Friday, September 04, 2015

Friday Forgotten Books, September 4, 2015


Ed McBain week is on October 2th. I have chose ME AND HITCH, not that I lay sole claim to it. 

The So Blue Marble Dorothy B.Hughes(reviewed by Ed Gorman)

I'm not sure exactly when Freud became an influence on popular culture but certainly in the Thirties and Forties his beliefs could be found in crime fiction and crime movies everywhere. Hitchcock sanctified him in Spellbound and many lesser directors followed suit.

One of the most prominent of Freudian tropes was phantasmagoria, the sense that the protagonist is lost in a chaos that may or may not be real. A nightmare or is he really about to die?

Dorothy B. Hughes certainly plays with this trope in her famous novel The So-Blue Marble (1940). Her lovely protagonist, saddled with the unlovely name Griselda, decides to visit New York and stay in her ex-husband's apartment, at his request. They haven't seen each other for four years during which he's become a major reporter for NBC worldwide and she's become both a writer and an unlikely (and unhappy) movie actress.

This is the Vogue magazine world just before the war. Everything is ridiculously expensive, everything ridiculously elegant, people, clothes, cars, apartments alike. There are always limos standing by and champagne to drink.

Griselda is accosted in chapter one by a pair of diabolocially handsome twin brothers, one blond one dark haired, called the Montefierrow Twins by everybody who knows them. They are most frequently  seen in tops hats, tails and carrying gold-handled canes, one of which has a dagger on its tip. In any kind of company other than their international che-che world these two would be dead in under five minutes.

The lads want a blue marble that they believe Griselda has. This is the McGuffin. A lot of people want the marble. Only the twins are willing to kill for it, something they do frequently. The marble isn't just a marble of course and there are hints that spies from three different countries have been searching for it, too.

The phantasmagoric aspect comes in when you realize that at times the story teeters on the brink of being unbelievable. It really does have the quality of a nightmare. The writing and social observation are so well done--Hughes, a Yale Young Poet in those days, obviously knew this turf well--you're swept up in all the calamity without worrying about some of the stranger twists and turns.

The most interesting character in the book is Missy, Grisedla's seductive sixteen year old sister. A true psychopath and the lover of one of the those god awful twins. Humbert Humbert would no doubt find her enchanting. Few writers have ever been able to create terror as well as Hughes and Missy is borne of that terror, another unsettling element play off again the real world.  To me it's clear that she dutifully read her Elizabeth Sanxay Holding and learned great deal from the experience.

This is the novel that set Dorothy B. Hughes on a career that would include two of her novels becoming Bogart pictures, the best of which, In A Lonely Place, is a noir icon. This is a swift, tart, dark novel set in the months before Pearl Harbor. The coming war is felt on every page.

From the archives

Jeff Meyerson was a member of DAPA-EM for over 30 years and published an early fanzine in pre-computer days called (way before the bookstore/publisher of the same name existed) The Poisoned Pen. I was a mail order book dealer, specializing in secondhand British mystery and detective fiction. I've read thousands of mysteries since 1970.

John Sladek, INVISIBLE GREEN (1977)
Bari Wood, THE TRIBE (1981)
Walter Mosley, WALKIN' THE DOG (1999)

I thought what I'd do this week was go back and see what I was reading the first week in December of 1979, 1989 and 1999, and the above three titles answer that question.
Sladek was mostly a science fiction writer, of course, but he wrote two wonderfully old-fashioned locked room mysteries in the 1970's, BLACK AURA and INVISIBLE GREEN, both featuring brilliant amateur Thackeray Phin. Sadly, there were no more of them, and both certainly qualify as unjustly forgotten books. You could check the online booksellers for copies. Both are available at a cheap price on ABE and both are well worth your time.
THE TRIBE was a hit at the time it came out, I believe, and Wood had several other bestsellers, including TWINS and THE KILLING GIFT. She's probably been pretty much forgotten these days, as her last published book was in 1995. To be honest I don't really remember much of this one, which the publisher tried to make a Jewish version of THE EXORCIST, with concentration camp victims and Jewish mysticism combining for rather tepid, if fast-moving, horror thrills. I don't have a copy so can't really be specific.
The Mosley was his second collection of Socrates Fortlow stories, and I'm a big fan of the series. Fortlow was a murderer who has been released from prison and is trying to get by in a tough Los Angeles neighborhood and negotiate his way in a white world. The stories here and in ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED, ALWAYS OUTGUNNED, the first book in the series, are well worth your time as Fortlow is - to me - a fascinating character, moreso than Easy Rawlins.

