R.T.M Scott's second Spider pulp novel has a less madcap plot than his first, but it's just as good. In The Wheel of Death, Richard Wentworth (the "SpR.T.M Scott's second Spider pulp novel has a less madcap plot than his first, but it's just as good. In The Wheel of Death, Richard Wentworth (the "Spider") goes undercover as a hood and meets a young woman whose father is slated to be executed, but who is--of course--innocent of the crime. Wentworth discovers a nightclub and casino that is only open to New York's wealthy and powerful, and which is run by a criminal mastermind intent on taking over political power in the city through intimidation and blackmail. Would it be a spoiler to say that he saves the day?...more
The Private Practice of Michael Shayne is Davis Dresser's second Mike Shayne novel (all of which were written under the "Brett Halliday" pseudonym), aThe Private Practice of Michael Shayne is Davis Dresser's second Mike Shayne novel (all of which were written under the "Brett Halliday" pseudonym), and it's as entertaining and fast-moving as the first, Dividend on Death. Shayne's tentative romance with the young débutante Phyllis Brighton takes a couple of steps forward while his antagonistic relationship with Miami police chief Peter Painter devolves from mutual hatred to outright loathing. Essentially, Dresser keeps everything from the first novel that works, while toning down the drawing room mystery antics and pumping up the hard-boiled tough-guy shenanigans just a little.
On a side note, I recently watched the 1940 film Michael Shayne: Private Detective, which stars Lloyd Nolan. Every source I've looked at (the Internet Movie Database, the Thrilling Detective web site, and even the film expert on the special features of the DVD) incorrectly states that the film is based on the first Michael Shayne novel, Dividend on Death, but that simply isn't the case. It is clearly based on this novel. I need backup on this one, people! If anyone feels like a homework assignment, read Dividend on Death and The Private Practice of Michael Shayne, then watch Michael Shayne: Private Detective and tell me if I'm wrong....more
I enjoyed Die Trying, Lee Child's second Jack Reacher novel, a lot more than his first, Killing Floor. The switch from first-person narration to thirdI enjoyed Die Trying, Lee Child's second Jack Reacher novel, a lot more than his first, Killing Floor. The switch from first-person narration to third-person narration helped a lot. The bigger, tougher, and more taciturn a character is, the more important it is not to have him narrate his own story. (Can you imagine The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly with constant voice-over narration by Clint Eastwood explaining what his character is thinking and feeling?)
In this novel, Reacher is still drifting around the United States after spending most of his adult life as a military policeman. He is in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up getting kidnapped by a few crazed Montana militiamen (remember, this book was published in 1998) along with a female F.B.I. agent, and they're whisked off together to the militia's compound.
Die Trying moves at a brisk pace, and it's a satisfying beach read (or Greyhound bus read, in my case). The writing isn't great (Child's copy editor really should have raised a red flag about the overuse of the verb "shrug") but the story is entertaining, and Reacher is a pretty good character. I will almost certainly read more of Child's books....more
I was just down in Delray Beach, Florida. While I was there I visited the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum, which is the former home of the late SolomonI was just down in Delray Beach, Florida. While I was there I visited the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum, which is the former home of the late Solomon D. Spady, the most prominent African American educator and community leader in the city from the '20s through the '50s. They were showing an exhibit of a group of Florida landscape painters known as "the Highwaymen," whom I'd never heard of.
I liked the show, so I bought this book, and read it over the course of the next few days. The Highwaymen were a group of young African American painters (25 men and one woman) in and around Ft. Pierce who produced approximately 50,000 to 200,000 landscape paintings from the '50s through the '70s. The name "Highwaymen" wasn't given to them until 1994, when art aficionado Jim Fitch coined the term. While potentially pejorative because of the association with highway robbery, the name is appropriate, since the artists drove up and down Florida's coast to sell their paintings, which they produced quickly, in great numbers, and primarily to make money. They got their start when a young, self-taught black artist named Harold Newton was taken under the wing of a successful white Florida landscape artist named A.E. "Beanie" Backus. Other young black painters from Ft. Pierce followed in Newton's footsteps, most notably Alfred Hair, whose dream was to be a millionaire by the time he was 35. Although he fell short of his goal (he was murdered at the age of 29), Hair did fulfill his dream of owning a Cadillac and supporting his wife and children with the money he made selling his paintings, most of which he produced in less than an hour each. Hair is fondly remembered by most of the people interviewed for the book as a charismatic and inspiring figure. The Highwaymen often painted in groups, and encouraged one another. While their art is the type one might see hanging in bank lobbies, over sofas in middle-income homes, and in motel rooms, appreciation for it has grown in recent years. Their paintings sold for around $50 when the oils were still drying, around $5 at garage sales in the '80s, and for more than $1,000 today, now that collectors have taken an interest in their work.
