Friday, September 30, 2011

FFB: The Weird Picture - John R. Carling

The 1st American edition
w/pictorial boards depicting Rivoli
I doubt anyone among our regular readers knows of or has read anything by John R. Carling. He belongs to the long faded school of Romantic fiction that also houses the works of George Barr McCutcheon, Jeffery Farnol and Arthur W. Marchmont among many others. These particular books are characterized by high melodrama, complex action-oriented plots, young lovers at odds with each other, and a florid prose style firmly rooted in their time period. While many Edwardian and Victorian writers can seem rather contemporary to 21st century readers Carling and his ilk belong to the past. If you willing to transport yourself back over one hundred years these books can be an entertaining, though sometimes intermittently cumbersome, read. The Weird Picture (1905) is one of the few exceptions free of boring passages in an era that was increasingly turning away from excessive melodrama in favor of realistic domestic drama. It's a book I was surprised to discover was on an equal with many of the potboiler thrillers of today.

Frank believes he spies his brother in Dover
(art by Cyrus Cuneo)
The book opens with the disappearance of George Willard on the eve of his wedding to Daphne Leslie. The novel is narrated by Frank, George's brother, who for years has also been in love with Daphne. Frank is confused and disturbed by his brother's having taken flight. Confused because he is sure he has seen George in Dover as he was disembarking from the boat train. Disturbed because later on the train home he shares a compartment with a mysterious veiled woman who is carrying George's monogrammed valise. The woman is mute and cannot explain how she came to be carrying the suitcase, but Frank pursues her to a boarding house. When the door is answered by an old Italian man he tells Frank there is no woman living in the house and no one answering George's description lives there either. Is that enough mystery for you? Wait there's more.

Daphne receives a letter from George in which he apologizes for his ungentlemanly behavior of the day before they are to be married. He says "terrible circumstances" have forced him to give her up. He cannot marry her nor ever "hope to look upon [her] face again. Do not seek me, you will never find me." So Daphne, Frank and Daphne's father Gerald do what anyone would do. They go off on a whirlwind tour of Europe. Forget George's melodramatic vanishing and self-imposed exile. Just dismiss his claims and the mystery of it all. Better to be distracted with the delights of a continental tour than bear up and discover the truth, right?

Daphne is visited by a mysterious figure
(art by Cyrus Cuneo)
It is in Rivoli, Switzerland that the story takes an even stranger twist. The trio meet up for the second time with painter Angelo Vasari who they had earlier met in England. He is being celebrated for a near masterpiece he created called "The Fall of Caesar." Vasari hints at a secret method he has borrowed from the Greeks that has allowed him to create a new type of vividly realized and striking painting. A variety of incidents lead Frank to believe, though he has not yet seen the painting, that it bears the image of his missing brother. He also suspects that Angelo is a fraud and that he is not the true artist of "The Fall of Caesar."

Then Frank believes he sees the old Italian man who answered the door at the boarding house where the veiled woman fled. He is in conference with a priest taking confessions. Later, this man is discovered dead at the foot of cliff. Frank and Uncle Gerald use their innate amateur sleuthing skills to point out wounds on the neck that indicate strangling and a button clenched in the man's fist torn form an article of gray clothing. They are sure that they man was murdered.

Meanwhile Angelo rabidly pursues Daphne claiming his love for her, that she is the perfect model for his next great painting. He has already used her face for a Madonna that hangs in a local cathedral and she is causing a stir among the locals who recognize her face from that painting. Daphne shuns all Angelo's attentions. Frank is clearly jealous.

Frank at the mercy of the mad villain
When the trio return to England for a Christmas visit at the home of Sir Hugh Wyville the novel transforms once more into a Gothic imbued thriller.  Silverdale Abbey, a 600 year-old ancient nunnery and former silver mine, has a haunted past.  Nuns who broke their vows are said to have been thrown down an abandoned shaft and their ghosts haunt the abbey.  It should come as no surprise that Angelo Vasari reappears and the mysterious painting "The Fall of Caesar" turns up in Sir Hugh's private art gallery. Just as Sir Hugh is about to unveil the painting to Daphne, Frank and Uncle Gerald it is discovered to have been stolen from the locked and sealed gallery.

All of the various mysteries, the murder of the Italian man, the meaning of the mute veiled woman on the train and most importantly of what happened to George are all revealed in a climax worthy of a Guy Boothby thriller.  Madness is at the heart of the novel.  And the macabre motives of the villain are rooted in - of all things - the demand for realism in art.  Here are the words of the villain who performs a five page monologue/confession in the the last chapter fittingly titled "The Denouement!"

You see this is the age of realism. Nothing is now accepted in literature, art, or the drama that does not bear on its front the stamp of reality. Art, if it is to hold the mirror up to Nature, must not shrink any more than medical science from experimenting on the living frame, and analysing with delicate eye its varying of phases of agony.

I think that this was the point of Carling's book.  He had recognized that the kind of book he liked to write was something of a dinosaur already in 1905.  He had already written The Shadow of the Czar (1902), a swashbuckling adventure, followed shortly by a supernatural mystery called The Viking's Skull (1904). With The Weird Picture he seemed to have exhausted his imagination and waved the white flag in the face of realism.  While some of his more successful contemporaries managed to carry on the trend of these fanciful, completely unrealistic stories well into the mid 1920s Carling seemed to have surrendered to the tastes of the modern reader. Fittingly, his last book was called The Doomed City (1910), a Romantic historical epic about the fall of Jerusalem.

The second US edition of The Weird Picture

This was a double duty post - both a Friday's Forgotten Book and a late entry in the Switzerland stop on the Crime Fiction EuroPass challenge.  For more overlooked and forgotten books visit Patti Abbot's blog.  For further reading by Swiss crime writers and mystery novels set in Switzerland visit Mysteries in Paradise.

Monday, September 26, 2011

COOL FLICKS : Man on a Tightrope (1953)

As a companion piece to my review/contrast of Neil Paterson's novella Man on the Tightrope and Elia Kazan's movie Man on a Tightrope (note the subtle difference of the indefinite and definite articles in the two titles) I am putting up this 8 minute section of the film. It occurs at the start of the movie and shows some nicely done scenes of the circus life and the performers, the rocky relationship between March and Grahame as husband and wife, and Cernik's arrest by the Czech police

The entire film is available at YouTube in fourteen parts. You might also find it at your local video store. It's been released as part of a DVD collection made up of 18 films -- both well known and obscure -- from Elia Kazan's long career. The films have been selected by Martin Scorsese, one of Kazan's greatest admirers, who I believe provides commentary on many of them.

