The Rules.

The Rules

If you stop by here at The Stiletto Gumshoe, there’s no way you’d be unfamiliar with Elmore Leonard. There’s a good chance you’ve liked his work. I know I do. A lot. Enough, in fact, to have multiple editions of some of his novels. I may be notoriously acquisitive, but I’m no collector. Nonetheless, I just couldn’t pass some up, figuring I could use redundant copies for re-reads, which certain Leonard novels are bound to get. Case in point: I read (and still have) my hardcover of Up In Honey’s Room, but how could I pass up the saucy little paperback edition that’s tucked right beside it on my bookshelves?

Up In Honey's Room

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Born in New Orleans in 1925, raised mostly in Detroit, Elmore Leonard did three years in the Navy Seabees during WWII, went to college after the war and worked as an ad agency copywriter for several years, even once he’d begun writing. Originally penning westerns – Hombre, 3:10 To Yuma, Joe Kidd being some of the better known titles, he later moved to crime fiction and thrillers. Get Shorty, Be Cool, 52 Pickup, Mr. Majestyk and Out Of Sight are just a few better known novels and among Leonard’s stories and books that have been adapted to films. He passed away in 2013, following complications from a stroke that he looked to be recovering from. No surprise, his books have sold tens of millions of copies.

Elmore Leonard’s style was distinctive from the start but became even more so after he began writing crime and thrillers. The prose is spare, straightforward and unadorned, textbook examples of a highly skilled writer employing less words but only the absolute right words. Elmore Leonard’s “The Rules” are seen often, memorized by some writers, no doubt, and were the basis for what became his Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules For Writing.

Stop over at Crime Reads (link below) for an intriguing and deeper look at Elmore Leonard’s “Rules” from a 1998 conversation with Martin Amis. For the writers among you (this being “A Writer’s Blog That’s Not”), Leonard’s “The Rules” are shown yet again above. They’re kind of like the Ten Commandments, and I for one, strive to adhere to them. This past Friday would’ve been Elmore Leonard’s 94thbirthday. We can’t be overly saddened when a person gets 80++ good years, but we certainly can still mourn the loss, and think about the words left unwritten.

https://crimereads.com/celebrating-elmore-leonards-rules-for-writing/

TV Noir With A Mancini Soundtrack

Peter Gunn 1

I can’t keep track of all the oddball cable channels I can access. FETV? Never heard of it, but apparently it’s one of far too many syndicated rerun channels cluttering the cable landscape, and definitely wasn’t marked as a favorite. That is, until I discovered that FETV was running three back-to-back episodes of Peter Gunn, the 1958 – 1961 ABC detective series created by Blake Edwards and starring Craig Stevens as the titular private eye with Lola Albright as his jazz chanteuse girlfriend, Edie Hart.

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Set in an unnamed waterfront city that could hug either coast (but is actually far-too-familiar Universal and later MGM backlot streets), suave and perpetually cool Peter Gunn uses quirky jazz club Mother’s as his unofficial office, drives a car-phone equipped big-finned two-tone ’58 DeSoto and typically gets a cool grand for his jobs. Always nattily attired, Gunn’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, and is good with his fists in a tussle with thugs and, in keeping with his name, ready with his gun when needed. Creator Blake Edwards aimed for a cool, hip tone with this series. The look is visibly ‘noir-ish’, most scenes set at night, the redundantly re-used sets kept dark and shadowy, often filmed in jarring camera angles, and all enhanced by Henry Mancini’s jazzy score. In fact, the “Peter Gunn Theme”, which you’d recognize right away if you heard it, was nominated for an Emmy and two Grammys.

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Not to overpraise. This is still crank-em-out late ‘50’s-early 60’s era TV, and there are some genuinely silly episodes, either formulaic whodunits or misguided attempts at lighthearted humor. The urbane P.I. in a wild west ghost town? Peter Gunn babysitting a seal? Well, skip those and focus on the good ones, and there are a bunch, at least from those I’ve seen so far. Dark, moody and then suddenly erupting with unexpected violence, the best episodes of Peter Gunn are as good as many film noirs and neo-noirs, just compressed into a half hour time slot.

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Blake Edwards also wrote and directed a number of the episodes, and several years later took another whack at his Peter Gunn creation, directing a feature film (co-written with William Peter Blatty of The Exorcist fame) released by paramount and starring TV’s Craig Stevens. There’ve been further attempts to revive the character in 1989, 2001 and as recently as 2013 by TNT, but nothing’s come of them. A DVD boxed set exists, and if I stumble across it at a reasonable price, I’d go for it.

