Do No Harm.

Do No harm

My book cases’ Collins (and I don’t mean Wilkie) section takes up most of a long shelf, and that’s only the Max Allan Collins solo titles (his co-authored completions of Mickey Spillane novels being in the even bigger Mickey Spillane section). Collins shares some shelf space with Stuart Kaminsky’s Toby Peter series, which I consider a pretty honorable place to reside. From Michael O’Sullivan and The Road books to Ms. Tree, Maggie Starr in the 1950’s NYC comics scene series to the new Galena, IL police chief Krista Larsen series, it’s a long and continually growing row. There’s even an ancient Mallory hardcover from 1984, Kill Your Darlings (a used bookstore find, that one). I’ll admit to coming up a little shy on his Nolan and Quarry novels. Still, call me a fan.

But the longest portion of that long bookshelf is taken up by Collins’ Nathan Heller books, among my favorite mystery/crime fiction series, right up there with Estleman’s Amos Walker and Spillane’s Mike Hammer himself. There are hardcovers, trade pb’s and pocketbooks from Tor Forge, iBooks, Harper Torch, Signet, Dutton, Thomas Mercer and more…you have to stay on top of things if you want to catch the Hellers, and I do try to be diligent about it.

Advance PR noted that 2020’s Do No Harm would thrust Chicago P.I. Nathan Heller and his A-1 Detective Agency in the middle of a sensational 1950’s murder case: The Sam Sheppard affair. Heller has found himself in the midst of Los Angeles’ Black Dahlia murder, the Lindbergh kidnapping and Marilyn Monroe’s death among other high-profile cases. I’ll admit to enjoying Nathan Heller most when tangling with the mob in his Chi-Town home-town, his early career the most interesting. Frankly, I knew little about the real-life Sheppard murder other than it being ‘sorta-kinda’ the inspiration for the popular 1960’s TV series The Fugitive.

Newspapers

Dr. Sam Sheppard was a successful suburban Cleveland physician and apparently a bit of a philanderer. Late at night after an Independence Day get-together with neighbors, Marilyn Sheppard was sexually assaulted and brutally murdered right in the family’s lakefront home’s upstairs bedroom, while their son slept just down the hall and Sheppard himself snoozed away on a downstairs sofa. Law enforcement bungled the investigation and the local press more or less convicted him long before charges were filed or his trial commenced. Sheppard was found guilty and sent away for life. Many, however, felt he was railroaded.

Collins’ Nathan Heller novel includes a large cast of characters both real and imagined/composited, including Elliott Ness (who moved to Cleveland after his notorious ‘Untouchables’ escapades in Chicago), Perry Mason creator Earle Stanley Gardner and celebrity defense attorney F. Lee Bailey. Collins’ and long-time associate George Hagenauer’s thorough research is evident throughout, the book reading at times like a true crime book and at others like a rousing Nate Heller noir novel. Sheppard was ultimately retried and exonerated, though he earned no brownie points for his antics during his post-prison life, and while Collins seems convinced of the doctor’s innocence, Do No Harm doesn’t whitewash the man. The author concedes that he changed his own mind several times about who really murdered Marilyn Sheppard during the wee hours of July 4th, 1954.

If my work schedule was a little less overwhelming, I’m sure I’d have plowed through this book in a couple days. As it was, I was forced to read a chapter or two at a time over several days, but always anxious to get right back to it. Nate Heller books are just like that. Do No Harm was actually the very last new book added to the normally overflowing to-be-read heap on the writing lair’s endtable. That pile will grow again and soon enough, though it’ll take a little more doing than usual to rebuild the stack to normal size. And it’ll take some patience to wait for another Max Allan Collins Nathan Heller novel.

The Gun In The Lingerie Drawer.

Edmund OBrien

Still working through my overstuffed folder of unread Crime Reads articles and essays…

Poll some fiction writers and I’ll wager they’ll all agree that sex may be the most challenging thing to write about. Oh, choreographing action and violence is tough, no question. But sex? Many writers’ fingers freeze over the keyboard when their plot demands a sex scene.

