05 April 2018

R.I.P. Philip Kerr


by Brian Thornton

(I planned to write today's blog post about the good time had-by all appearances by ALL-at the Left Coast Crime Conference in Reno a couple of weeks back-thereby following up on my previous post about how to get the most out of your crime fiction conference experience. I will write that post in two weeks. I am moved instead to write this week of the passing of one of my heroes.)



On Friday, March 23rd, I got the word from an old friend that a mutual old friend had died. Crime writer and freelance editor Jim Thomsen texted me that Phillip Kerr died of cancer that day, aged just 62.

I suppose that in the strictest sense Mr. Kerr and I were not actually friends. I never met him in
person. The closest I got was trying and failing to find him in the green room before the Edgars the year he was nominated in the Best Novel category for his book The Lady from Zagreb.

And yet, I do consider him a friend. In much the same way that one girl in the movie Ten Things I Hate About You says of William Shakespeare, "We're in a relationship," I think of Phillip Kerr as an unwitting mentor, whose works have both delighted and provoked me.

And more, they made me want to work harder at the craft, to whet the edge of my facility with the written word, to forge characters who breathed and sweated and threatened and quailed and laughed and hated and fairly jumped off the page.

Philip Ballantyne Kerr was, by most accounts, a study in contradictions. Scottish-born, but no lover of Scotland, the child of devout Baptist parents who, by his own admission knew early on in life that "Jesus and I weren't going to get along," and a man who trained as a lawyer, yet despised the notion of practicing law.

An outsider by temperament, Kerr was bullied by other kids in school–and even teachers–in part because of his dark complexion. He later poured these experiences, and the feelings of isolation which attended them, into his fiction.

The result, in part, was Bernie Gunther.

Kerr's most famous creation, Gunther was, like Kerr himself, a study in contradictions: a former kriminalinspektor on the Berlin police department's famed Murder Squad, Gunther was a decorated veteran of World War I who lost his first wife in the flu epidemic which came hard on the heels of that war. A cop whose career thrived during the Weimar Republic, and who resigned from the police soon after the Nazis swept into power in 1933.

And yet Gunther eventually finds himself coerced into working for the Nazis. The reason they tolerate him (even as they disparage him as a "Jew-loving Bolshevik," among other things) is because they need someone with Gunther's talents. As Kerr has none other than the villainous Reinhard Heydrich put it to Gunther: Nazis are good at cracking skulls and shooting people. Any thug can do that. But when you need a good detective...

It's an effective set-up. But what Philip Kerr wrote was so much more than superb historical crime fiction. Like all great literary stylists, he was able to move fiction into the realm of great art: not so much literature as a brilliant expression of the universality of the human condition. Kerr possessed a knack for helping his readers understand, even sympathize, with people whose experiences seemed on the surface so vastly different from those of the reader.

Kerr proved especially adept at channeling the zeitgeist of early 20th century Germany, painting a portrait of these people (many of them fictional doppelgängers of actual historical figures) which was by turns scathing and sympathetic, unblinking, hard-edged, and in the end, fair. And in his Gunther novels he would return again and again to one of the questions which has haunted the world in the years since Hitler shot himself in his Berlin bunker: Why did the German people allow Hitler and his gang of thugs to rise unchecked in the first place?

Kerr's narrator Gunther is a brooder, so he is the perfect vessel for this and other existential questions posed to and about the people and the time. In the prologue to Kerr's latest book, Greeks Bearing Gifts, Kerr has his protagonist attempt–not for the first time–to answer this question:


But how is one ever to explain what happened? It was a question I used to see in the eyes of some of the American guests at the Grand Hotel in Cap Ferrat where, until recently, I was a concierge, when they realized I was German: How was it possible that your people could murder so many others? Well, it's like this: When you walk through a big fish market you appreciate just how alien and various life can be; it's hard to imagine how some of the fantastic, sinister, slipper-looking creatures you see laid out on the slab could even exist, and sometimes when I contemplate my fellow man, I have much the same feeling.

Myself, I'm a bit like an oyster. Years ago–in January 1933, to be exact–a piece of grit got into my shell and started to rub me the wrong way. But if there is a pearl inside me I think it's probably a black one. Frankly, I did a few things during the war of which I feel less than proud. This is not unusual. That's what war's about. It makes all of us who take part in it feel like we're criminals and that we've done something bad. Apart from the real criminals, of course; no way has ever been invented to make them feel bad about anything. With one exception, perhaps: the hangman at Landsberg. When he's given the chance, he can provoke a crisis of conscience in almost anyone.


The question haunts Gunther throughout the series, and since Kerr mastered the art of the non-linear plot thread beginning with 2011's Field Gray, he was able to revisit this central theme of his Gunther novels in a variety of inventive ways.

Kerr was a prolific writer by any stretch of the imagination. He wrote other series (including a recent triad of thrillers centered around a soccer team–soccer apparently being his favorite sport), a variety of standalone thrillers, even an acclaimed series of children's books!

I confess I haven't read any of the non-Gunther books yet. Now, unfortunately, it seems I'll have an opportunity to catch up on the rest of this remarkable writer's canon. And I have been looking forward to delving into his series of children's books with my son once he's old enough (they're middle reader books, a la Harry Potter, and my son is five, so I've got some time).

With this entry I have done my best to pay homage to a powerful artist whose work has had a galvanizing effect on my own. As with trying to capture the essence of all wondrous things, the effort strikes me as a bit like trying to describe an eclipse to a blind man: you're doomed to only do justice to one half of the experience.

All that said, my life is the richer for having known Philip Kerr in the context of his fiction. And isn't that really all we can ask of great art?

Thanks, Philip. And may you rest in peace, my friend.

