28 July 2015

The Book Report: Tapping the Source and The Last Good Kiss

by Paul D. Marks

Today I want to talk about a couple of books that you may or may not know. A lot of people do seem to know them. On the other hand, they’re still obscure to many.

Nunn-Crumley Collage D1The books are “Tapping the Source” by Kem Nunn and “The Last Good Kiss” by James Crumley. Several decades ago a friend of mine in the WGAw turned me onto these books, telling me how terrific they were. Thank you, Elliot.

He told me about both at the same time. Both sounded good, so I rushed out to get them (this was in the olden days when you had to actually go somewhere to buy a book). And I read them right away.
I was blown away by “Tapping the Source”. And I liked “The Last Good Kiss,” a lot, but maybe because I so fell in love with Tapping, Kiss paled by comparison. I know this is sacrilege to some. But hey, that’s what makes horse races.

“Tapping the Source” is Nunn’s first novel and with it he pretty much invented his own genre: surf noir. I guess I’m not the only one who likes it since it was a finalist for the National Book Award.

nunnIt’s the story of a pretty na├»ve and innocent kid from Bakersfield, California—Buck Owens country—who travels to Huntington Beach, CA, the surf capital of the world, in search of his sister. There, he gets involved with a bunch of mysterious and maybe evil bikers and sees the dark side of “surf city”. This definitely ain’t the Beach Boys world of surf, sun and California Girls.

I liked this book so much that I wanted to option the film rights for it. I had them checked out, but they had already been optioned/bought. That had to be at least 25 years ago, probably more, a lot more. But to this day there is still no movie version of this story. It is, however, said that “Point Break,” with Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves was, uh, inspired by “Tapping the Source”. The story is different and imho not nearly as good.

Nunn went on to write several other books, including a couple that fall into the surf noir category. He also did the Hollywood thing, writing/producing for “Deadwood” and “Sons of Anarchy,” and creating the series “John from Cincinnati,” set in Imperial Beach down near the Mexican border.

***

Crumley’s hardboiled “The Last Good Kiss” starts out heading in one direction and quickly makes a U-turn, slamming around a dark, noir corner. PI C.W. Sughrue is hired to find Abraham Trahearne before he drinks himself to death.

And he finds him, on the first page of the book:

“When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.”
―James Crumley, “The Last Good Kiss”

So there wouldn’t be much of a story if there weren’t complications, would there? So: Trahearne gets shot in the ass in the bar. And while waiting for him to recuperate, Sughrue is hired to look into the ten year old disappearance of the bar owner’s daughter.

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The novel weaves through the darkest corners of some of the darkest streets in America. A hard drinking, tough Viet Nam vet, a man with a moral code, Sughrue is a PI for the 1970s. And maybe, just maybe for the 21st century as well.

“Stories are like snapshots, pictures snatched out of time, with clean hard edges. But this was life, and life always begins and ends in a bloody muddle, womb to tomb, just one big mess, a can of worms left to rot in the sun.”
―James Crumley, “The Last Good Kiss”

Men’s Journal named “The Last Good Kiss” #12 on its list of Top 15 Thrillers of All Time and George Pelacanos put it at #3 on his list of Five Most Important Crime novels.

***

If Nunn is known for surf noir, Crumley is the granddaddy of post Viet-Nam hardboiled PI’s. He influenced many current writers, but, like Nunn, never had the big breakthrough that brought him a wide mainstream audience. They’re both like that little band that you love, but only you and a small cult of other loyal followers or groupies love or know about. And in some ways if that band or those authors, in this case Nunn and Crumley, were to get discovered by the masses you would feel a loss. Crumley died in 2008, but he’s left behind an impressive collection of novels and short stories worth checking out.

So, if you haven’t read these books or aren’t familiar with these authors maybe you’d want to check them out. If you are familiar with them, maybe it’s time to revisit them. I’d love to hear your opinions.

***

A couple items of BSP:

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00019]Vortex: My new Mystery-Thriller coming September 1st.
...a nonstop staccato action noir... Vortex lives up to its name, quickly creating a maelstrom of action and purpose to draw readers into a whirlpool of intrigue and mystery... but be forewarned: once picked up, it's nearly impossible to put down before the end. 
      —D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
Akashic Fade Out Annoucement D1a-ab -- w full date


Fade Out: flash fiction story coming on Akashic’s Mondays Are Murder, Monday (big surprise, huh?), August 17th. Here’s the link, but my story won’t be live till 8/17:  http://www.akashicbooks.com/tag/mondays-are-murder/

***

Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks  and  Twitter: @PaulDMarks
And check out my updated website www.PaulDMarks.com  
Click here to subscribe to my Newsletter: Subscribe to my Newsletter

