Monday, March 31, 2008

Writing Update

I make no secret of the fact that I believe I have a mild case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, although it’s never been officially diagnosed as such. I’m very much a listmaker, though, especially when it comes to what I write and what I read. Ever since my writing career began to pick up in the mid-Eighties and I started having multiple books under contract, I’ve made it a habit to keep close track of how many pages and/or words I’m producing, to the point that I sometimes thought I was too concerned with such things. I worried that the Page Count was taking over my life.

So, when the fire happened and I lost all my records, I thought, Okay, this is a chance to change all that. From now on I’ll just write, and I won’t worry about how many pages I get done each day, or each month, or anything like that.

Well, guess what? It didn’t work.

A few days into March I realized that I just wasn’t getting nearly enough written, especially since having to start over from scratch on the book that I was writing had put me so far behind on my deadlines. So I said, Screw it, I’m going back to counting pages. I got me a calendar, I figured out approximately how many pages I had written to that point in 2008, and I started writing down each day’s page count on the calendar, along with an approximate running total for the year. I used to keep track of each individual month’s output, along with the running total for the year, and I’ll probably go back to that in April, but I couldn’t in March because the month was already several days old before I started doing this. (See what I mean about the OCD?)

Anyway, as a result this month has been pretty productive. My monthly average isn’t back up to where it needs to be yet, but it’ll get there. And while it’s extremely doubtful that this year will be another record-breaker, I think I can still turn out a pretty good amount of work. At least, that’s my hope.

The point of all this rambling is that those habits I’d developed over the years, the habits that I worried about, turns out that I developed them for a reason. They work for me. They might not for anybody else, but I’ve learned now not to turn my back on what works.

Which is why I can tell you now that I wrote 16 pages today. That's about 3500 words with the page setup I use. Not as much as I hoped to do, but not a bad day. And tomorrow is the start of a new month . . .

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sleeping Dogs -- Ed Gorman

I thought for a while the other day that I was about to go into one of the dreaded reading funks, but luckily I had a sure-fire cure on hand: Ed Gorman’s new novel SLEEPING DOGS. It’s no secret that I’m biased because Ed is a long-time friend of mine, but that doesn’t change the fact that this book is an extremely fine mystery novel about the dirty tricks that go on during a high-level political campaign. The narrator is political consultant Dev Conrad, who finds himself drawn into a case involving blackmail and murder when someone tries to sabotage the campaign of the candidate Dev works for.

This is a very well-plotted book, but what makes it special is that unique Gorman voice and style, breezy and funny when it needs to be but always tinged with a touch of melancholy. The prose is clean and smooth and fast (“sleek as a bullet” I believe was the Dean Koontz quote that used to appear on the covers of Ed’s books, and it’s as true now as it ever was). This is a book that draws you in and keeps you turning the pages, and you really care about the characters, especially Dev.

Some of you may think that the lack of political content on this blog means that I’m not interested in politics, but I am most of the time, although I go through spells of ignoring it. I think political maneuvering makes an excellent canvas for fiction, though, and that certainly proves to be the case here. SLEEPING DOGS gets my highest recommendation, and I believe it would even if I’d never met Ed.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Prairie Fever

Speaking of lighter fare, tonight we watched the second made-for-TV Western on the Ion network’s new Saturday Night Western Showcase, or whatever they call it. (Ion’s new motto: “Keeping America’s fake beard manufacturers in business!”) PRAIRIE FEVER stars Kevin Sorbo and Dominique Swain, and while the production values aren’t just top-notch, it’s not a bad little film, with a more interesting script than I expected.

Sorbo plays an ex-lawman who gave up the badge and became a drunk after a tragedy during a shootout with a bank robber. Needing money, he agrees to take three former mail-order brides to the railroad so they can go back east. It seems that all three women have come down with “prairie fever” – or gone plumb loco, as characters in my books tend to say. One of the women constantly quotes scripture, another is mortally terrified of the sun, and the third plays a piano that isn’t there, when she’s not trying to strangle every man who comes within reach, that is.

Naturally the journey by covered wagon doesn’t go well. Things are complicated by outlaws with a grudge against Sorbo’s character, the husband of one of the crazy mail-order brides, a beautiful but somewhat crooked female gambler, and her murderous husband, played by Lance Henrikson, who gets stuck with one of the goofiest-looking hats in the history of Western movies. Various shootouts ensue along the way, as the characters all struggle with their own inner demons and try to achieve some sort of redemption.

