Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mr. Monk: Adieu

By Scott D. Parker

And so it ends.

Or does it?

Last night, the series finale of the USA program, “Monk,” aired. Eight years after the world was introduced to one of the quirkiest detectives ever created, the creators and stars decided to call it quits. They did it in perhaps the best way possible.

I can’t say for sure why I first decided to watch Monk. Might’ve been the promos because I didn’t know who Tony Shaloub was back in 2002. Could’ve been because it was summer when the show premiered and their wasn’t much on that night. Whatever the reason, one episode was all I needed to latch onto this brilliant detective who just absolutely, positively had to touch every lamppost along his walk or straighten every crooked item he encounters.

For those of you who never watched Monk, it’s a traditional police procedural. There is a crime--usually not too violent--and the San Francisco police bring in Monk, a former SFPD detective who was relieved of duty following his emotional implosion following the death of his wife, Trudy. Monk’s long-term goal is to find the man who murdered Trudy. It’s a thread that runs throughout the entire run of the show and he solves the case in last night’s episode.

As straightforward as the police/mystery part of the show is, it’s not usually enough to keep watching. It’s the characters that made me return week after week, season after season. Adrian Monk himself is a challenge to watch. His quirks and phobias can be, frankly, annoying and get in the way of the show. I’ll admit that my watching lapsed for a season or so because I started rolling my eyes at certain parts. I mean, come on: how many times do we have to see Monk getting weird about the same stuff?

Tony Shaloub’s performances, however, is what gave this show its heart. Originally conceived as an Inspector Clouseau-type person, Shaloub gave Monk’s tics context. There were times when you could tell Monk didn’t want to have to straighten a frame or put all the pencils in a row but he *had* to. A lesser actor wouldn’t played the phobias for fun all the way and all the time. Think Leslie Neilsen. Shaloub gave Monk torment. That torment was never so heartfelt than in "Mr. Monk and the Kid" when Monk took a case involving a young boy. Adrian saw himself in the lad and agreed to look after the boy until his foster parents took custody. Late in the episode, Adrian realizes how much he cares for the boy and know he can’t keep him. Shaloub put so much emotion into Monk’s face that there wasn’t a dry eye in our house that night.

All in all, it was the little moment in the series that set it apart from other cop shows. Both of Monk’s assistants--Sherona the hot head and Natalie the caregiver--catered to Monk eccentricities and allowed his to live a life that was, for him, normal. Captain Stottlemeyer and Lieutenant Disher, the two lead SFPD detectives, knew that Monk was the best detective in the business and he made their jobs easier. One favorite moment with Stottlemeyer was when the crime scene was in a warehouse and there was bubble wrap. A large sheet of bubble wrap. He sees it, knows that Monk will *have* to pop all the bubbles, and calls over a couple of officers in uniform. With determination, he tells them to start popping. They do and the scene fades out. Brilliant.

What was also brilliant was how the show ended last night. Some famous shows, like M*A*S*H or Friends, end by changing the events within the TV show. The Korean War ends, thus, the members of the 4077th go home. End of series. Others, like Everybody Loves Raymond and The Cosby Show, take a different approach. The writers let you know that the characters are still alive, still doing the same old things you’ve seen them do countless times, it’s just that we’re not going to show you any more. (Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t seen the show and want to.) That’s how Monk ended. He solved Trudy’s murder and made some adjustments to his life. He’s still got quirks but he’s moving on. He’s loosening up. He’s sleeping in the middle of the bed...finally. I’m looking forward to seeing how Lee Goldberg, the author of the Monk novels, incorporates these changes into his future books.

I’m re-reading the four Sherlock Holmes novels in advance of the new movie. (The review of A Study in Scarlet is up at my blog now.) Along the way, I’m being reintroduced to the strange, quirky, eccentric things Holmes does. To be honest, Monk makes his strangenesses downright normal compared to the stuff Holmes does. Monk, really, is just a direct descendant of Holmes and, before him, Poe’s Dupin. Someday down the road, we might get introduced to another detective who will be the “next” Monk. That’s the way the marketing executives will try to sell us the product. Suffice it to say, there is only one Adrian Monk. And I, for one, am sad to see him leave.

