Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking.
—Steve McCroskey, Airplane!

After a particularly bad murder investigation (alluded to but never out-and-out spoiled), investigator-turned-prison-chaplain John Jordan goes to a secluded retreat centre, St. Ann’s Abbey, in the town of Bridgeport. His previous adventures have left him shaken, his marriage is a shambles, and he now wishes nothing more than to regain his inner peace of mind. He sure picked a wrong week to try, as he finds himself in the thick of a murder investigation in Michael Lister’s Blood Sacrifice.

This is my first encounter with author Michael Lister, but I don’t think this is a series that needs to be read in order. There were allusions to things that happened in other cases, and although I would probably appreciate these allusions more if I knew what they were alluding to, it isn’t a vital part of the book, nor was it spoiler-happy about previous entries in the series. And, as mysteries go, Blood Sacrifice has got one or two really good ideas at its core.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Elementary, My Dear Holmes!

This article was originally written for and published in the e-zine Mysterical-E. Now that there is a new issue with a new article, I am reposting this article on the blog, complete with the images that I usually illustrate my articles with.

In Bloody Murder, Julian Symons’ famous survey of the mystery genre, Symons writes that “successful comic crime stores, short or long, are rare. One turns away with a shudder from the many Holmes parodies (…)” Perhaps Julian Symons didn’t have much of a sense of humour, though something resembling one does shine through in his book from time to time. Either way, Symons does Holmesian literature – both parody and pastiche – an enormous injustice by dismissing it as he does. He doesn’t really take the time to appreciate the Holmesian literature that has been written over the years.

Symons’ caution is justified in some cases, but with such a huge output of Sherlock-related literature, you can only expect some pastiches to be less successful than others. Holmes seems to have particularly bad luck when he is brought to Canada. Ronald C. Weyman’s Sherlock Holmes: Travels in the Canadian West is one of the worst collections of Holmesian pastiches I have ever read. The mysteries are frankly laughable, and the premise is absurd: apparently, during Sherlock’s Great Hiatus (after his disappearance at the Reichenbach Falls) the detective wasn’t really in hiding… no, no, Dr. Watson and he were just in Canada, chilling with the Indi–– er…I mean, Native Americans (for we must be Politically Correct, my good Watson). No, really—he doesn’t even bother to use a fake name, he keeps introducing himself as Sherlock Holmes. But throughout this time Holmes potentially has Colonel Moran’s rifle aimed at his head from any window. Certainly not the Great Detective’s smartest move, and indeed, the entire book often reads like a fictionalised history textbook, with Watson spending too much time telling you about historical figures, customs, etc. The book is even illustrated with well-known images of Canadian history, making the whole thing that much more like a history textbook… and that much duller.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

If I Had a Million Dollars...

Max Allan Collins’ third Nate Heller novel, The Million-Dollar Wound, is very different from its predecessors. For one thing, it skips forward in time considerably. The previous book in the series, True Crime, took place in 1934. The Million-Dollar Wound opens in 1943. Nate Heller has returned to the States after fighting in WWII alongside his friend Barney Ross, but he returns a changed man.

Heller is brought back home from combat early because his testimony is wanted at an upcoming trial, one which could finally see Frank Nitti, Louis “Little New York” Campagna, and other gangsters on charges of extortion. But if there’s one thing Heller knows, it’s that double-crossing Frank Nitti is a very dangerous way of living, especially in Chicago, Nitti’s town…

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Too Tough To Die

It’s late at night, the rain is pouring down hard, and Mike Hammer is walking on a bridge. He’s feeling depressed, humiliated, and completely alone. Just that day, Hammer was berated in court by a judge, whose speech began calmly and turned into a vicious, hateful speech. The judge accused Hammer of being a violent, unrepentant psychopath who had gotten a taste of death during the war and who couldn’t get enough of it now. He condemned Hammer as evil incarnate, the worst kind of criminal scum, and he prophesied that a rain of purity would wash him into the sewer with the rest of the scum. Hammer left the court humiliated, his soul laid bare and dissected for all to see, feeling cut off from society and bitter about it.

That’s when he sees the girl. She’s running from something, terrified. She falls into Mike’s arms and begs for his help. That’s when a fat man comes out from the shadows, a gun in his pocket pointed at Hammer. The fat man grins and prepares to shoot them both down, but Hammer’s gun is quick: he shoots the fat man in the face with a .45. But the girl is terrified. She thinks Hammer is “one of them”, and in desperation, she throws herself off the bridge. Hammer is left stunned, with only the corpse of the fat man for company. And that’s how Mickey Spillane’s novel One Lonely Night kicks off.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Acquisitive Chuckle II: A Desperate Attempt To Milk Some More Pageviews Out Of This Recurring Series Of Posts

It's been a while since the last "acquisitive chuckle" post from me, in which I show off the newest additions to my library. In fact, the last time I did this, the series went through an unnecessarily-gritty reboot. In part, this was me trying to deal with all the unnecessarily gritty reboots floating around. It was also my attempt to deal with the confused numbering of the series. But I'll link to them all at the end of the post either way, so you can see the way this series has evolved over time.

