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Longmire Debuts on A&E
Oline Cogdill

longmire_roberttaylorCraig Johnson's seven novels about Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire are among the most visual in the mystery genre.

Big, sweeping vistas of Big Sky country, from the wide-open plains to the ranches, coupled with complex characters made it tailor-made for TV.

And the new crime series Longmire does not disappoint. Longmire debuts at 10 pm Eastern and Pacific time and 9 pm Central time June 3, on the A&E Network.

Longmire's action is set just before Johnson's first novel, The Cold Dish, began, though future episodes will feature plots from some of the novels.

The series is very much in keeping with the spirit of the novels, although the printed version has more humor than the screen version, at least in the first episodes. Johnson is the series' creative consultant. The author also watched the auditions and gives final approval to scripts.

A series set in the West might seem old-fashioned because, after all, the classic westerns that used to dominate the TV are long gone. The Rifleman, Big Valley, Maverick, etc., are only on cable networks that feature old shows.

While Walt is a frontier sheriff, Longmire is a contemporary western in every sense of the word. (How many cowboys used a French press to make their coffee while sitting around the campfire?)

longmire_Katee_SackhoffThe Longmire novels have always shown parallels between rural Wyoming and urban cities such as New York. Both regions have their good points, says Longmire in the trailer voiceover, and both have troubles with race, corruption, violence and greed.

Johnson's novels have excelled at showing this universality, and the TV series gracefully picks up this theme.

This is not a Wyoming sheriff version of Walker, Texas Ranger, but rather a more nuanced series that looks into the heart of darkness with complex characters whose motives are often found in various shades of gray.

Longmire is perfectly cast with Australian actor Robert Taylor longmire_Lou_Diamond_Phillips2(The Matrix) as Walt Longmire, exuding the same charisma and calmness that the sheriff exudes. He wears his hat like a shield.

Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck of Battlestar Galactica) also is a good choice for Vic Moretti, Longmire's insightful deputy.

While Lou Diamond Phillips doesn't physically resemble the Standing Bear of the novels, this veteran actor—and a personal favorite—captures the essence of the character.

Longmire is beautifully shot with New Mexico standing in for Absaroka County, Wyoming.

In the first episode, Walt investigates the murder of a high school teacher, the disappearance of a Native American teenager and a mobile brothel.

But the real plot centers on how Walt rebuilds his life and deals with the grief of losing his wife a year ago. He's let himself slip and, as one of his deputies says, "the sheriff hasn't done much in a while."

With the help of his daughter Cady (Cassidy Freeman of Smallville), Vic, Standing Bear and the job, Walt has to pick himself up by his bootstraps.

He feels both betrayed but also invigorated when his ambitious deputy Branch Connally (Bailey Chase of Damages) decides to run against him for sheriff.

I hope the TV series Longmire will bring a whole new set of readers to the Longmire novels.

Longmire's debut at 10 pm Eastern and Pacific time and 9 pm Central time June 3, on A&E Network, immediately follows the third season of the crime drama The Glades, which begins at 9 pm.

Photos/A&E Network: Top, Robert Taylor; center, Katee Sackhoff; bottom, Lou Diamond Phillips of Longmire.

Super User
2012-06-02 20:21:49

longmire_roberttaylorCraig Johnson's seven novels about Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire are among the most visual in the mystery genre.

Big, sweeping vistas of Big Sky country, from the wide-open plains to the ranches, coupled with complex characters made it tailor-made for TV.

And the new crime series Longmire does not disappoint. Longmire debuts at 10 pm Eastern and Pacific time and 9 pm Central time June 3, on the A&E Network.

Longmire's action is set just before Johnson's first novel, The Cold Dish, began, though future episodes will feature plots from some of the novels.

The series is very much in keeping with the spirit of the novels, although the printed version has more humor than the screen version, at least in the first episodes. Johnson is the series' creative consultant. The author also watched the auditions and gives final approval to scripts.

A series set in the West might seem old-fashioned because, after all, the classic westerns that used to dominate the TV are long gone. The Rifleman, Big Valley, Maverick, etc., are only on cable networks that feature old shows.

While Walt is a frontier sheriff, Longmire is a contemporary western in every sense of the word. (How many cowboys used a French press to make their coffee while sitting around the campfire?)

longmire_Katee_SackhoffThe Longmire novels have always shown parallels between rural Wyoming and urban cities such as New York. Both regions have their good points, says Longmire in the trailer voiceover, and both have troubles with race, corruption, violence and greed.

Johnson's novels have excelled at showing this universality, and the TV series gracefully picks up this theme.

This is not a Wyoming sheriff version of Walker, Texas Ranger, but rather a more nuanced series that looks into the heart of darkness with complex characters whose motives are often found in various shades of gray.

Longmire is perfectly cast with Australian actor Robert Taylor longmire_Lou_Diamond_Phillips2(The Matrix) as Walt Longmire, exuding the same charisma and calmness that the sheriff exudes. He wears his hat like a shield.

Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck of Battlestar Galactica) also is a good choice for Vic Moretti, Longmire's insightful deputy.

While Lou Diamond Phillips doesn't physically resemble the Standing Bear of the novels, this veteran actor—and a personal favorite—captures the essence of the character.

Longmire is beautifully shot with New Mexico standing in for Absaroka County, Wyoming.

In the first episode, Walt investigates the murder of a high school teacher, the disappearance of a Native American teenager and a mobile brothel.

But the real plot centers on how Walt rebuilds his life and deals with the grief of losing his wife a year ago. He's let himself slip and, as one of his deputies says, "the sheriff hasn't done much in a while."

With the help of his daughter Cady (Cassidy Freeman of Smallville), Vic, Standing Bear and the job, Walt has to pick himself up by his bootstraps.

He feels both betrayed but also invigorated when his ambitious deputy Branch Connally (Bailey Chase of Damages) decides to run against him for sheriff.

I hope the TV series Longmire will bring a whole new set of readers to the Longmire novels.

Longmire's debut at 10 pm Eastern and Pacific time and 9 pm Central time June 3, on A&E Network, immediately follows the third season of the crime drama The Glades, which begins at 9 pm.

Photos/A&E Network: Top, Robert Taylor; center, Katee Sackhoff; bottom, Lou Diamond Phillips of Longmire.

Martha Grimes' Animal Concerns
Oline Cogdill

grimes_martha2Martha Grimes' novels about Scotland Yard Detective Richard Jury and his aristocratic friend Melrose Plant meld the English village mystery with the police procedural.

These novels juxtapose a clever, cold-blooded killer, or killers with a quaint village filled with charming, eccentric residents. The American-born author honored the traditional English village mystery while giving it a hard edge and offering a little satire on the tea and scones world in these novels.

She also has written a book of poetry, three atmospheric novels, including Fadeaway Girl, featuring a 12-year-old girl and set at a Maryland hotel, two novellas and a novel about the publishing industry.

The 22 novels in the Jury series and her other novels earned Martha Grimes the title of Grand Master from the Mystery Writers of America, presented during the annual Edgar Awards banquet.

Anyone who was at the Edgar symposium this year heard my interview with Martha during which we talked about her novels and also a cause close to her heart--animal rights.

As a fund-raiser and someone who wants to bring more attention to animals who've ended up in shelters, Grimes has come up "Best in Shelter."

"Best in Shelter" is a virtual dog show in which real dogs at four Washington, D.C.-area shelters compete for prizes. Each dog in the show is up for adoption and, Grimes and the shelters hope this prompts people to give forever homes to these dogs.

The voting begins June 14 and ends June 17. Details on the website.

During our interview and on the Best in Shelter website, Martha discussed how the idea came about.

Best in Shelter was inspired by one of the major “best in show” dog competitions," Grimes writes. "Or rather, inspired by the commercials between events. The commercials featured dogs behind bars; in other words, shelter animals. The contrast between the pedigree dogs, so well-trained, so well-taken care of, so admired, so worthy was in such contrast to the dogs behind bars that it seemed like two different dog-worlds," she added.

"The aim of “Best in Shelter” is to raise awareness of animal shelters and what they have to offer. We want to blot out the stereotypes of shelter animals as being the opposite of show dogs— as being untrained, unkempt, unworthy. This is far from the truth. Not all the dogs you see in shelters are there because they were unmanageable. Most are there because the shelters have rescued them from the street, from abuse, from “hoarding,” from puppy mills," she added.

"...vote for the dog you would adopt if you were able to. Best in Shelter is a virtual dog show, but the dogs are real," stated Grimes.

As a dog lover whose wonderful companions have come from shelters and other rescue situations, I applaud Grimes involvement. I hope each of these dogs receives a forever home.

Super User
2012-06-13 02:39:28

grimes_martha2Martha Grimes' novels about Scotland Yard Detective Richard Jury and his aristocratic friend Melrose Plant meld the English village mystery with the police procedural.

These novels juxtapose a clever, cold-blooded killer, or killers with a quaint village filled with charming, eccentric residents. The American-born author honored the traditional English village mystery while giving it a hard edge and offering a little satire on the tea and scones world in these novels.

She also has written a book of poetry, three atmospheric novels, including Fadeaway Girl, featuring a 12-year-old girl and set at a Maryland hotel, two novellas and a novel about the publishing industry.

The 22 novels in the Jury series and her other novels earned Martha Grimes the title of Grand Master from the Mystery Writers of America, presented during the annual Edgar Awards banquet.

Anyone who was at the Edgar symposium this year heard my interview with Martha during which we talked about her novels and also a cause close to her heart--animal rights.

As a fund-raiser and someone who wants to bring more attention to animals who've ended up in shelters, Grimes has come up "Best in Shelter."

"Best in Shelter" is a virtual dog show in which real dogs at four Washington, D.C.-area shelters compete for prizes. Each dog in the show is up for adoption and, Grimes and the shelters hope this prompts people to give forever homes to these dogs.

The voting begins June 14 and ends June 17. Details on the website.

During our interview and on the Best in Shelter website, Martha discussed how the idea came about.

Best in Shelter was inspired by one of the major “best in show” dog competitions," Grimes writes. "Or rather, inspired by the commercials between events. The commercials featured dogs behind bars; in other words, shelter animals. The contrast between the pedigree dogs, so well-trained, so well-taken care of, so admired, so worthy was in such contrast to the dogs behind bars that it seemed like two different dog-worlds," she added.

"The aim of “Best in Shelter” is to raise awareness of animal shelters and what they have to offer. We want to blot out the stereotypes of shelter animals as being the opposite of show dogs— as being untrained, unkempt, unworthy. This is far from the truth. Not all the dogs you see in shelters are there because they were unmanageable. Most are there because the shelters have rescued them from the street, from abuse, from “hoarding,” from puppy mills," she added.

"...vote for the dog you would adopt if you were able to. Best in Shelter is a virtual dog show, but the dogs are real," stated Grimes.

As a dog lover whose wonderful companions have come from shelters and other rescue situations, I applaud Grimes involvement. I hope each of these dogs receives a forever home.

Jeffery Deaver Sing-Along
Oline Cogdill

deaverjeffery_xo2Jeffery Deaver is known to pull no stops in the research he does for a novel, whether it is his Lincoln Rhyme novels or Carte Blanche, his James Bond novel.

And his latest novel about California Bureau of Investigation special agent Kathryn Dance comes with a soundtrack.

In Deaver's newest novel XO, Dance tries to stop an obsessive stalker from destroying Kayleigh Towne, a young country/pop singer.

Of course there are twists aplenty.

There also is music.

The music mentioned in the XO novel is real. Deaver wrote the lyrics for the 11 songs on the XO CD and Clay Stafford and Ken Landers set the songs to music. The songs are performed by Treva Blomquist, playing the role of Deaver’s main character on the CD XO. Also available is a free download of the song Your Shadow, the song that is so important in XO. Details are on Deaver's web site.

Clues are in the songs, so you can listen while you read or just enjoy the music itself. Deaver currently is on tour for XO.

Deaver spoke about this project during his luncheon speech as one of the guests of honors at Sleuthfest this year.

Writing song lyrics and overseeing a CD isn't a far stretch for Deaver. In addition to being an international best-selling author, Deaver has a background in music. He once was the opening act for Bob Dylan.

Super User
2012-06-20 10:15:39

deaverjeffery_xo2Jeffery Deaver is known to pull no stops in the research he does for a novel, whether it is his Lincoln Rhyme novels or Carte Blanche, his James Bond novel.

And his latest novel about California Bureau of Investigation special agent Kathryn Dance comes with a soundtrack.

In Deaver's newest novel XO, Dance tries to stop an obsessive stalker from destroying Kayleigh Towne, a young country/pop singer.

Of course there are twists aplenty.

There also is music.

The music mentioned in the XO novel is real. Deaver wrote the lyrics for the 11 songs on the XO CD and Clay Stafford and Ken Landers set the songs to music. The songs are performed by Treva Blomquist, playing the role of Deaver’s main character on the CD XO. Also available is a free download of the song Your Shadow, the song that is so important in XO. Details are on Deaver's web site.

Clues are in the songs, so you can listen while you read or just enjoy the music itself. Deaver currently is on tour for XO.

Deaver spoke about this project during his luncheon speech as one of the guests of honors at Sleuthfest this year.

Writing song lyrics and overseeing a CD isn't a far stretch for Deaver. In addition to being an international best-selling author, Deaver has a background in music. He once was the opening act for Bob Dylan.

Where We Read
Oline Cogdill

bookshelf1_foster.jptI think we can all agree that reading is important. That's why you subscribe to Mystery Scene  magazine and regularly read this blog.

So Amazon's recent compilation of the Most Well-Read Cities in America always interests me. I have to figure that mystery fiction plays a big part in these readers' lives.

The good news is that reading seems to be up by 3.19%. OK, so that's a small amount but at least it's an increase.

According to Amazon, the "ranking was determined by compiling sales data of all book, magazine and newspaper sales in both print and Kindle format since June 1, 2011, on a per capita basis in cities with more than 100,000 residents."

Amazon also suggests why certain cities rank high in some categories.

For example, according to Amazon:

Berkeley, Calif., a city full of jet-setters, topped the list by ordering the most Travel books.

Boulder, Colo., keeps the closest eye on its waistline by topping the list of cities that order the most books in the Health, Fitness & Dieting category.

Virginia is for lovers; Alexandria, Va., that is, which tops the charts in the Romance book category.

Cambridge, Mass., grows the most budding entrepreneurs. These locals topped the list for ordering the most books in the Business & Investing category.

I was pleased to see that three Florida cities made the cut, including Miami (they probably include all of South Florida in this listing; and we have some terrific mystery writers down here): Orlando (it isn't all about Micky Mouse!) and Gainesville (a college town).

See how your hometown measures up.

The Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities are:

1. Alexandria, Va.
2. Cambridge, Mass.
3. Berkeley, Calif.
4. Ann Arbor, Mich.
5. Boulder, Colo.  
6. Miami    
7. Arlington, Va.
8. Gainesville, Fla
9. Washington, D.C.
10. Salt Lake City  
11. Pittsburgh
12. Knoxville, Tenn.
13. Seattle
14. Orlando, Fla.
15. Columbia, S.C.
16. Bellevue, Wash.
17. Cincinnati
18. St. Louis
19.  Atlanta
20. Richmond, Va.

(Many thanks to my friend Jordan Foster for her photo of her home library.)

Super User
2012-06-08 09:51:14

bookshelf1_foster.jptI think we can all agree that reading is important. That's why you subscribe to Mystery Scene  magazine and regularly read this blog.

So Amazon's recent compilation of the Most Well-Read Cities in America always interests me. I have to figure that mystery fiction plays a big part in these readers' lives.

The good news is that reading seems to be up by 3.19%. OK, so that's a small amount but at least it's an increase.

According to Amazon, the "ranking was determined by compiling sales data of all book, magazine and newspaper sales in both print and Kindle format since June 1, 2011, on a per capita basis in cities with more than 100,000 residents."

Amazon also suggests why certain cities rank high in some categories.

For example, according to Amazon:

Berkeley, Calif., a city full of jet-setters, topped the list by ordering the most Travel books.

Boulder, Colo., keeps the closest eye on its waistline by topping the list of cities that order the most books in the Health, Fitness & Dieting category.

Virginia is for lovers; Alexandria, Va., that is, which tops the charts in the Romance book category.

Cambridge, Mass., grows the most budding entrepreneurs. These locals topped the list for ordering the most books in the Business & Investing category.

I was pleased to see that three Florida cities made the cut, including Miami (they probably include all of South Florida in this listing; and we have some terrific mystery writers down here): Orlando (it isn't all about Micky Mouse!) and Gainesville (a college town).

See how your hometown measures up.

The Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities are:

1. Alexandria, Va.
2. Cambridge, Mass.
3. Berkeley, Calif.
4. Ann Arbor, Mich.
5. Boulder, Colo.  
6. Miami    
7. Arlington, Va.
8. Gainesville, Fla
9. Washington, D.C.
10. Salt Lake City  
11. Pittsburgh
12. Knoxville, Tenn.
13. Seattle
14. Orlando, Fla.
15. Columbia, S.C.
16. Bellevue, Wash.
17. Cincinnati
18. St. Louis
19.  Atlanta
20. Richmond, Va.

(Many thanks to my friend Jordan Foster for her photo of her home library.)

Come Out to 'the Glades'
Oline Cogdill

theglades_jimkeili
Everyone thinks that the mystery writers from their state are among the best.

And they would be right.

Therefore I can say without prejudice that Florida mystery writers are among the best.

Florida is hot, both literally and in terms of the good stories that come from the Sunshine State.

And mystery/suspense television series also have discovered Florida. Magic City, which just wrapped up its first season on Starz; Burn Notice, a personal favorite; and the short-lived The Finder.

And we also have The Glades, which just started its third season on the A&E Network. The Glades airs at 9 pm Eastern and Pacific time; 8 pm Central time Sundays. Longmire airs immediately after at 10 pm.

The Glades follows a predictable pattern of the cop shows that are part comedy, part drama. Take one quirky cop—in this case Jim Longworth played by Australian actor Matt Passmore—who on the surface may be a goof-ball, and actually is to a certain degree, and is difficult to handle. But he also is a brilliant detective who sees through the facades of the criminals.

Team him up with a more serious and also brilliant partner—in this case the local medical examiner Carlos Sanchez (Carlos Gomez)—who is more involved with the nitty gritty of investigation.

This balance of intuitive and science has worked since the time of Sherlock Holmes. And while The Glades will never be mistaken for anything by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the TV series does have a high entertainment factor.

The set-up may be predictable and the plots are not all that deep. But the mystery keeps viewers guessing until the end, and The Glades is blessed with sharp writing and appealing lead characters.

gladestv_jimandcarlosPassmore is quite easy on the eyes and an appealing actor. He moves like a man who is confident in his investigative skills, yet doesn't have to work that hard to be right. Jim Longworth would rather be on the golf course than at a crime scene and this laid-back attitude works well for the Florida that the producers are trying to show.

