11 January 2015

A Lot of Damn Gaul

Charlie Hebdo web page
Charlie Hebdo web site today

France is America’s oldest and quintessentially closest friend. France helped us win wars, they helped us become a nation. They gave us the Statue of Liberty. France helped us launch our first World’s Fair Exposition. They wrote our history books. They gave us the underpinnings for our market economy. And, they warned us about 9/11.

Look at a few of the American cities with French names: St. Louis, Louisville, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Des Moines, Des Plaines, Boise, Terre Haute, Charlotte, Versailles, Vincennes… merely a hint of our rich history with the French. What happens in France is important not only to us, but to the rest of the world.

On Wednesday, armed gunmen struck at the heart of liberty: freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. Terrorists virtually decapitated an insolent little magazine called Charlie Hebdo.

What is Charlie Hebdo? ‘Charlie Weekly’ is an in-your-face satirical magazine that lampoons extreme politicians and religionists of any stripe. Charlie often takes on Muslim terrorists who seem to have little knowledge or regard for fellow Muslims or Islam itself.

Why should you care about an irreverent, puerile, often offensive magazine, one that jabs at politicos, fundamentalists, and hypocrites? Even when rude and crude, issues and ideas have to be discussed. After an earlier bombing of Charlie Hebdo offices, editorial chief, Stéphane ‘Charb’ Charbonnier, said he’d rather die standing than live on his knees.

He died doing what he loved. Who can ask for more?

a 3½ minute explanation of Charlie Hebdo

Following is a sampling of the outpouring from illustrators, journalists and cartoonists around the world. Intellectual property rights belong to the individual artists.

© Rob Tornoe

from Canada, © Ygreck, a brilliant cartoonist

a pun, where ‘canard’ means both duck and newspaper:
“Ducks always fly higher than guns.”

from Middle East Monitor

from India © Dhimant Vyas

from al Jazeera

Arabic News: “How we avenge the cartoonist’s deaths.”

from an Alabama teenager “I become what I hope to be.”

from South Africa © Brandan Reynolds

from South Africa © the (in)famous Zapiro

from India © Satish Acharya

“A call to arms, Comrades” © Francisco J. Olea

“I am Charlie” © Jean Jullien

from Yemen © artist unknown

from UK © Dave Brown The Independent via J.K.Rowling

from amazing French/English illustrator © Lucille Clerc
(not Banksy as originally attributed)

“Oh no, not them!”

from Australia © David Pope

from Nederlands “Immortal” © Joep Bertrams

© Fèlix Barrios

A mean and malicious death… “Cabu? For once, you are early.”

© Matt Davies “Where’s the trigger?”

Tignous casket
coffin of Tignous, from our French friend Micheline

Je suis Charlie.
Note: Illustrations © 2015 by their respective copyright holders.

10 January 2015

Observing SIGNS

Two weeks ago I wrote a column here on foreshadowing, and listed some movies, novels, and short stories in which that writing technique played a part. I also mentioned a film--one of my favorites--that used that approach especially well, telegraphing in a subtle way a number of different events that would occur later in the story.

First, a little background. M. Night Shyamalan is an Indian-American writer/director who made several extremely good movies (The Sixth SenseUnbreakableThe Village, etc.) before his career took a necksnapping, hang-onto-your-seat nosedive with several extremely bad movies (The Happening, The Last Airbender, etc.). In the early Aughts, while still going strong, he wrote and directed a film called Signs, starring Mel Gibson--a movie that used a sci-fi plot to tell what I thought was an excellent story about faith and family and courage. I watched it three times in theatres when it was released in 2002, and to this day I consider it to be one of the best examples of effective story construction.


The title of the film has several meanings, the most obvious a reference to the strange "crop circles" often featured in the news some years ago. Most of these were proven to be hoaxes, but others are still considered by some to have been navigational aids (signs) created by visitors (scouts?) from another planet. The movie Signs begins with Gibson's character Graham Hess, an Episcopal priest who's lost his faith, discovering crop designs in the cornfields near his family's house. Other strange things soon happen, the suspense builds, and the story ends with Graham and his brother and two children not only confronting otherworldly forces but learning a life lesson in the process.

As I've said, a lot of seeds are planted throughout Signs that set up, and/or explain, later occurrences. The following are a few examples.

NOTE 1: SPOILER WARNING. If you've not seen this movie, close your eyes now, and then get thee to a Redbox, or to your Netflix queue. If you have seen it, I hope you'll keep reading, and then let me know whether you agree with my admittedly biased thoughts and opinions. (I used to be Night Shyamalan's Number One Fan.)

The foreshadow knows . . .

- Graham Hess's six-year-old daughter Bo doesn't like their drinking water, and is always leaving half-full glasses all over the house. In the movie's final scenes, it's revealed that water is the only thing that will kill the invading aliens--and Bo's leftover tapwater becomes a weapon. 

- Bo's older brother Morgan has asthma. That illness later helps to keep the alien creature's spray of poison gas from entering Morgan's lungs.

- Graham's brother Merrill was a star baseball player, and holds a local record for the longest home run. (He almost made pro, we're told, but didn't because it always felt wrong "not to swing.") At the end, Merrill uses his baseball bat to save the day.

- Early remarks by Bo hint that her mother's not around. We later find out she died six months ago, a fact that forms the basis for the entire plot.

- When Houdini, the family dog, begins acting weird at the beginning of the movie, Graham tells his kids he'll call Dr. Crawford. Looking surprised, Morgan says, "He doesn't treat animals," but Graham replies, "He'll know what to do." Much later, it turns out Graham prefers to contact the MD rather than the nearby veterinarian--Ray Reddy--because Reddy is the man who caused the auto accident that killed Graham's wife. (Even then, we're never told that Reddy is a vet; we only get a quick shot of his mailbox, which has his name and profession written on the side.)

- Shortly after Houdini urinates on the kitchen floor, the sheriff tells Graham that several local dogs have been peeing on themselves--as if they'd smelled a predator.

