Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Addiction in Fiction

Earl Javorsky guest blogs today, talking about addiction in fiction and how this relates to his two Charlie Miner private eye books.  The second in the series, Down to No Good, has just come out, and....

I'll let Earl tell you.

Addiction in Fiction
by Earl Javorsky

They say once a junkie, always a junkie, but this is ridiculous. I haven’t been dead more than a few hours and I already need a fix.

And so begins Charlie Miner’s second chance at life in my first book, Down Solo. A sad-sack, strung-out PI, Charlie took a bullet to the brain while riding a bicycle on a warm summer night, high and clueless as to the dangers of the case he had just taken on. Now he wakes up looking down on his body and it draws him in, awkward but still workable. His mission: to get a fix and then find out who killed him.

Having survived the relentless trajectory of addiction, I am perpetually fascinated with consciousness—enhanced, compromised, obliterated, or otherwise. And addiction—oh, my!  It’s a disease. No, it’s a behavioral disorder. No, it’s a crisis of loneliness. No, it’s a rational response to stress, depression, and despair. I love all this bickering: it’s how a culture evolves in the petri dish of ideas.

And so Charlie—hapless, strung out, and inexplicably reanimated—popped into my brain.  Addiction has its own logic, internally consistent but entirely foreign to the non-addict. When all normal motivations are subjugated to achieving and maintaining the required chemical state, priorities like showing up for work, having sex, or even showering or eating are shunted aside. This presents a problem when writing a novel, as motivation is key to characterization (and vice versa). The impetus behind a protagonist’s actions have to be plausible, or you’ll lose the reader, and drug-addict decision-making is inherently implausible. In order to make Charlie believable, I found it necessary to write in the first-person and the present tense, because only from inside his head and right now do his thought processes track as weirdly reasonable.

In my new Charlie Miner book, Down to No Good, Charlie teams up with a homicide detective whose drinking problem combined with Charlie’s opioid fixation makes the two of them a pair unlikely to get anything accomplished. And yet my goal (maybe I didn’t know it as I was writing) was to make them plod onward in their attempt to solve a string of murders and to succeed not only in spite of but because of their unhinged conditions.

This last is—besides the odd supernatural component—what I believe sets the Charlie Miner books apart from other drug novels. Most of the time, the drugs are simply detrimental: they are the cause of setbacks that are either insurmountable or require willpower and abstinence to overcome. There are no notable successes due to heroin use in Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting or Hubert Selby’s Requiem for a Dream. Both Jerry Stahl’s memoir, Permanent Midnight, and James Frey’s embellished personal history, A Million Little Pieces, lead the reader to one desire for resolution: Get clean, get a real life! These are all fine works, but the characters are throughout impeded by their addictions; I wanted to show characters propelled by them. The point is to get the job done, solve the crimes, and if the tools at hand are self-destructive, that’s fine, as long as they keep you moving.

My favorite drug novel is David Benioff's The 25th Hour, in which the best of intentions are thwarted by intoxication. The inevitability of this is the addict's constant dilemma.  Charie Miner's consciousness is full of holes.  His quest will take him backward to the rediscovered memories and forward to new danger, furter loss, and, finally, possible redemption.  Down Solo and Down to No Good borrow from the supernatural genre only to the extent that, generally, people don't reanimate their bodies and continue with daily life.  Otherwise the novels are more or less straightforward mysteries (we said we would 

My favorite drug novel is David Benioff’s The 25th Hour, in which the best of intentions are thwarted by intoxication. The inevitability of this is the addict’s constant dilemma.  Charlie Miner’s consciousness is further compromised by the fact that there’s a bullet in his brain and his memory is full of holes.    His quest will take him backward to rediscovered memories and forward to new danger, further loss, and, finally, possible redemption.  Down Solo and Down to No Good borrow from the supernatural genre only to the extent that, generally, people don’t reanimate their bodies and continue with daily life.  Otherwise, the novels are more or less straightforward (well, slightly convoluted) Chandleresque mysteries.

