Friday, July 30, 2010

"Prairie Raiders" by Harry Whittington (Ace, 1963)

One of the hallmarks of a Harry Whittington book is a protagonist driven by an all-consuming obsession, a mission that rises above morality, a cause that is more important that their lives. It is characteristic of both his Crime novels as well as his Westerns. In To Find Cora, Joe Byars hunts for his missing wife and eventually finds her in the clutches of another man as fanatical and as himself. In Shadow at Noon, Jeff Clane wasn’t supposed to survive the set-up duel, but he did, and found himself in more trouble than ever—only his thirst for vengeance keeps him going. And men, money and murder can’t satiate Bernice Hopper’s desire for happiness in Fires that Destroy, a title that is the perfect metaphor for many of Whittington’s characters and their desperate pursuits.

Clay Webb belongs to this same lineage of tormented, relentless protagonists. Prairie Raiders was originally published in 1963 as an Ace Double (along with Drygulch Town). The story is about a Marshall who was ready to hang up his gun belt for good and settle down with Mary Amerson. But on their wedding day—which was also his retirement day—one of the men Webb put behind bars, Les Patton, showed up looking to take back those five years he lost. Patton challenged Webb to a duel, but it wasn’t Webb who took the fatal bullet but Mary.

With all his dreams of serenity shattered, Clay Webb picks up his guns once more and takes to the range in search of revenge, in search of Les Patton. Along the way he is mistaken for a cattle rustler and captured by the rancher Shaffner and his possee who are on a hunt of their own. Mel Terrell, a member of the posse, wants to hang Webb. In order to save his own neck, Webb will have to prove to Shaffner and Terrell that he is innocent, and help find the real rustlers, all the while Les Patton’s trail grows colder and more distant everyday.

A lean 103 pages, Prairie Raiders bolts along with the same force and intensity as Clay Webb. Whittington’s prose is fast and hard, the Western action stirring, and with a strong sense of psychology and character (two of the author’s strongest suits). There’s not a moment or a word wasted in this book. Chalk up another winner to the prolific writing machine that was Harry Whittington.

Here are two of my favorite paragraphs from the book that best capture Whittington’s style:

“He couldn’t talk about the pain and agony that sent him riding with a badly-healed bullet wound in him looking for a man named Les Patton, but inside it was bright-clear like the blaze of the noon sun, burning out his guts, drying his lips, killing him with thirst. Thirst for something that was dead—dead and forever gone, and nothing could bring it back on earth.

“A few months ago he’d been a lawdog, and people respected him, and some men feared him. But inside he was troubled by something he could not put in words. A lawman had to believe he was right, had to believe in his right to make quick judgments, quick draws, and mete out quick death. And he had lost this belief…”

Other Harry Whittington-related posts on Pulp Serenade:

-Interview with David Laurence Wilson

-"Mourn the Hangman" by Harry Whittington (Graphic, 1952)

-Harry Whittington on Words and Writing

More of Friday's Forgotten Books can be found on Patti Abbott's blog.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Making the Rounds: Short Stories

Some of Pulp Serenade's favorite writers have been very busy lately. Check out what they've been up to.

--An excerpt from Patti Abbott's "Ghostscapes," soon to be published in BEAT to a PULP: Round One, was posted over at David Cranmer's blog, The Education of a Pulp Writer. Here's just a sample of what is to come. For the full excerpt, and more information about the anthology, click the links.
Helen eventually settled on the 31st of July as the date of her death. It was difficult to be certain because for days, perhaps as much as a week, she wandered around the cottage without any glimmer of what had befallen her...
--Jason Duke's long awaited Pheonix Nightlife has finally hit the web. Parts one and two have been posted at CrimeWAV. Here is the trailer.

--Paul D. Brazill's upcoming story, "Guns of Brixton," will not only appear in the next issue of Crime Factory, but will also be anthologized in Maxim Jakubowski's The Mammoth Book of Best British Mysteries. Read all about it at Paul's blog.

--Beat to a Pulp is back again this week with another hell of a story. This week's punch is "The Little Boy Inside" by Glenn Gray.

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Who Was that Lady? Craig Rice: The Queen of Screwball Mystery" by Jeffrey Marks (Delphi, 2001)

Readers generally only know one side to Craig Rice. She was the author of a beloved series of comedic crime capers starring lawyer John J. Malone, heiress Helena Brand, and press agent Jake Justus. As Jeffrey Marks points out in his illuminating and compelling biography, Who Was that Lady? Craig Rice: The Queen of Screwball Mystery, there was a great deal of pain and suffering behind every laugh, bruises behind every wisecrack, and a lifetime of failed relationships that inspired the close bond between her memorable fictional sleuths. Rice’s life is a paradox as complex as any of her plots: she was talented but tormented; loved and reviled; and strong-willed in some ways but weak in so many more. She was the living embodiment of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem, “My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and ah, my friends; It gives a lovely light!” For Rice, the light was short lived, and failure came as quickly as success and lasted twice as long.

