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.

‘Bad Times’ Was A Good Time

I’m usually the last one to see any current movies, often as not streamed or on disk instead of herded into the multiplex. Case in point: Drew Goddard’s 2018 stylish neo-noir Bad Times At The El Royale. Released not long before Halloween 2018, my own sale rack DVD was tossed in my bag for a weekend getaway where cable, broadband, WiFi (or even a land line) was unavailable. So I finally saw it a week and a half ago. If I recall a brief Autumn 2018 marketing blitz, it didn’t seem to pay off at the box office. Still, the film’s been well reviewed, and I’ll add my own thumbs-up for Goddard’s Quentin Tarantino homage (well, that’s what it seemed like to me).

El Royale Intro

A brief intro’s muted palette and its unexpected jolt of mayhem alerts viewers that they’re in for a smart bit neo-noirish fun.

And the film delivers, as a traveling salesman, a Catholic priest, a singer and a smart-mouthed hippie converge on the El Royale, a peculiar and nearly deserted (its gaming license recently evoked) resort hotel straddling the Nevada-California state line. But no one’s who they seem to be, including the kinda-creepy desk clerk, apparently the only staff on site. Jon Hamm’s salesman is really an FBI agent. Jeff Bridges’ priest is actually a paroled bank robber, Dakota Johnson’s hippie is on the run from a Manson Family style cult, her little sister drugged and tied up in the car trunk. Lewis Pullman’s creepy guilt-ridden perv of a desk clerk is a former Army sniper. Only Cynthia Erivo’s singer-for-hire appears to be playing it straight, though that hardly keeps her out of trouble.

In a decidedly non-linear narrative, we glimpse each character’s backstory, enough to deepen the mystery and drag the viewer inexorably towards a violent climax. When the credits finally roll, a few questions might remain unanswered or at least some details left unclear, but that’s okay. Written and produced by director Drew Goddard, the film’s a visual treat, drenched in almost surreal hues, erupting in sudden bursts of violence, with every participant turning in terrific performances.

El ROyale Cast

Cynthia Erivo and young Cailee Spaeny are both new to me, but I’ll be watching for more from them, that’s for sure. Just as I’ll be watching for Dakota Johnson to further demonstrate how well she can do bad-ass and handle a gun.  If there’s a lethal assassin, cat burglar or (dare I hope) a gumshoe role in her future, I’m in.

Dakota Johnson

If you missed Bad Times At The El Royale, and enjoy a quirky neo-noir thriller, and like Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez’s or even David Lynch’s work, then give this film a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I sure wasn’t.

El ROyale 3

 

Love Stories.

Gorgi Omnibus

If you write mystery, crime fiction or have the audacity to say you’re trying to write that often elusive thing called ‘noir’, then hit your touchpad or click your mouse and get to crimereads.com for managing editor Dwyer Murphy’s excellent tribute to James M. Cain (link below), whose birthday was just this week (July 1, 1892). I won’t quote passages from The Wit, Wisdom And Noirs Of James M. Cain – 25 Of The Greatest Lines Ever Written By A Crime Fiction Master, but will only encourage you to relish those that Murphy wisely selected, which include riveting lines from Cain’s novels as well as the master’s thoughts on writing and language. Keep in mind (as Dwyer Murphy points out) that Cain didn’t really consider himself a crime writer as such, much less ‘hard-boiled’ or a purveyor of anything called ‘noir’. He felt that he was writing love stories. Love gone tragically bad, doomed love, deadly love, perhaps. But love nonetheless. There’s a lesson there, I think. One day when I’m much smarter I’ll have learned it.

Omnibus 2

Tempting as it is to use any of the many original editions of his novels for some visuals for this post, or the 1940’s – 60’s era paperback reissue gems or even the much more tawdry 1970’s and later editions, I grabbed some omnibus editions and collections here instead. Aw heck, they’re all good.

Omnibus 1

https://crimereads.com/the-wit-wisdom-and-noirs-of-james-m-cain/

Walk Softly, Sweetheart

walter stackpool larry kent 513 1960

It was just some casual curiosity that had me poking around Australian websites for more info on the “Larry Kent, Detective” series, and one of the chief illustrators of the books’ covers, Walter Stackpool. Now it’s turning into an obsession. A link’s below to a recent post about Stackpool, but there’ll be more to come about the 150+ radio show episodes and 400+ (!!!) novels and novelettes in the long running Larry Kent series, which began (on radio) as a former New York newshound who’d emigrated to Australia and set up shop as a freelance private eye. The books, I think, are all set in the U.S. Check out some covers online for yourself. Looks to me like the Australians had as good or better a handle on just how to depict 50’s-60’s era noir-ish and hard-boiled milieus than many of our own artists here in the States.

