Wednesday, 16 December 2020

McCartney III: aLbum review


 Let's talk Paul McCartney's new album, McCartney III - The previous two self titled albums were released at times when the artist found himself at crossroads in his career - McCartney came in 1970 just as the Beatles were falling apart, and McCartney II arrived ten years later just as Wings were about to be grounded.


'Well I can find my way, I know my left from right.'

 

This time out circumstances are somewhat different, though like the previous two McCartney albums this was recorded during a time of great  upheaval. Macca had planned on spending 2020 touring the globe but the pandemic found him confined to barracks and so given his workaholic condition and the fact that he has a  state of the art recording studio at his Sussex home he wrote a bunch of new songs, completed some old ones and here we have it, McCartney III. For Macca lockdown became rockdown.

'Chasing the morrow, getting ready to run'

It's a damn fine album too, that mostly sticks to the concept of the previous two McCartney albums with the artists doing almost everything himself - playing all the instruments, supplying the vocals, both lead and harmony and producing, mixing and even making the coffee. The album also follows the same pattern as the other McCartney albums with several instrumental pieces, a smattering of strange little ditties and the odd masterpiece thrown in.


Beatle fandom is a strange thing and there are some people who will knock this album - they tend to criticize McCartney because his voice is not as powerful as it once was, but that's bullshit and if you follow that lead them you may as well knock Macca for having more wrinkles than Beatle Paul or for having greyer hair than the Wings frontman. 

I'm comfortable with senior Macca and no matter what his detractors say he has remained consistent since those early days on Merseyside. He's still capable of turning out the most saccharine of tunes as well as pulling off something so left-field that he leaves the young turks standing. He's also not averse to singing about fixing fences to protect the chickens. Years ago he was fixing a hole to stop his mind from wandering and now he's ruminating about fixing the fence by the acre patch. All he wants, you know, is a home in the heart of the country.


'Dinosuars and Santa Claus will stay in tonight.'


McCartney seems to be chasing the strangest ideas throughout the album and coming up with some incredibly original tunes which contains that melodic gold that he's known for. Perhaps the strongest track is , Deep Deep Feeling which is astounding in the way vocal layers are built over a minimalist beat. I love that one


Track listing:

Long Tailed Winter Bird

Find my Way

Pretty Boys

Women and Wives

Lavatory Lil

Deep Deep Feeling

Slidin

The Kiss of Venus

Seize the Day

Deep Down

Winter Bird/When Winter Comes

 

And so McCartney's late career golden patch continues to shine bright and McCartney III continues a run of great albums that truly reward the listener with repeat spins. For now, I'm off to find the sun when winter comes.



Tuesday, 8 December 2020

The female of the species

 


Never trust a dame, beware the broad - they'll turn on you when the chips are down, twist the knife  - least according to the pulps and I use the term, pulp in its broadest sense to include the cheap, slim paperbacks that filled the shops for years, published by the likes of Dell, Gold Medal, Ace and Lancer. In the true sense they were not pulps but they most certainly carried the pulp spirit.

A femme fatale tries to achieve her hidden purpose by using feminine wiles such as beauty, charm, and sexual allure. The phrase translated from the French means deadly woman.


"She looked playful and eager, but not quite sure of herself, like a new kitten in a house where they don't care much about kittens." Raymond Chandler



In the pulps women always had a hidden agenda - at first they would appear weak and in need of protection but as the story unfolds they would inevitably show their true colours. The kitten would display its claws. The women of the pulps were built strictly for titillation - they were not the type of girls you'd feel comfortable bringing home to meet your mum, least not if you wanted to hang on to your inheritance.


"
A really good detective never gets married. " Raymond Chandler

"She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket. " Raymond Chandler

"Friendships, like marriages, are dependent on avoiding the unforgivable. " John D. McDonald






Women in the pulps would often appear sweet and innocent but as the reader learned more she would transform from damsel in distress to  psychobitch, always willing to use her nubile pink body (nubile pink body, or variation of such, seems to be a description favoured by pulp writers) to get what she wanted. To the pulp babe the body was as much a weapon as the snub nosed revolver she kept hidden in her purse. Or, for that matter, the sticks of TNT disguised as a lipstick.

Female protagonists were rare in the pulps but that's not to say they didn't exist - Cornell Woolrich wrote a story called Angel Face which was about a women on the vengeance trail that was published in Dime Detective in 1935 with its title changed to Murder in Wax. The story is collected in The Big Book of Pulps edited by Otto Penzler which has an entire section devoted to the pulp babes. Here you will find stories by Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett and a host of less remembered luminaries of the pulp years.

There is however a great article on female pulp writers HERE

Later as the cheap mass market paperbacks started to replace the pulps there were scores upon scores of exploitative fiction hitting the shelves. These books, pornography really, took the exploitation of women to a degree the original pulps would never have dared.

Lesbian thrillers were hugely popular and numbered in their hundreds. And if women weren't engaged in lesbian acts it was only because they were otherwise busy killing, lying, stealing, drugging, drinking or swinging . Much of this was due to the fact that almost exclusively it was men writing for the pulps and the cheap mass market paperbacks. Of course there were some women writers but these were few and far between.


During the Sixties and Seventies, the height of the sexual revolution, it was the age of crude exploitative fictions. Where in the past it had been mystery and murder, with a subtle hint of sex, that had driven the industry it was now very much sex pushed to the forefront bringing everything else with it. And whilst the covers of these books displayed more nudity than the early pulps and paperbacks the artwork was very much in the same style. Some of the writing though was positively pornographic.

