Saturday, March 31, 2007

End-of-the-Month Update


Despite hitting a little slump over the past week, March was a good writing month. My second-best ever, in fact. Not only did I reach my page-count goal this time, I went 56 pages over it, which leaves my deficit for the year at 24 pages. I'd like to think that I can take care of that next month, but we'll see. There are some non-writing things coming up that are going to take some time.


This are the books I read in March:

THE AVENGER: MURDER ON WHEELS, Kenneth Robeson (Paul Ernst)
THE SEX LADDER, Anthony Gordon (Robert Leslie Bellem)
SEE HOW THEY RUN, James Patterson
CRY OF THE WOLF, Karen Whiddon
SAGE TOWER, Dean Owen (Dudley Dean McGaughey)
MORE TWISTED, Jeffery Deaver


And the movies I watched in March:


No separate post for FLICKA, since we just watched it tonight, but I liked it. It's a horse movie. Heartwarming story, spectacular scenery, and Maria Bello. That's enough for me to watch it. I never read the original Mary O'Hara novel MY FRIEND FLICKA. Wasn't big on horse books when I was a kid, although I read THE BLACK STALLION and THE ISLAND STALLION by Walter Farley.

March was an improvement all around. I wrote more, read more, watched more movies. Thank goodness for months with 31 days.


Today is my mother's 91st birthday. We had a small, low-key get-together at the nursing home where she lives now. She's had lots of ups and downs since her stroke back in January -- more downs than ups, to be honest -- but by golly, she's hanging in there. 91 ain't bad, I say.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Everybody Talks About the Weather . . .

. . . and I'm no exception. We've lived here for almost 29 years, and in all that time I've never seen the road in front of our house flooded -- until today. I had to run some errands this evening. It had already rained a lot the past few days, leaving the ground saturated, but while I was out I got delayed and a new downpour moved in, so that by the time I headed for home I didn't know if I'd be able to get there or not. Obviously I did, but as I told Livia later, if it hadn't been raining so hard and I could have see where I was going, I might have thought twice about driving through some of the places I drove through. I'm only half-joking, too. But I know the roads around here really well, having driven them for so long, and I was able to get through all right. I would have been a little more comfortable in a big pickup, though, rather than a midsize car. Anyway, the rain is supposed to be coming to an end later tonight and we'll dry out this weekend.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This! -- Bob Newhart

I've been a Bob Newhart fan for more years than I like to think about. I remember watching him doing some of his routines on TV in the early Sixties, like "The Driving Instructor". I was aware of his best-selling, award-winning album, THE BUTTON-DOWN MIND OF BOB NEWHART, although I never owned a copy. (The first comedy album I ever bought, for what it's worth, was by the Smothers Brothers.) In the Seventies I was a big fan of THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, watching all the episodes when they were new and then watching them again in reruns until I had most of them pretty well memorized. I liked his other long-running TV show, NEWHART, too.

So it stands to reason that I would enjoy this book, and I did. It's not hilariously funny all the way through, although I laughed a lot. There's also quite a bit of autobiography to go along with the comedy, including some interesting behind-the-scenes material about Newhart's record albums, his TV series, and some of the movies in which he appeared, such as HELL IS FOR HEROES and CATCH-22. On a personal level, he talks about his long friendship with Don Rickles and doesn't shy from naming names in his comments on some of his fellow comedians, although he's certainly never mean about what he says. Plus you get the full texts, as they were originally written, of some of his most famous comedy routines. All in all, this is a fine book, and if you've ever enjoyed any of Newhart's work before, I think you'll enjoy reading it as I did.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Departed

Proving once more that I'm out of step with popular culture, we watched this movie tonight -- which won the Academy Award for Best Picture a few weeks ago -- and I didn't like it much at all. I thought the performances were pretty good (although I have trouble taking Jack Nicholson seriously in anything anymore; he always just seems to me like he's doing a Jack Nicholson impression). I generally like movies with twisty, complex plots where nothing is what it seems. And I thought some of the scenes worked pretty well. But it sure didn't add up to much, and it was 'way too long and slow-moving for my taste. I'm not much of a Martin Scorsese fan, when it comes to that, but I liked his last couple of films, GANGS OF NEW YORK and THE AVIATOR, considerably more than I did THE DEPARTED.

