Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gene Fullmer

When I was a kid my dad always talked about a professional boxer who grew up in his neighborhood. He was a few years older than my dad, but he was a living legend in my home. His name was Gene Fullmer and and he became the World middleweight champion in 1957 when he beat Sugar Ray Robinson by decision. A few months later Sugar Ray knocked him out to reclaim the title, but Gene was far from done.

He beat Robinson again and held the NBA middleweight title from 1959 to 1962. He defended the title against a slew of talented boxers including Spider Webb, Florentino Fernandez and Benny "Kid" Paret. Dick Tiger took the belt in 1962 and held Fullmer off on two rematchs--the first was a draw and the second was a TKO in seven in 1963. My father told me, in his final fight against Tiger, Gene was ill with a stomach virus and Tiger kicked the tar out him. His father-in-law was in the audience when he had a heart attack and died. It was the end of Mr Fullmer's career, but his legendary feats, specifically his two triumphs over the great Sugar Ray Robinson very much lived on in my childhood home.

When I first met Gene--the only time I met Gene--he was the first base coach of either his nephew's or son's--I forget which--little league team. I was the firstbaseman and I was more than in awe of the man and even more amazed at how small he was. He seemed a frail little man I couldn't connect with the image I had built. He was quiet and didn't say much. He gently spoke with the base runners as they passed through and he smiled at me more than once. I've never spoken to the man. Not really, but he feels like family. The terrific uncle who is never really around, but the uncle everyone admires and talks about.

A few weeks ago I found some clips of several of Gene's fights on YouTube and I was amazed at his bull-like strength and powerful, damaging right hand. Damn he could box.

1957: Sugar Ray Robinson v. Gene Fullmer ; final few rounds

1960: Gene Fullmer v. Joey Giardello

1961: Gene Fullmer v. Benny "Kid" Paret

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Move

It's been a little quiet around here the last few weeks and it's going to get more so before things pick up. My wife and I are in the process of moving, and it's a sizable move at that. Not huge, but more than moving from one suburb to another.

I was awarded a research assisstantship at a small University in Southern Utah--we presently live in Northern Utah--and we are going to make the pilgrimage to a new city for a new adventure. My current employer gave me an extended leave of absence and I'm going to take advantage of it to get my masters degree.

Which means Gravetapping is going to be quiet while we make the transition from one place to another. We plan to be moved in and at home in our new digs this weekend. And then who knows how long it will be before we have the Internet up and running. Hopefully it won't be too long, but it may be a week or so.

Until then, good luck and happy reading.

Friday, May 15, 2009

CAGE OF NIGHT by Ed Gorman

Spence was an awkward kid who spent his teenage years reading comic books and watching horror movies. After high school he spent three years in the Army and when he returns—as the novel opens—he finds his hometown both different and the same. His little brother Josh turned into a star basketball player for the local high school team and blossomed into popularity, but he doesn’t feel any different. He lost his baby fat and his acne cleared up, but he still feels like an outsider.

Shortly after Spence returns home his brother talks him into attending a kegger and that’s where he meets Cindy Marie Brasher—an eighteen year-old homecoming queen who is dating the star quarterback at the high school. His name is David Myles and he and Spence take an instant dislike to each other. It doesn’t help that Spence and Cindy begin to see each other and quickly grow close.

Spence is smitten by Cindy. He doesn’t mind that she spent time in a mental hospital, or even that she claims to hear a voice from an old well. She is beautiful, tender and vulnerable. Their relationship is quick and it is everything Spence could imagine; then things start to happen. David guns down a woman in a grocery store for no apparent reason and an old high school friend, who is now a police officer, begins to follow and intimidate Spence. Then everything gets much worse when an old woman is brutally murdered and Spence is the suspect.

It all centers around Cindy and the voice from the old well, a voice that Spence can’t hear, but that Cindy and the others can.

