Showing posts with label hardboiled. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hardboiled. Show all posts

04 April 2017

Cornell Woolrich: The Forgotten Man


by Paul D. Marks

Cornell Woolrich was one of the most popular writers of crime/mystery fiction in the mid twentieth century. He also wrote under the names William Irish and George Hopely. Today he’s largely forgotten at least on the written page. But I’m not going to talk about him as a writer per se. I’m going to talk about him as the hardboiled or noir writer who’s had more stories adapted for film than any other.

To give some idea of his popularity on celluloid, on IMDB there are 103 movies credited to him, including foreign movies. Chandler has 37. Hammett: 33. David Goodis 19. Mostly these are “based on” credits, but Chandler, Goodis and even Hammett actually wrote screenplays (the latter for Watch on the Rhine, not a mystery or noir, but a World War II propaganda flick).

The first movie based on a Woolrich story (writing as William Irish) was The Haunted House in 1928. The credit reads “titles,” so I assume that means he was writing the titles for a silent movie. The first flick credited to a story of his is Children of the Ritz (1929). The last movie listed on IMDB based on one of his stories is She’s No Angel (2002), based on I Married a Dead Man, which had been filmed several times before both domestically and in other countries. The American version was called No Man of Her Own (1950).

So 1928 to 2002 is a pretty good run, with over a hundred adaptations. And I suspect it’s not the end of his run.

Woolrich started out writing Fitzgerald-like stories, but found his niche in the mystery-suspense field, writing both short stories and novels. He spent some time in Hollywood but eventually returned to New York, where he lived in a hotel with his mother until she died, then he moved to another hotel. In the early days of his return to NYC he socialized with fans and MWA members. But alcoholism and the loss of a leg to gangrene because of a too tight shoe and the infection it caused, plus not going to the doctor soon enough, turned him into a recluse. A closeted homosexual, he spent the last years of his life alone and lonely. Nobody attended his funeral in 1968.

Here’s a handful of noir and mystery movies based on his work:

Phantom Lady, 1944: A man (Alan Curtis) and his wife have a fight on their anniversary. He takes a powder and picks up a woman in a bar. When he finally returns home he finds his wife strangled with one of his ties, the police crawling all over his place. And guess who’s the prime suspect? At first the only person who really seems to believe in him is his secretary, the bewitching Ella Raines. Curtis was seen by several people while out that night, but when Rains or the police talk to them they deny it. Eventually Curtis’ best friend (Franchot Tone) returns from South America (I hope I’m remembering this right) and Ella hopes he can help out. Noir icon Elisha Cook, Jr. has a great turn as a crazed drummer. A pretty good B flick, directed by Robert Siodmak.



Black Angel,1946: Blackmailer Mavis Marlowe is murdered. Kirk Bennet, a married guy with a loyal wife, is sentenced for the crime. His wife teams up with Marlowe’s ex-husband, an alkie composer and pianist, Dan Duryea, to try to find the real killer before the state executes her husband. Peter Lorre does a turn as a sleazy nightclub owner. Hey, it’s Peter Lorre, can the club owner be anything but sleazy? And any noir with Duryea is worth watching.



The Chase,1946: From the No Good Deed Goes Unpunished school of storytelling. Down on his heels World War II vet Robert Cummings returns a lost wallet to gangster Eddie Roman. Roman rewards him with a job as his chauffeur. Eventually Cummings volunteers to help Eddie’s wife, Michelle Morgan, escape her crazy husband. Will they get away to sail into the sunset together?

Deadline at Dawn,1946: A sailor wakes up with a stash of cash after a night of heavy drinking (hey, he’s a swabbie, what do you expect). With the help of dance hall girl Susan Hayward he tries to find the woman it belongs to, and does. Just one problem: she’s dead. He’s not sure if he did the deed or not. And now they only have a few hours to find out the truth before his leave is up.

Fear in the Night x 2, 1947 & 1956: A man (who should have been in outer space—DeForest Kelly) dreams he committed a murder in a strange mirror-covered octagonal room. He wakes up with unusual marks on his throat, blood on his sleeve. His cop brother-in-law tries to convince him that it was just a dream—but he’s freaking out. The cop, his wife, DeForest and his girl go on a picnic to a weird house in the woods…and find a mirrored room just like the one he dreamt about. What the hell’s going on?—I have to admit that, while I like all the movies here, I really love this low-budget flick. I’m not saying it’s even good. There’s just something I like about it. The sort of surreal aspect maybe. Remade as Nightmare (the title of the story it’s based on) with Edward G. Robinson and Kevin McCarthy in ’56. Almost an exact remake, but it lacks something, IMO, that Fear in the Night has.



