Monday, January 15, 2018

LYNCHED by Ed Gorman


Ed Gorman wrote no fewer than 10 western novels for Berkley between 1999 and 2006. The earlier titles tended to be branded with a single word—Lawless, Vendetta, Relentless, Lynched—and like all of Mr. Gorman’s westerns, each is as much a mystery as a western. I recently read his novel Lynched, originally published by Berkley in 2003, and annoyingly out-of-print..
Ben Tully is a quiet working class marshal in a small, unnamed, frontier town. The new century is approaching, and the world is changing. The business of law is moving from the end of a gun to a more scientific approach. Fingerprints are a big deal in the trade magazines (even if the courts don’t approve), as is reading a crime scene for evidence. But the future is far away when Tully finds his town dark and quiet, his office a shambles—the night deputy beaten and unconscious—and a man swaying, dead, at the end of a rope behind the jail.
The town has a secret. Everyone knows who hanged the man, and why. The woman he killed was Marshal Tully’s sweet young wife. The evidence was clear—he was covered with blood, and in his pockets were a few items from Tully’s house. Open and shut, but Tully doesn’t trust the mob verdict, and when the dead man’s sister came to town crying his innocence she found an unlikely ally.
Lynched is a melancholy crime novel wrapped and delivered as a western. The prose is lean and smooth; something close to hardboiled, but not quite. It is sharp with working class pain and a palpable angst—
There was a cold amusement—an arrogance—in the man’s voice that Tully didn’t like. A superiority. Tully wasn’t educated, rich, or fashionable. He wasn’t particularly intelligent, virtuous, or cunning. When people talked down to him, the way this man did, he secretly felt he deserved it.
It is cast with a litany of scoundrels and saints, and it is often difficult to tell one from the other. There is a wandering con man, cum actor, a self-absorbed, and somewhat delusional, boarding house mother, a beautiful and shy young woman, a saloon and casino keeper, and Tully. And the town, and everyone has their own agenda. The mystery is sharp and plotted with a sure hand. There is more than one red herring, and I didn’t guess the ending until the final pages.
Lynched is a winner. It is entertaining, and, in its small and quiet moments, thought provoking.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

An interiew at Bish's Beat

It’s been an interview kind of week. I interviewed Brent Towns—see the prior post—and now I’m interviewed at Paul Bishop’s website, Bish’s Beat. If you’re interested, check it out

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Interview: Brent Towns


Brent Towns is a writer on the move. Over the past few years he has hit the Western genre with a vengeance and published more than 20 novels under his own name and various pseudonyms, including B. S. Dunn, Sam Clancy and Jake Henry. He has co-written, with Ben Bridges, two novels featuring Lew Eden, as well as continued Ben Bridges’ cavalry series Company ‘C’. His work, to date, has been high quality, action-centered Westerns, which have been lauded by readers worldwide as “fast paced,” “entertaining,” and “adrenaline rush” inducing. 
Brent makes his home down under, in Australia, where he lives with his wife and son and is relentlessly punching the keys for another solid story towards those two wondrous words—“the end”. While Brent has yet to crack the American market, his time will come, and sooner rather than later, and once he does his name will be everywhere.
Brent was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions. The questions are italicized and so much less important than the answers. 
What’s your latest novel? 
I have two, actually. Drifter #5 Longhorns and Blood and a Black Horse Western titled The Man Who Burned Hell! 
The first book is published by Piccadilly Publishing in the U.K. and follows the adventures of my serial character Jeff Savage after he comes home from the Civil War. 
The second book is published by The Crowood Press, also in the U.K. This story contains a recurring character named Josh Ford, a no-nonsense Deputy U.S. Marshal who is sent to a town called Paradise with the sole purpose of bringing to an end the reign of terror by a man known as “The Devil”.
[Editor’s note. Drifter #5 Longhorns and Blood is published as by Jake Henry, and The Man Who Burned Hell! is published as by Sam Clancy. Both are available as ebooks in the United States.]

