The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

July 27, 2010

Quick reviews: BULLITT and FOUR CORNERS OF NIGHT

BULLITT by Robert L. Pike.

Okay, so the book doesn't have "the chase." It's still easy to see why Hollywood picked up on this book for film purposes. BULLITT, originally titled MUTE WITNESS, is a hard-boiled police procedural and mystery whose main character (named Clancy; Bullitt was a Hollywood invention designed to hit the viewer over the head with the idea of how tough the character is) is a dogged risk-taker who gets the job done in the face of professional resistance, personal exhaustion, and the most incompetent subordinates in the history of the police procedural. Hollywood's first choice to play the lead was Spencer Tracy, and in reading the book it's easy to see why. As long as you can separate the book from the film, you should find both enjoyable but for varying reasons. I'll be on the lookout for other titles by the late author whose real name was Robert L. Fish. Hm, he used the name Pike as a pseudonym. Now why do I find that more than just a little interesting?

FOUR CORNERS OF NIGHT by Craig Holden.

So you liked Dennis Lehane's GONE BABY GONE, and you're also a fan of George Pelecanos, but you say you've never heard of Craig Holden? Then you are missing out on a terrific novel by Holden, FOUR CORNERS OF NIGHT. If you think Lehane addressed a tough question in how far one will go to protect a child, you ain't read nothing yet. When most thriller blurbs ask that question: How far would you go to protect your child?, they really mean would you kill to protect your child, and the answer is yes, most of us would readily kill for and die for our child. But what if it meant cutting that child out of your life completely, so that you could protect your child this one time but never again, because you would never see that child again? What if it meant betraying and abandoning everything and everyone else you've ever loved to save this one child? Could you do that? Walk away from child, family, friends, job, lover, husband, home - never to be seen again? Think about it, long and hard. Read this book. Ask yourself what you would do differently. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

July 26, 2010

And the winner is...

The winner in our Raymond Chandler quote contest is Debs Desk. Deb's favorite Chandler quote is: "Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it." Her reward is a $25 gift certificate from an independent book store. Congratulations, Deb. And my thanks to all of you who participated in the first ever Got Books? Event

July 25, 2010

No more nook-e

I've reached the end of my e-reading experience, at least for the foreseeable future.

Yes, my less-than-30-days-old Nook e-reader is now useless. My bad. I dropped it this morning. It slid right out of my hands from a great height, too, about two feet from the bed to the carpeted floor. The screen now resembles one giant bar-code. That's it, right there to the left. I did the reset as recommended in the manual. Fuggedaboudit. All Internet research on troubleshooting the Nook now points to the complete uselessness of this gadget.

I did not buy B&N's insurance and even though I had promptly registered this device with B&N, the extremely limited warranty doesn't apply here. As more than fourteen days have passed since the purchase -- but less than 30! -- B&N doesn't want to refund my purchase. Fine, that's their policy. But could they at least offer a repair or exchange service? Nope, not that either.

Fine. Here's my policy: You don't stand behind your products, I don't stand in front of them. An item should last for at least 30 days, barring abuse. The one light tumble the device took hardly qualifies as abuse. My netbook endures worse on a daily basis. I'm not saying no one should buy one of these gadgets, but if you do, buy the insurance for it and then keep it nestled in cotton-wool in a temperature-controlled environment. By no means should you be so rough and careless as to actually, you know, use it.

Just for comparison purposes, I tossed a hardback book across the room. I tossed it with a lot of force. A couple of crumpled page corners and I had to adjust the dust jacket, but you know, it still works just fine. Helluva reset feature. I got to hand it to the good folks at St. Martin's, they build a product to last. I tried it with a Serpent's Tail paperback and got similar results. Yeah, even the small publishers make a solid product. Hm, I could be onto something here.

I won't be replacing the Nook, and I won't miss the e-reader much except for maybe the Sudoku, and I can go back to my newspaper for that. As for reading online short stories, I guess I'll just go back to how I managed before. Life goes on for this sadder (and $159 poorer) but wiser girl.

July 23, 2010

Got Books? Contest - Raymond Chandler's Birthday

This weekend sees the first Got Books? event. With over 100 book bloggers signed up for the occasion, it promises to be a dandy.  Be sure to drop over there sometime today and check out all the swag (books!!) they're giving away in their kick-off event. I've donated a signed hardback of Rosemary Harris's Dead Head as my mite, and anyone in any country is eligible to win it. So head over there in just a bit and read the rules. Also I have another contest starting here today, so read on.