We routinely sit through shocking and even grisly TV and movie violence without flinching, even though our boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse, parents, siblings or friends are right beside us. But let the clothes come off and the more-than-smooching commence, and suddenly we’re squirming in our seats. Doubly so here in the U.S., where violence as entertainment has long been tolerated and even encouraged, while sex has been sanitized, compartmentalized, crudely packaged in exclusively male-gaze slide-shows and for decades, hidden altogether.

Crime Reads - Sex-Violence

Novelist Amanda Robson’s June, 2018 essay at Crime Reads, “Why Is Sex So Much Harder To Write Than Violence?” (link below) points out that while most people do have sex, most do not experience violence (at least, not the sort that fills mysteries, crime fiction and thrillers). Sex, while personal and intimate, is something most writers, readers and viewers can relate to on a first-hand basis. Violence, less likely so.

Have I experienced violence? Not really. I’ve been in car accidents. I’ve wrestled, been hit and thrown a punch. Who hasn’t, at least as a kid? I’ve cleaned a fish, so I guess I’ve plunged a knife into a living creature. I’ve shot a firearm, but only at targets, and I’ll be fine with never touching a gun again. But I’ve never even seen someone get stabbed or shot, much less been wounded myself. Whatever I write is entirely made up, cherry-picked from and authenticated by our collective TV/Comics/Movies/Novels archive and its vocabulary.

Helen Diaz Prophoto Nut 2

As for sex? Hmmmm…none of your business. Whether it’s straight/gay/other, vanilla or weirdsville, time to gleefully don the frillies and lay out the sashes and toys, or once-a-week obligatory marital bed dreariness, writers might understandably assume (or fear) that readers will identify the writer with the sex scene. Amanda Robson writes, “Most novelists write from the power of their imagination. However, when a novelist writes about sex, people imagine they are writing from their personal experience.  Or, at least, from their sexual fantasies. Because my debut novel Obsession contained a few raunchy scenes, I have been subjected to a barrage of comments – some funny, some lewd, some insulting – including an increase in men hitting on me at parties.” But she goes on to wonder why, as a crime novelist, no one assumed she had a lethal weapon in her pocket.

I’m as guilty as the next wordsmith. Sure, I’ve revised and rewritten chases, gunplay and fight scenes, struggling to get the action onto the page while still maintaining the proper pace and level of excitement. But sex? Good Lord, I revise and rewrite and prune and tweak till my computer’s ready to melt, and not because the scene’s so sizzling hot, only because I keep changing things. First it seems too pervy, then it sounds too flowery, then too specific, then too vague, then too clinical, and then…well, on and on and on. Compound this with writers’ discomfort when trying to adopt a character’s persona: A woman writing from a man’s POV or vice-versa. Writing gay, lesbian or trans, desperate to make the text ring true, but once done, wondering if readers will start to make assumptions. We shouldn’t care. But we’re uptight, fragile, human and we just do. Yet, I’ve never wasted a second worrying that readers will think I can handle a .45 automatic or know what it feels like when a bullet grazes my shoulder and the blood starts to flow.

ilya rashap

Amanda Robson doesn’t provide solutions for writers so much as analyze the situation. I’ll suggest there are no solutions. We’ll continue to peek at the author’s photo on the rear dustjacket flap and imagine them having the raucous orgies meticulously described in Chapter Six, but won’t for a moment presume they personally pack a pistol, blade or brass knuckles. And writers will continue to agonize over one page of eroticism even while they merrily plow through chapter after chapter of crime scenes, gunshots, explosions and fist-fights.

Mystery/crime fiction writer or reader, follow the link and read for yourself what Amanda Robson had to say about all this.

Photos: Edmond O’Brien, Helen Diaz/ProPhotonut, Ilya Rashap

https://crimereads.com/why-is-sex-so-much-harder-to-write-than-violence/

 

Stuck At Home? Then Go To Noir City.

Noir City 1It’s not like I didn’t see it coming: Shelter-at-home, non-essential businesses closed temporarily, etc. It’s just that the day job was in its normal busy time of year, well underway prior to the shutdowns and continuing during the transition to work-at-home. I may have been prepared with groceries in the fridge and a full tank of gas (should I just skip the thing about the cigarette carton stash?), but I hadn’t been to the library, hadn’t been in a bookstore and hadn’t even done a quick online order of any books – new or old – in the days leading up to the sudden switch to hermit status. The to-be-read stack on the writing lair’s endtable had whittled down some. It’s not like I don’t have shelves of beloved treasures that could do with a re-read, but still…

So, it was a double delight to see the new Spring 20202 Noir City e-magazine Number 28 appear in my in-box.

