11 October 2020
10 October 2020
KYLE IN PAYABLES HAS BEEN BINGE-WATCHING, AND NOW YOU NEED TO CARE ABOUT ZETTABYTES
by Robert Mangeot
Kyle again, five minutes late for the 8:00AM St. Healthcare Payables
team Zoom huddle. He’s bleary-eyed--again--and slurping coffee (“Kyle,
can you mute, please?”) after all-nighter binge watching the
just-dropped Wicked Streaming Show That Has People Talking, season two.
WSS.2, in Kyle-ese. He’ll gush baggy-eyed over each and every spoiler if
anyone hangs on the Zoom too long. Usually, we can’t stay mad at him.
Kyle is bedrock here in Payables, first with the virtual high fives and
the loudest voice singing “Happy Birthday.” This morning, though, the
coffee isn’t kicking in yet, and he’s digging this new email promising a
GIFT CARD!!! if he clicks there and takes this important HR survey.
Gift cards? Hello, WSS merch.
Don’t do it, Kyle. Don’t.
Let’s call the malware BigBummerExpress. Kyle’s computer doesn’t slow to a crawl processor-wise. It doesn’t flash the Blue Screen of Death. It doesn’t laugh a super-evil laugh like that cray hacker episode from WSS.1. BigBummerExpress is loaded and running, sure. And yeah, there’s patient information on his computer for the grabbing.
Kyle isn’t who BigBummerExpress is after.
However we got here and whatever your opinion about it, U.S. healthcare is a huge market. Most money is spent well enough or at least well-intendedly. As for the rest, there’s a reason that entire professions--including mine--have spun up to chase bad actors. And lately, there’s the bad actor golden ticket: ransomware.
To be clear, I am not a technology expert. I’m not involved in cybersecurity. I’m a humble regulatory nerd who barely understands how my laptop crunches its ones and zeroes. But with cybersecurity being crucial to those regs, I try to stay hip on the trends.
In September, Universal Health Services--a giant at 400 facilities--announced a major cyberattack had taken down clinical systems. Universal is not releasing details, but if it sounds like ransomware, it probably is. Patient appointments were rescheduled, test results were delayed, and patients inbound to their ERs were diverted elsewhere.Fullz.
Health data has grown to mind-boggling size and mushrooms further each year. Experts predict that cumulative health data about you and me will reach 35 zettabytes this year. A zettabyte is tech-speak for one sextillion. That’s roughly one byte for all the grains of sand on all the Earth’s beaches--multiplied by 35. Or to see all the commas, we’re talking 35,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes of health data out there.
And the problems usually start with phishing.
A month has passed since Kyle did that vendor survey thing. He’s forgotten about that gift card or reporting a concern because, bless him, rumors go WSS.3 will be the full throttle, slam-bang finale. In that month, BigBummerExpress has used his system credentials to cruise the company IT platforms and learn where that sweet data is, how it’s structured, what protects it. To the Security people, if they spot any oddness in Kyle’s activity, it looks like him accessing places he’s authorized to access.
It’s encryption time.
8:15AM, the Zoom huddle and Kyle slurping coffee. His boss is asking Kyle to mute when everyone’s Payables screens flicker off. Text messages start flying. His boss manages to say, “I gotta go.”
It’s no wonder that crime fiction often involves a cyber angle. The technology and its human implications can be fascinating, and it brings plenty of cat-and-mouse games. If anyone is mulling a healthcare cyber tale, here’s a general lay of the land for 2020 realism.
To read the industry studies, hospital ransoms used to be small, way cheaper than fighting the protracted fight. A volume business. Fast forward to 2020: Those studies put asking prices in the millions. Today’s ransomware isn’t just encrypting data natively but stealing it on threat of release, so that companies can’t plug in the back-ups and refuse to bargain. Big game hunting, in the lingo.
Cybercriminals are such an everyday threat that it’s an insurable risk. Of course, no underwriter goes on the hook for potential millions only to stay out of the response and prevention discussions. Like I said, serious defenses.
That can have a weak link.
It was awesome.
It’s been weird at St. Healthcare. HR sent an actual email with an actual performance warning. It took forever to get the Payables and medical record interface back running, and while it’s not been on the news, Kyle figures somebody must’ve coughed up for the hackers to go away.
Hackers. Big money. Affiliations. What Kyle’s thinking, this would make full throttle WSS fan fiction.
09 October 2020
I never heard F. Scot Fitzgerald say this things, of course, but these have been attributed to him.
"That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong."
"First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you."
"Cut out the exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke."
"Writers aren't people exactly. Or, if they're any good, they're a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person."
"All writing is like swimming underwater and holding your breath."
"Genius is the ability to put into effect what is on your mind."
"Often I think writing is a sheer paring away of oneself leaving always something thinner, barer, more meagre."