The Window,1949: Woolrich’s version of the boy who cried wolf. It’s hot and sultry in the city, so 9 year old teller-of-tall-tales Tommy decides to sleep on the fire escape, but instead of doing it outside his apartment he does it at a higher one to get a better breeze. While there, he sees the Kellersons murder someone. But no one will believe him because he’s the boy who cries wolf. Well, the Kellersons believe him and they want to silence him...

Rear Window x 2 – 1954 & 1998: POSSIBLE SPOILER AHEAD. Forget the 1998 version, though it does have one unique thing. Christopher Reeve plays the wheelchair-bound photog played by Jimmy Stewart in the original. And he’s really confined to a wheelchair because of his fall off of a horse. That’s interesting, but the movie doesn’t touch the original. And for those out there who’ve never seen it, L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (Stewart) is confined to a wheelchair in his apartment because of a broken leg. He likes to spy on his neighbors in the voyeuristic way that Hitchcock loves so much (Oh, did I forget to mention this is a Hitchcock flick?) So he’s watching his weird, wild and sad collection of neighbors across the courtyard when he sees someone who looks suspiciously like Perry Mason murder his wife. He soon involves his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) and his nurse (Thelma Ritter) in trying to ferret out what happened. Rear Window is one of Hitchcock’s 1950s string of great and classic flicks that includes Vertigo, Strangers on a Train, The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest and more.

Besides movies, Woolrich’s stories have also been adapted for various radio and television shows, including The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Suspicion, Thriller and Fallen Angels.

I picked this group of films from the huge selection of Woolrich adaptations because to one degree or another (not including the Rear Window remake) I like them all and would recommend them as decent adaptations of his work.

Woolrich was very successful, but ultimately lived a life somewhat like his stories, sad, friendless and abandoned. There’s something very noir about the way his life played out.

***

And congratulations to O’Neil, Herschel, B.K. and R.T. on their Derringer noms! Good luck!

And now for a little BSP:

I’m thrilled to announce that my short story, “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll. If you’d like to read it (and maybe consider it for other awards) you can read it free on my website: http://pauldmarks.com/stories/ 

Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea is available at Amazon.com and Down & Out Books.


09 August 2016

Meet Me in St. Louis


by Paul D. Marks

Meet me in St. Louie Louie, meet me at the fair…

No, not the St. Louis of the title song, Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien and the cakewalk, but of the darker, more cynical St. Louis of Akashic’s recently released St. Louis Noir.

Fellow SleuthSayer John Floyd and I think alike, or at least we both have stories in one of the new Akashic Noir books that were released on August 2nd and wanted to write about them here on SleuthSayers. And I want to congratulate John on his story Pit Stop in Mississippi Noir, which I’ve ordered and am very much looking forward to reading.

I’d also like to congratulate fellow SleuthSayers Art Taylor (Best First Mystery), Barb Goffman (Best Short Story) and BK Stevens (Best Short Story) on their Macavity noms! Good luck to all of you! — And I hope I haven’t missed anyone.


Now to my noir tale:


Lights. Camera. Action.
Apparently there were lights over the Gateway Arch in St. Louis a few days ago. Everybody’s trying to figure out what they were. Kansas City TV station KMBC says “Mysterious light over Gateway Arch stumps St. Louis.” (http://www.kmbc.com/news/mysterious-light-over-gateway-arch-stumps-st-louis/41052670 ) I have an idea about what it might have been, which I’ll get to later. In the meantime, how’s this for a segue, from mysterious lights over the Arch to Akashic’s new St. Louis Noir anthology, which was just released last Tuesday.

The book is edited by Scott Phillips. Among several other great books, Scott is the author of the terrific The Ice Harvest, which was also made into a movie starring John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton. I’m honored that my story Deserted Cities of the Heart is included among the many impressive stories in this collection, along with such talented writers as: John Lutz, Scott Phillips, Calvin Wilson, Lavelle Wilkins-Chinn, Colleen J. McElroy, Jason Makansi, S.L. Coney, Michael Castro, Laura Benedict, Jedidiah Ayres, Umar Lee, Chris Barsanti, and L.J. Smith.

