Saturday, January 14, 2006

I Don't Know Much about Art . . .

. . . but I love old paperback covers. So in my neverending quest to avoid making constructive use of my time, I've started scanning and putting together a little slideshow of some of the covers on the books I own. I have no idea how many covers I'll actually include, but the ones I've done so far can be found here.

Case Histories -- Kate Atkinson

Three cold cases form the basis for this novel. The cases and their roots in the past are laid out in the beginning, and then in the present a private-eye named Jackson Brodie is hired to look into them. Brodie, a former police inspector, has a number of problems of his own. His wife has left him and married another man, and he's started smoking again. His cases aren't very interesting. For example, one of them involves looking for an old woman's cats. Then the three cold cases come into his life, and things perk up considerably for him.

As he begins his investigations, the lives of the principals in the cases intersect occasionally, but only coincidentally. What really interests Atkinson, it seems, is the lives of all the characters. On rara-avis, the hard-boiled list, a couple of people are discussing one of Elmore Leonard's "rules," the one about leaving out "the part that readers tend to
skip" -- detailed descriptions of weather, place, things, characters, and so on. Atkinson doesn't follow this rule. In fact, most of the book is made up of those things.

There's another rule that every writer or would-be writer has heard a million times: "show, don't tell." Atkinson flouts that one, too. Probably 80% of this book is telling. And I don't see a thing wrong with that. When did the "show, don't tell" rule come along, anyway? With Hammett and Hemingway? Case Histories is a throwback to a different kind of writing, and obviously a lot of people like it. I generally prefer leaner stuff, but now and then something like Case Histories is kind of fun.

My main problem with the intertwined stories is that I knew almost from the beginning where two of them were going. There was no way to know about the third because the information wasn't there. I also knew just about exactly what was going on with the Cat Lady and how that tale would turn out. I didn't really mind. Sometimes the trip is more important than the destination. The next time you want a change of pace from the lean and mean (if you ever do), you might give Case Histories a try.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Already Dead -- Charlie Huston

Joe Pitt (not his real name) is a Vampyre (no realtion, as far as I know, to this one). He lives in a Manhattan where there are lots of Vampyres (whose clans have divided the island into territories), not to mention a few shamblers (zombies to you). Joe's a sort of private-eye, an independent sort who does favors for the Coalition now and then. This time he's doing two, one of them involving a shambler and one involving a missing daughter. It will come as no surprise to anybody who's read a few p.i. tales that these favors are connected. Just how and why might be a surprise, however.

This is a violent, noirish novel. I thought Lennon in Duane Swierczynski's The Wheelman took a lot of punishment, but Lennon's a wuss compared to Pitt. (Pitt, being a Vampyre, can be expected to be a little tougher, though, I guess.) I was reminded, too, of Andrew Vachss's novels, if Burke were a Vampyre. If you're in the mood for something a little different, give this one a try.

Our Tax Dollars at Work

The Seattle Times: Local News: Couple orders IRS booklet, gets 24,000 copies of Wrong version: By The Associated Press

CHIMACUM, Jeffereson County — Brian Lawson, a self-employed market analyst, and his wife Jackie got both more and less than they expected when they ordered an Internal Revenue Service instruction booklet by telephone.

What the Lawsons wanted was a single copy of the Form 1040 instructions for 2003 to help fix them a numerical error on their returns that has resulted in them having to pay $300 a month in back taxes since they filed their return for that year.

What they got on Wednesday evening, three weeks after their call, was a UPS Inc. delivery of 12 boxes containing 2,000 copies each — 24,000 booklets in all — of the Form 1040 instructions for 2005.

The wrong booklets were sent from Bloomington, Ill., and arrived at the right place despite being addressed to Chimacum, D.C., instead of Chimacum, Wash.

He said he was unable to get the IRS to return his calls, and the newspaper also was unable to get a return call from the agency's media relations office in Seattle.

Hmmmmmm Update #3

NPR : Frey's 'Pieces' and Truth in Publishing: "Frey's 'Pieces' and Truth in Publishing

Morning Edition, January 13, 2006: James Frey's popular drug-addiction memoir A Million Little Pieces has been alleged to contain falsehoods. However, the publisher and Frey have stood by the account, even while admitting the facts were not necessarily hard and fast."

