Book Review: The Man Who Came Uptown

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Both crime fiction and book lovers will rejoice after reading George Pelecanos’ latest novel The Man Who Came Uptown. He not only gives us a character dictated crime story, but  pays tribute to book lovers and the joys of reading.

Incarcerated in a Washington D. C. prison,  Michael Hudson discovers a love of books thanks to Anna, the prison’s librarian. Michael’s love of reading opens up new worlds and possibilities that he never imagined. Anna encourages Michael and other prisoners at their weekly meeting to not only read but understand and discuss what the author is saying.

One week Michael does not show up. He’s been unexpectedly released from prison. Charges have all been dropped due to a shady P.I. named Phil Ornazian  who convinced the witness in Michael’s case not to remember a thing. Suddenly, Michael is no longer wearing an orange jumpsuit and is a free man. Phil lets Michael know that he owes him and some day payback will be requested. A free man, Michael is determined to go straight. He gets a job, buys himself a bookcase and books to read.

Ornazian is the kind of P.I. who walks the edge when it comes to good and bad, He wants to provide for his wife and kids and sometimes that means taking a walk on the wrong side of the law. He hates pimps who live off women and helps one hooker get out of the life by robbing the pimp and giving her enough of the money he stole for her to get out of town and start a new life some where far away.

When Ornazian needs a wheel man for one of his jobs, he calls in his favor with Michael Hudson; the dude knows how to handle cars. Michael doesn’t want to get involved, but Ornazian lets him know that the witness who forgot everything he saw could suddenly have an epiphany.

The Man Who Came Uptown is a tale about the love of books and about making choices. The kind of choices we all have to make in life. Sometimes we learn from them and sometimes we die.

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Years of Our Lives on TCM


the-best-years-of-our-lives-still-526x295William Wyler’s superb film about returning veterans will be broadcast on TCM tonight at 10 PM eastern. The brilliant cast includes Dana Andrews, Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Theresa Wright, Virgina Mayo, and Harold Russell, A must see!

Read about it and more than 30 other important films in my my book, Lessons in the Dark. Available at Amazon. Just click here.

Lessons Dark Final Book Cover

Recent Read: Big Driver – Stephen King

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Stephen King’s novella, Big Driver, 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, two brothers and their mother (the mother it turns out is the library’s event planner and recommended the shortcut to Tess). With the help of her inner voice and a GPS named Tom, The author’s perpetrators get their bloody revenge.

The horror in this King tale is more grounded in reality, or as close to reality as King can get, along the lines of Dolores Claiborne and one of my favorite of King works, Misery (another story about a writer).

 

Recent Read: November Road

November

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy was one of the most devastating events to hit this country. Anyone alive at the time remembers where they were and when they first heard the news. I was in a high school classroom when a school administrator walked in and informed the teacher what happened. The teacher then solemnly announced the tragedy to the class. I don’t think any of my fellow students knew how to react or realized the enormity of what happened. One kid, not the brightest bulb in the class, yelled out Nixon got him! Some classmates laughed until our teacher started shouting at us screaming how this was a tragedy and there could be global consequences no one could imagine.  Soon after, the school suspended all classes and sent everyone home.

Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended hours later after killing police officer J.D. Tippet. That Sunday on live TV as Oswald, in police custody, was being transferred by the police. Out of the shadows a gun shot was fired and Oswald went down, The shot was fired by  sleazy nightclub owner Jack Ruby. They apprehended Ruby, and he was put on trial. He was found guilty, but while waiting on an appeal, he died from a pulmonary embolism due to lung cancer.

With  this as the background, author Lou Berney’s third novel, November Road lays the groundwork for a magnificent  read combining conspiracy theories, history, road trip and a tense thriller all rolled up into one superb crime novel.

Frank Guidry is a trusted member of New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello’s crew. He knows his way around the club scene and with women. One night, Frank has an awakening of sorts. Though he is a loyal and well thought of member of the family, he is also a loose end connecting Marcello to the assassination of JFK. Marcello, if nothing else is thorough. That makes Frank expendable. Realizing this, Frank decides its best if he leaves town and disappears. But where to go and who can he trust.

