Thursday, June 23, 2016


Modern fans of hardboiled private-eye novels often discovered the genre via Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole or Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. Women hardboiled fans also read Crais and Parker, but they often come to the genre through Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone, or Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski—who have also entertained many male readers. Casual readers usually stop with these names from the bestseller lists. However, others find themselves on the dangerous path to hardboiled addiction.
Thinking they can quit at any time, they begin chipping the original masters of the genre—the godhead of Chandler, Hammett, Ross MacDonald. Quickly, still denying their addiction, they look for further highs, uncovering John D. Macdonald or Mickey Spillane before scoring more modern masters—Lawrence Block, Estelman, Max Allan Collins, Bill Pronzini, Robert Randisi, Walter Mosely, Dennis Lehane, Andrew Vachss...
Falling further into the depths of their addiction deepen, hardboiled junkies score their highs from the private eye characters created by the likes of Wayne D. Dundee, Joe Gores, the ever dangerous Andrew Vachss, Jeremiah Healy, Arthur Lyons, Michael Collins (aka: Dennis Lynds), Stephen Greenleaf, Joseph Hansen, Jonathan Valin, and an almost never ending list of other two-fisted sleuths.
Falling further into the depths of their addiction deepen, desperate hardboiled addicts go old school for their kicks with the likes of Mike Shayne, Cool and Lam, Shell Scott, Johnny Liddell, Ellery Queen, Nero Wolfe, Dan Turner, and others from the golden age of private eyes. But eventually, even these hardboiled speedballs aren’t enough to satisfy a mainliner.
There remains only one place for these sad souls to go, a place known to only the most devoted of hardboiled fanatics. It is an opium den where the air is acrid with the residue of smoking guns, healing bruises, laddered stockings, and the underlying strains of a dying torch song. Here there be treasure—the treasures of The Eye, a hidden cabal of the hardboiled inner circle who tightly guard long forgotten, gritty paperback original private eyes series, which are passed from hand to hand with whispered reverence. 
In the spirit of the Masked Magician—only without the mask—who delights in revealing the mechanisms behind magic’s smoke and mirrors, I am going to devote the next few columns to unveiling the hidden treasures of private eye fiction…
First up is a personal favorite—Rafferty, a tough ex-cop turned Texas private eye created by W. Glenn Duncan. Starting with Rafferty’s Rules (#39: Smiting the wicked sounds biblical, but mostly it's good clean fun) in 1987, this PBO (paperback original) series ran for six titles. 
At first blush, the framework for Rafferty appears to be yet another Spenser clone (Cowboy, Rafferty’s semi-sociopathic partner channeling Hawk; Hilda, Rafferty’s significant other who is a less irritating version of Susan Silverman; an equal number of wisecracks, fists, and bullets), but it’s quickly apparent in the first few pages of the series, Rafferty and company are in a class of their own.
Rafferty doesn’t play well with others. He is stubbornly contrary, refusing to be told what to do or how to do anything. Being able to back his mouth up with smarts—or brute force when intelligence fails—is half the fun of the series. Rafferty is a refreshing throwback to the golden age of good, clean, hard-hitting, men’s action and adventure. Rafferty’s seemingly endless collections of rules provide a warped sense of ethics to his actions and we are happy to be along for the ride.
Brash Books would drool to be able to reprint this series, but Duncan has somehow disappeared into the Australian Outback...Until search parties can locate him, interested parties will have to peruse used bookstores or the Internet.
Rafferty's Rules (1987)
Last Seen Alive (1987)
Poor Dead Cricket (1988)
Wrong Place, Wrong Time (1989)
Cannon's Mouth (1990)
Fatal Sisters (1990)
Another hidden PBO series horded by hardboiled aficionados is Ralph Dennis’, Hardman. Published in the ‘70s, the series remains one of the most overlooked and underestimated entries in the genre. 
