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

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.

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.

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

 

And I Haven’t Read A Single Story Yet.

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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.

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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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You Have Killed Me.

You Have Killed Me Cover

Cold and windy under nonstop pouring rain, last Saturday would’ve been a good day to stay indoors. But I ventured out to pick up a current events book reserved at the library (there being a current event or two to keep tabs on these days). The local public library’s a bit lean on actual books, but is well appointed with comfy reading nooks, plush seating and even a fireplace. Almost ready to check out, Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones’ You Have Killed Me caught my eye on the graphic novel section’s endcap. I have it, of course, being an ardent Jones fan. Still, I paused to flip through the 2018 trade pb edition of this 2009 graphic novel anyway. Before I knew it, I’d dropped into one of those fireside chairs to reread this yummy bit of retro noir fun from cover to cover before dashing back out into the rain.

You Have Killed Me Art

Some will holler cliché. Me? I see nothing but classic noir and hard-boiled genre tropes lovingly celebrated in Rich’s story, a smooth flowing piece of work that reads like a period-perfect screenplay for a 1940’s-50’s noir. As for Joelle Jones art? Fans might be surprised to see some softer lines and curvier faces here and there, but it’s still Joelle Jones’ brilliant, stylized draftsmanship throughout, and an excellent chance to see where she was ten years ago. The pair make an excellent team (as seen since on Lady Killer, for example) in this tale of hard luck P.I. Antonio Mercer, hired by wealthy and beautiful Jessica Roman to locate her sister Julie, who’s gone missing on the eve of her society wedding…the missing Julie also Mercer’s one-time lover. But family dramas and messy love affairs are the least of Mercer’s problems once he begins to tangle with gamblers, gangsters and hard-assed cops in jazz clubs, racetracks and roadhouses. Any savvy noir fan will smell a rat – or at least an untrustworthy femme fatale – early on, but even the savviest may not be ready for what really happened to the missing sister. Trust me: This one’s a treat.

Sure, I got soaked on my way back to my car. But I did get the political rant hardcover I’d reserved a week earlier (just to drive myself nuts) and had a good time savoring Jamie Rich’s wordsmithing and ogling Joelle Jones art, both every bit as tasty today as ten years ago when the book came out.

 

Just Ignore The Witch.

paul mann coverpng

Snowing again this morning, looking more like December than October for the second day in a row, but a great big Happy Halloween to you too…

I’ve bought most of the Hard Case Crime line’s titles, from before and after their Titan acquisition. I may have a soft spot for the earlier releases reintroducing us modern readers to forgotten postwar paperback original crime classics, and for having the why-didn’t-someone-think-of-this-before bright idea to package them just like the rack sized pocketbooks they emulated…right down to the cover art.

Daniel Kraus’ Blood Sugar is still on order from my local bookseller and not in yet, whether because it’s sold so well that it’s already out of stock, or the early October publication date wasn’t met…or maybe the counter clerk’s just fibbing to me. Who knows? Clearly it won’t arrive before Halloween, though I did want it for a holiday read.

Apparently, Paul Mann’s fun cover art is a fooler, though. The line is called Hard Case Crime. But Blood Sugar isn’t a retro-pulpy mystery with a fetching witch up to some kind of criminal or even supernatural hijinks. Look closer and you’ll note that the illustration only depicts a calendar’s October pinup. The story actually deals with that most familiar Halloween urban myth (or is it just a myth?): A twisted recluse, aided by three outcast kids, seeks revenge on the neighborhood children with trick-or-treat candy boobytrapped with razor blades, broken glass, drugs and poison.

Chicago author Kraus is the cowriter, along with Guilermo del Toro, of the Oscar winning The Shape of Water. Let’s hope no quirky oddballs get any ideas this year after reading Blood Sugar. Which, it seems, everyone else might do before me.

Pulpy Vampire Noir

PNElrod 1

Happy All Hallows-Eve-Eve. Doesn’t quite look like Halloween hereabouts today. More like Xmas-Eve, with the snow falling this morning.

The preceding post looked at the “blurred lines” between horror and noir, as addressed by Zach Vasquez in a 10.29.19 Crime Reads article. Crime and horror often go hand in hand, with some ‘suspense’ novels more accurately billed as horror and some horror novels devoid of anything remotely supernatural but chock full of grisly stuff being done by sadistic crazed criminals. ‘Noir’ and horror can intersect, sharing hopeless quests, battles between indistinct shades of good and evil, shadowy figures in long cape-like coats emerging from the fog and evil seductresses tricking fools into (figuratively, at least) selling their souls.

Within the horror genre, vampires seem to be cyclical, dominating bookshelves and movie screens for a stretch, only to crawl back into their coffins to lay low till agents, editors and readers crave them once again after overdosing on the traditional castles-capes-n-fangs crowd, twinkling puppy-love teens, undead zombie style ghouls and various (and seemingly countless, at least in the E-book and self-published scene) sex-crazed vampiresses who prefer to do their imbibing in bed. Naked. Or, gussied up in period lingerie inevitably described in infinitely minute detail.

Oh yeah, and usually with another woman. (Don’t blame Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, blame those 1970’s Hammer movies.)

If “The Stiletto Gumshoe” is a home for quirky noir culture, there’s also a fondness here for most things retro-pulpy, so let’s peek at P.N. Elrod’s (Patricia Nead Elrod) The Vampire Files series, where hard-boiled meets horror, with vampires, no less. Elrod, a writer with a truly prodigious output in horror, fantasy, gaming tie-ins and more, wrote an even dozen titles in this series, I believe, the first published nearly thirty years ago. No, make that twelve and a half – I spotted a self-published version of The Devil You Know from Elrod’s own Vampwriter Press.

The Vampire Files novels are set in 1930’s Chicago (in the beginning), where ace newspaperman Jack Fleming must solve a murder in the first book, having awoken as a vampire after a gangland slaying. As in, his own. Ultimately, Fleming becomes a kind of undead hard-boiled private investigator (later a nightclub proprietor) aided by human pals and his new girlfriend Bobbi as they grapple with various mysteries, mobsters and supernatural villains, with a crew of determined vampire hunters always on his tail.

I no longer have any of Elrod’s books on my shelves, but if I recall, I had two or even three of The Vampire Files books at one time, including the first. Ace published new editions in 2010-2012 or thereabouts, with five volumes combining multiple novels from the original series in each. As I write this, I’m making a mental note to either track down some used bookstore originals or to order up the re-issued versions. As I recall, they were fun reads, with a good mix of supernatural vampiric-ness and retro-pulp style hard-boiled crime fiction, all punctuated with bits of wry humor.

Vampire detectives have been done by others, of course, particularly on television. Canada’s Forever Knight starring Geraint Wyn Davies ran from 1992 through 1996, based on a dropped 1989 CBS pilot starring Rick Springfield, and had a late-night cable run in the U.S. before going into syndication. I’m sure I’ve seen episodes on one of the many cable rerun channels (there are a few of those, aren’t there?). Blood Ties (2007 – 2008) originated in Canada as well, airing on Lifetime in the U.S., based on Tanya Huff’s Blood Books series and starring Christina Cox as a former Toronto cop turned P.I. who’s teamed up with a vampire. Moonlight (2007 – 2008) was a CBS prime time series starring Alex O’Loughlin as a private eye turned into a vampire. I’m sure there are more, and more vampire-as-investigator books and book series that I’m not mentioning here. P.N. Elrod’s Vampire Files deserved being singled out, its familiar retro crime fiction turf a good fit for The Stiletto Gumshoe’s world.

Now, get back to work on your Halloween costume.

PNElrod 6

 

 

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