Arseniy’s Toying With Me…

Arseniy Semyonov

Consider it a story prompt: This photo by Arseniy Semyonov could spark at least a dozen different tales, each scenario deliciously dark and probably deadly.

A private eye’s just been handed that photo by his secretary? Or a meeting with a classic femme fatale of a client has just wrapped up, the gumshoe assigned to hunt for her (most likely dead) lover? Heck, that fellow could be a pulp scribe holed up in a grungy motel room to complete his hard-boiled masterpiece, the silhouette of a curvy vision in the doorway no more than a figment of his liquor and cigarette fueled imagination.

Damn, I love/hate when pictures set me off like this…

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/

Stuck At Home? Then Go To Noir City.

Noir City 1It’s not like I didn’t see it coming: Shelter-at-home, non-essential businesses closed temporarily, etc. It’s just that the day job was in its normal busy time of year, well underway prior to the shutdowns and continuing during the transition to work-at-home. I may have been prepared with groceries in the fridge and a full tank of gas (should I just skip the thing about the cigarette carton stash?), but I hadn’t been to the library, hadn’t been in a bookstore and hadn’t even done a quick online order of any books – new or old – in the days leading up to the sudden switch to hermit status. The to-be-read stack on the writing lair’s endtable had whittled down some. It’s not like I don’t have shelves of beloved treasures that could do with a re-read, but still…

So, it was a double delight to see the new Spring 20202 Noir City e-magazine Number 28 appear in my in-box.

Noir City 3

Now I’m not kidding about being busy with the day job. Even routine tasks seem to take twice as long as they do in-office, where simple face-to-face questions and approvals take no more than a moment, but now require email barrages. No complaints, mind you. When the news is filled with startling stats like 1 in 10 Americans filing for Unemployment last week and even 1 in 4 laid-off, furloughed or weathering hours cutbacks, I’m thrilled to be working. But with time at a premium, I haven’t read a single word of this new Noir City issue yet. Still, a quick scroll through the pages (drooling the entire time) assured me this is another terrific issue from Vince Keenan and Steve Kronenberg, and as always, a visual treat from Art Director Michael Kronenberg.

Noir City 2

Craving some dark delights in the midst of endless dismal news? Get thee to the Film Noir Foundation’s site (link below) to find out more, become a contributor and to get your mitts on the Noir City e-magazine. Just try to visit there and not end up wanting something: Back issues, festival posters, whatever. Hey, if we can’t spend money in stores right now, we can unload a few bucks on something of real value for noir culture enthusiasts…and I know there are more than a few of you reading this.

http://www.filmnoirfoundation.org/home.html

http://www.filmnoirfoundation.org/aboutnoircity.html

Tips For Aspiring Crime Writers Enthralled By The Classics.

The Big Sleep 1978

Deluged with articles and radio/TV news touting ways to pass the time while sheltering at home? Must-see series to binge watch, reading literary classics you skipped in high school, or perhaps reviving dormant hobbies? Sure, like I have time to start a ship in a bottle. The fact is, moving the day job from the office to the writing lair has mostly meant that everything takes twice as long to accomplish. So far, there’s no time for down time.

But one thing I promised to do is to finally catch up on an entire stash of articles and essays from Crime Reads, a fat folder of sloppy screen-caps and still-working links, some a year and half old. I was too busy to read them properly or at all when first spotted, and I mean to get through these things by the time we un-shelter.

How To Write Like Chandler

Dial back with me to July of 2018 for “How To Write Like Chandler Without Becoming A Cliché” by Owen Hill (link below), one of the editors of the amazing The Annotated Big Sleep, along with Pamela Jackson and Anthony Dean Rizzuto (well, and Raymond Chandler, of course), that jumbo 470+ page 2018 Vintage Crime/Black Lizard classic noir/crime fiction fan must-read. I’ve written about it here before. Maybe will again. But for now, it’s Owen Hill’s remarks about just how easy it is to become so enthralled by the genre’s mid-twentieth century roots that the icons, triggers and tropes can permeate our own work…and not necessarily in a good way.

The Annotated Big Sleep

Hill’s essay is subtitled “Tips For Aspiring Crime Writers Enthralled By The Classics” and he opens by listing just a few of the most obvious and iconic scenes we’d automatically associate with Raymond Chandler’s (sometimes by way of Dashiell Hammett’s) work, and he notes, “Today it’s difficult to imagine a detective novel without at least an homage to these and other Chandleresque tropes. What’s a fledgling writer to do? How to make it all seem fresh?”

Aside from avoiding the most worn out clichés and stereotypes, Hill recommends reading. And reading a lot.