"One moment I'd be drawing a dame with a gun in her hand and the next project I'd do the same dame with her tits out.' Steve Bilkins, pulp artist, told Pulp Collector in an interview in 1973.













This was a world away from the 1950's when the Hank Janson books were accused of obscenity.










Ironically these lesbian thrillers, written one handed with young male readers very much in mind, were popular with a large gay female readership.

Stephanie Foote, from the University of Illinois commented on the importance of lesbian pulp novels to the lesbian identity prior to feminism.

"Pulps have been understood as signs of a secret history of readers, and they have been valued because they have been read. The more they are read, the more they are valued, and the more they are read, the closer the relationship between the very act of circulation and reading and the construction of a lesbian community becomes...Characters use the reading of novels as a way to understand that they are not alone."


These days we've moved on both in society and in our reading and women in fiction are much more rounded, real people than they were in the days of the pulps and mass market paperback nasties.


Indeed in the modern world many of the truly great writers are women and the exploitative paperbacks are merely relics of less enlightened times. The pulps live on though and authors like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Paul M. Cain and Mickey Spillane are immortal and the concept of the femme fatale they helped shape is very much a part of the modern psyche. The Hard Case Crime series continues the long tradition of the femme fatale though and she's just as tough as ever.

Sunday, 6 December 2020

The Genre too tough to die

 "One of the most vapid and infantile forms of art ever conceived by the brain of a Hollywood film producer." ...Dwight Macdonald, The Miscellany 1929

"The western remains, I suppose, America's distinctive contribution to the film."...Arthur Schlesinger Jr, Show April 1963



Geographically and historically the concept of "The West" is very loosely defined, when associated with the literary and film genre of the western. With the possible exception of the Eastern Seaboard almost every part of the USA had been called "The West" at some stage in the country's history.

The federal government defines "The West" as including the following states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada,New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. But from the movies and books both Kansas and Nebraska can be added. And maybe Hawaii and Washington should be removed. The West of popular imagination usually contains those areas associated with the final frontiers of American settlement - anything West of the Mississippi River. An area associated with cowboys, Indians, outlaws and lone lawmen.

Amongst the earliest western literature with artistic merit were the works of James Fennimore Cooper, his most famous works being 1826's Last of the Mohicans - though by the true definition of the genre none of the author's works are strictly westerns. The books were set in colonial America and featured the British rule but true westerns are set in independent America.

EZC Judson, writing under the pen name Ned Buntline was an early writer of traditional westerns. He earned himself the nickname of, 'Father of the Dime Novel' and turned Buffalo Bill into a figure of mythic proportions. However the first western with the classic ingredients was Owen Wister's The Virginian in 1902, which largely invented the guidelines that western writers still follow today.



The names Louis L'amour and Zane Grey have dominated the genre for many years and still do to some extent. But an early European champion of the genre was Karl May with his popular Shatterhand books. He wrote over 60 books but Shatterhand remains his most famous character. Indeed Shatterhand was revived by B.J. Holmes in a series of books for the successful UK western house, Black Horse Westerns.

The cinema has always had a love affair with the western and during the silent era there were many hundreds of westerns made. Most of these have been lost but there are still some prime examples of early westerns to be sought out by fans.

Some of the most important silent westerns that still exist and can be found on DVD or in many cases for free download from archive.org include:

The Iron Horse (1924) directed by John Ford
The Covered Wagon (1923) directed by James Cruze
Battle of Elderbush Gulch (1914) directed by D W Griffith

In cinematic terms there is little doubt that the Golden Age of the western took place between the years 1940 - 1970. There were many classics before and since but during these years there was never a time when most major studios didn't have at least one western in production.

During the Fifties and Sixties in particular the western also dominated the small screen with many western TV series being aired. Among the most well known are:
Bonanza
Gunsmoke
The Big Country
The Virginian
The Rifleman
Have Gun will Travel
Wyatt Earp
Wanted Dead or Alive

The modern era has also seen many classics of the genre, both on the screen and between the covers - Lonesome Dove, Sons of Texas, Blood Meridian, Tombstone, The Unforgiven to name but a few. And of course in recent years we've seen the Coen's re-make of True Grit, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. Those though are just the tip of the hay bale - for instance check out the excellent Netflix westerns series, Godless.

The Western truly is THE GENRE TOO TOUGH TO DIE. Kevin Costner is working on a new western and there is a remake of Butch and Sundance in the works. American greats like Dusty Richards and  Larry McMurtry continue to write quality western works. And British western house, Black Horse Westerns are continuing to bring out new western fiction written by writers from all over the world. Among these you will find such loved writers as B. J. Holmes, Ben Bridges, Jack Giles,Nik Morton,  Ian Parnham, Mathew P. Mayo, Chap O'Keefe, Jim Lawless and myself, Jack Martin. And this is just a small selection of the writers producing all new traditional westerns under The Black Horse banner. And of course there is the story of John Locke who became the worlds' first self published writer to sell a million eBooks on Amazon, and several of his titles are westerns. Mind you Locke was recently discredited when it emerged that he had paid for many positive reviews which helped sell his books.




