11 April 2017

The Curse of 2013


By Barb Goffman

Like poor Rose at the end of Titanic, clinging to a piece of wood in the frozen Atlantic Ocean, using the last of her strength to blow a whistle to attract rescuers who've missed her, then weakly, hoarsely yelling, "Come back! Come back," I find myself wishing some people would come back too.

Well, my wishes are about fictional characters, but they feel like real people to me. And they've all been missing since 2013.

With less than two weeks until Malice Domestic (a wonderful fan convention held every spring in Bethesda, Maryland, honoring the traditional mystery), I find myself thinking about mystery characters I wish would come back. I'm not talking about characters created by authors who have died--there's no way they're coming back, not in their original author's form, anyway. And I'm not talking about characters whose authors regularly put out a new book every year or so. This column is devoted to characters whose authors seem to have moved on or are taking too long of a break (in this devoted reader's perspective).

With respect and love, I wish the following authors would get a move on:

Stephanie Jaye Evans

I'm starting with you, Stephanie, because you're scheduled to attend Malice Domestic, and I want you to be prepared. I am going to hound you at the convention, begging and pleading for more stories in the Sugar Land Mystery Series about family man and Texas minister Bear Wells, who becomes a sleuth. Here's what one reviewer said of Stephanie's wonderful first book, Faithful Unto Death:

“Praise be! A new series with a soul, a heart, and a down-home Texas twang. Preacher Bear Wells is an entirely original sleuth and author Stephanie Jaye Evans is that real rarity: a debut writer with dead-on dialogue, winning characters, and—mirabile dictu! —nimble plotting.”   — Susan Wittig Albert, national bestselling author of the China Bayles mysteries

Faithful Unto Death, was a finalist for the 2012 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Stephanie has a great second book in the series, Safe From Harm, which came out in 2013. For four long years I've been waiting oh so patiently, hoping for more. Please, Stephanie, may I have some more?

Chris Grabenstein

Chris, I know your heart--and your time--belong to middle-grade readers. Between writing books with James Patterson (how can I get in on that gig?) and writing your own extremely successful books for kids, you don't have time anymore for your mysteries for grown-ups. (I was going to write that you didn't have time for your adult mysteries, but that has a completely different connotation.) But I wish we could add more hours to the day because I miss your John Ceepak mysteries. Oh, heck. Let's be honest, I long for them. Yes, I admit it: I have a crush on your character John Ceepak, and given how long it's been going on, I feel comfortable saying it's not going away.

Ahhh. Ceepak. A cop with a moral code. A decent, generous, wonderful man. If I can't have this romance in real life, come on, Chris, let me have it on paper. Please! I long to return to Sea Haven, New Jersey, and investigate more cases with John and his partner, Danny Boyle. Sure, I could re-read the eight books in your Anthony Award-winning series, starting with 2005's Tilt-A-Whirl and ending in 2013's Free Fall. But it's been four years since the last book. I need more. Please, Chris. Just give me a little more.

Sara J. Henry

Sara, Your first novel, 2011's Learning to Swim, was nominated for a gazillion awards (and won the Anthony and Agatha awards for best first novel as well as the Mary Higgins Clark Award). It deserved every bit of praise. I loved Learning to Swim so much that I told practically everyone I knew in 2011 about it. I gushed, Sara. Gushed. It was disgusting. So you can imagine how happy I was to read the 2013 follow-up, A Cold and Lonely Place. I love watching your main character, reporter Troy Chance, as she struggles to right (and write) wrongs. Your books have been described as "compulsively readable," and I agree wholeheartedly. I long to be compulsive again. On behalf of your fans, give us more Troy books, Sara. Please please please.


Julia Spencer-Fleming

Unlike a lot of authors, you usually have a new book come out every two years instead of annually. And that's okay. When someone writes books as good as yours, you can take any reasonable amount of time you need between books. But come on, Julia. We're both nonpracticing lawyers here, so we know there are limitations to how far you can stretch the meaning of the word reasonable, and I think we've hit the limit. It's been four agonizing years. I need more Clare. I need more Russ. I need more murder in the Adirondacks.

I remember how taken I was with the small town of Millers Kill, New York, when I came upon your first book, In the Bleak Midwinter. It has one of the best opening lines ever and a hell of an engaging plot. My love for the town grew over the series' eight books. Despite all the murders, it seems like a lovely place to live. I know others agree with me. Your books have won practically every award out there. Your latest book, 2013's Through the Evil Days, can't be the end of the series. I need to know what happens with Clare and Russ and ... Well, I'm not going to ruin it for people who haven't read the book yet. But you know what I'm talking about, Julia. Come on. Please don't leave me hanging. I need more.

2013

And that leaves me with wondering what the heck was going on in 2013 that made all these wonderful authors hit the brakes. Could it be a coincidence that all of them haven't had a new book out since then (or, for Chris, an adult book)? We mystery writers don't believe in coincidence. So there must be a reason. Are you all working on a big book together?! No. That would be too much to hope for. Is there a curse going on? No, I don't believe in curses either. ... Well, I'm out of ideas. So I'll just have to end this blog with my plea one more time. Get plotting, get typing, and get publishing, people. In the immortal words of Oliver Twist: Please, sir (and ma'ams), I want some more.

PLEASE.

*****

While I have your attention, in case you missed earlier posts: the Agatha Award will be given out in six categories during the Malice Domestic convention at the end of this month. I have a short story, "The Best-Laid Plans," short-listed in the short-story category. The competition is pretty fierce. Fellow SleuthSayers B.K. Stevens and Art Taylor are up for the award, as well as authors Gretchen Archer and Edith Maxwell. You can read about all five of the nominated stories by clicking here, and you'll also be able to click through to read the stories themselves. I hope you'll check them all out and read before you vote. (I'm also blogging today at B.K. Stevens's blog, analyzing my thought process behind the first two pages of "The Best-Laid Plans." I hope you'll stop by there too. You can read that post here.)
  
Once you finish reading, it's time to start packing. I'm looking forward to seeing so many of you at Malice Domestic in two weeks. (Stephanie Jaye Evans, this means you!)

