(Spotted at that most excellent of reference sites, Notpulpcovers.com)
Back in 1944, ‘Noir Prince’ David Goodis penned a dogfight story titled “Dusk Is For Dying” under his own name for Fighting Aces magazine. For Goodis, any time may have been a good time for dying, dusk or dawn.
But let’s assume that “The Dawn Is For Dying” (above) by Lance Kermit doesn’t deal with heroic American airmen blasting Zeroes, Messerschmitt’s or whatever else Fighting Aces magazine showcased.
Actually, “Lance Kermit” was one of several pen names David Goodis used for the pulp magazine market (though he used his own name for many stories too). Not that I’d consider Adventure magazine a prestige venue…or any of the men’s adventure or ‘sweats’ mags, for that matter. But a David Goodis story graced by an Al Rossi two-page B&W illustration is prestigious enough for me, even if Rossi’s art is pure vintage sleaze at its ‘best’…or worst, depending on your point of view.
Now that I think about it, this April 1959 issue would’ve been on the newsstands during my own The Stiletto Gumshoe project, the hoped-for series’ first novel set in April and May of that same year. As it happens, “Sharon Gardner/Sasha Garodnowicz” (the Stiletto Gumshoe herself) inherited a soft spot for mystery fiction and true crime pulps left behind by her old man, and she’d have been sorely tempted by “The Case Of The Deadly Doll” and “Are You A Slave Of Desire?”. But I know she’d have snickered at “Land Of The Love-Captive Girls” and John Stygna’s cover art with its sword-wielding sheik and harem girls. My bet: A quick thumb-through of the rag would’ve probably found her settling in to Kermit/Goodis’ “The Dawn Is For Dying”.
Not everyone re-reads novels, but I do, returning to a few classics and cherished favorites every few years, sometimes just grabbing a previously read book purely on a whim. But it’s rare for me to re-visit a book finished less than a year ago. Nonetheless, that’s just what I did with Laura Lippman’s 2019 Lady In The Lake, even though the to-be-read pile on the writing lair’s endtable is filling up (overflowing, actually) with new books waiting to be started.
Sure, I enjoyed Lippman’s tale of Baltimore’s mid-1960’s upper middle-class Jewish homemaker Madeline ‘Maddie’ Schwartz, her abrupt decision to leave her family for a new life in an edgy part of town, finagling her way into a bottom-rung newspaper job, and her ambitious and potentially dangerous investigation into the largely ignored death of Eunetta ‘Cleo’ Sherwood, a young African-American woman. Lady in The Lake is crime fiction. It’s definitely a mystery. But it’s also a coming-of-age story, though the age in this sorta-kinda homage to Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar is Maddie Schwartz’ late-thirties, her own teenage years’ self-discovery tabled for marriage and homemaker roles.
Read the first time only months earlier, there were no new revelations to be discovered in the plot. And Lippman scores no better or worse than most writers do with the “there” – that is, immersing the reader in the place in which the story unfolds. I’ve never been to Baltimore, Maryland, and Lippman’s laundry list of stores, restaurants and street names didn’t conjure up any specific sense of place. That’s not a criticism. The fact is, having been raised on a century of Hollywood films and television shows, we all can recognize a handful of Los Angeles and New York street and neighborhood names and landmarks. But the main drags in Tulsa or Spokane? The upscale department store in Denver vs. the dime store chain in Minneapolis? The fancy dining spots in Pittsburgh and the greasy spoons in Cleveland? Of course not.
For myself, I’ve chosen not to agonize over pointless geography lessons in my own writing, confident that no reader will spot check my rendition of Chicago (much less Chicago over 60 years ago) on Google Maps to uncover a fabricated street name or question if the Rexall drug store was really on the southwest or northeast corner of an intersection. The “there” – the real sense of place – has to be conveyed via much more than a tour guide’s itinierary.
But the “then”?