*Crumley B/W photo is free to share and use per Bing.com useage rights.
###

27 July 2015

The Last Camel Collapsed at Noon

by Susan Rogers Cooper

Several years ago I was invited to give a lecture at a Rice University summer workshop for writers. I was given the assignment of discussing hooks or opening lines – which led to one of the more enjoyable research studies I've ever done. My research consisted almost primarily of pulling out every mystery on my bookshelves (and believe me there were a lot then and even more now) and reading the opening line or paragraph. Then trying to figure out why it worked. If it did. Sometimes it didn't. Hook me, that is. And that was the entire reason for my lecture. How do you hook a reader, how do you keep them reading your book beyond that first line, paragraph, page or chapter? There's got to be a hook.

I entitled this essay “The Last Camel Collapsed at Noon” because, to me at least, Ken Follett's opening line in THE KEY TO REBECCA is one of the greatest. Why? Because you learn so much from those six simple words: You get a vague place – not a lot of camels on the streets of Manhattan – one is to assume this is a desert area, and one can also only assume that these people are in very deep doo-doo. 
 
But I found so many more wonderful opening lines, and all of them so different that it led me to do my own classification of openers: Slap in the Face, Character, Travel Log, and Puzzler, among others. Here's the short list, honed down from a much, much larger one, that fits perfectly in these categories.

Slap in the Face: PRIMARY JUSTICE, William Bernardt – “'Once again,' the man said, pulling the little girl along by the leash tied to his wrist and hers. 'Tell me your name.'” DEAD BOLT, Jay Brandon – “His child was on the ledge.” And one of my all time favorites, SHOTGUN SATURDAY NIGHT, Bill Crider – “Sheriff Dan Rhodes knew it was going to be a bad day when Bert Ramsey brought in the arm and laid it on the desk.” In all three of these examples, I dare the reader not to read on! These opening lines grab your attention and keep you riveted.

For a really good example of a character opening I go way back to one of my favorite writers, Raymond Chandler, who wrote these opening lines for TROUBLE IS MY BUSINESS: “Anna Halsey was about two hundred and forty pounds of middle-aged putty faced woman in a black tailor-made suit. Her eyes were shiny black shoe buttons, her cheeks were as soft as suet and about the same color. She was sitting behind a black glass desk that looked like Napoleon's tomb and was smoking a cigarette in a black holder that was not quite as long as a rolled umbrella. She said, 'I need a man.'”

Sharyn McCrumb once honored me by using my book, CHASING AWAY THE DEVIL, in a class she was teaching as an example of how to hook the reader. When she told me that, I had to go back to the book and read that opening paragraph to figure out why. I knew I didn't kill anybody in that first paragraph, knew there wasn't any great action. So why did she single out this opening?

The third week in November is Pioneer Week in my home, Prophesy County, Oklahoma. There's nothing in this goddam world I hate more than Pioneer Week. They make us deputies dress up for it. In chaps. And cowboy hats. And boots. And spurs. And real-live six-guns on our hips. It's goddam ridiculous.” I had to read this a couple of times before I realized that this, like Chandler's opening paragraph above (although unfortunately not nearly as classic) is a character opening. Milt Kovak's personality is smeared all over those few sentences. The reader knows, right off the bat, what kind of person he/she's going to be sharing the next several hundred pages with.

Travel Log: THE JUDAS GOAT, Robert B. Parker – “Hugh Dixon's home sat on a hill in Weston and looked out over the low Massachusetts hills as if asphalt had not been invented yet.” Marcia Muller often opens her books with vivid descriptions of northern California. But her opening lines for PENNIES ON A DEAD WOMAN'S EYES – “At first they were going to kill me. Then they changed their minds and only took away thirty-six years of my life” – is a good example of the Puzzler category. Others are Joseph Wambaugh's opening line in the THE ONION FIELD, “The gardener was a thief,” Barbara Michaels' opener for THE DARK ON THE OTHER SIDE,The house talked,” and Jonathan Kellerman's first line of OVER THE EDGE, It was my first middle-of-the-night crisis call in three years.”

A book does not necessarily start at the beginning of the story. A writer can always go back and pick up the chronological beginning of the story – a beginning that may not be overly dramatic. Of course the beginning of the story needs to be there – but not necessarily on page one. Page one should be reserved for the hook.


While writing FAT TUESDAY, Earl Emerson wrote these words on page 127, chapter eight: “I was trapped in a house with a lawyer, a bare-breasted woman, and a dead man. The rattlesnake in the paper sack only complicated matters.” He said it took him weeks to junk the book, re-plot the story,and regain the momentum of the narrative, but he was able to move those lines to page one, chapter one. Now that's a hook.

