Book Review: The Perfect Daughter

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I have never lived in Maine, but if you follow and read my blog posts, you know that it’s one of my favorite destinations. It’s scenic, for my photographic endeavors, and it has the inner aura of a place I’d like to live. Shepard’s Bay, a fictional coastal town in Maine, is divided. There are lifelong locals, mostly lobster fishermen and there are the wealthy newbies who are getting prime real estate to build their large new home. It’s also driving up real estate values, forcing many long-time local folks to worry about their future. It’s the type of situation where resentment can easily build up. When a wealthy teenager, Dakota James, goes missing followed by two teenage girls, life in town soon changes.

The Perfect Daughter is a twisty story of a town divided by financial status and secrets, plenty of secrets: love affairs, drugs, wild parties, jealousy, gossip, regrets, and more.

The two teen girls, Katie, from the poor side of town, and Willow, from the wealthy side, have become best friends. After Katie’s disappearance, Ilsa, Katie’s mother is in a panic. A search party is formed and two days later Katie’s found, though bruised, bloodied and with a loss of memory. But where is Willow? The local police, led by Karl, Ilsa’s high school sweetheart, is overwhelmed by this type of situation. He toughest job ususally is handing out parking tickets. Ilsa’s husband, Ray, is a drunk and rarely ever around.

As one secret is revealed, a new layer of secrecy pops up. The secrets, the twists, and turns continue throughout this multifaceted and riveting tale of small-town life on the brink. Author Joseph Souza knows how to keep you on the edge, and just when you think you have it figured out, he smacks you with another twist that leaves you misdirected and wanting for the answers.

Real Life Authors as Characters on Screen

I recently watched a couple of films that featured real life authors as characters on screen. There was Hammett (Dashiell) about the Pinkerton detective and author of The Maltese Falcon and other crime classics. Not long after, I watched the 1979 movie, Agatha, starring Vanessa Redgrave as the famed author. This got me wondering about other authors whose story made it to the big screen. Quite a few as it turns out. Here are some I came up with. This is not a complete list so feel free to add!

Agatha Christie made it on film three times so far, with a fourth film in the works. Only one film though made it to the big screen. Vanessa Redgrave starred as Ms. Christie in the 1979 film Agatha. The movie is a fictional take on Ms. Christie’s eleven day disappearance which to this day has never been explained. Dustin Hoffman plays a fictional American reporter on her trail. Read more here.

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In 2018, our British cousins produced an authorized fictional story called Agatha and the Truth of Murder (now available on Netflix). A second MTM, Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar was made by the same folks in 2019. A third film, Agatha and the Midnight Murders recently completed production.

Murder

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle appeared in quite a few MTM productions and TV shows, too many to list. That said, Actors David Warner played  Doyle in Houdini a 1998 MTM, and David Calder portrayed Holmes creator in a 2014 miniseries also called Houdini.

Philip Seymour Hoffman portrayed Truman Capote and Catherine Keener played Harper Lee in Capote (2005). One year later came Infamous with Toby Jones as  Truman Capote and Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee. Both films focused on the period when Capote, and Lee as his assistant, were researching his non-fiction novel, In Cold Blood.

Elle Fanning portrayed Frankenstein creator Mary Shelley in Mary Shelley (2017)

MAry Shelley Elle Fanning

Sam Spade and Nick and Nora Charles creator, Dashiell Hammett, made it to the big screen with Frederic Forest in the title role. You can read an article I wrote on the author and film Hammett here.

Hammett

Poet, novelist and short story writer, the man Time magazine called the “laureate of American lowlife,” Charles Bukowski is portrayed by Mickey Rourke in the 1997 film, Barfly. In the film, written by Bukowski, the author is given the alter-ego named of Hank Chinaski.

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In 2018, Keira Knightly portrayed French author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, known more simply as Colette.

Colette

James Franco starred as Beat Poet Allan Ginsberg in the 2010 film Howl. Also portrayed in the film are Jack Kerouac (Todd Rotondi),  Neal Cassady (Jon Prescott), Peter Orlovsky (Peter Tveit), Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Andrew Rogers)

Howl

Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady were back in the 1980 film Heart Beat. John Heard and Nick Nolte starred as the authors with Sissy Spacek as Carolyn Cassady.