Unlike the previous entry in this series of movies, ACES ‘N’ EIGHTS, which didn’t have anything original in its screenplay, PRAIRIE FEVER has lots of oddball touches, right down to its offbeat ending. The acting is okay at best and the whole thing looks cheaply made, but the storyline is intriguing enough to make it worth watching. As before, you can rent the DVD (the unrated version) at Blockbuster next week, or you can wait for the inevitable and probably multiple repeats of the TV version.

Gone Baby Gone

I’ll admit right up front that I didn’t care for this movie about the search for a missing little girl, which is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane about his Boston private eye characters Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. That said, I thought it was very well made, with excellent performances from all the actors, a good script and direction by Ben Affleck, and some nice action scenes. But man, what a depressing movie. I’m not saying don’t watch it, though, because I think some of you might consider it a fine film and maybe it just caught me at the wrong moment. I seem to be in the mood for lighter fare these days.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Returning the Favor

I've been very gratified by the response to the book list I posted. One of these days there's going to be a long post on here listing all the people who have helped us out, not only with the books but with everything else since the fire. You just don't know how much you mean to us.

Anyway, I still make the rounds of the bookstores in the area, so I want to let all of you know that if there's anything you've been looking for and haven't been able to find, email me (there's a link in my profile) and let me know, and I'll be looking on your behalf, too. I'd love to be able to help fill a few gaps in some collections.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Ocean Bastille -- H. Bedford-Jones

THE OCEAN BASTILLE is a chapbook reprint from the excellent Black Dog Books featuring two stories by H. Bedford-Jones, one of several authors who have been dubbed “The King of the Pulps”. (The others being Erle Stanley Gardner and Frederick Faust, aka Max Brand.) The title story, originally published in the February 1932 issue of POPULAR FICTION, is set in 1707 and concerns the efforts of a group of French-Canadian explorers and adventurers to rescue an old comrade of theirs who has been unjustly imprisoned. The man is locked up in a fortress off the coast of France that is surrounded by water most of the day, except for a few hours at low tide. I don’t know if such a prison really existed or not (given Bedford-Jones’s reputation for research, I suspect that it did), but it’s a neat concept. The story is a little slow to develop, though, and doesn’t have as much action as you might expect. I enjoyed it, though.

The other story, “The Isle of Trouble” (from MAN STORIES, June 1931), is a South Seas yarn featuring villainous copra and pearl traders, a couple of beautiful women, and the usual stalwart hero. It’s pretty entertaining, too, as one of the female characters turns out to be more dangerous and hardboiled than any of the men. I like tropical adventures like this, and Bedford-Jones was good at the genre . . . but then, he was good at just about every genre, as far as I’m concerned.

Neither story in THE OCEAN BASTILLE belongs in the top rank of Bedford-Jones’s work, but they’re fun to read and I’m grateful to Tom Roberts of Black Dog Books for bringing them back into print.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Arthur Lyons, RIP

Most of you have already heard or read by now that Arthur Lyons has passed away unexpectedly at the age of 62. He was one of the best hardboiled mystery writers of the Seventies and Eighties, and his Jacob Asch novels are some of the best PI novels from that era. HARD TRADE was the first one I read, but I liked it enough to quickly track down and read the others that had been published up to that point, and I read the rest of the books in the series as they came out. If you haven’t read his work, I strongly recommend that you give it a try.

I never met Lyons, but several years ago (more like fifteen, now that I think about it), I was out running some errands one day, listening to the radio, when the host of the talk show that was on announced that the next guest was Arthur Lyons, who would be discussing his new non-fiction book on Satanism. I was in and out of the car but was able to hear most of the interview. As far as I could tell, the host never brought up Lyons’ mystery novels. I really wanted to get home in time to call in, say hello to Lyons, and tell him how much I enjoyed his novels . . . but of course the interview was over by the time I got to a phone. Just one more missed chance.

But his books are still out there, and they’re well worth reading.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I tend to like action/adventure movies starring Nicolas Cage, even when they’re kind of big and noisy and silly (GHOST RIDER, CON AIR, and THE ROCK, for example). NEXT isn’t quite as big and noisy as those movies (although it does feature a nuclear explosion, come to think of it), but it is pretty silly. And of course, I enjoyed it.