"Mostly, we authors must repeat ourselves – that's the truth. We have two or three great moving experiences in our lives – experiences so great and moving that it doesn't seem at the time that anyone else has been so caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way before."
"You can stroke people with words."
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."
"Action is character."
"Nobody ever became a writer by just wanting to be one."
"Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy."
The last line of THE GREAT GATSBY. It always moves me.
Ernest Hemingway once described F. Scott Fitzgerald this way. "He is the great tragedy of talent of our bloody generation."
08 October 2020
by Eve Fisher
A few weeks ago, when the Atlantic article came out saying that Donald Trump had called people in the military "losers" and "suckers", I got into it on-line with someone about evidence. They didn't approve of anonymous sources. So I posted the video of Trump calling McCain a loser and "not a war hero":
And the Howard Stern interview, where Trump called STDs his "personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier."
And said that I thought we could perhaps extrapolate future behavior from prior statements. Now I wouldn't have minded an argument on freedom of speech - I'm always ready to defend that one - or even the validity of judging someone by their past behavior. BUT the reply I got was that "the videos are just circumstantial evidence." So I blew a gasket. Because of course no, they're not.
BTW - one of the great examples in literature of historical arguments (and how much analysis, deduction, argument, and debate they require) is not Dan Brown, but Tom Stoppard's 1993 play Arcadia, which deserves far more productions (and at least one movie! Please!) than it has gotten. Alternating between the mid-1800s and the present, the present scenes show dueling historians arguing over the following primary sources: mid-1800s "game books" (i.e., hunting records at a country house), a diary (by a young girl), and a number of letters and notes tucked into a poetry book which itself was heavily underlined. All of which seem to indicate that Lord Byron killed minor poet Ezra Chater in a duel over Chater's wife at this country house where they were all guests at the same time, and after which Mr. Chater disappeared, and Lord Byron fled to the Continent for two years. Solving what belonged to whom (including who did all that underlining) is a masterclass in historical deduction and detection.
07 October 2020
I can't help you with the bars, but maybe I can cause you to miss the panels a little less. Last year I wrote a play inspired by many panels I attended at mystery, science fiction, and library conferences. I present it here for your amusement. (And by the way, if anyone wants to perform it... contact me.)
|Jewish Noir panel, Raleigh Bouchercon*|
THE INSPIRATION PANEL
The stage is set for a typical conference panel: two tables together lengthwise, covered with black tablecloths. Water pitchers and five glasses. Three microphones. Five chairs behind.
EVE walks onto the stage, with a great sense of purpose. She is forty, dressed flashily, but not expensively. She carries five name tents which she carefully places on the tables. From left to right they read: EVE BROCKHURST, CHARLES LEMMON, DEBORAH DRAKE, BILL FONTANA, AMY KITE.
As EVE is going around the table to her seat DEBORAH arrives. She is in her thirties, dressed in business attire. She reads the tents, stiffens, and then switches her tent with CHARLES’. As she comes around to her seat the others arrive, read the tents, and take their places.
After a beat EVE looks down the line, nods at the panelists and then smiles at the audience.
Welcome, everyone! Have you been enjoying our annual writer’s conference? Good, good! This is the Inspiration Panel, just in case you boarded the wrong flight. (She laughs at her own joke.) My name is Eve Brockhurst and I am the author of six books of poetry, including The Falling of the Dew, which our local newspaper called “remarkably sincere.” The fact is, I was surprised to be asked to moderate a panel, even one as distinguished as this. I figured the committee would need me to speak on the Poetry Panel, or the Nature Panel. Or even the Marketing Panel. (Brightening by sheer will power.) But Fraser, our dear director, told me that what he needed most was a strong personality who could keep these ferocious characters in line!
|Readers Recommends panel, Toronto Bouchercon|
She gestures at her panel.
DEBORAH looks irritated.
CHARLES is slumped in his seat. He is sixty years old and wears a sports coat with no tie.
BILL is all coiled energy. He is in his thirties, dressed in business casual.
AMY is glowingly happy. She is in her late twenties and dressed younger.
But that’s more than enough about me. It’s time to introduce our wonderful panelists who will inform and, dare I say it, inspire you today. First on my left is Charles Lemmon. He is-
She looks left and realizes for the first time that DEBORAH is sitting next to her. She does a quick check down the line to see that everyone else is there.
Whoops! My mistake. Someone did a little shuffle on me. (She sorts her notes.) First in line is Deborah Drake, the author of the new romance novel—
Women’s fiction. It’s about real-life problems. Not the kind you can solve by going to bed with a man whose chest size is higher than his IQ.
