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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Flying Trunk

(This flash challenge asked for stories based on childrens fairie tales. I found an obscure Aesop fable called The Flying Trunk. A young man who inherits his father's meager estate becomes obsessed with a beautiful princess in a far off land and wins her parents' permission to wed her, only to lose her to his own follies.)


Donny Markham lugged the old steamer trunk up the third and final flight of stairs of the renovated three story walk-up. Like all of the other converted Victorians still standing along the Cass Corridor, there were no elevators. Not that there had ever been any plan to put one in. The tenants who now rented the flats were transient college students going to Wayne State University. Most had started off as commuters but by the time they hit twenty, they realized the myth of Detroit was far from the truth of Detroit. Yes, there were pockets where one didn’t go after dark or even after sunrise; but, on the whole, the city had more to offer than to fear.

If only Donny’s dad had known this. The old had man closed his string of party shops along Woodward and Jefferson and moved all of his business north to the suburbs, along with every other white business man in the epic flight of the 70’s. In the end, his premature bailing on the city cost him, but not much. His empire of liquor shops went from ten to two. He switched to high end wine for the one in southern Oakland County and to cheap booze in the one in Macomb County. His marketing strategy worked and while he didn’t die a wealthy man, he did die a well-off man which meant Donny Markham, at twenty-two, was off to a considerable start over some of his college counterparts.

The inheritance wouldn’t last forever, Donny knew that. He sold off the shops to separate owners who were now in a legal battle over who got to keep his family name over the door to their shop. Donny didn’t give two figs. He was taking his money and going back to school to get his teaching degree. He knew that Wayne made all School of Ed candidates do a semester of pre-student teaching in a Detroit city school. He was fine with that. He loved Detroit and wanted his admiration of the city to be shared by the students he would one day teach outside of it.

The trunk was the only other thing Donny kept from his father’s estate. When he was a child, Donny used to keep his most important treasures inside the various drawers, cases, and secret compartments. His mother used to worry that he would somehow get locked inside it. The idea that he could accidentally get locked in was impossible. There were two loop and snap latches on either side of a large circular lock on a hinge that needed to be flipped into place. The trunk never frightened Donny the way it did his mother. He used to imagine the trunk was a portal to another world or a magical vehicle that would fly him to wondrous adventures that took him far away from the dark world he lived in with his parents. His dad used his liquor stores like personal caches. His mom hated everything about how they made their money. They argued incessantly. Sometimes, it became physical.


Every second step the base of the trunk fell against the bare wood step Donny pulled it on to. He wished the trunk had the power to fly now as he bent his back and pulled up one more time. No one had come out to complain about the noise. Sometimes he wondered if he had any real neighbors on the lower two floors. He heard noises coming from them but he never saw any one.

The move would have gone a lot better if Shelley had come along like she promised she would. At the last minute something else came up. He wasn’t pleased with this turn of events. His displeasure triggered thoughts of relationship insecurity. Shelley wasn’t shaping up to be much of a girlfriend. If she even was a girlfriend. Like the unseen people living below him, Donny wasn’t sure there was anything there.

He had met her in a children’s literature class where she had stuck out like a diamond in a room full of coal. Long blond hair that draped over her shoulders, narrow hips that skinny jeans clung to for life, and large breasts she could barely keep contained: Shelley Lavinder just didn’t strike Donny as a candidate for being an elementary teacher in an inner city school. She should have been in the fold out of a Playboy spread.

Miss September.

He called her that sometimes. She giggled and then made love to him like he was going off to war and she might not ever see him again. They made love a lot but he never felt the connection afterwards. She rolled away; she didn’t leave but she did roll off on her side. He had thought about breaking it off with her. He just couldn’t picture himself as her type of guy. He waited for her to scream it at him the way his mother had often screamed it at his father.

A door opened below. Donny started to apologize to whichever of his neighbors for the noise he was making when he heard his name called out two flights down from where he stood.


It was Shelley. This surprised him, and then he thought of how convenient it was that she showed up just as he was nearly to the top.

“Donny? You up there?”

“Come on up, Miss September,” Donny said. There was a gap between what he said and her distant giggle.

Donny raised the trunk on end. It rested precariously on half a step; two tiny coasters hung over the step’s lip. He waited for her to come up. He could hear her talking and assumed she was on the phone until he heard a voice, a man’s voice, answer her. When at last they appeared on the second floor landing below him, he recognized the man as a guy from one of their education classes.

“There you are,” Shelley said.

“Here I am,” Donny said. “Hello, Frank.”