Westerns have also made the transition to eBooks and the excellent publishing house, Piccadilly Publishing is reissuing western classics in the new electronic format, and of course the popular Edge series is also available in eBook. The Edge books, for instance, are a particular favorite of mine and I am proud to say that I was instrumental in initially bring the series to eBooks, but the reissue program is now in the industrious hands of Malcolm Davy.

So if you've never tried  a western then maybe now is the time to do - they've never been so easily available and online giant Amazon has many titles at good prices.

Come on saddle up and let's ride.

Take a look at my Jack Martin page at Amazon - click HERE

Saturday, 5 December 2020

Creature Features

 When James Herbert published The Rats in 1974 not only did he have a worldwide best-seller on his hands but he also invented a horror fiction subgenre - let's call it Creature-thrillers as a nod to the 1950's/1960's Creature Feature movies.


Herbert said he thought of the story after watching Todd Browning's Dracula on the television and being horrified by Renfield's description of his nightmare involving hordes of rats. The author also recalled the packs of rats he had seen on London's old bomb sites during his childhood and he brought the feelings of dread the creatures had always inspired in himself to his first novel.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time, I was as naive as that." James Herbert, talking about writing The Rats.

The book met with a poor critical reception but the first print run sold out within three weeks and the book's remained in print ever since. For many the book was too graphic and the overall theme too pessimistic but what Herbert did was bring a particular working class form of horror to the table and there was a theme of criticism of a government who were not doing enough for the poorer elements of society.  It's written in a very visceral style and totally enjoyable but it's so much more than it appears on the surface. And of course the true measure of its success is in the amount of imitations it spawned.



Herbert was very much in the right place and at the right time and almost simultaneously with The Rats, an American writer named Stephen King was getting his first taste of success with Carrie - all of a sudden the horror genre was big business. And of course The Rats was riding on this wave of  popularity - there were a slew of imitators - Maggots, Snakes, Cats, Worms, Bats, alligators, frogs and even absurdly Slugs all turned feral and went for the human population.



Guy N. Smith's Crab series was one of the first to cash in on the success of  Herbert's rodents with Night of the Crabs and in all he wrote six Crabs books but unlike many of the Herbert imitators these books were actually quite good in their own right. Indeed the series still has a cult following and in 2009 the first book was reissued in a deluxe hardcover edition. Guy runs his own book business, Black Hill Books and many of his titles can be bought there and it also carries an extensive range of classic paperbacks in all genres.



Smith would go on to write many more creature thrillers featuring Bats, snaked, alligators and even a variety of creatures in the vastly entertaining, The Abomination but by far his most popular series was and remains, The Crabs.

Another entertaining creature thriller was Spiders by Richard Lewis which actually spawned a sequel, The Web. I read both of these books many years ago and remember enjoying them both immensely and whilst I don't know what I'd think of them these days I do have fond memories of them.

The reason for these animals going feral was usually some ecological disaster or scientific experiment, although there were one or two examples where the reason was supernatural but for the most part it was bizarre scientific experiments that provoked the horror. In fact, off the top of my head, I can't really remember any of the books where the reason for the crazed creature outbreak was supernatural.



Eventually the creature thrillers fell out of favour and horror readers went for more sophisticated novels but the genre was reinvented briefly in the 90's when Shaun Hutson wrote perhaps the most stomach churning series of all, Slugs.This time there was no holds barred and there is even a scene where a guy is sitting on the toilet and one of the killer slugs goes up his arse.

But back to the originator of this little horror sub-genre, James Herbert - there were three follow ups to The Rats. Lair was a great second story and the third book, Domain took up the story of the mutated rodents in the aftermath of a nuclear war and although this is a good premise the book was not as successful in terms of story as the previous two.  It sold by the truck-load, though.



These books made up a trilogy but there was another story with the graphic novel, The City which is again set in London after a nuclear war. Though when people talk about the Rats trilogy they mean the three novels proper with the graphic novel considered something of a companion piece.


This article gives just a taster of all the creature thrillers out there - go on give one a try but beware one thing they all share in common is their extremely graphic scenes.



A strong stomach is advised.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMING SOON

THE FLOCK


 

The author contemplates......

 

Contemplating 

Mr Hardcase, Charles Ardai chats with The Tainted Archive

Hard Case Crime are still going strong in 2020 and so enjoy this classic interview from 2009

 

INTERVIEW REPOST...ORIGINALLY POST 2009

hard case crime - creator interview.


Charles Ardai and business partner Max Phillips, were dismayed at the lack of slim pacey paperbacks in the shops - the kinds of book they picked up on the second hand stalls and both shared a deep love for, the pulps from writers like Mickey Spillane and Richard Stark. And so they decided to start up their own publishing imprint which would print original works written in the style of the pulps and classic long out of print titles.

Given the modern day market, where huge building brick like tomes are in vogue and slim, cheap, paperbacks are yesterday's product this must have seemed a risky, maybe even insane, business idea.

