Delayed Gratification

Crime Fiction

Pestering local bookstore clerks is becoming a hobby. Maybe the owners are pleased, but I think the staff behind the register cringe when I start to pull out my notes, printouts and crumpled scraps of paper with lists of books I’m after. Hey, it’s not my fault they don’t – or won’t – have everything I want. Here’s a few of the mystery/crime fiction titles just ordered or reserved, whether they’ll be in-hand in a few days or, in some cases, not till January (!):

Crime Fiction – A Reader’s Guide (above) by Barry Forshaw, which has been teasing me from multiple blogs, sites and e-newsletters and will finally be on my bookshelves where it belongs. I special ordered the UK edition, since the US book won’t be out till Summer 2020, and I don’t think I can wait.

Under Occupation

Under Occupation by Alan Furst, whose books you can consider military fiction, espionage novels or WWII-era thrillers. Screw the categories. I’ve never missed one of his novels, and none have let me down.

Script For Scandal

Script For Scandal by Renee Patrick, the third Lilian Frost & Edith Head Mystery. ‘Renee Patrick’ is actually the husband and wife team of Vince and Rosemarie Keenan, Vince being the new editor of the Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City magazine.

The Sundown Motel

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James. What I’ve read online has me drooling. This is one of those books I’d surely impulse buy for the cover art alone, so I’m glad I read about it, just in case I never spotted it on shelf in a store.

Shamus Dust 2

Shamus Dust by Janet Roger…another beautiful cover that’s a real credit to the graphic designer (sometimes subtle is best). Oh, and a nod to the author for her handsome and chock-full-of-stuff website/blog at janetroger.com. That’s one heck of an author site! Check it out.

Janet Roger Com

We’ll skip the non-mystery/crime fiction books ordered or reserved. But I do read other things, y’know)

Curious Toys

curious toys

Elizabeth Hand fan? You betcha. Hand’s Cass Neary novels are cherished titles, shelved face-out in my bookcases beside Sara Gran’s Dope and a handful of other favorites. (And overdue for a re-read, I think.) Her former 1970’s NYC punk scene photographer character has been referred to as “one of literature’s great noir anti-heroes”, and I won’t argue with that claim. Perhaps the only books from this award-winning author (three-time Shirley Jackson Award winner, four-time World Fantasy Award winner, two-time Nebula Award winner along with James M. Triptree and Mythopoeic Society awards) that I’ve skipped have been some of her media tie-in projects. Star Wars novels and movie adaptations aren’t my thing, but I respect accomplished writers with pragmatic attitudes who know how to make a buck in order to fund their more personal projects.

Cass Neary Montage

Hands’ current Curious Toys is a peculiar and unsettling book. Just as clowns can be the scariest of monsters, amusement parks make for creepy settings, and here Hand takes us back to Chicago in 1915 and the enormous in-city Riverview amusement park (torn down in 1967).  There fourteen-year old Pin, who shares a tarpaper shack with her mother — a Riverview fortune teller and part-time dance instructor — masquerades as a boy while coming to grips with her own emerging attraction for girls. But Pin finds herself on the trail of a twisted serial killer targeting young girls in Riverview, his crime spree possibly covering big city amusement parks over years. While Pin runs wild in North side Chicago alleys and Riverview’s attractions, running errands for pocket change (i.e. food) like delivering drugs to nearby Essanay film studios, she gets mixed up with the real-life outcast artist Henry Darger, who devoted his life to composing a sprawling 15,000+ page illustrated epic posthumously published after his death in 1973. Is Darger the murderer, or the only one who seems to know who the real killer is? Meanwhile, other historical figures like Charlie Chaplin and journalist Ben Hecht appear. Advance reading about Hands’ forthcoming book had me wondering if the historical setting (Chicago locale aside) and a child killer were my kind of thing, but I should have known Elizabeth Hand would engage me from the first few pages. Earlier I called it ‘unsettling’, and that’s precisely what it is. Curious Toys is rich in historical detail, effectively capturing an unusual time and place. But it’s an eerie read, and the real-life Henry Darger as well Hand’s memorable Pin will linger with you long after you’ve finished the novel.

Riverview

Riverview Amusement Park, Chicago

Got A Wrench?

vogue miami 1975

Sometimes you just have to get your hands dirty. Overalls might be better suited to the task, but it’s not as if they’re doing a lube job. Let’s just assume that someone’s really going to be surprised when he turns the ignition key. Serves him right for driving a station wagon.

Vintage Helmut Newton from a 1975 Miami photoshoot.

Helmut Newton

Where Do The Bad Books Go?

By Christopher Lowell 2006

Where do the bad books go? With hardcover fiction ready to top thirty bucks a pop, trade paperbacks routinely going for seventeen/eighteen dollars and so-called ‘rack sized’ or mass-market paperbacks becoming a vanishing breed, where the bad books go really ought to be the fiery furnaces of hell. Bookaholics browsing their credit card statements can get queasy, particularly if some of the bookstore and online charges were for books that kind of, well…sucked.

