08 May 2024

Fall Guys


We went to see The Fall Guy, and it’s terrific.  Not what you’d call deep, by any means, but enormously entertaining.  Some thoughts about that.

John Wayne made The Big Trail, directed by Raoul Walsh, in 1930.  It did not, however, to Walsh’s surprise, make Wayne a star.  Watching it, you can see why.  The Big Trail is a good picture, shot in any early version of ‘scope, and by most any yardstick, pretty spectacular.  Wayne, on the other hand, is pretty callow.  He hasn’t really grown into his own shoes.  This doesn’t happen until 1939, and the release of Stagecoach.  In between, over about ten years, Wayne cranked out some sixty movies for Republic Pictures, most of them hour-long B-westerns, made for the bottom half of a double bill at a kids’ matinee. 

They were shot very fast and loose – in a typical year, 1934, Wayne appeared in nine of them, and Randy Rides Alone is probably the only one still worth watching – and they followed a formula: the trick was in the stunts.  The scripts were lame, the characters were cardboard, but Wayne and Yakima Canutt staged their fight scenes together, and Yakima doubled for Wayne in the more dangerous gags.  (You can see Wayne riding a shovel down a plume of water in a spillway, in Randy, but it’s Yakima who jumps off a running horse, onto a bridge railing, and into a river.  There’s also a great jump, off a moving train into a river, in The Trail Beyond.)  There were, on average, three of these stunts per picture, and at least one knock-down, drag-out brawl – one of the best is Wayne and Ward Bond (doing an uncharacteristic turn as a crooked lawyer, defrauding a widder woman), in Tall in the Saddle.  You weren’t going to these pictures for uplift, you went to hold your breath.

Yakima Canutt famously doubled
Wayne in Stagecoach, too.  He jumps from the box down between the team of runaway horses pulling the stage, and dances along the doubletrees to mount the lead horse and gather up the reins.  Wayne later remarked, Canutt did the stunt, I got the close-up.  Canutt’s the Apache that gets shot off the horses, too, does the fall under their hooves, and then lies flat between the stagecoach wheels, going by on either side.  I think it’s the first time that was ever done.  And he’s most famously second unit on Ben-Hur, stunt coordinator for the chariot race.  He won them those eleven Oscars.

All this in aid of why
The Fall Guy is so good.  Stunt guys have gotten screen time before; Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham collaborated on half a dozen pictures - Needham reportedly punctured a lung and broke his back along the way, invented the cannon roll and the airbag, and essentially established the category of stunt designer.  David Leitch, who directed The Fall Guy (his previous credits include Bullet Train and Atomic Blonde) started his career in stunts: Fight Club, Buffy, Ghosts of Mars, Troy, Ocean’s Eleven, he’s doubled Brad Pitt a lot.  The Fall Guy is very much an homage, then.

It’s not so much an homage to the Lee Majors television series, though, which ran from 1981 to 1986, as it is inspired by it.  And one of the cooler conceits of the movie is a sort of meta narrative.  Not just the inside baseball, and Easter eggs, which abound, and which are used to terrific comic effect, but a sense that you’re drawing on the physicality of movies themselves, the real in service of the pretend: it hurts to fall off a building.  (Or the alternative, to see Buster Keaton miss being hit by a collapsing building; the earth moves, he remains still.)  I briefly had some fanboy letters back and forth with Peter Breck before he died, and he said Lee Majors was a real gent.  This was when I asked Peter about his guest shots on Fall Guy, the series.  He pointed out that he wasn’t the only one, that there was Doug McClure, and Jock Mahoney, and Clu Gulager, and a host of others.  Not that there weren’t a lot of terrific character actors guesting on the show, but these guys in particular had all been regulars on older TV series, the era of The Big Valley and before.

This is what I’m driving at with
The Fall Guy, the movie.  It has a respectful sense of itself.  Yes, it’s a series of set pieces.  Yes, the plot’s nothing to write home about.  Yes, the leads are hugely charming, Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt bring their A-game, without being self-consciously cute.  (Although they are indeed cute.)  And the way that the stunt gags are deployed are, yes, breathtaking - but something else.  You’re both in on the game, yet ready to be astonished, at the audacity of it all, the suspension of disbelief.  It’s magic.  It’s sleight of hand, or eye.  We know it’s a trick, and that simply adds to our delight.  We go to the show to be fooled. 

07 May 2024

Three Strikes--You're Dead!

I have a bad cold, so my good friend and fellow editor Donna Andrews has agreed to step in and write today's post. Thank you, and take it away, Donna!

--Barb Goffman

Three Strikes--You’re Dead!
by Donna Andrews

Thank you, SleuthSayers, for giving me a chance to apologize to SJ Rozan, basketball fan extraordinaire. Marcia Talley, Barb Goffman, and I didn’t exactly promise her a hoops story when we recruited her to do the introduction to our sports-themed anthology. But you’d think at least one of our contributors would have been captured by the thrill of a fast-paced court battle, the lure of the layup, the drama of dribbling and dunking. But no.

And now it can be revealed for the first time--I tried, SJ, I really did. I tried so hard to convince at least one of the contributors to revise their story to feature basketball instead of whatever sport they’d chosen instead.

