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Monday, January 30, 2017

WRITERS ON BOOKS: SCOTT HARRIS

 
~ WRITERS ON BOOKS: SCOTT HARRIS ~

Writer Scott Harris is beginning to make his mark in the western genre with his Brock Clemons series. His new novel, Coyote Courage, is a classic six-guns blazing oater with a Louis L’Amour pedigree. It’s a 2017 must read for any western fan. Readers can also look forward to more western adventures from Scott featuring Brock Clemons.  As part of an ongoing series of blog posts, I’ve asked Scott to give us a personal look into what writers read and what books influence their lives. 

THE BOOK YOU LOVED AS A CHILD…

The first books I remember loving were from the 3rd grade; The Hardy Boys. I read all of the “Original 58” (albeit the watered-down versions, since it was post 1959), which I checked out from the Bookmobile, which would visit Fulton Elementary School once a week.  I won an award for reading the most books that year and fell in love with reading.

In high school, I was a fan of Twain and Steinbeck, the original three Dune books and the Foundation Trilogy. But the one with greatest impact was J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings.  For close to thirty years, my Christmas present to myself was to reread it over the holidays.

A BOOK YOU WOULD READ TO YOUR KIDS…

The Hobbit, again by J.R.R. Tolkein. I read it to both kids while they were still in the womb. I would lie on my wife’s stomach and read a couple of pages every night. Tolkein wrote it to be read aloud and it is a true joy to do so. I read it to them again, multiple times, as they grew up. If they had the time (they’re now 32 and 27), I’d read it to them now.

THE BOOK THAT MADE YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER…

Of Mice and Men. The truth is, I could have picked almost anything from Twain or Steinbeck. Both have touched my soul, over and over again. The combination of the insight into people, the fact that both were clearly brilliant philosophers and the remarkable writing keeps me coming back. 

YOUR FAVORITE CLASSIC…

I will have to go with two; Steinbeck’s’ Cannery Row and Twains’ Huckleberry Finn.  Huck Finn is the runaway favorite from Twain, but from Steinbeck, I could have just as easily picked Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, or any number of others. I don’t know how many times I will reread their books before I tire of them, but I am not even close yet.

THE CLASSIC YOU’VE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO READ…

If I’d been asked this a few years ago, the answer would have been Moby Dick.  I probably started it 4-5 times without ever getting through it. Eventually, I committed to reading it, and it still took me almost two years. Some of the writing was almost impossibly good and I reread some passages over and over.  However, at the risk of being cast aside as a poser by serious readers, I just didn’t think it was that great.  Kind of like not liking Citizen Kane. I get it, but there you go. I guess the next one I’ll try again would be War and Peace

THE CLASSIC YOU’VE PRETENDED TO HAVE READ…

Haven’t done that yet! Haven’t Done That yet!! HAVEN’T DONE THAT YET!!! I have been told by a brilliant former LAPD detective and expert interrogator that when someone is telling the truth in denying an accusation, their denials will become louder and more emphatic. This is me following his advice.

THE MOVIE ADAPTATION YOU’VE LOVED…
 
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Nice combination of a brilliant book and movie. As I write this, it strikes me a great evening would be had by gathering up five friends, with three of us preferring the book and the other three preferring the movie, and debating who’s right and why. BTW–I’d have to go with the movie. Why? Jack!  End of debate.

THE BOOK YOU’D LIKE TO SEE AS A MOVIE…

Travels with Charley, not surprisingly, by John Steinbeck. From the moment, I read it, my life was changed. I took off with my new bride shortly after reading it for the first time, and we did a 6-month road trip. We’ve been doing them ever since and it’s coming up on 40 years. 

There is a new novel I’ve been hearing a lot about however that might make the list; Coyote Courage. I’ve been told it would make an amazing movie, so I’m hoping to see it happen. Of course, I’ve also been told the author is charming and handsome...

THE IMAGINARY PLACE WHERE YOU COULD LIVE…

Middle Earth. If you read—and loved—Lord of the Rings, it would be hard to pick anywhere else.

THE GENRE YOU’D READ IF YOU WERE LIMITED TO ONE…

History. If it was just for pure fun, it would be westerns, but when limited to a single genre forever, it came down to two; philosophy and history. I spent 10 years studying the great Greek philosophers and hope enough stuck with me to not regret my choice.  History, when well-written, contains enough philosophy and is so rich and full in context, I could see being content reading nothing else.

THE BOOK YOU’VE RETURNED TO AGAIN AND AGAIN…

John Steinbecks’ Travels with Charley and Will and Ariel Durants’ The Lessons of History.  There are several books I turn to again and again, but these are the two I make sure to read every year. Travels with Charley still fires my imagine and I can’t get past the opening passages where Steinbeck describes wanderlust without wanting to hit the road. And the Durants, in boiling down their 17-volume Story of Civilization into 100 pages, almost perfectly capturing / explaining / informing my views on mankind, make it mandatory rereading.