If ever there was a logical counterpart for Shelley, it was Frank Delgato. Tall, handsome, the antithesis to Donny, who was actually a couple of inches shorter than Shelley and a lot less structured than Frank. ‘It’s got to be the money,’ Donny thought. He smiled down at the two approaching people.

“Let me get that for you, buddy,” Frank said. He stepped around the trunk and caught the leather handle. He tugged up. Donny put his hands down on the top of the trunk.

“You have to be careful with it,” Donny said. “It’s almost a hundred years old. The leather is brittle, especially on the handle. I think it ripped a couple of times as I pulled it up.”

“You got that thing all the way up here on your own?” Shelley looked up at him from the lower steps. The light from the octagonal window behind him was muted but to Donny it felt more like she was looking up at Frank and smirking.

“Well, I had thought you’d be here to help me,” Donny said.

“We’re here now, bud,” Frank said. “Why don’t you take the bottom and I’ll carry it from the lid.”

Donny looked up at Frank. “The lid latch is on so the top compartment won’t flip open.”

“You got it, bud.” Frank gave him a wink, all though he felt it was directed more to Shelley.

He hated that Frank kept calling him bud or buddy. They weren’t anything like that. They even sat across the room from one another.

The rest of the climb went a lot easier. When they got to his landing, Shelley used her key to open his double oak doors. She reached up and undid the latch to the second one and pushed both of them open. Stepping in was like stepping back in time. The heavy, grooved, dark wood trim and wainscoting carried layers of history upon it. The oval throw rugs he bought at a flea market warmed the hardwood floors. The only things out of place were the vertical blinds over the screen less windows looking down on the Lodge Freeway. In many ways, it was similar to the home he’d grown up in.

They carried the trunk in and laid it near a bank of bay windows on what Donny considered to be the trunk’s back or bottom. This would keep the drawers on the inside from sliding open into the empty wardrobe compartment. Donny knelt down next to it and checked the latches and the single hinged lock.

“That thing was pretty heavy, buddy,” Frank said. “What have you got in it? A body?”

Donny gave Frank a wise-ass grin. “Not yet,” he said.

“It’s so dark in here,” Shelley said. She moved through the room as if she owned it, dropping her keys on the round wooden table in the middle of the great room. She pulled down on the blind cords. Light flooded into the room in long shafts. She cranked open the first of the three tall windows so that glass fame swung out behind the house. The roar of the traffic way below droned like far away bees. Shelley leaned forward, her tank top revealing more than it should have as a breeze blew her hair back off her shoulders.

“Nice view,” Frank said.

Donny looked up from behind the trunk. Shelley leaned one hand on the grooved paneling running parallel to window she looked out. She smiled and pulled her hair back behind her ear.

“Yeah, well, the Lodge wasn’t there when the house was built,” Donny said. “I’m sure the original owner had a pleasanter view of Detroit.”

“I ain’t talking about Detroit,” Frank said.

Shelley kept her focus on something outside the window and down below running along the Lodge. Maybe she hadn’t heard Frank’s overtly flirtatious remarks. Maybe she had. Either way, she didn’t play off it.

“I’m thirsty, Donny,” she said. She turned around to face both men. “You got any beer here?”

Donny shook his head.

“Now isn’t that ironical,” Frank said.

“You mean ironic?” Donny asked.

“I mean it’s funny how the prince of the liquor king don’t have any beer here.”

“Yeah, there’s a twist,” Donny said. He sat down on the closed trunk.

Shelley dug a hand into her jeans pocket. They were tight on her and she had to work her hand a bit to get it out. She handed Frank a fold of crushed bills. “Run down to the corner and get some, Frankie.”

“You want me to run down to the corner in the Cass Corridor and get some beer?”

“You’re a big guy,” Donny said. It was all he said, but he thought, ‘Man up, big guy.’ There was a brief stare down before Frankie finally left. Shelley sat down on the trunk next to Donny, who stood up instantly.

“Is there something wrong, babe?” she asked.

“Why did you bring him here?”


Donny bobbed his head and held out his hands as if asking, ‘Who else?’

Shelley ran a hand up and down one of her sleeveless arms. “He called and asked what I was doing today.”

“He called you?”


“Does he call you often?”

Shelley shrugged. Her bared shoulders rose up in a shaft of sunlight and dropped. For a moment, her tan glowed. “I guess.”

“What do you mean you guess?”

“I mean we talk a lot about stuff in class.”

