Thursday, October 20, 2016

Shadow Man: Dashiell Hammett, his granddaughter, and me

"Shadow Man" by Peter Rozovsky
for Detectives Beyond Borders
Shadow Man is the title both of Richard Layman's 1981 biography of Dashiell Hammett and of the self-portrait at left, which I shot last night.

Today I had lunch with Hammett's granddaughter and editor Julie M. Rivett, who is visiting my part of the world to talk to high school students and other groups about Hammett and The Maltese Falcon.

Richard Layman, Julie M.
Rivett. Photo by your humble
Rivett, who joined Layman in a discussion I moderated at Bouchercon 2015,  talked Hammett, and we discussed one of last year's best non-fiction crime books, Nathan Ward's The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett.  I was also tickled to learn that Rivett is a big fan of James Lee Burke, whom I've begun to read as part of my recent but abiding love affair with New Orleans. We talked at some length about Burke and his writing, which Rivett knows a lot better than I do. The woman has good taste in crime writers, whether she is their lineal descendant or not.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

David Goodis: Best bar scene bar none? plus Noircon 2016!

If you're like me, your crime fiction reading has likely included a scene or two set in a bar. But has anyone ever written bar action as surprising and as funny (and that in the midst of a decidedly downbeat story) as this, from David Goodis' 1961 novel Night Squad:
"As Nellie collided with the falling chair, Carp started a circular route that took him swiftly in the direction of the bar., Knowing what was coming, the regulars at the bar reached quickly for their shot glasses and grimly held on. Others weren't quick enough. As Carp flashed past the bar, his arms functioned with the speed of a piston. Before he reached the far end of the bar, he'd snatched and downed a double rye and a single of California brandy. Then he headed for the front door and scampered out."
Speaking of Goodis, next week is time once again for Noircon, the best little biennial crime fiction convention in Philadelphia or anywhere else. See you there. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Charles G. Booth: What do you know about him?

Charles G. Booth is largely unread today, according to The Black Lizard Big of Pulps, where I have just read his story "Stag Party." Even the Thrilling Detective Web Site, my first source for posts like this.

That's all too bad, because "Stag Party"'s stripped-down toughness reminds me a bit of Paul Cain, the greatest of the hard-boiled writers who followed Dashiell Hammett at Black Mask, and one of the very few, perhaps the only one, whose writing qualifies as noir.

"Stag Party"  doesn't dig as deeply into the doom and resignation that make noir what it is, and its plotting is weaker, but it does contain such Cain-worthy bits as:
"I've been in pictures.' Her voice was husky. `That's where you've seen me.' 

"`No, it isn't,' McFee said. `Sit down.'"
"Cruikshank was careless with his eggs."
Booth also worked bits of social-realist type description into the story a good deal less obtrusively and to better narrative purpose than is often the case with such writing, and his bitter cops sound a good deal more like real people than such characters often do. So maybe Booth has a touch of Horace McCoy in him, too.

"Stag Party" has its protagonist, McFee of the Blue Shield Detective Agency, address one female character continually as "sister," and the story repeatedly mentions another by her last name only.  Each is reminiscent of Cain's referring to the protagonist's girlfriend in Fast One most often solely by her last name: Granquist.

Here's the most thorough discussion I've been able to find of Booth, on the Bear Alley blog. All right, readers: What should I know about Charles G. Booth? What should I read by him?

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Saturday, October 08, 2016

Bouchercon / (Me)con: Photos of me at Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans

My excellent panel called "Hank to Hendrix. Beyond Hammett 
and Chandler: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback
Original  Eras." From left: me, Martin Edwards, Gary Phillips,
Eric Beetner, Rick Ollerman. Thanks, guys.
In the French Quarter
Here's evidence that I did more than just take pictures of other people at Bouchercon; some of them took pictures of me, too. Thanks to Linda L. Richards, Ali Karim, Mike Stotter, Suzanne Solomon, Terrence McCauley, M'lou Greene, Nanci Kalanta, John Thomas Bychowski, and the waiters, waitresses, and passers-by of New Orleans who let themselves be wheedled into taking pictures with me in them.
Me and the Man on Canal Street

