Showing posts with label mystery novels. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mystery novels. Show all posts

02 June 2020

Outside the Three-Mile Limit


by Paul D. Marks

As many regular readers here know, I’m fascinated with Los Angeles history. I post about various aspects of it from time to time. I use it as background in much of my fiction. And one of the most fascinating aspects of L.A. history are the gambling boats that used to anchor off the shore, just outside the three mile legal limit.

The Rex
Bobby in the just-released (yesterday) The Blues Don’t Care has more than his share of adventure on one of those gambling ships. In the novel, Bobby and the band he’s in get a gig on the Apollo, one of the gambling ships off the Los Angeles coast. They find more than a little trouble there that really sets the plot in motion.
 
Cops dumping slot machines off the Rex
The Apollo is based on the real gambling ships that used to lay off the SoCal shore, just outside the three-mile limit. I’ve taken a few liberties with the Apollo. It’s much nicer than the real gambling ships, which, while they had their amenities, weren’t always as glamorous as you might think. But when gambling was illegal I guess they were good places to go and get your fix.

                  The interior of the Lux
The most famous of the real gambling ships was the Rex, run by Tony Cornero, A.K.A. The Admiral. Cornero had a checkered career, to say the least. During Prohibition in the 1920s he was a rum-runner (I wonder if he knew Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.?). He moved much of his illegal booze on ships, so had a background on the bounding seas for when he decided to open up the gambling ships later on.



When Prohibition was repealed, Cornero made the easy slide over to gambling. In 1931 when gambling was legalized in Las Vegas, he and his brothers set up there, opening up The Meadows Casino and Hotel, beating out Bugsy Siegel’s Vegas venture by over a decade. Unfortunately, Lucky Luciano got wind of it and, since Cornero wouldn’t pay extortion money, the Meadows was torched. Hmm, no connection to old Lucky there, right?

Tony Cornero aboard the Lux
So back to L.A. Cornero went. And in 1938 he bought two ships, the SS Rex and the SS Tango and converted them into gambling boats. By running them outside the legal limit he could skirt US law. The ships included gourmet chefs, gunmen to keep the peace, waiters, waitresses and—wait for it—orchestras. And that’s where Bobby and the Booker ‘Boom-Boom’ Taylor Orchestra come in.


Cornero was a constant thorn in the side of authorities, but things went along swimmingly until The Battle of Santa Monica Bay—yeah, that’s a real thing. The authorities tried raiding the ships. The Rex held them off for nine days, but eventually lost and Cornero, to make a long story short, hightailed it back to Vegas, where he built the Stardust Casino and Hotel, which I stayed at many times. At the time, way back when, I knew it was mob-connected, but I didn’t know then about the Cornero connection, which I find intriguing.

The Battle of Santa Monica Bay
And, of course, some pivotal scenes in The Blues Don’t Care are set on the Apollo, just a water taxi ride from the Santa Monica Pier:

“A fine briny mist bit Bobby’s skin as he waited in the throng of people on the Santa Monica Pier for the water taxi that would take him to the gambling ship Apollo. The little cartoon-like ‘Kilroy Was Here’ drawing glared at him from the water taxi shack. Kilroy was everywhere these days. He had to shield his eyes from the fiery late afternoon sun, wished he had a pair of sunglasses. Only movie stars and musicians wore sunglasses. Maybe he’d get a pair of shades.”

Below, Bobby describes seeing the Apollo’s ballroom for the first time:

“Bobby peered over the sea of faces in the ballroom—white faces in expensive suits and chic dresses. The Apollo wasn’t the biggest or fanciest or the most seaworthy ship in the world. But if she went down, half of Hollywood, the Los Angeles political establishment, and business movers and shakers in the Southland would disappear into Davy Jones’ Locker. That didn’t stop the people who ran her—gangsters everyone knew—from decking out the main ballroom as if it were Versailles. The ceiling was tall and sparkled with lights under a false ceiling with a gauzy, azure-painted sky. Below it, the dance floor in the center of the room, surrounded by gambling tables—craps, roulette, blackjack, and the like. And in rows behind the gambling tables, dining tables.”

The La La Land gambling ships also make appearances in one of my favorite books and a movie from one of my favorite series.

Raymond Chandler talks about them in Farewell, My Lovely. In the novel, Philip Marlowe is told that Moose Malloy might be hiding out on one of the gambling ships outside the three mile limit. Marlowe sneaks aboard and persuades Brunette, the gangster who runs the ship, to get a message to Malloy. Farewell, My Lovely was made into the movie Murder, My Sweet (1944). The 1942 B movie The Falcon Takes Over is also based on the plot. And in 1975 Robert Mitchum starred in a remake.

