<i>What's Done in Darkness</i>: New Excerpt What's Done in Darkness: New Excerpt Kayla Perrin No one knows what's done in darkness. <i>Blood Red</i>: New Excerpt Blood Red: New Excerpt Wendy Corsi Staub Lock your doors and keep the lights on... <i>Death, Taxes, and a Chocolate Cannoli</i>: New Excerpt Death, Taxes, and a Chocolate Cannoli: New Excerpt Diane Kelly True crime doesn't pay...taxes! <i>The Grave Soul</i>: New Excerpt The Grave Soul: New Excerpt Ellen Hart Jane Lawless is hired once again to figure out the truth.
From The Blog
October 5, 2015
Investigate Thyself: Missing Person by France's Patrick Modiano
Scott Adlerberg
October 5, 2015
Childhood's Bittersweet Wonderment: The Spirit of the Beehive
Brian Greene
October 2, 2015
CSI Shrewsbury: Brother Cadfael's Medieval Mysteries
Angie Barry
October 1, 2015
Killer Nashville's 2015 Silver Falchion Finalists Announced: Vote Now!
Crime HQ
October 1, 2015
The ZINNG: A Cool $25K for E-Mysteries (and Lethal Selfies)
Crime HQ
Showing posts by: Brian Greene click to see Brian Greene's profile
Oct 5 2015 2:00pm

Childhood’s Bittersweet Wonderment: The Spirit of the Beehive

Some of the most lasting works of art are those than can be appreciated on a variety of levels. Such is the case with Victor Erice’s 1973 film The Spirit of the Beehive. A masterpiece of Spanish cinema, the movie is set in 1940, a year after the Spanish Civil War ended with the authoritarian, right wing regime of Francisco Franco defeating the left-leaning Republicans and taking control of the country. The state of Spain in the aftermath of this outcome is a constant influence throughout Erice’s meditative film. And yet someone who doesn’t know a thing about that war or Franco’s government can enjoy the movie.

Co-written by director Erice, the story is also about the emotional estrangement within a family and, more centrally, the bittersweet wonders of childhood discoveries of life and its mysteries. The family (all the characters go by the first name of the actors who play them) is: Fernando, the eccentric father, who keeps odd hours, spends a lot time in beekeeping activities and then holing up in his study and writing reflective, poetic pieces about the bees; Teresa, Fernando’s much younger wife, a beautiful woman who plays moody tunes on the piano and writes romantic letters to a lost love who is elsewhere now, perhaps displaced by the war; Isabel, the oldest child, who is a precocious girl who has an easy laugh yet who gets off on torturing the family cat and playing mean tricks on her younger sister; and that sister, Ana, is the most important character in the tale – she is a wide-eyed, innocent child who gets taken on various coming-of-age experiences over the course of the story, which is in great part seen through her eyes and heart.

[On to the plot...]

Sep 29 2015 10:30am

A Huge Case of Teensploitation: 1965’s Village of the Giants

There could probably be some arguments made about just exactly when teenagers became a real force to be considered in American society, and anybody making the case for the mid-1960s being that time has a good chance of winning the debate. I’ll leave that matter for now and instead focus on what one savvy filmmaker did with the emergence of the mid-60s teen phenomenon. B-movie cult hero Bert I. Gordon did with that situation what a good exploitation film director should do: he exploited it. His 1965 teenage camp romp Village of the Giants is a low-budget gem that features great music, giggle-inducing goofy special effects, some big names for a small budget film, and an inventively fun way to see the emergence of the day’s adolescents.

Co-written by Gordon (who also produced, as well as directed) and based loosely on H.G Wells’s 1904 novel The Food of the Gods, this is a multi-genre romp that features elements of sci-fi,  zany comedy,  and ‘60s teen beach movie. But it’s all camp, all the time (well, maybe apart from the music scenes, which are just plain rockin’ – more on that in a few). The, um, story goes as such: Beau Bridges plays the leader of a group of beautiful, privileged-yet-rebellion-minded teens from L.A., who have their joyride shut down by a landslide when they are cruising near the humble (and fictional) town of Hainesville. Since they can’t make their car move them anywhere else for the time being, they decide to wander (well, I think they actually get there via the Watusi) into the small burg to see what kind of trouble they can stir up.