10 April 2017

Do Pets Enhance Your Stories?




by Jan Grape

I live in a small town, that in reality could just be called a community. Except we have a City Hall, a City Council, a volunteer fire department  and a Police Department. We now have four sit-down restaurants, a marina, a Subway sandwich shop and a Sports Bar and Grill, where you can order great hamburgers or Wings and there is a sit-down dining area if that's your thing. We have an auto-motive shop,a gas station, a Hill Country Community Playhouse for live theater productions and a Dollar General Store. Just a mile from my house is Lake Marble Falls, which was formed by damming off the Lower Colorado River. And part of the chain of seven Highland Lakes in the Texas Hill Country. So we have a mixed community, high-end houses with a lake views or lakefront properties and a small section of single-wide or double wide trailers.

 Most of the area where I'm located is what I would call a middle class neighborhood. We also have a fairly large number of vacant lots which are wooded and because of that and the proximity to the lake we have a large population of deer. It's not unusual to walk out of my house in the afternoon or evening and find six or eight deer grazing on the lawn or even bedded down for the night in my yard. I enjoy seeing the deer. Especially this time of year when the does have produced babies and I get to see little fawns as they learn to use their little legs to hurry across the street and get out of the way of cars or trucks. The speed limit is 35 MPH but you know how that goes. Everyone seems to be in a hurry and sometimes they hit a deer.

My love of nature and watching the animals and the fact that my feline companion, Nora just turned twenty years old on March 30th, got me to thinking about animals in our stories and books. How many people have pets in their books? Not a specific Cat or Dog series just your main character's personal pet. I think it adds an extra dimension to the characterization. I love both cats and dogs but have have more cats myself for the past twenty-two years. Had a wonderful little dog up until a couple of years before I got Nick and Nora. Nick was with me for 17.5 years and Nora still is with me They were eight weeks old when they came to live with me and my husband.I laughingly tell people she's been with me longer than any of my kids, because the kids went off to college or got married.

For a number of years I wrote short stories for many of the Cat Crime books, And there were different fictionalized cats in each story. Some of their names were, Willie, Snowflake, Sam Spade and Domino. Snowflake was a black kitten with a white star-shaped design on the top of her head that looked like a snowflake had landed there. Domino was a white kitten with two black dots on her face above her eyes that looked like the dots on a domino. Willie and Spade were just cats that sorta helped the story along, Don't remember if I described them too much.

Then I wrote a story about White House Pet Detectives and discovered that Abe Lincoln had a cat named Tabby and they had goats and several other animals. I wrote a story with Tabby. I also visited the White House Pet Museum in Virginia. I was in the area for a mystery con and it seemed like I should definitely make a visit so I went.

Nick and Nora appeared in a story in an anthology titled Midnight Louie's Pet Detectives, edited by Carole Nelson Douglas's Midnight Louie. Nick and Nora were still little tykes who could type...well, Nora was able to read and write and type but she had not learn how to make capital letters. They both told the story and since they were black cats and lived in Texas where Midnight Louis lived they claimed a kinship to "Uncle Louie."  But they also claimed to have experienced a bit of detective training from Uncle Louie and used that knowledge to solve a case. Don't know if that was cat telepathy or Paws Express mail service.

In my first Zoe Barrow, police woman book, she had a couple of cats, named Melody and Lyric. Those were the cat names of two cats that at one time belonged to my daughter. They did nothing to help with the mystery, just gave Zoe a couple of pets to mention as animals to round her character out a bit. Characters can talk to the pets about the case, using them as a sounding board. Or they are useful to show how the writer can slow the action just before building up an scene of tension or unwinding after a scene of tension.

Cats and dogs both can be very accurate in their reactions to people. More so than the character themselves at times.  Animals often sense the good or bad or fear in people. They also can feel the true feelings of liking or love for them. That can be very useful to the character in certain situations.
I have a feeling that birds or fish or horses or alligators or snakes help to show a character's demeanor or even to help readers like or dislike a character.

Do any of you use pets at all and what do you think about it for your writing?  

09 April 2017

The Expanse


by Leigh Lundin

A month ago, when Barb Goffman wrote about new television shows, she touched on the sci-fi series, Timeless which, in my opinion, is pretty good as long as they keep SOS out of it.

Becoming an adherent of hard science fiction was foreordained– my first or second adult novel in the third grade was Fritz Lieber’s Gather Darkness (serialized 1943, published in book form 1950). I still keep that novel. Part of its technology of light wave cancellation is under study ¾ of a century later– Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility could become a real thing one day.

Mysteries and sci-fi formed two great genre loves, and their golden ages lived for me. Blade Runner, The Man in the High Castle… stories like those formed the bookscape of middle and high school.

Soft on Hard Fiction

The term ‘hard’ science fiction defines the purest form harking back to the golden and silver ages. At one time, adherents adopted ‘SF’ to distinguish the real stuff from the lighter fare enjoyed by science fantasy and space opera (e.g, Star Wars) fans, but others resented the co-optation of sci-fi.

This may surprise to those who aren’t yet fans: Hard sci-fi isn’t about monsters or wookies or paranormal. Hard science fiction is about society and ‘what’s possible’ propositions.

The Science of Imagination

One unspoken maxim rules sci-fi… the science must either be real or at least possible. That’s why Superman would be classified more as science fantasy because the physics doesn’t compute. Writers can exploit an exception– they may devise a universe with its own physics as long as the science can logically and consistently be extrapolated.

Consider Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (1990). Dinosaurs in modern times? What could be sillier? Except Crichton knew his biology. He delved into considerable detail (in a clever Disney Epcot-like presentation) how dinosaur DNA might be trapped in amber. DNA has also also been recently found in mammoth bone marrow, so these ideas lie within the realm of possibility.

Likewise, Crichton’s 1999 Timeline might seem preposterous to congressional and cabinet appointees to science and environmental committees, guys who failed sixth grade Creationism in the Classroom. Facing a career as vacuum cleaner salesmen, they opted to enter politics specializing in the myths of global climate change and those unexplained mysteries of female fertility. Crichton, in fact, based the premise on actual physics experiments of space-time teleportation.

Those then-current experiments in space-time underlaid “Think Like a Dinosaur”, a subtle, almost tender, bitter-sweet episode of The Outer Limits, (2001, S07E08) which had nothing to do with dinosaurs. The program explored ethics and commitment through a vehicle of love and quiet despair.

