Sunday, September 27, 2015

Available Now: "The Marilyn Tapes"

Ed Gorman’s writing is strong, fast and sleek as a bullet. He is one of the best.
—Dean Koontz

Ed Gorman’s The Marilyn Tapes was released as a hardcover in 1995 by Tor / Forge.

Marilyn Monroe is dead but she left behind tape recordings that reveal every moment of her rendezvous with President John F. Kennedy and with his brother Robert. Now the tapes are missing and everyone from the Mafia to J. Edgar Hoover to the Kennedy family wants them.

The Marilyn Tapes is a crime novel saturated with period detail, and haunted by Marilyn Monroe. A Marilyn that never appears on page, and a Marilyn who no one really knew. It is thoroughly researched, beautifully written, and wonderfully readable.  

The Marilyn Tapes has been favorably compared with the writing of Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy’s American Tabloid. It should have been a bestseller when it was first released and, now, its second chance, and yours, has arrived—

Buy it. Read it. And Rate it (on Amazon).

Praise for The Marilyn Tapes:

“The flip side of James Ellroy's justly acclaimed American Tabloid and equally as powerful.” —London's Sunday Time Out

“A fast paced tale of treachery and murder...the story ricochets off sociopathic games in high places.” —Publisher's Weekly

“A fascinating and suspenseful novel on a grand scale.” —The Drood Review

“A striking combination of Tom Clancy''s political thrillers and Elmore Leonard's hypnotically sassy novels of America's mean streets.” —Interzone (London)

“A powerful and indelible portrait of Marilyn Monroe even though Gorman never brings her on stage.” —Baker and Taylor

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Point Blank" and "Killtown"

In the early-1970s Berkley Medallion published several of Richard Stark’s Parker novels dressed up as a men’s adventure series. The series was called: The Violent World of Parker. Each novel was numbered; the numbering had no relationship to the original publication order. The first in the series was Slayground, which was the fourteenth printed, and the second in the series was Point Black, which, under the title The Hunter, was the first to feature professional thief Parker. The covers are very much like the men’s adventure series published in the 1970s—explosions, shootings, guns and knives. Two of my favorites, as far as cover art, are Point Blank, and Killtown (originally published as The Score). The artist: Lou Feck.    

The opening paragraph of Point Blank:

“When a fresh-faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell. The guy said, ‘Screw you, buddy,’ yanked his Chevy back into the stream of traffic, and roared on down the tollbooths. Parker spat in the right-hand lane, lit hislast cigarette, and walked across the George Washington Bridge.”

The opening paragraph of Killtown:

“When the bellboy left, Parker went over to the house phone and made his call. He gave the operator downstairs the number he wanted, and waited while the phone clicked and ticked and snicked in his ear. He was feeling impatient, and he was about to go downstairs and put in the call from a pay phone when all the clicking finally quit and a ringing sound started instead.”

Sunday, September 20, 2015

OVERHEAD by Jack M. Bickham

Overhead is the third novel featuring Brad Smith. It was published in 1991 by Tor, and it is something of a transitional novel in the series. It is longer than the first two—as are the three that follow—and it permanently moves Brad from Richardson, Texas to the fictional Elk City, Montana.

Brad’s old tennis pal, Ted Treacher—who helped Danisa escape Yugoslavia in Tiebreaker—purchased a tennis and golf resort outside of Elk City. There is local opposition, and he is leveraged to the eyeballs. Ted wants Brad’s help to set up a small professional tournament. He has $60,000 purse money and the tournament would bring welcome publicity. Collie wants Brad to do some snooping while he is there. A civilian employee of a nearby Air Force research facility was caught removing classified data, but murdered before she could talk. The FBI thinks the Soviets are behind both spying and murder. It also thinks the killer is Brad’s old nemesis Sylvester. A little loyalty—to Ted, mostly—and a quarrel with the new head tennis pro at the resort Brad works, persuades him to load his Bronco and go to Montana.

Overhead is the weakest of the Brad Smith novels. It is longer than the first two, and several subplots run through its length; specifically, a corporate corruption scandal and an unexplained high rate of child death in Elk City. It is busy, and all of the intrigue distracts from the main focus of the novel—Brad’s and Sylvester’s ever growing annoyance with each other. It isn’t a bad novel at all, but it isn’t quite as good as the other novels in the series.