I started with Robin Templeton, who’s always eager to listen to good editorial input. But she reminded me that “Eight Seconds to Live” was about bull-riding, and a dangerous bull being used as a weapon. She very rationally pointed out that basketballs rarely go on murderous rampages, and did we want to lose all her carefully researched rodeo local color? She had a point.

I made the same pitch to Kathryn Prater Bomey, whose “Running Interference” features high school football. Why not high school basketball instead? She reminded me that a marching band also plays a
part in the plot, and when was the last time you saw one of those invading the court between quarters?

Sherry Harris pointed out that while it was perfectly plausible for her hard-working PI to get roped into a coeducational game of ultimate Frisbee while working undercover, basketball teams rarely need to draft spectators from the stands when one of their teammates goes AWOL, so adding hoops to “The Ultimate Bounty Hunter” was a no-go.

I could have made a good pitch to the authors of the three baseball stories in the collection--“hey, we’ve got other baseball stories . . . don’t you want to stand out as the only basketball tale?” But Alan Orloff’s “Murder at Home” features such a unique method of dealing death on the diamond. F. J. Talley’s “Cui Bono” captures so nicely the pressure of a minor leaguer wanting to move up to the majors. And Rosalie Spielman’s “Of Mice and Murdered Men” reminded me of those bygone days when I spent many long summer afternoons watching my nephews’ Little League games. I left them alone. We did call the book Three Strikes--You’re Dead! We needed a good dose of baseball.

I didn’t even ask Sharon Taft to consider changing “Race to the Bottom,” her story about zorbing, which is a sport invented (some say) in the 1980s by England’s Dangerous Sports Club. Alas, when you zorb, you’re traveling inside a giant transparent plastic ball, not bouncing one around a court.

And I knew better than to suggest to Barb Goffman that she have the out-of-shape protagonist of “A Matter of Trust” take up basketball instead of biking. For one thing, basketball isn’t something you can ease into gently to regain fitness. And for another, she’d probably have told me that she knows a little about biking and absolutely nothing about basketball.

Nor did I suggest Maddi Davidson bring “Off the Beaten Trail” indoors, when the whole point of the story was to pit a solitary biathlon competitor in training against danger in a challenging wintry setting.
The same with Smita Harish Jain’s “Run for Your Life,” which sets an ingenious murder plot against the backdrop of the Boston Marathon.

By this time I’d gained a new appreciation for what our contributors had accomplished. Joseph S. Walker’s “And Now, an Inspiring Story of Tragedy Overcome” takes our collective memory of the attack on ice skater Nancy Kerrigan and asks a compelling “what it?” William Ade’s “Punch-Drunk” brings to life the seedy 60s milieu of a world-weary detective and a has-been boxer. Lynne Ewing’s “The Last Lap Goodbye” takes such perfect advantage of the plight of a solitary swimmer practicing late at night at a deserted pool. And Adam Meyer’s “Double Fault,” with its slow, insidious build as two tennis opponents exchange verbal volleys along with balls . . . all our contributors did a wonderful job of weaving murder into their chosen sports.

I gave up. When I was discussing the draft manuscript of Murder with Peacocks with Ruth Cavin, my first editor, she asked me why I’d done something or other that she didn’t like. And after I’d explained that I’d done it to comply with what I thought was one of the unwritten rules of writing a mystery, she said something that lived on in my memory: “Let it be the story it is.”

So I stopped trying to guilt-trip any of our wonderful contributors into adding basketball to their stories. Let them be the stories they are. They’re fine as is. In fact, they’re pretty darned great.

Sorry about that, SJ!

(And thanks again to Lucy Burdette, Dan Hale, and Naomi Hirahara for serving as judges for Three Strikes--You’re Dead!)

You can buy the paperback of this recently released book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and directly from the publisher. Ebook version should be available soon.

06 May 2024

Measure once, cut, correct and amend forever.

There’s this great scene in the old Star Trek TV show where McCoy treats a silicone-based life form by whipping up some kind of cementitious slurry, which he uses to heal the creature’s wound.  When it works, McCoy, as surprised as anyone, says, “Sometimes I feel like I could fix a rainy day.”

I’ve used that line myself on the rare occasion I succeed with some forlornly impossible repair.  It’s a boast that haunts me, since I feel it brings on later failure.  You could call that superstitious and you’d be right. 

Being a retired person, much of what I do is building, maintenance and repair.  We own two properties aged thirty and sixty-five years respectively.  Would you be surprised that things at both places constantly go bad?   This means I always have something to do, and visit the hardware stores in each town at least once a day.  When they see me coming, I imagine thought bubbles that say, “What is it this time?”

I did some simple math recently and realized I’ve been doing this sort of thing for about forty-five years.  I’ve been trying to develop, maintain and repair my writing for somewhat longer than that, so by now, the two activities have blended into one.

The rules of both apply.  You want to make the first draft as close to the finished product as possible.  Although often, getting close enough is okay, expecting to go back at it with fresh eyes and brain after its had a chance to season a bit.  Though you don’t want to leave too crude a product, needing far more rehabilitation than warranted by a casual start. 

More than once, the next day I toss the whole thing out.  William Styron once told me (I know I’m name dropping, but we did spend a long evening telling stories and consuming copious amounts of Scotch) that sometimes the prose he’d left the day before “looked like crippled little children.”  An improvement on the notion that writers need to occasionally kill their babies.  The important thing to know is that time does alter perceptions, and the slightly misfit joint of the day before can look like the Grand Canyon in the early morning light. 

