Blues In The Dark

Blues In The Dark

I am soooo getting this, and can’t wait. Looks like it won’t be out till Autumn, which is a long time to wait, but it sure sounds good. Here’s what the publisher (Simon & Shuster) tells us about Raymond Benson’s Blues In The Dark:

“From the New York Times bestselling and internationally acclaimed author comes a Hollywood crime drama set in the 1940s and present day that tackles racism, sexism, and murder. Karissa Glover is a movie producer who moves into a decrepit but functional old mansion in the West Adams Heights area of Los Angeles, where black celebrities of yesteryear—Hattie McDaniel, Louise Beavers, and others—once resided. The former owner was a white actress, Blair Kendrick, who often starred as the “bad girl”—a femme fatale—in films noir of the 1940’s. However, Blair’s career was cut short when she was tragically killed by the mob after allegedly witnessing the slaying of a corrupt studio head in 1949. As Karissa and her producing partner decide to develop a modern film noir about Blair Kendrick, malevolent forces from the past attempt to stop them—first with intimidation, and then with the thread of murder. Is this because Karissa has learned that Blair was involved in a then-taboo interracial relationship with jazz musician Hank Marley? What really happened on the night that death struck in a dimly lit studio mogul’s office? The consequences of Blair and Hank’s doomed love affair still resonate in the present day as Karissa attempts to unravel Blair’s secrets. Seeping with mystery, intrigue, Hollywood history, and forbidden romance, Blues in the Dark is Raymond Benson at his most insightful and page-turning best.”

October 1st 2019 publication date? Well, gives me something to look forward to for Fall reading. (Sorry for crummy up-res’d screen cap image.)

How About A Ramos Gin Fizz To Go With That?

TCM Screen Cap

Pretty sure I don’t have all the makings for a real Ramos Gin Fizz, the drink of choice ‘round Gulf City circa 1947, where director John Cromwell’s Dead Reckoning is mostly set. That’s what’s on TCM’s Noir Alley Saturday night (May 25th), hosted by God-Of-All-Things-Noir, Eddie Muller. As luck would have it, I’ll be out of town over the Memorial Day weekend and far from civilized things like cable TV, a satellite dish, Wi-Fi or even all three main broadcast networks.

But it’s not as if the Dead Reckoning DVD isn’t right on my shelf, though I’d really like to hear Muller’s remarks on this flick. Though I try to steer clear of claims about this film or that book or some show being ‘the best’, I do have my own favorites, and Dead Reckoning happens to be among them. It’s not the most famous of the classic noir period’s films, nor was it a particular success, critically or financially. But for me it just works. Hard for it not to, with Humphrey Bogart, who has to keep up with what may be the Queen of Film Noir, Lizabeth Scott.

Dead Reckoning 1

Dead Reckoning was scripted by Steve Fisher and Oliver Garrett, based on a story by Gerald Drayson Adams and Sidney Biddell. Bogart turns in what some consider a ‘generic Bogart’ performance, that is, a bit of Spade and a bit of Marlowe stirred in with a bit of Casablanca’s Rick Blaine (as complex a mix as a Ramos Gin Fizz…recipe below). But for me, even a ‘generic Bogart’ performance is better than many other actors’ artsy-smartsy best. And Lizabeth Scott? This film’s pretty early in her relatively short Hollywood career, and even she felt it permanently typecast her as a blonde torch singer and femme fatale. No surprise then that Scott appeared in lead roles in more films noir than any other actress (as a blonde torch singer four times, in fact), though by all accounts she’d have preferred more comedies.

Dead Reckoning 2

There are some nifty twists and turns in Dead Reckoning’s plot, so I won’t tell too much or spoil anything. The setup’s a pretty cool framing device, opening on a stateside Army Chaplain hearing Bogart’s Captain Warren ‘Rip’ Murdock tell his story in flashback. WWII behind them, Rip and best pal Johnny Drake are en route to a Medal of Honor ceremony when Johnny vanishes. Rip makes for Johnny’s hometown of ‘Gulf City’ (New Orleans?) where he learns his best pal enlisted under a fake name to hide out from the law, having been framed for murder. Bogart looks up Johnny’s old girlfriend, nightclub chanteuse Coral ‘Dusty’ Chandler’, who’s now involved with Gulf City’s gambling kingpin. The bad guys don’t like Bogart sniffing around, much less sniffing around ‘Dusty’, so they try to frame him with a murder rap, work him over and eventually attempt to just make him go away…permanently. To say more would give things away, so I won’t. Except to say that ‘Rip’ and ‘Dusty’ just about melt the silver screen, and all guilty parties get their just desserts, whether with phosphorous grenades or a car crash.