In journalism they teach that the lead (or hook) must grab a reader by the lapels, must punch him in the nose to make him read the story. Seize his attention and don't let go. The hook in a good mystery should punch the reader in the nose while at the same time seducing him. The hook shouldn't answer any questions, but ask them. A good mystery opener should seduce the reader into believing that the answers to those questions are worth the wait.

26 July 2015

Copyright? Elementary, My Dear Watson.

by Dale C. Andrews

Arthur Conan Doyle published his first Sherlock Holmes story in 1887 and his last in 1927. There were 56 stories in all, plus 4 novels. The final stories were published between 1923 and 1927. As a result of statutory extensions of copyright protection culminating in the 1988 Copyright Term Extension Act, the American copyrights on those final stories . . . will not expire until 95 years after the date of original publication -- between 2018 and 2022 . . . . The copyright on the 46 stories and the 4 novels, all being works published before 1923, [has] expired.
                                                 Klinger v. Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd.
                                                 755 F. 3d 496, 497 (7th Cir. 2014)
                                                 per Judge Richard Posner
Is there anything left to say about Sherlock Holmes? The fame of Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective has now stretched across three centuries, with no expiration date in sight. . . . Recent books and graphic novels find the detective trading bon mots with Henry James, escaping the island of Doctor Moreau and squaring off against a zombie horde. One can also pick up Sherlock-themed tarot decks, rubber duckies, crew socks and — for undercover work — a “sexy detective” outfit featuring a deerstalker and pipe. And, needless to say, the digital landscape is ablaze with blogs, fanfic, Twitter feeds, podcasts and innumerable tributes to the cheekbones of Benedict Cumberbatch. What’s left? As Professor Moriarty once remarked, “All that I have to say has already crossed your mind.” 
                                                Daniel Stashower
                                                The Washington Post, July 12, 2015
                                                Reviewing The Amazing Rise and Immortal Lives of Sherlock Holmes                                                  by Zach Dundas

Sir Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes
       This week’s summer movie roll-outs included Mr. Holmes, which features Sir Ian McKellen’s highly anticipated take on Sherlock Holmes at 93 —  battling age and dementia as he tries to unravel one last case. The movie, based on the 2005 Holmes pastiche A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, actually offers the viewer two takes on Holmes, since the cinema version of the story features a “movie within a movie” in which Nicholas Rowe, who earlier portrayed the detective in Young Sherlock Holmes, once again assumes the role in Watson’s version of the mystery that confounds the elderly Holmes.  (Holmes views the movie version, based on Watson's account, in an attempt to jump start his failing memories of the case.)  The fact that the movie offers a new take on Holmes —  indeed, two new takes, and that the same week yet another Holmes retrospective hit the bookstores —   Zach Dumas' The Amazing Rise and Immortal Lives of Sherlock Holmes — is hardly surprising. For 130 years Sherlock Holmes has been, well, ubiquitous.

       Ellery Queen had this to say in his (err, “their”) introduction to The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes:   "more has been written about Sherlock Holmes than about any other character in fiction. It is further true that more has been written about Holmes by others than by Doyle himself."  We will return to that Ellery Queen anthology, but for now the important point is that no other detective  —  not Miss Marple, nor Hercule Poirot, nor Ellery himself  —  has so tempted other authors to lift their pens in imitation and tribute.  And all of this begs a legal question:  How, pray tell, have these new takes on Sherlock Holmes been reconciled with the copyright protection originally secured for the character by Arthur Conan Doyle?

     A Proviso before going forward here: While I am a lawyer, I am NOT a copyright and intellectual properties lawyer. So, a caveat  when I discuss copyright rules it may be a little like asking your family doctor to perform brain surgery.  But with that in mind, the simple rule is that in the United States under the terms of the 1998 Copyright Terms Extension Act the author has copyright protection for 95 years following the publication of the author’s work. So if you are inclined to dabble in pastiches (and I plead guilty on that one), well, you need to do this only with the permission of the original author (or their estate) if the character you are using was created less than 95 years ago.

       How easy is it to run afoul of copyright rules? Well, as promised above, lets return again to our old friend Ellery Queen for the answer to that question. In 1944 Queen published an anthology collecting most of the Holmes pastiches and parodies then in existence, The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes. Of all Ellery Queen volumes this one is likely the rarest. If you want to secure a copy on Amazon it will probably set you back around $150.00.  Why? Well, the anthology, it turns out, was published without first securing a license from the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle. As a result, it was quickly pulled from publication when the estate threatened to sue, and only a limited number of volumes ever reached book stores.   (As an aside, notwithstanding all of the above, a rough version of The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes is, as of this writing, rather mysteriously available for downloading on the internet!  Just click here.)

