Thursday, July 31, 2008
I have been an avid Piccirilli reader since I discovered his horror novel The Night Class, and I always look forward to the release of his latest novel. But as good as his novels are his short work is even better. It—his short work—radiates mood, theme, violence, and a certain dark destiny that envelopes both protagonist and reader alike. When you read a story by Tom Piccirilli it sticks to you for awhile. And you are usually damn glad it is still there, gnawing at your psyche, gaining more and more nuance and meaning with each swirl of thought and idea.
The point? I’ve read two short stories by Tom Piccirilli in the past week and both were terrific. The first is a gem in the most recent issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine titled “Between the Dark and the Daylight” that is pitch-perfect. It is hardboiled, literate and surprising. I am going to leave my comments at that, because Bill Crider has already reviewed it over at Nasty. Brutish. Short. far better and in less space than I could.
The story I do want to talk about is “Bereavement.” The protagonist is an unnamed man who has lost nearly everyone close to him—his parents, a brother, two uncles, two aunts, and a great-grandfather. All in a twelve-month period. When the story opens the man is on another “deathwatch,” but this time it is his son who is dying. The man holds a vigil at the hospital hoping, needing, his young son to awaken one last time to hear his voice, tell him “I love you,” anything. I’ll leave it there, because to reveal more would ruin the story.
“Bereavement” is a story that drops the reader with a nasty hook. Mr. Piccirilli creates the scene perfectly—the lonely father with a dying son, the grief, shame and guilt one feels at the passing of a loved one—and then in the space of one sentence turns it on a dime not once, but twice. The plot is so tightly crafted that it can’t go anywhere but where Piccirilli takes it and the reader can do nothing except admire the skill and simple beauty of it.
The prose is tight and lucid, and crafted with a heavy sorrow—“If you love, you lose. We all know it. But you also gain a heaviness of shadow and soul that will serve you throughout life in some capacity. It’s as natural and inevitable as it is righteously unfair.”
The story straddles the line between horror and mystery—its actual location is somewhere near the resting spot of the The Twilight Zone—and it is equally satisfying in both genres. “Bereavement” is the best short story I have read this year, and really, I can’t imagine a better one will find me.
“Bereavement” was originally published in the anthology Five Strokes to Midnight and is also available in the terrific anthology A Prisoner of Memory and 24 of the Year’s Best Crime and Mystery Stories.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
I'm always looking (so long as I don't have to go too far out of my way) for a well-made and interesting book trailer so when I heard--on Ed Gorman's blog--about the trailer for Michael Connelly's latest novel The Brass Verdict I had to take a look. I was impressed with what I saw.
The trailer is produced by veteran film and novel writer Terrill Lee Lankford and it feels more like a short film than a trailer. It shows us the characters, action, and the moody violence of a story I want to read. A few more book trailers like The Brass Verdict and the kids will be reading again.
And as a bonus here is the trailer for Connelly's Echo Park. It runs something over nine minutes, but it's worth the time.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Pendleton wrote the first 38 novels—one or two of these early novels were written by Jim Peterson—in the still-running series and continued a close relationship with its direction well into the 1980s. He went on to write two private-eye series; Ashton Ford and Joe Copp. The Ford novels are meta-physical in nature and lack the hard-hitting power of Pendleton’s other work, but the Copp novels are special. They are a throwback to the hardboiled work of Mickey Spillane, but with a late-1980s Southern California mentality.
I recently read the second novel in the series, Copp on Fire, for the first time in something close to twenty years—it was published in 1988—and really had a good time with it. Joe Copp is a sentimental and cynical tough guy, not mention humorous as hell at times. He is a former police officer who went private to choose the cases he works—“I work for the work, and the luxury of picking my own.” He doesn’t do divorce cases, chase ambulances, insurance investigations, or skiptracing. He likes criminal cases and not much else.
