Wednesday, December 19, 2007



The Eighth Dwarf Ross Thomas


The Blonde Duane Swierczynski

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Stranger Than

(from the interview I did for the Detroit Noir website)

Is your story based on, or overtly influenced by, actual events?
The bit about posing as cops to rob people: I’m sure it happens in a lot of big cities, but it seems to happen regularly in Detroit.

(from the Detroit Free Press last Saturday)

Fake cops targeted in raids
By Ben Schmitt
Police officers kicked down doors in Detroit and Macomb and Oakland counties Friday, seizing a cache of weapons, police badges and bulletproof vests in an investigation involving at least two men posing as cops while robbing citizens.

The raids by a multi-jurisdictional task force occurred at five houses in Detroit, Madison Heights, Warren, Sterling Heights and Center Line. In all, police seized 14 weapons -- including a submachine gun, AK47s and sniper rifles -- ammunition, silencers, gunpowder, grenades, two Ford Crown Victoria sedans and patches of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives, and U.S. Customs.

Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings said the raids stemmed from an arrest last month of someone who stole a police assault rifle, radio and bulletproof vest from a Wayne County sheriff's deputy.

She said some of the seized equipment displayed Friday belongs to officers, and there is more to be retrieved.

While she would not detail how the equipment was stolen, a police official close to the investigation said some of it was taken from officers' homes and cars.

"What the public needs to know is that we have determined that currently there are two white males conducting a rash or spree over the past year in Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties," the chief said. "They are targeting many people. ... It is believed they are conducting traffic stops in what are considered to be police-looking Crown Vics, using stolen police equipment."

Those men have not been arrested. She said there could be more than two people involved. Besides traffic stops, police are investigating home invasions and armed robberies by men saying they are cops.

"We know that we're having some robberies that are being conducted as a result of these people identifying themselves as police officers and they're not," Bully-Cummings said.

She said Detroit officers in marked cars will pull over when they see traffic stops by unmarked or semi-marked vehicles to make sure they belong to real officers.

Anyone who may have fallen victim to the police impersonators is asked to call the task force at 313-596-2300

Monday, December 10, 2007

Double Feature

For the first hour and a half of its running time, No Country For Old Men is both extremely stylish and nose-to-the-ground; in the last half hour, the action quickly becomes clear as mud: It’s like the Coens jumped from Blood Simple to Barton Fink, or let David Lynch direct the last half hour of the movie.

Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead opens with a couple of scenes that might lead you to believe you’re in for a dirty good time, but don’t be fooled. The heist-gone-bad story defers to the family-gone-bad story, and what follows is unrelentingly grim -- a film to be admired more than enjoyed.

Thursday, December 6, 2007



Who Is Conrad Hirst? Kevin Wignall
Come Morning Joe Gores
Deadly Beloved Max Allan Collins
Second Hand Michael Zadoorian


Autopsy of an Engine Lolita Hernandez
Code To Zero Ken Follett
The Brass Cupcake John D. MacDonald
Dead Sea Brian Keene

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


The Detroit Noir tour has gone on holiday break, but stay tuned: There will be some new events in the new year.

All of the readings were a blast, thanks to everyone involved.

You're only as good as the company you keep -- I think that's one of the abiding themes of noir -- and if you're a neophyte writer-type who does no public speaking ever, I advise you to surround yourself with educators and broadcast professionals for your initial public appearances.

Thanks to everyone who showed up, and my thanks especially to EJ, Lolita, Tina Vowels, Steve and Charlie.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Event Tonight

from the Detroit Noir blog:
Detroit Noir editors and contributors continue their tour of the Metro Area with a stop tonight, Friday, November 30, at Borders Books & Music in Dearborn.
The event starts at 7pm, and will feature editor E.J. Olsen, as well as authors Joe Boland, Roger K. Johnson, Lolita Hernandez and Dorene O’Brien.
The store is located at 5601 Mercury Drive, north off Ford Rd, between the Southfield Freeway and Greenfield Road. Call the store for more details at 313.271.4441.
As you can see, the cake is going fast....