Cage of Night is a novel that is difficult to explain and describe. It doesn’t fit nicely into a category—it is horror, crime, fantasy and suspense rolled into one neat package, but yet not quite. It is different. The story is told in a deceptively simple style. There is not a word wasted, but the sub-text is complex and uncertain. The characters are deep and complicated without any over handed self-evaluation and the small town setting has a 1950s atmosphere playing against a 1990s culture.

The plot is seamless and stunning. Mr Gorman never does the expected—there are several twists that surprise—but the novels true power is its ambiguous, complex and dark voice. It is a working class voice that beats, “be careful what you wish for.” It is the type of story that can be read again and again and the reader will continue to find new elements and meaning in its complex simplicity.

Cage of Night is a masterpiece. It is dedicated to Robert Bloch and you will see more than a few similarities between the work of Bloch, particularly Psycho, and Cage of Night. The similarities: the rough and real characters, the stark style, and the mastery of successfully straddling multiple genres. This similarity ends there however, because as much as it owes to the work of Robert Bloch, it is wholly that of Ed Gorman.

Cage of Night is an extension of Ed Gorman’s successful 1995 short story “The Brasher Girl”—it is successful as both a short story and a novel. The novel was originally published in 1996. It is currently available in a very nice limited edition hardcover from PS Publishing. The PS edition has an insightful introduction by Stephen Gallagher and it is very much worth seeking out.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Born Bad" by Jeffery Deaver

This is yet another reprint. I actually re-read this story a few weeks ago and it caught me as well as it did the first time. Deaver is an absolute master at turning a plot on a dime, and he does it without cheating. "Born Bad" is a gem of a story and is an example of how good the modern short story can be.

"Born Bad" is a cleverly plotted short story written by Jeffery Deaver. It is a simple yet powerful story that uses repetition—in one case the clatta, clatta, clatta of an operating sewing machine, and in another the mindless ebb and flow of an old fairy tale—to slowly build and maintain tension. And it works, very well.

“Born Bad” is the story of Liz Polemus, an aging woman who is nervously awaiting the return of her prodigal daughter—her daughter, Beth Anne, is a disappointment. She refused the love and affection of her parents, chose the wrong crowd in high school and then abruptly left home when she could. Now on a chilly and rainy Oregon night Liz is awaiting Beth Anne’s return. She doesn’t know what to expect—she feels fear, trepidation, and even guilt at what she did wrong as a parent. But still she waits.

This is the first story written by Jeffery Deaver I have read, and I was more than impressed. The plotting was nifty—he turned the story on its head in one paragraph without confusing or annoying me. The atmosphere was vivid: I could hear the rain pelting against the roof and windows, feel the damp night, and see Liz sewing and humming the old fairy-tale as she waited. The prose was light, swift and very readable. In short, “Born Bad” was very, very good, and it certainly won’t be the last Jeffery Deaver story I read.

“Born Bad” was originally published in the anthology Dangerous Women, edited by Otto Penzler, in 2005. It can also be found in The Deadly Bride and 21 of the Year’s Finest Mystery Stories, edited by Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Hubble Space Images: Deep Space

I often lose myself on the NASA website browsing Hubble and other space images. The images capture my imagination and wonder. They remind me how vast and beautiful both the universe and our place in it is. The images also remind me how much I enjoyed science fiction as a kid. I read Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, John Brunner, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, and many, many others.

I don't read science fiction as much as I once did, but the Hubble images remind why I did and still do. It's the vision of beauty and hope much of the genre provides, but more importantly it is the vastness of wonder and knowledge. The adventure and the grandness that humanity can accomplish.

Here are a few of the photographs that caught my attention. I hope you enjoy each as much as I do.

Supernova 199D Galaxy NGC 4526

Spiral Galaxy Hubble Utlra Deep Field

Spiral Galaxy M100

Close-up of Galaxies from Hubble Ultra Deep Field

NGC 3021

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Mack Bolan Convention

I stumbled across a cool video on YouTube. It is a news feature about the Mack Bolan convention held in San Francisco in 1985. The film is low quality, but the audio is great. There are some interesting comments by Don Pendleton and more than one or two shots of bookcovers and hairstyles that made me smile.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Frankenstein: Dead and Alive Update

I have more good news. The third and final installment of Dean Koontz's Frankenstein series is scheduled for release this summer. The exact date: July 28, 2009. The title: Dead and Alive. The first two novels in the trilogy--Prodigal Son and City of Night--were originally published in January and July 2005, respectively, and the third volume has been on hold for years. But, finally, it is here.