The novel opens with Copp worried about his next paycheck. He’s alone in his “no-town” strip-mall office in the San Gabriel Valley when the unlikely appearance of a limousine catches his attention. It rolls across the tarmac of the gas station at the corner and glides into the parking stall in front of Copp’s office. Inside is a physically handicapped man named Albert Moore and he has a proposition.
He wants Copp to take photographs—at predetermined times—of the entrance to a business he owns. He tells Copp his employees are stealing from him and he needs to know the comings and goings. Copp is uneasy about the set-up, but the envelope with $1,000 stuffed inside clinches the deal. Unfortunately everything turns inside-out when the building is bombed and Copp is listed as the suspect, and to make matters worse, bodies start to pile-up and every cop in the valley is hot for him.
Copp on Fire is hard, fast and lean. The prose is taut and sparse, and the story is pitch-perfect—it is a Hollywood tale that includes more than a few illusions, exotic characters, sunny locations, betrayals and even a few surprises. It is told in Joe Copp’s terse voice, and hard and cynical attitude. It is loaded with tough guy one-liners and brutal, monochromatic philosophy. A few of my favorites, that also work to illuminate the story and the character of Joe Copp, are:
“Death is unlovely, sure, but life is sometimes even more so. And I have known crimes against the spirit far more terrible in their total effect than any trespass upon mere flesh.”
“I never met a man I didn't like, until he takes a whack at me. Then I love the bastard, after I whack him back, for reminding me that life ought to be lovelier than it usually is.”
“No, I don’t have a Ph.D. in psychology and I’ve never sat on a philosopher’s stone, but I’ve cruised these streets and I’ve dealt first hand with most every variety of misery. Dan’t talk theory of plumbing to a guy who’s down there with his hands in it. And don’t talk social theory to a cop who lives the reality the profs write about.”
“I’m bad Joe Copp and I’m burning all over with the need to take it back to those sonsofbitches.
“F*ck sanctuary, I wanted blood.”
Copp on Fire is the follow-up to Copp for Hire and it is better than the first. Don Pendleton easily overcomes the few weaknesses of the first—the verbal posturing, over-talking the action—and really hits his stride. The prose is sharp, the dialogue crisp, and Copp is perfect as societies outcast-crusader. It is a modern hardboiled novel that will appeal to anyone who enjoys the genre or a swiftly told action thriller.
There are a total of six novels that feature Joe Copp. The titles, in order of publication date, are: Copp for Hire, Copp on Fire, Copp in Deep, Copp in the Dark, Copp on Ice, and Copp in Shock.
I reviewed the first Joe Copp novel in January 2007—click Here to be magically transported.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Terminator Salvation is directed by a guy named McG. He is an executive producer for two television series—“Supernatural” and “Chuck.” He also directed the 2006 feature film We Are Marshall, and overall has an impressive list of credits over at IMDB. It stars Christian Bale, and was written by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris.
The plot summary over at IMDB reads:
Set in post-apocalyptic 2018, John Connor (Bale) is the man fated to lead the human resistance against Skynet and its army of Terminators. But the future Connor was raised to believe in is altered in part by the appearance of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row. Connor must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future, or rescued from the past. As Skynet prepares its final onslaught, Connor and Marcus both embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet’s operations, where they uncover the terrible secret behind the possible annihilation of mankind.
Disclaimer. I enjoyed the computer animated feature Wall-E, and I have some hope in the new Batman film, although I haven’t seen it, so the summer movie fare isn’t a complete bust. I hope.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Midnight was the first Koontz title I read, but it wasn’t the last. I’ve been reading two or three a year ever since. His work from the late-Eighties to early-Nineties has special appeal to me simply because it’s the first I discovered, but everything Dean Koontz writes is worth reading and a good deal of it is worth reading twice; Lightning, Midnight, The Bad Place, Night Chills, and From the Corner of His Eye instantly leap to mind, but there are others, many others, that are, or should be, classics in the suspense field.