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Chicago 1946 – 1957

46 chicago

Late 1950’s Chicago wasn’t much on my radar back in 2000 when Steve Monroe’s ’57 Chicago came out. I’ve probably seen it on shelf in used bookstores, even recently when I’ve been laser focused on 1959 Chicago for my own projects (as in, The Stiletto Gumshoe). Even if I have spotted Monroe’s debut novel, I probably decided to pass, not being much of a fan of the boxing scene, which is the what that novel deals with.

But, it’s on order through my local bookseller now, in the newer 2015 trade pb edition. I requested it along with some other books when I was barely 20 pages deep into Monroe’s second novel, ’46 Chicago from 2002, which I recently bought at a used bookstore. Boxing scene or not, if Monroe’s debut is even half as good as his follow-up, I know it’ll be good.

’46 Chicago deals with semi-rogue cop Gus Carson, recently returned to the force after a harrowing time in the Pacific war, only to find himself suspended over an off-duty shooting in a whorehouse. Where he was a patron at the time. So, let’s be clear: Gus is no angel. Tempted by five hundred easy but obviously suspicious dollars from a Chicago bigwig endorsed by the police brass, Gus is tasked with locating the man behind the numbers game on the south side…who’s been kidnapped. Or, may be dead already. Who’s behind it? The cops? Rivals? The mob? Gus’ search drags him down through the underbelly of the city and up to the sprawling estates of the North Shore’s millionaire power brokers, forced to confront his own violent and less than honest past along the way. He may solve this mystery, but there’s no redemption for Gus Carson at its end. It’s all loosely based on the Chicago mob’s real-life takeover of the south side numbers/policy racket, engineered by Sam Giancana under Tony Arccado’s leadership.

57 chicago

Monroe’s novel is truly harder than hard-boiled, darker than the most noir-ish of noirs, utterly grim and gritty throughout. I just finished ’46 Chicago after work tonight (Tuesday), and now I’m itching for ’57 Chicago to arrive, so I can dive in to that one, fight scene and boxers or not. But only three of the five books I’d ordered have come in so far (those picked up today), ’57 Chicago still en route. Steve Monroe did one more novel in 2015, Pursuit, in what looks like a contemporary setting. According to his website (stevemonroebooks.com) there are a couple more languishing in a file cabinet, including a sequel to ‘46 Chicago. I don’t know if Monroe’s retired (he is or was a successful real estate broker) or if the current publishing/bookselling marketplace conditions have those projects permanently stuck in limbo, but I hope they see the light of day. Some day.

Side note: I did buy ’46 Chicago at a used bookstore, my copy a like-new hardcover with a perfectly clean dustjacket. Only a little way in, what should tumble out from between the pages? The author’s own day-job business card, which may well have been hiding in there since the book’s release in 2002. (The company’s since been absorbed by another in a mega-merger.) And based on the card and his title at the time, I don’t think Mr. Monroe’s hurting for a tight-fisted publisher’s advance minus agent’s commission. Just guessing.

 

I Guess I Know Where I’ll Be On Sunday Evenings For A While…

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Buying comics since grade school, I doubt if I acquired more than five or six Superman comics in all that time. Super-anything, actually: Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, World’s Finest, whatever. Aside from DC’s current Lois Lane mini-series, I just never got into the whole Krypton/Smallville/Metropolis scene, instead being a dedicated denizen of Gotham City pretty much right from the cradle, always drawn to the dark side and the notion of a regular person fighting crime partly for justice and partly for vengeance. So, a loyal Bat-fan I‘ve always been (and later Batgirl – well, make that the various Bat-Girlz – and Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Huntress, the Bird Of Prey…).

Super powers? Indestructible? Flying, space travel, alternate dimensions? Not for me.

Yet I clicked on CBS a few years back for the premiere of Supergirl, shocked to discover that Melissa Benoist’s Kara Danvers/Supergirl character, the show’s premise and the entire cast all left me completely smitten. I’ve been a rabid fan since, worried at first when the series switched to the CW, concerned on occasion that the growing cast of characters made for some unwieldly storylines, frustrated to see some characters depart but learning to love the newcomers, and always pleased with the show’s none-too-subtle bits of politicking.

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Season Five premiered this past Sunday and didn’t disappoint, doing the obligatory setup for some impending changes, new personal dramas, secondary villains and the season’s ‘big bad’. A lot of advance chatter dwelt with Benoist’s ever-so-slightly different look (bangs) and more notably, a redesign for her Supergirl uniform. “Pants!” she exclaimed once it appeared, and who couldn’t share her relief. I’ll still ponder precisely where Kara Danvers (like her cousin, Clark Kent/Superman) hid her costume. Super-speed aside, Kara’s sleek Catco Media office attire – a sleeveless dress, bare-legged with designer heels — doesn’t provide any convenient places to stow a superhero’s gear. Bottom line: Where did she hide those enormous red boots? So now she has fake hi-tech specs engineered by Brainiac to trigger an all-new morph-on-the-fly Supergirl suit. Sans skirt.

