westlake
A.J. Wright, Alabama Book Covers,  T. S. Stribling

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Art that Leaves Me Cold

I love art. I especially love art that tells a story. But a painting like this leaves me cold. Room after room of art like this at so many museums.I suppose it is well executed, but could anyone really want this hanging in the dining room. Well, other than for its $$$.

What leaves you cold?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Forgotten Movies: THE RAINMAKER

Somehow I managed to miss this one. Based on the John Grisham novel, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and featuring a very good cast, (Damon, Claire Danes, Jon Voigt, Danny Devito) it is certainly a credible film. But a strange one to me.

Newly minted attorney, Matt Damon, takes on two cases: one where an insurance company is not paying off the claim of a quickly dying boy and the other where a young woman is being battered by her husband. He partners up with Danny Devito and they go up against a huge insurance company and an irate husband. The film has good local color but the pace is very slow. It's as if the Memphis heat got to them. Maybe the book was similar in feeling. It clocked in at close to 2 1/2 hours, way too long. And yet it kept my interest. Go figure.Grisham liked these setups early on. Does he still favor them? Have you read a Grisham novel lately?

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Greatest TV Detectives

Here is a list from the Telegraph. They forgot a lot of my favorites.

My top three choices would be Jim Rockford, Jane Tennison, and Morse. Who are yours?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Books, February 12, 2016

Ed Gorman is the author of BAD MOON RISING, the Dev Conrad and Sam McCain series and many other novels. You can find him here.  (from the archives)

Fake I.D. by Jason Starr

Jason Starr is the poet of pathological lives. In Fake I.D. he gives us Tony Russo, gambling addict and bartender/actor, who believes, despite enormous evidence to the contrary, that someday real soon now he will reap a bonanza with his gambling just as he knows that he will soon enough be King of Hollywood. Gold at the track and movie star pussy forever.

One of the ways he hopes to hurry his dreams along is by stealing ten thousand dollars from the bar where he works. He has a chance to buy a share of a race horse and thus become a (another fantasy) a gentleman of the horsey set (his daydream about standing in the winner's circle with a movie star lady practically going down on him is especially embarrassing and pathetic). But being the good businessman he is he takes the ten grand and goes to Vegas where he is real real sure he will play this into much much more. He returns home broke of course.

Being a good sociopath Tony must now replace the money he lost in Vegas. This quest, and it is nothing less, involves more stealing and not incidentally murder. Starr gives us a trio of women who become indelible in the reader's mind. My favorite is Janene. Like Frank, the man who owns the bar where Tony works, she is sensible, intelligent and honest. It is from her that he lifts jewelry.

Starr has one of those quintessential New York voices. Because Richard Price's Ladies' Man is one of my favorite novels I kept hearing riffs on that in this book especially when Starr was writing about the bar and the people who work there and hang out there. Starr has an almost surreal eye and ear for manners and he can be both witty and chilling at the same time. He's excellent with boozy conversation.

Starr is on record acknowledging his debt to certain of the paperbacks of the 1950s and 1960s and the pace and punch of his novel certainly demonstrate that affection especially when all of Tony's sweaty plans begun to unravel. But the book is wholly Starr's and it's a sound strong good one. So many writers try hard to replicate Jim Thompson by using similar material. Tony Russo's heart is as dark as any of Thomson's sociopaths but his environment and his style could not be more disimilar. Lew Ford wouldn't know what to make of him.

Because of his social eye and because of his ambition to include the wider world in his work, Jason Starr is among my favorites of the neo-noir writers. Fake I.D. is a gem of treachery.

Sergio Angelini, THE GARDEN PARTY AND OTHER,STORIES, Katherine Mansfield
Joe Barone, HOW JESUS BECAME GOD, Bart Ehrman
Les Blatt, MR.SPLITFOOT, Helen McCoy
Brian Busby, DIRTY CITY, Michael Young
Bill Crider, CHANCY AND THE GRAND RASCAL, Sid Fleschman
Scott Cupp, RUN FROM THE HUNTER, Keith Grantland 
Martin Edwards, DEATH'S DARKEST FACE, Julian Symons
Rick Horton, ENCHANTED AND ENCHANTING, Friedrich Wilhelm Hacklander
Jerry House, TARZAN AND THE FOREIGN LEGION, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Nick Jones, GLITZ, Elmore Leonard
George Kelley, EXPLORING THE HORIZONS, ed. Gardner Dozois
Margot Kinberg, THE UNQUIET DEAD, Ausma Zahanat Khan
B.V. Lawson, MURDER FOR TREASURE, David Williams
Steve Lewis/Walter Albert, SHADOWS OVER BAKER STREET, Reaves and Pelan eds.
Todd Mason,  NO LIMITS edited by Joseph Ferman; THE BEST OF TRIQUARTERLY edited by Jonathan Brent
J.F. Norris, THE MURDERED BANKER, Augusto DiAngelis
Matthew Paust, DEAD MAN'S GUN, Ed Gorman
Gerard Saylor, THE DEATH OF KINGS, Conn Iggulden
Kerrie Smith, Lock No. 1, Georges Simenon
Reactions to Reading, A CUT-LIKE WOUND, Anita Nair
Kevin Tipple, BLACKFIN COUNTY FILES, Bill Crider
TomCat, THE GREEN ACE, Stuart Palmer
TracyK, YEAR OF THE DOG, Henry Chang
Zybahn, STORM IN THE CHANNEL, Georges Simenon

