Monday, April 29, 2024

"Mrs. Homicide / Naked Fury / Murder on the Side" by Day Keene


Mrs. Homicide / Naked Fury /
Murder on the Side
by Day Keene
Stark House Press, 2024

Stark House’s latest Day Keene compilation is available in bookstores everywhere. It is a good one, too. Even better—for me, not for the readers since Keene’s novels are the draw—it includes my essay, “The Name is Day Keene,” as an Introduction. My name is even on the cover. How about that? I highly recommend Day Keene’s writing, and if you like mid-century hardboiled crime fiction you will love Mrs. Homicide / Naked Fury / Murder on the Side.
   Retreats from Oblivion reviewed Mrs. Homicide / Naked Fury / Murder on the Side here. I’m even mentioned!
      Here is the publisher’s description:

Mrs. Homicide

Everyone in the homicide squad knows that Herman Stone’s wife Connie is cheating on him. They’d all seen her with Lyle Cary. So when she is arrested in Cary’s apartment, drunk and nude, with his murdered body on the bed they had obviously just shared, they all assume she’s guilty. Except, of course for Stone. The husband may be the last to know, but Connie claims she is innocent. She’s never even met Cary, much less killed him. It’s almost more than Stone can believe. But in trying to prove her innocence, he soon finds himself up against not only the witnesses, but the entire police force!

Naked Fury

There’s been a fatal hit-and-run in the poor part of town. And now the only witness has been beaten to death as well. Big Dan Malloy runs this part of town and makes it his business to take care of his people. So he starts to investigate the deaths. It all points to a man in a large, dark blue car. But the official police report is now saying it was a red coupe driven by a woman—which can only mean that someone has fingered Katie, Malloy’s girl. Meanwhile, Malloy is working hard on an election that should bring some real change to his part of town. But with so much on the line, who can he really trust?

Murder On The Side

Larry Hanson should have been a successful engineer instead of the glorified accountant he is. Now in his mid-40s, he has grown bored with his job, his wife. Then his secretary Wanda calls one evening and asks for his help. Her ex-boyfriend, just released from prison, had been trying to drunkenly rape her. She hit him with a lamp, and thinks she killed him. Hanson finds the young man unconscious and takes him away, dropping him at a nearby park. Grateful, Wanda offers herself to Hanson. The next morning, he feels like a new man. Then he reads the morning paper—Wanda’s boyfriend was found dead in the park… murdered. And Holden is the most likely suspect!

Click here to purchase the Kindle edition or here for the paperback.
Click here to purchase this book at Stark House’s website.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Review: "Flamingo Road" by Sasscer Hill


Flamingo Road
by Sasscer Hill
Minotaur Books, 2017


Flamingo Road, Sasscer Hill’s first (of two) featuring former Baltimore PD officer Fia McKee, is a satisfying by-the-numbers detective thriller. Internal Affairs wants Fia’s shield for excessive force after she kills a man strangling a woman, Shyra Darnell, while on patrol. It was a righteous shooting, but when Shyra disappears without saying a word, Fia resigns—rather than fighting the investigation—to take a job with the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB) as an undercover agent. Fia is a perfect fit since she worked with her horse-trainer father until his murder five years earlier at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course.
     The TRPB sends Fia to Gulfstream Park, a race course just south of Hollywood in Hallandale Beach, Florida, where there has been a rash of winners with long odds (40-to-1 and higher) and suspiciously high betting patterns on those unlikely winners. A combination that gives Fia’s bosses the uneasy feeling someone is cheating by doping horses with an unknown performance enhancing drug. The assignment is perfect since it gives Fia the chance to spend time with her brother, Patrick, and her teenage niece, Jilly, and to investigate, during her personal time, a series of horse killings in their upscale neighborhood.
     Flamingo Road isn’t perfect. The opening is disjointed—with Fia traveling back-and-forth between Baltimore and Southern Florida—and a reliance on coincidence. But once Flamingo Road settles into itself, at about page 30, its varied positive attributes—a likable and strong heroine is only one—easily overcomes its imperfections. Fia’s narration is tough and smooth and reminded me of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone. The horse racing backdrop is rich and believable and competes handily with the likes of Dick Francis. There is a splash of suspense, a handful of gripping action sequences, an eccentric cast of outlaws, and a blush of romance. In short, Flamingo Road creates a world the reader wants to inhabit for a couple of hours. Now, I need to find that second book and plan my next visit with Fia McKee.