You can listen to the commentary at the link if you're not already tired of this story.

The Thrilling Detective

In his new blog, Kevin Burton Smith announces that there's a new issue of The Thrilling Detective on view, with stories by Sarah Weinman and Mike MacLean, among other things. Check it out.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Hmmmmmm Update #2

The Smoking Gun: A Million Little Lies

Now the lawyers are getting involved.

The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck -- Don Rosa

Carl Barks's stories about Scrooge McDuck were one of the things I discovered on my own as a kid. Nobody had to tell me they were something special. I just knew it, and they were among my favorite comics. Later on (years later on) I found out that plenty of other people loved Scrooge and had continued reading the comics about him for a lot longer than I had. I never became fanatical about Scrooge, but even now I enjoy reading one of the old comics if I run across it, and I was happy to hear from Rick Robinson about Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, which won the Will Eisner award for "Best Serialized Story" in 1995. (Yes, I'm ten years behind. For me that's about normal.)

Don Rosa has done a lot of Uncle Scrooge stories, but this is a little different. It's a 12-part serial based on the "facts" of Scrooge's life as discovered in Carl Barks' classic stories. Rosa says that every fact about Scrooge's early life, "no matter how minute or obscurely buried the morsel of history might have been" is included in his serial, each chapter of which is followed by Rosa's comments on the story and the facts therein (where they came from, any inconsistencies, and so on). I have to say that I enjoyed this "graphic novel" about as much as any book I've read lately. It made me feel a little like a kid again, waiting at the door for the postman to show up with the latest issue of Walt Disney's Comics & Stories. Check it out.

This Vampyre is Running for Governor of Minnesota

And in 2008, he's running for president. His qualifications: He's a "Satanic Dark Priest, a Sanguinarian Vampyre, and a Hecate Witch." (I have no idea if he knows Steve Stilwell.) Vote early and often.

Page Title: "During my time as governor, drug dealers and users will live in fear. I will introduce extremely harsh punishment for those who not only use illegal drugs, I will fight to make dealers serve life in prison, or better yet, Impalement.

Any Terrorist who is caught in Minnesota while I am governor, will find out what the true meaning of my nickname: “The Impaler!” I will impale them right in front of our State Capital. Then Fed’s can take the terrorist’s body from the impaling stake. If the US Department of Justice (DOJ) wants to charge me with brutally murdering a terrorist, they may do so. I do not see an American Jury convicting me."

Hmmmmmm Update

New York Daily News - Home - Oprah true believer in best seller: "Oprah Winfrey came to the rescue last night.

The talk show queen declared that allegations James Frey fabricated parts of his best-selling book 'A Million Little Pieces' were 'much ado about nothing.'

Winfrey, whose recommendation helped rocket the 'memoir' to the top of the best-seller lists, said she still stands behind the book."

Out West is Accepting Contributions

A Blog of James: Out West: "Out West is interested in creative portrayals of the American West in all of its permutations. From short stories to plays, illustration to song, Out West is fascinated by the world’s ongoing relationship with this enduring genre. Contributors are encouraged to go beyond “cowboy with a gun” and bring the Western’s continually evolving form into the 21st Century."

Click the link for more. Payment is a copy of the magazine.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Thrill Seeker Comics

Jayme Lynn Blaschke has a post on Scott McCullar's on-line comic strip featuring a masked pulp-type hero named Yellow Jacket. I took a look and it's well worth checking out. I like the art, and the story starts off well. If you like the pulps or just a good comic with good art, see for yourself.

A New E-Zine You Should Check Out

Bryon Quertermous has started a new e-zine called Demolition. It's along the lines of the late lamented Plots with Guns, and it has new fiction by Anthony Neil Smith, Victor Gischler, Pat Lambe, and Mike Maclean. It needs your support, so check it out, read the stories, tell your friends.

Follow-up Post on A Million Little Pieces - 'Pieces' buyers offered refund - Jan 11, 2006: "NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Random House will refund readers who bought James Frey's drug and alcohol memoir 'A Million Little Pieces' directly from the publisher, a move believed to be unprecedented, after the author was accused of exaggerating his story."

My short post with a link to the long article on the Smoking Gun article on the book is here.