Lizabeth Scott 1

It’s no surprise that Lizabeth Scott found herself typecast after this film. Sultry looks, seductive poses, eyes that can say more than a page of dialog, and that distinctive, deep and smoky voice. She doesn’t just smolder here. She burns.

Scott was born Emma Matzo in 1922 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and moved to New York City as a teenager where she worked as both a model and actor, on Broadway and in several grueling national touring shows. She was often relegated to understudy roles, and it was during this time that she adopted the stage name of Lizabeth Scott (originally including the ‘E’) while appearing in Maxwell Anderson’s Mary Of Scotland about Mary, Queen Of Scots and Queen Elizabeth The First. She didn’t really get ‘discovered’ till she was 22, appeared in her first film in 1945, hit it big in 1946 alongside Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers, and came back from a post-WWII goodwill tour of Britain the next year for Dead Reckoning. She and Bogart became close friends during the production, and reportedly he continued to call her Dusty (or sometimes ‘Scotty’ or even ‘Mike’) throughout his remaining ten years.

Lizabeth Scott 2

By the mid-fifties, Scott grew increasingly disenchanted with her femme fatale roles, only showed modest interest in the burgeoning television industry, and had begun to fade from the scene. Complicating things was a high-profile scandal that erupted when sleaze reporter Howard Rushmore did an expose on her for Confidential magazine. First, a ‘little black book’ confiscated in a Hollywood vice raid purportedly showed Scott listed among the clientele of L.A. call girls. Confidential oozed innuendo about Scott’s friendship with Paris’ colorful Frederique ‘Frede’ Baule, a then-notorious lesbian cabaret proprietor. Rushmore finally arranged a lunch date with Scott and out-of-work actress Veronica Quillan, who wore a hidden microphone and was assigned to lure Scott into making a pass. The reporter and magazine both assumed that Scott, like most actors, would agree to a buy-back, basically paying blackmail money to keep the story buried (something we’ve all heard about recently, huh?). She declined, they went ahead and published.

But to their surprise, ‘Dusty’ sued.

The trial was protracted and ultimately ended without a settlement. Some in Hollywood cheered her on, others just took the story as-is. And of course, from a 2019 perspective, Scott as a Hollywood Violet is merely chic if not incidental. Whatever, a hearty three cheers to her for standing up to a sleaze-rag.

Lizabeth Scott (she did eventually make the stage name legal) passed away quietly just a few years ago, at age 92 in 2015. And as for a Ramos Gin Fizz, which is Coral ‘Dusty’ Chandler’s drink of choice in Dead Reckoning? It’s gin, lemon juice, egg white, sugar, cream, orange flower water and soda water, thoroughly shaken, poured through ice and served in large non-tapered 12 or 14 ounce Tom Collins’ glassware.

My own array of mixers seems to be missing orange flower water just now.

Lizabeth Scott 3

Walter Stackpool’s Larry Kents

its hell my lovely larry kent 1960

England had Reginald Heade, Australia had Walter Stackpool.

Australian artist and illustrator Walter Stackpool (1916 – 1999) grew up in Queensland and, armed with a scholarship, set off to study art at the Queensland Art School in 1939. But he never finished the course, signing up for the army instead once WWII broke out. After the war, he quickly found work as a sought-after illustrator for book covers, well known for his many, many westerns done for Cleveland Publishing Company, as well as the Invincible Mysteries series in the early 1950’s, and especially the popular Larry Kent series from the mid-1950’s clear through the 70’s. More about that hard-boiled P.I series soon, which ran about 400 titles!

