Thrilled About Thrilling Detective.

Thrilling Detective - Anthos

I’ve visited Kevin Burton Smith’s excellent Thrilling Detective site in the past, but was kinda giddy to see it migrate to WordPress as “The New Thrilling Detective Web Site” so I could more easily follow along. And doing so paid off nicely this weekend when I was jotting down lists of books to order – for curbside pickup at the local indie, direct from the publisher, from Bud Plant, and from the behemoth in Seattle. The Thrilling Detective site ran two posts sharing long lists of mystery/crime fiction anthologies with links for most (or all?) right to Amazon, many being OOP titles.  I tried for six, but got a bounce-back on one later, it being no longer available. But five’s a start, and my to-be-read endtable is woefully empty, having foolishly not stocked up before the great sheltering commenced. The Amazon items may take longer than usual to arrive, but the others look like they’re speeding my way now, and the indie pickup books should be in hand tomorrow and are desperately needed.

If you find things that interest you here at The Stiletto Gumshoe’s lair, then you’re going to find many more and much better items of interest at The Thrilling Detective site. The link’s right below…use it now. And more about the gems I nabbed via Smith’s site will follow in another post…

https://thrillingdetective.wordpress.com/

Trouble Is My Business.

Trouble 1

Some hard-core film noir enthusiasts could break the bank collecting movie memorabilia. Some, like writer-director-actor Thomas Konkle and cohorts, decide to make their own film noir instead. The result, Trouble Is My Business, is both tribute and pastiche, deadly serious but with a nod and a wink to fellow noir aficionados.

The early to mid-1940’s roots of film noir may start with bigger budgeted crime melodramas starring Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, John Garfield, Barbara Stanwyck and Lana Turner. But the classic postwar film noir era surely counts many more projects with a little less prestige, made for a lot less money and not always through the major studios. Not every 40’s/50’s noir was directed by the likes of Billy Wilder or Fritz Lang. Paraphrasing some genre luminaries, those involved didn’t realize they were making ‘film noir’, only cranking out low-budget crime flicks on tight schedules. The dark, shadowy look we cherish today was sometimes no more than a convenient way to mask underpropped sets and over-familiar backlot locations.

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Consider Thomas Konkle’s Trouble Is My Business an earnest love letter to those noir cult faves, the film’s look betraying its tighter-than-tight budget, but happy to overlook it in classic B-movie style. Cowritten by Konkle with Brittney Powell, directed by Konkle, and produced by Konkle along with Michael Smith, Trouble Is My Business drops us right in the middle of the very time and place the film pays tribute to: Los Angeles in 1947. There, down on his luck private eye Roland Drake (played by director co-writer Konkle himself) sees a chance for redemption – which, in classic noir style, will inevitably lead him into something more sinister – with the fetching Montemar sisters: First with lovely Katherine, who winds up dead after she and Drake wind up in bed…and then with femme fatale Jennifer Montemar. Both roles are played by Brittney Powell, relying on a wig and her performance as a disguise.

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Noir tropes and clichés abound, from crafty dialog to the SoCal location shots and a memorably nasty thug with a badge. Brimming with noir-stereotype scenes and set-ups, Trouble Is My Business also indulges viewers with a glimpse of what went really on behind closed doors in those 40’s/50’s era films which were still made under the swiftly disintegrating production code. But to the film’s credit, Konkle and Powell get the screen sizzling a bit without going for the cheap shots.

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I don’t know what you get with downloads or online viewing. The Trouble Is My Business‘ deluxe’ DVD set comes with both color and black and white versions. Assuming it was shot in color and converted to B&W, like so many television series’ retro-noir novelty episodes, it’s interesting to see both and then to compare the B&W version to postwar noir classics…the well-funded and poverty row titles as well. I’m no cinematographer, and can’t even shoot a decent still-photo to save my life with a phone or camera. But to my inexpert eye, the oldies exhibit richer, deeper darks and more striking haloed lighting effects than contemporary equipment can manage. But then, maybe it’s precisely that dark magic achieved 60-70 years ago that drove enthusiasts like Thomas Konkle, Brittney Powell, the actors and crew to create an earnest homage like Trouble Is My Business.

