Monday, January 28, 2013


Ed Gorman posted on his blog yesterday that his terrific novel The Midnight Room is available as an eBook for a very reasonable $3.99.  I read The Midnight Room when it was released in mass market by Leisure back in 2009; 18 or so months before Leisure's very sordid demise.  The Midnight Room is in my top five favorite list of of Ed Gorman's work, which makes it a damn fine novel.  It is currently only available for the Kindle, but I hope it will follow as a Nook Book.  Do yourself a favor, and buy this one.  The review below originally went live June 24, 2009.

Cindy Baines is a cute girl. She is the daughter of less than accomplished parents—her mother is a drinker, and her dad is a fundamentalist whack. They live in a trailer on the wrong side of town, but despite everything she seems to have a bright future. She is intelligent, beautiful, and very well liked. Unfortunately she is also the target of a demented serial killer.

When Cindy disappears the community is in near panic; Cindy isn’t the first girl to disappear and everyone is afraid she won’t be the last. There is a heavy load of pressure placed on the police department—particularly its small detective bureau—to find the girl and stop the killer. The detectives assigned to the case all have their own problems. Two of them are former lovers, and the third drinks too much and is a little crazy.

The Midnight Room isn’t a typical serial killer novel. The killer is revealed early in the story—the second chapter—and its focus is less on the killer and more on the drama that plays between the detectives, their work, and their families. It’s important to stress that it isn’t a drama. It’s very much in the crime noir form and Mr Gorman uses the tropes and expectations to develop the dark, sharp and poignant struggle of good and evil that rages in his characters, just as it rages in us all.

The characters are varied and well created—none are completely good and none are completely bad. Two of the detectives are brothers—Steve and Michael Scanlon. The older is their father’s favorite, but he has never been quite right. He wants everything fast and easy, while the younger is the more dependable, but underappreciated, son and detective. The story whirls around the two in a frenzy of misfortune, bad choices, and plain bad luck.

There is also a street tough ex-con named Leo Rice who is out for revenge. Steve Scanlon killed his brother while on the beat a few years back and now Leo wants his pound. Rice is the perfect street tough. He is hard, violent and stupid, all in one pure mixture. Add to that the serial killer, an aging father, a tough female detective and a missing girl who are all starkly vivid in Gorman’s deceptively simple prose, and you have a story that is vibrant and true.

The Midnight Room is a terrific lean and hard crime thriller. Its roots are deep in the hardboiled and noir genres, but it is nothing less than original. The characters and its dark vision of an unfair world raise it well beyond the expected, and in the end it’s the very bitter dark that offers redemption for both the characters and the reader.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Best of GT: "Terrorists" by Stephen Marlowe

A week or so ago I was cruising through the back posts on Gravetapping, and there were several I found to be really quite good. More than I ever would have thought. In a moment of extrement vanity I decided, and I am now executing that decision, to repost a few of the posts I thought were particularly interesting. This is the first. It is a little story I have read once or twice since I wrote this article, and my opinion of it hasn't changed, except I think even more of it now than I did when I wrote this. I hope you enjoy reading this little flash from the past as much as I did.

I recently read a short story by the late Stephen Marlowe titled “Terrorists”. It was published in the January 1956 issue of Accused; I read it in the 1997 anthology American Pulp. It is a hardboiled private eye story.

Chester Drum is a Washington D.C. private detective, and on a late and warm August night as he walks past his office he notices a light inside. He makes a routine check with the elevator operator who tells him the cleaning staff should be done. Drum then takes the elevator to his floor and quietly approaches his office; inside he finds a cleaning woman with a very cold war tale.

Her son is involved with a Puerto Rican youth group and they plan to assassinate the Secretary of State. The group is concerned with an independent Puerto Rico, but the mother tells Drum the boys are being used by a socialite Red—a communist—who cares nothing for Puerto Rico or the youth group, but is using them to further her own cause; the embarrassment of the United States and the advancement of Soviet-style communism.

The story is swift and, as expected from Marlowe, exciting. The plotline is sleek and straight and there really aren’t any surprises to a twenty-first century reader. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a good story, because it is a terrific story, but rather it means it is a story of its time. A small capsule filled with the popular fear and turmoil of the 1950s.

The plot can easily be traced to two events that occurred in 1950. The era of extreme paranoia brought on by McCarthy with his wild accusations of communist spies everywhere, and the failed assassination attempt on President Truman by three Puerto Rican terrorists.

I make this point not to weaken“Terrorists,” but rather to make the point that fiction, including popular fiction, is a mirror of the culture that creates it. Go into any used bookstore or library and take a novel from the shelf and you will find a nugget of truth about the time and place it was written; not the whole truth, but rather an image that represents the truth and atmosphere of the era. The fiction of the 1950s was saturated with communism and paranoia, just as the fiction of the 1980s was ripe with greed, drugs and Vietnam.

“Terrorists” is a brilliant example of both entertainment and place. When it is read it grabs the reader by the ear and jerks him into a past that only exists in memory and archive; it is a capsule that helps the reader’s understanding of where he came and, hopefully, where he can go or, at least, avoid returning. It also allows the reader to understand how little civilization has changed over the past fifty years; the enemies have changed (maybe), but the fear is very much alive.

And it does it all in a brilliantly entertaining fashion. Can it get any better? Maybe it can, because Chester Drum can be found plying his trade in no less than 20 novels.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Bill Pronzini's Nameless Detective

I stumbled across two Nameless titles by Bill Pronzini recently published by Cemetery Dance in hardcover.  They are advertised as novellas, and one is a reprint and the other is an original.  The cover art is beautiful.  The titles are: Kinsmen, and Femme.

Kinsmen.  This is the reprint.  The cover art is by Glen Orbik. It is listed as "in stock" with a publishing date of December 28, 2012 at Cemetery Dance's website, but is listed for pre-order at Amazon.  The page count is 192.  The CD description reads:
"Allison Shay was traveling home from the University of Oregon with her new boyfriend, Rob Compton, when their car broke down near the tiny rural town of Creekside, California. Soon after, Allison and Rob went missing without a trace
"Whatever happened, it felt like something bad to the Nameless Detective. Five days without a whisper of contact with the outside world. Long past the inconsiderate-kids stage; long past the silly and the harmless."

Femme.  This is an original.  It has a page count of 176.  The cover art is by Glen Orbik.  Similar to Kinsmen, it is listed as "in stock" at the publisher's website, but is still a pre-order at Amazon.   The CD description reads:
"You hear the term a lot these days, usually in connection with noir fiction and film noir. But they're not just products of literature or film, the folklore of nearly every culture. They exist in modern society, too. The genuine femme fatales you hear about now and then are every bit as evil as the fictional variety. Yet what sets them apart is that they're the failures, the ones who for one reason or another got caught. For every one of those, there must be several times as many who get away with their destructive crimes...
"In the thirty years the Nameless Detective has been a private investigator, he has never once had the misfortune to cross paths with this type of seductress... but in Femme he'll meet Cory Beckett, a deadly woman who has brought some new angles to the species. New—and terrible."  

These novellas seem to be a departure from CD's usual fare, along with its recent release of The Interregator and Other Criminally Good Fiction anthology, of horror and dark suspense.  A departure maybe, but these are both titles I am very interested in, and I hope they do well for both Pronzini and CD so we can look forward to more like these.