The backstory is that Jim was a Chicago policeman who moved to Florida after being shot by his captain who suspected the detective of sleeping with his wife. Jim was innocent of that accusation of adultery and was able to leave with a good settlement.

He came to the fictional town of Palm Glades as an agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (which does exist). But Palm Glades isn't the nothing-ever-happens-here kind of place. The crime level seems equal to that of Chicago.

This third season is off to a good start. Jim finally is in a real relationship with Callie Cargill, played with a sexy intelligence and warmth by Kiele Sanchez. When they first met, Callie was a nurse trying to put herself through medical school and raise a 12-year-old son while her husband was in prison for armed robbery. Now Callie is free to be with Jim, but the job market is tight and she may have to consider relocating to work.

Jim also will have work problems when Jennifer Starke (Taylor Cole), the ambitious FDLE bureau chief, is sent to find out why the Palm Glades station has such a high success rate. Of course, this is because of the lone wolf Jim, who will bristle when the bureau chief tries to get more involved with the investigations.

In the season premiere, Jim and Carlos investigate the death of a millionaire who left all his money to an UFO organization, instead of to his much younger wife. The second episode deals with the death of a mermaid from a Florida attraction.

The Glades is shot, partly, in Pembroke Park, a town in Broward County where Fort Lauderdale is located. While The Glades captures the spirit of South Florida, it is not as accurate as the Miami-based Burn Notice.

The fictional Palm Glades is indeed fictional. It seems to be located in the south central part of Florida but it is very close to the ocean, the Everglades and major cities. The detectives once traveled to Tallahassee, located in northern Florida, at a record speed. Those waterfront restaurants and beach bars look great, and actual restaurants and bars are used, such as Le Tub (great hamburgers) and Cap's Place (reached only by boat), though they are not located as close together as the show suggests.

The producers work hard to find actual local sites, including such hyper-local references to the towns of Tamarac and Coral Springs. And the shots showcase Florida's beauty. The Palm County FDLE office is actually the Hollywood Arts & Cultural Center, which is listed as an original Florida Historical home site. Look for Doris' Market, one of the best independent grocery stores and delis in South Florida, in the first episode of this third season.

Local law enforcement often work as consultants, occasionally appearing on screen as themselves. The Glades occasionally uses local actors.

Jordan Wall, who plays lab tech Daniel Green, recently held a fundraiser for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, which brought out many of his castmates.

Regardless of where Palm Glades is supposed to be located, The Glades showcases Florida's beauty and its eccentricities. After all, Jim Longworth isn't the only quirky aspect of Florida.

The Glades airs at 9 pm Eastern and Pacific time; 8 pm Central time Sundays on the A&E Network. Longmire airs immediately after at 10 pm.

Photos: Top: Jim Longworth (Matt Passmore) and, center, Callie Cargill (Kiele Sanchez) interview a suspect. Center photo, Jim Longworth and medical examiner Carlos Sanchez (Carlos Gomez) on a case. A&E photos

Super User
2012-06-10 10:18:44

theglades_jimkeili
Everyone thinks that the mystery writers from their state are among the best.

And they would be right.

Therefore I can say without prejudice that Florida mystery writers are among the best.

Florida is hot, both literally and in terms of the good stories that come from the Sunshine State.

And mystery/suspense television series also have discovered Florida. Magic City, which just wrapped up its first season on Starz; Burn Notice, a personal favorite; and the short-lived The Finder.

And we also have The Glades, which just started its third season on the A&E Network. The Glades airs at 9 pm Eastern and Pacific time; 8 pm Central time Sundays. Longmire airs immediately after at 10 pm.

The Glades follows a predictable pattern of the cop shows that are part comedy, part drama. Take one quirky cop—in this case Jim Longworth played by Australian actor Matt Passmore—who on the surface may be a goof-ball, and actually is to a certain degree, and is difficult to handle. But he also is a brilliant detective who sees through the facades of the criminals.

Team him up with a more serious and also brilliant partner—in this case the local medical examiner Carlos Sanchez (Carlos Gomez)—who is more involved with the nitty gritty of investigation.

This balance of intuitive and science has worked since the time of Sherlock Holmes. And while The Glades will never be mistaken for anything by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the TV series does have a high entertainment factor.

The set-up may be predictable and the plots are not all that deep. But the mystery keeps viewers guessing until the end, and The Glades is blessed with sharp writing and appealing lead characters.

gladestv_jimandcarlosPassmore is quite easy on the eyes and an appealing actor. He moves like a man who is confident in his investigative skills, yet doesn't have to work that hard to be right. Jim Longworth would rather be on the golf course than at a crime scene and this laid-back attitude works well for the Florida that the producers are trying to show.

The backstory is that Jim was a Chicago policeman who moved to Florida after being shot by his captain who suspected the detective of sleeping with his wife. Jim was innocent of that accusation of adultery and was able to leave with a good settlement.

He came to the fictional town of Palm Glades as an agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (which does exist). But Palm Glades isn't the nothing-ever-happens-here kind of place. The crime level seems equal to that of Chicago.

This third season is off to a good start. Jim finally is in a real relationship with Callie Cargill, played with a sexy intelligence and warmth by Kiele Sanchez. When they first met, Callie was a nurse trying to put herself through medical school and raise a 12-year-old son while her husband was in prison for armed robbery. Now Callie is free to be with Jim, but the job market is tight and she may have to consider relocating to work.

Jim also will have work problems when Jennifer Starke (Taylor Cole), the ambitious FDLE bureau chief, is sent to find out why the Palm Glades station has such a high success rate. Of course, this is because of the lone wolf Jim, who will bristle when the bureau chief tries to get more involved with the investigations.

In the season premiere, Jim and Carlos investigate the death of a millionaire who left all his money to an UFO organization, instead of to his much younger wife. The second episode deals with the death of a mermaid from a Florida attraction.

The Glades is shot, partly, in Pembroke Park, a town in Broward County where Fort Lauderdale is located. While The Glades captures the spirit of South Florida, it is not as accurate as the Miami-based Burn Notice.

The fictional Palm Glades is indeed fictional. It seems to be located in the south central part of Florida but it is very close to the ocean, the Everglades and major cities. The detectives once traveled to Tallahassee, located in northern Florida, at a record speed. Those waterfront restaurants and beach bars look great, and actual restaurants and bars are used, such as Le Tub (great hamburgers) and Cap's Place (reached only by boat), though they are not located as close together as the show suggests.

The producers work hard to find actual local sites, including such hyper-local references to the towns of Tamarac and Coral Springs. And the shots showcase Florida's beauty. The Palm County FDLE office is actually the Hollywood Arts & Cultural Center, which is listed as an original Florida Historical home site. Look for Doris' Market, one of the best independent grocery stores and delis in South Florida, in the first episode of this third season.

Local law enforcement often work as consultants, occasionally appearing on screen as themselves. The Glades occasionally uses local actors.

Jordan Wall, who plays lab tech Daniel Green, recently held a fundraiser for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, which brought out many of his castmates.

Regardless of where Palm Glades is supposed to be located, The Glades showcases Florida's beauty and its eccentricities. After all, Jim Longworth isn't the only quirky aspect of Florida.

The Glades airs at 9 pm Eastern and Pacific time; 8 pm Central time Sundays on the A&E Network. Longmire airs immediately after at 10 pm.

Photos: Top: Jim Longworth (Matt Passmore) and, center, Callie Cargill (Kiele Sanchez) interview a suspect. Center photo, Jim Longworth and medical examiner Carlos Sanchez (Carlos Gomez) on a case. A&E photos

Next With John Katzenbach
Oline Cogdill

Katzenbachjohn_byBenRosenzweigJohn Katzenbach’s career as a novelist began in 1982 with In the Heat of the Summer, an edgy crime novel that looked at the cult of the celebrity, fame and media ethics.

In retrospect, In the Heat of the Summer also showed the newspaper industry at its height and, also, the beginnings of its slide. It was a business that Katzenbach knew quite well because he started for as a crime reporter for the Miami Herald and the now defunct Miami News.

Since then, Katzenbach has written 11 psychological thrillers and one non-fiction book.

Four of his novels have been filmed: The Mean Season in 1982 with Kurt Russell and Mariel Hemingway, based on In the Heat of the Summer; Just Cause in 1995 with Sean Connery; Hart’s War in 2002; and The Wrong Man released on television during 2011 in France as Faux Coupable.

Katzenbach’s new novel What Comes Next is about a university professor with degenerative dementia who thinks he may have witnessed the kidnapping of a teenage girl.

What clichés or preconceptions did you want to dispense about degenerative dementia?
I can’t say there were any preconceptions that I thought to dispel about the disease. What I wanted to do was find some truths about age and infirmity and I wanted to examine the nature of fighting back against illness. But, that said, I took some liberties with the course of the disease on my pages. I didn’t want to write a medical text. I wanted to write a thriller. As a writer you want to be accurate. But you also want to be truthful. They sometimes aren’t exactly the same things.

Why so much psychology in What Comes Next?
The science of psychology always adds to a reader’s depth of understanding not only about characters, but about plot. Readers want to be both surprised by the actions and behaviors of the people they come to know on the pages, but they also want it to make a kind of inner sense. You know, I can’t imagine not investing in the inner landscape of characters in any book I write. It ultimately is what makes the story rich for readers, it’s what involves them and it’s what makes them reach the end with a sense that they’ve been on a trip with not only the author, but his people too. Now, admittedly, sometimes that journey can be pretty dark and shadowy – and that’s what makes a thriller sophisticated. Or, at least, I hope so.

Psychology and the law often play an important part in your novels. Is this because your mother, Lydia, was a psychoanalyst, and your father, Nicholas, who recently died, was a U.S. attorney general under Lyndon B Johnson?
Well, I think in some way or another all writers are impacted by their parents. In my family, with my father’s legal prominence and my mother’s psychological acumen, growing up we roundly believed that with good emotional and legal help, anything could be accomplished. Even writing novels.

katzenbachjohn_whatcomesnextThe Wrong Man came out in 2006; why so long between novels?
I’m tempted to respond that in order to make this one so good… or perhaps vent about the frailty of the publishing world… or maybe launch into some heart-rending tale about near-fatal writer’s block… but the truth is simple. I got perhaps halfway through another book and just simply didn’t like the direction it was going and wasn’t as fond of the characters as I think a writer should be (both white hats and black hats) and didn’t find that the energy it takes to do the heavy lifting portion of novel writing was there every morning, so I put it aside. It was at this point that my friend that I mentioned above received his diagnosis. These events, feelings, suppositions coalesced at the same time and one plot got tossed and another picked up. Probably a good lesson in this for aspiring writers, that even after so many books and so many years of doing this, it’s still possible to trip and fall down the rabbit hole of a wrong idea.

How has your writing changed since your debut, In the Heat of the Summer (1982)?
At the beginning of one’s career, it’s so much seat of the pants flying. What sounds right on the page? When you get older and wiser you hope to endow characters with greater depth and to tie the knots of your stories tighter. My friend, the great writer (and barely adequate fisherman) Phil Caputo always says that there ought to be a law, or perhaps something in the Constitution, that allows authors to go back and rewrite their first novel after they’ve written five others, because then they actually know what they’re doing. Much good sense in this statement, I think.

How different is the thriller genre now as opposed to when you first started out?
You know, I think the thriller genre has changed some – but mostly in response to television and film. TV seems to have taken over the procedurals (thank you Jerry Bruckheimer and CSI Everywhere). And movies demand more depth and sophistication in thrillers because they have to appeal to a non-thirteen year old boy or girl audience. So authors place greater psychological demands on their stories. At least that’s my impression. If I’m wrong, just cancel everything I just said.

Will we see more movies from your novels?
More movies? Sure. My last book The Wrong Man was filmed for France 2 television this past year. A terrific, unsettling and very stylish job by an excellent director named Didier LePecheur. My book The Analyst keeps bubbling up both here and abroad. But I’m most optimistic that the novel I wrote in 2004 The Madman’s Tale will be filmed this year. I did the script adaptation myself for an Australian director and we’re well on the way to being funded. Now, as the Bard wrote, “there’s many a slip betwixt the lip and the cup” so one needs to be cautious. But cinematic hope springs eternal.

Have you ever wanted to write a series?
Nope. Never wanted to write a series to the immense dismay of my agent and various editors.

Your hobby is fly fishing. Will you ever write a novel with fly fishing at the center?
Curious question. Fly fishing at the center of a thriller? I thought that fly fishing was already in the center of all my novels. Just not explicitly.

What next?
What Comes Next? A little pun, there. I’m hard at work on a new book. Three women who do not know one another, a 17-year old high school student, a 34-year-old recent widow and a 51-year-old internist living alone all get the same message at the same time on the same day: “I’m coming for you.” What they do about this threat is the core of the new book.

Super User
2012-07-08 09:49:08

Katzenbachjohn_byBenRosenzweigJohn Katzenbach’s career as a novelist began in 1982 with In the Heat of the Summer, an edgy crime novel that looked at the cult of the celebrity, fame and media ethics.

In retrospect, In the Heat of the Summer also showed the newspaper industry at its height and, also, the beginnings of its slide. It was a business that Katzenbach knew quite well because he started for as a crime reporter for the Miami Herald and the now defunct Miami News.

Since then, Katzenbach has written 11 psychological thrillers and one non-fiction book.

Four of his novels have been filmed: The Mean Season in 1982 with Kurt Russell and Mariel Hemingway, based on In the Heat of the Summer; Just Cause in 1995 with Sean Connery; Hart’s War in 2002; and The Wrong Man released on television during 2011 in France as Faux Coupable.

Katzenbach’s new novel What Comes Next is about a university professor with degenerative dementia who thinks he may have witnessed the kidnapping of a teenage girl.

What clichés or preconceptions did you want to dispense about degenerative dementia?
I can’t say there were any preconceptions that I thought to dispel about the disease. What I wanted to do was find some truths about age and infirmity and I wanted to examine the nature of fighting back against illness. But, that said, I took some liberties with the course of the disease on my pages. I didn’t want to write a medical text. I wanted to write a thriller. As a writer you want to be accurate. But you also want to be truthful. They sometimes aren’t exactly the same things.

Why so much psychology in What Comes Next?
The science of psychology always adds to a reader’s depth of understanding not only about characters, but about plot. Readers want to be both surprised by the actions and behaviors of the people they come to know on the pages, but they also want it to make a kind of inner sense. You know, I can’t imagine not investing in the inner landscape of characters in any book I write. It ultimately is what makes the story rich for readers, it’s what involves them and it’s what makes them reach the end with a sense that they’ve been on a trip with not only the author, but his people too. Now, admittedly, sometimes that journey can be pretty dark and shadowy – and that’s what makes a thriller sophisticated. Or, at least, I hope so.

Psychology and the law often play an important part in your novels. Is this because your mother, Lydia, was a psychoanalyst, and your father, Nicholas, who recently died, was a U.S. attorney general under Lyndon B Johnson?
Well, I think in some way or another all writers are impacted by their parents. In my family, with my father’s legal prominence and my mother’s psychological acumen, growing up we roundly believed that with good emotional and legal help, anything could be accomplished. Even writing novels.

katzenbachjohn_whatcomesnextThe Wrong Man came out in 2006; why so long between novels?
I’m tempted to respond that in order to make this one so good… or perhaps vent about the frailty of the publishing world… or maybe launch into some heart-rending tale about near-fatal writer’s block… but the truth is simple. I got perhaps halfway through another book and just simply didn’t like the direction it was going and wasn’t as fond of the characters as I think a writer should be (both white hats and black hats) and didn’t find that the energy it takes to do the heavy lifting portion of novel writing was there every morning, so I put it aside. It was at this point that my friend that I mentioned above received his diagnosis. These events, feelings, suppositions coalesced at the same time and one plot got tossed and another picked up. Probably a good lesson in this for aspiring writers, that even after so many books and so many years of doing this, it’s still possible to trip and fall down the rabbit hole of a wrong idea.

How has your writing changed since your debut, In the Heat of the Summer (1982)?
At the beginning of one’s career, it’s so much seat of the pants flying. What sounds right on the page? When you get older and wiser you hope to endow characters with greater depth and to tie the knots of your stories tighter. My friend, the great writer (and barely adequate fisherman) Phil Caputo always says that there ought to be a law, or perhaps something in the Constitution, that allows authors to go back and rewrite their first novel after they’ve written five others, because then they actually know what they’re doing. Much good sense in this statement, I think.

How different is the thriller genre now as opposed to when you first started out?
You know, I think the thriller genre has changed some – but mostly in response to television and film. TV seems to have taken over the procedurals (thank you Jerry Bruckheimer and CSI Everywhere). And movies demand more depth and sophistication in thrillers because they have to appeal to a non-thirteen year old boy or girl audience. So authors place greater psychological demands on their stories. At least that’s my impression. If I’m wrong, just cancel everything I just said.

Will we see more movies from your novels?
More movies? Sure. My last book The Wrong Man was filmed for France 2 television this past year. A terrific, unsettling and very stylish job by an excellent director named Didier LePecheur. My book The Analyst keeps bubbling up both here and abroad. But I’m most optimistic that the novel I wrote in 2004 The Madman’s Tale will be filmed this year. I did the script adaptation myself for an Australian director and we’re well on the way to being funded. Now, as the Bard wrote, “there’s many a slip betwixt the lip and the cup” so one needs to be cautious. But cinematic hope springs eternal.

Have you ever wanted to write a series?
Nope. Never wanted to write a series to the immense dismay of my agent and various editors.

Your hobby is fly fishing. Will you ever write a novel with fly fishing at the center?
Curious question. Fly fishing at the center of a thriller? I thought that fly fishing was already in the center of all my novels. Just not explicitly.

What next?
What Comes Next? A little pun, there. I’m hard at work on a new book. Three women who do not know one another, a 17-year old high school student, a 34-year-old recent widow and a 51-year-old internist living alone all get the same message at the same time on the same day: “I’m coming for you.” What they do about this threat is the core of the new book.

What’s Happening With...John Straley?
Brian Skupin

straley_johnCrime-solving and whale-spotting

 

“There are some humpback whales outside my window,” reports John Straley, from Sitka, Alaska. “I’m standing in my kitchen, and I can see them, oh, about a half-mile out.”

Straley wrote six novels in the Cecil Younger series, from 1993 to 2001. Cecil is a private investigator (described as “half nerd, half outlaw” by Straley) just getting by in the coastal town of Sitka, where Straley also lives with his wife and son. Cecil looks for work, helps his friend Todd, loves a marine biologist named Jane Marie, and just tries to find some peace. The books were celebrated as much for the mind-expanding descriptions of Alaska as for the stories of the tormented but kind Cecil.

“You know, when I came to Alaska I just hated it, but now I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” Straley says.