Above, Walter Stackpool’s cover art for Walk Softly Sweetheart from 1960, a not-so-good screen grab of the book below.

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/05/20/walter-stackpools-larry-kents/

Walk Softly Sweetheart

 

 

Tu Bei’s Noir Series

Tu Bei 1

Tu Bei is a US concept artist and illustrator, with an array of gorgeous and diverse work to be viewed at Art Of Tu — artoftu.com. Here are just a few examples, above a character design concept, and below, three pieces from Tu Bei’s “Noir Series”.

Tu Bei 3Tu Bei 2Tu Bei 4

 

Thirteen Days Overdue (And It’s Lace)

Rap Sheet LogoShame on me, but this is thirteen days overdue.

A heartfelt (belated) congratulations to J. Kingston Pierce on the thirteenth anniversary of The Rap Sheet Blog at therapsheet.blogspot.com (link below). The blog began on May 22nd, Arthur Conan Doyle’s birthday, appropriately enough, and since has showcased over 7,500 posts with over 6.3 million page views.

The Rap Sheet and CrimeReads are my primary mystery/crime fiction genre and noir culture resources, providing timely news and acting as vital jumping off points to learn more about so many different writers, books, films, artists and much more. For that, a great big thank you to The Rap Sheet!

So, I checked to see what a thirteenth anniversary is. You know, paper for the first, silver for the 25th, gold for the 50th and so on. There are some pretty weird ones, and several online wedding anniversary gift charts left a few years blank altogether. But all showed lace for a thirteenth anniversary. Now I’m at work at the moment with no lace handy, and I’m not about to go desk to desk to see who could help. Surely someone’s lacy somewhere today, but it won’t be appearing here. So we’ll have to make do with some vintage Alan Geoffrey Yates – AKA Carter Brown – and three editions of The Black Lace Hangover (which is, after all, a pretty cool title).

https://therapsheet.blogspot.com

Problematic Pulp Poetry? 

Black Mask - May

Pulp poetry. Hmmm…

Sometimes, they creep out of nowhere and catch you unawares, even though you really shouldn’t be surprised. You’re enjoying a classic film noir or crime caper flick when suddenly (incredibly, for what was then considered comic relief) a grotesque bit of racial/ethnic stereotyping intrudes. It was just a few weeks ago that I watched Raoul Walsh’s 1941 High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino on TCM’s Saturday Night Noir Alley feature, having forgotten all about the scenes with Willie Best playing ‘Algernon’, the mountain resort’s resident ‘step-n-fetchit’ style porter/handyman. The bits are hardly unique, but still made me squirm and were almost enough to ruin the viewing experience. I still adore the film. I mean: Bogart and Lupino, come on.

But…

Detective-Story-April-9-1932

Whether it’s a vintage movie, novel, comic, pulp story or even some 1950’s/60’s television shows, repellant racial/ethnic stereotypes rear up out of nowhere. Often, they’re not even intended to be demeaning, and that casual indifference almost makes them worse. At the same time, the prevailing dismissiveness about virtually all female characters in most 20th century mystery/crime fiction and film is so overwhelming that we can almost fail to recognize it. It just…is. Women (sometimes, even if billed as the lead) are relegated to secondary characters at best, mere eye candy, damsels in distress or potential victims, more commonly. Gay/lesbian characters? Well, barely acknowledged in retro film or TV, of course, and deployed mostly in vintage sleaze novels for titillation, popping up in vintage crime fiction as caricatures or presumed villains.

Different times, different culture. It was what it was.

