Saturday, December 17, 2022

New Year’s Resolutions: Just Try

Scott D. Parker

Do you have your New Year’s resolutions planned yet?

Yeah, yeah, I know it’s still two weeks away but this will be my last post at Do Some Damage until January. But I’ve already started thinking and planning the things I want to accomplish in 2023 and it is really important to kick off the year on a good note.

On the Daily Stoic podcast, host Ryan Holiday wondered why we constantly make New Year’s resolutions and he brought in a quote from Samuel Johnson: “Reformation is necessary and despair is criminal.” I looked up this quote to see if it is part of something larger and it is: “When I find that so much of my life has stolen unprofitably away, and that I can descry by retrospection scarcely a few single days properly and vigorously employed, why do I yet try to resolve again? I try, because reformation is necessary and despair is criminal. I try, in humble hope of the help of God.”

I know lots of folks have a good first week in January and then, by around the six-week mark, most folks have given up on their resolutions. But you don’t have to.

Which I why I’ve been structuring my own resolutions around smaller yet quantifiable goals. The key for me is to have a good January so that I can maintain the newly formed habit. For me, any new resolution I make I will do during the 31 days of January. I will keep track of the new habits daily and mark them on my calendar. Then, by 1 February, the bulk of the new habits will have become ingrained. It’s how I started my flossing habit and there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t floss.

But let’s circle back to the Johnson quote, the longer one. What he’s basically saying is that when he examines his life, he sees where he’s faltered and then questioned why try again. For many, that’s reason enough not to make resolutions For me, however, I am always optimistic that new habits and resolutions can be made and kept and maintained. I’m always looking for ways to improve my life—as a husband, father, writer, friend—and I’ll always make New Year’s resolutions.

Because what’s the alternative? You get older and then you look back on your life and wish you would have started something. Which ties right back to a quote I have pinned to my cork board: A year from now, you will have wished you started today.

Make “today” be 1 January 2023, start something new, and make your future self proud.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Holiday Gift Guide

Is it the end of another year already? 

Rather than run a list of "Best Of" books, we thought we'd have some of our DSD family suggest some books that they enjoyed. Happy shopping, everyone.


from Alex Segura

LIKE A SISTER by Kellye Garrett -- This voice-y, twisty, and compelling dose of domestic suspense has been on every Best Of list you can imagine. Get it for a friend looking for a beach read that sticks with you.

KISMET by Amina Akhtar - Are you longing for a thriller that also serves as a takedown of the Sedona wellness industry plus talking ravens? No? Well, now you are. Akhtar's novel crackles with personality and style. The kind of crime novel that transports you in the best way.

PARADOX HOTEL by Rob Hart - Speculative fiction with a helping of noir, Hart brings all his skills to the table in this time travel adventure packed with compelling characters and big picture ideas.

DON'T KNOW TOUGH by Eli Cranor - The football noir I wanted to read. A dark, rural crime story told on and off the field with a helluva twist ending. One of the best books I read this year.

REAL BAD THINGS by Kelly J. Ford - Speaking of rural noir, Ford brings it here, with a tight, taut and dark novel that evokes Woodrell with a modern twist.

THEY COME AT KNIGHT by Yasmin Angoe - The second Nena Knight novel packs a powerful punch and is even more intense and electric than Angoe's debut. Worth your time.

CALYPSO, CORPSES, AND COOKING by Raquel V. Reyes - I'm not a big cozy reader, but how could I turn down this one, set in my hometown of Miami? Reyes brings all the flavor of the city to the genre and the end result is a tropical delight of a novel.

Alex Segura is the bestselling and award-winning author of Secret Identity, which The New York Times called “wittily original” and named an Editor’s Choice. NPR described the novel as “masterful,” and it received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist. It was also listed as one of the Best Mysteries of the Year by NPR, Kirkus, Booklist, LitReactor, and the South Florida Sun Sentinel.


from Brian Lindenmuth

Living the Gimmick by Bobby Matthews: Professional wrestling is an interesting subject matter for fiction. It's an artform with story telling at its heart, there are heroes and villains writ large, it has its own history and language. It's a great spectacle frankly. As enticing as the world of wrestling is for its fans, there's a barrier in place for the wider audience. You have to show them the ropes (hurr hurr hurr) of that world then tell the story in that world. Bobby Matthews does this well. The protagonist is a retired wrestler turned bar owner. When his best friend, another wrestler, comes to visit but winds up dead, the protagonist introduces the world of wrestling to the reader at the same time he has to be reacquainted with it. Investigating his friend's death is going to uncover all sorts of shit and shine a light on what goes on behind the scenes of a wrestling show. Living the Gimmick should appeal to fans of wrestling and crime fiction.

