Monday, December 22, 2008

Go Twist

Another site that’s sprung up to lessen the sting of Muzzle Flash’s demise is A Twist of Noir, helmed by Christopher Grant.

He’s roped in a lot of Muzzle Flash contributors, so a visit to Twist is time well spent.

My favorite flash there so far is THIS PIECE by Jake Hinkson, which reads like a page from one of the recent Hard Case Crime Lawrence Block reprints. Damn!

And with that, Zero Sum World quietly turns 100 posts old.
Glad tidings to all.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Easiest Thing In The World

This is the last of the flash fiction I've written that originally appeared at the late, lamented Muzzle Flash.

Clay got the idea from a stand-up comedian: People spend thousands on home security systems, but they’ll hand their expensive camera to a total stranger and ask him to take their picture.

Easiest thing in the world.

All month he’d gone to the places vacationers went, and every evening he ended up with a camera or two. The simple fact he was alone was all the hook he needed. No parent seemed to want to trouble a fellow parent, trying to corral a brood of their own, and ask to have their picture taken.

Clay was starting to believe he’d been the only person watching Letterman that night.

He never had to run very far: If someone gave chase, they gave up when their confused, frightened children called after them. Getting away wasn’t a problem for Clay. He always had a lot of nervous energy in the hours his jones began to build.

Auntwan had taken all the cameras off his hands, though not without complaining. Digital! I need 35mm! If he kept coming to Auntwan, the price was going to go down. He was walking the midway of the fair, brooding over this, when the couple waved him down.

“Excuse me. Sir?”

The man was taller than Clay, fifty pounds heavier – easy to get away from. The woman seemed bleary and happy. Clay guessed they’d come from the beer tent.

“Would you mind?”

It was a high-end digital camera. Clay nodded through the man’s brief instructions, sneaking glances at his cornflower-blue eyes.

They were standing in front of a carny game. Clay motioned them back, then held up a finger to indicate he meant to wait until a clump of old people had passed. The couple relaxed their pose as the crowd moved between them, and Clay ran.

He ran further than usual, expecting pursuit: No children, pricey camera. Near the main entrance he ducked into a tent of 4-H Club exhibits and watched for the couple or the monkeys working security to go past. He removed his jacket, turned it inside out, wrapped it around the camera, wedged the bundle under his arm, and walked to his car.

He joined the long line of cars waiting to exit the fairgrounds, playing with figures in his head. Fifty bucks? From Auntwan? He left the parking lot and pulled onto the service drive, where he was dozens of cars back from a red traffic light. It was the nicest camera Clay had stolen. He set it in his lap, monitor up, and thumbed the review button.

He’d taken a picture of the couple. Bad luck. He thumbed to the previous photograph: A close-up of a woman’s face. Not the woman from the fair: This woman had black hair, set off by a red flower nestled above her ear.

Something was wrong with her eyes.

Clay looked closer.

The red bloom in her hair was no flower.

Clay went to the previous photo: the man from the fair and the black-haired woman, standing in a park, smiling, arms around each other.

Previous photo: close-up, pale woman – her skin looked blue – staring out from the wet, orange-red hair that hung in her eyes.

Again: the man from the fair and the pale woman, seated at a wrought iron table, traffic blurring by in the background.

Clay’s jones crept up. His hands were shaking as he thumbed the button again.

A black woman, on her back, eyes closed, streak of dried blood on her neck.

The black woman standing under an umbrella held by the man from the fair.

There were more.

A horn blasted behind him, and Clay looked in the rearview mirror.


James smiled at the thief in the car in front of him.

He had pointed the thief out to Debbie in the parking lot. She’d been staring after the man, drunkenly transfixed, while James popped open the trunk of her car.

James enjoyed his dates. Bringing them to a close was always difficult.

The thief was small. James had fifty pounds on him.

It was going to be difficult, bringing this to a close, too, but James was looking forward to it.

Taking the pictures was usually the hardest thing.

Taking the thief’s picture was going to be the easiest thing in the world.

Note: I promise to never write another serial killer story.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Quick Three

Someone once wrote that Patricia Highsmith’s books made you realize how predictably characters in most thrillers behaved; Brad Anderson’s film Transsiberian accomplishes much the same thing. Emily Mortimer is fantastic (and, well, unpredictable) in the lead. The spell is perhaps broken in the last act, when it becomes an action movie, but I didn’t mind.

I’ve abandoned books by Frederick Forsyth and Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum before my flight started boarding. In Gun Work, David J. Schow gets right the thing they most often get wrong: When he interrupts a gunfight to tell you that an Uzi on full auto tends to recoil up and to the right, it’s germane to the action at hand -- not just a clump of research to trip over.

Man, it’s been weeks since I put anything up here, but that’s the way it goes. Today I couldn’t find time to shave. If you like your blogs updated daily, you should check out David Cranmer’s very engaging The Education of a Pulp Writer. Today David announces the launch of a new e-zine he calls Beat to a Pulp. How could it not be good? (Dec. 15th )

Friday, November 7, 2008

Writers On The River

Detroit Noir editors E.J. Olsen & John C. Hocking are taking part this Sunday in the 10th Annual Writers On The River Book Fair in Monroe, MI.

Check it out, won't you? I cannot attend, and my heart flutters at the thought of those two wandering unsupervised near a body of water.

The relevant details are here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Double Feature: Degenerate Gamblers

I could not stand Matthew Broderick when he was young; after Election, I’m cheered whenever he waddles onto the screen. Since bulking up and slowing down, he’s become ridiculously smooth and low-key, a great comic actor. His boyish face, changing slowly from one bland expression to the next, makes for a perfect mask for the degenerate gambler he plays in Finding Amanda. There are some comedy set pieces in the film, but that’s when the film is least funny (with the exception of Steve Coogan’s first scene). The real laughs are kind of painful, but it’s funny nevertheless to watch the matter-of-fact way Broderick lies to everyone. When he develops an interest in his runaway niece Brittany Snow, a twenty-year old prostitute, it is also seems natural that there’s nothing sexual about it: Being interested in anyone is a new experience for him. The small-group swing and light tone is a perfect mask for a lonely and cutting little movie. Lose the scenes with the wacky dealer and the funny pimp and you’d have a minor gem.

In Cassandra’s Dream, the indispensible Tom Wilkinson has a small role which haunts the entire film, much as he did in Michael Clayton. Here, it’s the moment of rage his character allows himself (directed at Colin Ferrell; the audience sympathizes) that stays in the mind, and keeps the movie from drifting away. It’s noir, all right, but held at a distance, with pretty surfaces and a soundtrack by Phillip Glass and characters theatrically declaiming what’s eating them, and Woody Allen just doesn’t have the stomach for this high-style low-life stuff the way David Mamet does. Oh, listen, it’s better than I’m making it sound. Recommended.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Former Detroit Mayor Reports To Jail Today

I’m tempted to say that I will miss him…

How could I not? In some ways, the last six years in Detroit have been like living inside a really good James Ellroy novel.

…but he won’t be gone that long.

Upon his release: Talk radio show? Pulpit? Both?

(Wikipedia has the Kwame Kilpatrick story well-covered.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Thurston Ray

This is the first of two stories that appeared on the Muzzle Flash site, which is No More.

The ground above, the sky below.

Lloyd looked through the spiderweb crack in the windshield and the dead branches and ditchwater that crowded it and thought the horizon was the strangest thing he had ever seen.

He fell back to sleep for a minute.

He woke up still behind the wheel of the overturned Lincoln, suspended a few inches below the seat by the seatbelt and shoulder harness.

Lloyd thought of cars flipping over in movies, how they burst into flame, annihilating everything.

He braced himself and wrestled with the seatbelt release and fell onto the roof of his company car.


Out of habit, Lloyd reached for his business cards, which were somewhere else, with his belt and his shoes.

He wiped his palm on his pant leg before extending his hand and saying his name.

“Thurston Ray,” his cellmate said. His hand was a dead fish.


Thurston Ray was Drunk and Disorderly. He was a gangly local kid with hair that hung in his eyes, jeans gone in the knees, and dirty fingernails.

“How’dya get soaked?”

“I ran,” Lloyd said. Thurston Ray beamed at him. “I ran into a field, but the moon was behind me, and I ran into a fucking swamp.”