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Book Review: And Then We Vanish

And Then

In his first collection of short stories, D.H. Schleicher’s And Then We Vanish gives us an intriguing assortment of 11 tales accumulated over a ten year period. Each story ends with a twist, many of which you will not see coming. In each tale, people’s lives change, not always for the better. “When Night Falls on Niagara,” one of my favorites is both a whimsical and mysterious tale and will make you wonder what’s real and not real about one of America’s most famous landmarks. Another gem, “Upon the Unfortunate News of My Death,” deals with modern-day social media. How spreading rumors and misinformation can so easily change lives. “Anthrax and Cherry Blossoms,” “Somebody You Use to Know,” “Boko Harem’s Greatest Hits” are a few more of my top picks. Schleicher has a style that draws you in and makes you care about each of his characters. There is both humor and chills.  And Then We Vanish is available at Amazon.

Agatha Christie’s Biggest Mystery

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Agatha Christie’s greatest mystery remains a mystery over ninety-years later. On December 3rd, 1926, Agatha Christie kissed her daughter goodnight, packed a small bag, and left a note for her secretary that she would not be returning that night. She got into her two-seater Morris Cowley automobile and drove off.

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The next day, the automobile was found hanging over a ditch, held back from falling by bushes. An attaché case was found in the car as well as some clothing. There was no sign of the author. Christie was a well-known author by then, her most recent novel at the time was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which made her disappearance international news. Her husband, Colonel Archibald Christie, who had recently demanded a divorce, claimed she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A massive search by a thousand police and thousands of volunteers looked for three days before the hunt was called it off. Christie’s bother-in-law claimed to have received a note that read she’s going to a Yorkshire spa for rest and treatment. Not convinced or reassured, the police continued their search.

As the manhunt continued, rumors spread that the disappearance is a publicity stunt, a rumor her secretary vehemently denied. Other rumors claimed the future Dame Agatha was in London dressed in men’s clothing. A spiritualist was consulted, determining Christie met with foul play.

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Eleven days later, the author was found at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate registered under the name of Mrs. Tressa Neele. The Colonel claimed the entire incident was due to a nervous breakdown, and he had no idea about the significance of her alias. That second point was a complete lie. The name belonged to her husband’s lover. Christie knew of the affair and had been distraught.

When the Colonel came to pick up his wife, it’s been said Christie met him with an icy stare.

Fifteen months later, Agatha Christie sued and divorced her husband. In 1930, she remarried. Archibald Christie also married. His new wife, none other than Tressa Neele.

Over the years, many biographers have tried to find out exactly what, why, and where Agatha Christie disappeared. Was it revenge for her husband’s affair, manic depression, amnesia or something else? No one knows for sure. Throughout her life, Christie refused to talk about that period, except once to a British newspaper, and her story revealed few details.

Agatha 1When one of the greatest mystery writers has an unsolved mystery in her own life, you can bet there would be much interest. In 1977, author Kathleen Tynan wrote the novel, Agatha, featuring her own interpretation of what happened during those eleven days. Hollywood released a big-screen adaptation of Agatha in 1979 starring Vanessa Redgrave at the shy author, Dustin Hoffman as a fictitious American journalist, and Timothy Dalton as Archibald Christie. More recently, two British Made for Television films, Agatha and the Truth of Murder (2018), and Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar (2019) turn Ms. Christie in Jessica Fletcher. A third film in the series is scheduled for this year.

Hard-Boiled Hammett

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Considered one of the founding fathers of hard-boiled fiction, if not the founding father, Dashiell Hammett is must reading for anyone interested in tough guy crime fiction. Detective fiction before Hammett came along the likes of Agatha Christie: conventional, polite detectives where few got their hands down and dirty were standard. Hammett changed all that. His Sam Spade was a cynical outsider who lived by his own personal code. The streets of crime were tough and Spade and other Hammett characters walked them with a new literary style. They called it “hard-boiled” and as The New York Times in their obituary, christened Hammett he was the dean of the “so called” hard-boiled school of detective fiction.