“He doesn’t give two shits about stuff in class, Shelley. All he cares about is you.”

“At least somebody does.”

She might as well have slapped him. The words hit him like fireworks to the face. “What does that mean?”

“It means,” Shelley stopped. “It means I don’t know what you want from me.”

“What I want from you?”

“I sit down, you stand up and walk away.”

He threw out a hand towards the trunk. “I didn’t think the trunk could take both of our weights.”

“Okay, but what about after we’ve been in bed?”

“What about it?”

“Why don’t you ever hold me? Why don’t we talk? Is it me?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about how you just lay there, staring at the ceiling.”

“You roll over and go to sleep.”

“I’m not sleeping, Donny,” Shelley said. Her voice dropped to almost a whisper. “I’m waiting for you to snuggle me but you don’t even touch me.” Her eyes came up to meet his. “What’s the matter? Do I make you feel bad? Do I make you feel dirty?”

Donny fell to his knees. He put his hands on her legs. “No.”

“You don’t think I’m good enough for you, do you?”

‘Just the opposite,’ he thought. Instead, he shook his head.

“Then what is it?”

“Sometimes I can’t understand why a woman as beautiful as you wants to be with a man as lousy as me.”

“You’re not lousy.”

“I look at guys like Frank and I think ‘Why isn’t she with someone like him?’ Why are you with me? Is it the money I got from my dad? There isn’t a lot. There’s enough, but not tons.”

“It’s not the money.”

“Then what is it about me? What do you see in me?”

Shelley stood up. She folded her arms over her chest and leaned back on the narrow strip of wall next to the open window. “You make me smile. You make me laugh. That’s more important to me than anything Frank has given me.”

Donny’s heart turned to ice. “What has Frank given you?”

Shelley shifted uncomfortably. “What do you mean?” She looked back out the window and sucked her lower lip under her top lip.

“You said ‘more than anything Frank has given me.’ What did he give you?”


Donny got up from his trunk. “Did you hook up with him?”

“Even if I did, it was before you.”

“But you slept with him.”

“And you haven’t slept with anyone else before me?”

“No.” His answer hung like a lazy curve ball. “Have you slept with him since?”

“Of course not.”

“Then why did you bring him here?”

“I told you. I knew you were moving stuff in here today and I thought he could help.”

“So you thought it would be a good idea to bring a guy you once had relations with to help a guy you’re having relationships with now?”

“I didn’t think it would be that big a deal.” Shelley took a step away from him. “We both know Frank from class.”

“You’re right about one thing, Shelley,” Donny said. He caught her arm. “You didn’t think.” He tugged on her arm but she pulled it free. She caught her heel on the edge of the trunk and lost her balance. As improbable as it seemed, the force of his yank and the angle at which she stumbled backwards sent her out the open window.

Donny leaned out even as brakes squealed below. He never saw her laying there on the concrete because the flatbed truck screeching to a halt covered her.

He heard knocking. Donny looked at the two closed doors. He assumed it was Frank returning with the beer; but, then again, maybe it was one of the ghosts who lived below him. Maybe someone had heard the argument, saw Shelley falling past his or hers own back windows. Whoever it was would want answers. Donny wasn’t good at answers. He’d barely been able to give any about his own father’s mysterious death.

The knocking became pounding.

He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out his keys. There was a small gold one he clutched as he once again dropped to his knees. The knocking continued. He undid the hinge lock and then quickly undid the snap latches. He raised the lid of the trunk. It would be tighter now that he was an adult, but he could still squeeze himself inside if he removed the tub sized lower drawer. He pulled the green paisley case out of its housing and squeezed his knees down into the space. He leaned forward and reached behind him, catching the same green paisley colored drape of the wardrobe and pulled the lid down on top of him.

He remembered there was no way to lock the trunk from the inside, but he didn’t really need it to lock to do its job. All he needed the trunk to do was to fly him away like it had when he was a kid, when his dad drank and his mom yelled, when his world shook at its core.

“Fly away, trunk, fly away,” Donny said. The pounding on the door of his apartment became the pounding of his heart. “Fly me away.”

He closed his eyes and waited but like his life, the trunk never got off the ground.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Continuing my cataloguing of classic pulps picked up last fall at a pulp fest in East Lansing, I thought I'd use some of the snowed in time to write about The Insect Warriors by Rex Dean Levie. The book came out in 1965 published through Ace Books.