In the intro, Scott says, “Amid all this is a rich, multicultural history of art and literature both high and low, stemming from conflict and passions running hot...This collection strives for some of that same energy that the collision of high and low can produce...All these writers come at their work with different perspectives and styles but all with a connection to and a passion for our troubled city and its surroundings.”

The Akashic Noir Series
The Akashic Noir series, begun in 2004, takes one to dark corners all around the world, literally. From Baltimore to Barcelona and Mumbai to Memphis. Even Prison Noir and Wall Street Noir—hmm…is there a connection there?

Like other Akashic noir books set in a certain locale the stories in St. Louis Noir take you on a Magical Mystery—or should I say Noir—Tour of the city and its surrounds, from Dogtown to downtown, from Gaslight Square to Glendale. And everything in between.


Gateway Arch 2001 by Rick Dickeman
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Deserted Cities of the Heart
My story, Deserted Cities of the Heart, is set at the Gateway Arch, or at least begins there. The reason I chose the Arch as my setting is because I see it as aspirational, thrusting into the heavens. The promise of a bright future and bigger and better things. So, when my protagonist, Daniel, meets a hipster girl who shares his love for all things high-tech and geeky, including computer gaming, we think things are looking up for him. Then we start to wonder who’s ‘gaming’ who?

One of the things I like to do in my writing is to capture the mood or feel of a place. And I tried to do that with this story, which moves from the Arch to the Washington Avenue Historic District, the hipster-joint Atomic Cowboy and even Meramec Caverns, said to be one of Jesse James’ hideouts and deep into the core of cyberspace.

Here’s an excerpt:

Daniel looked up, thought he saw a mourning dove flying through the Gateway Arch, heading out in the direction of Route 66. It was gone now. He wasn’t sure if it was even there in the first place. Like Route 66, there but not there at the same time. What was left of that legendary highway passed right through St. Louis. Once America’s Mother Road, much of it now decommissioned, it existed more like a ghost or a shadow on the land. Daniel had always looked on it as an escape route. But escape to where? Besides, escape was nothing more than illusion. Wherever he went he’d take his baggage with him.

He wanted to forget the last three months had ever happened. Yeah, he wanted to shut those memories out. He didn’t want to think about yesterday. Didn’t want to think about today. And he definitely didn’t want to think about tomorrow. He never thought it would turn out like this.

Do you have to be from St. Louis to write about noir there or be in this volume? No, though I have been there. And I like absorbing the local color and history of a place. I hope I’ve expressed that with St. Louis. The fact is, I consider myself an LA writer, but I’ve been here and there, if not everywhere, and enjoy writing about many locales.

We probably all have goals that we’ve set for our writing careers. They might not be the same from one person to another, but we all have things we want to achieve. One of my goals has been to have a story in one of the Akashic Noir anthologies. I think that’s my major point here: that we all have goals and that with hard work and perseverance we will eventually achieve many of them, if not all.
And I’m happy to say that the book has been getting good reviews, and my story as well:

“…[I]t’s no surprise that the most notable tales are the work of three genre veterans…” including “…‘Deserted Cities of the Heart,’ by Paul D. Marks (‘White Heat’), [which] charts the fall of loner Daniel Hayden after he meets femme fatale Amber Loy at the Gateway Arch.” 
—Publishers Weekly

“Joining Seattle, Memphis, Phoenix, and other noir outposts, St. Louis gets a turn to show its dark side in Phillips' collection of 13 dark tales and a poetic interlude...[A] spirited, black-hearted collection.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Among my favorite stories in St. Louis Noir is one called ‘Deserted Cities of the Heart’ (by Paul D. Marks) in which a loner of an IT nerd with a security clearance is convinced to hack into a witness protection data base with disastrous results by the attractive young out-of-towner who suddenly comes into his life. …The bottom line: St. Louis Noir is another worthy addition to what is perhaps already the best series of short story collections to be published in decades.”
—Sam Sattler, Book Chase


Lights over the Arch 
So what were those mysterious lights over the Arch? I think I know: they were the lights for the premier launch of Akashic’s St. Louis Noir!