More Twisted -- Jeffery Deaver

I’m not that familiar with Jeffery Deaver’s work. Several years ago I read THE BONE COLLECTOR, the first book in the Lincoln Rhyme series, and liked it well enough, but I’ve never worked up enough interest to read the others in the series, although I may get around to them one of these days. I also read his story in the anthology TRANSGRESSIONS and liked it, too.

Since I’m always in the mood for a good short story collection, I picked up MORE TWISTED, the second volume of Deaver’s stories, mostly reprints but a few originals, including a new Lincoln Rhyme yarn. He makes it clear in the introduction that his short stories are all about the twist ending. Well, you live by the twist ending, you die by the twist ending. And Deaver does some of both in this book. A few of the stories are so cleverly written that I smacked my forehead and said, “D’oh!” when I got to the endings. Should’ve seen the twist coming, but I didn’t. Those are the ones I liked the best. With some of the stories I figured out the ending well in advance, but the plots were interesting enough and the writing good enough that I didn’t care. In others the twist came from so far out in left field that I couldn’t believe them at all. And in still others – the ones I liked the least – for some reason Deaver brings the story’s momentum to a screeching halt several pages before the end to explain the twist, rather than letting it come out naturally. I suspect that most readers would have this same variety of reactions to the stories, although those reactions might be assigned to different stories than the ones that prompted them in me, if that makes sense. That’s why I haven’t singled out any of them by title. Read the book yourself, because I do think it’s worth reading for the good stories. I enjoyed it enough that since reading it I’ve picked up TWISTED, the first volume of Deaver’s stories.

Monday, March 26, 2007


There aren't very many pictures of me posted on-line, but you can see a couple of recent ones over on Livia's blog.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

You, Me, and Dupree

We’re big on romantic comedies around here. YOU, ME, AND DUPREE is a decent example of the genre. Owen Wilson plays a slacker who is forced by circumstances to move in with his old college buddy, played by Matt Dillon, and his old college buddy’s new wife, played by Kate Hudson. Hijinks ensue. There’s nothing groundbreaking here – Owen Wilson is goofy and Kate Hudson is cute. (And at least once in every movie of hers that I watch, I find myself thinking, “Man, she really looks like her mama!”) But everything works out in the end and it’s certainly a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours.

I did find myself wondering, out of all the people who watched this movie, how many of them noticed that Matt Dillon’s character has the same name – Carl Peterson – as the arch-villain in the Bulldog Drummond novels by “Sapper” (H.C. McNeile). Not many, I’d bet. And even fewer would care.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Devil in a Blue Dress -- Walter Mosley

There are a lot of popular authors I’ve never gotten around to reading, and until now Walter Mosley was one of them. But I just read DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, the first novel in Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series, and liked it quite a bit.

The plot, with its missing girl, corrupt politicians, brutal cops, dangerous gangsters, and bodies dropping like flies, is pure hardboiled private eye stuff, going all the way back to BLACK MASK in the Twenties. Easy even gets hit over the head and knocked out a time or two, a classic ingredient of private eye fiction. The late Forties setting appeals to me, too. Contemporary PI novels are fine, but having grown up reading the stuff that was actually written in the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties, that era really resonates for me. Of course, Mosley’s Los Angeles isn’t exactly the same as, say, Raymond Chandler’s . . . but they overlap in places.

The only elements of, shall we say, post-Parker PI fiction are the psychotic sidekick and the more graphic sex scenes, but Mosley doesn’t let them overwhelm the other stuff, at least in this book. I think the plot all ties together okay, but I’m not sure; it’s awfully complicated. But Chandler didn’t know who murdered the chauffeur, either. I enjoyed DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS enough that I’ll definitely read the next book in the series and see how it goes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bambi vs. Godzilla -- David Mamet

I’m a big fan of THE UNIT, the TV series developed by David Mamet from Eric L. Haney’s memoir, INSIDE DELTA FORCE. (I’ll have some comments on that book when I get around to reading it; I have a copy sitting here in my studio.) I also enjoyed the film SPARTAN, which was written and directed by Mamet. His screenplay for the movie version of THE UNTOUCHABLES I consider a mixed bag – some really good lines, but also some things that just don’t make sense. That’s about the extent of my acquaintance with Mamet’s work. I was interested enough, though, to pick up his new book about the movie business.

