Wednesday, February 28, 2007

End-of-the-Month Update


The demands of real life, plus the fact that February is a shorter month, kept me from reaching my goal again this month. For a while there it looked like I wasn't going to come anywhere close, but then I had a good last week. As it stands now I'm 80 pages behind the pace I wanted to maintain. I can't make up that much in a month's time, but I'm hoping that I can whittle down the deficit some in March.


I read eight books in February:

MOMENT OF TRUTH, Lisa Scottoline
THE AVENGER #12: THE FLAME BREATHERS, Kenneth Robeson (Paul Ernst)
LUCKY AT CARDS, Lawrence Block
THE BLONDE, Duane Swierczynski

I'll probably have some comments about the Perry Mason book to post tomorrow. Normally I read more than I've been managing this year.


I watched four movies this month: CRANK, GRIDIRON GANG, AMERICAN PIE: BAND CAMP, and LOVEWRECKED. I think I can do better than that.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Cassidy's Girl -- The Movie

I've been trading emails with writer/producer/director Edward Holub, who's working on a film version of David Goodis's novel CASSIDY'S GIRL. I've read only a few of Goodis's novels, but CASSIDY'S GIRL is my favorite so far, and I think it'll make an excellent film. Ed's put up a website about the movie, which you can find here. If you're a David Goodis fan, you need to check it out.

Ed's first feature film,
NIGHT RUNS RED, sounds pretty intriguing, too. I'm going to have to see if I can hunt up a copy of it to watch.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Two More Movies

Well, I said that I would at least mention every movie I watched this year, and since I'm a man of my word, I have to tell you that this weekend we saw AMERICAN PIE: BAND CAMP and LOVEWRECKED, a romantic comedy with Amanda Bynes that my daughter taped off one of the cable channels she gets at school. We live too far out in the sticks to even get cable. Anyway, I sort of like the AMERICAN PIE franchise. Yes, they're crude, sleazy, and inappropriate, but then, I'm a guy who never missed a PORKY'S movie back in the Eighties. BAND CAMP is the fourth in the series and the most lightweight one so far -- which is saying quite a bit -- but there are a few nice moments. LOVEWRECKED is much more innocuous but just as predictable. Amanda Bynes is just as cute and perky as she can be, though.

Just think, I could have been watching BABEL and THE QUEEN.

Got the new book started today and the work went pretty well. Since this is a house-name Western, I'm experimenting with my style, trying to stretch a few different writing muscles. I have a terrible tendency toward run-on sentences, so I'm trying to eliminate them in this manuscript right from the start. We'll see how it goes.

The Guards -- Ken Bruen

I didn’t take to Ken Bruen’s fiction when I first tried to read it. I think it took me some time to warm up to his very distinctive style. But once I did, I found myself enjoying his books quite a bit.

In fact, I’ve just gone back and read THE GUARDS, the first book in his Jack Taylor series, which I’d started before and didn’t finish. This time through, I liked it quite a bit. The rhythm of the prose is remarkable, and Bruen has a way of capturing a character with only a few words. True, there’s not much plot, and what there is kind of sprawls around (like real life). But I doubt if many people read Bruen’s novels for the plots, anyway.

I’m coming at these Jack Taylor books out of order, which bothers the obsessive-compulsive in me. The first one I finished was actually the fourth in the series, THE DRAMATIST. But I also have copies of the second and third, THE KILLING OF THE TINKERS and THE MAGDALEN MARTYRS, so at least I can read them in the proper order and then try to keep up with the series from now on.

In other news, I’ve been pushing hard on the writing the past few days and finished up a book yesterday, always a good thing. So I’ll be starting a new one today, also a good thing. Yesterday we had worst dust storm I’ve seen around here in probably thirty years or more. It looked like half of West Texas was blowing past outside. The strong wind (gusts of 60+ mph) also did some minor damage to our roof, so it looks like I’ll be up there hammering on new shingles sometime this week.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Blonde -- Duane Swierczynski

And I thought the movie CRANK was weird.