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But instead of pondering where superheroes hide their super-gear, I’ll focus on what will make the two-hour 7:00 – 9:00 PM CST Sunday slot a real pre-workweek delight: Supergirl preceded by the CW’s new Batwoman, a show that’s gotten a lot of buzz. If Supergirl proudly provided us with a prominent lesbian character (Kara’s adopted earth sister Alex) and a trans actor (Nicole Maines), Batwoman keeps the faith with the DC comic source and Ruby Rose’s Kate Kane. Readers of this site should guess by now that “The Stiletto Gumshoe” is coming from Chicago, so it was nice to see so many Batwoman exteriors shot here (sets and interiors done in Vancouver along with the other Arrow-verse shows), providing a nice visual link to the first two Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman movies: LaSalle Street and the Board Of Trade Building as Wayne Tower (that darn street’s in so many movies), the Field Museum (that’s the dinosaur and mummy museum, not the one with whole airliners hanging inside or the WWII Nazi sub outside). And while I may be wrong, did they locate the questionable mercenary Crow organization’s HQ in Chicago’s Trump Tower? Looked that way to me. If so – cute choice.

Trapped (1949)

Trapped 4

Until recently, Richard Fleischer’s 1949 film noir Trapped was relegated to grainy DVD’s mostly seen on sale racks and in cut-out bins, the poverty row Eagle-Lion Films production being in the public domain. Newly restored by the Film Noir Foundation and UCLA Film and Television Archive, with support from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Trapped can now be properly viewed and reassessed as much more than a forgettable low-budget B-movie, and clearly part of the classic postwar noir canon (if cult fans hadn’t already positioned it there).

Trapped Poster

Produced by Bryan Foy, expertly living up to his previous status as the “King Of The B’s” at Warner Brothers and by ’49 in charge at Eagle-Lion, newly restored Trapped received a proper presentation on TCM this past weekend, with Noir Alley host, Film Noir Foundation founder and maestro of all-things-noir Eddie Muller providing an engaging overview of the stories behind the film.

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Think of Trapped as a precursor to William Freidkin’s 80’s neo-noir To Live And Die In L.A., with convicted counterfeiter Lloyd Bridges, in his first real leading man role, here furloughed from prison to assist the Feds with the retrieval of a set of near-perfect $20 bill plates. But Bridges escapes and a dizzying set of double-crosses unfolds. Halfway in, I was ready for any G-Man to be revealed for a crook, and for any counterfeiter to flip out a Treasury Department badge.

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What I wasn’t ready for was just how good twenty-one year-old actress Barbara Payton could be in her own breakout role, playing a nightclub cigarette girl and Bridge’s girlfriend/accomplice. Her sexy, gritty performance (with an undercurrent of weary vulnerability) captivated audiences 70 years ago, along with some Warner Brothers bigwigs who immediately put her under contract. But Payton’s success was short-lived, her penchant for fellows, booze and brawling ending her career only a few years later, with poverty, scandals and arrests in the years that followed, right up to her untimely death at only 39 in 1967.

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Her Time Is Now.

batwoman

Ruby Rose may have had a close call with back surgery urgently needed following stunt work gone bad (or whatever it was), but we’ll assume she recovered enough to don the Bat-Suit and that all is on schedule for the premier this weekend of CW’s new Batwoman. All teasers seen so far promise something mighty good, so as with ABC’s Stumptown premier last week, fingers are crossed here, and you know I’ll be planted in front of the TV Sunday evening.

EQMM: An October Anniversary

llery Queen Mystery Magazine May 1957

Not quite eighty yet, but damn close. Crime Reads’ 10.1.19 masthead notes that Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine’s first issue debuted 78 years ago this week on October 1, 1941. Technically it was titled Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine then, losing the ”’s” in 1991, I think.

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine January 1966

The pseudonymous writing team of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee who’d been publishing under the pen name “Ellery Queen” since 1929 had already tried and failed with one magazine in 1933: Mystery League. Still determined to give the reigning crime fiction pulps some high-quality competition, they gave it another go in 1941, and this time things clicked. That first issue with seven short stories, including pieces by Dashiell Hammett and Cornell Woolrich, sold 90,000 copies. Helmed primarily by Dannay, who continued as editor till his death in 1982, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine started out as a quarterly, then bi-monthly, and went monthly in 1946.