O-kay. I can see you have a lot on your mind today. Deborah’s woman’s fiction -- Woman’s?
|Short story panel, Bouchercon 2017|
Thanks. It’s about a woman suffering from Reynaud’s Syndrome and it’s called The Girl With Cold Fingers. The first time I met Deborah was at a conference just like this three or four years ago. She came up after a panel to tell me how much she had enjoyed my book The Dancing of the Leaves, and I complimented her on her taste. It’s so wonderful to see a person one has mentored becoming a success. Deborah, our subject is inspiration. In general, what inspires you?
Great question, Eve. I find that there are sparks all around if you know how to look for them. I’m thinking right now that my next book might be about a woman with a stalker, maybe a former lover who is too self-centered and frankly too thick to take no for an answer.
BILL is getting more and more agitated.
Well, that is certainly the sort of real-life problem many of us women have had to face. Is this based your personal experience or something you’ve heard about or…
As you said we all face this sort of thing from time to time. Men who think they have a right to your attention, who don’t understand when they are not wanted—
What about the men who have been led on?
Sometimes a man simply refuses to—
Just a moment, dear. Bill – this is Bill Fontana, everyone – You had something to add?
I just think a writer needs to look at all sides. Modern readers don’t want set pieces with cardboard characters where one person is all right and the other is all wrong. If you’re writing for grown-ups characters need to be nuanced.
In your latest book the villain tried to strangle a kitten. How nuanced is that?
Bill, you’ll have your chance. Deborah, do you want to finish your thought?
That would be nice, wouldn’t it?
I’m sure. Our next panelist (DEBORAH does a doubletake.) is my dear friend, one of our most distinguished, most senior, a veritable elder statesman-
Please! I’m not dead yet.
Of course not. I just wanted to point out that you have written so many books. Even more than my six volumes of poetry. Charles Lemmon, your most recent book is historical fiction, The Battle of Sattleford Creek. What’s it about?
(Pause.) It’s about the Battle of Sattleford Creek.
I might have guessed that, I suppose. So many titles are ironic these days, don’t you think? My book The Fire Sonnets contains no sonnets, and never mentions fire! I suppose that’s why the critics found it so surprising. One of them said “Eve Brockhurst has-”
How are we doing on time?
Good point. Charles, at this place in your long career, how do you still manage to find inspiration? What moves you to keep writing?
The credit card companies. Something moves them to send me bills.
Oh, come now. Do you really mean you are only writing for the money?
I’d better not be, because there’s precious little of it. And security, don’t make me laugh. You teach English at the college, don’t you?
I do. I have the honor of opening up the minds and hearts of—
You can get tenure. Then you have work for the rest of your life if you want it. What I wouldn’t give for that. A publisher can kick you out in the snow after you give them the best years of your life.
Wow, that is one bad cliché.
Shut up, Bill.
I’m glad I’m not the only one he interrupts.
Actually. I’m an adjunct professor. No tenure, I’m afraid.
Then you’re in the same boat as us professional writers. I don’t know how a publisher can sleep at night, when they fire an editor you’ve been working with for – well, a long time, and suddenly you’re an orphan and no one wants to promote your book because the last guy picked it.
So do you find that—
No ads. No tours. No publicity. And you know damn well that when the book doesn’t sell, they’ll say it’s the fault of the writing. Never the publisher’s, oh no. I might as well give up on quality and start self-publishing crap.
Now, come on, Charles! That attitude is very old-fashioned.
Don’t call me that!
Some of the best, most original work coming out today is self-published. My fourth book--
And a lot of the worst stinkers, too.
You’d know about that.
Oh, I’d forgotten. Men aren’t allowed to talk at this panel. Go right ahead.
Come on, Bill. We value everyone’s opinion.
Hell of a way of showing it.
Bill isn’t very good at taking cues, I’m afraid. At understanding what people are trying to tell him.
All right, Bill. Since you’re so eager to talk, tell us. How do you find inspiration?
That’s a stupid question, Eve. Isn’t it really just the old cliché: how do you find your ideas?
|Short stories panel at Left Coast Crime, Vancouver|
See? He doesn’t listen.
Not so, Deborah! A good writer, a great writer, is always listening. That’s how he comes up with dialog that sounds true.
So you get your inspiration from the people around you…
That’s right. And I get so much more. Like insight into personality. How a person will say one thing and mean something completely different. For example, maybe they’ll claim for months that they want to leave their husband and start a new life, but when their lover offers to take them up on it, it turns out they were just teasing him along—
And this is your idea of honest observation? No wonder Kirkus hated your last book.
Kirkus hated everybody’s last book.
You know, I think we’ve been neglecting one of our panelists. Amy Kite is a fresh new face on our city’s literary scene. She is the author of The Dragons of Zanzanook—
(Correcting the pronunciation) Zanzanook.
Sorry! Her book is a fantasy novel which has attracted major support from the publisher. There’s an ad in the Times.
Oh my God.
An author’s tour.
