Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Clampdown





By David Nemeth

I'd like to say I have some witty hot takes about the pandemic and subsequent quarantine – actually, I probably do have a couple, but I won't be sharing them here. The internet overflows with posts like that.

I could write about this is not the time introverts have been waiting for. It's not. Introverts do not want to be trapped in a dwelling with other people.

Do something or do nothing.

Have I found some magical process that helps me discipline my time better? No. Binging and surfing still have a strong pull.

There's the dread that fills the empty spaces.

Guinness on draught, dinner with friends, and watching soccer in the stands are some of the things I miss.

I think of my wife's Aunt who passed away several weeks ago, and I wish I could drink some bourbon with a friend who's grandmother recently died.

I wait.

I read.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A KISS , A HELLO AND A FEARFUL NEW WORLD

Soooooooo
 Long time no speak huh?  How you guys doing? The last time we were together I was preparing for my upcoming book tour in support of ny book Blacktop Wasteland, and choosing what kind of luggage I was going to buy. 

As my grandmother would say , life is filled with swift transitions. The world has ground to a halt and in that halting is forever changed. One might ask in this new world what is the use of books, of stories, of movies about the worst of human behavior and how that can cause both despair but also be the catalyst for a kind of rough revelation. 
    
    I think now more than ever stories are necessary. They are vital. Not only as a distraction but as road map on our way back to normality. Books can be a kind of time machine. They can take us back to the before times or they can take us foreword through the darkness and into the bright new day of the aftermath. 
   
   'For my part I'm still writing , still reading and still watching all kinds of books and movies. I've discovered some new favorites like Autumn Christian and Bracken Macleod , not crime writers per se but great authors nonetheless , I've become reacquainted with old friends  like Ross Macdonald , Donald Goines and Barbara Neely. I've struggled through my technophobic tendencies and participated Zoom based Noir at the Bar events where I've heard some of the best crime writers in the world perform their work with an extra edge, an extra bit of urgency because they understand just like I do and I suspect you do too ...
We need stories. Like we need oxygen. 

     And with that I'd like to take a few minutes to tell you about a movie that you may or may not remember but I love unabashedly even though I know its got it's problems. But it also has Nic Cage in prime Nic Cage mode . A weird over the top bag of tics and twitches that only uses plastic spoons. 









    I'm talking about 1995's KISS OF DEATH. 

   In 1995 David Caruso thought he was pretty hot shit. I mean why wouldn't he? He had just starred in the hottest show on TV in at least a decade. He was the breakout start and so of course he left after the first year. A lot of pop culture critics like to use Shelly Long as short hand for acting hubris. Her name became synonymous with a performer who overestimated their appeal. 
David Caruso snatched that crown from her like a thief in the night. 
   In hindsight Caruso made a serious miscalculation. He not only left a highly respected show he talked piles and piles of that  hot fecal matter about the show and television in general. He didn't come off as an actor trying to find a new medium to express himself. He came off like an ungrateful jerk. 
   Its unfortunate that he worked so tirelessly to ruin his own career because he starred in two very interesting movies in 1995. Jade, a sad and obvious rip off of Basic Instinct( I know that sounds harsh but trust me it is accurate) and a moody dark but also hyper kinetic crime drama called Kiss of Death. 
       The plot of 1995 Kiss of Death is only tangetially similar to the orginal Kiss of Death with a giggling Richard Widmark playing sociopath Tommy Udo. In Caruso's movie he plays Jimmy Kilmartin a former car thief trying to go straight. Michael Rappaport plays his cousin Ronnie a character so sleazy and grimey he leaves skid marks on your tv screen. Ronnie is in deep with Big Junior Brown and his son Little Junior Brown played by Nicholas Cage. 
    Big Junior is a standard variety crime boss. But Little Junior , oh my, Little Junior is Nic Cage at his most weird unhinged but oddly charasmatic. Its like Sailor from Wild At Heart had a love child with Castor Troy that was raised by the couple from Raising Arizona. Little Junior is a walking talking asthamatic definition of toxic masculinty clad in all white like a fallen muscle bound angel. 
     Jimmy helps Ronnie move some stolen cars for Little Junior and of course they get pulled over by the cops. During the exchange one of Little Junior's henchmen tries to shoot Samule L. Jackson's Det. Hart. Jimmy puts his hand in front of the gun slowing the bullet. Hart is shot just below his eye. For the rest of the movie he has to continually dab at it with a white handkerchief  like some cursed monk in a gothic romance. These three characters along with a coke addled gangster played by Ving Rhames and an overzealous federal prosecuter played by Stanley Tucci circle the drain of bad decisions and machismo like toy boats in a toilet bowl.  
    No one can stand toe to toe with Nic Cage's performacne but Caruso gives Jimmy a quiet intensity and an everyman feel. It helps that Caruso is a native New Yorker with just enough big city toughness to play a gangster but also some suburban tenderness to soften his sharp edges. 
    Kiss of Death currently holds a 68 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Its not a classic but I'm here to tell you it's not nearly as bad as you think it was. Yes Caruso was nominated for a Razzie for his role but I think that was more about behind the scenes politics than his actual skill. If Kiss of Death came out today it would be a smoldering hit on Netflix. As it stands it's a claustrophobic crime thriller that exists in that rareified space between bad timing and bad assumptions. 
 This is the hill upon which I stand.....
You guys seek it out and if you don't like I'll.......probably disagree with you. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

