Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Bouchercon 2014 panels: Roy Huggins

First things first: The book 77 Sunset Strip is not a novel, its cover billing as "An original suspense novel by Roy Huggins" to the contrary. Rather, it is portions of three stories, two published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1946, one in Esquire in 1952, linked by the flimsiest, most cursory narrative thread imaginable and published as an "original" novel in 1958, which just happened to be the first season of the Huggins-created television series 77 Sunset Strip.

Fortunately, two of the portions are superb, easily justifying Max Allan Collins' assertion that Huggins was "a fine crime writer, and he may have become one of the giants of the genre had he not gone Hollywood." But, Collins goes on, "had he not gone Hollywood, we would not have 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, The Fugitive and The Rockford Files."

One often encounters the largely spurious distinction between storytellers and wordsmiths. Huggins was both. His writing is full of narrative or descriptive bits that would be routine but for Huggins' verbal twists, his knack of imparting a sense of foreboding to even the most trivial observations. His protagonist, a private investigator named Stuart Bailey, is knocked unconscious and — stop me if you've heard this before — comes to in a motel room to discover he's alone.   "Nobody lived in this room anymore," Bailey thinks, and that packs a melancholy punch that, say, "Harvey and Muriel were gone" or "the room was as empty as the feeling in my gut" just can't match. (The story has Bailey falsely suspected of murder, on the run, on his own, short of just about everything a man needs to survive. I'll give my right arm if that's not The Fugitive in embryonic form.)

The first story similarly demonstrates Huggins' flair for enlivening by verbal power alone a routine P.I. fiction set piece, in this case that of the slightly seedy investigator — in Los Angeles, naturally— reflecting wryly on the joys and hazards of his profession:
"Sunset Strip us a body of County territory entirely surrounded by the city of Los Angeles, a mile and a half of relentlessly contemporary architecture, housing, restaurants, bistros, Hollywood agents, and shops where the sell is as soft as a snowflake and just as cold."
Find me a word-picture of L.A. this side of Raymond Chandler better than that one. And how about Bailey's observation that "if a private investigator keeps an open mind and avoids drafts he can learn an awful lot about his fellow man."? I like creative twists on de rigueur crime-fiction scenes, and I love avoids drafts.

The third story-portion of 77 Sunset Strip is a piece of high-concept piffle, a strained English-style country-house mystery adapted to mid-century Los Angeles with a ludicrous solution and a touch of 1950s techno-paranoia thrown in. But the first two parts of the book are so good that the letdown in Part Three hardly matters.
Max Allan Collins will discuss Roy Huggins on a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, Calif., next month. The panel is called "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras," and it happens at 3 p.m, Friday, Nov. 14.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

P.S.I.P.O.: Rock and Roll Is Here to Pay, Part II

I wasted part of my Sunday watching YouTube clips of big rock and roll stars inducting other big rock and roll stars into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame™.

Mick Jagger was graceful, fluent, humble, enlightening and entertaining inducting the Beatles, and Paul McCartney moving in the recollections with which he inducted John Lennon. Ringo Starr's acceptance speech reminded me of a barroom soliloquy by an entertaining chap four drinks too amused by his own wit. And Pete Townshend? The man needs help and understanding, or at least he did in 1988.

This was the music of just before my youth, and it's the stuff I grew up listening to. Even Townshend's borderline tasteless jokes were leavened by his humility about the Rolling Stones, whom he inducted. There's something fascinating about watching musicians talking about their own favorite musicians. It's enough to give someone my age the feeling that he knows the people who provided the soundtrack of his youth.

Then the camera would cut to reaction shots of the audience, and I might as well have been looking at a Hollywood fund-raiser for a well-heeled Democratic presidential candidate. I wondered how much it cost to get a table at the front and how prominent a benefactor one had to be. I suspect no one under the age of, say, 45 will remember when listeners were fooled into thinking that rock and roll was about liberation and rebellion. And before you say, "Bruce Springsteen," know that he recently denied a college marching band permission to perform his music, according to the band's director.

Here's a blog post from Bouchercon 2012 and my visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame™, when I wrote that "rebellion has mellowed into concern for property rights." And I just can't bring myself to link to any of the numerous online lists of "The Top(sic) 5/10/20/50 Richest Rock and Roll Stars.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Port Richmond Books — For all your Bouchercon shopping needs

I needed a Doc Savage novel for one of my Bouchercon  panels, and I thought Port Richmond Books might have one or two if anyone did. "Oh, yeah," owner Greg Gillespie said, with a solemn nod. He ducked into an office and fetched not one, not two, but a box full of Docs and then, before I could pick my jaw back up from the floor, he handed me another armful, some omnibuses, some single-novel volumes, mostly 1960s reprints of the books, which first appeared in the 1930s and 1940s. (I bought two books, not two boxes of books.) Port Richmond Books   Your Doc Savage Headquarters.

I also bought 77 Sunset Strip, a novel by Roy Huggins, who created the television series of the same name.  Max Allan Collins will discuss Huggins on the same moderated-by-me Bouchercon panel where Sara J. Henry talks up Doc Savage's main author, Lester Dent. Port Richmond Books  For all your Bouchercon shopping needs.

