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  1. Another fundamental that makes a whole lot of sense, esp marketing wise.
  2. If you knew how many writers this has positively impacted, you'd say, it's no wonder. Fundamentals like this are too often neglected.
  3. Master Gardener is the third in Paul Schrader’s “God’s Lonely Men” trilogy, in each film of which a weary middle-aged man who has previously experienced alienation from mainstream society contends with his haunted past and hazy future, reflecting on these things, and his rote daily existence, via diary-keeping—a technique that suffices until his world is challenged by knowledge of something greater, and tested by a newfound bond with a distressed young person. Via these characters, the films in this trilogy tend to pair and interrogate the relationship between two normally unrelated topics: religion and climate change (First Reformed, 2017), gambling and the War on Terror (The Card Counter, 2021), and horticulture and racism (Master Gardener, 2022). Schrader is an accomplished, highly literary storyteller and his interests (particularly the the masculine-coded concepts of destruction and violence) have produced some of film’s most fascinating inquiries into the ills of modern society, from Taxi Driver to Affliction to American Gigolo, to First Reformed and The Card Counter. First a film critic and then a screenwriter (responsible for classics like Raging Bull and Obsession and famous for his collaborations with Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma), Schrader’s later work as a director is epitomized by the triad of films about “God’s Lonely Men,” three anti-social anti-heroes in crisis: a self-loathing pastor, a troubled gambler, and a secretive gardener, all reckoning with the sudden collision of themes, lives, selves once kept at a distance. Many of his protagonists, but especially these three, can be read as homages to Alain Delon’s Jef Costello in Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 film Le Samouraï: cool, reserved, highly-competent professionals whose whose adherence to rituals and observances leaves them unprepared to confront unforeseen cataclysms. It’s almost never useful to compare films in a director’s oeuvre to one another; despite similarities, each is its own discreet contribution. But Schrader’s films are designed to reference each other—or, really, The Card Counter and Master Gardener are designed to reference First Reformed—so please forgive me while I place them all side-by-side for a moment. In First Reformed, Ethan Hawke plays Ernst Toller (no, not that Ernst Toller), a cheerless reverend at a small antique church upstate who keeps a diary of his own stark life the year he happens to encounter a distraught climate activist who opens his eyes to the ravishment of God’s green earth by greedy corporations, as well as the ways God’s own church is influenced by corporatization to the point of disregarding the stewardship of the planet. That film, a simmering hagiography of a soul in turmoil, provides the blueprint for Schrader’s subsequent two films, not only thematically, but also stylistically, in the terms I mentioned in the opening paragraph. The films are dark, lonely meditations into their protagonists’ natures, told via their floridly-written, allusion-rich journal entries, as they finally confront aspects of their lives and their worlds they have kept at bay for so long. The Card Counter inherits the framework of First Reformed, but reworks it enough for it to feel distinct; Oscar Isaac plays William Tell (no, not that William Tell), a former military interrogator and now card-counter, who carpetbags from casino to casino, living out of austere motels, until he meets a young man who informs him that he knows his true identity, as a soldier who served jailtime for his role in the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and asks for his help committing an act of revenge against one of Tell’s military superiors. This film slowly explores the human capacity for both empathy and cruelty, teasing out the relationship between “keeping one’s cool” and “losing it.” I don’t have as conclusive a reading of the forces at work Master Gardener, arguably the film in this trilogy with the toughest conceit. Joel Edgerton plays Narval Roth, a taciturn head gardener of Gracewood Gardens, a privately-owned estate with gardens that are open to the public. Narval manages a team of polo-clad young people, overseeing their work but also instructing them in the history, philosophy, and science of horticulture. He answers to no one, except Norma Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver), the wealthy owner of the estate, who throws his carefully cultivated world out of order when she demands he take on an apprentice, her grand-niece Maya (Quintessa Swindell). Maya is biracial, the daughter of the “wayward” daughter of Norma’s sister, who left the family and “fell in with a bad crowd,” as Norma purrs. Maya seems to be her only relative left, so she is eager to draw her into the family—but not enough that she doesn’t insist that she work on the family’s land, first. Maya is a curious, intelligent twenty-something, surprisingly accepting of the fact that she’s a minimum wage worker on her great aunt’s estate. Norma wants Narval to educate her, teach her about the maintenance and culture and theories of horticulture, so that she might be able to pursue a career in the field in the future. Maya takes kindly to this earthy finishing school, especially because she appreciates the softspoken and passionate manner of Narval, her teacher. The