Are there any Monk fans out there? What are some of your favorite episodes and moments from the show?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Femmes Fatales

By Russel D McLean

It was a conversation with a friend that stared me thinking about women crime writers. A simple question; which of the current crop of female crime writers would I recommend? Who do I rate?

They should have known better than to ask.

It was my then-to-be-agent who gave me a copy of Vicki Hendricks’s Cruel Poetry; a novel that knocked me off my feet. Truly, I was smitten – and not just because Hendricks one of the few authors in the world who can write about sex in a way that doesn’t make me want to snort milk out of my nose. She hooked me with her voice, her characters, her attitude. This was a woman I could get; a woman writing about the world in a way that I could understand. She was cynical, dangerous, unpredictable and still did not disguise the fact that she was writing from a woman’s point of view.

I wanted more.

And soon enough I found it.

In Cathi Unsworth, who made my head explode with her thriller/faux punk biog The Singer; a sheer, neck-breaking scream of a novel that could have got me fired from the day job as I turned up late to shifts because I just had to know: what happened next? This book was truly something else, and it is to my eternal regret that this year when I found myself near Unsworth at the bar during the Harrogate Crime Festival this year I didn’t turn and say hello, tell her how that book just plain knocked me out.

I told my friend about how, when I saw the stunning painted cover to the unnaturally talented Christa Faust’s Money Shot, I was sold straight off. And Christa’s novel truly delivered on the promise of that cover – deadly, provocative and beautiful noir set in a world that is often used to denote sin in most crime novels. What I loved was that this author used her unique setting of blue movies in such a way that she didn’t demonise her lead character’s choice of profession so much as normalise it, creating a strange kind of equality for a character one would normally expect to feel “exploited” in a more traditional kind of noir tale.

One of the books that truly captivated me of late – and this book, I didn’t dare put it down unless I truly had no choice – was Megan Abbott’s stunning Bury Me Deep, which continues the author’s fascination with the same 1930’s noir-land that James Ellroy once inhabited, where the gumshoes and femme fatales walked the dark alleys. But she tackles this mis-en-scene but from a decidedly female perspective. Abbott is a stunning writer, one whose voice grips and holds the reader, whose sheer style and energy crackles off the page. And if you want female noir, you have to pick up one of the best anthologies of the last few years, A Hell of A Woman, edited by Abbott herself.

And there were so many others out there I had to tell my friend about. As though, once I started to answer what should have been a simple query, I just couldn’t stop.

I told them about Zoe Sharp’s thrillers that beat most male writers hands down for sheer adrenaline rush. And Canadian Sandra Ruttan’s compassionate take on the police thriller that truly turns the tables on the reader to the point where you reach the last page of her second book and wonder, “did she just do that?”

And how could I not mention Laura Lippman, whose book, The Power of Three, did the most unexpected thing and made this cynical bastard shed a couple of tears by the book’s end. How the hell did that happen?

Closer to home, there is Denise Mina, who got me with her run on the Hellblazer comics, a run that convinced me I really had to pick up her actual books – and, oh yes, let me tell you I wasn’t disappointed (although there was a distinct lack of chain smoking mystics schlepping round the streets of Glasgow in her actual crime novels, but her voice and narrative were so strong that in the end it simply didn’t matter).

A simple question, then. But anyone who has a bookseller for a friend should know better than to ask them who they rate, what they love, the writers they dig. You can narrow it down all you like. You can say, “just the women” or “just the men” or “just the noir writers”, but if they’re anything like me, there’s going to be a whole list of authors they can think of. And along with the names, there’s going to be a host of reasons why they you’ll dig those writers.

So, to continue to help my friend, I turn to you, fellow DSDers (both the contributors and the commentors) to ask which female crime writers you’d recommend they read.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Faces of the Divas

What can I say about Brad Parks? I mean, he used to work for the New Jersey newspaper THE STAR LEDGER. And since the LEDGER automatically hates anything to do with Rutgers and Rutgers sports, I should hate Brad.

But I can't really.

In fact, I kind of feel bad for him. I mean look at his author photo. With that sports jacket and turtle neck, he looks like a cross between a Community College professor and a confused senior citizen. I have it on good authority that the photo was taken 3 seconds before he hiked those khakis up to his nipples.