And much of Song of the Thin Man, the last Thin Man movie (co-written by my friend Nat Perrin) is partially set on one of the ships. A benefit is happening on the gambling ship Fortune. The bandleader is murdered. Guess who has to figure it out. Song of the Thin Man should be called Farewell, My Thin Man as it’s the last in the series and unfortunately not the best by far, but it has its moments.

Mr. Lucky
Another movie that takes place on a gambling ship is the Cary Grant-Larraine Day flick Mr. Lucky. Not his best, but I like it. And you can check out my close encounter of the first kind with Cary Grant at my website.
The book was released yesterday. Hope you’ll want to check it out. Here’s what some people are saying about it:

"This is a beautifully noirish book, set firmly in the dark days of wartime and offering a sharp insight into the life and times of Los Angeles, 1940s style. Yes, it’s a mystery thriller, but The Blues Don’t Care is so much more than that, with historic detail, chutzpah, a cast of hugely entertaining characters, a really unusual protagonist and, best of all, a cracking soundtrack too."
    —DeathBecomesHer, CrimeFictionLover.com

“Award-winning author Paul D. Marks hits it out of the park with this finely-written novel bringing WWII-era L.A. alive with memorable characters, scents, descriptions, and most of all, jazz. Highly recommended.”
     —Brendan DuBois, New York Times bestselling author

“Paul D. Marks finds new gold in 40's L.A. noir while exploring prejudices in race, culture, and sexual identity. There's sex, drugs, and jazz and an always surprising hero who navigates the worlds of gambling, music, war profiteers, Jewish mobsters, and a lonely few trying to do the right thing. Marks has an eye for the telling detail, and an ear that captures the music in the dialogue of the times. He is one helluva writer.”
      —Michael Sears, award-winning author of Tower of Babel, and the Jason Stafford series


"While The Blues Don't Care is a complex, sometimes brutal, story, it also has its glimmers of beauty and joy. Those glimpses come from Bobby's passion for music, and his awe when he sees celebrities such as Clark Gable and Billie Holiday. Wander into Bobby Saxon's world in Paul D. Marks' latest book. It's a world you won't easily forget."
      —Lesa's Book Critiques, lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com



~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

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20 September 2016

Breaking Up is Hard To Do


by Paul D. Marks

I have been divorced. It was a messy divorce. Dividing-the-baby-in-half kind of divorce. Calling-the-lawyers-in kind of divorce.

Oh, you think I’m talking about getting divorced from Amy or one of my nine previous wives. Nope. I’m talking about breaking up with my writing partner, at least one of them.





Backstory:

In Hollywood, I had two or three writing partners, maybe even four, at various times, as well as going solo. And with all but one we pretty much just came to a parting of the ways. But with one it truly was like a very messy divorce.


Conflict:

So, as Spandau Ballet said, to cut a long story short, I lost my mind—well that too. X and I had been friends for a long time and then decided to write together. We worked up a bunch of projects and eventually got an agent at one of the major agencies and even had some things optioned (sort of like someone takes a lease out on your property). But we weren’t getting rich and X’s wife wanted him to have a more steady income. So we decided to break it up, but it was a messy break up. Since we had no written contract or collaboration agreement, we ended up in “divorce court,” or at least in a lawyer’s office, dividing our babies (our work product) up, based on who came up with which idea. The lawyer acting like Solomon, split the babies—and everything else.

And like many divorcing couples we were barely speaking to one another and it wasn’t pleasant when we did. So X went his way, I went mine. I went on to find another agent and I did a lot of rewrite work/script doctoring (no credit-no glory) and optioned a lot of things that never got produced. And after a time, X and I began to be civil and even friendly again. Though not close like we once were.


Act II

So how about some tips on how to work with a partner even though it seems like there’s more solo flyers in the prose world than in Hollywood. Nonetheless, there are writing teams out there and in case you might ever consider working with a partner here goes:

First out of the gate, have a prenup: a written contract that spells everything out ahead of time. Every little detail. You can work it up yourself if you’re good at that kind of thing but before signing I’d run it by an entertainment lawyer to make sure all the Is are dotted and Ts crossed. At the very least the prenup should lay out splits, who will do what and maybe what the writing process might be, how often you’ll write. Credits: whose name comes first? Do you do it alphabetically or like my partner and I did so that whoever came up with the idea and did the first draft got the top billing?