“Pond,” Thurston Ray said, and laughed.


After Lloyd vomited, he began to worry. He worried for his job with Sunblessed Seed. He needed to get out of the lockup, see to the car repair himself, phone in excuses to his regional manager and to the farmers and greenhouse owners expecting him the next few days.

He could be released on his own recognizance if he paid the bail, Thurston told him; but Lloyd was cash poor, thanks to the titty club his last customer had insisted on visiting.

Thurston Ray had a proposition, which began, “Let me call my mother.”


Thurston Ray’s mother was nineteen at the outside. She had short-cropped hair the color of beets, and a wide mouth. She wore capri pants that could have been a tattoo.

The desk cop knew her, Lloyd thought, but he couldn’t say for certain.

In the parking lot all she said was “That’s eight-fifty.”

Lloyd climbed in the aging Camaro and gave the name of his bank.


“Fuck!” Thurston Ray’s mother said, shaking the gun at him.

Lloyd explained about his credit limit, slowly, carefully, but she did not want to hear about it.

He had been able to extract enough cash to pay his own bail and Thurston’s – twice over – but fell short of the sum Thurston had, in his phone call from the police station, instructed her to extort.Her bitterness over this shortfall seemed heartfelt. Lloyd guessed the kids planned to blow town on their profit from his misery, and he felt a tremor of the empathy that had led him to discuss his circumstances with Thurston Ray in the first place: for he was also a drunk trying to get down the road.

“What about tomorrow?” she said.


“Can you get more money out of the ATM tomorrow?”


Her name, she said, was Kimberley.

It started when, not wanting to let him out of her sight, she followed him into the motel bathroom.

They were drinking heavily and he could not say how he got the gun away from her.

At 4 AM, he moved her to the trunk of the Camaro.

He parked in the woods, vomited, walked to the other motel in town, and took a room.


He drank more and used the phone. He had the Lincoln towed from the impound to the town’s sole garage. He called missed appointments and was mellifluous and cajoling. He was on his game, on the phone.


He drank more and used the phone. The garage said their man was devoting all his time to the Lincoln . He called his office, forgot to mute the violent movie on HBO, slurred on “Good morning”, and hung up.


On the fourth day he walked to the garage. “Still waiting on a part,” he was told by the mechanic, a gangly local kid with hair that hung in his eyes, jeans gone in the knees, and dirty fingernails.

Muzzle Flash RIP

Muzzle Flash has followed Murdaland and Demolition and Hard Luck Stories (and Flashing in the Gutters, and...) to the netherworld.

Hopefully Plots With Guns and Thug Lit will soldier on.

Thanks and best of luck to MF editor DZ Allen.

The two stories of mine that DZ was kind enough to accept for Muzzle Flash will turn up here soon.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hardboiled v. Noir

Hardboiled: "Somebody's going to pay for this."
Noir: "I am going to pay for this."

Monday, October 20, 2008

EVENT: Wednesday, Temperance, MI

I thought the Detroit Noir editors were kidding when they asked me to join them in temperance.

After a few moments of ugly confusion, though, we got things straightened out:

Detroit Noir editors John C. Hocking and E.J. Olsen, along with contributor Joe Boland, will be speaking at the Bedford Branch of the Monroe County Library.

The event takes place on Wednesday, October 22nd, and starts at 7 p.m.
We’ll talk about the book, Joe will read from his work, and we’ll take questions afterward.

We’ll also have books for sale, so please join us!

The Bedford Branch is located at 8575 Jackman Rd. in Temperance, MI.
Call the branch for more details at (734) 847-6747.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Nightstand

The Moving Target, Ross MacDonald
Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosley
A Diet of Treacle, Lawrence Block
Shooters, Terrill Lankford
Slide, Jason Starr & Ken Bruen
Fright, Cornell Woolrich
Consider The Lobster, David Foster Wallace
Protocol For A Kidnapping, Oliver Bleeck

Human Smoke, Nicholson Baker
Born Standing Up, Steve Martin

Put A Lid On It, Donald Westlake

Deadly Honeymoon, Lawrence Block

The First Quarry, Max Allan Collins
The World in Six Songs, Daniel J. Levitin

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Character in Two Sentences

Joanie settled in with her face in her palms and her eyes shining and for a while I said whatever came to mind. Joanie loved stories –- she probably lived her life the way she did because she loved stories –- but she didn’t necessarily listen to them that closely.

--Max Phillips, Fade To Blonde (p.149)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Nobody Home

I wrote this flash fiction in July and sent it to Muzzle Flash. I didn’t hear back from editor DZ Allen and, in fact, the Muzzle Flash site went dormant for a month or more. (DZ recently resurfaced there, explaining -- possibly tongue-in-cheek, possibly not -- that he’d been locked up.) Long and short of it, the story is probably not Muzzle Flash material anyway, and I don’t know of anywhere else to send it -- so I’m putting it up here, because I need some action.


Devin was supposed to be looking for a job, but Rachel wasn’t convinced. He never got out of bed before she left for work, and when she came home, to an empty apartment, the TV was warm to the touch, the game controller in a different spot. When he returned in the evening, after she’d eaten dinner alone, there was always beer on his breath and smoke in his clothes.

The promise to look for work was ripped out of him on Valentine’s Day, and now Mother’s Day was around the corner. Rachel tried once again to convince him to work at the florist, just for the holiday.

“We always need delivery help for Mother’s Day. It’s something. They pay cash!”


“I told you last time. Five, six bucks a signature.”

“Five bucks,” Devin said.

“You know your way around,” Rachel said. “You could make ten, twelve deliveries an hour, sixty, seventy bucks.”

“What happens if there’s nobody home?”

“You try next door, on either side, across the street. Get someone to sign for it. We have these red tags for the front door that say, Flowers for you, you weren’t home, we left them with – and there’s a space where you write the address.”

“What if nobody’ll sign for ‘em?”

“Yellow tag for the door that says, Call us, we’ll bring your flowers back when you’re home.” She could see Devin was losing interest.

“Then you gotta make a second trip for five bucks,” he said.

Rachel and the other floral designers usually ran those deliveries back out on their way home, for no extra money, but she didn’t say anything more to Devin. She knew he wouldn’t understand: People working together, busy times, pulling more weight than usual.

Ann, one of the designers, was the first person to guess Rachel was pregnant. They were greening the stupid FTD Mother’s Day baskets, production-line style, and she caught Rachel sobbing.

“I am,” Rachel said. It was the first time she’d told anyone at all.

Ann told her to go home.

Go: That much sounded good to Rachel. She washed her face in the restroom and walked out to the garage, where the temp drivers shuffled around with maps and clipboards and boxed roses. They were drinkers and deadbeats, and she admitted to herself that Devin wouldn’t have looked out of place among them.

A funeral spray she’d made before starting on the FTD crap was still here. Hard to get a five-dollar signature from a dead man, she guessed. She carried it to the company’s panel van.

At the funeral home, the name of the deceased didn’t appear on the blackboard in the delivery room. It was late in the day, visitations in progress, but she pushed through the door that opened into the main hallway off the parlors, to double check.

The first parlor on the left was unoccupied, and Rachel ducked in, sat on a couch. The empty stillness promised quiet, but she could hear a constant low murmur of voices from the other rooms. It was not that different from sitting alone in the apartment.

What kind of home did she have?

It was night when the designers finished stocking the cooler with arrangements. The deadbeats had cashed out, left behind the usual half-dozen soggy-looking packages. Rachel took two with addresses on streets she recognized, said something reassuring to Ann, and carried the flowers to her car.

The people at her first stop had seen the door tag and phoned, expected her; the second stop was a stab in the dark. The house was in a neighborhood where friends had lived when she was little: Shingle Victorians and Tudors on large lots along the curving streets, separated from the city grid on three sides by a shaded creek. She’d daydreamed about living here when she grew up.

There were lights on inside the house as she pulled up to the detached garage. When she got out of the car, the lights on the ground floor went out, and lights came on upstairs. She hurried to the side door to the house, hoping to catch them before they went to bed, when she saw the yellow tag hanging from the doorknob, bright as day.