Chandler? Well, sure. How can you not? Hill adds James M. Cain, Ross MacDonald and notes that Chandler himself learned second-hand by reading the pulps, especially Earle Stanley Gardner and Hammett. I’ll add in a diverse bunch of notorious characters from James Ellroy to Sandra Scoppettone, Vicki Hendricks and early Megan Abbott, Loren D. Estleman and Stuart Kaminsky, Sue Grafton and George Pellecanos, Max Allan Collins and Sara Gran, both Kanes (Henry and Frank)…and of course, Mickey Spillane. My list could go on and on. You’ll have your own to add.

The Big Sleep 1978 - 2

There’s a very fine line between homage and pastiche, and narrow as the distinction may be, it’s made worse by being blurry and ill-defined. What one reader/writer considers reverent, another sees as laughably hokey. I struggle with this all the time, whether working in period settings (much of my own stuff set in the late 1950’s to very early 1960’s) or in ‘the now’. Once the fellows sport suspenders and fedoras, the women wear hats and gloves, the cars have fat fenders or fins and the gumshoes plunk coins in pay phone slots, a writer’s in treacherous territory, where deadly clichés lurk around every corner.

Hill’s solution is the same one recommended by nearly every writing how-to book. Read, read and read some more…though obviously, leaving a little time for your fingers to tap dance across the keyboard. Makes sense. Only by getting a firm handle on the wide diversity of voices, settings, situations and styles a thriving genre comprises, and by seeing first-hand how those who’ve gone before us have synthesized the genre’s iconography into their own fresh perspectives can anyone possibly hope – however humbly – to put their own spin on things. It’s okay to be enthralled or even to go all fanboy/girl over genre classics, so long as we don’t become clichés ourselves.

So, you’ll indulge me if I include some pics of Robert Mitchum from the 1978 The Big Sleep in this post instead of the more revered, and obvious, Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe himself.

https://crimereads.com/how-to-write-like-chandler-without-becoming-a-cliche/

 

The Shakedown

The Shakedown 1

“Models Were The Bait For Blackmail!”

I usually don’t go for retro British crime melodramas or noir-wannabe’s, considering most a little too timid. But I’ve always loved that poster shown above, and wouldn’t mind getting my mitts on John Lemont’s 1959/1960 The Shakedown with Hazel Court, Donald Pleasence and Terry Morgan, just for a peek. The film didn’t make it to the U.S. until 1961, and mustn’t have made much of a splash then, since even bargain basement DVD companies have overlooked it.

The Shakedown 2

Just released from prison, Terry Morgan sets up a modeling agency that’s really a front for a naughty pictures racket backed up with a blackmail scheme. When the police get wise, they enlist future Hammer horror films stalwart Hazel Court to go undercover to infiltrate the operation, never anticipating that she’ll end up falling for the good-looking but sleazy blackmailer. The tawdry business wraps up once a blackmail victim’s had enough and shoots Morgan. Before the crook dies, he realizes that Hazel Court is really an undercover police officer. But there’s no talk of love or see you in the hereafter. His final words? He calls her a bitch and gasps his last, leaving Court to ponder what she let herself get mixed up in as she wanders off.

Murder, mayhem and vintage sleaze? Sounds deliciously stupid to me, but all I’ve found so far are short, ho-hum video snips. Still, I bet I’ll stumble across this sleazy gem in some DVD discount bin or risky video site someday.

The Shakedown 3The Shakedown 4The Shakedown 5

(Neon) Neo-Noir Still Lifes

Maurizio di Lorio 1

If you prop a still life photo with a vintage UK edition of Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me, Deadly, you’ll get my attention.

Photographer Maurizio di Lorio shoots commercial assignments for diverse clients including GQ, Vogue, WWD and Elle among others, and has mounted fine art photography exhibitions from Los Angeles to Venice, Italy. Most of his images are incredibly crisp macro close-ups, all of them oozing intensely saturated hues, di Lorio’s figurative work sometimes isolating facial closeups, or more famously (or notoriously) deploying models sporting black or neon-hued opaque legwear, often in surreal or provocative situations.

But it’s di Lorio’s still-life and tabletop shots that caught my eye. Propped with crime genre trinkets like smoldering cigarettes, handguns and cocktails, they’re like glimpses of decidedly non-black & white neo-noir film sets.

Maurizio di Lorio 2Maurizio di Lorio 3Maurizio di Lorio 4Maurizio di Lorio 5Maurizio di Lorio 6Maurizio di lorio 7

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.

The Long Wait 4

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.

The Long Wait 5

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.

In David Goodis’ Own Words…

Goodis Crime Reads

Molly Odintz’ “David Goodis’ Bleak, Beautiful Vision of Humanity” at Crime Reads this week (link below) is timed for the writer’s March 2, 1917 birthday. Crime Reads’ Senior Editor Odintz opens by recalling a post-college splurge on a Library of America collection of David Goodis novels, only to spill a drink on the precious treasure. But, as she notes, Goodis himself wouldn’t have minded, being a writer who “saw the best of humanity at its worst”. Lets face it: Goodis’ characters probably spilled a drink or two in their time. Odintz’ article is a great read, but the best part may be David Goodis’ own words, over a dozen excerpts chosen from the writers’ work, some of the “bleakest and most beautiful reflections on humanity, all drawn from his noir oeuvre”.

