Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cranmer Family Chronicles: I.J.

I know I've said this too many times, but I'm going to say it again... I love old family photos. And I’m fortunate that my father kept detailed records of dates and names to accompany most of them. The man in this series of three snapshots is my great grandfather I.J. Cranmer (1868-1931). I forgot about them before unearthing a photo album and rediscovering a piece of my family history. I have only five pictures of I.J. and information on him is scant but I do have a newspaper clipping of his marriage announcement. I've been told that he and his wife divorced a few years later after having three children. I'm also fairly certain that he most likely spent a good portion of his life farming.

Two things jump out at me when I look at these shots: his grin and the bowler hat. I wonder if that hat and suit were the style of the time... was he a naturally snappy dresser or did he dress up for some (probably) expensive photos? How much did it cost him? Today, I personally couldn’t put a price on such items. I had these and several other family photos scanned to be preserved on computer. But there’s still nothing like holding the original that he held, probably smiling to himself, "That’s a damn fine mug!" I'm sure he must have because I can be just as vain on occasions myself.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

BTAP #21: You Don't Get Three Mistakes by Scott D. Parker

Technical writer by day, fiction scribe by night. Scott D. Parker makes the cross-over seem seamless. BTAP’s Weekly Punch features "You Don't Get Three Mistakes" by Scott, a shining representative of the talented writers that hail from the Lone Star State. The fact that this is his first published story makes it all the more remarkable.

Next week: “The Hard Sell” by Jay Stringer

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

BTAP #20: The Need by Frank Bill

The second part of The Frank Bill Double Bill continues with "The Need" at BEAT to a PULP.

Next: Scott D. Parker’s "You Don’t Get Three Mistakes."

Coming Soon: "Spend It Now, Pay Later" by Nik Morton.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

BTAP #19: Tweakers by Frank Bill

Elaine Ash perfectly summed up the work of Frank Bill:

His style is defined by direct, sharp, staccato sentences, and I think of him as the Ornette Coleman of the crime short. When Ornette first played horn in the 1950s, he was considered highly controversial with his cascade of bleeps, blats and squawks. Some critics dismissed him as a music illiterate. But jazz musicians and free thinkers recognized something very special in Ornette, and they were eventually proven correct by his exemplary career. Like Ornette, Frank Bill has a rhythm all his own, with a sentence structure that takes deliberate grammatical “license” to create a cadence in his prose.

And at BEAT to a PULP we are doing something a little different and featuring two of this extraordinary writer’s stories. “Tweakers” through Wednesday and then “The Need” the remainder of the week.

A Few Links

*Geoff Eighinger reviews Mike Sheeter's "Preferred Customer" at Eastern Standard Crime.

*Conversations with the Bookless: Anonymous-9 at Bookspot Central.

*Eight Reasons I'm Going To Miss Books at Technologizer. I agree.

*Judith Freeman on Raymond Chandler. LA Times article from 4/5.

*After Cullen's review and this one, Devil's Garden makes my TBR list.

*Alexander McCall Smith on Readers up close and much too personal.

*And Bill and Sandra brought New Pulp Press to my attention. But would they accept a noir western?

Norbert Davis

I’m re-running an old post today to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Norbert Davis’s birthday. Looking back, I borrowed heavily for this post and have attempted to include all the links below. I’ve never considered myself a strong reviewer, so please check the links of those who are.

Hard-boiled Wit: Ludwig Wittgenstein and Norbert Davis by Josef Hoffmann

Thrilling Detective

Rue Morgue Press

Black Mask

Norbert Davis is one of the great pulp writers whose name has fallen by the wayside, overshadowed by giants like Hammett and Chandler. But thanks to Otto Penzler's The Black Lizard Big Book Of Pulps, two great stories by Davis have been revived, The Price of a Dime and You'll Die Laughing, and received with great enthusiasm.

Norbert Davis, sitting, right;
Dashiell Hammett, standing, right;
Raymond Chandler, standing, second from left.