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https://troubleismybusinessfilmnoir.tumblr.com

Over 6,000 Books Per Day.

The Loong Wait 1

Just over 6,000 books per day. Every single day. For the last 102 years, since the day he was born on March 9, 1918, in fact. That’s how many books you’d have to sell to equal Mickey Spillane’s estimated tally.

That’s not just a successful writer. That’s a pop culture phenomenon.

Born Frank Morrison Spillane in Brooklyn, New York, Mickey was writing for comics in the 1940’s, a career he’d started while still a Gimbels basement salesman before enlisting in the Army Air Corps the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. The comics scripts led to writing two-page prose shorts used as filler in some titles. Newly married after the war and looking to buy a country house in exurban Newburgh, New York, Spillane decided to write a novel for some added income, blasting out I, The Jury in just 19 days. Accepted by Dutton, it sold over 6.5 million copies in its initial hardcover and paperback releases. Pre-Amazon, pre-eBook.  I, The Jury introduced postwar crime fiction readers to an entirely new type of hard-boiled private eye: Mike Hammer, adapted from Spillane’s earlier Mike Danger comic scripts, a rough, tough loner dispatching vigilante justice with his fists and his .45 on single-minded vengeance filled quests against organized crime in the earliest novels, and Communist spies in later works. Spillane wrote 13 Hammer novels (and a number of short stories) between 1947 and 1996, some unfinished manuscripts later completed by Iowa writer Max Allan Collins in recent years. I’ve got ‘em all, some in different editions, along with Primal Spillane, collecting his early shorts, Collins and James Taylor’s One Lonely Night – Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and From The Files Of Mike Hammer – The Complete Dailies And Sunday Strips from the mid-50’s and others. A scan of my more-or-less demolished (slightly cleaned up for use here) 1952 first printing of Spillane’s The Long Wait paperback is the image up above. I want to get the edition below, and will inevitably when I spot one going for less than collector prices.

The ong Wait 2

The Long Wait is a non-Hammer novel, though with some minor tweaks it easily could be, and I suppose Spillane scholars debate whether it started out as one. In the tradition of Ross MacDonald’s 1947 Blue City and a host of similar crime fiction novels, a drifter who’s much more than he seems stirs up trouble in a lethally crooked town, not arriving as a hero on a quest, but seeking vengeance. When the dust settles – or the gun smoke clears, the blood stops flowing and the screams finally fall silent, this being a Mickey Spillane novel – there’s a brief bit of ‘gotcha’ at the very end as in most Spillane tales, though they all (like so many postwar crime fiction novels) could do with expanded denouements, IMHO. Also shown here is a foreign (French?) edition which adapts the original U.S. hardcover’s dustjacket art. The other is an Orion UK paperback edition, which is what you get today if you order a new paperback online, and what the hell that cover art is about, I don’t know.

The Long Wait 3

I cherish Spillane’s first wave of Mike Hammer novels from 1947 through 1952 (before he became a Jehovah’s Witness, putting his writing temporarily on hold): I, The Jury, My Gun Is Quick, Vengeance Is Mine!, One Lonely Night, The Big Kill and Kiss Me, Deadly. Still, I have a particular but inexplicable affection for The Long Wait, every bit as hard-boiled, gritty, violent and retro-sexy as any of his early Hammer books, if not more so.

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It was made into a film starring Anthony Quinn and Peggie Castle in 1954, which I’ve never seen, though it sounds like it uses at least the core of Spillane’s novel. It doesn’t seem to be available on disk or download, and the only sites I see offering the film have “dot-ru” at the end, so you’ll understand if I’m not ready to click away on those.