Confession time: I’ve always had mixed feelings about David Goodis, on one hand well aware of noir-hipster cliques’ reverence for the man and his work, yet oddly disappointed by some of it. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t devoured my share, and consider Goodis one of the go-to sources for inspiring doses of troubling yet poetic darkness that is this thing called noir…it’s core themes, not its clichés. Odintz quotes Ed Gorman (R.I.P.): “David Goodis didn’t write novels, he wrote suicide notes.”

Yep, that sums it up pretty well.

David Goodis Screen Shot

If you like, follow the last link below to a David Goodis post from this time last year, with yet another link there to a Los Angeles Review of Books article on the noir maestro, but more importantly, go to Crime Reads to read Molly Odintz’ article, and most of all, David Goodis’ own words.

https://crimereads.com/david-goodis-bleak-beautiful-vision-of-humanity/

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/03/02/david-goodis/

 

It’s A Hard-Boiled World: Noir Of Many Colors.

Dead Reckoning 1

When it comes to publishers, I tend to think of Tor as all about SF/Fantasy/Horror, though of course I ought to know better. Aside from skimming the spines lined up on my own bookshelves, I’ll point to their site/blog at www.tor.com, which I follow via BlogLovin’, and enthusiastically endorse. There’s a lot of interesting reading to be found there, in addition to the usual new release info and promotional content.

Case in point: Award winning short story writer and Southeast Asia scholar T.R. Napper’s recent “Hardboiled World: Four Creative Noir Traditions From Around The Globe” (link below). Napper explains in his opening, “I spent three years of my doctorate defining noir and its direct descendant, cyberpunk, and their representations in film and literature outside the U.S. – in particular Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and Viet Nam.” Citing Noir scholar Phillipa Lovatt, Napper points out how this thing called ‘noir’ was trans-national from its inception, rooted in everything from German expressionism to French poetic realism and, of course, American hard-boiled pulp fiction. So, Napper looks at noir archetypes from gunslingers to private eyes and their expressions in global noir culture, in particular in Asian film and literature, ranging from apocalyptic noir to what he calls ‘Sunshine Noir’ and more.

Dead Reckoning 2

Yes, ‘noir’ simply means black, but it really means so much more, doesn’t it? And, so much more than simply a group of 1940’s – 1950’s Hollywood crime melodramas with visibly dark looks and unrelentingly bleak narratives. Could Nino Frank and Jean-Pierre Chartier, Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton and their kin have foreseen what I like to think of as ‘Noir Culture’, or noir-homages like L.A. Confidential, neo-noir like The Last Seduction or dystopian noir like Blade Runner when penning their genre-defining articles 60 and 70 years ago?

Sounds silly to say ‘noir of many colors’, but in a way, it’s true. This thing called noir comprises everything from the post-WWII classic film noir era, along with the countless gritty (sometimes saucy) and hard-boiled detective, mystery and crime novels from that same era’s paperback originals (along with the dwindling number of similar short fiction works from the fast-shrinking pulp fiction marketplace). But the aesthetics and the themes from those stories, books and films have since been reimagined, repurposed and otherwise appropriated in films and novels, but also fine arts, comics/graphic novels, fashion photography and even music, resulting in an ever widening (and increasingly tribal) collection of noir subsets: rural noir, desert noir, femme noir, neo-noir, dystopian noir and on and on. The tropes and themes cross borders, adopted by artists, writers and filmmakers in non-U.S. markets and often in entirely different and inventive ways. Admittedly, some creatives merely extrapolate clichés with little understanding of what the genre – if it is one – is really all about. Black & white images outfitted in double-breasted pinstripes and hats with netted veils, propped with venetian blinds and fat-fendered cars, populated by thugs spouting cartoonish Brooklynese and sultry femmes fatales hiding .22’s in their purses – that’s all enough to evoke vague notions of noir for many. Meanwhile, others adopt the isolation, fatalism, anti-heroism and doomed romance of the genre’s film and fiction roots and reinvent those themes in entirely new ways and for new audiences, often discarding the stereotypical iconography altogether.

Dead Reckoning 3

T.R. Napper’s Tor.com article is just the tip of the iceberg in understanding the scope of this thing called ‘noir’, but as good a place to start as any other, like looking at noir classics through another culture’s viewpoint, or tracing an artistic line from 1947’s Dead Reckoning to Ellen von Unwerth’s photography, Gina Higgins’ gallery paintings or Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ comics. Pop over to Napper’s piece to think a bit about the many ‘colors’ of noir and the far-reaching span of global noir. If nothing else, it might be your first time reading about ‘samurai noir’.

https://www.tor.com/2020/02/19/hardboiled-world-four-creative-noir-traditions-from-around-the-globe/

 

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