Saturday, May 21, 2005

Border Town Girl -- John D. MacDonald

Every now and then I get the urge to revist something by John D. MacDonald. (So does Ed Gorman. Check out his post about The Brass Cupcake here.) I wanted something short and snappy, so I picked Border Town Girl, which isn't a novel but a collection of two novellas, the title one and another called Linda. Border Town Girl was published originally in Dime Detective in 1950, and this book publication is one of the rare occasions where JDM seems to have wanted his pulp work reprinted. (The edition pictured is the first one from Popular Library; it was later reprinted by Gold Medal.) I think one reason must be that he liked the villain so much. His name is Christy, and he's the forerunner of all those really bad guys that populated the Travis McGee series. The only problem with the story is that the hero overcomes him so easily. If you've ever doubted that JDM was a fine writer even before he started writing for Gold Medal, have a look at Border Town Girl. A lot of his virtues are already on display, along with some of his typical weaknesses. I'm glad I had another look at this one. Now I need to try Linda. Posted by Hello

Friday, May 20, 2005

Star Wars, Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Judy and I and our two kids, Angela and Allen, walked ito a movie theater in Brownwood, Texas, to see a new movie called Star Wars. We didn't know much about it. Judy and I had seen and loved George Lucas's American Graffiti, but that was all. However, I had high hopes. I'd been waiting for a really good SF movie ever since I'd been the age of Angela and Allen, which is when I'd seen Destination Moon, a movie that had impressed me no end. Since then I'd sat through any number of really, really bad SF movies (and, of course a few good ones), but nothing had captured my imagination like the first one. I thought about that while we sat there in the dark, and then the movie started. As soon as that big space ship started its slow crawl across the screen, a big grin plastered itself on my face, and it just got bigger as the movie went on. Wow. It's hard to explain now how much fun I had that day.

This afternoon Judy and I went to a mall to see the new Star Wars movie. It's been nearly 30 years since we saw that first one. I was a young guy then. I'm not now. When I think of all the things that have happened during the time that's gone by, my mind boggles. My parents got old and died. Judy had surgery to remove a brain tumor. Angela and Allen have long since graduated from college (and in Angela's case, law school as well). I wasn't even thinking about becoming a writer, but I've published 60 or 70 books since then. We moved from Brownwood to Alvin. There's plenty more, but you get the idea. It's been a long time. But finally the Star Wars saga is complete, as far as I'm concerned.

I can't really be critical about Revenge of the Sith. I know it has plenty of flaws, but I didn't mind them. For me the final half hour or so of the movie rendered them immaterial because as I sat there, I realized that the story was finally tying up all the loose ends and leading up to the point where I'd walked into that theater 30 years previously. Wow. For a minute there it was as if all the intervening years were wiped out. I was still that young guy with his wife and kids, a young guy with thick black hair and a spring in his step instead of an old gray-haired gink with a shuffle in his walk. The feeling didn't last long, but it was great while it did last. I don't care if Episodes I and II sucked. I owe George Lucas for that moment. Posted by Hello

ERB -- A Libertarian View

Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned From Edgar Rice Burroughs by Bob Wallace

I loved the John Carter books of Edgar Rice Burroughs when I was a kid. For some reason I read them before I read the Tarzan books. Anyway, the link goes to an interesting commentary.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

So Maybe Johny Dollar is, Too

Filmmaker Claims Jim Morrison Is Alive In Oregon: "Filmmaker Claims Jim Morrison Is Alive In Oregon"

NEW YORK (Wireless Flash) – Here’s news that will light the fire of Jim Morrison fans: A filmmaker claims The Doors’ frontman is alive and raising horses on a ranch in southern Oregon.

Rodeo photographer Gerald Pitts insists Morrison didn’t die in July of 1971 and he has current photographs and film footage of the rocker to prove it.

I'm waiting for Morrison and Elvis to record a new CD together.

The Will to Kill -- Robert Bloch

Dan Stumpf suggested that I read one of Bloch's early crime novels, and this is the one I grabbed. It's very short, probably not more than 40,000 words, more like half of an Ace Double than a "real" book. I have no idea Don Wollheim decided to publish it as a single, but here it is.

Bloch liked Ripper tales. His story "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper" is a classic, and he later wrote a novel called Night of the Ripper. This Ace book is from 1953, an early entry in the Ripper novel sweepstakes. There's a good bit of Ripper lore in it, but it's not really a serial killer story, though it appears to be at first. It's narrated by Tom Kendall, who has an annoying habit of waking up in rooms with dead women. Well, it happens twice. I'd call that a habit. He has another problem, as well. He's subject to blackouts, dating from his time in the Korean conflict. Naturally he's doesn't remember killing the women, but he thinks he might have.