The panel in question is Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras, and it happens at 3 p.m., Friday, Nov. 14, at the Hyatt Regency, Long Beach. Gary Phillips, Charles Kelly, and Sarah Weinman will join Max and Sara on the panel. See you there.
I took some photos on the way to and from Port Richmond.  Can you detect a theme common to my photography ad my shopping?

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sara J. Henry joins Team Detectives Beyond Borders for Bouchercon 2014 panel

Sara J. Henry has joined the "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras" panel that I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, Calif.

Sara is the author of the novels Learning to Swim and A Cold and Lonely Place, the latter of which will be up for the best-novel Anthony Award at Bouchercon. For my panel, she'll discuss Lester Dent, the prolific principal author of Doc Savage, with a few remarks about Charlotte Armstrong, whose A Dram of Poison won the best-novel Edgar Award in 1957.

I met Sara at Bouchercon 2008 in Baltimore, where she made her first big crime-fiction splash when everyone but me mistook her for Sarah Weinman. That's why I'm especially tickled that Sarah Weinman will also be on the panel. (Get a sneak peak at Sara and Sarah here, and see what all the confusion was about.)
Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras happens at 3 p.m., Friday, Nov. 14, at the Hyatt Regency, Long Beach. Not everyone on the panel is named Sara or Sarah, spent formative years in Ontario, or is haunted by a crime-fiction doppelganger. Max Allan Collins, Charles Kelly, and Gary Phillips will also take part. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Max Allan Collins on Jack Carter's Law

Max Allan Collins will be on a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014 next month in Long Beach, Calif. He'll discuss writers from the past (The panel is called Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras), but I decided to read some of his own work as part of my preparation. I read his Quarry novels, liked them, read the graphic novel Road to Perdition, and liked it.

Then I decided to take a break with Jack Carter Law's, second in Syndicate Books' welcome reissues of the great Ted Lewis' catalogue, and lo, this new edition of Lewis' chilling, funny, deadpan 1974 classic comes with an introduction by—Max Allan Collins.

Collins notes Lewis' bleak sense of place and Carter's deadpan first-person narration. (Carter is also the protagonist of Get Carter, published originally as Jack's Return Home, then retitled after the success of the celebrated movie that starred Michael Caine. He is also the protagonist of Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon, coming soon from Syndicate.) Did I mention bleakness?  Here's Collins comparing Lewis and Carter to Collins' beloved Mickey Spillane and Mike Hammer:
"Spillane's fever-dream Manhattan is never as real as Lewis's London, and while Hammer is a good guy who defeats bad guys with their own methods, Carter is simply a bad guy with methods."
Maybe that bleakness, that deadpan is what makes so many of Carter's observations so unsettling and so funny at the same time, including this, about the two gangster bosses for whom he is an enforcer and planner:
"The room I am in is all Swedish.  It's a big room, low-ceilinged, and when Gerald and Less had it built on top of the club they'd let a little poof called Kieron Beck have his way with the soft furnishings. Everything about the room is dead right. The slightly sunken bit in the middle lined with low white leather settees ... the curtains that make a noise like paper money when you draw them—everything is perfect. The only things that look out of place are Gerald and Les. So much so that they make the place look as if you could have picked all the stuff up at Maple's closing-down sale."
Jack Carter's Law is. so far, bleaker and wittier than the just about anything in the great Richard Stark's bleak and witty Parker novels. And it has the style that modern-day makers of gangster movies such as Guy Ritchie can only dream about.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Monday, October 13, 2014

My Bouchercon panels: Joe Nazel's Street Wars

Race is not generally a laughing matter in America, so I was surprised and pleased to find some nicely executed humor amid the violence and misery and frenetic action of Joe Nazel's Street Wars. A co-protagonist with a huge appetite charges out into the street to save the day, but not before stopping for breakfast. His colleague charges out on an even more urgent mission, only to be detained by an insistent pastor. The robbery, chase, and car crash that set the novel's action in motion would make one of the great movie scenes in all of action cinema, if a director, cameraman, and editor could tell as many stories, present as many character sketches (including one of a woman who loses her pizza in the carnage), and capture as much speed and excitement on the screen as Nazel does on the page.

 Nazel also aimed satire at self-delusion among African Americans, mixing terror and humor, embodied in the crumbling Regal Arms hotel, almost a character in itself, where the protagonists run their security agency. "It was said," Nazel writes, that a black dentist built the hotel after being turned away from larger downtown Los Angeles hotels. But
"Aging street historians claimed to know the `real dirt.' The dentist, they said, had been passing for white in the East. He had built a sizeable and profitable practice in a well-to-do white community, and was doing quite well until his true colors were exposed. He, his white wife, and cocoa-brown, nappy-head, new-born son, were forced out of town, a few terrifying steps ahead of an angry lynch mob with perfect white teeth."
I'm pretty sure Nazel would have read Chester Himes' Cotton Comes to Harlem. He calls his heroes Terrence Malcolm Slaughter and Fred "Dead-On-Arrival" Hollis (Hollis is the big eater), and those monikers look to me like affectionate, over-the-top nods to Himes' Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson. Like Himes' book, Street Wars has a sprawling cast chasing loot through a big-city black community, Like Himes, Nazel targets thieving preachers and self-proclaimed revolutionaries (though Nazel, whose book appeared years after Himes' 1965 novel, calls his revolutionaries "left over from the Sixties.").