Although BAMBI VS. GODZILLA touches on a lot of different aspects of filmmaking, it’s primarily about writing screenplays, since Mamet believes, rightly so, that everything else in the process starts there. His comments about story structure and editing are excellent and apply not only to writing scripts but also to any other sort of fiction. I found myself thinking about my own work and seeing ways I could improve it as I read this book. Mamet’s advice on how to handle bad reviews – ignore them – is familiar but also effective, if the writer can manage to do it. Easier said than done, of course. I also liked the fact that he’s open to finding good work wherever it may be, not just in the usual places. He mentions several films he finds perfect: THE GODFATHER, A PLACE IN THE SUN, DODSWORTH . . . and GALAXY QUEST. Now, I happen to believe that GALAXY QUEST is a fine film, too, but I wouldn’t have thought to call it perfect. When you think about it, though, it pretty much accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish, and that’s generally the standard to which I hold books and movies.

Some of what Mamet writes in this book edges over into psychobabble (either that or I’m just too dense to follow what he’s saying, which is always a possibility), but overall I think BAMBI VS. GODZILLA is a fine book. You could read it just as an entertaining look at the inner workings of the movie industry, but I think it has a lot to say to writers, too. And it makes me want to watch more of Mamet’s movies. (You don’t think that just might have been one of the book’s goals, now do you?)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Casino Royale

Most of you probably saw this movie months ago, but being an old geezer who no longer goes to the theater I had to wait until now. So bear with me as I make a few comments.

First of all, to get the important stuff out of the way . . . No, this is not, in my opinion, the best James Bond film ever. Nor is Daniel Craig the best James Bond. Those honors still belong to GOLDFINGER and Sean Connery, respectively. In fact, I’d say that both FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (yes, even with George Lazenby, who didn’t deserve the critical beating he got) are also better than CASINO ROYALE.

However, CASINO ROYALE is better than all of the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies, better than all the Roger Moores (with the possible exception of FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, which is a pretty good film), and as for the Timothy Dalton Bonds, well, I watched ’em but I have almost no memory of them, so I suspect CASINO ROYALE is better than they were, too. Daniel Craig does a great job, especially in the action scenes. He looks like he’s actually capable of doing all that stuff. I also liked the way the script at least tried to stick closer to Ian Fleming’s source novel. The updating didn’t bother me, nor did changes like switching Le Chiffre’s game of choice from baccarat to poker. (Le Chiffre did play baccarat in the novel, didn’t he? It’s been close to forty years since I read it.) I also liked the occasional subtle nod to what has come before, like having Bond driving a 1964 Aston Martin at one point. And the final shot of the movie, while inevitable, was great. My only real quibble is that some of the action set pieces, good as they are, seem to go on a little too long.

All in all, this film captures the spirit of what the James Bond movies should be better than any of them for a long, long time. At this point I’m actually looking forward to the next one quite a bit, something I haven’t been able to say in ages.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


As far as inspirational-sports-movies-based-on-true-stories go, INVINCIBLE is okay. Mark Wahlberg plays Vince Papale, a 30-year-old part-time bartender in Philadelphia who attends an open tryout for the Philadelphia Eagles and against all odds makes the team. That's it for the plot. What makes this movie work is the performance by Wahlberg, who actually looks and moves like a football player. The photography is also very good. As a long-time NFL watcher, I ought to remember the real Papale, but I don't. I do remember watching the real Brian Piccolo playing for the Chicago Bears in the late Sixties, and of course, the movie about him, BRIAN'S SONG, sort of reinvented this genre when it had fallen dormant. And before BRIAN'S SONG, sports movies were usually about baseball, like THE BABE RUTH STORY, THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES, and FEAR STRIKES OUT. But to get back to INVINCIBLE, the football scenes are good, the scenes with Papale and his blue-collar buddies are also very good, and it's an entertaining film.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


This is another movie I picked up cheaply on DVD not long ago. Not as cheaply as THE WHITE GORILLA. And as it turns out, not cheaply enough.

RENEGADE is based on the series of French graphic novels written by Jean-Michel Charlier and drawn by Jean "Moebius" Girard featuring Mike Blueberry, who gets involved in all sorts of classic Western situations. In various stories Blueberry has been a lawman, a cavalry officer, a bounty hunter, a government agent, and I don't know what else. I've read several of the graphic novels and enjoyed them quite a bit. But the makers of RENEGADE have taken out everything that made the character and the stories fun.