And I believe you are booked on one of the morning shows next week. Is that right?
Sorry. I must have missed one. Let’s talk about what inspires you…
Thank you so much, Eve. I just want to say how inspired I feel simply by being here with all of you today. What an honor! This is my first time at a writer’s conference, you know, and here I am with Charles Lemmon! I’ve been reading his books since I was a little girl.
Well, that’s wonderful. You young whippersnapper.
And Deborah, what was the name of your novel about the girl with Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Twists and Turns.
Yes! My mother loved that one!
Oh, I can hardly wait.
Here it comes.
When I needed a break from writing my book I would read your novel in which the psychotherapist turns out to be the serial killer.
Which one? I wrote two of those.
I didn’t… Oh yeah.
And there it is.
|Setting as Character panel, Left Coast Crime, Vancouver|
I’m afraid I don’t remember which one I read most recently.
Let’s not forget our moderator, Amy. What do you think of Eve’s poetry?
I’m afraid I haven’t read it yet.
You probably don’t read poetry. So few young people do these days.
Oh, but I do! I must get around to yours.
Yes. Do get around to it.
Well, that’s very sweet, Amy. Let’s start another round. Deborah, what is the inspiration for the book you’re working on now?
We covered that, remember? Stalker?
Oh. Right. (Checking her notes.) Well, what inspired you to start writing in the first place?
I’d say it was Greg. My darling husband.
He is my biggest cheerleader. He knew from the moment we first met that I was a creative soul and he has always encouraged me to—
Point of order.
Point of order? Is this a congressional hearing?
What is it, Bill?
I’m just wondering if this is the same husband you told me hasn’t opened a book since he got his MBA.
I never said any such thing. And frankly, I resent you constantly interrupting me.
Well, Fraser was certainly right about this group needing a strong hand, wasn’t he? Deborah, I think it’s wonderful that you have such a supportive husband.
|Ecology Panel, Left Coast Crime, Vancouver|
I can’t imagine how I could go on without him. We truly are soulmates.
I thought you didn’t write romance fiction.
You know, Bill, I think I know why you model all your villains on your psychotherapists.
I think we’re running out of time, so we had better move along. Charles, can you tell us a little about what inspires your current work in progress?
I’m not sure I have one, Eve. I write historical fiction and that means two or three years of research for each book. By the time my next one is ready my publisher will probably have burned through five or six editors, and all that any of them care about are the latest trends. The new expert, straight out of some Ivy League day care center, wants me to write a Civil War novel with zombies.
You’re kidding. Zombies are like five years past their sell-by date.
And Bill, you already talked about your plans, so any other thoughts about inspiration?
Great question! As a thriller writer I’m concerned with revealing the truth of the human heart. By which I mean that people are totally and remorselessly evil.
Jesus. I thought zombies were depressing.
That goes doubly so for the female heart, of course.
Moving right along. Amy.
Let’s get back to your debut novel, The Dragons of Zanzanook-
Thank you so much, dear. Would you say you were more inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin?
(Laughing.) Neither one, Eve. My starting point was my doctoral dissertation on late medieval monasticism in a military context. I just threw in dragons to make it commercial.
(Inspired.) Damn it, girl, we have to talk!
|Short Story panel, Left Coast Crime 2015|
I’d love that!
Now we have time for a few questions from the-- Oh, I’m told we don’t.
BILL stalks off in disgust.
Please join us in the vendors’ room, where all the authors will be happy to sign their books for you, and I will be happy to take pre-publication orders for my seventh book of poetry, Life, Be Not—
The microphone is shut off. She frowns at it.
06 October 2020
I’m happy to announce that the third volume in our Coast to Coast crime fiction series dropped last week. (See how cool I am: “dropped”.) I’m also happy to say, we’ve had some success with the first two volumes, Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea and Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea. When the last volume came out I did a piece here on editing for it: click here. For this volume—Noir—I’m going to talk a little about noir, what we decided our definition of it is, and a little tease about each author’s story.
The authors in this volume are: Colleen Collins, Brendan DuBois, Alison Gaylin, Tom MacDonald, Andrew McAleer, Michael Mallory, Paul D. Marks, Dennis Palumbo, Stephen D. Rogers, John Shepphird, Jaden Terrell, Dave Zeltserman.
Coast to Coast: Noir from Sea to Shining Sea is the third in our series of Coast to Coast crime anthologies from Down and Out Books. The first two Coast to Coast collections garnered fifteen nominations and/or awards between them. Hopefully we’ll keep our record going with volume three. We have twelve terrific writers and stories.
The way that all the books have been laid out so far is that the stories start on the West Coast and each succeeding story moves a little farther east until we hit the East Coast. The thinking on this, at least in my mind, is to move left to right because that’s how we read on a page and it just seems comfortable.
