Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry This and That, and Happy Everything...

That's gotta be the best non-denominational, all-inclusive greeting I've heard this year, even better than my usual "Have a Holly Jolly and a Happy Ho-Ho."

Of course, such a non-offensive salutation will still probably tick off the Yahoo Right's Spiritual Advisor, Bill O'Riley, and his disciples, but he's such an opportunistic windbag of narrow-minded, thin-skinned hate and divisiveness that getting his goat seems like not just the American but even the Christian thing to do.

So have a good one, Bill. Read the Bible sometime, instead of just thumping it. And imagine a world where people of all races and creeds aren't torn apart by petty-minded rabble rousers shilling "the truth" on television. You may think that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one...

I mean, come on. If there's a "war" on Christmas, Christmas won long ago, at least on this continent.

So, Merry Christmas everybody, or whatever shakes your tree.I don't care if you're Muslim or Buddhist or Jewish or Christian or left-handed or whatever -- have a good time and a great new year (whenever your new year decides to kick in) and embrace the best wishes of those who offer it to you in the spirit it's intended. That's what the true spirit of the season is.

And Happy Boxing Day. I hope you don't have to work today and can just relax and spend some (relatively) quiet time with you and yours.

Me? I'm going to try to finally wrap up the latest issue of THRILLING DETECTIVE, eat some leftovers, listen to some music and maybe have a beer or two. Then the Girl Detective and I will probably have a nice supper, watch an old movie or two (hopefully something with murder in it) and groan that we ate too much.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Good Idea, A Bad Idea... (Rant, Rant, Rant)

Anyone wanna make a zillion?

Toast-it Notes. For office drones too busy for a good breakfast.

And here's an idea that is not a good one: Salvation Army ladies talking on their cellphones. I'd like to think my spare change is going to something more than covering your monthly Verizon bill.

Yeah, I don't know where this stuff comes from either....

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Crimes on .45: "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash

Once again, we dip into the Thrilling Detective Web Site jukebox to bring you the very best in songs of murder and mayhem...

"Folsom Prison Blues"
Written and performed by Johnny Cash
Originally released as a 1955 single.
Available on the 2000 compilation Murder

I wonder what the oh-so-outraged good citizens who wailed so loudly about Ice-T's angry call to violence in Cop Killer have to say about Johnny Cash? As angry as the protagonist in Cop Killer is, at least he's angry ABOUT something. The self-pitying but barely repentant convict in Cash's 1955 song, originally recorded for Sun Records, is in a prison cell because he shot a man in Reno, as he dispassionately admits, “just to watch him die.”

Now THAT'S cold, simply one of the most disturbing but powerful lines in American popular music (and that's saying something). Almost forty-five years after I first heard it, it still sends a shiver up and down my spine. I know we're supposed to pity (or at least empathize) with the prisoner's ongoing torment here, which Cash nails to the wall with unerring accuracy and a few simple images (a howling train whistle, an imagined fancy dining car) but that one line is inescapable. And unrepentant.

Right until the end, Cash, a man who knew all about sin and salvation and personal redemption (not to mention the gray bar hotel) never ceased to explore the dark, violent side of the American dream in his music, and this song, one of his earliest and finest, resonates even now -- even after the Disneyfacation of his life in Walk the Line.

It's available on Murder, a 2000 set that collects some of The Man in Black's favorite recordings of "robbers, liars and murderers" from the last forty odd years. Quentin Tarantino (who tags Cash as the"original hillbilly gangsta") states in the liner notes that these tracks cut "right to the heart of the American underclass. With their brutal sheriffs, pitiless judges, cheatin' tramps, escaped fugitives, condemned men, chain gang prisoners, unjustly accused innocents, and first-person protagonist who'd shoot a man just to watch him die, Cash's songs are poems to the criminal mentality."

Knucklehead gangsta rappers who think they invented bad ass are simply carrying on the tradition. Maybe someone should melt their gold teeth together for a moment and make them listen. They might learn something.

As The Man in Black himself puts it, "These songs are just for listening and singing. Don't go out and do it." Brutal, but real.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Another Hell of a Book: Money Shot

I know, I know... there's not much point blogging about a book that won't even be officially released until next month. But some stuff is just too good to wait.

As part of the fallout from last week's signing of Meg Abbott's kick ass anthology HELL OF A WOMAN, I moved my ARC of Christa Faust's MONEY SHOT to the top of my TBR file. The verdict? YIKES!

I had fun that day, meeting the assorted writers, and got to wander the streets of Santa Monica for a while with Christa. Lemme tell ya, that woman is something else. That day she was the Betty Boop of noir, decked out in vintage drag (I suspect she has plenty more personas hanging in her closet), walking the walk, talking the whatever, obviously pleased to be the first female writer to be published by Hard Case Crime and then, in the same breath, dismissing it as simply "I, THE JURY with tits."

Yeah, right.

Well, I'm hear to tell you that not only does MONEY SHOT come equipped with tits, but it also comes with balls. Big ones.

It's the story of a former porn star, Angel Dare, now running a talent agency for adult film stars in LA's porn industry, who gets involved in a nasty case of white slavery, smuggling and various shades of murder and betrayal. When the book kicks off, she's locked in the back of a crappy Honda Civic, shot and left for dead, convinced she's on a one-way ride to Hell.

Yeah, it sounds about par for the neo-noir course these days -- plenty of titillation and more than a spot of gratuitousness. The same ol' yadda yadda.

But it turns out MONEY SHOT is my kinda noir. The grown-up kind that has real people and a real story, not just shock tactics and cardboard pawns disguised as characters. The lady knows her stuff.

Sure, in a story set in the world of hookers and porn and stripping, junkies and killers, you'd expect to have your nose rubbed in it. But there isn't an ounce of fat here -- it's a tight ice-hard blast of pure noir; the sorta thing that takes heed of not just classic noir but also the times we live in; a big ballsy update to the genre that never feels like pandering or refried nostalgia.

There are desperate people here, circling the drain, living, breathing (and lying) characters who -- except for their occupation -- wouldn't be out of place in a James M. Cain novel, or a 1946 RKO B-noir. But they're also defiantly of the here and now, as real as tomorrow's headlines. These people are rough, they're tough... and they're fatally flawed. They're damned and doomed, too fucked to live, too hard to die without a fight and too blinded by greed or lust or hate to know it.

I'm not joking about the hard part, either. The combo plate of noir and hard-boiled is served here straight up, with style and tits and balls and without apology.

I didn't even know I was going to say anything until the words came out of my mouth.

"End of the line, bitch."

Then I shot him.

The book's due in late January. Don't say I didn't warn you.

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