Monday, July 30, 2012

Archie MAX

I read Megan Abbott's Dare Me in a single gulp last week while sitting at the airport, and I've never minded an hours-long flight delay so little. Opening the book was like cutting into a perfectly ripe grapefruit and getting that sluice of juice right in the eye. Tart, sweet, sticky - the words spill out in a rush and coat your mitts with sap till it's a wonder that they turn at all and you marvel at the un-gummed machinations of the physical book. Her second more or less contemporary (The End of Everything was set in the mid-to-late vague-ies) novels about high school girls leaving child hood behind and encountering the exciting, enticing and frightening world of adults for the first time.

More on that at Ransom Notes, but did you see this? Abbott's doing The Punisher?!? Damn. Didn't see that coming. Though it does seem to be one of the go-to trial-runs for crime writers crossing into the funny-pages (Victor Gischler, Duane Swierczynski, Jason Starr), it's a far-cry from her previously-seen sensibilities. I'm curious how this'll work out (come to think of it, I'd be pleased to see Swierzy or Starr's take on Archie too). Don't get me wrong - few crime writers get under the itchy-scabbed-over surface of crime and explore the dark that lies beneath the way she does - but Frank Castle's a bit more... blunt? than her typical exploration. Regardless, can't wait.

And in case you hadn't noticed, Meg's all over the nets these days - here's an interview she did with Laura Lippman and here's a piece she contributed to the New York Times.

Y'know who else you can read in the NYT? N@B-cherry Frank Bill. Here's a piece Mr. Bill contributed over the weekend about the effects of the drought on Southern Indiana. Anybody else looking forward to more fiction from Frankie? Weeeelll - git yur fix soon in Noir at the Bar Volume 2 with Devil Dog, an excerpt from his Viet-Nam novel in progress, or as I like to think of it - Crimes in Southern Asia.

N@B gets a lil' local attention in the St. Louis Magazine's August issue and thanks to everybody who thumbed through 425 pages of stuff about doctors to read Byron Kerman's piece 'bout our tawdry event. The story includes a nice mention for Dan O'Shea's Thin Mints from the first anthology (Everybody's heard 'bout O'Shea's new two-book deal with Exhibit A? Fuck yeah), and starts with a note about John Rector's contribution to N@B2 In the Kitchen With Rachel Ray. Y'know, Rector isn't the only one having fun with lady celebrities in the new book. Gordon Highland's story Untitled Stephenie Meyer Novel features the backfiring of an ingenious pick-up strategy, while Robert J. Randisi & Christine Matthews' Quick, Jason Makansi's Trophy Wife and Nic Young's Buying Time also revolve around sick (figurative and literal) and unusual hook-ups, and Benjamin Whitmer's If One Won't Another Will is about a different kind of connection all together. But, I'd say Jane Bradley's The One Good Thing probably has the most unsettling sexual encounter of the book - just for the sad, debased believability of it all. I can't wait to give you a chance to read this book. (Soon - very soon).

But first things first. I hear that Snubnose Press will be releasing my book of stories A F*ckload of Shorts this week (with the paperback following soon after). Kids, I'll probably be obnoxious promoting this thing, but forgive me, I'm essited. The title is a reference to Julian Grant's film F*ckload of Scotch Tape - based on my story of the same name - the impetus for publishing the book in the first place. 

Julian's film's been getting some kind attention. Here's a review that popped up at Film Monthly, and Pela Via says some staggeringly nice things at ManArchy Magazine, as well as in a recent episode of the Booked podcast. As a promotional tool, Julian even made a graphic novel adaptation of FLOST and he's giving it away over here. As super cool as it is, there are two important things that reading it doesn't do for you: excuse you from seeing the movie - the comic has none of Kevin Quain's haunting music, and reading the original stories A Fuckload of Scotch Tape and Mahogany & Monogamy in my book - cool as the movie and comic are (they're very cool) they differ in some important ways from the original material and I don't want you to be too confused when you read more about Benji Metcalf in my novella Fierce Bitches (coming soonish from Crime Factory books).