From the intro to the book and pretty much what we suggested to the authors:
“What we asked for was noir in the classic tradition of David Goodis and Jim Thompson or movies like Double Indemnity. Our definition of noir is basically somebody tripping over their own faults: somebody who has an Achilles heel, some kind of greed, or want, or desire that leads them down a dark path. But within that the authors could be as down and dirty as they wanted. Time frame wasn’t an issue either. The stories could be set anywhere in time from now till back when.
We also don’t think noir has to be the dark of a rainy night or ominous shadows from Venetian blinds. There doesn’t even have to be a femme fatale. But one definite thing about noir: No one is safe. There’s no place to hide in this collection of twelve stories from the dark side of the American Dream. Noir can happen anywhere to anyone who’s just a little greedy, a little too proud, or a little naive. It can happen to a college student working at a steel mill or the chef-owner of an upscale Greek restaurant. Even the most pure of heart can succumb: a correctional officer at a maximum security prison or a father seeking justice. And it’s not always about money, sometimes it’s about power, fame, revenge, payback.”
So here’s a little tease for each story, in author alphabetical order:
Look your Last by Colleen Collins
Location: Denver, Colorado
Story: A young woman follows in the footsteps of her P.I. father who was murdered. She takes on a case that has ties to her father’s murder.
Noir themes: private eye, revenge, fate, the past haunts the present.
Location: rural Massachusetts
Story: An ex-con trying to get on the right track again is persuaded by his brother to help him in a drug scheme.
Noir themes: femme fatale, ex-con trying to reform, family and loved ones can drag you down.
Where I Belong by Alison Gaylin
Location: Hudson Valley, New York
Story: A teenager leaves home after a video of him beating up his stepfather makes him an internet sensation.
Noir themes: outsider, loner, greed, some people are born bad.
Nashua River Floater by Tom MacDonald
Location: Nashua, New Hampshire
Story: A detective is hired under the table by a state trooper to investigate a homicide of a criminal who was recently released from prison. He uncovers some secrets from the past.
Noir themes: private eye, secrets from the past, alcoholism.
On an Eyeball by Andrew McAleer
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Story: A woman C.O. at a high security prison endures sexual harassment in her job. She isn’t happy about it…
Noir themes: femme fatale, sex, revenge is best served cold.
Location: Springfield, Missouri
Story: A reporter for a local radio station looks into the apparent suicide of a young intern at the station who he was having an affair with.
Noir themes: sex, power, corruption, the innocent are sacrificed.
Location: Santa Monica/Venice Beach, California
In 1965, a guy working at the DMV sells information on the side and causes a young woman’s murder. It affects him more than he thought it would…
Noir themes: greed, the innocent are sacrificed, you can't escape fate.
Steel City Blues by Dennis Palumbo
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Story: A young college student works in the local steel plant and finds himself embroiled in a steamy affair with the foreman’s wife. But nothing is quite as it seems.
Noir themes: sex, seduction, greed, femme fatale.
Detour to Dolmades by Stephen D. Rogers
Location: Providence, Rhode Island
Story: The chef-owner of a high-class Greek restaurant is the master of her domain, until she lets her defenses down.
Noir themes: homme fatale, gangsters, pride can bring you down.
Pandora’s Box by John Shepphird
A young college student is seduced into joining a group of grifters in a plot involving the Los Alamos National Laboratory and a Grateful Dead rock concert.
Noir themes: sex, drugs, loss of innocence, a con man luring a young woman into crime.
Sins of the Father by Jaden Terrell
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Story: A former Night Stalker special forces helicopter pilot comes to his daughter’s rescue…
Noir themes: mistakes made in the past, regrets, revenge, redemption.
The Long Road by Dave Zelsterman
Story: A husband can’t remember what happened before he was in a car accident. His wife discourages him from thinking about it, but he won’t leave it alone.
Noir themes: lies, deception, you can never escape your own past.
We also did a Zoom panel with 9 of the 12 authors you might want to check out:
So there you have it. This collection shows that noir can be many different things in many different settings. And, much as I like classic noir films and books, the stories don’t have to have unceasing rain, Venetian blind shadows or flashing neon signs. But I think there is a theme to them and that theme shows up in each of these varied stories.
And now for the usual BSP:
“On one level it’s a mystery where Bobby Saxon, with secrets he wants no one to find out, works to solve a murder and clear his name under extraordinary racially tinged circumstances. With a lot of twists and turns, this is an excellent mystery. It takes place in World War II-era Los Angeles, and the author does a brilliant job that brings the long-gone era alive with memorable characters, scents, descriptions, and most of all, jazz. Highly recommended."
05 October 2020
by Janice Law
|Inspector Frost with one|
of many new sergeants
The service has an assortment of good programing, but, especially in this time of virus and isolation, I've been favoring Gardener's World and A Touch of Frost. The latter was a long running UK favorite, originally from Yorkshire TV, starring David Jason as Inspector William "Jack" Frost, a self-described street copper with a nose for crime and good-sized problems with bureaucrats and authority.
