Just a quick update: got my comp copy of Black is the Night!
On October 11th, this anthology honoring Cornell Woolrich from Titan Books will hit bookstore shelves and includes my story "Two Wrongs"!
A gritty and thrilling anthology of 30 new short stories in tribute to pulp noir master, Cornell Woolrich, author of 'Rear Window' that inspired Alfred Hitchock's classic film.
Featuring Neil Gaiman, Kim Newman, James Sallis, A.K. Benedict, USA Today-bestseller Samantha Lee Howe, Joe R. Lansdale and many more.
An anthology of exclusive new short stories in tribute to the master of pulp era crime writing, Cornell Woolrich. Woolrich, also published as William Irish and George Hopley, stands with Raymond Chandler, Erle Stanley Gardner and Dashiell Hammett as a legend in the genre.
He is a hugely influential figure for crime writers, and is also remembered through the 50+ films made from his novels and stories, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, The Bride Wore Black, I Married a Dead Man, Phantom Lady, Truffaut's La Sirène du Mississippi, and Black Alibi.
Collected and edited by one of the most experienced editors in the field, Maxim Jakubowski, features original work from:
Joe R. Lansdale
Paul Di Filippo
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Joseph S. Walker
Samantha Lee Howe
O'Neil De Noux
Ana Teresa Pereira
Don't miss it!
Let's talk about FOREVER AND A DEATH.
FOREVER AND A DEATH has its origins in the early 90s and the James Bond film franchise. One of the producers of GOLDENEYE, a big Donald Westlake fan, approached Westlake during the post-production phase of GOLDENEYE to come up with a pitch for the next James Bond film installment. The story goes, Westlake came up with several pitches that the producers felt were either clever, but too far from the Bond formula to be appropriate, or too close to the Bond formula to be the kind of fresh take they were looking for. Eventually, Westlake's involvement was shelved, but he liked one of his ideas too much to also shelve and wrote a novel around it.
The plot is essentially Bondian: an incredibly-rich and powerful American businessman has been kicked out of Hong Kong after the Chinese resumed control from the British (and they did remove a number of non-native undesirables when this happened in the real world) and his fortunes have suffered ever since. In fact, he's no longer wealthy at all, but keeping up the appearance of such with an elaborate Ponzi scheme - which leads to his revenge scheme: destroy Hong Kong Island while stealing the Bank of China's gold reserves during the chaos.
The hero, rather than Bond, is the engineer who designed the process of using a soliton wave to break up land-fill, turning it into muck. His process was designed for a specific construction project, in a unique situation, while all the time Curtis--the businessman--planned to use it for revenge. George Manville is hardly a hero at the outset, but he learns.
If you've read Westlake, you should know what to expect: action, tight plotting, wry humor. FOREVER AND A DEATH, which was never published during Westlake's life, isn't a bad novel, but doesn't feel like a Westlake novel. It's certainly filled with action, but the plot is kind of rambling (to the point that I wished he'd get to the point) and the attempts at humor are either unsuccessful or too subtle for most people to catch. Honestly, it feels like a great writer's first draft that was published before he had a chance to do his revisions. And this is quite possibly the case: the elements of the story are there, but the Westlake signature touches haven't yet been added.
If you're a big Westlake fan, or a Bond fan, it's not a bad read, but it won't make my list of favorite Westlake books by a long-shot.
I've written about Harry Whittington here before. I've certainly read enough of his crime novels. Some are excellent (like his swamp-noir A MOMENT TO PREY) and some are atrocious (like DON'T SPEAK TO STRANGE GIRLS), but most are fairly average. However, Whittington also wrote a number of westerns. Until recently, I'd never read one, but a friend gave me three for my birthday a couple of weeks ago. The first I read was SADDLE THE STORM and I have to say, it's so good, it almost seems hard to believe Whittington wrote it.