Noir City 3

Now I’m not kidding about being busy with the day job. Even routine tasks seem to take twice as long as they do in-office, where simple face-to-face questions and approvals take no more than a moment, but now require email barrages. No complaints, mind you. When the news is filled with startling stats like 1 in 10 Americans filing for Unemployment last week and even 1 in 4 laid-off, furloughed or weathering hours cutbacks, I’m thrilled to be working. But with time at a premium, I haven’t read a single word of this new Noir City issue yet. Still, a quick scroll through the pages (drooling the entire time) assured me this is another terrific issue from Vince Keenan and Steve Kronenberg, and as always, a visual treat from Art Director Michael Kronenberg.

Noir City 2

Craving some dark delights in the midst of endless dismal news? Get thee to the Film Noir Foundation’s site (link below) to find out more, become a contributor and to get your mitts on the Noir City e-magazine. Just try to visit there and not end up wanting something: Back issues, festival posters, whatever. Hey, if we can’t spend money in stores right now, we can unload a few bucks on something of real value for noir culture enthusiasts…and I know there are more than a few of you reading this.

http://www.filmnoirfoundation.org/home.html

http://www.filmnoirfoundation.org/aboutnoircity.html

Tips For Aspiring Crime Writers Enthralled By The Classics.

The Big Sleep 1978

Deluged with articles and radio/TV news touting ways to pass the time while sheltering at home? Must-see series to binge watch, reading literary classics you skipped in high school, or perhaps reviving dormant hobbies? Sure, like I have time to start a ship in a bottle. The fact is, moving the day job from the office to the writing lair has mostly meant that everything takes twice as long to accomplish. So far, there’s no time for down time.

But one thing I promised to do is to finally catch up on an entire stash of articles and essays from Crime Reads, a fat folder of sloppy screen-caps and still-working links, some a year and half old. I was too busy to read them properly or at all when first spotted, and I mean to get through these things by the time we un-shelter.

How To Write Like Chandler

Dial back with me to July of 2018 for “How To Write Like Chandler Without Becoming A Cliché” by Owen Hill (link below), one of the editors of the amazing The Annotated Big Sleep, along with Pamela Jackson and Anthony Dean Rizzuto (well, and Raymond Chandler, of course), that jumbo 470+ page 2018 Vintage Crime/Black Lizard classic noir/crime fiction fan must-read. I’ve written about it here before. Maybe will again. But for now, it’s Owen Hill’s remarks about just how easy it is to become so enthralled by the genre’s mid-twentieth century roots that the icons, triggers and tropes can permeate our own work…and not necessarily in a good way.

The Annotated Big Sleep

Hill’s essay is subtitled “Tips For Aspiring Crime Writers Enthralled By The Classics” and he opens by listing just a few of the most obvious and iconic scenes we’d automatically associate with Raymond Chandler’s (sometimes by way of Dashiell Hammett’s) work, and he notes, “Today it’s difficult to imagine a detective novel without at least an homage to these and other Chandleresque tropes. What’s a fledgling writer to do? How to make it all seem fresh?”

Aside from avoiding the most worn out clichés and stereotypes, Hill recommends reading. And reading a lot.

Chandler? Well, sure. How can you not? Hill adds James M. Cain, Ross MacDonald and notes that Chandler himself learned second-hand by reading the pulps, especially Earle Stanley Gardner and Hammett. I’ll add in a diverse bunch of notorious characters from James Ellroy to Sandra Scoppettone, Vicki Hendricks and early Megan Abbott, Loren D. Estleman and Stuart Kaminsky, Sue Grafton and George Pellecanos, Max Allan Collins and Sara Gran, both Kanes (Henry and Frank)…and of course, Mickey Spillane. My list could go on and on. You’ll have your own to add.