So they returned home and walked fifteen yards out of their way to use the front door… Odd, but there were many other explanations, and it was the end of a long day. She rang the doorbell.

A floodlight on the garage clicked on, showing her car to the people in the house. Long minutes passed before the room behind the door filled with light. Then a silhouette loomed behind yellow half-length curtains no hand reached to part.

Rachel forced a smile and gave the package a meager hoist, a gesture she hoped looked friendly, even as cold sweat glued her blouse to her spine.

Devin opened the door, stood there with a weighted-down bag in his hand.

He was listening to me, Rachel thought. Yellow tags. He was paying attention.

Rachel still wore her florist apron. Blade in the pocket.

Devin never let go of the doorknob. When he finally dropped the bag, heavy crystal shattered and spilled at her feet

Friday, October 3, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: Protocol For A Kidnapping

Oliver Bleeck is the pseudonym Ross Thomas used to publish four books of the adventures of professional go-between Philip St. Ives. Ah, Ross Thomas and his names. (Bleeck, Oliver=bleak all over, anyone?) Given the nature of the books, I like to imagine he chose the name thinking of the nursery rhyme/riddle:

As I was going to St Ives
I met a man with seven wives
And every wife had seven sacks
And every sack had seven cats
And every cat had seven kits
Kits, cats, sacks, wives
How many were going to St Ives?

In general, the books he published under his own name are more character-driven and the books published as Bleeck are more plot-driven. Anything by Ross Thomas is highly recommended (well, you may want to save The Money Harvest and The Seersucker Whipsaw for emergency use only) but since his non-Bleeck books have already had some representation here I thought I’d shill for St. Ives. (When St. Martin’s Minotaur launched QP reprints of Thomas earlier this decade – they stalled out after five or six – the Bleeck titles were missing from the ad card. Come on, Hard Case Crime!)

Like Travis McGee, if somewhat less so, St. Ives is a male fantasy of the late-60s early-70s. He doesn’t bed every woman he meets, I don’t think, and he doesn’t belittle women in asides to the reader as McGee does. He lives in a New York townhouse rather than a moored houseboat. But he does share with McGee 1) a preference for working only a few weeks every year and 2) a rather high-flown wit (and St. Ives’ has aged better.)

As his job title suggests, St. Ives is a professional ransom-dropper, but of course none of the jobs he accepts (or is coerced into doing) turn out to be anything so simple as a plain-old kidnapping.

All four of Oliver Bleeck’s books are worth tracking down; I chose Protocol For A Kidnapping because I’m reading it right now, and whichever Ross Thomas you’ve read most recently is your favorite Ross Thomas.

For all of Friday's Forgotten Books, see Patti Abbott's blog.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Double Feature

The Bedroom Window has the kind of premise that’s hard to resist: Our naïve hero tries to do good by telling a lie, and quickly finds himself on the Road to Hell. I saw this in a theater 21 years ago (?!) and thought it was like an American version of one of Truffaut’s Hitchcock homages –- an impression obviously fostered by the presence of Isabelle Huppert, but supported by the film itself and by a second viewing on DVD this week. As with Truffaut, the movie goes limp somewhere after the halfway mark, even though the story remains involving. It would be easy to blame this failure on the star, Steve Guttenberg, unless you have happened to see him in the movie Diner and thus realize that he gets a Lifetime Pass. No, it’s his character –- he’s an Architect, which in movies means Underwritten –- that lets some of the tension dribble away. Director Curtis Hanson, who would go on to adapt and direct the sublime L.A. Confidential, doesn’t fix the character into the story the way that Hitchcock or DePalma or David Lynch did in films with similar premises. Even when the guy is sitting up all night in an alley, staking out a killer’s house, there’s no sense of what’s driving him; when, late in the film, he tells Elizabeth McGovern that he has a “crush” on Huppert, it sounds about right -– and completely wrong. It’s just a lark? Don’t tell that to the villain! (It’s a master stroke by Hanson that the villain has only one line in the movie. He makes the most of it. You laugh, realizing -- “Hey! He spoke!” -- and then your blood runs cold.)

The much-lauded second-person voiceover narration in Blast of Silence left me feeling churlish. The style is so hardboiled you could crack a floor tile with it, and it has more than a touch of Nietzche -– the Nietzche who so impresses undergraduates. That aside, the film’s a gem, a terrific specimen of the lonely-stunted-life-of-the-contract killer sub-genre. You could draw a straight line from Blast of Silence through The Prone Gunman through Grosse Point Blank to Who Is Conrad Hirst? and come out with a pretty good essay. I’ll expect it on my desk next week.

The Boogey Man

I was watching baseball and trying to read during the commercial breaks, looking up whenever a campaign spot ran.

During one break, I heard the ominous music and superior, threatening narration I’ve come to associate with Republican ads, and thought, Wonder if I've seen this one yet? and looked up from my book:

Saw V is in theaters later this month.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: Budding Prospects

T. Coraghessan Boyle is probably my favorite living short story writer. The archetypal Boyle narrator/protagonist –- a too-intellectual sad sack, half-clinging to hippie ideals he no longer believes in or lives by, easily led around by the pecker, battered by whatever societal or natural disaster catches the author’s fancy this time -– is a surprisingly hardy fellow, a regular Buster Keaton figure. You welcome him turning up in story after story, surviving all sorts of out-there scenarios.

In the novels, though, that same character can come to seem like a bit of a straw man.

Not so in Budding Prospects, his second novel.

Lighter than anything else I’ve read by him, this is a pretty straightforward comic novel -- a marriage of the traditions of the “fuck-up” novel and the heist novel -- about a simple plan to grow and sell some marijuana in northern California.

The novel begins:

I've always been a quitter. I quit the Boy Scouts, the glee club, the marching band. Gave up my paper route, turned my back on the church, stuffed the basketball team. I dropped out of college, sidestepped the army with a 4-F on the grounds of mental instability, went back to school, made a go of it, entered a Ph.D. program in nineteenth-century British literature, sat in the front row, took notes assiduously, bought a pair of horn-rims, and quit on the eve of my comprehensive exams. I got married, separated, divorced. Quit smoking, quit jogging, quit eating red meat. I quit jobs: digging graves, pumping gas, selling insurance, showing pornographic films in an art theater in Boston. When I was nineteen I made frantic love to a pinch-faced, sack-bosomed girl I'd known from high school. She got pregnant. I quit town. About the only thing I didn't give up on was the summer camp.

Let me tell you about it.

If you need more convincing, and you’ve never read T.C. Boyle before, check out one of those story collections first.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Burn After Reading

A lot of movies huff and puff to feel up to the minute; Burn After Reading, with great stealth, makes it look easy.

The value of “intelligence” misjudged, resulting in carnage? Check.
Bureaucrats sitting on their hands, waiting to see how matters of life-and-death play out? Check.
Isolation, paranoia, and self-interest verging on solipsism? All on full display.
An audience that wouldn’t have been certain how to take this stuff eight years ago, erupting into bitter, knowing laughter? Yep.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: Trace

Reading this week of Gregory McDonald’s death, I remembered how startling the first sighting of Fletch on the paperback rack at the supermarket or drugstore, in the late ‘70s, was. What the hell is this? I thought. Dialogue on the cover? I was 10 or 11 at the time, but I knew that covers were for sexy illustrations or for photo still-lifes of handguns & drug paraphernalia.

But those Fletch covers had the immediacy of a great newspaper headline. There was no need to pick the book up and thumb through it. You knew you were going to buy the book before you ever touched it. Probably the only pure true case of a book you could judge by its cover.

Of course, when the Fletch books became best-sellers, the text of other books began leaking out onto covers, but years went by before the design was applied to anything I considered reading. And then the Trace books started showing up.

The dialogue on the covers of the Trace books was nowhere near as good as Gregory McDonald’s, but I was all caught up with Fletch and wanted something similar, and these books were doing back flips to look like McDonald’s stuff. On some level, too, I think I wanted to see how you might go about ripping off work you admired and tweaking it enough to make it your own, and something told me the Trace books accomplished this.

The author Warren Murphy is best known as the author or co-author of the three thousand books in the Destroyer series, but I haven’t read any of them. I don't know if the emulation of Fletch stretches far beyond the cover; at any rate, the Trace books are quite different.

