Barbara Walton

Tell It To The Birds - B Walton 1963

So, just who is Barbara Walton?

If you read the preceding post, you know that I really can’t tell you. All I can say is that this British artist/illustrator did some striking paperback cover art and hardcover dustjacket design and illustration from the late 1950’s through the late 1970’s, her most active period being the mid-1960’s. It’s particularly intriguing to see how Walton’s style evolved from relatively traditional full-bleed illustration to a more ‘designerly’ vignetted style, later work almost more graphic design than pure illustration.

The Schults Money - B Walton 1960

I read that Barbara Walton was almost an unofficial ‘house artist’ for Robert Hale Ltd., though she also did work for other UK publishers. See the next post for additional examples of Barbara Walton’s work, and then keep going to view covers from her sister, Eileen Walton.

Label It Murder - B Walton 1963False Witness - B Walton 1964Count-Down - B Walton 1962

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.

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.)

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

The Big Blowdown

The Big Blowdown - Richie Fahey Cover art

There’s a long list of George Pelecanos’ projects that I adore: Novels, short stories, television scripts.

But my favorite remains The Big Blowdown, his 1999 tale of two Washington DC friends (including Nick Stefanos, the Pelecanos character who’s crossed-over into more than one project) set in a post-WWII world of realistically drawn blue-collar Greek neighborhoods filled with rich renderings of everyday people who live and work alongside the small-time mobsters who really run things. Some have compared Pelecanos’ early novels to James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet, and I won’t argue. They share a spare yet darkly poetic writing style and focus on a specific time, place and cast of characters. How he continues to create excellent books while concurrently working as a writer/producer for high-visibility projects like The Wire, The Pacific and The Deuce among others is beyond me. A person can only do so much. Somehow, Pelecanos does still more.

For me, this particular novel has been a kind of tutorial on how a master wordsmith handles an ethnic milieu, something I’m working with (different ethnicity, but still) in my own projects. Obviously, Pelecanos does it better than many, and better than anything I could ever hope for.

The Big Blowdown will get a careful re-read someday. I’ll just need to give it some time so I can forget the specifics and discover it all anew. As an aside, the nifty Richie Fahey cover art on my well-worn trade pb edition shown above doesn’t hurt.

Into The Night

Into The Night - Woolrich - Block

As I understand it, Into The Night was an unfinished Cornell Woolrich novel manuscript, not only missing an ending, but the opening and some passages in the middle (which doesn’t leave very much, if you think about it). It fell to Lawrence Block to complete the novel. I know I have this book somewhere (if you ever saw my bookshelves, you’d understand) but had to rely on a search engine image for the picture above.

Time for candor, even if it gets me in trouble: I’m not the biggest Woolrich fan, and I know that’s sacrilegious in noir and crime fiction circles.

It’s been a while, so if I get the plot mixed up a little, I’ll beg your forgiveness now. In Into The Night, a woman’s failed suicide attempt goes awry, though she’s actually relieved that her gun jammed. But when she drops the weapon, it accidentally goes off anyway, the bullet shooting right through the window where it finds an unintended target, another woman merely passing by.

That’s an interesting if perhaps implausible premise. From what I’ve read, some readers didn’t care for Lawrence Block’s upbeat ending, preferring something more Woolrich-ish…i.e. dreary and downbeat. Still, this one can be an entertaining read for hardcore Woolrich buffs, if only to try to pinpoint the original manuscript’s portions and Block’s rewrites/additions.

White Butterfly

White Butterfly 1992

White Butterfly (1992) was the third entry in Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series, though actually the second one that I read. I confess: I’d heard of Mosley but knew little about him or his work, and saw the 1995 film adaptation of Mosley’s first published novel, Devil With A Blue Dress with Denzel Washington and Jennifer Beals on TV or a rental at some point. Before I read the book, that is. I literally raced out to get it then, was completely enthralled when I read it, and hungered for more Mosley once done. I have two independent bookstores nearby, one close to home, one close to work, both charming operations, but both allocating just a little too much floor space to trinkets and knickknacks instead of books. So I walked out of one with White Butterfly, the third in the Easy Rawlins series, but the second I ended up reading, it being the only Walter Mosely novel on shelf at that time. For some reason, I’ve ended up working through more of Walter Mosley’s books in much the same way: totally out of sequence.

No matter. I adored White Butterfly, with Easy Rawlins settled into domestic life but keeping secrets from his spouse. A girl’s murder in the Los Angeles ghetto doesn’t have the cops in arms. Another murder – this time a white girl, so now they’re interested – finds the police blackmailing Easy to assist them, or his old pal Mouse (who turns out to be something less than a pal) who’s in jail may never get out of the clink.

Like much of the very best in noir fiction and film, Rawlins’ novels give us a hero with his share of flaws who is sucked into a maelstrom of darkness and danger where temptation abounds, and is forced to combat powerful forces, be they unscrupulous cops, syndicate gangsters or crooked politicians…everything dialed up a few notches in Easy Rawlins’ world of rampant racism. I’m not going to say that Walter Mosley effectively captures the postwar Los Angeles African American milieu, only because I’m not African American, not from Los Angeles and wasn’t around then. I will say that he conveys the time, place, people and culture, does it with power and with a richness that tumbles off every page without ever feeling like a travelogue or history lesson. Not one Walter Mosley novel has ever disappointed me, and his Easy Rawlins books are among my favorites.

Devils In Blue Dresses

Devil In A Blue Dress 1st

Maybe one way to judge the importance of a book is by the number of editions. A continually popular book, an important book – and Walter Mosley’s first published novel and the first in the Easy Rawlins series, Devil In A Blue Dress from 1990, has never been out of print to my knowledge – is available in multiple countries (rightly so), print and audio, and has been re-issued in various editions. Up top is what I believe is the original first edition (which I don’t have, my copy only a lowly paperback re-issue). Below, a sampling of other editions. Mind you, these aren’t all, by any means, just the first few I screen-grabbed out of curiosity in a quick search. Mighty impressive.

Devil In A Blue Dress - Multiple

This Body’s Not Big Enough For The Both Of Us.

this bodys not big enough

Bestselling author Edgar Cantero has written one heck of an unusual novel with This Body’s Not Big Enough For The Both Of Us. It’s ‘the worst case of sibling rivalry’, as the inside flap teases.

The office door says ‘A. Kimrean & Z. Kimrean, Private Eyes’. But the pair aren’t husband and wife, father and son or mother and daughter. In fact, there’s only one desk inside with one chair behind it, and that’s for the scrawny, androgynous gumshoe who goes by A.Z. – twin brother and sister Adrian and Zooey, genetic chimeras who inhabit the very same body.

A 30+ page opening that plays with the hard-boiled crime novel cliché of a fetching femme fatale type showing up to enlist A.Z.’s assistance is a bit of challenge to adapt to, surely enough to put off fans of a traditionally plotted and written story. But get past that portion, and a rollicking good time awaits. Oh, there’s a ‘mystery’, and there’s crime, enough of both to satisfy any mystery/crime fiction fan, provided they aren’t looking for a straightforward whodunit. Cantero, from Barcelona Spain but residing these days in Brooklyn, toys with narrative conventions, honors and rips apart genre tropes and pokes fun at clichés. The tone is smart-assed and insouciant right from page one – right from the opening lines, in fact — and never really lets up.

And a nod to designer Michael J. Windsor’s for the striking dustjacket design, which lists images sourced from no less than eight photographers, reworked into a truly eye-catching bit of vector art and graphic design. This Body’s Not Big Enough For The Both Of Us is a bit different, no question, but a lot of fun.

this bodys not big enough back cover

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