Levie, it turns out, spent his early teen years writing on and off. As he grew, he took on a variety of careers that included beet picking, student teaching, and tending a cemetery. It was while working as a personal assistant to  military personnel that he became interested in just how large insects could grow after a heated debate amongst army colleagues over fifties era sci-fi movies. Levie investigated the matter, he writes in his bio, and says the ultimate answer to the question is the book.

The story appears set in some post-nuclear holocaust where insects have become enormous and man has lost his history. The hero this time around is a man named Tall who sets off to discover the origins of his species.

"But as he roamed he became more and more aware that mankind was a stranger in this insect world, that there were no other creatures remotely like men. Then where had his people come from?" (Back jacket blurb.)

Had nature run amok?

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Bell Ringer's Carol

(Below is an original short I wrote for a flash fiction challenge.)

I'm standing in front of a grocery store, the kind that does all of its advertising in those circulars that clog my narrow mailbox at the Harbor Apartments, ringing the bell supplied to me by the Cole City Charter School. The bell has a wooden handle lathed in some shop to better fit the contours of my hand. The bell is brass, the ball inside it tin. It makes an annoying, high pitched ding-ding-ding. I can only take it in short bursts. I wait for the people walking past, their collars pulled up or their hats pulled down against the wind, before I give the bell a few shakes. I don't get much from the people just going past. I get mostly the people going in or coming out of the grocery store. Those that do give donations give whatever change they have just shoved in their coat pocket so that even if they have gloves on, they can just scoop the coins and drop on the plastic lid of the sealed bucket. I thank them and push the coins into the plus-sign opening with my free hand as I ring the bell harder and louder with the other.

It's not a fun job. To be honest, it isn’t a job. I’d like to say I volunteered to do it but it was my probation officer who suggested it. Community service and all that.

I can hear the wind before the blast of cold hits me. It hurts, the cold I mean. The wind blows empty plastic bottles past me and on up the sidewalk. Bits of newspapers float off like crumpled angels. Flyers for a missing cat, that is bound to be a pussycle by now, get caught around a no parking sign before ripping free. The metal sign makes a wommm noise as it gets shaken in the gust. I can feel the wind pulling at my cheeks. I want to take the bell and smash it against the wind’s head but how crazy is that?

About as crazy as when I took the beer bottle and smashed it over the head of the drunk guy hitting on my girl down at the Old Detroit Bar. He wouldn’t back off. Down came the brown bottle. Boom! D.A. wanted Assault with Intent to Commit Murder. My public defender got it dropped to Assault and Battery. Time served with 200 hours of community service. If I’d done the 90 days I’d be inside away from the friggin’ wind and cold.

But I took the deal and I’m doing my time collecting for those less fortunate than me along Michigan Avenue. Ring the bell, God bless ‘em, and give a happy secular holiday to them all.

A Jag pulls up. The driver parks beneath the sign I’ve been watching the wind whip around for the last hour. An older guy in a leather coat gets out. He wears a pair of those thin, leather, Italian driving gloves. There’s nothing on his head except a crop of thick, white hair. Even in the yellow glow of the grocery store letters I can see the dude sports a tan and not a store bought tan.

I also see the smoking hot blonde in the passenger seat. She’s not his daughter, she’s not his wife. She’s his Christmas gift to himself.

They are clearly not from around here. I have no idea why they are road tripping on Michigan Avenue near Trumbull. Maybe they’re on their way to one of the casinos?

“They sell liquor in there?” he asks.

“Think so,” I say.

He smiles. His teeth are as straight and white as his hair. I watch him go in.

A cop cruises past. Doesn’t even think to stop and ticket the Jag.

I smash a beer bottle over a stranger’s head and get 200 hours of community service.

Fate is a fickle bitch.

I ring the bell. The woman turns and watches me. She is so fracking beautiful. Her eyes drop to her lap and she rifles through her handbag. I think she’s looking for something to put in the bucket when the old dude comes out carrying a paper bag wrapped around the neck of a bottle of something. She lowers her window.

“Harry, put some change in the bucket,” the woman says.

“Do what?” Harry asks back.

She nods with her head at me. Harry’s internal light bulb goes off. He digs in his leather coat pocket and drops some coins onto the lid. They lay there like tiny golden suns. He bites off his glove and reaches for the coins when the wind blasts us both. His perfect white hair gets ruffled.

“No problem, sir,” I say. “I’ve got it.”

He starts to tell me something when the horn honks.

“Harry, come on I’m hungry,” the blonde says. Harry smiles at me and hurries to the car. Seconds later he drives off.