Hard-Boiled Directives

Dashiel Hammett’s and Raymond Chandler’s stories touched upon socialism and capitalism gone bad. We’ve read that Ross MacDonald’s works were a commentary on the indolently wealthy 1%, and Dennis Lehane writes about a civilization uncaring about about cops, crime, and corruption. These societal undercurrents– intended or not– are a side-effect of their crime writing. In contrast, the best science fiction centralizes social themes as the core thrust.

For example, 2001, A Space Odyssey reimagined evolution of the human species. Soylent Green and one of my favorites, Silent Running, dealt with a society increasingly indifferent about pollution, over-population, and food shortages. Why fictionalize these issues? The creators want you to care while largely avoiding the politics of the day.

No Expanse Spared

The Expanse
My attention was drawn to the 2015 SyFy television series, The Expanse. Sporting a title in homage to Star Trek, it’s based on the novels of James S.A. Corey, nom de plume of writers Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. (Their pseudonym combines their middle names.)

The Expanse skipped 2016 but returned this year for a second season, which is running now. A third series is in the works for 2018.

The Expanse… within thirty seconds it hooked me. The music… the dark theme– trust me, this program is so Stygian, it makes noir look like Easter pastels in kindergarten.

The cast includes an intriguing classic detective, Josephus Miller, who channels the quintessential Marlowe and Spade. Another fascinating character is the assistant undersecretary to the UN, Chrisjen Avasarala, played to perfection in the smoker’s voice of actress Shohreh Aghdashloo. A third complex character is Colonel Fred Johnson, former UN Marine and accused war criminal who runs a ship-building base at Tycho Station.

And then we have the crew of the Rocinante, kind of a Firefly on steroids. (Firefly was a great but short-lived sci-fi series also made into a movie.) The crews take a while to set aside their trust issues and realize the innate decency of the others.

To my surprise, I came to like the character of Amos Burton, a marine and mechanic, extremely devoted to his colleague Naomi Nagata. ‘Character’ is the key word. Appearing as a man of deceptively simple outlook and tastes, Burton wins over the audience and crew thanks to his private code of loyalty, decency, bravery, and level-headedness. He’s the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to marry your sister until you suddenly realized how wrong you were and what a great man she’d miss out on.

A kind of perfect resolution unexpectedly came about in the midst of season 2 titled “Home”. (S02E05) It achieved an unheard-of 9.6 rating in IMDB. At the moment, I’m enjoying a break from viewing, savoring the episode.

The Science of Silence

Last week, John wrote about guilty pleasures. I can’t say space battles do much for me, but The Expanse is enjoyably different. Mainly, it’s much more realistic. For example, rail guns, capable of high ‘muzzle’ velocities, are a real ‘thing’. The US Navy electromagnetically launched projectiles without the aid of chemical propellants or explosives at 8600kmph, seven times the speed of sound, double the speed of a very fast bullet. Think of a hi-tech slingshot powered by magnets.


The shows contain a few mistakes, including a deliberate one. Like every movie and television show ever filmed, you hear the roar of rockets, the sounds of gunfire, and the boom of explosions in outer space. Except… space is absolutely silent. Alien capitalized on this with the tag-line, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Space movies would be boring without sound effects and a lot of foley artists would find themselves out of work, so phony sfx are forgivable. (2001 might have used silence in the outdoor scenes.)

And so?

Earlier, I rattled on about societal themes in hard science fiction. What are the underlying social issues of The Expanse? Politics, greed, exploration and exploitation, war and weaponry. Look for a scathing side note vis-à-vis the amoral symbiosis of Werhner von Braun-type Nazi technocrats as exploited by Germany and then the Allied Powers.

Like I said it’s all about society.

08 April 2017

The 2017 Agatha Short Story Nominees


by B.K. Stevens

All of this year's nominees for the Best Short Story Agatha have female protagonists, but that's about the only thing they have in common. And the protagonists themselves are a diverse bunch, ranging from a midwife still in her twenties to a mystery author who fears she's past her prime. The settings for these stories include a lavish casino, a play space for toddlers, and a small-town bar; the moods vary from light-hearted to ominous. Some stories are whodunits, or whodunits with a twist; some might be described as suspense stories or even as daylight noir. Together, I think, they reflect the vitality of today's mystery short story, and of the many variations it embraces.


All the nominated authors contributed to this post by picking excerpts from their stories and commenting on them briefly. I hope that the comments will give you intriguing insights, and that the excerpts will whet your appetite for reading the stories in full (you'll find links to each below).

The Stories

"Double Jinx: A Bellissimo Casino Crime Caper Short Story" 

by Gretchen Archer

Henery Press


July Jackson's job as a Holiday Host at the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi is more trick than treat when one of her Scary Rich slot tournament players croaks. Then $3,000,000 goes missing. And a couple dressed as condiments--he's Mustard, she's Ketchup--might be behind the spooky shenanigans. What's a Holiday Host to do? Call in the flying monkeys? July turns to the highest level of casino security and meets a boy named Baylor. Just Baylor. From there, it's all thrills and chills.

"Do you know how to shoot?"
I shook my head.
"Do you know how to point?"
I nodded.
He popped the clip out of the gun and passed it to me.
I couldn't remember being this scared or this calm before. It was an amazing sensation, the adrenaline mixed with the quiet confidence. The adrenaline was from what was about to happen. The calm was from him.
"Double Jinx" introduces July Jackson to the core cast of characters in my Davis Way Crime Capers. Not only does July go on to be Baylor's love interest, she gives up her job as Holiday Host and puts her Early Childhood Education degree to good use when she takes a nanny position for my main character's toddler twins in the just-released sixth full-length novel of my series, Double Up. I loved writing "Jinx." The holiday theme was so much fun, the Agatha Award nomination so unexpected (I cried) and such an honor, and then there are the bats. Have you seen the bats? "Double Jinx" has the cutest little bats ever.

You can read "Double Jinx: A Bellissimo Casino Crime Caper Short Story" here.