I have machine tools representing every decade of the last hundred years, beginning with a grinding wheel and wire brush assembly driven by an electric motor that’s likely much older than that.  Hundreds of hand tools and thousands of fasteners, screws, nails, nuts and bolts, and electrical and plumbing do-dads, enough hardware to choke a True Value and scrap lumber adequate for the construction of a modest starter home.  For the writing, all I have is years of trial and error, the opinions of finicky editors and the inspiration of other writers.  But all are tools of the trade.  I would love to have back the healthy years spent accumulating all this, but there is some compensation in the possession.  

Nothing is ever really finished.  Every time you look at the new cabinet or architectural detail, you see a flaw.  There’s a reason why in advertising we had a deadline called “pencils down”, because the copywriters would fiddle forever.  I do the same with fiction.  I have to stop reading soon before the story or book is submitted, because I know I would be tweaking for all eternity.  It’s why I rarely read anything of mine in print.  I can’t help reaching for a pen, and that is the definition of wasted effort. 

At least with construction and repair, time heals most deficiencies  You stop zeroing in on the little stuff and start seeing the whole.  You can even get a little satisfaction, even if it comes many years later.  Though this moment is usually blighted by the current projects at hand – a kindergarten classful of querulous and demanding children, flaunting their failings and imperfections. 



05 May 2024

How the West has Worn

What defines a Western? Many argue it’s an American phenomenon although European filmmakers have left a sizable stamp. It’s more than six-guns and shootouts and Mama, fetch the rifle.

To me, their morality plays with clearly delineated rôles, good and evil, male and female, peace and violence. Good triumphs over wickedness and although we vicariously enjoy violence in pursuit of justice, peace eventually reigns. All becomes right with the world.

List of Lists

I was thumbing through my feed when it decided I needed more exposure to Westerns. The internet is loaded with articles about the 10 Best Westerns and the 20 Best Western Actors. More than most genres,  opinions differ wildly but not violently. An actor at the top of one list doesn’t appear on other lists at all. I was surprised one film list opened with WestWorld and The Three Amigos comedy on the list. Are those even Westerns?

So be it. When we were children, lists in no special order might include:

 1. Roy Rogers11. Richard Boone
 2. Gene Autry12. Jimmy Stewart
 3. Clayton Moore13. Michael Landon
 4. Jay Silverheels14. Dan Blocker
 5. Duncan Renaldo15. Hugh O’Brian
 6. James Arness16. Gene Barry
 7. James Garner17. Josh Randall
 8. Steve McQueen18. William Boyd
 9. Chuck Connors19. Lash La Rue
10. Clint Walker20. … and many more

Haboob has watched more Westerns than Sergio Leone’s film editor. Some of her favorites are obscure, some she’s watched many times. Her popularity list runs thus:

 1. John Wayne 4. Sam Elliot
 2. Walter Brennan 5. Barbara Stanwick
 3. Yul Brynner 6. Maureen O’Hara

Frankly, I’m not sure Haboob could be trusted in a room alone with Sam Elliot. Similarly, Sharon’s list goes like this:

 1. Kevin Costner 4. no one worth mentioning
 2. Kevin Costner 5.  
 3. Kevin Costner 6.  

To me, the mark of a good film is what we remember five or ten years after viewing it. Some blockbusters (i.e, The French Connection) have left few memory traces, but other less popular movies had scenes that stuck. My own list isn’t as well considered, but I’d hazard my favorite actors include:

 1. Clint Eastwood 5. John Wayne
 2. Lee Van Cleef 6. Charles Bronson
 3. Henry Fonda 7. Jack Elam
 4. Yul Brynner 8. umm…

Jack Elam had a wandering eye. No, not that kind, although he was once called the most loathsome man in Hollywood. Sadly, two of my favorites have been called Mr. Loathsome and Mr. Ugly. Elam injured his eye as a child and it became a kind of trademark, terrifying children with his bad guy portrayals in B-movie after movie Westerns. He appears so often, that he earned a kind of audience affection and went on to become a leading man and even starred in comedies.

I put Fonda on my list not because of his heroic rôles, but when he played a bad guy with chilling ice-cold blue eyes. Fans could easily believe the presence of evil. His interaction with Charles Bronson is memorable.

Since I was a kid, Lee Van Cleef fascinated me. When spaghetti Westerns emerged, Ol’ Squinty Eyes came into his own. He seconded Eastwood in a couple of man-with-no-name Westerns and starred in his own, once matched against a knife-thrower and a psychotic German bounty hunter. He also starred in a near-Western as a ferry operator facing off against an army.

My favorite of the man-with-no-name series was the middle one, A Few Dollars More. Many will challenge that, although I think John mentioned he agreed. The most humane of the films, it combines an intriguing plot with a poignant relationship between bounty hunters Van Cleef and Eastwood. We can see Eastwood doesn’t mind poking fun at himself and we discover Van Cleef is a better nimrod than Eastwood himself.

Train Spotters

I’ll end with a clip not of Van Cleef, but of Eastwood chatting up an old man in his shack by the railroad. The scene is unusual in that you simultaneously know and don’t know what’s coming, laughing when you least expect it.

  To Kill a Dead Man @ Portishead


In modern slang, nimrod means fool, but in traditional use dating back to Biblical times, nimrod refers to a good hunter, a good shot with gun or bow.