Anyways, where was I? Oh yes, my newest acquisitions. I was recently visiting relatives in my old hometown of Windsor, Ontario. There's one bookshop there which I make a point of visiting whenever I can. My visits are separated by three-four months, and as a result, they always have something of interest there. This visit was no exception. According to my sister, who witnessed the carnage, I was worse than a little kid at a candy store, jumping in and out of aisles, giggling with insane glee as I pulled one book after another down from the shelves.

So just what kind of haul did I get away with? Well, let's get started with the meat of the post:

From left to right, the books pictured above are Douglas G. Browne's Too Many Cousins, Leonard Holton's A Touch of Jonah, and Cameron McCabe's The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor. I loved Holton's The Saint Maker, which I read earlier this year. McCabe's book got a lot of praise from Julian Symons in Bloody Murder. And Browne is a name I'm familiar with from Curt Evans' essay Was Corinne's Murder Fairly Clued?, in which one of Browne's books (not this one) plays a major role.

It might come as a shock to anyone who remembers how much I hated the book, but I decided to purchase my own copy of The Long Goodbye. As it turns out, this isn't a first edition -- a careful search turned up that it was a book club edition -- but that makes no difference to me. The cover is still gorgeous and the voice at the back of my head said it'd look great on my shelf. As for my negative review, well, I was taking issue with Chandler on grounds that were, in retrospect, hugely unfair, even though I was convinced (at the time) that I was right. I really should give Chandler and this book in specific a second shot.

Above are three books by August Derleth, all starring his detective "Solar Pons" (who is basically Sherlock Holmes but not Sherlock Holmes, from what I hear). They are (from L to R) The Reminiscences of Solar Pons, Mr. Fairlie's FInal Journey, and The Adventures of Solar Pons. I've never read these books but look forward to them.

My first taste of Chesbro came with the deliciously surreal The Beasts of Valhalla. After that kind of whizz-banger of an introduction, can you blame me for going out and getting a pair of his books? I got these books - An Affair of Sorcerers and City of Whispering Stone - for only one reason: they have kick-ass titles. No, really, I love the sound of these titles, and I want to know what exactly is going on from that alone.

William Heyliger's Detectives Inc. was one of the books I got from the basement of the bookstore, which is devoted to hardcovers. This one caught my eye because it was so obviously old. On the inside is an inscription, which comes complete with its own Eerie Coincidence (brought to you by the ghost of Harry Stephen Keeler):

"To Pat
From Mother
Christmas 1942"

Seeing how my name is Patrick, I decided then and there that it was meant to be, and I added the book to my pile.

The books pictured here are Jack Finney's The House of Numbers and Herbert Brean's Dead Sure. All I know about Finney is that he is the guy behind the story that inspired Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I've never read any of his fiction, but I've heard great things (especially from Jon L. Breen in the collection A Shot Rang Out). As for Brean, the name had a vague familiarity to it, so trusting my wild impulse, I purchased the book without remembering why the author's name was familiar.

Loren D. Estleman is not an unfamiliar name to me, as I've read his Sherlock Holmes pastiches (in which Holmes meets Dracula and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde). I went with Jitterbug because the story sounds interesting. As for Harold Q. Masur, I've heard good things but have yet to read any of his books, so I decided to pick a book which I'm pretty sure I don't own yet, Make a Killing.

I was excited when I came across Alan Green's They Died Laughing, a book which I was half-convinced was merely a myth. I enjoyed Green's debut mystery, What a Body!, which is an excellent comedy and an interesting (but flawed) impossible crime novel. David Goodis, represented here by Black Friday, is not an unfamiliar name, but I have yet to read any of his books. As for the third book, it comes from The Saint Mystery Library, and it's a Craig Rice story entitled "The Frightened Millionaire". As someone who loves Rice's work, this was a very exciting purchase indeed.

Well, folks, that's what I left the store with. Hopefully these books live up to the promise of whatever-it-was-that-convinced-me-to-buy-them! Hope you enjoyed the piece!

Previous articles in this series (now unnecessarily rebooted and grittier than ever before):

Friday, October 04, 2013

Under Siege

“You're a young man, you can still learn. Pay attention to this. You can steal in this country, you can rape and murder, you can bribe public officials, you can pollute the morals of the young, you can burn your place of business down for the insurance money, you can do almost anything you want, and if you act with just a little caution and common sense you'll never even be indicted. But if you don't pay your income tax, Grofield, you will go to jail.”
—Littlefield, The Score

It was a crazy idea, and Parker knew it from the start. At first, he didn’t even want to get involved, but the guy who came up with the plan was persuasive. Edgars had apparently planned for every eventuality: all the bases were covered, and all he needed was manpower. Anything that could go wrong was accounted for, and the payoff was so high that Parker finally gave in against his better judgement. And the plan? Parker and his cronies are going to rob an entire town.

Yes, you read that right, and if you’re scratching your head, please remember that the book in question, Richard Stark’s The Score, was written in 1963. The plan would probably be impossible to pull off in this day and age of cellular communications. But even in the 60s, the plan is a difficult one to swallow. In order to make this fantastic setup plausible, Richard Stark (a pseudonym of Donald E. Westlake) has to explain the plan, the contingencies, the risks, and the potential payoff to you at length. The heist itself does not begin until the second half of the book, and the first half is largely devoted to these explanations and preparations. The plan has to be adjusted several times. If this sounds boring, don’t be fooled – this is a very short book; the sparse, crisp, to-the-point writing style helps this section whizz by as you marvel at Parker’s strategic genius.