Laura Lippman’s handling of the “then” in Lady of The Lake was masterfully done, and why I opted to revisit the novel, this time like a high school/college class reading assignment, taking careful note of the different ways she kept the reader firmly rooted in the Autumn of 1965 through November 1966 (with a brief coda some twenty years later). Just as a sense of place is established – and maintained – by much more than meaningless address lists, the elusive sense of “then” must first be conveyed (and then repeatedly but, hopefully, not intrusivelyreinforced) with much more than pointing out cars’ make and model years, household product brand names or some other pop culture references. In Lady In The Lake, everything really feels like it’s 1966, from the characters’ body language to the pervasive dismissiveness Maddie Schwartz constantly navigates through. Spiro T. Agnew may be running for governor, The Sandpipers playing at the theater, but those only matter if a contemporary reader even knows who Agnew was or can picture Steve McQueen on screen. Chronological cultural cues are sprinkled throughout, of course, but it’s the actions and dialog that constantly define the time, if not the place. How precisely Lippman accomplished all of this is not so easy to decipher.
My own work is set in the ethnic blue collar bungalow belt of 1959 Chicago. Neighborhood borders – and ethnic/racial boundaries – are as rigid and insurmountable as real walls, and a viaduct or railroad line as formidable as the Brandenburg Gate in Cold War era Berlin. I think I’ve managed a sense of place pretty well without getting bogged down in street names and local landmarks that couldn’t resonate with readers. But that doesn’t mean that all the maps, downloaded photos, vintage magazines and hours of research were pulled together for nothing. They’ve played their part in helping me to establish – and maintain – an essential sense of the “then” as much (if not more so) as the “there”. Am I doing it as handily as Laura Lippman? I doubt it. But a re-read of her Lady In The Lake is helping to keep me on the right track.
Who was Eunice Gray, author of the spicy 1959 ‘romance’ Steffi?
Don’t ask me. You can find several Eunice Grays, one an author but surely not of a novel like Steffi. Another was a scientist, another the proprietor of a turn of the century (19th to 20th, that is) bordello, of all things.
There are more, but I’m not convinced any are the Eunice Gray (if that’s not a pen name) who lucked out with this saucy Clement Micarelli cover art. I’m supposing Micarelli referred to the frequently seen publicity photo of Swedish actress Anita Ekberg (1931 – 2015) in lieu of a model for Steffi’s gouache illustration, but if not, it’s uncanny how similar the poses are.
Several consecutive posts in early August talked about Henry Kane’s late 1950’s ‘stiletto gumshoe’, Marla Trent, the “Private Eyeful” (link below). The paperbacks were graced by cover art from postwar illustration greats like Robert Maguire and Mort Engle, but I did once have a hardcover with much simpler (and a little less leering) art by Denis McLoughlin, which in its way was all the more striking.
British artist Denis McLoughlin (1918 – 2002) was as much a graphic designer as an illustrator, doing spot illustrations for a mail order catalog firm when WWII broke out and he became a gunner at a suburban London Royal Artillery Depot. There he was also ‘drafted’ to do officers’ portraits and produce murals around the base. After the war, McLoughlin began a long association with UK publisher T.V. Boardman, Ltd., his book cover work what he’s best known for, though he also did many magazine illustrations and even worked in comics. Fascinated by the swiftly evolving photo-mechanical color separations processes, McLoughlin was known for eking out striking results with limited colors, something pretty foreign to contemporary designers and illustrators working in a CMYK digital environment.
Like many of the unsung heroes of the postwar commercial art world, Denis McLoughlin was all too often underpaid for his efforts. In his case it meant being forced to work way past retirement age. Tragically, his eyesight faded in his 80’s, Soon, he began to lose dexterity in his right arm. Fearing he’d be unable to draw and paint, Denis McLoughlin committed suicide using a studio prop pistol that only had one bullet in it.
I’m not the world’s biggest James Bond fan, with mixed feelings about the original 1950’s-60’s Ian Fleming novels, favoring the first three Sean Connery films over all others, and with (you can yell at me and throw things now) the first Pierce Brosnan film, Goldeneye, coming in next. But not being the world’s biggest fan doesn’t mean I’m still not on board for all of them…well, except for the Roger Moore films. Sorry, I just cannot get into those.
Planned for a Spring release, but delayed like everything else in our pandemic world and now headed our way (we’ll see) this November is the 25th: No Time To Die. Ana De Armas strikes some lethal poses as CIA agent Paloma, a “Bond Girl” though not 007’s love interest, or so I’ve read.