Click here for the Kindle edition at Amazon.

Monday, April 22, 2024

"Heretic: Stories" by Philip José Farmer

Introduction to Heretic: Stories

by Philip José Farmer


The critic Leslie Fiedler called Philip José Farmer “the greatest science fiction writer ever” and Isaac Asimov proclaimed him as “a far more skillful writer than I am.” Farmer is widely considered to have broken the genres’ taboo with sexuality. His first significant publication, the novella “The Lovers” (Startling Stories, Aug. 1961), used sexuality—specifically a sexual relationship between a human male and an extraterrestrial—as a central theme, which would have been a volatile topic in mid-century America. According to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, “[‘The Lovers’] concerned xenobiology, parasitism and sex, an explosive mixture, certainly for the SF genre of that era.”

Farmer’s fiction was consistently critical of religion, too, which is where the title of this collection, Heretic, is derived. As a boy Farmer attended religious training in the Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science), but by 14 he had become an agnostic and later in life he described himself as an atheist. Farmer’s criticisms of religion, particularly how it segregates people by creating false differences, can be seen in much of his fiction, including the stories in this collection. He is best known for his Riverworld series—which features such luminaries as Richard Francis Burton and Mark Twain in a world where every person who has ever lived is resurrected into a world dominated by river valleys—and his World of Tiers series about parallel universes and the origins of humanity.

Farmer’s science fiction won three Hugo Awards—Best New SF Author or Artist, 1953; Best Novella, 1968, for “Riders of the Purple Wage”; and Best Novel, 1972, for To Your Scattered Bodies Go. He was awarded the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award from Science Fiction Writers of America and the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement.

Farmer’s birth name was Philip Josie Farmer. “Josie” was meant as an honor to his paternal grandmother, Josephine, but it he disliked it because of its feminine sound. As an adult Farmer legally changed his middle name to José, which he thought livened his rather bland and alliterative name: Philip Farmer. He was born in North Terre Haute, Indiana, on January 26, 1918, to George and Lucile Theodora Farmer (née Jackson). The Farmers moved frequently, at least six times, during the 1920s; living in Indiana, Missouri, and Illinois. In 1936, Farmer graduated from Peoria Central High School (Illinois) and enrolled at the University of Missouri, Columbia, where he studied journalism. He left school in 1937 to take a job with Illinois Power and Light—reportedly to help his father payoff a debt—and returned to school, Bradley Polytechnical Institute, in 1939 to study English literature. In 1941, he transferred back to the University of Missouri where his future wife, Elizabeth Virginia Andre, attended as a music student. He graduated with a B.A. in 1949 from Bradley in Peoria.

Philip and Elizabeth were married on May 10, 1941. The couple had two children, a son and daughter. Farmer volunteered to become a pilot with the Army Air Corps in 1941, but he was discharged and took a job with the Keystone Steel & Wire Co. where he worked until becoming a fulltime writer in the early-1950s. During much of the 1950s and 1960s Farmer worked as a technical writer for defense contractors, including General Electric, Motorola, and McDonnell-Douglas. He became a fulltime fiction writer in 1969.

Philip José Farmer died on February 25, 2009, in Peoria, Illinois.

The three stories included in Heretic—a novelette and two shorts—are excellent examples of Farmer’s best work: thoughtful, critical of authority and religion, and downright fun to read. “The Celestial Blueprint” (Fantastic Journey, July 1954) is an entertaining and ironic journey into religious zealotry, distrust, and revenge. The central theme of “How Deep the Grooves” (Amazing Stories, February 1963) is free will and absolute predestination; a thinking person’s dilemma written as highspeed entertainment. The final story is the novelette, “Tongues of the Moon” (Amazing Stories, September 1961), which is a space opera-like adventure—hasty pacing, space blasters, and explosions—with a serious look at nationalism and religion.