Then there is Charlotte Roy, a mother of two young girls, married to a hopeless drunk. Charlotte lives a dead-end life in a small dead-end town in Oklahoma. Charlotte’s mother’s lessons taught her to hold on to what you got and never look beyond. But Charlotte hungers for something more in life for her and her daughters. With her two daughters in hand, Charlotte packs up and takes off for a new life heading for California.

These two divergent souls will find each other on America’s open roads, both looking to escape their past and search for new starts in life. Berney has created three dimensional, fully developed characters and though the story plays out more than 60 years in the past, you can relate to them. Especially Charlotte, a woman who wants more out of life and does not want to settle for the nothing life of her past. Though Frank is on the run, he too, after meeting Charlotte, dreams of a new life, a good life away from the mob, but the question remains, is it too late, especially for him.

November Road is a must read and will rank up there as one of the best reads of the year.

Shelburne Museum: The General Store

If you are ever in Burlington Vermont, drive over to the nearby town of Shelburne where you will find the Shelburne Museum. It’s not your typical museum. Located on 45 acres of land there are 39 exhibition buildings consisting of a wide variety of art, prints, folk art, and plenty of Americana.

The General Store dates back to 1840 and was a fascinating look back.

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Gen Store Shelves CW-0584

 

DeWitt's CW-0587

Haugee’s Cod Liver Oil, Renne’s Oil Compound, and Hanford’s  Balsam of Myrrth were some of the health aids available back in the 1800’s, but the best or at least all-purpose was DeWitt’s Stomach Bitters, an all-everything concoction for improving your appetite, invigorating the system, regulating the bowels, Liver and Kidneys, curing Dyspepsia,  heartburn and a sour stomach.

The label goes on to say, it’s an invaluable aid to persons in delicate and feeble health. Restoring strenght (that’s the way it is spelled on the label) and vigor to wornout constitutions.

Directions: a wineglass full before or after each meal.

A  wineglass is most appropriate because most of these types of “medications” contained quite a bit of alcohol.

Durkee's CW-0590

One of the brands on the above shelf are still in business..Durkee’s.

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I have no idea what or how these pills were meant to help. The  web revealed nothing when I typed in the name other than lot’s of hits on Harvey Weinstein and pills that will enhance your sex life. I doubt this Harvey had much to do with either.

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Men and Women’s hats of the day.

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Some of the products sold in these bottles include Citric Acid, Gylcerin, Sodium Bicarbonate, and Antimuniun Crud. The last word most likely should be read as Crudum.  The bottle’s label is worn after the “Crud” so likely it was spelled correctly as Crudum.

Recent Read: Colorblind

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Colorblind is Reed Farrel Coleman’s fifth book since taking over Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series. It’s his best. Coleman has taken Stone, and while preserving Parker’s essence, made him his own. It’s a winning combination.

After a few months in rehab, Jesse  gets a second chance as police chief in the small Massachusetts town of Paradise. He is still struggling, both emotionally and mentally, to recover from the death of his murdered love, Diana.

When Jesse first became police chief of Paradise, years ago, it was a small town with not much happening. A far cry from his days with the L.A. Police. But like so much of America, Paradise has grown and changed. Barely able to settle back in to his job, there‘s a rape and death of  a young African-American, Felicity Wileford, who was jogging alone on the beach.  A few nights later, a burning cross is planted on the property of Dr. Ron Patel and his wife. The home was previously owned by Jesse. What the incidents have in common is Felicity was in a relationship with a white man and Dr. Patel, an Indian, has a wife who is white. Not long after these incidents, flyers are found on many parked cars placed there during the night. They are credited to an extremist right-wing group called  “The Saviors of Society.” A few nights later, the group targets Jesse’s deputy, Alisha, the first black woman ever hired as a police officer in Paradise, framing her for a bad shooting.

