Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Maltese Falcon and me

Statue of the God Horus
as a Falcon
, Egypt,
Ptolemaic period
(335-30 BC), Art
Institute of Chicago
In honor of TMC's nationwide rerelease of The Maltese Falcon in theaters, here's a short-short I wrote five years ago that invokes a line from the movie, though the line does not occur in Dashiell Hammett's novel. 

The Philadelphia showing to which I had bought a ticket was cancelled because, said the manager of the Cinemark Penn 6 theater, of legal obligations to show the first-run movies on the theater's regular schedule. Those movies, should you be interested, included Zoolander 2 and Kung Fu Panda 3.

Down the Shore

by Peter Rozovsky
Sally took the Lavender Room and left the Leather ‘n’ Spice Suite for me. I thanked her for that much; a guy’s got a reputation to keep.

Sally was all right. Sure, she’d cooed over the scented candles and chintz-covered throw pillows. But she drew the line at the teddy bears – five on the parlor settee, seven on a second-floor notions table, and one that scared the hell out of her when it fell on her head from the top of an ivory-inlaid cabinet in the breakfast nook.
That’s why I suspected her when I found a bear with its guts ripped out the next morning. She just looked at me funny as we headed out for an iced coffee before hitting the beach.
Two more teddy bears disappeared that evening, though one turned up under the porch swing soaking in a puddle of spilled mint tea. The glass pitcher that had held the tea lay on its side, next to a knocked-over white rattan table.

Diane shook her head as she mopped up the mess, muttering that some guests lack the simple good manners to come forward when they have an accident. But no one can stay grumpy for long and still run a successful bed and breakfast. “I’m no escapee or anything,” she said, laughing. She slapped the puddle with her mop. “I won’t rip their heads off.”
“Let me do your neck,” Sally said.
I winced as we sat in the Mexican coffee shop reading our newspapers the next morning. “Did you see— Damn!” I threw the paper down and rubbed my left forearm hard. “Itching. We stayed out too long yesterday. Pass the Gold Bond, will you?”

A skinny guy with a faded green baseball cap and a laughing gull tattooed on his left temple stared at the little white clouds as I slapped the powder over my arms.
I recognized the tattoo when I saw it again late that night. Its owner lay face down on the bed and breakfast’s porch, his hands cuffed behind him and a police sergeant kneeling none too gently on his back.

“It was the bears,” the sergeant’s boss said. “This guy’s been a small-time heister for years. He heard a load of heroin was coming down the Shore in one of them teddies, and somehow he got it into his head that this was the town.” He nudged the perp thoughtfully in the ribs with his boot. “It gets pretty shitty for a guy like him in the winters here, and this was his chance to get away. I don’t know what we can charge him with; B&E and cruelty to animals, maybe.” He bent down and hauled the skinny perp up by the arm pits. “Come on, Grizzly Adams. We don’t have much of a downtown, but we’re taking you there.”
If the dope was in Cape Friendly, the skinny guy never found it. Maybe he’d be no worse off than he was before. But maybe whoever had paid for the heroin would make an example of him. Either way, I didn’t envy the skinny guy with the laughing-gull tattoo.

They’d taken him away when Sally came down the stairs. Her mouth made a silent O. “What happened? What is all—” She waved her arm out over the guts of a dozen toy bears.

"It’s nothing, baby, just the stuffing that dreams are made of. Now, let’s go to bed. Your suite or mine?”
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Brubaker and Phillips' Criminal: Melodrama / no melodrama

I've just read Lawless, the second story arc of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Criminal series, and I found it a good deal less satisfying than the same pair's The Fade-Out, which I have also read recently. Why is this the case?

1) Despite what Brubaker seems to think, it's not "... death didn't phase him" and "Things that did, in fact, phase him," but rather faze and faze. How does a mistake like that get past Brubaker, his editors, and the letterer?