An obituary for Nazel, who died in 2006, appeared under the headline "Joe Nazel, 62; L.A. Journalist, Biographer of Black Luminaries." I'm not sure if that's a tribute to the range of his interests, or a snub for his crime, horror, and adventure novels.  For an idea of what Nazel got up to, read an appreciation by Emery Holmes II.

 Gary Phillips will discuss Joe Nazel as part of my panel on Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras on Friday at 3.p.m. at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

My Bouchercon panels: Paul Charles, youse two perverts, and a question for readers

Paul Charles' Northern Ireland, or at least the version of it in his current novel, is different from the ones in much recent Northern Ireland crime writing, because its setting is a village with a population of 617, rather than Belfast's bleak, violent streets.

The book is The Lonesome Heart is Angry, and the opening chapters suggest that Charles loves his setting and knows how to create a convincing picture of village life.

Two brothers, farmers and twins, have reached their late twenties and have decided the time has come to marry. Times being hard, however, they can afford just one wife between them.  Here's part of the ensuing dialogue with the village matchmaker, explaining gently while that sort of thing is just not done:
"‘Maybe you’ll be introduced, find an excuse to say something, just make that vital connection. So next time you see her, no matter where it might be, you’ll have the confidence to talk to her a bit more. ... You might ask one of those hypothetical questions, you know, “Em, you know, so and so, well, em, I was thinking: do you know what would happen if I … There’s this friend of mine and he really likes her and he was thinking, and I said I would check for him, so do you think if he asked her out, you know, would she go, you know, out with him?” And the friend will probably answer, “Oh yes – where were you thinking of taking her to?” 
"‘Then you ask her out. You go for a walk, you talk a lot ... and maybe, just maybe, after a couple of years you will discuss marriage. ... But it’s important, vitally important, that the early stages are as natural as humanly possible. Do youse understand that?’ 
"The twins nodded. 
"‘So at what point in this procedure were youse two perverts going to tell the sorry lass that she’d be sleeping with both of you?’"
That reminds me a bit of Pierre Magnan's crime novels of rural France for its amusing sexual slant, but especially for the delicious, slow pace with which the scene builds up to its punch line (I omitted parts of the exchange for reasons of length.) I look forward to more.

What are your favorite recent crime stories with rural or village settings? And why? Does country life get a fair shake in crime fiction? Comments are especially welcome from readers familiar with village life. 
Paul Charles will be part of my Belfast Noir: Stories of Mayhem and Murder from Northern Ireland panel at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, California. The panel happens at 11:30 a.m, Friday, Nov. 14. See you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

Brian McGilloway on the personal, the political, and the police

Brian McGilloway's novels address Northern Ireland's Troubles in striking, though oblique fashion.  His story "The Undertaking" gets the upcoming Belfast Noir collection off to a rousing start. And, in this Detectives Beyond Borders post from a few years back, he offers some thoughts on the personal and the political in Northern Ireland.
I've pondered in recent posts Brian McGilloway's interesting choice of a police officer, or Garda, from the Irish Republic as protagonist of his two crime novels, both set along the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. I've also wondered about the place in the books of the North's bloody sectarian Troubles.

McGilloway, who grew up in Derry in the North, sent a thoughtful reply to my posts that reminded me of what Matt Rees likes to say when asked if he plans to include Israeli characters in his novels set in the Palestinian territories. No, Rees says, because to do so might lead to unseemly and distracting side-taking.

McGilloway's novels are Borderlands and the new Gallows Lane. Without further ado, here's what their author has to say about the personal, the political, the police and the hero of the books, Inspector Benedict Devlin:
"I know you've been questioning the issue of a Northern Irish writer setting his hero in the Republic, then working with the North's PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland). The main reason for it, I suppose, was to avoid the political. During the time of writing, policing was still a hot issue in Northern Ireland. I was aware that, as a Northern writer, people would rightly or wrongly look at the books for a political angle on the presentation of the PSNI. By filtering their presentation through Devlin's eyes, it allows Devlin to direct, to some extent, the reader's reactions and makes his response to the PSNI a personal rather than political one. I hope that makes sense.

"In addition, the PSNI was changing so much that, by the time the book would have been published, their presentation would have been out of date. Some Northern Irish politicians still complain if it's discovered that Guards are coming into Northern Ireland — on the ground it's happening much more frequently than people expect, I imagine. I thought that was an interesting and unique angle from which to approach a police procedural.
"And of course the Guards over here have had their own problems recently — considered more fully perhaps in the second Devlin book, Gallows Lane.

"As for the Troubles — I wanted to write a non-Troubles book but, around the Border, it would be unrealistic to assume that they're not there somewhere — thus the only representation of the Troubles in
Borderlands is the disembodied voice, talking about the past. It's there, but increasingly insubstantial. Or that was my intention, at least."
My Belfast Noir: Stories of Mayhem and Murder from Northern Ireland panel at Bouchercon 2014, featuring Gerard Brennan, Paul Charles, Adrian McKinty, and Stuart Neville, happens at 11:30 a.m, Friday, Nov. 14, in the Regency B room at the Hyatt Regency, Long Beach. See you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008, 2014

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

My Bouchercon panels: Requiems for the Departed

Sure, the messy birth of the political entity called Northern Ireland offers a rich setting for grim stories, but Irish crime writers can reach further back into their country's past for source material. Four years ago, a bunch of them did, in an anthology called Requiems for the Departed.

