23 June 2015

Scoundrel

By David Dean





William Augustus Bowles

 
He's a handsome devil, isn't he?  I encountered this gentleman in Mobile, Alabama during a very engaging tour of the historic Conde-Charlotte House.  Dashing Billy's portrait hung on the wall of the second floor  hallway.  My brother, Danny, and I were spending a few days in this beautiful old city that began life as a French fort and trading post, and were taking in a few of the sights.  Our guide, a lovely lady who treated us as welcomed guests, escorted us from room to room explaining the various periods illustrated by the furniture, paintings, silverware, and creature comforts, each room representing a particular period in the long history of the city.  Though Mobile had begun life as a French enclave (and retains much of that flavor to this day), it would, in turn, become an English possession, a Spanish conquest, part of the fledgling nation of the United States; secede with the state of Alabama to join the Confederacy, and finally, return to the fold at the close of the Civil War.
As it happened, we were just finishing our tour and preparing to go back downstairs when the painting caught my eye.  It had not been remarked upon prior.  "Who's this?" I asked, genuinely intrigued by the striking subject in the Native American turban.  Our guide grew instantly more animated, raising an eyebrow and saying, "Mostly it's the ladies who notice Mr. Bowles."  I quickly assured her that it was my interest in Native American history that drew him to my attention.  Brother Danny snorted.  "Well," she went on to explain with a smile, "Mr. Bowles was not an Indian, but he was quite a rogue, and at one time, declared himself chief of the Lower Creeks." 

Declared himself...?  I was hooked...and I think you will be, too. 

What follows is the very large story of William Bowles condensed for the sake of narrative brevity.  There is much left unreported and I beg your understanding.  My thanks to Rhen Druhan at the Conde-Charlotte Museum for her invaluable aid.  Much of the information here was drawn from a wonderful piece on his life in issue 103 of Alabama Heritage Magazine, as well as other sources.


The word scoundrel has many permutations in the English language: When speaking of corrupt politicians we generally intend it as a pejorative.  But there's another category of scoundrel that when we apply the word to them, it's always accompanied by a slight, involuntary smile.  Yes, we know that they're not very good people, maybe even pretty awful ones, yet...we find them charming, entertaining, larger than life, living more fully than we dare, taking risks that most of us never would.  These are the same folks we also use the word roguish to describe, or perhaps, adventurer.  We often write about such people and it's easy to think that they're mostly fictional characters.  Mostly they are.  Then there's William Augustus Bowles.

William began life in 1763 as the sixth child of an English family making its home in the colony of Maryland.  He was remarkable from the start.  Described as an aggressive, vigorous boy with an olive complexion, he excelled at many pursuits.  He leaned to speak French, play the flute and violin, painted, was well-versed in mathematics, history, and literature; was, in fact, an avid reader.  Besides these artistic and academic qualities, he was a good horseman and all-round outdoorsman.  In short, he was gifted with good looks, health, intelligence, and sensitivity.  He was also very headstrong as events would prove.

His family being fervent Tories during the Revolutionary War convinced young William to join the cause of Britain at sixteen years of age.  But after being garrisoned in Philadelphia he found himself cooling his heels for the next several years growing ever more impatient to see action.  Hearing that a military ship was looking for volunteers for duty in Jamaica and Florida, William hastened to join.  He was commissioned as an ensign and set sail.  What happened once the crew went ashore in Florida remains unclear.  What is clear, however, is that young William deserted the ranks (he described it as resigning his commission) and made good his escape in the vicinity of Pensacola.  Think of it, dear reader, our young hero afoot in the palmetto jungle and swamplands of northern Florida; hundreds of miles from home.  He can neither return to Maryland nor go back to Pensacola.  He would surely swing either way. 

But as often seems the case in the life of the daring, the unexpected happens--a party of Creek warriors come upon him and, like many that would follow, are impressed.  So impressed by his personality and verve that rather than harm him, they take him along to their village.
Chief Tomochichi and Nephew

Within a short while he is adopted into the tribe, a tribe that holds sway over much of Alabama, Georgia, and northern Florida, becomes fluent in the Muscogee language of the Creeks, and takes a wife.  Always one to live large, William also manages to wed a second lass, a Cherokee, thus uniting two peoples often at odds with one another.  Presumably, being William, he also learns the Iroquoian tongue spoken by his second bride.  Retaining considerable energies, even with two young wives in his household, he begins his first grand adventure.  Learning that the Spanish are attacking British forts along the Gulf Coast, he convinces a number of Creek warriors to join him in the defense of Pensacola.  It is certainly a measure of his remarkable character that he is able to lead braves into battle after having lived amongst them for so short a while.  In any event, the garrison is lost when a Spanish shell blows up the powder magazine and the fort along with it.  Ever a survivor, William flees into the forest with his adopted tribesmen and makes good his escape--a talent of his that would be utilized many more times during his life.

