Mystery, Money & More.

There’s not much reason to be familiar with Racine, Wisconsin. Unless you’re a fan of old-time radio shows, that is, and remember Fibber McGee & Molly’s sponsor, the Johnson Wax company of Racine, Wisconsin (S.C. Johnson today, mega-corporate marketers of Windex, Pledge, Glade, Drano, Saran Wrap, Raid, Ziploc bags, Off and many other branded products probably lurking somewhere around your home). There’s a chance if you attended college anywhere from Chicago to Milwaukee that you might’ve taken a field trip to the Frank Lloyd Wright designed S.C. Johnson corporate campus for an architecture class. But that aside, Racine has been eclipsed lately by its small city/big town neighbor just a short hop down the road, Kenosha Wisconsin, which has been in the news much more than it would like.

I’ve been to Kenosha and Racine and all points in between Chicago and Milwaukee, that 100 mile+ stretch along lower Lake Michigan’s western shoreline, more or less one continuous metro area straddling two states (even been to that diesel-punk shrine S.C. Johnson campus numerous times on day job chores). But I never expected to see Racine mentioned in the pages of Mystery Scene magazine, much less to learn that one of my wordsmith heroes resided on the north side of that town for a year and half back in the mid-1960’s.

With his writing career briefly stalled, Lawrence Block (a name mentioned often enough here at The Stiletto Gumshoe) found himself relocating from Buffalo, New York to Racine, Wisconsin for a year and half, working a regular day job at Whitman Numismatic Journal (numismatics being coin collecting). The job offer was based in part on one particular 1964 article Block wrote: “Raymond Chandler And The Brasher Doubloon”. That essay (also available in Block’s collection of non-fiction pieces, Hunting Buffalo With Bent Nails, 2019), is reprinted in the latest Fall 2020 issue of Mystery Scene magazine, and it’s an intriguing read for Block fans and Raymond Chandler enthusiasts alike. Whether you know Chandler’s story from his 1942 Philip Marlowe novel The High Window or the 1947 film adaptation (the second, actually) The Brasher Doubloon with George Montgomery and Nancy Guild, do check out Block’s essay. 

This Fall 2020 Mystery Scene issue is full of the usual tasty stuff, including all the new book release ads and reviews, some of which I’ve added to the orders refilling the writing lair’s to-be-read endtable. But there’s more, of course, like Pat H. Broeske’s excellent (but all too short!) “Love On The Run” article, which takes a look at some of the many Hollywood films inspired at least in part by the notorious exploits of the real-life Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, including Joseph Lewis’ Gun Crazy (1957), Arthur Penn’s Bonnie & Clyde (1967) naturally enough, Nicholas Ray’s incredible They Live By Night (1948) and others. They Live By Night is a particular fave of mine and overdue for a fresh viewing soon. It’s odd that such a noir classic is mostly seen in cheesy omnibus disk set editions found in bargain bins. If you haven’t seen this one, perhaps Italian illustrator Averardo Ciriello’s gorgeous film poster art below will send you off to find this incredible piece of doomed, dark romance with Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell. The faces Ciriello painted for that poster are truly haunting.

As for Mystery Scene magazine, go get your own copy of the Fall 2020 Mystery Scene now…

Block & Pochoda In Mystery Scene.

mystery scene 164

You’ll find Ivy Pochoda (These Girls, 2020) and Lawrence Block (Dead Girl Blues, 2020) in the current Mystery Scene magazine, issue 164. Pochoda nabs this issue’s cover, and is treated to an excellent four-page profile by Oline H. Cogdill. Lawrence Block appears with “A Burglar’s Future”, a Bernie Rhodenarr story from the new The Burglar In Short Order 2020 release. Honestly, there’s not a page to be skimmed over in this particular issue, even including a review (the lead review, that is) for the novel I just finished, Pip Drysdale’s new The Sunday Girl (see an upcoming post for that one).

“The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of.”