Hammett served in World War I, where he was rewarded by contracting tuberculosis. During his recovery, he met a nurse, Josephine Dolan, who became his wife. For a few years, Hammett became a Pinkerton detective.  It was his work during these years that gave birth to his aspirations of becoming a writer. Reading stories in the pulp fiction magazines like Black Mask, he realized he could do better than those guys.

Drawing on his experience as a real-life detective, The Smart Set published his first story (The Road Home) in 1922. Many of the stories he wrote at the time featured The Continental Op, a nameless P.I. who worked for the Continental Detective Agency located in San Francisco. The Op led to Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and other tough guy P.I.’s.

Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, Hammett was most productive: Red Harvest (1929), The Dain Curse (1930), The Maltese Falcon (1930), The Glass Key (1931) and The Thin Man (1934). It was during this short twelve-year period that Hammett produced most of his work. Alcoholism, politics, the blacklist, imprisonment, illness, and writer’s block all became barriers. A bright spot happened in 1931 when he met Lillian Hellman. They began a long term, though turbulent, relationship that lasted until his death from lung cancer in 1961. He was 66 years old.

This brings us to Wim Wenders 1982 film Hammett. Based on Joe Gores semi-fictional novel, the film is an homage not only to the great author but a stunning visual homage to those dark mean streets of film noir.

HammettSet in San Francisco. Hammett (Frederic Forrest) is already pumping out short stories to Black Mask but is not making much money. His old boss Jimmy Ryan (Peter Boyle) from his days as a Pinkerton detective, and the model for Hammett’s Continental Op, shows up at his front door. He’s not there to reminisce about the good old days, he’s on a case and wants Hammett’s help. Toss in Chinatown, crooked cops, dangerous dames and an eerie mood of disillusionment and you have a classic tribute to the noirs of yesteryear.

This was German director Wenders, first English speaking film, and not a good experience. Over the years rumors have spread the Wenders was fired and that Francis Ford Coppola took over. In an interview with IndieWire, Wenders reveals his version of what happened, why the film was literally shot twice. Read about it here.

A big part of the film’s moody ambiance is thanks to master cinematographer Joseph F. Biroc whose films included, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Killer Who Stalked New York, Dry Danger, Attack, Forty Guns, China Gate, The Garment Jungle, Tony Rome, and many other films and television shows.

The film stars Frederic Forrest, in an excellent performance, as Hammett, Peter Boyle, and Marilu Henner. Look for Sylvia Sydney, Elisha Cook Jr. (Wilber in John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon), Royal Dano, and maverick B film director, Sam Fuller.

Five Stephen King Films and Characters Who Are Writers

Anyone who has read Stephen King knows many of his characters are writers. I don’t know of any other author who has used a writer in so many of his stories. Many of these stories have been transferred to the movie screen, once again, possibly more than any other author. And there are more on the way. Here are five of my favorites.

 

Misey

Whether you’re a musician, actor, artist or writer you know having fans is an integral part of the experience.  Fans are supportive, financially and artistically. Fans follow the artist on social media, fans share experiences and thoughts with each other, and fans are devoted.  Sometimes like Annie Wilkes, a little too devoted. In Misery, King created one of his most devoted and deranged fans. One of my favorite King novels and films.

Shining

Every writer needs time alone when he’s working. Solitude to think, research and create. In The Shining, Stephen King’s Jack Torrance is no exception, and he finds his opportunity when he is hired as a caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, closed for the winter. The fact that the previous caretaker went mad does not deter Jack from taking the job and his family along. HERE’S JOHNNY!

Salem

I read the novel and saw the made for television movie back in the 1970s.  All I can say is that Salem’s Lot remains one of my favorite King novels. A mini-series was made in 2004.

Secret Window

In Secret Window, a psychological thriller (based on the novella Secret Window, Secret Garden from Four Past Midnight), Johnny Depp portrays a successful writer going through a rough divorce. He is stalked by a wannabe writer (John Turturro) who accuses him of plagiarism. I like this film more than a lot of folks do. One of Depp’s finest performances.