"Risky commercially, perhaps -- but commercial success was never our main concern. I mean, of course we wanted the line to succeed and prosper. Who wouldn't? But first we wanted it to be good, and to be good at what we wanted it to be good at. We didn't start by asking the question "How can we make some money publishing books?" and come up with the answer "Publishing old-fashioned crime novels might work"; we started by asking the question "Wouldn't it be great if someone started publishing old-fashioned crime novels again?" And you know what? If we'd published a handful and it had turned out that there was no market for them, we'd have stopped and been satisfied with the handful we'd done, content to have done something we cared about and done it well. Not every business venture has to succeed -- indeed, only a very small percentage ever do. But what happened instead was that the first handful of books did very well. They didn't sell at (or anywhere near) best-seller levels, but they sold well enough; and in terms of critical esteem and attention, they soared. People loved them. Newspapers and magazines raved about them. Every single original novel we published in our first year was nominated for either the Shamus Award, the Edgar Award, or both -- and we won one of each. So...we published another handful. And those did well, too, although not quite as well in terms of sales, the novelty having worn off a little. At which point we were lucky enough to get to publish a new novel by Stephen King, his first since announcing what he'd described as his retirement from writing fiction. And that one did sell at best-seller levels -- we put out more than one million copies. Nothing we've done since has been comparable in terms of commercial success, but the line has survived and we're very proud of it. Did we know when we started that it would still be around five years later? That we'd wind up publishing not a handful of books but fifty, sixty, more? No. What we knew was that we'd be publishing books we loved, and we hoped at least some other people might like them too. That was enough."

The passion seemed to pay off and far from the originally hopes for half a dozen titles the imprint recently published their 50th title - Fifty to One written by Ardai himself and something of a departure for the imprint - it's still hardboiled crime but a comedy also with each chapter named after an hard case title and in sequence too, with the story cleverly invented around these titles.

Not an easy task but then Charles Ardai was up to it having already published hardboiled fiction under his pen-name, Richard Aleas. And far from mere vanity projects these books, published by Hard Case Crime, have gained massive critical and fan approval. The detective John Blake, named after the romantic poet, is the kind of noble everyman character Chandler would have approved of.

Hard Case crime continues to be a success but if the company folded tomorrow, not that this is likely given the current crop of excellent titles, then the name Hard Case Crime is secured in the history of pulp fiction. It'll be mentioned alongside such pulp pushers as Gold Medal and popular library.

"I like to think that we have reminded people about certain types of storytelling, and ways of presenting books visually, that had largely been forgotten. Book covers had become so boring -- large type, minimal illustration, nothing like the gorgeous, sexy painted covers of the early days of paperbacks. And books had become so thick -- 350 pages, 400 pages, 500. Where were the lean stories of the 1950s, the ones that hooked you on page one with a dead body or a man on the run or a naked woman getting out of the shower (or all three) and then hauled you bodily through the rest of the plot in five- or six-page chunks, ending finally with a breathless, heart-stopping finale on page 176 or 192 (or, sometimes, 144 or 128)? Where were the covers that made you respond with almost Pavlovian intensity, with a quickening of your pulse and a stirring in your groin? Sure, some of them were ridiculous -- some were even offensive -- but tell the truth: could you stop yourself from peeking at them? Could you walk away if you had coins enough in your pocket to buy them? These were books. These were vehicles for popular entertainment every bit as compelling and exciting as today the latest hot videogame or TV show or movie is. They sold more than a hundred thousand copies per book, not sometimes, not once in a while, but every single time -- every time, every one, over and over again, month in and month out, for two decades. This was the stuff the masses consumed for pleasure. That's why the format grew to be known as the 'mass-market' paperback. This was how ordinary Joes got their first exposure to literature -- to Shakespeare and Mary Shelley, to Poe, to Orwell, to Pearl Buck and James Hilton and William Faulkner. And it was how they got their weekly diet of mayhem and titillation, of action and suspense, of sexy repartee and comic mischance. They had radio, they had film, eventually they had television, but through it all they also read books, and the reason they read books -- one of the reasons -- was that the books were readable, intensely, irresistibly so.
I like to think maybe more people remember this tradition and appreciate just how rich a tradition it was because of our efforts to revive it. I like to think we haven't only been preaching to the choir -- that we've led at least some people who'd otherwise never have tried a book like this to give one a shot. And I hope we've done something to prevent some awfully good writers -- not geniuses but journeymen of exceptional skill and passion, with so much to offer readers -- from being utterly forgotten."


Mission accomplished then - but given the current financial situation how healthy does he see the book trade remaining over the coming months?


"Not very. When the chief executive of Barnes & Noble announces in advance of the Christmas season that the season will be "horrible," the worst in his entire career as a bookseller; when major publishers conduct layoffs and freeze acquisitions, however briefly; when bookstores go out of business left and right...you know you're in serious trouble. Make no mistake: The book business is in serious trouble. It's never been much of a business in economic terms -- if you wanted to make good money, you'd be better off trading stocks or selling widgets or laying bricks. So when there's a downturn in the publishing business it's not a turn from ludicrously profitable to slightly less so; it's a turn from lousy to can't survive. I wouldn't be surprised to see some publishers go under and others consolidate. No guarantee that we'll still be around a year or two from now. But you can't worry about that. You just have to keep plugging along, putting out the best books you can, as long as you can."

Hard Case Crime then has succeeded where others have failed so what advise would Charles give to prospective hardboiled scribblers out there?