- In one scene Bo tells her brother Morgan that she doesn't want him to die. At the end of the story, Morgan is the only member of the family who indeed comes very close to dying.

- In Reddy's otherwise empty house, a trapped alien gropes underneath a pantry door and Graham chops off a couple of its fingers with a butcher knife. In the final scenes, when one of the aliens is holding Morgan's limp body, we see that two of the creature's fingers are missing.

- In the first scene, at the farmhouse, an empty spot outlined on the wall indicates that a cross once hung there but is now gone. And early on, the sheriff refers to Graham as "Father"--the first indication that he used to be a priest. He replies, "Don't keep calling me Father."

- Ray Reddy, as he prepares to flee from his home, tells Graham that he has a feeling the creatures "don't like water." Turns out he's right: water burns their skin, like acid.

- In two separate nighttime scenes at the farmhouse, the crickets outside suddenly stop chirping. Nothing happens right away, and only later do we realize it was a sign that something sinister has arrived and is in the area.

- Graham's dying wife is seen in a flashback, instructing him in her last words to tell his brother Merrill to "swing away." That's exactly what happens, at the end.

- While hiding in their basement, Merrill tells Graham he's just heard on the radio that the aliens who have landed in other parts of the world have retreated, but that they did so suddenly and left some of their wounded behind. The creature that Graham wounded earlier (by cutting off its fingers) turns out to be waiting for them upstairs.

- The opening scene of the film (Graham coming out of the bathroom in their house) is repeated in the last scene. The second time, we see through the window that the seasons have changed (time has passed), and he's now wearing a priest's collar.

I realize that listing these examples this way, out of order and out of context, doesn't make the movie sound very interesting--but it is. It's a story that, at least to me, combines fine performances with a great setting and soundtrack, humor, steadily-building tension, and a stunningly emotional ending. I challenge you to watch the final scenes without brushing away a tear (and my movie tears are usually reserved for Dumbo and Old Yeller). Have any of you seen Signs? Any opinions?

Night shift

Note 2: As I've said, I used to be used to be one of Night Shyamalan's biggest fans. Although I have friends who hated SignsThe Village, and another of his movies called Lady in the Water, I loved all three, and even wrote about Shyamalan in a 2008 Criminal Brief column, here, two weeks before The Happening happened. As things turned out, The Happening crashed and burned, and so did 2010's The Last Airbender, which I found myself hoping would be The Last Shyamalan Project. I recently watched his latest film, After Earth, and thought it was so-so.
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But I'm trying to remain loyal. The Nightster obviously has great talent, and maybe his next movies will be as good as his early ones were. If the are, I'll be the first to reboard his bandwagon.

Meanwhile, I'll just watch Signs again. I hope you will too.

09 January 2015

Gone Again

by R.T. Lawton

He was too late for the Wild West and too early to be a Prohibition gangster, but the name of Roy Gardner was once well known to the American public as a celebrated outlaw and the most famous prison escapee. Nicknamed with monikers such as The Smiling Bandit, The Mail Train Bandit, and King of the Escape Artists by national newspapers, Roy was the Most Wanted Gangster of 1921.

Roy Gardner
Born on January 5, 1884 in Trenton, Missouri, Gardner was later raised in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He stood about five foot nine in early adulthood, had curly auburn hair and blue eyes, was considered as attractive and had a charming manner. Drifting to the Southwest, he acquired the trades of farrier and miner. To get out of the mines, plus avoid a life of crime and reform schools, he allegedly joined the U.S. Army, but soon deserted and headed to Mexico.

His first step into professional crime was as a gunrunner during the Mexican Revolution. While smuggling arms to the Carranza army, he got caught by General Huerta's soldiers. The sentence was death by firing squad. Declining to stick around for the sentence to be carried out, Gardner, along with three other American prisoners, attacked the guards at the Mexico City jail and escaped. This marked his first prison break.

Ending up broke in San Francisco, Gardner robbed a jewelry store on Market Street, soon got arrested and was sent off to San Quentin. Here, he made parole after saving the life of a prison guard during a violent riot. Wasn't long out of the pen before he robbed a mail truck, netting about $80,000 in cash and securities. The law caught up with him three days later. For this crime, he was sentenced to 25 years at McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary in Washington state. On June 5, 1920, two Deputy U.S. Marshals accompanied him on the train headed for prison. Employing a simple ruse, Roy looked out the window and shouted, "Look at that deer." When both Marshals looked, he grabbed the gun away from one of them and then disarmed the other at pistol point. Roy handcuffed the two together, stole $200 from them, jumped off the train and headed for Canada.

McNeil Island Penitentiary 1890
The following year found Roy Gardner back in the U.S. robbing banks and mail trains. By now, he had a $5,000 reward posted for his arrest. He was recognized in the Porter House Hotel in Roseville, California and was subsequently arrested while playing cards in a pool hall. Once again, he was sentenced to 25 years at McNeil. As a ploy to reduce his sentence, Roy offered to show the Southern Pacific Railroad detectives where he buried some of his loot. They found nothing, so Roy was once more placed on a train headed for McNeil Island Penitentiary. This time, he was guarded by two different U.S. Marshals. During the trip, Roy went into the train car's bathroom and came out with a pistol which had been concealed there by a friend of his. He robbed the Marshals of their guns and money and left them handcuffed together while he jumped off the train. The biggest manhunt in Pacific Coast history was quickly launched for the boldest and most slippery criminal to ever be arrested.

Trying to conceal his identity by bandaging his face and leaving only one slit for an eye hole, Gardner turned up at the Oxford Hotel in Centralia, Washington. The proprietor became suspicious when he found a gun in Roy's room. Arrested once again, Roy stayed on the train this time and made it all the way to McNeil Island Penitentiary without incident. Third time must've been the charm.