04 May 2024

"Damn, I've Struck Oil!" Tom Gushed Crudely


I've been writing more short stories than usual lately, and maybe that's the reason most of my recent SleuthSayers posts have leaned toward the "rules" of writing, and fiction writing in particular. Heaven knows there's plenty of advice out there, especially on the subject of grammar and style. Elmore Leonard even wrote a (very small) book about ten of those rules. 

What I'm leading up to is, one of those writing rules is the age-old advice to avoid the overuse of adverbs (especially "ly" adverbs) describing speech. Examples: He moaned sadly, She laughed happily) And anytime that topic pops up, someone always mentions Tom Swift, the YA action/adventure hero whose stories often included brilliant dialog like "I'll save you," Tom shouted bravely, or "Yes, that's too bad," Tom agreed sadly.

That, in turn, always seems to lead to a discussion of the term Swifty. And no, I'm not talking about a swindler, or an alcoholic drink, or a fan of Taylor Swift. I'm talking about a word that supposedly came from "We must hurry," Tom said swiftly and progressed to include any similar example, the sillier and dumber the better. (You can even leave out the "ly.") By definition, a Tom Swifty is a sentence linked by some kind of pun to the manner in which it is attributed. You know what I mean.

Swifties are a little like limericks: once you start remembering them or inventing them and spouting them to the group, it's hard to stop. The more Swifties you put in a list, the more come to mind, the more you laugh, the more you're inclined to laugh, and, well, you get the picture. 

If you're a regular reader of this blog (bless you!), you might or might not recall that I wrote a column about Swifties several years ago, and I figured it might be time for an update. So . . .

The following is, I hope, an improved (though not approved) list of forty Swifties. The best ones are those I remembered or found online, and the worst are those I made up myself in weak moments--but I confess I love 'em all.

See what you think:

"That's a big shark," Tom said superficially. 

"I collided with my bed," Tom said rambunctiously.

"I slipped on the hill to Hogwarts," said J.K., rolling.

"I didn't do anything!" Adam said fruitlessly.

"This girl is gone," said Gillian, fleein'.

"Bring me my soup!" said Reese, witherspoon.

"Look at those pasties twirl," Tom said fastidiously.

"I will not finish in fifth place," Tom held forth.

"That was a tasty hen," said the Roman, gladiator.

"I told you I'm not fonda this script," Henry said, madigan.

"I dropped the toothpaste," Tom said, crestfallen.

"Who's Victor Hugo?" asked Les miserably.

"My car's in the shop," said Christopher, walken.

"A Black woman beat me at tennis," Tom said serenely.

"I'm an intelligent man, very intelligent," Donald trumpeted.

"I saw a mockingbird peck Gregory," Tom said harperly.

"I'm sailing with Noah," said Alan, arkin'.

"You're a smartass," Tom wisecracked.

"I'm going to see Natalie," said Joanne, woodward.

"Never pet a lion," Tom said offhandedly.

"Y'all, I'm leavin'," said Dolly, partin'.

"I've already left," said Faye, dunaway.

"I got kicked out of China," Tom said, disoriented.

"I invented the Internet," Tom said allegorically.

"I can't write while sick," said George, orwell.

"I never get to play the friend," said Willem, dafoe.

"That grizzly is climbing the tree after me," Tom said overbearingly.

"Let's sit here and watch for sharks," Peter said benchley.

"I'm tired of smiling," moaned Lisa.

"I want to sketch Goldwater again," said Drew Barrymore.

"What's that in the punchbowl?" Tom said, deterred.

"I punched him in the stomach three times," Tom said triumphantly.

"I left the Xena the crime," said Lucy lawlessly.

"I'm gonna hit a bad drive," Tom forewarned.

"Shaken, not stirred," said Sean and Roger, bonding.

 "I stepped on Harriet Beecher's toe," said Uncle Tom, gabbin'.

"Ow!" Dracula said, painstakingly.

"She set my car on fire and left me," Burt said, smoky and abandoned.

"I ate two cans of beans," said Vladimir, putin.

"About hot dogs, my dear, I don't give a damn," Tom said frankly.

Okay, enough of that. What are some of your favorite Swifties? Can you create a few from scratch? (Use the names of writers, maybe. Surely you can do better than I did.)

For anyone who'd like me to go back to talking about writing, or movies, in these posts, consider this:

"Last night I dreamt I wrote to Mrs. de Winter again," Rebecca said manderley.

To those who attended Malice or the Edgars, thanks for posting photos. Wish I'd been there.

See you in two weeks.

03 May 2024

We are all apprentices

Ran across something enlightening on YouTube entitled Ernest Hemingway's Favorite Writing Exercise and figured writers would find is as interesting as I found it.

In 1934, Ernest Hemingway gave an aspiring writer an exercise to sharpen his observation skills to describe his observations on paper, to train himself to be a better writer.

Broken into three steps to "show, don't tell" in writing a story:

  1. Closely observe a situation, then retell it in words. Search for what excited you about the action to avoid vagueness in writing.
  2. Pay attention to emotions and reactions of others in the situation and see the world though their eyes. Writers should not judge people but understand them.
  3. Repeat the first two steps. Practice. Practice. Practice. Observe and listen.

The video includes a terrific Hemingway quote, "All good books are alike in that they are truer if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer."