He reluctantly moved there in 1977, when his wife Jan, a marine biologist, received a job offer that required her to relocate. They had met a few years earlier in Washington state, when Straley was working as a packer.

“People would come to go camping or hiking, and we would supply them with everything they needed for the trip. After they decided what they wanted, my job was to pack everything up and load it on the donkeys.

“One day I was guiding a group across a narrow bridge, and I looked down to see a beautiful woman at a campsite by herself.”

Did she notice Straley as well?

“No, she noticed the group passing, but it was a while before she took any notice of me,” Straley recalls. “I actually met her a few days later when she came to our base of operations for supplies. It turned out that she was quite a hiker—she would go for days with 80 pounds on her back.

“Well, after that I kind of kept track of her whereabouts, and when I knew she was in the area, I would get on a horse and ride out to her with something.” He explains, “We had all the supplies, you see, so I always had something she could use. I would literally get on a horse at the end of my working day, and ride for hours to bring her a head of lettuce.”

straley_coldwaterburningAt this point, did she think you were dating?

“She thought I was stalking her,” he laughs.

But she was soon won over, and they married, at first intending to remain in Washington. Then came the job offer from the Fish and Wildlife Commission, and the couple moved to Alaska, which Straley didn’t like at all.

“By that time I was working as a horseshoer, and it didn’t take long to notice that there weren’t any horses here. Not any. And it rained all the time.”

But Straley became more and more enamored with Alaska. He found work, first marking trails, later as an investigator for the Public Defender’s office, and still later as a private investigator. Along the way he wrote two novels, neither of which found publishers. Then he wrote the first Cecil Younger novel, The Woman Who Married a Bear, which was published by Soho Press. Straley’s immersive and poetic writing style left readers marveling at the picturesque wonders of a place most of them would never visit, and after Soho published the second book, Bantam took the series over in 1996.

After four more books, Bantam decided not to continue and suggested Straley write a standalone novel.

That was nearly five years ago. “It took me a while to find the new voice. I was so used to writing as Cecil that it was hard to switch to the third person.” Straley finished the new book, a thriller tentatively called The Big Both Ways (a reference to an unusual tidal feature in the Pacific) just a short time ago and his agent is talking to publishers now.

Does Straley have anything in mind for Cecil in the future?

“In fact I’ve started the seventh in the series, but this one is narrated by his girlfriend, Jane Marie. She definitely has a different view of Cecil than he has of himself. I think he would be surprised…

“I love writing about Cecil, I really do. So many people have approached me or written me over the last few years asking when the next one is coming out. I’d like to continue the series on their behalf.”

A John Straley Reading List

The Cecil Younger Novels
The Woman Who Married a Bear, 1992
The Curious Eat Themselves, 1993
The Music of What Happens, 1996
Death and the Language of Happiness, 1997
The Angels Will Not Care, 1998
Cold Water Burning, 2001

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #93.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-05 21:04:15

Crime-solving and whale-spotting

What’s Happening With...Anne Wingate (and Lee Martin and Martha G. Webb)?
Brian Skupin

wingate_anne2By any names necessary

 

Photo: Angela Lilyquist, Courtesy Wingate-Firms.com

 

Anne Wingate is a former police officer who wrote 23 books over a 13-year span from the mid-1980s to the late ’90s, using her own name and the pseudonyms Lee Martin and Martha G. Webb. The last book in her Deb Ralston series came out in 1997, while the other two series both ended earlier.

Since then Wingate has started her own e-book publishing company, begun writing a fantasy series under a new name, worked on Project Gutenberg (dedicated to keeping classic books in print online), started bringing her mysteries back into print, published a new “sexy” mystery, and opened a writing business, Wingate & Wingate, with her husband. Does she like to keep busy?

“You could say that,” she chuckles. “My husband has often had to interrupt me after 14 hours at my desk so we can have supper and a video.”

Wingate’s own experience as a police officer in Georgia and Texas helped her get the procedural details right in both her Mark Shigata series, which featured an ex-FBI agent turned sheriff of Bayport, Texas, and her Deb Ralston series, which featured a Fort Worth police detective and working mother. While the books were popular and well-reviewed, both series were dropped by their publishers in the 1990s.

“I think both my series were cancelled because I was perceived as being too politically correct. In both the Shigata and Ralston books I tried to use Palestinian characters who were good guys, and neither of my editors liked it.”

The Deb Ralston series was dropped by St. Martin’s Press in 1996, after the protagonist converted to the Church of Latter Day Saints and adjusted her lifestyle accordingly, for example by changing her diet. Wingate herself had gone through the same change, and it’s been suggested that this contributed to the end of that particular series.

“That may have contributed,” she admits. “Once I became a Mormon there were some things I just wouldn’t write about anymore. I know I didn’t tell my editor at St. Martin’s that Deb was going to become a Mormon—I didn’t even know myself!”

The last book in the Ralston series, The Thursday Club, was published in 1997 by Bookcraft, a Mormon publisher. Now Wingate’s own company, Live Oak House, is publishing her books, and they are distributed electronically at Fictionwise. Is there any chance we’ll see any new books from one of her series?

“I couldn’t do any more Deb Ralston books. Those books really depended on me knowing the city of Fort Worth, and since we moved away it has just changed so much that I wouldn’t be able to write convincingly about it anymore. But I might do some more Mark Shigatas.”

For now, fans can download several Wingate books at Fictionwise, including several Deb Ralston titles and her first novel, Darling Corey’s Dead. Also available for download is Montezuma’s Bride, a new suspense novel.

“I had spoken with Harlequin about doing a romance/mystery for them, but after several tries at a manuscript, we agreed that I couldn’t quite do what they needed—the book kept turning out as suspense with a little romance instead of the other way around. But by that time I had written outlines for six books so I’m going to put them all out.”

Montezuma’s Bride is available in two versions: a straight version and a sexy version.

“We decided to try two versions to see what would happen.” Wingate laughs. “Well, the steamy version has been tremendously popular, whereas I think we’ve sold about six of the regular version.

“But none of my characters sleep together until after they’re married.” She pauses. “If you want to know, that happens about a quarter of the way in.”

An Anne Wingate Reading List

Mark Shigata Mysteries by Anne Wingate
Death by Deception, 1988
The Eye of Anna, 1990
The Buzzards Must Also Be Fed, 1991
Exception to Murder, 1992
Yakuza, Go Home!, 1993

Deb Ralston Mysteries by Lee Martin
Too Sane a Murder, St. Martin’s, 1984
A Conspiracy of Strangers, 1986
Death Warmed Over, 1988
Murder at the Blue Owl, 1988
Hal's Own Murder Case, 1989
Deficit Ending, 1990
The Mensa Murders, 1990
Hacker, 1992
The Day Dusty Died, 1993
Inherited Murder, 1994
Bird in a Cage, 1995
Genealogy of Murder, 1996
The Thursday Club, 1997

Mysteries by Martha G. Webb
Darling Corey's Dead, 1984
A White Male Running (Smoky O’Donnell, Texas narcotics officer), 1985
Even Cops' Daughters (Smoky O’Donnell), 1986

Suspense by Anne Wingate
Montezuma’s Bride, Live Oak House, 2005 Available at www.Fictionwise.com

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #92.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-05 21:25:00

By any names necessary

Patricia Moyes: Putting the "Who" Back in the Whodunit
Katherine Hall Page

moyes_patriciaIntricate plots, ingenious murders, and skillfully drawn, often hilarious, characters distinguish Patricia Moyes’ writing.

 

For a writer, all is fodder, but few have as rich a life to draw upon as Patricia Moyes did. Before her death at age 77 in 2000, Moyes wrote 19 Henry Tibbett mysteries, as well as numerous short stories featuring the Scotland Yard detective and his wife, Emmy. Following in their creator’s footsteps, Henry and Emmy investigate crimes in Switzerland, Holland, Italy, London, Washington, D.C., the Isle of Wight, the Caribbean, and numerous villages, country houses, and sea-coast locales in England. The Guardian’s obituary of Patricia Moyes noted, “The books were written in the well-established tradition of British detective fiction in which solving the crime is the focus rather than the crime itself.” Vivian Mort, in an early review in the Chicago Tribune, dubbed Moyes as “the writer who put the ‘who’ back in the whodunit” and the apt phrase stuck throughout Moyes’ successful writing career.

Chief Inspector, and later Detective Chief Superintendent, Henry Tibbett is the kind of man easily overlooked, remaining throughout the books, “mild-looking, sandy-haired” and “middle-aged.” Rather than working against him, his appearance provides him with an advantage as his remarkable skills, his “nose,” as Moyes puts it, are invariably underestimated by his opponents. His wife Emmy is an astute judge of character herself, and the type of “comfortable” woman with an extra pound or two to whom others often find themselves confiding their deepest secrets. The Tibbetts are one of mystery fiction’s most engaging sleuth couples.

moyes_murderfantasticalStarting with Dead Men Don’t Ski (1959)—written on a whim while she was recovering from a ski accident in France—and ending with Twice in a Blue Moon (1993), Moyes created intricate plots, highly ingenious ways to kill someone, and unforgettable characters. These last are often broadly comic: Lady Crystal Balaclava with her country estate, Foxes’ Trot, Plumley Green, Surrey and the eccentric Manciple family of Cregwell Grange. Moyes’ description in Murder Fantastical of Bishop Edwin Manciple’s call on a new neighbor to borrow some margarine attired in “an old-fashioned bathing costume…Wellington boots…carrying a flowered Japanese sunshade, a clarinet, and a string bag” while on his way to the river for a dip is priceless.

Other characters are memorable for their finely drawn humanity—Lucy Pontefract- Deacon and Sir Edward Ironmonger in the Seaward Island books; and Tibbett’s loyal Watson, Inspector Derek Reynolds, who very happily does get the girl in the end in Twice in a Blue Moon.

An astute observer, Moyes also had a gift for expressing these observations such as in this passage from Murder Fantastical: “…a selection of Cregwell’s citizens were standing and staring with that impenetrable inertia which descends on the English, like a cloak of invisibility, when they wish to observe events without being personally implicated.”

Patricia Parkenham-Walsh, known as Penny, was born in Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland. Her father was a judge on the High Court in Madras, India. Penny was raised in England, however. In 1939 she added a year to her age and joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), becoming a radar operator and flight officer. This experience later served as the basis for Johnny Under Ground in which the disappearance of an RAF hero while on a raid becomes linked to a present day murder. Emmy Tibbett, ex-WAAF and endowed with Moyes’ expertise, becomes perilously involved. Her knowledge of the way radar systems worked provides the key to the solution.

moyes_many_deadly_returnsPenny Moyes had always wanted to be a writer. When she heard that the Air Ministry was looking for someone with radar experience and experience writing screenplays for an RAF documentary, she regretted that she possessed only half the qualifications. She didn’t know her commanding officer had submitted her name. She got the job and the film, School for Secrets, was the start of her association with Peter Ustinov, the actor and director. After the war, she worked as his assistant for eight years. Their most notable collaboration was the script for the classic British comedy School for Scoundrels, starring Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas, and Alastair Sim. Her book Falling Star involves a tragic accident on a film set, an accident that of course turns out to be murder. Once again, the solution hinges on insider knowledge—this time the way in which a prop could be employed.

In his autobiography, Dear Me, Peter Ustinov wrote about his assistant, “She is now a busy and successful writer of detective stories under her married name of Patricia Moyes, and I like to think that she discovered her ability while heroically dealing with the many problems of my own creation.” (p. 240). It is also clear that Moyes’ sense of humor must have helped.

During her next job as an assistant editor for British Vogue (Murder à la Mode was the happy later result), Moyes also translated Jean Anouilh’s play Léocadia. It was produced on Broadway in 1957 starring Richard Burton, Helen Hayes, and Susan Straberg as Time Remembered, and garnered several Tonys. The success of Time Remembered enabled Moyes to leave Vogue and start writing mysteries.

moyes_night_ferryHer marriage to the photographer John Moyes ended in 1959, and in 1962 she married James Haszard, a lawyer and interpreter at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. They lived in an 18th-century house on the Rhine and her years in Holland resulted in Death and the Dutch Uncle, Night Ferry to Death, and provided the murder weapon for Many Deadly Returns (what does keep all those flowers from Holland so fresh?). In addition, her husband’s job provided the background for Murder on the Agenda, set in Geneva during an international conference at the Palais des Nations.

Penny Moyes and her husband were avid sailors and skiers, as are Henry and Emmy Tibbett. Dead Men Don’t Ski, Down Among the Dead Men, and other books draw on this passion. The Tibbetts live in the ground floor flat of a modest Victorian house between Fulham and Chelsea, but they know both fine wines and gourmet food. When the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C., offered John Hazard a job in the early 1970s, his acceptance was conditional upon his employer transporting the couple, and their boat, wine cellar, and cats to the US. One assumes that faced with similar circumstances, Henry and Emmy would act the same way.

When Moyes’ husband retired, the couple moved to Virgin Gorda and she remained there after his death until her own. Penny set some of the most vivid books of her career in the Caribbean, creating the fictional islands of Tampica, St. Mark’s, and St. Matthew’s. In The Coconut Killings, Black Widower, Angel Death, and Black Girl, White Girl, the lush locales are more than matched by the suspenseful plots, including Tibbett’s capture by modern-day pirates.

moyes_twice_in_blue_moonMany of Moyes’ US readers had the pleasure of meeting her at Malice Domestic or when she was on a book tour. She was the Guest of Honor at Malice II and received Malice’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999. She often toured with Sarah Caudwell (1939-2000, author of the Hilary Tamar series). The two had similar senses of humor—happily, since Caudwell’s first comment upon meeting Moyes in person was, “You’re so good I thought you were dead.” Penny described their book tours as laughing their way across the United States. Both were writing mysteries in the classic British tradition with plots that displayed their ingenuity and prose that demonstrated a consummate use of language. However, Caudwell famously lacked Moyes’ practicality, an essential trait that insured they arrived at events on time. During one tour, Sarah Caudwell lost her passport, return ticket, traveler’s checks, and raincoat all at once. Penny was worried; Sarah wasn’t. The items did, in fact, reappear. Moyes noted, “Sarah might have been less calm if she’d lost her pipe” (The Guardian).

Patricia Moyes’ body of work was informed, occassionally transformed, by many of her own life experiences coupled with her unique imagination. We remain her beneficiaries and will be able to enjoy this legacy more readily in the near future. Enid and Tom Schantz of Rue Morgue Press are hoping to reprint some of the titles—an exciting prospect for new readers and established fans alike. Patricia Moyes would have been thrilled.

A PATRICIA MOYES READING LIST

Dead Men Don’t Ski, 1959
The Sunken Sailor, 1961 (US: Down Among the Dead Men)
Death on the Agenda, 1962
Murder à la Mode, 1963
Falling Star, 1964
Johnny Underground, 1965
Murder Fantastical, 1967
Death and the Dutch Uncle, 1968
Who Saw Her Die?, 1970 (US: Many Deadly Returns)
Season of Snows and Sins, 1971
The Curious Affair of the Third Dog, 1973
Black Widower, 1975
To Kill a Coconut, 1977 (US: The Coconut Killings)
Who Is Simon Warwick?, 1978
Angel Death, 1980
A Six-Letter Word for Death, 1983
Night Ferry to Death, 1985
Black Girl, White Girl, 1989
Twice in a Blue Moon, 1993

Katherine Hall Page has been awarded Agathas in three categories: Best First, Best Novel, and Best Short Story. Her latest book is The Body in the Boudoir.

 

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #111.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-12 19:46:48

moyes_murderfantasticalIntricate plots, ingenious murders, and skillfully drawn, often hilarious, characters.

Those Scott Meredith Days: Part Two
Lawrence Block

 

runyon_colorhimdeadI can remember two writers by name whose work I discovered in Scott’s slush pile. Charles Runyon was one; his first submission was a novel, and it looked to me like a natural for Gold Medal...

 

When I started working for Scott Meredith in the summer of 1957, I was an Antioch student on a co-op job. Come October, I was scheduled to return to Yellow Springs, Ohio, and begin my third year as a student at Antioch College.

Of course I hadn’t mentioned this when I applied for the job. I was an innocent, God knows, but not a complete moron, and I wanted the job. And I hadn’t been there for two weeks before I realized I wanted it a lot more than I wanted a college diploma. I was learning more every day than I could pick up in a month in Yellow Springs.

I said as much to my parents, and told them I wanted to drop out of school. I thought I’d have a fight on my hands, and was surprised by their ready acquiescence. They’d both always been very supportive of my intention to become a writer, and I think I must have picked a good time to drop out; I don’t think my father was dismayed at the idea of not having a tuition bill to pay that year.

So I settled in as a fee man—which is what John Dobbin and I were called. Two kinds of manuscripts turned up in that office, pro scripts (from professional writers whom Scott represented on a straight commission basis) and fee scripts (from unestablished writers who paid Scott a fee to read their work). I read the fee scripts, and wrote fee reports to their authors, and that made me a fee man.

It was, you should pardon the expression, a scam.

Like every viable con game, it looked good to the marks. For the small sum of $5 (plus another $1 per thousand words, up to a max of $25 for a full book) they got their efforts read by Scott Meredith himself. There was a chance (a real one, but much slimmer than they might have assumed) that Scott would accept their story (or article, but a good 95 percent of what came in was fiction) and sell it to somebody. There was also the chance he’d tell them how to improve it, and then take it to market.

Failing that, he’d tell them at considerable length just what was wrong with their work. His letter, single-spaced with narrow margins, would begin a third of the way down an impressive piece of letterhead, and would fill all of a second page as well. (Unless, of course, they’d written a longer-than-usual manuscript and paid a larger-than-minimum fee. The fee report for a novel ran clear to the bottom of page four. Always.)

Now that’s a lot of words for what wasn’t that much money even in 1957. So it doesn’t sound like a bad deal, does it? So where do I get off calling it a scam?

Well, for one thing, they weren’t getting the considered opinion of a prominent literary agent, his signature at the bottom of the second page notwithstanding. (They weren’t even getting his signature. Scott never even saw the letters. Brother Sid saw them, and signed Scott’s name to them.)

The ones who read my fee reports were getting the thoughts of a kid who’d just turned 19 and just sold his first story. Worse yet, they weren’t getting my real thoughts, which more often than not were that they couldn’t write their names in the dirt with a stick, and should give some serious consideration to dental school.

Of course I didn’t tell them anything of the sort. Like everyone else who wrote fee reports, I had nothing but good things to say about the way our fee clients wrote. I always praised the writing and disparaged the plot. Fundamental structural flaws made the story unsaleable, I told them, and thus it couldn’t be rewritten, and the author’s only recourse was to start fresh with a new story and send it to us—with, of course, a new fee.