"The Best-Laid Plans" 

by Barb Goffman

Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional (Wildside Press)

 

When "The Best-Laid Plans" begins, my main character, celebrated cozy author Eloise Nickel, reads an article in Mystery Queen Magazine about the future of the traditional mystery novel. The article includes patronizing comments about Eloise from her long-ago former friend, Kimberly Siger. Both Eloise and Kimberly will be honored at this year's Malice International convention, Eloise for her lifetime achievement and Kimberly as guest of honor. Sharing the stage with Kimberly would have been hard enough, but now Eloise is livid. So she hatches a plan to get revenge at the convention. Nothing fatal, of course. Just painful. Eloise is cozy, just like her books. This excerpt is set on the day before the convention starts, with lots of people chatting in the hotel lobby bar.

I hadn't noticed when Kimberly walked into the lobby, but I figured it out pretty damn quick when the bar erupted in excitement and people ran toward the hotel's front doors. Not everyone, mind you, but a lot of people. It gave me the chance to reach into my purse for my lip balm. My aloe-vera lip balm. Kimberly was allergic to aloe. It's one of the things I remembered from being her friend so many years ago. Aloe made her skin itch and burn upon contact.

I slathered on the balm and watched Kimberly head to the bar. I planned to kiss her hello so everyone could see I was the bigger person. She looked better than I'd expected. Still thin from her love of exercise. No gray in her wavy, dark-brown hair. No lines by her eyes or mouth. Her skin was tight, her teeth, sparkling. Clearly she'd had work done.

"Kimberly." I rose and opened my arms in a welcoming gesture.

Her eyes narrowed for a second, seemingly confused. But she plastered on a smile and stepped toward me. Revenge step one, here I come.

"You're here," Malice board member Cherub Lapp shouted, jumping between us and hugging Kimberly. "I've been waiting for this moment all year. You are one of my absolute favorite authors. Can I buy you a drink?"

Kimberly grinned. "That would be a perfect way to start the weekend. Thank you."

And before I knew it, Kimberly had turned from me, and my chance was lost. Damn that Cherub.

Thankfully, I had other plans.
I'm often conflicted when I read or watch serial dramas because I want my favorite characters to be happy, to find success and love and contentment. But if they were to do that, they'd get no screen or page time, because happiness isn't dramatic. There's no meat to a plot about happy people. It's . . . sigh . . . boring. The best plots, writers know, involve characters who suffer. Not that authors have to be sadistic about it, but it's certainly more interesting to read, for instance, about someone whose revenge plans go wrong, who tries over and over to get back at her nemesis, with increasingly unfortunate results. The goal of a plot like that is for the reader to get invested, wanting the next plan to work because they like the main character, while also wishing that the plan flops, because watching the character suffer is so much fun. That's what I'm showing here. This is the first scene in which Eloise tries to get her revenge plans in action, and she gets her first taste of failure. It was fun to make Eloise suffer. (Yes, that's the sadistic side of me.) But I also enjoyed showing her pluck and sarcastic side. I hope that this scene makes readers eager to read more, to see how Eloise fares. Will she get her revenge? And how much will she suffer as she tries? As for you, dear reader, pick up "The Best-Laid Plans" to find out.

You can read "The Best-Laid Plans" here.

"The Mayor and the Midwife"

by Edith Maxwell

Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016 (Down & Out Books)


In "The Mayor and the Midwife," the very real mayor of New Orleans comes to Massachusetts to visit his pregnant daughter. Quaker midwife Rose Carroll, from my Quaker Midwife Mysteries, is watching over the daughter. At the mayor's request, Rose takes him to meet her police detective ally, Kevin Donovan, because the mayor is struggling with corruption in his government wants to meet some town officials. The following scene takes place during that meeting.
"Has his wife been informed?" I asked. This kind of shock could easily bring on labor. Her baby might be mature enough by now to survive the birth, or might not.

"Not yet, ma'am," the officer said.

"I must go to her. My pauvre fille," Joseph said. "You'll come along, Miss Carroll?"

"Of course. Let me quickly pen a note to my next client saying I'll need to cancel. I can hail a boy outside to deliver it."

I looked at the detective. I'd assisted him in several cases by keeping my eyes and ears open in the community, especially in the bedchambers of my birthing women, where secrets were often revealed during their travails. Keven had reluctantly grown to accept my participation.

"If it's murder, I'd like to help by listening, watching, and reporting to thee as I have done in the past," I said.

Kevin nodded. "Then meet me at the Currier steamboat dock after you see to the wife, will you?"

This brief snippet shows the mayor reverting to his native French and the detective conceding to let Rose help with the investigation. It lets the reader know that Rose knows what she's doing when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, and we hear her musing about the places she can go where Kevin never could. Midwifery turns out to be a great occupation for an amateur sleuth.

You can read "The Mayor and the Midwife" here.

"The Last Blue Glass"

by B.K. Stevens

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, April 2016

 

"The Last Blue Glass" begins with a brief description of a dinner party. Newlyweds Cathy and Frank Morrell are entertaining Frank's mother and brother, plus two close friends. Then the story shifts ahead:
Nine years later, Cathy again stood in the kitchen--not the kitchen of their apartment in Newton Upper Falls or of their house in Virginia, but of their condominium in Brookline. Once again, Mrs. Morrell and Will, and Faye and Brian, had come to dinner. But Frank was dead now, supposedly in an accident. Really, Cathy thought, it had been suicide by car, suicide by alcohol. Really, it had been murder. She thought back to that first dinner party. Even then, there were signs. If she'd seen them, could she have prevented it? Maybe not. And what she was doing tonight wouldn't really set things right. But it was her only way to strike back against things that were wrong.

She gazed at the last blue glass in the cupboard and touched the small bottle in her pocket. I'll fix a special drink for someone tonight, Frank, she thought, and serve it in the glass we chose together. That's all I can do for you now.
In one sense, "The Last Blue Glass" is a whodunit, challenging the reader to watch for clues as Cathy thinks back on her marriage. Which of her four guests does she see as most responsible for Frank's death? Who will be the target of her revenge? In another sense, the story is a portrait of a marriage that goes tragically wrong--not because Cathy and Frank are bad people, and not because they don't love each other. Instead, their marriage--and Cathy and Frank themselves--are destroyed by subtle weaknesses in their relationship, weaknesses hinted at even in the opening paragraphs.

You can read "The Last Blue Glass" here.