The writer that would become Craig Rice was born Georgiana Craig, the daughter of two artist. Shortly after her birth, the parents would abandon their child to return to Europe to paint, leaving Georgiana to be raised by her aunt and uncle, the Rices. They would eventually adopt her, and Georgiana would take their name as her own. Jeffrey Marks locates this as the central conflict in Craig Rice’s life and work: most of her novels deal with orphans or those who have been abandoned in one way or another, while in her own life Rice would cling to mentally and physically abusive men out of fear of being alone. As Marks points out, Rice would wind up repeating her own mother’s decisions and leave her children with nannies and relatives. Why she would do that, after being so scarred by the same decisions, is still up for speculation.

Leaving college after only one year, Rice became a free-spirited Bohemian, making the rounds of the big city, attending lots of parties, and becoming a crime reporter. She made a living as a journalist during the Great Depression, and turned to writing novels by the end of the 1930s, beginning with 8 Faces at 3 in 1939, which introduced the world to Malone, Brand and Justus. Their alcohol-infused adventures in and around Chicago continued in a slew of novels written over a short period time. In her first five years as a novelist, Rice would publish an astonishing 16 novels (7 of which were about Malone and company).

Alcoholism, depression, and a series of bad marriages would slowly bring her writing to a halt, ruin her ties to the industry, and destroy her health. Her many husbands were all writers, none of whom were as talent or successful as Rice. Jeffrey Marks points out that one of them, Lenny Lipton, was especially poisonous: after deriding popular fiction (in spite of the fact that his “literature” never sold and got horrible reviews), he would eventually sue her and claim partial ownership of all her writing in order to continue living off Rice’s success after they had broken up. He later tried to join the Beat movement, and was unsuccessful at that, as well.

Marks also makes a strong case that Rice was an unfortunate victim of her time. Her alcoholism and time spent in hospitals became vicious news stories, and even her cover story in Time Magazine is unnecessarily harsh, influenced by the stricter morals of the day. As Rice points out, however, many of Rice’s peers—the male writers—were also alcoholics but did not suffer the stigma that she did. Also, Rice’s bipolar conditions were unable to be treated at hospitals at the time, leaving her few options except to fall back into the same cycle of depression and drinking time and again. That type of living took its toll on Rice, and it eventually killed her when she fell down the stairs, alone in her house. She was 49 years old.

Who Was that Lady? Craig Rice: The Queen of Screwball Mystery could be called a critical bio-bibliography. Jeffrey Marks writes about Craig Rice with great sympathy, but always with an insightful, critical eye. Marks proves to be as perceptive a critic as he is a biographer and researcher. He locates the autobiographical strands of her work, smartly connecting them to her own life. Just as important, he also places her work in context to the mystery field at the time, as well as compares her books to each other, tracing their development over the years as her quality rose rapidly in the early 1940s, then fell as a result of her personal struggles, only to rise again shortly before her untimely death. Concise synopses and succinct reviews of all her novels (and many of her short stories) provides an indispensable guide for navigating the ups-and-downs of Craig Rice’s career.

One of the most important and successful mystery writers of her day, Rice is sadly forgotten today. While many of her books were reprinted in the late 1980s and early 1990s by IPL, only one novel and one collection of stories is in print today. Rue Morgue Press has released Home Sweet Homicide (which Marks calls her greatest book) and Crippen and Landau have released a collection of the Malone stories, Murder, Mystery and Malone, which was edited by Marks. We can only hope that her innovative, inimitable, and undeniably delightful novels see the light of day again sometime soon. In the meantime, we have Marks’ wonderful biography, an essential for fans of Rice’s work, and of great interest for anyone interested in the history of mystery and crime fiction.

Other Pulp Serenade posts on Craig Rice:

"Craig Rice" (Time Magazine, January 28, 1946)

"Trial by Fury" by Craig Rice (International Polygonics Ltd., 1991)

Craig Rice on Words and Writing

Friday, July 23, 2010

"The Long Saturday Night" by Charles Williams (Gold Medal, 1962)

Charles Williams’ The Long Saturday Night was published by Gold Medal in 1962. It would turn out to be his last for the publisher. It’s about John D. Warren, a real estate broker from Carthage, Alabama. When he arrives early to visit to the private duck-hunting club early on Friday morning, he doesn’t realize what the weekend holds in store for him. First, he’s accused of murdering Dan Roberts, one of his tenants and fellow members of the duck-hunting club—the only member who was also out that morning. Next, a mysterious phone call suggests that his wife, Frances, was stepping out with Roberts as well as another man. Then there is the matter of several thousand dollars that Frances took with her to New Orleans which have vanished without a trace. And then there’s her dead body, lying in Warren’s home.

On the run from the cops, it is up to Warren and his resourceful secretary, Barbara Ryan, to piece together the connection between Frances and Dan Roberts, as well as identify the mysterious caller and catch the real killer—all on one long, frantic, and dangerous Saturday night.

