Monday, June 29, 2009

"Kitty Litter" by Richard Laymon

I have probably written this before, but I discovered the work of Richard Laymon in the autumn of 2001—I purchased the Leisure release of his novel In the Dark and then went on a spending / reading spree of his work, both in and out of print, over the next few years. I read everything I could get my hands on for several years, but over the past few I haven’t read much Laymon. It’s not that I don’t still enjoy his work when I read it, but rather it is probably that my cyclical appetite for horror is close to the “off” position.

Fortunately I read a Richard Laymon short story over the weekend; a 12-page delight from an unexpected source—the Cat Crimes 2 anthology edited by Martin Greenberg and Ed Gorman. The title: “Kitty Litter”.

“Kitty Litter” is vintage Richard Laymon, with a few minor exceptions—there is no sex and not much violence. It is, however, possessed with all of the adolescent charm, sharp dialogue and twisty—at times wonderfully unbelievable—plotline. And characters that feel like old friends recalled fondly over the passage of time.

Mr Bishop is taking a leisurely afternoon read at the side of his backyard pool when Monica—the neighborhood bully and snob—demands one of the kittens Bishop has been trying to give away for weeks. Monica is a cute girl, but an eccentric monster: “She belonged to the odd tribe that refers to itself in the third person.” To say she demands a kitten isn’t quite strong enough—she literally threatens Bishop that he better give her a kitten and now.

There really shouldn’t be a problem since Bishop wants to get rid of the kittens, and they are reaching the equivalent of their teenage years—the years when they cease being cute and cuddly kittens and become somewhat less endearing and approachable. Unfortunately, there is a problem. Monica doesn’t choose one of the kittens. Instead, she wants to take Bishop’s undersized momma cat; a cat that Bishop has a long, and somewhat strange, history with.

“Kitty Litter” has all of the elements that make Richard Laymon a pleasure to read—see above. It also has the benefit of being an understated and humorous horror story. The characters feel and act like people we know—or in Monica’s case, people we wish we didn’t know—and the ending is sublime justice. Not to mention a smile and laugh.

If you’re one of the many who think Laymon is too brutal or gruesome to read, try “Kitty Litter”. It will probably surprise you. And if you’re one of Mr Laymon’s regular readers, you’ll like it too. I guarantee it.

A NOTE American publishers largely ignored Richard Laymon’s work until the late 1990s when Leisure began to publish both new and older novels in mass market. A good deal of his novels are currently in print, but his short stories, of which there are many, have not been collected in affordable editions, which is a shame. I hope—heck, I challenge—Leisure Books to release a collection or two of Laymon’s short stories. I’ll be the first in line with cash in hand.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Cindy Baines is a cute girl. She is the daughter of less than accomplished parents—her mother is a drinker, and her dad is a fundamentalist whack. They live in a trailer on the wrong side of town, but despite everything she seems to have a bright future. She is intelligent, beautiful, and very well liked. Unfortunately she is also the target of a demented serial killer.

When Cindy disappears the community is in near panic; Cindy isn’t the first girl to disappear and everyone is afraid she won’t be the last. There is a heavy load of pressure placed on the police department—particularly its small detective bureau—to find the girl and stop the killer. The detectives assigned to the case all have their own problems. Two of them are former lovers, and the third drinks too much and is a little crazy.

The Midnight Room isn’t a typical serial killer novel. The killer is revealed early in the story—the second chapter—and its focus is less on the killer and more on the drama that plays between the detectives, their work, and their families. It’s important to stress that it isn’t a drama. It’s very much in the crime noir form and Mr Gorman uses the tropes and expectations to develop the dark, sharp and poignant struggle of good and evil that rages in his characters, just as it rages in us all.

The characters are varied and well created—none are completely good and none are completely bad. Two of the detectives are brothers—Steve and Michael Scanlon. The older is their father’s favorite, but he has never been quite right. He wants everything fast and easy, while the younger is the more dependable, but underappreciated, son and detective. The story whirls around the two in a frenzy of misfortune, bad choices, and plain bad luck.

