Thursday, April 11, 2024

Review: "Pretty Girl Gone" by David Housewright

 


Pretty Girl Gone
by David Housewright
Minotaur Books, 2006

 

 

Pretty Girl Gone, David Housewright’s entertaining third Rushmore McKenzie mystery, finds McKenzie doing a favor for his old high school friend, Lindsay Barrett. Lindsay’s husband, Jack, is the newly elected governor of Minnesota. Lindsay panics when she receives an unsigned email warning her that if Jack runs for the U.S. Senate, he will be exposed for murdering his high school sweetheart, Elizabeth Rogers.
     Jack was a basketball star—he led his tiny high school team, known as the Minnesota Seven, to a state championship during his senior year—and Elizabeth was the most beautiful girl in school. The night before the championship game, Elizabeth was found strangled to death and her murder was never solved. Lindsay asks McKenzie to find who sent the email. He quickly tracks the IP address, from where the email originated, to a copy and print store in Victoria, Minnesota. When McKenzie arrives in the small town, he is stonewalled by pretty much everyone, except for the sexy interim police chief, Danny Mallinger. Along the way McKenzie decides he needs to solve the decades old murder to fulfill his promise to Lindsay.
     Pretty Girl Gone is a captivating tale loaded with duplicity, doubt, cunning—not necessarily McKenzie’s—red-herrings, bad decisions—mostly McKenzie’s—and enough action and mystery to keep almost every reader satisfied. Housewright adeptly explores the issues of race and racism in the form of immigration discontent without losing sight of the primary mystery. The setting, as always in this series, is bright and central to the narrative; this time giving the reader an experience with a bleak winter in smalltown Minnesota. McKenzie is a smart-aleck, tough, often rash, and always fallible, which gives him just the right mix for reader likability. Pretty Girl Gone is a solid entry in the series, which begs for the reader to find the next McKenzie book.

Click here for the Kindle edition and here for the paperback at Amazon.

Monday, April 08, 2024

Magnum P.I.'s Roger E. Mosley (June 5, 1983)

 

 

This nice profile of Roger E. Mosley (1938 – 2022) appeared in the June 5, 1983, issue of the Salt Lake Tribune. By every account I have read—and this piece continues that trend—Mosley was a terrific guy. I know I liked his portrayal of Theodore Calvin (T. C.) in the original Magnum, P.I.

Click the image for a larger view.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Review: "The Summons" by Peter Lovesey

 

The Summons
by Peter Lovesey
Soho Crime, 2004

 

Peter Lovesey’s third Peter Diamond detective novel, The Summons—originally published in 1995 by Mysterious Press—is a first-rate, inventive, traditional mystery with a credible cast of suspects set in the lovely tourist town of Bath, England. Peter Diamond, formerly Superintendent Diamond of the Bath Constabulary, is living a humdrum life with his wife in a squalid basement apartment in London after quitting his job leading Bath’s murder squad. Diamond works part time recovering shopping carts from a grocery store parking lot and money is something he vaguely remembers from when he had a proper salary. Things are bad enough that he is considering a job baring his considerable girth as a nude model for extra dosh.
     Diamond’s mostly quiet desperation is unsettled when a pair of Bath police officers arrive at his door demanding he return to Bath with them. They give him little incentive since they don’t give him a whiff at the why except it concerns his nemesis, Assistant Chief Constable Tott. When he gets on site, he learns Tott’s daughter has been kidnapped by an escaped convict Diamond put away for murdering a Swedish journalist four years earlier. The convict proclaims his innocence and demands Diamond review the investigation again before he will return Tott’s daughter.
     The Summons is a marvelously entertaining murder mystery with enough action to keep the narrative lively, including some gunplay and real risk to Diamond’s health, and more than enough detection to satisfy even the snobbiest reader. And most unpretentiousness readers, too, including a dolt like me. Diamond is a rare treat: self-absorbed (but trying to be better), anti-technology, clever, and funny. The supporting cast are an eclectic bunch of oddballs—a crowd of hippies called “crusties” squatting around town—eccentrics, an obese photographer-turned-baker, stiff-upper-lip-types, millionaires (at least one), and braggarts. Diamond is a bloodhound as he questions his original investigation and then pursues the killer against what appears to be his own best interest. And the denouement is a blissful surprise, and even better, a surprise that makes perfect sense.