In this book, Coleman brings to the forefront a series of timely issues turning this story into a much darker version than earlier books in the series. Like the rest of America, Paradise is dealing with issues that have divided us. Don’t let that discourage you, just think about it the same way as if you’re watching a movie franchise and different artists have taken over from the originals. It’s different, but the same.

My Book Covers, My Photography

Book Covers1001I have been designing my own book covers, for better or worse, except for my first ebook of fiction (Murder with a Twist), and have been using my own photographs for the covers. Professionals say this is a potential road to disaster. I assume that may be true, but as a  photographer with a backlog of thousands of photographs available, it seemed to me I should be able to find suitable cover photos if I gave it the thought and time.  That said, in this post I thought I’d share some of the creative process involved in selecting the right photograph or photographs that work with each book’s subject matter.

Film Noir at Twenty Four Frames Per Second

My first ebook, Film Noir at Twenty Four Frames Per Second, consist of a collection of film articles from my film blog Twenty Four Frames. When I first became interested in photography, back in the 1970’s, I lived in New York City and many weekends were spent roaming the streets photographing. I sometimes merged my love of movies and photography by photographing the movie theaters that were all over the city. This was before the bland, box cutter multiplexes we have today.  Over the years, whenever I traveled I continued to photograph  classic  movie theaters that have managed to survive the onslaught of multiplexes.  One of these survivors is the Tampa Theater.

My wife and I moved to Florida some twenty years ago and we have attended many film showings at the Tampa Theater (built in 1923). I had photographed the exterior on a few occasions, but wanted to photograph inside the theater. One afternoon, with camera in hand and between film showings I took a series of shots including the one that graces the cover of Film Noir at Twenty Four Frames (I did ask for permission to shoot). The original photograph was in color but keeping in line with the book’s dark theme of film noir, I changed it to black and white giving it a darker look in line with the subject matter.  Below are both the original photo and as it appears on the book cover.

                    Tampa Theate-Aud - Book Cover    Book Cover_DSC_0583-005

 

Lessons in the Dark

Skipping over my first work of fiction (Murder with a Twist), Lessons in the Dark was the second book where I used my own photographs. The cover is a collage of multiple photographs of various New York movies theaters now all sadly gone except for the Paris theater on 58th street. Most were shot on black and white film which I did a lot of at the time.   Lessons in the Dark is collection of article  on films  that hold up a mirror to both our past, and our lives today. These are films though made thirty, forty or fifty years ago remain relevant to our world today. Life and art repeat themselves. The fear mongering, the racial hatred we hear today from plastic gods promising greatness  for America feeding the hate. I knew that I wanted to use a movie theater photograph and began searching through my files. I came to the decision the one theater would be too bland but realizing I have many  photographs of movie theaters and a book that looks back in time I felt a collage might work. I began arranging and rearranging my various theater photographs. There were multiple versions until I came up with the final cover. Below are a few of the original photographs used followed by the final book cover.

        Baronet & Coronet Theatres_CR1-001 Book Cover   Loew's S-002 book cover

42nd Street-003 book Cover    Loew's Oriental -1971 Book Cover

 

Lessons Dark Final Book Cover

Devious Tales

Devious Tales needed something dark and maybe a bit mysterious considering the subject matter. The original photo was taken in 2016 along Santa Fe’s Canyon Road, known for being a street filled with art gallery after art gallery, many artist owned and run. The photograph was taken outside the entrance way of  one of those gallery’s. The image was all shadows reflecting off the gallery’s adobe building. The photo came across to me as somewhat dark and shadowy. Below is the original photo, a black and white version followed by both the final ebook cover and paperback cover.

        Wall Shadow_DSC655_CW-6555          Wall Shadow_DSC655_CW_B&W-6555

 

                     Devious Tales Book Cover - Final (1 of 1)-001           Devious Tales Paperback Cover

In a future post, I will take a look at the making of the book cover for Bitter Ends, my upcoming collection of short stories.