The video ends with another Hemingway quote, "We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master."

The video elaborates on each step. Many examples come from my favorite Hemingway novel, The Old Man and the Sea.

While Hemingway's style is not to everyone's taste, we can learn from him.

Link to the video entitled Ernest Hemingway's Favorite Writing Exercise – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sjw08QKel8

Video Credit: www.nicolebianco.com

That's all for now,


02 May 2024

Where's the Documentary?: RFK Jr. Edition - and Kristi Noem

It's amazing how many people here in South Dakota do not know that on September 28, 1983, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was arrested in Rapid City, South Dakota for possession and ingestion of heroin.

Some backstory: After being sworn in in 1982 as assistant district attorney in Manhattan, RFK Jr. failed the bar exam and resigned in July 1983, saying he needed a rest. Apparently he hadn't shared with anyone, including his employers, the fact that he'd been doing heroin since at least 1969, when he was 15 years old. (He later told the New Yorker (July 7, 2023), “I was a heroin addict for fourteen years. I’m lucky to be alive. People have plenty of reason to write me off forever because of the way I conducted my life during that fourteen-year period.")

Anyway, in September, he ended up on a Republic flight to Rapid City, where he either

  1. got into a spat with another traveler on the flight, and went to the toilet where he did some heroin, OR
  2. fell sick on an airplane (most likely from doing heroin in the toilet) on the way out there.

In any case, when the plane arrived in the airport, the Rapid City police met the plane at the airport and arrested him for possession of a small amount of heroin. Who also met him at the airport was Bill Walsh, the prior owner of the Franklin Hotel in Deadwood a state congressman, ex-priest, now in the SD Hall of Fame, and strong Democrat, allegedly to help Robert Jr to a rehab center. (Anonymous source)

"Heroin possession is a Class 4 felony with a penalty that may include a fine of up to $20,000, up to 10 years in prison, or both.
The maximum penalty for the unlawful ingestion of a Schedule I or II controlled drug or substance is 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine." (South Dakota Law Code)

Being from a famous, wealthy, and white family, RFK Jr. did not get either of those sentences. It probably also helped that his defense attorney was John Fitzpatrick Sr, who'd moved from Boston to Rapid City after the mob injured his leg with a car bomb. (At the time, he was representing a mob hitman who the mob feared was about to become an informant. He later became a SD judge.)

Now I admit, this steams me up: For one thing, instead of jail time pending trial and sentencing, RFK Jr. got to go to a drug treatment center. (I have no idea which one.) That doesn't happen for poor folk. Or even "middle class" folk. For one thing, inpatient drug treatment centers cost a lot of money. Try between $10,000 and $30,000 on average for a 30 day program, and not all health insurance will cover it. (Source) And I know far too many people who have been sentenced to the full 10 years plus 5 years, and been slapped with the $30,000 fine, which they can only afford to pay off if deal drugs as soon as they get out to raise the cash. That or win the lottery.

Anyway, finally, at the last moment, RFK pled guilty to a single felony charge of possession of heroin in February 1984, and got two years' probation and community service. Kennedy did his community service working as a volunteer for Riverkeeper, an environmental organization in the Hudson Valley (not in Rapid City) founded by Robert H. Boyle (SPOILER ALERT: This will be very important in a few moments!) and was required to attend regular drug-rehabilitation sessions. His probation ended a year early. Chances are, his record has been expunged as well. (Wikipedia, UPI.)

First of all, good for RFK, Jr., that he got clean and stayed clean.

Secondly, this is not the story that would make a great documentary.


A while back, Washington Post did a story on Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s tenure at Riverkeeper, from his volunteer year of commnity service (see above) to becoming their senior attorney in 1985, to his dramatic resignation in 2017 where he said (completely falsely) “It is extraordinarily difficult to leave the organization which I co-founded thirty-three years ago, built from the ground up and to which I’ve devoted most of my career."

As I said before, Riverkeeper was founded by Robert H. Boyle, a renowned environmentalist, was the founder of the original organization, Hudson River Fisherman's Association (HRFA) in 1966, which later changed its name to Riverkeeper. HRFA and Riverkeeper's purpose was to clean up the Hudson River, and to continue to fight environmental pollution in the Hudson River Valley. They were very successful. (Wikipedia)

So what happened?

Well, RFK Jr. had risen through the ranks to become Riverkeeper's primary attorney and a very important fundraiser for the organization. He also co-founded an environmental litigation clinic at Pace Law School in 1987 that worked primarily on cases for Riverkeeper. John Humbach, a former Pace law professor and associate dean, said Kennedy quickly became famous among students as a dazzling instructor. And he had, as they say, connections with the rich, famous, and politically active.

But not everyone was dazzled:

Alex Boyle, son of Robert H. Boyle, became wary of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. following an incident when they were collecting samples from Quassaick Creek. “I said to my father, ‘You have a pet rattlesnake. Eventually he’s going to bite you.’” (Jeenah Moon for The Washington Post)

And then in 1999, he hired William Wegner. "Kennedy described him as a skilled scientist, but Riverkeeper had not been looking for a scientist. As Boyle later described it, he became suspicious — and then horrified — as he began digging into Wegner’s background. Wegner, then 49, had been released from federal prison just a few months earlier, after serving about 3½ years of a five-year sentence for tax fraud, perjury and conspiracy to violate wildlife protection laws. The charges all sprang from his roughly decade-long run as the alleged kingpin of a smuggling ring that trafficked in Australian cockatoos.