So, it is out of pure pity that I allowed him to push his debut novel Faces of the Gone (Out Tues, Dec 8th) and spend the next 1000 plus words going on about Paris Hilton. Enjoy!

By Brad Parks
Guest Blogger

Two months ago, in this virtual space, Dave White changed book blogging history when he laid bare the simple fact that 90 percent of all blog posts center around eleven oft-retread subjects, at least nine of which are not even that interesting.

In the rigorous discussion that followed Dave’s insightful post – and I think we all can agree any post that generates 24 comments in this highly fragmented blog universe qualifies as “rigorous” – something regrettable happened.

A writer named Bill Crider slandered Paris Hilton. Now, I don’t know Bill Crider. And it’s probably best we never meet. Because we would need to have words. And they might become ungentlemanly.

Thankfully, Mr. Crider’s insult did not go completely unanswered, as author Dave Zeltserman gallantly stepped in and defended Paris far better than the Maginot Line ever did, pointing out – rightly, I might add – “There’s no such thing as too much Paris Hilton.”

I know what you’re thinking: Oh great, another smug wiseass who thinks he’s clever by pretending not to malign Paris Hilton while he really is maligning Paris Hilton.

But I’m quite serious: I really do admire Paris Hilton. And, lest you accuse me of lechery, it has nothing to do with my preference for slender blondes or with any of her, ahem, straight-to-video acting performances.

Did you know Paris’s trust fund was only $10 million? It’s true. (Well, okay, let’s define “true” as “told me by a source I had when I was a reporter, a person who is well-connected to the Hilton family and probably had no reason to lie to me… though I never made even the slightest attempt to verify if what he told me and don’t intend to now.”).

Now, weep not for Paris. Clearly, $10 million – or whatever it was – is more than most of us will ever see. It’s even almost as much as Dave White’s last royalty statement. But it’s also not jet-around-the-world, spent-$400,000-a-month-on-parties-for-your-Chihuahua kind of money.

No, Paris has earned that kind of money on her own. Today, Paris is worth $418 million dollars. I’m not kidding. (If we define “not kidding” as “I’ve pulled this number straight out of my nether-regions… I actually have no idea what she’s worth, other than that it’s more than $10 million”).

The point is, for whatever you might think of her, she has parlayed a famous last name and a small fortune into an even more famous name and a large fortune with savvy and hard work. She’s been a model, a recording artist, and an actress and, arguably, has been successful in all three areas, inasmuch as she has been well-compensated for doing so. She has put her name on purses, perfume, shoes, clothes, hair extensions, and nightclubs, to name a few. She has been a celebrity pitch person for everything from Italian sparkling wine to hamburgers (you were trying to forget that Carl’s Jr. commercial, I know).

She has even been, yes, a bestselling author. Her 2004 memoir “Confessions of an heiress” debuted at No. 7 on the New York Times Bestseller List. And I suspect there are more than a few of us reading (and writing) this blog who would gladly trade their knucklebones for that.

So what can we learn from Paris Hilton? As Dave White would say, “Prepare for awesomeness.” Because I have done rigorous research – and I think we can all agree that 10 minutes reading the free pages of her memoir posted on Google Books qualifies as “rigorous” – and come up with…


1. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: People need to believe your life is better than theirs.”

Out of the mouth of a babe comes great wisdom. Is there anything worse than hearing some mid-list author gripe about how their publisher isn’t doing enough to “push” their latest book? Let’s face it: For however far down on the list we are, there are still about a million people out there who would gladly swap places with us. We should act accordingly.

2. “Never have only one cell phone when you can have many. Lose one all the time. That way, if you haven’t called someone back, you can blame it on the lost phone.”

Now, I don’t care what line of work you’re in. That’s just good advice.

3. “Be born into the right family. Choose your chromosomes wisely.”

Kicking myself I didn’t think of this sooner. Do you think Lee Child’s parents feel like adopting? Maybe Harlan Coben wants another kid? Or, heck, I could take matters into my own hands and just file the necessary papers for a name change. Because for however many books “Brad Parks” sells, I’m guessing “Brad Higgins Clark” would sell more.