Perhaps the “wrong man” and “amateur detective” scenarios sound familiar enough, but it is proof of Williams’ skill that he can seemingly reinvent these tropes and breathe new, panic-stricken life into them. Using a remarkable first-person narration, Williams burrows deep into his main character, John D. Warren, and brings his growing paranoia to life. The first-rate storytelling is both enthralling and magnetic, and it has the fevered pacing of a never-ending nightmare.

Francois Truffaut turned The Long Saturday Night into a movie called Confidentially Yours! in 1983 (in France it was called Vivement Dimache!, literally “Finally Sunday!”). (Here is my review of the movie.) The film turned out to be Truffaut’s last. Unfortunately, it is not one of his better movies. The adaptation seemingly sticks close to the outline of the plot, but the tonal changes are totally out of step with Williams’ paranoid vision. Truffaut tries to add a comedic, screwball feeling akin to The Thin Man, and tosses in plenty of unnecessary and distracting movie references (especially to Hitchcock). The movie doesn’t work because, for one thing, the actors (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Fanny Ardant) don’t have the same chemistry as William Powell and Myrna Loy in The Thin Man movies. Truffaut also is unable to recreate the swift pace of Williams novel, nor is Trintignant able to convey the increasing anxiety of Warren’s character. Ultimately, the movie just wasn’t that thrilling or funny, a bad sign for a movie that tries to be a comedic thriller.

While the book is currently out-of-print, used copies are still floating around. Fans of early paperback crime fiction don’t want to miss this one. For more information on Williams, check out Bill Crider’s excellent essay, “The Gold Medal Corner: Charles Williams” over at Mystery*File where he calls Williams “one of the people who belongs in the Gold Medal Pantheon.” August West, over at Vintage Hardboiled Reads, also reviewed the book: “The Long Saturday Night might not be the author's most well-known novel, but it's one that should not be overlooked.”

As always, a couple of quotes from the book.

“I kept opening and closing my mouth and swallowing to hold back the oily ground-swell of nausea running up into my throat, and pressing my face into the bedspread as though I were convinced that if I could close my eyes tightly enough the picture would go away.”

“The bed rocked as if I were still driving, and the instant I closed by eyes the pulpy and battered mass of her face was burned into the backs of the lids down to the last projecting shard of bone, and I sat up shaking and sick, my mouth locked against the outcry welling up inside me.”

More of Friday's Forgotten Books are available at Patti Abbott's blog.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Craig Rice on Words and Writing

"When [Craig] Rice did finally sit down to write a book, it was a sight to see. Her writing habits were legendary. She wrote without an outline, or character sketches, or any good idea of where she was going, simply typing away until she'd completed a novel. The manic sessions would sometimes last for days. These focused writing sessions provided the first indication that perhaps Craig Rice didn't behave like other writers – she was driven to complete a work in a few sittings. No one would see her until she emerged with a finished book." -- Jeffrey Marks, from Who Was That Lady? Craig Rice: The Queen of Screwball Mystery

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Draw: The Greatest Gunfights of the American West" by James Reasoner (Berkley, 2003)

What happens when you combine rip-roarin' Western action with legendary true stories and one of best working writers of the genre? James Reasoner's Draw: The Greatest Gunfights of the American West. This exciting, non-fiction book looks at the men (and some women) behind the guns that blazed trails across America. Cowboys, bandits, sheriffs, bank robbers, marshals, horse thieves, card players, posses, gangs, and even a little boy suffering from consumption--they all carried guns, and they all had to use them, sometimes in the name of the law, sometimes in the name of vengeance, and sometimes in the name of violence. Behind each bullet is a story, and Reasoner gets to the heart of each and every one.

What I most appreciated about the book is Reasoner's approach to the material. The past isn't chiseled in stone like a cold tombstone, but lives and breathes. He begins each chapter with a striking scene, a cliffhanger that introduces us to the character and the defining moment in their lives--and often it is their last moment, as well. From there Reasoner takes us back, giving us a concise but comprehensive look at all the characters and the events leading up to the climactic showdown.

A humanist historian, Reasoner is as interested in a character's psychology and emotions as much as his actions. And because he can find a little sympathy for even the most ruthless gunslinger, the characters come off as real people instead of historical documents, and even the most timeworn tales seem fresh again. He gives a new perspective on the Earp clan by focusing on the forgotten brother, Warren, who was the only one not present for that historic battle in Tombstone, and who lived his life in the shadows of his brothers' legacies. And even Bob Ford (the man who shot Jesse James) and Pat Garret (the man who shot Billy the Kid) are given sympathy, as Reasoner tries to understand their disappointment of never eclipsing the notorious men they killed.

Reasoner is smart to realize that history shouldn't always be written by the victors. He not only tells the story from the viewpoints of all involved, but also respects the unresolved mysteries and speculations, those wondrous questions that linger on more than a hundred years later. Some of my favorite moments involve those characters who made their mark and then disappeared into history, like the young, consumptive boy Riley who, after seeing his gun-toting idol shot down, surprised the whole town of Wichita by doing some fancy shooting of his own. After avenging his fallen friend, the little boy vanished without a trace. History lost track of him, and his fate remains a mystery to this day.

