Saturday, August 18, 2012

Book Review: The Gutter and the Grave by Ed McBain

Scott D. Parker

(I'm on vacation right now -- writing this on Wednesday -- so I present an old review I did a few years ago when I was just starting to learn and read about crime fiction.)

Of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler once wrote this:

Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes.

I always took that quote to partially explain the move, by mystery and crime fiction, into the twentieth century. And, by extension, brought it to the American city. Sure, there is the famous foggy London of Sherlock Holmes and there is death there, and danger. But what Hammett, Chandler, and other did was pull a Christopher Columbus on crime fiction: they discovered a new world and then began to exploit it. Their fiction teemed with immigrants and thugs, falling over each other in row houses and tenement apartments of New York or Philly or Boston. It smelled. People drank. People died...and not always naturally. This is America, dammit. Get used to it, toughen up, or get out of here.

By the time Ed McBain began writing fiction, this tradition was decades old. McBain scanned the landscape, saw what was what, judged the speed of the moving traffic, and merged right in, going zero to sixty in seconds. And he never looked back, even when he changed lanes. Everyone else had to swerve to get out of the way of this fast-moving car whose driver knew exactly what he wanted and where he wanted to go.

Originally published in 1958 under the title I'm Cannon--For Hire, I read the republished version from Hard Case Crime entitled The Gutter and the Grave. A quick check at Thrilling Detective reveals that McBain liked the new title. The new title is quite apt. The first sentence of the story finds Matt Cordell basically in the gutter. The last sentence finds Cordell...well, I don't want to ruin the ending.

McBain's prose is, like Hammett's, tough, ornery, and punchy. I use punchy because there are a few fights in the books, both in flashback and in the book's present day. And the beating Cordell takes is brutal. It's brutal by today's standards. I can't imagine the reading public's reaction back in '58.

I listened to the audiobook version. The good folks at BBC Audiobook America provided this one and a great narrator: Richard Ferrone. His voice is gravelly, as if he himself just got off the booze long enough to read this book. It's a wonderful presentation. He also read the posthumously-published (by HCC, natch) novel by Mickey Spillane, Dead Street. I could think of nothing better than to have Ferrone read any old-school PI/noir book in the library. I'd check out every one.

This is the first McBain book I have read. I have his first 87th Precinct, Cop Hater, on my list. This will not be the last. My next McBain step will be to find the collection Learning to Kill, McBain's collection of short fiction that, according to him, helped him become "Ed McBain." I hope there is another Matt Cordell story in there. If not, I'll have to play Book PI and track them down. I want to know more about Matt Cordell. And you should, too.

Just don't blame me if it starts an addiction. I warned you.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Some shorts

By Russel D McLean

I had a big post planned this week, but then something a little unexpected came up at the day job so I found myself short of time. Its okay. Nothing to worry about. Just some end of the world stuff.

However, if you think I haven't been busy, check out the new website.

And know that I'll hit you next week with some very cool stuff.

In the meantime, here's an old short story from Spinetingler Magazine that still chills me a little (first few paras, click to link):

I don’t even like Madonna. No seriously, never did. Not now, not back when all these pricks tell me she was actually a singer. She was never a singer. These days, she might as well be generated by computer. Except if she was, you might think she’d do something about the way she looked. So it’s bad enough to come home at night and hear this beat crashing down from upstairs. But for it to be her, singing in that robotic whine she’s developed in the past few years, it’s near enough to drive a man to tears. Some nights it’s more than enough. I want to go up there, tell him where to go. Yeah, tell that loud motherfucker where he can stick those CDs. But I can’t. It wouldn’t be right. No, you see I learned a long time ago that whatever life throws at you, you just have to take it. Grin and bear it like the old saying goes. Just keep grinning. I’m good at that. Comes with the job. They’re telling us all the time we have to smile at the customers, like we’re happy to be paid minimum wage, stuck in some goofy uniform and forced to take all the shit of the day from people who know nothing about common decency and respect for other people.