Penzler explains in the forward to Dime that Black Mask editor, Joseph T. Shaw, published only five stories by Davis because Shaw didn't appreciate Davis's Thurber-esque approach to hard boiled fiction. Yet, it’s the whimsy mixed with violence that gives Norbert Davis his signature style. A perfect example is in Sally’s in the Alley (1943) where the protagonist, detective Doan, gets into a tussle with a good-looking Hollywood actress, and her concerned agent calls out:

“Hit her in the stomach!”
“What?” said Doan, startled.
The shadow jiggled both fists in an agony of apprehension. “Not in the face! Don’t hit her face! Thirty-five hundred dollars a week!”

But Davis also proves he can keep up with Hammett and Chandler in stylistic cynicism. In Sally:

"The Mojave Desert at sunset looks remarkably like a painting of a sunset on the Mojave Desert which, when you come to think of it, is really quite surprising. Except that the real article doesn’t show such good color sense as the average painting does. Yellows and purples and reds and various other violent sub-units of the spectrum are splashed all over the sky, in a monumental exhibition of bad taste. They keep moving and blurring and changing around, like the color movies they show in insane asylums to keep the idiots quiet."

It’s this combination of gifted prose, hard boiled action, sprinkled with humor that has compelled me to read Davis. However it can be difficult to find his work. His major novels and the Max Latin anthology are available from Amazon and I have ordered some of them. Still, there are many short stories from Detective Tales, Black Mask, Phantom Detective, etc. that have yet to be compiled.

So what happened to Norbert Davis? Perhaps, success came a little too quickly and at an early age. Davis began selling stories while attending college at Stanford. During a writing class, an instructor criticized one of Norbert’s efforts to which Norbert stood up and countered, “Sir, this is a check for $200 from Argosy. The editor didn’t find much fault with my story.” But the professor derided Davis by saying they were there to learn ‘literary merit.’ When Davis finished college, he continued to pursue his writing. His stories quickly turned to gold and his potential seemed limitless. In the mid 1940s, he left the pulps and exclusively wrote for magazines like The Saturday Evening Post where he could make more money. But that success was short lived and the ‘slicks’ began rejecting his work. John D. MacDonald pointed out that even though Davis produced some exceptional writing, it was mixed with segments that were lackluster. He goes on to say Davis could have learned more if he had stuck longer with the pulps. [Rue Morgue Press]

From what I found online, there seems to be some confusion concerning his death, but it's known that Davis was going through several stressful events. He was grieving over his son who was stillborn, he was increasingly frustrated with his career and he had received a diagnosis of cancer. On July 28, 1949, Norbert Davis, the man who had brought humor to the world of hard boiled writing, committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. He was only forty years old.

The Mouse in the Mountain (1943)
Sally's in The Alley (1943)
Oh, Murderer Mine (1946) ...
Murder Picks the Jury (1947; written with W. T. Ballard)

The Adventures of Max Latin (1988)...

See also

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books: The Shadow, The Creeping Death by Maxwell Grant

A black-shrouded room, lighted only by the weird glow of a bluish light that shone upon the polished surface of a flat-topped table. Two hands, moving like pale white creatures beneath the circle of light. A mysterious gem that glimmered from a tapering third finger.

The Shadow was in his sanctum!
From The Shadow: The Creeping Death by Maxwell Grant, originally published in SHADOW Magazine, Volume 4, Number 4, January 15, 1933.

For more Friday's Forgotten Books, click to Patti Abbott's site...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Pulp Writer" at Yellow Mama

Cindy Rosmus was kind enough to accept my story "The Education of a Pulp Writer" late last year and looking at it again I think it turned out pretty darned good. Click here to read it. And while you're at it, check out the other fine stories in the Yellow Mama line-up. (Art by John and Flo Stanton)