Maltese Falcon 1

The new Summer 2020 Mystery Scene issue arrived yesterday, but there was no time to read it last night, being stuck with some day job take-home work. More about what looks like a terrific issue later. But I did manage a quick peek over this morning’s drive-through large-with-cream (God bless Dunkin’ Donuts) on the way to work, and the last item in Louis Phillips “Mystery Scene Miscellany” column caught my eye, it being the day after Dashiell Hammett’s birthday.

Maltes Falcon 3

“The stuff that dreams are made of.”

No, not the Carly Simon song from her 1987 Coming Around Again album or paraphrasing Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade delivers that final line of dialog in the 1941 The Maltese Falcon, just before he and Ward Bond exit while we watch the elevator gates close over Mary Astor’s resigned face, the car descends into darkness and that memorable Adolph Deutsch composed Warner Brothers studio orchestra music builds for the film’s close, a mere minute or so of truly iconic proto-noir cinema that gets me every time I see it.

Maltese Falcon 3

“The stuff that dreams are made of.” According to Mystery Scene Miscellany (referencing a 1989 Lawrence Grobel biography of the Hustons), that wonderful line which had long been attributed to director/screenwriter John Huston was actually ad-libbed on set by Bogart himself. Doubly intriguing, since all I’ve read about the film indicates that Huston was meticulous about sticking to his script in this, his first feature film directorial assignment, even shooting largely in sequence.

But I’m glad at least one bit of improvisation was allowed, and all the more pleased to think of Humphrey Bogart coming up with that particular – and memorable – line.

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.

Stumptown 2

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.

Stumptown 3

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

 

Worth The Wait: Mystery Scene.

Mystery Scene 162

The Mystery Scene 2019 Holiday Issue (No. 162) appeared in my mailbox right before Christmas, but I set it aside for a leisurely read when I’d be out of town on a short holiday-over-the-holidays.

Okay, I’m fibbing. I cracked it open right away. But that was only for a quick skim to browse the 2019 Gift Guide For Mystery Lovers while there was still time before the 24th.  There was no point in snooping the books, as it turned out, because I already had or was about to get most of those included in this year’s guide: Joyce Carol Oates Cutting Edge, Otto Penzler’s The Big Book of Reel Murders, Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty’s Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal: Bad Weekend. The novelties and more gifty items were cute enough but not targeted for my Christmas stocking or well-intended gift giving.

Publishers Kate Stine and Brian Skupin officially announced the magazine’s switch to a quarterly starting this year. It’ll be tough to wait longer between issues, but the promise of an increased page count while keeping the subscription price untouched was welcome news.

Mystery Scene Lesbian Mysteries

Along with the must-read reviews, John Vaerli’s interview with former librarian, publishing PR exec and editor Domenica de Rosa, better known by her Elly Griffiths pen name and her Magic Men mystery series, and Nancy Bilyeau’s article on Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling) were particular treats, as was Catherine Maiorisi’s look at contemporary lesbian mysteries, which flagged a couple writers who weren’t on my radar (but are now). As always, both the reviews and the ads launched a list of books to watch for, including Damien Angelica Walters’ The Dead Girls Club, Loren D. Estleman’s When Old Midnight Comes Along – An Amos Walker Novel, Timothy J. Lockhart’s Smith and Laird Blackwell’s Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine And The Art Of The Detective Story, to name just a few.

So, it’ll be a longer wait now for the next issue. Guess I’ll just have to savor it that much more once it arrives.

Mystery Scene #161

mystery sceneAlways a treat to find the new Mystery Scene in my mailbox, even when the stack of books on my to-be-read end table is overflowing (and it really is). The issue offered up its always reliable mix of new, retro and unusual topics and didn’t disappoint…but, does it ever? Some highlights:

Bulldog drummond books

Michael Mallory’s Bulldog Drummond was a treat. News to me that there’d been around two dozen Bulldog Drummond films released between 1922 and 1969. I’ve only seen one, probably waking up on the couch in the wee hours with my hand on the remote tuned to some oddball channel. I can’t even remember for sure which one it was at that. Adventurer and investigator Bulldog Drummond was created by British Army officer Herman Cyril McNeile, who wrote under the pen name “Sapper” (British Army regulations prohibiting service members from using their real names for fiction publication) with ten Bulldog Drummond novels published between 1920 and 1937. Gerard Fairlie and then Henry Raymond continued the series from 1938 through 1969.

