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Showing posts by: Eric Beetner click to see Eric Beetner's profile
Thu
Jul 21 2016 1:30pm

One and Done: Vern E. Smith, The Jones Men

The Jones Men was a thrilling novel to discover. A lost “cult” novel from the 1970s, written by veteran journalist Vern E. Smith, it is a story of the drug trade on the streets of Detroit, and it absolutely blew me away when I read it forty years after its initial publication.

The novel crackles with vibrant characters, juicy dialogue that reads like a mid-70s Blacksploitation film, and a complex, multi-faceted storyline that seems to have come from the pen of a veteran novelist. Not many authors could pull off this feat of parallel storylines, a huge cast of characters, and double cross on top of misdirect on top of misinformation—let alone a first-timer. It’s a stunning work that has been aptly compared to The Wire on many occasions.

So why didn’t Smith ever write another?

[Read more about Vern E. Smith!]

Fri
Jul 8 2016 2:30pm

Review: Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley is the 1st book in the famed Easy Rawlins series.

Since his introduction in 1990, Easy Rawlins has been the star of more than a dozen novels by MWA grandmaster Walter Mosley. In his debut outing, Devil In A Blue Dress, Rawlins arrives fully formed.

At its heart, Devil is a classic find-the-girl mystery. What sets it apart, and what garnered Mosley the praise and attention for his debut novel twenty-six years ago, is the setting in a post-WWII Los Angeles and the pressure cooker race relations surrounding the action. 

Easy Rawlins is a proud and unapologetic black man, at a time when he and his friends are being marginalized and ghettoized in an increasingly stratified late 1940s L.A. When he takes a job working for a white man to find the missing girl in the titular blue dress, we see the world through Easy’s eyes, where rich and powerful white men are as dangerous and mysterious as black characters had typically been portrayed at the time. The suspicion of race cuts both ways in Easy’s world.

Of course, it doesn’t help his attitude when the double crosses and misdirects start piling up soon.

[Read Eric Beetner's review of Devil in a Blue Dress...]

Tue
Jun 7 2016 3:00pm

Back to the Beginning: Revisiting The Hunter by Richard Stark

Parker has become one of the most celebrated characters in crime fiction. Over the course of 24 novels spanning four decades, this tough-talking, tougher-acting thief bulldozed his way through the years, never losing sight of his unique code of conduct.

In the debut Parker novel, The Hunter from 1962, we meet a man who virtually created the antihero archetype. The Hunter also established the basic structure of most Parker novels—Parker is wronged after a job and seeks revenge at all costs.

While the formula would suffer from varying degrees of staleness over the course of the series, the template set out in The Hunter works like gangbusters to set up Parker’s underground world of thieves, con-men, grifters and crooks. Several regular characters would come and go through the series, and one, Grofield, even got four spinoff novels of his own.

[Read more about the novel that started it all...]

Mon
Sep 28 2015 9:15am

TBR Confessions: Once-Cops, Outrage, and Lies

RECENTLY FINISHED: Once Were Cops by Ken Bruen. I've been on a bit of a tear with Ken Bruen lately. This was the ninth Bruen novel I've read this year. Granted, Bruen tends to write short novels so it's really only like three “regular” novels, but I love Bruen's stripped-down style so much I feel like I've gotten ten novels worth of enjoyment out of them. Seven of the books I read this year were in the Inspector Brandt series and Once Were Cops features a similarly crooked cop who thinks his brand of self-serving justice is the only way. On loan to the NYPD from Ireland, our anti-hero takes to the street of Manhattan like a battering ram and makes his presence known to the criminals and the top brass. Bruen writes in such spare, evocative prose it makes pages turn faster than any other writer I know. Once Were Cops takes daring turns, with unexpected bursts of violence and an amoral lead who somehow steals our hearts. For those new to Bruen, this is a great place to start, if probably a divisive book. I suspect you'd either love his style or hate it. But you won't read anything like it. 