Two Sentence Tuesday

I keep a mental list of my top ten favorite dead authors (yes, folks I do) that keeps evolving over time. I mean, it started understandably with H.A. Rey and A.A. Milne in the number one and two spots respectively. Today, Ernest Hemingway holds #1 with Agatha Christie at #4. Spots #3 and #4 keep rotating between Raymond Chandler and Norbert Davis. Since I have no two lines of my own this week I will feature two sides of Davis’s gifted style. First, the humorous side that he’s famous for from 1943’s SALLY’S IN THE ALLEY:
She was wearing white linen slacks, and a white jacket trimmed with big brass buttons, and white open-toed pumps, and a red sash around her waist. She pulled all the life out of the lobby and focused it on herself, like a little boy sucking soda through a straw.
And since I can’t do this next passage (also from SALLY) justice with just two and April 18th being Norbert Davis’s 100th b-day here’s 2x2 and the reason he rivals Chandler in my humble opinion:
The Mojave Desert at sunset looks remarkably like a painting of a sunset on the Mojave Desert which, when you come to think of it, is really quite surprising. Except that the real article doesn’t show such good color sense as the average painting does. Yellows and purples and reds and various other violent subunits of the spectrum are splashed all over the sky, in a monumental exhibition of bad taste. They keep moving and blurring and changing around, like the color movies they show in insane asylums to keep the idiots quiet.
The Women of Mystery will have more awe-inspiring two-fers. On the 18th, I plan to re-run an old post to celebrate Norbert’s b-day.

Monday, April 13, 2009

And Then There Was Maine… An MTM post

Elaine Ash and I exchange books by mail with the frequency that some order Netflix. My most recent borrow from Ms. Ash, Stephen King’s 2008 short story collection Just after Sunset, arrived shortly before I departed for Maine, a place I’ve never been and of course King’s home state. Appropriately, I came to Maine on a mist covered day and it was the perfect ambiance as I settled into bed that night to read “Willa,” the first offering in Sunset’s terrific anthology. Speaking of atmosphere, take a look of this pic my charmer snapped -- I can imagine how incredible this is going to look at the height of summer. When the sun briefly burst through the dense murkiness, we managed to capture a couple of extra pics. Some locals expressed their dismay that we arrived on such a foggy week but to us it was King-creepy ideal.

To read more My Town Monday posts, click over to Travis Erwin's site...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

New Blogs

Just a quick mention here for two of the finest writers around who finally caved in and started blogging. Look for Kieran Shea at the Black Irish Blarney where he aspires to beat the crime fiction house at their own game. And at Frank Bill’s House of Grit, he doesn’t waste words because he writes them.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

BTAP #18: Maker’s and Coke by Jake Hinkson

I didn’t drink that day. I stayed in bed and watched television. The financial markets all around the world were melting down like nuclear reactors. Two twelve year olds in California had raped and killed a sixty-five year old woman. The day before, a jihadist in Afghanistan had thrown himself into a schoolroom full of little girls and killed six of them. In between these horrors, a man came on to tell me that I could be free of sexual dysfunction. Good to know.

This is just a shot from Jake Hinkson's "Maker’s and Coke." Click here to read the full story.

Next week: The Frank Bill Double Bill...

...And then, Scott D. Parker’s thrilling western, “You Don't Get Three Mistakes”

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday’s Forgotten Short Stories

Some short tales for your consideration.

Cullen Gallagher introduced me to "Knock" by Fredric Brown. The engaging opening begins:
There is a sweet little horror story that is only two sentences long: "The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door..."
Now, how can’t you finish reading that?

Then there are stories that stick in our noggins because of the endings or the promise of an ending like Frank R. Stockton’s 1882 masterpiece, "The Lady or the Tiger?" I read TIGER in grade school, which, along with “After Twenty Years” by O Henry, began my appreciation of the short.

And finally “Graveyard Shift” written by James Reasoner. I can’t really say much here without giving away a very fine story. A homerun outta the park this one. Hat tip: Juri Nummelin

For more FFBs click over to Pattinase.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Call For BTAP Art

Are there any readers out there good with paint and canvas? We are looking for an original pulpy painting that will be featured on the BEAT to a PULP homepage to begin year two in December. Since we are working stiffs, we are offering next to nothing in terms of payment but here’s the reward: our stats have been on a steady climb skyward each week and your original painting and name will be seen by thousands (soon to be zillions) worldwide. If you or someone you know is interested, please contact me at

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Autographs and Inscriptions

I’m geeky when it comes to old book inscriptions. Hell, I’ve even written a short story (needs polishing before sending it out) called “An Old Address” about a mystery buff who confronts a murderer after reading an enigmatic scrawl. So, when my wife bought me a 1925 edition of BEST SHORT STORIES OF THE WORLD (edited by Konrad Bercovici) for my birthday, I’m naturally intrigued by the vague message that reads "Easter Eve afternoon 1938. With bigger and better hopes of resolutions to come! -Fritz." Easter Eve afternoon? Exclamation point? Fritz? Not as mysterious as my tale which leads to the book purchaser's unfortunate fate, but like I acknowledge, I’m curious and left wondering. (And yes, I smell books too.)