The good stuff is the setting, characters, and suspense. Mr. Bickham develops the cloying small town atmosphere of Elk City nicely, and does an even better job with the resort. The characters are never without believable motivation. There is the bully-psychopath Elk City cop, Ted who is falling apart under the financial pressure of the resort, Ardis Allen, a cutthroat businesswoman, Sylvester, and Brad. It is also structured to achieve a high level of suspense. It is written in first—Brad’s perspective—and third person, and the alternating perspective allows the author to prolong suspenseful scenes across more than one chapter (and it works very well).

There is also a nice touch of social commentary, and something about the human experience. My favorite—

“Hemingway liked to talk about how life sometimes bent people, sometimes in such a way that they healed and went on, stronger because of the hurt. He said life sometimes broke people, too. But he never really came to terms with that. Maybe he couldn’t. Maybe at the very end Hemingway understood being truly broken, beyond healing, and that was why he went down to the hallway that fine sunny morning outside of Ketchum and put both barrels of the shotgun to his forehead, just above the eyes, and pulled both triggers.”

Overhead may not be the best of Jack Bickham’s Brad Smith novels, but it is still an exciting, entertaining, and very worthwhile read.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Something New

I’m trying something new. It is something I’ve been thinking about for a few months—I’m always a little slow off the line. What is it? A Gravetapping Facebook page. It is a companion to the blog featuring links to articles on the web, television and movie trailers, comments, and anything else I find interesting that fits somewhere in the vast entertainment category.

So do me a favor. A little one, but a favor nonetheless and visit Facebook and “Like” Gravetgapping’s new sister site.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Publicity Push: The Robert Payne Novels

Ed Gorman is the definition of a professional writer. He has written dozens of novels in several genres—mystery, western, science fiction. His work has earned him The Eye for lifetime achievement from the Private Eye Writer’s Association, an Anthony, a Spur, and the International Writers Award.

In 1994 Mr. Gorman introduced a series character named Robert Payne—former FBI psychological profiler turned consultant—in Blood Moon. The series ran four books; each set in Iowa. Click the title of each book to be taken to its Amazon page.

“Crime writing veteran Gorman…evokes the closed-in atmosphere of small towns in this promising series launch that features modern psychological crime fighting by a winning detective.” –Publishers Weekly on Blood Moon

“Payne belongs to the hard-boiled detective school, but Gorman gives him an appealing softer side by detailing his loving relationship with live-in girlfriend Felice, by showing his attention to a young girl with cerebral palsy and by examining his ambivalent feelings for his dying stepfather. The prolific Gorman delivers another smooth page-turner with top-notch mystery production values.” –Publishers Weekly on Harlot’s Moon

Publisher’s description. Former FBI agent and psychological profiler Robert Payne is on the trail of a serial killer. A 12 year old girl has been murdered and mutilated, and the detective assigned to the case wound up dead. Now Nora Conners, the girl's wealthy mother, has hired Payne to solve the murder and bring closure. After narrowing his search to three men, a televangelist, a honey salesman, and an art teacher, all living in the small Iowa town of New Hope, Payne begins to narrow the field, posing as a journalist. That's just the start. As the daughter of one of the suspects joins the list of victims, and the woman who hired him is murdered, Payne finds himself on a race to solve the case before he himself is implicated.

First paragraph. First day of incarceration, there’s a killing.

Hawk Moon

Publisher’s description. Two beautiful Indian women are found dead with their noses cut off—an old Indian practice to punish infidelity—in this suspenseful second mystery by best-selling author Ed Gorman. The mutilation murders stun the quiet Iowa town of Cedar Rapids and call for the special skills of criminal psychologist Robert Payne, who uses clues from the crime scene to piece together a psychological portrait of the killer. The prime suspect is another Indian, David Rhodes, who is estranged from his wife, police detective Cindy Rhodes—and the woman with whom Payne is starting to fall in love.

First paragraph. Anna Tolan was helping her father shear sheep when she heard the woman’s cry on the wind across the cornfield.  

Publisher’s description. Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A Catholic priest has been found half-naked and dead in a seedy motel room, with his tongue cut out. Ex-FBI profiler Robert Payne has been called in to investigate by his childhood friend Steve Gray, now a monsignor. With a fund-raising drive coming up, Steve wants to squelch a scandal. But all the signs point to unholy doings in the tightly knit parish.