Without breaking any of your personal taboos, would you give us an idea of what you’re working on now?
I’m actually working on three stories at the moment. One is a novelization of a movie manuscript titled Bill Tilghman and the Outlaws. The movie is set to be finished sometime this year and the script was written by Dan Searles.
The second is book 2 in the Lew Eden series. I’m collaborating with well-known western author Ben Bridges on this one. Which is a great experience for me, having grown up reading many of his books. 
This story surrounds the battle on the Little Bighorn which was quite fun to research with all of the varying viewpoints. I know some people will disagree with me but I found Nathaniel Philbrick’s The Last Stand to be a great read and valuable source of information.
The third is a modern-day story titled Retribution. It is a genre I’ve never written before and is one of my challenges for 2018.
How is it different working on a novelization, based on a screenplay, than it is developing your own novel?
Working on a novelization is a great experience. For starters the path is all planned out, so you don’t have to do too much on that side. The characters are already there so you just have to bring them to life. One thing I was told before I did my first was that the reader doesn’t want to see a carbon copy of the movie. Make the story your own. Subtle changes here and there can help with that.
I’ve written two now. The first seemed easy enough so I didn’t hesitate when asked to do the second. Bill Tilghman, however, threw me up a different set of challenges which required various communications with the screenwriter. A nice bloke by the way. Always ready to answer any questions that I had.
Now that I’ve finished the first draft, we'll see how it has turned out.
What was your first published novel? 
My first “accepted” book by a mainstream publisher was called Fury at Bent Fork. It was accepted by Robert Hale in the U.K. not long after I self-published my first written book. (Interestingly enough I consider this book to be NOT my best work and yet is has more great reviews than the others)  
The feeling you get when you finally get the acceptance notification still feels as great today as it did the first time. 
I’ve been lucky in my writing journey to have had minimal rejections so far. But with a new year comes new challenges and in 2018 I’m targeting a new genre with the U.S. market in mind. Who knows, it could be the year of the rejection. But if you don’t try, what’s the point?
[Editor’s note. Fury at Bent Fork is published as by B. S. Dunn, available as an ebook in the United States.]  

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I guess I’ve always wanted to write, even as a child. However, I figure the time wasn’t right back then and life had other journeys set out for me. But in 2015 everything aligned, and it has been all go since then. 
How do you go about writing?
I write when I can. Depends on what the days throw at me but most of it is done at night after everyone is in bed.
I like to plan most things with my writing, I have a cupboard full of scribble books with ideas and plot plans. However, these are mostly a guide. A lot of the time I get about halfway through and the stories take on a life of their own and the plan has gone out the window.
Do you have any specific pleasures, or displeasures, that come from writing? 
Pleasures? Hmm. I guess the greatest pleasure is the sense of achievement once the manuscript is complete. Nothing like those two little words at the end of a story.
Displeasures? The middle of the book. I usually start off in a blaze of glory and fly through the first third. Get to the middle and it seems to drag. Hard work is that part. Then after you chop through it, the final part seems to rocket along again. 
I don’t mind going through edits when I get them. After all, they are designed to make your book better. The proofs, however, I could do without. I’d rather be writing than reading those.
Readers? Readers are great. Fantastic. Without them I’d be out of a … I hesitate to call it a job. Thank you to all those who do purchase my books.
Are there any writers that inspired—or continue to inspire—your own writing?
Let’s just say over the years I’ve read a lot of great authors and often I’ve finished a book and thought “I wish I could write like that”. Now, I may not be able to write like them, but I’m living the dream. 
If you could write anything, without commercial considerations, what would it be? 
I would like to try my hand at a Gunsmoke western. I read a few of Joe West’s a long time back and really enjoyed them. Then there are the select few who write for the Johnstone brand, that would be cool. 
I think being a western author who lives in Australia makes it harder to break into the American publishing scene. But, along with the modern-day story, my other goal for this year is to write a western big enough, and GOOD enough for a mainstream U.S. publishing house to consider.  
Last year I also wrote my first Commando script. That was fantastic. I’d like to do more of those too.
[Editor’s note. Commando Comics is a U.K. based comic book publisher featuring action centered war stories.]
If you were stranded on an island and you had only one book, what would it be?
Love this question. For the first part of my life, and a large chunk of my teenage years, I lived on an island. (at that stage home to roughly 2,000 people) Admittedly you could fly on and off, but we were pretty isolated in the middle of a zone known as the Roaring Forties.
In my room I had a bookcase loaded with over 400 westerns. If that’s stranded, I’ll take it.
What was the name of the island where you lived?
The island I lived on was called King Island. Pop: around 2,000 at the time. I worked in the Seaweed factory there and also the local meatworks. Great fishing, dairy products are world famous along with their beef.
Great place to bring up kids until they’re ready to fly the nest.
If you were allowed only to recommend one of your own novels, or stories, which one would you want people to read?
I’m kind of partial to one of my latest works called, The Man Who Burned Hell! from Crowood.