NOTE: The large policeman who catches the beach ball in the clown act scene and has no lines is played by Gert Fröbe who will later become very famous as Goldfinger in the James Bond movie.

Crime Fiction on a EuroPass: Brno, Czechoslovakia

I missed Switzerland last week, but I'll make up for that later this week. This week the scheduled stop is Czech Republic, but because this blog more often than not takes you into the past via books long out of print we are time travelling to Czechoslovakia and the days of the Cold War. Our stop is just outside of Brno where we join the Cernik Circus as they prepare to flee the communist regime and make a daring escape (breaking many laws along the way thus qualifying for a crime novel rather than a mere adventure novel) into Austria. The book is Man on the Tightrope (1952) by Neil Paterson, made into a far better movie of the same name directed by Elia Kazan with an exciting screenplay by Robert E Sherwood. This will be a side by side review and contrast of the book and the film.

The book is a slight one. Dubbed a short novel it's a very quick read at only 135 pages and large type. It was an expansion of a magazine article by Neil Paterson titled "International Incident" and was inspired in part by the escape of Circus Brumbach from East Germany to West Germany in 1950.  Paterson has changed his circus to one in Czechoslovakia that happens to be travelling in the vicinity of the Austrian border and dedicates his book to all Czech people who has managed a cernik. I tried to find out if this is a slang term in Czech, but came up with nothing. Perhaps some linguist who stumbles across this article might be able to clue me in if Paterson chose Cernik as the name because it means something else. Please drop a line if you know.

While Man on a Tightrope is a fast paced story about the circus owner, his family, a run-in with the Czech police and a rival circus owner there really isn't much to the book. The actual escape is not even described. The escape plans are mentioned twice in dialog prior to the actual escape, but the escape itself occurs offstage. The characters, apart from Cernik himself and a well drawn portrait of his rival, Heinrich Cheb, who owns the only other travelling circus in Czechoslovakia, are little more than sketches or ideas of characters. The reader knows only names and their role as performer in the circus, or their relation to Cernik's family and very little else. While there should be ample opportunity to explore the dichotomy of an entertainment world existing in a Communist regime and all the pitfalls of living a nomadic life in what amounts to a police state Paterson chooses not to comment on that part of the story at all.

In contrast, the screenwriter Robert E. Sherwood who adapted Paterson's brief book skillfully adds numerous scenes filled with intriguing ideas and also shows us the escape. It is after all cinema - pictures and action should tell the story. Sherwood fleshes out the relationship between Cernik (commandingly portrayed by Fredric March) and his seemingly idle and trampy wife (sultry Gloria Grahame exuding sex appeal as she always does); adds an idyllic romance between Foster (renamed Vosek in the film and energetically played by Cameron Mitchell) and Cernik's daughter (a rebellious and feisty Terry Moore); and adds the much needed tension between the circus performers and the Communist government - especially a brilliant scene in which the Ministry of Propaganda reprimands Cernik for not adding their disinformation into his clown acts instructing the audience on the evils of capitalism.

Terry Moore as Tereza defies her stern father Cernik (Fredric March)
The movie uses most of what occurs in the book but rearranges the order slightly altering them. The film stresses the reasons that the circus needs to leave, underlines the oppressive life in Czechoslovakia with some brief and sometimes powerful scenes. The opening sequence where a police cordon forces the circus troupe and their caravans and cages of animals off the road so that speeding trucks carrying Czech dissidents marked with giant X's on the backs can be taken away no doubt to some prison or camp sets the mood perfectly and prepares the viewer for the domineering and bullying communist bureaucrats who will appear often to cause trouble for Cernik and his performers.

Cernik must contend not only with the oppressive government but dissension among his own employees. Zabek, the leader of tent men (somber and forboding Richard Boone) reminds Cernik that their are the labor force of the circus, the ones who are doing real work; the rest of the circus is made up of libertines and performers who do little to benefit the people's government. He also points out that the circus is no longer owned by Cernik in this new world, it is the property of everyone. More obstacles arise as the escape plan is overheard by an embittered employee who informs Cernik's rival Heinrich Cheb (in the movie renamed Barovic and played with showman-like gusto by Robert Beatty).  Cheb then bargains with Cernik allowing the escape to take place without informing the police if only he can have tents, seating and a few animals.

The climax of the film is the escape itself and all members of the circus must do their best to distract both Czech and Austrian military personnel when they get to the border. It's a interesting blend of surreal circus entertainment and chaotic gunfire when the entire troupe makes a break for the border. There are acts of surprising heroism and sacrifices that must be made. After reading the book and having been robbed of the thrilling escape sequences it was rewarding to see Kazan, Sherwood and the remarkable cast pull off with skillful suspense what any book about an escape should never omit. I highly recommend finding the movie and watching it rather than reading the book. The film is more intelligent, more dramatic, and more suspenseful than Paterson's slight cheat of an escape adventure.

For other adventures in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic please visit Mysteries in Paradise, our host blog for this Grand Tour of crime fiction throughout Europe.

Friday, September 23, 2011

FFB: The Rembrandt Panel - Oliver Banks

Amos Hatcher is an independent private investigator who chooses his own cases from a list provided by the IIAD, the International Association of Art Dealers. He recovers stolen art on a contract basis. We first meet him in The Rembrandt Panel (1980), an Edgar Award nominated first mystery by Oliver Banks, a former art critic and historian whose other books were all nonfiction prior to his foray into the mystery novel.

This is not a whodunit. It's a cat and mouse thriller. Similar to the stories on the old Columbo TV show we know from the start who the culprit is and watch as the Boston Police and Hatcher team up to track down the thief and killer. We watch Elton Ross, a curator at the fictitious Boston Museum, lose control of himself in an effort to cover up a huge financial mistake. He convinces the Board of Directors of his museum to purchase a Greek pot - a krater - at the unheard of sum of $500,000 only to discover that it was stolen property. Now he learns of the existence of an extremely rare painting most likely the work of Rembrandt. Ross is determined to get the painting by any means, sell it and return the money to the museum before his gaffe is discovered. But his plans go awry and in his attempt to get the painting he murders two men - a two bit art scout who found the painting and an old antique shop dealer to whom the scout entrusted the painting. And Ross continues to track down anyone who may have known of the paintings existence and murder them as well.

This fast paced book while loaded with all sorts of intriguing art history on Dutch painters, Greek pot artists, the wheeling and dealing in the art trade, and skulduggery behind the scenes of art acquisition in the museum world, is mostly a well done, uncluttered yeoman job of storytelling. The story begins in Boston but will take Amos to Amsterdam and Switzerland as he does remarkable detective work based on only a few clues taken from the ebony frame that originally held the stolen painting and using a list of known art felons and collectors. The climax at an art auction in Maine, however, is a bit clunky with unnecessary passages that impede the action including a shaggy dog story from the cops about a near car accident involving their police car and a rabbit.