THE FICTIONAL FRIENDS YOU’D LOVE TO HAVE…

Not surprisingly, they come from my favorite books, which is probably why they are my favorite books. I would love to have almost all of the “Nine” from Lord of the Rings as friends. Perhaps their collective title of the Fellowship of the Ring describes why. What boy, of any age, wouldn’t want Huck Finn to be his friend, or to be Huck Finn.  And Mack, leader of the bums in Cannery Row, is a man with whom I would love to spend a week, or a lifetime.

THE LAST NOVEL TO MAKE YOU LAUGH AND THE LAST TO MAKE YOU CRY…

Underwood, Scotch and Cry (Brian Meeks) made me laugh. A little-known author, but good insight into people and has a subtle, but biting sense of humor I find irresistible. And having just finished rereading (1st time since high school) Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank), it would be almost impossible not to cry.

WHAT YOU’RE READING NOW…

Shane (Jack Schaefer), for a project I’m working on. Fargo #4 and #5, because I’ve only recently discovered John Benteen and now I’m chewing them up / The Civil War (Shelby Foote), because I organized a monthly discussion group about the Civil War / Croaker: Kill me Again (Paul Bishop), because I enjoy discovering and reading great authors. 

COYOTE COURAGE

Brock Clemons rides into the small town of Dry Springs simply looking for a place to grab a cigar and a good night’s sleep. Instead, he finds a town being strangled by a band of hardened outlaws, a young boy named Huck who is bravely facing challenges far beyond his years, and Sophie, a woman of captivating strength and beauty. Brock decides to stay beyond the one night he had planned, but will his intelligence, courage and unmatched skill with a gun be enough to save the town, help Huck and win Sophie’s heart?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

CONFESSIONS FROM THE DARK STREETS

CONFESSIONS FROM THE DARK STREETS
 
Of the fifteen books I’ve written, my latest novel, Lie Catchers, is the most personal and unique. Having spent thirty-five years with the LAPD and thirty years as a professional writer, I am a sturdy branch on the genealogy tree of police writers. Other cop-author branches on the tree include William Caunitz (NYPD), Joseph McNamara (San Jose PD), Sonny Grosso (NYPD), and a plethora of others (for a full list CLICK HERE). The LAPD, however, has always led the way when it comes to police writers, including such luminaries as Dallas Barnes, Kathy Bennett, Gene Roddenberry (yes, that Gene Roddenberry), and almost 100 others (CLICK HERE). LAPD, of course, was also where the heavyweight champ of police writers, Joseph Wambaugh, hung his shoulder holster.
 
With that kind of professional ancestry, it was pretty much a given I would also do a Wambaugh when it came to writing novels. I have written books in other genres, westerns, an Elvis-is-not–dead novel, soccer mysteries, and boxing noirs, but cop dramas have always constituted the largest part of my output.
 
Fey Croaker, the heroine of the five book series in which she is featured, is a unique character, but the novels themselves follow the traditional sequence of mystery or police procedurals – there’s a murder, it’s a whodunit, the quirky detective doggedly works to untangle the morass of red herrings and false clues and, eventually, slaps the cuffs on the perpetrator. This is not a bad thing, but I wanted Lie Catchers to be something more. I wanted to take the reader into a world they only thought they knew and turn them on their heads.
 
During my LAPD career, I spent over twenty-five years investigating sex crimes. For fifteen of those years, I ran the Operations West Bureau–Sexual Assault Detail (OWB-SAD) – a unit of thirty detectives investigating all sex crimes in an area covering twenty-five percent of the city. This extensive jurisdiction included Hollywood Area, where anything that could happen sexually usually did.
 
From its formation, OWB-SAD consistently maintained the highest sex crimes clearance rate and number of detective initiated arrests in the city. We were busy, but what made us far more successful than the other sex crimes details in the city was our attention to interrogations.
 
Every interrogation we did was videotaped, reviewed, and critiqued. We developed many different techniques, both in the box and on the streets. Our byword was the belief the interrogation room wasn’t a place, it was wherever an OWB-SAD detective happened to be – the suspect’s home or workplace, in a car, in a coffee shop, literally anywhere. This was interrogation as it had never been approached before.
 
For good detectives, it’s not the cases we crack that matter, it’s the ones we don’t that haunt us. I now teach week-long interrogation classes to experienced detectives at wide variety of law enforcement agencies. Invariably, several detectives in the class have an epiphany. They think back to a case where they couldn’t get to the truth and realize they could have done so if they’d had these types of techniques – which are all part of a tactical approach to interrogation.
 
As a novelist, I finally had my own interrogation epiphany. I realized, I’d never seen or read anything dealing with interrogation in a realistic manner. Books don’t get it right. Movies and TV certainly don’t get it right – not even the real cop shows like 48 Hours.
 
However, with my background and experiences, I was in a unique position to write an interrogation themed novel and make it as realistic as fiction would allow. Lie Catchers is the result.
 
I didn’t want Lie Catchers to be just another whodunit murder mystery. I wanted to give the reader an intimate experience – much like the world created between a detective and a suspect in the box. To accomplish that goal, I knew the third person narrative voice I’d used for the Fey Croaker novels would not work. For Lie Catchers, I had to get inside the head of one of the main characters and tell the story in the first person.