       But, in any event, Ellery's stumble over the copyright rules was way back in 1944, right? Back then the first Sherlock Holmes stories were not even 60 years old. What about today? In 2015 almost 130 years separates us from the first Holmes adventure, A Study in Scarlet. So Sherlock should have squared his tweed-draped shoulders and marched into the public domain almost 35 years ago, right?  Well, not so fast. The Doyle estate has historically taken a different (and predictable) approach when it comes to counting those intervening years.

       As the quote at the top of the article points out, the “last bows” of the Sherlock Holmes stories were the ten final mysteries written by Arthur Conan Doyle between 1923 and 1927.  And, counting it up, the 95 year copyright on those stories has yet to expire  and won’t begin to for another three years. The Doyle estate has argued that a “fully rounded” (their words) Holmes and Watson arose only upon completion of the entire Doyle canon.   Thus, the estate argues, copyright protection continues until 2022, i.e., 95 years after the last story was published in 1927.  Pause and think about this:  The Copyright laws speak of a protection period running for 95 years from the first appearance of a character, but the Doyle estate argues that this in fact means 95 years from the last appearance of the character.  The argument sounds more like George Orwell than it does Sherlock Holmes!

       The Doyle estate implemented their concededly expansive view of copyright protection in a rather clever manner. The estate decided to charge $5,000 in licensing fees for every use of Holmes and Watson, reasoning that the amount, while substantial, was far less than the cost of subjecting the “fully rounded” theory to a test in litigation. So their assumption was that those wishing to write about Homes and Watson might grumble, but they would pay.  All went well with this approach until Leslie Klinger came along.

       Klinger co-edited an anthology of Sherlock Holmes pastiches and parodies in 2011 titled A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon. Klinger dutifully paid the $5,000 demanded by the Doyle estate before publishing that collection. But when he and his co-editors decided to proceed with a sequel, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, they also decided that enough was enough and refused to pay for a license. The Doyle estate escalated the dispute, threatening to sue if publication occurred without a license. Klinger responded by suing the estate, claiming that Holmes and Watson were in the public domain and had been since 1982, that is, 95 years after A Study in Scarlet was published. As a result, Klinger argued, no license was required.

       A federal district court, and ultimately the Seventh Circuit United States Court of Appeals, eventually settled the matter. In May of 2014 the Seventh Circuit agreed with the district court’s decision and held that the Doyle estate’s argument was wrong. The court instead agreed, as Klinger had argued, that Sherlock Holmes entered the public domain, and became “fair game” for other writers, 95 years following the publication of the first Holmes story.

       But how does one handle the refinements to Holmes and Watson that occurred in those later stories, that is, the “rounding” of the characters on which the estate had relied? Well, the court answered that question by concluding that only Holmes and Watson as portrayed in the original series of stories by Doyle are currently in the public domain; that is, the characters as portrayed prior to 1923. And any subsequent nuances to the character  those “well rounded” attributes on which the estate’s arguments were based  remain protected by the copyright laws.

       How does this work in practice? Well, as Barack Obama, among others, has observed “a good compromise leaves everyone unhappy.” The estate doesn't get its $5,000, but the author of a pastiche nonetheless writes at his or her peril since the use of attributes only arising in the last 10 Holmes mysteries infringes the continuing copyright on those stories.

       The Seventh Circuit’s opinion only identifies a scant few areas in which Doyle’s characters became "more rounded” in the later Holmes stories that are still copyright protected: First, Holmes (apparently) likes dogs; Second, Watson was married twice. (On that latter point, I think W.S. Baring-Gould set the number of marriages at three, but I won’t argue the point  particularly without a license!)  So the “rounding” of Sherlock Holmes and Watson may be limited, but what does this rule mean for other characters who appeared in a series of works over the years?  Let us take, for example, my old friend Ellery Queen.

       Ellery’s earliest appearance was in The Roman Hat Mystery, which was published in 1929. Thus, all of the Queen canon is still copyright protected. But what happens in 2024, when the first appearance of Ellery reaches its 95th birthday and the canon begins its seriatim march into the public domain? Arguably under the Seventh Circuit’s reasoning Ellery can be used freely by other authors as of that date.  But beware:  Ellery better be wearing pince-nez glasses, and he might be advised to only employ a Duesenberg for transportation.  He should also have retired, with a wife and son, to Italy. All of those early aspects of Ellery disappeared by the middle of the Queen canon as Ellery Queen and the Inspector were "rounded" by Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee.  In fact the first evidence of the Ellery of the latter half of the canon did not appear until about 1936, with the publication of Halfway House. So unlike Sherlock, there are unmistakable differences between early and late Ellery!