Jim Hardman, is a middle-aged, overweight, out of shape, ex-Atlanta cop turned unlicensed private eye. Despite his physical attributes, Hardman remains one tough bastard. When coupled with his partner, former Cleveland Browns pro-football player Hump Evans (yes, Hardman and Hump – get over it), the duo form a formidable team—Spenser and Hawk before there was a Spenser and Hawk. Despite the groundbreaking done by the television series I Spy, having an Afro-American sidekick who worked as an equal partner was fairly progressive for the time period.
Hardman’s beat is Atlanta, a great city for kick ass action, which Dennis brings to harsh life using spare prose with a sprinkling of real nightclubs, restaurants, bars, hotels, and street corner descriptions throughout the series. Atlanta was the author’s adopted home, and his affection for the city is obvious.
The books hold up surprisingly well. Dennis’ tells a good, violent, series of tales making Hardman, Hump, and Atlanta well worth making the effort to track down. The publisher, Popular Library, did the whole series a disservice—destining it for obscurity—by packaging it as a low-rent Executioner rip-off. The covers, however, are have become retro collectibles.
Hardman is another series ripe for reprinting, but the rights have proved difficult and expensive to disentangle. As an alternative, you can still find some of the series entries for affordable prices through the usual sources, but trying to put together the whole series from scratch will be a challenge.
Atlanta Deathwatch (1974)
The Charleston Knife's Back In Town (1974)
The Golden Girl &Amp; All (1974)
Pimp For The Dead (1974)
Down Among The Jocks (1974)
Murder's Not An Odd Job (1974)
Working For The Man (1974)
The Deadly Cotton Heart (1976)
The One-Dollar Rip-Off (1977)
Hump's First Case (1977)
The Last Of The Armageddon Wars (1977)
The Buy Back Blues (1977)
Next week I’ll be featuring three more obscure hardboiled gems…

Thursday, June 9, 2016


Recently, upstart publisher Brash Books has been setting readers’ enthusiasm on fire by making many long out of print mystery series available again in both e-books and beautiful trade paperbacks. In some cases, Brash Books has commissioned new books in these series, either from the original author or by continuing the series under the guidance of a new author. Because of Brash Books, these excellent series are returning from ill-deserved obscurity and being given new life as they are discovered by a new generation of passionate mystery fans.
To mentioning a few of these gems fires my own enthusiasm as I remember discovering them the first time around—The Owl by Bob Forward, The Bragg private eye series from Jack Lynch, the action filled Preacher novels from Ted Thackery, and the Delilah West mysteries from Maxine O'Callaghan. It’s terrific to see them available again, and I have now reread quite a few and found them to be as enjoyable as I remembered.
The series I am most delighted to see making a strong comeback features W.L. Ripley’s character, Wyatt Storme. In the early ‘90s, Ripley introduced ex-NFL star, atavistic cowboy, and freelance troubleshooter Wyatt Storme in Dreamsicle. At first glance, Storme and his tougher than tough sidekick Chick Easton appeared to be another take on Spenser and Hawk. However, once I started reading, it became clear Ripley had the chops to break away from the Spenser clones in the same way Robert Crais did with his acclaimed series featuring Elvis Cole and his slightly psychotic sidekick, Joe Pike.
When the second and third Storme adventures (Storme Front / Electric Country Roulette) were even stronger than Storme’s debut (Dreamsicle), I believed Ripley had created a series that would be around for a long time. However, the machinations of the publishing industry’s impatient treatment of mid-list writers conspired to cut the series off before it had a chance to reach a wider audience and the acclaim it deserved.
Ripley went on to write another outstanding three book series—featuring the enigmatic ex-secret service agent Cole Springer (Springer’s Gambit / Pressing The Bet / Springer’s Fortune), who could easily be a brother or at least a first cousin to Wyatt Storme. While different in their own right, the Springer books displayed the same engaging writing style, the same biting dry wit, and the same crunching action from an intelligent hero you would definitely want beside you in a fight.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Springer novels, but I also wanted more Storme…And now, thanks to Brash Books, Storme is back—in retitled (Hail Storme / Storm Front / Eye Of The Storme), repackaged (beautiful covers with matching theme in e-book and paperback), versions of his original adventures, but also in a brand new novel, Storme Warning.