The WGA (Writers Guild of America, which is for screenwriters) has a collaboration agreement which you might be able to adapt to prose writing partnerships: http://www.wga.org/uploadedFiles/writers_resources/contracts/collaboration.pdf , though I’m really not sure about that. There might be more suitable templates online.

Also include:

Decide who will do what. Will you each do 50% of everything? Or is one better at dialogue and another better at plot? How will you work? Sitting across the table from one another or long distance (even if you’re in the same town) via the internet? Will one write a full first draft and then pass it to the other? Will you work it scene by scene, chapter by chapter, etc.?

How will you decide what project/s to work on?

Since you want to write with a consistent voice, one should be the polisher-in-chief to make sure that happens. Who will that be and how will you decide?

How will you handle your partner’s critique of your work? You need to have a thick skin, but you also need to critique constructively.

How will you pay for expenses?

Who will contact editors, agents, etc.? Will one person be on point? Is one better at this?

Splitting income. Will it be 50-50? If not why and how will you do it.

Bad things happen to good people and even the best of friends. Don’t let things fester. Deal with them as they come up. Sometimes it won’t be pleasant, but hit the nail on the head, diplomatically hopefully. When you disagree about things how will you resolve them—you might even want to include this in the contract? Everyone has an ego and we all want our little babies included.

I’m sure there’s many other things that can and should be considered. And this is not a complete list by any means, but at least something to think about and get started with. My partner and I learned the hard way. Hopefully you won’t have to.

***

Climax:

The moral of this tale is sort of like the Boy Scouts’ motto: Be prepared. Have that prenup. Spell everything out ahead of time. Have a lawyer check it over if you’ve written it yourself. Then, if things go bad—or even if they don’t—go out and buy a bottle of Johnny Walker Black and get blotto.

***

Please check out my story Deserted Cities of the Heart in Akashic’s recently released St. Louis Noir.




###



18 August 2015

The Watts Riots, Rodney King and Me


By Paul D. Marks

The fiftieth anniversary of the Watts Riots was last week. It was an earthshattering event in this country. Around the same time, the Sixties exploded on the scene, not just the various riots and protests, but the music, the counterculture, the war in Viet Nam, civil rights. The assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Things changed. They’ve never been the same.

I was young when the riots happened, but not too long after them I had the experience recounted below. It’s been printed/published elsewhere but I think it’s worth another look. And since this a crime writers and crime writing blog, I think I can tie it in since my Shamus-Award winning novel, White Heat, takes place during the explosive Rodney King riots of 1992.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

When people think of Watts they think of the Watts Towers—and the Watts Riots of August, 1965. That year, while the Beatles sang about Yesterday, another chant went up in South Central Los Angeles.
~.~.~.~

1965: "Burn, baby, burn!" is the anthem that many remember the Watts Riots by. It is theWattsriots-burningbuildings-loc -- Public Domain chant shouted by people as the city burns. The spark that sets off the riots is a black man being stopped for a traffic ticket. Long-simmering frustration boils over and the city ignites. Thirty-four people are killed, a thousand-plus are wounded and almost four thousand arrested. Tensions in Los Angeles are as high as the smoke rising from the smoldering city streets.

     Los Angeles is burning.

~.~.~.~


1991: Another motorist is stopped for speeding and evading the police. His beatdown isrodney_king_riot__1992 -- Free to share and use per Bing Licensing caught on video:

1992: The cops accused of beating Rodney King are acquitted. People pour into the streets. Looting. Assault. Arson. Murder. Fifty-three dead. Twenty-three hundred injured and sixteen-hundred buildings damaged or destroyed.

     Los Angeles is burning.

 ~.~.~.~


I was in Los Angeles in both '65 and '92. I remember the smoke, the fear permeating every quarter of the city.

But I have a different memory of Watts. It isn't of the riots, but occurred during another hot summer, not long after.

I met a boy named Walter in my summer school class. Unlike everyone else in the class and just about everyone in the school, he was black. And he wasn't a local, but was on some kind of student exchange program from Jordan High in Watts.

I'm sure we were as much a curiosity to him as he was to us. After all, we were the privileged white kids and he was the angry young black man. Only he didn't seem angry. He seemed like just another nice guy with glasses. He invited a group of us to come down and see where he lived: Watts. A word that sent shivers down a lot of Angelinos' spines in those days.