There is also a street tough ex-con named Leo Rice who is out for revenge. Steve Scanlon killed his brother while on the beat a few years back and now Leo wants his pound. Rice is the perfect street tough. He is hard, violent and stupid, all in one pure mixture. Add to that the serial killer, an aging father, a tough female detective and a missing girl who are all starkly vivid in Gorman’s deceptively simple prose, and you have a story that is vibrant and true.

The Midnight Room is a terrific lean and hard crime thriller. Its roots are deep in the hardboiled and noir genres, but it is nothing less than original. The characters and its dark vision of an unfair world raise it well beyond the expected, and in the end it’s the very bitter dark that offers redemption for both the characters and the reader.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Greg Brown

It's been about ten years since I first heard the lyrics and voice of Greg Brown. It was one Saturday evening at work, he was a guest on public radio's Prairie Home Companion. He sang a stirring song titled "Rexroth's Daughter," inspired by the poet, scholar and the so called "father of the Beats". I was instantly hooked and his music is never very far away.

Greg sings about rural America in a poignant, melancholy, and joyous manner. He is a singer and songwriter that needs to be experienced. I really like his are a few selections I found on YouTube--the first two are videos cut together by fans and the third--"Rexroth's Daughter" performed lived several years ago.


Friday, June 19, 2009

"The King of Horror" by Stephen Mertz

Rigley Balbo is a washed up horror writer. He drinks to much and blames everyone else for his problems—he knows that his career is stalled because the publishing industry blacklisted him, and he is envious as hell of the new crop of bestselling horror writers who don’t even have the decency to mention his name in the press—

“I’m the greatest horror writer who ever lived.

“The tragedy—for me as a professional writer, for you as a reader—is that, more than likely, you’ve never heard of me.

“You’ve heard of Stephen King. You’ve heard of Clive Barker. You’ve heard of Dean R. Koontz. Pretenders to throne, every one of them, and there are too many others like them. Talented pygmies in a land once ruled by giants like Poe, Lovecraft, Derleth, Bloch.”

Rig is a fading icon; more faded than fading in fact, but he has one last surprise story to tell his few remaining fans. One last tale to tell the world, and this story will be sweeter for the anonymity he will tell it from. He doesn’t mind that no one will know who the storyteller is; all he cares is that the story gets told.

“The King of Horror” is a smooth story that straddles the line somewhere between horror—the very idea of it!—and crime. It is fastened together with a straightforward narrative and a solid, literate and hard prose. It is told in first person and the narrator—Rig Balbo—is the perfect tour guide. He reveals the story to the reader in small bites; his angst, envy, fear and hate carefully guarded and concealed until the perfect moment of revelation.

Then there is the climax. It is perfect: ideal in its simple logic. It has the ring of truth. A touch of the twisted and unfair world we live, and maybe just a little justice.

“The King of Horror” is a sneaky and well-told piece of fiction. It is worth searching a few dusty old used bookshops for, or skulking across the pristine ether to find.

“The King of Horror” was published in the 1995 anthology Murder is My Business, edited by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins. It also contains stories by Lawrence Block, Warren Murphy, Mickey Spillane and Ed Gorman, among many others.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Four James Garner Movies I Didn't Know Existed

I've been watching James Garner--mostly on television--for a decade or more and while I was cruising the Internet I bumped into four titles--with trailers currently available--that I was unfamiliar with. It's probably no coincidence that these were all released before I was born.

1970. A Man Called Sledge. This is James Garner Spaghetti Western. It also starred Dennis Weaver and it was directed by Vic Morrow. It really looks pretty great.

1966. Marlowe is based on Raymond Chandler's novel The Little Sister. James Garner plays the legendary Philip Marlowe in a less than conventional manner. I'm still not convinced this is Jim Rockford.

1960. Cash McCall. This appears to be a romantic comedy. It was based on a novel by Cameron Hawley and it co-stars a young Natalie Wood.

1959. Up Periscope. This film was based on a novel written by Robb White and it stars James "Maverick" Garner. It looks great.