       And if all of this were not confusing enough, let’s throw into our copyright primer the fact that parodies of copyrighted materials, unlike pastiches, fall completely outside of the protection of copyright without worrying at all about the passage of time.  This exception to copyright protection is established and was famously re-invigorated in 2001 when the Eleventh Circuit held that The Wind Done Gone, a re-telling of Gone With the Wind from the perspective of the enslaved residents of Tara, did not infringe Margaret Mitchell’s copyright of the original story.

       So let us return again to Queen and see how that rule would work.  Well, apparently the great Jon L. Breen could have freely published his humorous short story mystery “The Lithuanian Eraser Mystery,” (EQMM March, 1969), in which “E. Larry Cune” solves a New York City theatre murder.  That story is a parody, no question.  Tongue is firmly planted in cheek.   But, by contrast, Breen needed a license in order to publish “The Gilbert and Sullivan Clue,” (EQMM Sept. 1999) since Ellery himself solves that theatrical-based mystery. And what about Francis Nevins famous pastiche “Open Letter to Survivors” (EQMM May, 1972), a story that, while clearly featuring Ellery, never in fact names him as the young detective? I asked Mike Nevins, a copyright professor himself, whether he secured a license for that story and his reply was that Frederic Dannay, then the editor-in-chief of EQMM, never brought up the matter one way or the other when the story was accepted by EQMM for publication.

       But back to Sherlock  when you see that new movie, Mr. Holmes, you might reflect on all of this, and what it can take to breathe new life into another author's character.   And think about the "rounding" of Holmes that had nothing to do with Arthur Conan Doyle  particularly Sherlock Holmes as portrayed in the movie and in Mitch Cullin's original pastiche.  As Holmes explains in each, part of his task in telling this story on his own, without Watson as narrator, is setting the record straight, removing the "excesses" of the Watson versions of his stories.  As an example, you will note that Sir Ian McKellen’s Holmes prefers cigars to a pipe. That “rounding” of the famous detective’s character has absolutely no precedent in the Arthur Conan Doyle canon, either before or after 1923. So at least when Sherlock enjoys his cigar we needn't go back to the Holmes canon looking for references that might prove significant for those pesky copyright laws.

       Come to think of it, a similar observation might be made concerning the title of this article.  Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes never once used the phrase "elementary my dear Watson!"

25 July 2015

No Sex Please – We’re Crime Writers!

by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

I write short.  This stems from my comedy writing roots, where each word must be carefully chosen for impact.  So my publishers don’t delete a lot of scenes from my books.  In fact, they usually tell me where to add more words.

With one exception.

There seems to be a convention that crime books shouldn’t contain sex.  Oh, they can refer to sex. Sex can be a powerful motivator for all those violent scenes we are allowed to describe in painstaking detail. (Irony alert here.)

So you can refer to sex. But Lord help you if you – ahem – ‘Show-not-Tell.’

Okay, so I show a bit.  But just a little bit.  I don’t write X-rated, honest.  In fact, I write with the sort of silliness that might be associated with old Benny Hill skits.  So we’re not talking Fifty Shades of Naughty here. (otherwise known as Fifty Shades of Boredom.  But I digress…)

Still, my naughty bits get censored. No sex please, we’re crime writers!

It’s a crime <sic>.  Heck, it’s enough to make a poor gal swap genres. Have you read any steamy romance books lately?  Those novels can be practically pornographic.

When did romance books become more adult than crime books?

I explained to one of my publishers why a certain sexy blackmail scene was essential to the story. It provided motivation that was completely necessary.  So here was their admittedly canny solution:
Leave the dialogue in, but take out the other senses – the sounds, the visuals, the - let’s leave it there.

Yes, it still works.  You get what’s going on by what is being said.

Does it lose impact?  Well, yes.  I work hard to include all the senses in my writing.

But does it work for the plot?  Yes, it does.  It might even be funnier without the senses.

You be the judge.

From THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE, winner of the 2014 Derringer and Arthur Ellis awards:

“Now Carmine, move up front here and pay close attention to this video,” I said. “You might know the people.”

Everyone came closer. You could almost hear each individual breath. Except then I turned up the volume and you could only hear the heavy breathing and moans coming from the laptop.

“Oh Carmy! Do it – do it – ahhhhh”

“I’m doin’ it, babe – I’m doin’ it –“

“Faster, Carmy! Faster – don’t stop”

All eyes were glued to the screen.

“Oh, gross,” said Lou.

