Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ed Gorman, A Writer of Our World

I found out yesterday Ed Gorman died late Friday night, October 14, 2016, after a years long struggle with multiple myeloma. A disease he had for as long as I knew him, and a disease I thought would never really kill him. I have corresponded with him, mostly through email, for somewhere close to ten years. I always looked forward to his emails because they made me laugh – he promised more than one Maserati – and he had such keen insights about writers, books, writing, and politics that he also made me think. He supported me, and this blog, more than you (or I) can imagine.

Ed asked me to write an introduction for Stark House’s reprint of his fine novels The Autumn Dead and The Night Remembers in 2014. He put me in touch with a couple editors at Mystery Scene Magazine a year later who gave me a shot at writing book reviews. It went well, I think, since they keep sending me books to review.

But the best thing Ed gave me, and at heart I’m really a fanboy so this is something special, was his friendship. It wasn’t anything grand. We didn’t speak on the telephone for hours, meet for drinks, or anything else most friends do, but we did get to know each other in that fuzzy, Twilight Zone, way the internet allows. He sent me books. His and other writers he thought I would enjoy. He always inscribed his own titles with a funny little note and signed it simply, “Ed”. One of my favorite inscriptions arrived on the title page of his novel, The Midnight Room, in 2009—

“That million+ I owe you is on the way as soon as Bernie Madoff pays me back!”

He often asked about my daughter, and he always, and I mean always, thanked me for everything I did for him. Just so you know, I didn’t do nearly as much for Ed as he did for me. When his illness really started to wear on him a few years ago he asked me if I would review a few books other writers had sent him, hoping for a review on his blog. I readily agreed and after I sent him the second review he insisted that I be paid. I demurred since I know how much revenue literary blogs generate – none at all – but he remained insistent and from then on every so often he would send me a small payment in my Paypal account.

Ed Gorman was a great writer. It is true he was a great mystery writer. A great western writer. A great suspense, both dark and straight, writer. He was all that, but he was, simply, a great writer. He could write anything and he frequently escaped the genre where he wrote and created something very much like literature. His stories always said something about the human condition, the world we live in. His characters, always vivid, were three dimensional. He never wrote a wholly good hero, or a completely stained villain. He wrote about us – our experience in the world – in stories that were larger than life with players so real we can very nearly see them in our bathroom mirrors.

Ed Gorman was a great writer, but he was an even better friend. And I think it is going to be a very long time before I open my email without a glimmer of hope that there will be an email from Ed. I miss you already, my friend, and my thoughts are with your family.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Mystery Scene Reviews: Issue No. 146

The latest issue of Mystery Scene Magazine—No. 146—is at a newsstand near you. The issue is packed, as usual. It features a detailed and illuminating review of Karen Huston Karydes’ Hard-Boiled Anxiety, which is study of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Ross Macdonald. A fine article about Erle Stanley Gardner’s DA Dough Selby novels, and interview with mystery wrtier S. J. Rozan and much more.

Issue No. 146 also includes four book reviews by, um, me. The titles: The Babe Ruth Deception by David O. Stewart, Smoke and Mirrors by Elly Griffiths, Death of an Avid Reader by Frances Brody, and Survivors Will Be Shot Again by Bill Crider.

The Babe Ruth Deception is an historical mystery set in New York City of 1920 featuring none other than Babe Ruth.

Smoke and Mirrors is an enjoyable traditional mystery – British style – featuring DI Edgar Stephens and master magician Max Mephisto.

Death of an Avid Reader is a whodunit set in Leeds, England of the mid-1920s and featuring private eye Kate Shackleton.

Survivors Will Be Shot Again is Bill Crider’s latest Sheriff Dan Rhodes, and it is an excellent addition to the series.

The reviews are available online at Mystery Scene’s website—click the titles above.

Mystery Scene is available at many newsstands, including Barnes & Noble, and available for order at MS’s website.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

TROUBLE MAN by Ed Gorman

Ed Gorman’s work is reliably good. At its best it is clear, concise, meaningful, entertaining. The people he creates are melancholy with a bitter hopefulness; a hope that mostly goes unfulfilled, but a hope that is as steady and resolute as a winter storm. His stories are most often set in the towns and cities of Iowa. A place that can be as welcoming or forbidding as Mr. Gorman wants it to be. A place he knows well. A place, including its people, he understands with the clarity of a surveyor and the sorrow of a poet.

He has successfully written in many genres, mystery, crime, science fiction, horror, western. He is, on a foundational level, a crime writer. No matter the genre he is writing, and while still honoring the tropes and expectations of that genre, his stories are structured and executed with the deft plotting of the crime story. This style and story structure is especially appealing in the western genre where he has written many of his best novels. I was reminded how well his style translates itself to the western genre when I recently read his novel, Trouble Man.