You can get Down to No Good right here.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Monday: S. W. Lauden HANG TIME

My friend S.W. Lauden is the Anthony Award-nominated author of the Tommy & Shayna Crime Caper novellas, including CROSSWISE and CROSSED BONES (Down & Out Books). His Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION and GRIZZLY SEASON (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast, manages Bad Citizen Corporation Blog Spot and still finds time to pound the skins. S W is, clearly, an avid L.A. devotee. 

This past week Steve (S. W.) shared great news with fans and friends when he premiered the cover for the third installment to his tough as nails Greg Salem series. 

Not familiar with the raucous crime series? Allow Will Viharo, Eric Beetner and myself to shine a little light.

First in the Greg Salem series...

BAD CITIZEN CORPORATIONS.W. Lauden’s debut novel, was published in 2015 and got a lot of people talking. Readers were enthralled by main character Greg Salem, a less than perfect punk rocker and police officer with habit of getting into trouble. Complicated with a wicked origin, Greg Salem is a story within the story.

With his debut novel, S.W. Lauden charges out of the gate and ahead of the pack like a wild but determined champion horse pumped up on illegal steroids, racing straight from and right back to the dark depths of modern noir hell - which to crime fiction enthusiasts is better known as "heaven." His rep amongst the indie lit community and readers already well established via his celebrated short stories and popular author interview blog, Lauden makes good on his own promising talent in this deceptively sun-drenched, grittily sandy saga of a musician/cop staggering down the mean streets of L.A. in the torrid tradition of Chandler and Cain, but to a much more contemporary beat a la Elmore Leonard and Tarantino. From the beaches to the nightclubs to the strip malls to the seedy dives, Lauden deftly captures the dirty side of this sprawling, desperate city like a literary-musical hybrid of Bukowsi and Black Flag. Rock on.
-Will Viharo, author VIC VALENTINE: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MISERY and LOVE STORIES ARE TOO VIOLENT FOR ME. Columnist at Bachelor Pad Magazine. Founder and owner at Thrillville Press and Creative Copywriter at Digital Media Ghost.


Second in the series ...

With the release of GRIZZLY SEASON  Lauden didn't just follow up the story of Salem, he changed directions and shifted setting, pulling readers into a brand new mystery and set the path for more danger. Needless to say Salem and his pal Marco find themselves right in the heart of trouble, complete with sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.

Lauden offers so much more than a standard PI read, he offers up a raw, gritty picture of the life of the PI, warts and all. Salem is no saint, but he is a man who has heart, seeks to do the right thing, and is looking to make the world a better place for those he loves. The fact that Lauden strips Salem down to the core and shows the reader his struggles to be a good friend, a good father, and most importantly a good father, while also allowing his insecurities and vulnerabilities to shine through is a huge strength to this book. Salem is a character worthy of a series and the ending to this great read will have you salivating for the next book in this series


And last...

The third book in the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. trilogy. "Hang Time" arrives January 16 from Rare Bird Books. Available for pre-order now. 

The thing I love about Steve's books are that they make so many unexpected turns. Greg Salem is not a traditional cop or a traditional PI. If you're looking to breathe some new life into tired genres, so is Steve. I'm always teasing him for the classic novels he's never read, but it works for him. He's not out to pay homage, he's writing from the gut and it takes the stories to some wild places.
-Eric Beetner, author of THE DEVIL DOESN'T WANT ME, DIG TWO GRAVES, SPLIT DECISION  and A MOUTH FULL OF BLOOD, and co-author (with JB Kohl) of ONE TOO MANY BLOWS TO THE HEAD and BORROWED TROUBLE. C-host, Writer Types podcast. Editor, UNLOADED: CRIME WRITERS WRITING WITHOUT GUNS. Organizer and host Noir at the Bar series, L.A.


Q&A with S.W. Lauden

Do Some Damage: So you have a punk rock past? Sounds like you may have a few more dark stories bubbling. 