04 April 2018

Who Do You Trust?



by Robert Lopresti

If you haven't charged through the March/April issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine yet, I encourage you to get off the proverbial dime and do so.  You will find many good stories including appearances by three SleuthSayers: Michael Bracken, R.T. Lawton, and your humble (oh, shut up) reporter.

It was R.T.'s story that inspired my sermon today.  (And if you missed it, you can read his own thoughts about the tale here.)

What I want to talk about is something much beloved of literary critics: the unreliable narrator.  The concept has appeared in literature for thousands of years but the phrase comes from William C. Booth in 1961.  It refers to a piece of literature with a first-person narration which the reader, for whatever reason, would be unwise to trust.

To my mind there are four varieties, all of whom can be found in mystery fiction.

The Lunatic.  This one goes all the way back to Edgar Allan Poe.  (Hint: When a character begins by insisting that he is not crazy you would be wise to doubt him.)

The Liar. Agatha Christie did the most famous version of this, infuriating many readers.  Decades later something happened that I imagine went like this:
Critics: Of course, having the narrator secretly being the murderer is a one-off stunt, and no author could use it again.
Dame Agatha: Is that so?  Hold my tea.
And to everyone's consternation, she did it again.

I mentioned this a long time ago, but: One of my favorite examples of this category was The Black Donnellys, a short-lived TV series about Irish-American criminals in New York (2007).  The framing device is Joey Ice Cream, either a hanger-on or the Donnelly brothers' best friend, depending on who is telling the story.  Joey is in prison and he is being interrogated by the cops about the Donnelly's career.  And he is a compulsive liar, happy to change his story when they catch him fibbing.  YOu can see the brilliant pilot episode here. 

The Self-Deluded.  Not crazy and not deliberately lying.  This character is just so wrapped up in himself and so devoted to defending his actions that his views can't be trusted.  Think of Jonathan Gash's Lovejoy with his endless stream of explanations for his failures and dubious decisions.  I remember one book in which  he casually mentions breaking a man's arm "practically by accident."  My private eye character Marty Crow is quite trustworthy - unless he is talking about his gambling problem.  Problem?  What problem?

The Innocent.  This narrator describes accurately what he saw, but fails to understand it.  A famous example is Ring Lardner's classic story "Haircut."  The barber describes a crime, and doesn't even realize it.

And that brings us back to R.T. Lawton's story.  "The Left Hand of Leonard" is part of his series about the criminal underground during the reign of Louis the Fourteenth.  His narrator is a young pickpocket, not very skilled and not very clever, who is sent by the king of the criminals to help steal the bones of a saint.  Things go wrong and then seem to go right and the boy can't figure out what happened.  Ah, but the reader will, just as R.T. intended.

Do you have any favorite tales with unreliable narrators? And if you say you do, should we believe you?

03 April 2018

And the Nominees Are ...



Many people dream of writing a novel. Few start doing it. Fewer get to typing The End. Fewer still make the leap to published author, with their first book out in the world for others to buy and read and … they hope … love. The authors visiting SleuthSayers today have done all these things, and they've accomplished one more thing very few ever will: their books have been nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. These authors and their books, all published in 2017, are: Micki Browning, Adrift; V.M. Burns, The Plot is Murder; Kellye Garrett, Hollywood Homicide; Laura Oles, Daughters of Bad Men; and Kathleen Valenti, Protocol.

Attendees of the Malice Domestic mystery convention will vote for the winner during the convention at the end of this month. In the meanwhile, the five nominated authors are rightly basking in the glow of being a finalist. And today they are visiting us here at SleuthSayers, sharing a little about their books and themselves. I hope you'll welcome them. We'll start with some Q and A. Author bios are at the end. — Barb Goffman
There are so many great first novels published each year. What do you think makes your book especially stand out? The voice? An unusual setup? Something else? 

Micki: I'm still gobsmacked to be included in such a fabulous group. Perhaps my story stuck a chord because of its setting. The setup for Adrift takes place underwater, and the protagonist is a data-driven marine biologist who eschews the paranormal possibilities surfacing around the event. Neither of my critique partners are scuba divers, so I took great pains to make sure I painted vivid underwater scenes without the book becoming a tech manual for diving. I share a love of the ocean with my protagonist, and it makes me smile when readers tell me it felt like they were in the water with Mer.

Kellye: Discovering new authors is always so much fun, and I love that the Agatha Awards help shine a light on newbies each year. For me, Hollywood Homicide has a few things that make it stand out. The obvious is that the main character is a black woman, which is something you don't see a lot in traditional mysteries.

Another thing is that it's based on my eight years working in Hollywood. Everything from behind-the-scenes tidbits about movie premiers to even Dayna's background as a commercial spokesperson comes from either my own experience, from someone I met, or from something I've heard from someone.

Laura: There really are so many fantastic first novels published each year, and being nominated for an Agatha for Best First is a tremendous honor.

One thing that readers and reviewers have noted is that they appreciate the fact that Jamie has no love interest. In Daughters of Bad Men, I made the intentional decision to not introduce a romantic relationship because I wanted Jamie, her skills, and her decisions to take center stage. It was important for readers to get to know her first before bringing in a romantic entanglement. She needed to stand on her own.

Valerie: There are a lot of amazing first novels published each year, which is great because there's something for everyone. One thing that makes The Plot is Murder stand out is the story within a story.

Whether you like contemporary or British historical mysteries, readers can get both in this series with two mysteries to solve in each book.

Kathleen: There are, indeed, so many wonderful debuts published each year, and I'm incredibly honored that mine is among those recognized by this nomination.

I think Protocol made the list because of its technology-plus-Big-Pharma premise, flesh-and-blood characters, and combination of suspense and humor. So I guess it's not one thing, but a variety of things, and I'm grateful that readers have responded so positively.

You each created an interesting setting, be it a town or a place of work. What made you choose it and what role did it play in the plot?