While the subject matter of Whittington's novels varies widely, they most have one thing in common: they are very simple, very straightforward. That's not a bad thing, per se. His most complex book I'd previously read was A HAVEN FOR THE DAMNED, which reads less like a novel and more like a single-set-piece stage-play with a large number of characters moving on and off stage. That felt like Whittington being more ambitious than was typical, but it's nothing compared to SADDLE THE STORM.
SADDLE THE STORM is a western, but it's really not like any western I've read before. It's immensely, incredibly densely-packed with both named characters and plot. When I first started it and I realized how quickly characters were being introduced, I feared it would be a case of a huge cast being used to obfuscate a thin plot, but it's exactly the opposite. None of the characters Whittington introduces are filler nor are their words or actions wasted.
The entire novel takes place during a three-day Independence Day celebration in the small town of Malpais and features three main, interwoven plots about: a young couple whose marriage is falling apart; a Bible-thumping bully who terrorizes his wife and children as an outlet for his own anger at being pushed around by larger ranching outfits; and a young gunfighter who wants to get away from a life of violence and bloodshed. Each of the three plots could have supported a typical Whittington novel on its own, but here, Whittington weaves them together so skillfully, each character and plot playing off of and adding to, moving along, the others, that it's truly incredible. The endings don't wrap up as realistically as I'd hoped, but each has an ending that works and even if they're a little anti-climactic, they don't take away from the overall experience.
The thing about this book is that it was so good that it makes me wonder why Whittington didn't devote this kind of skill to his other works. SADDLE THE STORM was published in 1954, early on in Whittington's career. Almost all of his work in the 50s and early 60s was published by Gold Medal, who paid fairly small amounts for initial print runs (though they paid fair royalties on additional print runs and many of their books went through multiple runs and/or editions). Many GM authors produced large bodies of work simply to make a living. Whittington himself was incredibly prolific--at one point, he produced a 50k novel a month for more than three years--and I suppose at some point, he made the decision between a steady income from potboilers and a more uneven income from more-artfully-produced novels. Clearly, he chose the steady work.
It's too bad, really, because Whittington, while not forgotten, is not as widely remembered as he deserves to be and I truly believe that if his crime novels were as skillfully produced as SADDLE THE STORM, he would have been able to break into the more mainstream, larger publishers and gain more lasting recognition.
That being said, if you've never read Whittington, there's no time like the present to start and you can certainly do worse than start with this one.
I've talked quite a bit about John D. MacDonald here. As a reader, I have something of a complicated relationship with his work, despite owning and having read his entire catalogue. Mainly, because while some of the 45 or so standalone novels, and over 500 short stories, he wrote between 1951 and 1961 are brilliant, many are simply not good at all. Most writers' work fall in a spectrum between bad and good, with most of them falling somewhere in between. A great deal of JDM's output, however, falls closer to "bad" than "good" on that spectrum - which has always mystified me, because when he's good, he's oftentimes amazing.
The Travis McGee series, for which he mainly known (despite the McGee novels being less than a third of his lifetime output) are like something entirely else, though. Not only is there not any bad Travis McGee, they're nearly all excellent. The first one I read, the second published, Nightmare in Pink, I almost had a hard time believing it was JDM. The tone of the work is so immensely different in so many ways from his earlier work, and the structure is entirely different from the format JDM worked out for himself and became comfortable with.
To be perfectly blunt, many of JDM's standalone novels are not novels in any true sense. Frequently, they are novelettes in the 10-15k word range prefaced with 35 to 40k words of (often unnecessary) backstory, simply to get the book to the required word-count range.
Travis McGee novels are not like that at all. They are true novels with plots and subplots (sometimes multiple subplots) and while the solution to the mysteries occasionally comes out of left field (such as The Quick Red Fox), JDM does seed these books with clues that an insightful reader can build upon towards figuring out the solution.
That said, the series stands apart from many other series by JDM's contemporaries in that they have continuity between them and Travis McGee, the unlicensed detective who calls himself a "salvage consultant" (because he will return your lost valuables to you, whether they are physical or not, when you have no legal recourse for half their value), changes along with them.
