Thursday, March 30, 2006

Care for a little cheese?

Well, last Sunday was a pretty good day, overall.

Not only did I attend Lessercon (where I ran into Terrill Lee "Blonde Lightning" Lankford and DAPA-Em boss and uber-collector Art Scott) but I (just) made it to the Mystery Bookstore to catch Windy City mystery reviewer Dick "Call me Charlie" Adler and a bevy of crime-scribbling Angels expounding on the art of criticism. I'm not sure how Dick managed to surround himself with all those lovely and talented women (including Denise Hamilton, Jan Burke, Naomi Hirahara, Harley Jane Kozak, Rochelle Krich, Twist Phelan, and Patricia Smiley) but I didn't see him exactly complaining.

I spoke for a bit with Twist, the kamikaze mystery author, and she told me about some of her mishaps while conducting research for her now one, SPURRED AMBITION (check out the most recent MYSTERY SCENE). They involve rock climbing, "buildering," some suspicious cops and a lot of ropes and stuff... and that doesn't even include her latest escapade, she informed me, which evidently includes a dramatic rescue (televised) via helicopter.

No word yet on whether her insurance company is insisting her next novel focus on stamp-collecting...

I also finally met Diane Stewart, a close pal and fellow fan of crime writer John Shannon's Jack Liffey series, who gave me a tiny hint of what's to come in one of my favourite current private eye series. Colour me stoked...

And I managed to hook up (at Lessercon) with Jim Stephenson, one of the very first folks to ever contribute to the Thrilling Detective Web Site. Like me, Jim's a relatively recent Californian and our post-bookcrawl meal was a real treat as we (and Jim's buddyl Dave) compared notes on this strange land and the even stranger land of the WWW.

We also compared and showed off some of our new treasures: Jim and Dave had scored several vinyl LPs (Dave nabbed a great LP -- Johnny Cash's hard-to-find album of novelty songs, complete with cover art by MAD magazine legend Jack Davis).

My haul included a handful of reasonably priced crime digests (a Manhunt plus a couple of Manhunt wannabes, all with some pretty decent authors) and a few paperbacks from the late fifties/early sixties, which brings me to my first real find of Sunday, a nice copy of the 1960 PBO JOHNNY HAVOC by John Jakes, a well-regarded series I've been curious about for years.

JOHNNY HAVOC's main claim to fame is that he's short. In fact, at 5'1", he's got to be one of the shortest eyes around. But he sure doesn't let it get him down -- he's a tough, cocky, unlicensed P.I. ("I'm no eye. Merely an exponent of free enterprise.") who wears Brooks Brothers suits, a pork pie hat and one giant chip on his shoulder.

But his height isn't what makes him, as the cover blurb says, "the private eye -- with a difference."

No, it's the pint-size redhead's raging libido that lingers after reading one of his adventures. You see, Johnny's chief preoccupation in life seems to be satisfying his "one-eyed wonder worm" -- which, coincidentally, seems to do most of his thinking for him. No word yet on the height of that.

Anyway, as a result of his relentless and often reckless, Scotch-fueled pursuit of "dolls" (an amazing number of whom apparently find the little stud irresistable), Johnny is frequently in need of assistance, if not downright rescue. Fortunately, he can usually count on his good buddy Detective First Grade Fitzhugh Goodpasture.

As you may have guessed, these books are not to be taken too seriously. But they are worth checking out--they may be a little goofy, but Johnny's preoccupation with sex occasionally gets tiresome, but they're good quick reads, and plenty of fun, particularly if you've already gone through all the Shell Scotts.

Originally a series of PBOs put out by the relatively obscure Belmont press, Johnny finally got some hardcover respect in the early nineties when all four books in the series were reissued by The Armchair Detective Press, who at the time informed us that originally, author Jakes had envisioned Mickey Rooney as Johnny.

John Williams Jakes started out writing for the pulps in the early fifties, while still in college, but soon switched to writing longer works, eventually penning over a hundred sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, western and sports novels, but is probably best known for penning the tremendously successful American Bicentennial (ie. The Bastard, The Patriot,etc.) series..He also wrote three novels featuring William Ard's private eye Lou Largo after Ard had passed away.


Johnny Havoc (1960)
Johnny Havoc Meets Zelda (1962; AKA "Havoc for Sale")
Johnny Havoc and the Doll Who Had "It" (1963; AKA "Holiday for Havoc")
Making It Big (1968; AKA "Johnny Havoc and the Siren in Red" and "Havoc for Sale")

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Get Yer Motor Runnin', Head Out on the Highway...Road Trip!!!!

Big News! This Sunday I slip the surly bonds of gainful (well, almost) employment for a little motorvatin'...

I'll be up at dawn to drive from the wild, untamed cultural desert of Palmdale into civilization (if you can call Los Angeles civilized) for the 2006 "LESSERCON," the big paperback/pulp/digest/magazine show and sale organized every year by Tom Lesser.