I'm thinking about collecting some of the standalone shorts together in another e-xclusive collection. After all, the ones from Demolition Mag are missing and there's a few interesting ones that I think some folks might have missed first time around.

 But if you want some already-collected shorts, check out this thing here. Its been nice to see that sales of it have been building since the new website launched. Maybe there is room for my short fiction, after all.

I'll see you back here next week when we'll start talking in earnest about FATHER CONFESSOR.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bravo Mark Thomas

By Jay Stringer

I have some strong memories from when I was a child. One of the clearest is driving around in my Grandfather's car, just me and him, listening to Johnny Cash. I didn't really know what it was then, and it sounded really old and silly, but I can still remember him looking over at me and explaining that it was a song about teaching your son to be able to fight for himself.

Cut forward to my teenage years, after I've been through a few musical phases that have been written out of my own personal history, and I'm too cool to like Johnny Cash, or country, or "any of that crap". My Grandfather passes away, a molotov cocktail of illness speeded along by cancer, and I have no idea how to articulate what is running through my head.

A friend gives me a copy of "American Recordings," and tells me to listen to the words, but I don't bother. Then I catch a glimpse of a music video -back when they could still change your life- and I saw an old man singing a brilliantly sick song about his dead wife, and Kate Moss is in it, and something about the old man's face and voice click.

I have a connection. I mainline Cash's songs, starting with the new and working back to the old. I learn his life-story inside and out and wear through a copy of his autobiography. I have a connection. I can sit and listen to this guy sing, and love it, and have someone else in the room with me. I can smell, hear and feel someone who's been lost to me since a couple of days before my seventeenth birthday.

My father and I have very different memories of the old man. For me he's a towering figure, almost mythical, a man who told me stories and dirty jokes, who drove me to self-improvement. Not without his harsher moments, like the time I fell and cut my knee and he made me walk back to the house rather than carry me. It's not my place to tell my Father's stories, but they would be different to mine, of a man who perhaps saw a different side of A Boy Named Sue, and always will.

But over the music of Johnny Cash we found a common ground, a common celebration and, in our ways, a common image of two different figures.

It's one thing to sit and write things like this, it would be something else to stand up in front of a sold out crowd in a comedy venue and lay myself even more bare.

At the weekend I saw Mark Thomas do just that, and I'm still thinking about it days later.

I've praised Thomas on here before. He's one of my personal touchstones, and even if it's not readily apparent in the prose of a moody crime writer, I can see the cues that I've taken from his work over the years.

At his last show, "Extreme Rambling," I was reminded of his ability to create a moving moment of silence in a comedy show. Way back in his show "Dambusters" I saw him willing to bring himself to tears to make a point about a human rights violation, again all in service of what was billed as comedy. But in his latest show, "Bravo Figaro!" Thomas has made that bravery the main drive of the show. There are laughs, some of them huge belly laughs, but this is a story with a beginning, a middle, and a bitter-sweet end.

Just as I found a new connection and new memories through music, so Thomas tells us of how his dads love of Opera gave him something to cling to as ill health started to eat away at the figure who had played such an imposing part in his life. Thomas never flinches from sharing home truths with the crowd, and in the best tradition of a writer he never hides from painting a picture of a very human father who has made some painful mistakes. But even with the harshest criticisms, it's always clear it's coming from a position of love, and as the show progresses we're routing for Thomas to get to do what so few of us ever do, and to turn that musical connection into something that matters while there's still time.

I won't ruin the ending. And there's also another aspect of the show that I'm leaving out -something that raises this from high comedy to high art- in the hope that some of you get to see it and experience it. But if you're in Edinburgh this month, or if the tour takes in a venue near you, you owe it to yourself to go watch.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Faust, Flynn, and Abbott: The New Noir

By Steve Weddle

I just don't know anymore, honestly. I mean, have you seen this Guardian article? The one that says a "new wave" of crime writers are bringing female characters "out of the shadows"?