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

What Women Do You Find Funny Today?

In other words, comedians that are currently making jokes. Either on TV or in the movies?

For the first time, maybe ever, I find a lot of women funny. The two women on BROAD CITY are funny. Tina Fey, although making too many bad movies, is funny. Amy Poehler and Amy Schumer are funny. Now the rap on all of them might be that they are vulgar. But so are most male comedians so I don't credit that. Although I don't find Lena Dunham as personally funny-she writes funny so that counts for me. Kristen Schaal (LAST MAN OF EARTH) works for me as does Sarah Silverman. Julie Louis Dreyfus is perhaps the best of them all. Also Anna Chlumsky from VEEP.
Sharon Horgan from CATASTROPHE is great. So too Melissa McCarthy,. Ellie Kemper from THE UBREKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT. There are a lot.

Now supposedly a lot of men don't care for funny woman but I bet you can name currently funny woman. 

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Favorite Episodes of Favorite TV Shows

“Abyssinia, Henry” (season three, episode 24):

 I am sure there were moments over the years before this when I was stunned by an episode of TV,. However this is the first one I remember. In this third season finale, Henry Blake gets his discharge papers and is going home. The episode gives a lot of detail about leaving, ending in a drunken party with the gang. In the last scene, which was apparently a surprise to everyone, Radar comes in with the news that Henry's plane back to the US has been shot down. The looks on the actors' faces reflect their real surprise at hearing this news. Sadly I can't find their faces, only Radar telling the news.

Thanks to my brother, Jeff, for rounding up these stills.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Saw This at La Jolla Symphony with the brilliant Lisa Moore

 The La Jolla Symphony Orchestra was a huge orchestra, perhaps eight cellos and dozens of violins and violas. Four basses. Several drums including kettles. So Lisa Moore had to play fiercely to be heard. Which she did. Brilliant. It brought tears to my eyes. Their performance rates better than this one to me.


Here is how I would rank their movies. Haven't seen HAIL CAESAR yet.


What are your favorites?

Friday, February 05, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Books, February 5, 2016

DON'T FORGET RUTH RENDELL week in a month. 


(From the archives)

GHOST TOWN, Ed Gorman (from the archives)

It's been of some embarrassment to me that despite the many readers and writers of Westerns who contribute to Friday's Forgotten Books, I have not read one. Okay, I did read Lonesome Dove, but that's about the only one.

I've always suffered from the mistaken impression that Western novels resemble the TV westerns of my youth. The plots were about cattle rustling, bar fights, women depicted as all good (schoolmarms and wives) or all bad (saloon girls and hookers), shootouts, Indian fights, cattle herding, lynchings, etc. Everything seemed painted in black and white to match the day.

Ed Gorman took pity on my misconceptions and sent me two of his Westerns, saying he thought I'd be surprised at the modern Western and how it bore more a resemblance to noirish crime fiction than I might think.

I read GHOST TOWN and it was surprisingly like current crime fiction, but more than that, it was a terrific novel, regardless of its genre-leanings. GHOST TOWN was a great story, well-told, with interesting characters in an unfamiliar (to me) setting.

The book takes places in a small Wisconsin town overrun by both malaria and a few suspicious types who run the bank and the town. It's the story of Bryce Lamont, who comes here to get his share of the take from a jewelry theft that put him in prison. What he finds in that Wisconsin town will lead him down a bloody trail, jeopardizing himself and the people he loves.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot here, but let me say this--nearly every character in Ghost Town is complex--neither all good or bad, and this includes, of course, the protagonist. Although there is a lot of action in the novel, it never feels overdone. There is plenty of time to look around at the scenery, the clothes, medical practices, woman's issues, the news of the late 1800s in a small mid-western town. Despite this, the book is succinct, fast-moving and exciting.

Its greatest asset is-- this book has heart. You can feel it beating on every page. And that's not easy to pull off in any genre of writing. Grit and heart in one slim volume is a gift.