But let me walk you through a day at the office…

Once I’d walked in at nine or close to it, I’d hang up my jacket. (We wore jackets and ties to the office, but took off the jackets. I don’t think it ever occurred to me or to anyone else to show up without a necktie. At one point I acquired a black shirt with a button-down collar, and took to wearing it with a white tie. Henry, visibly embarrassed at the task forced upon him, took me aside on one such sartorial occasion. “Larry,” he said, “Scott doesn’t remember Mark Hellinger, and he’s seen a lot of gangster movies, and, um, well, maybe you could not wear a black shirt and a white tie to the office.” “Oh, okay,” I said, and the next day I showed up with the black shirt, pairing it this time with a black tie. Nobody ever said a word. And, thinking back, I wonder why we wore ties in the first place, because we had no dealings whatsoever with the public. Nobody ever saw us. Any visitors—and there weren’t many—passed directly from the waiting room to the offices in the rear, bypassing our bull pen altogether.)

But I digress.

Once settled in, my first order of business was to walk over to a file cabinet, where the top drawer was filled with fee submissions, arrayed in the order they’d been received. The schedule called for a two-week interval between our receipt of a submission and our reply—long enough so they could believe Scott had been able to give their effort due consideration, but not so long that they’d feel neglected.

Each manuscript was in a file folder, and if the author of the manuscript had had prior dealings with us, all the letters he’d written would be there with it, stapled to carbon copies of our replies. If this was our first crack at him, there’d be just the new story and whatever letter he’d sent along with it.

It didn’t take me long to learn to cherish these new people. They were so much easier to reject.

There was a formula, you see, to the rejection letters it was my job to produce. Scott Meredith had written a book, Writing to Sell, and in it he’d channeled Aristotle and presented what he called the Plot Skeleton: a strong and sympathetic lead character confronts a problem, his initial struggle to overcome it only deepens his dilemma, and at last through his own admirable efforts he brings things to a satisfactory conclusion.

That’s a quick version; in the letters that went out over Scott’s signature, we often got half a page out of the plot skeleton. The more space we filled detailing the plot skeleton, the less we were required to say about the story.

And, while the plot was always the ostensible reason for returning the story, it rarely entered into the equation. A writer could copy a plot from Chekhov, and he’d still get the story turned down on the ground that the plot was faulty. (And, on the very rare occasion when someone pointed out that the plot we’d condemned had worked just fine for Irwin Shaw or Damon Runyon or O. Henry, we’d have an answer. We always had an answer.)

Now I’m sure many of the stories I read were inadequately plotted. But I generally knew, before I’d read more than a single page, that I was reading something unpublishable. There were times when I stopped after a page or two, wrote two-thirds of my fee report, then scanned the rest of the story to find some particulars to note in explaining why his plot fell short. I made my initial decision and wrote most of my report in the basis of the clunky prose and wooden dialogue, but if I said anything about the writer’s style it was to praise it. You’re a fine writer, we assured them, one and all. Soon as you come up with a sound plot, the Pulitzer people will be knocking on your door.

Once in a while I provided a suggestion relating to writing technique. I might confide that the writer might do better to have his characters say, for example, rather than assert, interject, comment, and otherwise exhaust the writer’s overburdened thesaurus. I was more apt to trot out a tip of that sort with writers who kept coming back for more, who’d already received a full dose of the Plot Skeleton.

(Although that didn’t necessarily stop me from refreshing their memories. “Let me take a moment to outline that plot skeleton again, Fred, because I just can’t stress it too often…”)

And every fee report began by thanking the mope for sending the story, and every one ended with the hope that we’d see new work from him soon, with the complimentary closing of "All best wishes."

My friend and colleague Larry M. Harris (whose name was to become Laurence Janifer, and who deserves a Memory Lane remembrance all his own) summed up our mission in a classic French verse form:

Unlike the Ainu and the Manx
We hide the fact that we are vicious,
Starting our letters off with Thanks,
Ending each one with All best wishes.
Further evolved than bugs and fishes,
We are polite to nuts and cranks;
Starting our letters off with Thanks,
Ending each one—O Nature’s pranks!
Ending each one with All best wishes.

I worked Monday to Friday from nine to five, with an hour off for lunch, and I spent those working hours reading stories and returning them to their authors, every last one of whom I encouraged to send us their next effort. I was expected to go through 40 stories a week (or their equivalent; a $25 book counted the same as five $5 stories).

For this I was paid $65 a week, plus an additional dollar for each additional story. (Once, just to see what I could do, I took stories home and worked evenings as well. I wound up making $125 that week. I paid $65 a month for my hotel room, so that wasn’t bad.) We were all paid in cash; every Friday Scott’s brother-in-law, the odious Murray Weller, trotted four blocks down the avenue to Manufacturers Hanover, and we got little brown envelopes holding our after-tax earnings for the week. I never did need to open a bank account, and of course nobody on the planet had a credit card yet.)

I was in the rejection business, and it was quickly made clear that I wasn’t expected to enthuse over much of what I read. If I did in fact pass a story to Henry, and if he approved it for marketing, I got the same work credit for writing a three-sentence congratulatory note to the author as I’d get for filling two pages. But if the story came back, a heavy dose of disapproval accompanied it, and I was given to understand that I ought to raise my standards.

For all of that, I did move a very few stories from my desk to Henry’s, and for the most part they didn’t come back. I can remember two writers by name, whose work I discovered in Scott’s slush pile. Charles Runyon was one; his first submission was a novel, and it looked to me like a natural for Gold Medal. Henry agreed, and so did Dick Carroll at Gold Medal, and Scott signed Runyon as a straight commission client, so from then on I only got to read his work after it was published.

A little later on, a pair of confession stories landed on my desk. The form was one I didn’t have much feel for, but I could tell pro-caliber work when I saw it. I passed them on to Henry and one sold that afternoon. The other took another whole day. The woman’s name was Barbara Bonham, and she, too, was offered, and accepted, straight commission representation, and went on to have a solid career.

There were some others, but not many. I wasn’t there to find gems on a manure pile. I was there to shovel the stuff back where it came from, and beg for more.

But nobody out in the world realized that. Here was a big-time New York agent reading their stories and giving them tips, all for $5 a pop. Why would he do that? Why, for the reason he stated in his ads and brochures—because he wanted to discover and sign up promising writers for professional representation. After all, he couldn’t make money on $5 reading fees, could he?

The hell he couldn’t. He was keeping almost $4 for each story, and there were two fee men in the office and one or two more who picked up scripts and worked at home, and the money was good enough for Scott to run a full-page ad every month in Writer’s Digest. And he sent out a lot of direct mail as well. If you submitted an unagented story to Manhunt, which he edited, you got a brochure, accompanied by a note from Scott himself: “One of your recent magazine submissions was close. This is to express interest in your material.”

Same thing if you sent your story to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Scott had a cozy arrangement with someone in their office, and the empty envelopes that had held submissions came to us every week; Joan, our receptionist, filled her empty hours typing address labels to express interest in their material.

Neat, huh?

Oh, it was a pirate ship, all right, but serving as cabin boy was the best possible job for me. And in the next leg of this hike down Memory Lane I’ll tell you what was so great about it.

End of Part Two

 

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #122.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-12 21:09:27

I can remember two writers by name whose work I discovered in Scott’s slush pile. Charles Runyon was one; his first submission was a novel, and it looked to me like a natural for Gold Medal...

Those Scott Meredith Days: Part Three
Lawrence Block

 

Guilty_magIt was an education

 

Guilty Detective Story Magazine (left, 35 issues in total) and Trapped Detective Story Magazine (below, 34 issues) were launched by Feature Publications in June/July 1956. They alternated months and while editorially identical, Guilty consistently outsold Trapped.

 

In my last installment of this seemingly endless experiment in senile recollection, I promised to explain what was so great about working for Scott Meredith. After all, I was putting in 40 hours a week reading inferior work and assuring the perpetrators thereof that they were talented, and that their success lay just a few dollars away. Aside from an inside perspective on white-collar moral turpitude, what valuable experience did all of this afford?

Well, I’ll tell you. The work itself—reading that garbage, prefatory to encouraging the production of more of it—was the best writing lesson I ever got. There’s ever so much more to be learned from bad writing. You can see what’s wrong with it.

That’s a whole lot easier than seeing what’s right with a masterpiece.

I’ve a feeling that any job that involves reading a vast quantity of amateurish work is a good training ground for anyone with literary aspirations. Back then—and for many years afterward—magazines and book publishers were generally willing to consider unsolicited manuscripts, and the duties of junior editors commonly included reading one’s way through the haystack of the slush pile, passing on the occasional needle, and stuffing the rest into those nine-by-12 self-addressed stamped envelopes.

I’m sure those junior editors gained something from the experience, but far less than was available to me. It was to them what KP was to a soldier—not exactly punishment, but hardly what had moved you to put on the uniform. Slush was a task to be tackled when time permitted, and the slush reader’s job was to make the slush pile disappear. If one’s time was limited, one might very well return manuscripts unread, without even a glance at the first page.

Even when time was abundant, a slush reader stopped reading as soon as the task became pointless. Once you knew you were going to return a story, why give it any more time? Send it back, and move on to the next.

But I couldn’t do that. I too had been engaged to send these stories back where they came from, but instead of a form rejection slip, I had to provide an elaborate explanation of why the story didn’t work, along with some insincere flattery designed to encourage future submissions, accompanied to be sure by future reading fees. I didn’t have to know a lot about the story to do this, and I didn’t need to read it carefully, but I had to skim it sufficiently to bat out a few hundred words about it.

And sometimes, of course, I did have to read the thing attentively, not merely to figure out how to reject it but to determine if rejection was in fact warranted. Although our familiarity with the work bred no end of contempt, not all of our fee clients were entirely without talent. Now and then one came upon a nice turn of phrase, a smattering of engaging dialogue, a promising plot situation. This was hardly ever enough to make the story one I’d pass up the chain to the pro man, but it forced me to pay attention to the thing, noting what worked and what didn’t.

A wonderful education. Nowadays only a handful of publications will even look at unagented manuscripts, and I suppose that makes it hard for new writers, but when was it ever easy? The greater loss, I suspect, is to the men and women who might otherwise be employed reading the slush.

Of course I wasn’t just reading the fee submissions. I had sold my first story, “You Can’t Lose,” to Manhunt, and while that did not make me a mystery writer overnight, it certainly pointed me in that direction. I’d read a fair amount of crime fiction over the years, but now I began reading with purpose and direction.

There was a shop on Eighth Avenue and 43rd Street that sold back-date magazines, with a huge stock of Manhunt and its imitators priced at two for 25 cents. Even on my wages I could afford to buy every copy I could find, and I took them home and read them cover to cover. I bought used paperbacks, too, and whenever I discovered a writer I liked I would read me way through his works.

Trapped_magI suppose what I was doing was analytical, but I wasn’t consciously taking the stories and novels apart to see what made them tick. I was just reading—and by so doing, I suspect I was unconsciously synthesizing all of what I read, so that I could know intuitively what did or didn’t make a story.

It might seem like a busman’s holiday—read unpublishable crap all day, then read published fiction nights and weekends. But while my reading was not without purpose, there was nothing dogged about it. The writers I enjoyed—too many to mention, or even to recall, but I know that I worked my way through all of Fredric Brown and David Alexander, and a good five years of Manhunt stories—were the ones I kept reading. I quit reading the writers I didn’t care for.

And, unlike our fee clients, I didn’t have to write them a letter when I was done.

When it came to finding new authors to read, all I had to do was pay attention. The office was a small and gossipy place, with half a dozen of us seated at desks. Scott and Sid were in their private offices, and I worked there for several months before I even caught a glimpse of Scott, but plenty of business got done in my hearing. The conversation in the room—and at lunch—was about the business, and about books and writers.

It was an education.

And it was also an apprenticeship, because when I wasn’t reading I was apt to be writing. Sid had signed me to an agency contract, and whenever I wrote a story I passed it up to Henry Morrison or Jim Bohan, and with few exceptions the stories I wrote were submitted to magazines. Manhunt was hard to hit, but W. W. Scott bought a batch of stories from me for his alternating bimonthlies, Trapped and Guilty. He paid a cent and a half a word, and the stories he passed on went to Pontiac Publications, where the rate was a cent a word. Just about everything sold sooner or later, and a night’s work would bring me $25 or $35 or $50. Many of the pulp stories reissued a few years ago as One Night Stands & Lost Weekends were written during those very nights and weekends.

And then there were the assignments. Now and then an editor would call our office; he was up against a deadline and had unfilled pages in his next issue. Or he had an idea and needed someone to write it for him. Could one of Scott’s clients deliver the goods, and do so in a hurry?

There was rarely any need to interrupt some client with a phone call, not with a couple of eager writers sitting there in the office. Could I write 2,000 words about a really bad Nazi for Ted Hecht at Stanley Publications? A couple of hours in the library and a stint at the typewriter yielded “Reinhard Heydrich, Blond Beast of the SS.” That brought $75, and got Sheldon Lord a byline, as I didn’t feel a need to put my own name on the thing.

I went on to write another six or eight pieces for Ted Hecht. They ran in magazines with titles like All Man and Real Men’s Stories and Man’s Bloody Guts, and sometimes got reprinted a year or two later in another of the company’s magazines. Sometimes Hecht called with an idea, which is how I came to write a piece on the 1934 wreck of the SS Morro Castle. Sometimes the idea was mine, and that led to “She Doesn’t Want You” (about lesbian prostitutes) and “Let’s Legalize Marijuana!” (about, duh, legalizing marijuana).

One article I wrote was purportedly a personal experience piece, “by C. O. Jones as told to Sheldon Lord.” It became “C. C. Jones” by the time it got into print, suggesting that Hecht or one of his cohorts knew as much gutter Spanish as I did.

One of the more curious assignments came from W. W. Scott, of Trapped and Guilty. (The magazines were identical, with the same writers producing the same kinds of stories, and the same cover art. Yet Guilty consistently outsold its stable mate. Go know.)

W. W. Scott also edited another pair of alternating bimonthlies, True Medic Stories and Real Medic Stories. These were essentially confession magazines with a medical orientation, and most of the stories involved nurses, even as the magazine’s audience was presumed to consist of nurses and nurse wannabes. But at least one story in each issue was told from the point of view of a male doctor, and he wasn’t getting enough of those. An assignment came in, and the sum on offer, as I recall, was $200, which was a whole lot better than a cent and a half a word. I grabbed it.

Nowadays, in the world of Google and Wikipedia, I could have done the whole thing without enlisting a partner. But an Antioch friend, Duck Buchanan, was working in the field of medical research, so I proposed that he help me develop a story line in return for a fourth of the proceeds. Together we dreamed up a plot in which an arrogant surgeon almost loses a patient by overlooking some phenomenon outside his area of expertise.

I don’t remember the details, but it seems to me the operation in question was a sigmoid resection, whatever that is. I do recall, word for word, the opening line: “My name is Brad Havilland. I’m forty-two years old, and I’m the best bowel surgeon in the state.”

Makes you want to keep reading, doesn’t it?

W. W. Scott liked it just fine. I’m not sure which magazine it wound up in, Real or True. Nor do I recall what title it bore. Duck and I always referred to it as “Pain in the Ass.”

I started working for Scott Meredith in August of 1957, and stayed through the following May. Sometime that spring I’d decided to return to Antioch in the fall, and was in fact appointed to edit the college newspaper.

I’m pretty sure my return owed less to a desire for a degree, or the intellectual stimulation of the classroom, than for fear that I’d be drafted into the army. The same desire to maintain my deferment had already led me to enroll as a matriculated student at Columbia University’s School of General Studies, where I signed up for three writing courses—a workshop in the novel, an advanced non-fiction class, and a radio and TV writing course.

I must have been out of my mind. I stopped going to the radio-TV class almost immediately, when I realized that the textbook would have us following a format—audio on one side of the page, video on the other—that nobody had used in ten or 15 years. I went to the novel workshop long enough to write 30 pages of a mystery that owed a lot to Fredric Brown’s The Fabulous Clipjoint, and to realize I didn’t know what I was doing, and was well advised to stop doing it. The non-fiction class was written by a terribly nice old fellow who wrote biographies of composers published by Louisiana University Press, and I actually went to that class and turned in work, because it was work I was doing anyway—those “Lemmings Ate My Sister” articles I was knocking out for Ted Hecht. “This is really good work,” the professor would say, “but I don’t see how you can expect to market it.” I was careful not to tell him he’d erred twice in a single sentence; the stuff wasn’t good, and I’d already gotten paid for it.

Wonderful. All day long I read amateur crap at the office, and a couple of nights a week I went up to Columbia and sat there while people read amateur crap out loud. What was I thinking?

Never mind. For nine or ten months I spent five days a week on the 18th floor at 580 Fifth Avenue, and by the time I left I was a professional writer.

When I started writing about my time at SMLA, I saw soon enough that it was going to spill over into two columns. It’s now filled three, and there’s material I wouldn’t want to leave out. Tune in next issue for what I promise you will be the last walk down this particular stretch of “Memory Lane.”

End of Part Three

 

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #123.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-14 18:47:30

It was an education

The Last Policeman Signed Copy Giveaway

winters_lastpolicemanWIN A SIGNED COPY

THE LAST POLICEMAN by BEN H. WINTERS

What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die? Detective Hank Palace has asked this question ever since asteroid 2011L47J hovered into view. Several kilometers wide, it’s on a collision course with planet Earth, with just six precious months until impact...

Kick back this summer before the world ends with a signed copy of the novel Mystery Scene called "extraordinary."

Learn more about The Last Policeman and author Ben H. Winters (Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters) at Quirk Books or by visiting www.thelastpoliceman.com.

{aicontactsafeform pf=3|use_css=1}

Offer Terms and Conditions
 
A free signed copy of the book THE LAST POLICEMAN by Ben Winters will be sent to 1 eligible respondent drawn at random. ARV of book: $14.95 US. Offer available to legal residents of the US only who have reached the age of majority in their state/province/territory of residence. Limit one book per household. Offer ends July 31, 2012 , 11:59 p.m. (ET). Winner will be announced and notified by Mystery Scene.
Personal information is collected in accordance with Mystery Scene Magazine’s privacy policy.
Teri Duerr
2011-02-25 17:14:08

winters_lastpolicemanWIN A SIGNED COPY

THE LAST POLICEMAN by BEN H. WINTERS

What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die? Detective Hank Palace has asked this question ever since asteroid 2011L47J hovered into view. Several kilometers wide, it’s on a collision course with planet Earth, with just six precious months until impact...

Kick back this summer before the world ends with a signed copy of the novel Mystery Scene called "extraordinary."

Learn more about The Last Policeman and author Ben H. Winters (Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters) at Quirk Books or by visiting www.thelastpoliceman.com.