"
Well, write a good book. That's number one, and you'd be surprised (or maybe you wouldn't) how many people fail to follow that simple piece of advice. Of course, it's not their fault -- writing a good book isn't easy and most people just can't do it. Desire is not the same thing as talent, enthusiasm isn't always matched by ability, and there are more people in the world who can put pen to paper than there are writers. So my second piece of advice to writers is the old Socratic saw, Know Thyself. I get submissions from people who think they've written THE MALTESE FALCON, if not the Bible, and it's just obviously unpublishable, to such an extreme extent that no objective reader could possibly reach a different conclusion. Know thyself. Look at what you're writing, compare it to the books you enjoy reading, and ask whether it's comparable. If you can't tell, ask a friend to do this comparison, one who's willing to be honest with you. And if the answer is no, if your writing isn't at a comparable level of quality, don't submit it to a publisher. Sit down and write something else, something better. And until your work is at that level, keep working at your craft. You don't open a French restaurant if the best meal you can cook is some inedible caricature of coq au vin; don't bring the equivalent in novel terms to a publisher.
What if you have written a good book? Well, the next hurdle if to figure out whether it's the particular sort of good book we publish. Does your book have ghosts in it? Vampires? The undead? Well, we don't publish supernatural or fantasy novels, so we'd be the wrong publisher to send it to. Sometimes it's subtler: We don't publish a lot of comedies, especially not broad ones or ones that spoof the genre. We very rarely publish political novels. We tend to go for something more classically hardboiled or noir rather than the more modern sort of Hollywood-inflected 'thriller' about clever-monickered serial killers playing cat-and-mouse games with the police. How can you find out what sort of book we publish? It's simple: Read our books. If you don't want to pony up the seven or eight bucks apiece it would cost to buy them, you can find sample chapters from all of them for free on our Web site, www.hardcasecrime.com. Read what we publish, learn what we like -- and then submit a book to us if yours is similar. And good. It's got to be good.
And even then, don't be surprised -- or discouraged -- if we say no. We get more than 1,000 submissions per year and can only buy 4 or 5 original novels. That means we have to say no to more than 99% of the books we see, including some that are very good. Even if yours is good, the odds are less than 1 in 10 that we'll buy it. But that doesn't mean some other publisher won't, and they might even pay you more for it than we could. (Almost anyone can pay more than we can.)"

The Hard Case Crime series never fails to delight - it wopuld be nice if some other publishers would come along and do a similar thing for other pulp genres - westerns, horror etc. Does Charles ever see Hard Case doing this?

"

Well, we are branching out into pulp adventure fiction next year: In May we'll publish HUNT AT THE WELL OF ETERNITY, the first in a series of novels about a two-fisted modern-day adventurer named Gabriel Hunt, and additional volumes will follow every few months after that. The books will be published under Gabriel Hunt's name, but will actually be written by some old Hard Case Crime hands (me, David J. Schow, Christa Faust) as well as some friends of the family (James Reasoner, Nick Kaufmann, Raymond Benson). The books are intended to harken back to the style of H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sax Rohmer, or Doc Savage and The Avenger, or Indiana Jones. They're a ton of fun to write and edit, and again, it's a type of book you just don't see being published anymore -- inexplicably so, when you consider just how popular the genre is at the movies.
Will we ever experiment with other genres? It's hard to say. There are only so many hours in the day, and Hard Case Crime has zero full-time employees -- it's just me, working on it part-time, and a handful of freelancers working as hard as they possibly can. But who knows? If we find another genre we have a real passion for, we might give it a try.

Richard's own writing is very much in the hardboiled school - I wonder who his influences were in the first place as relating to his own output? I meantion that I very much enjoyed his debut novel, Little Girl Lost.


"

Thanks -- I'm glad you liked it. When I reread it, of course, I spot all the flaws: I should have done this, I should have done that. But it was a first novel. It had all of a first novel's flaws, but also, I hope, a first novel's virtues. I am very pleased it was so well received and that readers continue to discover and enjoy it. (The sequel, SONGS OF INNOCENCE, is a better book, but also darker; I could imagine some readers enjoying the first one more.)
Influences? Lawrence Block, definitely: I've read every book the man wrote and I treasure them; he writes about pain and corruption, and about New York City, in ways that really stay with you, and I've tried to emulate that. Also Ross Macdonald, who was the master of the 'little girl lost' story, where the detective goes digging to find out the sad history behind some young woman's tragic end. One reviewer compared my book to Fredric Brown's Ed and Am Hunter novels, and I admit I do love the first of those, THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT. I suppose there's a little of Chandler in there -- no one can write about a weary, disillusioned private eye walking the mean streets without Chandler's shade rearing up. Those are some influences. But there's also some Thomas Hardy in there, a bit of Bernard Malamud, a bit of Paul Auster. Having read a lot of authors, I'm bound to have been influenced by a lot."

So what have Hard Case got lined up for 2009?

