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.

The Man That Got Away.

The Man That Got Away

 

In Lynne Truss’ 2019 The Man That Got Away, young seaside resort town Constable Twitten is largely dismissed by his colleagues and superiors even though he knows Brighton’s infested with criminals of every sort, most likely led by the police station’s own unassuming cleaning woman, who keeps the uniform cops and inspectors preoccupied with tea and delectable dainties while she eavesdrops on police matters and plots elaborate schemes of her own.

It’s 1957, and we’re still a few years away from the near-riots between rampaging gangs of Mods and Rockers on Brighton’s streets and beaches. The town fathers are more focused on the newly formed troop of Brighton Belles: attractive, uniformed young women roaming the resort town to act as guides and steer tourists to fee-based attractions. A pair of those very Belles may be the best witnesses to a bloody murder which will lead young Constable Twitten on a merry chase probing a seedy nightclub, a kitschy wax museum, a pair of young lovers’ failed elopement and a notorious con artist’s latest scheme, all the while playing cat and mouse with the police station’s kindly cleaning woman, who only Twitten knows as Brighton’s reigning crime lord.

I challenge you to classify this novel. There’s nothing remotely hard-boiled or noir-ish about it, yet it’s certainly not what you’d call a ‘cozy’. Now, this comes from a Yank, and a Midwesterner at that (which is about as blandly American as one can get) but I’d have to say this was the most thoroughly British novel I’ve read in a long time. Imagine a Fawlty Towers episode or an extended Monty Python sketch, brimming with quirky characters and all told in a loopy narrative which frequently detours into chatty bits of backstory. At times, the plot had my head spinning. But once finished, I admit that I still wanted more. Which is fine, since The Man That Got Away is actually Truss’ second Constable Twitten book. Sidestepping my usual diet of dark, brooding gumshoes and femmes fatales is a healthy thing, so I’ll be looking for her first one, 2018’s A Shot In The Dark on my next bookstore or library trip.

A ShotIn The Dark

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.

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