homicide sweet homicide larry kent 1959

A diverse talent, Stackpool was also a popular children’s book illustrator, and later in his career, a respected wildlife artist. Here are three paintings which I believe are all from the Larry Kent “I Hate Crime” paperback originals series, including “It’s Hell, My Lovely” from 1960 (at the top), “Homicide, Sweet Homicide” from 1959 above, and “The Pushover” from 1963 below.

the pushover larry kent 1963

 

Night Watch

Night Watch

David C. Taylor’s Night Watch, his third Michael Cassidy NYPD Detective novel, is just out, not on shelf yet that I’ve seen, but ready to order online. Apparently this third novel is actually set in between his first, Night Life, and his second, Night Work, each book set in mid-1950’s New York (with some forays elsewhere).

Night Life

The Michael Cassidy novels are dark, gritty hard-boiled crime fiction at its best, yet with a very readable, literary flair. Detective Cassidy navigates New York’s mean streets and upper crust with equal ease, thanks in part to his Broadway producer father. Similarly, he finds himself grappling with a cop’s normal cases, but they manage to drag him into much bigger things, bumping against the FBI, CIA and more than mere murder. Night Life was a library find for me. I devoured it, and kept my eyes open for Night Work, which was as good or better, so I’m eagerly looking forward to Night Watch. Taylor needs to get a web-savvy pal to freshen up his website (davidctaylorauthor.com), because I’m betting there’ll be readers looking to learn more pretty soon!

Night Work

david c taylor author dot com

Book Riot’s Favorite P.I.’s

Book Riot 9 Best Noir Retellings copyVia Book Riot: Matthew Turbeville writes about “Crime Fiction’s New Favorite Private Eyes” with a good list to bring along the next time you’re headed to the bookstore or to have handy when you’re ready to shop online. That this list happens to include a number of ‘stiletto gumshoes’ of one sort or another is incidental. Turbeville sees the mystery/crime fiction genre evolving (or, already evolved) so that Chandler’s and Hammett’s iconic private eye’s aren’t so much supplanted by other characters, but merely taking their place alongside them. He points to Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt (who he mentions has at least two more novels in the series, and here’s hoping!) as an example: “…while Philip Marlowe may fight with gunfire, DeWitt is the woman who takes a bullet, pries it from her body, and continues on with her journey to solve every mystery possible.”

book riot

Turbeville’s list includes a diverse group of writers and their P.I. creations, but most of all, memorable characters deserving of ongoing mystery/crime fiction series. Six he lists (and we all know there are others, and we all have our own faves) are Steph Cha’s Juniper Song series, Alex Segura’s Pete Fernandez series, Erica Wright’s Kat Stone series, Kristen Lepionka’s Roxane Weary series, Julia Dahl’s Rebekah Roberts series, and Kellye Garrett’s Dayna Anderson – A Detective By Day series. Look for Turbeville’s article at Book Riot (link below), with links to the individual authors’ books.

3 books 23 books 1

https://bookriot.com/2019/04/24/crime-fictions-new-favorite-private-eyes/

Murder Knocks Twice

MURDER KNOCKS TWICE copy

Whenever I think I follow too many blogs or let my inboxes fill with too many e-newsletters and posts, I get turned on to some new book (or movie or comic or show) and remember why it’s good to stay in touch. A week ago J. Kingston Pierce’s The Rap Sheet posted a cutie with a Mickey Spillane (via Max Allan Collins) Mike Hammer novel paired with Susanna Calkins’ just-released Murder Knocks Twice.

The Rap Sheet - Murder KNocks Twice

Calkins has half a dozen historical mysteries to her credit already, so Roaring Twenties Chicago speakeasies is a big departure for this first in what apparently will be a new series, focused on The Third Door club’s new cigarette girl, Gina, just hired to replace recently murdered Dorrie, who’s death is somehow tied in to the illegal nightclub. Gangsters, cigarette girls and Chi-Town? I’m in. So The Rap Sheet led me to The Criminal Element blog (criminalelement.com) for info on Calkins’ new novel and series, which then led me to an older but no less interesting Crime HQ interview with the author.