Beneath the surface of Draw, Reasoner is doing more than just telling the stories of famous gunfighters. Through these stories, he also chronicles the larger history of the West, from the initial migration, to the establishing of of industry, towns, and law and order. The book ends, fittingly, with the settling and taming of the West, and the end of a spectacular, bloody, and exciting era of gunfighters.

The book is still in print from Berkley. Reasoner also keeps a blog called Rough Edges. Previously on Pulp Serenade I interviewed Reasoner about his book Hunt at the Well of Eternity, and I also reviewed his books Texas Wind and Old Times' Sake.

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from the book:

"The gambler from the east was fast, all right, but his aim was wild, wild as hell, and his speed hadn't bought him a thing except a few ounces of lead."

"They were young, in their twenties, but hardly children. In fact, their eyes were older than their years. They were the eyes of men who had been both the hunters--and the hunted."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"The Executioner" by H.A. DeRosso (AHMM, October 1957)

I know H.A. DeRosso mainly from his gripping, noir-ish Western .45, so it was a real pleasure finding his short story “The Executioner” in the October 1957 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Here he departs from the Western genre he is mostly associated with and delivers a terrific story of dystopian politics set in Latin America.

The nameless protagonist is a Captain in the military, in charge of the executions. Ramon Laramate, a dissident, is to be executed shortly. The Captain’s girlfriend, Maria Alba, testified against Laramate and begs to watch him die. Her persistence, however, worries the Captain.

“What could she do to him? Denounce him? He had never concerned himself with politics; he had never uttered a single word against Tomasino; he was more faithful to the Leader than the natives of Cielo Azul. What, pray, could she do to him?”

DeRosso has an ironic, and decidedly dark, sense of humor. Even if it is slightly predictable, there is still a good punch at the end of the story. Overall, it is a well-structured and smartly paced story. The seeds for the twist are planted early on, and it is fun to watch as DeRosso develops them into the final twist ending.

(For those who are interested, last year on Pulp Serenade I also featured another excellent short story by DeRosso called "Hide-Away." It is about a Private Detective with the unpleasant task of hunting down a former partner.)


Thanks to Galactic Central for the cover scan.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Frederick C. Davis on Words and Writing

Renowned pulpster Frederick C. Davis passes on the following advice to writers:
The most valuable and penetrating comment I have ever seen on writing--any kind--is one made by Henry Seidel Canby of the Saturday Review. He said: "A writer doesn't write with his mind, he writes with his hands."
(Quoted from The Mystery Writer's Handbook, edited by Herbert Brean.)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"The Tarnished Star" by Jack Martin (Black Horse Western, 2009)

With the recent release of Gary Dobbs’ ebook A Policeman’s Lot, I wanted to say a few words about his first novel, The Tarnished Star, a Black Horse Western published under the pseudonym Jack Martin. The rip-roaring Western adventure is an assured, confident debut. Followers of Dobbs’ blog The Tainted Archive are well aware of the British author’s deep knowledge of both the fictional literature and the actual history of the Wild West. The Tarnished Star is steeped in Western lore, but Dobbs’ voice is clearly his own. He shows that he knows how to write an original story that still respects the genre’s traditions.

The novel starts with an archetypal Western scenario—the sheriff who stands alone against the villains—and gives it a twist. What if Gary Cooper in High Noon stepped down and gave up? What would make a strong-willed sheriff give in to the bad guys? How would the town react? And how would the sheriff deal with the shame and humiliation of letting himself, and his people, down?

Those are some of the thought-provoking questions that drive The Tarnished Star. As the book opens, Sheriff Cole Masters has arrested Sam Bowden for killing a prostitute. Sam is the rotten son of a rich and powerful rancher named Clem Bowden, and Clem won’t stand for his son’s incarceration. When he and his henchmen show up at the jail armed and dangerous, Cole gives in and lets them take not only Sam, but also his badge.

But when Cole realizes the Bowdens are going to frame him for murder, he takes to the open range in an attempt to reach the stagecoach and talk to the Judge before he reaches town. With his name cleared, maybe Cole could finally bring law and order to the town of Squaw, and settle down with Jessie, the local schoolteacher. The only thing in his way, however, is the Bowdens, who will stop at nothing to prevent Cole from reaching the stage on time.

The book offers great Western action and atmosphere, as well as strong, compelling characters. By switching between different characters’ points of view, Dobbs sustains dramatic tension throughout while giving us insight into both the heroes and villains of the story. I especially liked the desert chase as Bowden’s men tracked Cole into the mountains and caves, which culminates in a classic shoot-out. It is a promising debut, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Dobbs’ books.

For more information on The Tarnished Star, you can revisit an interview I conducted with Dobbs when the book was released. The book is still available online through The Book Depository.

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes:

“Sam struck out with the back of his hand, slapping the old man across the jaw with a sound like fish guts hitting a sink.”

“For now the only emotion he needed was the seething anger in the pit of his stomach, for it would keep him fresh, help him remain focused on what had to be done.”