Click here for the Kindle edition and here for the audiobook at Amazon.

Monday, April 01, 2024

Reading Roundup: March 2024

Over the past few years I abandoned using notebooks to keep track of the books I read in favor of Goodreads. A practice that came about out of laziness more than anything else, but this year, I’m back with pen and paper. Along with the change, I decided to try—at least this month—sharing my reading list.
     I track the books—fiction and non-fiction—and individual short stories I finish. Those I don’t finish don’t get recorded. In March there were two novels I chose not to finish, which is more than normal for a single month. My DNF’s were Free Fall, by Robert Crais (1993)—I was simply bored with it at the halfway mark—and Night Detectives, by Jon Talton (2013), because I felt grouchy and it didn’t catch my interest in the first few dozen pages.
     The books I read—seven in total—were all fiction and six were squarely within the mystery genre. I read an astonishing three Rushmore McKenzie novels by David Housewright: Pretty Girl Gone (2006), Madman on a Drum (2008), and The Taking of Libbie, SD (2010). All three were terrific, my favorite being Madman on a Drum. You can expect to see reviews of these three in coming weeks. My favorite book was Rusty Barnes’s Half Crime (2024), which is an excellent collection of dark tales that I reviewed here, and my least favorite was The Bastard, by John Jakes (1974). A word about The Bastard. The first half, or about 300 pages was marvelous, but the narrative dulled in the second half. It would have been a better book if it had been strategically but aggressively cut.

As for short stories, I read two—“One Eye Open”, by Jeremiah Healy (EQMM, Jul. 1989), and “I Bring Fresh Flowers”, by Robert F. Young (Amazing Stories, Feb. 1964)—and enjoyed both; however, I was a tad disappointed with the Healy story because it didn’t have the grab and thoughtful conclusion I expected from a John Francis Cuddy tale. Not to mention, I purchased the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, where it appeared, for no other reason than it had a Healy story inside. Well, that cover image of Lawrence Block didn’t hurt, either.
     So, without further ado, here is my reading list, from first to last in chronological order in my own hand, for March 2024:

 

So, dear reader, what do you think? Is this worth doing each month? 

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Review: "Half Crime" by Rusty Barnes

 

Half Crime
by Rusty Barnes
Redneck Press, 2024

  

Rusty Barnes’s Half Crime collects nine original stories about small crimes, human frailties, and sorrow. The tales lean into noir with their bleak rural Pennsylvania settings, harsh portrayals of poverty, and protagonists (often pushed by circumstance) making a last bad decision. In “Bad Old Boy,” Crate Lang is trying to support his family working a low-paying blue-collar job, but a batch of medical bills sends him looking for an extra payday. He approaches an old friend, Dexter Moore—a guy Lang used to run on the wrong side of the law with—looking for a one-time low-risk job. Dexter gives Lang a package to deliver in Syracuse, New York, but, of course, it goes wrong and Lang is on the hook with Dexter now, too.
     “Wish for Winter” tells the sorrowful story of Carl Stevenson. A milk truck driver living with an angry sister, and a girlfriend with a wandering eye. But everything gets worse for Carl after a hard night of drinking leads him into an accident while picking up a load of raw milk. “The Power of Positive Drinking” is about lost potential, fallible love, and drug addiction. It is parts sad, parts angering, and entirely thought-provoking. “Ampersand” is the sweetest tale in the collection with an ending somewhere damn close to happy. Jared’s wife left with their daughters, but things begin to change when he is set-up with Ellie. And it just keeps getting better and better, in that low-key realistic way it happens in our own live action world.
     The stories in Half Crime can be difficult to read—they are melancholy, realistic, and without an easy solution for the underlying cultural problems—but each is worthy of being read. This passage from “Bad Old Boy”—

“Opioid epidemic my ass, Crate thought. What it is is a pain epidemic, and no way for most people to deal with it.

—aptly captures the essence of what Half Crime is about. A hopeless and decaying rural America self-medicating its ills with a slurry of addiction. Do yourself a favor and get Half Crime today. It is a collection with meaning. And yeah, it is literate and stylish, too.