movie appears to take place in the South (it was filmed in Louisiana), and the house looks like a plantation estate, so it seems like there might be some interesting explorations into contemporary white supremacy, the way Norma insists that Maya be fashioned into a more refined version of herself in order to be welcomed into her family tree, and simultaneously wants this self-improvement to take place as a farm-worker beneath her, and literally in the dirt. But the film wobbles from here on out, mostly because we learn about the haunted, Narval’s past as a soldier of a Neo-Nazi army, before turning state’s evidence against them and going into witness protection. Under his clothes, he is covered in White Pride and Hitler-fandom tattoos, which he looks at disparagingly in the mirror. He likes his current life as a peaceful caretaker of the Gracewood Gardens, is glad to have distanced himself from the silo of racism, misogyny, antisemitism, and violence in which (he explains) he was raised. That Maya and Narval form a bond, while he also has flashbacks to things that his proud boy/hillbilly cult leader told him about how his job is to “pull out the weeds,” suggests that Master Gardener will become a thriller about the insidiousness of white supremacy, juxtaposing it with a reading of gardening as a kind of fascism (or at least, a way to disguise it). In other words, perhaps Narval’s solitary salvation in gardening for a racist white lady becomes an outlet for the very impulses that allowed him to thrive in a fascist cult in the first place. Master Gardener doesn’t till this ground, though, which is fine, but it also doesn’t do anything else productive with all of these rich, ripe, and (productively) thorny thematic concerns. What begins as an incredibly fruitful plot soon wilts and shrivels into a wandering love story; and the kind of discipline and restraint that Narvals brings to his gardening becomes, exactly, the element missing from the story itself. Master Gardener quickly forgets its powerful portrayals about white supremacy and racism when it becomes interested in whether or not its protagonist can be redeemed, can be saved, and, in giving him some way to carry this out, represents Maya as needing to be saved by someone, too. If this narrative shoot were to blossom into a meaningful development (unlikely as it is), we would need a clearer understanding of Narval’s life or background, a focused explaining of how he has come to be changed in the first place. But more importantly, this whole angle not only misses out on saying anything thoughtful about race in America, but also robs Maya of the opportunity to be more than a plot device, perhaps (especially in light of Swindell’s elegant performance), the greatest sin of all. What results is a confusing film, overgrown in some areas and under-seeded in others. Instead of becoming as thoughtful and risky an exploration as The Card Counter, Master Gardener becomes like a game of 52-card pickup. It’s as if Schrader has a deck of cards and instead of laying them out strategically, throws them all in the air and lets them come down where they will. Instead of become the focused sermon of First Reformed, Master Gardener becomes one of those themed themed refrigerator poem packs. It has a lot of terms on the table, but shuffles them around until they say almost absolutely nothing. View the full article
  4. Amis in Léon, Spain, 2007. Photograph by Javier Arce. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. To be British is a very complicated fate. To be a British novelist can seem a catastrophe. You enter into a miasma of history and class and garbage and publication—the way a sad cow might feel entering the abattoir. Or certainly that was how I felt, twenty years ago, when I entered the abattoir myself. One allegory for this system was the glamour of Martin Amis. Everyone had an opinion on Amis, and the strangeness was that this opinion was never just on the prose, on the novels and the stories and the essays. It was also an opinion on his opinions: the party gossip and the newspaper theories, the Oxford education and the afternoon tennis. The British male! Or at least the British bourgeois male, with his many father figures, both real and acquired. From certain angles, in certain photos, Amis looked like Jagger, and so he became the Jagger of literature. He was small, true—I feel a permanent pang of camaraderie at his line in The Pregnant Widow about a character who occupies that “much-disputed territory between five foot six and five foot seven”—but he was also hypermasculine. It wasn’t just his subjects: the snooker and the booze and the obsession with judging all women “sack artists.” It wasn’t even just the style: an inability to leave a sentence alone without chafing at every verb, the prose equivalent of truffle fries. It was also the interview persona, all haughtiness and clubhouse universality, however much that could be contradicted in private by thoughtfulness and generosity of conversation. But most of all, his British maleness was in the purity of his comic perception of the world. He practiced a very specific form of oral literature—anecdote, putdown, punchline, alcoholic joke: monologues from the ruined-dinner table. This morning I picked up an old copy of Money taken from my parents’ house and there they were, the riffs: “You just cannot park round here any more. Even on a Sunday afternoon you just cannot park round here any more. You can doublepark on people: people can doublepark on you. Cars are doubling while houses are halving.” Or: “I should have realized that when English