Myths don't work unless they're with us, around us, even in us.

That's why the Requiems for the Departed collection is so powerful. Its stories invoke Irish myth, most of them updating settings and, often, names, but retaining what seems to this non-expert the unsettling power and bringing it to crime fiction.

The contributors are an all-star list of Irish crime writing, some of whom readers of Detectives Beyond Borders may know (Stuart Neville, Adrian McKinty, Ken Bruen, Brian McGilloway, Garbhan Downey) and others whose names may be new (Arlene Hunt, John McAllister, Sam Millar, and quite a number more).

He was around when the myths were real.
Bog body ("Gallagh Man"), National
Museum of Ireland
, Dublin. Photo by
your humble blogkeeper.
Bruen's story is brash and chilling, McKinty's. Neville's, and McAllister's the stuff to keep you awake at night, and McGilloway's a little police procedural with a delightfully comic ending. (The story features his series character, Inspector Benedict Devlin and offers evidence that myth can mix easily with a contemporary setting.)

Pop on over to Crime Scene. N.I. for all kinds of good stuff about the book from co-editor Gerard Brennan.
Gerard Brennan, Adrian McKinty, and Stuart Neville, will be part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014 called Belfast Noir: Stories of Mayhem and Murder from Northern Ireland. The panel happens Friday, Nov. 14, at 11:30 a.m. See you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010, 2014

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Monday, October 06, 2014

Off the Cuff on names, plus why the hell am I flying to Bouchercon (when I could go by train)?

(Trees early in the morning in Fullerton, Calif., December 2013.
Photo by Peter Rozovsky, your humble blogkeeper)
I've been reading Max Allan Collins' Quarry novels, which makes Dietrich Kalteis and Martin J. Frankson's latest Off the Cuff post especially timely: It's about character names in crime fiction. "For example," writes Frankson:
"is it credible to have a twenty-year-old Edith or Beryl or Victor? It’s possible, but those names may be unknown in certain demographics. Similarly, how many fifty-year-olds are named Kanye or Jadyn? If one really wants to name a character as such, a bit of backstory behind the mismatching name-to-age might be interesting in the story."
I would add any name ending in -ee to that latter group, along with Jen, and all the world's non-Irish Brendans.

The photo, reproduced above, with which Dietrich illustrates the discussion, is also timely. I've been posting about Bouchercon 2014, which takes place next month in Long Beach, Calif., about 25 miles west and south of Fullerton, where I took that photo of palm trees at sunrise last year.

I took the photo from my compartment in the Southwest Chief, at the end of a glorious two-day train ride from Chicago to Los Angeles. So why, given the chance to repeat the trip for Bouchercon, am I willingly subjecting myself to the misery that is American commercial air travel?

(See all Off the Cuff posts.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Sunday, October 05, 2014

My Bouchercon panels: More on the great Dan J. Marlowe

(Photo by your humble blogkeeper; has
nothing to do with Dan J. Marlowe)
Earlier this year I called Dan J. Marlowe's first novel, Doorway to Death, "loaded with sex and adverbs," and for a while there I thought Marlowe, who published the book in 1959, was simply using hard-boiled syntax that came naturally to him from crime writing of the 1930s and '40s.  Then I started coming across examples like these:
"He sighed, stretched lengthily..."

"He stripped the bed, walked stiffleggedly to the bathroom.."

"Inside the panelled doors he rushed softfootedly past the drowsing drinkers..."

"Manuel’s dark eyes lingered fascinatedly..."

“`Come in, come in!' Lieutenant Dameron barked irritatedly..."

"Resignedly he dried his face and took down the electric razor."
and I began to suspect that Marlowe was having fun, bidding a fond farewell to the adverb-laden hard-boiled prose of his younger days, deliberately taking it over the top. A sentence from the great Name of the Game Is Death confirmed the impression:
"I backed out tanglefootedly under Mrs. Newman’s bright-eyed inspection."
to which I smiled not just amazedly, but also appreciatingly.  In any case, by the time Strongarm appeared in 1963, the extravagant-adverb count was way down, from Doorway to Death's 73 words ending in -dly to 43.