He's old fashioned and quick-tempered and not altogether loath to cut corners, characteristics that look less desirable in cops these days than they probably did back at its debut in '92. His saving grace, besides being an excellent, even obsessive, investigator, is his sympathetic knowledge of his community, including the many poor but decent folks who wind up in difficulties.
|David Jason in A Touch of Frost|
And he had good scripts. These are formulaic, unsurprisingly, given that some 42 episodes were made, but well done, nonetheless. Most episodes had two cases running simultaneously, one involving a death, the other less serious. Although there was a solid cast of regulars, the Inspector was frequently paired with new sergeants and constables, some of whom seem to have been assigned with the express purpose of exasperating him, others for whom he comes to feel genuine affection.
Frost expects all of them to work hard, and there is a good deal of cooperation and delegating of duties except for the last twenty minutes of most episodes, when, despite his years of experience, Inspector Frost rushes off on a hunch of his own, confronts various bad guys and winds up in an obstacle laden chase or facing a gun or a serious fight.
Even at the start of the series, Jason, small and a bit plump, was getting up in years, so it is not too surprising that he finally retired from the role at 68, noting that a real detective would have been off the force eight years earlier. During his long run with A Touch of Frost, however, Jason managed to finesse the problem of his advancing years with the vigor of his performances and the robust physicality of his acting – catch the pop eyes and flushed face when he's angry or the sly twitch of a smile when he has outsmarted some crook.
There's enough surprise to keep the stories interesting, and enough familiarity in Frost's unending struggles to thwart Superintendent Mullett, to rescue the romance of the moment, or to finish his mostly rushed and unwholesome meals to make the show relaxing of an evening. This is definitely one of the better mystery imports.
04 October 2020
by Leigh Lundin
My friend Geri lived a mile from me and I watched over her house when she vacationed. Often she’d schedule work while she was away, and this time she wanted to replace her fence.
Thanks to hurricanes and moisture, fences have short life spans in the Sunshine State. Fences were a concern for me too, so I researched ways to give fences extra years, a realm of excitement beyond words. The following are the fruits of my labor, otherwise called ‘best practices’:
- Embed posts in concrete.
- Shape the concrete into a dome to run off water away from the post rather than collect moisture around it.
- Don’t install panels at ground level, but elevate them an inch or so above.
- Don't use staples or ordinary nails. Use ring-shank nails to resist winds.
I typed a list of the above and sketched a diagram of setting posts in concrete. These I stapled to the sales proposal given Geri and agreed to the extra charges and signed off. The installer missed their start date, so on her way out of town, Geri asked a neighbor to phone me at work whenever construction commenced.
The First Hint
The neighbor gave me a heads-up at eight the next morning. By the time I arrived, workmen had already set several posts… without concrete. After I explained they were supposed to use cement, a worker with a garden trowel spread dry sandmix around posts.
No, I said, they’re supposed to be set in concrete shaped to aid water runoff. I returned to work leaving them to it.
I flew to Miami and returned the following afternoon. The job had been wrapped minutes before my arrival. Except…
The pickets (paling panels) rested directly on the ground. Grounded palings made wood rot more quickly, wicking moisture from the soil up through the grain.
The crew had removed and reset only the first post in concrete; they hadn’t bothered with the others. Many showed a sprinkling of dry concrete but nearly as many went without.
Now suspicious, I looked closer. On the plus side, they hadn’t used staples but, after pulling one nail, I discovered they’d used ordinary smooth box nails. They company had completed none of the requirements they’d agreed to.
I’d let Geri down. I was so ticked off, I missed the most obvious mistake of all.
“Uh,” said the neighbor. “Why did they install half the fence backwards?”
“Half of the fence is inside out.”
The workmen had installed the left side of the fence facing out and the right side facing inward. Stick with me if you can handle the excitement.
03 October 2020
by John Floyd
Semicolonoscopy [sim-i-co-lun-OS-cah-pee] – An examination to detect abnormalities in the use of a certain mark of punctuation.
When edited, writers have saidSemicolons are something they dread;What if someone had stolenOne half of your colonAnd plugged in a comma instead?
02 October 2020
The term widow's walk originated in the eighteenth century referring to the exterior architectural feature of a rooftop patio. Though the original function of the elevated platform was practical--to facilitate a homeowner's ability to fight rooftop fires, which were common given the proximity to the chimneys.
However, more romantic, nautical connotations suggest that the name widow's walk may have evolved through lore.