Friday, July 16, 2010

"Buchanan on the Prod" by Jonas Ward (Gold Medal, 1962)

Published by Gold Medal in 1962, Buchanan on the Prod is the sixth entry in the Buchanan saga, about a rambling gunfighter from West Texas.

This book finds Buchanan coming back from Mexico where he was fighting in the revolution and looking for buried treasure. When he comes to the aid of a teenager outnumbered by several professional gunmen, Buchanan finds himself caught in a raging cattle war between two ranches: Spread Eagle and Big M. The ruthless Bart Malvaise of Big M is looking to run Matt Patton of Spread Eagle off his land and has hired several professional guns to help do it. Patton has resisted hiring guns in order to deal with his neighbor peacefully. But now with Buchanan on his side, perhaps Patton has a chance to save Spread Eagle and beat Bart Malvaise once and for all.

Buchanan on the Prod is entertaining and lively, with strong atmosphere, lots of action, and occasional bits of comedy and romance to keep the spirit light. Buchanan is a very likeable character, someone who is fast on the draw, but who will also take a moment to wink at a girl while the smoke is still clearing. He’s charming but not sentimental, he has morals but he’s not preachy, and he’s inventive when it comes to fighting. The scenario reminds a little of Jack Schaeffer’s classic Shane, but the main characters were different enough that Buchanan on the Prod didn’t seem too derivative.

The first five Buchanan books were written under the pen name of Jonas Ward by William Ard. During the writing of the sixth novel, Buchanan on the Prod, Ard passed away, so Robert Silverberg took over and completed this novel. Later on, several other writers who assumed the Jonas Ward pseudonym continued the series. A full bibliography and informative history on the Buchanan books is available at Mystery File.

All in all, this is a classic Western that is sure to entertain. I’ll be on the lookout for the rest of the Buchanan series, that’s for sure. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Buchanan chalked up a third, heard Death shriek in his own ear as a sizzling chunk of lead singed the brim of his hat.”

“It’s a life of inches, isn’t it, Doc? Inches and seconds?”

“If I didn’t hurt somewheres,” he said, “I’d think I’d died.”

“Buchanan had something more than just a scholarly interest in feminine pulchritude.”

More of Friday's Forgotten Books can be found over at Patti Abbott's blog.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Free Stories by Dave Zeltserman and Daniel Woodrell

First off, if you haven't heard already, Dave Zeltserman (author of Pariah and the upcoming book The Caretaker of Lorne Field) has "King" over at Beat to a Pulp.

Second, thanks to David Thompson over at Busted Flush Press for linking me to Daniel Woodrell's short story "Night Stand," which was published last year at Esquire. Busted Flush will also be giving their deluxe treatment to Woodrell's novel Tomato Red this September, with a new introduction by Megan Abbott. Read more about it here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"The Deep, Deep Secret" by Walt Grove (AHMM, February 1957)

Walt Grove wrote one of my favorite Gold Medal novels, Hell-Bent for Danger, which I’d rank up there with any of the publisher’s more famous novels and authors. When I found his story, “The Deep, Deep Secret” in the February 1957 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, I was excited, as Grove’s reputation seems to have unfortunately faded, leaving all of his work out of print at the moment. The story, I was happy to discover, was marvelous and did not disappoint one bit.

“The Deep, Deep Secret” is an unusual, innovative twist on the “coming of age” genre. Gerry—short for Geraldine—wants to share a secret with her boyfriend, Earl. When the two return from skinny-dipping, however, a mysterious man claiming to be a police officer is waiting for them. While he doesn’t arrest them for indecent exposure, he begins stalking both of the youths and makes several sexual advances towards Gerry. Afraid of what the town and their families will think if their indiscretion was exposed, Gerry and Earl put off asking for help. Soon the situation spirals out of control, and Gerry must grow up and deal with the situation on her own.

As Grove showed in Hell-Bent for Danger, he has a real feel for the darker impulses hiding within suburban security. Throughout “The Deep, Deep Secret,” Gerry goes through this transforming descent, first through desire, then anxiety, desperation, and finally action, when she is forced to do things she never thought herself capable of. In this way, Grove takes the “coming of age” cycle to another level: what begins as burgeoning sexuality in the character blossoms into something decidedly more deadly. That sense of threat and urgency, so primal to adolescence, comes across naturally in this story.

Earl and the officer, while their roles are smaller, are no less well defined. As Gerry continues to take steps forward, both of the male characters come more and more into focus. The officer is no less a coward than Earl. Such critical portrayals of masculinity come as no surprise after Hell-Bent for Danger, which also features male protagonists who are ultimately emasculated for giving into their desires.

All in all, a great story by an underrated writer. I have several more Walt Grove stories at home, and I’m very much looking forward to reading them.


Thanks to Galactic Central for the cover scan.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Paul Cain Story Discovered

Evan Lewis, who wrote the fabulous pirate adventure "The Mercy of Jean Lafitte," has recently found a Paul Cain story that has never been reprinted before. It is called "Dutch Treat" and comes from the December 1936 issue of Black Mask. Cain's prose is hardboiled to the bone, action-packed, and at times blisteringly bleak. I can't recommend his books highly enough: Seven Slayers (his selected pulp stories) and Fast One (a novel).