Laura: Port Alene, Texas, is the fictional sister of Port Aransas, a coastal Texas town my family considers a second home. It made perfect sense to create Jamie's world in this town's image, but Port Alene is a grittier place than its inspiration.

I decided that Port Alene would be a sibling rather than a twin. I drew my own maps of Port Alene, fashioning roads and landmarks, bars and restaurants, bait shops and trinket traps. Jamie needed these locations because they would prove important in her life. She just didn't know it yet.

Valerie: In The Plot is Murder, Samantha Washington dreams of opening a mystery bookshop in her hometown of North Harbor, Michigan. Opening a mystery bookshop also happens to be one of my dreams. When I started writing the book, I lived in Benton Harbor, Michigan, which is located on the shores of Lake Michigan. I dreamed of buying a building but was thwarted by an unscrupulous Realtor. Unlike my protagonist, Samantha Washington, I walked away from the deal. Writing a mystery where a deceitful Realtor is murdered was cathartic and helped me work through my disappointment.

Kathleen: Protocol's primary setting isn't Maggie's fictional hometown of Greenville, nor the equally imaginary city of Collingsburg, but the laboratories and cubicles of Rxcellance.

Maggie's workplace isn't just the backdrop against which the action happens, but another character in the book. Like other characters, the pharmaceutical development firm seems to have its own hopes and secrets, and it's these elements that give the book ambiance and move the plot forward.

Micki: I never considered setting the Mer Cavallo Mysteries anywhere but the Florida Keys. The USS Spiegel Grove, a shipwreck off the coast of Key Largo, plays a pivotal role in the mystery of Adrift.

After I retired from law enforcement, I relocated to the Keys to dive and decompress. One night when I was working for a dive shop in Key Largo, a real-life medical emergency occurred on the Spiegel. The diver fully recovered, but it got my what-if gears grinding. The result was Adrift.

Kellye: I'm a Jersey girl who has read a lot of mysteries over the past two decades, very few of which are set in New Jersey. I can remember being so excited when I recognized a real-life location in books by Harlan Coben or Valerie Wilson-Wesley. So I wanted to do the same thing with Los Angeles in my Detective by Day series. Even if you don't live in LA, you might have visited for fun once in your life, so I hope that someone can read about the Warner Bros. studio lot or paparazzi-hot-spot Robertson Boulevard and get just as excited as I was when I could say, "I've been there! I know exactly what she's talking about in this book!"

Fill in the blank: Readers who enjoy books written by _______ should enjoy my book too because _______. [[Hat tip to the Bethesda Public Library in Montgomery County, Maryland, where I first saw book recommendations made this way. — Barb Goffman]]

Kathleen
: Readers who enjoy books written by Maggie Barbieri and Kimberly Belle should enjoy my book too because my style is reminiscent of Maggie's and Protocol has a similar sense of suspense (albeit for different reasons!) as The Marriage Lie — or so I've been told! (Comps are so tough!!)

Micki: Readers who enjoy books written by Kathy Reichs should enjoy my book too because we both write about smart women who use their brains to figure out where the truth is hiding.

Valerie: Readers who enjoy books written by Dorothy Gilman should enjoy my book too because both my Mystery Bookshop Mystery series and the Mrs. Pollifax series feature senior citizens who are vibrant, active, and highly engaged in solving mysteries.

Kellye: Readers who enjoy books written by Janet Evanovich should enjoy my book too because it has a similar sense of humor and a very broke but very relatable narrator.

Laura: While I would never compare my work to hers because she is a legend, readers who enjoy books written by Sara Paretsky should enjoy my book too because we both feature strong and self-reliant female investigators. 


Is your nominated book a stand-alone or the first in a series? What's coming next from you?

Kellye: I have a three-book deal with Midnight Ink, so there will be at least two more Detective by Day mysteries hitting bookstores and libraries. The second, Hollywood Ending, is out on August 8, 2018. My main character Dayna is now an apprentice PI, and she looks into the murder of an awards-show publicist who gets killed during a botched ATM robbery after a swanky Hollywood party. The third book will be out in 2019.

Laura: Daughters of Bad Men is the first in the Jamie Rush mystery series. The second Jamie Rush book will be out toward the end of this year, and I'm also working on a stand-alone.

Micki: Adrift is the first of the Mer Cavallo Mysteries. Beached released this past January. I'm currently at work on a stand-alone domestic thriller, and then it's back for the third Mer Cavallo Mystery, Chum.

Kathleen: Protocol is the first book in the Maggie O'Malley Mystery series. The second book, 39 Winks, releases May 22nd. It follows Maggie in the aftermath of all that happened in Protocol, interrupting her "new normal" when the husband of Constantine's aunt Polly is murdered.

Valerie: The Plot is Murder is the first book in a series. The second book in the series is scheduled to be released on April 24th. In addition to the Mystery Bookshop Mystery series with Kensington, I also have two other series, which will both release this year. Travellin' Shoes, the first book in the RJ Franklin Mystery series, will release on July 1st, and the first book in my Dog Club Mystery series, In the Dog House, will release on August 21st.


Author Bios

A retired police captain, Micki Browning writes the Mer Cavallo Mystery series set in the Florida Keys. In addition to the Agatha nomination for Best First Novel, Adrift has won both the Daphne du Maurier and the Royal Palm Literary awards. Beached, her second novel, launched in January 2018. Micki's work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines, and textbooks. She lives in South Florida with her partner in crime and a vast array of scuba equipment she uses for "research." Learn more at www.MickiBrowning.com.

V.M. (Valerie) Burns was born in Northwestern Indiana and spent many years on Southwestern Michigan on the Lake Michigan shoreline. She is a lover of dogs, British historic cozies, and scones with clotted cream. After many years in the Midwest, she went in search of milder winters and currently lives in Eastern Tennessee with her poodles. Receiving the Agatha nomination for Best First Novel has been a dream come true. Valerie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime. Readers can learn more by visiting her website at www.vmburns.com.