The term, widow's walk, has two subtext elements. First, it implies that the structure has a view of the sea, or at least a large body of water. Secondly, it implies the risk of death, or at least the dreaded possibility of it. It conjures images of women wearing hoop skirts and hugging woolen shawls, bracing themselves against the salty gusts from a dark and stormy ocean, keeping watch for their husbands from their ventures on the sea.
Perhaps you've run across a widow's walk referenced in literature.
In his book Chesapeake, James A. Michener described a widow's walk as "derived from romantic tales of those loyal women who continued to keep watch for a ship that had long gone to the bottom of the coral reef."
In the crime fiction genre, the earliest version of the title Widow's Walk I could find was the 1846 classic mystery by French author, Charles Rabou. In 2002, it also graced the title of the 29th novel in Robert B. Parker's Spenser series.
Even more recently, it was the title of the seaside ghost story in the 2019 feature film of that name.
Last month while visiting a quiet beach community in Virginia, I stumbled across a widow's walk (not literally). A recently renovated beach house boasted one of these lookout towers. In my defense, who wouldn't be drawn to it?
Since the owner happened to be onsite, he offered to give me a tour. Hoping not to appear too stalkerish, I hopped at the chance to ascend his spiral staircase to the widow's walk several stories above ground and bask in the sweeping ocean views.
What the owner didn't realize was that even before I took my first step inside his beach house as my private tour began, my crime-fiction wheels got a-churning. This signature piece of architecture begged to be the scene of a (fictional) murder. So--ever the slave to my muse--I revised my current work-in-progress by changing the location.
This widow's walk is now showcased as the climactic setting of my latest short story of suspense, "Vendetta By the Sea," slated to be published in the upcoming anthology, VIRGINIA IS FOR MYSERIES: VOLUME 3 sometime in 2021.
Want to know more about the history of this architectural feature? You can read more in the blog post, "The Myth and Reality of Widow's Walks" <here>.
Has a real setting ever inspired one of your crime fiction stories?
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01 October 2020
This is Part Two of a three-part series. For Part One click here.
When I was a boy in elementary school I lived on a rural bus route far enough from school that if I missed the bus, it was either a long walk or a briefer, but not insignificant, bike ride to school.
Both my parents worked jobs that got them out of the house early, so if I did miss the bus, I was indeed on my own. My mother used to set the timer on the kitchen stove before she left for work every morning, and I knew that when that timer went off, it was time for me to go out to the stop in front of our house.
This was our system from the day I started 2nd grade until I moved on to junior high school several years later. In all those years I only missed the bus a couple of times.
His name was Greg, and we had been in the same class a few times, although that year we weren't. We occasionally played Foursquare or on the monkey bars at recess, and we were briefly in Cub Scouts together, but I wouldn't say we were exactly "friends." We just did things together, at school, and riding to school together.
Greg was a nice enough guy. Not really ebullient. Not flashy. He talked about how he already knew how to make French toast and how he made it himself for breakfast most days. As someone who had yet to move past mastering cold cereal, I was duly impressed by that. Greg was just "handy," or at least seemed so, in ways where I felt deficient.
Best of all, Greg wasn't mean. We didn't have a lot of "mean" kids at school. Don't get me wrong, every kid has it in them and we all channeled that regularly, and even with people we may have actually liked. But that was mostly kids trying things on, figuring out who they were and how they were going to get through their days. You know, "growing up." Most of the kids I grew up with weren't that kind of "mean," the sort of person who takes joy from actually making someone else miserable. Certainly not mean like Peter, the kid who stole my dad's stocking cap off of my head while my class was lined up waiting to get on the bus one afternoon in 5th grade. Boy, do I remember that guy.
I started riding to school with Greg because of Peter. On that day when Peter stole my dad's hat I missed the bus home because I stayed behind looking for it. None of the other kids admitted to seeing who had taken it, and I was afraid to leave school without trying to find it.
Bear in mind, this took place during the mid-1970s. Teachers were around, but it wasn't like it is now, when you can't walk three feet in an elementary school parking lot during morning drop-off or afternoon pick-up without having two or three staff members cross your line of sight. And it didn't even occur to me to ask a teacher for help.
So the bus left without me.
Within fifteen minutes I had given up the search, resigned to walking home and hoping my dad would forget about his stocking cap, and maybe never ask me about it. And all of a sudden, there was Greg, unlocking the combination lock on his bike chain, getting ready to ride up the long, steep hill that made up the first one-quarter of my coming walk home.
We started talking. Him asking me why I missed the bus, me telling him (I didn't yet know it was Peter who took my cap.). Me asking why he was leaving school so late, him telling me (getting help with math.).
Without either of us so much as suggesting it, we went up Stone Road to the top of that long hill together, Greg riding in slow circles around me as I walked. And then we also took the straight-as-a-preacher's-back, mile-and-a-bit stretch of Tieton Drive together until we reached my house.
As he was riding off, he said, "You should ride to school with me tomorrow."