After six weeks of confinement, Roy decided it was time to make a break for freedom. At the Labor Day 1921 prison baseball game when a ball got hit to center field and the tower guards had their attention on the ball, Roy told his two prison buddies that now was the time to go. He cut a hole in a high barb wire fence, then the three crawled through and took off running. Seems Roy had told the other two that he'd bribed the guards to keep looking away, but the three weren't far outside the wire when bullets started flying. Impyn fell mortally wounded, Bogart was badly wounded and Gardner took a bullet in the left  leg. Scrambling into the woods, Gardner hid under a log. Guards searched for Roy, but found no trace. Afterwards, Roy hid in the prison dairy barn, living off cow's milk and grain for several days until he swam to a nearby island and made his escape.

Back to robbing mail trains, Roy got captured by a mail clerk during a robbery a few months after his McNeil Island escape. With a third sentence of 25 years received for this train robbery, Roy got packed off to Leavenworth. In 1925, they transferred him to the Atlanta Federal Prison, the toughest penitentiary of its day. After unsuccessfully trying to tunnel under the wall and cutting through the bars of the shoe shop, he later led a prison break, taking guards as hostages. This last escape attempt earned him twenty months in solitary.

Roy's book
1934 saw Gardner transferred to Alcatraz where he rubbed shoulders with Al Capone. Roy was contemplating another escape when he was granted clemency in 1938. While in Alcatraz, Roy channeled some of his creative talent into writing his autobiography, Alcatraz: My Story. In 1939, his book was made into a movie, I Stole a Million, starring George Raft. The movie had good reviews, but tanked at the box office.

Unable to adjust to a life outside of prison and having no desire to go back behind the walls, Roy Gardner pulled his final escape. On January 19, 1940, he left a note on the outside of his door in a San Francisco hotel, sealed his room, dropped cyanide pills into a bowl of acid and breathed in the fumes. He was gone again and this time they wouldn't get him back.

08 January 2015

With Friends Like You, Who Needs Enemas:
the Murder of Sir Thomas Overbury

Happy New Year!
After having two of my latest posts featured on first Thanksgiving and then on Christmas Day, I don't mind telling you what a relief it is to have my latest turn in the rotation come up on a non-holiday for a change!


Now let's move on to this, our initial helping of historical crime for 2015: a capital crime (murder) committed in a capital city (London) in a royal residence (the Tower of London), specifically in the upper chamber of this, the so-called "Bloody Tower" right on the Tower complex grounds.

The upper chamber of this very building!
Now, before you start jumping up and down and shouting, "We already know all about the murder of
NOT victims of the crime in question
the princes in the Tower!" I gotta stop ya right there. Yes, the two sons of King Edward IV(King Edward V and his younger brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York) were residents of the Tower complex, and yes, they were, in fact, housed in this same building, and on the upper flower as well.

But not so fast! Although these unfortunate boys were without doubt murdered, and with very little doubt done to death by their impressive, scary, ambitious, scoliosis-ridden uncle, Richard of Gloucester, Duke of York (later King Richard III), we aren't sure where they met their end.

And in this case, we're certain that the murder in question took place in this tower, on the upper floor. We're certain of little else about this killing, most especially about how it was accomplished, whether the unfortunate who met his maker in this tower, on this floor, was done in by poison, or "oil of vitriol" (sulfuric acid), or by (get this) an arsenic enema!

NOT the perpetrator of the crime in question
Nope, this murder took place not in 1483, but 130 years later, in 1613, during the reign of King James I of England (James VI of Scotland), involved one of the greatest of the kingdom's noble families, and all the trimmings of a juicy royal scandal: corruption, pandering, sex, bribery, and (obviously) murder!

King James– Nice Hat, eh?
It all started, as so many court scandals do, with sex. Specifically gay sex. Even more specifically, gay royal sex. You see, in addition to being monarch of both Scotland and England, James Stuart was just about the biggest closet case the Renaissance ever produced.

In many ways a hard-headed pragmatist (go figure, he WAS Scottish, after all), James had a gigantic blind spot when it came to tall, handsome, well-dressed, well-spoken young men. Worse, he tended to collect pretty boys like this, lavish them with titles and expensive presents, and then place them in positions of power and authority, expecting them to be, in addition to ridiculously good-looking, intelligent and competent.

A tall order, no question. He was usually disappointed. However, it also frequently took him a while to figure out that he'd misjudged this or that favorite in some way, and allow his ardor to cool.

With James' weakness for handsome boys no secret, it should come as no surprise that entire factions of would-be operators at James' court set to work beating the bushes for attractive young men to place in James' path, in hopes of cashing in once his attention had been caught, using the smitten monarch's libido for their own advancement.

Which leads us to our victim, who was without doubt just such a one of these procurers: a cunning, well-educated, ill-mannered, self-impressed toad by the name of Sir Thomas Overbury.

The Victim: Sir Thomas Overbury

Sir Thomas Overbury–
Renaissance Douchebag
Born in 1581 at a Warwickshire manor with the cool-cool-cool name of Compton Scorpion, Sir Thomas Overbury was a particular example of a very common type to be found all over late Renaissance England. Of good family, but definitely middle class means, Overbury was the in many ways the ultimate social climber.

Shrewd, a superb administrator, and good with money, but not with people, Overbury was also tactless and nakedly self-interested. What's more he definitely lacked the "common touch." For that matter he made nothing but enemies amongst the gentry and nobility as well. As if that wasn't enough, Overbury also possessed the fatal flaw of being, as one contemporary put it: "prone to over-valuing himself and under-valuing others."

For all that, Overbury did actually possess at least one friend (for a while. More on that later) – a pretty Scottish youth of just exactly the type guaranteed to make King James go all weak in the knees: Robert Carr.

The Eye Candy: Robert Carr

When Sir Thomas Overbury first encountered him during a visit to Edinburgh in 1601, Robert Carr was a twenty-three year-old, handsome, ambitious nobody from nowhere; a page in King James' service. He was also dumb as soup and possessed no scruples about using his looks (for starters) to win advancement, qualities which made him all the more attractive to the cunning Overbury. Such a dimwitted pretty boy could be controlled and manipulated for the purposes of a climber such as Overbury, and used to further the causes of his friends (again, like Overbury), if only he could be placed where he could attract the attention of the man-loving king.