Kellye Garrett writes the Detective by Day mysteries about a semi-famous, mega-broke black actress who takes on the deadliest role of her life: homicide detective. The first, Hollywood Homicide, won the 2018 Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery Novel and was recently nominated for Agatha and Barry awards. The second, Hollywood Ending, will be released on August 8, 2018, from Midnight Ink. Prior to writing novels, Kellye spent eight years working in Hollywood, including a stint writing for the TV drama Cold Case. The New Jersey native now works for a leading media company in New York City and serves on the national board of directors for Sisters in Crime. You can learn more about her at www.KellyeGarrett.com and ChicksontheCase.com.

Laura Oles is a photo-industry journalist who spent twenty years covering tech and trends before turning to crime fiction. She served as a columnist for numerous photography magazines and publications. Laura's short stories have appeared in several anthologies, including Murder on Wheels, which won the Silver Falchion Award in 2016. Her debut mystery, Daughters of Bad Men, is a Claymore Award finalist and an Agatha nominee for Best First Novel. She is also a Writers' League of Texas award finalist. Laura is a member of Austin Mystery Writers, Sisters in Crime, and Writers' League of Texas. Laura lives on the edge of the Texas Hill Country with her husband, daughter, and twin sons. Visit her online at www.lauraoles.com. 

Kathleen Valenti is the author of the Maggie O'Malley mystery series. The series' first book, Agatha- and Lefty-nominated Protocol, introduces us to Maggie, a pharmaceutical researcher with a new job, a used phone, and a deadly problem. The series second book, 39 Winks, releases May 22. When Kathleen isn't writing page-turning mysteries that combine humor and suspense, she works as a nationally award-winning advertising copywriter. She lives in Oregon with her family, where she pretends to enjoy running. Learn more at www.kathleenvalenti.com.


Barb here again. Thank you, ladies, for joining us on SleuthSayers. Readers, I'm sure you have questions or comments. Have at it!

02 April 2018

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Truth About Villains


by Steve Liskow

Superman isn't a hero because he can fly or see through walls or bend steel with his bare hands. He's a hero because of kryptonite, the element that will render him helpless. That's how it is in mystery writing, too.

If you're writing a crime or mystery story, the villain drives your plot. Without a strong opponent, your hero looks weak because he or she doesn't really face a challenge. That's bad.

So how do you make your villain strong?

Remember, your Bad Guy explores alternatives, stepping over the line into the darkness to get something he or she wants, by whatever means necessary. If those means include lying, stealing, or killing, so much the better. The villain's goal is usually money, love, or power, and those are the issues that give your story high stakes. Without stakes, who cares?

The more your villain influences the story, the better. The hero/sleuth has to meet the increasingly difficult challenges.

That's comparatively easy in suspense novels that use the Bad Guy's point of view for some scenes. Suspense stories seem to be getting bigger and bigger now, and Armageddon needs a full-scale Ming the Merciless (Yeah, I'm dating myself)
to carry the ball. Sometimes those stories present the Bad Guy as a monster. Don't TELL us your character is a monster, though, a Joker, Snidely Whiplash, or Hannibal Lector, SHOW us. He has to be willing to kill dozens of people, dance with glee over starving kittens and scheme to bring back Disco.
He doesn't have to wring his hands and cackle "Bwah-hah-hah, my pretty" whenever we see him, and he doesn't need a pet cobra or a bullwhip. But we like to see someone enjoy his work and take pride in it. My favorite line in the entire Batman series is Heath Ledger as the Joker proclaiming, "When you're very good at something, never do it for free."

The best Bad Guys have redeeming qualities, too. They have a good reason (to them) for what they do. Revenge for a dead sibling or child, pursuit of a cause they believe is noble, a cure for tone-deafness. And except for some bloodthirsty little peccadillo, they may be great people. Hannibal Lector has superb taste and a sense of humor. In the early James Bond films, Blofeld often cradled a white Persian cat. If he likes animals, how bad can e really be? Well, come to think of it...

That's suspense. In mysteries, we can't be that obvious. We want the reader to wonder who the Bad Guy is. My villains seem like ordinary people until we discover why they do those nasty things. But my Bad Guys (or gals, I have several of them--I love subtle femme fatales) keep the squirrel running on the treadmill.

In Who Wrote the Book of Death? Zach Barnes is trying to find the person who threatens Beth Shepard.
Beth is the visible half of a writing team, and Barnes isn't sure if she's the target or if the Bad Guy really wants to kill Jim Leslie, who writes under a female pen name. He spends lots of time looking at both peoples' backstory to see who might want to kill them. In the meantime, Leslie nearly gets electrocuted in his own home. The killer tampers with the wiring, but nobody sees him. Beth is almost run down, but nobody gets a good look at the car. Later, someone shoots at her while she's presenting an author event at a bookstore, and nobody sees the shooter.

The villain is hiding, but his work drives the story. Even though we haven't seen him, Barnes must scramble to protect both people and figure out who the heck is doing all this stuff.

In The Whammer Jammers, several characters have nasty agendas. Someone stalks a roller derby skater, someone plans a bank robbery, and someone sets fires to a geriatric hospital, but we don't know who is pulling all the strings until Trash and Byrne solve those cases and find the common denominator...in the very last scene.

Blood On the Tracks revolves around a cold case that comes to light when Woody Guthrie agrees to recover a missing audio tape of a 1991 recording session. Someone killed a man to steal that tape, and Guthrie has to figure out why a recording of a long-forgotten band matters that much. The tape is what Alfred Hitchcock used to call a "MacGuffin," the gizmo that drives the plot, but the killer and his reasons are real. Guthrie has to understand how a twenty-years-old death links to three violent deaths in the present. That's a lot of influence by an invisible Bad Guy.