The article says -- and perhaps the common argument is -- that publishers don't like women writing noir, that women should write series characters in more traditional mysteries.

Yes. Let's base our reading on that. Let's end up with Twilight fanfiction and committee-written thrillers, shall we?

These dumb arguments go on about how women authors shouldn't be pigeon-holed. Then the article -- this one, many like it -- will list some more women authors who shouldn't be pigeon-holed.

Here are a few women writers who are breaking barriers. Let's box them all into this neat little Women Authors of Noir Books, okay?

So this "new wave" of women is sweeping over the noir world, is it? Breaking news and all.

Flynn has at least three well-received books out, all of which have movie deals tied to them, I hear.

Christa Faust has been at this for many, many years, as has Megan Abbott. All have written fantastic books.

I hope those three sell a billion books by lunch. My lovely bride and I listened to GONE GIRL on a recent roadtrip and, you know, holy wows and all.

But just because some reporter at a magazine or newspaper or website stumbled across something doesn't make it a new wave. Maybe it's an old wave you should have been paying attention to. Maybe it's not a wave at all. Maybe it's the tide coming in. Maybe it's the ocean rising. Maybe it's an iceberg, with a billion other writers underneath. (Probably went a little long with that, didn't I? Sorry.)

Oh, and GONE GIRL isn't noir. mkay?

And, yet, it's fantastic to see our friends and neighbors in the Guardian and at the Gawker sites and all over the best-seller lists.

What happens is that the media -- reporters, bloggers, whoevs -- cover this as if it were a sudden, new phenomenon. What happens is that, traditionally, these trends themselves don't have much staying power. Burns bright for a moment, then coverage fizzles.

When you're only covering something because it's trendy, the next trend displaces it.

Vampires. Zombies. Women authors.

Faust and Flynn and Abbott aren't women authors. They're amazing authors.

Having them covered in the big London paper is fantastic, of course. I guess calling them the Poster Children For Women Writers of Noir can boost sales on these titles. I only hope that each author continues to receive coverage, not because of their womanlinesses, but because of their writerlinesses.

Calling someone a "great regional writer" hurts as often as it helps.

Talent and hard-work have put these authors where they are. They should be on every shelf because of that, because of their great writing.

I'm looking forward to the time when authors such as these can have that extra adjective dropped.

When they become "authors" instead of "women authors" or "regional authors" or "genre authors."

When they're covered, not because their books are trendy, but because they're just flat-out terrific.

When they sell a million copies, not because they're writing about "women's issues" of family and cancer and divorce and family, but because they're writing books people can't stop talking about.

I'm looking forward to the day authors are on talk shows and in newspapers because their books become required reading, not beach reading.

And, I guess, the more readers Faust and Flynn and Abbott can reach, the more likely this is to happen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Serial Killer

While Dave White is out on paternity leave (congrats), we're fortunate to have Anonymous-9 taking over for a bit. (By the way, check out the Anonymous-9 novel HARD BITE.)

Guest Post by Anonymous-9

We lost a writer, a humorist, a thinker, and a perennial student of the human condition on June 25th, 2012. David J. Kane was a Holocaust survivor who, as soon as he was able, decided the glass of life was more than half full and he was going to drink every precious drop of it. Once WW2 was over, David was rarely seen without a smile and a quip on his lips. He had a tremor in both hands that lingered from severe starvation and hardship, but he had a strong mind that superseded any physical limitations. David once told me a story about his experience at the hands of a brutal serial murderer in Buchenwald concentration camp. The story illustrates his deep knowledge of human duality; how good and bad, dark and light, can reside in the same human being. As a crime writer, the story astounds me...

It was 1944. David was a boy of 15, starved to skin and bone. Otto was a brutalizer of women, a cold-blooded killer and a danger to society. He was tried, convicted, and incarcerated alongside Jews in Buchenwald. The Nazis saw fit to place a few Jewish children with him, so they could serve his needs. David was one of those children. What the Nazis didn't know was that Otto, although murderously dangerous with adult women, liked children. He had no impulse to kill or abuse them, and he liked to hear them sing. David was tasked to wake Otto in the mornings with his clear, sweet voice, singing songs in Polish. Otto would even sneak food occasionally, and feed the children a few extra noodles.