“Holy shit!” yelled Carmine. “How did you get that?”

“Carm, that ain’t your wife. Tracy’s not a blond.” Bertoni was confused.

“How the heck is she doing that?” Pete stared at the video with far too much interest.

Has your publisher ever dialed back a particularly sexy scene? Give us the dirt <sic> in the comments below.



THE GODDAUGHTER'S REVENGE (from Orca Books)
at Amazon
at Chapters

24 July 2015

Hunting Tips from the Mafia....with running commentary

by R.T. Lawton

Yeah folks, I know this is still summer time with 3 or 4 months left before regular hunting season, but if you're like the old Kansas City mafia then you know it's best to put some future planning into your hunting endeavors in order to see what the problems are so you can scheme towards a successful conclusion. Let's take a look at an old FBI Title III transcript to see how mob minds work.

Here's the scenario. An agent has surreptitiously planted a listening device in a north Kansas City building used by the local mafia hierarchy. Tape recorders are running. The time is late 1978, about six months after three mobsters (allegedly Nick Civella's henchmen) burst into the Virginian Tavern and shot the three surviving Spero brothers: Mike, Joe and Carl. Mike promptly expired, Joe got wounded and Carl, who fled through a side door when the shooting began, took a shotgun blast to the back and ultimately ended up in a wheelchair. The fourth brother, Nick Spero, had previously been found after taking up temporary residence in the trunk of his Cadillac convertible.

Nick Civella is the Kansas City godfather at the time of this event and his brother Corky is the family's underboss. These two and Tuffy DeLuca, one of the alleged gunmen at the Virginian Tavern shooting, are in the bugged building having a discussion as to what to do about Carl Spero, since he survived the shooting. Hey, planning is everything, unless of course the resulting actions leave some loose ends. In this case, Joe and Carl Spero are leftover loose ends which now require another round of planning.

In the following transcript, The Civellas are focusing their attention on Carl, whose residence is on a remote lot in Clay County, Missouri, where the brush and trees have been cleared away from the house for some distance.

Nick Civella: "Them guys (referring to some of his henchmen) been out to the house. That house is exposed for a mile. You get a car out there on the road. You start, do you say crawl and walk. The guys ain't in that kind of shape." Sounds like too much pasta and cannoli with not enough gym time. C'mon Nick, you're the boss, shape these guys up.

Corky Civella: "Willie's telling me (an apparent reference to a future KC godfather named Willie 'The Rat' Cammisano) he would go out there and sit and crawl and hit him from a f+++++g mile away. I don't see no sense in why the guy can't even try." Just in case kids are reading this post, I cleaned up some of Corky's language from the original transcript.

Nick: "He'd be moving. He's a moving target." Moving? C'mon Nick, the guy's in a wheelchair. How fast can he be moving?

Cork: "What's the difference, f+++++g deer's moving." Deer? Human? All the same to Cork, he figures you just stalk and shoot them.

Nick: "Oh, no, no, Cork. Deers are standing when they get hit." Huh!

The conversation then closes with the following words.

Nick: "Let me tell you something. We've got the best f+++++g bloodhounds in the United States and always did have." I had no idea the mafia used bloodhounds. But, having already equated human targets to deer, Nick has evidently taken the step of anthropomorphizing the abilities of bloodhounds onto his hitmen.

In the end, having concerns about the physical capabilities of their hitmen, plus their accuracy with a firearm over long distances, the Civellas opt to go with a wider range program where the concept of "close" still counts to get the job done. As mentioned in a previous blog, Joe gets blown away with a booby-trap in his storage shed, while Carl and his speedy wheelchair are subsequently ventilated with a nail-bomb shortly upon arriving at his cousin's car lot. Loose ends are now taken care of.

The hunt's over, the game has been bagged and tagged. And, that's hunting mafia style.

23 July 2015

Ripped From Today's Headlines!

by Brian Thornton

As many of you know, I write crime fiction. In my case it's mostly historical in nature. And every once in a while, I have a reader pop up and tell me how they don't buy this or that situation in one of my stories. I've heard it over and over again.

"That would never happen," they say. "Who is that stupid?"

Now, we're not talking, "Slasher-flick–heroine–opening–the-front–door–after–finding–several–of–her–friends–run–through–a–vegamatic" stupid. After all, as far as I'm concerned, as a writer, I have an obligation to entertain my readers. And they have a right to trust that I won't stiff them once they've bought something I've written.

That's a funny word, "trust."

Webster's defines "trust" as: "belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc."

And how does the old saying go? "It's getting so you can't trust anyone, these days." You've heard it, I'm sure.

It's never been more true than today. Especially when it comes to the Internet.