"We just put out a long-lost novel by Lawrence Block -- KILLING CASTRO -- which has never before appeared under his real name, and in fact hasn't appeared in any form for nearly half a century. Even die-hard fans of Block didn't know about this novel, so it's a real find. Next month will be an even bigger one: a never-before-published crime novel called THE DEAD MAN'S BROTHER by the acclaimed science fiction writer Roger Zelazny, who wrote it in 1971 but never published it; after his death, it was found by his son, who is a fan of our books, and he brought it to our attention. It's an excellent, excellent book, a real buried treasure.
After that we have Donald Westlake's Edgar-nominated first novel, appearing for the first time ever under the title he originally meant for it to have: THE CUTIE. Then a novel called HOUSE DICK, about skullduggery in a Washington, D.C. hotel, penned by convicted Watergate mastermind E. Howard Hunt. The following month is Peter Blauner's outstanding and underappreciated Atlantic City mob/boxing novel, CASINO MOON, featuring a truly stunning cover by a painter who is himself a former Golden Gloves boxer, Ricky Mujica. Next comes Jason Starr's FAKE I.D., which has never been published in America (there were some European editions).
Then we have PASSPORT TO PERIL, a tale of post-WWII intrigue by Robert B. Parker -- but not the Robert B. Parker who writes the Spenser books. This Robert B. Parker died in 1955 after a career as a war correspondent and (clandestinely) as an agent for the OSS, and here he's writing about an American on the run from Germans and Russians in postwar Budapest.
August brings us back to our roots, with a revival of the work of the old-time pulp writer Peter Rabe -- his memorable first novel, STOP THIS MAN!, about a loser who steals a radioactive bar of gold and then has to deal with the consequences. September is a brand new novel by Russell Atwood, who won praise for his first novel, EAST OF A, ten years ago. It's taken him this wrong to write the second adventure of his detective, LOSERS LIVE LONGER, but it was worth the wait. Our October title will be a never-before-published crime novel called HONEY IN HIS MOUTH by Lester Dent, the creator of pulp hero Doc Savage. November will be the latest installment in Max Allan Collins' very popular 'Quarry' series about a ruthless hitman, QUARRY IN THE MIDDLE. (It's a sequel to THE LAST QUARRY and THE FIRST QUARRY.) And December will feature two books: a new novel set in the world of burlesque and striptease by an author who is himself the head of a celebrated modern burlesque troupe (and featuring two gorgeous members of the troupe modeling for the cover), plus a very special reprint of what I think is one of the greatest hardboiled crime novels of all time...but is rarely, if ever, recognized as such. We're not giving the surprise away yet, but I think people will get a real kick out of it when they see it."

No amount of prodding will loosen Richard's lips but the thought is enticing. After all, now that Hard Case has fifty plus titles under it's belt he must know the business. For instance, I ask him, if the reprints sell more than the original stuff.

"
Our bestselling author is Stephen King, hands down; that shouldn't surprise anyone. After King, our bestsellers include folks like Lawrence Block and Ed McBain and Donald Westlake -- again, this shouldn't surprise anyone. But it's not necessarily the case that reprints are more popular for us than originals. It's true that our books by Block and Westlake are reprints -- but I have no doubt that if one of those men wrote an original for us it would sell just as well, if not better. And of course the King book was an original. And some of our other originals have done well -- Mickey Spillane's DEAD STREET, for instance. The issue is not so much whether a book is an original or a reprint, it's how well known the author is. Or more precisely how much interest the public has in a given book, which is highly correlated with how well known the author is, but once in a while a less-well-known author commands the public's attention and his or her book does very nicely for us. This happened with my own second novel, SONGS OF INNOCENCE, for instance, after the Washington Post called it "an instant classic" and NPR aired a half-hour interview with me about it. My name is not well known -- certainly my pseudonym isn't. But the book did well because lots of people heard about it and were made curious enough to buy it. Absent that sort of publicity surge, though, the pre-existing interest people have in the work of their favorite authors is the best predictor of good sales. Reprints by authors from the pulp days whom no one remembers will do less well than new novels by popular writers like Max Allan Collins or Ken Bruen and Jason Starr."

So there we have it HARD CASE CRIME
Publishing the book the way they used to.
No shit - told with the velocity of a spinning bullet.

Bait Money by Max Allan Collins - Book Review

 Bait money was originally published in 1973 and is the first novel from Collins who has since


gone onto to become a highly respected and often imitated luminary in the mystery/neo-noir genres. I first became aware of the author because of the work he was doing with the unfinished novels left behind by Mickey Spillane and it took me some time to read any of Collins own work. Being a British reader I wasn't that familiar with the writer, as he's never really been an household name this side of the pond and it best known for being the author of The Road to Perdition graphic novel which sparked off the successful movie starring everyone's favourite every-man, Tom Hanks.

Collins though is a highly successful writer and has several times won highly sought after literary awards, perhaps most notably, The Shamus Award which is given out by the Private Eye Writers of America - he's taken that beauty twice. If that wasn't enough Collins had a successful run penning the long running Dick Tracy comics books and also did a brief stint on DC's Batman. He's written for Dark Horse, DC, Marvel, Image and just about every big name comic publisher out there.

I think it's fair to say that if Collins was twenty years older he would have likely been one of the big names in Men's Adventure Paperback genre which boomed during the late Fifties to late Eighties, but the industry is very different today than it was then and the author has always worked between mediums and he continues to do so.


Back back to the book in question - Collins, like many of us, was a big fan of the Richard Stark Parker books and Bait Money introduces the character of Nolan who is directly influenced by Parker. In many ways Bait Money is a pastiche of the Richard Stark blueprint, but it's evident that there is enough meat on the Nolan character to make him very much his own character. In fact the story is that Collins sent a copy of the original manuscript to Bait Money to Richard Stark (actually Donald Westlake) and the veteran author have the young upstart his blessing. So let's get the nonsense of the Nolan series being a Parker rip-off from the table and judge the book on its own merits.

The book starts with Nolan on the run from the mob, having left the organisation after killing the brother of a high ranking mobster called, Charley. Now approaching the golden age of Fifty, Nolan is looking to retire from his shady life but must first make amends with the mob. Cue, a last big heist in which Nolan and a team of largely amateurs, including a comic book obsessed kid, whom I suspect Collins based on himself, make to rob a bank, pay off the mob and then settle down into the peaceful autumnal years. What follows is a fast moving, hardboiled story with some great details of the heist being planned and double cross laid upon double cross as we speed towards the climax of a truly fantastic read.