 

Big Driver Maria Bello-001

Stephen King’s novella, Big Driver (a TNT film), originally part of King’s Full Night, Dark Stars collection is a tale of not so sweet revenge in line with the film I Spit on Your Grave.  Tess Thorne, an author of cozy mysteries, is attacked, brutally raped repeatedly and left for dead, on an empty back road while she is on her way back home from a speaking and book signing engagement at a library. Afraid to tell anyone about her rape she seeks revenge on those responsible. With the help of her inner voice and a GPS named Tom, The author’s perpetrators get their bloody revenge.

 

Meeting Author Sarah Graves at The Eastern Most Point in the U.S.

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Back in 2007, my wife and I were on one of our trips to Maine. One of our stops was a day trip to Eastport which we learned is the most eastern point of the United States. It’s a neat little town and upon our arrival came upon an unexpected surprise.

Strolling down Water Street, the seaside town’s main street, you get a beautiful view of the Atlantic, and New Brunswick, Canada across the waters. As we walked along we came across S. L. Wadsworth and Son, a local hardware store. There’s nothing special about it except that along with the usual hardware items you’d expect to find in a hardware store window there was a collection of paperback books for sale. The books are all by one author… Sarah Graves. Neither my wife nor I could claim familiarity with Sarah Graves or her work. Avid readers, we went inside and checked out the books. It turns out Sarah Graves is a mystery writer! Perfect!

Both of us are always willing to check out an author new to us so we purchased two paperbacks. The woman behind the counter asked if we would like to meet the author and have her autograph the two books. Seriously? In a hardware store? We willingly agreed and followed her to the back and up a circular staircase (being a reader of mysteries and suspense my mind quickly began to churn wondering, for a moment, if would be the last time anyone will see us alive!) At the top of the stairs, sitting at a desk we were introduced to Sarah Graves. She greeted us and thanked us for buying her books. We chatted for a few minutes; she signed the books and posed for the photo above.

We left with our new books, happy with the chance encounter, a pleasant surprise and an unexpected treat to our trip.

Sarah Graves is Eastport’s local celebrity and like her fictional home repair sleuth, Jacobia (Jake) Tiptree is a home fixer upper. Both are ex-New Yorker’s and both Sarah and the fictional Jake frequent the hardware store.  As one would expect Sarah’s books do well in town with the locals and bring plenty of tourist to the area.

Elmore Leonard is Out of Sight

Arguably, Out of Sight is the best film adaption of the many Elmore Leonard crime novels to hit the screen. Some would argue for Jackie Brown, based on Leonard’s Rum Punch, and that’s a worthy debate to have. The Tarantino film has some fabulous performances particularly by Samuel L. Jackson as gun runner Ordell Robbie. But for me, Out of Sight is  off beat, dark, smart and funny. It’s a film I could watch multiple times and never get tired of watching.

Below is a clip of the famous truck scene. After Jack Foley (George Clooney) escapes from Glades State Prison in Florida, with the help of his partner Buddy (Ving Rhames), U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) happens along at the wrong time and ends up held hostage, forced to ride in the trunk of the getaway car with Jack.

The electricity between the two stars, the humorous dialogue, and the tight quarters of the trunk all quickly heat up the atmosphere. It’s one of my favorite scenes.

Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer

Few authors get to portray their own lead character in a movie. Sure, Stephen King has had cameo roles in many films based on his work including Pet Sematary, Thinner, Sleepwalkers. Peter Benchley had a cameo as a TV reporter in the screen version of his best selling novel Jaws, and William Peter Blatty appeared early on in the role of a movie producer in the movie version of The Exorcist. Other authors have made brief appearances in film versions of their works, but none have ever portrayed their own iconic character in a leading role except for Mickey Spillane.

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Mickey Spillane as Mike Hammer and Shirley Eaton in “The Girl Hunters”

In 1963, Mickey Spillane played his legendary P.I., Mike Hammer in The Girl Hunters. The film is middle of the road, worth seeing, but Spillane’s lack of talent as an actor is evident. The novel, the seventh in the series, deals with an alcoholic Hammer whose binge drinking has been going on ever since his beloved Velda has gone missing and is presumed dead for the past seven years. He receives a second chance and inspiration when he learns there’s a chance Velda may still be alive.

While Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe worked on the outskirts of the law, Mike Hammer found the legalities of the system to be a hindrance to his own brand of righteousness. Hammer was a tough, no holds barred P.I., extreme in his use of violence even by today’s standards. A right-wing, anti-communist, Hammer would have made both Spade and Marlowe shake in their boots. You might call Hammer the father to Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, both are more vigilantes than  lawmen and both had little use for ethical boundaries of the law when pursuing a criminal. Hammer has no problem shooting a killer in the gut and while watching him die kick his teeth out, or maybe he’ll just put a cigarette out in the victim’s eye. In Dirty Harry, Harry Callahan shoots the suspected serial killer known as “Scorpio” in the leg, even though he surrendered and had his hands up in the air. Harry though isn’t finished yet, he wants to know where Scorpio’s kidnapped 14-year-old victim is buried alive. To encourage his victim to speak, Harry presses his foot on Scorpio’s wound harder and harder until he gives up the girl’s location. Mike Hammer would be proud.

juryHammer first appeared back in 1947 in Spillane’s first and still the best-known novel, I, The Jury. The Great War had just ended, and anti-communism was on the rise, the House on Un-American Activities, established in 1938, was gaining power, the rise of Joe McCarthy, and the Hollywood Blacklist were all in full swing. The Cold War was building, and many Americans wondered if nuclear destruction was not far away. This is the world that shaped Mickey Spillane and that of his hero Mike Hammer. Spillane decided not to sugar coat the world in his books. It was a rough and violent world, and he would not play it politely. I, The Jury shocked readers. While a lot of the dialogue today may seem dated, the ending is still shocking.

I, The Jury became a pop culture phenomena; the book is mentioned in Larry McMurtry’s novel The Last Picture Show as a paperback the town’s local drug store could not keep in stock. In Peter Bogdanovich’s screen version we see the book passed from one high school kid to another in a classroom. On TV, in the first episode of Happy Days, Potsie Weber gives Richie Cunningham a copy of the Spillane’s torrid book to study after he gets a date with Mary Lou Wiggins, a girl with an easy reputation. In an episode of M.A.S.H., Major Charles Winchester, indebted to Klinger for saving his life, reads from I, The Jury while the Major unappreciative listens.

In addition to Spillane’s depiction in The Girl Hunters, Mike Hammer has been portrayed by many actors over the years in films:  Biff Eliot (I, The Jury–1953), Armand Assante (I, The Jury–1982), Robert Bray (My Gun is Quick–1957) and Ralph Meeker (Kiss Me, Deadly–1955). Made for TV movies featured Stacy Keach in a series of films: Murder Me, Murder You (1983), the pilot of the TV series, More Than Murder (1984), The Return of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (1986), Mike Hammer’s Murder Takes All (1989). Keach also played Hammer in The New Mike Hammer TV series that ran for four seasons (1984-1987). In 1997, the show was brought back with Keach under the name Mike Hammer, Private Eye. Kevin Dobson played Hammer in a 1981 TV film, Margin for Murder. Things deteriorated for Spillane’s tough guy when in 1994 another TV film called Come Die With Me: A Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer Mystery appeared starring Rob Estes with Pam Anderson as Velda. The best of the movies is Robert Aldrich’s, Kiss Me, Deadly with Ralph Meeker making for a perfect Mike Hammer. The film was in synch with the paranoia and fear of a nuclear war prevalent at the time.

The earliest attempt at a TV series came in 1954 when Blake Edwards (The Pink Panther) wrote and directed a pilot for a series called Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer with Brian Keith as the tough P.I. The pilot was considered too violent for the times and did not get picked up by the networks. Edwards would have better luck in TV detectives a few years later with the smoother and cooler Peter Gunn. In the late 1950s, Spillane’s P.I. did make it to the small screen with Darren McGavin portraying Hammer in Mike Hammer.

Since Spillane’s death in 2006, the prolific author Max Allan Collins, a friend of Spillane’s was given the blessing of completing various unfinished manuscripts and to this day continues to put out Mike Hammer novels.