Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Notorious Bettie Page Update

I've already mentioned this movie, and I now direct you to the poster and to the pin-up. Hotcha!

Letters, We Get Letters

Yesterday I got a couple of letters from a friend of mine. They didn't arrive in the mail, and he didn't write them. I wrote them back in 1960 and 1961 when I was in college. (He has several others that he claims to be saving for blackmail purposes.) As you can see, there were no ZIP codes in those days, and postage was four cents. A long time gone.

So what did I talk about in those letters? Girls, books, and movies. I haven't changed much. Somewhere along the line I was supposed to grow up, but I'm afraid it didn't happen. Now it's too late.

Here's a sample movie review: "The only movie I've seen lately is The Wackiest Ship in the Army, and it was pretty lousy."

Here's a sample book review: "I've just finished reading Day Keene's World without Women. You've got to get it."

The scary thing about reading those letters was how easily I could slip right back into that time. The years just dropped away. I know I can't go back, but it's nice to have the memories.

Mystery Circus - the Carnival of Crime

Mystery Circus - the Carnival of Crime: "The mission of the Circus is to push, promote and make people aware of the best cool new stuff in the world of crime fiction - be it books, short stories, comics, online, offline, whatever. We have a stack of very good ezines regularly putting out excellent new short fiction - almost entirely free to read. We have stories appearing on people's websites. We have more books, and a better and more diverse range of material, appearing in print now than at just about any other time in history. It's a wealth of material, and we want to make people aware of the Good Shit. And for people to make us aware of Good Shit that we would otherwise have missed.

We're also here to try to serve as a central hub for crime online. A meeting point, a place for cross-polination of a million online conversations. There's plenty of interesting stuff out there. Let's bring it in.

And, lastly, and perhaps least likely, we want to bring in new readers. Particularly younger readers - those fabled teens and twentysomethings with their music that I have to keep chasing off my lawn.

Friday, February 03, 2006

New Issue of Thug Lit is On-line

Thug Lit - Todd Robinson, Writing About Wrongs: "This Month in Thuglit

* A doper finds revenge and reality not all he thought they would be.
* Some say that words are weapons. One man finds out the difference between the two.
* A woman exacts burning vengeance on those who killed her man.
* Old mobsters never die. Some don’t fade away, either.
* A desperate father must find out who or what Mr. Tickles is, before it’s too late.
* Be careful which drug dealers you cross. And how hard you cross them.
* A remorseless young man gives a Master Class… on how to beat the system.
* And a radioactive freakin’ babboon. That’s right. Shut it!"

New Blogger on the Block

It's "Big Red" Amlingmeyer from Steve Hockensmith's stories and novels. For an old cowpoke, Big Red has plenty of Internet smarts. And he reviews movies, too. Check it out.

Shoot First -- Ed Gorman

One thing I don't understand about mystery readers is why they'll read mystery novels set in ancient Rome or Victorian London but turn up their noses at one set in the American West in 1888.

Which brings me to Shoot First, another fine mystery novel by Ed Gorman, who said this on his blog the other day: "A long time ago I joked that I was a nobody in three genres and that holds true today as well." I think he was kidding, in a way, but if there's any truth in what he said, then it's a shame, and it's the readers' loss.

Of course the publishers don't help. Richard Wheeler believes that publishers have a narrow idea about cover art for western novels, and that point seems proved here, where the cover at the left seems to have little, if anything, to do with the contents. I'm not sure if Ed came up with the title or if it came from the publisher, but I don't see how it fits the book any more than the rest of the cover does.

But I've digressed again. What about the book? Well, for one thing it's a mystery novel. There's a series of murders, and Sheriff Reed Matthews has to investigate. There's a lot more to the book than that, however. If you're expecting a lot of "shoot first and ask questions later" action, you've come to the wrong place. This is a book about characters -- the sheriff, the mayor, the businessmen, and a lot of others. Gorman gives as much attention to the walk-ons as most writers do to the protagonists. These are people like you and me, just ordinary folks in an extraordinary situation, and you care about all of them. There's humor and tendnerness and fear and greed and all the things that good fiction is about.

So why won't mystery fans grab it and read it? Don't ask me. All I know is that they're missing a treat if they pass it by.

Update: I wonder if Steve Hockensmith's Holmes on the Range will change things. It's being published as a mystery, not a western, though it's set in about the same era as Ed's book. Steve's book, by the way, is also highly recommended, and see above for a link to the narrator's new blog.