ORIGINAL COVER ART
JOSEPH HAYES
Lie Catchers features two top LAPD interrogators, Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall. Telling the story from Ray Pagan’s perspective just didn’t feel right. One of Pagan’s qualities is the unusual ways in which he approaches situations. This was best experienced from the point of view of another character who would come to understand Pagan along with the reader. This put me, as the writer, inside the head of Calamity Jane Randall – a very good detective, but still a woman who doesn’t truly understand herself. To become a great detective, a great interrogator, she needs Pagan to lead her on the path to self-discovery. However, Pagan also needs Randall – for many reason, which become clear in the narrative, but most of all to save him from himself.
 
I didn’t want Pagan and Randall simply to be a riff on Holmes and Watson. I wanted their dynamic to be an equal partnership. Randall isn’t just there to assist and marvel at Pagan’s brilliance – a foil used to listen while Pagan explained his cleverness. Randall is her own woman with her own strengths. Yes, sometimes Pagan acts as a mentor, but I wanted there to be an equal number of times when Randall’s actions saved the day. Jane was a leader, not just a follower.
 
But here was the challenge. As a male, writing in the third person about a female main character like Fey Croaker was one thing. Actually getting inside Jane Randall’s head to tell the story from her perspective as a woman was entirely another.
 
I had been living with the characters of Pagan and Randall in my brain for quite a while before I started writing Lie Catchers. As I prepared to start tapping out words, I was surprised to find I actually knew more about Jane than I did about Pagan.
 
Jane was a touch more tentative, a little less self-aware, than Fey Croaker. She was no less of a detective, but her approach was much more stealthy. Fey reacts, charging into situations until she crushed them. Jane quickly assesses situations and responds – achieving her goal with a minimum of shattered glass. Interrogation is all about becoming the person the suspect needs you to be in order to confess. You can’t do that by reacting…You have to be able to respond. Jane’s style complimented the skills she needed to become a great interrogator.

Jane also needed to tell her story, her way. Unless you are a writer, you can’t understand the joy and the amazement of experiencing a fictional character completely taking over your narrative. It is as if they are an entity inside you, knowing all your secrets, each skeleton in your closet. Every day, they force you to sit down at the keyboard and then take charge of your fingers to tap out their story in staccato bursts of channeled energy. 
 
Through this process, Lie Catchers became something more than just a story. It became an experience. All of the interrogation techniques within the pages are as real as I could make them, but the emotions and intensity – the intimacy I wanted to establish between characters and readers – were all sparked by Jane Randall and Ray Pagan.
 
My name is on the cover of Lie Catchers, but it’s Randall and Pagan’s story. They are your personal guides into the continent of darkness which lies in the soul of the art of interrogation. You couldn’t be in better hands.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

KICKING AND SCREAMING

KICKING AND SCREAMING
 
In the Men’s Adventure Paperbacks of the 70s and 80s Facebook group (the best place on FB to hang out ever), we usually share weekly what we are reading, even if it doesn't pertain to the group's main focus. Recently, I posted I was finishing up One Kick by Chelsea Cain judging it as very good. Surprisingly, this elicited almost instantaneous negative responses. told how horrible, unsympathetic, and icky the twenty-one year old female character was. I was also told I must be the only person who liked the book because it had been such a flop the publisher had cancelled the second book even though they had paid for it. And all of this came from as nice a group of knowledgeable, generous guys you could want to hang out with.
 
(Note: For the record, the real reason behind the second book not appearing is far more complicated, including the author following her editor from one major legacy publisher to another leaving the follow up book, Kick Back, in limbo with the original publisher, who was clearly upset by the editor and author defection.)
 
There are plenty of five star reviews for One Kick on Amazon, and an overall average of four stars for all reviews. However, there are a surprising number of one star reviews in the mix. These reflect the same sentiments I received when I mentioned reading the book—Sick... Cringe inducing... Do not read… It’s awful... Extremely disturbing... Unlikable protagonist and unbelievable story... Unless your world is enjoyed in a state of perpetual ineffectual fear and loathing, don't bother...
 
Even One Kick author, Chelsea Cain, has lamented on her Facebook page over how the book was received and the lack of understanding many readers showed toward the main character, Kick Lannigan.
 
I nearly cracked from the pressure. Like serious Judy Garland level mental breakdown. When celebrities announce that they are being treated for "exhaustion"—I get that now. But it was the best thing that could have happened, as trite as that sounds, because it forced me to make changes in my professional life and set some boundaries and get back to what this is all about, writing. Anyone crazy enough to write a book is, after all, crazy. The trick is staying functional enough to do the work, because it's the work that keeps me sane. That sometimes creates an interesting loop.
 
Cain is well established on the thriller front. She has had six previous novels on the New York Times bestseller list, been published in twenty-four languages, recommended on the Today show, appeared in episodes of HBO’s True Blood and ABC’s Castle, and included in NPR’s list of the top 100 thrillers ever written. She has also weathered sustained Twitter attacks of a viperous nature over her outspoken feminist stance regarding women working in comic books (she is the writer of the Marvel female superhero Mockingbird)—The girl ain’t no newbie.
 