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Tonight at 7:00 PM

Detroit Noir
at Borders
(Store #01)
612 E. Liberty
Downtown Ann Arbor

Featuring editor E.J. Olsen, and readings from contributors Joe Boland, Desiree Cooper, Roger K. Johnson, and Lolita Hernandez.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thursday, November 15, 2007

More Books

Books Bought:

The Vengeance Man / Park Avenue Tramp / the Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed: A Trio of Gold Medals (Stark House)

The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps: The Best Crime Stories from the Pulps During Their Golden Age--The '20s, '30s & '40s (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)

Who Is Conrad Hirst? (Kevin Wignall)

Books Read:

Detroit Noir (Akashic Books)

Kill Now, Pay Later (Robert Terrall)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Detroit Noir event tomorrow:

Wed., November 14, 7pm
Borders (Arborland)
3527 Washtenaw Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI

Fun Fact: This Borders location is store #303.

In The Matrix, the number on the door of the apartment where Keanu Reeves goes to meet the Oracle is -- #303.

And the store opened in this location during The Matrix's run in theaters.


Lolita Hernandez and I will read from our stories tomorrow night, and Olsen and Hocking will kick-off the event with their fire-juggling act.

(As I've mentioned before, they are FIRE-JUGGLERS!)

Hope to see you there.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Best Writing Advice

TODAY'S Best Writing Advice comes from David Mamet, who says these are the three questions to ask yourself when writing a scene:

Who wants what from whom?
What happens if they don’t get it?
Why now?

I find they are good questions to ask yourself most any hour of the day, whether you are writing or not….

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Hard World For Little Things

Rose McGowan really likes Robert Mitchum.

I think Mitchum would’ve really liked McGowan too.

November on Turner Classic Movies is Guest Programmer Month, as I learned last night when I caught Rose McGowan introducing Charles Laughton’s “Night of the Hunter” and later “Out of the Past”.

Watch those back-to-back and you’ve been through the wringer, boy - with or without Rose around.

A week from today, the Guest programmer is: James Ellroy!

Check it out here

Monday, November 5, 2007


As the editors noted on the Detroit Noir blog, the book launch at Aunt Agatha’s on Saturday was a mind-blower.

Everyone who took the time to stop in and grab a copy and wish us well -- You’re aces.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Goodbye Tuesday

With the publicity for the book underway, I thought it time to take down the lovely photo of a gun-wielding Tuesday Weld that previously graced the upper right corner of Zero-Sum World and replace it with a photo of my own grim visage.

My apologies to all.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


Book Release Party
This Saturday, One o’clock PM
Aunt Agatha’s
213 S. Fourth Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI

from Aunt Agatha's website:

We are launching a book called Detroit Noir on Saturday, November 3rd at 1 p.m., with a party. This book is an anthology of stories about Detroit. Scheduled to appear are: Loren Estleman, Dorene O'Brien, Joe Boland, Peter Markus and editors Chris Hocking and Eric Olsen. Other contributors include P.J. Parrish, Joyce Carol Oates, Megan Abbott, and Craig Holden. Our special guest that day will be author Chris Grabenstein, the Anthony winning author of Tilt a Whirl


That’s 1:00, folks – the Michigan-Michigan State game is in East Lansing, and kickoff isn’t until 3:30….

Friday, October 26, 2007

Movie: The Good German (2006)

Where's Claude Raines when you really need him?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Killer Back Copy

(Click on image to enlarge)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

This Is The Stuff

I just finished reading Jason Starr’s most recent novel, The Follower.

The past decade has seen a great groundswell, a great revitalization, of the noir/pulp/dark crime tale – call it what you like – and, for me, Jason Starr was, and is, at the forefront of it.

His third novel, Hard Feelings, was the first contemporary novel published by Black Lizard (as an imprint of Vintage).

I was working in a bookstore the day it was released, and I carried a copy around the store with me, just so I could sneak glances at the cover.