So I did.
And I continued to for most days after that. And this went on for weeks.
And then one day, Greg didn't show up at my house, so I rode to school by myself. Greg wasn't at school either.
It wasn't something I questioned. I didn't find it odd. I didn't even give it too much thought. Like I said, Greg and I weren't really "friends." We rode to school together. And I liked him. He was a part of my day, but I didn't think of him as a "buddy."
Looking back, Greg was clearly something of a loner. During those rides we rarely talked, and never about his family. He never mentioned his parents. When he did talk about home, it was always about something he was doing, a project he was working on. But mostly we just rode together. Greg seemed pretty comfortable with long stretches of silence.
And that's what set us apart. I was a blabbermouth (there are some who would say that hasn't changed). I wasn't comfortable with silence. I didn't have "projects." In the afternoons before my parents got home (my mom bringing my two-year-old brother from daycare), I read Hardy Boys books and Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, and played in the big empty barn on our acreage and fortified it as if I were the U.S. Cavalry fighting off the Sioux. I rode my horse. I changed sprinklers if it was the right season (and sometimes not even then.).
And I watched a lot of Star Trek. Okay, and Gilligan's Island. It was the '70s. We had three broadcast channels and PBS.
But Greg didn't show up the next day. Or the day after that. I thought it was odd, but wasn't really concerned. After all, I was ten.
And no one said a word about his absence at school. I knew something was up, but like I said, I was ten, and I didn't really know what to say or do about it. I just did what everyone else around me did: went about my day. I even rode the bus again a couple of times.
About a week went by before my mom told me that Greg had died. Now, this was in 1975 or so, and memory is an imperfect thing. I honestly don't recall how my mom found out about Greg's death, whether it was in the paper, or whether she heard about it from a neighbor, or even at work (she worked at a hospital), and I haven't asked her about it before sitting down to write this blog entry, so I can't really say how she knew, she just did.
I asked if she knew how Greg died. She said he'd hanged himself from the banister in his house. He'd used his own belt. I remember thinking at the time, "That's handy." It wouldn't have even occurred to me to use one. Being ten, I kept that part to myself.
I did ask my mother whether it was an accident, maybe he was just goofing around? Nope, she said. He'd climbed up there meaning to kill himself.
I remember wondering why he'd done it. I remember asking my parents why he might have done it. They both supposed there were problems in Greg's home, but no one seemed to know for sure.
Mostly I remember just being baffled.
In my quiet moments (yes, I had them. Not a lot of them, but I did have them.), especially when riding my bike to school, I would occasionally think about riding with Greg. I didn't possess the perspective or vocabulary to ask myself these questions then, but I have often in the forty-five years since: were we actually friends? Was Greg just sad, and kept it bottled up? I didn't really know the word "depression" then, and I certainly wouldn't have understood the concept to the extent to which I've come to comprehend it in the decades since.
But I did wonder. I still do.
And I'll never know. And neither will Greg's parents, or the rest of his family, or any of the other kids he went to school with, now well into their mid-50s. I wonder how many of them even remember him? Does Ralph? Does Jack? Does Sheri? Does Terri? Does Rhonda? Does Brett? Does Gina?
I moved to Spokane a couple of years later and lost track of the kids I went to elementary school with, so I have no idea.
I'd had encounters with death before this. A cousin died of leukemia when I was six. Various great aunts and uncles passed away in the years before I turned ten.
But these relatives were ill for a long time before passing away. Greg just died. One day he was there, and the next he was gone. Snuffed out. And no one talked about it.
I didn't talk about it at school, and none of the other kids mentioned Greg's passing. I have no idea why not. Of course that sort of thing would never happen nowadays. Now, the school district would put out a statement about the sad news of a student's passing, and mention that grief counselors were on-hand to help the deceased's classmates cope with his death, should they require the support.
And I don't think that's a bad thing.
We might currently be a society that loves to talk a problem to death, but there are times when being open with kids about what's going on, encouraging them to ask questions and helping them make sense of the senseless isn't some scene out of a Woody Allen movie: it's a kind and humane thing to do.
But there is a line. Had Greg been murdered instead of taking his own life, would he be better remembered? Would his passing be more interesting to the public? If unsolved, would his death be fodder for message boards and true crime podcasts? Would there be a latent profit motive to discussing his last moments? Would speculating about them allow someone who knew him—maybe "rode to school with him, except for that final, fateful day..."—to cash in with the sort of "hybrid true crime memoir" one of my writer friends mentioned in my previous entry in this series?
I don't know.
I just know that's a book I could never write.
And I damned sure wouldn't read it.
In two weeks: the final installment of my "Why I Don't Read or Write True Crime" series, complete with Russian Roulette, a parking lot drug deal gone horribly wrong, and the goofiest criminal I've ever met.