people say they can play tennis they don’t mean what Americans mean when they say they can play tennis. Americans mean that they can play tennis.” Or: “This guy had no future in the frightening business. He just wasn’t frightening.” A novel by Amis is an apparatus for each line to find its best exposure. ” ‘Yeah,” I said, and started smoking another cigarette. Unless I specifically inform you otherwise, I’m always smoking another cigarette.” This vision of the world as comedy is why the Amis novel that still seduces and alarms me most is Time’s Arrow, his first experiment into Europe. That novel famously tells the life of Tod T. Friendly in reverse, beginning in a postwar American suburb and ending with him transformed into Odilo Unverdorben, one of the psychopathic doctors at Auschwitz. This means that appallingly touching things happen in the camp: gold is carefully placed back into Jewish mouths; smoke becomes a corpse, which becomes a living person, who is then beautifully reunited with their family. Ghettos are dismantled. Meanwhile, everything is narrated in a tremulous high style: there is, for example, the shoe, in an antechamber to the gas chambers, “like a heavy old bullet thrown out of the shadows, and skilfully caught.” Naturally, our narrator is delighted by this beautiful arc of history, always tending towards improvement—“A shockingly inflamed eyeball at once rectified by a single injection. Innumerable ovaries and testes seamlessly grafted into place. Women went out of that lab looking 20 years younger.” Of course it’s appalling; of course it’s tasteless. But the novel reaches the kind of discovery that’s possible only by way of that mythical vehicle the English Comic Novel—wherein no evil is approached directly and all ethical judgments take place within aesthetic terms. Now, I deeply dislike the so-called English Comic Novel. It is a terrible vehicle: broken down and leaking and inadequate, hopelessly limited as a means for investigating the apparently real. But Amis, strapped into that vehicle forever, somehow had the talent and the intuition to make such limit cases his constant terrain. And what I love about Amis is how—so British, sure; so male—he recklessly drove the English Comic Novel into that insane and treacherous territory, and beautifully smashed it to pieces. —Adam Thirlwell, advisory editor I can’t remember hating any book, before or since, the thoughtless way I loathed The Rachel Papers, from the moment my worst ex-boyfriend, a blond aspiring novelist and provocateur, began to read it out loud at me in college. He saved special relish and aggression for the masterfully farcical scene in which the narrator, after using their last condom to cheat on his girlfriend, is caught short when she appears and wants to fuck—he must surreptitiously fish one of the already sodden, shriveled things out of the grimy wastepaper basket and wrestle it back on in order to oblige. Somehow I felt each sentence as a personal attack—the florid snideness, the rollicking physicality—and for years after getting rid of that boyfriend the novel stayed with me, images and phrases coming back unbidden and familiar and savage as vomit: “a fine double-yolker” of a pimple, “beady dread,” “greasy permissiveness,” “yobs” with “faces like gravy dinners,” stomachs laced with “worms of dirt … like baby eels,” naked women smelling like “boiled eggs and dead babies,” youthful “teeming breasts” and older ones “so flaccid you could tie them in a knot,” “dentures clicking like castanets,” a “gash of sunlight” falling “athwart the bed.” It took me some time to register how much more there was to Amis—to that novel, and to his later, stranger, more ambitious books. But this week, even my initial disgust at Rachel is mutating in retrospect. How many contemporary English writers, in those callow days, impressed me only with dullness or mild embarrassment? And here was a mind whose smallest spewings on a page could cause me physical anguish, spike their enlivening way into my everyday perceptions—no wonder so many lesser writers strove to imitate him, from my ex to Jacob Epstein, who apparently resorted to copying out whole passages of Rachel to stuff inside his own debut. Not to mention that the book that so undid me was, by the time I got to it, already some thirty years old—as pungent then as it must have been when the twentysomething enfant terrible had published it in 1973. Age hadn’t withered him; I’m sure death won’t remove his sting. —Lidija Haas, deputy editor View the full article
  5. Benjamin Reichwald and Jonas Rönnberg, OCB Dinitrol, 2023. Photograph by Olivia Kan-Sperling. This summer, we’re launching a series called Eavesdropping—which is more or less about what it sounds like. We’re asking writers to take their notebooks to interesting events or places; they’ll record what they see, but mostly what they hear. In the first of the series, Elena Saavedra Buckley goes to a TriBeCa gallery opening for an exhibit of collaborative paintings by two Swedish hip-hop artists, and surveys the scene. The art show I was going to was risky to google, because it was called Fucked for Life and took place in the basement of a gallery called the Hole. It had been raining, and the humidity followed us downstairs, where the low-ceilinged room felt like the hull of a ship. The paintings reminded me of more focused, imaginative versions of the kind of thing your friend’s stoner older brother might make in his room—they had barely shaped demonic faces at their centers, orbited by tagged abstractions and blooms of neon, all lacquered and dripping. Some sat in ironic-seeming