The Big Sleep 1978 - 2

There’s a very fine line between homage and pastiche, and narrow as the distinction may be, it’s made worse by being blurry and ill-defined. What one reader/writer considers reverent, another sees as laughably hokey. I struggle with this all the time, whether working in period settings (much of my own stuff set in the late 1950’s to very early 1960’s) or in ‘the now’. Once the fellows sport suspenders and fedoras, the women wear hats and gloves, the cars have fat fenders or fins and the gumshoes plunk coins in pay phone slots, a writer’s in treacherous territory, where deadly clichés lurk around every corner.

Hill’s solution is the same one recommended by nearly every writing how-to book. Read, read and read some more…though obviously, leaving a little time for your fingers to tap dance across the keyboard. Makes sense. Only by getting a firm handle on the wide diversity of voices, settings, situations and styles a thriving genre comprises, and by seeing first-hand how those who’ve gone before us have synthesized the genre’s iconography into their own fresh perspectives can anyone possibly hope – however humbly – to put their own spin on things. It’s okay to be enthralled or even to go all fanboy/girl over genre classics, so long as we don’t become clichés ourselves.

So, you’ll indulge me if I include some pics of Robert Mitchum from the 1978 The Big Sleep in this post instead of the more revered, and obvious, Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe himself.

https://crimereads.com/how-to-write-like-chandler-without-becoming-a-cliche/

 

The Shakedown

The Shakedown 1

“Models Were The Bait For Blackmail!”

I usually don’t go for retro British crime melodramas or noir-wannabe’s, considering most a little too timid. But I’ve always loved that poster shown above, and wouldn’t mind getting my mitts on John Lemont’s 1959/1960 The Shakedown with Hazel Court, Donald Pleasence and Terry Morgan, just for a peek. The film didn’t make it to the U.S. until 1961, and mustn’t have made much of a splash then, since even bargain basement DVD companies have overlooked it.

The Shakedown 2

Just released from prison, Terry Morgan sets up a modeling agency that’s really a front for a naughty pictures racket backed up with a blackmail scheme. When the police get wise, they enlist future Hammer horror films stalwart Hazel Court to go undercover to infiltrate the operation, never anticipating that she’ll end up falling for the good-looking but sleazy blackmailer. The tawdry business wraps up once a blackmail victim’s had enough and shoots Morgan. Before the crook dies, he realizes that Hazel Court is really an undercover police officer. But there’s no talk of love or see you in the hereafter. His final words? He calls her a bitch and gasps his last, leaving Court to ponder what she let herself get mixed up in as she wanders off.

Murder, mayhem and vintage sleaze? Sounds deliciously stupid to me, but all I’ve found so far are short, ho-hum video snips. Still, I bet I’ll stumble across this sleazy gem in some DVD discount bin or risky video site someday.

The Shakedown 3The Shakedown 4The Shakedown 5

(Neon) Neo-Noir Still Lifes

Maurizio di Lorio 1

If you prop a still life photo with a vintage UK edition of Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me, Deadly, you’ll get my attention.

Photographer Maurizio di Lorio shoots commercial assignments for diverse clients including GQ, Vogue, WWD and Elle among others, and has mounted fine art photography exhibitions from Los Angeles to Venice, Italy. Most of his images are incredibly crisp macro close-ups, all of them oozing intensely saturated hues, di Lorio’s figurative work sometimes isolating facial closeups, or more famously (or notoriously) deploying models sporting black or neon-hued opaque legwear, often in surreal or provocative situations.

But it’s di Lorio’s still-life and tabletop shots that caught my eye. Propped with crime genre trinkets like smoldering cigarettes, handguns and cocktails, they’re like glimpses of decidedly non-black & white neo-noir film sets.

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Jonesing For My Paper.

horst p. horst 1943

Only three weeks into the renewal of my Sunday New York Times home delivery subscription, and there’s no paper outside. I cancelled the NYT and Chicago Tribune Sunday home deliveries back around the holidays, frustrated with only getting the paper three out of four weeks…if that. Visitors and followers here have all seen their share of old B&W movies where folks plunked down some coins for a paper. Home delivery of the Sunday NYT goes for ten buck a week now. Mind you, I’m not blaming either paper. God bless ‘em both for persevering through calamitous times for print media while combatting the crafty onslaught of ‘fake news’ accusations by those who’d love to see a free press crumble and fade.