Spanish Troops Capture Pensacola--U.S. Military Museum
In a sudden reversal of fortune, the British army restores him to the rank of ensign as a reward for his service and valor at Pensacola, and William joins a regiment in New York.  Then, in a move that remains unclear, bonny William appears in the Bahamas where he whiles away the balmy days as a portraitist and comedian!  It appears his talents know no bounds, though what brings about this sudden change of career, like the move to Nassau itself, is obscure.  However, duty calls him yet again; this time in the august personage of the governor of the Bahamas, Lord Dunmore.  Having learned of his reputation among the savage races of the Americas, he dispatches William back to the Creek Nation to establish a trading post.  Returning to his, no doubt, pining wives, he swiftly sets up shop proclaiming himself Director-General of the Muscogee Nation!  Perhaps a bit overblown, but young William is never one for half-measures.  There are obstacles.

The Spanish, having taken advantage of Britain's long war with its colonies, now controls Florida and the Gulf coast, and with it the trade monopoly with the Creeks and Seminoles.  The Director-General, undaunted, meets the challenge with vigor--he declares war on Spain!  His Creek allies are somewhat divided on this issue.  They have grown comfortable with Panton, Leslie, and Company, the firm that the Spanish have commissioned as their trade emissaries.  Besides, the British are losing the American war and their defeat is imminent.  Details!  Young William decides that Panton and friends must go.

Again using his powers of persuasion, he is able to convince the more brash among the young men to support him in a strategy of intimidation and violence against his competitors.  Within a short while he has succeeded in making himself the target of His Most Catholic Majesty's ire.  In order to bolster his position, William ups the ante once more, telling the Creeks that if they would only recognize him as Chief of All the Creeks, he would see to it that the British Crown recognize them as a legitimate nation and establish an exclusive trade agreement.  The people, uneasy with Bounding Billy's vaulting ambition, grow ever more divided and fractious.  Yet, he has his supporters; the idea of a separate Indian Nation appeals to many and William's daring is infectious.  Traveling to England he makes his bold claims.  But for all his trouble and bluster, the government remains unimpressed.  There will be no treaty and no recognition of the, so-called, State of Muscogee.  He may, however, act as their sole trade representative to the natives.  Something he is already doing.  This is not what William relates to the people upon his return.

Declaring the negotiations a triumph on all fronts, the leader of the mythical State of Muscogee sets in motion the full machinery of war.  The Director-General proceeds to outfit two schooners as his navy and organize an army of four hundred Creeks warriors, frontiersmen, and former slaves as his soldiers and sailors.  In short order he begins to stock the coffers with the plundered riches and goods of Spain.  The store is now open and the British once again competitors in the contested region.  The year is 1800.
Charles IV of Spain by Goya

Branding the young upstart a pirate, Spain places a huge bounty on his head and it is not long before he is captured and transported to Spain to face justice.  As seems ever the case, the Spanish find William as irresistible as all before them and Charles IV himself(!) attempts to win him over to the Spanish cause.  Our Billy's not having it.  Whatever he may be--scoundrel, liar, pirate, con-man, adventurer--he is English, by God!  Disappointed, no doubt, the emperor has him shut away in prison.  By now you must know what happens next--he makes good another escape, commandeers a ship, probably in much the same manner as hailing a taxi, and returns to Florida. 

 But several years have gone by and William finds much changed in his absence: His rivals once more hold sway and British influence has all but vanished.  Worse yet, important leaders among the Creek peoples have closed their hearts to him, fearing both his ambitions and judgment.  Hearing of an important meeting between both Upper and Lower Creeks William decides to go all in.  Gathering his dwindling supporters around him, he crashes the party and does what Brash Billy does best, demands that he be recognized as "Chief of all Indians present"!  His enemies, knowing William as they did, are prepared for such a move and promptly take him prisoner, handing him over to the Spanish once again.  The Spanish having also taken the measure of our hero, on this occasion transport him to the infamous Moro Castle in Cuba to languish.  This time, however, there is no escape.  Whether he is mistreated, poisoned, or simply dies of neglect we shall never know, but by 1805 Dashing William is seen no more.  He is 42 at the time of his death, having spent 26 years living on the edge; his dream of an independent country for his adopted Creeks dying with him.  I hope that his two wives, at least, mourned his absence, but history remains silent on this question.  Having dared much, he lost it all in the end, and though there is much to be complained of in William Augustus Bowles' character, certainly two things can be said in his defense: He remained loyal to Britain until the end, and he certainly did not lack courage.  Loyalty and Valor do not a bad epitaph make.

The Capture Of Havana (Moro Castle)




   
                   





     

       

22 June 2015

The Marine and the Game Warden

by Robert Lopresti 

You could say this column is a sequel to a piece I wrote called "The Ranger And The Sheriff's Wife."  That was a report on two non-fiction books that seemed to be chock full of ideas for crime stories.  So is this.