I put all these villains in plain sight and have them behave like decent people because I want to play fair with the reader. I give him or her information to unravel the mystery along with my detective, but I don't make my villain a weirdo or a demon or a cartoon. He or she is simply a person like you or me (But not as handsome or beautiful)
who made a really bad choice. Maybe that's what fascinates me the most about villains. Not all of them are monsters. There's a place for those, too, but it's not in my particular stories.

Unfortunately, opening the morning newspaper reminds me that we have enough monsters out there in real life.

01 April 2018

Punctured Punctuation


by Leigh Lundin

➊ Commencing today, Tribune Publishing (which includes our local Orlando Sentinel) and Hearst Magazines (consisting of Cosmopolitan, Elle, Car & Driver, Redbook, and Woman’s Day) initiate a program of ‘punctuation reduction’, both as a cost reduction measure and a nod toward modernization in recognition of “cell phone exigencies of post-Millennial Generation Z.”
Happy Easter!

➋ In addition, a number of Tronc (Tribune On-line Communications) properties such as The New York Daily News, tabloids and magazines (including a revitalized Newsweek), will begin experimental use of emojis (aka 😀 emoticons) in limited sections of their publications such as editorials, letters to the editor, and personal ads.

Background

Punctuation reduction is nothing new. On the 1st of December 1896, The New-York Times removed its logo hyphen in a bid toward modernization, thus raising eyebrows among readers. Technically, a newspaper’s stylized heading is called a nameplate. Nameplate should not be confused with masthead, which contains owners’, editors’ and publishers’ names and disclosures.

nameplate– The New-York Times.

Again, on the 21st of February 1967, The Times removed its famed period (fullstop) from its nameplate. Often discussed in business courses, the newspaper gave two justifications. Once again it modernized the famous nameplate, and The Times’ finance department calculated it saved an inordinate gallonage of ink and a corresponding reduction in operating cost.

nameplate– The New York Times.

Hearst and Tribune plan to gradually reduce or even eliminate punctuation in ‘non-ambiguous contexts.’ The reduction will begin with Oxford commas, semicolons, double-quotes, and slowly advance, allowing older readers an opportunity to grow accustomed to the removal of punctuation at the end of paragraphs, much as occurs in present-day cell phone novels. Tribune publications expect to experiment with mid-paragraph sentence termination by using three spaces instead of periods. It is believed spaces combined with a following capitalized word will improve ‘literary flow’ and ‘rapidize comprehension’.

boy, girl
He Said, She Said

As reported a year and a half ago, the San Francisco Examiner, a Hearst publication, moved to add ‘non-binary’ gender pronouns to its reporting.

Historically, colleges have led the charge toward evolving language. The University of Michigan officially supports non-binary gender pronouns comprising such examples as ze, zie, zim, sir, miz, ve, ver, vis, ou, pers, and they (singular). ‘It’ (regarded fondly by fans of The Addams Family), once considered a potential pejorative, is becoming acceptable. (“The driver parked its truck.”)

Meanwhile, the disparaging word ‘woman’ knots the knickers in Mount Holyoke Women’s College:


Outside the US

‘Genderless’ pronouns, limited to the ‘American language’, aren’t expected to impact proper English spoken on other continents. Not so with punctuation reduction and emoticons. One need look no further than James Joyce, notably Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, 3684 words punctuated with two fullstops.

Likewise, Shakespeare himself seldom used periods, as seen in Hamlet’s monologue.

James Murdoch, son of publisher Rupert Murdoch, told the Sunday Times, “Amongst news producers and consumers, News Corp faces an existential crisis of credibility, not limited to The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, and– especially acute here in Britain– News of the World. Our former MySpace asset demonstrated demographics of age 25 or less attach greater believability to modern, minimalist communication. We’re eyeing emoticons (emojis), sentence simplification and eradication of superfluous punctuation as a means of engaging younger Generation X & Y readers. Within ten years, what remains of the reading public will find punctuation peculiar and outdated.” Murdoch added, “The British public has largely forgotten the NotW perceived misstep, and we may relaunch it on-line through social media.”

What To Expect

Adapting J R R Tolkien’s The Hobbit from cell phone novel to the larger screen results in the following. We’ve taken the liberty of capitalizing proper names.

The Hobbit
The Hobbit
Excitable little fellow said Gandalf as they sat down again   Gets funny queer fits but he is one of the best one of the best—as fierce as a dragon in a pinch
If you have ever seen a dragon in a pinch you will realize that this was only poetical exaggeration applied to any hobbit even to Old Tooks greatgranduncle Bullroarer who was so HUGE for a hobbit that he could ride a horse   He charged the ranks of the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields and knocked their king Golfimbuls head clean off with a wooden club   it sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit-hole and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment

Editorials

We can only imagine how an emoji op-ed might appear.
Dear Editor, Sir! I’m irate, nay, outraged. 😤 Your incompetent investigative reporting of pet psychics exemplifies the worst in fake news. ☹️ Medium Sylvia Greene predicted my Eric 🐠 would die and sure enough, within two years it floated belly-up in its bowl. So there!!! 😝
— A Disappointed Reader 😖😡🤬
Agony Columns

Likewise, what might personal advice columns look like?
Dear Prunella, The 😍❤️ darling of my life packed up his family and moved to Alaska. 💔😫 He always dishes out silly excuses: I’m nuts, I’m scary, he’s not attracted, he’s happily married. 😒 Also, I didn’t use a real knife🔪, more like a cleaver. 👿 Would it violate my restraining order if I snip off my ankle bracelet and move to Fairbanks? 🤔
— Most Definitely Not a Stalker 😭
Happy holiday, everyone! 🐣🐥

31 March 2018

Space Opera and Horse Opera



by John M. Floyd



Those who know me know I like to write--and read--mostly mystery stories. As for the writing part, my "genre specialty" is made easier because almost any story involving a crime can be considered a mystery.

