Femme Noir.

Femme Noir 6

In a preceding post I mentioned a list of comics missed or overdue for a revisit that has accumulated while the shops have been shuttered the past few months. They still are closed, around here at least, but are expected to re-open soon. All the same, while I’m blessed with several nice stores very close by, they’re woefully light on indies, being strictly focused on the capes-n-tights crowd from the majors. But one off the beaten track shop will come through, I know, and that’s where I’ll mine the bins for Christopher Mills and Joe Staton’s Femme Noir.

Femme Noir 1

I have several back issues, but grabbed them at random and not in sequence, and really want to hunker down with the whole series. Bursting out of Port Nocturne’s deep dark shadows in always-energetic artwork, Mills and Staton’s Femme Noir seems like a genuinely pulpy comic treat based on the disjointed storyline I’ve gleaned from what I have. The Dark City Diaries, Blonde Justice and Dead Man’s Hand…now there’s a bunch I need to acquire, whether in individual issues or trade reprints. Counting the days (or a couple weeks, depending on what I hear).

Femme Noir 3Femme Noir 4Femme Noir 5

Just Ask Eddie.

Ask Eddie

A Film Noir Foundation email blast tells us to “Ask Eddie”, promoting an upcoming live stream Facebook page where questions can be posed to that master of all things noir, Eddie Muller.

I think I need to stay away. Or at least, keep my questions to myself. After all, is it even possible to sift through the hundreds (thousands?) of questions I’d love to ask the main man himself? But don’t think I won’t be swooping in to snoop.

Want to know more? You know where to go, fellow film noir friends.

www.filmnoirfoundation.org

A Well-Dressed P.I.

vogue 1951 via the retro housewife

You’d rightly assume this 1951 Vogue magazine photo is supposed to be a postwar ‘career gal’ art director or photo editor reviewing contact sheets. But I prefer to imagine a stylish ‘stiletto gumshoe’ going over steamy pics from the prior night’s no-tell motel stakeout on an adultery case soon to go really bad. From The Retro Housewife at www.the-retro-housewife-01.tumblr.com

It’s More Than Just A Fetish Picture.

The Artless Heiress 1

The picture”? Scroll way down for that one.

Clarence Budington Kelland (1881 – 1964) described himself as “the best second-rate writer in the world”. But, if he was, he was a pretty successful second-rate wordsmith, credited with 60 published novels and over 200 short story sales from westerns and mysteries to multiple juvenile series, including his story “Top Hat” which was the basis of the 1936 Gary Cooper/Barbara Stanwyck film Mr. Deeds Goes To Town.

The Artless Heiress 2

His story “The Artless Heiress” (AKA “Miss Drugget Takes The Train”) was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in 1957, later collected with two other novellas in a 1962 Walter J. Black Inc. Detective Book Club hardcover edition. A long-forgotten kind of cozy, even somewhat creaky mystery, Kelland’s tale lives on because of the Post editor’s or art director’s decision to assign popular illustrator Robert Meyer to the series, one illustration in particular appropriated as a kind of a staple at many pulp and even some creepy fetish sites.

The Artless Heiress 3

Columbine Pepper Drugget is the unofficial secretary to her Aunt Egeria Cordwainer, headmistress of the Cordwainer finishing school.  Prim, proper but ‘spunky’ twenty-one year-old Columbine still favors the same severe uniform style shifts, schoolgirl hats, chunky oxfords and thick white stockings she grew accustomed to when a pupil at Cordwainer herself. She hasn’t even gotten her hair cut short and bobbed yet, and wears steel-rimmed specs, considering horn-rimmed glasses a trendy affectation. When a mysterious attorney’s letter that may promise an inheritance prompts her to take a train ride (just like the title says) she’ll quickly become embroiled in a dangerous – make that potentially deadly – mystery that begins with a luggage mix-up, a cache of precious gems, a voodoo doll and a revolver in a stranger’s suitcase. Her inheritance turns out to be a peculiar old Arizona resort hotel. Multiple mysterious mishaps occur while Columbine acquires an entourage of oddly named acquaintances like Roxy Thistlebun and Artemus Thumb, and emboldened by her adventures, eventually exchanges her schoolgirl coif and dowdy duds for an all-new style. Ultimately finding herself in quite a fix when bad guys after the property (or mysterious valuables hidden there) get rough, Columbine triumphs and everything turns out well in the end, befitting Kelland’s typically tame puzzlers.