"Parallel Play"

by Art Taylor

Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning (Wildside Press)


"Parallel Play" starts out with a simple mistake: Maggie, a young mother, realizes that she's left her umbrella at home and there's a major storm brewing just as her son Daniel's Teeter Toddler class is ending. Fortunately, Walter, the father of another boy in the class, offers to share his own and get Maggie and her son safely to their car. But more troubles are ahead--Walter points out that Maggie's tire might be going flat--and worse, generosity often comes with a price, since Walter soon shows up at Maggie's door for an impromptu playdate. Here's that scene:

Walter stared up through those smeared glasses. "I hate to barge in for a play date unannounced, but given the circumstances . . . "

Maggie shook her head, tried to hold back the tears suddenly welling up behind her eyes, finally found her voice. "It's really not a good time right now. My husband--"

"Away on a business trip." Walter nodded. "I heard you talking to Amy, that's what got me thinking about this, making sure you got home in one piece." He looked at Daniel again, smiled. "Surely you could spare a few minutes for the boys to play."

She nodded--unconsciously, reflex really. "A few minutes," she said. "A few, of course." Her words sounded unreal to her, more unreal than his own now, and even as she said them, she knew it was the wrong decision--everything, in fact, the opposite of what she'd always thought she'd do in a case like this. But really what choice did she have, the way Walter had inserted his foot into the doorway and held so tightly to Daniel's hand?

And then there was the box cutter jittering slightly in Walter's other hand, raindrops glistening along the razor's edge, the truth behind that flat tire suddenly becoming clear.

I hesitated slightly choosing this excerpt since it's nearly halfway through the story--killing any suspense those first few pages might've offered readers who haven't yet read the story. But at the same time, this moment captures in miniature what I was trying to navigate here: the potentially jarring contrasts between what continues to unfold as a very civil conversation (pay no attention to that box cutter, right?) and then the roiling fears, desires, and other emotions underneath that surface.

You can read "Parallel Play" here.

The Authors 

Gretchen Archer is a Tennessee housewife who began writing when her daughters, seeking higher education, ran off and left her. She lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, son, and a Yorkie named Bently. "Double Jinx" was published by the Great Chickens of Henery Press in October of 2016.

https://www.facebook.com/crimecapers/
Barb Goffman edits mysteries by day and writes them by night. She's won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards for her short stories, and she's been a finalist for national crime-writing awards nineteen times, including the Anthony and the Derringer awards. Her newest story, "Whose Wine Is It Anyway?," appears in the mystery anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet, which was published three weeks ago. When not writing, Barb runs a freelance editing and proofreading service. She blogs every third Tuesday here at SleuthSayers. In her spare time, she reads, reads, reads and plays with her dog. Learn more about her at

National best-selling author Edith Maxwell is a 2017 double Agatha Award nominee for her historical mystery Delivering the Truth and her short story "The Mayor and the Midwife." She writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime  fiction has appeared in a dozen juried anthologies, and she serves as President of Sisters in Crime New England. Maxwell writes, cooks, gardens north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs at WickedCozyAuthors.com, Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors. Find her at


B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens taught English for over thirty years and now writes full time. She's the author of Interpretation of Murder, a traditional mystery offering insights into Deaf culture and sign language interpreting, and of Fighting Chance, a martial arts mystery for young adults. She's published over fifty short stories, most of them in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Eleven of her stories are included in her collection, Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime. B.K. has been nominated for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards and has won half a Derringer. She and her husband live in Virginia and have two amazing daughters, one amazing son-in-law, four perfect grandchildren, and a smug cat.


Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del and Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has also won two Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He also edited Murder under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University. Find him at
 
 

 








07 April 2017

To Noir or to Not Noir


by
O'Neil De Noux

OK - so there's talk of an anthology and someone suggested it be a noir anthology. Someone else asked which definition of NOIR would be used. Good question. Glad we have people who are experienced editors to guide this thing.

I've always listed NOIR as one of the ways a mystery is presented as in HARDBOILED, SOFTBOILED and COZY.

As for the definition of NOIR, I bow to Otto Penzler's definition and here is the quote:

"Noir is about losers. The characters in these existential, nihilistic tales are doomed. They may not die, but they probably should, as the life that awaits them is certain to be so ugly, so lost and lonely, that they'd be better off just curling up and getting it over with. And, let's face it, they deserve it Pretty much everyone in a noir story (or film) is driven by greed, lust, jealously or alienation, a path taht inevitably sucks them into a downward spiral from which they cannot escape. They couldn't find the exit from their personal highway to hell if flashing neon lights ponted to a town named Hope. This is their own lack of morality that blindly drives them to ruin."

Pretty specific, isn't it? By that definition, I've written only a few noir stories in the 400+ I've written.

Dave Zeltserman tells us, "There are no heroes in noir."

I agree with both definitions. Then again, I've heard many who belive noir is more about setting and atmosphere. A story or book with a detective as the hero can be noir if it's dark enough. If that's true, then I've written more noir than I realize.

I've read a number of stories in the Akashic Book anthologies (London Noir, New Orleans Noir, etc.) and many do not fit Otto's or Dave's definion and it didn't bother me.



What I'm saying, I guess, is if the editor accepts a story in a noir anthology she or he believes is noir, then it's noir. W. Somerset Maugham tells us, "There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

And Oscar Wilde did tell us, "A writer is someone who's taught his mind to misbehave."

Maybe the noir discussion is a little like the ones the Sicilian side of family gets into (which includes shouting and biting of hands and putting curses on each other), the one about - is it gravy or sauce. Looks the same to me. I can't figure out of it supposed to be spaghetti and meatballs or meatballs and spaghetti?



www.oneildenoux.com  

06 April 2017

Little Big News: ITW Nominees 2017


The International Thriller Writers have named their nominees for 2017.  COngrats to the short story finalists:
Eric Beetner — “The Business of Death” UNLOADED: CRIME WRITERS WRITING WITHOUT GUNS (Down & Out Books)
Laura Benedict — “The Peter Rabbit Killers” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
Brendan DuBois — “The Man from Away” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
Joyce Carol Oates — “Big Momma” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
Art Taylor — “Parallel Play” CHESAPEAKE CRIMES: STORM WARNING (Wildside Press)

Ride Easy, John Wetton


by Brian Thornton
Heat of the Moment

So just last week I heard about the passing of a mile marker a couple of months back.

I'm talking about John Wetton, an English musician who died from cancer in January.