But Marlowe was more than just adverbs and odd word choices (“'You’re in trouble, Jerry!' she accused her husband.")  If you like Richard Stark's Parker, you might like Marlowe. If you like Stephen King's "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption," you might like Marlowe. If you like revenge stories and you want to see how a master wrote them, you might like Marlowe. If you like man-on-the-run stories, you might like Marlowe. If you  like your sex scenes with a bit of an edge, you might like Marlowe. A blog post by Ed Gorman sums up nicely Marlowe's ability to evoke so many of the great hard-boiled crime writers.
Charles Kelly's Gunshots in Another Room bears the subtitle "The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe," so I'll pick it up with the expectation of learning why that strange and interesting life has been forgotten. In the meantime, Kelly tells a short version of Marlowe's story over at Allan Guthrie's Noir Originals.
Charles Kelly will discuss Dan J. Marlowe as part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014. The panel is called Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras, and it happens at 3 p.m, Friday, Nov. 14. See you there. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2013, 2014

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Friday, October 03, 2014

The books my Bouchercon panelists die for

Five members of panels I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach next month contributed to Books to Die For, John Connolly and Declan Burke's 2012 collection of essays by crime writers about their own favorite crime novels and stories. Here's some of what my panelist/contributors had to say about the writers who influenced them:
"Dexter's books are essentially puzzles. He once said that he was as anxious for the detective to manage without a pathology lab as he was for the crossword puzzler to manage without a dictionary."
-- Paul Charles on Colin Dexter 
"For all the talk of Hammett and Chandler as the founders of the hard-boiled feasts--and I revere them as much as the next guy or gal--it's Spillane and [James M.] Cain who were the most influential."
-- Max Allan Collins on Mickey Spillane 
"As she grew more successful and confident, the humanity began to drain from her books. Most of us would not act like the unruffled, aloof Tom Ripley, but every one of us could see himself falling into the abyss of cowardice and mendacity that finally drives poor Guy Haines to kill."
-- Adrian McKinty on Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train 
"The greatest thing I've gained from Ellroy is the will to take my characters farther and deeper into the dark places than I, or the reader, might be comfortable with."
-- Stuart Neville on James Ellroy 
"This was not literature that uplifted the race. Cooper wasn't profiled in the pages of Ebony or, I imagine, discussed much, if at all, among the self-identified arts and literature crowd. The Urban League wouldn't be inviting him to speak at their annual dinner."
-- Gary Phillips on Clarence Cooper Jr.'s The Scene
Paul Charles, Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville will be part of my Belfast Noir: Stories of Mayhem and Murder from Northern Ireland panel at Bouchercon 2014 on Friday, Nov. 14, at 11:30 a.m.  Max Allan Collins and Gary Phillips will be part of my Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras panel Friday at 3 p.m..

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Thursday, October 02, 2014

My Bouchercon 2014 panels: Max Allan Collins just wants to have fun

Max Allan Collins will discuss other writers during a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014 next month, but his own work is worth reading as well. His three most recent Quarry novels, the latest in a series that began in the 1970s, suggest that Collins shared the savvy professionalism of the pulp and paperback-original writers who will be the panel's main subject.

The three books—Quarry in the Middle, Quarry's Ex, and The Wrong Quarry, each published by Hard Case Crime—begin with the hitman/entrepreneur protagonist, Quarry, embarking on a job. (Collins sets the books in the Reagan era and has just enough fun with the period's social, political, and, most of all, musical trappings to remind readers of the setting without getting in the story's way.)

Quarry became a hitman after military service in Vietnam, where he learned to kill; killed his boss after the boss cheated him; then created and exploited a niche in the murder market: He uses his boss' old files to track the contract killers long enough to figure out who their targets are, then goes to the targets and offers to kill the killers for a handsome fee—which he does in due course, about a third of the way through each book. And that's where the real fun starts, and Quarry is forced to turn detective and figure out who the bad guys really are.

This format lets Collins exploit any number of crime and adventure conventions. Quarry is a disillusioned Vietnam vet, though without the psychological baggage. He's a tough-guy ass-kicker with a bit of the wise-cracking self-awareness of the Saint. He's a mildly self-effacing babe magnet, with an amiable susceptibility to women, a Shell Scott with more sex and fewer extravagant anatomical similes. And, when compelled to figure out who's really who, and who wants what and why, he makes a more than credible detective.

Along the way, the books' (possible) crime-fiction references include Richard Stark's Parker: Quarry in the Middle has one character apprehensive that Quarry plans to rob a casino, a la The Handle. But Quarry laughs and reassures his nervous interlocutor that he, Quarry, is part of no plunder squad. (One of Collins' other series pays amusing tribute to crime and espionage classics in such titles as A Shroud for Aquarius and The Baby Blue Rip-Off.)

I don't know how the Quarry series has changed over the years, whether the earlier novels are more straightforward hitman tales than these later ones. Nor do I know whether those early books partake as freely of the crime-fiction smorgasbord. But Quarry in the Middle, Quarry's Ex, and The Wrong Quarry take a '50s-style tough guy, give him a '60-style back story, and set the results in the 1970s. Pastiche? Maybe, but by God, Collins pulls it off, and has lots of fun doing it.
Max Allan Collins will be part of my Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras panel Friday, Nov. 14, 3 p.m. at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach. See you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Block on Westlake and his (non) jokes (or, the comedy is finished)

Lawrence Block remembers his friend
Donald Weslake during a celebration
at Mysterious Bookshop. Photo by Peter
Rozovsky, your humble blog keeper.
In addition to enjoying Donald Westlake's novels, I always found his remarks on movies, popular culture, and other subjects stimulating. So I was pleased when I learned that the University of Chicago Press, the same folks who are rereleasing all the Parker novels Westlake wrote as Richard Stark, has put together a collection of Westlake's nonfiction.