2) Lawless' melodrama—and the story is full of family secrets and deus ex machina revelations—is a poor match with the emotionless killing machine that the protagonist is supposed to be. The occasional melodrama of The Fade-Out was a much better fit for its story's setting in that mid-century melodrama factory, late-1940s Hollywood. Even the two examples of trite, overheated language I remember from The Fade-Out might well be deliberate nods to the melodramatic Hollywood movies of the era that were later called film noir.

Or maybe I give Brubaker too much credit. Maybe, for all his facility with fractured, non-linear narrative and evocative, morally dubious settings, he's just not a great prose stylist.

3) More to come if I can gather my thoughts about why Lawless seems like an ungainly combination of melodrama, Parker-like heist story, and revenge tale. If I'm right that such a mix was Brubaker's intention, then the mix doesn't come together here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Black Hood and the real Philadelphia

I read Black Hood #5 this week (and bought issues 6 thorough 9), written by Philadelphia's own Duane Swierczynski and set in his home city, where I also live. I am happy to report that none of the first five issues mentions gentrification, home prices, real estate development, gastro-pubs, East Passyunk, craft beers, charter schools, Stephen Starr, the renaissance of Fishtown, boutique distilleries, entrepreneurship, restaurants with cute one-word names, start-ups, the University of Pennsylvania,  or Comcast.

It's a relief to escape from the ludicrous fantasy of civic greatness that constitutes public discussion in this city and find reality in a comic book.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Noir at the Bar: Back in Philadelphia, where it all started

March 19, 6:45 p.m,. Society Hill Playhouse, Philadelphia. Be there for the biggest, best Noir at the Bar ever in the city where it all began.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Monday, February 15, 2016

"Fuck, it was cheese": Dietrich Kalteis' The Deadbeat Club

I'm not as high on Elmore Leonard as some crime fiction readers are, and my misgivings about George V. Higgins' The Friends of Eddie Coyle verge on heresy, according to at least one highly partisan commenter on this blog.Yet some of my favorite crime novels of recent years—by John McFetridge, Declan Burke, Charlie Stella, Garbhan Downey—are of the Higgins/Leonard school, with its humor; its ensemble casts and multiple points of view; its wry views of men and women at work; and equal measures of sympathy, understanding, and careful observation granted to cops and criminals alike.

The latest entry is Dietrich Kalteis' second novel, The Deadbeat Club, about the complications unleashed by a drug war in southern British Columbia, a war with at least five sides and ensuing complications of which Kalteis good narrative advantage.

Throw in fast action, an interesting observation about Canada and the United States as settings for crime*, and a use of cheese that you've likely never seen before in a crime novel, and you've got a few hours of heartwarming and violent fun on the way.
* "His baby face defied his age, hair as wild as Tanner himself. Plenty of practice with Russian AKs, Tanner did a stint in the ashes of the former Yugoslavia. Left a body count up and down the Congo, hunted Al Qaeda and Islamics, popped off insurgents in Iraq, Darfur, more in the Gaza and Georgia. Now there was talk of North Korea. All the same to Tanner. A resume that had the military contractors drooling.

"North of the border things were different, no military contractors up here. Tanner lying low and getting high, starting to feel bored. So when he heard Travis wanted guns, sending his boys to the shipyard, he offered to throw in, not worried what the gig paid
© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

My third and fourth book covers as a photographer: The Year of the Orca

Linda L. Richards' novel When Blood Lies sees the light of day in April (but is available for preorder now), with a cover photograph by me.

From left: Me, Linda L. Richards.
The publishers are the good people at Orca Books, who have also just brought out Reed Farrel Coleman's Love and Fear, with a cover photograph by me. 2016: Feel the Orca.

Linda and Reed join Ed Gorman and Charlie Stella on the select but growing list of authors for whose books I have shot covers. That's a good bunch, and you should be reading all of them. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Monday, February 08, 2016

William Ard, James Ellroy, and elements of crime fiction style

"She said eight o'clock in the lobby. She said bring the hundred with me, in cash. She said good-bye."
"Clouds imploded. Buildings weaved. People blipped."
One of those passages is from James Ellroy, the other is fifty years older, but the cadences are similar, and if you don't think cadence is important, you've never read Ellroy, at least not The Cold Six Thousand, from which the second of the passages is taken.