Nine Tenths by Jeff Macfee: Macfee carves out a little space for his story in a world where superheroes exist and comes up with a grounded take on the genre. Superheroes are augmented by technology. When they fail to pay for those technological enhancements repo men are called in. From this simple premise an entire imaginative world opens up. You get gritty crime fiction stuff and superhero shenanigans and a guy caught in the middle who just wants to keep his business afloat and stay ahead of his bills. Nine Tenths should appeal to adventurous crime fiction types, those who like superhero stories, those who don't like superhero stories, and anyone who loves a vividly realized fantastical world. A superhero story by way of Repo Man? Hell yea!

Brian Lindenmuth reads books and watches a lot of movies. He occasionally reviews foreign language films at One Inch Tall Movies and other stuff at Dark Dispatch.


from Claire Booth

Her Name Is Knight by Yasmin Angoe. For readers of thrillers who like assassins, bad-ass women, and deft narrative structure and plotting (okay, that’s me getting geeky about the writing—sorry). Nena Knight is a killer for The Tribe, a group whose goal is to establish Africa as a global force and give its countries as much power as the Western world. She “dispatches” whoever she’s ordered to, until she happens upon a man who helped decimate her childhood Ghanian village and slaughter her family. The book alternates chapters between her current life as an assassin and her past life as a human trafficking victim. Both are incredible stories, and I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more of Nena. The Man Who Died Twice: A Thursday Murder Club Mystery by Richard Osman. For readers of traditional mysteries and/or cozies. If you have someone like this on your gift list, get them the first one, too (The Thursday Murder Club, published last year). This is the second in Osman’s series featuring four elderly residents of a care home in England. They band together to solve a murder connected to one of their group’s previous career as a spy. (She’s never confirmed it, but the other three are quite sure, thank you very much.) Osman has created a great set of characters and the humor is tart, British, and delightful.

Blackout by Marco Carocari. For readers of thrillers who also appreciate great characters and a great, descriptive take on New York City. Two murders converge in the experiences of one man in Carocari’s debut novel. Franco DiMaso indulges in an atypical-for-him casual hookup with a man whose name he doesn’t know and ends up with a laced joint as well. The combination leaves him hazy and disoriented and unsure whether he’s just witnessed a murder. Things only get worse for Franco as he becomes a suspect and wrestles with his own father’s unsolved murder 40 years ago during the infamous New York City blackout.

Claire Booth is a former journalist who has reported on high-profile stories all over the country, including that of a California cult leader who became the subject of her nonfiction book The False Prophet. After spending so much time covering crimes so strange and convoluted they seemed more fiction than reality, she had enough of the real world and decided to write novels instead. Her Sheriff Hank Worth mysteries take place in Branson, Missouri, where small-town Ozark politics and big-city country music tourism clash in – yes – strange and convoluted ways. More at


from Sandra Ruttan

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna RaybournNot only is Killers of a Certain Age a female-driven thriller, it's a thriller focusing on women heading into retirement. Four trained assassins must try to unravel their past when they're targeted by a killer. This is a thriller that kept me turning the pages and guessing from start to finish, and it's incredibly refreshing to discover a story highlighting the fact that age is just a number, and older assassins can be every bit as deadly as their younger rivals. This book is perfect for those who like action-packed stories and don't shy away from some violence.

Kismet by Amina AkhtarSome stories could happen anywhere. Others are tied to their location in an intricate way, and that's the case with Kismet. Ronnie finally breaks free from an abusive aunt and the restrictions of her life in New York City, but finds herself in the middle of a mystery when people start dying. I found this to be a fast-paced thriller with an interesting protagonist and was impressed with Akhtar's sleight of hand storytelling. Kismet is perfect for readers who love stories with a strong sense of place and amateur sleuths with compelling backstories.