Banks wrote a sequel to this book called The Caravaggio Obsession also featuring Amos Hatcher and the two cops O'Rourke and Callahan. After that he never wrote another mystery novel.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

NEW STUFF: Getting Off - Lawrence Block as "Jill Emerson"

Getting Off by Lawrence Block
(writing as Jill Emerson)
335 pages
Hard Case Crime $25.99

Kit Tolliver may remind some readers of an oversexed female version of Dexter. I couldn't help but draw analogies between the two characters. There were some scenes in this outrageously over-the-top sex and blood thriller that seemed to have been lifted right from that popular TV show. But Block has something else in mind than the usual study of the psychopathology of a fictional serial killer. It's not so much the killing and the violence that is the focus. It's the sex that dominates this book. Raw, hedonistic, power play sex. And it is sex that defines Kit's personality and how she navigates her way through her world. It's a book where orgasm, the little death as the Elizabethans liked to call it, is in search of a much bigger death -- death as the ultimate high as the title so bluntly suggests.

The tame subtitle on the front cover labels this as “a novel of sex and violence." That 's enough to send many people looking elsewhere for a new read, I'm sure. But if you are the kind of reader who might be tempted to pick it up as a experiment in a guilty pleasure read you will get more than you ever dreamed of.  Open the cover and it's like opening a Pandora's box hidden away in the darkest corner of an adult pleasure shop in some backwater Podunk.  You will never expect what Block has in store for you.

That generic subtitle doesn’t even begin to explain what’s found on the pages within. The sex takes all forms from the usual mild descriptions of vanilla sex that fade out to the blowing curtains to graphically detailed power play games complete with ropes, blindfolds, gags, and sex toys. While most of the sex is between Kit and her male victims there’s also plenty of girl on girl action that extends to phone sex and "jilling off" stories. This is, after all, a "Jill Emerson" opus. Lesbian scenes will take center stage frequently. Kit is so depraved in her exploration of the darker side of hedonism that she even indulges in a little necrophilia.

Block presents us with a female sexual predator who experiences her ultimate high in murder. The orgasm is great, the kill is even better.
She reached a point where the sex act itself wasn't complete as long as her partner had a pulse. That was the true orgasm; when she struck like a cobra and the man died.
I was repulsed and fascinated by this book. I couldn't stop reading. How could I care about this cold-hearted, antisocial woman whose life was nothing but the pursuit of pleasure, the killing of sex partners, and the theft of their money? Surely there had to be something in her that I would find likeable or admirable. And there was. It was her cunning, her manipulation of everyone she encountered. Her father used to call her "his little soldier" and Kit in many ways has much in common with men trained in warfare. Targeting the enemy, sizing them up, out thinking them and then - bam! - taking them out.

If you stick with this deeply disturbed woman you may be surprised to find that she has a smidgen of a heart left in her steely soul. Late in the book there is a scene where she is shocked to discover that one of her former bedmates has been transformed by his life in the Iraq war. Seeing his battle scarred, abused and broken body deeply affects Kit. Her usual modus operandi in her bizarre revenge scheme is altered in an eyebrow raising scene that may elicit a few gasps of shock.

More sensitive readers might be gasping and crying out "Oh My God!" on nearly every page, frankly. The sex scenes only escalate in twisted surprising fashion as the book progresses. The basic premise is abused girl gets even with her abuser and the silent parent who did nothing to stop the abuse then sets out to find her true self in non-stop sexual encounters that usually end in murder. Problem is circumstances do not always allow for Kit to get her desired final orgiastic thrill. Five men managed to escape execution at her hands. Now she’s tracking them down intent that no one can live to tell that they ever had been with her. Kit is not fond of being the subject of conquest stories. She's the final conqueror when she meets a man. And we all know dead men tell no tales.

But Kit's search for those five men will take her into uncharted territory - the geography of her own heart. Decades ago she thought she left her heart and her emotions and what little love she ever felt buried and forgotten. Her emotional life is desperately fighting its way back to the surface, gasping for breath in a stifling existence of brutal hedonism and callous violence. Could she really be feeling love for another person? You may be praying for her soul, you may be praying she gets her comeuppance. Either way I guarantee you'll feel something for this sharply drawn, powerful and deadly woman.

For a little insight into the Block/Emerson identity crisis read this great interview where "they" talk to each other about "their" writing.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bouchercon 2011: And Now Our Wrap-up

I had a great time. Met so many new people including Les Blatt who writes his Classic Mysteries blog and Peter Rozovsky who created Detectives Beyond Borders. Both Les and Peter have covered their personal experiences at Bouchercon on their blogs. Les was a fan attendee and Peter was a moderator for a few panels - one of which I attended. Check out their blogs for other insights on this fantastic convention. Les attended all the panels that discussed classic and vintage mystery fiction. I was more interested in the new writers this year and skipped all of them. But apparently I made a mistake by not attending the panel on Agatha Christie. Val McDermid was on that panel and she was as usual both informative and hysterical.

My favorite two minute exchange with the many authors with whom I briefly talked was with Megan Abbot. I asked her if she had seen The Prowler. And her eyes lit up when she said "Yes! I loved it. Those characters are so sleazy." "Now that's noir, right?" I said. "Very noir, " she replied. We both rhapsodized over the movie noting our favorite scenes. I also asked her if she could help me track down her mother Patti who is our host for Friday's Forgotten Books. Her somewhat exasperated reply: "Everyone is asking me about my mother." Oops. And I never did meet up with Patti no matter how hard I tried looking.

Also missed Jeff Pierce of The Rap Sheet. I spotted Gerard Saylor (one of the Friday's Forgotten Books crew) for about two minutes and then he was gone before I had a chance to introduce myself. There were a few moments like that. But for the overall weekend I was impressed with myself. Ordinarily I avoid people and huge social gatherings like this. That I managed to overcome my solitary nature and social awkwardness was a huge step. That I was successful in meeting as many people as I did went beyond my expectations, frankly.

This brief weekend getaway holds the all time record for the most money I have ever spent on any vacation in my lifetime. Convention registration, rental car for four days at a weekly rate, two full tanks of gas, two hotels split between the four nights, three days of parking fees in a self serve lot, splurging on room service (which I never do), and breakfast in the hotel (four times the cost of an equivalent meal just down the street) added up to a hefty bill. And of course books. I won't tell you the jaw dropping total for this extravagant trip plus book purchases, but I will say that several years ago Joe and I went to Costa Rica for five days and we each spent $500. For everything. That amount of money didn't even cover the three nights at the Westin Hotel. Looks like I'll be having an intensive book sale to help pay for this trip.