S.W. Lauden: Punk rock was the eject button from the heavy metal legacy my older brothers handed me. I was never the most punk guy at the backyard keg party, but it definitely opened my eyes to a whole new world that I never knew existed. All that anger, energy and art damage felt pretty good in my teens. My tastes evolved from there, but music kind of became my identity for the next couple of decades—along with many of the experiences and cliches that suggests. I think that's why music often plays a role in the crime fiction I write, even if it's just a song playing on the jukebox in a dive bar scene. I'll labor over exactly what song it is, even if readers skim right by. It's this big, important part of my experience so I tend to view the world through that prism, for better or worse. And, yes—there are plenty more dark stories to tell about the lives of musicians, the bands they form and the terrible decisions they make in the name of rock and roll.

Do Some Damage: Is writing therapeutic for you?

Escape might be a better word to describe it...on the good days. Other times it's like repeatedly getting my ass kicked by a rabid bear that lives inside the dark caves of my over-caffeinated mind.

Do Some Damage: If given the choice, would you rather write the dark and sordid tales ala Greg Salem or the edgy, but comedic stories of Shayna and Ruzzo?

S.W. Lauden: Hm. I'd honestly rather write both, or whatever else pops into my head and sticks around long enough to grab my attention. I've been told by people in the know that the publishing universe doesn't always reward these stylistic fluctuations—which seems logical—but, at least in my case, I think it helped me to spread my wings a little. Writing and publishing a lot of short stories was also beneficial for my personal development.

That said, the Greg Salem books draw much more directly on my own experiences. The stories are definitely fiction, but they are set in worlds parallel to ones I might have stumbled through myself. So, to continue evading your question, I probably needed to write the Greg Salem books more than the Tommy and Shayna books


Remember to pre-order S.W. Lauden's latest book in the Greg Salem series HANG TIME. While you wait for the January release I suggest you grab a cold one and begin the Salem binge. Next, check out Shayna and Tommy.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Revolt Against Sexual Harassment

There once was a show on Amazon called “Good Girls Revolt.” It’s a scripted series set in 1969 and 1970 that tells the story of several female researchers at “News of the Week” magazine who endured sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. It’s won plaudits, stellar reviews and a devoted following. It was not renewed for a second season.
There once was a head of Amazon Studios named Roy Price. He resigned earlier this month after being accused of the sexual harassment of one of the executive producers of an Amazon show and crude talk at work-associated events, according to the Hollywood Reporter. He was the one who made the decision not to continue with “Good Girls Revolt.” (You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?) When the show’s creator went to Price late last year to pitch a second season, he didn’t even know the characters’ names. She told The New York Times she believes that’s because he never even watched it. Feel free to conclude for yourself why the head of a studio wouldn’t bother to watch one of his own shows.
This is particularly infuriating because there once was a lawsuit filed by 46 women at Newsweek magazine. The 1970 lawsuit alleged that one of America’s top newsrooms discriminated against women in hiring and promotion. Women – “girls” back then – were relegated to roles as researchers or sometimes promoted to reporters. They were rarely made writers and were never able to climb the career ladder to jobs as editors, the highest positions at the news magazine. These 46 were the first women in the media to sue and became the first class action lawsuit.
One of those women was Lynn Povich. It is her amazing book, THE GOOD GIRLS REVOLT, upon which the Amazon series is based.
Fans of the TV show protested late last year when it wasn’t renewed. But now that Price’s alleged harassment is out in the open, the show’s stars are leading a much bigger, um, revolt.
“It was just so meta, or twisted, when we found out Roy Price had been accused of sexual harassment,” Anna Camp, who plays researcher Jane Hollander, told The New York Times. “So many frustrated fans were reaching out and saying, ‘Now that he’s gone, maybe the show could come back.’ ”
The stars as well as numerous female journalists are also saying loud and clear that with all that’s going on right now women finding the courage to come forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault by men who held professional power over them a series like “Good Girls Revolt” has never been more timely.
So here in my little corner of the world, I’m going to do everything I can to try to bring back a show that takes place almost 50 years ago, but says a whole lot about the world today. It shouldn’t be one man, who resigned his job in the face of a sexual harassment allegation, who gets to decide whether a show about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment continues to air.
If you’re interested, you can sign the petition at Change.org. Or tweet to @AmazonStudios with the hashtag, #SaveGoodGirlsRevolt.
Full disclosure: In my other life as a journalist, I belong to an organization called Journalism and Women’s Symposium, which works toward equality and support of women in the field. Lynn Povich is also a member.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Mornings With Batman and Other Tales of Employment