All of this experience, yet somehow, One Kick elicited a deeply polarizing reaction. The question then is why. However, to find the answer, we have to begin by looking at the premise of the novel: Meet Kick Lannigan: famously kidnapped at age six, Kick captured America’s hearts when she was rescued five years later. Trained as a marksman, lock picker, escape artist and bomb maker by her abductor, Kick continues to expand her strange skill set after her release: mastering martial arts, boxing, knife throwing, and host of other talents—all part of training herself to be safe. Imagine if Elizabeth Smart had become a mercenary.
 
Now twenty-one, irrevocably scarred yet determined to never be a victim again, she is approached by an enigmatic and wealthy former weapons dealer named John Bishop. Bishop uses his fortune and contacts to track down missing children. He wants Kick to help him and he won’t take no for an answer—Yet everything he tells her about himself seems to be a lie.
 
With lives hanging in the balance, Kick is set to be the crusader she has always imagined herself. Little does she know the answers she and Bishop seek are hidden in one of the few places she doesn’t want to navigate—the dark corners of her own mind.
 
Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? So, what’s the problem. The answer lies in the fact, Cain did not deliver the book readers were expecting based on the cover synopsis. Cain had done her research too well. She understood victims who have endured the sexual abuse described (more implied than overt) as happening to Kick between the ages of six and eleven irrevocably changes an individual—forever. There is no going back.
 
Instead of giving readers the expected sympathetic, yet strong, vengeance seeking hero, Cain chose to treat her character with an understanding of the constantly shifting, unstable, misleading sands of the mind left behind by this kind of experience.
 
Kick Lannigan wants to believe she is strong. She wants to believe she can obsessively train herself in all the defensive arts in order to control the world around her and protect herself and those few similarly broken birds she cares about. Perhaps in wish fulfillment fiction this would be the path the protagonist would follow on the way to healing and reintegration...But not in the real world...Never in the real world. Cain understands this and treats her hero with the respect she deserves. Kit Lannigan is broken. The pieces of her shattered by her experiences may have been gathered together, but like Humpty Dumpty, all the kings horse and all the king’s men don’t stand a chance of putting Kick back together again.
 
How do I know this? I spent over thirty years of my law enforcement career trying to put together again the Kick Lannigans of the real world, when the only thing you can hope for is a modicum of empty justice. I have sat with the abusers, not across a table like you’ve seen on every television show cop show ever, but up close—close enough physically and mentally to reach in and access their dark places. I know the madness there. I know the damage the madness wreaks. And I know, Cain got it as close to right as I’ve ever come across in fiction.
 
Kit Lannigan is a mess. She is unlikable. She can be cringe inducing. Her behavior is extremely disturbing. She does live in a state of perpetual ineffectual fear and loathing. She epitomizes icky
 
She dissociates between the personality she was before the kidnapping, the personality she was during the years she was missing, abused, and molested, and the personality now she has been returned to the normal world. She obsessively trains to protect herself, she has killer skills, yet when the time to use them comes she freezes. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t break to emotional and mental bond burned into her by her abuser. She is indelibly and always linked to him—forever.
 
Those who are supposed to protect her failed, and now those same people are failing her again—especially her celebrity seeking mother who is a nightmare of a sociopathic narcissist in her own right. And kids are still being taken—every day—and Kick knows exactly what they are going through and it tears her apart in obsessive frenzy. 
 
The films of her being molested as a child are still making the rounds of the internet porn sites and have made her an unwilling celebrity of the worst kind. They will forever be out there, and by law, she gets notified every time law enforcement recovers a download on a pedophile’s computer. And worst of all, she knows exactly what every pedophile who views her films is thinking and fantasizing about doing to her.
 
It’s all ugly. Very ugly. Unfortunatley, it is also the sordid reality for those who are victims of long term sexual abuse—especially at a young age.
 
For a fictional character, Kick Lannigan is as close to real as it gets. I’ve met her. Many times. Cain has my respect and should be applauded—not reviled—for not shying away from the inconvenient truth of the damage from which victims of this type of abuse never fully recover—not even close.
 
And therein lies the problem. Readers don’t want real. They want escapisim. They don’t want to look into the hearts of real monsters—those who lurk in the darkness of the world and those who lie in wait in the darkness of the mind. Imaginary serial killers in the pages of a book are nothing more than Halloween haunts compared to the real thing. They always get caught and they always get their comeuppance. They allow the reader to feel the vicarious scares from the safe distance of their proverbial armchairs. Real serial killers, real rapists and serial sexual abusers of children, are terrifying in their warped sordidness. Pray you or a child you love never end up in their hands.
 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A BACK-UP WEAPON FOR YOUR BACK-UP WEAPON

A BACK-UP WEAPON FOR YOUR BACK-UP WEAPON
 
Over the years, it was inevitable my twin careers—LAPD detective and a professional writer—would sometimes bump into each other. One of the minor collisions occurred simply because of my name.
 
In the original script for 1992 film Delta Heat, the main character—an LAPD detective to be played by actor Anthony Edwards—was named Paul Bishop. When the production company’s legal section realized there actually was a current LAPD detective named Paul Bishop, they reached out and asked me to waive the rights to my own name.
 