Here is what I remember: Devlin Tracy is an investigator for an insurance company. He hates the company he works for, and is tired of doing investigative work for a living; he constantly daydreams of making a big score by inventing something, but his only real skills seem to be 1) the ability to tell when someone is lying, and 2) the ability to drink astonishing quantities of alcohol.

The cases he works on bring him into contact with wealthy families right out of Lew Archer Land, and he alienates nearly everyone he meets (with the exception of his faithful girlfriend -- who, if I remember correctly, solves the mystery in a couple of the later books, while Trace nurses a hangover somewhere.)

Darker (or more depressive) than the Fletch books, lighter than Charles Willeford’s Hoke Mosley, the Trace books would probably appeal to a fan of either. Find one and save it for next summer: Trace’s drink is gin, I believe.

for all of Friday's Forgotten Books, see Patti Abbott's blog.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: A Stranger In This World

A Stranger In This World by Kevin Canty, published in 1994, doesn’t seem to enjoy the afterlife it deserves. It’s both a first book and a short story collection, and, as in a lot of literary short fiction, many of the tales here end with an epiphany. The difference here is, the epiphanies always arrive too late. The characters are captured at the exact moment they fall through the cracks. (One story begins: “Let’s say things stop working out for you.” By paragraph’s end, it’s no longer hypothetical. And it's a short paragraph.) Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son was published a few years earlier, and I think that, for a time (as with Raymond Carver the previous decade), any fiction with protagonists on the margins of society was measured by the Jesus’ Son yardstick and found wanting. Compared to these stories, though, the characters in Jesus’ Son are playing in a sandbox. There’s real hurt in A Stranger In This World, and the characters in “Pretty Judy” and “Junk” and “Blue Boy” aren’t headed to a better place, but Canty’s tough, elegant prose makes their journeys rewarding.

for all of Friday's Forgotten Books, see Patti Abbott's blog.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

EVENT: Kerrytown Bookfest

The 6th Annual Kerrytown Bookfest is Sunday, September 7th in Ann Arbor, and a number of Detroit Noir contributors will be on hand.

Here’s the Detroit Noir-centric schedule of events:

1 PM, Kerrytown Concert House
The Art of the Short Story

Moderator: E.J. Olsen
Panel: Peter Ho Davies, Dorene O’Brien, Joe Borri & Lolita Hernandez

2 PM, Main Speakers Tent
Four Guys and a Doll (Mystery Fiction)

Moderator: Jamie Agnew of Aunt Agatha's
Panel: Loren D. Estleman, Theresa Schwegel, Peter Leonard, Chris Grabenstein & Rob Kantner

4PM, Main Speakers Tent
Fresh Faces in Historical Crime Fiction

Moderator: Jo Ellyn Clarey
Panel: Megan Abbott, Cordelia Frances Biddle, Suzanne Arruda & Kathryn Miller Haines

The full official schedule is here.

Don’t miss out!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Read | Bought | Reading | On Deck

Small Crimes, Dave Zeltserman
Baby Moll, John Farris
Severance Package, Duane Swierczynski
A Dance At The Slaughterhouse, Lawrence Block

Keeper, Greg Rucka
The Max, Ken Bruen & Jason Starr
Nothing To Lose, Lee Child
Body Rides, Richard Laymon
Devil In A Blue Dress, Walter Mosley
Gold Coast, Elmore Leonard

Leather Maiden, Joe R. Lansdale

On Deck:
The Moving Target, Ross MacDonald

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Local Production

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm recently offered a number of tax incentives to film productions and brought Clint Eastwood, among others, to the Detroit area for shooting, as it were.

So the hour is nigh.

This is the consensus in Detroit, anyway: The film version of the Kwame Kilpatrick story cannot be far off.

My casting suggestion -- Anthony Anderson as the Mayor. Terrific actor. He can be charming, he can be threatening.

Reassemble the creative team from L.A. Confidential and I think you've got a winner.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: The Sophomore

Detroit's own Patti Abbott recently started Friday's Forgotten Book, a boon to readers -- and content-stumped bloggers -- everywhere.

Thanks to Patti.

The Sophomore, Barry Spacks (1969)

I read the Fawcett paperback twenty-five years ago, probably the same week I read Richard Farina’s Been Down So Long It Looks like Up To Me – the summer before I started college. When my subsequent college experience didn’t include daytripping through revolution in Cuba (Farina) or barricading myself inside the campus radio station to play “Night in Tunisia” continuously during an all-request program (Spacks), I just knew I’d missed out on the salad days of American higher education.

The book is still readily available via ABE; one seller offers this synopsis: “A fast paced and amusing lyrical novel telling of a few days in the life and crisis of a 23 year old aging college sophomore, neither square nor hippy, but caught between and confused.”

I remember wondering, while reading the book, if it wasn’t a product of the success of The Graduate – if the book wasn’t an assignment the publisher had handed to a writer who’d been producing house-name series paperbacks for them, and he’d taken this shot to produce something a little more literary, or at least closer to his own experience. That was how it felt to me at the time - a real professional writer's novel, compared to the loopy prose and plotting of Pynchon-classmate Farina.

I do not know if the Barry Spacks who wrote The Sophomore went on to become Barry Spacks, the American poet and teacher(thanks, internet), but I suspect it is so. Nevertheless, I prefer my original backstory --"Kid, I got something for ya! Put Nick Carter #238 on hold for a couple weeks!"

At any rate, I enjoyed the book every bit as much as I enjoyed the hipper, more celebrated Farina novel.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Double Feature

Is there anything more played-out in the mystery genre than the serial killer? Five minutes spent with any of the current most-watched cop shows and I’m beyond tired. I feel like I’ve been running from a knife-wielding maniac – who’s smarter than you or me – since about 1988. So why look at Mr. Brooks? I like Kevin Costner, and at this point in this season, I’ll do practically anything to avoid watching the Detroit Tigers. If you like this sort of thing, Mr. Brooks is smart (or what passes for smart) about it.

Déjà Vu is the first Tony Scott film in a decade or more, maybe ever, that won’t induce a petite mal seizure in anyone born before 1980. We start out with some 9/11 and Katrina imagery before veering off into a high-tech remake of Laura slash apologia for the Bush Administration Surveillance Program. (So, The Dark Knight was actually the second action-film Bush-apologia...) The writer/physicist Brian Greene is listed as a technical advisor, but they must have hustled him out of the room quickly, because the filmmakers and the cast don’t even bother to pretend they understand the weird science they’re spouting. Denzel Washington, God love him, has never turned his back on junk, but not all junk is created equal. Zero-Sum World sez: Rent Out Of Time instead.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


An evocative piece from Luc Sante;

sick brilliance courtesy of Muzzle Flash;

and the world's greatest music festival (buy tickets now for 2009.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Double Feature

Played is a British underworld revenge thriller that stars writer/producer Mick Rossi, who looks like a sullen, sleep-deprived Dudley Moore. For long stretches, the movie, which is mostly improvised, looks like it was shot on cell-phone video. Sounds terrible, right? But the movie has narrative drive to burn, and inventive editing that is never merely distracting; any number of real actors (Gabriel Byrne, Val Kilmer, Patrick Bergin, Anthony LaPaglia, Bruno Kirby) popping up to slap our protagonist around; the lovely Patsy Kensit and the always-mysterious Joanne Whalley; a genuine tough guy for a villain (Vinnie Jones); a fine score, and a great sense of story. (I only know that the movie was largely improvised because I watched the extras on the DVD.) If you’re interested in making a movie with no money, this is how you do it; if you’re merely interested in seeing a good crime story, you could do far, far worse.

I’ve started but never finished a couple of Dennis Lehane’s PI novels, but after watching Gone Baby Gone I’ll give them another try. As with Played, narrative drive is the key here: It keeps the material – a missing-child case – from becoming manipulative or maudlin. The performances are all terrific, and the ending tough, with the wrong thing done for the right reasons and the right thing done for (perhaps) the wrong reasons. Couples everywhere, no doubt, start bitter arguments (of substance) as the credits roll.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

First Lines

Favorite first lines by decade (my decades):

‘70s: “Call me Jonah.” Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle – Brevity really is the soul of wit. And important to a teenager.