Duane Swierczynski’s THE BLONDE looks like a hardboiled crime novel, but early on it becomes obvious that’s not really the case. Reporter Jack Eisley is in Philadelphia for a meeting with his wife’s divorce lawyer, when a good-looking blonde he’s setting next to in the airport bar calmly informs him that she’s just poisoned his drink and that he’ll die by the next morning if he doesn’t do what she wants him to. Jack doesn’t believe her at first, but he becomes convinced when more crazy things start happening. A government-sanctioned assassin on a mission of personal vengeance gets involved, then a human head in a gym bag becomes important to the plot. Throw in assorted sleazy characters, a lot of unrelenting action, and some technology so advanced that it sort of pushs this book over into science-fictional territory. All of it is told in prose so fast that it hardly ever stops to take a breath, along with fine dialogue and numerous touches of dark but very funny humor.

THE BLONDE is a great thriller and easily one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. It’s also the first thing I’ve read by Duane Swierczynski, but it sure won’t be the last.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Kolchak: The Night Stalker Casebook

Today I received my author’s copies of KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER CASEBOOK, a new anthology of stories featuring the character from the short-lived but iconic Seventies TV series. My story “Pirate’s Blood” is one of them, and I had a great time writing it. I recall watching the original made-for-TV movie THE NIGHT STALKER and its sequel THE NIGHT STRANGLER while I was in college. I was a regular viewer of the series, too. This was just my second experience at doing TV tie-in work (I wrote the three WALKER, TEXAS RANGER novels some years ago), and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I hope I did a good job of capturing Kolchak’s unique voice. The anthology also features stories by Robert J. Randisi, Gary Phillips, Rick Hautala, Christopher Golden, P.N. Elrod, and numerous other writers, and it looks like a fine collection, as was the first volume of Kolchak stories published by Moonstone Books KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER CHRONICLES. If you’re a fan of the TV show or of good mystery/horror yarns in general, I don’t think you can go wrong with either of these books.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Lucky at Cards -- Lawrence Block

Originally published by Beacon Books in 1964 under the title THE SEX SHUFFLE and the pseudonym Sheldon Lord, Lawrence Block’s novel LUCKY AT CARDS has been resurrected by Hard Case Crime, and we should be thankful to Charles Ardai for that because it’s a fine book.

Bill “Wizard” Maynard was once a stage magician, but as the book opens he has long since turned his sleight-of-hand skills to making a living as a card sharp who can cheat at just about any sort of game. Unfortunately for him, he was caught at it by some guys who took offense. After being beaten up and run out of Chicago, he finds himself in a medium-sized, unnamed city somewhere between Chicago and New York, where he runs into a beautiful woman who’s every bit as shady as he is. Problem is, she’s currently married to a rich, successful tax attorney. Bill begins an affair with her anyway, and anyone who’s read very many books in this genre knows where that’s going to lead. The lawyer’s will is structured in such a way that they can’t just murder him, so they have to come up with a more elaborate plot to separate him from his money. But wouldn’t you know it, once they embark on this scheme – say it together with me, kiddies – Things Go Wrong.

I don’t mean to sound sarcastic. Yes, the plot’s a little formulaic and the ending might have been a tad more dramatic. But Block writes so well I don’t care about any of that. This is a beautifully rendered picture of the late Fifties/early Sixties era, with skillfully drawn characters and a pace that just rockets along in some of the best prose of anybody around, then or now. You won’t find a better example of the books that were published as soft-core sex novels back in those days but were really nice little crime yarns. Run right out and find a copy of this one if you don’t have it yet, and let’s hope that Block and Hard Case Crime decide to bring more of his early, pseudonymous work back into print.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Kubla Khan Caper

Continuing with my Shell Scott reminiscing for a moment, I believe this was the second Scott novel I read, shortly after DEAD MAN'S WALK. I checked my copy of this book and since it came out in 1967 (after originally being published as a hardback by Trident Press in 1965), that means it was probably the summer of '67 when I started reading Richard S. Prather's books.
That means I was fourteen years old. Could there have been a better age to discover Shell Scott?
And this one's got a McGinnis cover, to boot.