[And boy, do they find trouble...]

Aug 26 2015 5:00pm

From Page to Screen with Night and the City

In thinking about Jules Dassin’s 1950 work of film noir Night and the City in relation to the same-named 1938 novel by Gerald Kersh, one striking thing to consider is the fact that Dassin said he never read the book. He apparently fully relied on the screenplay of Jo Eisinger, and his own cinematic vision, to guide him as he took the story and adapted it to the big screen. Was Dassin just too busy to pore over Kersh’s novel, did he not want to get distracted from the tale as it read in the screenplay, or was there some other reason why he chose to not read the book? I don’t know, but the differences between book and film are interesting.

The first thing to establish – and not that many reading this likely need to be told as much – is that both Kersh’s novel and Dassin’s film are superb. Both are influential works of noir that take an unflinching look at a panorama of seedy characters in hardboiled situations. Any lover of edgy crime stories, and/or powerful works of social realism, needs to experience both versions of the tale. Ok, so that’s settled. Now let’s get on with a close look at how the two compare.

Both film and novel are set in London. And both concern a motley crew of hardened characters who are struggling in a joylessly desperate moneyed environment. Primarily occurring in nightclubs and professional wrestling environments, the tale depicts a host of hard-up men and women who are out to make a pound any way they can, within a seemingly hopeless (sewer) rat race. Nearly every person in the story seems to be in a constant state of looking at other people and wondering how many quid they might have on them, and what they might be able to do to get some of that dough. Things like morals and decency to your fellow man and woman get tossed in the gutter like yesterday’s betting sheet, and all in the name of the mighty pound.

[Now for the differences...]

Aug 19 2015 2:00pm

Fresh Meat: Savage Lane by Jason Starr

Savage Lane by Jason Star is a thrilling noir that offers up a searing satire of a declining marriage, suburban life, and obsessive love (available October 13, 2015).

“Every town has its secrets.” That’s the tagline that appears across the top of the cover to Jason Starr’s new crime novel Savage Lane. But some words straight out of the book could have served that function just as well: “you never knew what was going on in other people’s lives.” Savage Lane is a work of suburban noir that looks at the dark side of the goings-on in seemingly “normal” peoples’ existences.

Because this is a new book and one that’s not being released until October, I want to be especially careful not to commit spoilers in writing about it. So I will just detail the basic setup and then avoid giving away more plot. There are several minor characters in Savage Lane, which has four major players. Two of those four are a married couple named Mark and Deb Berman. Both 44, the two have been wedded for 17 years. They have two kids, aged 16 and 12, and they live in the New York suburb of Westchester, on Savage Lane. Mark is in middle management for Citibank and Deb is a stay-at-home mom. Their marriage is in trouble. Deb has a drinking problem. Another of the primary characters is Mark’s and Deb’s neighbor, Karen Daily. Karen is a 42-year old divorcee and mother of two kids who are close in age to the Berman children. She works as a speech pathologist at an elementary school. Karen dates a lot, using online services to find potentially appropriate men. She’s not necessarily looking for her next husband but is open to the idea if she meets the right guy. Finally, there’s Owen Harrison. Owen is 18 and not doing much with his life since graduating from high school. He has a crap job at the country club to which the Bermans and Karen Daily belong. At home he is routinely victimized by his physically abusive stepfather; and his mother, who is also bullied by the slovenly man, doesn’t do anything to protect herself or Owen from the egregious mistreatment her vicious husband visits upon them.

[Now that we've met them, let's see how they interact...]

Jul 15 2015 11:00am

Fast Paced and Expensive Tastes: The Money Trap (1965)

I’ve written about one of Lionel White’s novels here before (The Big Caper), and now I’ve got some thoughts about a film based on one of his books.

