Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016: The Year in Reading

2016 was a great year for reading. I finished 56 titles, which is four short of last year’s mark. The majority of the titles were fiction and my nonfiction reading tumbled to only a few books; something I will need to correct next year.

I started 2016 with my two almost always recurring goals:

1. Increase the number of “new” authors (in 2015 I read ten authors new to me); and

2. Increase the number of female authors on my reading list (in 2015 I read a scant three female authors).

I doubled the number of new authors, twenty, and more than doubled the number of female authors from three to seven. The increase of both is due, almost entirely, to a full year of reviewing for Mystery Scene Magazine.

In the past I have listed each new author, along with the title I read, but this year the list is unwieldy; so, I decided instead to list the best reads by authors new to me (in the order read):

Reed Farrell Coleman (Where it Hurts). Read the Mystery Scene review;

Carla Buckley (The Good Goodbye). Read the Mystery Scene review;

Warren C. Easley (Not Dead Enough). Read the Mystery Scene review;

Elly Grifftihs (Smoke and Mirrors). Read the Mystery Scene review;

P. D. James (The Mistletoe Murder). Read the Mystery Scene review;

Marvin H. Albert (Operation Lila); and

J. Sydney Jones (The Edit). 

I returned to old favorites fewer times than I have in the past, but three authors accounted for 11 titles, which is approximately 20 percent of the total for 2016. I read five by Ed Gorman, four by Stephen Mertz, and two by Garry Disher. 

Now all that is left is my top five favorite novels of—at least that I read in—2016. No rules, except no repeats. If I previously read the book (which happens many, many times at my house), it is not eligible for the top five. It was difficult to pare the list to five, and there were two or three that were cut from the list that I wish hadn’t been. With that said, my five favorite novels of 2016:

5. Sherlock Holmes: Zombies Over London by Stephen Mertz. A Sherlock Holmes action yarn with zombies, flying machines and an evil plan for world domination. It is a solid, well-told, original tale that is both faithful—specifically in its tone and language—to the original stories and wholly new and unique. Read the Gravetapping review.

4. Backshot (2012) by Tom Piccirilli. A hybrid crime-western that is a touch Richard Stark, but wholly Tom Piccirilli. The plotline is Stark—the protagonist is betrayed by his partner and spends the rest of the story getting even—but it is stylistically and thematically Piccirilli. It is related to Ed Gorman’s short western novel, Backshot (1902). Read the Gravetapping review.

3. Dreadful Tales by Richard Laymon. A collection of twenty-five short stories that showcase Mr. Laymon’s talent as a writer. There are early crime stories, including “A Good Cigar is a Smoke” and “Roadside Pickup” with its clever and surprising ending, and horror stories, mostly the gruesome (and fun) type he is known for, like “The Grab” with a small-town bar setting and a deadly game played nightly and “Into the Pit”.   

2.  The Mistletoe Murder by P. D. James. This is an unusual title to see here, but it is an old school Agatha Christie-style collection of four superior stories by Ms. James. The plotting is tight, the puzzles exquisite with a playful and witty style. Read the Mystery Scene review.     

1.  Backshot (1902) by Ed Gorman. This is a brilliantly rendered noir western, by the best writer to ever write in the genre, and it reads very much like an old Gold Medal crime novel—a man trapped in a situation far out of his control, his downfall brought by a beautiful woman, and his redemption in the arms of another. It is developed with Ed Gorman’s masterful colors of humanity and it is entertaining as hell. Read the Gravetapping review.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

"The Santa Claus Murders" by Ed Gorman

I was intending to review a few Christmas stories on the blog this year, but time and other commitments got the better of me so I decided to dust off this review from December 2008. It is a little-known Sam McCain novella published in Crooks, Crimes and Christmas (Worldwide, 2003) titled “The Santa Claus Murders” and written by Ed Gorman.   

Sam McCain’s only reason to attend a high school reunion / Christmas party is a hope there will be attractive, available, attentive former female classmates. The party is at the home of the wildly wealthy Don Lillis, who inherited the house and a steel mill from his father. On his arrival, Sam finds the usual clustering of people. The wealthy and upwardly mobile, the weirdoes, the blue-collar-types, all congregating in their respective groups. Sam has the uncanny ability to move from group to group, but he doesn’t quite belong to any of them.