Monday, June 15, 2009

New Anthology: SON OF RETRO PULP

There is a new anthology edited by Joe R. Lansdale from Subterranean Press titled Son of Retro Pulp. It is an extension of the Lansdale edited Retro Pulp anthology issued by Subterranean Press in 2006. Son of Retro Pulp includes stories by a bevy of very impressive authors including Harlan Ellison, Christopher Golden, David J. Schow, William F. Nolan, James Grady, Stephen Mertz and Joe Lansdale.

The cover art is terrific and while it is a little pricey--suggested retail price is $40--it can be had on Amazon at a startling discount price of $26.40. Not bad. Although with the authors included it is probably worth getting at either price. It is set to be released at the end of June.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I was first introduced to Jim Rockford in the late-1980s—the original Rockford Files was ran in syndication on a local television station—but I really didn’t “get” it until the mid-1990s (I was older and presumably wiser, although that is arguable) when several television movies were aired on network television. James Garner portrayed an older Rockford who had lost his father Rocky, and while the movies didn’t have the same freshness and forward momentum as the series, they were still pretty damn good. They focused on the favorites of the series: Beth and Angel and Dennis Becker were all there, as was Rockford: older and wiser with knees that barely allowed him to walk let alone run.

I recently read a Rockford novel written by Stuart M. Kaminsky that was released about the same time as the television movies—1996—titled The Rockford Files: The Green Bottle. It was a real treat. It is pure Rockford, but it also has the benefit of delving into the psyche and humanity of Rockford. In short, it is a novel that anyone who likes the old television series should take the time to find and read. It isn’t a hastily put together tie-in novel, but rather it is a novel that just happens to feature Jim Rockford in the same world he inhabited in both the series and the movies.

The novel opens with Rockford staking out a boat in Santa Monica. He was hired to retrieve a Chinese bottle that was stolen from a collector. It is raining and Rockford feels less than excited about his position—

“I was definitely soaked down to my underwear. I was definitely seasick. I was definitely not in a good mood.”

He makes the recovery in short order, but the job leads him to another job that is more serious and strangely linked to the little green Chinese bottle. He is hired by a surgeon to find his niece, a teenage girl who came out from Arkansas to find fame in Hollywood. She has been gone for several days; she left a note that a producer was taking her under his wing, but while she is a beautiful girl, she is an abysmal actress. The uncle asks Rockford to find her, and in exchange, he will perform surgery on Rockford’s knees at no charge.

The job turns out to be more complicated than it seems. It leads Rockford down a dangerous path that finds him accused of murder, and into the strange world of Chinese glass bottle collectors—in short, it is vintage Rockford.

The Rockford Files: The Green Bottle is a brilliant translation of the television series into novel format. It envelopes the character with precision—Rockford is stubborn, humorous and always put-upon. He ends up in trouble at every turn, and also never seems to get paid. A problem he seemingly deals with a lot. Angel has a large role in the novel, and he adds the needed oddity and humor to the story. Becker is also there, as is Captain Diehl and Beth Davenport. As well as Rocky, not as an on-stage character, but his memory and style lingers in Rockford’s life like a shadow.

The story is sharp and unique. It stands well as part of the series, but it also plays well on its own. It is a private detective story with style and punch. It will satisfy the most ardent Rockford fan as well as the passing fan and the reader who doesn’t know Jim Rockford from Miss Marple. In short, The Green Bottle is one terrific read that captures the spirit and nature of the series while expanding it into something that is totally original. It is exactly what a quality tie-in should be—familiar yet new and exciting.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Game of Four

Four movies you would watch over and over again:

Man on Fire
Storm of the Century (A mini-series, but who's keeping track?)
Funny Farm

Four places you have lived:

Salt Lake City, UT
Branford, CT
Sandy, UT
Cedar City, UT

Four TV shows you love to watch:

Nowhere Man
The Rockford Files
The X-Files
30 Rock

Four places you have been on vacation:

Orlando, FL
Seattle, WA
Washington, D.C.
Death Valley / Mojave Desert, CA

Four of your favorite foods:

Shepherd's Pie

Four Web sites you visit daily
(so many more...)