Speaking of books... Here's what I picked up in the book room at Bouchercon. I paid for these, too. There was one book I picked up that I didn't pay for and was I ever surprised to find it in my bag. I promptly returned that book and apologized to the bookseller saying that shoplifting is not one of my hobbies.

Anyone interested in signed first editions by Eoin Colfer, Sara Paretsky, Max Allan Collins, Val McDermid, John Connolly, and other writers who were in attendance at Bouchercon 2011 should tune in later this week. I intend to sell many of the books I had signed. All will be reasonably priced. A special page with a list of the books available should appear within the next two days. Check the right hand side of this blog for the PAGES section, then click on the "Bouchercon Signed Books for Sale" link.

Coming Home & Getting Off


I was delighted to find a box waiting for me in the lobby of my building when I returned from St. Louis. The return address read Random House.  My address label read J F Norris - REVIEW COPY. Inside was:

Hard Case Crime's first ever hardcover publication of a never before published Block thriller written under the Jill Emerson pseudonym. Don Longmuir of Scene of the Crime Books in St Catherines, Ontario told me at Bouchercon that he hadn't even seen a copy, couldn't order one, and that review copies promised to several people never showed up. Here is evidence to prove him wrong.

Thanks to Tom Green at Titan Publishing Group for following through with his promise of the book. Now I've got to read this and get a review up as soon as possible. The book is on sale in major bookstores on Tuesday, September 20.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bouchercon Day 3: Invigorating

I'm kind of burned out on panels, gang. I went to four today and they were a very mixed bag. I'm doing less reporting this time and picking out the highlights of the best two.

I'M ALIVE AND ON FIRE - Rumors of the private eye fiction's death have been greatly exaggerated.
Moderator: Ali Karim.  Max Allan Collins, Barbara Fister, Robert J Randisi, Rick Helms
  1. Max Allan Collins was personally asked by Mickey Spillane to finish a manuscript he was unable to complete due to his terminal cancer. He was also told to go through his house after his death and remove all manuscripts before anyone got their hands on them.
  2. Robert Randisi was featured in a "Dick Tracy" storyline when Collins was writing the comic strip. His character looked just like him and Randisi liked that he was made taller.
  3. Barbara Fister wrote her first mystery novel in order to get even with some people she loathed at a bad job and killed them all off in the course of the book. (NOTE: Christianna Brand wrote Death in High Heels for the very same reason)
  4. Randisi hates ebooks. So does Collins. But Randisi readily admits to selling 200 titles on his backlist to an ebook publisher.
  5. Helms was one of the first writers to sell books electronically. He created early ebooks on floppy disks back in the early 1990s and sold them at book conventions for $2.50 each. He also started one of the first mystery story webzines, The Back Alley, which when it first apperaed was the only one recognized as a "legitimate" form of electronic publication by the Mystery Writers of America.
  6. Randisi became a private eye writer because of the movie Harper and Paul Newman's performance as Lew Archer...uh, Harper. When he found out it was based on The Moving Target he tracked down all the Ross Macdonald books and read them. The Doomsters is one of his favorites.
  7. Mickey Spillane and Robert B Parker were discussed the most along with passing nods to Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton for doing the most to reinvigorate the private eye genre. I think when they said "doing the most" is translated as "having the highest sales" which then forced publishers to recognize the genre as one that had enduring popularity. (NOTE: No one mentioned Marcia Muller who came before both of the other women writers.)

Best quote: "I wrote the Nolan books as an homage to the Parker series. (turns to moderator Ali Karim) And I'll translate this for you. Homage is rip-off." - Max Allan Collins

The consensus was that we are now experiencing a new Golden Age of private eye fiction in both short story and novel form. That the genre is quintessentially American and that it will probably always be with us in some form or another. This was by far the most entertaining and informative panel of the day.

I also attended a panel that was supposed to discuss humor in the crime novel but somehow turned into a question and answer about the writers' characters and their books. Little of the discussion was directly related to humor although there were a lot of funny comments.

Best quote: "I create a lot of characters so that the adults who are reading the books with their children can be just as entertained as the kids. For instance, there is a leprechaun named Colin. Colin Oskipy. Hopefully you'll get it. But not in the near future." - Eoin Colfer

Bouchercon Day 2: Eye-Opening

More signings, more lugging around heavy books, more shoulder injuries. Idea for next Bouchercon - for all of us middle-aged folk who get shoulder and neck pain from schlepping heavy tote bags install a massage chair with a skilled massage therapist. It would be a big hit, I think. Of course next time I will register in time to get into the hotel where the darn convention is being held instead of having to do the ten minute walk every morning carrying all these books.

Megan Abbott (photo by Drew Reilly)
The panels on Friday, September 16 I attended were:

1. Lost in the Amazon: Authors discuss their bad reviews specifically the hysterically funny, sometimes illiterate, often just plain perplexing bad reviews that plague

2. Hot Ice: Thriller and crime writers talk about the subgenre of the caper and heist novel.

3. Shadows Rising: Movies for the crime fiction fan. Megan Abbott was on this panel. I've always wanted to hear her talk about movies. Prior to becoming a novelist she studied and wrote about crime in the movies - specifically the film noir genre. Plus I hoped to get some titles of movies I hadn't yet seen. I'm even more addicted to mystery movies, crime thrillers and heist movies than I am to the vintage crime and adventure fiction I normally write about on this blog.

Panel #1: Linwood Barclay, Bill Crider, Lisa Lutz, Elaine Viets. Alafair Burke was also scheduled but had to cancel her visit.

Colin Cotterill as the moderator had done his research and looked up as many bad Amazon reviews (especially the one star reviews) for each of the writers on the panel. As the discussion of bad reviews continued he would ask questions, wait for a reply, then produce evidence from his pile of print outs. Linwood Barkley commented: "Aren't you forgetting to say 'Perhaps this will refresh you memory!' " The classic Thurber cartoon uses that line for its caption. Colin might as well have been producing kangaroos as evidence for the hour.

Lisa Lutz and Elaine Viets also brought along email that were mixtures of praise, encouragement and slams. These included a letter from a Japanese linguistics professor who teaches Elaine Viets' books in a class on American culture that outlined his misunderstanding of some slang terms including a word I think Elaine made up. The sentence in question? "She felt a kazoing south of her belt." The professor wanted to know if "south of the belt" is related to the American slang phrase "South of the Border." Cue the uproarious laughter. But I joined Lisa Lutz' mystification of the word "kazoing." I can imagine what it might mean, but it's brand new to me.