Thieves of Baghdad, by Matthew Bogdanos, Bloomsbury Books, 2005.

Matthew Bogdanos planned to go into his family's restaurant business but one day, on a whim, he decided to enlist in the Marines.  The recruiter took one look at his test scores and said he was doing no such thing.  He was going to enlist in college and then the Marines would accept him for officer's school.

So Bogdanos became the first person in his family to attend college, and on 9/11 he was a federal prosecutor in New York City, and a member of the Marine Reserves.

After the famous looting of the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad, Bogdanos was able to convince his superiors that he was the perfect person to head the squad assigned to search for the missing antiquities. After all, how many Marine officers could there be with law degrees and knowledge of classical art and literature?

As you can imagine, the job was extremely complicated.  For example, consider the difficulty of simply reporting accurately how much was stolen.  If thieves took five pieces  of an old jar, did they take one item or five?

More importantly he discovered that a lot of the material hadn't been stolen at all; but was placed in safe-keeping to protect it from the U.S. troops who were no doubt planning to confiscate the art and take it back home.  So Bogdanos and his men had a diplomatic task to do, convincing people that all they wanted  was to get the art safely back into the museum.  Inevitably this involved drinking many cups of tea with interested parties.

Which is not to say the marines didn't deal with actual thieves or terrorists.  Both were encountered in big numbers.  I highly recommend this book.


  Shell Games, by Craig Welch, William Morrow Books, 2010. 

It was like a Walt Disney movie that turned into Stephen King. 

So says one of the main characters in this book, summarizing his career.  But the protagonist is Ed Volz, a cop with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.  HIs job was to catch people like the Disney-to-King gentleman above.

You see, Puget Sound has a poaching problem.  The main target of these "clam rustlers" is the geoduck (gooeyduck), a bizarre-looking bivalve that can live well over one hundred years.

Because they take so long to develop they are considered the "old growth forest" of the sea and no one knows for sure how long it takes to replenish a field that has been harvested.  One of the nasty parts of the trade is that until you dig the clam out of the sand (sometimes two feet down) you can't tell if it is valuable or  relatively worthless..  Since pulling it out of the sand kills it, that counts as part of your fishing quota, whatever quality it turns out to be.


As you can guess, nasty poachers find all kinds of ways around the quotas, so both state and federal agents keep busy trying to keep people from stealing the things to sell, mostly to Asia.  One problem for the good guys is getting the legal system to take the crime seriously (clam rustling!), although the occasional arson or attempted murder helps with that.

This non-fiction book is full of remarkable, larger-than-life characters, like the Native American sculptor/fisher, a twice-convicted felon, who volunteered to go undercover to catch the poachers.  Or the alleged hit man who travelled with a teddy bear.  Or Seattle's legendary Ivar Haglund, "P.T. Barnum of the Sea," who, when a truck full of syrup spilled on the highway, showed up with a plate of pancakes and a fork.  Or, well, take this fellow, a real lateral thinker:

He'd been experimenting with planting geoducks much like shellfish companies farmed oysters and had leased forty-seven acres of public tidelands just off a county park near Purdy Spit.  Since the land was underwater and not suited for building, the county charged just twenty-five hundred dollars.  But in readying his farm for planting baby clams... [he] set about removing obstacles -- namely an entire colony of wild geoducks.  [He} dug up and sold $2 million worth of clams.

A wild story.






21 June 2015

Serial

Sarah Koenig
Sarah Koenig
by Leigh Lundin

Several months ago, a reader brought to my attention a new PBS series called Serial, an exploration of an old Baltimore murder case. In 1999, a high school girl was violently killed. A low-level drug dealer fingered her secret teenage boyfriend who was convicted of her homicide and sentenced to life plus thirty years.

The boy’s aunt, Rabia Chaudry, asked NPR journalist Sarah Koenig to take another look at the case. Koenig has shared with readers the results of her research as she compiled it, often editing until the moment of broadcast. In a voice that combines both girlishness and maturity, she bared her uncertainty in this confusing case. The Guardian called the journey “slow-drip storytelling.”

Timeline 1

Timeline 2
If you haven’t been following Serial, it comes highly recommended. High school senior Adnan Syed was accused and convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. Although a number of suspects cropped up, police focused on Adnan Syed based on an accusation from a cannabis dealer friend, Jay Wilds, who claimed he helped bury the body after Syed showed it to him in the trunk of his car.

While Jay’s multiple stories contained a number of inconsistencies and the timeline was thinner than a jailhouse sandwich, police felt his accusation was plausible. No one has accused the original investigators of incompetence, only Syed’s lawyer. At least one witness placed Syed elsewhere, but that person wasn’t allowed to testify.

While several suspects have surfaced, one thing strikes me. If Jay took part in burying the body and if we posit Adnan Syed is innocent, then my attention turns to Jay himself, the one person who admits to being at the scene of the crime… at least where the body was found. And the journalists turned up a connection with jewelry.