Today, though, I want to tell you about two pieces of fiction that I recently discovered from other genres, and they're stories that I found exceptional. One's a western and one's science fiction, but both are chock full of crime and deception; does that mean they could be loosely defined as mysteries? Probably not. But I liked 'em anyway.

The first is a Netflix Orginal series called Godless. And I need to clarify that a bit. A lot of TV shows that I've watched lately, like Goliath, True Detective, Fargo, etc. (and unlike Longmire, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, House of Cards, and most others), have been what's become known as "limited-series" presentations--stories that are told start-to-finish in one season. There might be some degree of similarity and continuity between seasons, but mostly the story ends when the season ends, and you wind up with what amounts to a single seven-to-ten-hour, full-character-arc movie. I usually binge-watch them.


Godless is a western, and one of the best I've seen. It features a few familiar faces like Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston and a bunch of lesser-known actors that have become better known as a result of their being cast here. The story involves a legendary outlaw in pursuit of a former friend who betrayed him, but the strangest thing about the show is that it takes place in the fictional La Belle, New Mexico, which is a town of mostly women--all the men have been killed in a catastrophic mining accident. I won't get into too many details here, but this seven-episode series is truly well done, in every way. The writing, the acting, the direction, the cinematography, everything just works. By the way, any of you who might still think of Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber or Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey will barely recognize them here. Daniels is as good in this as he was in the HBO series The Newsroom, and that's saying a lot.

My other recent discovery was a novel called Artemis, by Andy Weir (who also write The Martian). I loved The Martian--book and movie--and I thought this second novel was just as good. The protagonist, a young woman named Jasmine (Jazz) Bashara, is as tough and resourceful as any hero/heroine I've seen in a long time, and outrageous as well. At the start of the book Jazz is a wannabe tour-guide for some of the attractions around Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, and since she can't seem to pass the test to become a guide she makes a living smuggling certain items when they arrive from Earth to her customers here in space. Long story short, because of her lack of funds and need for employment she finds herself a part of a get-rich-quick scheme that instead gets her into deep trouble, including dealing with hitmen who are sent from Earth sort of like the four gunmen in High Noon. You'll wind up cheering her on, while you learn (or at least I did) a lot about life on the Final Frontier.


That's my sermon for today. And don't get me wrong, I've watched a lot of other good movies lately--Wind River, Baby Driver, Arrival, Logan Lucky, Gerald's Game, Hell or High Water, No Escape, Wonder Woman, Bushwick, Mudbound, The Last Jedi, Get Out, Blackway, Bullet Head, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri--and I've read some other good novels too--The Cuban Affair, The Fireman, The Girl from Venice, Dragon Teeth, Home, Gwendy's Button Box, World Gone By, Blackjack, Mississippi Blood, Sleeping Beauties, Goldeline, Fierce Kingdom, El Paso, The Midnight Line, Paradise Sky, The Big Finish, A Column of Fire, etc.--but I believe these two stories were as good as any of them, and better than most. If any of you have seen Godless, or read Artemis, please pass along your thoughts.

I also wouldn't mind some recommendations. I've been devouring collections of short stories lately, mainly those by Bill Pronzini, Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, John Cheever, Richard Matheson, Fredric Brown, Annie Proulx, and (believe it or not) Tom Hanks. I need to get back into some novels.

Meanwhile, happy reading, and viewing.







30 March 2018

Just Following Orders


by
O'Neil De Noux

It's time to anger family and friends again. Y'all won't believe how much flak I've caught since my anti-confederate blog last year.

I want to talk about police officers blindly following orders.

I'm a retired law enforcement officer, been a cop most of my life, from the 1960s until 2017, with a few breaks in between. I've been in law enforcement from the anti-war and civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s to todays demonstrations for black-lives-matter and immigration reform and me-too and women's rights and so much more. Those causes are not the subject of this discussion. How cops handle them is.

When did police officers start acting like Nazi brown-shirts, jack-booted thugs? Well, since forever. Police officers were used to break up demonstrations for unions, women's suffrage, veterans rights, anti-war, the list goes on and on. Just finished reading Ken Follett's FALL OF GIANTS where British police sided with pro-Nazi English fascists (The British Union of Fascists) and attacked people blocking the Nazis from marching in their neighborhood in 1936.

Here are photos of British police attacking demonstrators at that particular demonstrations, commonly called The Battle of Cable Street.





In the name of law and order, the police were ordered to side with Nazis and followed orders.

Here are photos of suffragettes beaten by police. How in the hell did men beat women with clubs because women wanted to vote? How? Because they were sent to do that in the name of law and order and they obeyed orders.




This may be repugnant today. How about this image from the University of California Davis in 2011?


I was a university police officer then and has discussions with my fellow officers about this. I said, "You don't want to be that guy." And several fellow offieer said they wanted to be that guy. If the university administration (as in California) ordered university police to use force against demonstrators, they'd pepper stray students without hesitation.

I tried to give them some old-man wisdom, reminding them we were talking about students, about young people we were paid to protect. What do we tell their parents? We attacked them because they made things inconvenient on campus, they blocked a walkway? If they blocked a walkway, go another way.

I told them how New Orleans Mayor Ernest 'Dutch' Morial's office was once taken over by demonstrators. Did the mayor call in police to remove them? No. He moved his operations to a different office in city hall and negotiated with the demonstrators to a peaceful solution. Morial knew the score. He'd been a civil rights demonstrator as a young man.

"But we can't let them just stay there." Going back to my discussions with fellow university police officers.