As excited as I am to have Wyatt Storme back in my reading line-up, I can assure you the author W.L. Ripley is even more excited. I tracked Ripley—AKA: The Blue Collar Elmore Leonard and The Heir to John D. McDonald—to his home in western Missouri. Caught in the act of writing a new chapter, he has been dragged into the virtual interrogation room where the bright lights give him nowhere to hide...Hopefully, he’ll talk without the application of the rubber hoses...
What can you tell us about the genesis and history of Wyatt Storme and your early writing career?
RIPLEY: I’d been brain-storming Wyatt Storme for a few years before putting him on paper. Probably wrote several thousand words about him in different scenarios, even different names, before I decided who he would be. The first Storme novel, Hail Storme, was an easy write (It’s not always that way). It came in one long fine flash and pretty much wrote itself. 
When did Cole Springer come into being and how did you strive to make him different to Wyatt Storme?
RIPLEY: The Storme novels are written in first person point-of-view. Everything happens through Storme’s eyes. The Springer novels are third person omniscient where I can walk through the minds of all the characters, even the bad guys. Storme is very much the stalwart neo-classic Western hero. He doesn’t drink or use profanity. Springer is a free swinging, piano playing honest con-man with a wicked sense of humor who enjoys the game he’s playing with his enemies. Springer would rather out-smart than out-punch his adversaries.
Think of Storme as a witty Clint Eastwood/Gary Cooper character, whereas Cole Springer would be more of a James Garner/Paul Newman type with a wink, a smile and quip. Storme comes at his adversaries straight up while Springer likes to approach his antagonists sideways, allowing them to trip themselves up with their greed. I wanted a different type of hero in a different setting and, having visited Aspen Colorado on a few occasions, I was fascinated by the locale and the demographics of the place. I also wanted to place the enigmatic ex-Secret Service agent in a culture clash with some nasty mobsters. It is hard to beat Aspen, Colorado, as a culture shock venue for street thugs. Makes it a lot of fun to thrust those thugs into the rarified air of celebrities and the beautiful people.
How did your association with Brash Books come about and what excites you most about having your Wyatt Storme books readily available again in print and also in e-book format?
RIPLEY: Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman (Brash Books publishers) were searching for mystery writers for their new imprint. Lee came across my name in a foreword acknowledgment in an Ace Atkins’ book and contacted Atkins. Ace told them how to get hold of me. Lee and Joel hooked me into a conference call, laid out the Brash Books vision, and I was hooked.
Seeing your name in print with fresh eye-catching covers never gets old. Goldberg and Goldman (both successful novelists in their own right) are very unique in the publishing industry. Both men truly love mysteries and their writers. They are two of the hardest working men I’ve ever encountered. That’s saying a lot as I was once a college basketball coach, a profession filled with 24-7 workaholics. The G-Men love what they’re doing and it is infectious. I don’t know anyone who has more fun all the time than Lee Goldberg, and few people possess a more organized and focused mind than Joel Goldman. They are the Wyatt Storme and Chick Easton of the industry.
How much input did you have in the repackaging of your first three Wyatt Storme novels with new titles and new covers?
RIPLEY: Brash has been great about getting input on cover art and blurbs. Lee Goldberg wanted a trademark Storme look for each book cover, which has turned out to be a great idea. I’m not much on cover art, but my son, Jared, has a great critical eye and Brash has paid attention to his input. Jared, an art teacher, is the one who came up with the Eye of the Storme bullet-hole trademark.