Why did the pugnacious president of the Parish Board remove a gold earring from the scene of the crime? Was his beautiful blonde wife doing more than confessing to the profligate priest? And why was the dead priest hoarding newspaper stories about two other brutal murders? As Payne examines the evidence and pieces together the profile of a subtle and devious killer, it's clear that there will be hell to pay—with no end in sight...

First paragraph. So one night when she’s thirteen, Tawanna decides to give it a try for herself. She waits till after eight, till her mother’s done some dope and is sleeping in the bedroom.

Publisher’s description. Twenty-five years ago, in a small Iowa town, an asylum for the criminally insane burned to the ground, killing inmates and employees. The fire was set by Paul Renard, a sexual psychopath who escaped the blaze and disappeared. Today young Ricky Hennessey faces murder charges in the death of his girlfriend. His defense: Paul Renard did it. Legal investigator Robert Payne joins the case at the request of Tandy West, a cable TV psychic and Payne's former lover. She’s doing a piece on the Hennessey case for her show but has begun to question her gift and feels the need for Payne’s reality-based investigatory skills. With the assistance of the local police chief, Susan Charles, Payne learns that the past has invaded the future in a most unexpected way.

First paragraph. Way up here, at certain times of year, you can sometimes hear them screaming, more than twenty people who died in the asylum fire over thirty years ago.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

My Reviews Elsewhere: "The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes"

My review of Lawrence Block’s forthcoming novel The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes is available at Ed Gorman’s blog. The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes is nicely plotted, very erotic (not for the sexually squeamish) noir novel with a twist to the recipe.

Read the review, and the read the book.

Purchase a copy of The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes at Amazon. As of this moment Amazon has the hardcover available for $12.64,

Sunday, September 13, 2015

No Comment: "Nowhere to Run"

“He had spent most of that evening in the lounge of the Hotel El Presidente, drinking and playing liar’s poker with a couple of his pals. They had gambled with one-hundred-peso notes and Harry had lost about forty dollars. Not much money, but enough to sour his mood a little; he had never learned how to accept losing, hated it, regarded it as a little death—every time you lost, whether a dime or an argument or what the Asians call face, a chip was taken out of your self-esteem and you entered the next contest with that much less confidence. Losing was an accumulative poison like lead or arsenic; small doses did not appear to cause much harm, but they collected and in time…”

—Ron Faust, Nowhere to Run. Turner Publishing Company TPB, 2013 (© 1981). Page 161. “He” is Harry Rudd, a wealthy former automobile broker. The protagonist, David Rhodes, finds Harry at his Mexican estate. A gun in one hand, a drink in the other.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

DROPSHOT by Jack M. Bickham

Dropshot is Jack Bickham’s second novel featuring Brad Smith. It was published in 1990 by Tor, and it is one of the best titles in the series. It opens with Brad in a crazy grief; his wife, Danisa, died in a plane crash, and Brad has little to live for. He is doing leather work trying to forget, struggling to keep sanity enough to muddle through his zombie-like days. On an October afternoon he receives an invitation to Al Hesser’s Tennis College in St. Maarten—free room and board with no strings attached. Brad files it in the “too hard” category, and immediately throws it out.

A few days later Collie Davis, Brad’s CIA contact, arrives in Richardson. Collie wants Brad to accept the invitation and snoop around the resort. Brad rejects the idea outright. As he does again when his old friend and doubles partner Pat Reilly asks Brad to accompany him to the island. A decision Brad later regrets because Pat dies in a suspicious scuba accident after sending Brad a desperate letter and a signature card for bank safe deposit box. Brad goes to St. Maarten—off the radar of both the CIA and the tennis resort—to investigate Pat’s death. What he finds is much larger and more dangerous than he expected.

Dropshot is a clever, twisty suspense novel. One of its major themes is death. Brad’s wife is only one of the ghosts, and there are some powerful moments. An example is an early scene when two tennis hackers are preparing for a charity tournament, and one of the men tells Brad his wife died of cancer—

“There are times like that when you want to say you notice. I’ve never known how to say it in a way that will make sense. We walk around, making our social noises, and occasionally someone opens the shutters over his eyes and we see that glimpse, that we share something crucial. But it always seems to come out wrong, and everyone ends up being embarrassed, or mystified. And so we don’t try to say it.”   