***

www.PaulDMarks.com

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28 June 2016

Sometimes The Movie Is Better Than The Book – Case Study: In A Lonely Place


by Paul D. Marks


A classic film noir starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, based on a book by Dorothy B. Hughes. In a Lonely Place is one of my favorite film noirs. Hell, it’s one of my favorite movies of any genre. But there are two In a Lonely Places. The book and the movie. Some people are fans of both. Others fans of one or the other. I’m the other. I’m a much bigger fan of the movie than the book. That said, I like the book, but I don’t love it. I know a lot of Hughes fans will take what I say here as sacrilege, so get the bricks and bats ready. Uh, for those literalists out there I’m talkin’ figurative bricks and bats.

And that said, the focus of this piece is pretty narrow, dealing mostly with just one aspect of the movie vs. the book. But a major one.


***SPOILERS AHEAD – DO NOT TREAD BEYOND THIS POINT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE OR READ THE BOOK***

There are several differences between the novel and the movie. But the main thing is that the book is a pretty straight-forward story about a psychopath who murders for fun, if not profit. In the book, he’s a novelist who sponges off his uncle…and worse. The movie (written by Andrew Solt and Edmund H. North, and directed by Nicholas Ray) is about a screenwriter with a temper and poor impulse control, to say the least. He’s a war hero. A previously successful screenwriter trying to get his mojo back, though I doubt that’s a term he would recognize.

He’s up to do a screenplay based on a book that he doesn’t want to read. So, he brings a woman home to his apartment to read the book to him. He gives her cab money when she’s done. She splits…and is murdered that night. Naturally, he’s a suspect. His alibi witness, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), just moved into his building. He’s charismatic in his own special way and after they meet at the police station, a romance buds between them. But, as the story progresses, she sees the negative sides of his personality, his rage, his jealousy, the way he treats his agent, and she begins to doubt his innocence.

In the book it’s pretty straight-forward. He’s guilty—he’s a psychopath who gets off on killing. In the
movie, we’re not sure because we haven’t actually seen him kill anyone, though we have seen him lose his temper, get into fights, and nearly kill an innocent kid. So, like Laurel, we, too, begin to doubt his innocence.

The novel is, to me, a much more straight-forward story about a serial killer and a more overt bad guy. He’s a psychopathic killer, no doubt about it. In the movie, we’re just not sure. That makes all the difference, especially in his relationship with Grahame. The movie is more ambiguous and with a more ironic ending. Because of this, in my opinion, the movie works much better and seems to strike a fuller chord. However, maybe when the book came out dealing with this psychopath it was more shocking and in turn seemed to have more depth than I see in it today.

Also, in the movie, Dix Steele is much more complex with many more layers to his personality. We like him or at least want to like him. But it’s hard, just as Laurel finds it harder and harder to like him, and especially trust him as time goes on and she sees the dark sides of his personality. We relate to Laurel’s dilemma and find ourselves going along with her and doubting Dix’s truthfulness. We start to believe he really is the killer. We judge him and convict him in our heads just like Laurel does. And we eventually realize how wrong we were as we and Laurel discover the truth.

In the end, Dix and Laurel’s relationship is destroyed by doubt, fear and distrust, even though he’s innocent, because she’s seen that other side of him. And even though Dix Steele doesn’t turn out to be the killer, this is far from a Hollywood happy ending. Very far from it.

The movie takes the basics of the book and adds an ambiguity that leads to a much more bittersweet and poignant story and ending than in the book. So this is a case where the filmmakers did change a certain essence of the story, but it works out for the better.

The movie is noir in the sense that Bogart is tripped up by his own Achilles Heel, his fatal flaw. To me, the thing that most makes something noir is not rain, not shadows, not femme fatales, not slumming with lowlifes. It’s a character who trips over their own faults: somebody who has some kind of defect, some kind of shortcoming, greed, want or desire…temper or insecurity, that leads them down a dark path, and then his or her life spins out of control because of their own weaknesses or failings. Here, Dix is innocent, but a loser, at least in a sense, and will always be a loser. His personality has driven away the one woman who really loved him. Love loses here too, as does Grahame’s character. Her inability to completely trust and believe in Dix leads to her losing what would have been the love of her life. It’s this ambivalence that make it a better movie than book, at least for me. There is, of course, much more to say about this movie, but my point in this piece is just to point out why I like the movie better than the book.