Mystery*File Update

MYSTERY*FILE ON-LINE: "THE NOVELS OF MARTIN M. GOLDSMITH. As a follow-up to [Steve Lewis's] review of the book on which the classic B-movie DETOUR was based, Bill Pronzini gives a brief description of the author’s other two books and provides cover scans of all three in jacket."

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sometimes the Jokes Just Write Themselves

Election Update: Do-Over on First Ballot: "Election Update: Do-Over on First Ballot
By Ben Pershing
Roll Call Staff
Thursday, Feb. 2

House Republicans are taking a mulligan on the first ballot for Majority Leader. The first count showed more votes cast than Republicans present at the Conference meeting. Stay with for updates."

Where Is Wyatt When You Need Him?

Tombstone marshal finds law in disorder: "Tombstone marshal finds law in disorder
He says office is out of control

Susan Carroll
Republic Tucson Bureau
Feb. 2, 2006 12:00 AM

TOMBSTONE - Deputies in this Old West city are accused of drinking on duty, lying in court and trading police protection and drugs for sexual favors from women, according to an internal memo by the local marshal.

The memo by the newly appointed marshal, Lance Crosthwait, describes an out-of-control department, with evidence lying out in the open and sex toys stashed in drawers. The marshal charged that at least one deputy knowingly used a broken breath-analysis unit for months, leading to the conviction of several people for driving while intoxicated, and that other deputies lied in official reports.

Crosthwait also wrote that one deputy promptly resigned, citing 'personality conflicts' with the new marshal after being told that everyone in the department would have to pass a polygraph and drug test. "

Attention, Terrill Lee Lankford!

Upstate couple convicted of possum possession: "OWEGO, N.Y. Possessing a possum without a permit puts people at peril."

Brokeback to the Future

It's another one of those trailers.

They're Airborne!

Airborne croc encounter prompts warning. 02/02/2006. ABC News Online: "A scientist's encounter with an airborne crocodile has prompted calls for Northern Territory residents to watch for crocs when driving near waterways.

The scientist was driving along a highway in Kakadu National Park when the two metre croc launched itself from a roadside culvert and out in front of the four-wheel drive.

Kakadu's crocodile management officer, Garry Lindner, says it is the latest in a series of reports of drivers being confronted by crocs in Kakadu.

He says drivers should watch for the eyes, which glow red in the car headlights."

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

James Avati

Thanks to Art Scott for this link to some wonderful cover art by James Avati. Unfortunately most of the text is in Dutch, but you can still look at the pictures.

Kung Fu Hustle

I didn't know exactly what to expect from this movie, having seen only a trailer and not having read much about it. Turns out it's an all-dancing kung-fu action comedy musical.

See there's this guy who wants to be a ganster join the Axe Gang (they all wear top hats and tuxes). The Axe guys are very evil, but they can dance. The wannbe goe to Pig Sty Alley, posing as a member of the gang, and the real gang gets involved. They get their butts kicked by three kung fu masters who are living in PSA incognito. Riled, their leader hires the second and third most dangerous killers in China to take care of things. (The #1 killer is in a mental institution.) The killers aren't good enough. Though they kill the three masters, it turns out that there are two more living there. (One of these is a woman whose ever-present cigarette stays in the corner of her mouth through the most harrowing fights.) One of the dying masters tells her that with great power comes great responsibility. (The subtitle writers had some fun.)

There's more, but why bother? The plot doesn't really matter. What you want to see is the exhilarating action scenes, which are pure fantasy. The director knows it, you know it, and it doesn't matter. They're supposed be absurd. That's the point. The whole movie is beautifully shot, and it looked great on the HDTV screen.

And it's funny. I laughed aloud more than once, and I had a big smile most of the time. If you don't like kung fu action, you'll probably hate the movie. I liked it a lot.

Jack Kerouac Manuscript Update #2

Thomas Hawk's Digital Connection: An Open Letter to Myra Borshoff Cook, Tour Organizer for Jack Kerouac's On the Road Manuscript Scroll: "An Open Letter to Myra Borshoff Cook, Tour Organizer for Jack Kerouac's On the Road Manuscript Scroll"

Some cool photos, too.