To learn more about "Dutch Treat," head over to Evan Lewis' website, Davy Crockett's Almanack of Mystery, Adventure, and The Wild West.

Thanks, Evan, for unearthing and sharing this story!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

2010 ThrillerFest Award Winners

The 2010 Thriller Awards were announced last night at ThrillerFest. Congratulations to all the winners and nominees.

Ken Follett, ThrillerMaster

in recognition of his legendary career and outstanding contributions to the thriller genre

Mark Bowden, True Thriller Award

Linda Fairstein, Silver Bullet Award

Best Hard Cover Novel: 
THE NEIGHBOR by Lisa Gardner
Other Nominees:

VANISHED by Joseph Finder

LONG LOST by Harlan Coben

FEAR THE WORST by Linwood Barclay
THE RENEGADES by T. Jefferson Parker

Best Paperback Original:
 THE COLDEST MILE by Tom Piccirilli
Other Nominees:
SHADOW SEASON by Tom Piccirilli

URGE TO KILL by John Lutz


NO MERCY by John Gilstrap

Best First Novel:
 RUNNING FROM THE DEVIL by Jamie Freveletti
Other Nominees:
FRAGMENT by Warren Fahy

DEAD MEN'S DUST by Matt Hilton


DRACULA: THE UN-DEAD by Dacre Stoker & Ian Holt

Best Short Story: 

A STAB IN THE HEART by Twist Phelan
Other Nominees:
BACKUP by Rick Mofina

ICED by Harry Hunsicker

BOLDT'S BROKEN ANGEL by Ridley Pearson

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Ken Bruen Goes Western with "Colt"!

Ken Bruen, that elegant bard of noir hailing from Ireland, takes on the Wild West in his latest story, “Colt.” It appears in the August 2010 issue of Ellery Queen Magazine. In just six short pages, Bruen manages to pack in all that we love about his work—the personal tragedies of Tower (co-written with Reed Farrel Coleman), the inimitable punchy poetry of The Guards, and the gut-busting humor of Bust, Slide, and The Max (all co-written with Jason Starr)—but he also manages to show a new side to his art as well. Bruen is damn good at Westerns! It's funny, action-packed, and packs a solid punch at the end, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

“I had me a thirst, been riding hard, real hard, to get way the hell outa Arizona, they wanted me real bad in that godforsaken place

“The why is a whole other yarn and I ain’t gonna bother you none with that hokum now

“Doggone no.

“This here is about a gal

“Ain’t it always?”

The story is about a wandering gunman who learns the hard way why you keep you mouth shut at the bar. In between shots of whiskey he hears of an impending hanging that has everyone in town excited. Why, you ask? Because it isn’t just any old criminal at the end of the rope, it is a woman. And just who is that woman…someone from the gunman’s past that he can’t get out of his mind.

“Colt” is thoroughly a Western, but there are still traces of Bruen’s noir sensibility lurking just beneath the surface. How many of noir’s fallen heroes (or ennobled villains, depending on how you look at them) started like this? “I’d made me some gold offa a claim that was already staked out and I was looking to spend it, met Molly in a saloon and she not only took off with my stash but my dumbass heart as well.” Clearly Bruen is having a grand ol’ time with lines like these, and we’re laughing along with him, but were this to be rewritten without humor, we’d be looking straight at the start of a classic pulp tragedy.

Bruen wrote “Colt” as a tribute to the late Robert B. Parker. As he explains, “Robert Parker was one of the reasons so many writers turned to mysteries… He made it so deceptively easy to read. But there will never be another of his talent, I miss him so.”

If this isn’t enough of a reason to pick up the August 2010 issue of EQMM, just take a look at that gorgeous vintage pulp painting by Norman Saunders called “Jump Ship” from 1950. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore…well, Glen Orbik does, and Robert McGinnis is still around. Let us be thankful for this.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Forgotten Books: "Homicidal Lady" by Day Keene (Graphic, 1954)

Day Keene delivers another solid, well-crafted mystery with Homicidal Lady, originally published by Graphic in 1954. While it doesn’t reach the heights of Home is the Sailor, or even To Kiss, or Kill, the novel still offers an entertaining story despite its predictability. The book is, after all, called Homicidal Lady, which points an accusatory finger even before the story begins. Still, it is a sign of Keene’s skill that he keeps us reading even when we think we know how it will end.

The story is about Tod Talbot, state’s attorney for Florida with a flawless record. His most recent case resulted in the death penalty for James Conley, a convicted bank robber. Talbot’s wife, Jane Painter, was Conley’s attorney. When she lost the case, she walked out on her husband. If that wasn’t bad enough, moments after Conley’s death, a young punk is found dead, apparently of suicide, with a note admitting that he was the robber, not Conley. In that moment, Conley’s life and career fall completely apart.