{aicontactsafeform pf=3|use_css=1}

Offer Terms and Conditions
 
A free signed copy of the book THE LAST POLICEMAN by Ben Winters will be sent to 1 eligible respondent drawn at random. ARV of book: $14.95 US. Offer available to legal residents of the US only who have reached the age of majority in their state/province/territory of residence. Limit one book per household. Offer ends July 31, 2012 , 11:59 p.m. (ET). Winner will be announced and notified by Mystery Scene.
Personal information is collected in accordance with Mystery Scene Magazine’s privacy policy.
The Last Policeman
Betty Webb

Normally, only Stephen King and Dean Koontz can suck me into a book and not release their stranglehold until I, exhausted from lack of sleep, have turned the last page. Now another writer has joined their ranks.

In The Last Policeman, an asteroid named Maia rushes toward the Earth on a course to destroy all life. Society suffers a mass nervous breakdown in the face of the coming apocalypse, but New Hampshire detective Hank Palace just keeps on keeping on. He’s not interested in joining the Bucket Listers who desert their jobs to go fly-fishing in Canada, or the Hangers, who give in to depression and hang themselves from the nearest stationary object. All he wants is to do his job, which in this case means finding out if the latest Hanger really was a suicide. But the higher-ups at his station aren’t interested. Since billions will soon be killed, worrying about the early demise of one sad Hanger seems pointless to them.

Bucking the mood of global fatalism, Hank steadily amasses one clue after another, not only proving that the Hanger’s death was indeed murder, but along the way, falling in love with a beautiful woman. Love in the face of certain death? No problem, Hank decides. He might as well go out on a roll.

To say this book is extraordinary is to make an almost laughable understatement, but yes, it is extraordinary—as well as brilliant, surprising, and, considering the circumstances, oddly uplifting. Writer/theologian C.S. Lewis once said, “If the ship is going down, dress in your best clothes, climb onto the mast, and go down with all flags flying.” That’s our Hank. My only criticism of The Last Policeman is that it can’t be the beginning of an outstanding series. Or can it? In the best of all soon-tobe- destroyed worlds, Maia’s collision course will slow enough to give Hank time to solve more cases.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-15 18:53:54

winters_lastpolicemanSociety breaks down in the face of the coming apocalypse, but Det. Hank Palace just keeps on keeping on.

The Lost Ones
Oline H. Cogdill

The versatility that Ace Atkins demonstrates in Lullaby, his continuation of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series is also on display in his intriguing novels about Quinn Colson, a former US Ranger who has returned to his small Mississippi hometown.

In this series, Atkins skillfully melds the police procedural with elements of the western for a gripping, action-packed tale about the contemporary issues of war veterans and small-town corruption. Quinn is a Shane-like character, returning home after a tour of duty in Afghanistan to find the town of Jericho rotten with corruption. The Ranger, the first in this series, earned Atkins an Edgar nomination. The sequel, The Lost Ones, delves even deeper into the corrosive nature of the unscrupulous as Atkins again balances extreme action with solid character studies.

As the newly elected sheriff, Quinn has been trying to clean up Jericho and Tibbehah County. But the battle continues. Johnny Stagg, Quinn’s rival for the job, is determined to see him fail and, as president of the board of county supervisors, controls much of the purse strings for the sheriff’s office. Johnny also has been bleeding the county dry, making sure that sweetheart deals come to his enterprises, which include a profitable truck stop where, amid the fuel pumps and snack foods, prostitutes and drug dealers thrive.

But there are bigger threats. Gun dealer Donnie Varner, who bears multiple scars from his time as a soldier in Afghanistan, is selling stolen Army rifles to ruthless Mexican drug gangsters. Donnie doesn’t understand just how far out of his league he is as the gang, which is creeping into the South, increases its orders and he becomes infatuated with the girlfriend of its violent leader. Meanwhile, an abused toddler leads Quinn and his head deputy, Lillie Virgil, to a bootleg adoption scheme. As the two cases intensify, Quinn joins forces with an attractive FBI agent.

Atkins delivers a powerful, ripped-from-the-headlines plot without overloading The Lost Ones.

Quinn’s Ranger training affects each aspect of his life as he balances his duties to the law and his concern for the people and the hometown he once tried to leave behind. The tough choices he will make about Donnie are tempered by Quinn’s acknowledgement that he could have easily ended up as adrift and lost as his old friend. A childhood incident involving Quinn and his now unstable sister, Caddy, gives us further insight.

Even Johnny is less a villain than a man consumed by greed and pride. A big shot in Jericho, Johnny is the brunt of jokes outside the county lines.

A native of Alabama, Atkins understands the beauty and ruggedness of the South, especially rural Mississippi, where he lives with his family on an historic farm outside of Oxford. Here, the changing seasons are signaled by cotton gins running, and a moonlight drive on the Natchez Trace passes by “thick humps of Indian mounds and long stretches of virgin oak and pine.”

Atkins’ talent has been evident since Crossroad Blues (1998), the first of his four novels about Tulane blues historian Nick Travers. As a crime reporter for the Tampa Tribune, the research he did on the murder of an aging Florida gangster during the 1950s earned him a Pulitzer Prize nomination and inspired White Shadow, the first of his four historical novels. Atkins’ thorough research and skillful plotting also shine in Devil’s Garden, which illustrates the role Dashiell Hammett played in the trial of silent film comic Fatty Arbuckle; Infamous, the fictionalized exploits of Depression-era gangster Machine Gun Kelly; and Wicked City, a look at a corrupt Alabama town set in 1954.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-20 18:31:55

atkins_thelostonesAlabama author Atkins continues his Quinn Colson series with trademark grit and color.

Those Scott Meredith Days: Part One
Lawrence Block

 

manhunt_195606Block’s early fiction appeared in the 1956 February and June issues of Manhunt. Unknown to him, there was a Scott Meredith connection.

 

In the summer of 1956, after my first year at Antioch College, I went to work in the mail room at Pines Publications. One of Antioch’s chief attractions was its co-op job program, designed to furnish students with real-world experience in their careers of choice; I wanted to be a writer, so I picked a job at a publishing house.

Pines had a paperback line, Popular Library, and a whole string of magazines and comic books. The job experience was reasonably interesting, but the chance to live on my own in Greenwich Village trumped it. I shared an apartment at 54 Barrow Street with two other Antiochians, and I hung out a lot in Washington Square and the Macdougal Street coffeehouses, and one Sunday afternoon I stayed home and set up my typewriter in the kitchen and wrote a story about an amoral kid who lives by his wits, runs a mail-order scam, and like that. End of October I went back to college and took the story with me.

Earlier, I’d read The Jungle Kids, a paperback collection of some of Evan Hunter’s short stories, packaged to capitalize on the success of The Blackboard Jungle. One thing I’d noticed was that most of the stories had appeared in a magazine called Manhunt. I’d never seen a copy, but I got the address someplace, most likely Writer’s Market, and I mailed in the story I’d written on Barrow Street.

Now I’d submitted my work before, and indeed had a burgeoning collection of rejection slips taped to the wall of my dorm room. But what I got this time, along with my manuscript, was a note from one Francis X. Lewis, Manhunt’s editor, saying that the story just sort of trailed off, and needed some kind of a snapper ending. If I could come up with something suitable, I might have a sale.

Damn!

There was a magazine rack in the Yellow Springs drugstore, and, mirabile dictu, they carried Manhunt. I bought it and read all the stories in it, and I tacked on an O. Henry–type ending which saw the little bastard hoist on his own petard.

Off it went and back it came, with another note from Mr. Lewis, this one rather less heartening. The ending was too pat and predictable, but thanks for trying.

Rats.

A week or so later I got a short note from a man named Scott Meredith, a New York–based literary agent. One of your recent magazine submissions was close, he wrote. This is to express interest in your material.

Well, I already knew that. Close, but no cigar. The enclosed brochure went on to invite me to submit my story for Mr. Meredith’s appraisal for a mere $5.

Yeah, right. I tossed it in the trash and forgot about it.

In June I went home to Buffalo. I’d decided to go to Cape Cod for the summer and find some sort of job there instead of filling any of the slots the college had on offer. Night before I drove there, I saw how to fix that story. I drove to the Cape, found an attic room above a barbershop in Hyannis, and right away wrote the story and sent it off to Manhunt. I got a job as a dishwasher at Mildred’s Chowder House, worked like a dog from four to midnight, and was told to report the following day at 8 a.m. I decided against setting my alarm clock, and I never did return to Mildred’s joint. (I think I must have been afraid to go back and ask for my pay. “But you quit, you bastard! You didn’t come in at eight!” I scored high on IQ tests, but in certain respects I have to say I was a moron.)

For two weeks I stayed in that room, and every day I pounded my typewriter. Three or four days in, I got a note from Francis X. Lewis’ assistant. Mr. Lewis was away for the next several weeks, but the assistant had read the story and was pretty sure Mr. Lewis would want to buy it on his return. It was, certainly, under serious consideration.

Gosh. . .

I didn’t quite turn out a story a day, but I must have finished, oh, nine stories in two weeks. I remember I aimed one of them at Boy’s Life, and there was at least one slanted toward Manhunt, but that’s all I recall about them. I stayed in that attic and lived on Maine sardines, a tin of which cost 15 cents. Right before the money ran out, and before I died of sardine poisoning, I took a horrible split-shift job at a fancy resort in Osterville that had me working from 7:00 am to 9:30 pm, with a two-hour break in the afternoon. It’s good I’d run out of story ideas by then, because the time and energy I had left would have limited me to haiku.

Ten days of that was plenty. The summer help had a tradition of quitting the joint, and every few nights another bellhop or bus boy would tie his uniform to a tree and be gone by daybreak. I left at a more conventional hour and drove back to Buffalo, cracked up the car en route, limped home with it, and took a train to New York. I got a room at 105 East 19th Street, at what years later would briefly serve as MWA’s headquarters. And I set about looking for a job, and wished Francis X. Lewis would get back from the Catskills or the hospital, wherever he was, and buy my story.

My father had gone to Cornell, and stayed in touch over the years with several of his fraternity brothers. One was Morton Tolleris, who became a prominent judge in New York. Morty had a younger brother named Ralph, and Ralph’s wife Beatrice worked at Time magazine. After a few phone calls, I found myself on the phone with Mrs. Tolleris, who was able to offer me a position as a copy boy on Time. The pay was $60 a week, and because of their publishing schedule my work week would run from Wednesday through Sunday.

I decided I didn’t want the baggage that came with any job I got through a friend of my folks. Suppose I screwed up? Suppose I wanted to quit? So I turned it down, and I’m sure Beatie Tolleris was as relieved as I was, for about the same reason.

A few days later I followed a New York Times classified to the offices of Qualified Employment, on West 42nd Street, where I inquired about their listing: Associate Editor, Literary Agency. And there must have been something suggesting that the position was entry-level, or how would I have had the nerve to offer myself up for it?

The chap who interviewed me seemed bemused, and his attitude only deepened as I answered his questions. I wanted to be a writer, I admitted, and had a story under consideration at a national magazine. Which magazine? Manhunt, I said. He nodded sagely. Did I like any particular Manhunt writers? Well, Evan Hunter. And, uh, Ed McBain.

Next thing I knew I was on the 18th floor at 580 Fifth Avenue, where Sidney Meredith sat me down at a desk with a story to read. My task was to write a letter to its author, telling him one of three things—it was great and we’re going to market it, it needs fixing and here’s how, or it’s hopeless and here’s why.

The story was “Rattlesnake Cave,” and the byline read Ray D. Lester, whom I subsequently learned was the science-fiction writer Lester Del Rey. He’d deliberately written it to incorporate every structural flaw he could think of, and he’d done his work well. I sat down and read it, and wondered if anyone had ever taken this test and found the story acceptable. (Happened often, I was to learn.)

manhunt_195602The story had a frame device, told years after the fact, so we knew the narrator survived, so where was the suspense? It was about snakes, and lots of people, especially women, didn’t want to read anything about snakes, ever. And it turned out there weren’t any snakes, so the plot was a paper dragon, and the reader felt like an idiot for having been all exercised over nothing. And the regional dialect was spelled phonetically. And...

I didn’t have trouble writing a letter that spotlighted these faults. I handed it in to Sid, who looked like a cross between Jack Klugman and Louis Quinn. (Louis Quinn played Roscoe on 77 Sunset Strip. Jack Klugman you know.) He told me I’d hear from them if there was anything to hear. Yeah, right, I thought, and went back to my room on East 19th.

The next day I got a phone call. It was the bemused fellow from Qualified Employment. I had the job.

I went right to work, and that work consisted of doing for the genuine creations of hopeful men and women what I’d done for “Rattlesnake Cave.” Across from my desk stood a file cabinet, its top drawer jammed with file folders. Each held a story, no longer accompanied by a check. I’d pull the foremost folder and take it back to my desk.

I’d read the story, and then I’d make a sandwich of a sheet of Scott’s letterhead, a sheet of carbon paper, and a sheet of copy paper, and roll all of that into the Remington office model typewriter on my desk. The letter I’d write would start halfway down that first page, and finish close enough to the bottom of a second page so that my subscript would just clear the bottom of the page. (The subscript read SM:lb, suggesting to the world that Scott had dictated his remarks to Lydia Baker or Linda Brown or Lorelei Benatovich, but indicating to anyone in the office that it had originated with me.)

Scott was out of town when I was hired, on his summer vacation, and it was several weeks before he returned. The whole fee report process worked just fine without him. I wrote my reports, and Brother Sid read them and signed Scott’s name to them. And off they went.

It generally took a new man a while to get the hang of it, but I hit the ground running, and got out eight reports the first day. I saw right away that I could do this, and it was clear I could learn an enormous amount, and I was grateful for the perverse streak that had saved me from becoming a Time copy boy.

After I’d been there a few days, two of my colleagues started a conversation they made sure I overheard. One was Henry Morrison, then handling Foreign Rights, and the other would have been either Jim Bohan, the Pro man, or Ivan Lyons, the Personal Collaboration guy. They were talking about Manhunt, and I specifically recall Henry saying something caustic about the magazine. And he roped me into the discussion: Didn’t I agree that Manhunt was fit for nothing more than lining birdcages?

I hadn’t yet said a word about my writing, but how could I resist? “Don’t knock Manhunt,” I said. “They’re about to buy a story of mine.” And I explained how I was awaiting final word from Francis X. Lewis, as soon as he got back from Bermuda or Boise or Bellevue.

Henry seemed to find this hysterically funny. Or maybe something else had him all giggly. I had a story to read and an author’s heart to break, and no time to pay attention.

And why was what I’d said was so amusing?

Here’s why:

Manhunt didn’t have an employee named Francis X. Lewis, his name on the masthead notwithstanding. His name had recently replaced that of John McCloud, but he didn’t exist, either. The magazine was in fact edited by Scott Meredith, and this was one of the agency’s deep dark secrets. The clients from whom he bought stories didn’t know it, and the other agents he dealt with didn’t know it, and God knows I, sitting at my desk and banging away at my typewriter, didn’t have a clue.

While I did my work, Henry ducked into the back office, eager to show up the brash new kid. When he and Sid searched the appropriate file, there was my story. Before he left for vacation, Scott had already bought it for inventory; he’d postponed telling me because the magazine was having a not uncharacteristic cash-flow problem.

I learned all this from Sid. “Now your story runs to 2600 words,” he said, handing me a sheet of paper. “And ordinarily you’d get $52 for it. But as our client you get a hundred bucks.”

I’d sold a story? I was being signed to an agency contract?

I signed the thing. It was just a couple of paragraphs, with a clause stating it would renew automatically unless either party canceled it. For God’s sake, it could have included a chattel mortgage on my grandmother and I’d have signed it.

“So the story’s sold,” I said.

“Oh, yeah,” Sid assured me. “You bet.”

“My first sale.”

“First of many, would be my guess.”

“And I’ll be getting a hundred dollars.”

He shook his head. “You get 90,” he said firmly. “We get ten.”

End of Part One

 

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #121.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-21 20:24:59

manhunt_195606Block’s early fiction appeared in the 1956 February and June issues of Manhunt. Unknown to him, there was a Scott Meredith connection.

Endeavour: Morse's Early Years
Oline Cogdill

endeavour_masterpiecemystery2
Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse novels, written between 1975 and 1999, became one of the most popular TV British series that ran from 1987 to 2000.

Dexter's 13 novels evolved into 33 TV movies, enhanced by the insightful performance of the late John Thaw as Inspector Morse.

Morse was a brilliant detective but a difficult person, moody, emotionally isolated from most people and totally devoted to his job. Viewers knew about his classic Jaguar, his penchant for crossword puzzles and his love of classical music, especially opera.

But we knew little else.

Even his first name was a mystery through much of the series. Morse used to joke that his first name was "Inspector."

Morse's first name was Endeavour, which is also the title of the highly entertaining Masterpiece Mystery! movie airing at 9 pm July 1 on PBS. (Check your local listings for details; it's also available on DVD.) Endeavor celebrates the 25th anniversary of the UK debut of Inspector Morse in 1987.

Endeavour shows rookie Constable Morse's first day on the job with the Oxford police in 1965. But this isn't just a remake of the classic Morse series or a prequel. Endeavour is as an insightful, complex tale as was the original one, showing us how Endeavour Morse would become Inspector Morse. And it's not exactly a smooth evolution as the young Morse is even more socially awkward and not as confident than his mature self.

endeavour_masterpiecemystery5But that brilliant mind was always there, and always working.

Endeavour's underlying theme is we all have to start somewhere. Is the person we are now the person we started out to be?

And as John Thaw showed the character's complexity, so does the intriguing Shaun Evans as the young Endeavour.

Evans delves into Morse's personality with panache. He is endearing and irritating; an old soul with a young man's concerns; emotionally fragile, he hasn't yet learned how to tamp down his feelings. The year is 1965 when the Beatles and the other great Brit bands were all the rage, but Endeavour prefers Puccini. His beat is Oxford, yet he dropped out from the university.

Endeavour arrives at Oxford with no car and little ambition. He thinks he wants to be a cop but isn't sure the force is right for him. And there is the matter of his queasiness at crime scenes. At his first dead body, he's admonished by the police pathologist, "You won't make much of a detective if you're not prepared to look death in the eye."

Looking death in the eye is what Morse ended up doing all his career and by the end of Endeavour he will learn to face the evil that people do without blinking, but with much regret.

endeavour_masterpiecemystery3Endeavour's first case involves a missing 15-year-old girl. He and his colleagues are called in from a neighboring town to help with the investigation, lead by Inspector Thursday (Roger Allam) who soon learns to appreciate Endeavour's unconventional mind.

Endeavour's hunches lead him to cryptic crossword puzzles, English Romantic poetry and clever disguises that no other cop thinks about. The plot works well and seeing Endeavour put it together is fascinating.

Without giving away any plot points, there are two inside jokes put in by director Colin McCarthy and scriptwriter Russell Lewis, creator of Inspector Lewis and writer of Inspector Morse. Abigail Thaw, daughter of John Thaw, the original Morse, makes a key cameo as a newspaper editor. When she meets Endeavour, she says, “Have we met?" When he says they haven't, she adds "Another life then."