Robert Carr – Renaissance Boy Toy
Happily for Overbury, he was well-positioned to do precisely that, as he was in Edinburgh on the Queen's business. He had already made several trips north in order to assist with the pending royal transition between the ailing Elizabeth I and her cousin and hand-picked successor, James Stuart.

He lost little time in arranging for Carr to catch the king's eye: Carr participated in a joust wherein he broke his leg practically in front of the royal loge. James, taken with the young man's beauty, not only quickly made Carr a favorite, but took on the responsibilities of helping nurse the young man back to health, while also teaching him Latin.

The boy toy was on his way. Within a couple of years, James had knighted Carr, created him Viscount Rochester, and made him both a privy councilor and a "gentleman of the bedchamber" (complete with his own key!). And there is plenty of evidence that Carr's duties in that capacity didn't end at just tucking in His Majesty at night. James so enjoyed the youth's nightly presence in his bed that when he didn't visit the royal chamber he was conspicuous by his absence. At one point the king even wrote to Carr, complaining of his "withdrawing yourself from lying in my chamber, notwithstanding my many hundred times earnest soliciting you to the contrary."

Although well-suited to serving the king in this capacity, Carr could hardly have been expected to serve effectively as a "privy councilor" without the help of someone infinitely brighter than he was. This was where his friend and benefactor Thomas Overbury played an effective part.

Overbury fed Carr advice to pass along to the king, advice which served not just the royal interests, but the interests of the supremely self-interested Sir Thomas Overbury, as well. In fact, it was soon whispered throughout court that "whilst Rochester ruled the King, Overbury ruled Rochester."

When James got wind of this (a foregone conclusion), there would be hell to pay – said account to be settled in our next installment, which will include the above-teased raising of the stakes, the introduction of a bonafide femme fatale, vitriol, poison, enemas, emetics, imprisonment, and eventually, MURDER!

Truly an installment not to be missed!

See you in two weeks!

07 January 2015

A new era in Mystery, sort of

First of all, happy new year to you and all.  I hope you have gotten over your hangovers and filled up on black-eyed peas.

Now that that is out of the way, I am happy to announce that I have started a new blog.

 No, I am not deserting SleuthSayers; you are all stuck with me for the unforeseeable future.  But I have added a new blog to my quiver, and what a terrible metaphor that makes.

The name is Today in MYSTERY HISTORY, and that pretty much tells you what it's about.  Tune in every day for a peek at something that happened on that date in our field.  And that, by the way, is what the illustrations on this page are for; each representing something that has appeared on my blog since it started on January first.

I can tell you that future entries will  include not only the obvious ones like the births of authors, and publication  of novels, but also the dates of:
* Awards
* Movie releases
* Statue unveilings
* Comic strip beginnings
* Songs hitting Number One
* Plot events in novels

And many more.   This, by the way, is where you can participate.  Feel free to contact me with suggestions for events you would like to see commemorated.  I have 358 more days to fill, and that's just this year.

I hope you enjoy it.

06 January 2015

What's in a (Place) Name?

by Jim Winter

Once upon a time, I had a friend from New York who insisted on pronouncing everything with a French name in French. Never mind that the closest she had come to Paris was growing up about 200 miles from the border with Quebec. When she lived in Cincinnati, it deeply offended her that nearby town of Versailles, Indiana was called "Ver-Sales."

"It's pronounced vayr-SIGH!"

"Yes," I said. "In France, it is. In Indiana, it's pronounced 'ver-sales."

"Well, that's ignorant. It should be pronounced in its native tongue."

"OK. From now on, you have to call the town in Clermont County 'Moskva.'"

She wasn't down with that. Russian, to her, was too ugly. So even the Russian capital, in her reckoning, was called "Moscow."

But this has long been on my mind since childhood. I grew up in a town called Lodi. Most people can pronounce it since we've all heard, sooner or later, the Creedence song "Lodi" at least once. This song ended up being massively overplayed on Cleveland's WMMS and even CKLW out of Windsor. All because there was a town in the Cleveland area called Lodi.

Growing up, we were told the town changed its name from the original Harrisville, named for the town's founder, to Lodi in honor of Napoleon's first battle. Why? Well, Americans hated the British and liked Napoleon. By the time yours truly emerged from Lodi Hospital, the town square had a fountain with the village mascot, Chief Lodi. Nobody ever told us there had been a real Chief Lodi. And yet for a time, the Wikipedia article stated that Chief Lodi was a real person. Never mind what tribe or where he lived. The reference is gone now, but methinks a local had a little fun with the article before it was corrected.

But what goes into those names? Why do we call them what we call them? A small industrial city near where I grew up is named "Wooster," as in Jeeves & Wooster. However, the settlers hailed from Worcester, Massachusetts. Only it's pronounced "Wooster." The Massachusetts town is named for Worcestershire. Yes, that's where the sauce was invented. In true English fashion, that town is called "Woostersher," a concept I still have trouble with these days.

But what of fictional towns? Ross MacDonald loved Santa Barbara so much that he modeled Santa Teresa on it instead of using the real Santa Barbara. Sue Grafton picked up on this and based her career on this fictionalized version of her home.

Ed McBain, in turning New York into his fictional five-borough city, named the main borough "Isola," Italian for "island." I even got in on the act with the city in my current work in process called "Monticello" after the city on Edge of Night. The original had the Cincinnati skyline in the credits. My version probably looks more like Cleveland with the bluffs over the Ohio River flanking it.

I've found when creating or reading about a fictional place, it's good to embed common family names to streets and neighborhoods, corrupt the names of European cities for the names of towns and sections of a city, and reference events in history. It's good if the writer knows that history and how everything came to be, but the reader does not need to know. Done properly, it gives a place that may have been invented only a couple of years before publication an illusion of reality.