I will certainly read more Westerns after this one. It hardly hurt at all. Thanks, Ed.

Sergio Angelini, LULLABY, Ed McBain
Joe Barone, A THOUSAND FALLING CROWS, Larry D. Swearzy
Elgin Bleeker, UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES, Stuart Woods
Bill Crider, HAIL STORME, W.L, Ripley
Martin Edwards, LOBELIA GROVE, Anthony Rolls
Rick Horton, THE GINGER STAR, Leigh Brackett
Jerry House, CAPTIVE, the Gordons
Nick Jones, Desmond Quarry's Mr. Pilgrim 
Margot Kinberg, MAXIMUM BOB, Elmore Leonard
Rob Kitchin, SLOW HORSES, Mick Herron
B.V. Lawson, HARBINGERS OF FEAR, Dorothy Sumpson
Evan Lewis, CONAN, THE DEFENDER, Robert Jordan
Steve Lewis/Walter Albert, JO GAR'S CASEBOOK, Raoul Whitfield
Todd Mason, THE LITTLE MAGAZINE IN AMERICA: A MODERN DOCUMENTARY HISTORY edited by Elliott Anderson and Mary Kinzie 
J.F. Norris, SO BAD A DEATH, June Wright
Matt Paust, THE COLD WAR SWAP, Ross Thomas
J. Kingston Pierce, BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL, Elliot Chaze 
James Reasoner, HELL ROARIN TEXAS TOWN, Robert Denver 
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, KILLERS ARE MY MEAT, Stephen Marlowe
TomCat,LATE,LATE IN THE EVENING, Gladys Mitchell
TracyK, TRUST ME ON THIS, Donald E. Westlake 
Prashant Trikannad, THE CASE OF THE INVISIBLE CIRCLE, Erle Stanley Gardner

Thursday, February 04, 2016


Costume dramas are hard to pull off, I think. I loved this movie at the time but on rewatching it, I think several of the actors didn't work well in their roles. Hugh Grant, doing his fluttery eyelids and stuttering routine seemed unworthy of Emma Thompson's affections. And Emma herself seemed to be too 20th Century for the part. Kate Winslett was perfection, however. So too Alan Rickman. And so too the secondary roles, which the British always cast right.

Does this happen to you on revisiting a movie you loved? Sometimes it works but sometimes....And although Emma captured the character in RETURNS OF THE DAY perfectly, this was a century earlier and she did not have the face and form for it for me. Something else too...can't put my finger on it.

Also, what happened to Hugh Grant? He has not made a major movie in a long time. Did he never recover from his escapades of the late nineties. And, strangely he now has four kids under five with two women, neither of whom he married.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

First Wednesday Book Reviews

THE COLD SONG, Linn Ullmann

Jon and Siri, a long married couple and parents of two young girls, spend the summers with Siri's difficult mother. One summer, the girl that they hire as a babysitter disappears. Now this is not as much about that disappearance of the nanny as it is about the story of a marriage going sour. Their oldest daughter has become difficult; the mother and the kids' caretaker are difficult too. All of these things contribute to the fissures in their marriage. This is a well-written novel that didn't quite work for me. There is not enough concrete conflict. It's hard to understand what exactly has driven them apart. And there is not enough attention paid to the disappearance. The nanny's parents' terror is kept at arm's length until the end. A good novel but not a great one. Perhaps the nordic cold was part of the problem.

For more book reviews, go to Barrie Summy;s blog, right here. 

Monday, February 01, 2016

Positively Fourth Street

Couples that perhaps should not end up together.

This will also function as tomorrow's forgotten movie. I post it today because the film is on TCM at 9:30 am tomorrow (2/2) if anyone wants to see it.

I saw DEAR HEART a few weeks ago and I found it to be an unusual movie in many respects. Made in 1964 it was about romantic hi-jinks at a postmaster's conference in New York. Geraldine Page was a postmaster (mistress) but Glen Ford was staying at the hotel as a greeting card salesman. When was the last time we made movies about people like this? There were many quirky things about the movie. I will leave them for you to discover if you care to watch it.

But (spoiler) when the film ends with Ford and Page getting together, I wanted to yell, "NO!" There is no way these two belong together. He is your standard issue early sixties guy-like the one he played in THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER. But Page is a romantic, a kook, a born spinster or at most, a mistress (and not just a postal one). No way is this going to work out.

Does this ever happen to you at the end of a book or movie. Maybe it was partially miscasting Ford or Page. Or maybe the trouble lay in the author's idea of what would make an interesting couple. But I knew they were headed for divorce court. I'd bet money on it.