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Mickey Spillane’s popularity was lamented by intellectuals. He was reviled by literary critics, envied by fellow writers, and adored by readers (he called them customers) and paperback rack-jobbers. For good or bad, he added a new chapter to the evolving twentieth century mystery/crime fiction genre and to the paperback book pop culture revolution.

So, happy 102ndbirthday, Mickey Spillane. Say hello to Velda and Pat Chambers for me.

A Saturday Surprise.

Mystery Scene

‘Real life’ stuff demanded to be reckoned with this past weekend, resulting in a couple of grim days. So, nothing could’ve pleased me more than popping my mailbox open Saturday evening, where I found both the March 2020 Writer’s Digest and Spring 2020 Mystery Scene inside. I don’t think I’ve had a same-day delivery of those two magazines before, and was eager for something to take my mind off of things, if only for a while. Quick skims of both over a very late dinner (and digging in to one article, at least) sure did the trick.

The new Mystery Scene issue includes all the usual reviews and columns, along with an amusing article from Michael Mallory: “Ready For A Close-Up – Crime Authors Caught On Camera” about Earle Stanley Gardner, P.D. James and numerous other mystery/crime fiction writers who’ve done cameos in films and TV shows. I suppose the whole world already knew that Raymond Chandler (who co-wrote the screenplay of James Cain’s novel) can be seen in Billy Wilder’s 1944 Double Indemnity, but I didn’t! Duh.

Stumptown 1

But my favorite article and the one I dove into over the weekend (the rest of the mag and the Writer’s Digest saved for more careful reading through the week) was “Dex Parios – Will She Or Won’t She? Only Her Stumptown Producers Know For Sure” by Kevin Burton Smith.

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Television has been awash in private eyes since its beginnings. Richard Diamond and Peter Gunn to Cannon, Mannix, Baretta and many, many more, some you might recall or have seen on oddball rerun channels and just as many that you may have never heard of. But let’s be clear: It’s been a P.I. boys club, just like the pulps and retro PBO marketplace of each corresponding era. As for the ‘stiletto gumshoes’? Not so many. Hardly any at all, in fact. Honey West, Charlie’s Angels, Remington Steele, Moonlighting…I’m already running out. The BBC and Australian markets have been more productive by comparison. But in recent years, you might argue that the best private eye, cop and mystery/crime shows have been led by women characters. And, quite a few of them at that. Based on its excellent source material, ABC’s Stumptown promised something special.

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Confession time: As a fan of Greg Rucka’s comics, I couldn’t wait for Stumptown’s debut.Worried? Naturally. After all, could Hollywood (a broadcast network, no less) be trusted to do justice to Rucka’s creation? But when the first episode aired, I was thrilled, and thought that series star Cobie Smulders as Dexedrine ‘Dex’ Callisto Parios and all involved did a terrific job. Some differences from the source material? Well, that’s to be expected.

But, you’ve heard nothing from me here about the show since. The fact is, I grew disenchanted with the series, and by the holidays had stopped watching altogether.

Stumptown 4

So, I was kind of relieved to read Kevin Burton Smith’s article, discovering that I wasn’t alone. Oh, Smith’s a fan, too. But he rightly questions some creative decisions, including an increasing number of side trips into Dex’s complex personal life that ate up a lot of storytelling time. Interesting? Sure, but a bit intrusive nonetheless.  Like he points out while wondering why the studio tinkerers had to tinker at all, “The thing is, the source material is so great, it’s a shame that the showrunners seem to be paying it lip service.” If someone like the founder and editor of the Thrilling Detective site (www.thrillingdetective.com) started to feel a little hinky about some aspects of the show, then I knew I was in safe company. But like Smith points out in his Mystery Scene article, the show seemed to be getting back on track in the New Year, and that’s good news. I’ve returned as a viewer and will stick with it now, while catching up on missed episodes. Further, and to Kevin Burton Smith’s credit, nearly half of his Mystery Scene article is devoted to Greg Rucka himself. Hollywood (and too many viewers) may think it’s all about the stars, or maybe the directors. But let’s keep in mind that every character, every scene, every @#%$&! word spoken originates with the writer. And in Stumptown’s case, the whole idea began with Greg Rucka’s excellent series.