ornate gold frames; others hung against long stretches of loose fabric layered with graffiti, which had been made the day before and seemed to be releasing damp chemical wafts. This was the private opening of new collaborative paintings by Bladee and Varg2, whose real names are Benjamin Reichwald and Jonas Rönnberg—two Swedish artists affiliated with a Nordic brand of underground hip-hop that’s been gaining steam since the mid-aughts. The two collectives at its center are the Sad Boys—helmed by the fairly famous Yung Lean—and Drain Gang, which was started by Bladee. I didn’t know much about Varg2 before this weekend; he’s a techno producer who used to go by just Varg until a German metal band of the same name sent him a cease and desist. (He then released an album called Fuck Varg.) But I love the warbling, auto-tuned, alabaster Bladee—the second e is silent—who raps as often about Gnosticism and demons as he does about weed and being depressed. He has obsessive Zoomer fans like the rest of Drain Gang, though his are made especially rabid by how difficult he is to grasp. You can barely see him from behind his hair, hoodies, sunglasses, and blasted-out photo edits; one comment on a recent music video reads, “i don’t think i’ll ever get used to seeing high quality footage of bladee,” and a four-second clip of him saying “Drain Gang”—just the audio!—has 132,000 views. He says he was once struck by lightning in Thailand. None of these rappers have become household names, but Bladee has gone from posting his songs on SoundCloud to designing capsule collections for Marc Jacobs and Gant. Are the paintings, priced at an average of ten thousand dollars (and which Bladee’s fans bemoan on Reddit for costing “1460 hamburgers”), evidence of an evaporating underground ethos? Visual art isn’t much of an artistic stretch for these two, nor is working side by side on the same canvas, as they did for these pieces. They both came up as taggers, and Bladee made the merch and promo images for Drain Gang before his work with big designers. Even his use of language feels painterly; in “Real Spring,” he sings: “White light shines towers up in gold / Hawk flies low, strikes like my pose / Three stars dance over the globe / Life unfolds, faith comes unfroze.” That’s Hilma “as fuck” Klint, I think, recalling something I read recently: that the paintings of that notoriously mystical, also Swedish artist had in fact also been made collectively—by as many as thirteen artists in total, in “a realm inhabited by a plurality of spirits.” After their rapid laps around the room, some attendees congregated in the middle. One group of twentysomethings was talking about visiting Australia. “Don’t go,” one guy said. “It sucks.” His friend offered a defense: “You know, what’s crazy about Australia is it’s a place where animals have had so long to evolve.” “Kangaroos are descended from deer,” she said. There was some confusion about whether this was right before they pivoted to the true nature of kangaroo pouches, which is sort of the Godwin’s law of Australia 101–type discussions. “I thought there would be hair in there, but it looks like an access point to their insides,” she said. It’s actually somewhat difficult to find pictures of the pouches online; I’ve tried. This group struggled to google them. Others discussed summer itineraries, plugging their plans (Marseilles, Bermuda) or reminiscing on unsuccessful past trips (Dublin, where the only thing to do other than drink, reportedly, was spend ninety dollars on orange blossom water at the Joyce-themed pharmacy). A sliver of the floor had become slippery in the damp conditions, nearly sending many extremities into the paintings, and one woman predicted that her friend would sooner save Bladee’s work than she would her. “Save the paintings,” she said. “It’s like ‘Save the whales.’ ” There were infantry waves of outfits. The straight couples in all black came first, the men asking the girls which paintings were their favorite and the girls shrugging in response—“the buyers,” as someone later called them. The youth followed, wearing many kinds of camo, low-rise trousers, unflattering glasses, and contextless outerwear. The most out-of-place accessory present was a Park Slope Food Coop tote bag, lugged by an affable and exhausted GQ photographer who had been following the artists around all day. Of course, there were a lot of tactical pants. The best of those, in leather, were worn by Ecco2K, another Drain Gang member, who also wore a balaclava topped with what looked like black hair from a troll doll. I wore a taupe Calvin Klein chiffon slip dress and black Tecovas cowboy boots, with—and I was not alone in this choice—a giant windbreaker, my attempt to step into the Drain Gang headspace. At one point, a girl approached me to say that she used to own earrings by the same designer as the ones I was wearing, but that her ex-girlfriend had stolen them. When I told her to buy them for forty dollars on Depop, like I did, she said that the same ex got her banned from the site. “How does someone get banned from Depop?” I asked. “She gave me a necklace for my birthday that had her blood in a vintage Balenciaga vial,” she replied. (Bladee, describing the concept of “drain,” has said: “​​Everything me and my bros do is connected to that concept—we might drain some blood for good fortune.”) Post-breakup, this girl listed the necklace on Depop, after which the ex-girlfriend reported her to the company for hawking biohazards. “So now I can’t scalp anymore,” she went on. “My ex kept saying I was ‘the epitome of a scumbag.’ ” “I think my feelings would have been hurt if you had tried to sell my blood,” I said, smiling weakly. She looked a little guilty. And then Bladee arrived! I felt maternal toward him, this rapper two years my senior, who was wearing a relatively unassuming fit: black crocodile dress shoes, crinkled jeans, a plaid shirt and gray hoodie, Oakleys, and a black cap. He accepted such feelings with a boyish affect—he kept fiddling his long brown curls into a small ponytail under his chin. I remembered how sad he’d seemed on some of his most beautiful tracks, like 2018’s “Waster”: “Just running through the days, running through the pain … Sorry, Mom, I know you hate to see me this way.” Most of the feeling came from the situation, though, since standing next to one’s paintings on a wall is an inescapably childlike position. Every object becomes a macaroni necklace, every gallery a school gymnasium, every wall a refrigerator. A woman gave the artists two bouquets of yellow roses while they shuffled around the room, up and down the stairs, as the attendees quietly egged each other on to go say hi. My conversation with Bladee and Varg2 was brief; I approached them upstairs, near the rosé station. Varg told me about the buildings they had been tagging downtown. Bladee was sweet and relaxed. We discussed af Klint—“I’m a huge fan,” he said. After spending most of the trip in a friend’s studio to prep for the show, he was leaving New York in two days for Stockholm. “It just turned to spring there,” he said, though he wondered whether he should stick around until the rain quit. “But it’s so expensive,” he said, giggling. He gets it. There was a private dinner at Lucien planned for after the opening. It was funny to imagine Bladee eating food, especially leaky bistro stuff like moules frites; it’s possible he snacked at the gas station that appears in the “Obedient” music video, but he seems like a breatharian to me. Other attendees were going to a “Caroline Polachek party.” I decided to leave for a birthday at a bar in Brooklyn. Some friends had brought two bouquets of flowers for the birthday girl and boy: orange lilies and some kind of violets. That made four bouquets for the night, the two from earlier and these ones—vibrating symmetrically in two boroughs, two drops of paint folded into loose canvas to make two mirrored pairs across the river; a plurality of spirits. There is a section of a Jonathan Williams poem called “What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me,” in which he quotes John Clare: “I found the poems in the fields / And only wrote them down.” I’m not sure if those fields, where we go when we make our art, are very accessible through the underbellies of Manhattan galleries. But I do think people like Bladee go to them often, and always with their friends. That’s real spring. Elena Saavedra Buckley is an editor of Harper’s and The Drift. View the full article
  6. In the US it’s Memorial Day weekend, which could well mean you’re planning to spend some time outdoors, maybe at a cookout or in a park, but let’s be realistic, what it probably means is that you’re in the market for a good movie. And I would propose that there’s no better accompaniment to an early summer weekend than an Elmore Leonard romp. Now, you could read the always wonderful books, and I suggest that you do, but you could also check out one of the many, many Leonard adaptations. For your weekend planning, we’re going to help you narrow down which Leonard movie is the right fit for your needs. (Where possible, I’ll make an effort to indicate where you might stream these movies, but honestly these days, standing with the WGA during the strike, until a fair contract is reached, I’m not much inclined to shout out the streamers.) (Also, check out: “The Great Elmore Leonard Renaissance of the Late 90s“) Has the WGA strike got you thinking about how Hollywood works? Get Shorty (1995) It’s hard to know whose performance to highlight in this one. For my money, Travolta as Chili Palmer is a perfect piece of casting, and one that takes the character off the page to conjure up some special magic: “Leo, look at me.” But then there’s also Hackman as Harry Zimm, all sleaze and hustle and dreams. And Rene Russo, who has stolen every movie she’s ever appeared in. There’s just too much to recommend this one, but for me it’s probably the Scott Frank script. On the one hand, it’s faithful to the book, almost in the extreme. But Frank manages to distill Leonard in a way no other screenwriter can: everything that’s at the essence of Get Shorty makes its way onto the screen. Stream it on: Paramount+ Do you sometimes dream about Robert Forster? Or Pam Grier? Or both? Jackie Brown (1997) It’s almost funny to think Tarantino only adapted Leonard once, the two artists are so (to my mind anyway) intertwined and in conversation. Here, Tarantino is adapting from Leonard’s South Florida yarn, Rum Punch, bringing, of course, his own preoccupations to the script and a few important changes to the titular character to accommodate the immense talents of Pam Grier. Jackie Brown brings the volatility inherent in all Leonard’s work to the fore. The set pieces are more dynamic and the encounters underlined with something bizarre and dangerous, and you’ve got good oddball turns from De Niro, Bridget Fonda, and Chris Tucker. But the heart of the story, and it’s a big heart, almost surprisingly so, is Robert Forster’s Max Cherry. He and Grier are undeniably electric. Stream it on: Tubi How about a Western starring Paul Newman? How does that strike you? Hombre (1967) Hombre isn’t among the best of the Leonard adaptations, but it does give you a sense