You heard 'bout Gangster Squad's postponed  release? Seems a key sequence of the film featuring a movie theater shootout comes too uncomfortably close on the heels of that dipshit in Colorado's shooting spree at the Batman flick. The trailer for Squad looks perty slick if cartoonish, to boot, and while I'm holding no serious expectations of greatness, the film is up my alley content-wise and from a director I've enjoyed (Ruben Fleischer) and a writer I'm interested in (adaptive screenwriter Will Beal), so I'm pissed I've gotta wait and disappointed that I won't be seeing the controversial sequence. Over at Ransom Notes, I have a list of books and films to dive into while waiting for Gangster Squad, that includes Beal's L.A. Rex and Lee Tamahori's film Mulholland Falls  - from a script by Pete Dexter!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Blood In the Street

Jack Clark wrote one of my favorite books of 2010, Nobody's Angel about a Chicago cabbie keeping his head down and eyes peeled while a pair of killers bump off his fellow drivers and denizens of the street. It was a beautifully realized, atmospheric piece of crime fiction whose man of action earned his actions through character and circumstance so convincingly that the final pages unraveled with an unusually potent emotional kick (and the final paragraph remains one of my favorite ever - but do not go read it without everything that comes before, it wouldn't be the same).

Jack's Nick Acropolis books Dancing on Graves, Westerfield's Chain and Highway Side are now available in paperback as well as eBooks (free for you Kindle Prime Members) and I'm damned happy to have him guest posting today in the CriMemoir series. 

Blood in the Street 
"Chicago's Toughest Cop"
By Jack Clark
In one of my earliest memories, I'm playing with Bernie and Buzzie on their front porch when a policeman comes by and shoos us into their house. Bernie and Buzzie were brothers who would soon move to the suburbs, leaving me behind on the far West Side of Chicago. This is my only memory of them. But that doesn’t mean you should trust it.
Later that day there was a shoot-out in the alley that ran alongside the porch, the alley behind Madison Street. Two men were killed by police.
Years later I was watching Arsenic and Old Lace on late-night TV. I didn't remember seeing the movie before, but apparently I had. There was the same cop who had chased us off the porch and, look, he was still wearing that same gray suit.
Memory plays tricks, so I decided to find out whether the shooting had ever happened. The only solid information I had was the name Frank Pape. He was a well-known cop whose name I'd regularly come across in the newspapers. Supposedly Pape had been involved.
Down at the library I found the story on the front page of the September 24, 1954, Chicago American: "Police Kill 2 Ex-Convicts in Ambush on West Side." Two articles from other newspapers filled in the details: "Lt. Pape Credo: Get 'Em Alive--or Dead" and "Gunmen Walk Into 35-Hr. Police Trap."
"To a cop chasing criminals the most important thing is not to let them get away," the American said. "That's the philosophy of Lt. Frank Pape, head of the robbery detail--and he doesn't let many escape.
"The two latest desperados who didn't get away from Lt. Pape and his men were Chris Kanakes, 35, of 838 Vernon Park Pl. and Spiros Demitralis, 34, of 3748 Clifton Av.
"They ran into a trap engineered by Pape and were fatally cut down yesterday by gunfire as they resisted arrest near an auto agency at 5817 W. Madison St."
For Pape, this was just another day's work. He told reporters the two men were suspects in a series of robberies, including holdups at two Rush Street nightspots and a Cicero Avenue business owned by Cook County assessor John S. Clark.
Pape set the trap after learning that Kanakes had taken his new car into Mars Oldsmobile for a 1,000-mile checkup. The Tribune said, "Pape and 10 detectives dressed in old clothing and used three trucks to conceal themselves at vantage points about the Mars garage. Pape had a machine gun and the other officers carried revolvers and shotguns."
When Kanakes and Demitralis walked into the alley, five policemen approached them from behind. "Kanakes whirled, a .38 caliber revolver in his hand," the Sun-Times said. "He had time to fire just one last wild shot in the requiem of his career with the gun. Demitralis never even reached for the .32 pistol in his pocket.
"Both men ran about 20 steps before bullets cut into them from three directions, a machinegun in the hands of Pape leading the fire."
Demitralis was struck by 13 bullets while Kanakes took 9. "They were the seventh and eighth fatalities in gun battles in which Pape, 45, has participated since he joined the police department 21 years ago," the Tribune said. "In addition, Pape has been in 14 shootings in which robbers and hoodlums were wounded. He has never been wounded."
After the shooting, Pape was in a thoughtful mood, "his dinner appetite ruined and his evening's planned fun at a ball game disrupted," according to the American. "Pape said: 'This was more than a one-man job. It was wonderful the way everyone handled themselves, especially the men for whom this was a new experience.'" The American concluded, "Lt. Pape and his men saved the people of Illinois the cost of two trials."
Pape died in 2000 at 91. Both the Tribune and the Sun-Times called him "Chicago's toughest cop." According to the Sun-Times obituary, Pape "sent 300 men to prison, five to the electric chair and engaged in more than a dozen gun battles, surviving without a scratch while sending nine suspects to their graves." Pape had never fired his gun in the line of duty until his partner, Morris Friedman, was gunned down. After that, he "carved for himself a reputation for fearlessness if not ruthlessness, sometimes going after criminals with a Thompson submachine gun. 'My attitude was: If you shoot at me, I'm going to kill you if I can,' Pape said years later. 'Of the nine people I shot, every one of them had a gun and in every instance they had used it or were about to use it. I wouldn't take them into custody and I don't give a damn who criticized me for it.'"
One of his critics was police superintendent O.W. Wilson, the University of California criminology professor brought in to clean up the department. Pape took a leave of absence to oversee security at Arlington Park Racetrack and returned to the force in 1965.
When he retired in 1972, Pape was head of Area 5 Traffic. "Pape's tenure with the department included the end of one era in policing and the birth of another," the Tribune said. "He was hired by a department when cops wore fedoras and natty suits and carried tommy guns on raids. But in 1963, a jury forced him to pay an $8,000 judgement for violating the civil rights of a murder suspect." In 1994 Pape said he'd never become a cop today--"the methods had changed so much."
They don't make cops like Frank Pape anymore. At least I don't think so. There's no way of knowing for sure. Nowadays the police department refuses to release the names of officers involved in shootings. For all we know there might be one or two cops with just as many notches on their guns as Pape. We probably would have heard if they were using machine guns.
Back in 1954 Pape and his men posed for photos with their victims dead at their feet. Neighborhood children looked on. I wasn’t yet five and wasn’t a witness to the shooting or the photo session that followed. Neither was my brother Vince who was seven. But more than fifty-seven years later he still remembers coming home from school that day, and the blood running in the gutter in the alley behind Mars Oldsmobile. "They didn't just shoot them," he recalls. "They cut them to pieces. Even after they took the bodies away, there were still big chunks of flesh lying there."