It’s not that I need a genre authority’s endorsement to make me stick with a show (or film, book, whatever). But sometimes it’s nice to know you’re not alone. And now, as time allows, I’ll get back to reading the rest of my new Mystery Scene magazine

 

Walker’s Back.

When Old Midnight COmes ALong

Loren D. Estleman’s latest Amos Walker mystery series novel When Old Midnight Comes Along was released right before Christmas, but I didn’t get my hands on a copy till a week ago. While it’s possible I’ve missed one or two Amos Walker novels (possible, but unlikely), there are almost thirty of them, so I probably ought to do a careful check of the full list…just in case.

If you’re a hard-boiled detective fiction fan, an Amos Walker novel is like coming home to a beloved and familiar place. If you’re foolish enough to be taking a whack at writing hard-boiled or noir-ish crime fiction yourself, then a tour of Walker’s Detroit mean-streets are must-read tutorials. The writing feels effortless, though I’m sure it’s not, and Estleman consistently manages to rival Raymond Chandler when it comes to snappy banter and vivid descriptions. The Motor City private eye’s a bit older here, aging pretty naturally in each book, and his not-a-friend but not-a-nemesis Detroit PD detective John Alderdyce’s retired and working for a hi-tech security firm now (and not liking it one bit). Walker’s hired by a high-profile political fixer to locate the man’s wife. Or, verify that she’s deceased, seeing as she’s been missing for nearly seven years. With only months to go before she can legally be declared dead, and a million dollar life insurance policy on the table, our beloved P.I. naturally wonders why the bigwig doesn’t just wait it out, particularly since he originally was the prime suspect in the wife’s disappearance. But as you’d assume, the plot thickens. Quickly.

I devour mystery and crime fiction, but admittedly, not because I love whodunits. If I did, I’d read more cozies (which I rarely do), which are really the realm of the great locked room mysteries, authentic trails of clues and genuine puzzlers. But it’s never been about the ‘mystery’ for me, and instead, all about enjoying dark and dangerous rides through noir-ish settings riddled with crime and corruption, populated by good guys with an edge and bad girls with an agenda, the final resolution of ‘the crime’ relatively unimportant to me. Well, there’s no one better to guide you through those dark netherworlds than Loren D. Estleman and his grim, gritty, wisened and wise-cracking Amos Walker. But in this case, I found myself uncharacteristically ensnared by the novel’s mystery, naively thinking I’d figured out everything about halfway through, only to discover I had it all wrong (and I mean completely and totally wrong).

It’ll be a wait for the next Amos Walker mystery. But in the mean time I can cross my fingers that Estleman hasn’t given up on his Valentino, Film Detective series. A little more light-hearted, perhaps, and only five novels so far, but I really, really wish there’d be another. Please.

Taking A Moment…

Hammett 1

Just before shutting off the writer’s cave lights before heading to bed last night, I paused for a moment to browse one particular shelf on one of too many bookcases. Spines out, there were my Dashiell Hammett books lined up, a fancy hardcover Chatham River Press novel omnibus edition, a couple frail vintage paperbacks, and various Vintage Crime/Black Lizard trade paperbacks, the handsomest of the bunch in my opinion.

When it comes to the granddaddies of hard-boiled private-eye/crime fiction, I’ll concede here that I’m more Chandler than Hammett, more Marlowe than Spade. Still, yesterday was the anniversary of the day Dashiell Hammett passed away from lung cancer back in 1961. A moment of reverence seemed in order.

