Recent Read: The Deep Blue Good-by

The DeepThe master of Florida noir, John D. MacDonald was admired by writers like Stephen King, Lee Child and Dean Koontz among many others. MacDonald’s most famous character was Florida’s dark-knight Travis McGee.  In his first adventure, there were 21 books in the series, McGee willingly helps out, he called himself a “salvage consultant,” a young woman recover illegal funds her father stole and smuggled back home during the war.  His fee is fifty percent of what he recovers.

Travis’ methods of getting information are not always, I guess you can say legal. In this book, he strips one drunk guy, ties him up in a shower, hits him with cold water to sober him up, and then with hot scorching water to get him to talk. That said, McGee can be introspective, philosophical, sometimes cynical, and does have his moments of charm with women. Florida isn’t all fun in the sun.


Recent Read: Sunburn


Laura Lippman’s latest novel, Sunburn, sizzles evoking the long-ago classic noirish, pulp fiction of writers like James M. Cain, David Goodis, and other genre masters. It’s a world filled with deadly, duplicitous dames and the guys who fall foolishly hard for them.

Polly Costello, at least that’s her most recent name, arrives in the sleepy town of Belleville, Maryland. It’s a nothing town where zero happens; a seemingly perfect place to hide out for a while. Polly’s dangerously sexy and cold-blooded. Still, she may have been hurt more by those in her life than the pain she has inflicted on others.

Polly had a good childhood, but at seventeen years old she became pregnant by a guy in his early twenties. Her life spiraled downhill from there. They married, he became a crooked police officer in Baltimore. He also began drinking too much and beating her when she didn’t listen to him. After one too many beatings and a threat to kill her and their child, who has cerebral palsy, one night in bed while her husband was sleeping she stabbed him right through the heart.

The battered wife defense didn’t work in court and Polly spent a few years in jail, but received a pardon, along with a few other women, from the Governor. She soon found herself pregnant and married again to another jerk. Fed up with her bad luck, one day Polly decides to escape from her life. It helped that with the aid of a crooked insurance agent; she sued the hospital her first daughter was born at and won a two million dollar settlement. Her husband knows nothing about the money, and she will have to keep it that way until he is out of the way…divorce.

With the settlement money tied up, Polly’s working at a local dive in Belleville as a waitress. One day, in walks Adam Bosk. He claims he is a salesman, and his truck broke down. He has to wait for a part will be sticking around for a time.   He’s good-looking, in a Ken doll sort of way, and she’s just plain hot. Neither plan on getting involved with the other or falling in love, but things happen even though no one seems to be who they are.

With a pissed off husband, and a crooked insurance man after her, plus a lot of sexual heat between Adam and our anti-heroine, the question becomes will it work out for Polly and will our lovers live happily ever after…or not. Sunburn has the definite feel and mood of a modern day version of The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Lippman builds it all up devising an ending that will not disappoint the reader.

Recent Read: The Woman in the Window

WomanWith its nod to cinema’s master of suspense, A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window is a thrill filled ride of twists and turns that do not let up until the final pages.

Anna Fox is an agoraphobic mess who has not left her home for almost a year. She spends most of her time watching film noirs like Gaslight, and plenty of Hitchcock: Spellbound, Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt, and Vertigo, drinking lots of Merlot, mixed with too many meds. She also likes to “look in” on her neighbors via a 35mm camera through the window of her expensive home in uptown Manhattan. Her only companion is her cat.

Anna’s husband has left her and taken their daughter with him. She misses them, but they do talk a lot by phone. She’s a child psychiatrist. However these days her only patients are with online chats. Of the neighbors, she spies on the Russell’s, Alistair, Jane, and teenage son Ethan are the most intriguing. They are a troubled family, and it is with them that the author’s tale begins its glorious spin.

Revealing more would only expose the many layers of twists that Finn has in store for his readers. He excels at establishing false impressions and misdirection throughout, though there are one or two minor clunks that can be guessed at or are a bit of a stretch to be believable. Still, this book will grab your interest from the beginning and will most likely keep you up late at night.

Devious Tales

My thanks to author Carol Balawyder for the wonderful review of DEVIOUS TALES, my short story collection.

Carol Balawyder

There’s a saying in writing: make every word count or at the very least have every paragraph/scene be relevant. This can be argued, especially for the novel where there is room for sub-plots and leisure strolls through gardens and having tea with a favorite aunt. Not so for the short story. Short stories are (generally) tight, concentrated and condensed.

John Greco’s latest collection of short stories, Devious Tales has all the technical markings of this form and Greco skillfully merges his skill as writer and photographer in these twelve snapshots of life.

His stories are also highly influenced by his passion for noir film and fiction. His short story Late Night Diner reminded me of the rural diner in James Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice and I immediately associated his story The Organic Garden to one Stephen King could have written because of its macabre and conniving ending.


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Book Review – Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

JacksonWhen the 2016 best books of the year lists were compiled, Ruth Franklin’s biography of author Shirley Jackson was conspicuously listed on many of those lists; you couldn’t help but take notice. Jackson, if you are unaware, is best known for her novel The Haunting of Hill House, and her short story The Lottery. The book is extremely well researched with Ms. Franklin given access to many of Jackson’s journals, drafts, notes, letters, and more than 50 unpublished works as well as interviews that she did during her career.

At the time Jackson was growing up, and later as an adult, she lived in a world where men were the dominant force. She came from a prominent family living in the San Francisco area. Her father was an upwardly mobile businessman who rose to CEO in his company. This eventually led to relocating him and his family to Rochester, New York. At the  time, Shirley was still in her teens. Her parents travelled in the upper class circles of the community. Unfortunately, for Shirley, she was not born the petite feminine debuntant her mother’s world encompassed. Shirley was high-strung, creative and untidy. She would spend much time alone, with books, and her thoughts.  Her relationship with he mother was a lifetime of emotional abuse even after she became a successful author. Shirley would forever be the outsider no matter where she lived. She married Stanley Hyman, a brash professor, noted literary critic, writer for The New Yorker, and serial philanderer who like her mother emotionally abused his wife. He also taught, encouraged, dominated and infuriated her.

Unlike many women from her time, Jackson had to manage both a family life; husband, a house full of kids, and a professional career, in this case as a writer. This duel existence was still a rarity and was frowned upon by many who believed a woman’s place should only be in the home. Franklin examines both sides of Jackson’s life, and how each of these separate worlds would influence the other. Jackson would extract many incidents  from her private life finding both the humorous and darker side of what a women’s world was like in mid-20th Century America. Many  would make their way into her novels. It was not always a pretty picture. This is understandable considering her rocky relationship with her own mother, the fact that she was married to a serial philander, and the problems she sometimes faced in the various communities where they lived with neighbors, especially after the publication of The Lottery. In Bennington, Vermont where they moved after Stanley accepted a teaching position at Bennington College, they were met with suspicion by the residents whose families went back generations. Going to the grocery store  or gas station  was an ordeal as neighbors viewed them with  distrust and misgivings.

While Jackson is best remembered for her psychological horror tales, I was surprised by her range when I discovered she had many jobs writing humorous semi-autobiographical family stories for women’s magazines.  These stories were eventually compiled in two books, Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons.

Like most people, Shirley Jackson was a multi-layered individual, and Ruth Franklin’s book digs deep into many of these layers; her loneliness, dispair, successes, humor,   disappointments, and her demons which would eventually catch up with her.