Richard.Fisher derivative work: Snowmanradio,
originally posted to flickr at Major Mitchell's Cockatoo
at Australia Zoo
and uploaded to commons at

"According to prosecutors, Wegner recruited a team of at least 10 “mules” who raided tree hollows in Australia to steal the birds’ eggs. The mules incubated the eggs using Styrofoam and hair dryers and then hid their contraband in special vests as they flew back to the United States. If the eggs hatched en route, Wegner’s couriers had instructions to flush the chicks down the airplane toilet."

"Boyle was livid when he learned about Wegner’s past and ordered that he be fired. Kennedy objected, taking his case to the board. Among other things, he argued that Wegner was an experienced scientist who would come cheap because of his inability to find other work and that his crimes had involved birds so common in Australia they were considered agricultural pests. 'Every species that he smuggled was a vermin species that the Australian government was paying people to destroy,' RFK Jr. said. But that was a lie: Today at least three of the species targeted by Wegner’s ring are listed as endangered by the Australian government.'

RFK Jr. also said that Wagner had been working for "environmental consulting firms" in the Hudson River Valley for years. That also was a lie.

What RFK Jr. didn't say was that he and Wagner had an old bond, an obsession with raptors: “We weren’t friends,” he said in an interview. “I mean, we’re friends in terms of — you know, I’m kind of a friend with anyone who’s flying a hawk. You have an instant basis for friendship.”

But the two did share a close mutual friend and fellow Hudson Valley falconer, Thomas Cullen III. Cullen, whom Kennedy described to The Post as “one of my best friends,” appears in a November 2023 campaign video about the presidential candidate’s love of falconry.

Now this is interesting: Cullen himself was also involved in bird smuggling: in 1984, he was arrested by Australian authorities, who alleged he had been climbing a tree with a hatchet in a wildlife sanctuary in Western Australia, trying to steal eggs from a cockatoo’s nesting hollow. He pleaded guilty to charges in Australia and paid a fine. Cullen was never charged by U.S. officials in connection with Wegner’s smuggling conspiracy, which according to federal records involved several falconers from the Hudson Valley. But in 2006, Cullen was sentenced to four months in prison and a $1,000 fine for importing black sparrow hawks in violation of the Wild Bird Conservation Act and making false statements to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Anyway, there was a board meeting over the whole Wagner hullabaloo, and RFK, Jr. managed to turn enough people to his side that he won by 13 to 8. Boyle, and his supporters, quit immediately.

With Boyle gone, RFK Jr. was President of Riverkeeper, until 2017, when he resigned for two reasons: "the toll on his family by his cross-country commute from California and the demands of his work with World Mercury Project, the anti-vaccine group that would soon become Children’s Health Defense. Under Kennedy’s leadership, the annual revenue of Children’s Health Defense would balloon from a half-million dollars to more than $23 million, placing it in the vanguard of anti-vaccination advocacy groups."

The man who had discovered an already successful environmental group while doing court-imposed community service now falsely claimed to have founded Riverkeeper, which he said had “a budget of zero” before he arrived. “It is extraordinarily difficult to leave the organization which I co-founded thirty-three years ago, built from the ground up and to which I’ve devoted most of my career,” Kennedy wrote.

In an interview with The Post, Kennedy said his resignation letter “was certainly accurate as to what I believed at that time.” He added, “I have no memory of writing that letter, and I have no memory of anybody disputing anything that I said about my role at Riverkeeper.”

The Boyles did.

(The full source article from Washington Post is HERE: WaPO)

So, when is the Netflix or Hulu documentary coming out?


Congratulations to everyone who managed to NOT spend the weekend killing a pet dog, or a smelly billy goat, or reading about any of this. (All you have to do is look up "Kristi Noem Killed Dog" and you will be flooded with websites and memes, saying everything more eloquently, sarcastically, and profanely than even I can.)

What I will say is that many people did not realize that our Governor has done other peculiar things:

On April 6, 2019, she gathered her family around a caged raccoon and they proceeded to kill it as good family fun. She posted the pictures on her very public Governor Kristi Noem Facebook page, which you can find easily, and the date, as I said, is April 6, 2019. The pictures are still there as is this blurb:

"Love seeing kids this excited about being outside!! Our nest predator bounty program launched this week, and we’re seeing great results. Let’s get kids away from the X-box and out with the live box!"

Scared raccoon, live in a box.   Dead raccoon out of the box.
Scared raccoon, live in a box.   Dead raccoon out of the box.

This was all part of her Predator Bounty project, which pays people $10 per tail to kill animals that (could) eat pheasant eggs. It has become a habit up here for locals to stop when they see roadkill of a possum or raccoon to stop and cut off the tail. It's an easy $10. If you have a hatchet or a sharp enough knife.

She asked for a flamethrower for as a Christmas gift the next year, and her staff gave it to her. So of course she made an Instagram photo with it: (LINK)

Also, she's been the centerpiece of a national workforce recruitment campaign, with herself in various job uniforms saying, basically, come to South Dakota and find jobs and freedom (the ad company was paid $2.9 million for this is out of Minnesota, not South Dakota, so ironically, there's no ad jobs here, at least not for state government). Hilariously, Sen. Michael Rohl, R-Aberdeen said, “I certainly hope the next phase isn’t highlighting a need for veterinarians."