ALSO POLISHED OFF: Outrage At Blanco by Bill Crider. I really wish crime fiction fans would give more westerns a try. Make no mistake, this is classic crime fiction territory, just set on horseback. And Crider is an absolute master of propulsive storytelling. He drops us right in on a brutal assault on our heroine, Ellie Taine. From there, the story splinters into fast-racing narratives of: her vicious attackers turning to bank robbery, Ellie's hunt for revenge, an aging cattle baron and his no-good son, as well as a town unused to the violence they've experienced in just a few days. Crider builds suspense, doles out action, and gets us into the minds of multiple characters like the old pro he is. His long-running Sheriff Dan Rhodes series is testament to his skills, but his western output is really where he hits my sweet spot. Up next for me is the sequel, Texas Vigilante

CURRENTLY READING: Stay by Victor Gischler. Any new Gischler book is a major announcement for me, and it had been a long damn time between The Deputy (which I absolutely loved) and Stay. This is Gischler in his mainstream mode. He can get over-the-top gonzo with violence, black humor, and even sex, but Stay is likely as much of a step toward a mainstream thriller as we're going to get from him. (His follow up, Gestapo Mars, is the opposite end of the spectrum: wild, inventive, pulpy, and cracked.) The simple concept of a stay-at-home dad called to use his dormant skills as an army operative specializing in solo black ops is a great hook and could lead to a series that takes a character into Jack Reacher territory. I'm about halfway in, and it's a great ride. Not as much of the trademark Gischler humor, but again, it seems like he's swinging for the deep end of the reader pool here. I certainly hope he finds it. He's long overdue. 

EARLY READ OF NOTE: A Negro and an Ofay by Danny Gardner. This novel, currently scheduled for a November, 2015 release, takes us into the 1950s world of a mulatto investigator and his complicated relationship with his upbringing and his mixed race. There is plenty of hardboiled patter and a dense plot with a great sense of place and wonderful dialogue. There are a lot of characters to keep track of with shifting loyalties and hidden agendas, but this marks a promising debut from Gardner.

TOP OF THE PILE: Lie Catchers by Paul Bishop. A real-life LAPD interrogator writes what he knows in this tale of deciphering lies from the truth. 


Eric Beetner is a hardboiled crime author of The Devil Doesn't Want Me, Dig Two Graves, White Hot Pistol, The Year I Died Seven Times, Stripper Pole At The End Of The World, Split Decision, A Mouth Full Of Blood and co-author (with JB Kohl) of One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. Award-winning short story writer, former musician, sometimes filmmaker, film noir nerd and father of two.

Read all of Eric Beetner's posts for Criminal Element.

Wed
Jul 8 2015 4:45pm

Fresh Meat: Sympathy for the Devil by Terrence McCauley

Sympathy For The Devil by Terrence McCauley is a modern espionage thriller featuring a long-hidden, international intelligence network turning against itself and to terrorism (available July 14, 2015).

Fans of Jack Bauer rejoice, your new hero just rode into town. Sympathy for the Devil by Terrence McCauley has enough gadgets to satisfy tech junkies and enough character to bring humanity to a story that is all too terrifying in its plausibility.

James Hicks works for The University, a black ops government anti-terrorism agency. He runs the New York office, a city already scarred by extremism, and Hicks suffers no fools. He’s not even that likable of a guy, a feeling shared by his supervisor.

Jason took another sip of his latte and licked his lips clean.

“You’re right. We don’t have to like each other. We don’t even have to respect each other, but we do have to work together. Under other circumstances, I’d probably ask the Dean for another posting because I don’t enjoy working with people I despise and, believe it or not, I despise you.”

Hicks toasted with his coffee. “Feeling’s mutual, Ace.”

But Hicks has a job to do, and that is to find out what is going down at a cab stand run by a Somali ex-pat named Omar. And what’s going down there is much bigger than anyone initially thought.

[Failure is not an option for Hicks...]