Gridiron Gang

My daughter Joanna loves inspirational sports movies based on true stories, so this one was a natural for us to watch. And it's a pretty darned good film, too. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (as he's now billed) plays a former football star working as a counselor at a juvenile detention facility in Los Angeles who decides to form a football team from the inmates who are housed there, most of them gang members who have been convicted of violent crimes. It's true that this movie indulges in all the cliches we've come to expect from this sort of movie. At one point Joanna said, "I knew they'd have the scene where he makes them run back and forth." We also get slow-motion (but not too much) and the team of misfits coming together and the climactic play-off game against the arch-rival team, including one gaffe that made me bite my tongue to keep from saying, "They've got that all wrong!", which is also a staple of this sort of film. But the movie has a little harder edge than some in this genre, not surprising considering the subject matter, and it's very well-made. I like The Rock, too, and he does a fine job here. He's turned into a pretty good actor. So, yeah, it's a formula film, but there are a lot worse things in the world. This one is well worth watching.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Dead Man's Walk

Compared to some of the magnificent covers on the Shell Scott novels done by artists like Robert McGinnis and Barye Phillips, this cover's not so great. But it's important to me because it's the cover of the first Shell Scott novel I ever read. As I've mentioned before, my dad was a television repairman for more than thirty years, and when I was a kid I sometimes went on his service calls with him. But instead of watching what he was doing and learning about resistors and capacitors and things like that, I usually took a book along and either sat in the car or found a chair in the house where he was working and read while he fixed somebody's TV. In the summer of either 1966 or '67, I can't recall which, one of the books I took along to read while he was making a service call was DEAD MAN'S WALK. I even remember the neighborhood where we went that day, although I couldn't tell you exactly which house it was where the TV was broken. What I recall very vividly, though, was the effect that reading that book had on me. I was out hunting for more Shell Scott books the very next day.

Richard S. Prather, RIP

Just reported on the Rara-Avis list is the sad news that Richard S. Prather has passed away. I was a huge fan of Prather's Shell Scott books, devouring them as fast as I could get my hands on them back in the Sixties when I first discovered them, and I still reread one of them from time to time with great enjoyment. One of the most hilarious scenes in all of fiction can be found in STRIP FOR MURDER, and if you've read the book, you probably know which one I'm talking about. But in addition to the comedy, readers got some very well-written hardboiled action, tight plots, and an iconic character in Shell Scott. Prather was truly one of the greats, and I'm sad that he's gone.

Catching Up

The week-long silence on this blog means, of course, that I've been hunkered down writing. For a while there, all the medical problems going on meant that my output was reduced by about 40%. The last week I've been trying to catch up and have just about gotten back to my usual pace. How long that will last, though, I don't know, since things continue to be unsettled. At least I have my schedule for the rest of the year pretty well worked out, so I know what I need to write and when. Assuming that nothing else sells. At the moment, all I'm doing are ghost jobs and house-name books, but I'm certainly glad to have the work.

I found myself in Denton yesterday, so I had to stop by Recycled Books. I hadn't been there in a while, and the last few times I went I found little or nothing I wanted. Yesterday the pickings were still pretty slim, but I did pick up a couple of okay items. One was an Ace Double Western I didn't have, GUNS AT Q CROSS by Merle Constiner (one of the old reliables and a veteran of the pulps) and THE TOUGHEST TOWN IN THE TERRITORY by Tom West (actually an Englishman named Fred East, with a quirky but entertaining style). The other was a digest-sized paperback called EMPIRE OF CRIME, reprinting a Nick Carter novel from the Thirties pulp version of the character. This edition was published by an outfit called Vital Books in 1945. The novel originally appeared in the April 1933 issue of NICK CARTER DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, the second issue of the pulp series. But I don't know who actually wrote it under the Nicholas Carter house-name. I want to say that Richard Wormser is generally credited with writing the Nick Carter pulp novels, but my memory could be totally wrong about that.