This was not a particularly appealing idea, especially since there was no compensation offered. Rather than negotiate, the production company simply changed the main character’s name from Paul Bishop to Mike Bishop. However, prior to the final outcome of the character’s name change, I had a very pleasant lunch with Anthony Edwards at the Britannia pub in Santa Monica, which was one of my local hangouts.
 
Edwards was extremely affable and we talked about a wide range of subjects. He was particularly interested in the back-up weapons I’d carried when working undercover.
 
I explained about usually carrying a five shot Smith & Wesson Chief Special with a two inch barrel on my ankle, but Edwards was aware of this type of back up and was looking for something different.
 
As a result, I told him about carrying an even smaller, non-department approved, back up weapon known as a crotch rocket because it was carried under your scrotum—it’s amazing what discomfort you can get used to when your life may depend on it. If somebody searched you, they would almost always find the ankle gun, but would almost always miss the crotch rocket because of a reluctance to touch that area of somebody’s person.
 
his was a lesson I’d learned in the police academy when we were doing situation simulation searches. One other rookie and I (out of 54 in my academy class) were the only ones who found the crotch rocket when searching the instructor acting as a suspect.
 
When LAPD Detective Mike Bishop hit the big screen in Delta Heat (5 stars out of 10 on IMDB) it sank into the New Orleans swamps—where the movie was filmed—pretty much without a trace. However, I still had the pleasure of seeing my sort-of-namesake rescue himself in the film’s climax by using his hidden crotch rocket back up weapon after having his ankle gun taken away by the villain of the piece.

Friday, January 20, 2017

SELF-PROMOTION VS SELF-HYPE

SELF-PROMOTION VS SELF-HYPE
 
Am I the only one bored out of my skull by author self-promotion ads comparing their self-published crap novel to 'the best of Harlan Coben, Lee Child, or Vince Flynn' (or a list of any three best selling authors whose shoes the self-promoting writer couldn't shine let alone fill). Please, for the love of fiction, stop!
 
I ignore any book whose author compares his character to Jack Reacher, Mitch Rapp, or any other well known hero (but especially Jack Reacher). Telling me your character, who I've never heard of, is a force unto himself, dark, dangerous, driven, has a wicked sense of humor, or so addictive, you can’t read just one, is a guarantee I wont buy your book.
 
Don't tell me your prose is lightning-paced or a similar declarative, all of which sounds like the cover letters (usually on wide-lined tablet paper covered with hand written extortion note scribbling) sent to editors declaring the contained manuscript to be an instant bestseller or the greatest novel ever written.
 
Give me a pithy plot synopsis, a quick sketch of what makes your hero unique, and an idea of the genre...Then you might get my attention. Let readers and reviewers do the comparing. If you do the comparing, I'm going to spend my money on the originals not the watered down clones...

Saturday, January 14, 2017

FINDING HIDDEN FIGURES

FINDING HIDDEN FIGURES

I thoroughly enjoyed Hidden Figures. It's a hard film not to like. The three leads are perfectly cast and Kevin Costner holds the center together. Jim Parsons is a bit jarring only because he seems to be channeling Sheldon's evil twin.
 
There are faults. The racism angle is definitely pertinent to the story, but is heavy-handed at times. You also begin to ask yourself how many times Taraji P. Henson is going to be forced to run the half mile to the 'colored bathroom' and bac...k while trailing classified reports like so much toilet paper stuck to her click-clacking sensible heels.
 
However, like the film Enigma about Alan Turing's math genius leading to the cracking of the WWII German coding machine and the invention of the first computer, Hidden Figures is riveting when it is focused on the math geniuses behind the race to space. Even though we know the outcome (except for perhaps some gen-X and millennials for whom the space race is an ancient and murky legend), Hidden Figures manages to sustain its story's tension to the end.
 
This is not an Oscar contender filled with angst, drama, and scenery chewing. Instead, Hidden Figures is an entertaining, refreshing PG evening (not an f-bomb or hide the kids' eyes moment to be found) with many sparks for post viewing conversation...

Thursday, January 12, 2017

BOOK ALLEY ~ PASADENA ~ 2

BOOK ALLEY ~ PASADENA ~ 2

I stopped by the wonderful Book Alley in Pasadena again today on my way home from Riverside. Rebekah, their delightful mass market paperback specialist, does yeoman's work keeping her large inventory of G to VG condition books well organized, and even knows a lot about what is in the store's warehouse. I'd left her a want list on Monday and this is the haul she had waiting for me today. Only $15...

DOWNTOWNE BOOKS ~ RIVERSIDE

DOWNTOWNE BOOKS ~ RIVERSIDE

Small lunchtime haul from a bookstore I'd never before visited in old town Riverside...I came across yet another copy of Buchanan's Gun (Brian Garfield writing as Jonas Ward) and picked it up for another friend...

BOOK ALLEY ~ PASADENA

BOOK ALLEY ~ PASADENA

Hokey smokes! I stopped at Book Alley in Pasadena today. I've never been to the store before, but decided to stop in on my way down to Riverside to teach a three-day interrogation class. The stock of mass-market paperbacks at Book Alley is extensive, in great condition, and at good prices. This collection cost me $13. I picked up the copy of Buchanan's Gun, which is by Brian Garfield for a friend trying to complete his Garfield collection...