Now I'm pleased to find that some key people behind the book, titles The Getaway Car, think similarly about what made Westlake so good. "Don didn't write jokes," his longtime friend Lawrence Block said Monday at a celebration of the book. "He found amusing ways to say things."  Levi Stahl, the volume's editor, emphasized the point with a little game in which he had members of the audience read the opening lines of several of the Parker novels (and one featuring Alan Grofield).

Here are a few I liked and remembered fondly:
"When the guy with asthma finally came in from the fire escape Parker rabbit-punched him and took his gun away."
"When the woman screamed, Parker awoke and rolled off the bed."
"Grofield opened his right eye, and there was a girl climbing in the window. He closed that eye, opened the left, and she was still there."
Do you see the fun Westlake has with a common speech pattern in that last example?  Lawrence Block was right. Westlake didn't just say funny things, he said things funny.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ferdowsi is a bit like Max Allan Collins, too

Rostam rescues Bizhan from the pit,
from a 17th-century manuscript of

the ShahnamehLondon, British Library
I've been reading Max Allan Collins' Quarry novels in preparation for a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon in November. I've also been reading the Shahnameh, Iran's national epic, a book in connection with which I invoked Raymond Chandler yesterday.

One of those books includes a sequence in which the hero falls for the wrong dame and winds up getting drugged, kidnapped, and imprisoned despite the following precaution:
"He always carried in his boot / A blue-steel dagger."
Can you guess where in my recent reading that's from? (Hint: The book was written in the 10th and 11th centuries.)

While you're doing that, join once again in a favorite Detectives Beyond Borders game, and name some great literature that shares elements with crime fiction.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Persia's 10th- and 11th-century Raymond Chandler

If Hakim Abu ʾl-Qasim Ferdowsi Tusi  (or Firdausi) had lived about 970 years later, and if he'd worked in Los Angeles rather than in a Turko-Persian Muslim dynasty, he might have rivaled Raymond Chandler for atmospheric beginnings:
'"The night was like jet dipped in pitch. there lent /
No planet lustre to the firmament /
The moon, appearing in her new array /
Through rust and dust she journeyed through the sky /
Night's retinue had spread out everywhere /
A carpet black as raven's plumes ... "
That's the beginning of "The Story of Bizhan and Manizha" from Iran/Persia's national epic the Shahnameh (Book of Kings), and it's a hell of a way of saying, "It was dark out." Think of it as a medieval Near Eastern counterpart to:
“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”
And now, readers, what are your favorite depictions of night, or your favorite pieces of atmosphere in general, in crime fiction or otherwise?

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Three authors in a dark and friendly place

(Photos by Peter Rozovsky, your humble blog keeper)
Once again, Dietrich Kalteis and Martin Frankson discuss aspects of crime writing at Kalteis' Off the Cuff site, this time with fellow author  Robin Spano as a guest. Once again, Kalteis illustrates the discussion with one of my noir photos (above).

This discussion  touches on a number of issues that have come up here at Detectives Beyond Borders, noticeably that off setting a crime story in a historical period other than one's own. So head on over, have a seat at the Friendly Lounge, and join the discussion.

And here are a few more photos.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My Bouchercon panels: The Wrong Quarry, Max Allan Collins' '60s-style original

Max Allan Collins will be on a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon in November.  He'll discuss writers from the past, so I thought I take a look at his own writing to see what it owes to those authors and how it differs from their work.

For one thing, Collins has written about as much as some of the old-timers did, a list prolifically long, especially by today's more polished standards. And The Wrong Quarry (2014), most recent in Collins' long-running series about a U.S. Marine sniper turned hit man, stays faithful to terse, tough-guy narrative, a la Richard Stark or Ennis Willie, while seasoning things with more contemporary touches and topical references (Ronald Reagan, Deep Purple) that keep the story from sliding into nostalgia or pastiche.

The sex is just a little more explicit than that of early 1960s sleaze paperbacks without, however, getting as graphic as the more graphic of today's crime fiction.  I especially like the novel's handling of a gay character, flamboyant and safely exotic, in the approved 1940s-1960s manner, yet thoroughly aware that such flamboyance is a front and a shield. Collins' Web site says his rock and roll band plays an "engaging mix of classic rock and their own '60s-style originals." That's The Wrong Quarry: A fast-paced, entertaining '60s-style original.

While I read the novel's second half, I'll ask readers to ponder these questions: How do books or a movies preserve the feeling of a previous time or style without turning into nostalgia?  What are your favorite examples?
Max Allan Collins will be part of my Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras panel Friday, Nov. 14, 3 p.m. at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Bouchecon panels: "The third time he pulled the trigger she disappeared"

This post's title is the end of Ennis Willie's story "Con's Wife." The story's first line is "He had three eyes."  For all the talk about Willie's tough-guy persona and his raw, first-draft prose style, and his roots in sleaze magazines and paperbacks of the 1960s, the man could write.

He's Richard S. Prather without the jokes, Mickey Spillane without the political frothing to which Spillane could descend at his worst.  His protagonist, Sand, is what Carroll John Daly's Race Williams would have been if Daly had been a better writer.

Willie is also a bit of a mystery man, at various times thought to be a) African American, b) Mickey Spillane, or c) dead, though the truth turns out to be simpler and, hence, more mysterious than the speculation.  You can read him in two collections available from Ramble House: Sand's Game and Sand's War, which include novels, stories, and appreciations from leading hard-boiled writers and commentators, including Bill Crider, Max Allan Collins, and Bill Pronzini.