But that is only the beginning. Out of Talbot’s past comes Vickie Paul, a young woman he helped out years ago who has is hopelessly in love with him and is convinced that the punk’s suicide was faked in order to defame Talbot. In the course of their investigation, Talbot finds himself framed for the murder of Conley’s wife. On the run from the cops, Talbot must appeal to his wife, Jane, for help. Who to trust—Jane, who ran out on him, or Vickie, the mysterious woman whom he knows nothing about?

Homicidal Lady is a case of a novel in which the main situation is actually more sympathetic than main character. By that I mean that we don’t align ourselves with Talbot the way we do Swede in Home is the Sailor or Barney Mandell in To Kiss, or Kill. I felt for his plight, but I never learned enough about his character to feel for him one way or the other. The character of Vickie, likewise, is a little overly giving with her adoration. It works for the story (and is a very convenient plot device), but I know that Keene is capable of a little more dimensionality.

Fans of 1950s paperback originals will certainly enjoy this, and Keene’s depiction of Florida is as vivid as ever. Those unfamiliar with Keene’s work would do well to pick up Hard Case Crime’s reprint of Home is the Sailor.

As a side note, the cover art to the Unibook reprint that I have was later used as the cover to James Reasoner's excellent Texas Wind.

A few of my favorite lines from the book:

“Ambition does strange things to a man.”

“No friendship between two men was half as strong as one hair from a woman’s head.”

“The narrow road rimming the upper end of the bay was pitted with chuck holes and alive with frogs; big frogs, little frogs, silver objects that leaped in the beams of the headlights of the car, then crunched under the wheels.”

“But cats are all one color in the dark. You can even change a cat’s color, some folks day.”

More of Friday's Forgotten Books are listed here on Patti Abbott's blog.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Catching up with Beat to a Pulp

The folks over at Beat to a Pulp, editors David Cranmer and Elaine Ash, have been keeping real busy this summer. Since they came out swinging over a year ago, they've been hurling pulpy left hooks every week, and they're connecting damn near every time, too. Selectivity and consistency are two of the biggest merits of BTAP, and I have no doubt that Cranmer and Ash will keep up the good work for a long time coming.

Now, if some of you are like me, sometimes the TBR pile gets overwhelming and you fall behind in your reading. While I look forward to their Sunday punches every week, lately I've fallen behind. So, consider this posting a way to "catch up" with BTAP, as well as get a sneak peak at some of the punches they have in store for the future.

"Miles to Go" is a Western by Edward A. Grainger, Cranmer's pen-name for his Western fiction. Continuing with characters that first appeared in Grainger's "Cash Laramie and the Masked Devil" (from A Fistful of Legends), this new story follows the black marshal Gideon Miles as he hunts down an escaped criminal named Van Jones and his gang. Cranmer shows he's as perceptive at writing as he is at editing, giving us an original story that looks at an underexplored aspect of Western history (the legacy of African Americans) with a compelling and complex pair of main characters, and with plenty of that good ol' Western action. I'm looking forward to more adventures with Cash and Miles.

David King's "Collision" shows BTAP expanding its breadth and trying something new: publishing an epic sci-fi poem. Even classic pulpsters like Fredric Brown wrote and published poetry occasionally, but King takes narrative poetry to a whole new level, crafting an intricate and imaginative story about an invention that starts altering reality as we know it. Things we see start disappearing, and things we've never seen before start appearing. Publishing this one was well worth the risk.

BTAP tired something new again with Ryle Smith's "One Good Turn," this time venturing into cinematic territories. Smith's six minute movie is about a chance encounter between a jogger and a priest who meet on a park bench, one of whom might be a notorious killer who is terrorizing the city. Smartly crafted without the aid of dialogue (no easy feat), the film ends with a darkly wry twist.

Patti Abbott's "At the Café Sabarsky" is an eloquently dark and understated tale of a young woman who unexpectedly shares lunch with an older man at a museum and begins to reconsider the abusive relationship she is currently in. Patti is as precise with subtle details as she is with her last-minute punches in the final paragraphs, and this story is no exception. (On a side note, I've been to the Café Sabarsky, which is located in NYC's Neue Galerie. It's a lovely restaurant and the food is delicious. The story made me want to make a second visit sometime in the near future.)

Recently, BTAP featured a rip roaring pirate adventure by Evan Lewis called "The Mercy of Jean Lafitte." One of BTAP's most popular stories, it is about the pirate Jean Lafitte who discovers he was played for a patsy when he was told about a mysterious Spanish treasure ship. While he was out looking for the ship, someone stole his home base, and he wants to get it back before they get to his rum! Outnumbered, surrounded by cannibalistic natives, and with a crew that doesn't know how to swim, Lafitte must figure out how to get his revenge. This is one hell of a good read: inventive, funny, and suspenseful.

And just last week they offered the war story "The Path to Brighton" by David Pilling. Set in the aftermath of World War I in England, a soldier named Sam Burgess receives a mysterious letter from his former captain asking to meeting near the Brighton Pier. Along the way, he reminisces about their time spent together in a German prison camp, and the questions that were never answered one fateful day. It's another winning story that shows the site unafraid to take steps into new territory.