Everyone knows the stories, or maybe even someone who has been taken in by some or other internet scam– you know, Nigerian doctors, Ukranian brides, twists on the phone scams that ran before it, and three card monty con games that were around before phone lines.

It all really boils down to this:

Tell us all about that bank crash, Grandma!
People who have given you no earthly reason to trust them, ask for your trust.

When you see it phrased that way, why on earth would anyone oblige them?

And yet it happens day after day after day.

E-commerce is built around a more honest permutation of this very principle. After all, money is a fluid commodity. And we as a society are well past the "I–don't–trust–banks–so–I–bury–my–savings–a–coffee–can" stage of a developing economy.
Besides, sometimes you forget where you buried the can (And then you never know what you might dig up!).

Yep, that's a Ferrari, alright. (File this one under #Firstworldproblems)
Who among us hasn't received a call (or several) from the fraud detection division of our bank, asking us about suspicious purchases made with our bank cards? It's just a reality of the age in which we live. Most people, if they don't consciously consider this notion, accept it when faced with incontrovertible evidence of it.

Case in point: several years ago (nevermind how many, although it was well over a decade ago), a friend of mine became romantically involved with a political operative who worked on several high profile political campaigns. Once they got serious, the campaign for which my friend's new boyfriend worked sent over some "security people" to speak with my friend about some of her private proclivities.

Boy, was she red-faced.

Nothing more came of it, they just wanted her to be aware of how open her online actions were to being monitored. Talking to me about it afterward, red-faced as she was, she said "They did me a favor. I had no idea."

(There's a happy ending. My friend eventually married the guy. They're still together.)

In the years since then, we've had the Anthony Weiners and the Chris Lees of the world (See what I did there? One Democrat, one Republican, both hubristic boobs who ought to have known better.) showing us hubris over and over again, via the magic of Twitter and Craigslist, respectively.
Trust me when I say NO ONE wants to see this....

...or THIS!
This kind of crap goes on because guys like Weiner and Lee believe they won't get caught.

I mean, hey, the two maroons cited above were public figures. Weiner especially was pretty high profile. He made the rounds of all of the Sunday talk shows, and was seen as a rising star in the House Democratic leadership at the time of his spectacular fall.

That these two were "indiscreet" would be to be to understatement.

When this sort of hubris is wedded to the "sucker" impulse listed at the beginning of this posting, that is where a certain manner of idiocy is brought drooling and dragging its knuckles into this 21st century world.

And that is when you get the Ashley Madison hacking scandal of the last couple of weeks.

If you're not up to date on what "Ashley Madison" is and why this is potentially such a big (and hilarious) deal, to read a quick overview of what's been going on, click here.

Demonstrating the type of willful, arrogant stupidity usually reserved for characters in a crime fiction novel (The works of Elmore Leonard, Donald E. Westlake–especially the "Dortmunder" novels– and Carl Hiassen all come to mind), a whole slew of people looking to cheat on their spouses signed up to cruise other people in the market for an extramarital affair, and in order to access the "special features" available only to paying member/customers, pony up their hard-earned ducats.

Usually by using a personal credit card.

Anyone else get the irony?

These people (and there are apparently thousands of them), looking to do something that most of society considers a fundamental betrayal of their wedding vows, looked around and saw a website hosted by a company that said: "Trust us" while demonstrating no quantifiable reason to do so.

And yet they did, in droves.

Apparently part of the sales job on the part of the folks at Ashley Madison was a guarantee that anytime a member wanted to quit and erase their cybertracks, such service would be cheerfully provided by the friendly folks expediting their screwing around on their spouse, and all for the low, low price of $19.00!

Uh–HUH....And let me know when *Elvis* gets here...


In an age where the names and social security numbers of hundreds of thousands of government employees can be hacked from such federal agencies as the Office of Personnel Management, where Target loses tens of thousands of the credit card numbers of customers, and where your bank calls you several times a year to ask whether you just bought a Happy Meal at a McDonalds' in Florida, nevermind that you're talking to them from your house phone at home in Minnesota, several thousand people believed the assurances of this company.

Turns out the folks at Ashley Madison (*gasp*) lied!

The $1.7 million the company made last year from offering this service alone is (along with the opportunity to unmask and publicly shame cheating spouses) a major reason why the shadowy group claiming responsibility for this hack decided to target Ashley Madison.

This is fact, not fiction.

And in the weeks and months to come, I am certain we will continue to hear about some of the fallout associated with the unmasking of these would-be philanderers. (Let me say up front that while I have little sympathy for those caught out by this hack, I have boundless sympathy for their spouses). I have no doubt that many of my colleagues in the crime writing community are already beginning to flesh out story ideas born from their research into this event.