For those of you wondering, "Who?" he's probably best known as the guy who sang "Heat of the Moment" as lead singer of the rock band Asia back in the 1980s.

But John Wetton was a hell of a lot more than just a singer. He played on three of King Crimson's better albums and on two of Uriah Heep's lousier ones. He toured with Roxy Music and fronted another "supergroup" you likely never heard of called U.K., where he helped foster the career of a young drummer named Terry Bozzio (who went on to fame with Missing Persons in the 1980s).
King Crimson in 1974. John Wetton is on the right.
Music was incredibly important to me growing up. Like all teenagers, I had my prejudices and my reasons for them. This was especially true of music. I loved rock, secretly liked pop and country music more than I cared to admit, and was learning to appreciate soul and jazz.

I had heard of progressive rock, but really had no idea what it was. I knew that I liked bands that were labeled progressive rock such as Canadian power trio, Rush. All that changed the first time I saw the video for Asia's "Heat of the Moment" on MTV at my friend Steve's house.

Asia's first album
That song STUCK with me. I had to hear the rest of the album. Picked it up the next day. "Soul Survivor", "Wildest Dreams", "Time Again", "Cutting It Fine"? There's not a bad song on that album. I still own that original cassette (man, am I dating myself, or what?).

To be clear, Asia was not in the strictest sense a progressive rock band. A "supergroup" in the tradition of such '70s testaments to wretched excess as Beck, Bogert, and Appice, and Blind Faith, Asia was the brainchild of two Geffen records execs. And when you looked at the personnel these guys recruited for their project, Asia definitely fit the supergroup mold.

All four original members possessed solid rock credentials. Drummer Carl Palmer had provided the hammer which powered pomp rock stalwarts Emerson, Lake, & Palmer to '70s chart success. Virtuoso guitarist Steve Howe and well-traveled keyboardist Geoff Downs were both refugees from prog rock pioneers Yes. And the band was built around the songwriting and vocal work of bassist/lead vocalist Wetton (who they recruited first).

Asia's original lineup: Left to Right; Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, John Wetton and Geoff Downes

Put simply, these guys possessed chops and cred. Their first album, the self-titled"Asia" (not to be confused with Steely Dan's 1977 masterwork, "Aja") disappointed critics even as it captivated rock fans.

I was one of the captives.

And like so many "supergroups" before them, Asia peaked with that first album out of the gate. The band got too big too fast, and when the record company began putting pressure on them to replicate the success of the first album, they didn't have anything like the hooks they wrote and worked out for that first album. Then the egos started exploding, and Wetton was kicked out of the band by the same guys who'd brought him in (he drank too much, wasn't a team player, etc.).

He and all of the other original members except for keyboardist Geoff Downes would be in and out of the band for the next two-plus decades, until a reunion tour (2006) and new album (2009) with all four original members. They've released some pleasant stuff since, but it's not anywhere near the quality of that first album.

It can be argued that Asia was never a progressive rock band, their music definitely possessed prog rock elements with pop music production values. This made Asia a sort of gateway drug for me. Without being exposed to them I might never have been intrigued enough to give progressive rock bands such as (Peter Gabriel era) Genesis, or Yes, or Kansas, or even Rush as close a listen as they merit.

Asia–and Wetton–introduced me to a slew of artists who took chances, shook things up, changed up time signatures, and performed at virtuoso levels, all refusing to be bound by convention and live within the accepted strictures of their art. And not just in progressive rock, but in the work of other musicians. Iconoclasts such as Springsteen, the aforementioned Steely Dan, Miles Davis, The Who, The Clash, just to name a few.

Before long it wasn't just in music that I found myself drawn to that variety of rebellion. Literature, poetry, painting, cinema. I've spent my days in search of creative rebels and iconoclasts. And I've striven to strike that tone in my own work, with varying degrees of success.

But it all really started with Asia, and with John Wetton.

When "Heat of the Moment" was released as a single in the United States, the song on the B-Side of the record was called "Ride Easy." Recorded at the same time as the rest of the songs on the first album, it was inexplicably left off of it. In the years since, it's become a concert and crowd favorite and the band performed it a lot.

(You can listen to it here.)

That seems like a fitting final wish for a guy whose work was a gateway for me to so much of what I've found valuable in my life.

Ride Easy, John.

And thank you.




05 April 2017

Brit Crimes


by Robert Lopresti

Recently I was watching a movie called Redirected and I realized I have become a big fan of a certain kind of flick, which I call Brit Crime.  Redirected is a reasonable example of the  genre, although it is not a great movie.

Quite simply I am talking about British movies about contemporary organized crime.  They tend to have a lot of humor, a lot of violence, and they often involve amateur criminals coming up against more experienced villains.

Redirected (2014) is a joint British-Lithuanian  production (and how many of those have you seen?)  The hero, Michael, is a member of the Queen's Guard, which means his biggest challenge is wearing that tall stupid black hat and keeping a straight face while tourists gawk at him.

But on his birthday three friends play a hoax on him. Except it isn't a hoax.  They are pulling off a robbery on a gang of major crooks and they need a fourth.  The next thing he knows Michael is waking up in... Lithuania?  He is more than baffled and he knows there are very nasty gangsters on his trail.  Crazy things happen.  My favorite is the scene in which a naked man beats a priest with a radiator.  Well, he has his reasons.  And here is a memorable line from a Lithuanian bride-to-be:

Simona: I'm no slut.  I have dreams.  I want to be a film critic!

So, that's Redirected.   But when I think of this type of movie the model in my head is Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). Guy Ritchie wrote and directed this one, and won the Edgar Award for it.  Like my first movie, this one involves four lightweights who try to rob some big timers in order to deal with a cash flow problem.  It also involves two antique shotguns that get swiped. And it's pretty hilarious.

  Gary: Shotguns? What, like guns that fire shot?
  Barry the Baptist: Oh, you must be the brains of the operation. 

Two years later came snatch, Ritchie's follow-up with many of the same actors (in fact, Vinnie Jones is in all three of these movies... a reliable mobster man), but a different plot.  Everyone involved seems to be having a great time, especially Brad Pitt who says not one comprehensible word.  Another well-known actor spends most of the flick with a bag over his head.

Bullet Tooth Tony: You should never underestimate the predictability of stupidity.