Sergio Angelini, THE SKELETON IN THE GRASS, Robert Barnard
Yvette Banek, DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN, Peter Lovesey
Les Blatt, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, Agatha Christie
Brian Busby, ORPHAN STREET, Andre Langevin
Bill Crider, THE END OF THE GUN. H.A. DeRosa
Scott Cupp, BLIND VOICES, Tom Reamy
Martin Edwards, WAXWORKS MURDER, John Dickson Carr
Rich Horton, THE SEED OF EARTH and NEXT STOP THE STARS, Robert Silverberg
Jerry House, THE LIFE OF SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE, John Dickson Carr
Nick Jones, PITY HIM AFTERWARDS, Donald Westlake
George Kelley, FUTURE WARS, Hank Davis
Margot Kinberg, A BAD DAY FOR SORRY, Sophie Littlefield
Dana King, Summer's Best Reads
Rob Kitchin, THE EXTERMINATORS, Bill Fitzhugh
Evan Lewis, WHERE THERE'S A WILL, Rex Stout
Steve Lewis/William Deeck. THE HYMN TUNE MYSTERY, George Birmingham
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris
James Reasoner, TRAIL OF THE MCCAW, Eugene Cunningham
Kevin Tipple, WHEN OLD MEN DIE, Bill Crider
TomCat, THE CASK, Freeman Wills Croft, WAS IT MURDER? James Hilton
TracyK, DIAMOND SOLITAIRE, Peter Lovesey
Westlake Review, BUTCHER'S MOON, Richard Stark

Thursday, September 03, 2015

A Heartfelt Thanks

To all of the people that have taken the time to read, review, and post about CONCRETE ANGEL on their blogs or on Amazon or Good Reads. Any small success I have is thanks to you guys.

And thanks to the reviewer from LIBRARY JOURNAL who gave it a starred review and is responsible for library sales I would never have had otherwise. So too the reviewer from BOOK LIST.

I am finishing up SHOT IN DETROIT as I write this. Next June, fingers crossed.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

What Actor Has Particularly Impressed You?

 I have seen quite a few films with Oscar Isaac in the last few years. SHOW ME A HERO is his latest role (HBO) and he sparkles. He was also great in INSIDE LlEWYN DAVIS, THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY,  EX MACHINA and A MOST VIOLENT YEAR. He has never played the same character twice. He can be treacherous, sympathetic, pushed to the edge, weird.

Seriously, after watching the last two hours of SHOW ME A HERO. They did.

Who has impressed you?

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

My Ten Favorite Movies of 1976

Taxi Driver
All the President's Men
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
The Front
Face to Face
Small Change
Mikey and Nicky
Dona Flora and Her Two Husbands

The seventies are always heralded as a good era for films. This is just one year and although it is a good year it is not great. Studios were still putting out films that would be indies and in art houses today. Five of these would not be at your neighborhood multiplex. And that probably means that seeing them for most people would be on their TV or computer.

What about you? What did you like in 1976?

Monday, August 31, 2015

Gerard Brennan's Book Shelf

What books are currently on your nightstand? 

The Blood Dimmed Tide by Anthony Quinn, Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon (again) and I've got The Killing Season by Mason Cross lined up for the next read. 

Who is your all-time favorite novelist? 

Argh, I always find this question really hard to answer. I'm kind of promiscuous in my reading... But the first writer who comes to mind when I'm asked is the mighty Ken Bruen. 

What book might we be surprised to find on your shelves? 

Oooh, good question. My tastes are pretty conventional for a crime writer... maybe one of the more high brow ones, like my copy of The Rattle Bag, a poetry anthology edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes, or something less intellectual, like Go The Fuck To Sleep by Adam Mansbach. 

Who is your favorite fictional character? 

Again, so many choices... But I'll go with Sean Duffy from Adrian McKinty's latest series of books (the most recent being Gun Street Girl). 

What book do you return to? 

It's a non-fiction choice this time (two in fact, if you'll allow me)... Patricia Highsmith's Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction and Steven Pressfield's War of Art. Usually when I'm suffering a bit of writing fatigue. I get something new from each one every time. 

Gerard Brennan's latest novel is Undercover, a Belfast cop thriller. His short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies; including three volumes of The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime and Belfast Noir. He co-edited Requiems for the Departed, a collection of crime fiction based on Irish myths which won the 2011 Spinetingler Award for best anthology. His novella, The Point, was published by Pulp Press in October 2011 and won the 2012 Spinetingler Award for best novella. His novels, Wee Rockets and Fireproof, were published as ebooks by Blasted Heath in 2012. He graduated from the MA in creative writing at Queen's University Belfast in 2012 and is currently working on a PhD.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Books, August 28, 2015

Forgotten Books: The Pat Hobby Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Ed Gorman)

Losers have always interested me more than winners. There's a line from a Leonard Cohen poem "The simple life of heroes/The twisted lives of saints." I'll take the saints (though Cohen isn't talking about folks the Vatican bestows sainthood on that's for sure).

My formative years were the Fifties. The films that influenced me the most were the noirs my father took me to and such fare as The Sweet Smell of Success and A Face in the Crowd. No heroes there. The same for my preferred reading (in additon to the Gold Medals and sf)--Hemingway, James Jones, Irwin Shaw (short stories), Graham Greene and Richard Wright among others. No heroes there either. Same for theater (I was writing terrible plays early on). O'Neill, Miller, Williams. Not a hero in sight.

We call a good deal of crime fiction dark. But is it? Cops replaced cowboys and now we have Cops (or investigators of any kind) with Personal Problems and reviewers think this is some kind of dangerous fiction. Not to me.