Monroe's book is really wonderful. It's not overloaded with text or portentous analyses of their work. Monroe doesn't try to inflate their importance as artists. He places their work in its cultural context (he calls it "vernacular art") and talks about the many things that make it special. The bulk of the book is taken up by reproductions of Highwaymen art. There are 59 plates that showcase work by most of the artists identified as "Highwaymen," with a focus on the work of Newton and Hair. One of the interesting things about the Highwaymen is that they worked from memory and imagination. They didn't spend all day on-site, attempting to perfectly recreate the scene before them. They used brushes, palette knives, and fingers to quickly (and with the least amount of paint necessary) create vividly colored impressions of the Florida wilderness they'd grown up in. Their art has no visible political context--humans and buildings rarely appear in Highwaymen art (which is probably why the Highwaymen were able to find so many buyers for their art, as well as sell to white businesses and individuals in a volatile and desegregating South without any reports of violence or animosity), What their art does do, however, is invite the viewer to participate in a shared experience of wonder. Their depictions of Florida's natural beauty, its volatile coastal weather, and its unearthly sunsets and tricks of light are frequently stunning....more
This book took me forever to get into, and once I finally did, it still never really grabbed me. Like a lot of mystery novels, by the time I got to thThis book took me forever to get into, and once I finally did, it still never really grabbed me. Like a lot of mystery novels, by the time I got to the end, I couldn't help thinking that it would have been more interesting if the plot had focused on the killer(s) instead of the elaborate puzzle that leads to the conclusion.
Speaking of puzzles, Patrick Quentin (sometimes Quentin Patrick or just "Q. Patrick") was a pen name under which various combinations of four different people (Hugh Callingham Wheeler, Mary Louise White Aswell, Richard Wilson Webb, and Martha Mott Kelly) wrote a series of mysteries starting in 1931. Many of them were part of the "puzzle" series that featured the detective Peter Duluth (e.g., Puzzle for Fiends, Puzzle for Wantons, Puzzle for Fools, Puzzle for Players).
The Grindle Mystery, which was written by Webb and Aswell, doesn't have a strong detective as its main character, which could be one of the reasons I didn't really like it, or it could just be that I prefer the hard-boiled noir stories of the 1930s to the elaborately constructed whodunits of Quentin, John Dickson Carr, Agatha Christie, and their ilk. What I did like about The Grindle Mystery, however, was its thick atmosphere and its gruesome goings-on. Most of the murders in this book are committed by dragging people behind a car, and no one seems to be safe from the whoever is doing the killing; the victims include a little girl, a kitten, an old man, a dog, and a marmoset. That's right, a marmoset....more
Dividend on Death is the first mystery Davis Dresser wrote about tough, redheaded, Miami-based private investigator Michael Shayne. Dresser wrote theDividend on Death is the first mystery Davis Dresser wrote about tough, redheaded, Miami-based private investigator Michael Shayne. Dresser wrote the novel under the pseudonym "Brett Halliday," and he would go on to write 49 more novels about Shayne before other authors stepped in to write 27 more, all under the house name "Brett Halliday" (the last novel about Shayne was published in 1976). Shayne also appeared in hundreds of short stories, as well as several films, a TV series, and a radio series.
Despite that, Shayne hasn't left much of a mark in pop culture. It's safe to say that many present-day fans of Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Mike Hammer, and their ilk haven't even heard of him, let alone read any Brett Halliday novels.
Since Shayne's reputation (if he even has one) is that of "the generic P.I.," I found Dividend on Death a pleasant surprise. Its plot is farfetched and Dresser uses an average of two adverbs per sentence, most of them unnecessary, but it's a fun read. It seems to be influenced by The Maltese Falcon, especially in its use of a heavy gangland figure named Gordon whom Shayne meets in a hotel room (in much the same fashion Sam Spade meets Casper Gutman). Like Gutman, Gordon employs a pint-sized gunman and has a beautiful "daughter." Gordon enlists Shayne to track down a possibly priceless artifact. Not content to crib from just one mystery, however, Dresser folds this plot into another one about a hysterical (and beautiful) rich girl who's being tormented by her live-in psychiatrist, who--it should go without saying--is up to no good.
This is a decent, quick read for hard-boiled mystery fans. It's not great, but it's fun....more
This is the first novel by Georges Simenon I've read, although I've been aware of his Inspector Maigret character for decades. I really liked it, andThis is the first novel by Georges Simenon I've read, although I've been aware of his Inspector Maigret character for decades. I really liked it, and will continue to read more books in the Maigret series.
Simenon's writing is great. The Yellow Dog takes place in a seaside town, and Simenon never lets you forget it. The descriptions of the sea, the weather, and the narrow streets of the town are wonderful, and never overwritten. The same goes for Simenon's way with characters. Each one is made just interesting and unique enough to stick in the reader's mind, but extensive life histories and details unrelated to the central mystery are kept to a minimum.
Some aspects of the denouement are a little far-fetched, but for a short mystery novel, The Yellow Dog definitely delivered the goods....more
This is a collection with two distinct halves. "The Ballad of the Sad Café" takes up roughly the first half, and is a Southern Gothic meditation on loThis is a collection with two distinct halves. "The Ballad of the Sad Café" takes up roughly the first half, and is a Southern Gothic meditation on love, betrayal, and solitude, told through a strange triangle; a mannish woman named Miss Amelia, a grotesque dwarf called Cousin Lymon, and a handsome criminal named Marvin. The second half is a collection of stories that are less strange and baroque, and are finely observed meditations on humanity. "Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland," "The Sojourner," and "A Tree, a Rock, a Cloud" were my favorites, but they're all good, except for "Wunderkind," which is the only story in this collection I'd dare to call sophomoric....more
I'm reading Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series in order, and loving it. Each novel stands alone as a fine, terse police procedural, but builds on the laI'm reading Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series in order, and loving it. Each novel stands alone as a fine, terse police procedural, but builds on the last in subtle ways. You don't need to have read the first four books in the series to enjoy this one, but if you have, the characters may start to feel like old friends. Or, at the very least, wiseacres you work with and don't mind seeing every day. This series is, after all, about working stiffs just doing their jobs, which I prefer to more fanciful detective fiction....more