So Long, Mr. Cobb





He died yesterday, but I figured it's not too late to mark here my own farewell to the great jazz drummer, Jimmy Cobb.  He was 91, died in Manhattan, and was the last surviving member (for the last 30 years!) of what's often called Miles Davis' First Great Sextet (or Quintet).

What does this have to do with writing?  Nothing much.  Except that Kind of Blue (1959) and Sketches of Spain (1960) and "Naima" from John Coltrane's Giant Steps (1959) -- to name but a few and the most famous of the things Cobbs played on -- are albums and pieces I never tire of listening to and that I find perfect as accompaniments to late-night dreamy thinking, the kind of thinking often conducive to useful ideas.  I never write with music on, but playing music before or after writing, to get in a mood or to wind down from writing or just to provoke the imagination in its wanderings, is something I do frequently, and many pieces Cobb played on during his long career I find ideal for pre-writing or post-writing music.  


Anyway, thanks for all the great stuff, Jimmy.











Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day





ALWAYS REMEMBER





Disabled American Veterans
Beginning at 4 p.m. EST, DAV’s National Adjutant Marc Burgess will deliver a “Salute to Fallen Heroes” address on Facebook Live. DAV will then premiere their “Honor Wall” compilation video, featuring tributes from DAV ambassadors, members and supporters who will share words of remembrance for their loved ones who have passed.

National Museum of the Pacific
Livestream begins at 10 a.m. CST and includes remarks from Candy Martin, president of Gold Star Mothers of Texas/Oklahoma and the playing of “taps.”

National Veterans Memorial and Museum
Remembrance ceremony livestream begins at 10 a.m. EST. Remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

National D-Day Memorial
In partnership with Virginia-based videographer Ryan Anderson, the memorial will release two scripted virtual programs -- one on Memorial Day and one on June 6, the anniversary of D-Day.

The National World War I Museum and Memorial
Online livestreams begin at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. CST. To Honor and remember those who sacrificed. 

Parade of Heroes
Parade of Heroes
HISTORY, the Wounded Warrior Project, The Greatest Generations Foundation, Heroes of the Second World War, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A., and Combined Arms presents "Parade of Heroes".
Monday, May 25th at 11:00 a.m.





Friday, May 22, 2020

Today is MAY day for Beau


Today, Beau Johnson takes a look at MAY, from DSD's own Marietta Miles.

“May will haunt you long after you close the cover. Its every page is fraught with peril. Its every word oozes with tragedy You know it’s coming, but you won’t dare look away, lest you miss one of the freshest, most scintillating voices in Southern crime fiction.” —Eryk Pruitt, author of Dirtbags and What We Reckon

“May is gripping and yet poignant. May Cosby and the people around her struggle against the present and the past, trying to piece together a life that’s worth living. Set along the fragile Folly Island of North Carolina as a frightening storm approaches, May looks back upon her choices and does her best to come to terms with them. Extremely atmospheric and at times heart-wrenching, May is a story of choosing to leave the wreckage of the past and search for hope in the future.” —Jen Conley, author of Cannibals

“Every page has a lovely line, something to savor, even as the story uneasily slips under your skin. There’s beauty in the violence in this novella about loneliness and the lengths people go to free themselves from its grasp. You read May and imagine Marietta Miles sitting at the edge of the abyss, peering into it and scribbling into her notebook.” —E.A. Aymar, author of You’re As Good As Dead

“Marietta Miles is a unique voice in modern noir, a writer of such dark scenes that only the power of her words can provide the light that releases the reader into a world where hope remains. Showcasing a Southern sensibility that reminds at times of Flannery O’Connor, Miles continually reveals further breadth (and depths) to her characters. A book of dark charms, May adds to the staggeringly beautiful intoxication delivered by last year’s Route 12.” —Rob Pierce, author of Uncle Dust and With The Right Enemies


Get yours here

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Dead Girl Blues: Living With the Monster.