In this one, Cage plays a small-time Las Vegas stage magician, who really can see into the future on a limited basis. Because of this, the FBI decides they have to have his help to find a nuclear bomb that some terrorists have stolen and smuggled into the country, before the bad guys can set it off. Unfortunately, the bad guys don’t want him helping the FBI, so they’re after him, too, only they want to kill him. Cage’s character, not really sure what’s going on, just goes on the run from everybody and along the way meets a beautiful young woman who teaches on an Indian reservation. She’s played by Jessica Biel, who’s as gorgeous as ever but, uh, maybe just a mite too young to be romantically involved with a sleazy character twice her age.

Anyway, stuff blows up real good. Trains plow into cars. Giant logs roll down a mountainside and crush things. This is all great fun and serves to distract the viewer from the fact that the plot makes almost no sense at all. Then there’s a big twist at the end after ninety minutes of nearly non-stop action. NEXT is a perfectly harmless, even enjoyable way to spend that hour and a half, just don’t expect a tight, coherent script.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Lust Tycoon -- J.X. Williams

This book is almost one of those little gems that you find in unexpected places. Forget the sleaze novel trappings. LUST TYCOON is actually a hardboiled mystery yarn that reads more like a Fifties Gold Medal than a Sixties Nightstand Book. The narrator is Tom Dash, a former New York City police detective who retires because he accidentally killed an innocent bystander during a shootout with an armed robber. Dash buys a wrecked ketch, rebuilds and refurbishes it, and charters it for cruises on Long Island Sound. He’s just begun a casual affair with a beautiful young woman who works for him when she’s murdered. Dash isn’t a suspect in her killing, but when he starts investigating her death on his own, two more murders quickly follow, and the cops do think he committed those. So in classic fashion, Dash has to go on the run from the police while trying to find the real killer.

There’s nothing in this book you haven’t read a hundred times before, but whoever the real author was behind the J.X. Williams house-name, he tells the story fairly well and keeps the pace crackling right along for most of the book. There are some nice turns of phrase along the way and some decent action. The character of Tom Dash bears a certain resemblance to Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder and Donald Westlake’s Mitch Tobin, but the writing isn’t that good. I don’t think either Block or Westlake wrote LUST TYCOON, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual author was published under other names, too.

Reading LUST TYCOON isn’t quite the same as discovering a previously unknown Harry Whittington or Charles Williams or Gil Brewer novel, but it’s pretty entertaining. The plot sort of falls apart at the end, as if the author couldn’t quite figure out how to wrap things up properly. I’m still glad that I read it, and if you happen to run across a copy somewhere, you might consider picking it up.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Quickie -- James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

I’ve learned to keep an open mind about James Patterson’s books. I’ve tried his two popular series, the ones featuring Alex Cross and the Women’s Murder Club, and don’t care for either of them. But I’ve read and enjoyed some of his stand-alones. A lot depends on who his co-author is on a particular book.

THE QUICKIE is Patterson’s second collaboration with Michael Ledwidge. I started his first one with Ledwidge, STEP ON A CRACK, and thought it was pretty well-written, but it got derailed quickly by a really silly plot and I didn’t finish it. THE QUICKIE is considerably better. It’s about a woman who has an affair to get even with her husband for cheating on her, and in the process she gets involved with a convoluted criminal conspiracy that puts her life in danger several times. That’s about all I can say about the plot without giving away too much, because this is one of those books where nothing is what it appears to be at first, with some major twists and turns along the way. I’m a sucker for that sort of plot, so I enjoyed the book. It does stretch believability pretty close to the breaking point toward the end, but it never quite gets there.

Another thing I like about Patterson’s books is there’s very little padding to them. Everything advances the story at rocket-like speed, and with the short chapters and the amount of white space, the books really aren’t very long. As with Robert B. Parker’s books, the publisher makes them look heftier than they really are. Appropriately enough, I raced right through THE QUICKIE and had a good time reading it. I wouldn’t want a steady diet of this sort of book, but they make for a nice change of pace every now and then.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, RIP

I just heard on one of the email lists I belong to that Arthur C. Clarke has passed away. When I was first introduced to science fiction back in the Sixties by my brother-in-law, he considered the three big names of the genre to be Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. I read a great deal by all of them and liked most of it. Clarke was never as much a favorite of mine as Heinlein and Asimov, but I always thought he was a fine writer and still occasionally read one of his novels. And he was the author of "The Nine Billion Names of God", which I consider a great short story. I'm sorry to hear that he's gone.