So the next time you're reading a novel and you come to a point you find implausible, think twice before you dismiss it with a statement like, "That would never happen."

Because it can.

And it has.

Trust me.

22 July 2015

The Case Against Charles Dickens

Death and Mr Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis
by Louis Willis

I won the prize of a proof copy of the novel, Death and Mr Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis, based on my comment on his April 12 post. I promised Leigh that I would write a review of the novel for SleuthSayers. By the time you read this review, the novel will have been published in the UK and the US. I didn’t read the reviews of the novel in the June 2015 issue of The Atlantic or the July 19 issue of the NY Times Book Review for fear they would influence my opinion.

Death and Mr Pickwick is based on the life of the 19th century caricaturist Robert Seymour. Mr Jarvis’s purpose is to correct the accepted version of who created Mr Pickwick and the pickwickian characters, Charles Dickens (1812-1870) or Robert Seymour (1798-1836). He argues that the accepted version is wrong. For him, "Seymour is THE key person in Dickens’s career; and in my forthcoming novel, Death and Mr Pickwick, which tells the story of the creation and subsequent history of The Pickwick Papers, Seymour is the main character."

I don’t challenge Mr. Jarvis’s argument. I leave that up to the Dickensian scholars. My concern is how the novel reads as fiction based on the lives of real people.

 Robert Seymour
The novel is a biography of Seymour and a history of The Pickwick Papers using fictional techniques. In the framed narrative an old man who calls himself Mr Inbelicate is the inside narrator. He hires a young man, whom he nicknames Inscriptino, to write a book based on the documents, pictures, and drawings in Mr Inbelicate’s possession to correct the accepted version of who created Mr Pickwick and the pickwickian characters. Scripty, as Mr Inbelicate calls him, is the outside narrator. He tells the story of how the old man would explain the history behind each document and each picture. After Mr Inbelicate dies, Scripty reads his narrative of the history of The Pickwick Papers and the amazing effect the novel had on readers (Inbelicate is a compositor’s error of indelicate and Inscriptino of inscription).

In the accepted version, Robert Seymour might have played a minor part, but Dickens created Mr Pickwick. Mr Inbelicate claims Dickens, while not saying so outright, with help of his friend John Forster, used evasive techniques in prefaces to the various editions of the novel to deny Robert Seymour’s contribution in creating Mr Pickwick. The publishers Edward Chapman and William Hall also denied Seymour’s contribution and refused to pay his widow and two children what they were due based on the success of The Pickwick Papers. Since Seymour burned all his papers, including the contract he had with them, the widow could not prove her husband created Mr Pickwick. Dickens’s conscience bothered him when he learned the widow and children were living in poverty. Forster persuaded him not to help the family. However, Dickens did give the widow five pounds.

According to Mr Inbelicate, Seymour suggested such to Chapman and Hall and they accepted the idea of the gullible man who would wander through England with friends. They would form the Pickwick club and report on their exploits. Chapman, Hall, and Seymour searched for a writer to provide the words that would accompany the pictures. After reading Sketches by Boz, Seymour agreed to accept Dickens, who was familiar with Seymour’s work. In their first meeting, things got a little tense when Dickens commented on and altered one of Seymour’s drawings. Seymour didn’t mind the criticism but was not happy with Dickens’s altering the drawing.

In their second meeting, Dickens insisted Seymour draw pictures to his specifications. He also suggested Seymour redraw a clown that Seymour had previously drawn to be included in an episode. Seymour refused. He returned home, burned all his papers, and committed suicide. Before Seymour’s confrontation with Dickens, Chapman and Hall decided Dickens’s writings rather that Seymour’s drawings would sell the magazine. Thus, Dickens took ownership of the Pickwick project before the first installment was published.

The Pickwick Papers was first serialized. The magazine sold more copies after Dickens added the bootblack Sam Weller, Mr Pickwick’s Sancho Panza. After the final installment, the issues were collected into the novel that brought Dickens fame. If it weren’t for Dickens, Mr Pickwick would have died with Seymour. The case against Dickens is not that he stole the idea but that he refused to acknowledge Seymour’s part in creating Mr Pickwick. Dickens clearly played a major role breathing life into Mr Pickwick.

I enjoyed the novel not for its plausible argument that Robert Seymour created Mr Pickwick but for its depiction of Dickensian-like characters, real and invented, and the nineteenth century milieu. The characters and humorous situations in which they find themselves are a joy to read. The novel does the one thing fiction must do. It entertains, something it probably would not do if it were a scholarly treatise. Reading the 800 pages was well worth my time and effort.