The point? I took an older Dean Koontz novel off the bookshelf a few evenings ago and absolutely devoured it. The title: Shattered. It was originally published in 1973 as by K.R. Dwyer and it has lost none of its power over the intervening years.
Alex Doyle is a commercial artist who fell in love with a ready-made family. His wife Courtney and her younger brother Colin are Alex’s entire world, and when the newlyweds decide to move from Philadelphia to San Francisco Courtney flies out ahead to ready their new home while Alex and Colin make the cross-country trip in Alex’s new Thunderbird with the excitement of seeing the country coast-to-coast and a terrific chance for the two to bond.
The trip begins easily enough with the big Thunderbird eating away the miles, but it isn’t long before Colin spots a moving van that seems to be following. Colin is a sensitive and creative kid who quickly creates a story around their suspected tail—it’s the FBI following them with false information that Alex is a desperate criminal. It’s all fun and games, but Alex can’t help the low swell of unease that overcomes him.
As the day wears down the van seemingly disappears and Alex and Colin adjust to the normal routine of long distance travel, but the next morning, not too far from the motel the two spent the night, Alex spots the van in his rearview mirror. The unease of the previous day quickly turns to a blister of fear and he knows something is very wrong.
Shattered is the type of thriller you don’t see much anymore. It is concise, stark, and to the point. The plot is relatively simple—it reads something like Richard Matheson’s superb story “Duel,” but with the added narrative perspective of the believable psychopath that has become Koontz’s trademark. There is enough backstory blended into the narrative to create believable and likable characters, but not so much it bogs down. The action is choreographed well and easily matches the intensity of suspense created by the lucid and stripped down prose style.
Shattered is a step or two down from Koontz’s later work, but all the elements are there: the strong characterization, the well-built and believable plotline, and the murderous and paranoid bad guy. Not to mention, it’s both entertaining and good fun. If you have a chance to read this one, you should because they just don't write them like this anymore. And how I wish they did.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
And now the nerd part. I discovered that Dean Koontz does a podcast. The podcasts are posted sporadically, but when he is posting, about one per week appears. There are a total of 26 podcasts; the first from June 19, 2006 and the most recent from June 23, 2008. Each of them have a defined subject. The latest two are about the Book of Counted Sorrows—a book of poetry Dean wrote and used portions of as epigraphs in many of his novels. The opening is humorous and describes the mail Dean has received about Book of Counted Sorrows, most of the mail from librarians who have spent an amazing amount of time searching for this, until recently, unpublished title for patrons. He also reads part of the book. It’s pretty cool.
There are also a sundry of other interesting subjects that are told with humor, humility, and a very entertaining style. A few of the subjects include a meeting with author Ed Gorman, a few of Dean’s experiences with editors, publishers and readers, and several that deal with his own work. These podcasts are fun and interesting, and you should check them out.
Click Here to go there now.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
There are also interviews with writers and publishers, articles about mystery in film and television, columns by people like Jon L. Breen, Ed Gorman, Dick Lochte and others. There are also reviews of forthcoming novels, short stories, audio, the small press and more.
The coverage of the magazine is impressive. It covers the entire genre, including suspense, thrillers, noir, hardboiled, whodunits, cozies, and any other sub-genre you can think of. It can be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys the genre—both writers and readers. In short, Mystery Scene rocks! And if you haven’t read it, you should.
There are several articles that can be found on the Mystery Scene website. A few of my favorites are:
John Grisham Testifies: An Interview -- Click Here
Ed Gorman: A Great Man of Mystery -- Click Here
Dell Map Back Mysteries -- Click Here
100 PIs of the Mystery Scene Era -- Click Here
Background Check: An Interview with David Corbett -- Click Here
A Talk with Lisa Scottoline --Click Here
And so many more…
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Dev Conrad is an experienced political consultant leading the reelection campaign of Senator Warren Nichols—a liberal senator who, more often than not, is on the right side of the issues (as far as Dev Conrad is concerned), but also, to Conrad's annoyance, he has difficulty keeping his pants secured around his waist. When the man Dev replaced unexpectedly commits suicide and the senator is poisoned Dev finds himself in a troubling situation. He needs to figure the set-up without tipping the press, the police, or anyone else who might harm the senator's chance for reelection.