Keep up with Jack at his website, and if you visit Chicago, for heaven's sake tip your cabbie.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

BrOmance Some Notes

So I'm checking out Robert Ward's Red Baker and reading the new introduction written by Daniel Woodrell and come across this gem:

"All a bereft and humiliated man has left is the capacity for violence (that's why violence is so abhorred and heavily punished - if social inequities came to be adjusted through violence, the lower classes might somehow win a few rounds, and no elite class or people rig the rules of society to encourage the defeat of themselves)..."


Meanwhile Sean Doolittle's Lake Country is just fucking me up and I think I can put my finger on what exactly I respond to so heartily in Sean's writing - I have never questioned the motivation of his characters. Not one of them. I've never sat back and said, 'wait a minute here, that reaction seems awfully out of proportion'. Do I agree with their actions? Of course not - a lot of the time - but they come from such an emotionally honest place that their responses to circumstance spring so organically from character that the stakes are high though the scale is relatively small (no conspiracies that go all the way up in these books, kids). I'm hoping I get a similar reaction to Joy Castro's new one Hell or High Water, and I've got a sneaking suspicion that I will. Plan on er, diving in over the weekend.

Finally saw Savages last night. Good damn movie. Till the last five minutes anyhow. But hey, getting to them is well worth it. Easily my favorite Oliver Stone movie in a long ass time. Also heard tons of shit about new Don Winslow film projects including California Fire & Life. Also, sounds like Leonardo DiCaprio's option on Satori is alive and kicking - it'd been a long time and I figured it had fallen apart the way Michael Mann's Winter of Frankie Machine project seemed to. Sounds like Winslow's co-written an original script with Chuck Hogan too - and that's alright with me.