While those two Guy Ritchie movies are my imprint of what a Brit Crime movie is, I think the best of the genre is In Bruges (2008)Two British hitmen are banished to Belgium after a job goes horrifically wrong.  Their boss (Ralph Fiennes) is not a man to annoy.  (When he gets bad news he beats his telephone practically to molecules.)  As I have said before, I am a sucker for stories about redemption and each of the main characters in this flick turn out to be slightly better than we (or even they) suspect.

Ray: Ken, I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn't, so it doesn't. 

Here are some more.

The Long Good Friday (1980) Bob Hoskin is a crime boss suddenly under attack by unknown enemies.

Harold: You don't crucify people! Not on Good Friday!

Mona Lisa (1986) Bob Hoskins (I love me Mr. Hoskins) is fresh out of prison.  The crook he went to jail for gets him a job as chauffeur to a call girl.  Things get complicated.

Simone: I'm the girl they rush home from..

Sexy Beast (2000) Odd title, quirky movie.  Ray Winstone is  a retired mobster.  Ben Kingsley, a million miles from his usual roles, is the insanely nasty recruiter sent to drag him back for One Last Job.

Don: I won't let you be happy.  Why should I?



Layer Cake (2004) Just before turning into James Bond, Daniel Craig plays a cocaine merchant with One Last Job to do before retiring.  He should have watched Sexy Beast.

Eddie: England.  Typical.  Even drug dealers don't work weekends.

So, tell me your favorite Brit Crime movies that I missed.  Or I'll send Ben Kingsley to persuade you.

04 April 2017

Cornell Woolrich: The Forgotten Man


by Paul D. Marks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

***

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

And now for a little BSP:

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

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


03 April 2017

Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll


by Steve Liskow

On March 18, Chuck Berry passed away at the tender age of 90 years and 5 months. All the media featured glowing eulogies and long articles about his influence on rock and pop music and how his guitar style became the fountainhead of rock, paving the way for everyone from George Harrison and Keith Richards to Jack White and Ted Nugent and a million unknowns like me.



It's true that Berry popularized licks that Robert Johnson and Elmore James had made blues cliches. What's easier to overlook is that Berry was a terrific lyricist who turned two-and-a-half-minute pop songs into short stories that resonated with his young audience. He gave teens in the Fifties a voice with dozens of songs that became rock standards, and he showed a whole generation of songwriters who followed him how to do it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once told his daughter that to learn to write English prose, one should compose a perfect English sonnet. He said the form is so rigid that the writer has to learn to work within the constraints. Berry did him even better, working within the boundaries of a simplified music form that demanded he also match the rhythm and melody to the mood and meaning.

Berry was nearly 30 when he recorded "Mabellene," his first hit, backed by members of the Muddy Waters blues band. That song borrowed from a country song called "Ida Red," but Berry added a guitar lick that imitated a car horn. He also added a plot involving cars and speed and unrequited love. The Beach Boys would ride this formula into the ground a few years later, with Carl Wilson imitating Berry's guitar on "Fun, Fun, Fun," "409," "Dance, Dance, Dance," and several other songs.

Berry knew about isolation and angst, too. Don't forget, he was a black kid growing up in St. Louis when segregation was still the norm. He knew about not having it all, and he understood the pressures to survive. "Almost Grown" tells us about small victories and small dreams, all he dares to have:

    "I don't run around with no mob/ I got myself a little job./ I'm gonna buy myself a little car/
     I'll drive my girl in the park."

"School Day" captures the feel of being stuck in a big urban school where he's just a name in a grade book, if he's even that. Millions of kids knew what he meant when he said:

     "American Hist'ry and Practical Math, You study 'em hard and hopin' to pass.
       Workin' your fingers right down to the bone, And the guy behind you won't leave you alone."

He's added conflict to the mix, as all good story-tellers do. And the savior is rock 'n' roll:

      "Soon as three o'clock rolls around, you finally lay your burden down...
        Drop the coin right into the slot, you gotta hear somethin' that's really hot."

And there's our resolution, finishing with the line "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' roll!"

"No Money Down," one of his lesser hits, tells of a fast-talking used car salesman who offers outrageous deals to get our hero into a flashy new car and out of "that broken-down raggedy ol' Ford."

Berry constantly uses contrasts to make his point. Sometimes it's verbal, but sometimes he sets happy music against a serious story. "Memphis, Tennessee," covered by Lonnie Mack as an instrumental that lost the irony, and later by Johnny Rivers, tells the understated story of a broken marriage as a father tries to reach the little girl he no longer gets to see:

     "Help me, Information, bet in touch with my Marie,
       She's the only one who'd phone me here from Memphis, Tennessee
       ...We were pulled apart because her mom did not agree
       And tore apart our happy home in Memphis, Tennessee
       ...Marie is only six years old, Information, please,
       Try to put me through to her in Memphis, Tennessee."

That song is from 1959, when most acts were still singing about sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. Berry is addressing more serious topics.

Humor helps him balance the hopes and reams that crash into the reality of color and youth. But things will change. When we learn more, the dreams get bigger. Berry's signature song was "Johnny B. Goode," about a little country boy ("Colored" originally, but he changed it to get radio air play) who

     "...never ever learned to read or write so well, but he could play a guitar just like a-ringin' a bell."

This song has the archetypal Chuck Berry riff and the variations show up in song after song. If you were a kid of the time--like the Beatles, the Stones, the Yardbirds, the Beach Boys, the MC5, Ted Nugent, Jerry Garcia, or thousands of other Baby Boomers like me--these were the licks you HAD to have in your arsenal, along with "Louie Louie," "Gloria," and--if you had a drummer with moxie--"Wipeout." Not just because the girls went crazy if you could duck walk to them, but because they kicked ass like nobody had ever done before.

The song shows where that little country boy can go, too.

     "Maybe someday you name'll be in lights a-sayin' 'Johnny B. Goode tonight!'"

Dream big, dream bigger. Go, Johnny, Go.