It’s a national shame, but the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act cuts short appeals and prevents evidence of actual innocence being considered for appeals. Maryland places an especially high burden upon the wrongly convicted. Thus it’s often journalists and the clamoring of private organizations that give a little hope to the wrongly convicted. In other words, justice is often in the hands of believing individuals, not that we have any certainty Syed didn’t kill Hae– we simply don’t know. What we do understand is that a teen probably didn’t receive a fair trial.

If you haven’t heard the original broadcast and Serial podcasts, now is a good time to catch up with this obsession. Thanks to Koenig, NPR, and the public, it appears Adnan Syed will finally get another trial. Time affects evidence, memories, and the number of witnesses that can still be found, so it’s unlikely we’ll learn of a smoking gun. The Syed family simply wants a fair trial for that long-ago boy accused of killing that long-ago girl.



Note: You can listen to podcasts through your browser, but you can also subscribe to podcasts through iTunes and other dedicated players for your tablet, iPod, smart phone, and ordinary computers. Look for a button or menu item regarding podcasts and subscribing. This article about iTunes and Juice is dated, but might help you get started.

20 June 2015

Killing People is what I Do


by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)
 
“Why would you ever want to write about murder?” said the horrified relative.  “Why not write a nice little romance?”

Why indeed?

As I quickly added another relative to kill in my next book (you would be shocked how often that happens….) it occurred to me that there were many reasons to write about murder.

1.. It’s the challenge of creating the clever puzzle.  Plotting a mystery is like playing a chess game.  You always have to think several moves ahead.  Your reader is begging you to challenge them, and is working to beat you – meaning to guess the killer before your detective does - to the end.

2.  Plot is paramount.  Murder mysteries start with action – usually a murder.  Yes, characterization is important, and particularly motivation.  But murder is by nature an action, and thus something happens in the book you are writing.  And quite often, it happens again and again.

3.  It’s important.  This is murder, after all.  We’re not talking about a simple threat or theft.  A lot is at stake.  Murder is the final act.  The worst that can happen.  The end of it all.
 
4.  It’s a place to put all your darkest fantasies.  There are a few people I’ve wanted to kill in my life.  They did me wrong.  And while I do have a bit of a reputation for recklessness, I value my freedom more.  So what I can’t do in reality, I relish doing in fiction.

5.  Finally – it’s fun. This is the part I don’t say in mixed company (meaning non-writers and relatives.)  I can’t explain exactly why it’s fun – you’ll have to trust me on this part.  But plotting to do away with characters in highly original ways is a real power trip.  I’m smiling just thinking about it.

Of course, I can understand where some of the relative angst comes from.  In A PURSE TO DIE FOR, a gathering of relatives for a funeral results in the death of one or two. 

In THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE, a cousin of Gina’s does her wrong.  So she does him back, in a particularly crafty and oh-so-satisfying way.

It was entirely accidental, that use of relatives.  Honest.  I wasn’t thinking of anyone in particular.

 Not much I wasn’t.

(You can follow Melodie at www.melodiecampbell.com.  Better still, buy her Goddaughter books.  It's an offer you can't refuse. Especially since her maiden name was 'Offer' - not kidding.)



Available at all the usual retail locations, including Amazon

19 June 2015

Crime Tour of Phoenix Part 1

Uncle Sal's

By Dixon Hill

Left Coast Crime will be convening at the Hyatt Regency of Phoenix, Arizona February 26th - 28th,2016.

Knowing that LCC attendees lurk on this blog, and suspecting some of them might like to take their own self-guided tour of the Phoenix historical crime scene, I've decided to post some articles this year that would lend themselves to just that use.


Starbuck's Location
"Office Max Center"
Corner of Osborn and Hayden roads
in Scottsdale











Across the parking lot from this unassuming Starbuck's where my son and daughter worked in high school, and less than a quarter mile from the house I grew up in, sits this place:

Uncle Sal's Italian Ristorante
Uncle Sal's Location
About 23 mins. from the Hyatt
according to Google Maps










At first glance, the contemporary cookie-cutter strip mall location and hole-in-the-wall frontage might indicate Uncle Sal's is one of those Italian restaurants run by somebody about as Italian as my Polish grandmother.

In truth, however, this is the place once owned by the wife of Salvatore "Sammy The Bull" Gravano, who billed her restaurant as: "The best kept secret in Scottsdale," Sammy the Bull loved to eat here, and it was frequented not only by members of his family, but -- reputedly -- also by drug dealers, underworld figures and the like.  (On several occasions, my mom and I enjoyed the pizza there, when I was home on leave from the army.)