Earlier in the week, at Ransom Notes, I was talking Thai (Bangkok mostly) crime books on the occasion of the latest Poke Rafferty title The Fear Artist by Tim Hallinan. And today at Ransom Notes I'm asking for your favorite current book to television adaptations after hearing the good news out of Michael Connelly land that Harry Bosch may soon have his very own boob tube address. Frankly, I think long-form television is the right place for Bosch. Of course any number of things can go wrong with adaptations, but so many things can go right in this medium too.

I just read Sebastian Junger's A Death in Belmont about a murder that took place in his neighborhood in the early 60s and his family's connection to Albert Desalvo - the man who confessed to being The Boston Strangler (though it was never conclusively proven that he was), and the whole time, I'm thinking - this is basically a book-length version of what I'd like the CriMemoir series to be. What's that? You have no idea what I mean when I say CriMemoir? Stay tuned.

Lastly: head on over to the OOTG online for a taste of St. Louis. Local writer Jack Ryan's story The Break-In shows some nice ways with prose, and crime fiction world, I want you to cinch your drawers for another St. Louis writer coming your way soon - I'm reading stories by Umar Lee right now and I can't wait to be able to talk to the rest of you about that shit.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Thanks For All The Fish

I had the pleasure of sharing print space with Mike Sheeter a few times and always dug his stories. Always. His was a name I started noticing popping up alongside my own in multiple publications. A couple years ago, I wrote this piece about his stories and received an e-mail from him (our first communication of any sort) that kicked off a correspondence of great warmth, humor and enthusiasm tethered by intelligence (most of that on his end).

I never got to meet Mike, and I'm damn sorry about that. He died a few weeks ago and I heard about his passing last week while considering looking him up for a possible remedy of our face-to-face strangerhood on an upcoming trip I'm taking to Florida. The news of Mike's passing truly saddens me and I miss forever the drinks we promised to buy each other and I positively ache in the void that I was counting on his anecdotes to fill.

David Cranmer has re-published his story Preferred Customer over at Beat to a Pulp. If you've not read Mike's stories before - that's a good place to start.


Scott Phillips' Pocketful of Ginch blog has been especially busy lately with several Americana curiosities featured. However, it's this excerpt from an upcoming book The Conundrum Enigma by Troy Cutcross that snagged my eye most memorably. In other Phillips news, I'm excited to hear that a paperback edition of his short story collection Rum, Sodomy & False Eyelashes is on its way. I will be placing one on my bookshelves.

N@B alum John Hornor Jacobs' latest, the badass zombie apocalypse novel This Dark Earth has been scorching the uh, earth for a week now and N@B superstar John Rector's brand new novella Lost Things went live today. In other N@B related news - Fred Venturini's The Samaritan is being represented by a brand new agent with an eye toward selling it to a larger press. It was originally published by St. Louis based Blank Slate Press - who are committed to promoting new, local and regional authors and helping them achieve the next rung on the ladder, so hey - congrats all around. Next up, Blank Slate will be publishing Kevin Lynn Helmick's Driving Alone.

In Ransom Notes updates, last week I tried to shine some light on the darkness Beyond the Black Rainbow that is living in the shadow of 2012 especially as evidenced in Ben H. Winters' haunting pre-apocalypse detective novel The Last Policeman. It's the first in a proposed trilogy and I'm hoping for really great things from the saga. Also in that piece I glanced at the trend of Kickstarter campaigns for books and films and the names lending tremendous legitimacy to self publishing - like Lawrence Block and Jack Clark (who has a handful of new titles available, yo. Did you dig Nobody's Angel half as much as I did? Then get the fuck his other books!)

I also made a list of some of my favorite returning GI's in crime fiction from the likes of Stephen Hunter, James Lee Burke, William Styron, Kent Anderson, George Pelecanos and Ace Atkins for the fourth of July.

And this morning at Ransom Notes, I've posted a brief Q&A with Jeff Abbott on the occasion of his latest book The Last Minute (which continues the trend of 2012 being the year of kidnapping books highlighting my reads after Mark Allen Smith, Ryan David Jahn, Wolf Haas and Sean Doolittle have been riveting in their own offerings). Quick story: Last year at Bouchercon I was approached by somebody who thought I was Jeff Abbott and wanted me to sign his book. I didn't want to disappoint the guy... I hope it made his day.

