There is nothing as comforting on a cold winter evening as a glass of fine wine and a good book! Bitter Ends: 20 Short Stories of Morder and Mayhem is available at Amazon (in book paperback and ebook) and Barnes & Nobles (ebook)
It’s great to have Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder back, even if it’s a short trip. The two charges leveled against the book by many Amazon and Goodreads reviewers are 1) the book is too short and 2) there is too much sex. In both cases, these are complaints not worth listening to. In the first case, the book is listed, blatantly advertised as a novella. Complaining that a novella is too short is redundant! As for item number two, the blind, the uninformed ant all those who miss the point will whine and complain, but for those who get it, will understand that Mr. Block has written a timely tale of what we read or hear about almost every day, the idea of sexual consent.
In this story, An aging Matt Scudder and his wife Elaine Martell get involved in helping Ellen, a younger woman, Elaine met at her support group for women, all former call girls. Ellen is being stalked and harassed by a former client who does not understand or won’t accept the meaning of the word no. We only know him by the name of Paul. Paul manages to terrorize Ellen forcing her to consent to his demands without breaking the law keeping the police at bay and making Ellen a helpless victim. Paul is obviously getting off feeling the power he has controlling Ellen.
In helping Ellen, Scudder finds himself searching for a man he has no idea who he is nor what he looks like. In digging in, putting pieces of a puzzle together, Matt skirts the legal process himself.
A Time to Scatter Stones is a satisfying return with an old friend facing a #metoo world. It’s a short visit, but I for one did not need a full blown three and fifty-page novel to satisfy my soul. Nice to have you back Matt.
Ex-con Elmer Vartanian and millionaire Juliet Van Allen, The Double V’s, are back in this cozy New England mystery; the fifth in the series. The setting is summer theater and author Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a fabulous sense of time (1950’s) and place (Summer theater on the Connecticut shore). The leading actress is missing and the amateur detectives soon find themselves embedded in the theatrical world; Juliet as an actress and Elmer as a backstage hand.
A few years back Lynch wrote an historical, well researched, and entertaining book (Comedy and Tragedy on the Mountain: 70 Years of Summer Theater on Mt. Tom, Hokyoe Massachusetts) about the history of live summer theater on Mt. Tom. With the surplus of information she acquired writing this fascinating non-fiction book, Lynch was well equipped to use much of it as background for her novel.
Admittedly, I have a soft spot for backstage mysteries, and Murder at the Summer Theater is satisfying as both a mystery and for the smell of greasepaint and the roar of the crowd.
You can read an interview I did with Ms. Lynch a few years about her biography of actress Ann Blyth here.
Richard Segal is going through a rough patch in life. Since beginning his new job, he cannot land a new account as a network systems salesman and is worried about getting fired. Meanwhile, his wife Paula has just received a promotion which irritates his fragile male ego. There are other worries too: Richard has started drinking again, he is having flashbacks of teenage memories and a bully named Michael Rudnick who sexually abused him, and if this is not enough he fears his wife is having an affair. In the middle of all this he runs into Rudnick on the street one day. Rudnick, now a lawyer, doesn’t recognized him but Segal has become obsessed with revenge.
Jason Starr writes dark noir like stories about seemingly average characters with hidden amoral streaks that once exposed lead them down violent, train wreck type paths of destruction.
Received my stack of Bitter Ends paperbacks yesterday morning! Available at Amazon.
Far ahead of its time, Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd is a brilliant look at the media and its influence. Set your DVR for tomorrow at 1:45PM. Watch the film and then read about it in Lessons in the Dark,
Remember, classic films are not just nostalgia. They are avenues for learning and a passageway to take a look at ourselves as we were then and are now. Movies hold up a mirror to our past and our lives today. We can see how far we have come; the mistakes that we made, the choices we made, both the good and the bad.
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.
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.
Hammer 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.
Becky Miller discovers her husband Walter is cheating on her with a local waitress. After 14 years of marriage, the spark had gone out in their marriage. Reading hubby’s emails, Becky learns the waitress wants Becky out of the picture pressuring Walter to marry her. Becky, an avid reader of crime novels and a member of a book club, develops a cunning revenge plan of her own.
Meanwhile, Detective Sean Richardson and his partner Maggie McClinton are called in to investigate a murder. A female’s torso is discovered floating in a local canal. While not yet identified all clues point to it being Becky Miller who has been reported missing by her husband after not returning home as expected after a meeting with her book club.
The narrative is told through two characters points of view. Becky’s story is told in the weeks leading up to her missing. Richardson is current time as he investigates the death of the woman found in the canal. The body is eventually identified as that of Becky Miller. The narrative’s points of view continue to move back and forth between Becky, in the past, and Richardson and Maggie investigating Becky’s death. We follow Becky’s clever plan for revenge only to see how it goes terribly wrong for her.
Author James L. Thane has created an intriguing police procedural/suspense thriller with shades of classic Hitchcock. Fatal Blow is the 3rd book in the Sean Richardson series but works as a standalone. Enough twists to hold your interest right to the end.
The eBook version of my new collection of short stories is now available on Amazon. 20 short stories of murder and mayhem along with a couple of more charming tales tossed in – all with a twist.
Happy New Year everyone! Let’s hope it’s a good one. In 2018 I read 51 books and am looking forward to reading as many if not topping that number this year. Here are a few upcoming books I am looking forward to reading in 2019.
Available in April