I can see it now: Kristi dressed as a veterinarian, while a wire-haired pointer tries frantically to scrabble its way off the examination table... Jobs and freedom, people.


My brand new story, "At the Dig" is in Black Cat Weekly #138. (HERE)

And let's not forget the wonderful anthologies, Murder Neat and Paranoia Blues, both available on Amazon.com which have, respectively, my "Bad Influence" and "Cool Papa Bell" in them:


01 May 2024

Said in Seattle

Two weeks ago I reported on How I Spent My Mystery Writer Vacation at Left Coast Crime in Seattle.  Below you will find some of the words of wisdom I picked up there.  Unfortunately all the context fell off the Space Needle, so you're on your own in that regard.

"I want to welcome everyone to the beautiful Northwest and what is also known as the serial killer capital of the world." - Jamie Lee Sogn

 "Just for fun, let's actually address the topic of the panel." - Meredith Taylor

 "A man wakes up in the afterlife.  It's a Jewish afterlife.  There's nothing there." - Jo Perry

"She has a personality chart that's based on dim sum." - Jennifer J. Chow

"The finacular railway is the slowest chase in the world." - Wendall Thomas

"Edgar Allan Poe was a great theorist but if you actually apply it to his writings he's about a C student." - Stephen D. Rogers 

"Whenever I see something in media or social media that makes me afraid I ask: who's making money off this?" - John Copenhaver

"I don't have a brother and I never wanted to murder him." - Peter Malone Elliott

"Soap operas are kind of the porn of the industry." - Jon Lindstrom

"Any of my villains who bought it in the end were on that train from the beginning." - SJ Rozan

"I once got a review and it was just the word CRAP with one hundred exclamation points.  It's my favorite review." - Lee Matthew Goldberg 

"There is more than one way to write a story, but not for me." - Michael Allan Mallory

"A movie set is like a small town." - Marjorie McCown

"Felons are easy victims because no one believes them when somebody targets them." - Pamela Benson

"What's political about Texas?" - David Corbett

"I always think of writing as being a con artist." - Stephen D. Rogers 

"The thing about procrastination is it pays off right now." - Bobby Mathews 

"It's good to see so many faces of people who aren't mad at me." - Brian Thornton

"This is just what I wanted to write about, just sweetness and light, and a little bit of murder." - G.P. Gottlieb

"Wars are great initiators of new slang." - Jeanne Matthews 

"The villain is the personification of what gets in the way." - SJ Rozan

"I've been a parole officer for 112 years." - Cindy Goyette

"He is equally comfortable taking romantic walks on the beach, or dumping the body elsewhere." - Brian Thornton

"That book was criticized for letting the social issues distract from the story but I thought the social issue was the story." - Priscilla Paton

"When I'm writing a book I turn into a Roomba." - Karen Odden

"People who aren't awful bore the hell out of me." - Rob Pierce

"I don't want any pretty murders." - Thomas Perry

"Spy stuff is intentionally murky so I never know if I'm supposed to be lost here." - David Downing

"One of the unknown secrets about ghostwriters is that many of us are the children of addicts and narcissists." - Sarah Tomlinson

"The editor is there to make your art into a commercial product." - Juliet Grames

"The movies Silver Streak and Julia have train scenes that are almost the same but one is terrifying and one is hilarious."  - Wendall Thomas

"I'm getting my law degree from Twitter." - David Corbett 

"When I was writing about the sixteenth century the phone rang and I said 'What the hell is this thing?'" - Kenneth Wishnia

"That's our job. We make things up." - Meredith Taylor

30 April 2024

Character Revealed

     When this blog posts, I'll be on the road. My traveling companion and I will be returning to
the Lone Star State from Malice Domestic 2024. While there, I'll participate in a panel discussion with fellow Sleuth, Barb Goffman. Joining us are Kate Hohl, Mary Dutta, and Kerry Hammond. The panel will be talking about, "Short Stories: Quickly Connecting Reader to Character."

    (It's an odd space-time continuum bending moment. I'm writing prospectively about an event that will have occurred by publication.) I look forward to/enjoyed discussing the craft of short story creation with these accomplished writers. 

    I'm excited to learn many things from them about building character. Do they, for instance, build characters first and then allow the plot to emerge from the interaction among these individuals, or do they conceive of a plot and build characters to inhabit that narrative? Do we all do the same thing, or do our methods vary? 

    As with many seminar topics, I'd be shocked if we surprise anyone with our discussion. There are only so many ways to reveal character. Our panel will, I hope, provide an entertaining review and, perhaps, systematize the process. If we succeed, the readers and writers in the audience will be better able to think about the characters in the next story they open. 

    We might quickly run aground over the use of the word "character." We always create characters within our stories. Each character has a particular character that makes them heroic or villainous or NPCs in the vocabulary of my gamer children. To keep the conversation afloat, I'll use "character" as the word to describe the person or animal involved in the story and "nature" when discussing the qualities that make them who or what they are. 

    As writers, we have a handful of tools for developing nature. Time permitting, I hope our panel's discussion will include a conversation about them all. Some authors might rely heavily upon dialogue to show us the nature of their tale's characters. Accents, word choice, and truncated versus elaborate sentences tell us something about the people inhabiting the stories. We learn from their questions, their answers, and their non-answers. In other stories, appearance might be the tool. Physically appearance and mannerisms usually elicit our first reaction to people. The vise-like grip, the sweating brow, and the beady eyes all help draw a picture for the readers and shape their expectations. 