Say It Ain't So!


The actors will take on the roles made famous by PAUL NEWMAN and ROBERT REDFORD in the 1969 classic.

Damon will reportedly play the Sundance Kid, while Affleck will recreate Newman's role as Butch Cassidy, according to America's OK! magazine."

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Another Fine Stark House Edition

I've written about Stephen Marlowe before, so you know I like his books if you've been reading this blog for a while. Now Stark House is publishing a double volume with two of his out-of-print novels. Violence is my Business is a reprint of a Gold Medal in the Chester Drum series, which was a sort of p.i./spy hybrid. This book is the only one in the series set entirely in the U.S., and it's one of the best. Turn Left for Murder was originally published as half of an Ace Double, and it's a tight little noir that's quite a bit different from the Drum series. Both titles are highly recommended.

But wait! There's more! Marlowe has written a special introduction for this volume that makes the package even more enticing. Better get your order in today so you can start reading.

At Least the Commercials Didn't Bother Her

Woman sat dead at home 2? years: "MADISONVILLE - Johannas Pope didn't want to be buried, believing that she would come back to life.

Pope died at her home here at age 61 on Aug. 29, 2003. A towel had been placed around her neck to keep her cool on that 87-degree summer day. She wore a white gown while sitting in a chair in an upstairs room, in front of a television that played as family members went about their lives downstairs.

She remained there, according to her wishes, for almost 2? years.

'Don't show my body when I'm dead,' Hamilton County's coroner, Dr. O'dell Owens, said Monday when explaining Pope's wishes. 'Don't bury me. I'm coming back.'"

Monday, January 09, 2006

Could This Happen to Me?

Art Scott sent me this news item. I think he must have seen the photos of my office. - News - Woman Suffocates Under Piles Of Clutter In Home: "A woman in Shelton, Wash., who was reported missing by her husband, was found dead under piles of clutter in their home, where she suffocated to death, according to police.

Shelton Police Chief Terry Davenport said the home was so cluttered that police officers' heads touched the ceiling as they climbed over the clutter.

Authorities found the body of 62-year-old Marie Rose buried under clothes after 10 hours of searching. She reportedly suffered from a condition known as hoarding."

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Hummmmmm, Again

A Million Little Lies - January 8, 2006: "The Predator
'Book Club' author's best-selling nonfiction memoir filled with fabrications, falsehoods, other fakery, TSG probe finds"

This is a long but interesting article. I haven't read the book.

South by Java Head -- Alistair MacLean

On the left there is a cover scan of the first paperback printing (1958) of Alistair MacLean's South by Java Head. When Walter Satterthwait mentioned to me the other day that he was re-reading it, I couldn't resist doing the same, so I went over to one of my shelves (you've seen some of my my shelves) and pulled it down. (Actually, I had to locate it behind the row of books stacked in front of it before I pulled it down.)

In the late '50s and for most of the 1960s, MacLean was one of my favorite writers. When it came to adventure, he couldn't be topped, and South by Java Head is a fine example of why. As usual, the good guys are a calm, courageous bunch. They face adversity without flinching, and, believe me, there's plenty of adversity to face. MacLean was a master of putting his characters into impossible situations, and then making things worse. And when they manage to escape, it's never to something better except for a moment. Then things go downhill again, and things are worse than before. Just when you think things couldn't possibly get any more difficult and dangerous, they do. Talk about one damned thing after another! MacLean can really pile it on. He does it all with a such zest and humor that you can't help but enjoy it. I think I might have to pull another MacLean book off that shelf for re-reading before very long.

Could MacLean find a publisher today? I'm not sure. Not long ago I read a review of Warren Murphy and Molly Cochran's 1984 Edgar-winning Grandmaster, which has recently been reprinted. The reviewer seemed to think the book was a relic of a distant time rather than being much of a thriller. Maybe people would think the same of MacLean. Not me, though.

Happy Birthday, Elvis!

It would be impossible to overestimate the importance of Elvis Presley to people of my generation. One of my fond memories is of the time John Marion Black slipped into the office of the principal at our high school and played Elvis' Christmas Album over the speaker system during lunch. From the reaction of the teachers, you would have thought that obscenities were being broadcast. We kids loved it. Great days.