White is seen by many noir aficionados as a master of the heist story. Stanley Kubrick made the author’s 1955 novel Clean Break into the classic film noir The Killing (1956). Quentin Tarantino credited him as being an inspiration on his 1992 debut film Reservoir Dogs. But caper tales aren’t the only kind of stories White wrote, and The Killing isn’t the only example of a time a film director saw fit to adapt one of his novels for the big screen. Jean-Luc Godard’s avant-garde title Pierrot le fou (1965) is loosely based on White’s 1962 novel Obsession. And there’s an odd, good 1968 movie called The Night of the Following Day that stars Marlon Brando and Rita Moreno, that’s from White’s 1953 book The Snatchers. In addition, there’s another heist film, 1957’s The Big Caper (1957), which shares the title of the White story (1955).

Another time a Lionel White novel got made into a film happened when his 1963 book The Money Trap served as the basis of the same-named film from 1965. And this movie is the one I want to bend your ears about now. Because while The Money Trap, which was directed by Burt Kennedy, may not be not on the same quality tier as The Killing, or as groundbreaking as Pierrot le fou, it’s a hell of a good crime film, and it appears to be all but forgotten, if it was ever much known in the first place.

[Let's remedy that...]

Jun 10 2015 5:00pm

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

I’ve got Shirley Jackson on the brain. I just recently finished reading Let Me Tell You, a forthcoming collection of short stories and essays by her, most of them previously unpublished. If you like Jackson’s writing and/or are intrigued by her personality, you’ll want to get a hold of that anthology when it’s released this late July. I loved the compilation of Jackson’s work, and when I finished it, I was left wanting more of her unique voice. So I turned to my personal favorite of all her literary efforts: her final completed novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which was published in 1962, three years before her death at age 49.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is, like Jackson’s signature short story “The Lottery” and other works of fiction by her, a tale that forces its readers to accept the conditions of a kind of alternate universe. It’s not a work of sci-fi or fantasy, but like a good Twilight Zone episode, it involves extraordinary human experience. To a great extent, the oddness of the spellbinding tale exists inside the mind of its narrator. I’ll let that singular personage introduce herself, via the opening paragraph of the book:

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.

[Doesn't that just grab your attention?]

May 13 2015 2:00pm

Fresh Meat: Boxes by Pascal Garnier

Boxes by Pascal Garnier is a work of noir fiction about a French man who goes through with moving to the countryside despite his wife's sudden overseas disappearance (available May 18, 2015).

The house was sulking. Not one window would look him in the face.

Those dazzling lines from Pascal Garnier’s novel Boxes are enough to make me want to read more and more of his books. But those bits of dizzying surrealism are only part of what makes the late Frenchman’s novels such gems. Boxes, which was released in its original French in 2012, two years after Garnier’s death at age 60, is being brought out in a new English translation, courtesy of Melanie Florence. It’s the latest in Gallic Books’ series of English language versions of Garnier’s noir fiction works. And it’s superb.

Like much of Garnier’s body of noir, Boxes is set in a provincial area of France. Also in keeping with the author’s general approach, it studies a person who is living in such terrain and whose life – and mind, and spirit – is coming apart. Brice Casadamont is a middle-aged man who illustrates children’s books as his profession. (Garnier authored many kids’ books, in addition to his noir novels.) Brice and his wife Emma, an oft-traveling journalist some 20 years his junior, make the decision to vacate their apartment in the city of Lyon and relocate to the countryside. But sometime before moving day, Emma goes missing. She was in Egypt on assignment when she disappeared. Brice goes ahead with the move, anyway, and starts to make a life for himself in the village as he awaits word on Emma.

[Sounds reasonable enough...]

Apr 18 2015 12:00pm

From Page to Screen with Ed McBain’s King’s Ransom and Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low

I’ve been a fan of Akira Kurosawa’s 1963 suspense film High and Low since I saw it years ago. I just watched it again after my first read of the 87th Precinct novel it’s based on: Ed McBain’s 1959 procedural King’s Ransom - the 10th installment of the highly-celebrated series penned by Evan Hunter under the McBain pseudonym. The Wikipedia page for High and Low states that is it “loosely based” on the McBain book; but while there are certainly differences between the film and the book, I’d say that statement is a stretch, as the two versions of the story are very similar in some essential ways. In any case, both are worthy examples of works done in their respective media, and it was interesting for me to look closely at what happened when a masterfully-written crime novel got channeled through the vision of a brilliant film director.