The flow of the book is excellent and the author's ear for dialogue is something to be envied - scenes where characters are exchanging smart arse remarks really give a feel for the genre and would sit comfortably in any classic heist movie. I found myself picking up the book whenever I had a few moments to spare and I'd read the entire thing in a couple of days. Quite an achievement these days with so many demands on my time. To sum up then I think Bait Money is a bloody fantastic read - a lean, mean, pleasure machine.


The Nolan series includes

1. Bait Money (1973)
2. Blood Money (1973)
3. Fly Paper (1981)
4. Hush Money (1981)
5. Hard Cash (1981)
6. Scratch Fever (1982)
7. Spree (1987)
8. Mourn the Living (1988)




Bait Money is currently available paired with the second novel, Blood Money, in the series from the wonderful Hard Case Crime under the title, Two For the Money. And this was the edition I read




Saturday, 5 September 2020

Jeepers Creepers eReaders are good for your peepers

It now seems ancient history but it was not that many years back when people (myself included) were looking at these new fangled eReaders in dismay. They will never replace real books and whilst I still love physical books, I do find that most of my fiction reading is done on my Kindle. A case in point of how the Kindle has become my go to device for fiction is that I recently bought the new Giles Kristian book, Camelot in hardcover (I love and collect this author) and then picked up the eBook version for reading.

I will no longer call print books real books to differentiate them from eBooks, since both are real books. When you're in the story the delivery medium matters not.


"eReaders have become hugely popular in recent years. While at the start, many people claimed that they would never replace actual books, with the tactile nature of page turning part of the fun of reading for many, their usefulness has converted more than a few critics. Part of the appeal of eBooks is for anyone to publish their work, and therefore easy for people to find exactly what they’re looking for. Want to find the biography of an obscure Belgian artist or the local history of your area? Chances are that someone has written an eBook on the subject, and you can download it instantly." The Good Ereader Blog




And now it seems that eReaders have anoher benefit and a recent article published in the excellent Good eReader Blog published a study on eye health and eReaders - Find it HERE



The Reluctant Terrorist - get the bestselling adventure from Amazon worldwide.


"It's an eccentric dimwitted character book. Sort of like a set in Wales version of a Florida set Dave Barry, Carl Hiaasen, Bill Fitzhugh novels. It ends up not being a bad novel at all. Only takes a few hours to read too, give it a go."

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

The Flock are massing

Coming Soon

Back to Black - Coloured Vinyl: Any good or a useless fad?

Regular readers of this blog will know that collecting vinyl records has become a passion of mine over recent years - Music has always played a big part in my life, but I, like many others of my age found myself switching from vinyl to CD sometime in the mid 1980's, and for many many years I didn't even own a record player. It was, most thought, a dead medium.

However, here we are in 2020 and incredibly vinyl has not only made a comeback, but is the bestselling physical medium for music sales. Whilst CD's are slowly fading away, vinyl records are booming and the equipment required to play these records has never been more affordable or technically better. These days you can set up a pretty decent system for less than £500 - I know I did and the sound I get it superb.

Another trend in new vinyl is with the vinyl itself - most new vinyl is now thicker and heavier than the old records we were used to, as a result it sounds better and is far more durable. New vinyl is usually 180g in weight and the pressing techniques used in record plants ensure the best possible sonic reproducion.

But what of coloured vinyl? It's becoming far more popular. Coloured records, transparent records, splatter records that look amazingly cool draw attention and look awesome spinning on the turntable.

But how do they actually sound?

Pretty good to be honest.

The raw material used to produce a record - polyvinyl chloride arrives at the pressing plant in granule form. Usually these granules are black in colour. These granules are then melted down and made into a soft dough like substance. These dough balls are then placed into the mould of an hydraulic press and the record is pressed. To make a transparent record the process is the same but the granules used are not the typical black ones but transparent. The melting and pressing remains the same. However because much more of the black granules are ordered by record companies then the quality control requirements for the black granules are usually much higher than for the transparent. This is why transparent records have historically suffered from static much more often than the standard black records.

Now coloured vinyl is slightly different and requires an additional step in which pigment powders are added to the transparent granules. Now this means that the pigment particles within the record can often be traced by a stylus and produce background noise when playing the record. Splatter record of even multi- coloured records take this a step further and multiple pigmentation powders are added to the granules. This can unfortunately increase background noise in the record even further.


But how bad is this background noise?

Well, the plating process (putting the music onto the disc) for coloured records is exactly the same as for black records, so it is the mastering stage that is the most important step, and no matter what colour the record is good mastering is good mastering. So whilst, coloured vinyl may not be as good as black vinyl most of these imperfections could only be noticed by highly sensitive meters and not the human ear. On the other hand bad mastering can not be hidden no matter what colour the vinyl.

And so in the final analysis the sound quality between a good traditional black record and a good, well mastered coloured record will likely remain inaudible to most listeners.

So add a little colour to your life.











Sunday, 19 July 2020

Essentially Vinyl - The Boomtown Rats: A Tonic for the Troops

If there's one thing above all else that pulled me into the vinyl resurgence, and believe me I am now a total vinyl nut, then it is the chance to rediscover my youth. Searching second hand and charity shops for old vinyl is a pleasure indeed.