So get your Willie. He's tough, fast, satisfying and, thanks to Ramble House, cheap. (Read the first chapter of Death in a Dead Place, included in Sand's Game, on the Ramble House Web site.)
Max Allan Collins will offer some comments on Ennis Willie as part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014. The panel is called Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras, and it happens at 3 p.m, Friday, Nov. 14.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

My Bouchercon panels: "I met Gloria at a fly-by-night school in Long Beach"

This post's title is taken from The Double Take, by Roy Huggins, a great creator and co-creator of television series (Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, The Fugitive, The Rockford Files) who, according to Max Allan Collins, might have become one of the giants of crime writing had he not gone Hollywood.

Collins knows his Huggins, and he'll talk about Huggins as part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014 in the very same Long Beach where Norma Shannon met "Gloria" in The Double Take.

Roy Huggins
The panel is called Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras, and it happens at 3 p.m, Friday, Nov. 14.

In the meantime, read the Thrilling Detective Web Site on Huggins,  Stephen J. Cannell's memories of Huggins and a summing up of Huggins' television career from the Museum of Broadcast Communications, complete with an impressive list of credits.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Friday, September 19, 2014

My Bouchercon 2014 panels: Belfast Noir

It's tough writing about a volume of short stories, since, even more than with novels, one wants to avoid giving away spoilers and narrative twists.

Suffice it to say that Belfast Noir, out in November from Akashic Books, looks like one of the strongest, possibly the best entry in Akashic's "City Noir" series, and I don't say that just because the book's two editors plus one of its contributors will be part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014 in November.

The pieces are well-chosen and the volume intelligently planned. Its four sections recognize not just Belfast's violent recent past, but the realities of its quotidian present. Most of the stories depict no violence directly, but violence, and the possibility or memory thereof, loom always. That's a lot more effective than whipping out a kneecapping or rolling down the balaclavas whenever the action lags.

I especially like Brian McGilloway's "The Undertaking," which opens the collection with hair-raising humor and suspense.  Akashic's Dublin Noir also opens with a comic story (by Eoin Colfer), and that story was the highlight of the volume for me. I don't know if it's an Irish thing, but  comedy is a wonderful against-type way to open a collection of crime stories. Oh, and I'll also want to read more by Lucy Caldwell.
Belfast Noir's editors, Adrian McKinty and Stuart Neville, will be part of my Belfast Noir: Stories of Mayhem and Murder from Northern Ireland panel at Bouchercon 2014 Friday, Nov. 14, at 11:30 a.m.  So will Gerard Brennan, who contributed a story to the collection. See you there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

James Ellroy, historical novelist

(Me and James Ellroy. Photo by a friendly bystander, photo
cropping and color desaturation by your humble blog keeper.)
James Ellroy says he "started out as a mystery writer, a crime writer. I became something else."

I've known that for a while, other readers of his recent novels have to have known it as well, and Ellroy has long said he doesn't write crime anymore. But what is that something else that he became?

A historical novelist, he said Wednesday at Mysterious Bookshop and, with his new Perfidia, a writer of historical romance. "In the course of going from mystery writer, from crime novelist, to historical novelist," he said, "I crafted the L.A. Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, White Jazz)."

Perfidia is the first novel of a second L.A. Quartet. More than in the first quartet and more even than in the Underworld U.S.A. trilogy (American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, Blood's a Rover), the book's action is rooted in the moment of history that provides its setting.

That moment is December 1941 (The book's action begins on Dec. 6), and the centerpiece is the roundup of Japanese and Japanese Americans in and around Los Angeles, what Ellroy calls "the great injustice of the Japanese internment."

Virtually everything else in the book--the killings, the sex, the breakdown of social boundaries, the shady land deals--flows from the fact of the internment, planning for which is underway through most of the course of the novel.

The book is populated largely by characters from Ellroy's previous books, portrayed this time as their considerably younger selves. The four protagonists are Hideo Ashida, a police chemist; William Parker, a police captain in 1941 and later the real-life Los Angeles police chief; the demonic police sergeant Dudley Smith, a fixture in previous books; and Kay Lake, a young woman from Sioux Falls, S.D., whom Ellroy called his greatest fictional creation.  The revisiting of characters from previous books will be great fun for readers of those books.  It also provides at least one shocking surprise.

The novel may lack the stylistic daring of The Cold Six Thousand and naughty shtick and grotesque comic high-jinks of Howard Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover, John F. Kennedy, and the Las Vegas mob bosses from previous books.  What is does offer is increased emphasis on tortured redemption, of the kind Wayne Tedrow Jr., Ward Littell, and Robert F. Kennedy exemplified in the Underworld U.S.A. books.

That, and more thinking about 20th-century American history. "The whole book is a riff on democracy," Ellroy said Wednesday evening. "1941 in America was a time of utterly outlandish belief," he said, and he called it a sign of American goodness and greatness that the United States did not fall to its own currents of lunatic populism, nativism, anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism, the way other countries did.
Ellroy also offered thoughts on movie adaptations of his work. Three of the leads in L.A. Confidential (Kevin Spacey as Jack Vincennes, Kim Basinger as Lynn Bracken, and Russell Crowe as Bud White),  he said, were not believable as their characters.  He didn't say they were bad, just not believable. But--and this is why I would love to grill Ellroy further on movies--the movie is "not an outright dog, as I believe the overpraised Chinatown to be."