WESTERN PULP: BLAZE #15 ~ RED ROCK RAMPAGE

WESTERN PULP: BLAZE #15 ~ RED ROCK RAMPAGE
 
My long time friend Steve Mertz noted elsewhere today, "There is a day in the life of every writer that no writer ever forgets: The arrival of their first novel. And right up there with that one-of-a-kind event/emotion is the joy of sharing it when a friend gets to experience that thrill..."
 
He is absolutely right, so both Steve and I are getting the word out about our friend Ben Boulden's first novel, which is soon to be published by James Reasoner's Rough Edges Press imprint, and is currently available from Amazon for pre-order.
 
As steve says, "You're going to be hearing a lot of good things about Ben in the future, and here's your chance to join me in welcoming a new writer of promise. You won't be disappointed..."
 
FOR MORE CLICK HERE
 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

LION IN EXILE

LION IN EXILE
 
Lion was made worthwhile for me having seen the recent 60 Minutes segment featuring the young man on whom the film is based, which highlighted the evidence supporting his true story.
 
The first half of the film is made riveting by the performance of 8 year old Sunny Pawar (best screen smile ever) as five year old Saroo, who gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of miles across India, away from home and family. The challenges of survival faced by Saroo as an abandoned ...child in the seething Calcutta cauldron of inhumanity are terrifying, but it is the vivid dangers of adult human predators provide the true horrors. These scenes are the heart of the film and truly excellent storytelling, cinematography, and direction.
 
By necessity, the film now takes a giant turn to a less interesting story. After Saroo eventually lands in the living hell of an Indian orphanage, he is chosen to be adopted (no explanation how, although it did actually happen) by an affluent, loving Australian couple who live in Tasmania. These scenes of the young Saroo's immersion into a world of wonder and paradise are also well handled. So too are the scenes when a year later, the family adopts a second child from India, unaware of his debilitating emotional challenges.
The film then makes a jarring jump of twenty years and we meet the now adult, apparently well adjusted and intelligent, Saroo about to leave his adopted family to embark on a hotel management course in Melbourne. The always watchable Dev Patel tries his best in the unforgiving, underwritten role of the adult Saroo. The problem comes in that none of this is anywhere near as interesting as what has come before.
 
As Saroo goes down the rabbit hole of desperation and obsession, using the (at that time) revolutionary technology of Google Earth and the few memories of his five year old self to find his lost family and first home, he alienates everyone (including the audience) who has ever helped, supported, or cared about him. While the drive to find his lost family is certainly understandable, the film drags through this uninteresting scenario of fruitless searching and self destruction when everyone knows where the story is going.
 
If these scenes had been cut in half, and more time spent with the story from the skipped twenty years, the film would have been a more cohesive and involving tale. The inevitable happy ending also loses some of its impact because of the stupor the audience has been dragged into by the stodgy middle of the film. The ending still saves the film, especially when footage of the real reunion appear, but the whole in this case is less than the sum of its admirable parts...

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

JOHN CARTER RULES

Just re-watched (for the umpteenth time) the much maligned (by know nothing critics) John Carter movie and was once gain convinced of the film's greatness. It is a great translation of ERB's A PrincessOf Mars, and deserves a sequel that doesn't involve a scourge of meddling Disney executives and marketing gurus not worthy of the name...I get hooked in every time I channel surf and land on a cable network where it is showing...

DEATH BY MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

DEATH BY MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
 
With the exception of Casey Affleck's exceptional portrayal of a broken man attempting to do the right thing while no longer having the emotional capacity to do so, Manchester By The Sea did not live up to the hype surrounding it in my opinion.
 
Yes, Affleck's performance is great, but by its very nature it is a one note performanceand that note is a constant funeral dirge. If you feel like killing yourself after seeing this film (or Arrival, for that matter), immediately enter the adjacent theater and watch Sing repeatedly to bring the smile back to your face...

THE CONTINUING LEGACY OF DICK FRANCIS

THE CONTINUING LEGACY OF DICK FRANCIS
 
For over forty years, I’ve waited eagerly for each new Dick Francis novel to appear and immediately top my tottering to be read pile. Not only do I buy each new Francis novel on publication day, but I always pay a premium for the British first editions because of their far superior cover art, higher quality paper, and tighter binding. I still buy the America first editions, but do so while shaking my head over their generic look and feel.
 
Recently, I was speaking with the mystery’s most knowledgeable collector and genre maven—a man whose opinion I highly respect. He told me Dick Francis appears to have fallen out of favor with collectors. Apparently, my Dick Francis first editions—signed or unsigned—are currently not worth diddly. While this is unfortunate, it is a moot point as I have no plans to dispose of my extensive Francis collection.
 
Extensive is the operative word in the last sentence. Aside from British and American first editions, I have several different audio editions of each book, and copies of the books and magazines containing the original appearances of the handful of Dick Francis short stories. Then there are the VHS and DVD collections of all of the Francis television adaptations, plus the only feature film based on a Francis novel, Dead Cert
 
My collection further contains press release information for both the books and the TV adaptations, posters and lobby cards for the Dead Cert movie, a bootleg VHS tape of an unauthorized Russian television adaptation of Dead Cert, and several three-ring binders filled with other Francis ephemera.
 