In the first novel, The Deep Blue Good-by, McGee is a professional beach bum without a care in the world. By the end of the novel, he's been emotionally devastated (leading to the events of the second novel), and it takes a couple more books for him to recover sufficiently - only for JDM to throw him into the wringer once more. The books deal with a variety of situations and crimes, but the themes of loneliness, dealing with encroaching age, and carving a place for yourself in a world that doesn't need any of us--at least not individually--resonate throughout the series. And with each book, McGee gets a little older, a little wiser, a little sadder, but he also becomes nobler.
He's been described as a modern knight-errant, and that's not a bad comparison. He is a roughneck, and perfectly capable of cracking heads, but it's a last resort, and he fells bad about it. He respects people. He especially cherishes women. Unlike the heroes of many detective series, he doesn't simply fall into bed. He has to be in love "at least a little bit," as he says in one novel, and while his relationships don't work out in the long-term, he remains friends with a surprising number of these woman and often they make repeat or even recurring appearances in later books as supporting characters.
McGee is probably one of the most realistic detectives in any of the works I've read - and I've read literally thousands of P.I. stories and books. That aside, the books are JDM at his absolute best. I've read more than half of the series and never found one yet that isn't at least good, and several of them are truly excellent.
I think what I'm trying to say here is that I love this series and if you like mystery fiction with something more, you will, too.
Quite a while ago, I had a story called "One Man's Delicacy" accepted for this anthology. Contributor copy showed up unexpectedly, and now it's out in the world!
A drabbun is a very flash story punctuated by a summarizing thought. Some are humorous, others poignant or evocative of an emotion. All are entertaining and thought-provoking. The drabbun was developed by the staff of Hiraeth Publishing as an innovative method of presenting ideas and concepts.
This anthology is perfect for late night bedtime reading.
Get your copy!
My story "Lone Star Hate" was nominated for a Mustang Award (my second year nominated), but came in first runner-up.
You can read the story for free here, if you're into very short westerns.
There's a new issue of Guilty out, including a story of mine!
"𝗕𝗹𝗼𝗼𝗱 𝗟𝗼𝘀𝘀" by Trey R. Barker - It's been years since John saw Diane, but she was still beautiful, the wound still bled, and John wasn't the only one who'd hurt.
"𝗔 𝗧𝗮𝗹𝗲 𝗼𝗳 𝗧𝘄𝗼 𝗪𝗶𝘃𝗲𝘀" by Christine Eskilson - Two wives, two deaths - I swear it's just a coincidence!
"𝗘𝗱𝘄𝗶𝗻 𝗚𝗲𝘁𝘀 𝗮𝗻 𝗜𝗱𝗲𝗮" by Susan Oleksiw - It was rare, but Edwin had an idea and it might even be a good one.
"𝗗𝗼𝘂𝗯𝗹𝗲 𝗼𝗿 𝗡𝗼𝘁𝗵𝗶𝗻𝗴" by Brandon Barrows - It was all on the line: the payoff of a lifetime or the end of the road.
"𝗔 𝗠𝗶𝘀𝗰𝗵𝗶𝗲𝗳 𝗼𝗳 𝗥𝗮𝘁𝘀" by Robb T. White - The worst neighbors simply require the worst solutions.
"𝗠𝗲𝗿𝗰𝘆 𝗞𝗶𝗹𝗹𝗶𝗻𝗴𝘀" by Marie Anderson - It wasn't murder, he was just doing them a favor putting them out of their misery.
"𝗟𝘂𝗻𝗰𝗵" by Dustin Walker - Mac needs an in. All he has to do is survive one little luncheon...
"𝗘𝗱𝗲𝗻 𝗣𝗿𝗮𝗶𝗿i𝗲 𝗛𝗲𝗶𝘀𝘁" (article) by Anthony Perconti
I'm Brandon and I write comic books, prose and poetry. I own dozens of clever and interesting t-shirts.