Click here for the Kindle edition and here for the paperback at Amazon.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Review: "Tin City" by David Housewright


 Tin City
by David Housewright
Minotaur Books, 2005

 

Tin City is David Housewright’s excellent second mystery featuring unlicensed private eye Rushmore McKenzie. When asked, McKenzie readily agrees to help his late-father’s best friend, the beekeeper Mr. Mosley, investigate what is killing his bees. It seems like a simple favor, but McKenzie quickly changes his mind when the doctoral student he hired to collect and analyze samples around Mosely’s property, looking for bee-killing toxins, is shot at by Mosely’s new neighbor, Frank Crosetti. And things turn uglier when an execution-style murder upends McKenzie’s simple favor.
     It seems obvious Crosetti is the villain, but before McKenzie can confront him, Crosetti disappears. In a hurry, McKenzie discovers Frank Crosetti is a man without a past. In fact, his name is borrowed from a former New York Yankees shortstop. A hovering FBI agent and, as McKenzie keeps investigating, a warrant for his, McKenzie’s, arrest makes it appear Crosetti is being protected by the feds. To keep out of jail and in the hunt, McKenzie goes into hiding and follows the clues to a quiet suburban trailer park where the investigation heats up.
     Publishers Weekly said David Housewright, in Tin City, “[channels] Raymond Chandler with tongue-in-cheek humor,” which is an apt comparison because McKenzie is a sharp and witty observer with a wicked, smart-alecky tongue. His observations, which are more numerous in Tin City than the other books I’ve read so far, are brief and fit nicely into the story. My favorite of the lot, probably because I agree with it so much, is about libraries:
     

“I’ve always loved libraries, the very idea of them. They’re citadels of peace and quiet and intellectual freedom and civilization—commodities that are becoming increasingly difficult to come by. They are, in a word, the most ‘democratic’ places on earth, although they’ve been finding it harder to remain that way.”

But Tin City isn’t a dry, preachy tome. There is plenty of action, fisticuffs and gunplay both. A solid mystery that is sensible and with enough surprises to keep it interesting. The Twin Cities, Minnesota, setting is a major player in the narrative and McKenzie makes certain it is known he is from St. Paul rather than Minneapolis. The plotting is concise and McKenzie, flaws, ego, and all, is a damn likable character. The sort of guy we—all of us juvenile-minded males—wish we could be.

Click here for the Kindle edition and here for the paperback at Amazon.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Review: "In for the Kill" by John Lutz

 


In for the Kill
by John Lutz
Pinnacle, 2007

  

There was a time not so long ago when serial killer police procedurals were everywhere. From film to television to fiction. Perhaps it began with the success of the film, The Silence of the Lambs (1991), inspired by Thomas Harris’s novel, and continued with James Patterson’s early Alex Cross bestsellers—Along Came a Spider, Kiss the Girls, etc. Whenever and whyever the serial killer craze began, one of its best practitioners was John Lutz.
     Lutz’s first serial killer romp, Final Seconds with David August, arrived in 1998 and over the following 17 years he wrote another 15 slash and burn procedurals about detectives chasing demented killers through labyrinthine urban landscapes. Lutz’s thrillers resemble Lawrence Sanders’s Deadly Sins books more than Thomas Harris’s Hanibal Lector and those titles I’ve read have made a standard plot new with a dash of nuance, sprinkle of humor, and a wheel-barrel full of tension.
     His 2007 novel, In for the Kill, the second (of ten) Frank Quinn outings, is a wonderful example of Lutz’s serial killer thrillers. Like all his others, it was published as a paperback original by Pinnacle. Quinn is a rough-edged, at times brutal and others charming, retired NYPD detective with a knack for catching killers. When a new killer dubbed “The Butcher” begins working New York City—he prefers attractive brunettes, downing them, draining their blood, and dismembering them before stacking them neatly in the pristine bathtub where they died—Quinn is brought in by his old boss, Deputy Chief Harley Renz, to find the killer.
     Quinn in turn gets his old pals Detective Fedderman and Officer Pearl Kasner, an attractive brunette Quinn had a relationship with and he is still harboring feelings for, onto his team and soon realizes The Butcher is playing games with him. The first letter of the first five victims’ last names spell: Q-U-I-N-N. What Quinn doesn’t know is his relationship with the killer will burn closer to home than he wants.
     In for the Kill is a brilliant guilty pleasure with non-stop pacing and a flash-bang climax. The interplay between serial killer and detective could be silly, but Lutz’s smooth style and his skill at ratcheting tension—without ever going splatterpunk gory—allows the reader little time (or desire) to question the story. The detectives’ relationships, including Harley Renz, provides low-key and much needed humor to an otherwise bleak tale. If you like this kind of fiction, In for the Kill is about as good as you will find.