However, we readers know better. Why? Because Kendall owns a little store where he sells stamps and used books. Would a guy like that kill anybody? The few scenes in the store with Kendall's customers are great. People in 1953 were collecting the same things they do now (Planet Stories, for example), but I'll bet they paid a lot less.

Although the book was published over 50 years ago, some it sounds right up to date. This passage for example: Some of them wear khaki, some of them wear blue shirts, and some of them wear the same beat-up old overcoat winter and summer both, rain or shine. Rain or shine, you find them on the sidewalks and on the concrete steps —the bugs that swarm out from underneath the stones of a big city. The red-rimmed eyes look at you, but seldom see. They're really gazing out of present time—at yesterday's dreams or tonight's bottle. The cracked lips move, because the winos like to talk. Sometimes they talk to each other, sometimes they talk to themselves, but most of the time they talk to people who aren't there:
people who haven't been there for years because they're dead, or divorced, or run away.

Oh, it's easy to be smug and smart and superior about the crum-bums—until you look in the mirror and wonder what a week without shaving would do to your face, and what would happen if your clothes got worn and you couldn't afford the price of a haircut. Almost anybody can look like a crum-bum after just a month. And all you need to make a start is just one little push. Lose the job, lose the house, lose the wife or the kids, or just plain lose your nerve—and then start looking for what you've lost in the bottom of a bottle. A month? You can turn into a crum-bum yourself in one minute, if the minute is bad enough. Sometimes, though, you don't go all the way.

This is a well-written mystery, lots of misdirection, good use of obvious suspects, and a surprising solution. Maybe it's a stretch, but it works pretty well. Not Bloch's most famous book, by a longshot, but a quick, entertaining story.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

I Report, You Decide

Kinky shopper KOed by vibrating knickers | The Register: "Kinky shopper KOed by vibrating knickers"

Since this is a family blog, I'll refrain from printing any excerpts. Those of you with filthy, curious minds can click the link.

Frank Gorshin, R. I. P. - Entertainment - Frank Gorshin, Impressionist And Actor, Dies At 72: "BURBANK, Calif. -- Actor Frank Gorshin, the impressionist with 100 faces best known for his Emmy-nominated role as The Riddler on the old 'Batman' television series, has died. He was 72."

I'm probably the only one old enough to remember Frank Gorshin from his role in Where the Boys Are, the movie that made me fall in love with Paula Prentiss. He was on TV fairly often in those days, doing impressions, a lot of which I thought were on the money. And of course I remember him as The Riddler, but by that time I was already an Old Guy. But I digress. In Where the Boys Are he falls in love with the "mermaid," and I remeber vividly the scene in which he (and others) fall into the fish tank. So long, Frank.

A Literary Fraud?

An imaginary “scandal” by Theodore Dalrymple: "If it were true that the balkanization of literature was justified by the supposition that only people who belonged to a certain category of people could truly understand, write about, interpret, and sympathize with the experiences of people in that same category, so that, for example, only women could write about women for women, and only blacks about blacks for blacks (the very careers of many academics now depending upon such a supposition), how was it possible that a Church of England vicar had been able, actually without much difficulty, to persuade a feminist publishing house that he wrote as a woman, and as a Muslim woman of Indian subcontinental origin at that?"


He had already sent his stories about working-class boys to the BBC under another pseudonym, Tom Dale, while he sent the ones about the Muslim girls as Rahila Khan. The BBC had treated the two writers quite differently: kind and considerate to Rahila, brusque and even rude to Tom. He learned his lesson.

Pam Miller clued me in to this long but interesting article about what happened when a feminist press accepted a book of stories by a white male who was writing under a female pen name. PC run wild? Or something even worse? Check it out.

Johnny Dollar Lives?

Wistful Vistas: Johnny Dollar Lives?

This is great. A guy who played Johnny Dollar for a while is an investigator for the Fire Marshal's Office in Lubbock, Texas. Check it out.

Crime Scene Scotland

Crime Scene - a crime and mystery ezine - issue # 12, March/April 2005

The new issue is on-line. Check it out.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Hundred-Dollar Girl -- William Campbell Gault

James Reasoner and I have discussed the fact that we can remember where we bought certain books, even though we bought them years and years ago. I remember buying The Hundred-Dollar Girl off a rack in Austin, Texas, very clearly. I could even describe the place, though it's long gone. This was the first William Campbell Gault book I bought, I believe, though it's the seventh book to feature Joe Puma. I'm not counting The Cana Diversion, and neither should you. I am counting Shakedown, half of an early Ace Double by "Roney Scott," but the Puma in that book isn't really the same guy who appears in the others. Five of the books were published by Fawcett Crest as paperback originals, and this one was published in hardcover by Dutton before being reprinted by Signet. The other night, for some reason, I decided I wanted to read it again after more than 40 years, so I got it down off the shelf. As you can see, it's still in pretty good shape.