Scott D. Parker

Batman may be vengeance and the night, but he’s also a remarkable able companion to while away a few morning hours during unemployment.

Almost a month ago, I wrote about my plans for the month of October. With much more time on my hands, I had glorious dreams of writing a novel or two. I was going to throw in a short story or two, and format and prepare the next book for publication.

Then the reality of unemployment crashed down on me. The cliche is true: looking for a full-time job really is a full-time job. There are lots of places on the internet to look for work…and I probably didn’t even scratch the surface. I would look for jobs directly at certain oil and gas companies and then on various job boards. My daily list grew quite long and extensive.

And I would check it every day, typically in the morning. When a job posting popped up that matched both my experience and my desire, I would produce a new, specific cover letter and send it away.

What I didn’t do much of was write fiction. I had worry at the forefront of my mind every day. And, try as I might, I found unemployment to be the elephant in the room. I did a few things, however. I ordered physical proofs of my four mystery novels and set about updating them. But in terms of brand-new content, I produced next to nothing.

My early morning schedule quickly became consistent. I would get my boy to his carpool by 6:30am and return home. Wash the dishes, pour another cup of coffee, and watch a couple of episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. My daily dose of Batman turned into one of the few parts of the day where I didn’t worry about not having a job. Even on the day I went to an interview, I made sure to watch those episodes.

Well, that interview turned into a job. Yay! I start Monday. For the first time in seven years, I’ll have an actual commute. It’ll likely be 50 or so minutes in the mornings and probably 60 in the afternoons. That doesn’t bother me much at all. I’ve got an Audible account and tons of podcasts. Heck, I might even do the drive-really-slow-near-my-house-so-I-can-hear-the-last-chapter thing more than once. And for those brainstorming sessions, I have a special microphone I can plus into my phone and dictate new fiction. I'll probably start my commutes with Tom Hanks's new book of stories. I considered purchasing the paperback, but when I saw Hanks himself narrated his own book, that sold me on the audio.

As far as fiction is concerned, I’m going to give myself a week to acclimate to the new surroundings. NaNoWriMo starts on Wednesday, but I did that for the first five months of this year, so I don’t need to special month to write a book in four weeks. Besides, Daylight Savings Time ends next weekend, so as soon as that milestone is passed, I’ll start up my 4:30am writing sessions again.

This past week (actually only Wednesday through Friday), with the job on the horizon, I ended up watching extra episodes of Batman: TAS. Boy, is that show great. It was made even greater when one of my book club members selected Dark Knight III: Master Race to read this month. Ugh! The less said about that series, the better. Of nine issues, I think I liked something like 4-5 pages.

So, there you go, folks. Hopefully the last post about employment for a long, long time. I’m happy to be back in the workforce and will jump back into fiction writing very soon.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Punk By The Book

I’ve written about all the amazing things punk rock has done for me as a writer, and I’ve invited others to use my space to do the same. When I first started writing, I tried over and over again to capture the chaotic, frenetic energy of a mosh pit. I tried to get to the heart of what it felt like to have the bass line replace your heart beat in a crowded, dirty room.

I’ve never been able to do it.

It’s one of those inexplicable, full body, total mind experiences that defies any meaningful explanation. That’s okay, I think most of the beautiful stuff is the same way. I can describe falling in love, but you’re never going to feel the way I felt when I fell for my husband. I can describe the moment I held my daughter for the first time, or the day I graduated boot camp and officially became a US Marine. If I do it right, you feel something, but you’ll never feel what I felt.