Gravano had been given plastic surgery to alter his appearance, then he and his family moved to The Valley in 1995, as part of the witness protection program following the John Gotti trial.  The former member of the New York based Gambino family was rechristened "Jimmy Moran."  He opened a construction company called Marathon Development at 45th Street and University drive in Phoenix, where he employed 15 people and earned nearly a million dollars a year.  He also did business as Creative Pools, a pool installation company.
Gravano's Phx. Mug Shot

All of this came to an end in 2000, when Sammy the Bull, as well as his wife, son and daughter were arrested as part of a sting on organized drug dealing in The Valley.

Salvatore (then living as Jimmy Moran) reportedly provided consultation and cash to the drug-dealing arm of the "Devil Dogs" a Phoenix gang known for barking as they beat people up.  It was further reported that pool company and restaurant employees were involved in the dealing, and that drugs were being sold out of Uncle Sal's.  Salvatore was eventually convicted, and sentenced to 19 years in prison.

The Bar






The Patio
Uncle Sal's is still there, of course. And, if you'd like to go get a bite
to eat and look around the place, I think you'll enjoy your meal.  The bar is nice, and so is the food.  You can even eat on the patio.

Outdoor temperatures should be quite comfortable during the LCC period in February.

While the pasta is good here, the steak is my favorite.  The green bean side is excellent!


Dress is casual during the day, and business casual in the evening.  If you want to pull out the stops and dress to the nines, they'll love you for it!


Pricing is not bad either.  A single person can enjoy the steak in the photo to the right and some beer or wine and still get out the door for under fifty bucks.


According to his daughter, Gravano ate at Uncle Sal's regularly, often sneaking in the back and sometimes taking his food to go.  There are those who suspect his practice provided the catalyst for the opening of this second eatery, which shares the same kitchen with Uncle Sal's, and is known as: The Side Door.


If your wallet doesn't tend to be over-stuffed, and your culinary tastes run toward good beer, burgers and dogs (And perhaps you'd secretly like to get a feel for what it was like for Sammy the Bull to sneak in the back for his chow while the Feds were closing in!) then I suggest you walk around the north end of the building that houses Uncle Sal's and eat here.  They sell Vienna Beef hot dogs for only $4.00 each -- or, Chicago style for six bucks!  There is also a large selection of beer on tap or in bottles, as well as a large wine selection, and some higher-end food -- even ice cream!

Overhead View of Strip Mall with Uncle Sal's and Side Door


This photo is taken looking west.

Osborn Rd. is on the right side of the photo, while Hayden Rd. runs across the bottom.  The building at the lower left is Starbucks.  The large main building is Office Max and Big Five sporting goods.

The small square building, which -- as you can see on the schematic below -- is not quite connected to the Office Max bldg., is where you'll find Uncle Sal's.  It's in the lower left (south-east) corner of that small square building.

If you walk around the north (photo-right) side of this building, you will find The Side Door at the west (photo-top) end of it, facing out to the north.

Do not be confused by the bank building (lower right).





Fastest way there from the Hyatt Regency Phoenix
  • Take Monroe to 4th Street
  • Turn LEFT to head NORTH on 4th Street, being sure to BEAR LEFT just past Garfield St.  
  • 4th Street will then become the north-bound lane of 3rd Street.  
  • STAY IN THE RIGHT LANE at this point.  
  • TURN RIGHT onto the HOV on-ramp for I-10 East (also known as 101 East).  
  • Follow the 101 East until you exit (off to right) onto 202 North.  
  • (Note: 202 Exit is to the right side of the 101, but you want the LEFT lane of the RIGHT-SIDE EXIT lanes -- 2nd or third lane from the right side of freeway.  If you bear all the way to the right, you will end up on the 202 South.  If this happens, exit ASAP and get back onto the 202 North)
  • Follow 202 North and take Indian School Rd. exit.  
  • At the base of the off-ramp, TURN LEFT onto Indian School.
  • TURN RIGHT onto Hayden Rd.  
  • Uncle Sal's is in Office Max strip mall on the corner of Hayden and Osborn, a half-mile ahead of you, on the left.


18 June 2015

Having Fun Being Bad

by Eve Fisher

Frank Underwood - House of Cards.jpgI have, like so many people, been watching House of Cards via Netflix DVDs.  The first season was hypnotic.  The second season not so much.  I may not watch the third season.  Why? It's real simple: Nobody seems to be having any fun. Not the President, not his wife, not the staff, not the Secret Service guys, and especially not Francis and Clare Underwood.  I mean, what's the point of pursuing power by any means, if you're not going to have a good time screwing everyone over?  Even the sex romps are grim. More on that later.

Think about prime-time TV these days.  Who's enjoying the game on Game of Thrones?  Did Walter White ever kick back and watch trash TV on Breaking Bad?  I experienced the world of Mad Men, and the people I remember had a lot more fun drinking and screwing than Draper and pals ever did. Do The Americans ever just go fishing? Wayward Pines is so dark you can't see the road, much less the actors.  Every plot is convoluted, everybody is up to their necks in conspiracies, everyone is always plotting their next move, and everyone is soooo serious...