It is also a novel of recovery. The investigation breaks Brad’s grief, and a new woman enters his life. But most importantly it is exciting, suspenseful, and exotic. There are a handful of distasteful villains including Sylvester—who acts as Brad’s Moriarty in three of the novels. There are also several well-designed characters; a predatory nymph, an overextended resort owner, an angry teenager whose body as outgrown his emotions, a gambling computer programmer. The plot is devised perfectly. There are seemingly small, almost inconsequential moments that payoff big in later chapters.

Dropshot is a cold war novel and it has held up well since its publication 25 years ago. The reason has less to do with the plot and setting than it does with Brad Smith’s narration. He is sympathetic, tough when he needs to be, and a proclaimed coward. He has a realistic view of the CIA—a necessary evil—and he is likable as hell.          

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Warren Murphy, R. I. P.

It was announced Saturday, September 5, that author Warren Murphy died. Mr. Murphy was a talented novelist who brought hours and hours of enjoyment to me through his work. He co-created the outlandishly successful The Destroyer series, the brilliant Trace novels, and a bunch of straight suspense thrillers in the 1980s and 1990s. I am particularly fond of his suspense novels. The best was probably The Grandmaster (1984), which won the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

A handful of years ago I read several of Mr. Murphy’s suspense novels, and even wrote a few reviews. In his memory, and since there is nothing else I can do, I am going back in time to the reviews I wrote for four of his novels (click the titles and you will be taken to the review).

I just may go back to his work as well; maybe read a few of his Trace novels, and revisit Grandmaster.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Publicity Push: Mark Coggins' August Riordan Novels

Mark Coggins is a crime novelist who writes mysteries because “of [his] admiration for the work of Raymond Chandler.” His novel, The Immortal Game, the first to feature hardboiled private eye August Riordan, was selected as a top ten crime novel of the year by both the San Francisco Chronicle and Detroit Free Press. There have been five additional August Riordan novels published, and the most recent, No Hard Feelings, is available now.

Mr. Coggins writing, and the August Riordan series, have received critical praise—

“This third outing for Coggins’s private investigator August Riordan proves him a worthy successor to the iconic Sam Spade…[A] volume that fits comfortably alongside those of Hammett and Chandler. Highly recommended.”  —Library Journal on Candy from Strangers

“Riordan's deadly cat-and-mouse game involves surviving both the murderous intentions of members of Argentina's ruling class and the seductive advances of some beautiful Latin American women. First-person narrative, first-class yarn.” —Booklist review on The Big Wake-Up

The August Riordan novels are below—if you click the title you will be transported to each book’s Amazon page—with the publisher’s brief description and the first paragraph from each novel.

Publisher’s description: When the world's most innovative computer chess software is stolen, wisecracking, jazz bass-playing PI August Riordan is hired to find it.

Sifting through a San Francisco peopled with bruising, ex-NFL henchmen, transvestite techno geeks, and alluring, drug-addicted dominatrices, Riordan has got his work cut out for him.
But with a smart-ass attitude like Riordan's, nothing is easy ...

First paragraph: The left front tire of my battered Ford Galaxie jolted into a pothole, and the last of my factory hubcaps popped off and went rolling down the slope behind me. I slowed the car to a stop and watched in the rear view mirror as the hubcap hit the shoulder of the road and bounced into the brush below. I had planned to use the hubcap with my silver tea service as a crumpet tray, but I could see now those plans were kaput.

Publisher’s description: When venture capitalist Ted Valmont is belatedly informed that the Chief Scientist of NeuroStimix--a biotech firm in which he has invested--is missing, it's not just business, it's personal. Not only is the scientist an old school chum, but his disappearance jeopardizes the development of NeuroStimix's most important product: a device intended to aid spinal cord injury victims. Since Valmont's twin brother, Tim, was paralyzed in a college diving accident, finding the scientist and getting him back into harness is of the utmost importance to both brothers.

Valmont engages August Riordan to assist in the search and the men soon discover that the disappearance is part of a larger conspiracy to use NeuroStimix technology for perverse applications. And when a beautiful, mysterious young woman comes onto the scene, it's impossible to say whether the technology will provide the ultimate means to save them all or be the catalyst for tortuous, self-inflicted deaths…

First paragraph: KTVC was the station. Amelia Crenshaw was the reporter. Her producer, cameraman and the station van were arrayed along the narrow shoulder of Highway 280 while Amelia, microphone in hand, did a stand-up with the exit sign for Sand Hill Road looming behind her.