Sleeping Dogs is one of the best mystery novels I've read this year, and there are two significant reasons why. The first is the protagonist. Dev Conrad is a well-developed character who is irreverent, tough, humorous with a dry and dark wit, and annoyingly (at least to himself, but never to the reader) sanctimonious. He knows the political mean streets and while he takes his job seriously he never takes the play-acting and posturing that is politics seriously. He is an average man who has hopes, dreams, problems, a broken family, and hell, even trouble getting a date.
The second is the background and setting. The atmosphere of the political campaign feels authentic. Ed Gorman is a former political speech-writer and if some of what he writes about in Sleeping Dogs—campaign infighting, cynicism and the foibles of running a massive public relations front—aren't based on his experiences the reader will never know because it looks and feels real.
The mystery is also terrific. It builds on itself one logical and surprising step at a time and Mr. Gorman uses enough craftsmanship and adds more than enough twists to give the reader a few surprises. The supporting cast is well-defined and interesting, and the overall tone and style of the novel is nearly perfect as it changes from cynical to idealistic to angry to melancholy to funny and back again. Sleeping Dogs gets my vote and it's very definately worth the poll tax.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
I recently picked-up the newest Hard Case Crime title—at least it was the newest title when I picked it up—and couldn't help a smile when I read the first paragraph. It was perfect—it introduced the protagonist, hinted at trouble, set the mood, the style, and even the piss-poor luck of the protagonist. In a word it was a zinger—it grabbed me and made me read more.
Monday, July 07, 2008
Okay, this is a one-shot deal. I'm not into self-publishing, other than reviews and other meanderings I guess, but this is a story I wrote a few years ago for a horror anthology with an Introduction by Ramsey Campbell. Oh how I wanted to make the cut for no other reason than it would be cool to be on the same contents page as Mr. Campbell. The editor asked for the ending to be re-written so it was "stronger," and somewhere between the first re-write and the third we decided it wasn't going to work.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
This is a little unusual here at Gravetapping, but I thought these news stories in my local newspaper were pretty interesting. The first is funny—the guy is really proving his street creds with the theft of a little girl's tricycle—and the second seems straight out of a novel. A few spoiled middle-class kids making crime a habit. I can see Ed Gorman writing this as a sub-plot in a Sam McCain story. And the tricycle thing? Maybe something out of an Elmore Leonard novel.
Police: Gang member busted riding stolen tricycle
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 07/01/2008 03:03:30 PM MDT
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 07/03/2008 07:06:11 AM MDT
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
This year the two men visit Bifrost, a small world that is seemingly a wonderland of exotic wilderness—there are purple ferns, panthers as large as elephants, and small nibbling creatures foaming in the rivers and streams. Their destination is the Asgaard Bridge—a beautiful pinnacle of rock that arches across a seemingly bottomless canyon—and they are on a tight schedule. They only have one week to get to Asgaard and back to the pick-up zone.
“Landscapes” is a terrific short story that represents everything—well, almost everything—I like about science fiction. The prose is smooth, the story is interesting and full of wonder and (I mean this as a compliment) it is comfortable. The sort of comfortable that allows me to be part of the story; I know the trails, the hills, and the happenings of a backpacking trip and Mr. Anderson captured it. His seemingly simple style allows the story to develop on its own terms—the words and cadence don’t get in the way—and it is plotted very much like a backpacking trip. It meanders just a little, in the same way a trail carves itself across the terrain, and the reader doesn’t know exactly where it’s going until the final few paragraphs. And I loved every word.
”Landscapes” originally appeared in the anthology Millennium 3001 edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Russell Davis and it has since been published in Kevin J. Anderson’s excellent story collection Landscapes.