They have a great line of westerns which they publish, 6-8 every month. Being a U.K. company, I don’t think they get the recognition they deserve.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Gulf Stream"

Gulf Stream, by Cherokee Paul McDonald, was published as a paperback original by Popular Library in August 1988, which is the very edition that caught my eye. The cover art is wonderfully 1980s with vibrant pastels, pinks, greens and blues adding to a very Miami Vice feel. The artist: Ken Joudry.















The opening paragraph:
It was the face of the small boy that stayed with him.

Friday, December 22, 2017

WHEN OLD MEN DIE by Bill Crider

Bill Crider is best known for his Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery novels, but his work is not limited to any one genre or style. His Dan Rhodes mysteries are a mixture of hardboiled and whodunit with a touch of humor to keep it fresh. Mr. Crider also wrote a series of novels featuring part-time and usually unwilling private investigator Truman Smith. 

The third Truman Smith novel, When Old Men Die, finds Truman putting the disappearance and murder of his sister behind him. He has a steady job with a bail bondsman in Galveston, Texas, and as the novel opens he is approached by Dino, one of his oldest pals, to find a homeless man called Outside Harry.

Outside Harry is a fixture around town. One of a group of homeless that are there, but rarely seen and Truman is a little dubious of the whole setup. He can’t figure why Dino wants to find Outside Harry and Dino’s explanation that Harry was his friend doesn’t wash. But Smith owes Dino and he commits to look for Harry over the weekend. It takes only a few hours for Truman to find trouble followed by more trouble, until he has to either solve the case or get out of Galveston.

When Old Men Die is an entertaining story with all of Bill Crider’s trademarks—the mystery is tightly and superbly plotted, the characters are eccentric with muddy motives, and the humor is good natured and funny. The style and theme, or maybe the attitude, is more hardboiled than much of Mr. Crider’s current writing, but it works and works well. The setting is pitch-perfect. Galveston is described, both past and present, with nuanced detail by a writer who obviously knows and likes the city. The prose is lucid and smooth with enough bite to make it interesting:
There were three quick shots, two of them scoring the floor; the third one glanced of the flashlight and sent it spinning crazily.
One of my favorite details of the Truman Smith novels is his cat Nameless.  A name, or lack thereof, that is conspicuously similar to Bill Pronzini’s long running Nameless Detective series.  The best part, Nameless is a cat in every detail:
He’s big and yellowish orange, with gray-green eyes.  He took his time about entering.  He looked up at me as if to ask where I’d been all evening, then stretched and gawked and looked behind him before stepping daintily through the door.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

2017: The Year in Reading

2017 has been a great year for reading. I finished 54 titles, which is two short of last year’s mark and six shy of 2015’s. The majority of the titles were fiction and my nonfiction reading tumbled to a scant few books. 