As a result, we're left with a movie that's murky, pretentious, slow, hard to follow, and almost devoid of plot. The story, such as it is, involves an attempt to stir up trouble between the Indians and the white settlers so that the villains can steal the Indians' gold . . . or some psychedelic drugs . . . or something. None of it makes much sense. Vincent Cassell is totally miscast as Blueberry. The only somewhat redeeming moments feature Ernest Borgnine as a crippled lawman and Michael Madsen chewing the scenery as a bad guy.

This may well be the worst movie I've ever watched all the way through. Even THE WHITE GORILLA is better. Tons better. Trust me on this.

A Soul in a Bottle -- Tim Powers

For whatever reason, I’m not a big fan of ghost stories and seldom read them. But this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. I just read A SOUL IN A BOTTLE, a novella by Tim Powers that was published last year in a very nice limited edition by Subterranean Press, one of the best of the small-press publishers devoted to science fiction, fantasy, and horror. The illustrations are by J.K. Potter and are very, very good.

But what about the story itself? Well, it’s set in Hollywood and concerns a rare book dealer’s encounter with the ghost of a beautiful young poet who committed suicide nearly forty years earlier. Or was she murdered? That question gives this book a bit of a mystery feel, and the literary angle is appealing to me, too. I’d never read anything by Powers before (although I have quite a few of his books on my shelves), but I like his writing here. It’s lean and effective and zips right along. The twist ending isn’t really that much of a surprise, but it works pretty well anyway. Overall I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and I wouldn’t hesitate to read something else by Powers.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The White Gorilla

This 1945 jungle adventure movie is half of a double feature dollar DVD I picked up a while back. (The other movie on it is BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA.) This one stars Ray "Crash" Corrigan fairly late in his career, in the dual role of jungle guide Steve Collins and the mysterious white gorilla, who is shunned by his fellow gorillas because of his color.

That's only part of the story, though. THE WHITE GORILLA makes extensive use not only of stock African wildlife footage but also entire sequences from a 1927 silent serial called PERILS OF THE JUNGLE. Corrigan's character narrates those scenes, which have shots of him as an observer cut into the old footage, which is recut and rearranged to form a completely new storyline from the original version. That sounds crazy, but it actually sort of works in a bizarre way. According to IMDB, the scenes involving Corrigan and a few other characters were shot in three days, and I believe it. Poor old Crash was never a great actor, but by this time he was a far cry from the athletic action hero of UNDERSEA KINGDOM and the Three Mesquiteers movies. The whole conglomeration is pretty awful but oddly interesting. As I commented to Livia, "At least you've never seen anything else exactly like this movie before."

I guess I'm just a sucker for movies that feature guys in gorilla suits. There are some really clumsy battles in this one between the white gorilla and a black gorilla who's evidently his sworn enemy. If I'd seen this for the first time when I was six years old, I probably would have loved it. Or it might have seemed pretty dumb to me even then. Hard to say.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The 13th Warrior

I saw this movie several years ago when it first came out, but when my daughter Shayna brought a copy of it home from the library I decided to watch it again. Based on the novel EATERS OF THE DEAD by Michael Crichton (which I haven't read), it's the supposedly true story of how the legend of Beowulf came about, told by a wandering Arab who falls in with a bunch of Vikings.

I think this is a borderline great film. The photography and scenery are beautiful, with lots of striking images, the action scenes are well-done (except for a little bit of that modern-day choppy editing), and the quiet moments between all the battles really shine, too. Some Robert E. Howard fans claim that this movie is very Howardian in spirit, and I think I agree with that. What I had forgotten is how much of a Western it is, in the same way that Howard's Conan yarn "Beyond the Black River" is also a Western. Much of THE 13TH WARRIOR plays like it could have been retitled THE MAGNIFICENT THIRTEEN. Of course there's nothing wrong with that as far as I'm concerned. I'm glad I watched this one again. It certainly holds up well to a second viewing.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Scribe Award Nominees

From Lee Goldberg:

The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers is pleased to announce the nominees for the first annual Scribe Awards, honoring excellence in licensed tie-in writing for books published in 2006.

Our first annual GRANDMASTER AWARD, honoring career achievement in the field, will go to DONALD BAIN, author of the MURDER SHE WROTE novels and the ghostwriter behind COFFEE, TEA OR ME and other bestsellers.