05 January 2015

Old Odds and New Ends

Jan Grape
by Jan Grape

Good grief, Charlie Brown where did 2014 go to? Seems like it was here and it was, until it wasn't. Now how long will it take me to remember to write 2015 on my checks instead of 2014? The year ended here in central TX with cold and sleet, but much more of the country had heavy snows, ice and tornadoes as they bid farewell to the old Year. Maybe it's time to let such a wild crazy year be on its way and welcome the New Year.

Did you finish all your projects? I didn't. I come from the school of Never Do Today What You Can Put Off Until Tomorrow. It could be that I'm lazy, but I honestly think it's just my born nature. I have a To-Do list about five miles long. I'll probably never live long enough to finish them, however, I do keep trying.

One thing I'd like to know from my fellow writers and readers, and please answer in the comments: Do you ever stop reading a book that you just flat-out don't like? Or do you trudge on until the very end?

Personally, I don't keep reading a book if I find that I don't care if these characters live or die or get together or whatever. I remember years ago, everyone was talking about a book that was on the New York Times bestselling list. I got a copy of the paperback when it was published and began reading it. I thought it was terrible, nothing really happened and I was bored. The characters were non-entities and I sure didn't care if they lived or died. But I kept reading and you know what? The book never got any better. And when I finished it, I was mad at the author for writing this nonsense. I was mad at whoever decided this was a must-read book. But mostly I was mad at myself for not throwing that book across the room and forgetting it. I decided I wouldn't do that again.

A few years after that I tried to read a book that is currently popular in the movies, something about Hobbits and the underworld. The books and movies have been highly successful. I read about 75 pages and that was my line in the sand. I gave the book back to my friend who had lent the book to me. "I just can't get interested in it." My friend said, "You have to read about 100 or so pages before it begins to get good." Thanks, but no thanks. I'll never live long enough to read all the wonderful books by people that I want to read.

This sounds like I won't read new authors but that's not so. I love to discover new writers but I'm just careful to choose a book that I think I'll like. Since I owned a bookstore for nine years, I learned the old trick that most readers use in a bookstore. First they pick up a book with a jacket or title which intrigues them. Then they'll read the back cover or the inside jacket cover to see if there is a plot synopsis. Then they will open the book and read the first page or two.

One nice thing about the bookstores online (the devils) have a few reviews, or at least allow you to read a bit of the first chapter. A review can't always sell me but I can usually tell from the reviews if I might or might not like the book. And if I read a few pages or a first chapter on line and I want more then I know I'll most likely enjoy that book and will often buy it.

Personal recommendations always play a big part. When a bookseller tells you about a particular book it helps. The Indie bookstore (which is quickly fading away) is great for this. Because they get to know their customers and know if they like Jim Doe that they will probably like John Doe also. I often suggested a customer read an anthology, especially a theme anthology, to find new authors. Many times they'd say, "Oh, I never read short stories." And I'd counter with: just think how you'll discover many new writers. The author may write a short story with the same characters they use in their books. Or they might write a new set of characters that you really like and want to read more about. Just no way to go wrong that way.

My final notes here, Do you make New Year's Resolutions?

I read somewhere that a study at a University has discovered only 8% of people keep their New Year's Resolutions. It's been suggested that maybe we aim too high. Resolving to quit smoking and lose weight at the same time, to organize your desk or office and to quit drinking too much wine
is likely too much for your brain's willpower to handle at once. Might be smart to try only one at a time.

I heard some people on TV the other day talking about this and one professor said January is just another month. One person countered that she liked to make a small change in January, then in Spring make another small change as a time of renewal. She also made a small change the end of September because that was the fiscal year where she worked. Her idea was to just make small resets all throughout the year. Smart lady.

Here are my Resolutions: I saw this on Facebook and then now when I want it I can't find it, so if someone you know came up with this, I'll credit them. I also can't recall the full list of 10, but it goes something like this.
  1. Buy more books.
  2. Read more books
  3. Build more bookcases to hold more books.
  4. Work to make more money to buy more books.
  5. Rearrange schedule to make more time to read books.
  6. Read more books.
Have a Fantastic New Year everyone and please buy and read more books.

04 January 2015


Line-Up © Ioannis Christoforou
clip © Ioannis ‘John’ Christoforou
by Leigh Lundin

Happy New Year! We’re happy to see you survived the Chanukah and Christmas holidays and the New Year’s parties.

Our resolution for the year is to continue providing you a window into the creative (which sounds so much better than ‘twisted’) minds of crime fiction authors. Here’s what to expect:

Mon   Jan Grape, Fran Rizer
Mondays represent the cosy realm featuring Fran Rizer and Jan Grape. Besides the Callie Parrish series, Fran has brought out a new thriller, Kudzu River. Jan has a number of series characters such as Zoe Barrow, Jenny Gordon & C.J. Gunn, and Robbie & Sheriff Damon Dunlap.
Tue   Jim Winter, David Dean, Paul D. Marks
Jim anchors Tuesdays, appearing every other week. Among other tales, Jim is noted for this Nick Kepler series. This month also marks the final article for a while from our New Zealand author, Stephen Ross, who takes a sabbatical to work on his book. David Dean similarly took a sabbatical to sweat out his books as well and continues with us on monthly Tuesdays. Velma has invited prize-winning author and LA historian Paul Marks to join us once a month on Tuesdays starting in February. Paul is noted for his Shamus-award White Heat.
Wed   Rob Lopresti, David Edgerley Gates
Rob has anchored arresting Wednesdays for many years. He specializes in short stories, especially his Longshanks series. Santa Fe writer David Edgerley Gates rounds out Wednesdays. He’s the noted author of cold war novels and the Placido Geist bounty hunter series.
Thu   Eve Fisher, Brian Thornton
Thursdays, think history. Historian and social activist Eve Fisher has published an astonishing array of short stories, mostly in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Also a historian and teacher, Brian Thornton fills out our Thursday schedule. He’s the author of books on Lincoln and bastards… and more bastards. Really!
Fri   Dixon Hill, R.T. Lawton
If it’s Friday, it must be tough guys, our heroes Dixon Hill and R.T. Lawton. Dixon can write just about anything, but he specializes in– what else?– mysteries. R.T. writes historical shorts such as his Asian half-brothers series and his Parisian crime historicals from the Mother Margot’s School for Pickpockets.
Sat   Melodie Campbell, John Floyd
Two consummate professionals share Saturdays. First we have Melodie Campbell, award-winning author of the Goddaughter series. You don’t want to mess with her. Anchoring Saturdays, prolific Mississippi author John Floyd always brings us entertainment, whether about his abundance of short stories, movies, or his popular (in)famous list of lists.
Sun Leigh Lundin, Dale Andrews
As you noted last week, Louis Willis retired at the end of the year. Starting this month, Dale Andrews returns on the 25th to replace Louis on the last Sunday of each month. You may remember Dale from his prize-winning stories and Ellery Queen research.