Found Object by Anne FrasierThere's something about the story behind the title that sets you up for a bit of a surreal journey. You realize you're dealing with someone broken, someone twisted by their exposure to a person who doesn't quite function the way the rest of us do, and this exposure has tainted their life, shaping their relationship failures and view of the world. I felt an instant connection with Jupiter, not because of any shared experience but because she's haunted by her past and trying to come to terms with it without much support. An intriguing thriller where secrets and lies and fears converge in devastating ways. Found Object also evokes a strong sense of place, and those who enjoy stories where old and new crimes collide should check out Frasier's latest.

Station Eternity by Mur LaffertyMallory Viridian's life is so complicated, she's fled earth and sought refuge on a space station. It seems like the only way to keep people from dying around her, so she's upset when she learns humans are on their way to the station. Unable to prevent another death, she finds herself navigating alien cultures and an array of motives when one of the most unlikable beings on the station is murdered. Lots of original concepts here combine to make this an engaging crossover perfect for people who love sci fi and mysteries.

Sandra Ruttan is an author, editor, and reviewer. Sandra and Laurel Hightower edited The Dead Inside, an identity horror anthology, that was released in 2022. She reviews and maintains Dark Dispatch and you can find her online at and
She's on Hive as @darkdispatch and on Instagram as sandraruttan and dark.dispatch


from Beau Johnson

Rooster by John FosterIf I would suggest one book I read this year as a Christmas gift, it would be Rooster by John Foster. Fun, fast, and with a voice that means business, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Throw in a retribution storyline, the past coming back to haunt a man, fisticuffs and bullets to the face, and yeah, consider me recommending. Go forth, seek out, get a copy for that reader in your life. Fun was had!

Beau Johnson is the creator of Bishop Rider.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Beau wants to stuff your stocking with books


This week, Beau Johnson has some suggestions for the book givers among you.

And you can pick up Beau's latest here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Season's Greetings

It's the middle of December. My wife's job already had their holiday party. My job's holiday party is on Thursday. Point being... it's cold. The holidays are almost here. And no one has the attention or drive to do a goddamn thing.

I wish I had more to talk about, but, you know, see above. It really is all winding down. It's been cold for a while here, but the other night after walking the dog I said to my wife, "I know we've had colder days, but tonight I could feel winter in the wind."

And, sure, maybe I sounded too much like a George RR Martin character, but it was true.

Winter is here. The time we drink and stay inside and read books and, assuming it's not going to wipe out your family in a carbon monoxide accident, enjoy both of those activities by a roaring fire.

I'll post again before Christmas, I think. But if I don't, here's to wishing you and yours a beautiful holiday. Stay warm. Take care of yourselves. Hail Satan. Read crime fiction. Drink egg nog.

Actually, skip the egg nog. That shit is trash.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Beach Bodies

There I was, last book, reading an obscure Ford Madox Ford novel named A Call.  It's a 1925 novel of manners set among the British upper class, with all that entails. I enjoyed it, as I do those kind of books from time to time, but when I finished it, I felt myself in the mood for something different, in tone, style, period, everything.  Cut to a Kindle download, and I'm reading the recent Nick Kolakowski novella Beach Bodies, which in every imaginable way is about as far as you can get from a 1925 British novel of manners.

Beach Bodies is vintage Nick. It has a slightly off-the-wall premise, smooth writing, a very fast pace, sarcasm, violence both over the top and funny, and a core, it turns out, of earnest emotion.  Not that earnestness or any kind of emotion will necessarily save anyone in the end, but it's there, giving the main characters in a story 90 or so pages long just enough depth and background to make them relatable and of substance.

The set-up here: Julia has gotten a job caring for and living in a billionaire's doomsday bunker that is on an island somewhere tropical. Above the bunker is a gorgeous beach, the ocean.  She has allowed in one guest, an ex-boyfriend name Alec, just back from the Russia-Ukraine war he got caught in the middle of while living in Kyiv trading cryptocurrency.  The bunker is utterly isolated and has every technological amenity one could imagine, but it also has surveillance equipment that allows Julia (and Alec) to be watched at all times by Julia's recruiter, who is off somewhere, Julia presumes, "in a comfortable office far above the streets of Seattle or Los Angeles or Hong Kong".