It was all in good fun but we must all know that the internet allows for so much anonymous venting and name calling. No one really ever brought up the rather obvious point that a large number of these bad "reviews" are done by people with too much time on their hands who are simply entertaining themselves by manipulating and creating artificial controversy for the hell of it. The anonymity and hiding behind a user name in the world of digital communication has created a widespread outlet for antisocial havoc. I often wonder how many of these reviews are real or just forms of mean spirited creative writing intended only to fuck with people.

Panel #2: Keith Thomson, Eoin Colfer, Peter Spiegelman, Sean Doolittle, Chris Ewan. Moderator: Benjamin Whitmer.

I really didn't learn much about caper novels here that I didn't already know or gain any real insight into the skill needed in creating the intricate plots in these stories about elaborate crimes that often go wrong. There was a lot of comparing books to movies, but very little talk of writers who might have influenced the members of the panel. No one mentioned Donald E. Westlake (and not even his alter ego of Richard Stark or the Parker books) until the very end. It was Chris Ewan, by the way, who finally brought up The Hot Rock. Ewan writes a series of books about a mediocre mystery writer who becomes a thief with each book being set in a different city that gives the book it's title (The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam, The Good Thief's Guide to Paris, etc.). I was glad someone mentioned Westlake because I nearly raised my hand and did so myself. Donald E. Westlake practically invented the caper novel. Certainly he needed to be given credit on this panel. But there was some dumb running joke about The Italian Job that I didn't fully understand since I arrived 15 minutes late having been detained with the usual long lines at the book signings.

What I did learn was that there were some interesting books out there by these guys. I knew of Eoin Colfer's juvenile series about Artemis Fowl which are genre blending fantasy/crime capers. His new adult novel Plugged is about a casino bouncer and is set in New Jersey. He sold himself several copies of the book. I bought one and so did about fifty other people right after the talk. Mostly I imagine because Colfer is the damn funniest Irish writer I've heard speak in a long time. He had the audience in stitches and probably in his pocket as well. Keith Thomson admitted his books were less caper novels than straight espionage thrillers. He explained the origins of the Alzheimer's plagued spy in the book who was based on the father of his girlfriend's former boyfriend. That story was so fascinating I'll probably seek out his book someday. I had a Chris Ewan book in my TBR pile at home (planned for the EuroPass series I'm contributing to), but his mention of his respect for Westlake and The Hot Rock from which he borrowed a few ideas got me to buy two of his books.

Panel #3: Todd Ritter, David Corbett, Megan Abbott, Wallace Stroby, Russell McLean. Moderator: Jeremy Lynch.

This discussion of crime films was a daunting task.  How to cram such a huge wealth of movies into a mere hour? Jeremy Lynch, entertainment editor for Crimespree,  confessed it took considerable collaboration through many email exchanges to come up with the final format.  The discussion was divided into three rounds. Each member of the panel would pick one film to represent the category of each round. After hearing all five films discussed in each round the audience would vote on the most persuasive argument for the most noteworthy of the five films. The rounds were "Pre World War 2 Movies," "The Cold War Years," and "The Sacred Cow You Would Most Like to Gore."

Ralph Meeker & Leigh Snowden in Kiss Me Deadly
I mostly chose this panel because I have always wanted to hear Megan Abbott talk about movies.  Her picks were Double Indemnity, In a Lonely Place and the sacred cow she got to gore (translation: an overrated film that didn't deserve all the attention it garnered) was Silence of the Lambs.  The surprise came from two other members.  I was very impressed with David Corbett's impassioned descriptions of some very obscure movies including Il Bidone written and directed by Federico Fellini and Bellman & True directed by Richard Loncrane.  Wallace Stroby also had some exceedingly interesting insights for the films he talked about: Public Enemy and Kiss Me Deadly.  I got more than I expected, a veritable wealth of movie lore and movie trivia from those three participants alone.  And Russell McLean's final pitch for an oddball movie written and directed by Larry Bishop and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Jeff Goldblum, Gabriel Byrne and Ellen Barkin called Mad Dog Time really made the hour well worth my time.

When questions came from the audience someone asked for the best example of the traditional private eye movie, one that incorporated the Chandler type characters and overall tone of what we know as the private eye genre.  Astonishingly, after all the dissent and reviling and dumping on each other's favorites (especially between Todd Ritter, an avowed Hitchcock fan, and David Corbett who admitted to hating all but one of Hitchcock's films)  it was an almost instantaneous and unanimous call.  Chinatown.  Each member of the panel brought up things I had never thought of and I've seen that movie a couple of times.  I also learned that there was a different ending in the original screenplay and Roman Polanski, after heated arguments with screenwriter Robert Towne,  changed it without Towne's consent. To this day it remains an iconic film in the private eye genre almost supplanting all those private eye flicks that came before it as the epitome of the genre. I think more people know of and have seen Chinatown than the earliest original private eye films like Murder, My Sweet or The Big Sleep.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bouchercon 2011: Author Gallery

Just a few shots of some of the writers whose books I brought with me to get signed.

Robert Crais and his notorious Hawaiian shirt

Eoin Colfer signing his first "grown up big person" novel

S. J. Rozan interviews International Guest of Honor Colin Cotterill

Sara Paretsky - Lifetime Achievement Award

Laurie R King

Bouchercon 2011: Sex and Blood and Dirty Words

As promised here's an overview of the down and dirty panel that was especially scheduled from 9 PM - 10 PM on the first night. It was a frank and uncensored discussion of the use of sex scenes, graphic violence and swearing in crime fiction. The panel, led by Scott Montgomery, was his idea and unlike many panels where the writers are assigned to a moderator he was allowed to choose his own panel. They were Christa Faust, S. J. Rozan, Chris Holm, Scott Phillips, John Rector, Benjamin Whitmer, Jonathan Woods. With the exception of one writer I have not read any of their work and only recognized two names -- John Rector and S. J. Rozan. But having read Christa Faust's Money Shot - a private eye style thriller about a porn star - was more than enough to prepare me for what followed.

Needless to say this was another panel that tended get outrageous but in a completely different manner than the others I have attended. Humor was present as always. This time it, was dirty humor. Raunchy humor. Filthy humor. It was kind of a relief actually to be around so many candid adults willing to talk about what is usually condemned in popular fiction.