It was a dangerous-looking motherfucker.

Black Lizard was where I turned when I gave myself a break from being that guy at the bookstore who dutifully read Infinite Jest, Lorrie Moore, and that hot new translation of The Man Without Qualities.

When that guy finally gets around to writing something, that guy told himself, how could it help but be an important doorstop of American Lit?

But, privately, I really wanted to write like Patricia Highsmith.

It was too bad nobody published books like hers anymore.

The mystery section was filled with historical mysteries and techno-thrillers. Black Lizards were the exception, but they were all reprints, thirty years old, older.

Until now.

Not that it would matter, if Starr didn’t have the stuff.

Jason Starr has the stuff. He’s Highsmith with a Blackberry.

And with Lights Out and The Follower, he’s now in hardcover, smuggling his noir sensibilities into mainstream suspense fiction.

--to be cont.--

Monday, October 15, 2007

More Books

Here is another book list [with apologies to Nick Hornby]


Firebug Robert Bloch
Sleepeasy T.M. Wright
Shooters Terrill Lankford
The Brass Cupcake John D. MacDonald
Sweet Reason Robert Littell
Michigan Roll Tom Kakonis (replacement copy)
Murdaland Issue 2


Chasing The Dead Joe Schreiber
Dust Devils James Reasoner
The Follower Jason Starr

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Two Things

Paperback Buying Spree

Slide Ken Bruen & Jason Starr
Kill Now, Pay Later Robert Terrall
Fright Cornell Woolrich
Chasing The Dead Joe Schreiber
Swamp Sister Robert Edmond Alter (Creative Arts Ed.)
Death’s Dark Abyss Massimo Carlotto
Dead Sea Brian Keene
A Simple Plan Scott Smith (replacement copy)
Home Is The Hangman/We Roger Zelazny/Samuel Delaney (Tor Dbl., 1990)


The contributor interviews are underway at the Detroit Noir blog.
I am first in the dunk tank.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Detroit Noir blog

The Detroit Noir blog is live.

Check it out, and see what Publisher's Weekly has to say about the book.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Detroit Noir events...

There are many, many events now scheduled for Detroit Noir, and more to follow.

Check out Akashic Books (link on the right) for the details.

Imagine Steven Wright’s standup routine, minus the jokes, and you get a pretty good idea of my usual public-speaking performance.

But Olsen and Hocking will be at every event, and they are two of the most quick-witted, strikingly-handsome men you could ever hope to meet.

And -- they are fire-jugglers!

Makes the handsome part seem kinda unfair.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Movie: The Long Good Friday (1979)

London gang boss Bob Hoskins is finalizing a development deal that will make him and his associates wealthy and legit - once they secure some big money from the American Mafia - when he finds himself a target of some bloody acts of revenge.

Hoskins is great playing a guy absolutely dumbfounded to discover that, after a decade of graft-induced peace and prosperity, someone could have the nerve to try and muck up his big deal.

He shakes off his daze once the machetes come out, and rediscovers his inner gangster...but he also finds out that prosperity has left him a step too slow.

(Be forewarned: The synthesizer 'n' saxophone score has not aged well.)

Friday, August 31, 2007

Detroit Noir Author Blog

The Detroit Noir blog (link on the right) promises to go live in September.

It will feature profiles of, and interviews with, many of the anthology’s contributors
(Loren D. Estleman, P.J. Parrish, Joyce Carol Oates, Craig Holden, Megan Abbott, and others), excerpts from the stories in the book, and – as they say – more.

I’m almost done with the Q&A the editors sent to me. Here’s a sample:

What attracts you to the (broadly-defined) Noir style?
Like anyone, I grew up reading stories with heroes, and that’s what my lizard brain still expects whenever I crack open a book. I get suckered every time [reading Noir]. You’re implicated in the bad stuff that’s happening. There’s always a point where I think: That light at the end of the tunnel is a train, I should put this book down and walk away – but I never do. I love that feeling. It’s cathartic in the worst way. It’s a let’s-drink-up-the-rent-money feeling. It’s a great corrective to the insipid lengths America will go to concoct a hero for every situation.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Sunday = Paranoia

“Engage the asset,” evil David Strathairn intones on two occasions in The Bourne Ultimatum, and each time there follows a sequence of near-identical ciphers answering the phone and snapping into action in the anonymous room where they’d been zoned out in front of the TV; it’s a sly joke that’s niftier and chillier the second time around.