Brash is so good at promo and jacket blurbs I don’t have to worry about those things very much anymore. Previously, with other publishers, I had to do most of it. From the Brash Books Eye Of The Storme page comes this line: Storme rolls into Branson like a hurricane with his buddy Chick Easton, an unhinged ex-CIA operative, to settle the score with his own brand of Justice. I didn't write that, but I wish I had.
Brash is very mindful of the Wyatt Storme Brand and work with me to insure the best product is put forth to the public. 

Before signing on with Brash Books did you consider republishing the Wyatt Storme books yourself, and if so, what made you decide Brash Books was the right fit for you?
RIPLEY: Good question. Yes, I was considering self-publishing Storme as I had been watching the mushrooming e-book industry and the early Storme novels had been published before the boom.
Brash shared with me a long-term vision of what they wanted to do and where they were going and I was intrigued. They are on the cutting edge of this revolution and I’m very happy to have gotten in on the ground floor. My books are moving at the best pace they’ve ever enjoyed. Brash’s promo has even generated new books sales for my non-Brash titles. Springer’s Fortune (2013) has experienced a surge in sales and it is directly tied to what Brash has done to expose tens of thousands of new readers to the Wyatt Storme series.
I’m excited there is also a new Wyatt Storme adventure waiting to be published. Is this a book you wrote shortly after the third Wyatt Storme book was originally published, or was this written specifically for Brash Books?
RIPLEY: The newest Storme, Storme Warning, was a new Storme written for Brash. I had a first draft written when they contacted me initially. Again, Ace Atkins had read it and told Joel Goldman about it.
Are there more Wyatt Storme book planned?
RIPLEY: Yes, working on one now and have another in development. Working title is Thunder Storme.
How do you keep the character of Wyatt Storme consistent as he makes his return appearances—have you changed as a writer; has Wyatt Storme changed as a character?
RIPLEY: Storme is larger-than-life throwback character who has gone through a marked change of course—from NFL superstar playboy to Thoreau inspired societal drop-out. He is very much his own man living by his own code. His sidekick, the enigmatic and unpredictable Chick Easton is, in Storme’s own words, the Swiss Army Knife of friends. Both men are haunted by their past exploits, but are learning to deal with them in the present.
The trick with a series character is to keep the hero familiar to long-time readers and at the same time appeal to new readers. Storme and Easton change in incremental ways each book, hopefully in ways pleasing to my readers. I try to peel back enticing little layers of the characters with each new novel.
As a writer, I have changed due the influence of other writers, agents and editors. I have had two agents who have had a great impact on my writing style and growth as a writer. I have to give Donald Maass of Donald Maass Literary agency much credit for helping me to see different avenues in my work. Al Zuckerman, Ken Follett’s agent, was my agent for a short period of time. We didn’t get along well, it happens, but I learned much from him that has progressed my work. There is so much to learn from people in the industry if a writer is open to criticism. 
Lee Goldberg has had an impact on my vision for Storme and Easton and Jake Morgan. Goldman also. The fact Goldman lives within 45 minutes of my home gives me access to his input on a personal basis.
As a writer I’m in competition with my previous works. I really don’t feel a competition with other writers. I hope all writers succeed as I have a great appreciation for the amount of work that goes into a novel. This is an offshoot of my coaching career. I was never jealous of other coaches as they were the only people in a crowded fieldhouse who were going through the same thing I was. I concentrated on the floor situation, my players and my team. The same with my novels. I’m too focused on my work and my characters to worry about what other authors are doing.
What can you tells us about the fourth Wyatt Storme book, Storme Warning?
RIPLEY: Storme is placed in a situation outside his comfort zone—dealing with Hollywood celebrities and the attendant media—and it is all due the urgings of Chick Easton. Storme and Easton are protecting a prima donna actor who nearly everyone involved in the film’s production has motive to kill. As Chick says, “Hell, I want to kill him and I just met him.”