Book List

Several people have suggested that I put together a list of the books we’re still looking for. I’ve finally gotten around to doing so, and you can find it below. I warn you, it’s pretty long. Most of these books are also included on an Amazon wish list I’ve put together, along with some research books and a few odds and ends. If you buy anything through Amazon, it’s supposed to be taken off the list automatically. If you’re sending something you already had or something you bought elsewhere, just email me with the titles and I’ll delete them from the list myself. I’ll also post an updated version of the list here on the blog pretty often.

I was surprised to see how many of my old books Amazon still has listed. Used copies, of course, since some of the books are long out of print, but at least they’re still listed. I was also surprised to see the range of prices. Many of the books are available for a penny, plus shipping, while others are a lot more expensive than what I thought they would be. And some that I thought had probably vanished from the face of the earth except for the few copies I had evidently are still available.

I can’t tell you how much we appreciate all the books that have been sent our way so far, and how much we’ll appreciate any that show up in the future. I’ve got some money earmarked for a nice set of shelves that I hope to one day have filled with all the books Livia and I have written and all the anthologies we’ve contributed to. Maybe it’s a little vain, but it’s nice to be able to look at the concrete evidence of what we’ve accomplished over the last thirty-plus years, and I’m extremely grateful to everyone who’s contributing to that effort.

Novels by James Reasoner

Civil War Battle Series:

Jove Books as Tabor Evans

Signet Books As Jon Sharpe

JUR: A STORY OF PRE-DAWN EARTH, by Tom Johnson and James Reasoner, NovelBooks, Inc.
CHILDREN OF THE LION #19: TRIUMPH OF THE LION, by Peter Danielson, Bantam Books
MURDER IN COWTOWN, by Tom McCloud, [Audio], Spellbinder
HIGHWAY TO FEAR, by B.J. Conners, [Audio], Spellbinder
NOAH'S RIDE by Elmer Kelton, Judy Alter, Carlton Stowers, Phyllis Allen, James Reasoner, Mary Rogers, Mike Cochren, Mike Blackman, mary Dittoe Kelly, Jane Robers Wood, James Ward Lee, Carole Nelson Douglas, & Jeff Guinn, TCU Press

THE BOOK OF ALL FLESH, Eden Publishing
HEAT I, Foggy Windows

Update: I've deleted numerous items off the list. This update is current as of 11:00 pm CDT Saturday, April 5.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Mr. Monk in Outer Space -- Lee Goldberg

I’m biased, of course, because I consider Lee Goldberg a friend, but I think his Monk novels are some of the most consistently entertaining mysteries to be found these days. They’re tightly plotted, laugh-out-loud funny, and the voices of the various characters are as pitch perfect as they can be.

The latest book in this series, MR. MONK IN OUTER SPACE, doesn’t find Monk, Natalie, Captain Stottlemeyer, and Lt. Disher actually going into orbit. Rather, they’re trying to solve the murder of a Hollywood legend, the writer-producer who created the cult science fiction TV series BEYOND EARTH back in the Seventies. Now a new version of the series is about to be made, and the fans of the original series are upset about the proposed changes in it, so when the creator is murdered at a BEYOND EARTH convention, suspicion immediately falls on members of the show’s fandom who think that he has sold out his original vision and its followers.

Regular readers of Lee’s blog will recognize where some of this material comes from, but he’s not content just to poke affectionate fun at the worlds of fandom and cult TV series. The plot turns out to be considerably more intricate than that, and Monk has to have the help of his brother Ambrose to sort it all out.

If you’re a fan of the TV show MONK, you really need to read these books. (This is the fifth in the series.) If you’re not, you should read them anyway. MR. MONK IN OUTER SPACE gets a high recommendation from me.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Aces 'n Eights

Since so few Western movies are made anymore, I feel sort of like it’s my duty to watch every new one that comes along. Imagine my surprise when I read that Ion (the TV network that used to be PAX) is going to start showing Westerns every Saturday night, starting with tonight’s ACES ‘N EIGHTS. Naturally, I watched it. The plot, about the railroad trying to steal land from the settlers, had more whiskers than Gabby Hayes, but the movie has a few things to recommend it. Casper Van Dien does an okay job as a hard-bitten ex-outlaw trying to go straight. He’s doing a pretty blatant Clint Eastwood impression in part of the movie, but he pulls it off fairly well. Bruce Boxleitner is an old friend of Van Dien’s character who starts out working for the railroad but then can’t decide which side he really wants to be on. Ernest Borgnine, looking very hale and hearty for 91, is fine as a crusty old rancher, just as you’d expect. And Jeff Kober, who’s made a career out of playing despicable villains, is as despicable as they come in this one. The script has one really good line (Borgnine gets to deliver it) and a very effective bit of business near the end involving Boxleitner’s character. Other than that there’s absolutely nothing here you haven’t seen dozens, or hundreds, of times before, and the dialogue justifying the use of ACES ‘N EIGHTS as the title is shoehorned in pretty clumsily.