To this idyllic but creepy locale come three other people, two men and a woman, and their intentions, shall we say, are not what you would describe as friendly.  Besides, how did they get to this out-of-the-way location, how did they even know it exists, and what's the so-called mission that they say they're on?  In no time at all, Beach Bodies reveals itself as a home invasion thriller of sorts, (or should we call it a bunker invasion), and from there the plot and incidents really take off, getting progressively more and more extreme.  Action mixes with mystery mixes with gory slapstick mixes with science fiction. It's Julia and Alec against the intruders, and along the way we get to learn their backstory, a relationship not without its high points and also its ludicrously low ones.  And at the very end, what's going on is made clear, in a twist that makes sense and actually has an emotional basis.  The payoff satisfies.

Over several books now, Nick Kolakowski has been honing his distinctive approach, which is to blend genre tropes with a healthy dose of acerbic social commentary.  What he does especially well is keep his plots hurtling along while making his satiric and biting points, no small feat, and he's adept at quick sketch characterizations that keep the proceedings from becoming cartoonish.  Beach Bodies does all this, and, I should add, has a quite resonant final line.  As a reader, it's always nice to end a book with a chuckle, and with this one, courtesy of Nick, I did.

You can get Beach Bodies here.


Saturday, December 10, 2022

The Urgency of Now and Knowing Who You Are

By Scott D. Parker

Well, by my own definition, I’m officially in my mid-fifties.

For any given decade, I consider the years ending in zero through three to be “early.” Four, five, and six are “mid” while the last three years are “late.” I turned fifty-four on Tuesday.

You might think that would be cause for a great, big sigh. Sure, there’s a little of that as well as the realization that there are more years behind me than in front of me. That, my friends, is just a sign of mortality.

But here’s the giant cherry on top of this sundae we call life: I’m alive! So it is always good to recognize and respect and cherish that simple fact.

And yet, as I took stock of what I had accomplished and all that happened in my fifty-third year, I started to wonder what I would do in my fifty-fourth. It was the latter thought that gave me a sense of urgency.

Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor who was also a Stoic, wrote the following opening paragraphs in Book 5 (or should it be V?) of his Meditations (as translated by Gregory Hayes):

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I am rising to do the work of a human being. What do I have to complain about, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

—But it’s nicer here…

So were you born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?

Much of that passage reflects on what it is like to be a human. Heck, I’ll be honest and say that the spirit of these words permeate my brain when the alarm goes off at 5am and I need to get up and get to writing. Usually, but not always, they are enough and I get up.

When it comes to the writing side of things, re-imagine that same passage but substitute “Writer” for “human being”:

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I am rising to do the work of a Writer. What do I have to complain about, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

—But it’s nicer here…

So were you born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a Writer? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?

My fiction self fell apart in 2022 and I’m largely (partially?) to blame. That’s what I wrote about last week. I mostly shrugged it off, chalking things up to life experiences (my son moved out of the house), the day job (the most creative day job I’ve ever had), and a willingness to consume stories rather than produce them.

But I turned fifty-four this week. I’m in my mid-fifties now. Time is not infinite, so why the heck am I not writing more? Because when I boil myself down to my essence and set aside the crucial qualities of being a husband and father and child of God, what am I?

A Writer.

I go to concerts and take notes. Ditto for author events. I keep a notepad in the car so I can jot down ideas and notes during my commutes. When I read books at home—including fiction—I take notes. When I take trips, I make sure I have pen and paper. When I go to conventions, I take notes on what I see and what I want to buy. I am always writing.

Why? Because that’s who I am. And now, at fifty-four, there is a sense of urgency spurred from Aurelius’s quote (with my modification): “And you’re not willing to do your job as a Writer? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?”

Okay, okay, okay. I get it, Marcus, I get it. I am who I am. I’ll strive harder to be more myself from now on.

All of this begs the question for you, dear reader: do you know who you are? And are you doing it?

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

A Quiz

Today, a one-question quiz.  There's no grade involved, though, no right or wrong answer per se.

In Zadie Smith's essay collection Feel Free, which I've been reading on and off for months, there's a section made up of Harper's book reviews she's done.  One is a review of a novel called Seven Years by a Swiss writer named Peter Stamm.  

I never heard of Seven Years or read it, though after reading Zadie Smith's review I'm curious to read it. Smith describes the plot and the characters and talks about how the book is largely a critique of feminism, specifically first-wave feminism.  She says "Seven Years feels to me like a Catholic novel, an intriguing addition to a tradition that includes The Power and the Glory, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and the lesser-known An Experiment in Love by Hilary Mantel (which is also about the failures of first-wave feminism...)".  As I say, I've never read Seven Years, and I'm mentioning all this to give you an idea of what the book is about.  It sounds interesting enough.  But it's what Smith says to wrap up the review that truly got me thinking.  She says she made a note in the book's margin on the last page, then couldn't believe what she'd written.  That's because the author had made her ask a question about something she normally doesn't question.  And she concludes by saying this:

"Seven Years is a novel to make you doubt your own dogma.  What more can a novel do than that?"