Storme doesn’t want anything to do with the film crew, but his bond with Easton, who is excited about the prospect, pulls Storme into the mix. Hovering around the edge of things is a nasty mob button-man who has a personal and murderous grudge against Storme.
What is the one thing about Wyatt Storme you would want new readers to know?
RIPLEY: Wyatt Storme is a neo-classic Western hero set in the Modern American West. He is a real dead ringer for something like you’ve never seen (apologies to J. Robbie Robertson of The Band). Storme is reclusive and private, whereas Chick Easton is an exclamation point with legs who often goads Storme back into the vortex of the modern culture Storme disdains. The literary hero Storme most approximates would be John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee, another modern knight errant and societal drop-out.
Does the future have Cole Springer getting the same great Brash Books treatment as Wyatt Storme?
RIPLEY: We’ve talked about it and I do have two new Springers developed, so Springer will be back at some point. Right now the focus is on Wyatt Storme and continuing to build his readership which is going well.
Your Brash Book author’s page mentions a potential new series you are creating…What can you tell us about it?
RIPLEY: I have a new character, Jake Morgan, a modern twenty-something Texas Ranger who returns to his Midwestern hometown, and learns you can’t go home again. At least Morgan can’t as he finds his hometown under assault from powerful forces not hesitant to kill to consolidate their power. Morgan quickly clashes with the most powerful family in the area, which includes his high school sweetheart. She has become a dominant and imposing figure, and tensions rise as Jake begins an unauthorized—and unwanted—probe into the accidental death of an old friend. 
I appreciate Rip taking time from his writing schedule to discuss his experiences with Brash Books and Wyatt Storme. If you haven’t met Wyatt Storme, now is your chance...If you are already acquainted with Storme, it’s time to experience his early adventures again to get ready for all the action coming up from his new adventures…
HAIL STORME: The first Wyatt Storme novel. Storme is hunting in Missouri when he stumbles upon a hidden field of marijuana…and becomes embroiled in a deadly conspiracy of corruption, drug-trafficking and organized crime. CLICK HERE
STORME FRONT: To help a desperate friend, ex-footballer Wyatt Storme and his hard-charging buddy Chick Easton ride shotgun on an illegal gun shipment...and things go very wrong. The second novel in the action-packed series. CLICK HERE
EYE OF THE STORME: Wyatt Storme investigates the rape of a young co-ed in Branson, Missouri in this action-packed, third adventure in the series. CLICK HERE
STORME WARNING: The fourth novel featuring Wyatt Storme, the ex-football player turned troubleshooter that critics are hailing as the long-awaited heir to Travis McGee and Spenser. This time, Storme is hired to protect a bad-boy movie star getting well-deserved death threats. CLICK HERE

Monday, May 30, 2016


Writers often get asked, which one of your books is your favorite? The safe answer is to claim your books are like your children—you love them all equally. However, when applied to either children or books, this is a lie. Every child you raise has a different personality, as does every book you write—they all need love, but in varying degrees and varying ways. Those children who are the most difficult need our love the most. It is the same with books. You always love your child, but depending on their phase of maturity, you might not like them very much. Books are no different…
I always say my favorite book is the one I’m writing next because it has all the promise of a child about to be born, hasn’t yet thrown a tantrum on the page, nor gone through the terrible twos, which is when you hit the difficult part of a manuscript—usually between page ten and ten pages before you can type The End.
Still, of the books I have written, I do have favorites. Some of my books are more personal, some perhaps carry more of my soul than others. I love them all, even those I’ve had to beat into submission, but one or two are special…
Recently, my writing pal Stephen Mertz stated, among his extensive output of novels,  his favorite was Hank And Muddy—a novel in which he was able to use his writing skills to express many of his feelings about also being a musician, performing on the road, and a life he might have lived. Seeing an opportunity, I asked his permission to publish his thoughts on why Hank And Muddy is his favorite child…
Stephen Mertz
I knew I wanted to be either a writer or a musician. 