With Nanci Kalanta over breakfast at the Ruby
Slipper Cafe, Magazine Street, New Orleans
Lobby bar at the New Orleans Marriott, where the
staff and service were superb, and the elevators had
minds of their own.
Breakfast at the Ruby Slipper. Counterclockwise
from left: Daniel Palmer, Ali Karim, me, Mike Stotter,
J. Kingston Pierce, Joe Finder, Stuart Neville, Steve
Mike Stotter, Allison Leotta, me, and, in the
background, Tom Pitts, at Laura Lippman's house
If you don't know who this is by now, you haven't
been paying attention.
Hanging out before I checked in with, from left, Ali
Karim, Martin Edwards, Jacques Filippi, Mike
With Ali Karim, Mike Stotter, J. Kingston Pierce, and
Keith Raffel after our visit to the National World War
II Museum in New Orleans
Moderating the "Hank to Hendrix" panel, whose
members included Martin Edwards (right) discussing
Michael Gilbert
With J. Kingston Pierce, Ali Karim, and Nanci
Kalanta at the convention hotel
Doing my photo thing, fifth row, right
side, with my leg sticking into the
With J. Kingston "Jeff" Pierce, J.D. Allen. Mike
Stotter at the Shamus Awards dinner
Being checked for a pulse at the
convention hotel. That's what
happens at Bouchercons
© Peter Rozovsky 2016


Why you should read John Rector

John Rector, Voodoo Lounge,
New Orleans, September 2016.

 Photo by Peter Rozovsky
John's Rector 's 2015 novel Ruthless is a terrific noirish, wrong-man-in-the-wrong-place story, perhaps a bit more emotionally pitched and certainly elegantly written than most. Things get especially interesting when the third circle of hell into which the protagonist plunges threatens to veer off into another genre entirely. But Rector, in supreme control of his storytelling at all times, makes it work.

That paragraph is deliberately vague in order to avoid giving anything away. Suffice it to say that if the main storyline is reminiscent of Charles Williams, the surprising turn may put readers in mind of Alan Glynn. That's a high compliment to Rector on both counts.
John Rector first jumped onto my radar screen in a big way a couple of weeks ago when he read his story "In the Kitchen With Rachel Ray" at Jay Stringer's Noir at the Bar in New Orleans. The story is not only jam-packed with hilarious surprises, but rendered with fine control, and the author read it well. You should hear him read if you have the chance.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Thursday, October 06, 2016

Farewells to New Orleans

Bayou country, Louisiana. Photos by Peter
Rozovsky for Detectives Beyond Borders
The last chapter (not counting an epilogue) of James Lee Burke's Neon Rain has Dave Robicheaux begin the novel's climactic, redemptive final confrontation with a ride along the St. Charles Streetcar Line through New Orleans' Garden District. And then he leaves the city.

St. Charles Streetcar Line, New Orleans
Which gave me a start because after the carousing of Bouchercon, after we'd left the alligators behind and some of my friends were safely home and others headed for the airport, I carried my memories of New Orleans with me on a ride along the St. Charles Streetcar Line through the Garden District. And then I left the city.

Burke ended his book the way I ended my visit, that is, which was a bit of an emotional punch. If you think this is just an excuse to talk about my time in Louisiana, you're right. And now, here's today's favorite Cajun music discovery: the Lost Bayou Ramblers doing a song you might recognize called "Ma Génération."

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Monday, October 03, 2016

James Lee Burke's two halves of the French Quarter

I'm enjoying James Lee Burke's first Dave Robicheaux novel, The Neon Rain, set back when Robicheaux was still a New Orleans police lieutenant.

Here are two of the things I've liked:
  1. The scene in which Robicheaux finds himself drinking with a troupe of circus performers whose transportation has broken down. They have no idea that they're hilarious, but you will.
  2. That Robicheaux seems like he'll be a more believable iteration of the recovering alcoholic cop who falls back off the wagon than are most examples of the type.
St. Louis Cathedral. Photo by Peter
Rozovsky/Detectives Beyond Borders
I especially like Burke's portrayal of New Orleans. He presents a gritty French Quarter populated by hustlers, transvestites, and other rough characters, which he contrasts with inhabitants of a gentrifying Jackson Square. He also takes a shot at fancified fake country bands playing in the street, and he makes sure the reader knows that the Garden District is where the better-off people live.

But Burke also makes certain to have Robicheaux talk about Café du Monde and look out at St. Louis Cathedral. He wanted to rip the veil of the gauzy, gaudy surface of the city, but also to give the punters (like me) what they want; I bought the book as part of my post-Bouchercon hangover, and I'm glad I did.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Bouchercon 2016: A break from Beef Wellington

Bouchercon is about socializing, too, a rare chance for writers and other bookish sorts to get together and talk about something other than recipes for Beef Wellington, as Ali Karim likes to put it.

And we don't talk just about books. One day over lunch at Mena's Palace, just around the corner from the convention hotel on Canal Street in New Orleans, for example, I talked Quebec politics and history with a tableful of people that included my Montreal homeboys John McFetridge and Jacques Filippi.