Dix and Laurel love each other, but they can’t be with each other—summed up in some famous lines from the film:

          I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a
          few weeks while she loved me.

Ultimately both versions need to stand on their own and they do. But for me, the bottom line is: I’d say: Good book, great movie.



***

As a side note, a long time ago I bought a poster of the movie from Pat DiNizio (lead singer and songwriter of the Smithereens), who did a great song based on the movie called—of all things—In a Lonely Place. The lyrics paraphrase the famous lines from the movie above. So, every time I look at the poster I think about him sitting under it, writing that song. Doubt he’d remember me, but for me that’s a cool memory. Click here to watch the YouTube music video.





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Also, here are some pictures from my book signing last week with Pam Ripling at The Open Book in Valencia:



And my radio interview at KHTS AM 1220. Click here for the podcast.




28 July 2013

The Detroit PI


by Louis Willis

“A. Walker Investigations” is the opening sentence in the short story “Bodyguards Shoot Second” in Loren D. Estleman’s Amos Walker: The Complete Story Collection. Amos is Estleman’s Detroit PI. 

I sometimes choose books from catalogs based on the title or the name of the author. In this case, the name of the sleuth was what attracted me to Estleman’s collection. Rather irrationally, I expected a PI named Amos to be easy going with a deceptive personality plying his trade in a small southern city, or in the open spaces of Texas. Then I opened the book. Surprise, Amos is a hardboiled gumshoe with a wry sense of humor whose turf is the menacing streets of Detroit.

Loren Estleman
Loren Estleman
Estleman, a prolific writer of detective and western fiction, has been nominated for and won a load of awards. In addition to Amos Walker, he created two other detective series featuring professional detectives Ralph Poteet and Valentino. Amos first appeared in his 1980 novel Motor City Blue. The 33 stories in the collection were written in various magazines between 1982 and 2010. As I read 15 of the stories for this post, I felt Estleman was channeling Raymond Chandler (no pun intended), one of his favorite writers, because the wisecracking Amos reminded me so much of Philip Marlowe.  Reading the stories and finding fault with some but enjoying them made me think about my tendency to over analyze, which interferes with my suspension of disbelief. 

One aspect of detective stories that always puzzles me is the need for the shamus to work free. In “Fast Burn,” an ex-Ford auto plant employee dies of natural causes sitting in the chair in Amos’s office before he can tell Amos his problem. Amos, though he will collect no fee, investigates anyway because the dead man “came looking for help with something. I’d like to know what it was.” Okay, but working for free doesn’t pay his bills.

“I’m In The Book,” shows Amos is as tough as his hardboiled predecessors. Since his “main specialty is tracing missing persons,” a rich man hires him to find his wife. The ending didn’t surprise me since I expected it. What surprised me was Amos slaps the smart-mouthed former maid when she gives him some lip and refuses to answers his questions. Up until this story, I pictured him as a hardboiled gentleman and not likely to hit a woman. Of course, some of those predecessors not only hit women but killed them too. 

Although it was appropriate, I didn’t like the ending of “The Anniversary Waltz.” Geraldine Tolliver, daughter of a woman who escaped prison 8 years ago and is presumed dead, believes her mother, Adelaide, is alive and hires Amos to tell her to give herself up when she appears at Geraldine’s father’s grave on their silver anniversary. The problem is a sheriff who doesn’t believe Adelaide is dead has been watching Geraldine. He takes Adelaide into custody when she shows up. Amos later finds the Sheriff’s car with him in the trunk, dead. Adelaide  has an IQ of 160, and apparently had no problem  outwitting the sheriff. I know Amos, the narrator, couldn’t know how she got loose from the sheriff, so, I was forced to use my imagination and, of course, over analyzed the story. Sorry about the spoiler.

Amos even taught me some new words. In “Deadly Force,” homicide Lieutenant Alderdyce asks Amos did he “Get a hinge at the sapper?” Translation: did he see who hit him over the head? A bad guy in “People Who Kill” plunged “kiyoodling” down an elevator shaft. Does it mean he fell head over heels or was screaming as he fell?