The story has Puma investigating the murder of a boxer's manager. Gault was one of the best when it came to writing about sports, and this is a good story. The manager is murdered, and then there's another murder. Obviously they're connected, but just how is hard to figure. Puma sleeps with a couple of women, gets knocked around a lot (which is hard to figure, considering how big he is), eats well, and deals with goons, mobsters, cops, and women in his inimitable fashion. Puma has a quick temper, and it gets him in lots of trouble that a smoother operator might have avoided. But the temper (and the integrity) is part of what makes Puma such an interesting character. A lot of people perfer him to Gault's other p.i., Brock "The Rock" Callahan.

Gault won an Edgar, got good reviews, and had a lot of devoted readers (including me). But he never made much money from his mystery writing. So he left the mystery field and took to writing YA novels, many of which were highly successful, went through numerous printings, and which made him a lot more money than his mysteries ever did. I think I deserve a little credit for luring him back to mysteries because I did an interview with him for Billy Lee's Paperback Quarterly around 1979 or so. Then he was invited to the Bouchercon in Milwaukee and found out that he had a lot of fans who remembered him. He revived the Callahan series, and while the books weren't quite what they used to be, several of them came close to recapturing the old feel. If you haven't read any of Gault's books, it's time to check them out. Posted by Hello

This Can't be a Good Sign

Yesterday I was in the Kroger supermarket here in scenic Alvin, Texas. Whenever I'm in Kroger, I go by the book rack to see what's there. Or, as in this case, to see what's not there. The westerns had disappeared. In the past, the Kroger book rack has always had ten or fifteen western novels. Not this time. Not one. I don't know if this is a temporary glitch, if it's something that's happened only in Alvin, or if it's something that's occurred throughout the chain. But it doesn't look good.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Southeast Texas Goes P.C. - Officials to temper biting term: "Officials to temper biting term
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

THE Anahuac City Council has dealt with sensitive topics on occasion, and today's meeting could provide another opportunity.

Tammy McDaniel, the animal control officer in that Chambers County town, has suggested replacing the word 'bitch' in the city's animal control ordinance with 'female dog.'

'It's a term that's been around forever. Even kennel clubs use that word,' McDaniel said. 'But people don't like to hear it called out.'"

I just hope this doesn't affect the Gatorfest.

100 Greatest War Films (?) - 100 Greatest War Films vote from

Here's another one of those lists that you're probably not going to agree with. Check it out.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Allan Guthrie's Noir Originals Zine: Noir And Hardboiled Fiction

Allan Guthrie's Noir Originals Zine: Noir And Hardboiled Fiction

The new issue of Allan Guthrie's great e-zine is up and ready for your reading enjoyment. If you've visited it before, that should be all the encouragement you need. Check it out.

Yielding to Temptation

For a long time now I've been thinking about getting Time-Warner's new DVR cable box, but since the deal was that I had to unhook the old cable box and take it to the cable company office, I've been too lazy to do it. Of course I could have had the cable guy deliver and install the new box, but that would have cost me twenty bucks. I'm too cheap for that, and who wants to sit around waiting for the cable guy? Anyway, I finally gave in. Yesterday I took the old cable box in and installed a new one. And I'm happy with the change. The DVR is pretty cool. It will record and store thirty to fifty hours of TV (I have no idea why there's such a range there). I can record from the DVR's hard drive to tape if I want to. I can pause and rewind live TV. In other words, it's sort of like TiVo. I've had the new box less than a day, so I don't know all the tricks it can perform, but it's fun so far.

The Westerner

Ed Gorman mentions The Westerner in this blog post today. I was lucky enough to catch the show he described, and it's a good one. Besides Brian Keith (and the dog), it stars R. G. Armstrong (a favorite of mine) and Dub Taylor. I don't think there was ever a more hardboiled show on TV than The Westerner, but then if Sam Peckinpaugh was writing it, what would you expect. The next episode is May 21 on Encore's Western channel. You can read about it here. If you subscribe to cable and get the Encore channels, check it out.

End of an Era?

College Libraries Set Aside Books in a Digital Age - New York Times: "HOUSTON, May 13 - Students attending the University of Texas at Austin will find something missing from the undergraduate library this fall.


By mid-July, the university says, almost all of the library's 90,000 volumes will be dispersed to other university collections to clear space for a 24-hour electronic information commons, a fast-spreading phenomenon that is transforming research and study on campuses around the country."

I spent some happy hours in the Undergrad Library (most of them when I was a graduate student). And I'm so old that I can remember when there was another building on the plot of ground where the library now stands. Naturally this change seems kind of sad to me. I've become a dinosaur.