Second, a brief moment in the very last scene shows that Endeavour knows exactly what his future holds, and he's okay with it.

Endeavour originally was to be the only episode about the young Morse. But four new episodes have been commisioned with filming expected to start this summer with a targeted 2013 airing.

Photos: Top and bottom, Shaun Evans as Endeavour Morse. Center, Shaun Evans with Roger Allam. Photos/PBS

Super User
2012-06-30 16:24:06

endeavour_masterpiecemystery2
Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse novels, written between 1975 and 1999, became one of the most popular TV British series that ran from 1987 to 2000.

Dexter's 13 novels evolved into 33 TV movies, enhanced by the insightful performance of the late John Thaw as Inspector Morse.

Morse was a brilliant detective but a difficult person, moody, emotionally isolated from most people and totally devoted to his job. Viewers knew about his classic Jaguar, his penchant for crossword puzzles and his love of classical music, especially opera.

But we knew little else.

Even his first name was a mystery through much of the series. Morse used to joke that his first name was "Inspector."

Morse's first name was Endeavour, which is also the title of the highly entertaining Masterpiece Mystery! movie airing at 9 pm July 1 on PBS. (Check your local listings for details; it's also available on DVD.) Endeavor celebrates the 25th anniversary of the UK debut of Inspector Morse in 1987.

Endeavour shows rookie Constable Morse's first day on the job with the Oxford police in 1965. But this isn't just a remake of the classic Morse series or a prequel. Endeavour is as an insightful, complex tale as was the original one, showing us how Endeavour Morse would become Inspector Morse. And it's not exactly a smooth evolution as the young Morse is even more socially awkward and not as confident than his mature self.

endeavour_masterpiecemystery5But that brilliant mind was always there, and always working.

Endeavour's underlying theme is we all have to start somewhere. Is the person we are now the person we started out to be?

And as John Thaw showed the character's complexity, so does the intriguing Shaun Evans as the young Endeavour.

Evans delves into Morse's personality with panache. He is endearing and irritating; an old soul with a young man's concerns; emotionally fragile, he hasn't yet learned how to tamp down his feelings. The year is 1965 when the Beatles and the other great Brit bands were all the rage, but Endeavour prefers Puccini. His beat is Oxford, yet he dropped out from the university.

Endeavour arrives at Oxford with no car and little ambition. He thinks he wants to be a cop but isn't sure the force is right for him. And there is the matter of his queasiness at crime scenes. At his first dead body, he's admonished by the police pathologist, "You won't make much of a detective if you're not prepared to look death in the eye."

Looking death in the eye is what Morse ended up doing all his career and by the end of Endeavour he will learn to face the evil that people do without blinking, but with much regret.

endeavour_masterpiecemystery3Endeavour's first case involves a missing 15-year-old girl. He and his colleagues are called in from a neighboring town to help with the investigation, lead by Inspector Thursday (Roger Allam) who soon learns to appreciate Endeavour's unconventional mind.

Endeavour's hunches lead him to cryptic crossword puzzles, English Romantic poetry and clever disguises that no other cop thinks about. The plot works well and seeing Endeavour put it together is fascinating.

Without giving away any plot points, there are two inside jokes put in by director Colin McCarthy and scriptwriter Russell Lewis, creator of Inspector Lewis and writer of Inspector Morse. Abigail Thaw, daughter of John Thaw, the original Morse, makes a key cameo as a newspaper editor. When she meets Endeavour, she says, “Have we met?" When he says they haven't, she adds "Another life then."

Second, a brief moment in the very last scene shows that Endeavour knows exactly what his future holds, and he's okay with it.

Endeavour originally was to be the only episode about the young Morse. But four new episodes have been commisioned with filming expected to start this summer with a targeted 2013 airing.

Photos: Top and bottom, Shaun Evans as Endeavour Morse. Center, Shaun Evans with Roger Allam. Photos/PBS

Mickey Spillane
Lawrence Block

spillane_block“Mickey would tell you he wrote the books for money, and I’m sure he did. But those first seven books had a drive and energy he never entirely recaptured... I think it’s safe to say that he needed to write them for reasons having little to do with dollars and cents.”

 

A signed photo from Mickey Spillane (center) to Lawrence Block which was taken at the Edgar Allan Poe Awards Banquet in 1995, the year that Spillane received the Grand Master Award.

 

He was born Frank Morrison Spillane in Brooklyn, New York, on March 9, 1918, and grew up across the river in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He went to college briefly (and, I have to say, improbably) in Hays, Kansas, and worked as a lifeguard and a circus trampoline artist, among other things, before enlisting in the Army Air Corps the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

But you don’t need me to tell you that. You can do what I did and find it on Wikipedia.

And therein lies my present dilemma. I began writing these columns in order to share some personal recollections of writer friends who had passed on, stories which were mine—and sometimes mine alone—to tell. I haven’t been doing this all that long, and already I find myself running out of dead friends.

Which is fine with me, as I’d always rather have a living friend than a subject for a column. But this month it leaves me looking to write something about a man I didn’t know all that well.

I certainly didn’t know him nearly as well, or for nearly as long, as Max Allan Collins, who idolized Mickey Spillane the writer and became a very close friend of Mickey Spillane the man; since Mickey’s death in 2006, Al has served as Mickey’s literary executor, skillfully and sensitively preparing some unfinished manuscripts for publication, starting with a final Mike Hammer novel, The Goliath Bone, in 2008. (Since then we’ve had The Big Bang, with Kiss Her Goodbye and The Consummata due this year.)

Al’s recollections of Mickey would very likely fill a book, and I can only hope that someday they do just that. But perhaps mine, fleshed out with some thoughts and observations, may at least fill a column.

* * *

My favorite Mickey Spillane story is one I heard a year or two before I ever met the man. More than 20 years ago, several crime novelists were invited to appear for a radio panel discussion of their craft. I wasn’t one of them, but Donald E. Westlake was, and it was he who told me the story. Whoever the panelists were, they nattered back and forth until their hour was up, and then, when they were off the air, Spillane said, “You know what? We never talked about money.”

If I remember correctly, Long John Nebel was the host. Whoever the lucky fellow was, he winced at this, and steeled himself to explain to the creator of Mike Hammer that there was no money budgeted to pay the panelists.

But that wasn’t what Mickey was getting at.

“We didn’t talk about money,” he said, “and money’s very important. Let me give you an example. Back when we first moved down to South Carolina, I just relaxed and took it easy for a while, and every now and then it would occur to me that it would be fun to write a story. But I didn’t have any ideas. I would take long walks on the beach, I would sit and think, but I could never manage to come up with an idea.

“Then one day I got a call from my accountant. ‘Mickey,’ he said, ‘it’s not desperate or anything, but the money’s starting to run low. It might be a good idea to generate some income.’

“So I thanked him and hung up the phone, and I took a walk on the beach, and bang! Just like that, I started getting ideas!”

Mickey wasn’t being cynical. What he was doing, it seems to me, was telling a plain truth about the mechanics of artistic creativity. Necessity, for the writer as for anyone else, is very much the mother of invention. We get ideas because we feel a need for ideas, and when that need vanishes the well of ideas goes dry—until it’s needed once again.

spillane_ithejuryThis is not to say that it’s only money that makes the mare go. When I began writing I certainly hoped to get paid for it, but self-expression and ego gratification were far more powerful motivators. And I’d guess that was true at least in part for Mickey—for a certain number of years. And then it wasn’t.

Mickey published I, the Jury, in 1947. It didn’t do much as a Dutton hardcover, but sold like crazy once it went into paperback. Then he wrote and published six more novels between 1950 and 1952—My Gun Is Quick, Vengeance Is Mine!, The Big Kill, The Long Wait, One Lonely Night, and Kiss Me, Deadly. All but The Long Wait feature Mike Hammer, and it’s these seven books that (at least as of 1980) were among the 15 bestselling American novels of all time.

Mickey would tell you that he wrote the books for money, and I’m sure he did. But those first seven books had a drive and energy he never entirely recaptured in later years, even as his later books never matched them in popularity. I think it’s safe to say they came out of his inner self in a way that later books did not, that he needed to write them for reasons having little to do with dollars and cents.

Then he moved to Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, and stopped writing. Then the accountant called and he started in again.

* * *

I was probably in Mickey’s company half a dozen times over the last ten or 12 years of his life. On several of those occasions I heard him say the same thing: “I’m not an author. I’m a writer.”

I wanted to ask him what the hell he meant. The distinction he drew was clearly not out of a dictionary. I knew what he was getting at, that author implied some sort of lah-di-dah ivory tower, full-of-oneself attitude, while a writer could be free of pretense, a solid regular-guy craftsman producing something for ordinary folks to read. Velvet collar versus blue collar, if you will.

Well, okay. The guy was Mickey Spillane, so I figured he could get away with saying something like that if he wanted to. But there was a chip-on-the-shoulder thuggishness to it that I found off-putting. It seemed a curious attitude for a guy who made a living making up stories and writing them down.

Maybe the critics’ barbs hurt, and this was his response.

Then a couple of weeks ago I found a quote from Colette, who was hardly a sterile academician herself, and I just loved the way it worked in juxtaposition with Mickey’s oft-repeated line. So for a while I used them both as a subscript for my email correspondence, and here’s how they look together:

“I’m not an author. I’m a writer.”
—Mickey Spillane

“Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”
—Colette

I don’t know that I read all of Mickey’s first seven books, but it’s possible. I was in high school when the Signet paperbacks came out, and that’s when I read them.

I thought they were okay. At the time, a lot of my reading was in search of sexual excitement and information, and Mickey Spillane had a reputation in that area, but even then it seemed a stretch to call the work "erotic." There was sometimes a sexual aspect to the stories and situations, and Mike Hammer surely had an eye for the dames, but it never got all that hot.

I never read Mickey after high school. There was a gap there, nothing came out between 1952 and 1961. I did pick up one or two of the later books, but found them tedious, and not worth finishing.

With the early books, you finished them. You might or might not like them, might or might not admire the way they were written. But you finished them.

* * *

Q: What do you get if you cross a Jehovah’s Witness with an agnostic?
A: Someone who rings your doorbell for no apparent reason.

It’s hard not to equate the diminished impact of the later work with Mickey’s emergence as a Jehovah’s Witness. He was converted sometime in the 1950s by someone who did indeed come to his door, and remained devoutly committed to the faith throughout his life.

He always denied that the books changed as a result of his religion. And indeed Mike Hammer’s code remains about the same, and the world of Spillane’s fiction is still divided into good guys and bad guys, and the bad guys deserve what’s coming to them, and damn well get it.

But something’s different.

* * *

And why did those first books hit readers as hard as they did? We can talk about their energy, and how they had more drive than later Spillane, but lots of Mickey’s contemporaries wrote tough books about driven, energetic characters. Many of them were superior stylists, too—for all that Ayn Rand, bless her heart, found a way to prove that Mickey was a better writer than Thomas Wolfe.

Two words: comic books.

Before he wrote novels, Mickey Spillane wrote for the comic books. His first prose fiction consisted of a slew of one- and two-page stories for the comics, and his hero, Mike Hammer, was originally intended as a comic-strip hero. The fast cuts, the in-your-face immediacy, and the clear-cut, no-shades-of-gray, good-against-evil story lines of the Mike Hammer books come straight out of the comic book world.

Mickey Spillane was writing something new—comic books for grown-ups.

The generation of readers who embraced Spillane had read comic books before they read novels. They were used to the pace, the frame-by-frame rhythm. And they took to Mike Hammer like a duck to a pool of dark red blood shimmering in the sickly yellow light of the streetlamp...

Sorry. I got carried away there for a moment.

* * *

spillane_mickeyMickey was made a Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America in 1995.

Sixteen years later, it seems surprising that MWA waited so long. But that’s not how it looked at the time. The notion of giving him this award was hugely controversial, and a substantial proportion of MWA’s active membership regarded the whole notion as a travesty.

I was at a meeting, probably in the fall of 1994, probably at Bouchercon. If I remember correctly, it was an unofficial gathering of MWA people to consider the question. On one side, the pro-Spillane contingent argued that Mickey was enormously influential, that he had not only brought a whole generation of new readers to crime fiction, but that in so doing he had spawned the whole world of hardboiled paperback original fiction. Gold Medal Originals, it was suggested, owed their very existence to the new market Mickey and Mike Hammer had called into existence.

I couldn’t argue with that.

On the other side, the anti-Spillane crowd pointed out that, influential though they might well be, Mickey’s books were essentially crap. The plots were dumb, the characters lacked any semblance of depth, the underlying philosophy was brutish, and the writing itself was heavy-handed and crude. Yes, the books were popular—or had been, decades ago. But it was not MWA’s business to reward popularity. The marketplace did that. Our august organization gave out Edgars and designated Grand Masters in order to celebrate excellence, and these days it was hard to pick up a Mike Hammer novel and read it, let alone applaud its excellence.

I couldn’t argue with that, either.

The debate, as I remember it, was surprisingly reasonable and well-mannered. The nays didn’t shout too loud, because when all was said and done they liked Mickey, however little they thought of his work. And the yeas weren’t that boisterous, either; while one or two might have concurred with Ayn Rand, most seemed to be arguing that Mickey should get the award irrespective of the quality of his work.

Well, come April he showed up at the annual dinner and was made a Grand Master. And all the anti-Spillane arguments were like snow in an Arctic summer; they didn’t stop to melt, but sublimated, passing directly from a solid to a gaseous state. What, not give it to him? Who ever could have had an idea like that?

And I have to say he appreciated the honor. Well, why not? It came, after all, from the Mystery Writers of America.

If we’d been the Mystery Authors of America, it might have been a different story.

* * *

He was a hell of a nice guy. Did I mention that? It shouldn’t go unsaid. One hell of a nice guy.

A Mickey Spillane Reading List

Mike Hammer Novels
I, the Jury (1947)
My Gun Is Quick (1950)
Vengeance Is Mine! (1950)
One Lonely Night (1951)
The Big Kill (1951)
Kiss Me, Deadly (1952)
The Girl Hunters (1962)
The Snake (1964)
The Twisted Thing (1966)
The Body Lovers (1967)
Survival...Zero! (1970)
The Killing Man (1989)
Black Alley (1996)
The Goliath Bone (with Max Allan Collins, 2008)
The Big Bang (with Max Allan Collins, 2010)
Kiss Her Goodbye (with Max Allan Collins, 2011)

Tiger Mann Novels
Day of the Guns (1964)
Bloody Sunrise (1965)
The Death Dealers (1965)
The By-Pass Control (1966)

Other Novels
The Long Wait (1951)
The Deep (1961)
The Delta Factor (1967)
The Erection Set (1972)
The Last Cop Out (1973)
Something Down There (2003)
Dead Street* (with Max Allan Collins, 2007)

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #120.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-25 16:12:02

spillane_ithejury“...He needed to write [those first books] for reasons having little to do with dollars and cents.”

Summer, Issue #125 Contents
Mystery Scene

125cover_250

Features

 

The Dark Imagination of Lisa Unger

A local tragedy sparked this writer’s fascination with crime and its effects.
by Oline H. Cogdill

Sherlock II

The BBC’s contemporary take on Holmes is a deserved smash hit.
by Bill Hirschman

Back to Beer: Ace Atkins Does Spenser Proud

Atkins steps into some very big shoes and takes off running.
by Kevin Burton Smith

A Free Man of Color: The Benjamin January Mysteries

Barbara Hambly brings 1830s New Orleans to life in all its dizzying complexity.
by Jon L. Breen

Gormania! My 10 Favorite Noir Films...of the Moment

An annotated list for your viewing pleasure this summer.
by Ed Gorman

Tom Piccirilli

His new series debut takes a bleak look at a family of criminals on the eve of one son’s execution.
by Hank Wagner

Eyewitness

Out-of-print crime novels are reappearing in ebook editions.
by Kevin Burton Smith

Toby Peters Over Hollywood

Stuart Kaminsky’s battered ’tec is the go-to gumshoe for a cavalcade of stars.
by Michael Mallory

What’s Happening With Sue Henry

An adventurous writer returns.
by Brian Skupin

Departments


At the Scene

by Kate Stine

MS Online

Get the latest mystery reviews, articles and news via the MS website, Twitter, Facebook.

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

Dilys Award, Thriller Award nominations, Left Coast Crime Awards, Endeavour Morse on TV

The Hook

First Lines That Caught Our Attention

New Books

Fishing for a Mystery
by Beth Groundwater


Reviews


Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Mystery Scene Reviews

Miscellaneous


The Docket

Letters

Our Readers Recommend

Advertising Info

Advertiser Index

Admin
2010-04-06 02:39:02

125cover_250

Features

 

The Dark Imagination of Lisa Unger

A local tragedy sparked this writer’s fascination with crime and its effects.
by Oline H. Cogdill

Sherlock II

The BBC’s contemporary take on Holmes is a deserved smash hit.
by Bill Hirschman

Back to Beer: Ace Atkins Does Spenser Proud

Atkins steps into some very big shoes and takes off running.
by Kevin Burton Smith

A Free Man of Color: The Benjamin January Mysteries

Barbara Hambly brings 1830s New Orleans to life in all its dizzying complexity.
by Jon L. Breen

Gormania! My 10 Favorite Noir Films...of the Moment

An annotated list for your viewing pleasure this summer.
by Ed Gorman

Tom Piccirilli

His new series debut takes a bleak look at a family of criminals on the eve of one son’s execution.
by Hank Wagner

Eyewitness

Out-of-print crime novels are reappearing in ebook editions.
by Kevin Burton Smith

Toby Peters Over Hollywood

Stuart Kaminsky’s battered ’tec is the go-to gumshoe for a cavalcade of stars.
by Michael Mallory

What’s Happening With Sue Henry

An adventurous writer returns.
by Brian Skupin

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At the Scene

by Kate Stine

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Dilys Award, Thriller Award nominations, Left Coast Crime Awards, Endeavour Morse on TV

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First Lines That Caught Our Attention

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Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

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Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

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What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

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At the Scene, Summer Issue #125
Kate Stine

125cover_250“The past is never dead.
It’s not even past.”

Requiem for a Nun,
William Faulkner, 1951

No place in the world better illustrates this sentiment than New Orleans. And no writer better captures the complexities of this singular city than Barbara Hambly. In this issue, Jon L. Breen offers an overview of Hambly’s meticulously researched, marvelously alive Benjamin January mysteries. Although these novels are set in the 1830s, they cast a revelatory light on the New Orleans of today.

When Lisa Unger was 15 years old and living in semi-rural New Jersey, a local teenage girl was abducted and murdered. As she reveals in Oline Cogdill’s profile, that long-ago tragedy is still playing out in her work today.

Ace Atkins picks up a strand of literary history with Lullaby, his continuation of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser mysteries. Kevin Burton Smith profiles Atkins in this issue—and gives the revived Spenser a big thumbs up.