There’s a lot of graphic violence, especially for a made-for-TV movie. An unrated version is being released on DVD next week. I can’t imagine what could be in it other than maybe even more blood. If you’re like me when it comes to Westerns, you might pick it up and be reasonably entertained. Or you could wait until next Saturday when the TV version runs again.

Ion’s Western schedule on Saturday nights appears to be a mix of old and new, based on the commercials. The main feature next week, showing right after the ACES ‘N EIGHTS rerun, is THE RANGER, THE COOK, AND A HOLE IN THE SKY, a theatrical movie starring Sam Elliott and Jerry O’Connell. We’ve seen this and I recall liking it, but I don’t remember much else about it. I’ll watch just about anything with Sam Elliott in it, though, just to listen to him talk. What a great voice. The week after that is another new made-for-TV movie, PRAIRIE FEVER, starring Kevin Sorbo. I’ll probably watch it, too.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Darkness More Than Night -- Michael Connelly

Longtime readers of this blog may recall that a few years ago, I read quite a few of Michael Connelly’s novels in a fairly short span of time, and predictably enough burned myself out on his work for a while. But I’ve continued to read one now and then, and since this is Connelly Month on the excellent Rara-Avis mailing list, I thought now would be a good time to try another.

A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT is a crossover novel, pairing Connelly’s regular series protagonist, LA homicide detective Harry Bosch, with Terry McCaleb, the former FBI profiler who’s the hero of the novel BLOODWORK. It’s a natural enough move, and I thought it worked very well. I also like the way Jack McEvoy, from Connelly’s novel THE POET, makes an appearance as well. I’m a big fan of authors who try to create a consistent shared universe within their work, and with this novel it becomes clear that there are no real stand-alones among Connelly’s books. Any of them can tie up at any time with the others, and I like that. It’s also a good reason to read them in order, rather than skipping around.

(To digress for a moment, I do this myself in my own work, crossing over characters from one series and one pseudonym to another. For example, some of the characters from my Revolutionary War series PATRIOTS, written under the name Adam Rutledge, show up much later, story-wise, and play important parts in one of my Wagons West prequels written as Dana Fuller Ross. These somewhat obscure connections add some fun to it for me as a writer, and I hope they do for the readers who recognize them, too.)

But to get back to A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT, nobody is better than Connelly at slowly peeling back the layers of a plot, and that quality is very much in evidence here. Unfortunately – and this is the book’s only real flaw as far as I’m concerned – the plot here winds up being a little thin and easy to figure out early on. However, Connelly’s prose is readable enough, and the characters of Bosch and McCaleb are compelling enough, to keep the reader’s interest. There’s a great action scene near the end, and as usual there are unexpected bursts of beauty and poetry in the midst of Connelly’s mostly lean, unadorned prose.

In my opinion, Michael Connelly’s first four Harry Bosch novels – THE BLACK ECHO, THE BLACK ICE, THE CONCRETE BLONDE, and THE LAST COYOTE – are quite possibly the best four-book run in all of mystery fiction. A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT doesn’t rise to that level, but it’s still highly entertaining and well worth reading. I plan to read more of Connelly’s work soon, but I’m going to try not to burn myself out on it this time.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Black Book

There was a time when I didn’t like subtitled movies, but after watching a lot of foreign films with subtitles when I was in college (what else are you gonna do in college?), I got to where I preferred subtitles to watching movies that were dubbed in English.