Saucy Movie Tales - June

Nowhere is this more apparent than in mid-20thcentury pulp fiction – specifically, the 1930’s through 1950’s mystery/crime pulp fiction magazines. Inevitably, a crime/pulp/noir fan has to wonder: How can I possibly enjoy these films, novels, magazines and comics when so many are riddled with disappointing ethnic/racial/gender dismissiveness, or worse, utterly offensive stereotypes? If I’m enjoying these works, even in part, isn’t that some kind of implicit endorsement?

hardboiled noir - problematic art

W.M. Akers questions this in his terrific piece from the 5.10.19 Crime Reads  (crimereads.com, link below), Hardboiled Noir, Pulp Favorites, And Problematic Art,  subtitled: “Reckoning With Hateful Attitudes In Classic Crime Fiction”. Akers’ own first novel, the historical-fantasy Westside just released in May 2019, deals with amateur sleuth Gilda Carr in a re-imagined 1920’s New York City, and he explains how he turned to vintage pulps to capture the feel of the era, “the same way I used old newspapers and pre-code movies and Joseph Mitchell essays and any other scraps from the period that I could find as a portal to a city that, if it ever really existed, doesn’t anymore”. He points specifically to a Theodore Tinsley (creator of the groundbreaking 1930’s era Carrie Cashin female detective character) story from a 1934 Black Mask pulp magazine issue, “Smoke”, featuring the sleuthing NYC columnist Jerry Tracy. The tale, one of 25 Jerry Tracy stories the prolific Tinsley wrote, is tainted by casual racism and sprinkled with overtly offensive stereotypes. So Akers asks, “In a moment when lovers of problematic art are asked to be more critical of their taste than ever before, it is worth asking what it takes to enjoy sloppy pulp fiction in 2019 – and why it’s worth the effort.”

True Jan 1939

Akers realizes that each film viewer or story reader will need to arrive at their own conclusions and react accordingly, whether by foregoing the material entirely, merely ignoring the objectionable content, or finding some way to process it. He still finds much to inspire him in these 60 – 90 year old pieces. I get that, because I do, too. I won’t ignore their intrinsic flaws, which aren’t limited to ethnic/racial/gender issues, but also include outlandish plots, padded word counts, copycat characters and more.

But the language always lures me in. Give me any old mystery/crime fiction pulp reprint or omnibus collection and I guarantee that the period slang and vintage word-smithing will hook me, from their nearly comical descriptions of hard-to-choreograph action scenes, to snappy banter and dialog sprinkled with authentic vintage street talk, to frequent but cautiously handled love scenes and female character depictions, which can border on the surreal or just plain pervy and fetishistic. I’m hooked, I’m an addict, I admit it.

Pulp poetry? In a way, I guess that’s what it is. At least for me. So then call me a pulp poetry sucker if you insist, and I won’t argue, despite all the objectionable content that may be surrounding it.

Some months ago I speculated about nagging issues of complicity, sparked in part by a Megan Abbott essay about the then recent release of Raymond Chandler’s The Annotated Big Sleep (link below). The issues here are much the same. And as someone currently working with writing projects in a mid-twentieth century setting, it’s more than a matter of reacting to random squirm-worthy content in my recreational reading or film viewing, but becomes a challenge to achieve some sense of period authenticity without reinforcing outmoded attitudes or reviving offensive content in my own writing. I’m certain that I’m not alone in this.

Westside

Well, one thing I definitely took away from W.M. Akers’ Crime Reads essay: I need to get his novel Westside,  because it sounds pretty cool! I’ll be checking the indie bookstore on my route home after work today, and if unavailable, will be online for a moment or two this evening to order it. I definitely want to read about Gilda Carr in Aker’s reimagining of 1920’s New York.

https://crimereads.com/hardboiled-noir-pulp-favorites-and-problematic-art/

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/01/03/the-annotated-big-sleep-and-uneasy-feelings-of-complicity/

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.)

Night Watch

Night Watch

David C. Taylor’s Night Watch, his third Michael Cassidy NYPD Detective novel, is just out, not on shelf yet that I’ve seen, but ready to order online. Apparently this third novel is actually set in between his first, Night Life, and his second, Night Work, each book set in mid-1950’s New York (with some forays elsewhere).

Night Life

The Michael Cassidy novels are dark, gritty hard-boiled crime fiction at its best, yet with a very readable, literary flair. Detective Cassidy navigates New York’s mean streets and upper crust with equal ease, thanks in part to his Broadway producer father. Similarly, he finds himself grappling with a cop’s normal cases, but they manage to drag him into much bigger things, bumping against the FBI, CIA and more than mere murder. Night Life was a library find for me. I devoured it, and kept my eyes open for Night Work, which was as good or better, so I’m eagerly looking forward to Night Watch. Taylor needs to get a web-savvy pal to freshen up his website (davidctaylorauthor.com), because I’m betting there’ll be readers looking to learn more pretty soon!

Night Work

david c taylor author dot com

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