This album, Tonic for the Troops, is a a perfect example of this. I owned this album when I was a kid and finding a copy last week was amazing - I felt my heart skip a beat as the years fell away and I was a snobby nosed teenager again.

The closing track on this album, Rat Trap was a No1 single back in 1978 - this was the summer of the movie Grease and the track replaced the song, Summer Nights in the top spot. I still remember seeing the band on Top of the Pops when lead singer, Geldof ripped up a picture of John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. This was a subversive act at the time -  Years later, Sinead O'Conner said it was this memory that provoked her to famously rip up the picture of the Pope.

The Boomtown Rats were one of a handful of bands during the fag end of the 70's who changed music. Back then the cool kids all had a collective mantra and that was that whatever was happening in pop music was crap. Too bad then that Rat Trap was replaced two weeks later at the top spot by Rod Stewert's, Do You Think I'm Sexy. Only The Beatles, it seemed, were truly bigger than Rod.


Still Tonic for the Troops remains a great album - sounding like Springsteen filtered through a punk/new wave prism. And Rat Trap is still an awesome track, but then there's not really any filler on this album. Another stand out track is I never Loved Eva Braun, in which Geldof imagines himself as Adolf Hitler  -

 O yeah I conquered all those countries
They were weak an' I was strong
A little too ambitious maybe 
But I never loved Eva Braun
 

 - It's a strange song but the sense of humor pulls it through. It's bloody funny is what it is. Just imagine old Adolf crooning as Berlin burns. Poor Eva.

Side 1 - Like Clockwork, Blind Date, I never Loved Eva Braun, Living in an Island, Don't Believe what you read.

Side 2 - She's so Modern, Me and Howard Hughes, Can't Stop, Watch out for Normal People, Rat Trap


Essentially Vinyl: Iron Maiden Powerslave

At a loss for something to write about, I slipped an album (Yep. vinyl stickler me) onto the turntable. I hadn't listened to Iron Maiden's Powerslave for some time,and this seemed a good choice.

Heavy Metal isn't usually my type of music but I love several albums from Iron Maiden. Though to be honest I do listen to the genre from time to time, though some of it can be overblown and quite frankly ridiculous. Mind you, Maiden often do ridiculous but they do it with real style and they are one of those bands that transcend genre and almost become a genre of their own.

I discovered this album many years ago at a friends house - he was a full time metal head, or headbager as we used to call them. The track Rime of the Ancient Mariner was playing - the middle section of that song really struck me at the time. All of a sudden the guitars die, the driving rock riff seems to have been strangled and all we are left with is the eerie sound of a ship adrift on the ocean. Over that, with only the creaking timbers for percussion, comes Bruce Dickenson (least I assume it's Bruce) quoting the most famous lines from Colerdge's poem -

Day after day, night after night ,we stuck nor breath nor motion. As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean. Water, water everywhere and all the boards did shrink.Water, water everywhere and not any drop to drink.

It's a gloriously effective moment - spooky in its intensity and the quiet section (as I call it) lasts for maybe four minutes before the driving rock guitars come in to finish off the song. It's a true work of art and transcends genre. It's more than a rock song - it is a genuine artistic triumph - moody, atmospheric and rocking. Maiden have done some incredible epic songs along these lines - When the Wind Blows, Empire of the Clouds are just two others that spring to mind, but Rhyme was for me the first time the band really pulled off epic like this.

It's a true work of genius, a masterwork, a novel in the rock format. And it sounds as good today as it always did, because there is no sell by date with true art.


The rest of the album is equally good (there's not a bad track on here) and each track is almost a novel in its depth, since Maiden's style of songwriting is very much narrative driven, like a story set to music. From the rollicking rock of Aces High and 2 Minutes to Midnight, to the Egyptian saga of the title track the album doesn't put a foot wrong. In fact the track Powerslave is probably my second favourite cut on the platter. I like a few other Maiden albums but this one, to me, stands out and will always be an essential record for me.

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Lancelot by Giles Kristian BOOK REVIEW

Giles Kristian is a new name to me - I knew little about the author when I picked up Lancelot and a quick Google quest told me that he had written several well received action/adventure novels that centered on the Vikings, as well as a brace of books set around the English civil war. He also co-wrote a book with Wilbur Smith.

I purchased Lancelot because I've always been something of a sucker for all things Arthurian, and I have, over the years, read many books that used the legends as a starting point but what I found in this book was a totally original retelling of the famed sagas, that uses the love triangle between Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere in a totally audacious way that allows the author to present several remarkable twists and turns that literally, I kid you not, had me open mouthed. I soaked deep, allowing the fiction to submerge me,  into the world of a story well told.

There is something of a lyrical poetry to the author's style, but at the same time the story is straight forward and propels the reader along in the way all the best fiction does. It's a big book, topping six hundred pages, but not once during the narrative did the engine stall. I'd recommend this book highly to anyone who fancies escaping into a well realised world and spending time with wonderfully drawn characters.

The story is told in the first person with Lancelot himself the narrator, and through this device the post Roman landscape is brought vividly to life. We follow the young man through his childhood, and into adulthood where he meets and is bound to King Arthur, the high king of the Britons. It is a story of war, of betrayal, of jealously but mostly it is the story of love.

Bloody marvelous, it is.








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