Before I delve into the storyline of King’s Ransom and High and Low, I have to confess that I’m going to commit a spoiler where the movie is concerned. There’s just no way for me to comment on the similarities and differences between novel and film without doing that. But what I’m spoiling is something that happens only about halfway into the film.

[Don't let that stop you!]

Mar 31 2015 9:00am

The Obscure, Peculiar, and Clairvoyant Black Rainbow

I first watched the 1989 film Black Rainbow a few years ago, and I took an interest in the movie for three reasons: 1. It was directed by Mike Hodges. Hodges is the auteur behind what are, to me, two superbly-made films: 1971’s Get Carter and 1998’s Croupier. I’m up for seeing anything the guy directed. 2. It stars Rosanna Arquette. I have a soft spot for her, and not just because I think she’s pretty. I like her acting, particularly in John Sayles’ 1983 title Baby, It’s You and Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985). If she’s in a movie, I’m curious about it. 3. The film’s obscurity. You almost never hear or read anything about Black Rainbow, even in quarters where you might expect it to come under discussion. I’ve read lengthy overviews of Hodges’s career, that don’t even mention the film. It only got a limited theatrical run at the time of its release and doesn’t appear to have scored any notable rave reviews or awards nominations, but still... it’s a film directed by a living legend and that has a big-name star (two, actually, as Jason Robards plays another lead role). So I wanted to know why is it so forgotten despite all of that, and despite its having been released on DVD in 2004 and on VHS before that.

[I'm always down to try and solve a good mystery...]

Mar 23 2015 4:15pm

Lost Classics of Noir: The Big Heat by William P. McGivern

I first saw Fritz Lang’s 1953 film noir The Big Heat decades ago, and I just viewed it again this week. This time I watched it immediately after reading William P. McGivern’s novel of the same title. This is the latest in my series of posts where I rave about an underappreciated noir novel while commenting on a better-known film that was made from it. Lang’s big screen feature is, of course, a gem, and one that any fan of film noir should get to know if they don’t already. McGivern’s work of fiction, which originally appeared in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post, then was published as a novel in the same year as the movie’s release, deserves lofty status among those who appreciate hard-edged crime tales as they appear on the printed page.

There’s little difference in the plotline between book and movie, but for present purposes I’ll focus on the story as it is told in the novel. The primary character is Dave Bannion: a sergeant of detectives in a homicide bureau in Philadelphia. Bannion is a big man; much is made of his hulky build in McGivern’s book, whereas he comes across as being of more normal male stature via Glenn Ford’s portrayal of him in the movie. He has a temper that he needs to keep a watch over, to make sure he doesn’t use his great bulk to do bodily harm to others when it’s not warranted. Bannion is a family man, happily married to his good-natured wife and a loving father to their young daughter. He’s also an honest law enforcement agent. In the beginning of the novel (this is not in the movie), some of the detectives on his team are holding a black man on suspicion of a crime, and are ready to work him over physically to sweat a confession out of him; but Bannion feels their grounds for suspecting the man are flimsy (and racially motivated, although that’s only implied in the book), and he tells his boys to let the guy go.

[What's not to like?]

Mar 7 2015 1:00pm

Crimes Against Film: Super Bitch (1973)

I have watched this movie three times now, and twice while planning to write about it for this site. I didn’t get around to doing a piece on it after the second viewing, because I was left unsure as to how it should be presented. It’s neither a full-on campy romp nor a consistently high-quality film I can praise without my tongue resting in my cheek. Super Bitch, which has carried different titles over the decades (I’m going with the one that’s on the DVD I own), is somewhere in between those two classifications. But clearly it has a kind of hold over me, and is one I’ve wanted to cover, so here goes.

Super Bitch is a poliziottesco, i.e. an Italian crime/cop film from the late 1960s/’70s. The cinematic style is similar to that of Italian giallo movies, both of them edgy/often violent features with a clear European feel, the difference being that gialli are more on the arty/stylish side of crime/suspense stories and poliziottesco titles lean more in the direction of being straight, hard-nosed toughies. Think Dirty Harry movies as made through the creative outlook of an Italian director, and you’ll have an idea of the type of film at hand here.