"Yes we can," was my response. We're talking about American kids. They'll need to eat, go to the bathroom, take a shower. They'll need to recharge their cell phones. They don't live on the ground. This is Louisiana. It'll rain soon. They'll get weary and go home. Just wait them out. Be nice to them. Converse with them. Protect them from anti-demonstrators and it'll all calm down. Let them demonstrate.

Stephen Stills, in his enlightened song FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH, wrote of demonstrators, "A thousand people in the street. Singing songs and carrying signs. Mostly saying, 'Hooray for our side'."

Let them voice their concerns. Police officers need not agree or disagree with the message. It's not our job to solve the issue. We maintian the peace and we should not attack either side. You don't want to be that guy.

How about this image from Baton Rouge, Louisiana? Just following orders.


Whose message is more powerful? Heavily armed men in body armor or peaceful demonstrator?

At least they did not use clubs or pepper spray.

www.oneildenoux.com





29 March 2018

March Miscellany


by Eve Fisher

Ah, March is almost over, and with it March Madness.  Look, I'll be honest, I'm not a basketball fan to begin with, plus, on PBS, it's also "Festival!", which really cuts a hole into some of my favorite viewing.  But - note to all ultra-conservatives who wonder why a GOP Congress never quite manages to cut all Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding?  Because out here in fly-over country, what station runs ALL the high-school and college basketball games, morning, noon and night, on all 3 PBS channels, for as long as they last?  Not to mention high-school track & field, and football playoffs?  PBS, not Fox News, CNN, or even ESPN.  You think people want to give that up?  No, they do not.  They want to see their kids, grandkids, and themselves on television.  The most conservative among them can easily ignore the PBS NewsHour in exchange for that, quilting, cooking, and travel shows, "Call the Midwife", "Father Brown Mysteries", "Nova" and Daniel O'Donnell specials ad infinitum.  Oh, and "Antiques Roadshow."

Meanwhile, we had volunteer refresher training at the pen this month.  This year we learned a lot about prison gangs and their tattoos.  We have a variety of gangs in the South Dakota Prison System, but they're not what they are on the east / west coasts.

Image result for gangster disciple tattoos
    Image result for white supremacist tattoos 88 boots
  • Up here the Gangster Disciples are mostly Native American.  Tattoos include Joker/Devil/Clown, 7-4, 612 (in Minneapolis), Devil with "C" handsign, upright pitchfork, Knight on a horse, and a few others.  
  • The Boyz / Wild Boyz / and Red Brotherhood are all also Native American, and rivals to the Gangster Disciples.  While they tattoo, they also do [bad] burns on the shoulder in a bearclaw pattern.  
  • There's the East River Skins, Native Americans, whose favorite tattoos are "ERS" and "Skins"
  • The Mexican Mafia, a/k/a Surenos use SUR 13, and others.  
  • And, of course, we have a wide variety and large number of White Supremacists.  Tattoos include:  Iron crosses, swastikas, German phrases, 88 (for "Heil Hitler"), Blood and Honor, SS lightening bolts, White Devil, crossed hammers with or without Confederate flag, 100% (for 100% white), White Fist, etc., etc., etc. 
Image result for gangster disciple tattoos
Hand signs made into
tattoos - many gangs use
the same hand signs

It's a whole language.

Speaking of language, I loved this "correction" of the New York Times tweet about the Austin bomber:

No automatic alt text available.  Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, text


I totally agree.  White boys/men who shoot up theaters, schools, or musical venues are all crazy, or quietly challenged, and/or from a broken home, and/or a good family, and therefore, there's nothing to be done except make all the white boys/men around us feel really good all the time so they won't shoot us.  (Or rape us - I'm still pissed off about Brock Turner getting probation because he was such a good swimmer with his whole life ahead of him.)  I call BS on that.  Simply put, anyone who's going around bombing random (or was it random?) American citizens, setting trip wires, etc., is a terrorist.  Period.  I don't care how "troubled" or "challenged" their life is.

Back in October, 2016, then candidate Donald Trump said “These are radical Islamic terrorists.  To solve a problem, you have to be able to state what the problem is, or at least say the name.”  Well, the Anti-Defamation League did a study and found that white supremacists killed twice as many as Islamic terrorists in America in 2017.  And that the numbers of white supremacist attacks are increasing around the country.  (ADL Report)   So, everyone, say it with me:  "Radical white supremacist terrorism."  Like 150+ years of the KKK.  (I can't believe that in this day and age I still have to say that the KKK and the Nazis are bad.)

BTW, ironically, as a Boston Globe article points out, being white doesn't protect you from white supremacist terrorism:  "The victims of white supremacist terrorism are often white....  the carnage of white supremacist terrorism should have been understood after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, where Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people of all colors. Fueled in significant degree by racial hatred, McVeigh was a devotee of The Turner Diaries, a white supremacist novel that imagined an American race war so grotesque that white women were hung for marrying African-Americans and Jews.  The carnage should have been understood after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, carried out by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. The two teens adored Adolf Hitler and were reported to have routinely used racial epithets. Yet most of their 13 victims were white."

Language matters.  How something is said influences more than we know.

I read on Facebook a story about a guy who asked a girl out on a date at high school.  The girl said "No, thanks" and walked away.  The guy grabbed her by the arm and said, "Come back here -" so she turned around and punched him in the nose.  Well, everyone came running after that.  The principal wanted her to apologize and he was going to suspend her.  The girl told everyone there, "Look, my mother taught me to never put up with someone laying hands on me when I don't want them to.  That I have the right to say no.  And now you're telling me that this jackass can grab me to make me change my mind?  Fine, suspend me.  But what you're doing is tell girls that we don't have the right to say 'no'."   