In another article, Kevin surveys the many wonderful, long out-of-print crime novels that are suddenly available again in ebook editions. Now that’s progress!

Hank Wagner profiles Tom Piccirilli whose new novel, The Last Kind Words, has at its center the twisted history of a family of criminals.

Michael Mallory discusses how stars from Hollywood’s 1940s heyday still shine brightly in Stuart Kaminsky’s delightful Toby Peters mysteries.

Sherlock Holmes, of course, transcends time as Bill Hirschman notes in his article about the BBC’s fun new TV series.

No matter where you fall on the time continuum, we think you’ll find something to enjoy in this issue. Have a great summer!

Kate Stine
Editor-in-chief

Teri Duerr
2011-03-04 16:14:15

A talk with Thomas Perry, remembering Reginald Hill, authors John Buchan and Jane Langton, and more.

Evan Hunter: Part Two
Lawrence Block

hunter_mcbainI allowed myself to entertain the schoolboy fantasy that some day Evan and I would become friends, and he’d dedicate a book to me.

 

Evan Hunter (left) with Ed McBain (right) in New York, October 6, 2000. Author photograph by Robert Clark for Candyland (2001).

In the marketplace, Ed McBain largely eclipsed Evan Hunter. I don’t know how much this may have irked Evan. He took the work under his own name more seriously, but he took the Ed McBain books seriously enough, and indeed wrote 20 of them and not a single Evan Hunter novel in the ten years between Lizzie (1984) and Criminal Conversation (1994). He never tired of writing them. (Or I of reading them; I can’t think of another series that lasted so many years, ran to so many volumes, and maintained such a consistently high level of quality.)

Still, Evan delighted in telling how he’d met Dina, the woman who would become his third wife, in a bookstore. When she learned his name, she enthused over his books. Strangers When We Meet, The Chisholms, Streets of Gold, Last Summer, Buddwing... She’d read them all, remembered all their details, and was a devoted fan.

But, he loved to point out, she knew him only as Evan Hunter. She’d never heard of Ed McBain!

Candyland seems to me Evan’s most remarkable book, and his most personal one. He billed it as a collaboration between Evan Hunter and Ed McBain, and if that strikes you as gimmicky, well, it’s nevertheless a legitimate description. Half the book tells the grim and desperate story of a compulsive sex addict who winds up accused of murder. That’s the Hunter half. The McBain portion consists of the 87th Precinct’s investigation of the case.

I’d say this was a book Evan had to write, and he may have needed to bring the twin personae of Hunter and McBain to bear on it. While he strove for discretion in his personal life, enough anecdotes circulated to make it clear that the problem of Candyland’s protagonist was shared by its author.

I’ll tell just one story, because it’s one nobody else is likely to know. I heard it from a media escort, who was discreet enough to mention no names; something else she’d said in another context allowed me to decode the story, to her considerable dismay.

But it’s too good to miss. She was escorting Evan in Denver, taking him to bookstores and interviews, and after a couple of hours he suggested that the day might best conclude with an intimate dinner at his hotel. “And I don’t want you to think that I hit on escorts,” he assured her. “I’m on the road once or twice a year, and I swear this is the first time I ever...”

She let it go, and turned him down gently. And told me how hard it had been to keep from saying, “Yeah, right. Then how come three nights ago you fed that line word for word to my stepmother in Cleveland?”

That Evan was able to address the topic of sex addiction in Candyland, and that he did so as directly and effectively as he did, suggests that he’d already addressed and dealt with it in life. The Serbian woman who knew Evan Hunter but not Ed McBain probably had something to do with that. Marriage to Dragica Dimitrijevic (whom I have known as Dina) changed him. He seemed much happier.

mcbain_hunter_candylandThe change manifested itself publicly in one curious way. From the time they found each other, Evan dedicated every book he wrote to Dina. In at least one dedication, he went so far as to apologize for the repetition, saying that he knew this was getting boring, but nevertheless....

I don’t know that anyone else cared, or even noticed, but the change had an ironic impact upon me. Back in my days at Scott Meredith, when I read each of his novels as soon as it appeared, I always noted the dedication. Evan was always a very prolific writer, and each dedication was to a different individual or couple. It was remarkable, it seemed to me, not only that he could write so many books, but that he never seemed to run out of people to whom they could be dedicated.

And I allowed myself to entertain the schoolboy fantasy that some day Evan and I would become friends, and he’d dedicate a book to me.

Then I forgot about all of this, and time passed, and Evan and I became acquaintances, and over a few more years that ripened into friendship. I remembered my youthful fancy and realized that it might actually come to pass. The man was as productive as ever, and we were friends now, so it was not unreasonable to suppose that my turn as dedicatee might sooner or later arrive.

By then, of course, I’d largely grown out of caring about that sort of thing. I’d had a couple of books dedicated to me, and I was not unappreciative of that sort of thing, but I’d dedicated enough books of my own for the bloom to be off that particular rose. Still, given the unwitting role the man had played in my own personal mythology, well, to have Evan dedicate a book to me would represent some sort of triumph.


block_hitman

When Hit Man came out, I dedicated it to Evan. If this was a manipulative act on my part, I have to say it was wholly unconscious. I had a book to dedicate, and he was a friend who I thought would enjoy Keller. I wasn’t expecting reciprocity. The dedication read “For Evan Hunter.” It didn’t say RSVP.

Still, I could hardly avoid having it in mind that eventually it would be my turn in the barrel. I didn’t really think about it, and then as each succeeding book was dedicated in its turn to Dina, I realized it wasn’t going to happen.

No matter. I treasured his friendship, not only for the pleasure of his company but it told me how far I’d come. I didn’t need a dedication to remind me. I was in no danger of forgetting.

Sometime in the late '60s, Evan left Scott Meredith. The break was probably inevitable, but what precipitated it was Scott’s having made innumerable photocopies of a manuscript of Evan’s for film submission. Nothing came of it, and Scott charged Evan $1,100 for photocopying, all without ever having consulted him. That sounds like a hefty sum now, and was a good deal more so in 1967. Evan blew up, and called it quits.

Scott died in 1993, and as soon as Evan got the news he started calling his friends. “Did you hear the news? Scott died! Scott is dead! Isn’t that great? Isn’t that the best thing you’ve ever heard?”

Now I was aware that the end of that particular author–agent relationship had not been entirely amicable, but at the time Evan’s reaction seemed just the slightest bit extreme. Much later I learned he had his reasons.

Evan was going through a divorce from his first wife at the same time that he was attempting to extricate himself from Scott. At one point Scott picked up the phone and called the first Mrs. Hunter. “You and I have interests in common,” he told her, “and perhaps ought to join forces.” Whereupon he divulged no end of personal and financial details—about the mistress, for example, and all those unrecorded payments made to the Dean Hudson account.

Evan constantly generated ideas, and not all of them were for books. It must have been sometime in the late ’90s that he came up with the notion for Grand Jury.

As he saw it, it was to be a television program, most likely for cable. It woud consist of himself, Don Westlake, and me, all of us MWA Grand Masters (hence the Grand) discussing and judging the work of other writers (thus the Jury). He figured it would be great fun for the three of us, who’d already established that we enjoyed one another’s company, and that it would generate enormous publicity for our own work, and make us all rich and famous.

We had a few meetings toward this end. Once, I remember, we sat down for lunch with my good friend Patrick Trese, a distinguished writer and producer of TV news and documentaries, and discussed the form the show could take and the possibility of Pat’s producing it. Another time producer Richard Rubinstein took an interest, and set up a meeting with a couple of young guys from one of the cable stations. They seemed pleased to be in the same room with the three of us, but couldn’t quite pull off the trick of appearing interested in Evan’s idea.

I don’t know that Don or I believed for a minute that this would work. Who would put it on the air? And, if someone did, who would watch it? But that doesn’t mean either of us entertained the notion of saying as much to Evan. His enthusiasm was enough to keep us on board.

mcbain_transgressionsBesides, who knew? Maybe he could bring it off.

Consider Transgressions. After no end of invitations to edit an anthology, Evan decided just what kind of an anthology he’d do. He wanted ten prominent authors each to do a 20,000–word novella. And, in order to get us all on board, he wanted assurance that we’d all be well compensated for our trouble. I’m not positive of the figure, but I believe we were to get $20,000 apiece.

If anyone else had proposed this, you’d have to figure he was just trying to get out of editing anything, ever. A publisher was going to have to come up with $200,000 in front—plus whatever Evan was getting as editor. Big names or no, that’s daunting. And the book itself, at 200,000 words, would be expensive to produce and probably too costly to sell well.

And how were you going to get the big names on board, anyway? Yes, the money was decent enough, but a 20,000–word hunk of fiction is an impossible length to market. If the deal fell through, if the publisher backed out, what on earth could you do with the damn thing? Cut three–fourths of it and peddle it as a short story? Pump another 50,000 words into it and call it a novel?

Well, go figure. Don and I turned in stories, of course, and so did Jeffery Deaver, Joyce Carol Oates, Anne Perry, John Farris, Sharyn McCrumb, Walter Mosley, Stephen King...and one Ed McBain. Forge published it, and did well with it, and a slew of overseas sales brought in some more dollars (well, yen and euros, anyway) for all concerned.

I don’t honestly think anyone but Evan could have made this happen. And, now that I think about it, I have to wonder if those cable guys missed the boat. Maybe Grand Jury could have worked. If Evan thought it could, who am I to say it couldn’t?

Transgressions came out in April of 2005. Three months later, the cancer that had taken Evan’s larynx took his life. (He wrote about his illness in a memoir called Let’s Talk, an extraordinary book that somehow didn’t get published in the States; Orion brought it out in the UK two months before his death.)

Evan wanted to go on living. He had a wonderful marriage, he had a fine career, and he was able to write. In a late interview, he talked cheerfully about planning to live to be 104. I don’t know if he believed this, or to what extent he saw the end coming.

We who knew him were aware the end was imminent; because we knew what he’d been going through, we could only regard his death as a mercy, even as we regretted the loss.

A while later, Dina had Becca in Jeopardy sent to me, with the thought that I might undertake its completion. I was honored to be selected, and felt that such an enterprise was not one Evan would find unwholesome; back in 1959, he had completed The April Robin Murders, which Craig Rice had left unfinished.

But when I read what he’d left, I decided the few chapters and several pages of amorphous notes weren’t something I could turn into a book that would do either of us credit. I don’t doubt that Evan could have made it work, but that was because it was a story of his devising and he had an idea where he was going with it. I said as much to Dina, and she decided at once to trust my judgment rather than look for another writer.

I’d have liked to finish my friend’s book. But I’m grateful I decided not to try. It’s not as though he doesn’t have enough books to his credit—and not a dull page, a lifeless paragraph, or an ungainly sentence in any of them.

A SELECTED ED McBAIN & EVAN HUNTER READING LIST

The 87th Precinct Novels, by Ed McBain
Cop Hater (1956)
The Mugger (1956)
The Pusher (1956)
The Con Man (1957)
Killer's Choice (1957)
Killer's Payoff (1958)
Lady Killer (1958)
Killer's Wedge (1959)
'Til Death (1959)
King's Ransom (1959)
Give the Boys a Great Big Hand (1960)
The Heckler (1960)
See Them Die (1960)
Lady, Lady, I Did It (1961)
The Empty Hours (1962)
Like Love (1962)
Ten Plus One (1963)
Ax (1964)
He Who Hesitates (1964)
Doll (1965)
Eighty Million Eyes (1966)
Fuzz (1968)
Shotgun (1969)
Jigsaw (1970)
Hail, Hail the Gang's All Here! (1971)
Sadie When She Died (1972)
Let's Hear It for the Deaf Man (1972)
Hail to the Chief (1973)
Bread (1974)
Blood Relatives (1975)
So Long as You Both Shall Live (1976)
Long Time No See (1977)
Calypso (1979)
Ghosts (1980)
Heat (1981)
Ice (1983)
Lightning (1984)
Eight Black Horses (1985)
Poison (1987)
Tricks (1987)
Lullaby (1989)
Vespers (1990)
Widows (1991)
Kiss (1992)
Mischief (1993)
And All Through the House (1994)
Romance (1995)
Nocturne (1997)
The Big Bad City (1999)
The Last Dance (2000)
Money, Money, Money (2001)
Fat Ollie's Book (2002)
The Frumious Bandersnatch (2004)
Hark! (2004)
Fiddlers (2005)

Matthew Hope Novels, by Ed McBain
Goldilocks (1977)
Rumpelstiltskin (1981)
Beauty and the Beast (1982)
Jack and the Beanstalk (1984)
Snow White and Rose Red (1985)
Cinderella (1986)
Puss in Boots (1987)
The House That Jack Built (1988)
Three Blind Mice (1990)
Mary, Mary (1992)
There Was a Little Girl (1994)
Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear (1996)
The Last Best Hope (1998)

Other Novels, by Ed McBain
The April Robin Murders (with Craig Rice; 1958)
The Sentries (1965)
Where There's Smoke (1975)
Guns (1976)
Another Part of the City (1986)
Downtown (1991)
Driving Lessons (2000)
Learning to Kill (2005)
Transgressions (edited by Ed McBain; 2005)
Women in Jeopardy (2005)
Alice in Jeopardy (2005)

Other Novels, by Evan Hunter
The Evil Sleep! (1952)
Don't Crowd Me (1953)
The Blackboard Jungle (1954)
Second Ending (1956)
Strangers When We Meet (1958)
A Matter of Conviction (1959)
Mothers and Daughters (1961)
Buddwing (1964)
The Paper Dragon (1966)
A Horse's Head (1967)
Last Summer (1968)
Sons (1969)
Nobody Knew They Were There (1971)
Every Little Crook and Nanny (1972)
Come Winter (1973)
Streets of Gold (1974)
The Chisholms (1976)
Walk Proud (1979)
Love, Dad (1981)
Far From the Sea (1983)
Lizzie (1984)
Criminal Conversation (1994)
Privileged Conversation (1996)
Candyland (with Ed McBain; 2001)
The Moment She Was Gone (2002)

Memoir
Me and Hitch (1997)
Let’s Talk: A Story of Cancer and Love (2005)

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #119.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-25 18:41:42

hunter_mcbainPart II of Lawrence Block's remembrance of the legendary Evan Hunter.

The Lola Quartet
Betty Webb

While it at first focuses on Gavin Sasaki, the true heart of this gut-wrenching novel is a high school jazz band called the Lola Quartet. Gavin—an aspiring trumpet player—unknowingly gets his 15-year-old girlfriend pregnant, then leaves for college. The panicked Anna makes a series of bad choices that wind up ruining the lives of not only Gavin, but also his friend Daniel, the quartet’s bass player; Jack, the saxophonist; and Shasha, the drummer who is Anna’s half-sister.

Told in an elastic time line that plays back and forth between the now and ten years earlier, The Lola Quartet also travels from Florida to Manhattan to Salt Lake City. The ripples of Anna’s damage widen further as her lies infect Paul, a crystal meth dealer who takes in the pregnant teen, and Liam, the gifted jazz guitarist who loves her.

After last year’s superb, twisty The Singer’s Gun, Mandel wouldn’t be faulted if she eased up and wrote something more straightforward, but she didn’t. Subtlety in the midst of chaos is her forte, and as the action slowly ramps up to murder, her tone is controlled, her artistic vision flawless. In describing Gavin’s late-blooming sense of honor, for instance, she shows him meditating on something as unlikely as returning WWI vets: “These were men who’d been through trench warfare and emerged hard and half-broken into the glitter and commotion of the between-wars world; men out of time, out of place, hanging on by the threads of their uneven souls.” That lyrical passage not only describes Gavin to a T, but all the other sad, struggling members of the Lola Quartet.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-25 20:04:51

While it at first focuses on Gavin Sasaki, the true heart of this gut-wrenching novel is a high school jazz band called the Lola Quartet. Gavin—an aspiring trumpet player—unknowingly gets his 15-year-old girlfriend pregnant, then leaves for college. The panicked Anna makes a series of bad choices that wind up ruining the lives of not only Gavin, but also his friend Daniel, the quartet’s bass player; Jack, the saxophonist; and Shasha, the drummer who is Anna’s half-sister.

Told in an elastic time line that plays back and forth between the now and ten years earlier, The Lola Quartet also travels from Florida to Manhattan to Salt Lake City. The ripples of Anna’s damage widen further as her lies infect Paul, a crystal meth dealer who takes in the pregnant teen, and Liam, the gifted jazz guitarist who loves her.

After last year’s superb, twisty The Singer’s Gun, Mandel wouldn’t be faulted if she eased up and wrote something more straightforward, but she didn’t. Subtlety in the midst of chaos is her forte, and as the action slowly ramps up to murder, her tone is controlled, her artistic vision flawless. In describing Gavin’s late-blooming sense of honor, for instance, she shows him meditating on something as unlikely as returning WWI vets: “These were men who’d been through trench warfare and emerged hard and half-broken into the glitter and commotion of the between-wars world; men out of time, out of place, hanging on by the threads of their uneven souls.” That lyrical passage not only describes Gavin to a T, but all the other sad, struggling members of the Lola Quartet.

Deadly Negatives
Russell Hill

Another extraordinary writer to whom lyricism is no mystery, Russell Hill—a three-time Edgar nominee—has left behind the literary artistry of his The Lord God Bird and the baseball humor of The Dog Sox. Instead, he gives us a straight-ahead mystery novel about Michael McSwain, a California photographer whose purchase of an old Leica leads him down a pathway of betrayal and murder. Hidden inside the camera are negatives showing horrible war crimes being committed during the Vietnam conflict. Since Michael has more curiosity than common sense, he sets out to identify the criminal. No surprise, then, when someone tries to kill him. On the run from certain death, he encounters a beautiful woman; a hilariously foul-mouthed Texan who hates all things California; and a very nasty dog.

Terrifying and funny by turns, Deadly Negative still has its own bursts of lyricism (Hill, who has the soul of a poet, just can’t help himself). At one point, Michael and his new love are trapped in a wilderness cabin, imagining “coyotes far above us, their long legs ranging along the ridge, their dog-like faces intent on the night.” Because Hill is the kind of deep-thinking writer he is, what at first appears to be a standard story of old sins casting long shadows morphs into a soliloquy about the layers of individual responsibility amidst wartime chaos. To whom do we owe the most—our friends or the innocent?

Teri Duerr
2012-06-25 20:29:50

hill_deadlynegativeA mystery terrifying and funny by turns, and sure to please

Evan Hunter: Part One
Lawrence Block

mcbain_edLong before I first met Evan Hunter, he bought me a drink.

 

I remember it well. It was champagne, Mumm’s Brut, and it was one of half a dozen bottles that he sent to the office at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency. It was Christmas, 1957, and I’d been working there since a bemused fellow at Qualified Employment sent me over in August to take a blind test.

