Recent Read: Murder at the Summer Theater

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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.

Recent Read: Hard Feelings

 

hardRichard 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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Recent Read: Baltimore Blues

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Baltimore Blues is the  first in author Laura Lippmann’s Tess Monaghan series. Tess is an out of work journalist after her newspaper shut its doors. Unemployed and skimping by on money, she accepts an offer from her good rowing buddy Rock to tail his fiancé Ava, a lawyer, who has been acting strangely. It turns dark when Rock is accused of murdering shady legal beagle Michael Aromowitz, who  Tess recently uncovered as Ava’s lover. They have been spending some special lunch time at a local hotel. Tess now finds herself trying to prove Rock’s innocent without getting herself caught in the crosshairs and getting killed herself.

Tess Monaghan is a great character  and Lippman surrounds her with a great cast of characters who are quirky and funny. From the get go you know that the city of Baltimore is as much a character in the book as the  people. Lippmann knows the city and you can feel its feel and taste throughout the book.

Baltimore Blues is a fine introduction to the series.

 

 

Recent Read: Old Black Magic

 

Old Black Magic

Back in 1990, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston was the victim of a massive art thief of 13 works with a worth estimated to be about 500 million dollars. To this day, the thief remains unsolved.

This little hit of history is used as the inspiration for Ace Atkins latest entry in the Spenser series, created by the late Robert B. Parker. Twenty years ago, three pieces, a Picasso sketch, a Goya painting, and the  most important of the group, an El Greco work called The Gentleman in Black, dating back to the late 1500’s were stolen from one of Boston’s top Museums. After so many years, most believe the artwork was sold, probably overseas or maybe even destroyed.

A private investigator by the name of Locke has been on the case all this time with little success in finding the artwork or the thieves. But now Locke is seriously ill, he’s dying and turns to our wise-cracking hero Spenser to continue investigating the case.

Our butt kicking anti-hero with a cause accepts the case for Locke, that and a five million dollar reward. Spenser reviews Locke’s files and with the help of Vinnie Morris, a man whose tendency is to be on the wrong side of the law, the P.I.  begins a long and winding trail in search of the missing artwork.

Spenser is not a man who scares easily, a good thing because he runs across some folks who rather see him dead than find the missing art. The road is murky, but Spenser does what he does best. So does keeper of the flame, author Ace Atkins. He keeps Parker’s voice alive and well in this entertaining entry in the series. My only problem is Spenser’s ace in the hole when trouble comes along, Hawk is missing in action.

 

Recent Read: Don’t Let Go

HarlanHarlan Coben never disappoints. He’s steady Eddie, always there to provide a thrilling ride. Don’t Let Go is a carryover from last year’s Fall Reading list. The book is a lesson in not trusting everything the government tells you, and sometimes even the people you most admire and love.

Napoleon “Nap” Dumas is a New Jersey detective. A recent murder case brings back questions, and memories, about how his twin brother Leo died some 15 years ago. It’s haunted him daily ever since. No one has been able to explain how Leo, and his girlfriend, Diana Sykes, ended up getting killed in front of a railroad train.

The recent murder is that of Pennsylvania police officer Rex Canton, another high school friend of Nap’s, murdered in his car, the fingerprints of Maura Wells, Nap’s high school girlfriend who vanished without a trace the same night Leo and Diana died, are found at the scene. How can that be? Compelled to investigate, he quickly realizes there is a connection even though the deaths are 15 years apart. Leo, Diana, Maura, and Rex were all members of Westbrook High School’s Conspiracy Club. The club members took a particular interest in a nearby secret military facility. What is the connection? Were they all murdered? What is the relationship between the deaths, then and now, and the secret military facility? Don’t Let Go is intense, fast-paced, and suspenseful as layers of lies, secrets, and deceit are slowly revealed.

Recent Read: Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story.

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What I liked best about Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story is how it went beyond the standard “making of” books that have previously come out. Critic Chris Nashawaty spends about a third of the book giving us a history of the rebellious new anti-establishment comedy that was in the air. They came from the Harvard Lampoon, National Lampoon, Chicago’s Second City, and Saturday Night Live. By the time of National Lampoon’s Animal House they all came together, both behind and in front of the camera.

After the success of Animal House, Hollywood was hot for another film from the same sources. The result was a way too long 199-page screenplay by Brian Doyle-Murray, Doug Kenny, and Harold Ramis. The problems only built from there. Filmed in Florida, away from the prying eyes of the studio, first time director, Ramis, co-writers Kenny and Doyle-Murray along with cast members Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Rodney Dangerfield began to improvise. After all, that’s what they did best. Well almost best, What they did best was drugs; pot and cocaine flowed throughout the entire shoot. The set was one big party! According to the author, the only person on the film who was straight was Ted Knight!

Somehow, thanks to the free-flowing improvisational skills of cast members like Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and the writers, a disjointed film was made. Many people have complained the film has no plot, and scenes are not connected. They are more like skits. That’s all true, and that is what the studio heads thought after watching the way too long rough cut. They were very nervous. Something needed to be done. That’s when they brought in the gopher!

Nashawaty gives the readers plenty of juicy, outrageous details and background information to enjoy. However, it wasn’t all fun and games; there is a dark sadness overshadowing it all as we follow the meloncholy road of the comic genius Doug Kenny; his depression and drug use accelerating out of control. Kenny would die in Hawaii just one month after the film was released.

Caddyshack is not as funny as Animal House, the studio at first thought they had a disastrous financial bomb, but it made money, thanks mostly to the performances of Bill Murray and Rodney Dangerfield. Over the past four decades it has picked up a cult following, and phrases from the film (Be the ball!) have become mantras, at least for golfers.

If you are a die-hard Caddyshack fan, the book is a must, though you may notice that if you own the DVD, some of the information is not all new. If you are not a Caddyshack fan, the book is still a good look at movie-making during those crazy, hazy days.

Recent Read: Early Autumn

EarlyRobert B. Parker was at the top of his game in his early books.  Early Autumn was the 7th in the Spenser series and remains one of his best.

Spenser is hired by the mother of  15 year Paul Giacomin to find her son who has been kidnapped by the father. More out of spite than love. In truth, neither parent wants the teen. The boy seems disinterested in life; he does nothing except look at TV. When asked a question he shrugs. With uncaring parents, Spenser determines that if the boy is to survive in life, he needs to become autonomous: independent, learn how to do things for himself.

Spenser takes the young teen up into the woods of Maine, staying at a cabin owned by Susan Silverman, Spenser’s lady. Here Spenser teaches Paul structure, and how to work with his hands. Spenser tells him he needs to finish what he starts and learn what he is good at doing. It doesn’t matter what you do; you just have to have something in your life that is you.

Spenser meanwhile digs up dirt on the parents. The father is involved with mob figures; the mother sleeps around with men and now has a boyfriend who’d doesn’t want the kid around.

This not the typical Spenser crime novel, though Hawk makes an appearance and when Hawks around people die. And there are plenty of the smart-aleck remarks as you expect from our hero. Still, the story is more about Spenser mentoring the teen boy; teaching him to be self-sufficient, learn to live on his own and wanting something for himself in life. As usual, there are vivid descriptions of New England.

Review of Film Noir At Twenty Four Frames Per Second

book-cover_dsc_0583-003Ivan G. Shreve Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear gave a fabulous review of my e-book. You can read it here!

http://thrillingdaysofyesteryear.blogspot.com/2016/09/book-review-film-noir-at-twenty-four.html

…and you can buy it here!

https://www.amazon.com/FIlm-Noir-Twenty-Frames-Second-ebook/dp/B00JZCDPEW/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8#nav-subnav