I start to push the coins into the plus-sign slot. I drop five in there when I look at the last one still sitting there. There’s a woman with a crown on one side, a maple leaf on the other. Canadian. They must have been in Windsor for the evening or were on their way there. These aren’t ordinary gold coins; I know what the Loon looks like. These coins are different and I don’t think he meant to drop them in there and even if did have the kind of money where he could drop that kind of coin for charity, he chose the wrong bucket to drop them in.

I take the bucket and walk off down the street. I have no idea what the gold coins are worth. What I do know is there are five more inside the bucket. They have to be worth major dollars.

The Cole City Charter School will get its money.

Detroit will get its 200 hours of service.

But I get the coins.

And to all a good night.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Scenes From A Parade

No snow this year. No rain. Just bone-brittle cold. I stayed just long enough to catch the advance of the public library staff and the SWAT assault vehicle like bookmobile.

Walkers pushing carts in a choreographed routine


Saturday, November 13, 2010


Took a chance on this one and hauled my son out to Lansing for it. Small room in what we thought at first was an abandoned hotel. (It recently went from an exterior room entrance to an interior one but the exterior doors looked boarded up. No knobs, no hinges. We wondered what it looked like in side the rooms.)

Small and intimate gathering of collectors on hand with some incredible vintage items. Books, mostly, although we did see a good deal of original cover art work with the books they later appeared on. One went for $12,000 and exposed more of a topless woman than the  .35 cent book did. I picked up a stack of paperbacks for $10.

Part of what has always drawn me into pulps is the amazing cover work, especially the work of Robert McGinnis. I've purchased many a Hard Case Crime book based on his art. Just scroll back through this blog and you'll see why.

I'll kick off the posts with this pulp classic:
The Ant Men by Eric North

"The last five men on earth...that's how the small expedition team felt..." That's the opening line on the back cover. Inside the front in all caps is the proclamation "THIS IS THE COMPLETE TEXT OF THE HARDBOUND EDITION". To think that this book came out first as a hardcover is mind boggling. I could find no reference as to who did the cover art for Mr. North's book. It clearly helped the sale on my end. Plus, how can it miss when it has characters named Dr. Wise and Nugget?

Even better?  Look closely at the ant men on the cover: They are bipeds with arms. Where are the other two limbs an ant is supposed to have? We are dealing with some serious genetic manipulation here.

" 'From which fact,' Dr. Wise said thoughtfully, 'we may safely deduce the nest, or formicary, isn't very far away.' "

Spellcheckers don't recognize the word, but does. Formicary is a nest of ants.

I wonder if the entire story was based around it?

My son said it the best. "The SyFy Channel should buy all these stories and make them into their original movies."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Elmore Leonard Film Festival

Alas, it was not meant to be. LAKE SOLITUDE didn't finish in the top three. It would have been cool to be in the money and to hear the script read in front of hundreds of strangers. Still, finishing in the top ten AND knowing Elmore Leonard read me is pretty freaking cool.

Shot from my phone at the Elmore Leonard Film Festival at the Community House in Birmingham, Michigan

The top three in the win, place, and show finishes are as follows:
THE RIDE (A Rum Runner's Short) by Daniel Drop and Thomas Hass
ALMOST DEAD by Richard Stanley
ROW 15, SEAT 1 by Paul Tarnavsky

The script requirements were as follows:
-No more than five pages
-Must include a reference or setting in Michigan
-Must involve a crime
-Story should be told through dialogue and action

It was a pretty good opening night for the three day festival. Saturday's conclusion includes a celebrity-heavy reception. Tickets are $250.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Killer Wore Cranberry

All right.
Yet another anthology credit.
This time it's AMBROSIA, with a crime solving, retired assistant principal solving the case.
Untreed Reads is the publisher once again, although this time it is with a different set of editors than DISCOUNT NOIR.
Anyhow, give it a read and let me know what you think.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 22, 2010

In Case You Haven't Heard

Broken Down on the Bonneville Flats is now archived at BEAT TO A PULP. It's a good read and for those of you playing eBlog roulette, follow the link and read my story.

DISCOUNT NOIR is now up and available at a variety of sites. Go give that one a read as well. I'm in it with some of the big names in crime fiction and it feels good. I've been writing all my life but now that I'm in the crime fiction arena, the results are paying off as is the truckload of networking I've been doing. (I just wished I burned off fat for all of this cyber-hoofing.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Here's the link to the site:

Man, I am in it with some of the big guns in crime fiction. How cool for me!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

After Glow

A rousing success!
The turn out for Hard Boiled Guy/B-Girl Day was mch larger this year, reaching near twenty of us. We gathered at the Shamrock Pub in Utica over the weekend where we discussed old movies, current sports, and favorite noir folk all while bumping gums before we breezed off.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hard Boiled Guy/B-Girl Day

The second annual Hard Boiled Guy/ B-Girl Day is coming up! Celebrate the golden days of pulp fiction and film noir with me on October 18- the anniversary of the release date for the cinematic masterpiece The Maltese Falcon.