‘80s: “A screaming comes across the sky.” Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow – I can’t recall why I ever admired this sentence. Wait, I do: It was the drugs I took.

‘90s: “Cities at night, I feel, contain men who cry in their sleep and then say Nothing.” Martin Amis, The Information – The Clinton Administration let me feel free to prize melancholy above all else.

‘00s: “Keller flew United to Portland.” Lawrence Block, Hit Man – With so many contemporary writers – apparently not trusting their readers’ attention spans – stocking their opening sentences with pulled triggers and decapitated heads, it’s more than a relief to come across this: Five words that say, “No, really, just keep reading, I trust you, enjoy the story, I know you’ll like it. I’ll attend to the sentences.”

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: Meeting Evil

I’m the only fan of Thomas Berger’s Meeting Evil (from 1992) that I know of. Everyone who has read the book on my recommendation has reported disliking it. I sympathize. The book is an uneasy marriage of the thriller, serial killer division (think Charlie Starkweather, not John Wayne Gacy) and classic farce (hero attempting to continue to play by the rules of polite society in the face of utter chaos). If you come for the thriller, the hero’s dilemmas will probably seem like unconscionable dithering; if you come for the farce, the villain’s mad cruelty may be too much to take. I remember loving every word of it.

Scenes From A Re-Education

Fourteen years ago, while reading The Adventures of Augie March in the break room of the bookstore where I worked, I was brought up short when Saul Bellow used a word I didn’t know – lepidopterous – to describe a chair.

What’s lepidopterous mean? I said.

A co-worker eating lunch looked up from the sports page and said: Butterfly-like.

Thanks, I said, and re-read the passage.

And thought:

Ah, I see it. What a brilliant image. What a wordsmith.

And then thought:

Wait a minute…

So…it’s a wing chair?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bought | Read | Reading


LaBrava, Elmore Leonard
Up In Honey’s Room, Elmore Leonard
Bandits, Elmore Leonard
No House Limit, Steve Fisher
Small Crimes, Dave Zeltserman
Baby Moll, John Farris


(Five Elmore Leonard novels)
Valdez Is Coming
52 Pickup
Riding The Rap


Small Crimes, Dave Zeltserman

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: Quick Change

Newspaperman Jay Cronley wrote a handful of funny novels that were made it into fitfully-amusing movies. Quick Change is the best of the lot in a walk. A brilliant bank heist is followed by a spectacularly-botched getaway. Everyone’s nastier than in the Bill Murray film, and they all have ulterior motives the movie barely hints at, especially the cab driver. The plot begs comparison to Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder books, but I think of Cronley as more the poor man’s Charles Portis.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Double Feature

(Back from vacation)

Early in The Dark Knight, The Joker and his henchmen crash a party in Bruce Wayne’s penthouse, terrorize his guests – Gotham City’s elite. When Batman intervenes, The Joker throws our hero’s girlfriend out the window. Batman dives after her, breaks both their falls with his cape or something: They crash onto the roof of a cab but are apparently unharmed, and his girlfriend says her “I’m-too-old-for-this-shit” line, and………scene.
What’s happening back in the penthouse? What becomes of the rest of the partygoers? (Joker has been killing most everyone he meets.) If the villain and his cohorts simply flee the party at this point…how? Nothing is shown or even mentioned. Somehow, it’s just not important. Reviews are lauding the film’s narrative strengths.

Lack of interest in consequences firmly established, the filmmakers proceed(quickly) to make the battle for Gotham City resemble the War On Terror, but never decide whether they are for or against winning at any cost. In Wanted, the filmmakers set their sights lower – it’s the old high-school-freshman late-night-debate: “If you could go back in time and kill Hitler, would you do it?” – and they still muff the answer.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Double Feature

1) The new film The Strangers must be a remake of the Romanian film Them, which I saw last night. I haven’t seen The Strangers, but it could not improve on the original. One of the most heartening developments at the movies in the last couple years has been a small surge of short, no-frills suspense films that are all suspense. Films like Vacancy and 13 Tzameti establish character, setting and situation handily, and then drop you right in the protagonist’s shoes for an hour of real-time menace. A film like P2…tries but fails to do the same. Them falls into the former camp, and gets extra points for its ending, not easily forgotten.

2) What I tend to forget, on some level, is how crappy movies starring Will Smith or auteured by M. Night Shyamalan invariably are. Why is that?

It was easy to resist Will Smith for years, when his movies were made for children (Men In Black) or for no one (Wild Wild West), but recently he defiled a couple of classic genre novels in a way that made for good-looking trailers. The kind of trailers that make you go to a movie. His new film Hancock has the best-looking Will Smith trailers yet. Bastard.

My weakness for Shyamalan is easier to explain: Like the DePalma of my teenaged years, the man knows where to put the camera. He always manages to put together at least one or two sequences of eerie beauty before the wheels fall off.

Both these guys bring out the degenerate gambler in me. Odds are against Hancock or The Happening being any good, but odds are even worse that I’ll miss either one.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: Up in the Air

Detroit's own Patti Abbott recently started Friday's Forgotten Book, a boon to readers -- and content-stumped bloggers -- everywhere.

Thanks, Patti.

I thought Up in the Air by Walter Kirn would make a good Forgotten Book. I read the hardcover after reading the NYT review and before the book, still new, disappeared from the front table of bookstores on 9/11 (or days afterward), due to this jacket art:

A quick Internet search for the above image, however, yields the news that the book is being adapted into a film by Jason Reitman, director of the recent Juno and, previously, of a (middling, I thought) adaptation of Christopher Buckley’s Thank You For Smoking.

Anyway, there’s still time for a crack at the book, before the story hits the big screen.

Here is what I remember: our narrator, employed by some mega-corp, circles the globe, firing people for a living. He is, by his own testimony, both contented participant in and delighted observer of this seemingly-numbing hamster-wheel of airport lounges, hotel rooms, USA Today and glass office towers. (His discursions on the beauty of different facets of this world are like a comedic antidote to Don DeLillo.)

This façade begins to show some cracks, though. Why is our man so distant with his family? Why is he interviewing with another firm? And where are his air miles disappearing to?

Kirn makes a lot of comedy out of the character’s insistence that homogenization creates kinship – and makes the guy such good-natured company that you might catch yourself nodding along, right up until Kirn pulls the rug out.

Currently Available in paperback, with this cover:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Detroit Noir: The Anniversary Tour

If you're the sort that likes to plan things out welllll in advance, mark your calendars now:

Detroit Noir event
Wed., October 22, 2008 7 pm
Monroe County Library - Bedford Branch
8575 Jackman Rd.
Temperance, MI
*Featuring editors E.J. Olsen and John C. Hocking, with other contributors TBD.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: Island

As with last Friday’s Forgotten Book, I read Thomas Perry’s Island twenty years ago, don’t currently own a copy, and apologize for any errors in fact.

Husband-and-wife con artists, on the lam from Miami mobsters after the brush-off phase of a successful long con goes awry, run aground on an unmapped sandbar somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle.

A few chapters later, after spreading around some of the ill-gotten green, they’ve established their own country.

Before long, their man-made island nation has been turned into a well-appointed paradise, and some of the world’s older nations begin to take notice -- and the real trouble begins…

Island (1987) is long out-of-print, and seems to have redheaded-stepchild status among Thomas Perry’s books (there’s no mention of it on the author’s website); his books since have been leaner -- paragons of the means-business thriller -- but I also enjoyed his earlier, shaggier novels, and especially this forgotten one, immensely.

I think it’d make a good summer reading material suggestion for the reading-averse, too. Fans of the television series Lost, or of the Sims, might take to the story.

Hell, there’s a little something for everyone: a long-con caper, angry mobsters, angrier banana-republic strongmen, the CIA, mercenaries good and bad, and the screwball-comedy chemistry of the couple/protagonists. And it all ends up somewhere unexpected…well, I never expected the ending, which takes “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” and twists it into a balloon animal.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Double Feature

First Snow is a really good little movie –- the world’s first lazy-valve thriller. Like The Aura, it’s a quiet film that takes its time setting the mood and giving us a good feel for the characters, their ordinary life and milieu; when the tension begins to ratchet up, you can really feel it. With Guy Pearce (above), William Fichtner, J.K. Simmons (all terrific); Piper Perabo (lovely); and Jackie Burroughs (heartbreaking).