I made an undeniably cool discovery a couple of weeks ago. I’ve had Last of the Breed by Louis L’Amour on a shelf at my folks house since the eighties. I believe my dad brought the book home from the days he worked at Ithaca College and it has sat in a mostly pristine condition ever since. Well, several months ago I read my first L’Amour, Flint, and now, while back at my mom's during some time off, I figured I would break open Breed to give it a look. To my surprise, I have an original signed edition. Twenty years ago it didn’t mean much to me but now it will have a prime position on my bookshelf and be revered evermore.

Anyone else have an old book that yielded prized booty?

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Life & Legend Of Wyatt Earp

In the US, there's a restaurant chain called Cracker Barrel (that my Charmer hadn't been to) where they have a pretty good racket, I mean, business, going on--you enter through their gift shop and while you wait to be seated in the restaurant you naturally begin browsing the merchandise. So, there we were and what catches my eye but The Life & Legend Of Wyatt Earp starring Hugh O’Brian, something I may not have grabbed if it wasn’t so readily available. I’m glad I did. It’s a three DVD disc set featuring fifteen episodes from the classic fifties show. It begins with Earp becoming a marshal and then follows him in a selection of episodes from each season leading up to the immortal Tombstone showdown. This was the perfect way for me to watch a show I enjoy but probably would never buy all six seasons. It also has a nifty interview with Mr. O’Brian on the last disc. Oh, and my wife who has never been to the Barrel enjoyed the dinner.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

BTAP #17: Preferred Customer by Mike Sheeter

Why is this man in the picture behind bars? I’m not sure but BEAT to a PULP has his latest story here.

Next week: "Maker’s and Coke" by Jake Hinkson

Coming Soon: Travis Erwin's "Y Not"

Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books: The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian by Lawrence Block

I bought this Block novel almost three years ago and it just sat on the book shelf. I rescued it this past weekend and read it in practically one sitting. Thief Bernie Rhodenbarr’s friend Carolyn has a uniquely named cat: Archie Goodwin. The feline is stolen and the catnappers (had to say that) want Bernie to steal a Mondrian painting from a museum in exchange for Archie's life. Bernie realizes it would be a lot simpler to swipe a Mondrian painting from a private collection where he did a book appraisal earlier in the week. Sidebar: when Bernie isn’t stealing, he’s a bookseller--and the collector as thief is a great touch. The fun begins after he breaks into the owner’s hotel room, discovers the painting has already been swiped, and then complicates matters by making love to the owner’s ex-mistress on the floor. Oh, and the owner of the painting is murdered in the other room. Whew! That’s just the beginning in this exceptional tale from the masterful storyteller. MONDRIAN is my first Rhodenbarr tale but I will seek out the rest in the amusing series.

Click on over to Patti Abbott's site for more Friday's Forgotten Books.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thuglit Issue #30

The latest from Thuglit has landed with contributions from Eric Beetner, Patrick Cobbs, Jason Duke, Hilary Davidson, Jedidiah Ayres, Robert S.P. Lee, Sophia Littlefield, and Myra Sherman. Oh, and a heartwarming message from Lady Detroit.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tales from Deadwood: The Troopers by Mike Jameson

I was reading to my cat the other day when my wife snapped this picture. Sam's not into westerns so much (he purr-fers the Cat Who series by Lilian Jackson Braun) but he still listened patiently, as long as I pet him behind the ears every now and then.

Regardless of Sam's taste, I can say that I am thoroughly enjoying Tales from Deadwood: The Troopers by Mike Jameson. Deadwood has a nice noir tinge for you hardboiled fans that are ready to try something different.

(This is an installment of The Book Review Club organized by Barrie Summy. For more reviews, click on her blog here.)