One day, David and another boy were sent to the kitchen to peel apples, locked in alone all day. There was no bathroom, and after many long hours, and not knowing what else to do, they relieved themselves in a corner. When discovered, David was ordered to a death camp to be gassed. He was to leave in just a few days.

When Otto found out he was going to lose David he devised a plan. He knew that if the Nazis thought he was torturing this child and making his life miserable, they would likely not bother to send him away. Otto got a pillow and handed it to David saying, "Put this pillow down the back of your pants. I'm going to beat on the pillow with a stick and you scream like hell while I'm doing it." Positioning David by an open window so the sound was sure to carry, Otto whipped the pillow mercilessly as David yelled and screamed—it sounded as though he were being thrashed to death. Throughout the camp, Nazis heard the beating and sure enough, they didn't bother shipping David off to die.

Everyone inside the camp was set free on April 11th, 1945 by American soldiers who broke in by driving a tank through the barbed wire fence. It is not known what happened to Otto.

David lived long and well to the age of 82, and his story lives on. HOW TO SURVIVE ANYTHING by David and Yetta Kane is available on Amazon.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sampling some Samples

One of the things that I absolutely love about the Kindle is being able to read a sample.  I hear about a book or an author, I grab my Kindle, I download a sample, then the strength (or not) of the work will push me to the next stage (adding it to my wishlist) or the ultimate goal of buying it.  Or not. 

Many years ago there used to be a blog that reviewed self published books (you know, back when that was like a bad thing yo). Sandra also used to write a column that took a look at the first 39 pages of a novel that came across our desk and she would review that section and recommend whether it was worth your time and money based on that sample. I toyed with the idea of something called Sample Saturday where I would review samples of books.  Time being what it is I never got that idea off the ground. 

For today's DSD post I'm going to briefly take a look at some samples that have made my acquaintance recently. I can't sit here and tell you that I'll do this regularly but maybe every once in awhile. It's up to you guys.

Blood Red Turns Dollar Green by Paul O'Brien

Found this mentioned recently on Facebook when the author was talking about getting a blurb from Mick Foley.  I don't usually put a ot of stock in celebrity blurbs but it's Cactus Jack so...

This looks like an interesting crime novel set in or around the wrestling world.  Between this, Zombie Bake Off, and Death Match we are seeing a number of novels released that involve wrestlers or the wrestling world. Is this the start of something?
The sample for Blood Red Turns Dollar Green starts off in medias res and pulls the reader in right away.  The perspectives shift between a couple of protags in a couple of locations so it should be interesting to see how they all link up.  I think I'm going to buy this one.
Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth

I've read Unsworth's before so my reason for wanting to look at a sample for her new one is due to the price.  $13.89 for the ebook.  I think it is probably a UK only release so there aren't a lot of options for getting a copy of it.  I read the sample and it seems like a straight forward mystery novel. But because this is an Unsworth novel, and she is very willing to go full dark, I can only say that it is an impression.  My guess is that the protag will find a darkness inside of him while investigating the case.  I haven't bought a copy but probably will because I'm a fan. 

The Cipher by Kathe Koja
I've read Koja's wok before but never read her debut novel.  Seeing it out as a reasonably priced ebook put it back on my radar screen.  I read the sample and I didn't feel any strong pull in one direction or another.  I didn't dislike what I read and I also didn't feel like I had to keep reading.  I'll probably pick up a copy at some point but I'm not feeling a rush to read it.
Sleepwalking: Crime Stories by Ray Nayler

Anthony Neil Smith put this collection on my radar screen when he mentioned it on Facebook.  I read the sample and was impressed with what I read.  The only thing that prevented me from buying it was my really huge TBR and that I'm not reading a lot of collections right this moment. But I'm keeping it on my wish list.