And I guess that’s why I should never complain about over-stuffed in-boxes.

criminal element dot comSusanna Calkins Books

I Was A Hideout Honey

Howell Dodd 1951

As is often the case with vintage pulps, it’s not always clear which of the bloodcurdling or teasingly sexy stories the cover art actually depicts. Face it: Sometimes the cover art was commissioned or purchased without any regard for that issue’s individual stories, or before they were even written.

Here, I’m going with “I Was A Hideout Honey” from this 1951 issue of True Cases Of Women In Crime. The classic Howell Dodd gouache illustration (I’ve also seen it credited to George Gross…couldn’t be, though. Right? Experts, please correct me if I’m wrong!) is crammed full of every genre trope and cliché you can ask for: Cigarette dangling from his lips, a bad guy smirks while he fingers his .45. The end table’s littered with an empty glasses, another cigarette smoking away in the ashtray, so you can almost smell that dingy old room. On the divan, the ‘hideout honey’ herself glances his way, resplendent in her filmy negligee, lacy black slip, coyly fussing with her nylons. Who knows what crime’s gone down already or is about to be committed, but Dodd sure nailed it all with this cover art.

True Cases Of Women In Crime 1951

 

Domestic Noir

Troubled Daughter - Twisted Wives

Not long ago I read a blogger’s book review which suggested that Lifetime Channel made-for-cable movies are the contemporary counterpart of the suspense stories written 50 – 75 years ago that might have appeared anywhere from a crime pulp magazine to a woman’s glossy…brooding, often incredibly dark stories about women on the run, women contemplating crimes, reckoning with duplicitous lovers, seeking revenge on abusive spouses or grappling with their own personal demons. An accurate assessment? Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far, and if you routinely watch Lifetime Channel films, you can decide on your own.

“Domestic Suspense” or “Domestic Noir” isn’t a new genre subset, just a label being used more frequently, perhaps. Sarah Weinman’s 2013 anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives is about as excellent an introduction to the roots of this mystery/crime fiction sub-category as you could ask for, with stories by writers you’ll likely want to learn more about residing side-by-side with luminaries like Patricia Highsmith, Margaret Millar and Shirley Jackson. I didn’t buy this as soon as it came out, but wished that I had, even if my own tastes do run more towards gunsels, gangsters and thugs. If the anthology’s stories, taken as a whole, accomplish one thing consistently, it’s a mastery of the ‘ominous and the foreboding’. And who better than Sarah Weinman to assemble this anthology? Weinman’s the editor of the classic Library of America Women Crime Writers series as well as co-editor of an edgy anthology like Sex, Thugs And Rock & Roll, and I say that alone makes for a solid resume (not that it’s where hers ends).

I’ll let the more educated and experienced critics, reviewers and writers debate the pro’s and con’s of genre sub-categories and the inherent risks of ghettoization. Myself, I’ll just enjoy dark mystery masters’ work, and Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives showcases 14 such masters at the top of their game and laying the foundations for contemporary dark suspense.

 

It’s Not Just Beer & Brats

Milwaukee Noir

Let the coastal types snicker at flyover cities. Residents of the megapolis hugging the southern end of our own ‘inland sea’ (Lake Michigan) know what’s what. From Menominee Falls down to Milwaukee, through Kenosha, Racine and crossing the border into snooty Lake County, all across big bad Chicago itself and then into Northwest Indiana’s shuttered mills and abandoned factories, it’s all one long piece of familiar turf. It’s John Dillinger and Al Capone, Indiana roadhouses and rural Wisconsin mob hideouts. It’s Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits’ tunes with a Midwestern spin. It’s crooked, gritty, dirty, down to earth, beautifully bungalow-lined blue collar-ville. It’s home.

Milwaukee Noir - Crime Reads

Spotted the news that Akashic Press is releasing Milwaukee Noir edited by Tim Hennessy this week. Akashic’ global city-by-city Noir Series has never disappointed me yet. Milwaukee’s filled with good and bad like my home digs, just on a smaller scale, and much more than clichés about brats and breweries. Milwaukee Noir should be out the day I’m writing this, and the bookstore closest to work is pretty reliable when it comes to new releases in the Noir Series. If it’s not on-shelf within a week or two, they’ll be glad to order a copy for me, and I’m looking forward to this one.

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