Another Era Comes to an End - Era Ends: Western Union Stops Sending Telegrams: "

After 145 years, Western Union has quietly stopped sending telegrams.

On the company's web site, if you click on 'Telegrams' in the left-side navigation bar, you're taken to a page that ends a technological era with about as little fanfare as possible:

'Effective January 27, 2006, Western Union will discontinue all Telegram and Commercial Messaging services. We regret any inconvenience this may cause you, and we thank you for your loyal patronage. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact a customer service representative.'

The decline of telegram use goes back at least to the 1980s, when long-distance telephone service became cheap enough to offer a viable alternative in many if not most cases. Faxes didn't help. Email could be counted as the final nail in the coffin."

Some of you whippersnappers don't even know what a telegram is. This is kind of sad for us old guys, though.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

100 Best First Lines from Novels

American Book Review: "100 Best First Lines from Novels"

Check 'em out.

Vampyre Follow-Up

Gubernatorial candidate Jonathon Sharkey being held on 2 Indiana felony warrants: "Jonathon “The Impaler” Sharkey, who announced in Princeton Jan. 13 that he was running for governor, was arrested at his Princeton apartment about 8:30 Monday evening.

Princeton officer Todd Frederick initiated a search yesterday afternoon that led to the discovery of two active felony warrants from Marion County (Indianapolis) in Indiana.

The 2005 warrants were issued in May for stalking and in September for escape on a $100,000 bond."

Earlier posts here and here. Sounds like vampyre persecution to me.

Perfection -- Walter Satterthwait

Walter Satterthwait is the author of some fine mystery novels that you might have read, including Wilde West, Cavalcade, and Miss Lizzie. Not to mention the novels in the Joshua Croft series. Perfection is different. It's a serial killer novel, but not the usual kind. It's very funny in a dark way, it has some serious satirical point to make, and it's got a plot that sure to surprise you along the way. The plot? Two Florida cops, Sophia Tregaskis and James Fallon are tracking a killer who's "perfecting" overweight women. Just how he's doing that, I'll leave it to you to discover. And how does he find his victims? Let's just say you're never going to feel the same way about going to the supermarket again. Great stuff. Check it out.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Brautigan Library

Burlington, Vermont. -- As the inspiration for the Brautigan Library, the only library in America exclusively for unpublished books, the late author knew what he was talking about.

Let other libraries stock "Death of a Salesman," "Lord of the Flies" or "Lassie Come Home." Nowhere else but here can you find "Sure Beats Watching Trains," the tale of a "burned-out shoe salesman ... overtaken by an alien persona." Or "Theories of Father," a "video-image-script-novel narrated by a house fly, with help from Ed Sullivan." Or "Rory Stories, Vol. 1": the "humorous adventures of a talking Shetland sheepdog named Rory O'More."

No, at the Brautigan Library you will never find a book that is on the bestseller list or even at your favorite bookstore.

Thanks to Karin Montin for pointing out this site in her comment on the Brautigan post.

The Work of the Devil -- Ennis Willie

In a weird example of synchronicity, I, like James Reasoner, went to Half-Price Books not long ago and picked up a rural crime novel from a sleaze publisher. While the book James found cost him three bucks, I got mine for a quarter. And while James's was by Glen Low, mine was by the semi-famous Ennis Willie, who wrote a lot of hardboiled novels featuring a guy named Sand.

This isn't one of those books. It's about Rick Jason, a drifter passing through one of those small southern towns that feature in a lot of books like this. There have recently been two murders in town, so naturally a beautiful woman hires Rick to be her "handyman" and guard her against the killer. The woman's husband has been dead for five years, so Rick knows what she really wants, and he gives it to her on his first night on the job.

The sex is mild by today's standards (the book was published in 1961), but Rick is so busy dishing it out to various women that there's hardly any time for detection, though of course he solves the murders by the end of the book. While this isn't in the same league with Harry Whittington or Day Keene when it comes to backwoods thrills, I was plenty entertained and kept turning the pages. I'd recommend that you read it, but I doubt that you can find a copy. There don't seem to be any available even through Internet book dealers.

Harry Stephen Keeler Alert!

village voice > books > by Devin McKinney: "The Voltaic Yoo-Hoo Acid Test
A half-forgotten mystery writer's cranium-busting novel tantalizes and antagonizes"

And you know where you can buy those Keeler novels, right? At Ramble House, that's where. And they do have the one discussed in the article linked above. Cover photo is above.