[Got it, punk?]

Feb 20 2015 11:30am

Two-Lane Blacktop: An Offbeat Cross-Country Race

I just watched Monte Hellman’s moody 1971 road movie Two-Lane Blacktop for maybe the fifth time. After being dazzled by the film once again, I asked myself, because there are numerous qualities that make the movie such a keeper for me, via which winning aspect do I begin?

Makes sense to start with the storyline, which is compelling. Written by Rudolph Wurlitzer and Will Cory, the tale is of a cross-country car race. One entrant is a team of two young men who don’t seem to do much in life except roar around in their custom-made Chevy, looking for someone stupid enough to challenge them to a sprint. The other is a lone wolf who zooms around in a GTO, and whom also appears to be at mostly loose ends in life. The two cars and their occupants keep encountering each other on the highways and at roadside places, as they wander through parts of California, Arizona and New Mexico. Finally, after some attitude exchanges on the road and some lippy chatter at a service station, they decide it’s time they shut up and put up: they’re going to race all the way to Washington, D.C.  And the winner gets the other’s ride.

[*waves the checkered flag*]

Feb 6 2015 4:00pm

Lost Classics of Noir: Felony Tank by Malcolm Braly

Felony Tank by Malcolm Braly -- A Lost Classic of NoirLife inside prisons makes for interesting stories. I wouldn’t know where to begin in reeling off some of the more compelling books, movies, and TV shows that have explored this world. But having just read Malcolm Braly’s 1961 prison novel Felony Tank, I can add it to my personal list of favorite jail tales. It also gets a high place on my score-sheet of top-notch noir literature.

Braly, who spent much time behind bars over his 54 years of life, penned another prison novel which is more celebrated than Felony Tank. 1967’s On the Yard was made into a film in ’79, got the New York Review Books Classics reissue treatment in 2002, and just generally gets lots of props. I read On the Yard just recently, right after plowing through Felony Tank. But I chose to cover Felony Tank for this series because, for one, it is more lost than On the Yard. Also, for me personally, it was the more engrossing read between the two (more on that comparison in a few). In addition to authoring these prison novels, Braly produced the 1963 cult classic novel Shake Him Till He Rattles, which explores the underbelly of San Francisco’s North Beach beatnik scene. 

Much of what drew me into Felony Tank more than happened with On the Yard did is that, while the latter struck me as a sprawling study of a whole swath of people involved in prison life, Felony Tank mostly zeroes in on just a few such persons. That intense concentration on a couple inmates made me feel more inside of the prison world. Several characters come under Braly’s informed microscope in the book, but really it’s two of them who are the prime specimens. One, and the guy you’d have to say is the ultimate protagonist, is a boy named Doug. Doug is a 17-year old dropout and runaway who is a tumbleweed tumbling in the direction of trouble. He has a complex about his age — hates being thought of as a kid. His stubborn pride on this matter causes him, when he’s busted at the beginning of the novel for breaking into a feed store in a town into which he drifts, to tell the arresting cops he is 18. He is welcoming them to process him as an adult, and they are all too happy to oblige. They put him in a cell with other adult cons, where all of them await hearings that will dictate their more long-term punishments.

[How's being an adult now, Doug?]

Jan 12 2015 4:00pm

Run Down to the Ground: Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

One of the few bits of learning I retained from my years as a sleepwalking college student, was a lesson a film class instructor gave us as a lead-in to a section on film noir. He said that one common aspect of those movies was that many of them centered around doomed characters trying to rise in the underworld while fighting the ways of straight society. He mentioned that these antiheroes could often appear to be successfully holding sway over their left-of-center domains for a time, but that they were always destined to be run down to the ground in the end. I don’t know whether 1989’s Drugstore Cowboy should be classified as film noir, and don’t particularly care to argue the point, but I think it powerfully explores that theme my professor detailed as being a signature element of the cinematic genre.