Berry's other lyrical gift is humor. Teen-age frustration creates dramatic tension and comic outcomes, often at his own expense. He captures youthful angst with humor and economy, again in rhyme and simple rhythms. "No Particular Place to Go,' which has almost the same melody as "School Day," tells of a kid who has a car (Maybe even that broken-down raggedy ol' Ford) and a girl..and hopes to parlay the combination into some action. But it doesn't happen:

     "The night was young and the moon was gold, so we both decided to take a stroll
       Can you imagine the way I felt, I couldn't unfasten her safety belt.
       Riding along in my calaboose, still trying to get her belt unloose
       All the way home I held a grudge for the safety belt that wouldn't budge..."

Simple? Sure. But simple is hard because you can't hide anything.

Years later, I met Joe Bouchard, the former bass player from Blue Oyster Cult, when I took a theater design class along with his wife. When the instructor mentioned that BOC was the first band to use lasers and flash pots in their stage act, Bouchard almost blushed.

"Yeah," he finally said. "The monitors back then sucked, so we couldn't always tell, but the bells and whistles keep people from noticing that sometimes we weren't in tune."

Maybe Berry's guitar wasn't always in tune, but his stories never missed.

Rock on, Chuck.

02 April 2017

Nothing to Crow About


by Leigh Lundin

April Fool's Day has passed, but…

Attempted Murder

attempted murder of crows
Attempted Murder

01 April 2017

Guilty Pleasures



by John M. Floyd




Anyone who posts regularly at blogs like this knows that ideas for topics can come from unexpected places. Today's column is the result of recent discussions I've had with my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Paul D. Marks, who--God help us both--is as obsessed with movies as I am. We've been emailing each other about some recent movies we've seen and why we liked them and why we sometimes prefer the old ones to the new, and so forth. We even decided to exchange lists of favorites, and mine include, predictably, some of the greats--Casablanca, To Kill a Mockingbird, Double Indemnity, Goldfinger, Psycho, The Godfather, The Shawshank Redemption, etc.

But . . . they also contain a lot that were not so great, and certainly not critically acclaimed. Why, then, did I like them? Why would I spend two hours watching something that probably provides little or no educational value, food for thought, lessons about life, or the broadening of any kind of horizon? My answer: because they're fun. Let's face it, when you sit down to watch something called Snakes on a Plane, you know you're not getting Citizen Kane or The Grapes of Wrath. But sometimes those crazy movies just hit the spot. They're sort of like Hostess Twinkies--I know they're not good for me but I scarf 'em down anyhow.


Diamonds in the rough

The following, in no particular order, are some of my cinematic "guilty pleasures." The funny thing is, they're all movies that, before I saw them, I thought I wouldn't like.

NOTE 1: Some of these actually are high-quality, big-budget movies--but most are not. Very few were mentioned in awards ceremonies. Ask me if I care.

NOTE 2: The films I've marked with asterisks are some of those that I could watch over and over and over again. And I do.

Idiocracy
Get the Gringo
*Rustler's Rhapsody
Seven Psychopaths
Dumb and Dumber
*Bubba Ho-Tep
*A Life Less Ordinary
The Pawn Shop Chronicles
Cashback
Trollhunter
Zathura
Spaceballs
*Used Cars
Undercover Brother
The Postman
Captain Ron
*Silver Bullet
True Lies
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Me, Myself, and Irene
*Cowboys and Aliens
Liar Liar
My Name Is Nobody
Billy Jack
*Under Siege
*Hot Shots, Part Deux
Payback
Open Water
*Escape From New York
Last Man Standing
What About Bob?
The Mist
Kings of the Sun
Australia
The History of the World, Part I
Overboard
*Texas Across the River
The Great Race
Welcome to the Jungle
*Office Space
Lockout
*Lady in the Water
The Night Flier
The Hudsucker Proxy
The Betsy
*Waterhole #3
The Long Kiss Goodnight
Sahara
*Galaxy Quest
The Quick and the Dead (1995)
A Million Ways to Die in the West
*Blazing Saddles
*Cat People (1982)
Vanishing Point
Forgiving the Franklins
*The Book of Eli
Kentucky Fried Movie
The Mothman Prophecies
Necessary Roughness


Non-so-guilty pleasures

One of the thrills of watching movies, to me, is occasionally stumbling across one that you've heard nothing about beforehand, and discovering that it's better than many of those that have been hyped to high heaven. These under-the-radar jewels are those that, once you see them, you remember forever.

Add-on category: excellent movies that no one seems to have heard about:

An Unfinished Life
Killer Joe
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Medicine Man
The Gypsy Moths
The Flim Flam Man
Holes
The Last Sunset
Magic
The Spanish Prisoner
The Ballad of Cable Hogue
Apocalypto
Edge of Darkness
The Cooler
True Romance
From Noon to Three
Red Rock West
The Man From Elysian Fields
The Gods Must Be Crazy
Bone Tomahawk
Sands of the Kalahari
In Bruges
Blood Simple
The Lookout
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
A History of Violence
This Property Is Condemned
Eye of the Needle
The Sea of Trees
Someone to Watch Over Me
The Molly Maguires
Out of Sight
Amelie
Jack the Giant Slayer
The Water Diviner
Mountains of the Moon
The Salvation
Mud
The Chase
The Blue Max
Stranger Than Fiction
Leap of Faith
Heaven's Prisoners
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
Brassed Off
Sorcerer
Runaway Train
Always
Hearts in Atlantis
The Homesman
Muriel's Wedding


Q and A

What movies have you seen, that might fit into either of these lists? Can you relate to my delight in uncovering good ones that I'd never heard about before? Do you sometimes find yourself disappointed when you see unsatisfying movies that the critics have all said were great? Do you
ever start watching one that you're sure you'll hate and find yourself enjoying it? Do you sometimes hate to admit you enjoyed it? Do you agree that I probably need to find better things to do with my time?

In closing, I should mention that I like a wide range of movies, from Notting Hill to Goodfellas, from Star Wars to Driving Miss Daisy, from Raising Arizona to Django Unchained. And the same goes for my taste in stories and novels and TV shows. I still write mostly mystery fiction, but I'll read and watch almost anything.

Bleary-eyed and poor, yes. Guilty, no.

Pass the popcorn . . .




News flash: Two weeks from today, in my April 15 column, I'll be interviewing my old friend Gerald So, former president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. We'll talk about crime-related poetry (which, if you haven't tried it, is great fun to read AND write). I hope you'll tune in and help me welcome Gerald to SleuthSayers!

And congratulations to all the Derringer Award nominees!