Of course, a bad book to me could be a cherished favorite of yours…and vice-versa.

My own cozy writing lair (which really is cozy, fortunately, now that Mid-Autumn’s pretending to be a prematurely snowy Winter) has an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling bookcases behind me and a long row of four-shelf bookcases on another wall, all of them jammed full. Only the ‘keepers’ end up on those shelves. There are lots of books bought and read that I’m just not interested in holding onto. Example: I’ve read more current events titles the past three years — things being pretty ‘eventful’ – but will be pleased to consider those books obsolete soon…one way or another. For those and others that I’ve enjoyed but simply don’t wish to keep, there’s a big carton out of sight beside my printer stand for books destined for periodic disposal.

And that’s where the bad books go.

Edson Rosas

Recently I was asked if I love every book I read, since a visitor here only sees rave reviews.  First, to be clear, I don’t think of any of my book posts as ‘book reviews’ or myself a reviewer. I’m just sharing remarks about recently read books with followers/visitors who likely have similar interests. But, it’s true: You won’t find much in the way of negative ‘reviews’ here. Karma, baby. I’ve never understood why self-appointed unpaid book ‘reviewers’ want to bad-mouth books. I’m of the ‘if you don’t have something good to say, say nothing at all’ persuasion. I’ve violated it a time or two with older postwar paperbacks, but those novels were decades old, the authors long deceased. With so many good projects to chat about, why spend time being snarky about the bad ones? (Once again, keeping in mind that my good might be your bad, and vice-versa.)

But, are there bad ones? Good God, yes. Lots.

Bad books usually find their way home with me because of eye-catching cover art. I’m easier to hook than a hungry fish. Good covers are often wrapped around bad books, or books that just don’t interest me once I plunge in. Cozies masquerading as something grittier (or steamier) are frequent culprits. Pretentious self-indulgent ‘literary’ fiction runs a close second.

Adult Architecture

The most painful and recent example that comes to mind wasn’t a particularly expensive mistake. I eagerly looked forward to a novel that caught my eye at multiple sites and print venues. The $16 trade pb sported handsome illustrative retro-pulp cover art and was set in a familiar hard-boiled mystery/crime fiction milieu (or so I thought). But it turned out to be something quite different, and not far in, I began to skip tedious (and shockingly frequent) expository paragraphs and intrusive stop-the-narrative backstory. Nearing halfway I was already skimming, and soon just jumped to the end to see what the resolution of the mystery was (not that I cared very much by that point). For me, that was a bad book. A really, really bad book, but made all the worse when I spotted the author’s thank you to her agent in the acknowledgements…an agent who’d recently rejected me. Let’s assume the agent considered my project a bad book. Or enlisted an intern to crank out thanks-but-no-thanks emails to unread queries…who knows? And no, I won’t mention the title or author name here. But I’ll admit – that one left me bruised (and out the sixteen bucks).

Bad books and just-not-keeper books used to be donated till I learned that they weren’t sent to literacy programs or needy libraries, but merely pulped for pennies-a-pound. Now the baddies are turned in at a used bookstore chain, with whatever I earn (no surprise) usually spent before I can escape. And ‘round here, that’s where bad books go. Hopefully into the hands of readers who don’t think they’re bad. After all, someone thought they were good, good enough to get an agent, acquisition editor and retail buyers’ approval, right? So, I like to think those ‘bad’ books became someone else’s good books. Unless, of course, I see them back on the used bookstore’s shelves a few weeks later.

(c) 2009 Holly Henry

Top photo: Christopher Lowell, 2006; Bookstore window by Edson Rosas, Above (c) 2009 Holly Henry.

What Do You Wear To A Break-In?

Rianne ten Haken 1

A sleek black jumpsuit, soft sole shoes and hair tucked under a knit cap would seem like optimal cat burglar attire. Of course, if your name’s Selina Kyle, you could go with night vision goggles and cat ears instead. Couture frocks, patterned hose and heels might be a suitable ensemble for a boutique clerk’s job, but destined for ruin if burglary’s your trade.

Rianne ten Haken 2

Not so for Rianne ten Haken, apparently, who’s shot here by photographer David Burton in a 2012 Elle Russia photo suite. Maybe Haken’s adhered to that old saw about dressing for the position you aspire to, not the one you’re currently in. And who knows? Maybe she’ll have her own opulent digs…once she fences all that loot, that is.

And don’t ask what the editorial’s title is. I don’t speak Russian.

Rianne ten Haken 3Rianne ten Haken 4Rianne ten Haken 5Rianne ten Haken 6

One Good Deed

One Good Deed

We’ve been here before. If you’re a fan of postwar paperback originals, you’ve been probably here quite a few times, in fact. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to be here all over again if a talented writer can make it worth the trip.