Dress like your favorite Hollywood heavy or femme fatale and get your lingo on:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Great Debate: Bad Art or Art That Is Not So Good?


The debate rages on the Museum of Bad Art's facebook page. My mother's contribution fans a flame war!
Scroll down to the thumb-nail of the renamed painting (alas, Young Innocent with Giant Duck Footprint was changed to Young Lucy as the painting is now a companion piece to one of an elderly woman frollicking in a field) and click on it. The comments are a tormented closet-artist's dream!

Friday, April 2, 2010


This is the painting.
You be the judge.
I think its new home at the Museum of Bad Art is appropriate.

The Price of Infamy

I shipped 'Young Innocent with No Left Arm and Giant Duck Footprint' to the Museom of Bad Art on Wednesday. The price of infamy? $63.10 according to UPS.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

MOBA and My Mom

I will be shipping "Young Innocent with No Left Arm and Giant Duck Footprint" to the Museum of Bad Art tomorrow. It will bring to end an incredible journey that began back in 1976 when my mother attempted to do portraits. Her niche, you see, had been autumnal landscapes with covered bridges or windmills. Occasionally there was a double masted ship on a turbulent sea. Once or twice, a winter scene that was really just a white canvas with lines.

When she turned her thumb to faces, well...whole other story. She did a fairly decent job of a pained Jesus on a cross for an amateur art competition held at the GM Tech Center back in the 70's. The close-up of the religious icon showed a man in great agony yet held compassion in his eyes. I remember being terrified by it. I know someone in the family somewhere has it- more than likely my art starved sister. But before there was that award winning moment, for she received 3rd Place Honorable Mention, there was "Young Innocent with No Left Arm and Giant Duck Footprint", a remarkable execution of a little girl in a peasant dress holding a daisy in a vast field with what looks like a giant duck foot print behind her. (Where did the duck go? It surely passed right behind the child for one can see the footprint.)

On my mother's 59th birthday, my roommate and I held an unveiling of several of her paintings. We hosted a "Name It" party. In addition to "YIWNLAAGDF", we were able to christen other classics such as "Variations on Bleak". Early last week I received notification from the Museum of Bad Art that my mother's painting of the child and duck track would hang along side the piece of bad art that started the MOBA.

At long last, ma, you're getting the recognition you deserve.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Girl with the Dragon Wing Eyes

Release date in Monday, March 28, 2010, at

Friday, February 26, 2010

I'm in Beat to a Pulp Webzine

Broken Down on the Bonneville Flats will appear in June at Beat to a Pulp magazine. A trio of amateurs try to rip off not just a casino but each other.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hard Case Crime Review #5: The Girl with the Long Green Heart

I'll say this for the Hard Case Crime series, it introduced me to Lawrence Block. Or maybe I'd been familiar with Block's work for a long time but never known it. (He did write under pseudonyms at times.) At any rate, I started reading through everything I could get my hands on that had his name on it.

Once again, what brought me in was the great over work by Robert McKinnon. Never mind that the girl on the cover of this paperback looked like a certain girl I dated in college. (This particular vixen seems to appear on other covers, so I wonder if McKinnon knew her as well?)

A pair of anti-heroes come together to pull off a master grift against a real estate tycoon. In order to get it to work, they need someone on the inside. They have to look no further than the man's secretary. Evelyn Stone is more than willing to help bring down her lecherous boss, but it will come with a price that Johnny Hayden and Doug Rance will pay before they realize it.

To me, this is classic Block. We quickly identify with these two grifters and not because we're behind their plan but because we all know people like Hayden and Rance, and we've all worked for scumbags like Gunderman.

And we've all known the power of a woman like Evelyn Stone.

The grift is complex and involves twists on intricate levels. But it doesn't lose you in its complexity. It brings you along and it adds suspense. The final twist is well worth the journey through the actual con.