But that isn't the way the real world works.  People go fishing.  They relax.  They get hooked on Candy Crush or Triple Town.  They binge-watch anything they can.  Joseph Stalin liked cowboy movies, Charlie Chaplin, Georgian wine, and billiards.  The man knew how to relax.  So did others: Mao Zedong was a master calligrapher and a fairly decent poet. He also really enjoyed women. Hitler loved listening to Putzi Hanfstaengl play piano, and apparently had a fondness for dogs.  Osama bin Laden wrote love letters in between calls for jihad. Napoleon loved Josephine and cheating at cards. In other words, in the real world, even totalitarian monsters take a break once in a while and have a good time.

Meanwhile, Francis Underwood even gave up ribs.  (And considering how solemn everyone was before and after, that three-way didn't do much to loosen anyone up.)

Nathaniel Parker as Harold Skimpole
in the 2005 BBC production of
"Bleak House"
I miss the villains of yesteryear.  Count Fosco, hugely fat, delighting in pastry, the endless cigarettes his wife hand rolls for him, great glasses of sugar water, and playing with his tiny little mice while he works [successfully] to have Lady Glyde declared dead after he imprisons her in a madhouse.  And all despite his deep admiration, love, passion, for her sister, Marian Halcombe. Now there's a villain who is not only ruthless - read The Woman in White and see - but knows how to have fun while doing it.  Or there's Harold Skimpole, the middle-aged "child" who cannot understand why people are so cruel and harsh as to not supply him with his daily needs, gratis, so that he can live like the charming butterfly he is, while betraying everyone in Bleak House in the worst possible way.  (He is the reason that the child street-sweeper Jo dies.)  You want to kill him, but he's certainly having a great time.  Of course, Dickens really knew how to write hand-rubbing, chuckling, glint-in-the-eye villains:  Ebenezer Scrooge, the Marquis St. Evremonde, Fagin, and that ultimate hypocrite, Josiah Bounderby.

Or, on screen:
  • Henry Fonda's Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West,
  • Basil Rathbone's Andre Trochard in We're No Angels
  • Lionel Barrymore's Harry F. Potter in It's A Wonderful Life
  • Peter Ustinov's Nero in Quo Vadis, and, of course, 
  • Charlton Heston's Richelieu in The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers.
  • The late, great Christopher Lee in The Man With the Golden Gun.

Now granted, there was a lot of over-acting in these - Henry Fonda and Charlton Heston were obviously having the time of their lives as they FINALLY got to play the villain!  But I think there's a lot of over-underacting today.  It's the latest style:  very self-controlled, laser-serious, apparently clinically depressed villains who don't take pleasure in anything, even power once they get it (if they ever do). But if you go back a few decades, and you find villains who smirked, sneered, sauntered, and basically acted like Bette Davis in The Little Foxes.

Francis Urquhart.jpg
Or you can always go back to the original:  Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart in the original, UK House of Cards, who was ruthless, deadly, witty, with a smile like a silver-haired Puck.  "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment."  Watching Richardson's Francis, I always felt that, while he'd definitely sold his soul to the devil, he got full price for it. (And it was a hell of a lot more than one shared cigarette a night...)  And he enjoyed everything he got.

Still available on Netflix, here's a preview of Francis Urquhart's best monologues to whet your appetite:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRNNhcQutTQ




17 June 2015

Opening bottles and books


by Robert Lopresti

She was the most interesting thing that barroom had seen in a long time.

Well, I had only been there an hour, but the look on the bartender's face told me had been waiting for a woman who looked like that for  a whole lot longer.  Maybe his whole life.

Her clothes were a little skimpy for March.  Nothing to shock the church ladies, if such existed in Portland, Oregon these days, but enough to get a man's attention.  I happened to be a man.

The only thing that spoiled her appearance was the thirty degree tilt to her frame that came from the heavy vinyl sack over one bare shoulder.  Since it said LEFT COAST CRIME I deduced that it was full of new mystery novels.She shifted the bag onto the floor and climbed onto a stool a few seats away from me.  The bartender came up with an eagerness he had not shown when I ordered my white wine.

"Martini," she said.

"Gin or vodka?" asked the barman.  He had a face like a burlap sack full of grapefruits.

"Steve," she replied.

He frowned -- much shifting of citrus- - and went down the aisle, presumably to consult his drinkology manual.

After a moment she turned my direction and gave me a careful lookover.  A more thorough one than the subject deserved, really.

She smiled and batted her long eyelashes.  Then she said: "Starting on the day Charlotte Mayhew murdered her husband -- October 23, 1985 -- she became very suspicious of cats."

I don't have the equipment to bat my eyelashes but I can blink.  I did so.  "Excuse me?"

"I said, 'Starting on the day...'"

"I heard you.  But why did you say it?"

The bartender had arrived with a drink - whether it was a Steve Martini I am not prepared to say.  She gave him a smile which threatened to turn him into a puddle on the duckboards.