The Devil's Road to Kathmandu by Tom Vater

I saw a guest post that was written by Vater over at Patti's blog and it intrigued me enough to go and download the sample.  Plus I really liked that funky cover.  I read the sample and I liked the atmosphere, the tension, the setting and the characters. The writing was tight and there were memorable lines and some nice turns of phrases.  Nothing distracted me from the completion of the sample and I actually went ahead and bought it.

Correction Line by Craig Terlson

I can't really remember where I heard about this book but I did somewhere in my travels over the last couple of days.  I've only started reading the sample and this is my main impression.  I was under the impression that this was noir-y title and it starts with what feels like more of a supernatural unease vibe.  With that said there is a lot of tension in the first chapter that leaves the reader wanting to know more.  The second chapter has different characters so there is an obvious tonal switch. The jury's out. If it can get back the interesting weirdness of chapter one then I'm in.

Unaccustomed Mercy by DB Cox

I heard about this title when Richard Thomas mentioned it on Facebook.  I was really impress with the sample that I read and the opening story.  One of the things holding me back for now from downloading it is the price.  $5 for a story collection is something I'm grappling with right now.

Do any of these samples sound good to you?  Read any of them? What makes a good sample?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Perfect parent? Me? Yeah-right!

by: Joelle Charbonneau

I am the worst parent in the world.  Okay, maybe that’s overstating.  I mean, I’ve only been parenting for a mere four and a half years.  There are lots of folks out there who have been doing this for a lot longer, which means they have had more opportunities to screw things up.  Right?

My son is four. He’s my first and after the scares he’s given me he might be my last.  Like any parent, I try to keep him safe.  The thing is, my best efforts to be a responsible parent seem to end in tragedy.  Kind of like the time I took him to the park and he wanted to go on the big slide.  He was a large nineteen-month-old, but the really big slide looked – well, really big.  It seemed irresponsible of me to let him go down alone.  I mean, what parent would let their kid go down a really big slide all alone when they were only 19 months? He could fall off or worse.  So, I did the only responsible, safe thing I could think of – I went down the side with him. 

And he broke his leg.

No, I didn’t fall on him, although in retrospect that would have made far more sense than what did happen.  My son squealed with delight, kicked his left foot out and caught the edge of the slide for just a moment – long enough for him to twist it perfectly and cause a tiny break. All because of my desire to have perfect parenting skills.

Since then the tot’s head had made impact with the corner of the coffee table, taken I don’t know how many dives to the concrete from his bike and had had his chin broken open because of a close encounter with metal steps on the playground slide.  (Hint...when metal steps and chin collide, metal steps win every time.)  Yep, despite my best efforts, I seem to be doing everything wrong.

Or am I? 

I admit that I have started to look for guidance for my parenting life in my publishing journey.  The first four manuscripts I wrote I did with careful consideration for the subject matter and the tone.  I tried to do them perfectly.  None of them sold.  In fact, despite my best “parenting” of those they weren’t and still aren’t publishable.  However, the fifth book I wrote I did without worrying about being perfect or even selling.  I sat down at the keyboard, let my goofiest ideas take over and had a blast.  I wrote for myself and forgot about the need to be perfect.  That book, as wild and wacky as it was, sold.  And somehow when I wasn’t looking I wrote a young adult novel without understanding any of the young adult novel rules.  It, too, sold.  I understood the rules, put them away and just wrote.  By doing so, things seemed to work out.

So, now that I’ve learned a lot of rules about parents, I guess I’m working on learning how to stop trying to be the perfect parent.  But I need help.  If you have any tricks you’d like to share about how to survive the parenting experience, please do!  I have a lot to learn, but the one thing I know is that like my books, the kid is going to have some rough patches and he’s going to have some fabulous moments and I hope that when I go back and look at my whole parenting story I will find that my son and I both enjoyed the ride.  

And in case you hadn't heard, our very own Dave White has joined the ranks of parenting.  Congratulations to the entire family.  I wish you all lots of sleep and great future!