I picked up on Robert Littell earlier this year; I read Legends and was mesmerized by it. Now his magnum opus The Company is a mini-series airing Sunday nights on TNT. The first two hours centered on the Great Game in Berlin circa 1950s, and a fictionalized version of the Kim Philby story. Alfred Molina chews the scenery, Chris O'Donnell finally shakes off the dew, and Michael Keaton - you can practically smell his character's hair oil from your couch.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Do The Polymath

Ethan Iverson is the piano man in the mad-scientist-jazz piano trio The Bad Plus, and a great fan of crime fiction, of which he writes very insightful appreciations on the band's blog, Do The Math.

The most recent example is here:

There's no archive-by-subject, but if you scroll around looking for his thoughts on Donald Westlake and wind up reading his thoughts on Herbie Hancock along the way, well, that's not gonna hurt ya.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ah, Brevity!

Ross Thomas is rightly celebrated for many reasons, foremost among them the opening lines of his books, but he really knows how to end Chaper One, too.

This from his final novel, Ah, Treachery:

“A wealthy aged person of sixty-two years lies dying in Los Angeles. Needs bright aggressive go-getter to help solve one final problem. You interested?”

“What’s the problem?”

“I don’t know, but it pays one thousand a week and found.”

“How many weeks?”

“Till death do you part, I suppose,” the Greek said.

Friday, July 20, 2007

I Think Hitchcock Would Call It Cheating

It happens ever more frequently:

The opening chapters of the book – a page-turner, something grabbed off the rack at the supermarket – are written in first person.

This is a plot-driven story, a paperback with crosshairs on the cover, not a character study, so the first-person voice at best lends some character to the proceedings, or at least inserts the reader more readily into the role of the protagonist, as the shadowy forces that plan to disrupt his existence begin to gather.

By now, several score of pages have (hopefully) flown by, and if the author’s done his or her work, you’re at one with the narrator, because a) the narrator is a genuinely-engaging character, b) their predicament is so ingenious that you deem it worth your time to find out how any old straw man would fare, c) some combination of a and b; or even, if you have a stronger stomach than I do, the dread d) the author has all but sent a masseuse to your home in their effort to impress upon you their narrator’s essential goodness and likeability.

So the cat-and-mouse game is on. We have our mouse, we are rooting for the mouse, and the cat is still invisible.

Until the next chapter begins…in third person.

Here comes the cat. And he’s thrown the whole book out of joint.

Because why, then, do the “mouse” chapters need to be in first person?

The only reason, at this point, as far as I can tell, is d).

I think most authors accused of this would say something about using a larger palette.

I can agree that there’s something claustrophobic about first-person, but I would counter that claustrophobia is not a bad thing in a thriller; and that a third-person narrative throughout would be an omniscient narrator, and there’s no larger palette than omniscience.

Which leads back to d).

I think the Web is partly to blame for d). Go to Amazon and look up a thriller of the past ten years, then look at the lowest-starred customer reviews, and it's almost certain the customer "didn't like" or "didn't care" about the characters.

Properly chastened, the author who couldn't resist instant feedback returned to the keyboard and gifted their protagonist with heaps of caring: a dying mother or a selfless profession or - yes yes, a first-person narrative...for two-thirds of the book. Whenever the cat is not center stage.

Here's the thing: I think Hitchcock would call any of these gambits cheating.