There were some examples given of scenes I think it best not to recount here. Just read the author's books and stories. Scott Phillips started the night off. He went into great detail about a scene in his book The Walkaway (set in the late 1940s, by the way) where a guy goes to buy lubricant for a rough night with a prostitute. Needless to say he had to resort to Vaseline given the time period and the clerk about to sell it to him starts extolling the benefits of mentholated rub - not knowing the true purpose of the Vaseline and where it would be used. The punchline to the scene I've already forgotten but it involved some body part. Uproarious laughter followed. And that was the tamest example of the night.

Interestingly, the most often mentioned aspect of "dirty books" that seems to bother readers more than sex or violence is foul language. Swear words. Especially the dread use and heavy use of fuck and fucking. S. J. Rozan contributed some much need gravitas to all the raunchy humor and sick jokes. Her articulate explanation of why characters need to say something like "Fuck you, you fucking asshole!" highlighted the complex emotions that for some characters cannot be seen or felt without the right words. Often those words cannot be anything other than swear words.

John Rector talked about writing about sex and violence by distancing himself from it. He said that rather than indulging in graphic descriptions that he prefers to describe it so coldly and directly that ironically the scene becomes more powerful to the reader.

There was a brief discussion about the difference between sex for titillation, erotica, and sex that occurs in a story for a specific reason. Many of the sex scenes discussed in the books by these writers were about character and were the most intimate way they could reveal parts of the character that dialogue and other action could never hope to reveal. Stories are about first and foremost about characters many fo the writers stressed and reiterated. What they do and how they do it -- including sexual choices and sexual practices -- should only be included in a book if the scene tells us who the character is and how it affects the story. Each of these writers gave specific reasons for all their characters' kinky sex, strange sexual games, and use of special equipment. Gratuitous "sexy" scenes meant to titillate seemed to be dismissed if not outright condemned.

When the writer's audiences were brought up most of them talked about older generations who seem not to want to read these types of books. That they tend to be the ones who complain the most. But Christa Faust surprised everyone and provided me with the quote of the night. She said that "the older broads" love her books. And you know why?
Everyone thinks that when a woman reaches a certain age her vagina goes away and all she's going to do is read cats books. Wrong!
No one made a pussy joke afterwards. I was disappointed.

Bouchercon Day 1: Transmogrifying

Day 1 at Bouchercon 2011 was one of heavy lifting, brisk walking and failed attempts to find Patti Abbot, host for Friday's Forgotten books and mother of that mystery writer gal. I checked out of the swank faux British hotel and drove a mere 7 miles to the new digs. I'm at the Westin, right across from Busch Stadium, and only a half a mile from the convention site. As I thought -- nice but not as luxurious as The Cheshire.

Started out with the Guest of Honor interviews. Pictured above they are (left to right ): Colin Cotterill, Charlaine Harris, Oline Cogdill (the panel moderator), Val McDermid and Robert Crais. It was an informative and raucous hour filled with anecdotes, confessions and the usual sharp humor.

Colin Cotterill trading quips & signing
They were asked questions about their approach to storytelling, where they get their ideas, how their writing has evolved over the years with their series characters. My favorite quote from Colin Cotterill was this in response to his series character Dr. Siri
With my character who is 74 years old I couldn't see him being around for twenty years . And that's why there are 11 minutes between each book.  Sometimes less.
A huge wave of laughter followed. But nothing compared to the tsunami of laughter that resounded when Val McDermid told an anecdote she wanted to use in a book that involved a friend's visit to a spa and the line "And then she choked on his penis" to which someone inquired "But how did he get it around her neck?" An exchange she has wanted to put in a book for years but has yet to find the right scene and the right book.

I spent a lot of time waiting in line to get books signed, too. Chatting up the other collectors waiting on line with me, sharing likes and dislikes in books and subgenres, and occasionally remembering that I brought my camera to get candid shots of the writers. I've spread a few throughout this post. Still none of me yet. I told you not to get your hopes up.

Charlaine Harris signing away
Then it was off for my my first of what will be many visits to the book room.  I went directly to the table for Uncle Buck's Mysteries. I spent a good deal of time chatting with June Waller who I first met at Bouchercon 2005 when it was last in Chicago. At that convention I was fortunate enough to be in the dealer room and my table was right next to her and her husband. I was saddened to learn that her quiet and charming husband died several years ago apparently not long after that Bouchercon in 2005. I remember how much he enjoyed getting the books signed by the authors. I said that this was a sad year for the mystery bookselling world and mentioned John Leininger's passing (Alice Ann Carpenter's husband and co-owner with her of Grave Matters) and then also mentioned Enid Schantz' death. She was shocked to hear the news. We talked about how much Tom and Enid have done for the mystery book world and especially the Bouchercons of the past. Then the topic moved on to brighter things and I began to admire her amazing collection of vintage mysteries. I told her I may be tempted to spend an awful lot of money - especially on some A. B. Cunningham books she had in excellent DJs and some other authors who books I won't mention lest someone read this post who is also at the convention and buys them before I do. June said that people don't seem to be interested in the old books any more but I assured her that their is a growing audience and that many of them are younger than she would ever believe. She was surprised but glad to hear it. I also told her about my concerted effort to enlighten the mystery reading public about the older forgotten books with this blog and that there are many blogs devoted to the vintage books. She smiled at that. "If only they were here buying my books!"

Max Allan Collins apparently doesn't have all the answers
One of the most surprising things that happened to me was at dinner. I had chosen to eat at The Dubliner, an Irish pub restaurant. While waiting a very long time to be recognized and seated, two women with Bouchercon badges hanging from their necks came in behind me. One of the women noticed my book bag (never without it even at meal times) and asked if I was attending the convention. "Yes. but I always take off my badge when I leave the hotel." When the host finally decided to seat us he asked the two women how many the other women turned to me and asked if I would like to join them. I had to say yes. Things like that never happen to me.

We had a very enjoyable meal with lively conversation. I found out one woman, Beth, is employed by Permanent Press, a small publisher in Nashville and the other, Jennie, is a writer who has a series of home repair mysteries published by Berkley Prime Crime. We talked about our past and present jobs, lives in the theater, our mutual distaste for the vampire phenomenon in thriller fiction (laying waste mostly to the Twilight mania), and a respect for the vintage writers.

Jennie leaned in after the meal and challenged me with this question: "OK, I have a old mystery writer for you. Patrick Quentin. Know him?" But of course! Then we talked about Peter and Iris Duluth and Suspicious Circumstances and Death and the Maiden. She even knew about the Jonathan Stagge books. She told me when she was growing up in Norway the Quentin Patrick books were a big hit in Scandinavia. That led to a discussion of the Neo-Nordic wave currently sweeping crime fiction. She gave me titles of Patrick Quentin books worth reading and also mentioned a prolific Swedish writer named Maria Lang that I would probably like but sadly none of her books have been translated into English. Finally, I mentioned the only Norwegian writer I know of from the pre WW2 years, Frederik Viller, who wrote an excellent mystery called The Black Tortoise (1901) that was translated into English in the 1920s.