During my hiatus from blogging I read THE TWO MINUTE RULE by Robert Crais, which I liked a lot. I've read several of Crais's stand-alones but none of the books he's best-known for, the Elvis Cole series. THE TWO MINUTE RULE is a dandy with a semi-Gold Medal feel to it, with an ex-con hero and a very twisty plot involving serial bank robbers and millions of dollars in missing loot. Highly recommended. I've started the new -- or sort of new -- Hard Case Crime book by Lawrence Block, LUCKY AT CARDS. More about that later.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Another Milestone

Yesterday was my wife Livia's 50th birthday. I didn't know if I should mention that on here or not, but since she talked about it on her blog, I figured it was okay to bring up the subject. With all the health problems she's had since she was a kid, I don't think she ever expected to reach the Big 5-0, so she's rather proud of it.

But not as proud as I am of her.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Season of the Machete -- James Patterson

The plot of this early (1977) James Patterson novel is so complicated and over-the-top that it’s hard to describe. The CIA, maybe with the blessing of the White House and maybe not, makes an arrangement with the Mafia to destabilize the government of an island nation in the Caribbean, for reasons that were never entirely clear to me. In order to do this, they hire a husband-and-wife team of professional assassins to carry out a series of machete murders that are blamed on a local revolutionary leader. Stumbling into this plot are a former Special Forces soldier now working as a bartender on the island and his girlfriend.

Keeping up with what’s going on in this book is difficult to start with and is made even more so by some continuity errors regarding the timeline of the action. Patterson assigns dates to all of the events, and they just don’t make sense, making me wonder if there was some out-of-whack copyediting going on somewhere in the process. But despite the confusing plot, and the even more confusing way it’s told, this is a reasonably entertaining book with some interesting characters. Patterson’s books may be far-fetched, but at least there’s always plenty of stuff going on in them.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Moment of Truth -- Lisa Scottoline

This is the legal thriller with the nice opening I mentioned a few posts back. It's the first thing I've read by Lisa Scottoline, and it turned out to be a pretty good book.

The set-up is interesting: a corporate attorney in Philadelphia frames himself for murder so he can protect the real killer, and in order to insure that he's convicted, he hires the youngest, most inexperienced defense lawyer he can find, a woman named Mary DiNunzio (who evidently appears in some of Scottoline's other books). Well, seeing as how this is a legal thriller, you know how this is going to go. Mary's a lot sharper than her client thinks, and when she realizes that he really is innocent, even though he confessed to the crime, she sets out to find the real killer.

Most of the way through the book I thought that Scottoline had played too many of her plot cards too early, but there are a couple of nice, late twists that I didn't see coming. The characters are well-drawn, the style is very smooth and readable, and there are some welcome touches of humor, something you don't always find in legal thrillers. As a result, I feel confident that I'll read more of Scottoline's novels, although I probably won't rush out to find another one right away simply because I don't read that many legal thrillers. But I'm coming to enjoy them more, at least when they're well-written, so who knows.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Bob Randisi

Bill Crider beat me to this news from our pal Bob Randisi, but I'm going to post it anyway.

"Vince Van Patten will be appearing on Fox News Live on Sat. Feb 10, 10:00 Pacific time, specifically to discuss our Texas Hold'em mystery THE PICASSO FLOP. With a little bit of luck he'll even mention my name.

Also, my first Rat Pack book shipped so well and was reviewed well enough for SMP to want two more. That's four, counting the one I just delivered. The first two are EVERYBODY KILLS SOMEBODY SOMETIME and LUCK BE A LADY, DON'T DIE. The third will be HEY THERE, YOU WITH THE GUN IN YOUR HAND."

Bob's been a good friend for more years than I like to think about. Long enough, in fact, that I bought a copy of his first book when it was brand-new. It's great to see the success he's having with the Rat Pack series, and I hope the Texas Hold'em books do as well.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Super Bowl

This was one of those games where I had no rooting interest whatsoever. I'm not a fan of the Colts or the Bears, but I don't dislike either of the teams enough to root for the other one. So I'm okay with Indy winning. The Colts did seem to be the better team and probably deserved it. The game itself was sloppy but reasonably entertaining. Has there ever been another Super Bowl that was played in a pouring rain the whole time? I don't recall one. A few of the commercials were okay. I liked the Budweiser one with the mud-splattered mutt being mistaken for a Dalmation, and the one with Robert Goulet running amok in an office. I don't remember what that one was for, so I guess it didn't succeed all that well. But I thought it was funny anyway. I'm not a Prince fan, so I didn't pay that much attention during halftime. So, that's my Super Bowl report, for what it's worth.