As usual, it's in Mission Hills, at the Guest House Inn (which used to be called the Mission Hills Inn) at 10621 Sepulveda. There's plenty of authors and artists there as usual (Max Allan Collins and William F. Nolan seem to be regulars) and tons and tons of paperbacks and other goodies you didn't even know you absolutely needed, often at very affordable prices.

Anyway, it's like a year of prowling garage sales and flea markets for pulp treasure jammed into one day. And an an extra incentive, this year's show is dedicated to the memory of Kelly Freas & Dennis Lynds. (One of the highlights of my mystery life has to be the year Max introduced me to his pal Mickey... Spillane, that is.)

For more info go to

But that's not my entire day...

After that, I'm off to Westwood to crash the Mystery Bookstore around three, where Windy City mystery critic Dick Adler will be struttung his stuff, heading a panel on mystery criticism and signing copies of DREAMS OF JUSTICE, his new collection of essays and reviews which I've already raved about. Panellists include Jan Burke, Denise Hamilton, Naomi Hirahara, Harley Jane Kozak, Rochelle Krich, Twist Phelan, and Patricia Smiley, and there's a joke about pretty women and our man Dick in there that I won't even start to tell...

For more info on this one, head to

If you see me, feel free to say "Hi." I hardly ever bite anymore.

And maybe we can even find a pub or something in Westwood for a quickie, before I head back into the desert...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

This Blog Kills Fascists

What can I say? I finally got a copy of Billy Bragg's THE INTERNATIONALE EP on CD (as part of his new series of re-issued early albums, complete with tons of unreleased cuts and the like).

And guess what? Listening to those songs again, so passionate and powerful, so earnest and defiant, I'm left with only one conclusion, one that's probably no shock to anyone who's ever heard me rant. But it was the sort of cut-the-bullshit moment of self-realization that would land more pathetic types on Oprah.

This shocking conclusion?

I am a lefty. A friggin' liberal. Hopefully a common sense one, as far removed from the tree-hugging, tofu-sucking politically correct dorks that stereotype-loving conservatives like to poke fun at, but a liberal nonetheless -- pro-labour, pro-choice, pro-tolerance, pro-justice, pro-socialism. And as a fellow Montrealer once wrote, "I have no use for generals or their stinkin' torture states."

No beating around the bush, no apologies.

My CD pile contains not just Bragg, but Springsteen, Dylan, Earle, Emmylou, R.E.M., Cockburn, Bright Eyes and U2. And of course Woody Guthrie. And I play 'em all fucking loud.

My favourite writers include Steinbeck and Pelecanos and Phillips and Shannon and Lippman and Mosley and the late great Dennis Lynds. These folks write loud.

And the last DVD I rented from NetFlix? WOODY GUTHRIE: THIS GUITAR KILLS FASCISTS, a documentary narrated by Bragg himself (more on that tomorrow).

I thought maybe moving to the States, to one of the most conservative areas in SoCal, dominated at it is by Edwards Air Force Base, my political yearnings might have softened. But if anything, after living with these people up close, day in, day out, with their "churches" and guns and SUVs all spewing out their respective poisons, I think I'm even more of a lefty than ever. And I actually like many of these folks. Many of them are very nice people, and have absolutely no idea how vile and hateful and (dare I say it?) un-Christian some of the things they say -- or want their government to do for them -- are.

The fact some of these people also seem so afraid of people like me suggests just how precarious some of their beliefs actually are. The fact so many of them are turning their backs on things (wars, presidents, etc.) they so fervently believed only a few years ago is gratifying.

Although the idea that I almost got into a bar fight just months after I moved down here for the crime of being openly Canadian (evidently Fox"hole" O'Reilly was urging a boycott of Canada at the time) is rather worriesome. Sure, this jerk in the bar was just some drunk yahoo who'd had too many Bud Lights, but what if he sobered up and became president?

So, yeah, that's where I stand. You don't like it, well, urge your congressman to shut down the internet.

What has all this got to do with crime fiction? Not friggin' much, except that fellow Bragg fan and sometime fellow musical traveler (he's wrong about the Boss, though) and Thrilling Detective Web Site fave Ray Banks has a new book out, SATURDAY'S CHILD, featuring tearaway private eye Cal Innes.

It just slipped over the transom Saturday afternoon. Of course, I absolutely don't have time to read it, no, not at all, since my to be read-and-reviewed pile is now so friggin' high it could interfere with air traffic in the area and I'm far too busy to read something just for fun, nope, no way, but I figured a little peek wouldn't hurt, right?


The book kicks off with an assault by toilet and just gets better. And better.

Damn you, Ray -- there went my whole friggin' frickin' Saturday night!!!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Musically Speaking... (Jammin' with George P.)