The Artless Heiress 4

While many pulp and paperback artists never got a chance to read a summary of the material they were illustrating, Robert Meyer’s paintings all faithfully depict actual scenes from Kelland’s tale. It’s just that they put a slicker contemporary spin (for 1957) on a rather obsolete story. Whether that was the illustrator’s intent or he was prodded to freshen up Kelland’s fun but fundamentally fussy tale remains unknown. Regardless, I assume there’s a legion of folks with a squirm-worthy fondness for a pair of damsels in visible distress, even if they’ve never heard of Clarence Budington Kelland, couldn’t care less about Columbine Pepper Drugget blossoming into an independent woman (circa 1957, that is) as she puzzles her way through a series of adventures, and may not even know who artist Robert Meyer (1919 – 1970) was. Yes, that particular picture really is more than just a tawdry bit of provocative perviness, and surprisingly, you can track down Kelland’s story (in either title) quite easily online.

Clarence Budington Kelland Books

Bye, Kate.

Batwoman 2

The CW’s Batwoman: You liked it, you hated it (or based on the ratings) you were completely indifferent. Me, I really did like the show, one of very few series I faithfully watched (back-to-back Batwoman and Supergirl episodes made for a nice 7:00 – 9:00 PM CST pre-workweek slot on Sunday evenings). Yes, the show speedily started to build a needlessly complex series of subplots like most CW Arrowverse shows have done, but I still enjoyed the show’s performances, link to DC Comics Bat-Verse and overall look, not minding one bit that many exterior scenes used altered Chicago skylines (notably oft-filmed LaSalle Street and the ubiquitous Board Of Trade Building for Wayne Tower). Quirky Rachel Maddow voice-overs were just icing on my personal Bat-cake.

But then drama unfolded, lead actor Ruby Rose is gone and fan sites buzzed with speculation about the how’s, why’s and what-now’s.

Batwoman 1Myself, I’d have simply recast the role with someone who thought a steady and visible acting gig with a pre-built fan base wasn’t a bad deal in a profession where most actors barely eke out a living by working demeaning day jobs while toiling in anonymity in storefront theaters, corporate training films and local market commercials. Batwoman wouldn’t be the first television series that had to recast a role, though recasting the lead would be pretty unprecedented.

Now the news pops up that the CW powers-that-be have decided instead to abandon the DC Comics-based Kate Kane character altogether and introduce an all-new person to don the Bat-mantle in season two. I smell CW execs concluding that they won’t get screwed by a series lead ever again, so they’ll be poised to rapidly introduce a new Batwoman as needed. Maybe it’s a subtle message to the leads of their other shows: “You too can be replaced”. Who knows?

Elseworlds, Part 2

I’m disappointed, but sure, I’ll check out the new season, which might suck or might be terrific. The fact is, it almost feels silly to even be thinking about a television show at all when a global pandemic can become yesterday’s news in the face of other overwhelming issues. But a part of me hopes that come this Fall or even in early 2021 when new CW superhero series’ seasons debut, the national political scene will have simmered down (one way or another), we’ll be on a path (however meandering) to resolving once and for all the institutionalized inequities in our society, and even the dreaded and deadly virus will be better contained and managed. At least, enough so I can shut my brain off for an hour or two once a week to enjoy a silly costumed superhero TV show. Which I really need to do, ‘cuz it feels like my head’s ready to explode these days.

 

Close Up.

close up amanda quick

When I first spotted Close Up (2020) on more than one of the too-many mystery/crime fiction and book sites I follow, I was expecting “Casey, Crime Photographer” in heels, and scheduled it for a bookstore curbside pickup. I’ve been making it a point lately to try big name authors whose books I’ve bypassed, partly to see what I’ve been missing and partly to find out what I can learn for my own writing.