Click here for the Kindle edition at Amazon.

Monday, March 18, 2024

From Ed Gorman's Desk: Richard Neely

from ED GORMAN’S Desk



Richard Neely
Nov. 10, 2005

 

The first time I ever spoke to Richard Neely, suspense novelist extraordinaire, he kept trying to place my name. “It’s so damned familiar—wait a minute, you’re the guy who called me the de Sade of crime fiction.”
    Loose lips sink ships. So can old reviews. I figured that our business would sink if he ever remembered that long ago review. But he laughed. “I think I was just ahead of my time.”
     Actually, I’d meant that remark as a compliment because I was pointing out that Neely, despite the Irish name, took a very French approach to the psychological machinations of sex in his books. Two of his books became French movies. Somebody apparently agreed with me.
     Neely, a very sleek and successful advertising man, is gone now and so, undeservedly, are his books. The Walter Syndrome, his bestselling suspense novel, was almost ruined for me when I guessed the ending on page two, something I never do. But I pressed on and it was well worth it. This was a take on Psycho set in Thirties and the storytelling is spellbinding. The voice is worth of Fredric Brown at his best.
     I was thinking of Neely last night because I was finishing up his novel The Plastic Nightmare, which became an incomprehensible movie called Shattered. Neely loved tricks as much as Woolrich did and Plastic is a field of land mines. He even manages to spin some fresh variations on the amnesia theme. It’s as noir as noir can be but mysteriously, I’ve never seen Neely referred to on any noir list. My theory is that his books, for the most part, were presented in such tony packages, they were bypassed by mystery fans.
     The Damned Innocents became a fair French flick. What it missed was the sorrow. Neely always caught the sorrow of sexual betrayal with a kind of suicidal wisdom. While his books aren’t kinky by today’s measure, they’re dark in the way only sexual themes can be. Love kills, baby.
     Not that he didn’t have a sudsy side. He wrote a couple of big sexy workplace novels that I could never plow through but he also wrote The Ridgeway Women which was SUPPOSED to be a big sexy workplace book that was undermined in a good way by the riveting neuroses and desperation of all his best books.
     A Madness of the Heart suffers from a style Neely seemed to have invented from scratch for this particular novel. It’s another dazzler—a really convincing story about a rapist and the human debris he leaves in his wake—but the cadence of the prose gets in my way every once in awhile. It isn’t that it’s fancy-schmancy, it’s just that it gets in the way sometimes and seems to fall short of its purpose.
     I liked Neely, man and writer, and I liked his books, too. Somebody should bring him back. He’s my kind of noir writer—down and out in the dark underbelly of the success-driven American middle class, like non-Trav John D. MacDonald only doomed without hope of salvation.
 

Stark House Press has recently released The Plastic Nightmare, in a collection with Neely’s While Love Lay Sleeping. Click here to see Stark House’s Richard Neely collection on Amazon, or click here to see it at Stark House’s website.

This article originally appeared on Ed Gorman’s blog, Ed Gorman Rambles, Nov. 10, 2005. It is reprinted here by permission. Ed wrote dozens of novels in a variety of genres, but his most popular work (and my favorite of his work) was in the crime and western genres. His ten Sam McCain mysteries—set in the fictional Iowa town of Black River Falls during the 1950s, ’60, and ’70s—are suspenseful, mysterious, and often funny excursions into small town America. The New York Times called Sam McCain, “The kind of hero any small town could take to its heart” and The Seattle Times called McCain “an intriguing mix of knight errant and realist…”

But Ed was also a tireless reader and promoter of other writers’ work. His blogs—there were three, none of them operating at the same time—are treasure troves for readers of crime, horror, and western fiction both old and new. Ed died Oct. 14, 2016.

 

Click here to check out Ed Gorman’s Sam McCain novels on Amazon.