4. “Have absolutely flawless skin, but fret over it.”

I believe this qualifies as Paris’s advice on book covers. See? Told you this chick is savvy.

5. “The way I keep people wondering about me is to smile all the time and say as little as possible. Smile beautifully, smile big, smile confidently, and everyone thinks you’ve got all kinds of secret things going on.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if more authors did that? Instead, here we are, forced to peddle our flesh on blogs like painted whores in a desperate play for some scrap of your attention, all because our damn publishers won’t push our … uh, never mind. Moving on.

6. “Always tell everyone what they want to hear.”

Good advice for dealing with your publisher.

7. “Accept free stuff. If people want to give it to me, why shouldn’t I take it?”

Good advice for dealing with your agent.

8. “Dress cute wherever you go, life is too short to blend in.”

That means you Dave White. The outfit you wore to the BooksNJ Festival (here) was, like, a total gagfest. A black T-shirt underneath a blue polo? It’s hard to give Jersey Guys a bad name in the fashion world – they may not have invented parachute pants, after all, but they are certainly among their last adherents – yet I believe you have managed to further cheapen their sartorial reputations.

9. “Dance with no self-consciousness. You only live once.”

Substitute “type” for “dance” and you have some of the best writing advice ever given.

10. “An heiress should never been too serious. Being too serious is very dull, and is a sign you have no imagination or personality. No one really wants to hang out with anyone too serious. An heiress is so confident – and why should she be? – that she should always be able to make fun of herself.”

I find this mostly applies to lame guest blog posts.

For more Brad, visit his website, follow him on Twitter or became a fan of Brad Parks Books on Facebook.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Complicated Reading

Publishers Weekly has reviewed my upcoming novel, Let It Ride (which is known as Swap in Canada where it is already available).

Let It Ride John McFetridge. Minotaur, $24.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-312-59948-5

Too many characters and points of view throw off the rhythm of this sprawling homage to caper-master Elmore Leonard from Canadian author McFetridge (Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere). Venard “Get” McGetty, a vet who served in Afghanistan, crosses the border from Detroit to Toronto looking to exchange guns for coke. As Get takes in the scope of the action of the Saints of Hell gang, he meets Sunitha Suraiya, a whore with big plans. Big Pete Zichello, a rival holdout targeted for elimination, tries to fight back, while Richard Tremblay, the head of the Saints of Hell who brought all the other gangs into line, tries to buy time for his last move. Meanwhile, Get and Sunitha hatch a daring plan to steal a jackpot of gold. Amid the busy plot, McFetridge does a good job depicting a crime-ridden Toronto (aka the Big Smoke) that resembles the wide-open Chicago of Prohibition days with corrupt cops, gang warfare, and flourishing prostitution. (Feb.)

That's a pretty good summation of the events.

And, of course, it has me a little worried because the book I'm working on now probably has just as many characters and points of view. Not that I can do anything about it, it's the way I write and pretty much the only way I can write (I know this from years and years of failure trying to write other ways).

Besides, I find the, "too many characters," complaint is something I could see more for a movie. I like books that dig into a lot of different characters. It's one of the things that a book can do much better than a movie (which isn't to say I've done it well in Swap/Let It Ride, just that I'll keep trying to get better).

And I do prefer books that aren't trying to be movies.

Obvisouly there are some clear differences between watching a movie and reading a book and I wonder if it affects the content.

Movies we (usually) watch in one sitting and they have a self-contained story. If there are too many characters, too many sub-plots or points of view it can be very confusing and it's not easy to flip back and see something again. Especially if we're in the theatre. Turns out people yell, "Sit down, old man," when you try to get the projectionist to rewind.

Of course, watching movies at home makes this a little easier, unless your wife keeps saying, "Would just pay attention, that's the guy who sold him the gun, sheesh."

TV shows have changed in my lifetime from completely stand-alone episodes that often contradicted earlier episodes to season long arcs. Sometimes I wait until the DVD box set comes out and watch a whole season over a week so I have at least a small chance of remembering if Bubbles is out of rehab.