Four out of five bullets.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Hard Case Review #4: The Vengeful Virgin

Simple and direct. Gil Brewer delivers a passionate, early erotic tale of an appliance store owner who uses his skills to help an eighteen year-old ward murder her benefactor to reap a hefty inheritance.
You can't help but feel bad for Jack, the palooka with a talent for wiring what passed as home-entertainment systems in the 50's. From the minute he answers the call and lays eyes on Shirley Angela, the red-head vixen, you know there is going to be trouble. Is she dumb or is she playing him? Even at the end after all she's done with Jack to get the money, I still wonder if she had it all worked out in her head. I might have believed that if not for Brewer's dark ending.
One thing I've always enjoyed about reading and even writing if leaving the audience with a lingering image or two. Brewer delivers on this too when Jack lies in a hospital bed with his ex-girl glaring at him for his stupidity. Excellent moment.
Where the book weakens is in Jack. you have to really want to care about a bozo like Jack who instantly gets a hard-on for an eighteen year old girl and quickly begins to develop a plan on how to seduce her and then take the sick old man she cares for all his money. You're hoping he gets caught and maybe that's why you'll continue to read: To see if he gets away with it or if he gets his comeuppance.
Three and a quarter bullets out of five.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Hard Case Review #3: Little Girl Lost

Look, I would be lying if I didn't admit one of the things that draws me into the Hard Case series is the cover art, especially when the art is done by Robert McGinnis. Google the guy; you've been looking at his work for years but probably didn't know it. When I saw the cover of Little Girl Lost, I knew I'd be in for some fun reading.

Yes, I'm judging the books by the cover because in the case of Hard Case Crime, it works.

I hated putting the book down. Richard Aleas (which is an alias) crafted a real fine tale of strippers, thugs, and PIs. He puts an updated twist on the good twin-bad twin plot line and reveals it earlier enough that I don't think it really needs a spoiler alert. Miranda Sugarman is as sultry and sexy as femme fatale's come and after a while, you can almost feel the heat of PI John Blake rising up out of the pages.

As far as private eyes go, Aleas' Blake is an intriguing detective. I thought he was worthy of more than a single follow up (Songs of Innocence to be reviewed later.) unless, of course, there are other Blake stories I haven't discovered. In Little Girl Lost, Blake has a pesky mother to deal with as he digs into his ex-girlfriend's life as a stripper. The deeper he digs, the darker her life becomes.

If I had any reservations before reading it, this book hooked me into wanting to delve into hard-boiled crime fiction.

Four and a half bullets out of five.


No one gives anythng free for doing my reviews.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Hard Case Crime Review #2: 3 6 1

The second in the reading series for me. It was a much better hard-boiled crime read, which is what I had been looking for, than The Colorado Kid. Donald E. Westlake was new to me, although years ago I happened upon the Lee Marvin tough guy movie Point Blank which turned out to be written by Westlake as well.

361 is a hard hitting revenge story that sends its young protagonist, Ray Kelly, out after the men that gunned down his father and the man who hired them to do it. Kelly works his way into the organization by being as tough as the men he has sworn to kill, never letting on what his plans are.

It's a quick, entertaining ride. It's like a left hook before the right upper cut, knocking you almost out as you come into the final round. Good stuff.

Four out of five bullets.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hard Case Review #1: The Colorado Kid

The Colorado Kid was the first Hard Case Crime novel I read. I didn't realize it was going to launch me on a journey through nearly the entire run of the Hard Case line. I remember seeing it at a mall bookstore, amazed that King's name was on the spine. I took a chance on it and while I didn't think it was the greatest mystery novel ever, there were elements of it I found intriguing.
King pulls a fast one on the reader, even going so far as to point it out in the Afterword. He warns us we'll either go along with him for it or hate him for it. I went along with him. Look, some of King's best work is not in the horror genre. He has a great ability to make a reader feel like he is eavesdropping on the people in the story. The characterization is rich, the settings quaint with just the right amount of dread creeping in like a Maine fog. Plus, the cover artists for this line of books know just how to play a lady's curves.
So while the mystery is thin, the story is engaging through its three main characters- a couple of crusty old timers and a young cub reporter who could be either's great-granddaughter.
Three out of five bullets.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fire at the Auto Show

I should have known something was up by the squeaking of the People Mover as it inched along its track. I kept thinking of that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine gets stuck on the subway, although nothing like that happened. Even when we slowed to go through the Cobo tunnel we didn't come to a stop until we passed through it. All in all, Kegger and I rode an uneventful PM from Greektown Casino to Cobo.