Dead and Alive will be published in a brick size mass-market paperback with a retail price of $9.99. The first two novels in the series will also be re-released with new cover art and the co-authors names removed from the cover. It has been a long wait, but it's finally over.

Saturday, May 02, 2009


Freetown, Sierra Leone is a haunted place for Danny Kellerman. He was sent to Freetown as a war correspondent in 2000—during the civil war—and it was the defining moment of his life, both professionally and personally. He met and fell in love with an American woman, Maria Tirado, who operated an orphanage for child soldiers, and realized a professional dream.

It is four years later and Danny is back in London. He lives with his current girlfriend, but his life has slipped into one of self-pity and loss. His job is unfulfilling and his personal relationships, specifically the relationship with his girlfriend and father are breaking down into sullen desperation. Danny is a haunted man. His past haunts him. Freetown haunts him, as does the loss of Maria.

Then one morning Danny receives a handwritten note from Maria. She is in trouble and asks Danny for help. She asks him to come to Freetown. He is stunned. It has been four years since they have spoken, now this. He decides to call her, but when he begins the search for a telephone number he finds an article about her death. She was murdered in Freetown three days earlier.

This plea for help prods Danny into action. He convinces his editor to send him to Sierra Leone to do a piece on the recovery of the nation after its civil war, but what he really wants is to investigate Maria’s murder. When he returns to Freetown he finds the place nearly unrecognizable. The two sides of the civil war share power, and while the economy is thriving, the past is a cloying danger no one wants to revisit, and there is a simmering anger and fear in the city. And no one, on either side, wants to investigate Maria’s murder: what’s done is done.

The Secret Keeper is a literary thriller that is stunning in its simplicity and power. The story is haunting and melancholy. It is told in two separate time lines. The first is in the year 2004 and it chronicles Danny’s search for answers to Maria’s death, and the second is his original trip to Sierra Leone in 2000 as a newspaper war correspondent.

The story and prose is saturated with regret and darkness. There is an overriding sense of fear and loss. Danny is a man who has defined himself by one moment of weakness—a weakness that did not seem like weakness when it occurred, but over the months and years that followed it has dragged Danny down with self-pity and, to a lesser extent, shame.

Freetown is captured perfectly as a city re-inventing itself on the ashes of its past. Its inhabitants know the past, but they do not discuss or want to remember it. The only thing worthy of contemplation is the future and the past will only harm that future. Danny is a remnant of Freetown’s darkest moments and his investigation represents a very real threat to the leadership of Sierra Leone. An issue that will threaten both Danny and the few friends he has in Freetown.

The Secret Keeper is a terrific novel. It is very much comparable to the work of Graham Greene, both in its thematic style and plot, but it is also a unique piece of fiction that captures the spirit and challenge of both Sierra Leone and the African continent—nothing is simple, the culture, the people, or the place. It is haunting, beautiful and ugly all at once. In a sense it is a snapshot of all humanity and the complexities that are inherent to modern civilization.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Desmond Bagley News

I have more proof that the Internet is a very small place. I received an interesting email about a week ago from Desmond Bagley's sister-in-law and she told me a few things about Mr Bagley and also that several of his novels are being re-released in England in 2-books-in-1 format.

The most interesting thing she told me, and if I had read the Wikipedia post about Bagley I would have already known, is that his final two novels--Night of Error and Juggernaut--were left unfinished at his death in 1982 and both were finished by his wife. She declined the publishers offer of a ghost writer, and she really did a great job. I read Night of Error in the early-1990s and I enjoyed it. It's too bad she didn't choose to write a few more titles on her own. She obviously had the knack for it.

There is also an informative website about Desmond Bagley online. Click Here

To read my obvious fanboy post about Desmond Bagley click Here.