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I recently took a chance on an Ebay mixed lot of EQMM back issues, the buy-now price not much more than the big box’s postage. I’ve been burned and burned bad a couple times on Ebay, and yes, a few went in the trash, too demolished or mildewed to hold onto. But I still ended up with an assortment of issues from the 1950’s through the 1990’s, and will probably try my luck again soon. And I usually buy the current issues, edited by Janet Hutchings for almost thirty years now. Sure, I like some issues better than others, but I’ve never had one that disappointed, and consider nearly 200 digest-sized pages with that wonderfully tactile and nostalgic newsprint paper for a mere $7.99 a genuine bargain.

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine December 1951

From that first issue that sold for two-bits 78 years ago with Hammett and Woolrich, consider some of the talent that’s appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine over the years: Jorge Luis Borges, Agatha Christie, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Patricia Highsmith, Stephen King, W. Somerset Maugham, David Morrell, Manly Wade Wellman, P.G. Wodehouse…oh, and Phyllis Diller (seriously). To say nothing of how many incredible emerging talents who got their first major credit in EQMM. Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine is now the longest running mystery fiction magazine, and has teamed up with Black Mask to include that publication’s material in each issue as well. I’ve never submitted, and doubt that I ever will, but you can call me a fan, ‘cuz I truly am. 78 years is quite a legacy.

Elery Queen Mystery Magazine

Grande’s Got A Gun

Ariana Grande Complex 1

I’d be fibbing if I claimed to know a lot about singer/songwriter/actress Ariana Grande, other than knowing she’s a major pop star, and had a long run playing endearing and quirky Cat Valentine on Nickelodeon’s Victorious and then on Sam & Cat before mega-stardom beckoned. Hey, I’m not pop culture-clueless, y’know.

But all it takes is a purse-sized pistol and trenchcoat to turn any celebrity – even the adorable ones – into a noir-ish femme fatale or ‘stiletto gumshoe’, and here’s Grande doing just that for Complex magazine (from 2013, I think).

Ariana Grande Complex 3Ariana Grande Complex 4Ariana Grande Complex 2Complex Magazine Cover

L.A. Noir Gets No Darker

Dead Extra

Contemporary or retro, a lot of “L.A. Noir” stories, novels and films claim they’ll take you on a tour of the dark underbelly of Los Angeles. Sean Carswell’s Dead Extra (Prospect Park Books, 2019) drags you into the worst, and then rubs your nose in it…in a good way.

I already forgot where I spotted Carswell’s new book. Crime Reads? Thrilling Detective? The Rap Sheet? Bottom line: I follow or subscribe to a few too many mystery/crime fiction sites/blogs, so it’s hard to keep track. But one of them recommended Dead Extra and I’m glad I asked the local bookstore to get me a copy (small press titles so rarely found on-shelf anywhere but in specialty shops).

Presumed to be killed in action, WWII U.S. Airman (and former LAPD uniformed cop) Jack Chesley has finally returned to Los Angeles after a two-year stint in a Nazi POW camp, only to discover that both his father and his wife, Wilma, are dead. The wife’s demise was ruled an accident, but her twin sister Gertie knows better. Wilma was murdered, and at that only after enduring a couple years of exploitation and abuse at the hands of silver screen big shots bankrolling sleazy prostitution and blackmail rackets.

The story unfolds in alternating points of view, one chapter for Jack in the 1946 present day as he begins to investigate Wilma’s death, and one for Wilma in 1943 and 1944, telling her horribly degrading story: Going off the deep end after getting that telegram from Uncle Sam, committed to a sanitarium, tricked into performing for a no-tell motel’s striptease sex club in order to escape, and then on the run from a murderous gang of pimps and blue movie blackmailers.

There’s nothing titillating about this seamy underworld, and while vengeful Jack Chesley’s investigation covers familiarly gripping hard-boiled ground, it’s really Wilma’s story (as well as her twin sister Gertie’s in the ‘present day’) that will ensnare the reader. I’d have been content with a book that let Wilma tell her own tale…it’s a novel in itself.

Cozy mystery fans would surely faint a few chapters into Dead Extra, but retro crime fiction fans – especially those enjoying period hard-boiled So-Cal material ala Chandler to Ellroy – will probably find themselves comfortably at home here. It’s rough stuff in many places, but I’ll assume that’s only because the author decided not to pull any punches. And the novel has its share of punches and gunshots to go along with the 1940’s era sleaze. Do look for Sean Carswell’s Dead Extra. And let’s prod Sean Carswell into taking a whack at a novel that tells the story of another ‘Wilma’ or ‘Gertie’…he did it well here and I’d love to see more.

 

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