After reading this, I thought: she's absolutely right.  A novel can't be much more effective or involving than one that makes you look at things, even if only for a few moments, through a perspective entirely different, or even opposed to, your usual one.  So my question is, what novel has done this for you, if any?  

I'd say for me a novel that does this is Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.  A family of wealthy English Catholics with a palatial estate, politically reactionary, that stands proudly against the working class and any notions of egalitarianism, in which a non-religious person at the end of the book appears to convert to a believer -- there's almost nothing in this book, in the world outside the book, I ascribe to or believe in.  And yet by the end, in the hands of the brilliant Waugh, I may actually have, for a stretch of time, doubted some of my own dogmas. Without question, as Smith says, quite an accomplishment for a novel.

Any novels that have done this for you?

Monday, December 5, 2022

True Crime Documentaries

True crime documentaries have been around for a long time. Only now, with the popularity of streaming, do the films and the filmmakers truly get their due. Documentaries can be powerful tools of truth or catalysts for our inspiration. Below, I look at a few of the documentaries that have left the greatest impact.

The Central Park Five

In 1989 Trisha Meili was assaulted and raped while jogging in New York City’s Central Park. The city was soon gripped by fear and panic. There was a drive for justice to be served whether it was based on lies or not and a sense of mob mentality took over. Eventually five Black and Latino teenagers were convicted of the brutal crime, even though they and their families protested their innocence. In 2022 the charges against the men were dropped due to DNA samples. The film features interviews with the men who spent six to thirteen years of their lives in jail for a crime they did not commit and explores the racism and corruption within the NYC justice system.


Cropsey explores true crime and the urban legend phenomenon by bringing together a Staten Island modern myth and the disturbing, true-life story of convicted child kidnapper Andre Rand. Rand is serving twenty-five years for his crimes, with opportunity for parole in 2037. The true horror of his crimes mixed with unsettling backdrops, an abandoned mental hospital and actual crime scenes from the case, make this a haunting tale. This creepy documentary relies on traditional documentary formatting, yet at times displays shades of horror when using found-footage elements and the tale of the urban legend which many believe Rand inspired.

The Thin Blue Line

In 1976 Dallas police officer Robert R. Wood was murdered during a traffic stop. Though two men were connected to the shooting only Randall Dale Adams was eventually arrested for the murder and sent to death row, though he repeated his innocence. The film is as much a criminal investigation as it is an example of fiction morphing truth. The director’s research and Interviews within the film with the other person of interest led to a surprise confession and the eventual release of Adams. One of the first documentaries that landed in my memory The Thin Blue Line is very much like a Hollywood movie. Like The Central Park Five, this film explores the dark side of our justice system. Indeed, The Thin Blue Line motivated local law enforcers and the courts to re-examine the information, clues, case files and failings.

The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer

Richard Kuklinski was a devoted husband, loving father, all while living a secret life as the brutal killer of over 100 people. The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer takes place inside Trenton State Prison where we meet Kuklinski and begin a series of chilling interviews. Now dead, he was, at the time, serving two life sentences for his crimes, Richard Kuklinski calmly tells of his early childhood, his family life, and, of course, his many horrible murders. The interview with Kuklinski is one of the most chilling moments set to film.

Mommy Dead and Dearest

Gypsy Rose Blanchard was the victim of abuse caused by the condition Munchausen by Proxy, whereby a guardian lies, inflates or causes illness or injury in their child for attention and sympathy. Gypsy Rose was forced into dozens of unnecessary surgeries and spent most of her life in a wheelchair, while her mother benefitted from the kindness of others. When Gypsy develops a relationship with a young man, they soon hatch a plan. It’s not until Dee Dee is murdered that the horrible treatment of Gypsy Rose comes to light.




Saturday, December 3, 2022

Taking Stock and Looking Ahead


Scott D. Parker

Are you ready for 2023?

I’m a firm believer in constant renewal, be that daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly resets. That is, after all, what New Year’s Resolutions are: a reset. A chance to start a new habit or break an old on.