Estleman’s defines short stories as “miniatures, where flaws of any sort are immediately obvious.” His miniatures, flaws and all, are worth the effort of reading. Unfortunately for me, he has written so much that I’ll never be able to read all of his novels and stories, though I wish I could because I feel I’m on a first name basis with Amos. Who wouldn’t be with a name like that? 

I wonder what Amos would think about Detroit today? 
Detroit

26 May 2013

He Wasn’t The Best But He Was Good Enough


by Louis Willis

Although Carroll John Daly was one of the pioneer writers for Black Mask, Dime Detective and other pulp magazines and created the archetype for the hardboiled PI, he is not considered an iconic writer of hardboiled stories and is almost forgotten. In most critical essays he is almost always discussed in negative terms--unreadable, not a good writer--when compared to Hammett and other Black Mask writers. He is considered of historical significance because he was the first to feature the hardboiled tough guy in Black Mask magazine in the 1920s.

For this post, I decided to take a quick look at Daly to determine if his prose was as bad as the critics claimed. I began by reading the excellent essay “In Defense of Carroll John Daly” (originally published in The MYSTERY FANcier May 1978, volume 2, number 3) by Stephen Mertz on the Black Mask Magazine website. He Defends Daly against the charge that he is unreadable. Daly, he writes, was the most popular writer for Black Mask, more popular than Hammett or Erle Stanley Gardner, and had greater influence on later writers. When one of his stories appeared in the magazine, sales increased. 

Before the appearance of the hardboiled detective, Daly established the tough guy model in his story “The False Burton Combs” published in Black Mask in December 1922. The story is in the public domain, and downloadable from the Vintage Library website. The tough guy protagonist/narrator would become the tough PI of the later stories.

Daly created three private detectives. The first was Terry Mack in the May 15, 1923 issue of Black Mask in his initial hardboiled PI story “Three-Gun Terry.” The second was the first series hardboiled detective Race Williams, and the third was Vee Brown. None of my anthologies contained the Terry Mack story, and I couldn’t find it on the Internet. I read the very good Vee Brown story,“The Crime Machine” (Dime Detective January 1932) in the Hard-Boiled Detectives anthology.

I read two outstanding stories featuring Daly’s most famous PI, Race Williams. “Knights of the Open Palm” (Black Mask June 1923) in The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories is the first story featuring Race. “The Third Murderer” in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps is a novella that was serialized in the June-August 1931 Black Mask.  

While Reading the stories, I kept in mind Dale’s April 23 post on violence. Certainly in some of the hardboiled stories, the violence is gratuitous, but in the well-written stories, it is not out of place. Considering the PI protagonists and the bad guys they face, the violence is inevitable and expected. Daly’s PIs see themselves as gunslingers who never kill a bad guy who doesn’t need killing.

Yes, he wrote clumsy prose. The mixture of slang and formal language at times is disconcerting, especially when it comes from the semi-literate protagonist. His language at times grated on my nerves like fingers scratching on a blackboard. But the stories are still readable, exciting, and enjoyable in their unrelenting tension. The nonstop violence instead of making you want to put down the book, makes you want to keep reading as the tension rises until the shootout.

Although Daly wasn’t the most skillful prose stylist, he was good enough for those readers who, while riding the bus or train to work, could escape for a few minutes into the make believe world of gangsters, crooked policemen, and corrupt politicians. He did what the pulp writers were expected to do, told a good story. He also confirmed my belief that sometimes a good storyteller can overcome bad prose.

28 October 2012

A Non-iconic Writer


by Louis Willis
She came into my office like a gal out in the woods in one of those sexy movies, smiled at me, flowed across the room with fluidity of hot molasses, sank into the big leather chair opposite my desk, and crossed her legs slowly, gracefully, gently, as though taking care not to bruise any smooth, tender flesh.
… is how Hollywood PI Shell Scott, the sole owner of Shelton Scott Investigations, describes the lady who enters his office in “The Guilty Pleasure,” the first story in Richard S. Prather’s The Shell Scott Sampler. The lady turns out not to be a bimbo or floozy or dame or babe or gal, but a very rich, respectful lady asking for help.  