But books, books have always been a solitary experience. I can flip back as much as I want to see who that guy is. Sometimes I end up rereading earlier passages and seeing them a whole new way. Okay, once a guy on the subway let out a frustrated sigh when I turned the page backwards instead of forward but he was getting tired of me reading so slowly anyway.

TV used to have an inferiority complex (this is something we're experts on here in Canada) and tried to compete with the movies. I guess sometimes it still does, but cable TV has really started to figure out what it can do better than the movies - deeper, longer, character-driven stories. The Wire could never have been a movie. Mad Men, Deadwood, The Sporanos - none of them could have been very good movies.

And books are still books. As long as it's still possible to fill books with lots of characters and lots of points of view, that's what I'm going to do. I've been reading George V. Higgins lately, books that were published in the early 70's and they have lots of charcters - I'm flipping back fairly often to see what these guys did earlier but I don't mind. Sometimes I'm surprised that since the 70's crime novels haven't gone even further in this direction.

Oh, and no review of Swap/Let It Ride has ever mentioned the murder of the husband and wife on their way home from a "lifestyle" (wife-swapping) event. Now, if that show Swingtown had been cable, it might still be going...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Flashback; Drama City

By Jay Stringer

Okay, this is like the mid season clip show. I do apologise but it's been a pretty intense week with a few family issues. I hope the flash piece yesterday makes up for today's quickie! There are a few interesting things in the coming weeks, the Scott Phillips interview will soon be ready to roll and i think i may have a thing or to to say about that McFet fella's work. I'll be back fighting fit next week. Until then, here's a flashback to one of my older blogs, and my first experience of George Pelecanos.

Why have I not read George Pelecanos until now?

The only real answer can be idiocy. I’ve had many people tell me to give him a try over the years.In all honesty, I think I wrote him off for no real reason. I worked as the crime buyer in a bookshop where reps were forever trying to convince me that the book they had in their hands was the next great opus. I was first told to read him at the same time as I was told to read a few other crime writers that the publishers were starting to push. Unfair to name names, but I didn’t enjoy the ones that I read, and so Pelecanos probably got written off as being part of that list. I’m not saying that was the right attitude, and I hope I would not get that treatment when my work sees print, but those kind of judgements do get made.

Anyway, long story short;
I love THE WIRE, he seemed like one of the shows best writers, so I decided to go back and give him a go.


FUCKING HELL. Now, it’s clear there is a relation between this book and season three of THE WIRE. They exist almost as companion pieces, as the research from one must have informed the other. The themes being explored are the same, and you can almost see the characters as the same people.

Lorenzo Brown is a convict, fresh out of prison. The only life he’s ever known in the gangs, the drug trade, and the code of violence that comes with it. He’s got a second chance and he’s doing his best to hold on to it with both hands. It’s never easy though; his old life gave flash cars, money, status and drugs. His new life gives him few possessions, a small apartment, an adopted dog and the chance of a romance with a single mother.

The other main character is Rachel Lopez; Brown’s parole officer who has her own bag full of issues. If Lorenzo is on his second chance, Rachel is sleepwalking through her first. Visiting convicts by day, and knowing that some of them are not going to make it in the ‘straight’ world, and drinking herself into other peoples oblivions by night.

There are a lot of finely drawn supporting characters, on both sides of the law. With very few words, Pelecanos has the ability to make a character real. This is not so much a thriller, or a crime novel, as an exploration of a failed system. As with so much of the fiction that resonates with me these days, it shows that everybody, in all walks of life, is compromised by their own status in society, and by the system they work for.

It’s a book that shows people making decisions, struggling against a system that was not designed with them in mind. There’s a huge emotional connection between the reader and the characters, at least there was for me, and you can feel the weight of the decisions they make, you feel nervous for their fates even when you can see them coming. You want them to make the right choices.

It’s an old tired argument, one I won’t trot out in detail here, but crime fiction at its best is far more important than any genre labels you can give it. It examines society from the points of view of those who have the most to lose or gain, and those who have the least of either. It’s art that pretends to be pure entertainment. Hell, Charles Dickens was simply a great crime writer.

So I finally gave Pelecanos a try, and feel very stupid for waiting so long. I need to catch up, and fast.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Flash Fiction Challenge

Something a little diffferent on Do Some Damage today. Three of us are taking part in the Flash Fiction Challenge, "Wal-Mart: I Love You."

