Wednesday, April 14, 2021
There’s a mystery, too, that is rife with Cold War paranoia. The paranoia reflects the attitude of the American society in the 1950s: Everything’s great! Except we’re all going to die (figuratively through communist assimilation and literally with the hydrogen bomb). But it’s the humanity Matheson uncovers that provides the power and longevity of the work and the great thing about A Stir of Echoes is, it can be read as illuminative literature or as a straight horror novel, and even better, as both.
Thursday, April 08, 2021
My companion to the late-Jack Bickham’s novels, titled Killers, Crooks & Spies: Jack Bickham’s Fiction, is coming out next Tuesday, April 13. Bickham wrote in every popular genre, except horror and romance (although he did write a few “sleaze” novels for Midwood that may be a touch romantic). He started in Westerns in 1958, and finished with a posthumously published traditional mystery in 1998. Bickham wrote The Apple Dumpling Gang, which Disney translated into a 1975 box office hit. He wrote six espionage thrillers, featuring aging tennis pro Brad Smith, and so much more.
Killers, Crooks & Spies includes a brief overview of Bickham’s life. A detailed look at his writing career, including articles about his significant books, series, and publishers. There is a bibliography, and a bunch of book reviews.
Here is a snippet from the Introduction:
Breakfast at Wimbledon was my first experience with Jack Bickham’s writing. I purchased the paperback on a rainy summer afternoon in 1992. I was in my teens, lonely and scared, as my mother battled a cancer that would kill her in less than two years. I escaped this bleak reality by slipping between the covers of books. I traveled the world with the superhero-like characters populating the thrillers of David Morrell, Jack Higgins, and Tom Clancy, and with philosophical outsiders like Travis McGee.
The cover blurb comparing Breakfast at Wimbledon with one of my favorite writers— “Jack M. Bickham is doing for professional tennis what Dick Francis has done for horse racing.” —encouraged a closer look. Those first few paragraphs bounced off the page. I walked out of the store five minutes later with a new book and a jolt of excitement to get home and start reading.
Monday, March 01, 2021
The Bill Crider tribute anthology, Bullets and Other Hurting Things, edited by Rick Ollerman (Down & Out Books), hit the street a few days ago. It features 20 original stories written in honor of the late Bill Crider. I’m honored that my story, “Asia Divine”, somehow made the cut since there are a bunch of great contributing authors. Joe R. Lansdale, Charlaine Harris, William Kent Krueger, Bill Pronzini, James Sallis, James Reasoner, are only a few.
“Asia Divine” is set is Utah’s West Desert, from the Great Salt Lake’s Stansbury Island to somewhere near the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Here are the first few lines of “Asia Divine”:
Detective Mike Giles gagged on the stink as the Maglite’s glare bobbed across the dim and ragged interior of the bus. He leaned against the pock-marked pole next to the torn-out driver’s seat, a hand cupped over his mouth and nose.
From the back of the bus a disembodied voice said, “It gets worse.”
A bright white light exploded and retreated, fireworks popped in Giles’ eyes.
The simulated whir and click of a digital camera saturated the confined area, and the dull ache in his head blossomed into a roar.
As his vision recovered, another flash bounced. The camera clicked.
“Jesus, Danny.” Giles stroked his throbbing head. “Hold off on the photos until I have a look, huh?”
Saturday, January 23, 2021
Double Feature, a 2020 release from Hard Case Crime and originally published as Enough in 1977, includes a short novel and a novella. The novel, A Travesty, is a slanted whodunit, which is more of a can-he-get-away-with-it since the protagonist – a film critic – is the murderer doing anything he needs to do to stay out of prison. A humorous story that begins with the genre’s usual, but grows into something quite original. The unexpected, but perfectly ironic ending, gives it a smile-inducing appeal.
The novella, Ordo, is more hardboiled than its pairing, and my favorite of the two because of its working class narrative. A career navy man, Ordo, discovers his short-time wife of fifteen years earlier has become a Hollywood sex symbol. She is unrecognizable as the girl he knew, and Ordo wants to figure out how his ex-wife became someone else. What he discovers is painful and melancholy, but has a purely American vibe of creating your personal mythology; similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, but much less sinister.
Double Feature is a great pairing of tales, told in different styles and with contrasting themes, that showcase Westlake’s brilliance as a storyteller.