We’re glad to have you join us for another year!

03 January 2015

Mess with me, Darlin'? Watch me Kill You with Words

(In which we attempt to address a serious subject in a light-hearted way)

Here’s some news for all you sociopaths out there, and just plain nasties: Don’t mess with a crime writer.  We know at least twenty ways to kill you and not get caught.

On paper, of course <insert nervous laughter>. We’re talking about fictional kills here.

Or are we?

My name is Melodie Campbell, and I write comic mob capers for a living. And for the loving. So I know a bit about the mob. Like espresso and cannoli, you might say they come with my Sicilian background.

This should make people nervous. (Hell, it makes ME nervous.)

But I digress. To recap:  the question offered here was:

Do you ever take out real life rage on fictional murder victims? Are any of your victims based on people who pissed you off in real life?

Oh sweetie, don’t I ever.

One of the joys of being a writer is playing out scenarios in your fiction that you dream about at night.  One of these is murder.  (The other is sex, but that would be my other series, the Rowena Through the Wall fantasy one.)

Back to grievous bodily harm. Like in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, I have my little list.

To the covert colleague who made out to be friends and then bad-mouthed me to the board at a previous job. 

Yes, you got caught red-handed. I called your bluff.  But better than that, I made your mealy-mouthed sorry hide a star of THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE.  Goodbye, Carmine the rat.  You live forever in fictional history.

He never will be missed.

To the sociopathic boss who undermined an entire department and got a kick out of making my sweet younger colleague cry: may you age like a hag and end up alone.  Oh wait – you did. And not just in A PURSE TO DIE FOR.

She never will be missed.

Oh, the joy of creating bad guys and gals from real-life creeps!  The crafty thing is, when you design a villain based on people you have met in person and experienced in technicolor, they sound real. Colourful.  Their motivations are believable, because they actually exist. No cardboard characters here! 

Of course, I may fudge a few details to keep out of jail. Names and professions change. Males can morph into females.

But fictional murder can be very satisfying. (Definitely more satisfying than fictional sex. Oops.) 

Revenge is sweet, when coupled with royalties. 

You can ignore that crack about 'fictional kills only.' Of course we’re only talking books; in my case, light-hearted murder mysteries, and mob crime capers.

That’s right: mob capers. Like I said: never mess with a Sicilian Goddaughter.

Melodie Campbell achieved a personal best when Library Journal compared her to Janet Evanovich.  Her fifth novel, THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE, won the Derringer and the Arthur Ellis.  www.melodiecampbell.com

02 January 2015

My Arizona Home

So, last night being New Year's Eve, and given that my family could benefit from a little added side income, I found myself driving a cab from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am.

Yes, I picked up several folks who'd had a bit too much to drink (though perhaps fewer than you might imagine), along with a few rather odd folks who had clearly been up to rather interesting activities, and two different groups who'd had blow-outs, wrecking their cars.

And, yes, I made some money.  Humorously enough, my smallest tip came from a guy who kept telling me he was wearing a $1200 suit.  He tipped me less than two bucks for a $14.00 trip.  But, I guess that's why he has the money to buy expensive suits.

What surprised me, however, was that I had to chip ice away from the edges of my car door, after I'd turned in the cab this morning, and gone to retrieve our family sedan from the parking lot, before I could pry my frozen-shut door open to drive home.

We don't get a lot of ice like that, here in the Valley of the Sun.

I'm sure a lot of you out there are thinking: "A little ice.  Boo hoo.  Deal with it Desert Boy!"  And, frankly, it can be hard to explain how odd this is, to someone from -- oh, say: Minnesota perhaps.

Which has me thinking of a rather remarkable little book called My Arizona Home, written by a fellow named Desé R. Trat.  Trat does a nice job of capturing both fact and flavor, when it comes to his description of the Phoenix area and Scottsdale, so I thought I'd share some excerpts with you.  Happily, Trat was glad to give me permission to do so.

Trat's book begins with an explanation (if you could call it that) about why desert dwellers develop sort of love or "fever" for the place, with this rather odd opening note:

“In the upper soil levels of much of the desert southwest, there is a mildew-like fungus known as Coccidioidomycosis, or Cocci. You’ve probably heard it called 'Valley Fever.' Believe it or not, if you’ve lived in The Valley all your life, you’ve probably already had Valley Fever. Valley Fever can be dangerous …”

 —Public Service Announcement Televised in the Phoenix area, 1967-1978

(You may be interested to know that I remember seeing this ad on television. He then begins his winding roam through desert life.   :)

 Things in the desert are farther away than they appear. This is why a picnicker with a broken down car might die of thirst while walking to a near-by highway, and why his bleached bones might later be found twenty miles from the nearest paved surface.

 But don’t think the desert sets traps for the unwary; it doesn’t.

 The desert just has a dry sense of humor and likes to play practical jokes.