The 2007 Scribe awards will be given out at a ceremony in late July at Comic-Con in San Diego. The details on the event, and how to attend, will be announced in the near future. Congratulations to all our nominees and special thanks to all our judges for their time, dedication and hard work!



SLAINE: THE EXILE by Steven Savile
TOXIC AVENGER: THE NOVEL by Lloyd Kaufman & Adam Jahnke
ULTRAVIOLET by Yvonne Navarro


STARGATE ATLANTIS: EXOGENESIS by Elizabeth Christensen & Sonny Whitelaw



SNAKES ON A PLANE by Christa Faust
THE PINK PANTHER by Max Allan Collins






I was one of the Scribe judges, and it was a great experience. The overall quality of the submissions was very high. There's some fine work being done in the tie-in field these days.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Sex Ladder -- Anthony Gordon (Robert Leslie Bellem)

Lawrence Block isn’t the only author getting his Sixties soft-core porn novels reprinted these days. I just read a brand-new Pulpville Press edition of THE SEX LADDER by Anthony Gordon, originally published by Beacon Books in 1964, just like Block’s LUCKY AT CARDS. And as in the case of Block’s pseudonym “Sheldon Lord”, “Anthony Gordon” turns out to be an author best-known for his mysteries, too – Robert Leslie Bellem, the prolific creator of private eye Dan Turner.

Unfortunately, THE SEX LADDER isn’t up to the same standards as LUCKY AT CARDS. Instead of a noirish crime novel like Block’s book, THE SEX LADDER is pretty much a run-of-the-mill, fairly sordid soap opera about a young engineer and his ambitious girlfriend, who will do just about anything to help advance his career, if you know what I mean and I think you do, wink, wink, nudge, nudge. It has none of the goofy charm of the Dan Turner stories or the other mystery and weird menace stories that Bellem turned out by the hundreds for the Spicy pulps during the Thirties and Forties. Bellem was a fine wordsmith and the writing here is certainly smooth enough, reading very fast, but it doesn’t seem to me that his heart was really in this job. There was at least one other Beacon Book by “Anthony Gordon”, DOCTOR OF LESBOS. I assume that Bellem wrote it, as well. There are a few listings for it on ABE, but Pulpville Press also plans to reprint it in the future. Despite my reservations about THE SEX LADDER, I’ll probably read DOCTOR OF LESBOS, too. That’s just the kind of guy I am.

Monday, March 05, 2007

My Private Eye Stories

My post the other day about the Markham stories has prompted several people to ask me about my other private eye stories, so I got my records out and put together the following list of all my PI stories, not just the ones that appeared in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE (and not including the Mike Shayne stories I wrote for that magazine). The name in parentheses is the private eye who appeared in the story. I’ll expand on some of them following the list.

“Three Birds”, MSMM, January 1979 (Delaney)
“The $100,000 Collar”, MSMM, March 1979 (Delaney)
“All the Way Home”, MSMM, April 1979 (Markham)
“Death and the Dancing Shadows”, MSMM, March 1980 (Markham)
“The Man in the Moon”, MSMM, April 1980 (Markham)
“The Golden Bear”, SKULLDUGGERY, May 1980 (Delaney)
“Outback”, MSMM, April 1981 (Allen Garver)
“The Double Edge”, SKULLDUGGERY, Summer 1981 (Delaney? Markham?)
“War Games”, MSMM, April 1982 (Markham)
“Dead in Friday”, SPIDERWEB, Summer 1982 (Cody)
“Kemidov’s Treasures”, MSMM, September 1982 (Nicholas Lake)
“The Elephant’s Graveyard”, MSMM, January 1985 (Cody)
“The Spanish Blade”, HARDBOILED, Spring 1987 (Cody)
“The Safest Place in the World”, AN EYE FOR JUSTICE – PWA Anthology, 1988 (Cody)
“In the Blood”, A MATTER OF CRIME #3, 1988 (Cody)
“Terran Girls Make Wonderful Wives”, GRYPHON DOUBLE #8, 1995 (Wes Holman)
“Woollies”, TIN STAR – Western anthology, 2000 (Dan Boyd)
“The East Wind Caper”, A DATE WHICH WILL LIVE IN INFAMY – alternate history anthology, 2001 (Nicholas Lake)

I just don’t remember whether the story “The Double Edge” features Markham or Delaney, can’t find a copy of the magazine with the story in it, and the manuscript is God knows where. And I don’t remember a blessed thing about the story itself. Pathetic, I know.