Jacques Filippi and palm trees on Canal Street.
Photos by Peter Rozovsky
John McFetridge
Jacques doesn't post on Facebook much (What does that man do with his life?), but John, like Benjamin Whitmer and Benoit Lelievre (yet another Montrealer), is one of the sanest, smartest, most articulate people on social media. Quite apart from the perspective afforded by time and by our somewhat different backgrounds, the discussion of René Lévesque's legacy was an invigorating break from the social, political, and professional Beef Wellington of everyday life.

Christa Faust
Over on the book side, a lot of neo-noir writers seem to think meth, violence, and trailer parks are enough for a good story. This decidedly does not apply to Christa Faust, John Rector, Martyn Waites, Johnny Shaw, and some of the other folks who read at Wednesday's pre-Bouchercon Noir at the Bar. That lot has big heart, big laughs, or both. And they all have big chops. The atmospheric Voodoo Lounge on Rampart Street was a fine venue for the best Noir at the Bar I've attended since I created Noir at the Bar eight years ago.

A girl playing guitar in Chris Acker
and the Growing Boys.
And the music in New Orleans! I attended no shows, but I heard more good live music in more varieties in one night just walking down the street in some delightful company and looking in at bars for a gin and tonic than I'll hear in a year where I am now. Suffice it to say that having heard a sidewalk full of people, including an 89-year-old woman, sing "Your Cheatin' Heart" along with Chris Acker and the Growing Boys, I now understand the appeal of Hank Williams much better than I used to.

But nothing beats Cajun music, which can incorporate country and blues. Nothing I've heard so abounds with joy even if one does not understand the French lyrics. This music can express joy and yearning at the same time, and that's even before the singing starts. It's one of the most beautiful things I've experienced in my life

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Bouchercon 2016, the books: "This is a job for the meat wagon, Ed," a look at Frank Kane

Two members of my council of experts on vintage paperbacks at Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans said Frank Kane tended to repeat passages whole from book to book. I haven't read enough Kane to judge his book-to-book repetition, but his 1951 novel Bullet Proof, another of the vintage paperbacks I bought at Mystery Mike's table in the book room, contains loads of repetition all by itself. The protagonist or his friends and adversaries "scowled" on Pages 72, 83, 87, 91, 103, 108, 111, 140, 154, and 176, for example.

Characters groan on pages 86, 95, 108, 136, and 155, and when they're doing neither, they moan and grunt a lot. And that was before I started counting, around Page 72. It's a fair bet that P.I. Johnny Liddell; his gangster adversaries (several of whom Kane describes as "silky"); the cops with whom he scraps but ultimately grows to enjoy mutual respect; his feisty, beautiful reporter love interest; his curvaceous red-headed secretary; the oleaginous district attorney;  the victim; and others scowled more frequently than even I was able to detect.

Kane also  chooses an odd locution when his characters ask questions and repeats it throughout the novel: "`Where are you going?' Liddell wanted to know."  From book to book, from page to page, Kane apparently practiced extreme economy of thought; why come up with new words when old ones will do?  But you know what? Kane was fresh where it mattered. Squabbles between police and private investigators are one of the hoariest staples of P.I. novels, but Kane adds a vicious, funny swipe from a medical examiner aimed at the querulous cop over an autopsy table:
"Inspector Herlihy slammed his hat down on the table, ran his fingers through the thick mane of his hair. `How the hell can you tell it's a thirty-two until you get the damn bullet out?' he roared.
 "The medical examiner dropped his topcoat on the couch, took off his jacket, started to started to roll up his sleeves. `I can't, if you're going to get technical about it, inspector. Not any more than you can tell when you find a hole under your sink whether it was made by a mouse or an elephant.'"
And that's one reason Frank Kane is so much fun to read. (Read my discussion of Kane's novel Liz and why Kane was a better writer than Stieg Larsson.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bouchercon 2016, Part V: What do rachitic newts like? Plus even more pictures

Saint Louis Cathedral, New Orleans.
Photos by Peter Rozovsky
Here's another vintage paperback I bought at Bouchercon based on the say-so of one of my cabinet of vintage-paperback advisers, this time Rick Ollerman. The book is Date With Death, by Leslie Ford, Page One contains a passage one is not likely to read every day, not even in hard-boiled crime writing:
Lawrence Block

"Agatha was beautiful, but Agatha was a snob. Agatha laughed, but Agatha had the sense of humor of a rachitic newt."

Ato Onatade shocked by Jay Stringer
Craig Robertson
Martyn Waites
I can't imagine what sort of sense of humor a rachitic newt would have, but I like the passage.
Nanci Kalanta (Mountain Jane Laurel), Ali Karim

Steve Cavanaugh and his fellow night creatures
Russel McLean
Jeffrey Siger, Barry Lancet

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Bouchercon 2016, Part IV: Music on the streets and in the bars of New Orleans

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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