Rough Edges
New Improved Gorman
Visual Ramblings

Four places you would rather be right now:

The library
Hiking in the desert
A bookstore
A road trip

Four things you want to do before you die:

Scuba dive
Visit Machu Picchu
A train trip across Europe
Visit Madagascar

Four books you wish you could read again for the first time:

The Stand by Stephen King
Breakfast at Wimbledon by Jack M. Bickham
The Last of the Breed by Louis L'Amour
In the Dark by Richard Laymon

Tag four people you think will respond:

Anyone can play on my dime.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


I found the film version of Violent Saturday over at Hulu--there are some differences between it and the novel--and I thought I would see how Hulu's embedding option works. It's pretty small, but if you click the screen, once the actual film has started, it will take you to the Hulu site where you can expand it to full screen.

There are a few commercials, but not many.

Monday, June 08, 2009

AFRAID by Jack Kilborn

Safe Haven, Wisconsin is a small town that likes it privacy. It chose, years ago, to forgo the economic benefits of tourism in favor of the peaceful and quiet existence of rural life. The town only has one major road, and a County Sheriff who patrols on a part-time basis. Unfortunately the peace and tranquility of Safe Haven explode in an instant one crisp autumn night when a helicopter crashes and explodes near the town.

The local volunteer fire department responds, as does the County Sheriff, but neither of the entities is prepared for what has been unleashed on Safe Haven. The town is quickly shutdown—roadblocks at each end of town—and a group of raving killers is set loose on the populace. The novel opens with the slow and painful torture of an elderly couple and swiftly moves between several characters, including the Sheriff, the firefighters, an old woman and a young boy, a waitress, a scientist and his pet monkey, an eccentric old crook, and the killers.

Afraid is an explosion of a novel. It opens hard and fast, and never lets up. The plot is crisp, and what it lacks in believability, it makes up for in taut and forward-looking action and suspense. The characters are well-drawn and fulfill their roles, within the story, with precision. The prose is straight forward and literate in a thriller sense—

“Streng wrapped his fingers around her wrist, and for a moment his body stretched between Ajax and his cousin’s wife. Then the giant jerked hard, breaking Streng’s grip, making his face skip across the rug and causing a friction burn on his cheek. He was hauled into the hallway, past the staircase—so close yet so out of reach—and into Sal’s bedroom, where Ajax lifted him by his leg and held him upside down like a little girl’s doll.

The strength of the novel is its ability to envelope the reader with its pacing, action, and terror. The bad guys are worse than one can imagine, and the good guys are seemingly doomed without hope of redemption or rescue. It is reminiscent of 1980s and 1990s Dean Koontz—it particularly reminded me of Koontz’s Dark Rivers of the Heart. It also has more than a semblance of the work of Richard Laymon, less the sex.

Afraid is a novel that will appeal to anyone who likes stories with a high measure of action and a quick and tricky plot. It is a throw back in the horror-thriller genre, in that the writing is tight and there is not an ounce of padding. It is pure action and suspense, and more fun than two modern thrillers combined.

A NOTE. Jack Kilborn is a pseudonym for J.A. Konrath. Konrath is the author of the Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels mystery novels.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Five Philip K. Dick Trailers

I'm probably not unique--at least for my generation--to have been introduced to the work of Philip K. Dick through the films his work inspired. I remember being mesmerized by Blade Runner in the late-1980s--I watched it on VHS. I enjoyed it enough to seek Dick's work, both his short stories and novels, out to read. I have spent hours between on the pages of the worlds he created. I've also enjoyed many of the films made from his work, especially the recent release of A Scanner Darkly, the aforementioned Blade Runner, Impostor, and Screamers.

Blade Runner

Total Recall



A Scanner Darkly

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


It’s not often the old phrase, “They don’t write’em like they used to” is accurate, at least not as a positive notion, but W.L. Heath’s Violent Saturday is just such a novel. It is the type of novel you don’t see much of anymore, or more likely, the type of novel that has always been rare. It straddles the line between thriller and literature like a lighted tunnel between heaven and hell. It is a violent novel that has all of the assets of a well-crafted thriller, but it adds the deliberate pace, the characters, and the illumination of a well-rendered piece of art.