"It is the opening line of a story by Jane Haddam," she explained.  "Crazy Cat Ladies."

"I remember," I said.  "I read it in Ellery Queen last month.  But why say it now?"

She turned that smile on me.  "It's a great opening line, isn't it?"

I nodded.

"I had an insight when I read it.  It occurred to me that an opening line is like a pickup line."

"How do you figure?"

"They have the same purpose, don't they?  To attract someone's attention.  Pique the curiosity.  Convince someone to spend some time with you.  In other words, to seduce."

At the other end of his dog run,  the bartender dropped something. It tinkled.

"I never thought of it that way," I admitted.  "So you're a mystery fan?"


"Death is my beat."

 "Michael Connelly.  The Poet."

She shrugged.  Her shoulders, specifically.  "It's one of the great romances, isn't it?  The writer and the reader?'

"Older than that," I said.  "The storyteller and the listener."

She nodded enthusiastically.  "But it's usually a fling, right?  Even the best book doesn't keep us forever."

"I suppose not.  But just like a love affair, one can change your life, and stick in your memory all your days."

She gave me her sleepy grin.  "You're a romantic."

"I'm too much of  a realist not to be."

A frown.  "What does that mean, exactly?"

"Beats me, but it sounds good."  I did a quick drag through the shallow river of my memory.  "I saw her entrance.  It would have been hard to miss."

Her eyebrows rose.  "Why, how sweet!  Lawrence Block, isn't it?"

I nodded.  "Eight million Ways To Die."

She finished her drink.  "Wanna go somewhere and discuss literature?"

I shook my head.  "I'm meeting my wife in a few minutes."

She sighed.  "Happy families are all alike."

"Anna Karenina," I said.  "Not mystery fiction."

"When I drink I get promiscuous."  The bartender was staring at her.  "In my reading, I mean.  Stout, please."

He nodded.  "Pale or dark?"

"Rex," we said together.

"Enjoy the rest of the conference," she told me as I paid my bill.

"You too--" I frowned.  "Your name isn't Velma, by any chance?"

She shook her head.  "Call me Ishmael."

"No, I don't think I will."

Note: In searching for more openers to put in here I discovered that Fran Rizer had had the same insight as my mysterious friend. 

16 June 2015

WeeGee in the Public Eye

by Paul D. Marks

“My name is Weegee. I’m the world’s greatest photographer…”

weegee d1 - CopyIf Raymond Chandler’s streets were mean, Weegee’s were meaner and they were real. “To me a photograph is a page from life,” he said, “and that being the case, it must be real.” And they were, sometimes too real, showing the underside of the city, the dark side of the American Dream with a hot jazz soundtrack playing hard in the background.

Most of us in the crime writing community are familiar with Weegee, Arthur Felig. He was an immigrant to the US, who became known for his stark and dark photos of crimes scenes in the 1930s and 40s. That’s not all he photographed, but that’s what he’s mostly remembered for.

Weegee-carStarting off as a darkroom tech, by 1935 he was a freelance photographer. He didn’t wait for stories to come to him, he went out and found them. Of his start, he said “In my particular case I didn't wait 'til somebody gave me a job or something, I went and created a job for myself—freelance photographer. And what I did, anybody else can do. What I did simply was this: I went down to Manhattan Police Headquarters and for two years I worked without a police card or any kind of credentials. When a story came over a police teletype, I would go to it. The idea was I sold the pictures to the newspapers. And naturally, I picked a story that meant something.”

Weegee often beat the cops to the scene of the crime. He worked out of his office, uh, his trunk. He estimated that he shot 5,000 pictures of murders in the 1930s and ’40s. In our narcissistic age, we tend to think that crime and viciousness is unique to our era as we watch the local news and see the ‘if it bleeds it leads’ stories stacked up, one on top of the other. And we ask, what’s wrong with society today? But maybe it’s not society, but people. After all, ancient Rome had gladiator fights and it’s speculated that the Mayans and Aztecs played a ball game using human heads as the ball. So there’s really nothing new under the sun. That said, I wonder what his dreams were like.



Weegee and Film Noir:

There seems to be some disagreement among the cognoscenti about whether or not Weegee’s photos influenced the noir look in films. Everyone acknowledges that much of that look came from European refugees fleeing Hitler, who came from a German expressionism background. But even if
Weegee didn’t directly influence film noir, take a look at some of his pix and see the symbiotic relationship between them.

The photos that Weegee is best known for are stark, high-contrast black and white pictures taken with a bright flash, often of the seedier side of life. Everything from murder and other crime scenes, to gangsters, nightclubs, hookers.

There is often a sense of menace, sometimes overt, sometimes more subtle. And the angle of the shots adds to the unsettling effect. And he didn’t only point his camera at the subject at hand, but turned it around for the reverse angle of those watching from the sidelines, or composed shots to see those watchers in the background of some grisly scene.