I doubt that many reading this need a detailed description of Drugstore Cowboy’s plot. We all know it’s a study of the alternative lifestyle led by a team of four intravenous drug users in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1970s. It was the second feature film directed by Gus Van Sant, and really his breakthrough. It is based on the then unpublished autobiographical novel by career druggie and criminal James Fogle, who died in 2012 and was a study in himself (one this writer plans to undertake). It stars Matt Dillon who puts on an absolute tour-de-force in portraying Bob Hughes, the leader of the junkie team. Van Sant, his screenwriting partner Daniel Yost, Dillon, and supporting actor Max Perlich all were nominated for and/or won awards handed out by the likes of the L.A. Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics. In my opinion, they should have won Oscars.

[It was that good...]

Jan 2 2015 4:30pm

The Wicked World of Abandonment: Born Innocent (1974)

In my Criminal Element appreciation of Orrie Hitt’s 1960 noir novel Wayward Girl, I compared the book to the 1974 made-for-TV movie Born Innocent. As I pointed out there, the two stories have some surface likenesses in their plots. Ultimately, both are about teenage girls who are left to fend for themselves in a wicked world because their parents are no damn good. I went on to say that in a deeper way, what connects the book to the movie, for me, is the emotionally devastated way both leave me feeling.

I’ve watched Born Innocent three times now. I saw it once when it re-aired on TV, when I was roughly the same age as its lead character: 14.  I watched it again when it was released on DVD in 2004. And I gave it a fresh viewing before writing this post. Its impact on me has been the same through each sitting. It floors me.

[And it will floor you too...]

Dec 27 2014 1:00pm

Another Kind of Thrilla in Manila: Wonder Women (1973)

This post can be seen as the third in a trilogy of appreciations I’ve written of B-movies that involve packs of women employing bizarre, world-beating (they hope) masterplans. First there was Invasion of the Bee Girls, about some ladies who lure men into sexual encounters then turn into buzzing creatures during the act and leave the fellas dead. Then I covered The Female Bunch, the story of some pissed-off babes who are fed up with the male population and construct a female-run ranch commune that doubles as a drug-smuggling headquarters. And now I’m here to discuss the 1973 grindhouse cult romp Wonder Women, in which, again, some ladies set up a self-contained world wherein they carry out odd operations.

The plot of Wonder Women is loopy, as is true of many exploitation films from this era. But, here, I’ll have a go at summarizing its storyline: 14 prized athletes from around the world suddenly disappear, over a short span of time. The general assumption is that they were kidnapped, but nobody comes forward to claim the adductions or demand ransom. Hmm. It turns out the guys have been put into comatose states and shipped to an island retreat in the Philippines, this center run by a Dr. Tsu: a disgraced lady physician turned mad scientist (“100 years ahead of her time”), played by exotic beauty Nancy Kwan. What Tsu’s up to at her freaky complex is – with the help of a bevy of go-go boots-wearing, machine gun-toting honeys – managing an organ transplant clinic. She takes vital parts out of one captive’s body and puts them in somebody else’s. Sometimes she executes these operations just as experimental play, to see what will happen if you, say, swap brains between two people. But mostly she’s after money. She lures in rich clients who will pay to trade vital parts with more fit persons; thus, the need for super-bodied athletes. So, for instance, there’s one wealthy old geezer who’s going to pay Tsu mad bucks to have his brain inserted into the body of a jai alai player Tsu and her girls have captured.

[What could go wrong?]

Nov 24 2014 1:00pm

Lost Classics of Noir: Whip Hand by W. Franklin Sanders (and/or Charles Willeford)

In case you’re confused by the author credit in the heading here, let me just say that I join you in your befuddlement. This 1961 noir novel was originally published as a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback original, with W. Franklin Sanders tagged as the writer. But over time it came to be revealed that Charles Willeford wrote some, if not all, of the book. Sanders may have been his co-author, but then Sanders may have also been a make-believe person. If you’re interested in reading up on that intrigue, there is no shortage of material available on the web. I’m going to leave that subplot alone and just focus on the book, which is a gem of a read.