If that weren't enough, BTAP has a busy lineup for the future. Next week is a fantasy/horror story by Dave Zeltserman (author of Pariah and the upcoming book The Caretaker of Lorne Field) called "King." Also in the upcoming lineup is a story by Anthony Neil Smith (author of Psychosomatic and Hogdoggin').

And this fall will also see their first print release, Beat to a Pulp: Round One. I'm thrilled to say that I am a part of this anthology with my essay "The History of Pulp." The rest of the lineup has me blushing -- it is an honor to share the pages with some of my favorite writers and some good friends of mine.

Foreword -- Bill Crider
Maker’s and Coke -- Jake Hinkson
A Free Man -- Charles Ardai
Fangataufa -- Sophie Littlefield
You Don’t Get Three Mistakes -- Scott D. Parker
Insatiable -- Hilary Davidson
Boots on the Ground -- Matthew Quinn Martin
Studio Dick -- Garnett Elliott
Killing Kate -- Ed Gorman
The Strange Death of Ambrose Bierce -- Paul S. Powers
Heliotrope -- James Reasoner
The Wind Scorpion -- Edward A. Grainger
Hard Bite -- Anonymous-9
Crap is King, a “Miles Jacoby” story -- Robert J. Randisi
The All-Weather Phantom -- Mike Sheeter
Pripet Marsh -- Stephen D. Rogers
Ghostscapes -- Patricia Abbott
Off Rock -- Kieran Shea
At Long Last -- Nolan Knight
A Native Problem -- Chris F. Holm
Spend It Now, Pay Later -- Nik Morton
Spot Marks the X -- I. J. Parnham
Hoosier Daddy -- Jedidiah Ayres
The Ghost Ship -- Evan Lewis
Anarchy Among Friends: A Love Story -- Andy Henion
Cannulation -- Glenn Gray
The Unreal Jesse James -- Chap O’Keefe
Acting Out -- Frank Bill

I'd say, "That's all folks," but I have the suspicion that Elaine and David have a few more tricks up their sleeves. Check back to Beat to a Pulp often for more updates.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"The Killer Inside Me" Take Two: Jake Hinkson and Nerd of Noir

Two great reviews of Michael Winterbottom's recent adaptation of Jim Thompson's "The Killer Inside Me" have appeared on the internet. Though they take different stances on the film (one is more negative while the other is more positive), both offer perceptive takes on what has already proven to be one of the most talked about and argued movies of the year. Something tells me this is only the beginning of the conversation regarding this movie. Love it or hate it, it provokes strong opinions from viewers.

First up is The Night Editor Jake Hinkson's eloquent analysis. Hinkson has a real feeling for Thompson's novel, and he points out that while the plot is basically the same, it is the tonal differences that are so crucial and so misinterpreted by Winterbottom.
"In a weird way, this is actually something of a cop out. Thomspon's Ford is goofier, livelier, and finally colder than Winterbottom's interpretation. He has the essential component of every psychopath: a total lack of empathy. People aren't people to him. Yet in this film, Lou has real feelings for Joyce... Instead of clarifying Lou, the film tries to apologize for him. He loves her but he's sick."
Over at Spinetingler, the always insightful Nerd of Noir is more positive (but still critical) of the adaptation.
"But though some major charms of the book are missing in the adaptation, it’d be a tall order for a director as skilled as Michael Winterbottom (the Steven Soderbergh of the U.K.) to fuck up a main character and a plot this juicy – especially considering the cast he’s assembled."
The Nerd is especially impressed with Casey Affleck's performance as Lou Ford.
"Whether such a pulpy thriller can support the infamous violent scenes is up to the individual (I think the film pulls them off), but there is no getting around the fucking brilliance of Casey Affleck’s fantastic turn as Lou."
What both Jake Hinkson and the Nerd of Noir seem to agree on is that the movie misses the dark humor of Thompson's book, but that Winterbottom has assembled an outstanding dream cast headed by Casey Affleck. I reviewed the movie a couple weeks ago as well, and I am inclined to agree with both Hinkson and the Nerd on these two points.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"Jury of One" by Talmage Powell (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, October 1959)

You can always count on Talmage Powell for an absorbing story. He knew the ins and outs of the short story form, and reliably delivered fast, strong hooks and crafty, well-written twists. “Jury of One,” published in the October 1959 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, is no exception.

Max Taylor, a gunman for The Syndicate, tells the story. He’s sitting in the courtroom, on trial for a freelance job he botched, while the lawyers question potential jurors. And one would-be juror, in particular, has Max worried: a little old lady named Mrs. Clevenger.

“There was a dryness in my throat, a fluttering in my stomach–I was on trial for my life. Murder was a capital crime in this state, and they didn’t use anything merciful and clean like a gas chamber. They made you take that last long walk and sit down in a chair wired for death.”

Talmage Powell avoids the predictable, unnecessary exposition that can often drag down courtroom stories. Instead, he takes an original slant on the genre and throws in a satisfying twist at the end. At five pages, it is a short and excellent story. I’d love to see a collection of Powell’s shorter work, he is certainly deserving of it.

Thanks to Galactic Central for the cover scan.
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