But it is a good idea to plan ahead and be ready for your start date, and that’s where it’s good to review the current year. I actually started the process this week at my office during my lunch hours. I found an empty conference room with a large white board and started taking stock of 2022 in terms of my writing. I made various lists including the following:

  • What went wrong?
  • What is changing?
  • What to change
  • What kind of writing system works best?

For those that top line item, I was brutally honest with myself. Why had I not produced as much writing as I wanted to back on New Year’s Day 2022? I dug into my answers, looking for ways to improve. Because if something isn’t working for you, have the courage to confront it, ask why, and then change. That’s vital to having a sustainable, repeatable system.

I realized my paltry fiction output in 2022 was a combination of two things: my son moved out of the house (and I wasn’t prepared for the pre-move/post-move emotional wallop that produced) and my day job is the most creative day job I’ve ever had. These past few weeks, I’ve recognized how these two threads play into my psyche and have adjusted.

The Changing/Change list are the positive aspects of my life I’m implementing to address all that went wrong. I made sure that the items on these lists are all positive. I went through a terrible time in the beginning of the last decade where I’d chastise myself when I faltered and that didn’t lead to anything good.

The system part is the nuts and bolts part of writing. I’ve tried various ways to write novels and stories. Some don’t work. Some do. My challenge to myself is to take stock of what works and implement it and make it repeatable.

The good thing about taking stock and looking ahead, at least for me, is that it makes my excited to start. I’m purposively limiting my start date to New Year’s Day 2023 to build up anticipation and excitement.

But I pave the way by a month’s worth of preparation.

Have you started?

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Honjin Murders

In my continuing adventures in the land of honkaku, (traditional, often locked-room Japanese mystery novels), I recently read Seishi Yokomizo's The Honjin Murders.  Published here by Pushkin Vertigo, it was first released in Japan in 1946, putting its author on the mystery scene map and launching him on a long and successful writing career.

The detective in this, making his first appearance, is one Kosuke Kindaichi, who Yokomizo wrote 77 books about, and the time is the winter of 1937.  In a small, rural village, the large Ichiyanagi family is all excited getting prepared for the wedding of one of their sons, Kenzo, to a young woman named Katsuko. On the night of the wedding, however, the Ichiyangi household is awakened by a horrendous scream, followed by the sound of eerie music played on a koto.  Bride and groom are found murdered.  The killer, whoever it is, has vanished into the night, and all that is left behind as clues are a handprint and a bloodied samurai sword, stuck into the unmarked snow outside the house where the murder took place.  Who did this, is the first question, why, is another, and the third question is, in vintage locked-room fashion, how could this killing have been done.

What makes The Honjin Murders stand out, aside from the excellence of the puzzle itself, is how it uses its plot and characters to look at rural Japanese customs at the time. Class distinctions are explored along with ideas about family bloodlines, tradition, and honor at a time, apparently, when all these concepts in Japan were in flux, the old meeting the new.  But through it all, with his cast of eccentrics, Yokomizo keeps things moving quickly, and he's adept at mixing lighthearted and at times tongue-in-cheek narration with scenes full of macabre atmosphere.  The murder is particularly gory.  And as I have found with several of the honkaku I've read, there is a very entertaining self-referential quality about the book, evidence of the author's love for the very kind of mystery story he's telling.  He makes one of the characters (and thus suspects) an avid reader of mystery novels, and his detective, Kindaichi, is a reader of detective novels, and one chapter in the book is called "A Conversation about Detective Novels".  While discussing the mystery at hand they're in (The Honjin Murders), Kindaichi and others discuss the difference between mystery fiction and real life, how criminals behave in each, and they reference Gaston Leroux's The Mystery of the Yellow Room as well as a couple of John Dickson Carr's books.  It's something I find intriguing and enjoyable every time I read one of these Japanese mysteries, how tropes and patterns developed in Anglo/European fiction get refracted through a different prism, and with such cleverness and fun.  Kindaichi, I should add, is an engaging and likable character, with quirks, needless to say, and with his scruffiness and overall laid-back demeanor, it's no surprise that he's been described as someone not unlike Peter Falk's Columbo.  He is, at least in this book though, an amateur detective, fulfilling that particular genre tradition.