I was a working musician, blowing harp (as in harmonica) in Eagle Park Slim’s Mile High Blues Band—the house band at a black after hours club in Denver’s Five Points. From the 1930s to the 1950s, Five Points was considered the Harlem of the West, with bars and clubs where people like Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday played. However, by the 1960s, it had suffered the same demise as inner cities across the U.S. 
When I played there, Five Points was a rough part of town. Slim is a real deal St. Louis bluesman (who currently resides and works in Eugene, Oregon), and the Mile High Band was hot. I’ve got the tapes to prove it. The band’s gig was Thursdays through Saturdays, 11pm to 3am. The drummer and I were the only white boys in the place. I was living the life.
Trouble was, I was beginning to gradually sell more of my writing to the smaller markets of the day. No bread to speak of, but I was establishing a presence. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. I could taste the dream of being a published novelist becoming a reality, that’s how close it was even though the rejections continued to outnumber the sales. 
I was also starting to realize life as musician was not exactly conducive to the discipline of schedule and routine necessary to produce fiction. An earlier conversation with the famous blues harp player, James Cotton, also lingered in my mind. 
I was in a band called Blue Tale Fly at the time, a bar band playing Allman Brothers and J. Geils covers and a few originals. We’d landed a four night gig as the opening act for Cotton at the old Rio Grande down by Denver’s rail yards. Cotton was a party animal. Plenty of drink and smoke and passing the time with small talk between sets. He’d just signed with Albert Grossman—Dylan’s manager—who had landed him a contract with Capitol. Star time! Except, Cotton added, for the last two years, he’d been on the road 50 weeks out of the year. 
That sunk into me and stayed. I’d only been living the life with Eagle Park Slim for 18 months and I was already starting to burn out. I like to entertain and socialize well enough, but like most writers, I am by nature a solitary soul.
Then Don Pendleton stepped in to nudge me into my future with an offer to assist him in the writing of Mack Bolan novels (this was years before Don sold the Bolan franchise to Harlequin, where it flourished, scripted by a cadre of contract writers). For me, Don’s offer was the writing dream come true. No more smoky bars, bad food and crazy hours. I could sit at a keyboard and make a decent living. An apprenticeship! I could not say no, and so I said goodbye to Slim and the guys and to the musician’s life. I resettled on a country road near Don’s spread in Brown County, Indiana. 
Well, the Mack Bolan gig lasted for six months (not Don’s fault; we remained close friends until his passing), but in the process, I had acquired a lifelong taste for what is called the writing life. I’ve lived on back roads ever since, writing short fiction and novels which, I’m happy to say, have been published for the most part to favorable reviews and reader acceptance. And guess what? Turns out being a writer is not so different from being a musician. Sure, the work conditions are more comfortable, but it’s still all about hustling up the next gig, about finding an audience by striving to provide something worth their while. 
My novel, Hank And Muddy, is the account of a fictional meeting between two rough-and-tumble American music icons, whiskey-soaked Hank Williams and mojo man Muddy Waters, on a steamy summer night in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1952, and the misadventures that ensue. The title characters alternate as narrators. It’s a tale about music, race, sex and the other things uniting and dividing American society in 1952 and today. The a plot involves the Ku Klux Klan, crooked cops, the black underworld of Shreveport in that era, G-men and commies, a bank robber’s free-spirited daughter, and a quest for Hank’s missing songbook.
These days I perform around Tucson now and then, and finally, I’ve written a novel about the music I love. Who says you can’t have it all? Just wish I’d figured that out a long time ago...
In steamy Shreveport, Louisiana, two musical legends-in-the-making come together: a whiskey-soaked country singer named Hank Williams and blues artist Muddy Waters. What they've got in common over several hectic days of drinking, singing and whoring is an interest in staying alive despite local mobsters, bent cops, and a truckload of Ku Klux Klansmen. Then there's the bank robber's daughter...