I'm having more fun than I thought I would. The surprise dinner invitation is the kind of thing you can never predict but is so typical of this amazing community that exists in the Bouchercon world. Bruce DeSilva, who won a Macavity for his novel Rogue Island, made a heartfelt and eloquent acceptance speech that commended the welcoming spirit and camaraderie of the crime fiction world and noted how unlike it is from any other writing community. I've read this before and heard it before and now I know it to be true.

Tomorrow I'll write about the late night panel I just returned from. The topic? "Sex, Violence and Everything That Makes a Great Book." You can imagine the quotable quotes I pulled from that discussion.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Safely Ensconced with John Milton & Lucifer

This year's convention program cover
I have arrived. The drive was a bit nerve wracking as it rained all the way down here and it poured just as I got to the St. Louis downtown area. I'm so out of practice behind the wheel. But no mishaps and only one person honked at me the entire five hours. That's pretty damn good for me! (BTW - how on Earth did we ever manage to get anywhere without GPS? Maps and road atlases? They seem so prehistoric.) I had 15 minutes to get into early registration at the convention site and I took of like Mercury with an imperative message from Mt. Olympus, running all the way to the hotel from a cheap street parking space about four blocks away. Even equipped with an umbrella and windbreaker I was something of a wet mess when I got to the registration table. This is what comes of late registration and missing out on the convenience of staying in the hotel where the convention is actually held. I'm staying in two hotels - one tonight and another within walking distance for the bulk of the convention Thurs, Fri and Sat.

Tonight I'm staying in The Cheshire, apparently a historic landmark among the hotels of St. Louis (it dates back to the 1920s). It had been closed for decades but has recently undergone a multimillion dollar renovation and is now transformed into a boutique hotel. It re-opened in August of this year. I read a little bit about it on-line and I thought it would be a neat splurge for one night. But what I failed to realize was that in addition to being a faux British hotel with English breakfast in the morning, a pub, and a parking garage that forces you to drive on the left hand side, the entire hotel has a British literary theme.

I entered the hotel from a stairwell that took me past several rooms on the ground floor I saw that each room was named after literary figure: Henry Fielding, Rudyard Kipling, A. A. Milne and even a James Bond Suite and a Death on the Nile Suite in honor of the Grande Dame herself. With all this mixture of the lofty and the popular of British fiction I was hoping that my room would be named in honor of someone suitable for the crime fiction weekend. I missed it by one. My room is the John Milton on the second floor. A lushly illustrated copy of Paradise Lost with an introduction by Philip Pullman (that's appropriate) is on the nightstand next to a very comfy armchair. But right next door is the Emma Orczy room, creator of Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, the Old Man in the Corner and -- of course -- the Scarlet Pimpernel. So I'm in good company. Also on my floor are rooms named after Anthony Burgess, Arthur C. Clarke, William Golding, James Joyce, George Orwell and opposite from me is, uh, the Tales of Peter Rabbit Suite. Joyce would be snickering at his close proximity to Beatrix Potter, I think. It all sounds cutesy and tacky, I know. But it's not at all. It's damn swank, if you ask me.

Here's a photo of my room.

And here's the comfy chair. Spanish Inquisition not included (thankfully).

Did I forget to mention the pen & quill themed artwork hanging on the wall above the handsomely designed writing desk?

I'll bet my room at the Westin where I will remain for the rest of the convention will pale in comparison. At least I'll have one night of well deserved luxury here at The Cheshire.

On the Road Again

Off to St. Louis for Bouchercon today. It'll be the first time in over five years that I will once again make the five and half hour trip in a car by myself. Considering I never drive on a daily basis this ought to be a true adventure. That added to the fact that I have zero tolerance for reckless driving ought to make for a riveting driving experience. Maybe I should pop a couple of Xanax before I get in the rental car. Wish me luck.

I'll be bringing the laptop along and updating my visit. I'm looking forward to finally putting faces to the names of all the bloggers and readers I've met since the start of this year. Maybe I'll even post some photos of me and the people I meet. But don't get your hopes up.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Crime Fiction on a EuroPass: Tirol

I hear yodeling, I smell amazing chocolate and baked goods, and I see mountains. They must be the snow covered, jagged peaks of the Austrian Alps. We have arrived in Austria - more specifically the state of Tirol, home of the grandest of the Austrian Alps. Hope you've brought along your ice axe, a warm anorak, sturdy rope and your crampons. We are in for some challenging and deadly mountain climbing in the pages of Lewker in Tirol by Glyn Carr.

When Abercombie Lewker's beloved vintage auto suffers an accident at the hands of a reckless lorry driver he takes "the Dowager" in for hopeful repairs. The mechanic gives him bad news. She's a goner. Then the mechanic, Ted Pirner, starts talking of his hobby as a mountaineering guide. He's looking forward to a trip to Austria, to be exact his parents' home province of South Tirol. Lewker becomes nostalgic for his more active globetrotting days and his own mountain climbing adventures, most of which included some unfortunate murders and some amateur sleuthing. A discussion with Georgie, his wife, and a fellow thespian in his acting troupe decides him to make one last climb. And so he heads off to climb the Zuckerhütl in the Stubai Alps of southeastern Austrian.

Technically, he begins in Italian territory and will cross over into Austria. For we soon learn of some interesting history about Tirol -- how it was split back in 1915 and the southernmost portion annexed to Italy. At the end of WW2 the Austrians were hoping that it would be returned to them, but somehow it was utterly overlooked at the treaty talks, though Italy and Austria worked out an arrangement to recognize the rights of the German speaking population that remained in South Tirol. But a rivalry bordering on hatred still exists at the time of the novel's action and there are signs of dangerous activism intermingled with terrorism.

Zuckerhütl, 3,505 metres (11,499 feet) The highest peak of the Stubai Alps

The Junge Adler (Young Eagles), a German speaking activist group who oppose the still valid annexation of South Tirol to Italy, are becoming violent. Bombs have been set off in the mountains, shootings have taken place at mountaineering parties. All of this in order that attention be drawn to the Junge Adler's cause of returning South Tirol to Austria. Lewker is warned of this activity prior to his setting foot on his tour. His guide, Josef Herkomer, was the most recent victim of these attacks. Josef assures Lewker he will be safe. He cannot imagine another attack would take place so soon. Little do they know.