I'm with the girl all the way.  Because, when you follow that logic - that the girl should have been nicer to the man who grabbed her without her permission - what can happen is this:

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, ocean, text and water  Link to story

"Lovesick teen" a/k/a "heartbroken homecoming prince" - kind of perpetuates the idea that a girl can't say no, doesn't it?  That a girl shouldn't say no, because... she might make him so angry that he shoots her in the head?  And somehow she's in the wrong, because he's "lovesick"?  That somehow he has the right to kill what he can't have because of his emotions?  Jaelynn Willy was 16 years old when this possessive bastard shot her in the head.  She died three days later.  (See Jezebel for a much less "romantic" telling of this story.)

Meanwhile, 55% of female murder victims are killed by their domestic partner.

Up to 75% of abused women who are murdered are killed after they leave their partners.

The majority of the victims were under the age of 40, and 15 percent were pregnant. About 54 percent were gun deaths.

Strangers perpetrated just 16 percent of all female homicides, fewer than acquaintances and just slightly more than parents.

“State statutes limiting access to firearms for persons under a domestic violence restraining order can serve as another preventive measure associated with reduced risk for intimate partner homicide and firearm intimate partner homicide.” An abuser’s possession of a gun greatly increases the risk of female homicide.

Still, loopholes in gun laws mean that abusive spouses and partners often can keep their guns, even if they can’t buy new ones. And the consequences of those loopholes, for women, can be deadly.

Especially in the hands of a "heartbroken homecoming prince."











28 March 2018

The Man with the Iron Heart


David Edgerley Gates

Reinhard Heydrich was an SS-Obergruppenfuhrer, commander of the Reich Central Security Office (which controlled the Gestapo, the SD, and the criminal police); a presiding architect of the Holocaust, with authority over the Endlosung, or Final Solution, responsible for Kristallnacht, the Nacht und Nebel - Night and Fog - operation, and the Einsatzgruppen, special auxiliaries that followed regular Army units into Poland, Ukraine, and Russia, executing Jews and other political undesirables; and appointed Deputy Protector of Bohemia, military proconsul of Czechoslovakia, in September of 1941. Late that year, the Czech exile government in London mounted an operation to assassinate him. It had all the earmarks of a suicide mission.

Hitler himself called Heydrich the Man with the Iron Heart. He'd been sent to Prague because the Skoda works were important to the German war effort, and the Czechs needed to feel the crack of the whip. Heydrich considered them vermin. He had 92 people executed in his first three days. Over the next six months, 5,000 arrests.

British SOE train the commando team in Scotland, and insert them by paradrop. Making contact with what's left of the Czech resistance, the two team leaders, Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, are persuaded the best solution to target is to ambush him on his way to work. They post a lookout along the route he travels, and lie in wait for him at a hairpin curve, on the road to the Troja bridge. Heydrich travels in an open car, a Mercedes convertible. It's a display of contempt, the Germans in complete control, the Czechs captive and demoralized. The car slows. Gabcik steps into the street. He's got a Sten gun. It fires from an open breech. The weapon fails to feed and jams. Gabcik is left standing there with his pants down. Then, unbelievably, instead of ordering his driver to put the pedal to the metal, Heydrich orders him to stop. Heydrich stands up in the back of the car, and pulls his Luger. Kubis, behind him, has an anti-tank grenade hidden in a briefcase, and he heaves it at the Mercedes.

(This was the No. 73 grenade, modified for weight, the bottom two-thirds removed, light enough to be thrown, but still able to damage an armor-plated vehicle. In training, Gabcik and Kubis both had trouble with it.)

The device detonates at the right rear quarter of the Mercedes - not inside it, but close enough to punch Heydrich with metal fragments and shredded upholstery. He staggers out of the car. The two Czechs try to shoot him with their own pistols and miss. Heydrich returns fire. Gabcik and Kubis take off in opposite directions, thinking the attack's a failure. Heydrich starts to chase them, and then collapses from internal hemorrhaging.

They got him pretty good. Severe injuries to his diaphragm and spleen, collapsed left lung, fractured rib. Surgeons labored over him, and the prognosis was hopeful. A week later, Heydrich was sitting up in bed for lunch, and then suddenly went into shock. Apparently, septicemia caught up with him. He died the next day.

Reprisals were brutal and immediate. Cooked intelligence from the Gestapo led to the village of Lidice. All the males over the age of 15 were shot, the women and children sent to the death camps. The town was burned and then bulldozed. In the smaller village of Lekazy they simply shot everybody, men and women alike. The actual pursuit of Gabcik and Kubis and the people who'd helped them hit a wall, until a guy on one of the other sabotage teams ratted them out for the Judas money.

The seven of them were holed up in the Orthodox cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius. It took the SS two hours to smoke them out, with 750 men. Fourteen dead, twenty-one wounded. None of the Czechs let themselves be taken alive. They knew too many names.

As always, you want to ask whether the blood price was worth it. Heydrich was a reptile, better off dead. But it's estimated as many as 1300 people were murdered in direct retaliation. Also, it appears that the schedule agreed to at the Wannsee Conference was accelerated after Heydrich's death, implementing the extermination camps, as distinct from slave labor. Then again, how many people might Heydrich have eliminated, if left alive? He was an effective coordinator of terror logistics. And efficiency in this, as in other things, solidified his power base. He could have made the trains run even faster.

One last thing, a net gain. Heydrich was the most senior Nazi targeted in an operation under SOE discipline. (Or any other clandestine service, either. Wilhelm Kube,  the generalkommissar of Minsk, had a bomb go off underneath him on NKVD instructions, but Kube was small potatoes compared to Heydrich.) Yes, they were Czech partisans, although they jumped out of an RAF Halifax bomber, so in that sense it was deniable. In fact, SOE didn't want to deny it. Just because they never tried for Hitler doesn't mean it was never discussed. The killing of Heydrich was an object lesson.