We were a little apprehensive about going down there, especially as Walter had told us to come in the crappiest cars we had. No shiny new cars. There were six or eight teenaged boys and girls in our little caravan of two crappy cars. But crappy in our neighborhood meant something different than it did in Walter's.

We met Walter in Will Rogers Park (now I believe Ted Watkins Park) in Watts and sat under a shady tree, a bunch of white kids and one black guy. We sat, just rapping—in the vernacular of the time—talking about music and houses and politics. We stood out like the proverbial sore thumb and people started coming over. Big dudes, little dudes. Cool dudes. Girls. No one seemed to resent our being there. In fact, they seemed glad to have us. Glad to be able to share with us and have us share with them. There was no sense of rancor or resentment. Just curiosity—a curiosity that went both ways. This was a time when people wanted to come together, not be separated. None of them knew Walter and they certainly didn't know us. But they joined our group and we rapped on.

Then Walter said, "You want to see where I live?"

Jordan-Downs_4-Edited-1024x576 -- Free to share and use commercially per Bing License
Of course we did. So he took us to the projects—Jordan Downs. We drove past burned out buildings and vacant lots that had not so long ago had buildings on them. And we saw how the other half lived.

"It's not the best place in the world to live," Walter said. "But it could be a whole lot worse."

Our last stop was a trip to the Watts Towers, those soaring spires of glass, steel and concrete built by Simon Rodia. They are a monument to what anyone can do if they put their mind to it.

Watts Towers 11400919376_747ed8aa89_z
We returned to our cars and, to our relief, they hadn't been stolen. And, corny as it might sound, I think we all learned that we're more alike than different, with the same aspirations, hopes and fears.

That day was one of the most memorable experiences of my life—one that I wouldn't trade for anything. It was a wonderful day and we all went home full of hope for the future. We just wanted to get to know each other. Ultimately I think Rodney King had it right when he said, "Can we all get along?"

Why the hell can't we?

~.~.~.~.~.~.~



And now for some delightful BSP—remember, there’s a P at the end of the BS!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00019]
Vortex: My new Mystery-Thriller novella coming September 1st. Available for pre-order now.

“...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 D1d--C w full date
http://www.akashicbooks.com/fade-out-by-paul-d-marks/


Fade Out: flash fiction story—set at the infamous corner of Hollywood and Vine—came out Monday August 17th on Akashic’s Mondays Are Murder, Monday (big surprise, huh?), and still available, of course.









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###

25 October 2013

Coffin Ed & Grave Digger Jones


by R.T. Lawton

Go back in time to the Sixties. The Police Action in Korea was over and the Vietnam Conflict was going full bore. Riots raged in the streets of many major U.S. cities, for one reason or another. Political agendas were being pushed by every group that thought they had the solution for everybody else. People believed anything was possible, even while poverty dragged at the lower classes. Change was blowing in the wind but still had a long ways to go.

Now find your way to Harlem, above 110th Street, in Manhattan. This is no longer the glitz, glamour and jazz culture of the Roaring Twenties Harlem when cash and booze flowed freely. This is the afterwards Harlem of decaying tenant buildings, corrupt officials, hard to get money and the erection of instant slums. Booze still flowed in bars, after hours joints and house rent parties, but now weed and H had been added to fuel the mixture. Crime ran rampant and violence became an occupational hazard. In the environment of Harlem Precinct, only a certain breed of cop could enforce the law.

Into this stewpot of pimps, prostitutes, weed heads, junkies, con men, gangsters, numbers bankers, thieves, muggers, and killers, author Chester Himes created two police detectives to keep law and order. The citizens of Harlem nicknamed them Coffin Ed and Grave Digger. They were there to protect the common people, the working stiff, the unwary, the naive square. Yet most times, Ed and Digger found it was all they could do to keep the lid on the city's garbage can.