of the scope of the man’s work, a 1967 adaptation of the 1961 novel, directed by Martin Ritt and starring Paul Newman. This isn’t quite a revisionist or neo-Western, but it’s headed in that direction. There’s one interesting move I want to highlight: Newman’s Russell is a fairly reserved hero. Now that’s quite odd for a Leonard film, starring Newman, who may have been one of the actors most naturally attuned to Leonard’s chatty wavelengths, but here the performance is all gesture and restraint and what’s left unsaid. Would I have liked to see Newman in something a little wilder and more conversational? Certainly, but Newman didn’t always play to his pure strengths, and that’s one of the things that made him such a consistently fascinating and rewarding actor. Stream it on: Starz Those dreams we talked about before…do Clooney & J.Lo sometimes show up, too? Out of Sight (1998) Here’s another Scott Frank script, this time with some added flair from Soderbergh, another director who shares certain affinities with Leonard’s work but only ever made the one true adaptation. Clooney was born to deliver the Leonard patter and is obviously enjoying himself right from the film’s first minute. But of course the reason to watch this movie—any weekend of the year, more than once if you’re inclined—is the Lopez-Clooney chemistry, which is really off the charts, famously so, and is just perfectly, achingly combustible in that famous scene where they’re locked together in the trunk. I mean, this movie has other bona fides—it might well be the best Leonard adaptation ever made—but we’re all coming back to watch this one again and again for those movie star fireworks. Stream it on: Just buy it already Have you ever dug coal with somebody…? Justified seasons 1 – 6 (2010 – 2015) For sheer bulk and breadth—if you’re really looking to settle into a long weekend of wall-to-wall Leonard—you’re going to want to go stream all six seasons of Justified. Yes, it was “adapted” from the short story “Fire in the Hole,” but we’re really more into “inspiration” territory here, and I mean that as a high compliment. I’ve always liked the detail that Graham Yost and the writing staff supposedly carried various reminders labeled WWED—”What Would Elmore Do?”—to serve as their guiding light over the series run. Leonard himself was quite taken with the series and incorporated various elements back into his own fiction. And if you really need any other reason to dip into Justified, remember that Justified: City Primeval, debuts on July 18th. Stream it on: FX on Hulu View the full article
  7. Punk and crime go together like boots and broken glass, 53rd and 3rd, Sid and Nancy. Since the first squall of feedback ripped through an amplifier, punk rock has been associated with criminal activity. Punk emerged as an art movement—yes an art movement—that manifested as a disorganized, reactionary, uncouth urge to pick up musical instruments and make some noise. Bands played in shitty clubs and shittier practice spaces in cities hit hard by unemployment, inflation, and the white flight to the suburbs across America and the UK. Kids drawn to this spectacle wore leather jackets, extravagant make-up, spiked-up hair, and homemade outfits that served as a form of self-expression that antagonized the squares and warned would-be predators away as they ventured out to decrepit downtown spaces and made them their own. These punks engaged in the kind of petty crime linked to the pursuit of sex and drugs that are hallmarks of the rock and roll experience, but conservative media outlets missed the memo and treated them like street gangs. They warned their audiences of the perils of punk rock as if it were a virus, which in a sense it was, because when kids went punk, there was no turning back. By the time the movement migrated to California the association had been made: punk rockers were criminals. LA cops viewed the first wave of west coast punks as part of the criminal underclass of substance abusers, sex workers, and queers. The police indiscriminately shut down shows and beat patrons with their batons for sport. Keith Morris of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, Bill Stevenson of the Descendents, Joe Nolte of the Last, and the artist Raymond Pettibon have all told me stories about being on the receiving end of police violence. Then along came hardcore. The music was faster, stronger, and more violent—and according to the media so were its fans. It’s true many of the new hardcore kids were surfers and skaters and tended to be more athletic, but much of the violence was exaggerated. An LA Times journalist even went so far as to invent the term “the slam” to describe the kind of dancing that went on at punk clubs. The term was ridiculed but caught on nonetheless. Violence at punk shows became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The media harped on it so much that the stories succeeded in attracting violent people to shows. People who weren’t interested in the music were now showing up at gigs to crack skulls. Now when the cops came to shut down a show instead of dealing with a few dozen drugged-out art school dropouts, there were hundreds—sometimes thousands—of kids in the audience and many of them were willing to fight back. This escalated the LAPD’s war on punk. As I wrote in my book Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise & Fall of SST Records, bands like Black Flag were routinely banned from clubs and harassed by the police. When they managed to book a gig, inexperienced and unscrupulous promoters cashed in on hardcore’s popularity by overselling the show, all