Which brings us to BLACK BOOK, a World War II espionage drama in which nearly all the dialogue is in Dutch or German. Clarice Van Houten plays a young Jewish woman who just wants to escape from the Nazis but winds up getting involved with the Dutch resistance instead and finds herself falling in love with one of the SS officers she’s supposed to be spying on. The plot twists and turns until it’s a little difficult to keep up with who’s betraying who, and along the way there’s a fair amount of fairly graphic sex and violence.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven, who made ROBO-COP, TOTAL RECALL, and BASIC INSTINCT, among others, BLACK BOOK is well-acted, beautifully photographed, and a pretty darned good film. There are a couple of clear-cut villains (and they’re really nasty, too), but most of the characters are drawn in shades of gray, neither all good nor all bad, pretty much the way people are in real life. There’s a framing sequence I didn’t particularly care for, because it acts as a spoiler of sorts, but that’s my only real complaint. This is the first movie we’ve watched in more than a month, and it’s a good one, well worth watching.

Friday, March 07, 2008


Those of you who wanted to send books but were waiting until you could send them to us directly can now do so, at this address:

James Reasoner
P.O. Box 931
Azle, TX 76098-0931

If you need to use UPS or FedEx, email me and I'll send you the street address.

And let me add to those of you who have already sent books for us to Kim Lionetti, you don't know how much we appreciate your kindness. Thank you so much. And thanks to Kim as well, for her efforts on our behalf.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Mysterious Leslie G. Sabo

A couple of comments on the previous post mention Leslie G. Sabo. Here’s the list of his stories from the invaluable Fictionmags Index:

Good Time Girl (ss) Trapped Detective Story Magazine Aug 1957
Death Girl (ss) Trapped Detective Story Magazine Aug 1958
Jealous Husband (ss) Saturn Web Detective Story Magazine Aug 1958
First Kill (ss) Trapped Detective Story Magazine Oct 1958
Brush Salesman (ss) Guilty Detective Story Magazine Nov 1958
Kill the Guy on Top (ss) Trapped Detective Story Magazine Dec 1958
Death Bait! (vi) Saturn Web Detective Story Magazine Feb 1959
The Lethal Blonde! (nv) Two-Fisted Detective Stories Jun 1959
My Fee Is Lust! (ss) Off Beat Detective Stories Sep 1959
Tease of Death! (ss) Two-Fisted Detective Stories Nov 1959
Passion Must Die! (ss) Web Detective Stories Dec 1959
The Passionate Zombie! (ss) Two-Fisted Detective Stories Jan 1960
Show Her His Blood! (ss) Web Detective Stories Feb 1960
Her Lovers Were Corpses! (ss) Off Beat Detective Stories Mar 1960
Soft Shoulders—Beware! (ss) Two-Fisted Detective Stories Mar 1960
Blonde Dynamite! (nv) Off Beat Detective Stories May 1960
The Loving Corpse (ss) Web Detective Stories Aug 1960
Devil Woman (ss) Off Beat Detective Stories Sep 1960
The Lusting Ones (ss) Two-Fisted Detective Stories Jan 1961
Soft Mark! (ss) Off Beat Detective Stories Jul 1961
Nice Guys Kill First! (ss) Off Beat Detective Stories May 1962

Great titles, but a pretty short-lived career. However, he made the cover of the issue with his very first story, as you can see.

Charles Gramlich commented that the name sounds like a pseudonym to him, and it sure does to me, too. In fact, I tried moving the letters around to see if I could come up with another author’s name, but to be honest, I’m terrible at anagrams and couldn’t do it. However, as I was reading his story “The Lusting Ones” in that issue of TWO-FISTED DETECTIVE STORIES, I kept thinking to myself, “You know, this reads a lot like one of Lawrence Block’s Andrew Shaw novels in miniature.”

Sheer speculation, of course. But it’s a well-written story (pretty brutal and unpleasant, though) and I’m convinced that Leslie G. Sabo was actually someone else.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Two-Fisted Detective Stories

Just the titles of the stories in this digest mystery magazine ought to tell you whether or not they would be to your taste: “TNT Temptress!”, “As Hot as Hell!”, “The Devil is a Dame!”, “You Can’t Bury Evil!” . . . well, you get the idea. And yes, they all have exclamation points in the TOC and on the stories themselves, even though they’re not on the cover. If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you can probably guess how I felt about them. I had a great time reading them, of course.

The authors in this issue are a mixture of the well-known (Talmage Powell, Ed Lacy, Hal Ellson, Edward D. Hoch) and the completely unknown, at least to me (Art Crockett, Jim Arthur, Jim Barnett, Leslie G. Sabo, Vic Heston, Don Unatin, and J. Simmons Scheb). I looked up those I’d never heard of on the Fictionmags Index and discovered that most of them published only between the years 1958 and 1961, and virtually all of their stories appeared in magazines like TWO-FISTED DETECTIVE STORIES, WEB DETECTIVE STORIES, SURE-FIRE DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, and the like. I suspect that they’re all pseudonyms and/or house names.