Chester Himes tells their story better than I, so in his words:

Coffin Ed Johnson & Grave Digger Jones

The car scarcely made a sound; for all its dilapidated appearance the motor was ticking almost silently. It passed along practically unseen, like a ghostly vehicle floating in the dark, its occupants invisible.
This was due in part to the fact that both detectives were almost as dark as the night, and they were wearing lightweight black alpaca suits and black cotton shirts with the collars open....they wore their suit coats to cover their big glinting nickle-plated thirty-eight caliber revolvers they wore in their shoulder slings. They could see in the dark streets like cats, but couldn't be seen, which was just as well because their presence might have discouraged the vice business in Harlem and put countless citizens on relief. (Hot Day Hot Night, 1969, originally Blind Man With a Pistol)

Lieutenant Anderson had been on night duty in Harlem for over a year. During that time he had come to know his ace detectives well, and he depended on them. He knew they had their own personal interpretation of law enforcement. Some people they never touched--such as madams of orderly houses of prostitution, operators of orderly gambling games, people connected with the numbers racket, streetwalkers who stayed in their district. But they were rough on criminals of violence and confidence men. And, he had always thought they were rough on dope peddlers and pimps, too. So Grave Digger's casual explanation of Dummy's pimping surprised him. (The Big Gold Dream, 1960)

Coffin Ed was defiant. "Who's beefing?"
"The Acme Company's lawyers. They cried murder, brutality, anarchy, and everything else you can think of. They've filed charges with the police board of inquiry..."
"What the old man say?"
"Said he'd look into it..."
"Woe is us," Grave Digger said. "Every time we brush a citizen gently with the tip of our knuckles, there's shysters on the sidelines to cry brutality, like a Greek chorus." (Hot Day Hot Night, 1969)

Harlem

On the south side, Harlem is bounded by 110th Street. It extends west to the foot of Morningside Heights on which Columbia University stands. Manhattan Avenue, a block to the east of Morningside Drive, is one of the corner streets that screen the Harlem slums from view. The slum tenants give way suddenly to trees and well-kept apartment buildings where the big cars of the Harlem underworld are parked bumper to bumper. Only crime and vice can pay the high rents charged in such borderline areas. That's where Rufus lived. (The Big Gold Dream, 1960)

The Valley, that flat lowland of Harlem east of Seventh Avenue, was the frying pan of Hell. Heat was coming out of the pavement, bubbling from the asphalt; and the atmospheric pressure was pushing it back to earth like the lid on a pan. (The Heat's On, 1966)

"...The Coroner's report says the victim was killed where he lay. But nobody saw him arrive. Nobody remembers exactly when Chink Charley left the flat. Nobody knows when Dulcy Perry left. Nobody knows for certain if Reverend Short even fell out of the goddamned window. Do you believe that Digger?"
"Why not? This is Harlem where anything can happen."  (The Crazy Kill, 1959)

"Trouble?" Grave Digger echoed. "If trouble was money, everybody in Harlem would be millionaires."  (The Real Cool Killers, 1969)

A Few Notable Citizens

Uncle Saint
Both fired simultaneously.
The soft coughing sound of the silenced derringer was lost in the heavy booming blast of the shotgun.
In his panic, Uncle Saint had squeezed the triggers of both barrels.
The gunman's face disappeared and his thick heavy body was knocked over backward from the impact of the 12-gauge shells.
The rear light of a truck parked beneath the trestle in the middle of the avenue disintegrated for no apparent reason. (The Heat's On, 1966)

Jackson & Imabelle
Assistant DA Lawrence studied Jackson covertly, pretending he was reading his notes. He had heard of gullible people like Jackson, but he had never seen one in the flesh before.

*           *           *           *             *
Suddenly a Judas window opened in the door....
There was a turning of locks and a drawing of bolts, and the door opened outward.
Now Jackson could see the eye and its mate plainly. A high-yellow sensual face was framed in the light of the door. It was Imabelle's face. She was looking steadily into Jackson's eyes. Her mouth formed the words, "Come on in and kill him, Daddy. I'm all yours." Then she stepped back, making space for him to enter. (For Love of Imabelle, 1957, originally A Rage in Harlem)

Casper Holmes (crooked Harlem politician)
Casper Holmes was back in the hospital.
His mouth and eyes were bandaged; he could not see nor talk. There were tubes up his nostrils, and he had been given enough morphine to knock out a junkie.
But he was still conscious and alert. There was nothing wrong with his ears and he could write blind.
He was still playing God. (All Shot Up, 1960)

al fin

Chester Himes was born in 1909 to middle class parents, served time in Ohio for robbery, took up writing while in prison, moved to France to find a better life, won France's La Grand Prix du Roman Policier award for the best detective novel of 1957 (first in his Harlem detectives series), has his original manuscripts in the Yale University Library, and later died in Spain. Three of his detective novels were made into movies, titled: A Rage in Harlem (For Love of Imabelle), Cotton Comes to Harlem and Come Back Charleston Blue (The Heat's On).