SKULLDUGGERY was a nice little small-press magazine that eventually renamed itself SPIDERWEB. Author and pulp fiction expert Will Murray was the editor, at least part of the time. HARDBOILED was an excellent, fondly remembered magazine published and edited by my friend Wayne Dundee, a fine writer himself. A MATTER OF CRIME was a trade paperback anthology series that started out calling itself THE NEW BLACK MASK. That was still the title when I sold a story to it, and I was excited about having a story I wrote in something with BLACK MASK on the cover. But the title changed before the story came out.

The Delaney stories were low-key, private eye procedural tales. Delaney was even more dour and world-weary than Markham and Cody. Allen Garver, who appeared in only one story, was another attempt at a more realistic PI. Nicholas Lake was just the opposite, a modern-day PI who modeled himself more on the private eye myth. Without going back to reread the story I seem to remember that he wore a white suit and a fedora. The first story in which he appeared, “Kemidov’s Treasures”, used the old “The Maltese Falcon was real!” plot. Nearly twenty years later I brought him back, transplanted him to Honolulu in December 1941, and used him for a yarn in an anthology of “alternate history” Pearl Harbor stories. I gave him a Hawaiian stand-up comic for a sidekick/assistant and had a great time with the whole thing. “Terran Girls Make Wonderful Wives” was one of my few forays into science-fiction and took place in a colony on the Moon. Gary Lovisi published it as half of one of his Gryphon Doubles series, with a Richard A. Lupoff story on the other side (I think). “Woollies” is a cross-genre story, too, a Western about a railroad detective named Dan Boyd, who has appeared as a supporting character in several of my Western novels as well.

I believe that’s all of my private eye stories, eighteen in all. I would have guessed that there were more than that. Of course, if you include the novel TEXAS WIND and the 36 Mike Shayne stories I wrote, the total is a little more impressive. Sometime in the mid-Eighties I started a second Cody novel but didn’t get very far with it before setting it aside to do something else. I never got back to it and have no idea where the manuscript is now.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Guardian

Other than a few cuss words, an occasional bit of rap music, and the special effects, this movie about Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers could have been made in the Forties, probably starring John Wayne or Gary Cooper as the grizzled veteran who’s haunted by a failed marriage and a past tragedy during a mission at sea. Kevin Costner is just fine in the part here. I’m not sure who would have played the cocky new recruit, who also has tragedy in his past. But again, Ashton Kutcher does a good job in this movie, making me forget, for the most part, his goofy persona from TV and most of his other movies. There’s not a thing in the script that a savvy movie-watcher won’t see coming a mile off, but that’s all right. This is a well-made, well-acted, and pretty doggoned entertaining film.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Markham Stories, and Other MSMM Memories

Yesterday on his blog Ed Gorman had some nice things to say concerning a story I wrote, oh, about a thousand years ago. It feels that long ago, anyway. “The Man in the Moon” appeared in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE and was the third of four stories I wrote for MSMM that featured a private investigator named Markham. Reading Ed’s comments prompted a fit of reminiscing, so I hope you’ll bear with me.

The four Markham stories are:

“All the Way Home”, MSMM, April 1979
“Death and the Dancing Shadows”, MSMM, March 1980
“The Man in the Moon”, MSMM, April 1980
“War Games”, MSMM, April 1982

At first Markham was sort of a dry run for my private eye character Cody, who appeared in the novel TEXAS WIND and several short stories of his own. “All the Way Home” was written in June 1978, four or five months before I started writing TEXAS WIND. Like Cody, Markham has only one name and is the same sort of world-weary, cynical, tough but sentimental slob that Cody turned out to be (along with a lot of other PIs created by other authors; I wasn’t exactly breaking any new ground here). Markham’s first case finds him trying to find a mobster’s runaway daughter. Yep, it was a wandering daughter job. I still like the opening.

I put the gun against Jack Parker’s forehead as soon as he opened the door and said: “You yell and I won’t have one damn reason for keeping you alive.”

I’d probably rewrite that a little now, but it’s not bad.

That April ’79 MSMM is a pretty good issue overall, by the way. The Mike Shayne novella, “The Scent of Death”, is by pulp veteran Sam Merwin Jr., who was the magazine’s editor at the time. It also includes the first appearance of one of Joe R. Lansdale’s Ray Slater stories, “One Blonde, Well Dead” (great title), and stories by Edward D. Hoch and Richard Moore.