The party turns bad when Bob Nugent, the class drunk, is found in the guest room with a knife in his throat. Bob Nugent was the kid everyone expected to succeed. In school, Bob worked hard, was kind, friendly and the teachers loved him. He was, to Sam’s thinking, a brownnose of the first order. But something went wrong for Bob during his college years and he started drinking. The party screeches to a halt when Bob’s body is found and the unlikable and incompetent Sheriff Cliff Sykes, Jr is called to investigate. Cliffie, as he is called behind his back, makes all the wrong assumptions and McCain decides to solve the mystery on his own for two reasons: to make Sykes look the clown, and make sure the right person is brought to justice.

“The Santa Claus Murders” is Sam McCain at his best. He is young, endowed with the wisdom of much older man, intelligent and savvy at why people do what they do, and cynical with a perfectly complimented amount of optimism. He is a kid that doesn’t quite fit a category—he grew up in the poor section of town, but he is a college graduate with his own small law practice. He is an ideal Ed Gorman character: intelligent, cynical, tough, realistic, and yet hopeful and wistful at the same time.

The mystery is perfectly executed. The killer is revealed only moments after the reader figures it out. The supporting cast is top-notch. Cliffie Sykes is his usual gruff and annoying self. The Judge is kind and vindictive in a swift, judgmental and condescending manner. And everyone else plays their parts perfectly.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Mystery Scene Reviews: Issue No. 147

The latest issue of Mystery Scene Magazine—No. 147—is at a newsstand near you. It is MS’s special Holiday Issue and it is packed, as usual. It features a very nice remembrance of Ed Gorman, an excellent interview with David Morrell, Kevin Burton Smith’s annual Gift Guide, and a brilliant article by Lawrence Block about series characters.

It also features my first Mystery Scene byline, with my short story review column, “Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered.” A column I’m excited about, and, at least parts of, are exclusive to the print magazine. In the column, I discuss:

The 75th Anniversary Issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

The Highway Kind, a crime anthology edited by Patrick Milliken and featuring stories by Joe R. Lansdale, C. J. Box, Wallace Stroby and others.

P. D. James’ collection The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories.

In Sunlight or in Shadow, a mostly crime anthology with stories inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper edited by Lawrence Block.


Issue No. 147 also includes two book reviews I wrote. The titles: Edgar Allan Poe and the London Monster by Karen Lee Street, and The Strivers’ Row Spy by Jason Overstreet.

Edgar Allan Poe and the London Monster is a clever historical mystery featuring Edgar Allan Poe and his literary creation C. Auguste Dupin.

The Strivers’ Row Spy is a moody, and seemingly accurate, historical mystery set in Harlem of the 1920s.  

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, December 03, 2016

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "The Last Man on Earth"

The Last Man on Earth is an anthology featuring post-apocalyptic stories. It was published as a paperback original by Fawcett Crest in 1982, which is the very edition that caught my eye. The artwork perfectly captures the theme of the stories – a solitary man, a backpack on his shoulders sitting atop a dune with a skull and dead bird below. The artist: W. C. Barlowe.






















The opening paragraph (from the story “The Underdweller” by William F. Nolan):

“In the waiting, windless dark, Lewis Stillman pressed into the building-front shadows along Wilshire Boulevard. Breathing softly, the automatic poised and ready in his hand, he advanced with animal stealth toward Western Avenue, gliding over the night-cool concrete past ravaged clothing shops, drug and ten-cent stores, their windows shattered, their doors ajar and swinging. The city of Los Angeles, painted in cold moonlight, was an immense graveyard; the tall, white tombstone buildings thrust up from the silent pavement, shadow-carved and lonely. Overturned corpses of trucks, buses, and automobiles littered the streets.”

This anthology was edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh. It features 17 reprinted stories by such science fiction luminaries as William F. Nolan, Poul Anderson, Clifford D. Simak, Frederic Brown, Roger Zelazny, A. E. Van Vogt, and many others.

This anthology is one of the seminal works in my adoration of both classic science fiction and short fiction. It introduced me to the work of Edmond Hamilton, A. E. Van Vogt, Frederic Brown, and the short work of William F. Nolan. It, beyond the nicely executed cover art, is very much worth having on your bookshelf.   

Saturday, November 26, 2016

BEATING THE BUSHES by Christine Matthews

Vincent Lloyd is broken. His six-year old daughter disappeared a few years earlier, and he was the prime suspect. He was suspected by the police and hounded by the media. When a teenage boy named Steven Kracher disappears from the small town of Kimmswick, Missouri, Vincent sees his participation in the search as an atonement for his inability to protect his daughter.

The search is fruitless, and the media, recognizing Vincent, takes a few punches before turning its attention to Steven’s father, Baylor. Vincent and Baylor bond and as the years pass help each other heal, but Baylor, against all reason, is convinced his son is alive. A conviction that turns to hope, but leads to dark conspiracy.