I can’t call Nancy Guild (1925 – 1999) a Noir Princess, but she did star alongside George Montgomery in The Brasher Doubloon, the 1947 film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s 1942 Philip Marlowe novel The High Window (see the preceding post). Guild may not have had the shortest Hollywood career, but close it, and her eight-movie resume’s a peculiar mix of a truly good films and real clunkers like Abbott & Costello Meet The Invisible Man and Francis Covers The Big Town (Francis being Universal’s popular talking mule). Basically, she knocked out one film per year between 1946 and 1953, then simply left tinsel town for wedded life, only occasionally appearing on television in the late 1950’s and doing one final film role in the early 1970’s.
But check out The Brasher Doubloon, a darn good postwar noir and a respectable Chandler adaptation. Nancy Guild (her last name rhymes with ‘wild’) acquits herself well as a sometimes fetching — sometimes frightening secretary to a wealthy woman seeking the return of a valuable collectible coin from her deceased husband’s collection. Some consider The Brasher Doubloon the most ‘gothic’ of the Phillip Marlowe movies, and both of its often overlooked stars, George Montgomery and Nancy Guild, deserve to be seen.
There’s not much reason to be familiar with Racine, Wisconsin. Unless you’re a fan of old-time radio shows, that is, and remember Fibber McGee & Molly’s sponsor, the Johnson Wax company of Racine, Wisconsin (S.C. Johnson today, mega-corporate marketers of Windex, Pledge, Glade, Drano, Saran Wrap, Raid, Ziploc bags, Off and many other branded products probably lurking somewhere around your home). There’s a chance if you attended college anywhere from Chicago to Milwaukee that you might’ve taken a field trip to the Frank Lloyd Wright designed S.C. Johnson corporate campus for an architecture class. But that aside, Racine has been eclipsed lately by its small city/big town neighbor just a short hop down the road, Kenosha Wisconsin, which has been in the news much more than it would like.
I’ve been to Kenosha and Racine and all points in between Chicago and Milwaukee, that 100 mile+ stretch along lower Lake Michigan’s western shoreline, more or less one continuous metro area straddling two states (even been to that diesel-punk shrine S.C. Johnson campus numerous times on day job chores). But I never expected to see Racine mentioned in the pages of Mystery Scene magazine, much less to learn that one of my wordsmith heroes resided on the north side of that town for a year and half back in the mid-1960’s.
With his writing career briefly stalled, Lawrence Block (a name mentioned often enough here at The Stiletto Gumshoe) found himself relocating from Buffalo, New York to Racine, Wisconsin for a year and half, working a regular day job at Whitman Numismatic Journal (numismatics being coin collecting). The job offer was based in part on one particular 1964 article Block wrote: “Raymond Chandler And The Brasher Doubloon”. That essay (also available in Block’s collection of non-fiction pieces, Hunting Buffalo With Bent Nails, 2019), is reprinted in the latest Fall 2020 issue of Mystery Scene magazine, and it’s an intriguing read for Block fans and Raymond Chandler enthusiasts alike. Whether you know Chandler’s story from his 1942 Philip Marlowe novel The High Window or the 1947 film adaptation (the second, actually) The Brasher Doubloon with George Montgomery and Nancy Guild, do check out Block’s essay.
This Fall 2020 Mystery Scene issue is full of the usual tasty stuff, including all the new book release ads and reviews, some of which I’ve added to the orders refilling the writing lair’s to-be-read endtable. But there’s more, of course, like Pat H. Broeske’s excellent (but all too short!) “Love On The Run” article, which takes a look at some of the many Hollywood films inspired at least in part by the notorious exploits of the real-life Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, including Joseph Lewis’ Gun Crazy (1957), Arthur Penn’s Bonnie & Clyde (1967) naturally enough, Nicholas Ray’s incredible They Live By Night (1948) and others. They Live By Night is a particular fave of mine and overdue for a fresh viewing soon. It’s odd that such a noir classic is mostly seen in cheesy omnibus disk set editions found in bargain bins. If you haven’t seen this one, perhaps Italian illustrator Averardo Ciriello’s gorgeous film poster art below will send you off to find this incredible piece of doomed, dark romance with Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell. The faces Ciriello painted for that poster are truly haunting.