Publisher’s description:  Caroline Stockwell has a secret: she and her best friend Monica are “cam girls.”

Soliciting cash donations and gifts via wish lists from anonymous admirers, the young women have put up a web site featuring still photographs, video and blogs to help pay their way through art college. But when Caroline goes missing and her mother Ellen engages jazz bass-playing PI August Riordan to find her, Riordan discovers her secret and it appears to everyone that someone she met through the web site is responsible for her disappearance.

Set against the real-world backdrop of Internet predators using social networking sites like Facebook to find and ensnare their victims, Candy from Strangers is the first novel to explore the phenomenon of teenagers and young adults displaying themselves online in exchange for material favors—often without their parents' knowledge—which some are calling the newest form of prostitution.

First paragraph: When Henry Glover wrote It Ain’t the Meat (It’s the Motion) in 1952 for the King Records R&B group The Swallows, I’m sure he never anticipated the trouble it would cause. The Swallows had made a modest hit of the song, but the risqué lyrics and the fact that white kids weren’t buying many records from black groups limited its play. It took Chris Duckworth belting it half-century later to really do some damage.


Publisher’s description: August Riordan—private investigator, jazz bass player, smart ass with a foolish heart—is going to find out. He's been hired by Leonora Lee, the all-powerful “Dragon Lady” of San Francisco's Chinatown, to investigate the results of the city's recent mayoral election. It seems the Dragon Lady's candidate failed to even carry the Chinese precincts, and she's convinced that someone must have rigged the outcome by hacking the city's newly installed touch-screen voting machines.

A runoff between the two remaining candidates is days away, but it takes Riordan mere hours to find the Director of Elections dead in his office. A visit to the offices of Columbia Voting Systems—the suppliers of the city's touch-screen machines—results in another corpse. A wide range of political interests share a stake in the election, so Riordan's got plenty of suspects.

First paragraph: I shouldn’t have been surprised when the backhoe materialized out of the Chinatown fog, ran onto the sidewalk and took out a column supporting the pagoda roof of the Bank of Canton. But I was.

Publisher’s description: The odyssey of María Eva Duarte de Perón—the Argentine first lady made famous in the play and the movie Evita—was as remarkable in death as it was in life. A few years after she succumbed to cervical cancer, her specially preserved body was taken by the military dictatorship that succeeded her deposed husband Juan. Hidden for sixteen years in Italy in a crypt under a false name, she was eventually exhumed and returned to Buenos Aires to be buried in an underground tomb said to be secure enough to withstand a nuclear attack.

Or was she?

When San Francisco private eye August Riordan engages in a flirtation with a beautiful university student from Buenos Aires, he witnesses her death in a tragic shooting and is drawn into mad hunt for Evita's remains. He needs all of his wits, his network of friends and associates, and an unexpected legacy from the dead father he has never known to help him survive the deadly intrigue between powerful Argentine movers and shakers, ex-military men, and a mysterious woman named Isis who is expert in ancient techniques of mummification.

First paragraph: ‘Are you hoping for a souvenir or checking to see if they’re your size?’

Publisher’s description:  Winnie doesn’t remember the last time she felt anything below her neck. Her spine is severed at the seventh vertebrae, but thanks to implants from a sabotaged biomedical start-up, she has regained mobility. She is a prototype: a living, breathing—walking—demonstration of revolutionary technology that never made it to market.

Her disability has become her armor. Because she doesn’t register fatigue, she has trained relentlessly. Her hand, arm, and leg strength are off the scales for a woman, and she has honed self-defense techniques to channel that strength. She’s a modern-day Amazon who feels no pain.

When the sociopath who torpedoed the start-up sends killers to harvest the implants from her body, Winnie must team up with broken-down private investigator August Riordan to save both their lives—and derail sinister plans for perverse military applications of the technology.

First paragraph: When she got to San Francisco and found that August Riordan wasn’t there, she decided to kill herself. She took a cab from downtown to the Presidio and walked out on the Golden Gate Bridge. She went past the historical marker placed by the Native Sons of the Golden West, past the section of the walkway bordered by a chain-link fence, and onto the part where the only barrier between pedestrians and a two-hundred-fifty-foot drop was a chest-high railing.