The first is from William Ard's 1952 novel The Perfect Frame and, two books into my career as an Ard man, I begin to realize that for all the trouble he had coming up with strong endings, the man had style. His ten hard-boiled novels about P.I. Timothy Dane appeared in the 1950s, the years when Ellroy was growing from toddlerhood into early adolescence and, while I have no idea whether Ellroy read Ard, I have no doubt that he imbibed something of the way people spoke and wrote back then.

Style is a funny thing; style to me can be mere showing off to you. And it's elusive. Dashiell Hammett was the greatest of all crime writers, but what constitutes the Hammett style? 

While you ponder that unanswerable question, try these easier ones: What is style? Is good prose style necessary to good writing? Are the two synonymous?  Who are the most distinctive stylists in crime fiction? What's distinctive about their style, and what does that style add to their stories?

(By coincidence, Dana King discusses style this week at his One Bite at a Time blog. Have a stylish day.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Thursday, February 04, 2016

DBB meets ITW: A Thrilling Interview

My former colleague Gwen Florio, who has taken up the higher calling of writing crime novels, interviews me over at the International Thriller Writers' "The Thrill Begins" Web site.

Gwen asks good questions (no surprise there; she used to be a reporter), and here's one I had especial fun with:
Q: What do you look for when you review a book? Any make-or-break issues?

No make-or-break issues come immediately to mind, though I prefer novels that do not begin with prologues marked “Prologue,” especially if those prologues are about a protagonist recovering consciousness and finding her or himself tied up, unable to move, in a dark room or a damp basement, etc. And especially if the prologue is set in italic type and narrated by a serial killer.
Read the entire interview at
Our discussion is part of a series of interviews with reviewers, critics, publishers, editors, and authors that has so far included Todd Robinson, Janet Hutchings, Carole Barrowman, Benoit Lelievre, and Kristopher Zgorski,

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Monday, February 01, 2016

Ard boiled crime from the 1950s

William Ard (1922-1960)  was almost a topic on the "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane" panel I moderated at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, N.C., but the panelist, that knowledgeable Canadian Kevin Burton Smith, chose to discuss Norbert Davis instead.

But I sought Kevin's advice during an Ard-shopping expedition through the convention's book room, and I wound up with The Diary, one of Ard’s ten or so novels featuring the New York private investigator Timothy Dane (Ard wrote several other series in his his short life.) Here’s some of what I’ve learned:

1) Ard would make a perfect subject for “Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane,” which I first offered at Bouchercon 2014 and which spotlights lesser-known authors of the paperback-original and pulp eras. Ard is, indeed, little remembered, to judge by the paucity of references to him online and the apparent scant availability of his books. Little or none of his work is available in electronic versions, for example, where many lesser-known crime writers of the past have found new life.

2) He was fairly prolific in a short career, turning out about thirty novels though he died before his 39th birthday.

Kevin Burton Smith
3) I like Kevin's observation that Dane is "a pretty normal guy" compared to his fictional contemporaries Mike Hammer and Shell Scott. I love Kevin's remark that
"I find Ard's work far more enjoyable than that of Ross Macdonald in the same time period. Sure, Dane's cases tend to be a tad pulpier and melodramatic than Archer's, but at the same time, Dane's a far more compelling and down to earth character." 
4) The Diary's ending conforms to Kevin's assessment about Dane's cases compared to Archer's.  Ard built The Diary around themes familiar from Hammett and Chandler: political corruption, family secrets, and wild daughters.  But he knew how to build something unexpected out of familiar P.I. set-ups, such as the shamus in his office waiting for a client or the tough guys who confront the P.I. Several times near the novel's beginning, I'd think, "I know what will happen now," and I'd be wrong. After this happened two or three times, I figured this guy Ard's a pro who knows how to hold a reader's interest.

5) Dane also wrote crime series featuring characters named Lou Largo, Johnny Stevens, Barney Glines and Mike (later Danny) Fountain plus Westerns. I haven't read them, but thanks to The Diary, I may look for them.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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