“Death and the Dancing Shadows” is probably the best-known of the Markham stories because it was anthologized once, in THE BLACK LIZARD ANTHOLOGY OF CRIME FICTION. When I wrote the story it was just called “Dancing Shadows”. Charles E. Fritch, who had taken over the editorship of MSMM by the time it appeared, added the “Death and the” part. The plot revolves around an old cowboy actor. Western B-movies are an abiding interest of mine. I wrote the Shayne story in that issue, “Payoff in Blood”, and there are also stories by Edward D. Hoch, again, Gary Brandner, and horror author Richard Laymon. Chuck Fritch made a habit of buying crime stories from writers better known for their horror fiction, which gave his editorial run on the magazine a distinctive and offbeat flavor.

“The Man in the Moon” is probably the most Ross Macdonald-influenced entry in the Markham series, since it’s about the damage that different generations of a family inflict on each other. I don’t recall it being deliberate, but the Markham stories seem to get more bleak as they go along. That issue of MSMM also features a Major Lansing story by W.L. Fieldhouse. Bill Fieldhouse was a regular in MSMM at the same time I was, and his stories about Major Lansing, an Army CID investigator in Europe, are outstanding. Fieldhouse was a fine writer and had a good career for a number of years as a novelist in the men’s adventure genre, and also wrote some pretty good Westerns. The last I heard of him, though, he had retired from writing. That issue also includes stories by Edward D. Hoch (man, was he in every issue or something?), William F. Nolan, and a collaboration between Joe R. Lansdale and Robert Fester. I don’t recall who Fester was, probably a friend of Joe’s.

The Markham stories also got longer with each one. The final Markham, “War Games”, is about 15,000 words. I don’t remember much about it except that it’s set at an exclusive military academy/boarding school and ends with a fairly tense sniper situation. I recall that Chuck Fritch liked it a lot but because of its length had a hard time finding space to run it. It was written in 1979 but not published until more than two years later. I wrote the Shayne story in the same issue, “Deadly Queen”, about a teen-age chess prodigy, and it’s actually shorter than “War Games”. No Edward D. Hoch in that issue, but there are stories by Michael Avallone and Mort Castle, another of those horror authors Chuck liked.

That was the end of the line for Markham. He was the second private eye character I created for MSMM. The first was called Delaney (what is it with these guys and their single names?), who appeared in a handful of short, very minor stories. Cody came along after Markham and I used both of them in stories for a while, but Cody last appeared in 1988, nearly twenty years ago. I’ve thought at times that a volume collecting all the Cody, Markham, and Delaney stories would make a nice little book. Maybe one of these days.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Case of the Sleepwalker's Niece -- Erle Stanley Gardner

Erle Stanley Gardner piles up the complications early on in this Perry Mason novel from 1936, when Mason was still a grinning, wise-cracking tough guy, at least part of the time. In this one we have a millionaire with the bad habit of sleepwalking with a bloody carving knife in his hand; his beautiful, astrology buff niece; a hypochondriac, black-sheep-of-the-family half-brother; a golddigging ex-wife; a crackpot inventor who may be a crook; and assorted other hangers-on and shady characters. Everybody winds up spending the night in the millionaire’s Hollywood mansion, including Perry Mason, and in Gardner’s version of an Agatha Christie/old English house sort of mystery, somebody winds up dead. Mason’s sleepwalking client is charged with the murder, so Mason, Della Street, and Paul Drake plunge right in with the usual mix of snappy banter and questionable legal shenanigans to prove the client innocent and uncover the real murderer.

Gardner is in pretty good form in this one. The story zips along really fast, the wisecracks are funny, and there are some nice long courtroom scenes in the final third of the book. I had the murderer pegged pretty early on, which is unusual for me when it comes to Gardner’s books. I sometimes have trouble figuring out what happened even after Mason has explained everything. But I’ve discovered over the years that for books that are so plot-heavy and supposedly light on characterization, it’s not the plots I remember from them. The fun is in the pace and dialogue and the interaction among Mason, Della, and Paul Drake. And, of course, in watching Mason confound the long-suffering Hamilton Burger and Lt. Tragg (or in this case, Sergeant Holcomb, who hadn’t been replaced by Tragg yet). THE CASE OF THE SLEEPWALKER’S NIECE is only an average entry in the series but a perfectly enjoyable way to spend some time.