Before we get to the stories, I'd like to thank Patti Abbott, Gerald So and the Mystery Dawg, Aldo Calcagno for running these challenges. This is the third one I've taken part in (Steve and Jay are Flash virgins) and they're a lot of fun.

This challenge was simple - write a flash fiction that has something to do with Wal-Mart. Some of us used the website People of Wal-Mart for inspiration.

EDIT, October 23, 2010.

In the comments on this post Peter Rozovsky (of Detectives Beyond Borders fame) suggested that someone put all these stories between covers and sell them at Wal-Mart. Well, not exactly, "between covers," but Patti Abbott and Steve Weddle did collect all the stories and Untreed Reads is making the collection available as an e-book, Discount Noir.

The book is available for Kindle from Amazon, from Smashwords, from the Untreed Reads site and from many other online retailers.

It's a terrific collection, over 4o stories from some of the finest crime writers working today (and one from me) all in one place. I bought my copy from Smashwords and it looks great and reads well. Taken together, these 40+ stories tell a much bigger story about a moment in time then anyone could have predicted when the challenge was issued.

And I don't think this will be unique to this collection. I think this is just the beginning of where "cloud writing" can go in the future.

So now that the stories are collected in an anthology, we've taken them down from the blog. But really, go buy the collection, it's worth it.

Code Adam

By Steve Weddle

You just don't have the kind of day I was having and not kill someone.

Available as part of the Discount Noir collection here

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thank You?

By Mike Knowles

I think Roger Ebert figured it out a while ago. A simple thumbs up or thumbs down. With Ebert, I never had any doubt about what his opinion was. He either liked it or hated it. And in those instances where his socks were really blown off, it was common to hear thumbs way up. I can even get behind the movie reviewers on Yahoo who use letter grades (that may be because I’m a teacher, but it’s also because everyone understands A+).

A recent review of Grinder got me thinking about reviews. The review is from the Globe and Mail.

This is the second outing for Knowles – the first was Darwin's Nightmare – and his antihero, Wilson, is back, gone from his haunts in Hamilton and safely in hiding in B.C. He promised his old boss to get off the grid, and he has kept that promise. But then a man comes hunting for him – a man with a gun and a woman in the trunk of his car.

Knowles is working hard to take Wilson into the world of characters like Lee Child's Jack Reacher. He hasn't made it there yet, but there's hope. He's a good atmospheric writer and he has the lingo down, but it takes more than 178 pages to get into the kind of tough guy he's building. Book three may be the breakout.

When I saw this, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I think it’s positive, I don’t specifically see a negative. There is a mention of Jack Reacher which is cool–I like him and so do others (a bazillion copies sold can’t be wrong). And the reviewer says I have the lingo down–another plus. But then there are the last two sentences. I’m not sure what to make of those.

When I see a review like this, I wonder what the purpose is. Is the review a critique on my work, or a guide to prospective consumers. I think it is the former in this case, but it should be both. I read this review a bunch of times and tried to figure out the recommendation. If it will take more than 178 pages to get into the "tough guy" I’m building, should people start reading now? Should they wait for book three (which is done and awesome by the way)?

What if I reviewed my wife’s cooking this way?

This is the fourth meal of the week–penne with meatballs–and the wife is back with another salute to the cuisine of Italy. The meatballs are back from the freezer and Mrs. Knowles teams them up with the pasta from the box that was not quite finished last week.

The wife is working hard to take penne and meatballs into the world of chefs like Mario Batali and Lydia Bastianich. She hasn’t made it there yet, but there’s hope. She makes good sauce and can make the pasta al dente, but it takes more than a single serving of pasta to get into the kind of meal she’s building. Sunday’s lasagna may be the breakout.

So, who wants to eat at my house on Sunday? It could be the breakout.

I just hate being confused, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. If I was reading this review about someone else’s book, I wouldn’t know what to make of it. Maybe the reviewer didn’t know what to make of Grinder, but if that was the case he should of just said so instead of leaving the reader to inference it.

I think movie reviewers have it right. And in that spirit, I’m giving Grinder thumbs up and an A+ (it’s my blog and I can do what I want).