 

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Review: "Top Secret Kill" by James P. Cody (The D.C. Man)

 


Top Secret Kill
by James P. Cody
Brash Books, 2024

 

Top Secret Kill—originally published as a paperback original by Berkley-Medallion in 1974—is the first of four titles in the short-lived series, The D.C. Man, by the pseudonymous James P. Cody. Brian Petersen is a Washington, D.C. lobbyist-turned-troubleshooter that describes himself as a “former college football bum, former Army intelligence type” that found contentment with a “domesticated” life. Petersen’s happiness is shattered when his young daughter and wife are killed in an automobile accident that sent him to the Florida Keys on a six-month bender. At the coaxing of his father-in-law, a former senator, Petersen sobered-up, returned to the District, and reopened his lobbying office.
     But, as Petersen explains, his work “started to drift into other, nastier and less public, services for clients, services you wouldn’t want anybody to know about.” Which is where Top Secret Kill begins. First with Petersen warning off a blackmailer for a congressman and then—the real meat of the narrative—his full-throttle investigation into the identity of the person leaking classified intel from a Senate committee developing cost estimates for specific types of military conflicts. It is a big job for a solo act like Brian Petersen, but a job befitting his unrestrained, sometimes violent, and always secretive style.
     Top Secret Kill is a cool thriller. It reads like a hybrid of men’s adventure and a private eye yarn; perhaps 75-percent of the former and 25-percent of the latter. There is a little mystery, including a calculated murder that sets Petersen on a vengeance trail, a bunch of Cold War paranoia, a touch of commentary about the D.C. of the 1970s, and a solid stream of action. With that said, the opening third of the book is slowed by Petersen’s backstory, but stick with it because it picks up in a hurry and by the midway mark the narrative sparks and slams home with a satisfying bang. Top Secret Kill will appeal more to readers of men’s adventure—think Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan—than general mystery readers, but it is a cut (or two or three) above the standard in that too often (and usually unfairly) maligned genre.

All four of The D.C. Man books are back in print from Brash Books. These new editions include an Introduction, written by Tom Simon, detailing his excellent work uncovering the identity of James P. Cody—a former Roman Catholic priest named, Peter Rohrbach.

 Click here for the Kindle edition and here for the paperback at Amazon.

Monday, March 11, 2024

"I Was Meant to be Heavy" — Bill Conrad of Cannon, 1973

 

 

Did you say, Cannon? Yeah, I did, and this sweet write-up about William Conrad appeared in the December 16, 1973, issue of TV Week, included in the Salt Lake TribuneWhile it’s not exactly an endorsement for the show, Cannon had its moments. Cannon aired for five seasons (1971 – 1976) on CBS. If you’ve never seen Conrad throw a clothes-line, you need to remedy it.

 

[Click the image for a larger view.]

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Review: "The Sleeping City" by Marty Holland

 


The Sleeping City
by Marty Holland
Stark House, 2023

 

 

The Sleeping City is a hardboiled novella-length crime tale by Marty Holland originally published in the Fall 1952 issue of Thrilling Detective. Holland, born as the very feminine Mary Hauenstein, has a knack for capturing the post-World War 2 male tough guy persona; which is on steady display in this nicely executed undercover cop / heist story. Wade is a sergeant with the Gangster Squad in an unidentified, but likely LAPD, police force. When Jim Cox, an habitual criminal from Chicago, is nabbed by the police and admits he is in town to participate in a heist, Wade’s boss, Captain Roberts, assigns him to go undercover as Cox.
     All Cox knows about the job—since his partner Les Ties, who was murdered days earlier in Chicago, set it up—is how to contact the crew pulling the job. So Wade says goodbye to his fiancé, takes a deep breath, and heads to meet Cox’s contact at the White Lion Club. Wade finds is an over-the-hill gangster, Louie Thompson, and a handful of toughs planning a risky armored car heist worth a cool million. What Wade doesn’t count on is falling for Thompson’s beautiful and hard-as-nails girl, Madge.
     The Sleeping City has all the best elements of mid-century crime fiction: concise, tight plotting, bitter and desperate criminals, a hard-tongued and beautiful moll, and a hero with a dilemma. And what a dilemma! $200,000 and a gorgeous and poison dame or Wade’s settled and quiet life. A dilemma that could easily twist into noir, as is foreshadowed by an early passage where Wade is wondering about moths and flames: “…what screwy quirk of nature attracted them [moths] to light—to the point that it killed them.”
     