Someone I know used to think those spotted dogs that ride on fire trucks were called Damnations. Now that's funny.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


CRANK is one weird movie.

Evidently inspired by the classic film noir D.O.A. (although there's no mention of that in the credits, at least that I noticed), this is an updated version of that story. A hitman (Jason Statham) gets crosswise with some of his gangster associates, and one of them injects him with a bizarre poison that will kill him unless he keeps moving fast enough to force his body to produce enough adrenaline to counteract the effects of the poison. With the time he has left, he sets off to avenge his own murder.

It's an interesting premise, and as you'd expect, the movie is full of action. The direction and photography are hyper-stylized, with all sorts of fast motion, stop motion, other special effects, and strange lighting. This takes some getting used to but is generally effective. The movie also features the oddest cell phone ringtone I've ever heard. All of the tricks combine to make this one of the more disconcerting films I've seen.

I liked Jason Statham in the two Transporter movies, and he's good here, too, although the character he plays is considerably less sympathetic. Nearly every character in this movie with the exception of the protagonist's girlfriend is a criminal. You can't help but get involved with the quest to see justice -- or at least revenge -- done before time runs out, though.

Worth watching, but don't expect a normal movie.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Kasey Lansdale Appearance

Ray Price in Concert
With special guests - Comedian Willie P. Richardson & Singer Kasey Lansdale
Saturday, February 17, 2007 - 7pm
Selena Auditorium - American Bank Center - 1901 N. Shoreline Blvd.
Corpus Christi, TX
All seats reserved: $41.50 $31.50 $21.50
Available at Box Office Order by phone 361.881.8499 Order online
Nacogdoches native Kasey Lansdale will be the opening act when Country Music Hall of Famer and Grammy Winner Ray Price performs at the American Bank Center in the Selena Auditorium at 7pm February 17. Ms. Lansdale has been a regular in the East Texas club scene for the past year and her latest release, "Back of My Smile", is being aired on a number of Texas radio stations. The daughter of well-known Texas author, Joe Lansdale, she has been published in a major Random House Books anthology and is working on a new book at this time. She is set to perform on a five-city tour in Italy this year, followed by a concert in Norway. She has gained attention from several major record labels in Nashville with her unique blues-country styling.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Quick Trigger

No, I'm not talking about the Gordon D. Shirreffs novel published as half of an Ace Double Western in the Sixties; that's QUICKTRIGGER, all one word. (Although if you're a Western fan and haven't tried Shirreffs' work yet, you really should.) I'm talking about the fact that I've gotten a lot quicker about setting a book aside and not finishing it if I don't like it. At one time I was a member of the "if I start a book, I finish it" crowd, but the older I get the less I feel that way. I guess it goes back to the old "So many books, so little time" cliche.

Anyway, this morning I started a legal thriller by a guy who's a medium-big name in that field. Not Grisham, but not too far under that level. The first line of dialogue was on page 17. The first 16 pages of the book were devoted to a very dry history lesson about the protagonist and her back-story and the setting, but mostly the setting. Whatever happened to "show, don't tell"? I read that far only because I wanted to see how long the author could maintain it without writing something, oh, I don't know, interesting, maybe? It was back on the shelf with that sucker, while I muttered a prayer of thanks that it was a library book and not something I actually spent money on.

I followed that up by starting another legal thriller by another author, and in the first 16 pages of that book, we get a nicely done interrogation scene that gives us some good characters and dialogue, somebody confessing to a murder that he -- and we -- know he didn't commit, and numerous hints that all is not as it seems. This one I'll keep reading, at least for a while, to see if it lives up to the potential of its opening.