The cover was designed by


Click here to purchase the Kindle edition and here to purchase the trade paperback.

Philip José Farmer’s Heretic: Stories is the first volume in Vintage Lists’ 3 PLAY series, which is a line of high-quality books featuring three stories—every so often a bonus tale appears to keep things interesting—from authors both old and new. Each entry features stories from a single author with an emphasis on story quality. The books are short, anywhere between 95 and 120 pages and each is designed for readers with a discerning eye and a love of genre fiction—crime, mystery, horror, and science fiction—at its very best.

Plus, and this is a big thing, the books are designed for easy reading—paperbacks have an easy-to-read font size—and affordability in both paperback and electronic editions.


Monday, April 15, 2024

From Ed Gorman's Desk: "City That Never Sleeps"


from ED GORMAN’S Desk

City That Never Sleeps

from Nov. 16, 2009


Last night we watched a fierce little B+ movie called
City That Never Sleeps (1953). This was one of the films Herbert Yates hoped would convince Hollywood and distributors alike that Republic Pictures could produce more than programmers. The days when Gene Autry and Roy Rogers brought in millions were over. TV now gave away cowboys and old serials free.
     After it was over I went to IMDb to see what some others thought of it. Thirty-one people posted opinions and nearly all of them mentioned two things—how “odd” the movie was and how wrong Chill Wills was for it.
     Gig Young plays Johnny Kelly, a Chicago street cop who is cheating on his wife with Mala Powers. Their plan is to run away together. But Johnny’s father, a detective on the force, senses something wrong and pleads with him to talk about it. But Johnny won’t. Johnny needs money. He hates being broke all the time and he also hates the fact that his wife Paula makes more money than he does. He goes to a crooked lawyer, Biddell played by Edward Arnold. Arnold offers him five grand to interrupt a robbery that will take place later that night, a robbery done by one of his most trusted men, Stewart, the actor William Tallman. But there’s something about the set-up Johnny doesn’t like and he starts to walk. Then Biddell coyly mentions that Johnny’s young brother will be in on the heist, too. If Johnny wants to protect him, he’d better be there. Everything is now set in motion.
     The screenplay is generally excellent but because it’s by Steve Fisher (a writer I like) it has to have a few mandatory moments of treacle and at least one weird narrative trick. The trick here is having Chill Wills (who in God’s name cast him?) do the voice over as the soul of the city or somesuch. We’re panning parts of old Chicago and Wills is intoning all the pulp cliches about cities (Tonight there will be death in the streets and birth in the hospitals, etc.) and then—Wills shows up as Johnny’s squad car partner for the night where he continues to pontificate, mostly about what swell guys cops are.
     The direction by John H. Auer and the cinematography John L. Russell are excellent. This is a noir in the classical sense. Mala Powers is very good and William Tallman, a cunning and convincing actor who never got his due, makes an unsettling villain. When he goes crazy you buy every second of it.
     As I watched it, I thought about Gig Young. Just about everything I’ve read about him noted that beneath the droll charm there was great anger and bitterness. He lived in the bottle. But in this role he got to drop all the bullshit. Here he is much closer to the Gig Young his biographers portrayed—bitter, self-pitying, confused, afraid.
     By movie’s end I realized that even though he’d won the Academy Award (best supporting) for his too-flamboyant depiction of the dance marathon conductor [in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They], he’d been miscast. He should have played the lead. I’ve always thought that They Shoot Horses, Don’t They was a miserable film. Jane Fonda was too slick and showy, Michael Sarrazin dull and useless. Young could still have done it back then. He would have brought real neurotic depth to the drifter who takes up with Gloria. His performance in City That Never Sleeps show that.
     A fine little movie. Not perfect but passionate and memorable.
     And by the way, there was another piece of miscasting [in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They]. Instead of Bonnie Bedelia being fourth billed, she should have had Jane Fonda’s part. Bonnie Bedelia has been there.

Click here to purchase the Blu-ray or here to purchase the DVD on Amazon.

This article originally appeared on Ed Gorman’s blog, New Improved Gorman, on Nov. 29, 2009. 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.

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?