I cannot express how relieved I was to learn that the upcoming Nicolas Cage/Wim Wenders project The Bad Lieutenant is not a remake of the 1992 Harvey Keitel/Abel Ferrara film. I saw Bad Lieutenant in 1992, and I watched it a second time last year, and I look forward (with dread) to watching it again in another fifteen years -- the experience unmarred by memories of some diluted remake. A thing of ugly beauty is a joy forever.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Read | Abandoned | Re-Read


Interface, Joe Gores
The Procane Chronicle, Oliver Bleeck


The Finder, Colin Harrison


Twisted City, Jason Starr


Savage Night, Allan Guthrie

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: Freaks' Amour

Detroit's own Patti Abbott recently started Friday's Forgotten Book, a boon to readers -- and content-stumped bloggers -- everywhere.

Thanks, Patti.

Tom de Haven's Freaks' Amour: Twenty-some years ago, someone loaned me their copy, I read it in two sittings, then looked for a copy in every used bookstore I set foot in, for many years, never finding one.

Then I went to work in a bookstore, and anyone I described the novel to said, angrily: "Oh, that sounds just like Geek Love," which was inevitably their favorite book of all time. (Apart from the title, they sound nothing alike.)

Consequently I stopped talking or thinking about Freaks' Amour, even neglecting to look for it when ABE arrived on the scene.

Here is what I remember: The book is a first novel, published in 1979. The male narrator has a twin brother; they were conceived on their parents' wedding night, during a nuclear incident in New Jersey. The boys, and eventually most of their generation, have been born deformed due to the fallout.

[1979 was, of course, the year of the Three Mile Island incident. Did that hurt the book's chances for finding readers? (It didn't hurt the box office of The China Syndrome.)]

The freaks and the normals live in a segregated society. The narrator yearns to be Normal; his twin brother is a leader of an underground Freak movement pushing for a revolution. Intrigue ensues.

And then there's the goldfish eggs.

And the live sex shows.

Tom de Haven went on to write the 'Derby Dugan' books, among others. I've picked up his stuff, but nothing has ever really grabbed me the way Freaks' Amour did. He spoke a bit about the genesis of the book in an online interview of recent vintage:

After getting my master’s degree in 1973, I went to work in New York City as an editor for a number of men’s magazines (Sir!, Mr. and Man to Man) owned by Adrien Lopez, father of naturalist/novelist Barry Lopez. This was that deliciously cockeyed era when “porn” briefly had a lot of cachet (the era of Deep Throat, Devil in Miss Jones, etc.) and I was assigned to write articles about “the industry.” I met most of the directors and “stars” of X-rated films and from that experience (weirdly enough) sprang my first novel, Freaks’ Amour, a fantasy about a group of mutants living in Jersey City, two of whom make their living by performing live sex shows for “normal” people.

That book, published in 1979, enjoyed a fairly long life as a “cult novel,” to the extent that as late as the early 1990s it was regularly optioned for a film. (The last time it was, it was optioned by Alex Proyas, director of The Crow, Dark City and I, Robot, and I spent two years working with him on a screenplay, which of course was never produced.)

There are copies available on ABE, if your local library doesn't have one, and if you are curious. I'm going to look for a copy right now, to see if it's as endlessly inventive as I remember it to be, and you should find out for yourself.

Unless you're one of those Geek-Love-won't-listen-to-reason types...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Parker Reprints

The University of Chicago Press recently announced plans to reprint Richard Stark's (Donald Westlake's) Parker series.

The first three novels are in their Fall Catalog; there's no cover art at the publisher website, but here are the covers according to Amazon.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: The Art of Losing

Keith Dixon’s The Art of Losing was published just a year ago, but since I can easily foresee a reader making it their pick for Patti Abbott’s Forgotten Books project sometime in, say, 2021, I thought I’d strike first -- while the book is still readily available.

I’m still bewildered that the book never received any mention in any of the places I look for news of books in the mystery/crime genre. It’s slim, swift, criminally-minded, and as dark as they come.

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.

I've read a lot of books in the year since I read this, but none better.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Parade Tomorrow

(Detroit Free Press photo)

Zero-Sum World generally steers clear of discussion of Detroit -- taking a page from our mayor’s playbook, we concentrate on the business at hand, keep mum on the scandal -- but when a piece of good news presents itself, it’s hard to resist giving notice.

Coming on the heels of the Pistons’ shameful post-season (sic) effort -- not to mention the grisly end to the grisly American Axle strike -- the Red Wings’ Stanley Cup victory is all the more welcome.

Zero-Sum World sez: Way to go.

(Decorum does not permit discussion of my beloved Tigers at this time.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Started, Finished

Bleeders, Bill Pronzini
Against Happiness, Eric G. Wilson
The Drop Edge of Yonder, Rudolph Wurlitzer

Dirty Money, Richard Stark
Bag Men, Mark Costello
Fidelity, Thomas Perry
Your Movie Sucks, Roger Ebert
Somebody Owes Me Money, Donald Westlake

Interface, Joe Gores

On Deck
The Murderer Vine, Shepard Rifkin
Severance Package, Duane Swierczynski

Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: Lightning On The Sun

Detroit's own Patti Abbott recently started Friday's Forgotten Book, a boon to readers -- and content-stumped bloggers -- everywhere.

Thanks, Patti.

The aptly-titled, first-and-last novel Lightning On The Sun was published less than ten years ago, got some attention due more to author Robert Bingham’s fatal heroin overdose months earlier than to the novel’s considerable merit, and faded from view. I think it a fine, overlooked novel.

Bingham drew on his literary idols Graham Greene and Robert Stone, and on his time as a journalist in Cambodia (and, yes, as a heroin user), for this tale of nihilistic young Americans making an ill-conceived bid to cut themselves in on the drug trade.

The story is a bit loose to really work as a thriller, but it is thrilling. The live-wire narrative voice and the sense of doom are what stay with you: it’s like listening to that friend who’s sharper than you’ll ever be but will never profit from it, because all that his intellect can do is find the bitter joke, and the corruption, in everything.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Double Feature

Eastern Promises is a much better movie than A History of Violence, but they both have the same major flaw: Cronenberg builds up a lot of tension and mystery surrounding the identity of the character played by Viggo Mortensen and then, perversely, lets it all leak away in a single, pedestrian scene.

“Jiu Jitsu?” someone asks Chiwetal Ejiofor early in David Mamet’s Redbelt. “Isn’t that where you use a guy’s strength against him?” Not really, our hero replies…but that’s exactly what happens to him for the next ninety minutes. The great Ricky Jay was MIA in Spartan; he’s back here, with a vengeance.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Return of Jane Whitefield

Speaking of Thomas Perry: Earlier today, while reading his new novel, Fidelity, I took a moment to check out his website and found the notice below, posted this very day:

I also have a second announcement to make. After her long vacation, Jane Whitefield will be making a return in a new book called Runner, scheduled for January, 2009. I'm talking about this here and now because the visitors to this web site are partly responsible. In the years since I decided to give Jane Whitefield a rest, about half of the email I've received from readers has included the question, "Will there ever be another Jane Whitefield book?"

I always responded that I did intend to write another one at some point, but didn't know when. I had intentionally left Jane alive and well in Amherst, New York, living with her surgeon husband as Mrs. Jane McKinnon. She's been nearly indistinguishable from many of the women around her. She's perhaps a bit more watchful than some of her neighbors, and the survival kit she keeps in case of disasters isn't just bottled water and batteries, but those differences have been subtle and unnoticed. But trouble never leaves anyone alone forever, and Jane's time of rest is up. During Jane's absence, a whole new industry with new methods and technology has grown up to prevent people from moving around the country under false identities. Now, in spite of the fact that she's acutely aware of the danger, there's no way Jane can avoid coming back to transform one more victim into a runner.

I've always been aware that the loyal readers who have given me a writing career deserved to have their wishes considered. But I was also aware that I owed it to them to wait until I had a story that was significant enough to make it worth a reader's time. I think Runner is the story I was waiting for.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Read, Reading, On Deck


Lawless: A Criminal Edition, Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Kill All Your Darlings, Luc Sante
(Skip the longish essay on the bygone era of America as a smoking culture if you’re trying to quit [smoking], but do read the piece on the Mekons whether the name means anything to you or not.)