Mon
Jun 22 2015 2:00pm

10 of the Best Noir Novels of the 21st Century

Here we are, fifteen years into a new century, and many authors are churning out noir novels as essential as anything from its heyday. If you’re like me, when you think of the 90s, it feels about five years ago, but the last decade and a half comprises the entire publishing career of many authors, even though we’re about 80 years beyond the origin of noir fiction and about 65 years away from its golden age.

Here then, are 10 of my favorites from the new millennium. I won’t say they're the best because I certainly haven’t read every noir novel to come out since 2000, and I’m hoping someone out there comments about another book they feel passionate about, so I can find new titles to add to my reading list. Comment away and tell me what I missed.

The Cleanup by Sean Doolittle (2006)

The hallmarks of noir are the sad sucker, the femme fatale, some very bad decisions—The Cleanup has them all. Working night security at an Omaha supermarket is about as low as a man can sink. He might as well have been thrown off the hay truck about noon. Doolittle is the king of suburban noir and he’s never been blacker than here in a timeless tale that of the desperate side of a man’s soul seeking redemption and a slice of what passes for happiness in his snowbound flatlands world.

[With noir, the trajectory is downward...]

Tue
Sep 24 2013 10:00am

Stakes, Well Done: How Breaking Bad Does It Right

Who am I?I hear it all the time working in the TV biz. “What are the stakes?” Every story line, every character has to have “stakes,” and usually the stakes aren’t big enough. You need to go add more stakes.

This is all just a fancy way of saying consequences. If a character does this, what happens? What does it mean if a person does that? How will it play out going forward?

There used to be an unwritten—and then later a really-written in the Hays Code—rule in Hollywood where crime could not pay. A criminal had to get their comeuppance.

Witness the demise of Little Ceasar, or James Cagney’s firey denouement in White Heat. Things changed in the late sixtes and seventies with the rise of the antihero. From the slacker outcasts of Easy Rider to the too beautiful to live gangsters of The Sting or Bonnie and Clyde, the anti-establishment ruled the screen.

And now we have Walter White of Breaking Bad, possibly the ultimate antihero. We have rooted for him, stayed with him as he slid from sympathetic dad/teacher/cancer patient into a crime boss, drug dealer, and killer. The slow blackening of Walter’s soul has been a pleasure to watch, and that’s no small feat.

[How can you tell your chin's up when the world's gone black?]

Mon
May 27 2013 1:00pm

Behind the Scenes of Longmire: A View from the Edit Room

Longmire Season 2 Banner

Ed. Note: Since we know you’re just as excited as we are for the beginning of the second season of Longmire, we bring you this little special taste!
 

Season 2 of Longmire is upon us and I had a chance to sit down with one of the shows editors, Vikash Patel, and talk about the new season. Patel has been around since the beginning, having edited several episodes during season 1 including the episode starring and directed by Peter Weller, “The Worst Kind of Hunter.” After taking his time between seasons to cut NBC’s Revolution (not a bad side gig) he is back with Walt and the gang working on new episodes not from Wyoming, but from the not-so-wide-open skies of Los Angeles, where the show is cut.

Eric Beetner: Before you started working on the show, were you aware of the Longmire books by Craig Johnson?

Vikash Patel: Yes, I had heard of the books, but still to this day have not found time to read them...I guess I’ll wait for the stories to unfold on the series, which is kind of exciting for me. I think I will enjoy the books when I get around to them.

[Oh, you bet you will!]

Thu
Apr 25 2013 12:00pm

More Than Pretty Pictures: Tag Lines in Classic Pulp Novels

Let’s face it: a book cover is a seduction. No one knew this better than the pulp fiction publishers of the 1940s and ’50s, their covers all gussied up with lurid colors, barely clad women, big black guns, and promises of what was between the covers.

But what’s a seduction without a good pickup line?

Much attention has been paid to those boundary pushing images adorning the 25-cent paperbacks, but I also love the tag lines—that extra copy the publisher adds on to give more of a hint about the action, sex and violence inside a book. 