Got a couple nights? Want to learn something about samurai swords and how kotos are strung while trying to figure out who killed the bridal couple?  You can't go wrong with The Honjin Murders.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

When a Movie Stays the Same But You’ve Changed


Scott D. Parker

For six years now, my family of three have watched “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” the night before Thanksgiving. And yeah, it is still a funny and heartfelt as it as always been. Heck, minutes before any given scene or line of dialogue shows up on screen, I’ll find myself laughing at it. Case in point: when that pickup truck driver arrives to drive Steve Martin and John Candy to the train station.

The other movie tradition is “Home for the Holidays,” the 1995 film directed by Jodie Foster. Holly Hunter stars as Claudia, a forty-year-old single mom who travels from Chicago back home to Baltimore for Thanksgiving. She’s just lost her job, her sixteen-year-old daughter matter-of-factory announced that she’s planning on sleeping with her boyfriend at her boyfriend’s family house, and she’s just counting the hours until she can get back on the plane and fly home. In between, she has to survive being with her empty nest, retired parents (Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning), her straight-laced, bitter older sister (Cynthia Stevenson), and her hyper, over-the-top, gay younger brother (Robert Downey, Jr.). Tagging along with her brother is Leo (Dylan McDermott) who Claudia assumes is with her brother but is actually there to meet her.

The family is dysfunctional and the first time I saw it, that dysfunctionality bothered me. You see, I’m not from that kind of family. I’m an only child of only child parents so growing up, if all the grandparents showed up, there was only seven people in the room. But even when I think about my extended family, I can’t think of any member who doesn’t get along with everyone else.

As the years have gone on and I’ve watched some truly wonderful acting, many of the film’s little moments stand out. It could be an off-hand remark Claudia says to her brother or Downey Jr.’s eyebrow raised to say more than words could say or Durning’s chance answering of the phone and hearing his son’s husband on the other end of the line and this straight-laced, old fashioned man summon up the words to congratulate him while softly touching his son’s face.

But on Thursday night, another scene just walloped me and I should have saw it coming. Late in the movie, on the morning after Thanksgiving when Claudia has to fly home, she walks down to the basement. There she finds her dad, sitting alone, watching his home movies. There, flickering on the white screen, are the images of his past, his children as kids, and he and his wife as they used to be. The film is made to look like it was shot in the Sixties, with slightly overexposed colors.

Her dad, having just experienced the latest in a probably long line of difficult Thanksgiving dinners with his adult children and their families, starts to give his daughter life advice. He recounts a day that he considers one of his best memories. It took place back in 1969 when his family watched as a 727 took off and he and Claudia watched with eyes wide open. They were fearless and that’s his advice to his adult daughter: be fearless and go after Leo.

The subtext of that scene is bookended by the home movies and the last words he says that ends the scene: “I wish I had it [that 727 moment] on tape.” Durning is a retired empty nester whose family has grown up, moved away, and changed. He can’t get back what he had, so he’s comforted with memories and home movies.

Last year when my family of three watched this movie, my son still lived with us. This year, he returned home from his own apartment to stay with us these few days. My wife and I are empty nesters now, and while that scene of this wonderful movie has not changed, we have. We all three have. Life always moves on.

So cherish each and every moment of your life for it won’t ever happen again. And take as many pictures and videos as possible to help you remember. Because one day, we’re all going to find ourselves watching home movies or flipping through a photo album (physical or digital) and remembering our favorite moments of life.

And always be fearless.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022


Everyone I know has Thanksgiving horror stories. 

Family who turn the table into the goddamn Marketplace of Ideas. Insensitive Uncles. Small personal gripes that spill over like so much gravy from the pourer. Cousins fresh from their first semester at college who think they have the whole world figured out (who also think you're too stupid to smell the reek of ditchweed when they come back form "going for a walk"). 

This is a stressful time of year for a lot of people. There are expectations everywhere. Do we have Gluten Free options? How long does that Turkey really need to de-thaw (add two hours, at least, just to be sure)? Will everyone get along? Will everyone get along if we don't have booze? Or maybe we should have more?

But our expectations, for ourselves and for others, are borne out of love. We want the people we gather with to have a pleasant time. We want to enjoy ourselves. We want the ability to sit down and soak in a quiet moment. We want a chance to reflect and be thankful. 

Some of us, if we're lucky, will get that. That moment where the table falls to a lull and everyone is content and satisfied and happy. For others, the whole thing will spill into chaos. Shouting and messes and conversations so brittle they may snap like the hardtack Aunt Doris proudly calls butter rolls.