Ray Milland Bulldog Drummond 2

John B. Valeri’s piece on reporter turned writer Alex Segura and his Pete Fernandez private eye series was a real teaser, opening with a Segura quote, “I like to keep readers on their toes. I like to pull the rug out from under them…”, and then closing with something to keep fans alert. Segura may be following up his fifth Pete Fernandez private eye novel, Miami Midnight (2019) with something quite different and soon. “While he’s a bit cagey about the details, (Segura) does drop a few tantalizing clues as to what readers can expect: A non-PI female lead, a different time period and a murder. Beyond that, all bets are off.” Well, here’s betting I’ll be watching closely for something like this from Mr. Segura, and it can’t come to soon.

The most unusual piece was Craig Sisterson’s “Found In Translation” a five pager looking closely at mystery/crime fiction work translated to English and vice-versa, but more specifically, talking to the translators themselves. Though I’m currently hard at work – and more or less working from scratch — on launching a particular project (can you guess…”The Stiletto Gumshoe”), I’m not actually a newbie to the writing/publishing racket…more like reinventing myself. But under a prior pen name, my second novel sold the foreign rights. It was only one market, but hey, the check cashed just fine. I can’t write or speak a single word of that particular language, so I’ve always wondered how well they did with the slang and vernacular. Sisterson’s article drives home what an art quality translations really are.

 

Mignon And More In Mystery Scene

Mystery Scene 160 - 2019

I know there are no books by Mignon G. Eberhart on shelf at my local public library. I checked. But then, the list of well-known mystery/crime fiction writers missing from the shelves there would too long to start counting.

Another Mans Murder

The latest issue of Mystery Scene magazine is full of the usual features and excellent interviews and articles, and didn’t disappoint. But it rarely does. Michael Mallory’s article “Mystery’s Enigmatic Mistress – Mignon G. Eberhart” was a pretty in depth look at a woman who was a bit of mystery herself. Born Mignonette Good in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1899, Eberhart went on to write nearly 60 mystery novels along with numerous short stories and plays, beginning with the Sarah Keate medical mystery series in the 1920’s. By the time of her death at 97 in 1996, Eberhart was considered one of the highest paid mystery writers in the field, yet biographical information remains pretty sparse, with very few interviews ever conducted. Mallory’s excellent article provided just enough info to get me intrigued, and I’ve been digging up some of Mignon G. Eberhart’s mysteries since, some of which have been reprinted in multiple editions and are readily available.

On a more somber note, Nancy Bilyeau’s “Berlin Noir – Philip Kerr’s Novels Of The Third Reich And After” gives an overview of Kerr’s incredible Bernie Gunther series, in which the Chandler-esque Berlin homicide detective navigates the rise of Nazism, the horrors of WWII and its aftermath, and struggles to find a place in a postwar world through 14 always-entertaining but incredibly thought provoking novels. Philip Kerr, of course, sadly passed away in March of 2018. The publication of his 13thGunther novel Greeks Bearing Gifts just a month after his death was a bittersweet event for his ardent fans (count me among them), and presumed to be the final work from this master. But there was one more, Metropolis, published just this April, and surprisingly, a kind of origins story set in 1928 when the horrors to come were only glimpses of still unimaginable anomalies in Weimar Germany, where cynical Berlin cop Bernie Gunther was still working his beat, eager to please and, if a smart ass at heart, not yet the hardened world weary soul readers came to love across a dozen-plus novels.

So with one magazine’s issue, I learn about a prolific writer I never knew much about (but will, soon enough) and bid farewell to a writing hero whose work I’d grown to love. Can’t ask for more than that from a magazine.