Ray Coyle is a faded gunfighter. He gave up the violence for a sharpshooter job in a traveling Wild West show. When word comes that his only child, Mike, was killed in a gunfight in Coopersville he blames himself. He taught his boy the trade and now Mike’s dead. Ray travels to Coopersville to claim Mike’s body and get the details of the fight that killed him. When the town’s doctor, who doubles as undertaker, shows him the body he notices a deep gash on Mike’s forehead. His suspicions are raised further when he meets the man who killed Mike; Bob Trevor. Bob is the town bully and the son of the most powerful man in the region and, to Ray’s educated eyes, incapable of beating Mike in a fair fight. And Ray decides, no matter how much pressure the town’s Sheriff applies, he isn’t leaving Coopersville until he knows how his son was killed.

Trouble Man is a multilayered novel that is, at its core, a study of two fathers losing sons – Ray and Bob Trevor’s father, Ralph – and their struggle to deal with the loss. Ray is a sad, regretful man, and Ralph is, on the self he projects to outsiders at least, the opposite. Ray blames himself for his son’s demise and Ralph has protected Bob from the consequences of his bad behavior for decades. The story, deftly and without being overbearing, is a character study of these two men, but it is also a well-plotted, entertaining genre vehicle.

It begins in violence and ends the same way. The story transforms more than just the primary protagonist, Ray, and it effectively communicates the turmoil of the human experience. But it does this without devolving into despair and, as the story ends, a bright anticipation of a better future is revealed. In a phrase, it is classic Ed Gorman and its appeal should be wide as both entertainment and the depth of humanity – both good and bad – it displays.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

H. A. DeRosso is Back in Print

This morning I made a wonderful discovery. Three of H. A. DeRosso’s books are back in print as trade paperbacks and low cost ebooks. Two are novels, the third is a collection, and all three are westerns. The titles: .44, The Dark Brand, and Under the Burning Sun. I reviewed Under the Burning Sun several years ago—

“It tended toward the unusual and bleak, the mythical and surreal, but it also vitalized the characters with a hard-bitten sadness and self-awareness that is rarely found in genre fiction. A major theme in the stories is one of hope, but it is hope that is never fulfilled.”

—and the stories are as vibrant in my memory now as they were when I originally read them.


Publisher’s description: “Dan Harland was a man with a reputation—a reputation earned through killing. He was a hired gun, and the speed of his .44 was the stuff of legend. He never enjoyed his work, but he did it well and the pay was good.

But even the money didn’t help when Harland was hired to hunt down a man who seemed all too ready to be killed. The look in that man's eyes as he died stirred something almost forgotten in Harland's soul...his conscience. All at once, Harland knew he couldn’t rest until he found the mysterious man who had hired him for the job—even if the trail led to his own grave.”

The Dark Brand

Publisher’s description: “Stuck in a jail cell with a man due to be hanged, Driscoll found out that the guy had robbed a bank and killed a man. He also found out that the money was never recovered. Now out of jail, Driscoll realizes that the townspeople think the condemned man had told Driscoll where the loot was buried before he had died. Now it seems that everybody wants that money enough to kill for it.”

Under the Burning Sun

Publisher’s description: “Of all the amazing writers published in the popular fiction magazines of the 1940s and '50s, one of the greatest was H.A. DeRosso. Within twenty years he published nearly two hundred Western short stories, all noted for their brilliant style, their realism and their compelling vision of the dark side of the Old West. Now, finally we have a collection of the best work of this true master of the Western story.

This collection, edited by Bill Pronzini, presents a cross-section of DeRosso's Western fiction, spanning his entire career. Here are eleven of his best stories and his riveting short novel, ‘The Bounty Hunter,’ all powerful and spellbinding, and all filled with the excitement, the passion, and the poetry of Western writing at its peak.”

Thursday, September 29, 2016

THE SUNDOWN SPEECH by Loren D. Estleman

The Sundown Speech is the most recent entry, 25th overall, in Loren Estleman’s justly celebrated Amos Walker private detective series. Dante and Heloise Gunnar were swindled out of $15,000 by a would-be director named Jerry Marcus. Jerry hooked the couple for an investment in a film dubiously titled Mr. Alien Elect, and when he stopped returning telephone calls the couple contacted Walker. It is a straight missing person case and Amos reluctantly takes it; reluctantly because the Gunnar’s, particularly Heloise, are off-putting to his working class sensibilities, and all the leads are in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A scant 45 minutes from his beloved Detroit, but worlds apart—

“The place looked as far away from the Motor City as Morocco.”