    Action and a character's response, or lack thereof, may tell us about the story's inhabitants. Something happens and characters change. A door opens. There is a moment of stress. The characters fight, flee, or freeze. What the characters do and how change affects them shows their nature. 

    Finally, a writer might reveal the nature of the characters through their thoughts. The monologue playing inside the characters' heads as they evaluate situations, resolve conflicts, and make decisions exposes the nature of the individuals we are reading about in stories. 

    These are the readily available tools for showing readers the characters. They are the devices for making them interesting and believable. As authors, we deploy them to make the characters worth getting to know. 

    Sometimes, however, we choose to tell readers about a character's nature. As writers, we might present nature ourselves. The advantage is economy. The writer may say that a character is stupid. In that case, the reader learns the information far more efficiently than descriptions and dialogue may permit. The downside is that, having invested nothing, the reader might not care. 

    A final alternative is to have a character reveal the nature of a fellow character. One person may comment on or think about the nature of another. This method reveals something about both individuals. The reader is called upon to decide whether her opinion agrees with the speaker or thinker's evaluation. 

    As evidenced by the previous sentence, it's worth noting that almost no story relies entirely upon one technique. A reader will need some clues from appearance, speech, or action to pass judgment on another character's evaluation of nature. 

    Thinking about revealed nature for the Malice panel caused me to look back upon "Streetwise," my story in the current issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. The story concerns the interaction between a man and his friend. The friend is currently homeless. 

    I wrote "Streetwise," with alternating points of view between the two men. At the time, I wanted to shift POV as an exercise I'd not tried before, at least not intentionally. It seemed a good technique for feeding details slowly, extracting them from the different observations and experiences of each man. 

    As the story ping-ponged between the two, each character's nature is revealed by the thoughts of the other. It's that sixth technique discussed above. The reader can measure each character's evaluation of his friend based on the revealed facts. The story is a "tell" with a bit of "show." 

    Multiple POVs and telling about the other characters are suitable only for some stories. I wanted to try it for this one. I'm honored that the kind folks at Alfred Hitchcock liked the story. I hope that the readers do also. 

    Until next time. 

29 April 2024

Slackers, Lost Souls and a Serial Killer

In mysteries, as in every other category, fashion decrees novelty, and it is always pleasing to come across something new – or new again. Perhaps in response to the super heroes of the last few years, the Jack Reachers and Lisbeth Salanders of the thriller world, not to mention the high tech apparatus of procedurals, there have been some novels featuring not so polished heroes and not so much efficiency.

Mick Herron's Slough House series kicked off in 2010 with Slow Horses, named for the washed up and seemingly incompetent spies inhabiting Slough House. In 2019 Alexander McCall Smith debuted what his publisher calls Scandi Blanc, featuring a competent Inspector Ulf Varg investigating frankly whimsical crimes.

Now we have Anders de la Motte's, The Mountain King, the first in a promised trilogy, which combines super competent and alert investigator Leo Auster (reminiscent in more than one way of Lisbeth Salander) with The Resources Unit, AKA The Department of Lost Souls (a Slough House if there ever was one). Their truly trivial crime of the moment is a complaint about rogue figures appearing in a super-sized model train layout.

The Mountain King

Can this work? Well, yes it does. De La Motte manages the tricky combination of super cop, a young woman prepared, literally, for every conceivable danger by Prepper Per, her intelligent but seriously paranoid and sadistic father. Given dear old dad and her high powered lawyer mom, Leo has her problems and a decidedly difficult style of personal relations.

Unsurprisingly, she is not a great team player. Faced with a high profile kidnapping, she soon runs afoul of the powers that be and of her sworn enemy Jonas Hellman, a honcho in the National Police. Removed from the investigation partly because her mother is one of the victim's family lawyers, Leo is literally send downstairs to the Department of Lost Souls.

The department's prior head, the alcoholic and seemingly disorganized Bendt Sandgren, is seriously ill in hospital after a heart attack and a fall. He's left her with the case of the disturbed model railway setup, and Leo is not best pleased with either that or with the slackers who inhabit the department.

When she pushes ahead with her own line of investigation into the kidnapping, danger and mayhem ensue. This is all very satisfactory because, besides what looks like whimsical eccentricity, De La Motte has included a really chilling serial killer and one of the scarier hideouts in recent literature. If you are claustrophobic, read this one with a door or window open.

De La Motte channels Agatha Christie with a bevy of red herrings and suspects as well as creating very plausible inter-office tensions and rivalries. He himself served in the Swedish police force and clearly knows the territory.

Anders De la Motte
Anders De la Motte

So, this one has helpings of noir and Scandi blanc, too. Do we need a new category for the combo or like all good mysteries does The Mountain King need no label?

Janice Law's The Falling Men, a novel with strong mystery elements, has been issued as an ebook on Amazon Kindle. Also on kindle: The Complete Madame Selina Stories.

The Man Who Met the Elf Queen, with two other fanciful short stories and 4 illustrations, is available from Apple Books.

The Dictator's Double, 3 short mysteries and 4 illustrations also available at Apple Books.