Today marks the 122nd anniversary of the birth of Raymond Chandler. Before Chandler in turn gave birth to Philip Marlowe, fans of detective fiction had the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Miss Marple in novel form - all veddy clean, veddy tidy, veddy English murders and solutions. Oh, sure, there was also Sam Spade and the Contintental Op, but for the most part, the seedier side of private investigating was confined to the pulps with their wonderfully lurid covers. Out of that fertile ground sprung Chandler and nowadays what is there left to say about the man and his work?

So I won't try to say it. I'd rather - and he'd be in agreement - let his work speak for itself. Here are some of my favorite lines from Chandler's books and also from his own lips.
A really good detective never gets married. (Do you hear that, Elvis Cole?)

Good critical writing is measured by the perception and evaluation of the subject; bad critical writing by the necessity of maintaining the professional standing of the critic.

The flood of print has turned reading into a process of gulping rather than savoring. 

But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. (The Simple Art of Murder)

I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.   (Farewell, My Lovely)

All men who read escape from something else into what lies behind the printed page; the quality of the dream may be argued, but its release has become a functional necessity.

Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains. (The Big Sleep)
I could go on and on quoting Chandler but I hinted at a contest in the title of this post, didn't I? Here it is: Post your own favorite Chandler quote in a comment. (One entry per commenter. Multiple entries will not be counted, although you're free to comment or quote as much as you like.) Come Monday morning (the 26th), I will select one response at random. That person will receive a $25 gift certificate from an independent mystery bookstore. Best of luck to yez!

July 22, 2010

REVIEW: THE DEVIL by Ken Bruen

Jack Taylor has always been ridden by demons: Addiction, bitterness, narcissism, despair, self-loathing. So what's a guy like Jack to do when confronted by the devil. No, excuse me, The Devil. Satan. Yeah, that one. Evil Incarnate. Well, let's see. Have you ever known Jack to back down? Thought not.

What begins with Jack's search for a missing college student ends with a metaphysical tour de force, and in between are packed all of Bruen's hallmarks: Biting wit, dark laughter, heart-wringing sorrow, and enough generosity toward other writers and musicians to earn Ken Bruen his place in heaven, had he not already earned it. At this point though, it's all just polish for the halo.

In Sanctuary, the previous installment in the Jack Taylor series, some measure of redemption for Jack was hinted at by the author. Readers, we should have known better. This is Ken Bruen's work here, this is his Jack Taylor, not ours. And the author quickly disabuses any notion (a thing in and of itself to be despised, according to him) that Jack may have at last found his center of mass (hey, you read this book and see if you can refrain from religious puns!). Right up front, in the prologue, a mysterious figure known as Kurt says to Jack, "... evil hones in on those closest to redemption."

How's that for a harbinger? You can pretty well guess that there's some black misery in store for Jack. Here's a word of advice: Set aside the time to read this one twice. First, just read it. It's quite a story. Then read it again and take notes. When you've done that, let's get together and talk about what you think that ending means. Because Bruen's Devil isn't William Peter Blatty's evil that can be dispensed with ritual and faith; it isn't John Connolly's evil that is simply the vacuum left by the absence of empathy. It isn't even the devil that Garth Brooks sang about (in Tony Arata's song, Face to Face), the one that hides deep inside everyone. Bruen's Devil is of the walking-around, in-your-face, what-are-you-gonna-do-kill-me unstoppable evil. Not just a force but a knowing presence.

Sure, Bruen may well be using the devil as metaphor for what has replaced the Celtic Tiger, but he's got more to say here than that these are miserable times. And it's worth reading. Oh, hell, yeah.

Here are a couple of pithy excerpts:
"Evil is only a concept to those who've never experienced it. To those who've met it, the term 'concept' dropped from their vocabulary."
And:
"Every day, like jig time, Sawyer played nine holes.
And he cheated.
O.J. Simpson did, too, and there's a moral there.
Not of any uplift."