The test consisted of reading a story (“Rattlesnake Cave”) and writing a letter to its author (“Ray D. Lester”). One could tell the author the story was fine, or suggest revisions, or explain why it stank. Ray D. Lester was in fact the science fiction writer Lester Del Rey, and he’d written the story to Scott’s order, striving to encompass every plotting flaw he could think of. I pointed them out in my letter, and got the job, which consisted in doing essentially the same thing 40 hours a week, with other stories that were every bit as bad as “Rattlesnake Cave,” but not by design.

They hired me in spite of both my youth—I had just turned 19—and the fact that I’d be going back to Antioch College on the first of October. They didn’t know that part, and I figured I’d cross that bridge when I came to it, but after two months I burned it instead and told the college I wouldn’t be coming back after all. It was the best job in the world for me, and I could write a whole column about the place, and will, but this one is about Evan Hunter.

Our office was on the 18th floor at 580 Fifth Avenue. A couple of years later Scott moved to more spacious quarters on the seventh floor, but on 18 there were just six of us hirelings in the outer office, and everybody got a bottle. Champagne bottles come in a great variety of sizes, and each size has a name all its own. There are Magnums and Jeroboams and Methuselah and Nebuchadnezzars, and don’t they sound grand? There is also the split, which contains just enough champagne to fill two glasses, and that’s what each of us got, and I couldn’t have been happier.

I saved it for New Year’s Eve. A date and I could each have had a glass, but I didn’t have a date, so I drank the whole bottle.

I read The Blackboard Jungle in high school, probably within a year of its 1954 publication. I was reading a rich diet of Steinbeck and Wolfe and Farrell and O’Hara, and I can’t say Evan’s novel blew me away. I thought it was okay, certainly, but it didn’t make me kneel in homage.

My next contact with the man, albeit from a distance, was when my dad brought home a copy of Writer’s Yearbook. Scott Meredith had contributed a self–serving article, explaining just how much money Evan had made from Jungle, how he’d sold film rights in advance of publication, and all the other great deals he had made on his author’s behalf. I think the total sum ran to $100,000.

That impressed me, but I can’t say it made me salivate. I knew by then that I was going to be a writer, that I’d somehow produce books and stories, and that I’d somehow make a living doing this.

Then, some months later, I bought a paperback at a drugstore. It was The Jungle Kids, a collection of stories Evan had originally published in magazines, mostly Manhunt. They all had youthful protagonists, and they’d been collected to cash in on the success of the novel.

hunter_theblackboardjungleI thought they were terrific. And I had a solid experience of identification—not with the juvie characters, but with the author himself. Because the two things that struck me about what I was reading were: (a) that these were genuinely good, and (b) that I could see myself writing them.

And I immediately got an idea for a similar story, and sat down and tried to write it. It was terrible, and died a few pages in, and I threw it out and forgot about it.

But when I sold my first story, it was to Manhunt. When I got a job good enough to quit school for, it was where Evan started; he’d gone to work for Scott when the office was even smaller, and had been good enough at it that the Meredith brothers had talked about making him a partner. Instead, he’d done well enough writing to devote himself to it full–time, and when I started there he was the agency’s star client—which is why noblesse oblige led him to send some champers to the wage slaves.

Do you think I minded that I didn’t have a date? Or that two sips of Mumm’s don’t make New Year’s Eve any more than two swallows make a summer? What, are you kidding? Evan Hunter bought me champagne!


hunter_streetsofgoldLet’s talk about names.

He was born Salvatore Albert Lombino, and his first sale was a science fiction story bylined S. A. Lombino. His employer, whose name at birth was a far cry from Scott Meredith, convinced him that an Italian name was an impediment to success, and Evan Hunter was born out of his high school (Evander Childs) and college (Hunter). There were other pen names during those pulp years—Hunt Collins, Richard Marsten—but Evan Hunter was first among them, and he hadn’t been using it long before he went to court and made it official.

When I worked at Scott Meredith, the receptionist, an Englishwoman named Joan, still called him Sal. “It’s Sal on line one,” she’d inform Scott. And at his memorial service half a century later, a sister of Evan’s indicated that he was still Sal to her.

Everybody else called him Evan. It annoyed him that some people felt he was sailing under false colors, or ashamed of his Italian heritage. His enduring series character was Steve Carella, and Evan wrote about him with great success for 50 years. Evan’s early years were spent in Italian East Harlem, and he used that background in one of his finest novels, Streets of Gold, narrated by a blind Italian-American jazz pianist. He was open enough about who he was, but he felt that one’s name was a matter of choice. You could keep the one you were born with or pick one that better suited you, as you preferred.

When Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels outperformed Evan Hunter in the marketplace, Evan found himself addressed as Ed by fans and interviewers. He didn’t mind. But he knew who he was. He was Evan Hunter.

Before he started writing, Evan thought he’d be an artist. He was good enough at it to win an Art Students League scholarship and to be admitted to Cooper Union. He started writing stories during his World War II naval service, and was to say that as an artist he had seen everything in a frame, and later came to see everything with a beginning, a middle, and an ending.

The job with Scott Meredith made him a writer, but it’s hard to believe he ever considered doing anything else. Evan loved to write, and it was something he could do rapidly and well. He turned out an extraordinary volume of work, and never lost his enthusiasm for it.

In his mid-'70s, after a couple of heart attacks, an aneurysm, and a siege of cancer that had led to the removal of his larynx, Evan did something that sums up the man. He decided that what the reading public most wanted was books about women in jeopardy, so he sat down and, as Ed McBain, wrote Alice in Jeopardy. And went to work right away on Becca in Jeopardy, with every intention of working his way through the alphabet.

hunter_thejunglekidsDon’t you love it? Here’s a man with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, and he’s perfectly comfortable launching a 26-book series.

The Dean Hudson novels give further evidence of Evan’s enthusiasm for the task of stringing words together.

In the late ’50s, the genre of soft-core erotica was born, and a number of us found it to be a well-paying apprenticeship, and a very forgiving medium in which to find oneself as a writer. Along with Don Westlake and Robert Silverberg, I became a steady producer of pseudonymous books. (We called them sex novels; today’s term seems to be erotica, and I must say I like that better; I feel like Moliere’s character who is startled and rather pleased to discover that all his life he’s been speaking prose. Damn! I’ve been writing erotica!)

The foremost publisher of this erotica was Bill Hamling, whose imprints included Nightstand Books and Midnight Reader, and Scott Meredith had an exclusive deal to feed Hamling a steady supply of manuscripts. (Scott got 10 percent of what his writers were paid, of course, and we’ve since learned he also got a packaging fee of $1,000 a book. So when I wrote a book for $1,000, I received $900 and my agent pocketed $1,100. What a guy!)

By this time Evan was a bestselling author with an estate in Pound Ridge, up in Westchester County. He was writing about Carella and the guys in the Eight-Seven, and he was writing mainstream fiction as Evan Hunter, but he had time on his hands. He told Scott he could certainly spare a few days each month to knock out a book for Hamling.

And the extra dough would come in handy, because no one but Scott would know he was writing the books, and Scott would pay the money into a special account, which Evan could then use to pay the expenses of the girlfriend his then-wife didn’t know about.

Thus Dean Hudson, a pen name not too hard to decipher; Evan lived on or near the Hudson River, and was certainly entitled to see himself as the dean of Hamling’s faculty of eroticists. I don’t know how many books he wrote as Dean Hudson; somewhere along the way he tired of the sport, or perhaps broke up with the mistress, and Scott, never one to let go of a good thing, found some young hopeful to ghost Dean Hudson books, even as Don and I enlisted various up-and-comers (or down-and-outers) to write under the banners of Andrew Shaw and Alan Marshall.

Evan always refused to acknowledge that he’d written as Dean Hudson. He insisted, to interviewers and on his website, that he’d had nothing to do with the books. I don’t know what he might have said privately because the subject never came up between us.

While Evan hit the bestseller list a couple of time, it frustrated him that he didn’t sell better. Men and women who couldn’t write their names in the dirt with a stick were hitting the list all the time, and he wasn’t, and he couldn’t understand why. Once he and Don Westlake were on a plane together, lamenting the fact that neither of them was writing the sort of book that had a real shot at bestsellerdom. They agreed that each would make a special effort to come up with a genuinely commercial idea, and before the plane landed Don told Evan triumphantly that he’d done the trick.

The perfect can’t-miss idea had come to him.

The idea? The narrator’s an angel, sent to earth on a mission. Don wrote the book, called it Humans, and three or four people went out and actually bought it.

So much to say, so little space. Tune in next issue for the rest of the story...

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #118.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-25 20:14:46

mcbain_ed"Long before I first met Evan Hunter, he bought me a drink."

The Bank Robber Who Wrote Books: the Unlikely Career of Al Nussbaum
Lawrence Block

nussbaum_alThe work was secondary to the extraordinary life he led.

 

Photo: David Poller

 

Sometime in the early eighties Al Nussbaum reported, with a mixture of disgust and incredulity, that someone had tried to mug him on his way home the previous night.

“This clown sticks a gun in my face,” he said. “I said, ‘Get out of my way, you moron. I just got out of the joint.’”

Al pushed past him, leaving the fellow to go find a more acquiescent victim. It’s not surprising that his performance was effective; even in the retelling, his gentle voice hardened and took on an edge that brooked no argument.

And he came by it honestly. While he wasn’t fresh out of prison, it wasn’t more than ten years or so since he’d been paroled from Leavenworth after serving eight years of a 40-year sentence for bank robbery and homicide.

* * *

A good number of cops develop literary ambitions, and there was a time a few years ago when you couldn’t get arrested in this town without hearing about your new acquaintance’s novel in progress. (Now it’s screenplays, and TV pitches.)

Few of those books got past the talking stage, and fewer still got finished, and not many were published. But some of them were very good indeed, and if the list began with Joe Wambaugh, it certainly hasn’t ended there. And why should we be surprised? Law enforcement, it turns out, is great preparation for a career in crime fiction; as one cop-turned-novelist remarked, the crime part’s what you see in the streets, and the fiction’s what goes in your case reports.

You would think that a lifetime on the other side of the law would be just as likely to equip one for a second life as a mystery writer. And, to be sure, some powerful crime fiction has been written by chaps with just that sort of firsthand experience. Malcolm Braly’s On the Yard is arguably the best prison novel ever written, and it wouldn’t exist but for the author’s having spent half of his first 40 years in confinement.

Writing workshops are popular in prison, and if most of the output isn’t publishable, well, that’s no less true on the outside. On either side of the walls, the writing seems to serve a substantial therapeutic function. And now and then a genuine writer does emerge, and he and we are better for it.

* * *

nussbaum_bombAl was in print and out of the joint by the time I met him in the mid-'70s, but our paths could have crossed earlier. We were both born and raised in Buffalo. He was born four years earlier than I, in 1934, and he left town early enough to get arrested in California in the late 1950s on a weapons charge. That landed him in prison in Chillicothe, Ohio, where he met Bobby Wilcoxson, who’d be his partner in a string of bank robberies.

Al was always a bright guy with a wide range of interests. He played in chess tournaments by mail while locked up in Ohio, and filled his jail time with correspondence courses in locksmithing, gunsmithing, and chemistry. (One wonders at the wisdom of encouraging felons to pursue these interests.) He had some other skills as well; he was a draftsman and a welder, and could both fly and service an airplane.

So he was the brains to Wilcoxson’s brawn, and they robbed a batch of banks together. Their last bank job was in Brooklyn, where Wilcoxson shot the bank guard dead.

That was the end of Al’s criminal career. And, happily, the beginning of his new life as a writer.

* * *

Al was on the lam, and went to ground in Philadelphia. (That’s how I heard it, but it may have been somewhere else.) He got a room or small apartment and took care to blend in with his surroundings.

But he didn’t have a job to go to, and he worried that this might strike his new neighbors as curious. So he looked for a cover occupation that could explain his presence or absence at all hours. A writer, he thought. I’ll pretend to be a writer.

So he went out and bought a typewriter, and now and then during the day he’d pound away at its keys—even as you and I. But that got old in a hurry, and he was resourceful enough to go out and buy himself a tape recorder. Then he made a loop tape of himself typing, and played it whenever he wanted writerly sound effects to seep through his door.

But he felt there might be more to playing a writer than just sounding like one. He needed some tips from an old hand at the game. So one evening he picked up the phone.

marlowe_nameofthegameisdeathAl didn’t know any writers. But he’d been a reader for years, and was sufficiently impressed by one book to feel a kinship to its author. The book was The Name of the Game Is Death, by Dan J. Marlowe, and features a tough and unrepentant professional criminal named Earl Drake. Al was in a position to identify with Drake, and could tell that Marlowe had gotten the character and milieu down right.

He traced Marlowe through his publishers, and called him at home in Royal Oak, Michigan, enthusing over Marlowe’s novel and passing himself off as a wannabe writer looking for tips. There were more calls over the weeks and months, and the two men became friends—although Dan didn’t yet know Al’s real name, or that he was in fact a real-life Earl Drake high up on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.

He found out after Al was arrested. That came about back home in Buffalo; Al was visiting his wife and infant daughter, and his mother-in-law ratted him out. (He was captured in the Statler Hilton parking lot after a high-speed chase, and no, I’m not making this up.) The FBI, walking back the cat to make their case, found where Al had been hiding out, checked the phone records, and discovered all these calls to some guy in Michigan. They turned up on Dan Marlowe’s doorstep wanting to know why he’d spent so much time on the phone with Al Nussbaum, and Dan didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. He’d been helping some young writer who was a big fan of his, he said. And who exactly was this fellow Nussbaum? Dan had to answer a lot of questions before they decided to leave him alone.

A little while later Al got in touch again—this time by mail. By now he’d pled guilty to seven bank robberies and the murder of the bank guard, and was serving 40 years in Leavenworth. He wouldn’t be eligible for parole until 1971. And he had some time on his hands, and was thinking of trying his hand at something new.

While he served his sentence, Al worked on short fiction. As I heard it, he sent Marlowe his manuscripts, kiting them out of prison; Marlowe wrote back with suggestions for revisions, and eventually sent one of Al’s stories to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

The relationship wasn’t entirely one-sided. Dan had resumed writing about Earl Drake, at Al’s suggestion and with his assistance; the expertise he was able to supply didn’t hurt a bit. (He’d come by it honestly, is what I was about to write, but on second thought...)

After a few books, Dan changed the series; Drake was still Drake, but now he was on the side of the angels, plying his bad-guy skills in the service of the federal government. Some sources indicate that this was Fawcett’s idea, that they’d taken over the Parker series (by Donald E. Westlake as Richard Stark) and figured one unrepentant heist man was enough.

ahmm_oct-1972Maybe this was indeed the case, but writers do have a lamentable tendency to reform their antisocial protagonists, and maybe readers want it that way; years ago I heard from a reader who informed me that he was quitting my Bernie Rhodenbarr series after the fourth book, The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza, because by now Bernie should have seen the error of his ways and gone straight.

More Earl Drake than Parker, Al had indeed seen the error of his ways, and was ready to reform, changing his occupation from bank robber to writer. He kept writing stories and Dan kept marketing them, and when Al became eligible for parole he went before the board with recommendations from editors who’d bought his stories as well as writers Dan had enlisted in his cause. He got out, and spent the rest of his life as a freelance writer, consorting not with fellow criminals but with writers and editors. I don’t suppose everyone would consider this a step up, but it worked for him.

* * *

But wait, as the TV pitchmen say. There’s more.

Dan Marlowe, who’s clearly one of the heroes of this story, suffered an absolutely appalling twist of fate. Probably as the result of a stroke, he fell victim in 1977 to a severe form of amnesia of the sort rarely encountered outside the world of soap opera. He forgot who he was, along with all the details of his life to date. It wasn’t an ongoing memory loss, in that he had no trouble recalling everything that took place after the stroke. But the past was erased, wiped off the board and forever unrecoverable.

He could still write, lending credence to the folks who insist that what we do isn’t really mental in the first place. But he couldn’t remember having written, and had to read all his own work as if encountering it for the first time.

Al, fresh out of prison, helped him relearn the world and his place in it. Dan had quit Michigan for California, and Al moved in with him and helped him adjust. Dan wrote a fair amount of softcore porn, much of it under pen names that were anagrams of his own, and the two men did some work in collaboration. Dan never did write more about Earl Drake after his memory loss, and I can see how that would have been daunting; it’d be like taking over a series written by somebody else. Which happens often enough, but it’s never quite the same, is it?

Dan resumed writing crime novels and published a bunch of them before his heart gave out in 1986. I haven’t read any of them, so I don’t know how they compare to his earlier work, though they’d have had to go a long way to match The Name of the Game Is Death. I had met Dan a couple of times early on, liked him a lot, and was shaken when I heard about his amnesia. He was, no question, one of the good guys.

* * *

While I never got to know Al well, I must have met him a dozen times over the years. He was active in MWA and a frequent participant in conventions and symposia, where he was always good company, ever cheerful and sociable. He dealt with his criminal past by being disarmingly open about it; his self-styled business card was a photocopy of his FBI Wanted poster.

hitchcock_mystery_magazineI recall one afternoon during Edgar Week when I sat next to him in the audience of some panel discussion, the topic of which I’ve long since forgotten. One of the panelists was John Ball, best known for In the Heat of the Night, who was skilled in aviation, aikido, and rubbing people the wrong way. Ball made a baldly homophobic remark, which brought a spirited rejoinder from Sandra Scoppettone and shifted the direction of the discussion. Al remarked to me that, all things considered, he’d rather spend time with a gay person than a morose one. I chuckled politely, and he was sufficiently encouraged to raise his hand and repeat his observation to the assembly.

A couple of years later he came out, sort of. He was invited as a participant in some mystery colloquium—I wasn’t there, and can no longer recall whether it was held aboard a cruise ship or at a resort. Part of his deal was that he could bring someone to share his room, and Al brought Chris Steinbrenner, co-author of The Encyclopedia of Mystery & Detection. Neither man seems to have been morose.

* * *

If Al never achieved great success, he made enough of a living at his new trade that he was never constrained to resume his old one. He wrote a great many short stories for the crime-fiction magazines, along with some episodic TV and young adult novels.

He had a stroke toward the end of his life, walked with a cane after, and seemed frail the last time our paths crossed—at an Edgar dinner, if I remember correctly. I had the feeling that he didn’t remember who I was. The stroke may have had something to do with it, or perhaps he was simply unaccustomed to seeing me in a tie and jacket.

Al Nussbaum died in 1996, and his work didn’t outlive him by much. A short story will turn up now and then in an anthology, but otherwise his work is all out of print. And that’s probably to be expected. What’s important in this instance, it seems to me, is that the man himself be remembered. The work was secondary to the extraordinary life he led.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Holiday Issue #117.

Teri Duerr
2012-06-25 21:30:02

nussbaum_alThe work was secondary to the extraordinary life he led.