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.

Hammett 2

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.

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.

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

No Christmas Cozies Here.

Hard boiled christmas stories

I’ll skip Dickens’ A Christmas Carol again this year and just do a re-read (or at least a thorough re-browse) of Reverse Karma Press’ 146-page trade pb Hard-Boiled Christmas Stories, collecting multiple holiday-themed stories from the 1930’s – 1940’s pulp magazine heyday.

The anthology includes crooked Santa Clauses (spell-check, please), holiday homicides and seasonal scams from John K. Butler (writer of the hard-boiled L.A. cabbie Steve Midnight tales), Steve Fisher (1941’s I Wake Up Screaming), Henry Leverage (editor of Sing Sing prison’s in-house publication, where he was a ‘resident’), West Pointer Lt. John Hopper, newspaperman Jack Kofoed, and several others. The book leads off with a Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective yarn, but not by Turner’s creator Robert Leslie Bellem, this homage tale penned instead by the anthology’s editor John Wooley, who also edited the first-ever Dan Turner collection. I’ve talked about my love affair with Robert Leslie Bellem’s sing-songy slang-filled snappy banter before, and Wooley does the artful word-smith’s style justice here in “Santa’s Slay Ride”. Why no Bellem original? Though he knocked out literally hundreds of Dan Turner short stories and comics scripts, the Hard-Boiled Christmas Stories editors concluded that Bellem had never written a Christmas story for the hard-boiled Hollywood private eye. Go figure.

I don’t know why Santa Claus and his elves would want to leave a 1930’s pulp cover style damsel-in-distress all ‘wrapped up’ under the Christmas tree, but that cover art was done by David Saunders, son of the late pulp, paperback and pinup illustrator Norm Saunders, intended to emulate the familiar style of mystery and crime pulp maestro H.J. Ward.

 

 

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.

 

Maybe Next Year…

Maybe Next Christmas

No, The Stiletto Gumshoe won’t be in anyone’s Christmas stocking this year, least of all mine. Perhaps I spent 2019 being naughty when I should’ve been nice. Still, I’m thinking positive thoughts for 2020, and am one of those naive types who truly believe that diligence pays off (even if I’ve been proven wrong in the past). So I know what I hope to find under my tree next year: Not baubles or bangles. Just a book, and one book in particular…

Merry Murder & Mayhem.

Criem Reads Xmas

So many Christmas-themed mystery novels are ‘cozies’ to one degree or another. No surprise, since starry nights, blankets of snow, roaring fires and evergreen bedecked rooms are all pretty…well, cozy. Seriously, kitty-cats, caterers, country cottages all fit in with the spirit of the season a little better than dark urban alleys, sleazy cocktail lounges and drug dens. Still, there’ve been — and continue to be — a lot of holiday themed novels and stories that sidestep the overly cute.

Crime Reads Christmas

Paul French offers up a group of Christmas themed novels and short fiction for our consideration in his 12.9.19 Crime Reads article “The Crime Novels Of Christmas – A Merry Rundown Of Crime Fiction Set During The Holidays”, which lists writers as diverse as James Ellroy, Lee Child and George Pelecanos to Anne Perry, Tasha Alexander and W. Somerset Maugham. Now I can’t imagine Ellroy’s Perfidia making anyone feel all warm ‘n cozy, much less brimming with good will towards their fellow man, but the fun of Christmas themed mystery and crime fiction is the contrast of all the murder and mayhem with the merry time of year. Follow the link to French’s Crime Reads article and see if you don’t want to book a little non-wrapping/caroling/shopping/baking time beside the tree for some serious reading.

https://crimereads.com/the-crime-novels-of-christmas/

PW’s Book Shopping List.

PW

A mid-November issue of Publishers Weekly was stuffed full of interesting things, particularly two special features on mysteries, thrillers & true crime in, “Out Of The Shadows” by Michael J. Seidlinger, and “Open Wounds” by Bridey Heing. The thrust of those two meaty multi-page articles: Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl has sold nearly four million copies in seven years, during which time the mystery/crime fiction/thriller marketplace might feel overtaken by a glut of domestic thrillers helmed by similarly imperfect narrators. But the genre, its subsets and offshoots are an incredibly rich and diverse landscape of distinctive voices, inventive plot devices and milieus, so both Seidlinger and Heing showcased a wide selection of now-debuting and soon-to-arrive novels and true crime titles that aren’t necessarily Gone Girl derivatives (or even include ‘Girl’ in the title, which so many new releases have been doing). I was pleased to spot some I’d already ordered, reserved or even had in hand. And, just as pleased to see more in Seidlinger and Heing’s articles and the adjacent ads for books I mean to get, including:

After All -

After All by Robert Arthur Neff

Are Snakes NecessaryDouble Feature

Hard Case Crime’s Are Snakes Necessary by Brian DePalma and Susan Lehman, and Double Feature by Donald Westlake

Bonita Palms

Bonita Palms by Hal Ross

That Left Turn At Albuquerque

That Left Turn At Albuquerque by Scott Phillips

The Wrong Girl

The Wrong Girl by Donis Casey: ‘The Adventures Of Bianca Dangereuse’

The Beauty DefenseAnd for some non-fiction, The Beauty Defense – Femmes Fatales On Trial by Laura James

 

 

Cutting Edge.

Cutting Edge Joyce Carol Oates

I noted in a prior post that on top of channeling book buying dollars to independent booksellers, it seems that we also need to consider ordering small and micro-press titles direct from their publishers as well. I’m game for spreading my resources around, such as they are, and will go direct to Akashic Books (akashicbooks.com) to order Joyce Carol Oates’ Cutting Edge – New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers.

Akashic is the publisher of the long running “Noir” series: Chicago Noir, New Jersey Noir, Amsterdam Noir…well, name a city or region, and they probably have a noir anthology for it. I believe the last one I talked up here at The Stiletto Gumshoe was the then just-released Milwaukee Noir. And since Akashic promotes “25% off all books every day”, I guess I’ll be back for more soon enough. After all, I can’t expect my local bookseller to stock every city/region in the Akashic Noir series.

As for Cutting Edge:

“Is there a distinctive female noir?” Oates asks in the opening line of the anthology’s introduction. I’ll confess to peeking at it online, pleased to see that the editor’s intro is no slapped together half-pager. “Is there, as some have argued, a distinctive female voice, differing essentially from the male voice?” She goes on to talk about just what mystery, crime and noir really are. “It has been noted that noir isn’t a specific subject matter but rather a sort of (dark) music: a sensibility, a tone, an atmosphere.” Certainly not a genre, and hopefully more than a mere subcategory of mystery/crime fiction, whatever ‘noir’ may be, Oates is certain that there are distinct and surely vital differences between the so-called traditional male noir world and the female. “The particular strength of the female noir vision isn’t a recognizable style but rather a defiantly female, indeed feminist, perspective.”

I was pleased to once have a story included in a hardcover anthology alongside Joyce Carol Oates (pay rate aside). Cutting Edge’s list of well-known and less familiar writers is impressive. The intro describes some very diverse settings, subject, styles and plots. I’ll be buying a lot of books this month, whether for myself or as gifts (surprise!), and I’m really looking forward to Joyce Carol Oates’ Cutting Edge – New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers.

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