July 21, 2010

Pulp Fiction

All these years, I still haven't made it to PulpFest, but I'm going to make a big effort this year and hope that Real Life accomodates me. One reason I'd like to go, beyond the obvious, is the panel on pulp westerns, described thusly: "Don Hutchison, Bill Nolan, Robert Randisi, Ed Hulse, and Laurie Powers discuss the evolution of the Western from Max Brand and the general fiction pulps through Wild West Weekly and beyond." Wonder if I could get them all to sign one of my Max Brand books... Plus, there's a separate interview of Bill Nolan scheduled. Yes, he of Logan's Run fame. I can remember reading that book before I ever really developed a taste for SF.

PulpFest runs Friday, July 30th – Sunday, August 1st at the Ramada Plaza Hotel and Conference Center  in Columbus, Ohio.

July 19, 2010

Bits and bobs, Joes and Daves

Today's post brought the new double issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, which I'm loving. Not only is there a new story from award-winning and favorite author Dave Zeltserman -- Archie's Been Framed, about Julius Katz and his inimitable pal, Archie -- but the Blog Bytes column, written by Bill Crider, gives props to Joe Barone's Blog. Kudos, Joe and Dave! I hope this issue garners many new fans for both of you. BTW, I recently read Dave's story, King, over at Beat to a Pulp. Dark and creepy and fans of Stephen King should love it.

As some of you may be aware, I had a mini-vacation recently, my first no-family-included time away from home in a long, long time. Suffice it to say, I had a grand time, taking in a production of Harvey at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake and a fabulous, must-see, never-to-be-forgotten production of Jersey Boys in Toronto. (Yeah, and I was never even a fan of The Four Seasons.) My mind never drifts far from crime fiction though, and the young man who played Frankie Valli, one Jeff Madden, has my vote for any possible film version of Erle Stanley Gardner's Donald Lam character. Toss in Kathy Bates to play Lam's partner in detection, Bertha Cool, and would somebody please start writing the screenplay right now?

Now it's time for confession. About three weeks ago, I did something I had sworn I would not do. I bought an e-reader. No, not a Kindle, don't even think about it. My reason for this not-lightly-taken purchase was not to be able to carry around 1000 books whenever I go someplace. It wasn't because ebooks are cheaper than hardbacks either. And it wasn't because I wanted one more frickin' digital gadget that has to be charged, God knows. I bought it because of all the short stories online that I want to read, plus the stories I need to edit for Needle. I hate reading on the PC, chained to this desk and chair, going blind from backlighting. I like to read in an easy chair or in bed, so I bought this e-reader with a view toward dumping all the online stories I want to read into pdf files, then reading them on the gadget. The reader is working fairly well for that purpose. I'm getting through the stories faster now, and it's some better than being chained to the PC. But it's not perfect.

In the back of my mind was this idea that I might/probably would become one of those digital zealots who fall in love with the gadget and end up spending beaucoup bucks on ebooks. Hasn't happened. The makers gift you with a few free ebooks to hook the reader into buying more, but the fact is, this gadget still does not replicate my experience of reading a book closely enough for me to fall in love with it. I downloaded a free book from Gutenberg Project, Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, because I have to read it for next month's book club and I can't seem to find the paperback I know I bought. I started reading this ebook but I'm finding it difficult to slide into 19th century England using a 21st century tool. But, hey, for the pdf files it works -- okay. Making notes and proofing is not so easy as using hard copy, but in the long run the gadget will be cheaper than using paper and ink, and easier on my eyes and back than sitting in front of the PC for hours. I have found myself using the e-reader and wishing I had the book. I have yet to be reading a book and wish I was using the e-reader. So I'm very happy to put down the device at any time and reach for a book. After three weeks of using this thing, I also believe my book purchasing habits aren't likely to change. I may find myself purchasing more e-material that isn't readily available in hardcopy as some authors foray into self-publishing, and that's good. That means my reading scope gets wider. But I still want books whenever possible. BTW, I took the e-reader on my mini-vacation, used it just for Sudoku and the pdf files, and came home with ten new books. Not ebooks. Books. 

I have been boasting elsewhere on the web and I see no reason not to do so here as well: Last week I sold my first story  -- well, not my first story. I have made my first sale, let us say, of a story to Encounters Magazine, published by Black Matrix Publishing, out of Oregon. The story is called Oblivion and it's a 5000-word horror tale that has its roots in what happened to a high-school classmate of mine, a great guy and my best beta reader, while he was on his way to the annual motorcycle rally at Sturgis, South Dakota, several years ago. I'm not sure of the publication date, but when I know, everyone will know.

What, you thought you'd get away without me making you look at vacation pix? Not a chance!