but ensuring the police would come and shut it down. This often resulted in clashes between cops and pissed off kids, which was then glamorized by the media. Yes, there was violence between punk factions and plenty of vandalism, mainly because shows lacked security and were held in places that either didn’t know better or didn’t care. Television shows rounded up punks for roundtable discussions about violence. There was even a support groups for parents of kids who’d turned punk, as if their children were fruit that had gone irredeemably bad. By the summer of 1984 the LA punk scene had all but fallen apart. Punk gangs were causing so much mayhem that clubs closed its doors to punk and fans stayed home. LA was hosting the Olympics and the LAPD acted more like an occupying army than a police force. Hardcore bands had no choice but to hit the road. That’s when things start to get interesting because in early 1984 Repo Man hit theaters. Repo Man wasn’t the first film to feature punks—far from it—nor was it the first film with a punk soundtrack, but it made the biggest splash. It was a mainstream movie with an indie vibe and while it didn’t play in theaters for long it was among the first group of movies to become cult classics by virtue of videocassette. (Interestingly, its soundtrack was released on vinyl just before CDs nearly made LPs obsolete.) Repo Man is smart, funny, and violent. It doesn’t satirize punk so much as take aim at the way punks were portrayed on American television as cartoonishly dumb. Emilio Estevez is far from convincing as a punk rocker named Otto and Harry Dean Stanton plays an aging, coked-out repo man, but it’s Otto’s former punk rock friends who make the movie so entertaining. https://youtu.be/MKIaS0lh-uo In scores of movies and television shows punks were depicted as lamebrained criminals and low-level thugs: the type the hero (or villain) easily dispatches because, well, they’re punks. They’re not a credible threat because if they were they’d be something else. Repo Man is different. It glamorizes punk and its relationship to crime. The line, “Let’s go eat sushi and not pay” registers as a joke that is more punk than the version of punk it appears to lampoon. After Repo Man, punks were everywhere both IRL and in pop culture. Some of these portrayals were nuanced, but most were not. They’re all lovingly cataloged in Zack Carlson and Bryan Connolly’s wonderful Destroy All Movies!!!: The Complete Guide to Punks on Film. This illustrated encyclopedia covers everything from B-movie exploitation films to documentaries like Another State of Mind. Punks were appearing in so many movies there were talent agencies devoted exclusively to providing casting agents with punks for small roles or extras. For many kids stuck in small towns the punks in Repo Man were weirdly aspirational. Penelope Spheeris’s The Decline of Western Civilization was a better guide to LA’s sputtering scene, but Repo Man was cool. As Gene Siskel pointed out in his review of the movie, Harry Dean Stanton’s “Repo Code” were words to live by. Repo Man’s unusual impact on pop culture is embodied by the fact that the actor who plays Otto’s nemesis would go on to play bass for the Circle Jerks—one of the bands featured in the soundtrack. Even more surprising? Almost forty years later he’s still got the gig. Inevitably, punk crime has moved from the screen to the page. As punk rock grew in popularity thanks to bands like Bad Religion, Offspring, Rancid, Green Day and Blink 82, punk crime morphed to the white collar variety with disputes between artists and labels over rights and royalties settled in courtrooms. Now that many members of the original punk scene have started writing their memoirs, they are exploring the old days when having blue hair was an invitation to an ass beating and illegal activity was unavoidable. From stories of childhood abuse to epic drug consumption, these punk scribes aren’t holding back. The unexpected success of NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories by NOFX and Jeff Alulis, which is even gnarlier than its title, has opened the door for all kind of explorations of the intersection of punk and crime. For instance, Patrick O’Neil, a former roadie and road manager for the Dead Kennedys, TSOL, Flipper and the Subhumans has written a pair of memoirs: Anarchy at the Circle K, which is about his life on the road with punk rock and Gun, Needle, Spoon, a harrowing tale about his days as a junkie bank robber that led to being incarcerated in San Quentin. Novelists are getting in on the act too. S.W. Lauden wrote a series of books for Rare Bird about a punk rock private investigator and Kyle Decker goes the historical route with a new crime novel called This Rancid Mill from PM Press that features a punk private eye in LA during the early ‘80s. One of the most compelling LA crime novels of 2023 was written by Daniel Weizmann, who wrote for punk zines in the early ’80s under the pen name Shredder while he was still in high school. His novel, The Last Songbird, never mentions the word punk, but crucial scenes are set in Hermosa Beach, the birthplace of Black Flag, and there are some Easter eggs for those in the know. Whether it’s at the club, on the screen, or between the covers of a book, wherever punk rockers are getting together you can bet they’ll be up to do some crimes. *** View the full article