But what about the stories themselves, you say. Well, most of them are crude, violent, sleazy, and vastly entertaining. “TNT Temptress!” is one of a series featuring private eye Juan Kelly, who keeps a garrulous parrot named Pepe in his office. In this one, a beautiful female wrestler comes into Kelly’s office not to hire him but to beat him up for putting her loan-shark boyfriend in the hospital. Naturally, the plot becomes a lot more complicated than that, even in 15 pages. This one would have fit right in at SPICY DETECTIVE a quarter of a century earlier. “H-Man!” by Talmage Powell, “Mask of Terror!” by Ed Lacy, and “Drive My Hearse, Darling!” by Edward D. Hoch are all slickly-written twist ending stories. “Lovelies Are For Lynching!” by Jim Arthur is a nightmarish noir yarn about a psycho killer, also with a twist ending. Despite the magazine’s title, the Juan Kelly novelette is really the only detective story. The others are all crime/suspense tales with a lot of fairly graphic (for the time) sex and violence in them.

This issue is the final one listed in the Fictionmags Index. That might mean it was the final issue published, or it might not. A house ad instructs readers to “Watch for Juan Kelly’s latest adventure with girls, gangs, guns in the February issue of Two-Fisted Detective Stories”, but that doesn’t really mean anything, either. All I know is, I enjoyed these stories enough so that if I ever run across another issue of TWO-FISTED DETECTIVE STORIES, I’ll grab it without hesitation.
(Thanks to Steve Mertz)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Note of Thanks

Last week we moved into the mobile home that's now on our property, and it sure feels good to be back in a place of our own. I'm hoping this will lead to at least a semi-return to what passes for normalcy around here, including reading more books, watching movies again, and posting more often here on the blog. Also we can move on to the next big task, which is cleaning up the mess left by the fire. Many thanks to all of you for your words of support, your prayers, and your very generous help in so many ways. We couldn't have made it this far without you.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Gannon #1: Blood for Breakfast -- Dean Ballenger

I nearly always enjoy a book written in a distinctive voice, and BLOOD FOR BREAKFAST certainly qualifies. Published in 1973 apparently in order to cash in on the then-current popularity of the Executioner and similar men’s adventure series, it’s the story of Mike Gannon, a security expert who returns to his hometown of Cleveland to avenge the rape and beating of his teenage sister by a couple of vicious college kids who are the sons of rich and powerful fathers. Those fathers will go to any lengths, legal or otherwise, to protect their sons, but Gannon intends to cut through all that and get his own brand of justice.

Although organized crime plays a part in this, because the rich guys hire hoodlums to scare off Gannon, BLOOD FOR BREAKFAST is really a class warfare book, with anybody who has money being unspeakably evil. Of course, poor people who can be bought off come across as being pretty bad, too. It’s almost like Gannon is battling money the same way that Mack Bolan battled the Mafia. This book is even more violent than the Executioner books, too, with Gannon cutting a bloody swath through Cleveland’s underworld on the way to his vengeance.

When I first started reading this book, I wondered if it was written by James Dockery, the original author of the Butcher series. The writing is that bizarre and over-the-top. But Dean Ballenger has his own style that doesn’t include any of Dockery’s catch-phrases, so my feeling is that there’s no connection between the two authors. Everybody in this novel, no matter who they are, speaks in exactly the same way, a slangy, side-of-the-mouth tough guy patter mixed with graphic profanity. The plot frequently makes no sense, and even when it does, it’s so far beyond belief that the reader is left just shaking his head. At least I was.

Despite that, I sort of enjoyed the book, probably because Ballenger brings such fervent sincerity to it. I don’t know anything about him other than that this was apparently his first novel. I can imagine him banging it out in a white heat, then having the manuscript make the rounds until it landed with Manor Books, a low-rent publisher if ever there was one. (And being a Manor Books author, I speak from experience.) Ballenger went on to write a handful of other novels: two more Gannon books for Manor, a Western for Major Books, assorted other men’s adventure novels. I wouldn’t say that BLOOD FOR BREAKFAST is a good book, but I found it interesting enough that I’d read at least one more book by Ballenger if I came across it.