A stranger arrives in a made-up big town/small city, typically in some vaguely Midwest or southwest locale, only to wind up in trouble with the local law, corrupt power brokers and – inevitably – the resident femme fatale. It’s been a standalone mystery/crime fiction novel staple since the 1940’s. Paw through musty paperbacks in a used bookstore and you’re bound to come up with one or more. Familiarity (even occasional redundancy) doesn’t undermine this viable noir-ish story setup, any more than seascapes, still life’s and figure studies would be invalidated simply because painters frequently explore them like an artistic right of passage. Two examples of this type of story that immediately come to mind are Ross MacDonald’s Blue City from 1947 and The Long Wait, a rare non-Mike Hammer novel from Mickey Spillane in 1951. And I bet you could name some others.

Blue City MontageThe Long Wait Montage

So, there’s nothing surprising about David Baldacci giving this time-honored theme a go in his current One Good Deed, other than the fact that this NYT bestseller already knocked out nearly 40 novels (his first novel, Absolute Power, adapted to a successful film as well) before contemplating his first retro postwar setting. Based on some online reviews I’ve spotted, it caught a few of his loyal fans off-guard. Well, they better get used to it, since it sounds like One Good Deed is the first in a new series Baldacci has planned.

In 1949, Aloysius Archer steps off the bus in Poca City in ill-fitting clothes, a measly few dollars in his pocket and a three day stay prepaid at the only hotel. He’s due to meet his parole officer, find a job and start over after a three-year prison stint on trumped-up charges. But Archer (which is the handle he prefers) endured far worse as a decorated infantryman in WWII’s Italian campaign, and is a man to reckon with.

An ill-advised but understandable urge for a forbidden drink and some barroom banter with a local lounge looker are among his first mistakes. Followed by a bigger lapse in judgement when he agrees to collect a debt for Poca City’s big shot, Hank Pittleman, who owns the local bank, the town’s only industry (a hog slaughterhouse), the hotel Archer’s staying in…hell, even the cocktail lounge they’re drinking in. And the girl who’s got Archer’s head spinning. As will happen in such tales, Archer winds up in bed with Pittleman’s seductive mistress…the same night Pittleman’s murdered, his throat slit ear-to-ear. All of which finds Archer in one hell of a lot of trouble with the local law, the State Police homicide investigator who takes over, and Archer’s own parole officer…who just happens to be an intriguing woman with a mysterious past and is every bit as alluring as the Poca City bad girl he’s already mixed up with.

There’s enough small-town drama and family secrets to fill both a Grace Metalious novel and a Tennessee Williams drama here, mixed in with a puzzling murder mystery (and a few other dustups and deaths along the way), all capped off with a climactic courtroom scene, which may sound like a bit much for any one book, but then Baldacci’s a real pro and more than up to the task. I’d never read one of his novels before, but knowing he plans more Archer novels after One Good Deed, I’ll be watching for the next one. The fact is, when I stumble across some musty old paperback by a long-gone writer in a used bookstore with some other loner stepping off the bus in a made-up town’s Main Street, I’ll probably give it a try too, no matter how many times I’ve been there already.

Adriana, The Femme Fatale

Adriana Lima Vogue Brazil 2013 1

A sleek black dress, heels and hose, a cigarette smoking away…and if looks could kill, then hers say murder. But it’s not a saucy scene from a retro noir in a steamy South American setting. It’s model Adriana Lima posing for Vogue Brazil in an editorial shot by Giampaolo Sgura.

More From Bertil Hegland

Bertil Hegland 1

A few more examples of Swedish artist Bertil Hegland’s mystery/crime fiction cover art, the illustrator’s career tragically cut short at age 42 when an accident caused him to lose the use of his hand. Look for the preceding post for more examples of Hegland’s work.

Bertil Hegland 9Bertil Hegland 8Bertil Hegland 7Bertil Hegland 6

A Career Cut Short: Bertil Hegland

Bertil Hegland 2

Bertil Hegland (1925 – 2002) was a Swedish illustrator known in the Scandinavian market for popular children and teen book series covers — including the Nancy Drew series (apparently called “Kitty”) — as well as hard-boiled mystery and crime fiction covers. Initially an advertising illustrator, Hegland migrated more and more to publishing. By the late 40’s and still only in his mid-twenties, his main clients were book, digest and magazine publishers.

Bertil Hegland 10

But at only 42, Hegland was the victim of an unfortunate car battery accident that severely injured his hand, to the point that he could no longer draw. Apparently, he gave up art altogether at that point. Whether his hand was crushed by a battery (they can be pretty heavy) or it exploded (which we’re often warned about) isn’t clear.

You can point out that Mickey Spillane, James Hadley Chase, Peter Chaney and other writers’ work was packaged in more handsome cover art in the U.S., UK and elsewhere, and I won’t argue. Publishers in smaller markets deal with substantially shorter press runs and surely looked for proportionately smaller fixed upfront costs. Many encouraged illustrators to freely ‘adapt’ U.S./UK covers, and you can see that at work here with some of Hegland’s illustrations.

Bertil Hegland 4

Biographical info is spotty at best on Bertil Hegland, and most of that in Swedish, which I can confirm translates pretty poorly in standard online translation. Check the next post tomorrow for additional examples of Hegland’s work.

Bertil Hegland 5

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