Back when I was an aspiring writer, one thing would always puzzle me, and that thing was the oft-repeated phrase “Find your own voice.”

“Understand character,” I got, as I did “Know the difference between story and plot,” but the own voice thing – especially because it was often referenced adjacent to finding your character’s voice – confused the hell out of me.

Til I discovered Lawrence Block. The first thing I read was a Bernie Rhodenbarr novel ( “the burglar in the closet,” I think) then I dipped into – and was quickly consumed by – The Matt Scudder novels. I devoured the Keller books, and then purchased his collected shorts “Enough rope,” and – in short order – everything I could lay my hands on. And as I read – and fell in love with – Block’s work, the phrase began to make sense.

Here was a body of work that had, as protagonists, a chatty sweet bookseller cum cat burglar, a brooding, depressive alcoholic ex-cop, a philatelist funding his hobby (habit) by killing people for money.

But what they have in common – what Block is a master of – is the authorial voice. The characters are varied, but the storytelling is conversational. When Block’s recounting a tale it’s like the days when your dad read you a story at bedtime, it’s (aptly for this book) the stranger in the bar who’s so entertaining you stand him several Jamesons and have the best night of your life. You’re in the story until a little aside pops up – may be irrelevant, may be entirely relevant - and you go with it because it’s hugely enjoyable.

Because his voice tells you stories you’re gripped by, tells them in such a way that even when they’re about the darkest things possible (Scudder accidentally killed a child while drunk, precipitating his exit from the NYPD, the end of his marriage and his slide down to a point where – in the earlier books – we feel he’s never far from putting the business end of his revolver in his mouth and pulling the trigger) you want to know what happens next. No matter how bad it gets.

And so we come to Dead Girl Blues, Lawrence Block’s  latest standalone novel. Block’s voice is key here, because this is a book about a man who commits an atrocity, and of what happens to him in the decades that follow.

It’s a horrible book, insofar as it (in this reader at least) inspired horror.

And it’s an absolute triumph.

We meet a man. He tells us, right up front, what he’s done, and we wait. To find out what happens next. Until we realise that we’re in the hands of a Scheherazade who knows no more than we do. This is not a Genius serial killer, or a deranged psychopath. Nor is it any of the dozen or so immediately recognisable tropes that are often used in these types of tales.

Here, instead, is an average man. Who walked into a bar one night. And did something terrible. There’s no pretence that what he did was an anomaly – we learn that the thought that triggered the act remains, that the consideration of the act itself is, in a way, a pleasurable act, and one which both keeps our protagonist away from repeating the act even as it edges him closer to an encore.

His self-awareness – the fact that this man knows what he’s done, knows he wants to do it again, and knows that only a series of quirks of fate have prevented him becoming the beast he fears he is – makes him even more horrifying than all the cartoon killers on the shelves.

Because this one feels real. He diverts on to topics as wide-ranging as favourite TV shows, or the challenges of having grown-up kids about to go off to college. He’s the man who could live next door; nice but unremarkable. He’s the husband you met later in life; the step-father you always wanted. And his normality is what makes him truly horrifying.

Block’s ability to tell us terrible stuff that rings true, to mix it with the mundane and instantly recognisable, and to retain our interest in - dammit, at times even our sympathy for - the character telling the story elevates this book into something that’s by turns chilling, warming, disturbingly erotic. It’s touching in its gentle descriptions of a marriage that becomes a love story, and the story’s ethics – Blocks empathy, which I have always felt is a hallmark of his work – makes it an odd sort of <and this is not a spoiler> redemption story.

It’s a book about the monster in all of us, and what happens when that monster gets loose. And it’s a book, I think, about learning to live with the monster and the consequences of our actions.

One of the best books he’s ever written.

Dead Girl Blues is our June 24th and you can pre-order it here <or buy it if you’re reading this after June 24th. In which case one has to ask: where the hell have you been? We missed you.>


***





Derek Farrell is the author of ‘Death of a Diva’ ‘Death of a Nobody,’ ‘Death of a Devil’ ‘Death of an Angel,’ and the novella "Death of a Sinner," all published by Fahrenheit Press.

The books have been described as “Like The Thin Man meets Will & Grace.” “Like M.C. Beaton on MDMA,” and – by no less an expert than Eric Idle – as “Quite Fun.”

Derek’s jobs have included: Burger dresser, Bank teller, David Bowie’s paperboy, and Investment Banker. He has lived and worked in New York, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Prague, Dublin, Johannesburg and London.

Farrell is married to the most English man on the planet and lives in West Sussex. They have no goats chickens children or pets, but they do have every Kylie Minogue record ever made.