Richard S. Prather (1921-2007) introduced readers to his hardboiled detective, Shell Scott, in the 1950s. I don’t remember when I began reading his stories, but it was about the time I also discovered Hammett and Chandler. I liked his novels and stories best  because “he also saw the banana peel on the sidewalk. And then he dispatched his Hollywood private eye...to take a little walk” (thrillingdetective.com). It is the banana peel on the sidewalk that separates Shell Scott from the other hardboiled PIs. He doesn’t take life too seriously. Like all hardboiled detectives, He uses his fist, gun, and intuition to solve crimes and catch criminals. Though he’s always thinking about sleeping with which ever woman comes his way, he is no sexist.

“Eye Witness: Richard S. Prather: 1921-2007” an article by Kevin Burton Smith in Mystery Scene Magazine (No. 99, 2007) reminded me of how much I enjoyed the Prather stories. After reading the article, I exhumed from one of the boxes of books where they were buried the four books of Prather’s that hadn’t been lost in my move from California back home to Tennessee and put them in my to-be-reread box. I didn’t think of him again until I started reading Stephen King. They have nothing in common, except both are writers, and I can’t explain why reading King reminded me of Prather.

To revive my interest in this non-iconic writer, I reread the five stories in The Shell Scott Sampler. The best story is “The Guilty Pleasure” in which Lydia wants Shell to find out what the little thing she found under her bed is. No spoiler here, so I’m not saying what it was. Okay, I know some of you will guess.

The worst story is “The Cautious Killers” in which Shell has to find out who shot at him and why as he and his date and another couple exited a restaurant. Too much descriptive baggage surrounds an acceptable plot. More telling than showing, especially the descriptions of the women, which slows the action. I thought maybe Prather was writing to increase the payment for the story, you know, a penny or two per word. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the story.

Shell seems more familiar to me than Hammett's Continental Op or Chandler’s Marlowe, so much so that I feel comfortable referring to him by his first name. Of all the hardboiled PIs, Shell is the one I would rather have drink with in a bar in Hollywood as I listened to his stories about his cases, provided I could keep his attention from straying every time a beautiful woman walked into the bar.

Dean Davis' excellent Prather web site appears off-line at the moment, but for more on Prather, try Eddie Stevenson's Gold Medal pages on Prather.

Warning to all writers of murder mysteries: do not plan any murders on Halloween. I have it on good authority that the victim will come back to haunt you. This authority also warned me not to use my computer on Halloween because the gremlins that cause so much frustration– frozen hard drives, lost files, missing fonts, etc.– become zombies and vampires and werewolves and attack the user– namely me.

You have been warned!

Have a 


09 August 2012

Daydream Believers


by Deborah Elliott-Upton






Yes, I am a daydream believer. (And I dare anyone born in the latter part of the last century not to mentally humming right about now. (Missing your smile and sweet voice, Davy Jones!) But, it's about more than a song's lyrics and melody. Daydreams lead to interesting ideas.

Daydreamers may incite teachers to insist their students stop and pay attention to their instruction, but for most of us, daydreaming transports us to other places and times and relieves many  boring moments in our lives.
For a writer, daydreams inspire many stories yet to written.

While night dreams may also lead to plot ideas or characters, for me those sometimes head into darker places. I have written those stories, too, but I appreciate where daydreams take flight. The initial trip to Daydream Land may be innocent enough, but often leads me to an intricate plotline that turns sinister.

Daydreaming has led me to ask What if? Why? and How?

They've led me to wonderful dark thoughts that transpired into Noir storylines. Admittedly, I have an affinity for hardboiled detectives, so those day trips to my imagination brought fun to write short stories where I get to plack (my mother's made-up word when she was a kid that was an abbreviation for "play like") as a hardened private eye chasing down a bad guy that was really bad.

Some of my personal recent daydreams include:

  • What if I'd been in a bank where a robbery was about to take place?
  • What if I were in that movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado?
  • What if I were on a campus that had a sudden lockdown?
  • What if I were stuck in an elevator? Which person would I want to be in there with and how long would be to long?
  • If I had just one author to read the rest of my life, which would I choose?
  • What is worth most: good looks, money or brains? (Thinking Marilyn Monroe, Bill Gates or Einstein)
  • If I had to live in cartoon land, what characters would I most enjoy sharing my time?
  • If I had my choice of mentors, which would be best suited for me?
  • If I could meet with a fictional character for coffee, who would be most interesting?
  • What super power would I most like to posess?

Do you live part time in fantasy land, too? Maybe we'll meet up in a daydream or two! What fun that would be!