Beating the Bushes is smoothly told with multiple perspectives—some in first and others in third—in an unrushed style. Its storyline is provocative in its depiction of the relationship between the media, ratings based television news sensationalism, and those left behind after the disappearance of a child. The initial sympathy turning quickly to insinuation and ultimately accusation. The characters are complicated and believable, and the relationship between Vincent and Baylor has a subtle depth.

The plot develops unexpectedly. It twists away from the expected in interesting and satisfying ways. It is less mystery and more thriller with a stylish grittiness—

“Rain, heat and claustrophobic humidity. While my feet swell, my boots shrink, and as much as I want to put on the dark glasses in my pocket when the migraines come, I don’t for fear of missing something. Something important.”

It viscerally depicts the sadness if losing a child, and preys on the fear of a parent. The possibility. The horror. Beating the Bushes is my first experience with the work of Christine Matthews, but it will definitely not be the last.

This review originally went live at Ed Gorman’s blog on November 8, 2015.

Monday, November 07, 2016

THE BIG NEEDLE by Ken Follett (Symon Myles)

The Big Needle is Ken Follett’s first published novel – as by “Symon Myles” in 1974 – and what it lacks in complexity and subtlety is readily overcome with its streamlined, almost men’s adventure-like, plotting and enthusiasm.   

Apples Carstairs is a wealthy London real estate investor. He is divorced with a seldom seen teenage daughter, Jane, and two live-in lovers he enjoys as something more than wanton distraction. Apples’ world shudders when his ex-wife arrives at his doorstep with dark news: “Jane is in hospital in a coma.” Jane’s coma is the result of a heroin overdose. Apples is stunned with guilt for ignoring his daughter for so many years and then anger toward the heroin pushers. In an instant, Apples decides to destroy the man responsible for importing heroin into London. Not the street pusher, or distributor, but rather the top-level executive of the enterprise. A man he calls, “Mr. H”. His mission leads him from the underworld of London to the streets of Marseilles and back.

The Big Needle is more action than crime novel. It is plotted from car chase to shoot out to sex scene, of which there are many, and back again. The criminal element – identifying and destroying London’s heroin syndicate – is less mystery and more obstacle to both Apples and the reader. And Apples uses a methodical, if unbelievable, approach to accomplishing his mission. Unbelievable, because of Apples’ easy access to the crime syndicate in England and its French supplier, which is forgivable because of the novel’s quick, linear plot and lean prose. It doesn’t hurt that there is a subtle tongue-in-cheek feel to the whole enterprise.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Death is My Shadow"

Death is My Shadow was published as a hardcover by Thomas Bourgey & Company in 1957. The edition that caught my eye is the mass market published by MacFadden Books in 1965. The clean white background perfectly frames the little black dress attired gun toting dame. The artist: Unknown.






















The opening paragraph:

“The doctor offered Byrum a cigarette, shoving the pack across his desk. It was hot in Los Angeles, but the air-conditioner that Stein had swindled from Government stores made his office comfortable. Stein was small and dark and totally unmilitary in his khakis, rumpled, sweaty, his beard a dark swath along his rounded jowls. His black eyes were friendly.”

Edward S. Aarons is best known for his Assignment novels featuring CIA Agent Sam Durrell, but he wrote several excellent standalone novels under his own name and the pseudonym Edward Ronns. The Gold Medal edition of his novel, The Decoy, was previously highlighted in a Thrift Shop Book Cover post

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Reading Ed Gorman: The Dwyer and Walsh Novels

Today, November 2, 2016, would be Ed Gormans 75th birthday and it has been dubbed as Ed Gorman Day around the blogospere. I struggled with what, if anything, to post. I settled on this essay I wrote as an introduction for Stark House's edition of Ed's fine private eye novels The Autumn Dead and The Night Remembers

When I asked Ed earlier this year if he would mind my reprinting it here, he told me - and this made my day, week, month, year - This is a major piece for me. It is a major piece for me, too.

Happy birthday Ed.  

Ed Gorman is an unheralded writer of uncommon ability. He is a writer with a conscience—his characters reflect the world and he has an uncanny ability to make them sympathetic—but he is also an immensely entertaining storyteller. Mr. Gorman’s work has ranged wide, but he is particularly good at the first person detective story and two of his best are collected in this omnibus: The Autumn Dead and The Night Remembers.

In 1985 Ed Gorman, in his second published novel, introduced his first private detective, Jack Dwyer. Dwyer is a former cop who got the acting bug after being cast in a local public safety commercial. He started acting lessons, quit his job, applied for his private investigator’s license, and took a security job to keep the wolves away. Jack Dwyer appeared in five novels and The Autumn Dead is the fourth.