Is punk rock as amazing and beautiful as those three examples?

Well. Yes and no. There’s opportunity after opportunity to listen to the music, to gather in this crowded rooms, to hear an amazing song by one of your favorite bands for the first time. But I only got to fall for my husband and my kid ONCE. So those experiences were way more powerful. Way more knock you on your ass if you’re not sitting down. But punk’s been there long before and will be there long after.

My heart swells when I catch the kid singing along to Bikini Kill and Anti-Flag. I love getting to enjoy that music with her (and yes, we listen to Tay Tay, too),but the idea of taking her into one of those crowded rooms is a little too intense at her age. Even if she pouts.

But, as she developed a stronger and stronger love for Anti-Flag, and their new album was really hitting her deep - they announced a listening party with an acoustic set near-ish to us. No risk of hearing damage, no mosh pits. And, as we discovered upon arrival - free donuts!

So, you got me. This post isn’t about crime fiction or even writing. Tonight was a really special night and I wanted to share it. If my mind goes with old age, I hope the memory of singing Brandenburg Gate with my sweet little 7 year old and one of my favorite bands is the last memory to go.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Do Writers Even Read Anymore?

By David Nemeth

A few months ago, J. David Osborne, writer and publisher of Broken River Books, posted a photograph of a dog side-eyeing the viewer. Osborne wrote, “When writers only seem to talk about all the TV they’ve watching”. How true. My social media feeds are filled news and views about the latest premium cable series or any of the numerous Netflix series and movies. And things do get heated from time to time. We all lost loved ones during the great Baby Driver Facebook War this summer.

I’m not one of those TV haters. I’m probably as guilty if not more so than some of you. The comfort of grabbing the remote and tuning out is far too easy compared to the physical and mental difficulties of opening of a book. Take a look at your Netflix history. If it is anything like mine and you’ll probably be disgusted. My history had some good shows but there were too many hours spent watching TV from Parks and Recreation to Rectify, from Friends to Shameless, and from The Handmaid’s Tale to New Girl. As I said, I’m as guilty as you are.

I know that reading is a habit thing for me. I get into a groove and I’m able to knock out books as well as reviews, sometimes up to four a week. But when life decides to significantly disrupt my daily routine, it may take weeks if not months to get back into my reading form.

I wondered if there was a trick or two that might help, so I went over to watch some TED Talks because that’s where all problems are solved in 15 minutes or less. But the first thing time management guru Laura Vanderkam said was that there are no tricks to beat time. This was disappointing news.

In her 2016 TED Talk, Vanderkam tells the story of a successful person whose water heater breaks and she ends up spending seven hours in one week working through this issue. Tragic, I know. Vanderkam recommends that we treat all “our priorities as the equivalent of that broken water heater” by focusing on our “three-category priority list: career, relationships, self.” Have I spent the 15 minutes to do this yet? Hell no, remember I was looking for tricks, not actual work. But I got the point, the time is there if I want to use it.

Most, if not all of us, do have time to read. It’s a choice we make not to read. The glowing TV eye is all too powerful, but maybe tonight I’ll just open up a goddamn book and read. But first I have some things to watch that y’all been recommending: Ozark, Mindhunter, The Deuce, Narcos, and Stranger Things 2.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Nanoo Nanoo NaNoWriMo!

Ha! I made the first NaNoWriMo post this year!

I think I make the only one every year... just your annual reminder that the flood of word counts in your social media feed is driven by National Novel Writing Month, where folks who sign up try to write 50,000 words in the month of November and complete a novel.

which makes December National Don't Bother Querying Agents Month, because a flood of new writers often flood the slush piles with unedited manuscripts.

Don't be that writer.