As for Mystery Scene magazine, go get your own copy of the Fall 2020 Mystery Scene now…
The Wilson Lewes Trio had four LP’s, I think, each a compilation of their takes on popular movie theme songs. I don’t know if this kitschy 1966 album with the themes from Dean Martin’s The Silencers and James Coburn’s Our Man Flint was even remotely listenable. But the two well-armed assassins look formidable enough – and suitably swinging sixties-ish – to take on playboy photographer Matt Helm and former Z.O.W.I.E (Zonal Organization World Intelligence Espionage) spy Derek Flint.
Never a member of ‘Team Edward’ or ‘Team Jacob’, I’m just not much of an expert on Stefenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Or much of a fan, to be honest. I skimmed a few pages of the first Twilight novel in a bookstore years ago, and have only seen random snips of the movies while channel surfing. But maybe I should say thanks to Stefenie Meyer. Well, more accurately, I do owe Rachelle Hampton for her funny 9.2.20 piece at Salon, “All 349 ‘Murmurs’ in the Twilight Saga, Charted And Ranked”. (link below)
According to Rachelle Hampton, Stefenie Meyer seems to be “unconditionally and irrevocably in love with the word murmur…there are hopeful murmurs and bleak murmurs, warm murmurs and tense murmurs, low murmurs and…well, even lower murmurs”. She went so far as to assemble an Excel spreadsheet charting Meyer’s use of the word murmur, discovering that the new Midnight Sun sequel/prequel included 67 murmurs, while the original Twilight series novels tallied 349 (which is a lot of murmuring). For the record, Breaking Dawn boasted the most, coming in at 111 murmurs.
While I may not be particularly interested in vampires that sparkle, moody teenagers or the Pacific Northwest, Rachelle Hampton’s analysis of Stefenie Meyer’s wordsmithing (and the gentle way she’s poking fun) prompted me to give the MS Word Advanced Find And Replace tool a go in my own work, something I probably should’ve been doing all along.
I was relieved to learn that I’d only used murmur twice in the completed Stiletto Gumshoe manuscript currently being queried – one murmured and one murmuring to be precise, and those over 200 manuscript pages apart. So far, no one murmurs even once in the in-progress follow-up novel, that one about halfway complete.
Still, that double-check prompted me to do similar word search/counts on all kinds of other words and phrases, terrified I’d discover that I employed word crutches or writerly ‘darlings’, those awful go-to words and phrases writers of all sorts turn to in a crunch or type almost by default. The result? Relief, once again, though just to play safe, I did change a word or two just to have something to show for the effort.
As an avid reader of postwar PBO mysteries, crime fiction and private eye series (some of which boast eye-catching covers but pretty awful insides) I can verify that many writers – particularly those of the pre-computer ‘first draft is the only draft’ school – beat some words and phrases to death. And no, I’m not going to assemble an Excel spreadsheet for you in order to prove this. Just take my word for it. At the very least, there were some very popular P.I. series wordsmiths sharing more or less the very same descriptions for every slinky female client, femme fatale and damsel in distress encountered, and using those again and again.
Not too much murmuring going on in a lot of those novels, though.
Right or wrong, I suppose that I lump Stefenie Meyer’s Twilight series in with the notorious E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey series: Mega-selling publishing phenomena that spawned super-successful film franchises, presumably leaving both writers more than comfortable for life. As well as their heirs. And their heirs. The two series seem to go hand in hand, appropriate since the Grey books began as Twilight fanfic. While some might grimace at the writing itself, there’s no denying that the novels caught on with the book buying and movie-going public, so any griping about their success just comes off as sour grapes. There’ll be no griping here, only gratitude to Rachelle Hampton, Stefenie Meyer (and maybe E.L. James, too) for reminding me to watch out for those word darlings and to double-check every so often in case things have gotten out of hand. I imagine I’ll automatically picture a sullen Kristen Stewart the next time my fingers start typing murmur.