They can be simple, like on The Double Take by Roy Huggins: “A hard-boiled mystery story, tougher than a ten-minute egg.”

They can be mysterious and enticing, such as Stone Cold Dead by Richard Ellington: “Make ready: ONE CORPSE FOR SHARK-BAIT!”

And, yes, they use a lot of exclamation points, but admit it, you want to know why a corpse is needed for shark-bait, don’t you?

[Sure...don’t you?]

Fri
Feb 8 2013 1:00pm

John Carpenter: Making Movies for the Rest of Us

There was a time when I would have easily named John Carpenter as my favorite movie director. I’ve gained more pure visceral pleasure from his movies than almost anyone else's. He perfectly bridges the gap between classic Hollywood story sense and modern uncensored pleasures. Even as a teenager I got the sense Carpenter didn’t play by the old rules. He made movies that were FUN.

Was he the most technically proficient? Maybe not. Does it matter? Not a damn bit. He came out of the era that birthed film school darlings like Scorsese, Spielberg, DePalma, and Landis. Darlings of the film students, that is, not necessarily the professors who might not always like the down-in-the-marrow joys of such schlock as Jaws, Taxi Driver, Blow Out, or The Blues Brothers. But even more than those other directors, Carpenter embodied the then-popular auteur concept by writing, producing, directing and even scoring his early films. Despite this, he is rarely—until now—mentioned artistically among his peers of the era.

Carpenter’s early career was a brilliantly sustained period of pulp cinema to rival anyone since Anthony Mann made his string of film noirs. His breakout hit was Halloween, and the film that unfairly tagged him a horror director for the rest of his career. As perfect as a horror film gets, Halloween was, again, a bridge from the relatively tame scare films pre-Halloween to the post-Halloween rise of the slasher film, despite Carpenter’s tale not having all that much blood in it. (And of course buckets of blood had been spilled in the grindhouse for years, but Halloween also had the distinction of being a major hit.)

[We haven’t looked at the closet the same way since...]

Sun
Nov 25 2012 1:00pm

Hold On Tight! Movie Car Chases

The cinematic car chase has become a whipping boy for all that is mindless and vapid in movies today. It’s a damn shame, because while a rudimentary car chase is like eating an empty calorie meal at McDonald’s, a great car chase can contain some of the finest examples of pure cinema.

Let’s start with the undisputed champs.

The 1970s were the golden age of the car chase. These were sequences with real cars, real drivers in dangerous situations on real city streets. Nowadays car chases may be significantly more elaborate, but you rarely see a chase that doesn’t use CGI cars, embellished explosions, cars on wires or gimbels or other Hollywood special effects that do keep stunt drivers safer, but take a bit of the rubber-on-the-road realism out of the car chases.

[Put the pedal to the metal!]

Thu
Nov 15 2012 10:30am

Lost and Found: Reader Fascination with Recovering “Lost” Novels

The Cocktail Waitress by James M. CainFrom the promise of discovering a dusty Van Gogh in the attic, to coming across fabled recordings by Robert Johnson, we love to discover something once thought lost forever.

For book lovers the big game is the mythical lost manuscript that may or may not even exist. Now, with the publication of James M. Cain’s The Cocktail Waitress we have a genuine rediscovery to marvel at. No one is claiming the novel to be on the level of Cain’s best-known works, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce, and Double Indemnity, but Cain wrote plenty of subpar novels in their wake.

The Cocktail Waitress is made remarkable by the fact that, despite rumors, scholars were starting to doubt if it even existed at all. Only through the intrepid hunting of Hard Case Crime honcho Charles Ardai who went on an Indiana-Jones-worthy quest to uncover the lost book, can we enjoy another dose of Cain. And the find stokes the fire to discover the next long-forgotten work.

[The treasures of the book world...]

Tue
Aug 28 2012 10:30am

The Revival House: Running Scared (1986)

Running Scared (1986)Shining a light on underrated crime films. The coulda beens and shoulda beens you ought to know about.