Well, it's finally here, the long-anticipated (at least by me) musical team-up between perennial cult fave rocker/ex-Dream Syndicate axeman Steve Wynn and long-time fan, hard-boiled crimewriter George Pelecanos. The result, "Cindy, It Was Always You" is on Wynn's new album "Tick...Tick...Tick" and in a better world (one where rock radio still mattered), it would be blasting out of car stereos, transistors and blasters everywhere.

I expected the result would be a fix for their mutual Boss jones; a little self-indulgent release of their respective inner Springsteens. But this thumping, harmonica-honking ode to the blown chances that happen when you get lead around by your dick recalls nothing so much as the Stone's Midnight Rambler. It's also -- maybe, just maybe -- just as disturbing. Yeah, it's a man's man's man's world here, but is that all it is?

Pelecanos' lyrics, plus Wynn's squeezed out vocals, suggest that this ditty just might be about more than a simple frustrated drunken lout's lament after "one or two" -- the possibillty that the singer's actually stalking Cindy makes for a chilling prospect. Especially when he claims he's already "had" her best friend.

"Girl, you leave me haunted," the narrator chides, but ya gotta wonder who's haunting who... And is it just me, or is that album cover a way-cool rip-off nod to the Velvet Underground or what?

By the way, the rest of the album rocks, too. To his credit, Wynn continues to refuse to be pinned down, and seldom plays it safe -- there are more (aural) textures on here than a fabric store.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Don't Pay the Ransom -- I've Escaped

Yeah, yeah, yeah... I know. I've been one poor correspondent, and I've been too, too hard to find.

But that doesn't mean you ain't been on my mind.

I guess mostly, I've just been busy. With work and web sites (PAYING WORK!), plus the usual slings and arrows of the vaguely domesticated male, plus promotional work for Sister Golden Hair's upcoming masterpiece, the third in her Poetic Death mystery series, entitled SONNET OF THE SPHINX.

Yep -- Mrs. Thrilling Detective Web site writes cozies, shocking as it may seem -- although probably not as shocking as my startling ability to quote dopey soft rock lyrics from the seventies. Next up, the Eagles... or maybe Helen Reddy.

But despite this shocking blow to my "cred,", the crime goodies keep coming to this reviewer, under the door, over the transom and down the chimney, whether I have time to review 'em or not. And the latest one is a little two-DVD set, courtesy of the good folks at Subversive Cinema, entitled BLUE MURDER.

It has nothing to do with David Firks et al's late, great hard-boiled e-zine, except that this 1995 Australian docudrama about police corruption in the Land Down Under also revels in the sort of nasty hard-boiled things that usually scurry for shelter when the lights come on -- the same sort of stuff that the e-zine, at its best, did so well.

The men at work in this mini-series originally done for Aussie TV are, for the most part, very nasty blokes -- hoods, thugs, psychos and the like. And that's just the police. Their drinking buddies and partners in crime are theoretically the "bad" guys from the other side of the line, but the only thing that seems to separate them from the cops are badges and a pension plan -- and a lack of delusion about who and what they are. The crooks, at least, admit they're crooks. The cops, meanwhile, are full of some of the most infuriatingly self-righteous rhetoric seen since the last episode of THE SHIELD (which BLUE MURDER's promotion frequently mentions), trying to justify their ill-gotten gains as their well-deserved price for saving the world from total anarchy. It's a contemptible position, whether it's Sydney or Los Angeles or Montreal, made all the more harrowing by the slack-jawed matter-of-factness with which they -- and most of the rest of the police force -- even the "good' ones -- accept it as par for the course. It says something that the only reason the powers that be eventually go after much-decorated Detective Sergeant Roger "The Dodger" Rogerson and his buddy, violent thug Neddy Smith, is that they went "too far" by trying to kill another police officer.

As though all their other crimes -- perjury for hire, the armed robberies, the stolen goods, the fixed trials, the elimination of witnesses, the profit-sharing plan between cops and robbers -- are just part of the job. It's this true-to-blue, lads-will-be-lads, and up-yours-if-you-don't-like-it, ya pansy! attitude that makes BLUE MURDER so compelling -- and so infuriating. I mean, shit -- gimme an honest crook over a self-righteous crooked cop any day. Especially in real life.

Unfortunately, the show, fascinating as it is at times to watch, suffers exactly because it is "based on a true story." The filmmakers' hands are tied when it comes to crafting truly killer scenes -- and the plot suffers from it, jerking from episode to episode and set-piece to set-piece, never really gaining as much narrative steam as it should. And it doesn't help that there are no really sympathetic major characters, save perhaps the young officer who stands up to Rogerson -- and gets blown away (halfway through the show) in front of his young daughter, for his troubles. And he's not around enough to really make an impact. In fact, none of them -- even Neddy and the Dodger -- are really examined up close.

Too bad, because a looser, more fictionalized take on this same story, complete with some real character development, and produced without worrying about whether it was true or not might have made for something really nasty. As it is, it makes for a good entertaining wallow, but not a great one.

Truth may be stranger than fiction, but it's usually not as entertaining.

I'd give it three Fosters.