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

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.

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

Head To Noir City.

Noir City No 27

The new Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City e-magazine arrived in my inbox this week. Issue number 27 is yet another sumptuously designed and info-packed treat for film noir aficionados.

Bittersweet but understandable news was Master-Of-All-Things-Noir (and Film Noir Foundation President and TCM’s Noir Alley host) Eddie Muller’s announcement that he’d be stepping aside from full-time editorial chores, handing off the Editor-In-Chief role to Vince Keenan. Ably assisted by Steve Kronenberg, I’ve no concerns, and am sure Mr. Keenan will maintain the publication’s level of content, visual and editorial superiority. If I sound all gushy, I am. Noir City is just that good.

Noir City Spread

Art Director/Designer Michael Kronenberg delivers another feast for the eyes with this issue, including the gorgeous cover illustration. Noir City’s a dark delight to read, of course, but is equally stunning to simply look at, some of the spreads deserving to be framed and up on a wall. Hmmmm…I’ve been thinking about a refresh for the writing cave’s walls. Just might have an idea there…

This issue includes over 90 pages with 15+ articles and features like Steve Kronenberg’s cover story “Handle With Care – The Ordeals Of Gene Tierney” and Jake Hinkson’s “Hungover – Booze And Blackouts In Film Noir”. If you already get Noir City, then you should be reading it right now instead of this site. If not, and you’re a visitor here, then I can guarantee you’ll enjoy the publication. Hightail it to The Film Noir Foundation’s site (link below) to find out more. Like, now.

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

 

Love, Libel And Murder

Invasion Of Privacy

“He was head over heel – in love and libel and murder…”

Illustration by Joe Bowler for Harry Kurnitz’ “Invasion Of Privacy” from Collier’s magazine, 1955.

1955 joe bowler

“A Ruthless Story Of Rackets And Redheads”

Snapshot

DVD’s of the 1956 noir-in-color film Slightly Scarlet are supposed to come with extras, including a Max Allan Collins commentary. Mine may have been bought new, but from a closeout bin, and it came with nothing but a disk with the movie on it. Just a knock-off copy? Who knows? But I would’ve really liked that Collins commentary track.

Slightly Scarlett DVD

Call it a noir, call it a crime melodrama, call it what you will, but director Allan Dwan’s film of a Robert Blees’ screenplay – adapted (rather freely) from James M. Cain’s Love’s Lovely Counterfeit — is an intriguing movie, and in more than one way.

Loves Lovely Counterfeit

The source novel isn’t Cain’s best, but less-than-perfect Cain can be better than some others’ best work, and being James M. Cain, the novel includes some scenes/themes that a mid-1950’s movie could never hope to get away with. Here, John Payne plays Ben Grace, who works for Bay City’s ruthless rackets boss Solly Caspar, and has been assigned to dig up dirt on a crusading mayoral candidate making trouble for the syndicate. Doing so might be easier than Ben Grace imagined, once he discovers that the reformer has a girlfriend, and she has a sister newly released from prison.

Rhonda Fleming plays ‘good girl’ June Lyons, who Ben Grace promptly falls for. Arlene Dahl plays ‘bad girl’ Dorothy, an unrepentant thief with an eye for the fellows — the badder the better — and Payne’s Ben Grace will do just fine. With the heat on and the mob boss forced to flee town, Ben Grace takes over the rackets while he falls for sister-the-good but is seduced by sister-the-bad, all in suitably 1950’s era levels of sex-i-fied sizzle. But then Solly the mob boss returns, with wads of dough that more than make up for his gruff ways as far as Dorothy is concerned. Soon, bullets start flying, bodies pile up till the law finally arrives, though not before Ben Grace goes down.

Slightly Scarlet 4

John Payne may have gotten top billing, but this was Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl’s movie all the way, and they’re a delight to watch. Dahl, in particular, pushes the era’s boundaries in both subtle and then overt ways as an unapologetic crook whose sex drive is always in high gear, whether she’s pawing through wads of loot the mob kingpin tosses at her feet, or more provocative still, is sprawled on a sofa and apparently enjoying a little…uhm…’private time’. (Demurely shot from behind the sofa, of course…C’mon, it was 1956!) Bottom line: The two actresses get a workout in this film and turn in terrific performances. FYI, both Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl are still with us, I believe.

While Slightly Scarlet wasn’t a big budget production, it was filmed in Technicolor (and “Superscope”, whatever that is) and in many scenes and setups, seems to point the way toward the look of many “Neo-Noir” films to come decades later. Familiar film noir camera angles and deeply shadowed corners, backgrounds and overheads are evident throughout, but all in color instead of black & white. Visually, at least, much of the film looks ahead of tis time.

Slightly Scarlet 3

Maybe you’ll spot Slightly Scarlet poking out of a bargain bin yourself. If you do, grab it. It won’t (and shouldn’t) replace Double Indemnity or The Postman Always Rings Twice on your DVD shelf, but you’ll watch two 1950’s pro’s dialing some so-so material up a few notches, all of it shot in a nifty noir-in-color style that presages ominously dark visuals to come a few decades later.

And I Haven’t Read A Single Story Yet.

2

It’s over a month ago that I reserved a copy of Otto Penzler’s The Big Book Of Reel Murders – Stories That Inspired Great Crime Films, warned at the time that it might not arrive till mid-November. In fact, I got it almost two weeks ago and have been burrowing through this nearly 1,200-page monster of a book since.

And yet – so far, I haven’t actually read a single story.

The Big Book Of Reel Murders

Each of the 61 stories by writers like Robert Bloch, Ian Fleming, Dashiell Hammett, Dennis Lehane, Sinclair Lewis, Daphne du Maurier, W. Somerset Maugham, Budd Schulberg, Cornell Woolrich and others was the basis of a mystery/crime/noir film. Some you’d know, of course. Some, perhaps not. (I’d never heard of a few!) The movies inspired by the anthology’s tales include Woman In The Dark (1934), The Big Steal (1949), Fear In The Night (1947), Gun Crazy (1950), Tip On A Dead Jockey (1957), Mr. Dynamite (1951) and many others — some stills, publicity shots and posters for those shown here with this post.

1

Many anthologies seem to be hastily put together, with little more than a brief genre celebrity preface, editor intro and — if the reader’s lucky — author bio’s. Not this book. Each of the 60+ stories are preceded by a two or three-page introduction providing author, story or publication background info, plus details and anecdotes about the film inspired by that story. Add it up: These intro’s almost form a book on their own, with the insights into familiar films being informative treats, the others being prompts to hunt up the movies as yet unseen.

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Oh, I’ll go back and read the stories, of course. The Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie tales I already have elsewhere and have read more than once might be skipped, but there’s some choice material in this big book. And though it might seem a little weird, some of the choicest content is actually the story introductions, as much as the stories themselves.

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