The setting is post 9/11, but not by much. The preamble is as cool and stylish as anything I’ve read:

“Roll the clock back a dozen years, maybe more; Michael Jackson was still alive, Iris, too. I could walk all day without limping. Tweet was bird talk, the chain bookstore was the greatest threat to civilization since ragtime music, and the only time you saw a black president was in a sci-fi film. Going back is always a crapshoot.”

And it only gets better. Amos Walker is his usual smart ass and hard-boiled self, and the mystery is something of a locked door job. This time, however—and not to give too much away—the locked door is in the police forensics lab. The supporting cast is college town unusual; big and brassy while lacking experience and boasting excessive aspirations. A photographer who photographs nudes in public places not minding the accompanying public decency ticket and bail money for his model. The local police have a thing for writing parking tickets, and the detective working the case keeps giving Amos a polite, but resolute “sundown speech”—thanks for your help, please go back to Detroit. Amos doesn’t much want to stick around either, but the facts keep him there as the case turns more and more serious, and more and more curious.

This review originally went live on Ed Gorman's blog December 22, 2015.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

SPLIT IMAGE by Ron Faust

Split Image is best read cold, and this review is loaded with spoilers. Read ahead at your own peril and rest assured it is fantastic.

“It occurred to me—and this was my first conscious thought upon ‘awakening’—that the crows did not object to the carnage. Of course not. They were scavengers and were impatiently waiting their opportunity. Even so, I could not entirely dispel the notion that they were judging me—small black magistrates, feathery clerics.”

The idea is Andrew Neville’s; a failed playwright, three early critical successes and nothing since, making his living as an editor of a corporate newsletter. On a whim he travels to the woods of northern Wisconsin to the primitive hunting cabin of a friend. It is autumn, and deer are in season. He takes an old bow and its matching arrows from the cabin. He doesn’t expect a kill, but when a buck cuts his trail a lusty greed overtakes him. The deer is wounded, and while tracking it Andrew comes to a man cleaning a buck.  

Andrew believes the deer is his, but the man calmly and reasonably claims it. The two have a cold exchange of words; at the end Andrew kills the other. He doesn’t remember the actual killing, but Andrew knows he did. He cleans up the cabin, disposes of the clothing and other evidence and returns to Chicago. A few days later he learns the man’s identity, and realizes, for the first time, he once knew the man. They were in the same theater company, and while Andrew failed as a writer his victim found significant success in Hollywood.

Andrew, after meeting his victim’s widow at the funeral, calculatingly insinuates himself into the dead man’s life. He moves into the boat house on his wooded estate, wears his clothes, befriends his only child, and smoothly woos his wife. The only hold up is a despicable man named Roland Scheiss—

“‘Scheiss means ‘shit’ in German, doesn’t it?’”

—hired by the murdered man’s parents to prove his widow, and by extension, Andrew Neville killed him. Scheiss is loathsome. He is filthy, crude, and corrupt. His game is blackmail, and he begins calling Andrew at odd moments of the night threatening, cajoling, taunting. Andrew remains calm, but his sanity begins to unravel; he converses with his victim in the dark hours, and small meaningless events begin to weigh heavily, and finally his narrative turns suspect; is the tale truly as it is being told, or is the reader being deceived?

Split Image is a fine novel. It is dark, riveting, and curious. It is as much literature as commercial. It weaves an enticing mixture of Edgar Allan Poe—think “The Tell-Tale Heart”—Alfred Hitchcock, and a 1950’s Gold Medal novel. Andrew Neville is a cold, almost empty narrator, who is as interesting, and enigmatic as any character in popular literature. The prose is sparse, poetic and meaningful. It is also satisfying, thought-provoking, and damn good.      

Split Image is Ron Faust’s tenth published novel. It was published in 1997 by Forge as a hardcover. It is currently available as a trade paperback and ebook from Turner Publishing.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Mystery Scene Reviews: Issue No. 145

The latest issue of Mystery Scene Magazine—No. 145—is at a newsstand near you. The issue is packed, as usual. It features an in-depth article about eleven non-mystery novelists—Stephen King, Louis L’Amour, J. K. Rowling, etc.—who wrote one or more excellent private eye novels, an interview with Marcia Clark and much more.

Issue No. 145 also includes two book reviews by, um, me. The titles: Not Dead Enough by Warren C. Easley and We Were Kings by Thomas O’Malley and Douglas Graham Purdy. Not Dead Enough is an entertaining mystery featuring Cal Claxton, former big city prosecutor turned small town lawyer, set in rural Oregon. We Were Kings is a big, in both length and complexity, noirish crime novel set in 1954 Boston. The reviews are available online at Mystery Scene’s website—click the book titles above.

Mystery Scene is available at many newsstands, including Barnes & Noble, and available for order at MS’s website.