The Autumn Dead is the definitive Jack Dwyer novel. It fulfills the potential and promise of both Dwyer as a character and Ed Gorman as a writer. It is a richly detailed detective novel strong on story and scored with a thought provoking working class commentary. Jack Dwyer is the principal instigator of the novel’s action, but he is also a spectator of the melancholy and hard world he inhabits. He is not a saint, and is unable to right many, if any, wrongs, but he notices the humanity around him. More importantly, he understands humanity in all its beauty, frailty and brutality. In an early scene from The Autumn Dead, Dwyer describes a housing development built in the 1950’s.

“They’d built the houses in the mid-fifties and though they weren’t much bigger than garages, the contractors had been smart enough to paint them in pastels—yellow and lime and pink and puce, the colors of impossible flowers, the colors of high hard national hope—and they were where you strived to live in 1956 if you worked in a factory and wanted the good life promised by the Democrats and practiced by the Republicans.”    

It is a neighborhood forgotten by time and left to crumble and tarnish new generations with a hard scrabble existence. It is a place where dreams die, girls become hard and old before they reach maturity, and a place where the lowest rung of humanity struggles to survive. In the novel this hopelessness and poverty is juxtaposed with the comparatively well off.  The professional classes and the downright wealthy. Dwyer is unable to claim membership in either class—he was raised in one and has never been able to fully gain access to the other. The conflict of class is personified by an old classmate and friend named Karen Lane.

Karen seemingly escaped her childhood poverty, but she gave herself away in the attempt. She is described much like Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly. She is a woman-girl desperately trying to erase her own bitter world with her sex, and while her surroundings changed, for a time at least, she was never able to completely overcome the poverty of her childhood. A passage describing Karen’s borrowed room in the home of a friend captures the rub between the dream of something more and reality.

“The clothes—fawns and pinks and soft blues and yellows, silk and linen and organza and lame and velvet—did not belong in the chill rough basement of a working-class family. There was a sense of violation here, a beast holding trapped a fragile beauty.”           
There is a bitter melancholy in much of Ed Gorman’s work and The Autumn Dead is no different. It is a narrative of loss and disappointment; the loss of time, the slow crawl to death, and the disappointment of failure.

“‘You know what his problem is?’

“‘What?’

“‘He isn’t a boy anymore.’”   

In 1991, Ed Gorman introduced his second private eye, Jack Walsh, in The Night Remembers. Jack appeared in only one novel, and while he would have made a wonderful serial character, his story is seemingly complete in a single volume. Jack is 62, a World War II veteran who fought at Salerno, a retired cop—Linn County Sheriff’s Department headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa—and a live-in manager of a rundown apartment building in a decaying neighborhood. Jack operates a one man private investigation shop, smokes six cigarettes a day and has an on again off again relationship with a woman nearly half his age named Faith Hallahan.

Faith is a major player in both the novel and Jack’s life. She is the mother of an 18-month old boy named Hoyt—she claims Jack is the father—and Faith is nearly certain she has breast cancer. Faith, like many of Mr. Gorman’s female characters, has a gentle sadness, an almost broken quality, about her. She is described with an intimate fondness.

“[R]egal, imposing, and, even at times such as these, a little arrogant. The hell of it is—for her sake anyway—she’d had one of those terrible childhoods that robbed her of any self-confidence her looks might have given her. ‘I’m only beautiful on the outside,’ she’s fond of saying in her dramatic way.”

Amazingly Jack takes Faith’s indecision about their relationship in stride. He truly loves Faith and Hoyt. There are several tender scenes between the three, which develops a visceral intimacy. Jack has an indistinct role in Faith’s life. He is a mixture of father, priest and lover, which summarily describes his outsider role in society.

Jack’s personal strife is a backdrop to the mystery, but it is an important and rewarding element because it focuses an understanding of his viewpoint, and it is Jack’s view of the world that shimmers in the narrative. It is offhand references to real world people like Lyndon LaRouche, George McGovern and Jimmy Carter—“…Carter I never could stand. Maybe it was that psychotic smile.”—and the sympathetic brush Mr. Gorman paints his characters with that pushes the novel beyond. He is particularly good at capturing a mood, a sorrow, an ill, in a few simple, sparse sentences.

“The little girl watched me as I started down the stairs. She looked sadder than any child her age ever should.”

In another scene, a rambling bigot who justifies his hate with religion, is described with a keen sense of understanding—or maybe pity—without allowing for credibility or justification of the hate.            