Plenty of pro writers often join in on NaNoWriMo because the energy is infectious, and the challenge is enticing. My first draft of Bad Boy Boogie was completed during NaNoWriMo 2011, which gives you an idea of how good that draft was. It was published in 2016. The first draft was called Beat the Jinx and focused on Tony instead of Jay, who was a ghostly possible antagonist who kept pestering Tony for help. I decided that he made a more compelling hero, and gutted other characters, some who appeared in the manuscript I finished last month, which is a comedy with a very different tone. So, NaNoWriMo can be useful, but don't forget that....

March is National Novel Editing Month. But that's three whole months after NaNoWriMo! Why yes. That gives you time to flesh it out to a larger novel if required, then take a well deserved rest before you read it and make notes before you dig into edits. Stephen King recommends sticking a novel in a drawer for three months, but that's a bit much. A month, sure. Rest, or work on something else. A short story. Catch up on the TV you missed. Read some great fiction in the same bailiwick as yours, so you can catch hackneyed characters and "surprises" that are so old they have whiskers on them.

And then... edit. It's not as if agents are going to be reading lots of manuscripts during the holiday month of December, anyway. And an unedited novel... leave that to the pros. Some can edit in their heads. They often learned to write on a manual typewriter, so they have advantage. I seriously considered buying one, before the typewriter shop in my town closed... two years ago. Sarah (my wife) objected, and I have managed to find other ways to edit as I go, without reverting to 19th century technology. And I was recently vindicated when Reed Farrel Coleman, who considers this a "first draft," says he edits as he goes. That does only produce one draft, but to new writers, saying you only write one draft sounds like the words fly from your fingertips perfectly the first time, which is discouraging when you hit the backspace key with such regularity that you could easily serve as a telegraph operator if you found yourself transported to the past.

An aside--I've never understood the yearning for the past. Can you imagine what the past smelled like? Not for me. It's nice to fantasize about, but, gimme penicillin and human rights, thanks.

I've been chunking away at Jay Desmarteaux #2 at a good clip, using Scrivener and its goal-setting function so I'm done by January. I am toying with the idea of jumping on the NaNoWriMo train and aiming for 1300 words per day in November. It's a bigger challenge than the 800 I need per day to meet the January deadline, but if I finish in December I'll have more time to rest and edit before sending it to my publisher and his editor. And I've been hitting 1500 words a night easily, so why not? As Lawrence Block says about the daily thousand words, "you can't write four lousy pages?"

Well, not everyone can. And there's no shame in it. NaNoWriMo isn't for everybody. It can be a good way to open the floodgates and see what you can write when you free yourself to let the fingers fly. As Joyce Carol Oates says, dare to trust your voice and dare to write from the heart. It may look embarrassing at first, but write for yourself first and foremost. You're a reader. Never forget that.

Next Wednesday, the race begins...

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Death in the Classic Position

I've been watching the television ads for the new adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, with Kenneth Branagh both directing the film and playing Hercule Poirot, and it's made me ask myself a number of questions.  For starters: why are they remaking this movie and who is the intended audience?  Wouldn't most people who want to see this movie at all likely know the solution to one of the most famous mysteries ever written?  And what's more, wouldn't a large number of these people, detective fiction fans, have seen the first movie, at least on DVD or through streaming?  Strange.  Maybe they intend to change the ending so that the "killer twist" mentioned in the ads surprises people familiar with the story.  But beyond that, this sudden appearance of big budget Agatha Christie has made me reflect on something else. 

How many stand out films have there been adapted from works of the so-called Golden Age of Detective Fiction?  How many topnotch flicks come from stories or novels written during that period of narrative puzzles and eccentric detectives circa 1920 through the 1940's?  There have been numerous good to great films derived from the 20th century's hard-boiled fiction side, film noirs and private eye movies, but from that earlier period (which Raymond Chandler ripped into), when murders occurred on country estates and in locked rooms, on trains and in libraries, precious few.  It's a bit odd. Granted, since 1980, when PBS' Mystery first aired, the Golden Age has been well-covered on television.  The adaptations of Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, and company have been impeccable. As far as I'm concerned, David Suchet is the best Hercule Poirot ever on film or television, and Joan Hickson the greatest Miss Marple.  The detail lavished on these productions takes you back to a past era, and usually (there have been notable exceptions) the adaptations are faithful to the plots and solutions of the original sources. But what about up to 1980, when films provided the primary adaptations?  I can think of a handful of films adapted from the Golden Age authors I would call superlative.