I was fortunate to meet Francis and his wife Mary on several occasions and found them to be charming, good-natured, and unassuming. The fact Mary did quite a bit of work on the books while Dick got the credit on the covers, was an open secret to those familiar with the situation. The Francis sons, Merrick and Felix, also got into the act on occasion. "I designed the bomb that blew up the plane in Rat Race when I was a 17 year old physics student,” Felix explains. “I wrote the computer program in Twice Shy, which I thought was really cutting edge. but is now so out of date." Felix’s experiences as an international marksman would come into play in both Shattered (2000) and Under Orders (2006). Felix eventually left the academic world—with which he still maintains strong ties—to handle his father’s affairs and manage the Dick Francis brand. 
 
When Mary Francis passed away, Francis’ English and American publishers (Michael Joseph and Putnam respectively) began to pave the way for a formal succession of the novels’ authorship from Dick Francis to his son Felix. The tradition of a Francis for Christmas, supposedly an edict from Queen Elizabeth herself, had to continue—As, I’m sure, did the publishers’ revenues. 
 
After thirty-nine novels, two non-fiction tomes, and a collection of short stories, the next four novels were bylined Dick Francis in large type at the top of the covers with And  Felix Francis in smaller type at the bottom. Once Francis himself passed away, there was still a Francis for Christmas, only now Felix was credited as the sole author of the next six successful Dick Francis branded tales of horseracing mayhem and mystery—with no finish line yet in sight.
 
Francis himself rarely used a main character for more than one book. He believed a new book needed a new main character as it made filling the pages easier if there was a different hero to describe and develop. He also felt using a new hero in each story made it easy for the books to be read in no specific order. 
 
Francis followed this rule literally in name only and with two exceptions. Anyone who has ever read a Francis book would recognize the same hero templet in each succeeding volume. The character may have a different occupation—from race pilot to horse transport driver to official British Horse Racing Authority agent—a different girlfriend, and a different physical appearance, but the first person voice of the character never changed, nor did the likeable persona, dogged determination, and quick thinking characteristics, which were the touchstones of every Francis hero. This is not a criticism. In many ways, this approach is brilliant because it creates the perfect mix of the comfortable and expected with the allure of new and vibrant backstories and professions, all played against the ever present world of horses and racing.
 
The two exceptions to Francis’ general rule were Sid Halley and Kit Fielding. Appearing first in Break In (1985), Fielding saw a return to action the following year in Bolt (1986) as Francis was concurrently writing the official biography of Lester Piggott and did not have the time to research a new lead character. Sid Halley, however, was a different story.
 
In 1979, the first Sid Halley novel was adapted for the debut of six episodes comprising the television series, The Racing Game. While the other five episodes were original stories created by other writers, Sid Halley remained as the series protagonist. Francis was extremely impressed by the performance of actor Mike Gwilym, who portrayed Sid Halley in the series. Francis felt Gwilym so completely embodied the character, he was inspired to write the second Halley novel, Whip Hand (1979), dedicating it to Gwilym. The novel was so successful, Halley became a fan favorite and Francis brought the character back again in Come to Grief (1995) and Under Orders (2006).  
 
NOTE: In 1989 there were also three made for TV films adapting Francis’ novels Blood Sport (1967), In the Frame (1976), and Twice Shy (1981). The films replaced the different heroes from all three books with Ian McShane starring as David Cleveland, a character used only once by Francis, in the novel Slayride (1973).
 
The popularity of Sid Halley was augmented by his being the perfect Francis style hero—intelligent, tormented, and driven. A top jockey, Halley’s hand was crushed in a racing fall when a fall a horse stepped directly on his left palm. As the hand remained mostly useless even after a series of operations, the injury effectively ended his racing career. 
 
Unable to ride, Halley reluctantly takes a job as a private investigator for Hunt Radnor Associates, a large security firm with strong ties to the horseracing industry. Filled with self-pity over the hand injury, which cost him his racing career and his wife, he sleepwalks through life until a series of unexplained racetrack accidents peak his interest. In the course of the case, he discovers has an affinity for being a detective. However, this personal breakthrough comes at a high cost when the villain of the piece damages the injured hand even further, resulting in its amputation.
 
Odds Against earned Francis his first nomination for an MWA Edgar Award for Best Novel. The return of Sid Halley in Whip Hand won both the MWA Edgar and the CWA Gold Dagger for Best Novel, a double down share only with John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. The third Halley novel, Come to Grief, also won an Edgar, making Halley the only detective-hero in fiction to be headline two Best Novel Edgars.
 
In 2013, in his third solo outing, Felix Francis returned to his father’s most popular character in Dick Francis’ Refusal. Now 47 years old, Halley has a six-year-old daughter and has given up detective work. However, to protect his family from a series of violent threats, he must reignite his long dormant detective skills. 
 