His images often look like stills from the sets of film noir movies.
 Weegee collage 1  D1 Ver 2a - Copy
Eventually Weegee and film noir came together. Producer Mark Hellinger, inspired by Weegee’s book Naked City, bought the rights and recreated Weegee’s style in the film The Naked City. Weegee also worked as a consultant on the film and had a small part in it. His work also influenced Stanley Kubrick and The Man with a Camera TV series. And Joe Pesci’s character of Bernzy in The Public Eye is a direct rip off of Weegee, as the producers couldn’t obtain the rights to his story.

Weegee was the inspiration for Bob Winger, the main character in my short story Poison Heart, found in the 2010 Deadly Ink collection. Winger’s a burned out, pissed off, fed up crime photog, who winds up staging crime scene photos, inspired by Weegee, and passes them off as the real thing...until things totally spin out of control. (Deadly Ink 2010 Anthology)

“When you find yourself beginning to feel a bond between yourself and the people you photograph, when you laugh and cry with their laughter and tears, you will know you are on the right track.”
—Weegee                                    


***Note: As far as I can tell, all of the pictures/photos in this article are “free to share and use” according to Bing’s license search feature.


***

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15 June 2015

Converting a Reluctant Reader: My Mother

by Melissa Yi


“I never read fiction,” my mother used to say, as a point of pride. When I was a kid, she would glance at my library books and say, “Why are you reading that? You already read it!”
After I won second place in Writers of the Future, my first big milestone, I signed one of my complimentary copies to my parents, thanking them for their (ahem) support. “Do you want it back?” said my mother, a few weeks later. “We already read it!”
“No, thanks,” I said annoyed. My then-boyfriend, now-husband, Matt, always encouraged me to write. My parents didn’t care. You know how writers joke, “I only sold two copies, and one of them was to my mom”? I’m like, You’re lucky your mom reads. Good on ya.
My parents & my newborn son: better than a book!
My mother did occasionally come to my book readings and/or buy a copy. She lives in Ottawa (about 1.5 hours’ drive away from me), or she’d come more often. I suspected that she shoved the books in a corner, or gave them away, but was grateful for her presence. As you may know, it’s a challenge to get people out.
But a few years ago, after while taking the bus, she got so bored that she started reading one of my anthologies, Indian Country Noir. “It was good!” she said, sounding astonished.
I think she also read The Dragon and the Stars, which won the Aurora Award in 2011, but I didn’t hear anything for four years.

Not until Tuesday, when she attended the ChiZine Reading Series and marched right up to the book table. “I have to support my daughter,” she said, and bought WOLF ICE and NOTORIOUS D.O.C.
Would I have given the books to my mother? Of course. But I also think she really wants to support me. As in sustain me, help lift me up. And since I’ve come to realize that success depends not just on financial vagaries, but psychological toughness, I accepted. I’m not to proud to accept charity from my mom (or Patreon from my fans).
Then on Friday, I spotted WOLF ICE not only splayed open on her bed, but halfway finished.
“It’s so good. I can’t put it down,” she told me and Matt. “It’s actually bad, because I wanted to do the gardening on Thursday, and I never got out, and on Friday, it rained, so I didn’t get anything done. How much is TERMINALLY ILL? The next time I come, I’ll buy that one.”
Wow. A compliment from my mom. I’ll take that over gardening any day.

How about you? How does your family react to your writing and your passions? Did they encourage you, or tell you to knuckle down and study the times table instead? How has that changed over time? And how do you support your children, if you have any?
I have to admit that when my son announced he wanted to be a police officer, I gulped.

14 June 2015

Ransom

by Leigh Lundin

Today’s article will be a short two minutes —or— two hours long— if you wish to take the whole trip.

John Floyd and I’ve mentioned that Mel Gibson has returned to making movies and we’ve enjoyed a couple of his recent films. He seems to have begun a rehabilitation as a man and an actor. While many feel Gibson has not paid for his sins, he's kept his head down and his nose to the grindstone. People love it when a lost soul finds their way back on track and into our minds and hearts, and it would be good if he manages to dig his way out of the hole he dug himself into.

While not thinking of Gibson at all, I found myself reading about a 1954 United States Steel Hour teleplay “Fearful Decision”. It spawned a loosely based 1956 film, Ransom! starring Glenn Ford. That spawned a loosely based 1996 film, Ransom, starring Gary Sinise and our friend, ta-da… Mel Gibson. The central thread of the plots centers upon fathers forced to deal with the kidnappers of their sons, making tough decisions condemned by others, but with method to their madness.

I’d seen the 1996 film and thought it brilliant. Frankly I’d forgotten Gibson was in it and it was nice to reconnect. If you haven’t seen Ransom, the plot is superb. It’s so well done, SleuthSayers is bringing it to you here.

This is the full film which you can stream to your television or watch on your computer. I highly recommend it.