“In his plaid work shirt and baggy jeans and house slippers, he looked like the sort of melancholy psychotic you saw roaming the halls of state mental institutions just after electroshock treatment, the pain and sorrow only briefly dulled by riding the lightning.”

Jack, like Dwyer, is an observer of a world he doesn’t quite understand, but a world he has a wistful empathy for. A world filled with desperate, scared people behaving in ugly and malicious ways, but allowances are nearly always provided. Small understandings, if not always completely satisfactory, are conveyed in the narrative explaining the ugliness.   
“She enjoyed making you despise her. I suppose she hoped that somebody would despise her almost as much as she despised herself.”  

The Night Remembers and The Autumn Dead are similar—first person narrative with a sentimental, intelligent, and watchman-like protagonist—but beneath the surface both are very different novels. The Night Remembers is a wistful, sentimental novel filled with betrayal and an exhausted weariness while The Autumn Dead is very near angry. The novels are both dark, but there is humor. Jack Dwyer is a self-deprecating wise-ass. There is a Jim Rockford moment in The Autumn Dead when a bartender wants five dollars to tell Dwyer where he can find a man.

“‘It worth five bucks to you?’

“‘That’s only in the movies. Just call Chuck.’

“‘I need some grease to do it because I got to walk all the way down the basement stairs. The intercom is on the blink.’”

Jack Walsh is less smart-alecky than Dwyer, but the humor pops up unexpectedly—the reference to Jimmy Carter’s “psychotic smile” and an exchange between Walsh and the owner of the building he manages. A man he refers to as “young Mr. Banister.” His description of Banister is one of the highlights.

“He was approximately thirty-five with a short earnest haircut, black earnest horn-rim glasses, an earnest white button-down shirt, an earnest blue five-button cardigan sweater, and a pair of earnest chinos that complemented his very earnest black and white saddle shoes. It was the wrong sissy touch, those shoes on a man his age, and told me more than I wanted to know about young Mr. Banister.”

Jack Walsh also appeared in the 1990 short story “Friends,” but he was disguised under the name Parnell. The primary backup players were there—Faith and Hoyt—and the story is worth finding. Jack Dwyer appeared in five novels, New, Improved Murder (1985), Murder in the Wings (1986), Murder Straight Up (1986), The Autumn Dead (1987), and A Cry of Shadows (1990), and three short stories, “Failed Prayers” (1987), “The Reason Why” (1988), which is the basis of The Autumn Dead, and “Eye of the Beholder” (1996).

Sunday, October 30, 2016

SHERLOCK HOLMES: ZOMBIES OVER LONDON by Stephen Mertz

I have always wanted to hear Sherlock Holmes say—

“Zombies.” and “The undead.”

—but I didn’t know it until I read those words in Stephen Mertz’s Sherlock Holmes: Zombies Over London. It features, as the title suggests, Arthur Conan Doyle’s timeless detective Sherlock Holmes. It is, as are the bulk of Conan Doyle’s original stories, narrated by Dr. John Watson and the narration is close to perfect – the cadence, noun and verb selection, characterization, and setting very much capture the feel and time of the original stories.

It opens with a punch. Holmes and Watson are inflight aboard the futuristic military dirigible Blackhawk, approaching Castle Moriarty to rescue Watson’s wife, Mary Morstan, from the clutches of Professor Moriarty. Moriarty kidnapped Mary as a form of extortion to keep Holmes and Watson from investigating his most recent criminal endeavor. An enterprise Holmes knows nothing about, except Moriarty’s plan to auction off its results, whatever it is, to the highest bidder. The two men jump from the dirigible, a “flight enabler” – very much like a hang glider – strapped to their backs, landing safely on the roof of the castle. Once on the castle they notice a group of empty-eyed workers loading wagons in a precise, rigid manner; to Watson’s confusion, and incredulity, Holmes labels the workers as zombies. And Moriarty, always the master criminal, has more than zombies in his plans.   

Sherlock Holmes: Zombies Over London is a hybrid adventure and detective novel. Its mystery is genuinely interesting. It features more than one nicely turned sub-plot, which effectively adds texture and confusion to the primary mystery without cheating. Its cast is unique and includes H. G. Wells and a teenage Albert Einstein. There are several scenes that display Mr. Mertz’s keen ability to develop action in a sparse, believable manner without losing the voice and tone of a Sherlock Holmes story. It is an impressive display of storytelling. It captures the essence of Conan Doyle’s stories while being wholly original, and it is a showcase of Mr. Mertz’s range as both storyteller and writer. And, it is damn fun.

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.

.44

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.”