But first a couple words on Willeford. I doubt I need to sell many readers of this site on the merits of his writing. Some Willeford fans might think of his Hoke Moseley series as his finest work, while others might prefer his earlier titles such as Cockfighter (1962) or The Burnt Orange Heresy (1971). Of the Willeford books I’ve read, it’s his second novel, Pick-Up (1955), that I value the most. When I first started this column, I drew up a shortlist (well, it was actually long) of books I might cover, and Pick-Up was among those. I haven’t gotten around to writing an appreciation of it, and maybe I never will for this series, as I have purposely been avoiding covering the same writer twice, in order to spread the hardboiled love. In any case, Pick-Up is a hell of a noir novel. If you like this kind of stuff and haven’t read it, do so. And while you’re at it, read the one I’m about to discuss; because whether it was written by Willeford or this Sanders guy, or some combination of the two of them, it’s pure.

[Back to Whip Hand...]

Nov 9 2014 1:00pm

Fresh Meat: The Art of Robert E. McGinnis by Robert E. McGinnis and Art Scott

The Art of Robert E. McGinnis by Robert E. McGinnis and Art Scott is a coffee-table book that highlights the illustrious career of one of America's most recognizable artists (available November 11, 2014).

I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that while I have long been an admirer of particularly striking covers of what we now call pulp novels, I’ve never learned all that much about the artists who create the images that grace those book faces. I’ve only recently started to learn some things about this particular corner of the visual art world, via an especially enjoyable Twitter connection (@PulpLibrarian) who is a great source of stunning book covers and information about the artists who made them. Something else that’s added to my knowledge of this terrain, and given me a thirst to be educated about it even more, is this glorious new coffee table book which celebrates the career of  visual artist Robert E. McGinnis.

[It's one of those books that never grows old...]

Oct 31 2014 11:30am

Lost Classics of Noir: Criss-Cross by Don Tracy

So this is the next in my line of posts where I’m going to write about an underappreciated vintage noir novel, and in so doing, discuss a movie that was made from its story (sometimes it’s the other way around, but you get the idea). Robert Siodmak’s 1948 (referenced as ’49 in some places) film Criss-Cross, which stars Burt Lancaster, Yvonne “Lily Munster” DeCarlo, and Dan Duryea, is an example of film noir of which most aficionados of that genre are likely familiar and appreciative. Don Tracy’s 1934 novel of the same title is less known but as worthy of recognition.

Tracy may not have been James M. Cain, but judging by this novel, he wasn’t all that terribly far behind. Honestly, if someone new to the world of classic hardboiled fiction asked me for a good example of such a book, I would be perfectly comfortable pointing them in the direction of Criss-Cross. Likewise, I’d gladly tout the book to knowing noir heads who haven’t read it.

[Let's change that...]

Sep 18 2014 2:00pm

Get Carter by Ted Lewis: Crime Fiction’s Open Source Blueprint

I’ll get right to the point here; Ted Lewis’s 1970 novel Jack’s Return Home (re-titled Get Carter so I’ll call it that from here on) is one of the most influential works of crime fiction in existence. In the world of U.K. hardboiled literature it’s had the kind of impact that books by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler had on the genre in the U.S. In the new edition of Get Carter being put out by Syndicate Books, the back cover and inside pages contain jaw-dropping laudatory praise of the novel by the likes of Derek Raymond, Stuart Neville, Dennis Lehane, James Sallis, and John Williams, the last of whom says Lewis’s book is “the finest British crime novel ever written.” When I researched Lewis’s life and work several years back, one person I interviewed was David Peace; Peace told me, about Get Carter, “I very consciously used it as a blueprint for Nineteen Seventy-Four, my first novel.”

Before further discussion of the book, I’m going to pause and say a few things about the film that shares its title. Because you can’t say the words Get Carter without thinking of the 1971 big screen feature that stars Michael Caine and was directed by Mike Hodges (Hodges supplies the foreword to the new edition of the book). I’m not going to go into any detail about the movie, because a prolonged analysis or appreciation of it deserves its own space. Suffice to say that it is not only a classic film; it’s an institution. It holds high places on best-ever film lists issued by entities such as The British Film Institute, Empire magazine, Time Out, and The Guardian. If you’ve seen the movie, you likely don’t need me to try and convince you of its quality. If you haven’t, and if you care anything about film noir, gangster cinema, Michael Caine, or classic films period, just go watch it. If you’re like I was after my first viewing, when it’s over you’ll find you have a hankering to run it again.

[And probably a third time...]