No, it’s not the newspapers’ fault, just some schmoe driving around with bundles of papers in the back of their SUV that’s the problem. Customer service operators for both papers conceded as much about this particular area when I cancelled, and assured me it had been rectified when I renewed.

Now that I’m officially hunkered down at home, I need that damn paper. Sure, the Trib’s a pale shadow of what it once had been, with entire sections gone and others reduced in size. But the Sunday NYT is like a big fat book’s worth of reading, and both are doubly valuable in times like these. Yeah, yeah, I know: Go online. And I do, during the week. But Sunday routines demand a fresh pot of coffee, suitable morning edibles and newspapers. I don’t care if news is transmitted via implanted bio-chips by the time I’m being spoon-fed gruel in a nursing home, I’ll still want to sniff the tell-tale ink-on-newsprint aroma.

I’ll keep checking (though it’s late afternoon as I write this) but methinks I’ll have to do without my Sunday NYT this week…and the ten bucks.

Photo: Horst P. Horst, 1943

Those Weirdly Empty Streets…

misty night red

A little darker out, and it could look like a scene from a dystopian Neo-Noir out there. Well, a snowy dystopia, since that’s what it’s doing at the moment.

The day job’s workplace is obsolete (but recently welcomed) private offices with few outside visitors and mostly network/intercom communication. We’d joked all week that we felt safer and more quarantined at work than at home. Nonetheless, on Thursday we finally voted to transition to work-at-home, and just in time. On Friday afternoon, the Governor issued a stay-at-home order through April 9th, which was to take effect at 5:00 PM Saturday. I spent most of that day setting things up in the writing lair, testing VPN’s, offsite access and group communications in order to be as close to normal come Monday morning.

Though hardly working in anything that could be considered an essential industry, I volunteered to venture out on work assignments Monday. There’ll be no face-to-face contact with anyone, and I figure it’d be nice to still have a job once this is all over (which I’m certain won’t be April 9th). Clients will leave packaged prototypes outside their offices, which I can pick up, then drop off at coworkers’ doors to be worked on. I don’t imagine I’ll have to wrestle with any traffic jams Monday AM, or risk the State Police pulling me over, and plan to hunker down back in the writing lair – make that the home office, now – once I’m done.

Firing up the jalopy on Saturday to run some pre-sheltering errands, I had the run of the roads. The streets were already eerily empty, but that may only be because everyone was jammed into the grocery store parking lots. Don’t hoard? Sure, that admonishment will be heeded in the land of 24-7 sports, Breitbart News and brain-draining reality TV. I hoped to grab a gallon of skim milk, but had to hit four stores to find any milk, eventually doing my best to social-distance in line behind people dragging two and even three over-stuffed grocery carts, as if they were stocking up fallout shelters.

Snicker at me if you like, but I’m one of those dopes who can get teary-eyed at a Memorial Day commemoration or when I hear the national anthem done well. I really do love this country, pre-pandemic tribal insanity and all. But sometimes it’s hard to feel warm-n-fuzzy towards your fellow citizens while watching them wrestle over frozen pizzas.

Stay well, one and all!

Lorenz Hideyoshi Ruwwe Noir Detective

Images: Barry Yanowitz and Lorenz Hideyoshi Ruwwe

Elaine And John Duillo, Continued…

john duillo 2

More about the husband and wife team of 20th century illustrators, Elaine and John Duillo:

Meanwhile, husband John was an in-demand illustrator for PBO’s as well, known most for westerns and doing some 500+ covers during the 1950’s and 60’s. It’s estimated that his Zane Grey, Max Brand and Louis L’Amour books sold over 100 million copies. Late in his commercial career, Duillo also did numerous covers and interior illustrations for the men’s adventure and so-called men’s sweats market, including a number of notorious women-in-peril pieces typical for that market (and the kind we’ll skip here). He retired from commercial illustration in the mid-1970s to focus on western art and historical Civil War painting and etchings. John was a President of The Society Of American Historical Artists.

See a prior post for art and info from Elaine Duillo.

John Duillo 1John Duillo 4john duillo 3

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