The constraints of commercial fiction are such that you risk losing a sale if your protagoist is an outright loser. The Brits were way ahead of us Yanks. Derek Raymond has spawned two generations of daring writers. The first time I read him I was struck by how much the texture of his prose reminded me of one of my five favorite books of all time, Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. I read fifty pages of it the other day. What with globalization the world is once again as Orwell described it in the Thirties.

The literary writer Brian Moore (who started out writing Gold Medals and Dell originals under three different names) made a brief early career out of losers. The Lucky Of Ginger Coffee, for only one example, is about a daydreamer most people love but who is ultimately a selfish man whose daydreams are destroying his wife and children. He can't accept that he's an average guy--a loserbyhis lights. And that turns him into a dark loser indeed.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's work is filled with losers. Handsome, poetic ones, yes, but losers nonetheless. Winter Dreams, as one of his best stories is called, describes the near lifelong love of a man for woman he can never have. He has great business success but he is a loser because he can never have her. The last few pages will give you chills.

Here we have The Pat Hobby Stories. They are set in the Hollywood the late Thirties and feature a once prominent screeenwriter who is reduced to virtually begging for work at the various studios that once wined and dined him. The Fitzgerald myth is so tied to the notion of Romantic Loss that we forget that he was also funnier than hell. And causitc.

As Arnold Gingrich said shortly after Fitzgerald's death, "These stories were the last word from his last home, for much of what he felt about Hollywood and about himself permeated these stories."

And damned good stories they are, too. Not major Fitzgerald but cunning and crafty tales of bars, studios, whores of both genders, unhappy winners and drunken losers.

My favorite here is "Pat Hobby and Orson Welles." The luckless Hobby is hanging around the writer's building trying to cadge anything he can get--even a B-western--when somebody mentions Orson Welles. And Hobby almost loses it. Everywere he turns he hears about Orson Welles--newspaper, magazines, radio, movies. Orson Welles Orson Welles.

Fitzgerald uses Welles as a symbol of generational turn. Hobby and other men his age were major players in their time but now their time is gone. One studio head admits (reluctantly) to Hobby that he doesn't know what the hell all the fuss about Welles is either but dammit the young people on his staff swoon every time his name is mentioned. So this studio head and others push enormous sums of money on Welles. Hobby bitterly wonders why Welles doesn't stay in the East where he belongs---with the snobs. The West, dammit, is for common folk. (Well, except for the mansions and Rodeo Drive.)

This is a book filled with boozy grief, hilarious bitterness and a fascinating look from the inside as to what writers went through under the old studio management.

As Fitzgerald himself said, "This was not art, this was industry. (Who) you sat with at lunch was more important than what you (wrote) in your office."

A fine little collection.


George mentioned Nick Hornby's books last week so when I went into a used bookstore and found two, I bought them. This one collects Horby's column from BELIEVER MAGAZINE from 2005-2006. Hornby has one of those voices you can't resist. And he is so skilled at talking about books while also talking about his life it's a double whammy. He is everything you expect from a British writer: witty, charming, smart. In this collection he discusses books by  Marilyn Robinson, Sarah Vowell, Amanda Eyre Ward, Jesse Walter, Michael Frayn, Anthony Burgess, etc. He is never less than interesting. Never stuffy or dry. Quite an art, he's mastered. If the trick is getting you to want to read the books, he is a master. I even want to reread the ones I've read like Frayn's SPIES and Robinson's HOUSEKEEPING.

Sergio Angelini, POSTERN OF FATE, Agatha Christie
Yvette Banek, MURDER GONE MAD, Philip MacDonald
Brian Busby, TORONTO LIFE and two other entries
Bill Crider, CLEA'S MOON, Edward Wright
Scott Cupp, SPACE FOR HIRE, William F. Nolan
Martin Edwards, SEND FOR PAUL TEMPLE, Francis Durbridge
John Hegenberger, NO HARD FEELINGS, Mark Coggins
Rick Horton, Two Books by Margaret St. Clair
Jerry House, TAKEOFF, C.M. Kornbluth
Nick Jones, GOD SAVE THE MARK, Donald Westlake
George Kelle, MCBAIN'S LADIES 2, Ed McBain
Margot Kinberg, BITTER WASH ROAD, Gary Disher
Rob Kitchin, LEHRTER STATION, David Downing
B.V. Lawson, THORNE IN THE FLESH, Rhona Petrie
Steve Lewis, BY EVIL MEANS, Sandra West Prowell
Todd Mason, I CANNOT TELL A LIE EXACTLY, Mary Ladd Gavell
James Reasoner, THE PERSIAN CAT, John Flagg
Richard Robinson, DEATH AND THE DUTCH UNCLE, Patricia Moyes
Gerard Saylor, COMPLEX 90. Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, THE JULIUS CAESAR MURDER CASE, Wallace Irwin
TracyK, HOPSCOTCH, Brian Garfield
Prashant Trikannad, THE MASTER EXECUTIONER, Loren Estleman
Westlake Review, HOPSCOTCH, Brian Garfield (not a typo)
A. J. Wright, Book Covers of O.R. Cohen