© Peter Rozovsky 2014 

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Bouchercon 2014 panels: The Bloomsday Dead's best paragraph

Adrian McKinty suggested in a comment on this blog that the great Northern Ireland crime novel will be written by a woman. Declan Burke called David Park's The Truth Commissioner "a very brave stab at writing ‘the great post-Troubles Northern Irish novel’," whereupon I immediately added it to my to-read list.

Both those gents, being Irish and having grown up there, one in the North, one in the South, are obviously far more qualified than I am to speculate on this matter. But the notion of "the" great anything is dangerous, at least in the hands of an outsider such as your humble blogkeeper. It carries with it the whiff of a suggestion that once one has read "the" great novel, one can move on to other subjects. I hope that the great Troubles or post-Troubles Northern Irish novel will mark a beginning for discussion and examination, not an ending. After all, life will go on in Northern Ireland even after the great novel appears.

In the meantime, McKinty has written a worthy contender for best post-Troubles Northern Irish paragraph, in The Bloomsday Dead, after the protagonist, Michael Forsythe, has returned to Belfast:
"They say the air over Jerusalem is thick with prayers, and Dublin might have its fair share of storytellers, but this is where the real bullshit artists live. The air over this town is thick with lies. Thousands of prisoners have been released under the cease-fire agreements — thousands of gunmen walking these streets, making up a past, a false narrative of peace and tranquility."
I have my own ideas about why that paragraph works, but I'd like to hear yours. Let us discuss! While you're at it, let me know what you think about the whole notion of The Great Novel.

Adrian McKinty will be part of my Belfast Noir: Stories of Mayhem and Murder from Northern Irelandpanel at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, California. The fun starts at 11:30 a.m, Friday, Nov. 14, in the Regency B room. See you there.
© Peter Rozovsky 2008, 2014
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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Bouchercon 2014 panels: The magnificent, mysterious Dan J. Marlowe

I read older books as artifacts, particularly those from periods that have labels slapped on their foreheads such as the 1950s and early 1960s. You probably do the same, and we can't help it, especially in a genre as saturated with archetypes and prototypes as hard-boiled crime fiction.

That's why I like Dan. J. Marlowe so much. He was no path breaker, like Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. The novels of his that I've read are recognizably products of their time (the late 1950s and early 1960s) unlike, say, Hammett's The Glass Key, parts of which could have been written yesterday rather than in 1931. But Marlowe wrote and told stories and worked the conventions so well that even when he writes a happy ending to a hard-boiled story, it seems fresh.

I've just read Marlowe's Strongarm after previously having read The Name of the Game is Death, One Endless Hour, Vengeance Man, and Four for the Money. Marlowe could write tough, and he could write funny, and by all rights, he ought to be at least as celebrated as Donald Westlake. I'll leave you with a selection from Strongarm before letting you know where you might begin exploring the mystery of why he was not:
“`You’ll dance to a different tune now, buster,' Foley announced with vicious satisfaction. `This is even better than we’d —' his voice died away. He had expected me to run. His popping eyes didn’t believe it when I went after him. `No! No! No!' he screamed, wrapping his arms around his head. I wrenched them away. He started to dive out of the chair, and I smashed him right in the mouth. I hit him twice more. I felt bone go. I didn’t know whether it was his or mine. I don’t think he felt the third one. I looked at him slumped in the chair with blood streaming down his shirt front. It was only a down payment on what I owed him, but for now it would have to do.”
Charles Kelly's Gunshots in Another Room bears the subtitle "The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe," so I'll pick it up with the expectation of learning why that strange and interesting life has been forgotten. In the meantime, Kelly tells a short version of Marlowe's story over at Allan Guthrie's Noir Originals.
Charles Kelly will discuss Dan J. Marlowe as part of a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014. The panel is called Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras, and it happens at 3 p.m, Friday, Nov. 14. See you there. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2013, 2014

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Three early comments on James Ellroy's Pefidia

Three early comments on James Ellroy's Pefidia:
  1. A pointed stick used to find water is a dowsing rod, not dousing. (pg. 137) 
  2. One who objects to doing something is averse to it, not adverse. (pg. 385) 
  3. I enjoy the novel's jabs at the 1940s Hollywood Left, through the pen of Kay Lake, one of the novel's four central figures and, in her way, a thematic carryover from Ellroy's previous novel, Blood's A Rover:

    "The tall Negro with the huge basso. The Broadway showstopper-cum-slaves' lament. The dilettante leftists. The wayward girl from Sioux Falls. The unhinged police captain.

    "I giggled.

    "...A Princeton-educated Negro extolled class revolt; a frail woman with runs in her stockings strummed an oversize lute. I laughed and covered my mouth. The dowager whispered,
    Be still, child.'"

    Come to think of it, that's less a jab at the Left than a snapshot of an all-around insane period in American history (December 1941).
And here's a fine version of the song that gave the novel its title.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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