 People who respect the desert stock their cars with little practical joke kits including: several gallons of water, a small shovel and a few boards for getting out of sand traps—plus maybe a flare gun, in case the joke starts growing old. Consequently, those who respect the desert tend to survive its practical jokes and often wind up developing a certain fondness for its sense of humor.

 Those who don’t respect the desert, however, don’t usually develop this fondness—possibly because they are too busy having their bones bleached.

 The Valley of the Sun (‘Hoozdo’ or ‘The place is hot’ to the Navajo Tribe) is really a huge basin area, occupying hundreds of square miles, surrounded by low mountain ranges and dominated by the Salt River.

 This river (called ‘Onk Akimel’ or ‘Salty River’ by the Pima Tribe) drops 10,000 vertical feet from its origins in the White Mountains (the sacred ‘Dzil Ligai’ of the White River Apache Tribe) to enter the valley from the east and run across its width, pouring out to the west.

 In the final years of that time period denoted by the initials B.C., the Hohokam—a prehistoric tribe of Native Americans—established the first known civilization in the Salt River Valley, building large communities and over a thousand miles of canals, which moved water from the Salt River to their farm fields.

 The latest remains of the Hohokam indicate that their civilization died out, or significantly changed around the year 1450. Today, two tribes in the area claim the Hohokam as their ancestors: the Tohono O’odham (meaning Desert People) and the Akimel (meaning River People).

 The Tohono O’odham are often called the Maricopas, while the Akimel are often referred to as the Pimas (evidently, this is because the Akimel word for "I don't know what you are saying," sounds like "Pima" and was heard quite often by early settlers in the area, who took this as the tribal name.)

 The two tribes share The Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, which is very nearly surrounded by Scottsdale, Mesa, Chandler and Fountain Hills.

 The Hebrew word ‘Jehu’ (pronounced Yay-hoo) means ‘reckless driver’. In the 1800’s when Arizona was still part of the New Mexico Territory, this word was used to designate a man who was a stagecoach driver—perhaps a strong indicator of the way those men drove their coaches.

 Jack Swilling, born in Anderson County, South Carolina on April Fool’s day of 1830, entered the area now known as Arizona as a Jehu, helping to build Leach’s Wagon Road around 1850. After that, he became a miner, then a soldier and later an Indian scout. In 1867, after rounding up enough backers to make it possible, he revived the Hohokam canals, making Phoenix a viable place to live and farm.

 Swilling died before a town site was incorporated, in 1881, on the north side of the Salt River. However, his friend picked the name Phoenix from Swilling’s dictionary—the only dictionary in the settlement. Thus, Jack Swilling is credited as the founding father of Phoenix.

 With the spread of irrigation, due to Jack Swilling’s revived Hohokam canals, other cities and towns began sprouting up all over the Salt River Valley. Though it would not actually be incorporated until 1951, the city of Scottsdale was founded several miles northeast of Phoenix in 1894 by Winfield Scott, a retired army chaplain.

 The current city of Scottsdale has spread north from that original location, climbing up into the foothills of the McDowell Mountains, Pinnacle Peak and other parts that rim The Valley.

 Composed of bare rock, overlaid with a thin sheet of dirt, scrub plants and cacti, these mountains have no way to soak up rainwater. Thus, when it rains, the majority of the runoff does just as its name implies and runs off, right down the mountainside, onto the flatlands below. 

 The result is that—somewhat perversely, perhaps—though Scottsdale is located in the desert, the major natural problem confronting city planners is flooding.

 The desert is crisscrossed by hundreds of sand-bottomed wash beds—some as small as two feet across and a foot deep, and others as large as eight feet across, by six feet deep. These wash beds are usually bone dry. After a heavy rain, however, the water sheeting down from the mountains, joins in these washes. There it forms into solid rivers—fronted by a wall of water, up to six-feet-high—and can rush through the larger washes at freight train speeds.

 These flash floods have been known to carry away people, cattle—even large trucks. The victims are often recovered miles downstream, drowned and battered by rocks, wreckage and other effluvium carried along at bone-splintering speeds by the raging waters.

 Water, not blessed with a natural ability to ignore the effects of gravity, tends to run downhill. Thus, all that water, in all those washes, heads down off the mountains and flows south through the length of the city.

 Natural drainage within the topography has created a sort of super wash—a runoff superhighway, if you will—that knifes through Scottsdale, up to a quarter-mile wide. Usually, this super wash just takes the form of a boring, dry wash bed, but occasionally it transforms itself into a dangerous raging torrent of turbulent dark flood waters. Those who lived in Scottsdale before the sixties, called this super wash “The Slough,” pronounced “Slew.”

 The Slough runs through south Scottsdale between Miller road to the west, and Hayden road to the east. It runs through the city and then out of the city into Tempe, where it dumps into what used to be the Salt River, almost immediately south of the border between the two cities.

 The river bed the slough dumps into was bone dry for decades, because the Salt River, which once ran deep and wide, was dammed up in a series of seven reservoirs north and east of the Superstition Mountains, in the early part of the Twentieth Century. The original damming of the Salt River, and creation of the concomitant reservoirs, was a massive federal project akin to the Tennessee Valley Authority. The organization created to oversee all this was designated The Salt River Project.

 Today, SRP, as it is popularly known, provides water and electricity to a major portion of the Valley of the Sun; without it, most of the people who live here, would have to live somewhere else.

 Heavy rains can cause SRP to open the floodgates and let water out of the reservoirs, in order to keep them from overtopping the dams. The half-mile wide riverbed then fills with deep, running water. When I was a kid, if SRP opened the floodgates, the Salt River would flow deep and muddy. Traffic running over the two-lane Mill Avenue Bridge, the only bridge over the Salt River back then, would back up for hours. And, when it rained that hard, a fast-flowing river usually ran down The Slough, which would dump its own quarter-mile-wide load into the Salt River bed just west of Hayden road.