The heist is revealed slowly, as slowly as Wade’s dilemma tightens around his guts, and those last dozen pages pop and sizzle with action. The Sleeping City is an above average pulp story featuring some fine writing. A couple passages that really crackled:

“But then I knew that we both realized that last night couldn’t be repeated. To go on meant hanging on to a straw in mid-ocean.”

“Everybody in the world should be a cop, I thought wildly! Everybody should know the elation of turning some poor weak bastard over to the law! Or a dame—a dame that somehow had crawled into your blood stream, a dame that was afraid of the dark.”

     If you enjoy these old crime stories, you will like The Sleeping City.
 

The Sleeping City is the second half of Stark House Press’ The Glass Heart / The Sleeping City, by Marty Holland (2023).


Click
here for the Kindle edition and here for the paperback at Amazon.
Click here to purchase The Glass Heart / The Sleeping City and other titles by Marty Holland at Stark House’s website.

Monday, March 04, 2024

"Introducing the Author... Edmond Hamilton" — from Imagination

 

 

This autobiographical essay by science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton appeared in the April 1956 issue of Imagination alongside Hamilton’s novella, “The Legion of Lazarus”. It’s fun to think of Hamilton as a fanboy, which is exactly what he sounds like when describing the magazines, stories, and authors he read as a boy. His and Leigh Brackett’s Ohio home sounds enticing, too.

Click the Image for a larger view.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Review: "Is Betsey Blake Still Alive?" by Robert Bloch

 


“Is Betsey Blake Still Alive?”
by Robert Bloch
Ivy Books, 1987

 

A couple things I like: 1) stories written by Robert Bloch; and 2) stories about Hollywood. So it was inevitable I’d love Bloch’s “Is Betsey Blake Still Alive?”—which was originally published in the April 1958 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine—since it satisfies both criteria nicely. Steve is a struggling Hollywood writer with a handful of production credits, but without a steady gig or paycheck. His life is tough, but as the third-person narrator says:

“Then he met Jimmy Powers, and things got worse.”

Jimmy, at 23 years-old, is just a kid but he drives a late-model Buick, wears silk suits, and has a regular job as a studio public relations hack pulling down two bills a week. The death of an aging starlet in a boating accident, the titular Betsey Blake, puts a major Hollywood studio in a bind. Betsey’s next picture is set for a November release, but without the starlet around to push the film, they’re afraid it will flop. This potential disaster for the studio provides Steve—through his new pal and neighbor Jimmy—a big opportunity to save the film with some slight-of-hand and outright dishonest P.R. stunts like creating a sensation about Blake’s private life and even questioning whether she is dead. Well, it plays out as one would expect, until it doesn’t…
     “Is Betsey Blake Still Alive?” is a sharp tale with a nice twist. The narrative is crisp with Bloch’s shiny prose and the characters, both Jimmy and Steve, are expertly sketched into what I think of as post-WW2 sunshine boys—bright and ambitious in a world ripe for harvest—with a grimy corruption about them. “Is Betsey Blake Still Alive?” is a solid piece of mid-century crime that, almost seventy years after it was written, had the audacity to surprise this 21st century reader.



“Is Betsey Blake Still Alive?” appeared in the excellent 1987 anthology,
Suspicious Characters, edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg, along with 12 other crime stories written by the likes of John D. MacDonald, Sara Paretsky, Ed McBain, John Lutz, and Brian Garfield.
     According to the official Robert Bloch website, “Is Betsey Blake Still Alive,” has also been published with the title, “Betsy Blake Will Live Forever” in volume two of the Selected Stories of Robert Bloch.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Review: "A Night at the Shore" by Tony Knighton

 


A Night at the Shore
by Tony Knighton
Brash Books, 2024

 

 