Hammett 3

Pinkerton Agency operative, US Army vet in both WWI and WWII, staunch anti-fascist, Hammett was blacklisted and even served time in federal prison for contempt during the 1950’s communist witch hunts. He published over 100 short stories, story collections and novels, created The Continental Op, Nick and Nora Charles and of course, Sam Spade, and wrote for the silver screen as well, such as the screenplay for his long-time partner Lillian Hellman’s play Watch On The Rhine (a particular favorite film of mine). And yet, he wrote his final novel at age 40, more or less turning his back on fiction decades before his death, his novel and short fiction output penned primarily in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. It was a puzzlingly brief career, but one that obviously influenced the mystery/crime fiction genre far beyond its duration.

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My to-be-read pile is disturbingly tall at the moment. No, I don’t plan to squeeze in a re-read of The Maltese Falcon right now. But then I am reading Loren D. Estleman’s new When Old Midnight Comes Along, an Amos Walker mystery, and can feel the echoes of Dashiell Hammett’s work from eighty and ninety years ago in even that beloved private eye’s story.

Death Is A Private Eye

Death Is A Private Eye

Apparently, Death Is A Private Eye – The Unpublished Stories Of Gil Brewer, a Stark House Press Noir Classics book edited by David Rachels, came out during the summer, but it didn’t get on my radar till right before Christmas. Still, the post-holiday season’s as good as any time to gift ourselves, and my Christmas stockings were woefully empty this year, so why not?

Fans of postwar era paperback original hard-boiled crime and so-called vintage sleaze books are surely aware of Gil Brewer, a kind of sad character whose life could form the makings of one of his own stories. A heavy drinker, Gil Brewer was still a prolific writer, and a promising career was launched at the beginning of the 1950’s under the guidance of former Black Mask editor and literary agent Joseph Shaw, who helped the writer sell several stories to the already dwindling crime pulp marketplace, and also sold three novels between 1950 and 1951. These included 13 French Street, which sold over a million copies. The story goes that Brewer was drying out in a sanitarium’s alcoholic ward when the publisher’s contract for that book arrived.

Only ten years later, Brewer’s mentor was gone, the writer just another me-too scribe in the notorious Scott Meredith agency roster, and his story and book sales were few and far between. Injured in a serious auto accident (driving drunk, not surprisingly), Brewer soon found himself cranking out low-pay sleaze and sex material, sales dwindling for even those with each year through his passing in 1983. At that point, his agent handed over cartons of unpublished submissions to his family, and volumes of Brewer’s papers were given to the University of Wyoming. The twenty short stories and two novellas in this Death Is A Private Eye collection were culled from that material, and the book includes an informative introduction from editor Rachels which you can read online if you want an advance look into this vintage writer’s life and work before ordering your own copy. Unlikely that you’ll see this title on shelf at your local book store, of course, but you can get it from the usual online sources or direct from the publisher at starkhousepress.com

Easy Death

Easy Death

Think of this 2014 Hard Case Crime paperback as the perfect noir-pulp-hard-boiled enthusiast’s stocking stuffer, particularly since you can still get it new. In Daniel Boyd’s Easy Death, which is set during Christmastime in 1951, two tough guys are hired by a crime boss to rob an armored car. The heist comes off sorta-kinda okay, but a December blizzard screws up their getaway. It pretty much hinders the pursuing police as well, of course, but not so much the female park ranger who becomes involved.

Written by a former real-life cop, Daniel Boyd’s (a pen name, I think) prior novel was a well-received western. His Easy Death is a fast read, action-filled and with a surprising amount of dark humor. But more surprising still is that it actually manages to feel quite ‘Christmasy’ (in its way), even though it’s pure hard-boiled crime fiction throughout.

Like most Hard Case Crime novels, Easy Death is wrapped in eye-catching cover art, this one from the legendary Glen Orbik. Since the book came out less than a year before the artist’s untimely death at only 52, it likely was among his last works.

 

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.

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