Well, that Explains It

Obesity Might Be Catching - "Obesity Might Be Catching

MONDAY, Jan. 30 (HealthDay News) -- As if the close proximity of delicious, fattening foods weren't bad enough, obesity might actually be infectious.

That's the incredulous finding from new research involving overweight chickens; the study suggests that a contagious virus can make fat cells fatter. "

I do have one more question, though. How can a "finding" be "incredulous"?

Richard Brautigan

Today would have been Richard Brautigan's 70th birthday. I've never known exactly what to make of Brautigan. I read his short stories and novels back in the late 1960s and early '70s like a lot of other people, and I enjoyed them quite a bit. Fanciful, funny, poetic stuff, it seemed to me then. Literary critics didn't feel the same way, as I recall, and I suspect Brautigan's in no danger of becoming part of the canon. Still, there was something about those books, and I feel the need to read one of them again, maybe to see if I can recapture something of the way it felt to be young and to discover a writer whose work touched me in ways I didn't quite understand.


A couple of posts below, I mentioned that I had a free trial to Netflix and that the first DVD I got was The Palm Beach Story. What I didn't mention was that about ten minutes before the end of the movie, the scenes became jerky and then advanced in little. bitty. bits. I thought my DVD player had gone haywire, so I tried to reverse the DVD. Would work. Tried the fast-forward, and it jumped to the end of the movie. Okay, so I started at the beginning. The first part of the movie played just fine, which meant that the DVD player was all right. I jumped to the defective scene. Same problem. I figured I had a faulty DVD, so I took it out of the player, planning to send it back to Netflix with a scathing letter. But then I thought it might be a good idea to have a look at the DVD itself. Sure enough, the last person to have the DVD had gotten greasy fingerprints around the outside edge. I cleaned it off, popped it back into the player, and it worked fine. Not a good experience for my first DVD from Netflix, however.

For the Wealthy M-Squad Fan - Movie collector destination.

The January Special is M Squad (September 1957-June 1960). Included is a show called "Dead Parrots Don't Talk." I'll let you make the Monty Python allusions. $350 for the set.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Oak Ridge Boys

This afternoon Judy and I went to see a concert by The Oak Ridge Boys. I've never been a particular fan of the group, but the concert was part of a package we bought, so we went.

The group got started back in the 1940s, but the members of the current quartet have been singing together since 1973. Originally they were a gospel group, but in the late '70s they went country. Some of you oldsters will recall "Elvira" and "Bobby Sue" and others. They still do a very high energy show, and for me listening to them was well worth the price of the tickets. I was most impressed by the bass singer, whose amped voice was capable of rattling the foundations of the building we were in when he hit the really low notes. And as low as some of them were, I'm convinced he hadn't reached the bottom of his range. Best song of the afternoon was an a capella version of "Amazing Grace" just before the intermission, but they were all good. The group closed the show with the aforementioned "Elvira" and "Bobby Sue," and they rocked the house.

The Palm Beach Story

Walter Satterthwait persuaded me to take a two-week trail with Netflix. I figure that with the postal service we get in Alvin, that means I'll have about one movie delivered for free.

Anyway, the first one in my "queue," as the Netflix folks call it, was The Palm Beach Story. It's a screwball comedy written and directed by Preston Sturges. I liked it a lot. The frenetic opening is underpinned by "The William Tell Overture," which (because I'm of a certain age and very unsophisticated) made me think of The Lone Ranger. It has nothing to do with that, of course.

The story's about a beautiful wife (Claudette Colbert) who decides that her husband will never get ahead unless she divorces him and helps him out by marrying a billionaire. (I said this was a screwball comedy. It exists in a world unlike the one you and I live in and unlike the one anybody ever lived in.) She escapes the husband, Joel McCrea (and that's a terrible photo of him on the left), and meets an eccentric billionaire (Rudy Vallee) on the train to Palm Beach. McCrea follows her and is entangled with Vallee's sister, played by Mary Astor. It's all complicated and funny. The whole cast is great. Vallee even gets to sing. He and Astor use a pince-nez and a lorngette, respectively. Sig Arno plays a hanger-on named Toto and nearly steals the show, though not from the Weenie King, who appears at the beginning. Recommended for the next time you need to escape into a fantasy world with lots of laughs.