Mystery Scene

Mystery Scene 1

Found the new Mystery Scene magazine issue 159 in my mailbox after work, and am only disappointed that I already devoured the darn thing and now have to wait for another issue. Mystery fans and writers will find the usual healthy mix of topics and mystery/crime fiction sub-categories well-represented. I got a particular kick out of one entry in the monthly The Hook: Intriguing First Lines feature, which showcases a selection of particularly interesting, gripping or even amusing first sentences or paragraphs from various mystery novels. I pasted in author Lee Goldberg’s opening from his 2019 Killer Thriller above, and who among us hasn’t met or known someone just like the person being described? Just in case the image is missing on your screen, here it is as text:

“Ian Ludlow’s UCLA creative writing professor insisted that the key to being a successful novelist was writing from personal experience. That’s why the professor was the author of five unpublished novels about sexually frustrated novelists who toiled in obscurity while teaching talentless and ungrateful students how to write.” From Killer Thriller, by Lee Goldberg 2019

mystery scene

Gil Brewer Revisited

The Red Scarf-A Killer is Loose

The latest Mystery Scene magazine e-newsletter included Ben Boulden’s “2018 Reissues Roundup: Some Of The Best Books To Hit The Page (Again)”, starting with Stark House Noir Classics, nice looking trade paperbacks ranging from $17.95 – $21.95 US, most with reproductions of vintage postwar illustrations for their cover art (not necessarily the cover art from the novels’ original editions, though) and usually double books (two novels). Boulden’s article features Stark House’s republished version of two Gil Brewer novels, The Red Scarf and A Killer Is Loose from 1958.

A lot of Gil Brewer material deals with regular folks who are particularly unlucky, whether with money, jobs, love, marriage, you name it, and such is the case in The Red Scarf.

The Red Scarf Montage

Roy and Bess Nichols’ roadside motel looks out on a planned highway that never was built, so now they’re deep in debt, unable to borrow any more from the bank or family, and Roy’s taken to drinking too much. Doing just that at Al’s Bar-B-Q one night, Roy hitches a ride home with Noel and Vivian Teece, a bag man and his girl who’ve had a few themselves. When an accident kills Noel (or so it seems) Vivian grabs their satchel of mob money and holes up in Cabin No. 6 at Roy’s hotel, where Roy obsesses over the bag of dirty loot tied shut with her red scarf, even as the law and some very dangerous gangsters start to sniff around.

The Red Scarf

I’d read some Gil Brewer before, including Hard Case Crime’s edition of The Vengeful Virgin and Wild To Possess/A Taste Of Sin, another Stark House double. Brewer (1922 – 1983) was a Florida writer who usually set his fairly bleak tales in familiar turf, all of them a kind of ‘sun-drenched’ noir that neglects the glitz of Miami Beach for back roads, small towns, roadhouses and hot sheet hotels instead. My own work has me constantly stuck in a 1959 mindset, so some more late 50’s/early 60’s era Gil Brewer ought to go down swell right now.

Mystery Scene

Mystery scene

Finding a new issue of Mystery Scene magazine in the mail is just like getting an unexpected present. I spent a pleasant Sunday evening with this new Winter 2019 issue, as well as the morning after to finish it up (once through the pre-dawn Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru en route to work, the car eater going full blast this Monday AM). I haven’t read anything by the cover story feature, Laura Benedict, but plan to now. Many writers have peculiar rituals as part of their work habits. Benedict’s compelled to clean and de-clutter her house from top to bottom before commencing a new novel. “Horace McCoy: Noir’s Forgotten Founding Father” by Michael Mallory made me think about an unsung hero of the genre, McCoy not the most prolific writer, but the author of the Depression-era novel They Shoot Horses, Don’t They which made him a darling among the European literary philosopher set. Of course the issue had the usual features and pages and pages of new release reviews…all in all, a pleasant end to a cold weekend (and a helpful start to a frigid work week).

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