That orderly contract between the writer and the reader that the postmodernists wanted thrown away for all time, the thriller still cries out for.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Book Release Party for Detroit Noir

Sat., November 10, 1pm

Aunt Agatha's Mystery, Detection & True Crime Books
213 S. Fourth Ave.Ann Arbor, MI

Book release party featuring editors E.J. Olsen and John C. Hocking, with various contributors

If you've been to Aunt Agatha's before, you don't really need an excuse to drop in, but here you go.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Thomas Perry

Thomas Perry’s titles have become, to put it kindly, less distinctive over the years – compare the latest, Silence, and the recent Nightlife and Pursuit to Metzger’s Dog or The Face-changers – but the books keep getting better and better. And they were awfully good to begin with.

Is there a better pure thriller writer working today? Perry can wring more suspense out of a pre-dawn taxi ride to the airport than most thriller writers could manage with a serial killer loosed on the Vatican with a suitcase nuke on Easter Sunday.

Ever since reading Big Fish back in the early eighties, I’ve considered his books to be like smarter, leaner, domestic versions of the type of tale the Ludlums and Forsythes were slinging, and thought that, in a just world, he would have the kind of career the reading public and Hollywood granted (say) John Grisham instead.

For a time, I thought Perry agreed with me – leaving behind the stand-alones for a series character, a sure sign that a writer is looking to relax a bit, find a formula people like, coast for a while. Right?

Not Perry. The Jane Whitefield books are pretty much the only series I’ve read without a sense of diminishing returns. And he quit Jane after five books, to return to the stand-alone.

Maybe the time is ripe for Perry to become an overnight sensation – the blockbusterish titles are in place, the paperback of Nightlife is showing up in the supermarket racks. I’d love to see some capable creative team, inspired by the Bourne franchise, turn the Jane Whitefield books into movies.

Meanwhile, Silence has been out for a couple weeks now, and I haven’t picked it up yet. The suspense is nearly killing me, but I’m going to wait just a little while longer.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Title of Blog Rings True Yet Again

I received my very first check for a piece of writing of any kind...and the next night, my 25 year-old television gave up the ghost.

Plain wrong as it is to spend cash born of a book on a new TV -- hey, man, it's baseball season.

Stop lookin' at me like that.

Friday, June 15, 2007

DZ Allen's Muzzle Flash

DZ Allen was kind enough to post a story I submitted to Muzzle Flash, the fine online Flash arm of pulp mag Out Of The Gutter.

Check out the link on the right for "Thurston Ray" -- then bookmark Muzzle Flash. You'll want to make it a regular stop.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Movie: The Aura (2005)

Art-house noir from Argentina.

An epileptic taxidermist (really) gets a chance to live his fantasy of committing a heist by inserting himself into someone else’s scheme, and of course he doesn’t know the half of what’s really going on.

The proceedings are so hushed that every curse is like a gun going off, and every gunshot like a bomb.

The corners don’t all meet up as they might pretend to in an American product, but this one’ll stay with you.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Best Writing Advice

TODAY'S best writing advice comes from the great Charles Willeford -- care of Bill, retired Master Sergeant, in The Woman Chaser:

“…I know this much about writing. You have to write something….After you get enough pages done, you have something to read. If you can read it you can revise it. If you revise it enough times, you come up with something pretty good. All writing is like that; it couldn’t be any other way.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Art of Losing, by Keith Dixon

Keith Dixon's The Art of Losing is the best novel I've read this year.

Degenerate gamblers hatch a harebrained scheme to take some money from some bad, bad men; the plan fails, but too late to do anyone any good, and one of the plotters turns out to be a weak sister.

Sounds familiar, but it's not.

The characters buy into the scheme with the same confidence they would have betting their rent--it probably won't work, but it might. The bookmaker's disgust for their clientele has never been so well captured. And that weak sister? I can't think of another character in a noir who cracks the way this guy cracks--leading to the finale, which left me with the deep Catholic jitters.

Dixon has one previous novel, Ghostfires. After reading The Art of Losing, you'll want to get your hands on that one too, and God help anyone who gets in your way.

Friday, June 1, 2007


Here goes nuthin'.