Matala, Craig Holden

Delusion, Peter Abrahams
(Abrahams’ thrillers are the books Harlan Coben thinks he writes. If Hitchcock were still alive, he’d be bringing Abrahams to the screen.)

Zero Cool, John Lange


Yellow-Dog Contract, Ross Thomas

On Deck:

Dirty Money, Richard Stark

A Special Providence, Richard Yates

Fidelity, Thomas Perry

The appearance of a new Thomas Perry novel signals that this blog is nearly one year old.

Is this when the money starts pouring in?

Friday, May 2, 2008


Detroit Noir contributor Megan Abbott has won the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original for her novel Queenpin, and deservedly so.

Her story “Our Eyes Couldn’t Stop Opening” directly follows my story in Detroit Noir and makes me look silly.

Also: Susan Straight won the Edgar for Best Short Story for "The Golden Gopher" in Akashic Books' Los Angeles Noir.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Wit In Action

I did see The Bank Job – terrific movie; 111 minutes of story, story, story – and a few nights earlier (as it happened) I saw Crank, another film starring Jason Statham. In the former, he folds seamlessly into an ensemble of pretty decent actors; in the latter, he defies all of God’s laws without ever losing the facial expression of a man out for the morning paper. But the man knows what he’s doing: watch Crank and then suffer through as much as you can handle of Shoot ‘Em Up, two movies after exactly the same heart, and then tell me that wit doesn’t matter in action.

Here’s a prose example: Ross Thomas, in Missionary Stew, tackles a scene we all know by heart, saw nightly on television in the 1970s:

Replogle never finished the secondhand story because the big blue Dodge pickup honked and pulled up on the left. Haere looked over. There were two persons in the pickup. Both wore ski masks. The pickup and the station wagon had reached a sharp curve in the deep canyon. On the station wagon’s right, some fifty or sixty feet below, was a frozen creek.
The pickup swerved, and its right front fender slammed into the station wagon, which went into a skid on a patch of ice. Haere later thought they must have been counting on that – the ice. Replogle did everything he was supposed to do. He kept his foot off the brake. He steered into the skid. He swore.
The station wagon plunged over the side. On either the first or second roll the right-hand door popped open and Draper Haere popped out. He landed in a snowbank. The station wagon somersaulted two more times, end over end, and smashed against some immense boulders at the creek’s edge. Two seconds later the gas tank exploded.
Haere got up and made himself stumble through the snow down to the burning car. He tried to open its front left door, but it was either jammed or locked. Haere burned his hands trying to get the door open. He finally could stand neither the heat nor the pain, so he moved backward, tripped over something, and sat back down in a snowbank. He jammed his scorched hands down deep into the snow and sat there watching Jack Replogle burn to death if, indeed, he wasn’t already dead. In either event, there was nothing Draper Haere could do about it.

I love the thin joke of “everything he was supposed to do…He swore” and the intrusive reality of “made himself stumble…to the burning car” and the rueful “In either event”.

It’s unfair to stand most writers next to Thomas, and especially the sophomore effort of a writer whose first book was pretty damn good, but here’s Marcus Sakey, in At The City’s Edge, with another familiar scene: a couple of heavies are trying to take our man for a ride:

Then, for the first time, Soul Patch made a mistake. He stood still.
It was as much of a window as Jason could hope for. Continuing his forward motion, he stepped into Soul Patch like they were dancing, right hand closing on the guy’s wrist to lock the gun in place. But instead of grappling for the weapon, he spun, planting his back against the man’s chest, the gun arm now in front of both of them. The wrestler startled awake with a snort. Soul Patch gave a surprised yelp, struggled to free his hand. Jason continued his spin, remembering this fucker talking about Michael, threatening his brother. He yanked, and as he felt the man come off balance, he kept turning, transforming the fall into a throw that hurled the gangbanger against the half-closed car door. It flew open and slammed into the wrestler, the frame catching him square in the face with a meaty thump. The double impact knocked the wind out of Soul Patch, and the gun clattered from his hand.
The moment it did, Jason shoved away. Two awkward steps and he had his balance. His heart screamed to run, but his head was cool. They were enemy combatants. He didn’t want to leave them armed. The grip of the pistol was warm and slightly sweaty as he snatched it from the concrete.
Then he took off in a sprint, knowing that he hadn’t incapacitated either man. His legs pumped clean and strong. He crossed the open asphalt to the next row, then planted his left foot and lunged behind a car. A window exploded with a sharp crack. All the old energy came back. He jerked to the side again and broke from the row, then poured it on in a straightaway to the boundary of the lot. Leapt for the concrete abutment, planted one foot, and sprang off the second-story parking deck.
In the endless instant he floated through the air, Jason Palmer realized he was smiling.

Really? Well, we do live in a new century. (Each of these passages is the first blast of violence in the book. Thomas’s comes on page 44 or so, Sakey’s on page 6 or 7.) But with the author and the author’s sentences and the author’s hero all so jacked up, I feel like they’re getting excited for me, and there’s nothing left for me to do. I’ll just be sitting over here, with my hands in the snowbank.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Best Writing Advice

TODAY’S BEST WRITING ADVICE comes from yours truly:

Always write as well as you possibly can, and always go back and edit --even the lowly email, the humble blog entry – because you never know who is going to read it.

(That “ya” and the clumsy parentheses around Stick are going to haunt me for some time.)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bought, Scored, Read, Reading


Wonderful Years, Wonderful Years, George V. Higgins
Voodoo, Ltd
Yellow-Dog Contract
The Fools In Town Are On Our Side
The Porkchoppers
The Backup Men
, Ross Thomas
The Procane Chronicle
Protocol For A Kidnapping
, Oliver Bleeck
The Park Is Mine, Stephen Peters
Legends, Robert Littell
Thinner, Richard Bachman
Dog Soldiers,
A Flag For Sunrise
, Robert Stone
The Boys From Brazil, Ira Levin
Vanishing Act, Thomas Perry
Bag Men, Mark Costello
The Hot Kid
, Elmore Leonard
The Grifters, Jim Thompson
Lucky Bastard, Charles McCarry
Bodies Electric, Colin Harrison
The Watchman, Robert Crais
Bleeders, Bill Pronzini


Havana Noir (Akashic Books)
Chain of Evidence
, Gary Disher
No Country For Old Men, Cormac McCarthy
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer


The House That Trane Built, Ashley Kahn
The World Without Us, Alan Weisman
At The City’s Edge, Marcus Sakey
The Narcissist’s Daughter, Craig Holden


Glitz, Elmore Leonard

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Bank Job

I haven't seen "The Bank Job" yet, but: Is this not a great poster?

Monday, April 7, 2008


April 30 - May 7, 2006
Laurel Park Place - Livonia

SOUTHFIELD, Mich., March 24 /PRNewswire/ -- Bookstock, the area's largest
used book and media sale where all proceeds benefit literacy and education
projects in metropolitan Detroit, will be held Sunday, April 30 through
Sunday, May 7 at Livonia's Laurel Park Place.

A true book lover's paradise, Bookstock has tens of thousands of donated
used books, DVDs, CDs, books on tape, magazines and records for sale at
bargain basement prices. Savvy shoppers and collectors can get first crack at
the Bookstock Pre-Sale on Sunday, April 30 from 8:45 - 11:45 a.m. The sale
will continue through Sunday May 7, running Sundays, noon-6:00 p.m. and Monday
- Saturday 10:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. There is a $10.00 admission charge for the
Bookstock Pre-Sale only. Books will be sold for half-price on Sunday, May 7,
the last day of the sale.

Now in its fourth year, Bookstock is presented by The Friends of Literacy,
a group of area literacy and educational organizations. Detroit Free Press
columnist Rochelle Riley is Bookstock's Honorary Chairperson. All of the books
and media items sold at Bookstock are donated at collection sites throughout
the year. These donations continue to provide reading enjoyment and promote
learning by funding education and literacy projects in Detroit and throughout
the metropolitan area. More than 700 volunteers work together throughout the
year to collect and sort donations and organize and staff the weeklong
Bookstock sale.