Tonight’s Screening: Running Scared (1986)

This one will be a little different because I’m not going to pretend for a minute this is a great movie. But aren’t some of your favorite movies of all time really only the B-minus movies? The contenders who win you over with charm and effort? 

Running Scared is a child of Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours. After that smash hit combo, the buddy cop film with a dash of humor was all the rage. Casting comedians as cops didn’t seem like a bad choice. And voilá –Billy Crystal as a tough homicide cop on the mean streets of Chicago. 

[Wait, are you serious?]

Mon
Jul 30 2012 10:30am

Revival House: Atlantic City (1981)

Atlantic City (1981)The Revival House: Shining a light on underrated crime films. The coulda beens and shoulda beens you ought to know about.

Tonight’s Screening: Atlantic City (1981)

Why is it so often foreigners have a more astute vision of America than Americans do? When French director Louis Malle took on the decaying also-ran gambling world of Atlantic City, he created a portrait of America in decline, in love with a romanticized vision of its past, and a population with a yearning to escape to better worlds. And yes, I mean that Louis Malle, the man best know for a film involving two people doing nothing more than sitting and talking at dinner for two hours. My Dinner With Andre came out the same year as Atlantic City and it baffles me why one and not the other has remained in the public consciousness.

With the screenplay help of New York playwright John Guare, Atlantic City is a revisionist crime film much like the westerns to come out of the 1970s like The Shootist or High Plains Drifter. It was revising a genre that didn’t know it needed a revision. 

[Isn’t that how it usually goes?]

Sun
Jul 8 2012 11:00am

Fresh Meat: A City of Broken Glass by Rebecca Cantrell

A City of Broken Glass by Rebecca CantrellA City of Broken Glass by Rebecca Cantrell is the fourth in the Hannah Vogel historical mystery series set at the beginning of World War II (available July 17, 2012).

If this looks good to you, don’t forget to enter to win the full set of Hannah Vogel books!

By the time of A City of Broken Glass, the Nazis have spread their fear and hatred throughout Germany and have infected neighboring countries like Poland, where we find Hannah in the beginning of another tense novel fraught with danger.

[But Hannah never shrinks from danger . . .]

Sat
Jun 30 2012 11:00am
Excerpt

A Mouth Full of Blood: New Excerpt

Eric Beetner

A Mouth Full of Blood by Jack TunneyA Mouth Full of Blood is the sixth action-packed crime adventure in the Fight Card series by the pseudonymous Jack Tunney (available July 17, 2012).

“Jack Tunney” is a pseudonym for a group of authors who write hard-hitting crime stories inspired by the great sports pulps of the 1930s and 40s. They are short, action-filled throwbacks to a time when the pages ran red with great fight action in and out of the ring. Each book is written by a different author, but released under the unifying pseudonym Jack Tunney. This installment in the series was written by Eric Beetner.

A Mouth Full Of Blood continues the story of young Jimmy Wyler after his narrow escape from Kansas City at the end of Split Decision (the third of the Fightcard books, also written by Beetner). Relocated back to Chicago where he grew up in an orphanage under the guidance of Father Tim, the boxing priest, he is trying to put his life back together. Leo, a young boy Jimmy knows, is having trouble at home and Jimmy wants to help out. The trouble is deeper than Jimmy considered, however, and to resolve it he must enter the underground world of unsanctioned boxing matches using the skills in the ring he swore he’d never use again.

 

Round 1

Chicago, 1955 

The steam always made me think of the train platform. How I left Lola, shot in the back and bleeding. Chicago wasn’t far enough away to keep the memories at bay.

I’d been back in my hometown for nine months. Seemed appropriate since I was attempting a rebirth. So far all it got me was a dishwashing job at Papadakis’ Greek Diner, living each night in a cloud of steam and damp memories. Didn’t much matter what I did, so long as it kept my fists uncurled and me out of a boxing ring.