We had a two-for coupon for the day. So for twelve bucks, we thought the day was ours. We wound our way down from the station into the exhibit hall and got in line for tickets. While we waited, I noticed what I thought was a man pouring coffee into a recycle bin. It wasn't coffee, just coffee colored. The man was projectile vomiting into the recycle bin and not just a little bit. This was Mr. Creosote from Monty Python's Meaning of Life vomiting. As far as I could tell, I was the only one seeing this in a crowd of thousands.

I was about to say something to Kegger when it was our turn at the ticket window. We got our tickets, Vomit Man was gone, and we made our way to the entrance, commenting on how odd it was that the fire alarms were flashing. But we've lived through drills before and blew it off.

We headed for the Hyundai exhibit looking for Panooch's wife who is a spokesmodel for the company. We were hanging around looking at the cars when a distorted P.A. announcement came on telling us there was smoke in the building and we needed to move calmly to the doors to evacuate...once we got our hands stamped.

Turns out there was an electrical fire at the Audi display. Cobo was closed for about three hours. Kegger and I moved from the show to the Post Bar, which at that point was jammed. We had a beer each and then walked over to the Detroit Hard Rock where there were other Auto Show Fire wanderers sharing their tales. One guy had some really impressive video on his phone. I told him he should call the local stations and sell it.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Big Jake

Speaking out against the Duke is like saying I hate baseball, apple pies, and the one time leading domestic car Chevrolet. Still, yesterday while wtching one of my all time favorite John Wayne films, I couldn't help but notice that two dogs were used to play Dog. I know it's not uncommon, but using two different types of dog to play the same one has to be. In the non-violent scenes, Dog (character name) is a Lassie collie. In the violent scenes, the dog is jet black and smaller. It's like shooting a car chase with the bad guys first in a Corvette and then later in a Dodge Ram then back again to the Corvette all during the same chase.

Okay, so after watching this film for almost 40 years, a little continuity slip up from the 70's doesn't ruin it. Richard Boone as the black-hatted villan opposite the Duke makes for some classic good guy/bad guy tension, kind of foreshadowing their final film work together in The Shootist. Patrick Wayne and Chris Mitchum do some of their better acting in the shadows of their dads, and Robert Mitchum isn't even in this one but for some reason, his presence is felt. Maureen O'Hara is proud and stoic and looks admiringly at John Wayne in their scenes together. The Duke had nearly all of his surviving friends in this film, which would explain Bruce Cabot as a Native American. Only ones missing were Forrest Tucker, Ward Bond, John Agar, and Andrew Prine.
And I can't helpt but think that the writers of Escape from New York borrowed a key phrase from this movie. As soon as John Wayne shows up, people start echoing, "I thought your were dead." Snake Pliskin probably learned a thing or two from Big Jake McCandles.

Four and a half bullets outta five.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Review: Carny Kill

First thing I noticed, after the disturbing cover of his book, about Robert Edmond Alter was he dropped his characters into a poor man's Disneyland. Alter's alternative to Anaheim was a bunch of swampland in central Florida. Carney Kill came out in 1966, right about the time Walt and company was buying up patches of land under a pseudonym and a year after Alter died. In the story, Cochrane's carnival park is littered with attractions like Tarzan's Tree House instead of the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House and a pirate attraction based on Treasure Island instead of a group of marauders invading a Caribbean villa. Not surprisingly, Alter grew up in California.

In a nutshell, the anti-hero of the book is a wise-cracking grifter who takes a job with Cochrane only to find out the owner has married the grifter's ex-wife. Not even a day later Cochrance turns up dead on a small inlet of the jungle river ride with enough planted evidence to point the finger at the grifter's ex. Soon to enter the plot is a crusty police detective who on one hand likes the grifter for the crime and then on the other seems to be partnering up with him to solve the case. Pretty soon the grifter is hooking up with one of the burlesque dancers from one of the shows. This comes with its own set of baggage as she is being courted by another guy from the grifter's past, one who is out to enact vengeance against the grifter.

Our grifter hero has his own quirks. He likes to egg on his marks to the point he cheats them out of their money just to make them look stupid in front of their dates. He never seems to light his own cigarette; when he takes one out, he rolls it between his fingers until someone lights it for him. And he is never short with making wise with the cops or the people out to kill him.

The secondary cast of characters is great: a literature major who likes to drunk gin, a midget who speaks to no one but plays the part of Cheetah the Chimp, some torpedoes, and a bunch of molls all add color and depth to the book. Some will be killed, some will kill, and others are just there to entertain.

I'm big on pulp literature. Carny Kill became a favorite. I'll read it again.

Four out of five bullets.