I started 2017 with a single goal:
Read more non-fiction!
And failed miserably, and that same goal will be pushed forward into 2018.
My fiction reading is littered with the old and familiar. If there is an author in general, or a novel or story in particular, I like, I will read it over and over. While 2017’s reading was dominated by my obligations to Mystery Scene Magazine, I was still able to read some old favorites. I read four novels by Stephen Mertz, including his two latest titles Jimi After Dark and The Moses Deception and four novels by Australian author Garry Disher, all in his Hal Challis and Ellen Destry police procedural series. I re-read Don Pendleton’s Copp on Ice, Jack M. Bickham’s Dropshot (my sixth or seventh reading of this title), and Harrison Arnston’s The Third Illusion.
But I also read a bunch of authors new to me—21 in total—including impressive works by Jordan Harper (She Rides Shotgun), Nicole Lundrigan (The Substitute), Zane Lovitt (Black Teeth), Con Lehane (Murder in the Manuscript Room), and Stephen Gallagher (The Authentic William James).
And my reading list in 2017 featured a few favorites, which I whittled (with some difficulty) down to five titles. With that said, my five favorite fiction titles that I read in 2017 are:
5. The Big Book of Rogues and Villains, edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime, 2017), is an anthology featuring 73 stories with either a rogue or a villain as its protagonist. The stories included were written from the Victorian Age to modern times. And every story is perfectly suited for its inclusion. My favorite is Bruno Fischer’s dark masterpiece, “We Are All Dead”. Read the Mystery Scene review.
4. The Authentic William James, by Stephen Gallagher (Brooligan Press, 2017), is a historical crime novel with an honest, ethical, and compassionate detective—Sebastian Becker, Special Investigator to the Lord Chancellor’s Visitor in Lunacy—at its center. The story moves from London to Philadelphia to Hollywood, but no matter where the action takes place it is well written, well researched, and very entertaining.
3. Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales, by P. D. James (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017), is a collection of previously uncollected stories. The stories have a different theme than much of James’ work since the focus tends to be on crimes that are executed so perfectly that they are never solved and every tale is worth reading. Read the Mystery Scene review.
2. She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper (Ecco, 2017), is a nourish masterpiece—ish, because there is a slender line of hope and redemption throughout—featuring a young girl, her fear, a teddy-bear, her convict father, and a drug gang on a path to both destruction and redemption. Read the Mystery Scene review.
1. Chain of Evidence, by Garry Disher (Soho Crime, 2008), is the fourth in his Hal Challis and Ellen Destry police procedural series set in the rural Mornington Peninsula southeast of Melbourne, Australia. Its theme is difficult, the abuse of children, but its execution is so precise, without ever falling into the salacious, that I didn’t want the last page to arrive. Read the Gravetapping review.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A MAMMOTH MURDER by Bill Crider


Bud Turley, called Bud Squirrelly by those who thought he had a lot of peculiar ideas, put the gigantic tooth down on Sheriff Dan Rhodes’s desk and said, ‘I want you to take custody of this tooth, Sheriff’
With that opening, the very essence of both A Mammoth Murder and Bill Crider’s character Sheriff Dan Rhodes is laid bare: humorous, witty and entertaining. A Mammoth Murder was originally published in 2006 by St. Martin’s Press, and it is the 13th mystery to feature Blacklin County Sheriff Dan Rhodes.
Bud Turley found the tooth in Blacklin County’s version of the Bermuda Triangle. A patch of dark timbered country called “Big Woods,” which is home to a mean-spirited pack of wild hogs, rattle snakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, and rumors of Bigfoot. Turley is certain the tooth he found belongs to the latter and he wants Sheriff Rhodes to protect it until an expert—a local community college teacher—can look at it the next day.
A report of a dead body in Big Woods interrupts Rhodes’s enjoyment of the tooth. The dead man is Bud Turley’s best (and only) friend Larry Colley whose body is discovered alarmingly close to where Bigfoot’s tooth was found. The death toll rises when an elderly shopkeeper is found dead in her store. Rhodes is certain the murders are connected, but he is continually bothered by a feeling of missing something both important and obvious.
A Mammoth Murder is a charming, sly, and entertaining novel. The mystery is quirky and sincere. The dialogue is sharp and genuinely funny; most of it coming from the mouths of Rhodes’s dispatcher and jailer, Hack and Lawton. The two jab at each ferociously and enjoy, more than just a little, playing with Rhodes’s patience.
The story is bolstered by a colorful cast—Bigfoot hunters, amateur crime writers, a local newspaper reporter better at her job than Rhodes would like, and Rhodes’s wife Ivy, who put him on a low fat diet and knows nothing about his daily Blizzard from Dairy Queen. Not to mention Hack and Lawton.        
The mystery is great, too. There are enough red herrings to keep the reader interested, and just enough action to make it exciting. Even better, there is something of a cold case thrown in—a young boy was killed in Big Woods ten years earlier, and Sheriff Rhodes is certain it is connected with the two recent killings—and the resolution is very satisfying.