In interviews, Felix Francis has stated, I didn’t actually decide to follow in my father’s footsteps. It was all a bit of an accident. My father’s literary agent approached me and said that, after five years of no new Dick Francis novel [2001—2006], people were forgetting and my father’s backlist would soon go out of print. What was needed was a new novel to stimulate interest. By this time my father was 85 and my mother, who had worked closely with my father on the novels, had died.
 
I told the agent that there was no chance of a new novel. He then asked if I, as my father’s manager, would give my permission for him to approach an established and well known crime writer to write a new ‘Dick Francis novel‘. I replied that, before he asked anyone else, I would like to have a go. “Write two chapters,” the agent said. “And then we’ll see.” I suspect he thought that he would then get my permission to ask the established writer. I wrote the two chapters and, as they say, the rest is history. The agent told me to get on and finish the book, and I’ve been a full-time writer ever since...
 
After four novels under his father’s tutelage—Dead Heat (2007), Silks (2008), Even Money (2009), and Crossfire (2010)—Dick Francis’ Gamble, published in September 2011, retained the Dick Francis brand, but was Felix Francis’ first solo outing.
 
The idea of a recurring hero apparently appealed to Felix Francis. Following the return of Sid Halley in Dick Francis’ Refusal, Felix Francis’ next novel, Dick Francis’ Damage (2014), introduced British Horseracing Authority agent Jefferson Jeff Hinkley. 
 
A highly trained investigator, Hinkley was as an officer in the British Army Intelligence Corps. He served several tours of duty in Afghanistan, and is not fazed by situations of intense danger where he has to rely solely on his wits to extricate himself from trouble. He is also a master of disguise. Like all Francis heroes, he is organized, loyal, and courageous—stubbornly refusing to be put off the scent of his quarry despite threats, beatings, stabbings, and bombings. 
 
My editor and publisher were keen to have Jeff back and I believed it was the time, maybe, to write a series...I have certainly found the experience interesting, if not always easy. The primary difficulty being the need to create a story that can be read in isolation from the others in the series without the need for prior knowledge from previously written works...To be a success, it is essential people care about the protagonist. They don’t have to necessarily like him, but they do have to care what happens to him and also how the story unfolds around him...
 
As a result, Felix Francis immediately brought Hinkley back in Front Runner: A Dick Francis Novel (2015), unearthing some unresolved issues from Dick Francis’ Damage, to challenge his returning hero. Hinkley’s adventures also continue in Felix Francis’ latest novel, Triple Crown: A Dick Francis Novel (2016)—which takes Hinkley to America and the perils of the Kentucky Derby and the other glamorous races comprising American racing’s biggest prize. 
 
Like Sid Halley before him, Jeff Hinkley is extremely likeable. Felix Francis has captured his father’s skill at using the first person narrative of his tales to make the reader feel like a close friend along for the investigative ride. For me, Felix Francis has refreshed the brand. As a self-admitted Dick Francis fanatic, I’m delighted to see the stories continuing in a style and quality of which both Dick and Mary Francis would be proud. 
 
DICK FRANCIS’ DAMAGE
 
Undercover investigator Jeff Hinkley is assigned by the British Horseracing Authority to look into the activities of a suspicious racehorse trainer, but as he’s tailing his quarry through the Cheltenham Racing Festival, the last thing he expects to witness is a gruesome murder. Could it have something to do with the reason the trainer was banned in the first place—the administration of illegal drugs to his horses?
 
Then many more horses test positive for prohibited stimulants, and someone starts making demands, threatening to completely destroy the integrity of the racing industry. In order to limit the damage to the sport, it’s critical that Jeff find the perpetrator...but he’ll soon learn he’s up against someone who will stop at nothing to prevail.
 
FRONT RUNNER: A DICK FRANCIS NOVEL
 
In his role as an undercover investigator for the British Horseracing Authority, Jeff Hinkley is approached by a multi-time champion jockey to discuss the delicate matter of losing races on purpose. Little does he know that the call will set off a lethal chain of events, including the apparent suicide of the jockey and an attempt on Hinkley’s own life. Never one to leave suspicious events alone, Hinkley begins investigating the jockey and the races he may have thrown. But there are others out there who intend to prevent his inquiry from probing further…at any cost.
 
TRIPLE CROWN: A DICK FRANCIS NOVEL
 
Jefferson Hinkley is back in the newest thriller in the Dick Francis tradition, this time on a special mission to the United States to investigate a conspiracy involving the biggest horse races in the country.
 
Jeff Hinkley, investigator for the British Horseracing Authority, has been seconded to the US Federal Anti-Corruption in Sports Agency (FACSA) where he has been asked to find a mole in their organization—an informant who is passing on confidential information to those under suspicion in American racing.  At the Kentucky Derby, Jeff joins the FACSA team in a raid on a horse trainer’s barn at Churchill Downs, but the bust is a disaster, and someone ends up dead.  Then, on the morning of the Derby itself, three of the most favored horses in the field fall sick. 
 
These suspicious events can be no coincidence. In search of answers, Jeff goes undercover as a groom on the backstretch at Belmont Park racetrack in New York. But he discovers far more than he was bargaining for: corrupt individuals who will stop at nothing—including murder—to capture the most elusive prize in world sport, the Triple Crown.