[Read the full excerpt of A Mouth Full of Blood]

Sat
Jun 16 2012 11:00am

The Revival House: Flesh and Bone (1993)

Flesh and Bone (1993)The Revival House: Shining a light on underrated crime films.
The coulda beens and shoulda beens you ought to know about.

Tonight’s Screening: Flesh and Bone (1993)

Flesh and Bone plays out like a slow Texas drawl. It’s a dusty noir done languid and mean. Most would say, beyond the unhurried pace, miscasting did the film in. I’d argue it was only the audience’s predispositions that did the most damage.

Dennis Quaid plays stoic like he was born to it. We all know James Caan can do mean and ornery. Gwyneth Paltrow wasn’t yet Gwyneth so her performance comes with no baggage (and is great, by the way. She plays a nasty grifter like she means it.)

No, it was Meg Ryan who turned most people away from Flesh and Bone. 1993 was the same year as Sleepless in Seattle and only a few years removed from When Harry Met Sally. America had its sweetheart and it didn’t like her shooting guns or popping out of a stripper cake.

[That doesn’t sound like America’s Sweetheart to me!]

Mon
Jun 4 2012 10:30am

The Crime Collector

Poster for Woman on the RunAs I sit in my home office and type this, I am surrounded by the things that I love. On every wall, over my desk, behind me, even behind the door, are movie posters. Not just any movie posters—vintage Film Noir movie posters. Yes, I am a collector.

I’ve collected movie posters since high school when I worked in a video store and took home anything and everything Horror. It is not hyperbole to say, in high school, every inch of the wall and ceiling space in my room was covered with posters. My Dad thought I was a disturbed young man.

As I aged and my tastes in films refined some, I began collecting Film Noir posters. Part of the appeal, as any collector will tell you, is that they aren’t readily available. Finding a poster for something modern like The Matrix or Pirates of the Caribbean is easy (and mercifully cheap). Vintage poster collecting involves the hunt, the slow morphine drip of any true collector. The drug that keeps us coming back for more.

[The high of finding just what you want . . .]

Thu
May 10 2012 10:30am

The Revival House: Twilight (1998)

The Revival House: Shining a light on underrated crime films. The coulda beens and shoulda beens you ought to know about.

Tonight’s Screening: Twilight (1998)

Poor Twilight. Never a big hit when it was released, and thus proving to Hollywood accountants that movies starring people over 50 will never do well, it has since been relegated to forever being confused for that other Twilight movie and feeling the anger of every tween girl who got confused when accidentally adding the Paul Newman-starring film to their Netflix queue. 

Twilight plays as a sort of spiritual cousin to Newman’s Harper from the 1960s. It is a swan song, in a way, to a classic style of mystery. A little slower, less sex and car chases. Newman gets to play a retired cop and investigator who is friends with Gene Hackman as an aging, cancer-stricken movie star. Susan Sarandon is Hackman’s trophy wife, starting to feel her age as well. And let’s not forget James Garner as a pal of Newman’s. Not exactly a cast for the teen set.

[I don’t know about you, but I’ll take Paul Newman any day!]

Fri
May 4 2012 10:30am

The Revival House: State of Grace (1990)

The Revival House: Shining a light on underrated crime films. The coulda beens and shoulda beens you ought to know about.

Tonight’s Screening: State of Grace (1990)

There is so much to love about State of Grace, and almost all those things are what made it a flop at the box office. It didn’t even crack the 2 million mark. Granted those were 1990 dollars, but even back then under 2 mil put it at #156 for the year. Right in the neighborhood of flop city.

The trials and travails of the Irish mob in New York is rich, untapped territory and State of Grace takes us deep inside a crime organization undergoing growing pains and struggling to prove itself with the big dogs on the street—the Italians. The first and only produced screenplay by Dennis McIntyre (who I will assume is Irish) is a twisty and tense thriller that plays out slowly and draws you in like quicksand.

[Quicksand never felt so good . . .]