Tony Knighton’s third Nameless Thief crime novel, A Night at the Shore, is a fast-driving, exciting, and downright cool heist tale where everything goes wrong in a hurry. Nameless—or the man of many names and none of them his own—takes what he thinks is a low-risk burglary job in the Jersey shore town of Margate; a stone’s throw from Atlantic City. Buddy, a hardnosed poker dealer at an A.C. casino, a fence, and a planner, throws the job to Nameless without many details.
     The target is a degenerate gambler named Charlie. Buddy doesn’t know his last name, but he, Buddy, is convinced Charlie’s gambling stake—maybe as much as $10,000—will be an easy snatch from his home. But for it to work, the job requires a quick turnaround to be timed with a big Atlantic storm forecasted in two days, on a Friday night. Nameless, distracted by his girlfriend’s sudden announcement that she is going away for an extended period (and maybe forever), neglects to research Charlie on his own. A big mistake since Nameless, after being interrupted searching Charlie’s house for valuables, spends the entire night running for his life—from a wicked storm and a cadre of extremely angry and homicidal cops—while trying to figure out why a simple burglary has made him so hot.
     A Night at the Shore is pure adrenaline; from its laconic, muscular prose, to it is compact and tight plotting, and to its lightning-fast pacing. Nameless is an anti-hero in every sense—he is violent, emotionless, and pitiless—but, much like Richard Stark’s Parker, his actions are governed by what is necessary for the situation. He only hurts those who threaten him and his violence never exceeds what is required, which gives the reader permission to root for the villain. Even better, Nameless takes his own lumps along with everyone else. A Night at the Shore is my first experience with Nameless and Tony Knighton’s writing in general, but it certainly won’t be my last.

Click here for the Kindle edition and here for the paperback at Amazon.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Review: "The Devil May Care" by David Housewright

 


The Devil May Care
by David Housewright
Minotaur Books, 2014

 

 

David Housewright’s eleventh Rushmore McKenzie mystery, The Devil May Care, is a thinking man’s thriller with a bit of humor—in the form of McKenzie’s first-person commentary and snappy rapport with everyone in the story—and a complex, but nicely compact plot. McKenzie resigned from the St. Paul, Minnesota, police department to collect a multi-million-dollar reward in a fraud investigation and now he does whatever he wants, including doing favors for friends as an unlicensed P.I.
     When McKenzie is approached by twenty-something Riley Brodin, the granddaughter of one of Minnesota’s wealthiest men, Walter Muehlenhaus, wanting his help to find her missing fiancé, Juan Carlos Navarre, McKenzie’s instinct is to walk away. He and Muehlenhaus butted heads during another investigation, and the aggravation of working for the family isn’t appealing to McKenzie. But Riley shows real concern for Navarre and ultimately charms McKenzie by sharing her grandfather
’s nickname for him: “f**king McKenzie”; but truthfully, the moniker losses its luster the more McKenzie hears it. The missing persons case gets on his nerves, too, since Navarre doesn’t seem to exist. And when a defunct street gang begins following McKenzie around and people start dying violently, all he can do is follow the clues where they take him. And hope no one he likes gets hurt.
     Publishers Weekly called The Devil May Care “exceptional” and gave it a starred review. A sentiment I share because everything in this detective thriller works. The characters have enough realism to make them relatable. The plot, which is wonderfully twisty and surprising, has an easy-going attitude and every inch of it gets McKenzie in deeper trouble. St. Paul and environs is drawn to perfection, from the people to the landscape (including all those fabulous lakes). But it is McKenzie that makes everything sizzle with his ironic first-person commentary, his low-wattage Knight-errant syndrome, and his ability to mix and mash with anyone from poverty row to country clubs. The Devil May Care is my first experience with Housewright’s writing, but there will be many more since finishing that last page made me a little sad.

Click here for the Kindle edition and here for the paperback at Amazon.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Women Wrote the Future, Vol. 1: Tales from Galaxy

 

Women Wrote the Future, Vol. 1: Tales from Galaxy is an extravaganza of great science fiction written by women and published in Galaxy in the 1950s. It is available now at Amazon. Story notes, which include a little about the story’s author, accompany each tale. Keep reading for the book’s Introduction, written by the enigmatic J. LaRue. With a little luck a second volume will appear soon.