Amanda Quick is well-known Seattle, Washington author Jayne Krentz. With over fifty NYT bestsellers to her credit, Krentz writes ‘romantic suspense’, with her ‘Amanda Quick’ pen name reserved for historical romantic suspense (which apparently just recently transitioned to more recent history, like Close Up, which is set in the 1930’s), and works as ‘Jayne Castle’ (oddly enough, the author’s real name) for paranormal romantic suspense. From this I’ll glean that the latter isn’t horror as such, the Quick books aren’t quite ‘noir’ or crime fiction, and the Krentz novels not quite thrillers. These are romance novels however you want to label them, not that this is a bad thing.

In Close Up, Vivien Brazier flees a pampered but claustrophobic heiress’ life in San Francisco to pursue a career as a fine arts photographer in Los Angeles. She pays the bills by moonlighting as a crime scene photographer, following police radio calls at night and elbowing the boys club aside at fires, auto accidents and murder scenes, spending her days working on a provocative series of male nudes with a steady stream of Muscle Beach buff-boys lined up outside her beachfront home studio. Smarter and more observant than the rest of the camera jockeys, Vivien helps the police I.D. a high-profile serial killer only a few chapters into the novel. But this spins off into a more puzzling murder mystery, and pairs her with dapper but troubled private (and apparently psychic) investigator Nick Sundridge and his loyal dog Rex. An elaborate if ill-conceived scheme to ensnare this new and even more diabolical killer takes them to the upscale oceanfront resort town of Burning Cove, where romance blossoms even as they to elude – then uncover – the murderer.

A snippy critic might complain that the plot takes some mighty implausible turns, the characters continually do incredibly improbable things and the entire business is rife with an endless list of writerly no-no’s that would guarantee an agent’s or editor’s swift and dismissive rejection for any unknown. But with a looong list of successful books to her credit, I don’t think Quick/Krentz/Castle needs to worry about any of that, and just aims to tell a good story in her own way.

Still, I’ll confess that I kind of wished the author trusted the nifty setup she initially created and left intriguing, no-nonsense Vivien Brazier right where she was when the book began: prowling the means streets of 1930’s Los Angeles on the hunt for grisly crime scenes with her big Speed Graphic camera in tow, bantering with the cops and the lensmen, and living the Boho life by day as a fine arts photographer, even though she has to endure the gallery elite’s sneers at her figure study photos. But Quick/Krentz/Castle knows what she’s doing, even when she chose to hightail it out of that intriguing milieu for a remote movie star hideaway resort and something more like a Golden Age drawing room mystery (albeit one laced with some sex). Bottom line: What the hell do I know? When I have fifty NYT bestsellers under my belt, I’ll make suggestions.

Whether you only enjoy its beginnings or stay on board for the rest of the ride, I bet you’ll agree that Quick’s Close Up is a fun read. I just hope some other writer picks up where Amanda Quick began and brings us an engaging, no-nonsense ‘girl crime photographer’ in a retro urban setting…Close Up was really onto something there. Hey, don’t look at me. I’m already wrestling with my own no-nonsense ‘stiletto gumshoe’ in a retro urban setting. You give it a try.

Vengeance is Hers.

vengeance is hers

Dangle a shiny bauble in front of me, and I’m completely in your power. Well, if the bauble’s a book, that is, and one with an eye-catching cover.

There’s a long list of books I’ve bought based on their covers alone, only to be disappointed by the books themselves. There are so many cozies, anemic thrillers and bland whodunits masquerading as edgy hard-boiled or saucy neo-noir tales. Used bookstores make out pretty well with my discards, their alluring covers ready to ensnare the next victim.