Bookstock is sponsored by the Detroit Jewish Coalition for Literacy, the
Oakland Literacy Council, the Detroit Jewish News, CBL & Associates
Properties, Inc., and a consortium of Jewish communal non-profit organizations
which support education and literacy throughout metro Detroit.
Laurel Park Place is located on 6 Mile Road, east of I-275 in Livonia

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Detroit Noir--The '08 Tour

Detroit Noir editors John and EJ are out of rehab, and ready to go back on the road.

The '08 Tour kicks off tomorrow night at seven at Borders in Grosse Pointe, and Saturday at noon (noon?) at the Borders in the Southland Mall in Taylor. There shall be readings, signings, Q&A, text messaging, and bowling challenges.

Click on the link for the Detroit Noir blog for store addresses, phone numbers, and all the other details we count on the newly-sober editing team to get right.

Hope to see you there.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Elmore Leonard

You’re feeling at a loss, can’t pin down why, then it hits you: It’s been more than a year since you read any Elmore Leonard.

What happens next is, you’re on your second or third Elmore Leonard novel in a row, with a stack growing at your elbow, and no inclination to read anything written by anyone else ever again.

This go-round started with City Primeval: High Noon In Detroit (1980), which reads something like a landlocked version of Charles Willeford’s Miami Blues (1984). The book has two endings. The first made me laugh, and then made my skin crawl. The second ending is initially more pleasing; tidier...but just you wait a day or two, and it'll catch up to ya.

Next: Pronto (1993) is from the stretch of books (beginning with Get Shorty) that had lazy critics touting Leonard as a writer of comic novels. (Funny yes, comic no.) I’m near the end of this book now, and I think it works better than, say, Get Shorty or Maximum Bob, thanks to its great straight man U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens. Also: the very best joke in the book is a plot point that no one mentions. Not even the author. Now that’s funny.

Sitting at my elbow, God help me: Glitz (1985), Stick (1983 – Swag, wherein the character of Stick was introduced, is one of my favorites) and Valdez Is Coming (1970).

I hope that I’ll get caught up in March Madness, though, and save some Elmore Leonard for another time.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Traveled, Bought, Read

Just back from a week in San Francisco, a city I knew only through Hammett, Kerouac, and Vertigo.
If I was ten years younger I wouldn’t have come back.

The Prone Gunman, Jean-Patrick Manchette
Never Live Twice, Dan J. Marlowe
Kill The Boss Goodbye, Peter Rabe
Zero Cool, John Lange
Money Shot, Christa Faust
The Sisters,
The Amateur,
The October Circle, Robert Littell
The Tears of Autumn,
The Secret Lovers,
Second Sight,
The Last Supper,
Charles McCarry


Missionary Stew, Ross Thomas
Myself When I Am Real, Gene Santoro (Charles Mingus bio)


Back To The Badlands: Crime Writing In The USA, John Williams
Money Shot, Christa Faust

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Twice As (sic) Nice

Hey! I've had a second story accepted by DZ Allen's Muzzle Flash.

Follow the link below right to "Easiest Thing In The World", and check out the other recent flash stories and the archives at Muzzle Flash.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Robert Littell; Charles McCarry

I read Patrick Anderson’s The Triumph of the Thriller about a year ago. It’s a survey of popular crime/mystery authors of the past thirty years, breezy and very enjoyable, and I’m most indebted to it for introducing me to the novels of Robert Littell and Charles McCarry.

The past few years I’ve had the pleasure of picking up on some great writers when they had only a book or two under their belts, like Sean Doolittle, Sara Gran, and Kevin Wignall.

It’s a different kind of satisfaction, though, to discover a great writer who has already produced a shelf. And it’d been about eight years since I last had the experience (Ross Thomas.)

Littell and McCarry have each produced a shelf. They both write espionage with a literary bent. Stylistically, McCarry favors Maugham or perhaps Fitzgerald; Littell, Lewis Carroll and Don Delillo. Both are Americans who seem more at home abroad, and most at home in the Great Game (though both have also written novels set pre- and/or post-Cold War.) McCarry, a former CIA field agent, is aristocratic and romantic; Littell, a former journalist, goes for bitter irony and brittle absurdity.

Both are having a career renaissance of sorts, care of The Overlook Press, which is in the process of reprinting both authors’ entire backlist.

Whenever I get hepped to one of these fantastic backlisters, I tend to treat them like money in the bank, and try to read only a book (or two) a year, saving them for the slow months between the next new Doolittle or Gran or Abbott; eight years in, I’ve still got seven Ross Thomas books to track down.

I’ve been on a tear lately, though, reading several books in a row by these two gents.

Their most recent novels are actually great points of departure for the uninitiated.

McCarry’s Christopher’s Ghosts is a story of revenge, and I only begin to suggest its wise and sorrowful tone when I let slip that the crime and the retribution are separated by twenty years’ time.

Littell’s Vicious Circle is a story of a kidnapping, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a near future with a female American president, and reverse-Stockholm syndrome. He manages to work a ridiculous amount of Middle East history and history of religion into the mix without ever letting you forget you’re reading a thriller.

If you prefer, say, The Good Shepherd to The Bourne Ultimate, Charles McCarry and Robert Littell will be right up your alley.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Movie: Michael Clayton (2007)

I couldn’t tell you why the bulk of the story needed to be told in flashback -- and wouldn't it have been a better story if Tom Wilkinson’s character hadn’t been on meds in the first place?

Minor caveats. Michael Clayton is great.

With this film and Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck (and even, I would say, The Peacemaker, and misfires like Intolerable Cruelty and The Good German), George Clooney seems dedicated to making movies that presuppose, in a way that most American movies since the late seventies have not, an intelligent audience of genuine adults.
He's a good guy to have around.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

2008 Edgar Nominees

...This just in...(several weeks ago...).....

Detroit Noir contributor Megan Abbott scored an Edgar nomination for Best Paperback Original for her novel Queenpin, and Daniel Woodrell has been nominated for Best Short Story for "Uncle", which appears in the anthology A Hell of a Woman (edited by Megan.)

Susan Straight scored an Edgar nomination for Best Short Story for "The Golden Gopher" in Akashic Books' Los Angeles Noir.

Congratulations and best of luck, especially to Megan: Queenpin is brilliant, and more fun than should strictly be legal, but holy cow the PBO category is an embarassment of riches this year...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Reviewing The Evidence

E.J. and John pointed me to this review of Detroit Noir at

In November 2007, the town of Detroit, Michigan earned the dubious distinction in the 14th annual City Crime Rankings: Crime in Metropolitan America, published by CQ Press, of being considered the most dangerous city in America. There are a lot of stories that can be written and several good authors who know the Motor City backwards and forwards which is where Akashic Books come in. DETROIT NOIR is the latest entry in the publisher’s noir series and this one does not disappoint.
EJ Olsen and John C Hocking have collected a group of stories by authors and writers who are no strangers to the city. The book contributors are award-winning authors, business editors, and newspaper journalists. Each writer provides a unique view of the city from its most exclusive areas and suburbs all the way through its major thoroughfares. The characters come from all walks of life. Some are victims of circumstance, the others are the victimizers. Almost all of these stories are dark and bleak where there is no possibility of a happy ending.
What makes the book so good is its characters. Author Loren Estleman, a man who really knows Detroit and has used it as a setting for his PI Amos Walker novels gives us a dark story titled Kill the Cat where the detective is investigating the drug-related murder of a trust fund kid.
In Panic, Joyce Carol Oates puts a young family under the proverbial microscope when they overanalyze the way they reacted to a perceived danger on a busy highway. Then there is a slightly dark and humorous look at Detroit’s “invisible people” by Michael Zadorian in The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit. If you are looking for a really dark noirish story, you cannot go wrong with Joe Boland’s The Night Watchman is Asleep.
DETROIT NOIR is one of the best in Akashic Books' noir series. You cannot go wrong with this anthology.
Reviewed by Angel L. Soto, December 2007

Thanks, Angel.

Friday, January 11, 2008


I wasn't ready for 2007 to end. But:

In 2007, I saw my first story published, and I went to Graceland.

Guess that's enough for any one year.