Women Wrote the Future, Vol. 1: Tales from Galaxy

Edited by J. LaRue

Vintage Lists, 2023

 

Introduction

 

A mythology in science fiction circles—academia and readership alike—claims women were excluded from the genre until the late-1960s and early-1970s, when writers like Joanna Russ, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Octavia E. Butler jumped the sexism barrier that had kept women out. While these writers are culturally important, both inside and outside the genre, it is nonsense to imagine they appeared on the science fiction scene without precedence. The first woman to publish a story in a science fiction magazine was Clare Winger Harris when her tale, “The Fate of Poseidonia” was published in the June 1927 issue of Amazing Stories.

It was that same pulp, Amazing Stories, that created the entire modern science fiction genre when its first issue hit newsstands in April 1926. And those first few years, between 1926 and 1929, were a dark period for women and science fiction because only 17 stories by six known female authors were published. The next ten years (1930 – 1939) weren’t much better with 62 stories by 25 women published, but the 1940s saw a significant gain with 209 stories by 47 female writers, and in the 1950s women exploded on the scene with 634 tales, by 154 writers. While these numbers represent a slim ratio of the total number of science fiction stories published during this period, it was a beginning that ultimately led to the celebration of women as some of the best writers in the genre.*

This anthology, which is intended as a tribute and to bring attention to these early female writers, is a survey of the fiction published by the most respected science fiction magazine of the 1950s: Galaxy. Galaxy’s first issue reached newsstands in October 1950. The list of contributors for that issue included many of the genres’ brightest stars: Theodore Sturgeon, Richard Matheson, Fritz Leiber, and Isaac Asimov. It also started a trend of publishing women writers by publishing Katherine MacLean’s brilliant novelette, “Contagion” (which, unfortunately, isn’t included in this collection). Although three other marvelous stories by MacLean—“Pictures Don’t Lie” (Aug. 1951), “The Snowball Effect” (Sep. 1952), and “Games” (Mar. 1953)—are scattered across its pages.

Over the rest of the 1950s, Galaxy published 30 stories written by thirteen women. The tales ranged from imaginative adventures—Rosel George Brown’s “From an Unseen Censor” (Sep. 1958)—to cultural critique, “One Way” by Miriam Allen deFord (Mar. 1955), to homegrown silliness, with a feminist bent, like Ruth Laura Wainwright’s “Green Grew the Lasses” (July 1953). These stories, along with thirteen others written by women and published by Galaxy in the 1950s, are reprinted in Women Wrote the Future, Vol. 1: Tales from Galaxy. And frankly, they are some of the best tales to appear in Galaxy during its 30-year run.

Included are gems by genre stars like Katherine MacLean, as mentioned above, and Betsy Curtis, and rising stars like Rosel George Brown. Each story and its author are briefly introduced and while some of the writers are little-known with only a few publishing credits, others had impressive careers both in and out of science fiction. Miriam Allen deFord—“One Way” (Mar. 1955) and “The Eel” (Apr. 1958)—was a suffragette, wrote for Nation, and won an Edgar Award for Best Crime Fact Book. Phyllis Sterling Smith—“What is POSAT” (Sep. 1951)—attended Stanford and Tufts, she worked for the Psychological Testing Corporation, and she was an energy consultant for the Environmental Protection Agency. Ann Warren Griffith—“Zeritsky’s Law” (Nov. 1951)—attended Barnard College, piloted as a WASP in WW2, and wrote for The New Yorker and The Atlantic. And those are only three of the 12 writers inside this anthology.

 

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*publishing statistics come from Partner in Wonder, by Eric Leif Davin [Lexington Books, 2006]

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Table of Contents

 

“Games” – Katherine MacLean / “The Pilot and the Bushman” – Sylvia Jacobs / “One Way” – Miriam Allen deFord / “Rough Translation” – Jean M. Janis / “Pictures Don’t Lie” – Katherine MacLean / “The Vilbar Party” – Evelyn E. Smith / “What is POSAT?” – Phyllis Sterling Smith / “Green Grew the Lasses” – Ruth Laura Wainwright / “The Trap” – Betsy Curtis / “Know Thy Neighbor” – Elisabeth R. Lewis / “Tea Tray in the Sky” – Evelyn E. Smith / “Homesick” – Lyn Venable / “The Snowball Effect” – Katherine MacLean / “Zeritsky’s Law” – Ann Griffith / “From an Unseen Censor” – Rosel George Brown / “The Eel” – Miriam Allen deFord

Click here for the Kindle edition and here for the paperback at Amazon.