Tomorrow night - Wednesday - you've got a chance to see Paul von Stoetzel's adaptation of my story Viscosity on the big screen at the Tivoli theater at 9:30. It will be screened in the 'comedy' collection of short films in the St. Louis Film Maker's Showcase and Thursday night we'll find out if it will be playing the St. Louis International Festival in the fall. Have you not read Viscosity? Well, you can read it very soon in my very own collection of short stories A F*ckload of Shorts from Snubnose Press very soon.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Uncle Two-Below (Cold)

Brynn Alexander is a regular contributor to and today's guest contributor to the Narrative Music series. Who'd have guessed that the first performers to receive a second nod in this series would be The Mamas & the Papas? Remember Peter Dragovich's piece? Well, don't get too comfortable, Brynn's contribution only starts with John Phillips. I'll say no more. Take it away Ms. Alexander:

Me & My Uncle

A lot of great things can happen when your drinking sessions involve people like Neil Young and Stephen Stills. For John Phillips, of The Mamas & the Papas fame, one such session in 1963 yielded an epic narrative song that Phillips claims not to remember writing. "Me and My Uncle" initially became a hit for Judy Collins, who was also there on that fateful evening and managed to snag a cassette tape that had been running during the infamous "tequila night." She recorded the song without John's knowledge, and turned it into a minor hit. Joni Mitchell, John Denver, and Dino Valenti also tried their hand at interpreting the song, but it wasn't until The Grateful Dead started performing it at their live shows that the song really found its wings. Phillips initial lyrics were somewhat less racy than the ones the Dead favored. The light rewrite of the words, and especially the last line, turns the end-of-song zinger into a bomb rather than a mere delivery.

Me and my uncle went riding down
South Colorado, west Texas bound
We stopped over in Santa Fe
That being the point just about halfway
And you know it was the hottest part of the day
I took the horses up to the stall
Went to the barroom, ordered drinks for all
Three days in the saddle, you know my body hurt
It being summer, I took off my shirt
And I tried to wash off some of that dusty dirt

So far, so good. A typical day in the life of a couple of traveling cattle drivers.

West Texas cowboys, they's all around
With liquor and money, the loaded down
So soon after payday, know it seemed a shame
You know my uncle, he starts a friendly game
High-low jack and the winner take the hand

Uh-oh. Trouble's a-brewing, you can just feel it.

My uncle starts winning; cowboys got sore
One of the m called him, and then two more
Accused him of cheating - oh no, it couldn't be
I know my uncle, he's as honest as me
And I'm as honest as a Denver man can be.

It has been suggested to me that, given where this story is heading, the "honest as a Denver man can be" line may have been a deliberate dig at the integrity of the fine residents of the capital of Colorado. Seeing as I have no experience dealing with late 19th-centuray Denverites, I'll leave it to the reader to speculate.

One of the cowboys, he starts to draw
And I shot him down, lord, he never saw
Shot me another, oh damn he won't grow old
In the confusion, my uncle grabbed the god
And we high-tailed it down to Mexico.

Well, that escalated quickly. In the space of two stanzas we went from friendly card game to double homicide and grand larceyny. But hey, an impromptu vacation in Mexico has got to beat cattle-rustling any day of the week, right?

Well, unless you happen to be the uncle in this song:

I love those cowboys, I live their gold
I loved my uncle, God rest his soul
Taught me good, lord, taught me all I know
Taught me so well, I grabbed that gold...

Oh no, he didn't - did he?

And I left his dead ass there by the side of the road.

Sweet. This may be the best single-line twist ending ever written.

I was never what you call a Deadhead, but this song was the one that convinced me to give the band a chance. I love the Phillips narrative, but even more than that, I adore the Grateful Dead's interpretation. It has a fire to it that Joni Mitchell's version (for example) lacks, and I even prefer it to Judy Collins' original recording. Some may disagree, but you decide for yourself - there are several versions on YouTube to chose from including the version in question from The Grateful Dead.

Brynn enjoys all this music and entertainment. Find her writing for or singing along loudly to her favorite bands.