So, it’s a thrill when I get an unassuming little book that turns out to be a gem. I need more ‘baubles’ like Vengeance Is Hers, a 1997 anthology from Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, one more of the anthologies I spotted over a month ago at The New Thrilling Detective website. The cover art? Meh. And it’s just a rack-sized pocketbook at that. But this collection of 17 mystery/crime fiction stories by women writers – plus one gate-crasher from co-editor Mickey Spillane himself to open the book – was a cover-to-cover treat. Sure, some stories felt a little anachronistic, the book over twenty years old, after all. But the talented roster of writers including Joan Hess, J.A. Jance, Wendi Lee, Sharyn McCrumb, S.J. Rozan and others, delivered surprisingly different spins on the notion of vengeance. From uniformed cops to (then) modern private eyes and traditional femmes fatales, the stories cover the bases, with some genuine head-scratching mysteries, liberal doses of edgy violence and thoughtful storytelling throughout. The real jewel in the book may be mystery maestra Dorothy B. Hughes’ last completed work, “Where Is She? Where Did She Go?”. Hughes paints a vivid picture of the mid-twentieth century L.A. Boho jazz scene, and leaves the reader unsure at the end if a crime actually occurred or not. For his part, Mickey Spillane delivers a story that oozes trademark Spillane hard-boiled-isms throughout, but foregoes any gunplay, fistfights or violence, and is a surprisingly thoughtful piece.

A ho-hum cover on an easily overlooked pocketbook? This sure was, and if it hadn’t been shown in The New Thrilling Detective website, it would’ve remained off my radar. Glad I spotted it there and took a chance, even without anyone waving a shiny bauble before my usually gullible eyes.

Kirilin’s “Gun Crazy” Series & More.

vladimir kirilin 1

You’ve probably seen a couple of these photos  (the “stiletto gumshoes” in particular) a zillion times on Tumblr, Pinterest and elsewhere. I know I have. What I don’t see very often is anything mentioning who shot them. They’re by Israeli photo-artist Vladimir “Volf” Kirilin, including some shots here from his “Gun Crazy” and “In The City Of The Moonlight” series. Look for more of the master’s work at 500px.com.

Vladimir Kirilin 2Vladimir Kirilin 3Vladimir Kirilin 4Vladimir Kirilin 5Vladimir Kirilin 6

Script For Scandal

Script For Scandal Ordered

‘Renee Patrick’s’ Script For Scandal is the third Lillian Frost & Edith Head Mystery, this time a Severn House (UK) library style edition with a glossy full color hardcover binding plus matching dustjacket. Renee Patrick? That’d be the husband and wife team of Rosemarie and Vince Keenan, the latter a familiar name here since he’s the new editor of The Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City e-magazine, which ought to lend some genuine cred to the series’ Golden Age Hollywood trivia. And there’s a lot.

Lillian Frost is a New York transplant in Hollywood, fired from her department store job in the first novel and now working as the social secretary for a quirky Tony Stark style zillionaire inventor. Striking up a friendship with Paramount Studio’s (not yet) famed costume designer Edith Head, the duo get mixed up in Golden Age Hollywood mysteries, impulsive Lillian foolishly stepping into danger and more cerebral Edith, often as not, figuring things out from afar. The late 1930’s film studio milieu provides ample opportunities for guest appearances by silver screen luminaries, here including Billy Wilder, Paulette Goddard, Bette Davis, George Raft, Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray.

In Script For Scandal, it’s MacMurray who’s slated to star against-type as a smooth-talking bad guy in a proto-noir (this being only 1939), using artful lighting and deep shadows to mask the project’s budget and add some German Expressionist inspired sense of ominous dread. But the film is based on a real-life 1936 bank robbery in which the loot’s still missing and the crooks all wound up dead, along with an L.A.P.D. detective…none other than Lillian Frost’s own boyfriend’s previous partner. The D.A.’s digging into the case again, and three new murders start pointing guilty fingers at Frost’s squeeze.

These Renee Patrick novels certainly aren’t hard-boiled, much less anything you’d call ‘noir’. While I flee from cozies, I’m open minded when it comes to retro settings, 1930’s – 50’s era Hollywood and NYC in particular. If Script For Scandal, like the two prior novels in the series, may be light on gunplay, action, sexy sizzle or anything dark-n-heavy, they’re genuine ‘page-turners’ with complicated mysteries that are…well, just plain fun. I don’t know why the series changed publishers for book number three, but I hope it’s strictly for good reasons, because I, for one, definitely want to see more books in this Lillian Frost & Edith Head mystery series.

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