 There were no bridges at all over The Slough, meaning that Scottsdale was effectively bisected by a river of fast-flowing runoff. Scottsdale school teachers, who largely tended to inhabit the lesser-expensive housing found in Tempe, had no way of getting to the schools. When that happened, the schools would close for the day and thousands of children—myself included—would cheer.

 In the Seventies, Scottsdale undertook an ambitious program to deal with the flooding of The Slough. The land that held The Slough was bought up from the farmers and others who owned it. Then the city dredged the bottom of The Slough and built earthen retaining walls, where needed, and constructed a series of bridges and large but unobtrusive culverts to carry the roadbeds above the flood waters.

 Having effectively canalized and bridged The Slough, they then set about beautifying it. A long, interconnected series of parks and golf courses was constructed down the length of the flood area. Today, this area is known by the name designated by those far-reaching planners of the Seventies as the Scottsdale Greenbelt.

The Greenbelt in small flood time.
 The Greenbelt provides golf, parks, picnic areas, tennis courts, a skate park, miles of bicycle and jogging trails and many other forms of exercise and recreation for Valley Dwellers. When it floods, those few roads that still run through the bottom of the wash are closed. The raging waters run down over the parks and golf courses, and the repairs afterwards are fairly simple and comparatively inexpensive. Overall, the Greenbelt is a masterwork of form following function, which would have made Frank Lloyd Wright proud, if he had been involved in its construction.

The lake from the air.
 A few decades after Scottsdale created the Greenbelt, the city of Tempe created Tempe Town Lake.

  Today, much of the old Salt River bed in Tempe is filled by this lake, retained by the banks of the
The lake as Tempe residents tend to see it, near Mill Ave. Bridge.
river bed on the north and south sides, and by inflatable dams on the east and west ends. When SRP opens the floodgates, the dams can be deflated, and the Salt River flows, once more, through its historic channel.

See you in two weeks!

01 January 2015

Possession of a Live Fur-Bearer and other Misdemeanors

by Eve Fisher

(Actually by Grant Tripp, Laskin Police Officer, filling in for Eve Fisher)

It's New Year's Day and Eve's feeling a little fragile.  She's got a cold, or at least that's what she says. Anyway, she made me promise to keep this light - "None of those sad stories you tell late at night at the Norseman's, Grant!"  So I thought I'd share some of the more ridiculous City/County Ordinances of our locale.  I'm not kidding.  I read through the booklet - and I highly recommend you read through your local city/county ordinance booklet some time - and I discovered that we have all, alone and with others, been breaking ordinances left and right. Stuff that, frankly, I've never paid any attention to.

For example, let's take the Davison boys out for a little hunting one winter's day.  They have no idea that they have not only "Exceeded Maximum Size Hunt Party", but also exceeded how many people an old junker pick-up truck can hold.  (You can't see Uncle Ole, because he's passed out in the flat bed.)  That little day trip could cost them a fortune in fines. There's the "Unnecessary Parking on a Rural Road", which happens all the time.  For one thing, there are no porta-potties in cornfields, and for another, it's a ritual to get out, stamp feet, mutter about how BLEEPING cold it is, and get back in the car. This, of course, violates the obscenity laws, but if we start counting those, we'll all be paying fines left and right.  And we're not even going to get into alcohol-related violations...

But what really makes the Davison hunting trip so unusual is that they are in "Possession of a Live Furbearer", because of Uncle Ole passed out in the back.  He's the one who had the "Gun Protruding from Vehicle", although he didn't shoot off anything but his mouth.  And it was ridiculous for John Davison to screech the truck to a halt, "Claiming a Nonexistent Emergency", because he's known Uncle Ole too long for him to count as an emergency any longer, no matter what he ate for lunch.

Want more examples?  How about the ice fishermen who do "Exhibition Driving in Parks"?  What else do you call it when they do wheelies on ice?  In a pick-up?  And then break through?  If that isn't an exhibition, I don't know what is.  I know someone who managed to hit his brother in the rear end with a BB gun when they were kids.  Since his brother was in a tree at the time, this was a clear case of violating the ordinance against "Shooting a Turkey in a Tree."  But while I have heard of people "Hunting from a Motor Vehicle", I have yet to hear of anyone "Hunting from a Motorcycle", or "Hunting from Aircraft".  I'm luckier than I thought...

Some of the ordinances are violated every day.  No one thinks of violating the law when engaging in "Weed Removal".  Half the people in this town - any town - are going to jail for violating "3 Adult Cats Within City Limits".  And since when are "People in Back of Travel Trailer" breaking the law?  I thought that was the idea.  And if "Overweight" is a crime, we are all in trouble, especially this time of the year when an extra caramel roll is simply ballast so you don't end up in the next county when you slip on the ice.

thanks to http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2445448/South-Dakota-gets-33-inches-snow-tornadoes-kill-3-Nebraska.html
More from the UK's Daily Mail - 12/9/2014
Naturally, some ordinances I agree with.  I think that "Moving Buildings" should be illegal, especially late at night outside of the Norseman's Bar.  And not only is "Clinging to a Car Roof" dangerous, but it can easily lead to "Alighting from Vehicle", "Making an Unreasonable Noise", and, eventually, "Wheelchair to Motor Vehicle."  But personally, I think an "Insecure Vehicle" is more a problem for a therapist than the police.

File:Snow on spruce tree.jpgBut the ordinance that really got my attention was "Unlawful Entering Cemetery with Fir."  Now let me get this straight.  If someone walks into a cemetery to plant a small pine tree near a dear departed's headstone, I'm supposed to go and arrest them?  And what makes a fir tree more illegal than, say, a hickory or a cottonwood?  I asked my friend Linda Thompson, Laskin Clerk of Courts, about that one and she told me that they didn't have enough room in the abbreviation for the word "firearm."  I don't believe that for a minute.  I'll bet you that some lawmaker, years ago, was nearly smothered in an avalanche when a big blue spruce let loose on him. Intimidated and out for revenge, he crafted the ordinance exactly as it reads.  "You've got 24 hours to get out of town, and take that fir with you!"

Happy New Year!