The original Murder on the Orient Express (1974), with Albert Finney as Poirot, is quite entertaining, and I enjoyed Death on the Nile (1978), where Peter Ustinov, more restrained than Finney, took over the role of the Belgian detective. Both films are expensive productions with all-star casts, and they capture the quality of the Christie novels well. All the suspects keep looking askance at one another, and nearly everyone who is not Poirot has something to hide.  In the usual fashion, he finds himself on a train or cruise ship where the passengers are a weird lot and the motives for murder plentiful. Neither film gets so broad that it turns comedic, like the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple movies of the 1960's, but neither takes itself too seriously either, keeping the period aspect of things, with the class and racial distinctions, light.  Most importantly, both handle their complicated plots well.  They build up to exciting denouements where the clues have been provided but the sleight of hand deftly done.

The 1945 version of And Then There Were None, directed by Rene Clair, is dark and filled with suspense - a strong movie - but does not follow through on Christie's completely bleak ending. Of course, it's among her most famous books, and to this day, if I had to pick a favorite Christie novel, I'd pick this one (or maybe The ABC Murders). The movie adheres closely to the novel and packs a wallop. The only flaw is that insistence on the somewhat happy ending, which even more recent versions (much weaker movies) have clung to.

But what about Golden Age authors other than Agatha Christie? I'd say the two best movies adapted from this era's detective fiction are not from Christie books.  One, a little creaky but lightning fast, is The Kennel Murder Case, from 1932.  Michael Curtiz directs this Warner Brothers version of the S.S. van Dine novel that features detective Philo Vance, and the movie is like a van Dine novel come to life. There is absolutely no fat, as in 73 minutes, a murder in New York unfolds among the people connected to a Long Island Kennel Club dog show.  The characters have just enough depth to do what the plot requires. William Powell is the suave Vance. The murder involves a locked room, and the movie actually pauses a moment before Vance delivers the solution to give the viewer a quick close-up of all the suspects so that you have a moment to make your guess before the final revelation.  If you haven't seen this movie, don't let its age put you off.  It's a textbook example of how to tell a tricky but fair mystery on film in a minimal amount of time, with absolute clarity. Lots of fun.

But my vote for the top adaptation from a Golden Age mystery novel, without question, is the British film Green for Danger, directed by Sidney Gilliat.  It was made in 1946 and taken from a Christianna Brand novel written two years earlier.  

To begin with, the setting is unusual - a World War II hospital in the English countryside. Germany is losing the war but bombing Britain incessantly.  So immediately the stakes are high, and the story has a connection to reality not often seen with this type of mystery.  Green for Danger is set in a confined location (the hospital) and has its tight cast of characters (the hospital's doctors and nurses), but it doesn't come across as a mere game or abstract puzzle.  At the same time, it is an ingenious whodunnit with two murders and a climax set around an operating table. Each of the main characters, professional people doing stressful work, adults with genuine problems to deal with, is layered and complex, and the script is filled with nuance and humor.  Above all, there is the detective, Inspector Cockrill of the local police, and he is played by Alastair Sim, an absolutely unique actor.  Sim is so good as Cockrill, peculiar, unpredictable, witty, usually brilliant (but not always) that you only regret there were no more Cockrill films made.  It's hard to describe his performance exactly, but imagine a very British version of Lieutenant Columbo's grandfather (who looks a bit like John Lithgow) and maybe you'll get some idea.  Add to that a stellar British cast of character actors who play their parts perfectly, and you have a film that weaves together mystery, humor, atmosphere, and tension about as well as this kind of film can.  I saw Green for Danger recently by renting it on Amazon, and I couldn't have had a more enjoyable hour and a half.  I only wish there were more films like it - a classic mystery par excellence.