The mountain climbing sections are intricately described. The climate, the terrain, the history are all neatly woven into the action sequences. We also get the inside dope on a rivalry that exists between Josef and Mario Papi, an Italian guide who happens to be in love with Josef's daughter. This can only mean trouble in a crime novel. When another shooting occurs and one of the guides is wounded in the mountains we know that perhaps there is something a little more than terrorist activity going on in the Alps. Lewker does a fine job of sorting out just who is trying to do in whom. When the expected fatality does occur he offers his assistance to the local police and gets to the bottom of the criminal activity.

Showell Styles, AKA Glyn Carr
"Glyn Carr" is in reality writer Frank Showell Styles, an avid mountaineer himself. Under his own name he has written several non-fiction books on the sport, two series of nautical adventure fiction, and a few espionage thrillers that sometimes incorporate mountain climbing in the plot. In his guise as "Glyn Carr" (a clever pun in Welsh) he created Shakespearean actor, mountaineer and amateur detective Abercrombie Lewker, or "Filthy" as his friends and wife call him. While most of Lewker's adventures are confined to his homeland of Wales he has traveled to Norway, Switzerland, France, Majorca, and even Nepal in his pursuit of his favorite sport and avocation of crime solving.

Several of the Glyn Carr books have been reissued by Rue Morgue Press and are marked with an asterisk in the bibliography at the end of this article. Lewker in Tirol is, however, not one of the reissued titles.

And what's a visit to Austria without some local music? Here are Die Mayrhofner singing about the Zillertal, their home, which is not actually featured in Carr's book but it's in the same Bundesland of Tirol.

For other visits to Austria and more criminal depictions in its gorgeous surroundings be sure to visit Mysteries in Paradise, our host blog for this whirlwind trip through Europe.

The Abercrombie Lewker detective novels

*Death on Milestone Buttress (1951)
*Murder on the Matterhorn (1951)
*The Youth Hostel Murders (1952)
The Corpse in the Crevasse (1952)
*Death under Snowdon (1954)
A Corpse at Camp Two (1955)
Murder of an Owl (1956)
Swing Away, Climber (1956)
The Ice Axe Murders (1958)
Holiday with Murder (1960)
*Death Finds a Foothold (1961)
Lewker in Norway (1963)
Death of a Weirdy (1965)
Lewker in Tirol (1967)
Fat Man's Agony (1969)

Friday, September 9, 2011

FFB: Jack Mann & His Occult Detective Gees

Cover artwork by Rudolph Belarski
E. Charles Vivian was a prolific British writer who wrote detective novels, espionage thrillers, adventure stories and supernatural thrillers. Under the pseudonym "Jack Mann" he gave us Gregory George Gordon Green, or as he is known to his friends "Gees," a private investigator who had a habit of stumbling upon mysterious crimes and murders that had supernatural origins. He appeared in eight books and only one of them was a straight crime novel. The other seven touched upon ancient curses, shape-shifters, the practices of a Druid cult, Viking legends, Egyptian reincarnated princess, Atlantean witchcraft and other visitors and entities from other dimensions.

I especially like Maker of Shadows (1938) set in Cumberland, in the northwest corner of England now known as Cumbria. Here Gees must do battle with a powerful warlock who might easily have stepped out of the pages of a book by Sax Rohmer. He is descended from a mythical race Mann created called the Azilians. Like the Picts of ancient Scotland the Azilians are a pagan people of pre-medieval times. But they deviate from the Picts in their religion devoted to "the Unnamed" – a demon goddess who brings the worshipper all he or she desires. The supernatural content in the book is less familiar and trite than found in some of the other books.

Take, for example, Grey Shapes (1937) which for me seemed like a complete rip-off of The Door of the Unreal by Gerald Biss. The entire first half of Mann's book from the sheep mutilations to the strange relationship between the father and daughter and the finale are nearly exactly the same in each book. The Door of the Unreal (1919) is considered a classic of its type but I really shouldn't mention anything of the plot for fear of ruining each book. Written almost twenty years earlier than Mann's Grey Shapes there is a strong case for plagiarism that few critics have ever pointed out. Having previously read Biss' book before Mann's I found nothing new about Grey Shapes, wasn't surprised in the least by anything, and was dumbfounded by the transparent similarities in the two books.

Illustration by Virgil Finlay for Maker of Shadows as serialized in Argosy

from the DJ collection at the Supernatural Fiction Database
Nightmare Farm (1937) is another unusual treatment of the supernatural in a detective novel. This is more along the lines of a ghostbuster adventure complete with haunted house and grisly material horror in one of the best scenes towards the end of the novel. Gees must solve a murder or two and exorcise some evil spirits trapped in the haunted farmhouse.

The Glass Too Many (1940) is sequel of sorts to The Maker of Shadows in that it also deals with a descendant of Mann's completely made-up "lost race" of the Azilians. There is also some more lurid business as in Maker of Shadows with ritual sacrifice in the catacombs beneath an ancestral home and some impossible poisonings that John Dickson Carr might envy. Gees is hired to discover who might be poisoning a British lord. He has started to tremble and shake uncontrollably just like a parlor maid had weeks earlier. Five weeks after her tremors she attacked another maid in a homicidal rage and was sent off to an asylum. As part of his investigations Gees, along with young Claire, discover an underground altar where very recently someone had been burning hallucinogenic herbs as part of a ritual to "the Unnamed."

At one time seven of the eight Gees books were easily found in used bookstores in the reissued formats from Bookfinger. Several years ago I found a bunch of the Bookfinger editions for $15 each. Sometimes it was possible to find one or two for under ten bucks. But as usual with scarce books of this type that are in demand the prices have skyrocketed. Luckily, Ramble House has issued affordable trade paperbacks. Only The Kleinert Case has proven to be elusive. It was the only title not reissued by Bookfinger and to date remains a truly rare title in the Gees series. I have never seen a copy in my lifetime, though there seem to be a few copies in public libraries in the United States.  I doubt they circulate though.

UPDATE: Several months after I originally posted this article I learned that Ramble House has reissued all the Gees books including The Kleinert Case. What a boon to Jack Mann collectors! It is currently the only affordable edition of that extremely rare title. I suggest Jack Mann and E. Charles Vivian fans make their way to the Ramble House or and buy a copy pronto.

The Gees Books by Jack Mann
*Gees’ First Case (1936)
*Grey Shapes (1937)
*Nightmare Farm (1937)
*The Kleinert Case (1938)
*Maker of Shadows (1938)
*The Ninth Life (1939)
*Her Ways Are Death (1940)
*The Glass Too Many (1940)

*Available in trade paperback editions from Ramble House.