Violent Saturday is the story of the small southern town of Morgan, Alabama. It opens with the arrival of three strangers—three men who wouldn’t be noticed except there are three of them and they are obviously traveling together. The men arrive into town quietly, but they have sinister plans to execute before they make a hasty and very loud and violent exit. The plan: rob the local bank and retreat back to Memphis with the cash. The set-up is seemingly simple and very much within the parameters of a streamlined and linear hardboiled thriller, but Mr Heath does something unique and almost magical with the story. He takes the emphasis away from the criminals and instead focuses the story on the town and its inhabitants.

He examines, with a rough and steady hand, the lives of the men and women who populate Morgan. He pans across the socio-economic reality of the 1950s American South; from the country club set, to the working class, to the lower classes of both black and white. The images are vibrant and subtle with a subtext that is cached with hard and damned uncomfortable truths—his portrayal of the black is uncompromising and harsh in both their status as the underclass and their seeming invisibility within the culture. He also digs into the dogma of status and class with a quiet and grim portrayal of the fallen—the families that once where something, but are now no more than forgotten town litter. It feels a little like Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.

This isn’t to mean that Violent Saturday is without plot, but rather Mr Heath fused a heap of meaning into the premise of a hardboiled thriller. He muscled the story with a crisp and literate style. The dialogue is true and, at times, nearly beautiful in its simple and truthful sounds—

“With who?”
whom darling.”
“All right, with whom, then.”
“With myself. I needed some air.”
“Bill Clayton must have needed some too.”
“Really? I wouldn’t know about that.”

“He was with you.”
“No, he wasn’t.”
“That’s a lie.”

* * *

“Hey, you in there.”
“Come on in!” Shelley called.

Another silence.
“Throw the key out to us and we’ll leave you alone.”
I bet, Shelley thought.
“You hear us?”
“Yeah, I hear you.”
“We’re coming in after it, if you don’t throw it out!”
“Come ahead! I got it right here in my hand.”

Violent Saturday is a helluva a novel and it will appeal to both the reader of thrillers as well as a more literary set—it has the story to satisfy the first and the meaning and depth to satisfy the later. The best part is it does what literature should. It shines a light on the human condition while telling a terrifically entertaining and vibrant story.

A NOTE. Violent Saturday was originally published in 1955 and made into a feature film starring Victor Mature, Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin. It was directed by Richard Fleischer. The original Black Lizard books republished it in 1985 in mass market with a wonderfully insightful Introduction by Ed Gorman.

Monday, June 01, 2009

"Early Fire" by Stephen Mertz

This is a review that I originally wrote about a year ago, but I've been re-reading some of the old original The Executioner stories and so I decided to dust this one off. It was written by one of the original writers, one of the first after Pendleton stopped writing the books, and also one of the better writers.

"Early Fire" is a novella length Mack Bolan story that appeared in the back of Bolan spinoff Able Team #10: Royal Flush. It spans the last 40 pages of the book and is sub-titled: Deep background on Able Team's mentor, featuring Mack Bolan in Vietnam. It is a prequel to The Executioner action series created by Don Pendleton and it illuminates Bolan's beginnings as a soldier in Vietnam.

The story opens with the executioner returning from a mission with Sniper Team Able—the gents who would later populate the Able Team books and later still the Stony Man novels. When Bolan walks into camp he is immediately summoned by his commanding officer Colonel Crawford. His new assignment: Protect the beautiful, fiery and antagonistic reporter Jill Desmond who wants "to find out the truth about this war…[and] not the white-washed official version…" It doesn't take long for Desmond to find a heap of trouble and it takes everything Bolan has to remove her from harm's way.

"Early Fire" represents everything good about The Executioner series—the writing is quick, the action intense, the prose stark and hard, and the characterization heroic and strong. Bolan is an archetypal hero—he is larger than life, wholesome, competent, clever, and confident to the extreme. A hero's hero really; the type of guy we all want to be.