This doesn't have anything to do with crime fiction. With reading or writing. I could make a lame post about how inspiration is everywhere and you should kill your annoying family members in your work. I could make an overly sentimental post about how, no matter what, at the end of the night you'll be able to sit down with your book and catch a few minutes of silence. But that would both undercut the genuine stress so many people are going for, and also not live up to the quiet joy that others will feel. 

So, for now, I'll just say this: I hope your Thanksgiving is something you can actually be thankful for. I hope it is as easy as possible and that everyone has a wonderful time. And I hope, if things do fall into the maw of chaos, you can laugh about it. If not now, then later. 

I have a lot to be thankful for this year. I'm going to do my best to enjoy it. I hope you do too.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

A Great Thanksgiving Film

Thanksgiving with time has essentially become an excuse to cook, drink wine, eat, and stay in comfortable clothes all day, except for the times I may have to go out and buy something for the cooking or drinking.  And later in the day, what else to do in a lazy mood but binge-watch a series or see a movie or two? When I think about it, I guess I could say that Thanksgiving has become something of a template for what retirement days, if ever reached, might be, though I wouldn't eat as much every day in retirement as I do on Thanksgiving.  But exercise (which I do early in the day on Thanksgiving), cook, eat, watch something enjoyable -- and write certainly -- wouldn't make for the least pleasurable old age.  But anyway, I'm getting off track, because what I really wanted to talk about here is a movie that just popped into my mind as one I might watch this year to mark the occasion. Why it hasn't occurred to me in years past as a  fitting Thanksgiving film I don't know, but regardless...I'm talking about Terrence Malick's The New World.

I haven't seen it since it played in theaters, for not all that long, back in 2005.  But it is, without doubt, the most memorable, and unusual, depiction of the Jamestown, Pocahontas, John Smith and John Rolfe story I've ever come across.

Somehow the film is both majestic and otherworldly, not to mention, in the Terrence Malick way, astonishingly beautiful.  Yet it also has an immediacy that makes it feel as if history is actually unfolding, in all its weirdness and horror and moments of grace, before you. A lot of that is because, as I recall it, the film unfolds with virtually no exposition. The film feels like something both mythical and historically grounded, though it also seems as if Malick has only incomplete information to work with, which, of course, considering all the romance and exaggeration and downright nonsense that have come down to us about these events, he has.  Roger Ebert's review from the time sums up this quality well, saying "what distinguishes Malick's film is how he firmly refuses to know more than he should...The events in his film, including the tragic battles between the Indians [his usage] and the settlers, seem to be happening for the first time."

As he points out, tragic, in the end, is what much of it is.  We all understand that now.  Or should.  When civilizations meet, with conflicting values and belief systems, one eager to expand at all costs, no matter what destruction it will wreak, you get, well, what we've gotten. But The New World somehow conveys the essential mysteriousness of all these events, defamiliarizing them, making a story we've heard too many times to remember something strange and new.  

And what does any of this have to do with crime, here on a crime-themed blog? Nothing, I suppose, other than the obvious -- that you could say that the whole country (like most countries I've ever read about) was founded on a crime. Or multiple crimes. "How much better if Plymouth Rock had landed on the Pilgrims than the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock" and all that.  Still, nothing I've seen captures what might have been, what was pristine, what was there at the start, when anything was possible, as this film does. And the final sections, following Pocahantas to England, where she died, dressed in English finery, are extremely moving.

Yes, after the cooking and eating this year, I think I'm going to settle in and watch The New World again, thankful that Malick made it.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Review: Deep Cover: Mob Land, Taking on the Chicago Mob


By Claire Booth

I recently listened to Season Two of Deep Cover, a podcast that deconstructs the story of one undercover operative. This time it’s Bob Cooley, a Chicago lawyer who becomes a fixer for the mob. He’s completely amoral, until he decides he doesn’t like the way he’s being treated. So he walks into a federal prosecutor’s office and offers to start wearing a wire.

That ultimately leads to arrests, indictments, and a serious dent in the mob’s power. The facts make for a good story, but it’s Cooley’s psychology that’s the really fascinating part of this 10-episode season. He’s full of contradictions and inconsistencies and his ability to rationalize his law-breaking is jaw-dropping. And it makes for excellent listening.

If you haven’t listened to Season One, you can find my take on it here.