  8. 1967 saw the release of such recognized classics as Bonnie & Clyde, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, Cool Hand Luke, and In The Heat of the Night. However, the biggest box office success of the year was The Dirty Dozen. The premise of the two-and-a-half- hour film takes place during WWII when renegade Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin) is assigned to train 12 military prisoners convicted of violent crimes for a suicide mission behind enemy lines. The film is structured in three parts; the recruitment of prisoners, their training, and the climatic mission. The result is an influential classic that resonates more than fifty years later and remains one of the biggest box-office hits in the history of MGM. The film is certainly not the first of its kind to employ the concept of bad men doing good things. The premise was often used during the war itself and in several films since that predates The Dirty Dozen. Examples include All Through the Night (1942) and Passage to Marseille (1944), both starring Humphrey Bogart. What makes the Lee Marvin film so distinct from its predecessors is its level of both brutality and outright disregard for military protocol. Before The Dirty Dozen, maverick film characters eventually fall in line by the finale or the cause itself was vulcanized in its importance. Not so with The Dirty Dozen. They don’t care about the cause, only their own survival, despite the fact that to a man they are each a hardened criminal. Such a profound distinction outraged some critics at the time but had audiences cheering. The legend behind its creation begins with, of all people, legendary sexploitation pioneer Russ Meyer. During the war, Meyer was a combat photographer and as such, took pictures of military prisoners in Europe he was told were trained for a suicide mission. He told their story years later to his neighbor, freelance journalist, E.M. Nathanson. The inspiration may have also come from a unit of the 101st Airborne nicknamed “The Filthy Fifteen” for its unsanitary habits and rowdy ways. However, following over two years of research and being unable to discover anything about the actual prisoners, Nathanson believed Meyer’s tale was a ‘latrine rumor’ and chose to fictionalize the account of the men and their mission. When The Dirty Dozen was published in 1965, it would eventually become a massive international bestseller. The journey to the screen was thus set in motion. Prior to its publication, director Robert Aldrich attempted to buy the film rights but was outbid by MGM executives who purchased the rights in 1963 for the sum of $80,0000. Harry Denker was assigned to write the script for producing partners William Perlberg and George Seaton, who also planned to direct the project. Perlberg left the project first and was replaced by Kenneth Hyman, looking to follow up his similarly themed The Hill (1965). Seaton eventually dropped out as well due to scheduling conflicts. Nathanson consequently was appalled by Denker’s script and offered his own version. His script was also turned down. Oscar-nominated screenwriter Nunnally Johnson was assigned the task and the wheels were set in motion. Almost simultaneously, Hyman went about casting the film, considering such actors as John Wayne, Aldo Ray, and Burt Lancaster for the lead role of Reisman. Other roles were mentioned for the likes of George Chakiris, Nick Adams, Jack Palance, and Sidney Poitier. Director Robert Aldrich came aboard to help with casting and brought in Lukas Heller to revise Johnson’s script. When John Wayne turned the part down for several reasons, Aldrich’s original choice of Lee Marvin was approved by MGM. One of the more interesting casting choices was actor/director John Cassavetes as prisoner Victor Franko. Cassavetes, who hated the script, had been blacklisted by producer Stanley Kramer and needed money to finish his current project. He eventually relented to Hyman’s demands resulting in a renaissance of the maverick filmmaker’s career. Filming began in April of 1966 with cast and crew set to go to England for what was believed to be a few months of production. However, from the start, there were unforeseen problems. Costar Charles Bronson was mourning the recent death of his mother as well as the break-up of his marriage as he pursued Jill Ireland, wife of his good friend, actor David McCallum. His sullen demeanor earned him the nickname “Charlie Sunshine.” Leading man Lee Marvin was also in the midst of ending his marriage to Betty Marvin during the tumultuous relationship with Michele Triola, both of whom came to visit him on the location. The all-British crew frustrated director Aldrich for their slow way of working. The weather also proved to be a hindrance as constant rainfall held up the shooting schedule. Also not helping was the few days Marvin took off to go to California for the Academy Awards where he won the Oscar for Cat Ballou (1965). Back in England, schedule and cost overruns continued, forcing the production to go into late October. In the interim, Cleveland Brown running back Jim Brown, making his second film appearance, was pressured to leave the film or risk a heavy fine from team owner, Art Modell. The ultimatum resulted in the 29-year-old Brown holding a press conference on location announcing his retirement from the NFL. The opposite took place for costar and popular singer Trini Lopez. When he chose to take Frank Sinatra’s advice and ask for more money, Aldrich had Lopez’s character promptly killed off before the big finale. Filming and finally post-production in the can, the movie had its world premiere in New York on June 15, 1967. The studio went all out to promote the multimillion-dollar production that resulted in decidedly mixed reviews. The NY Daily News gushed that it was “Possibly the most unique war drama ever filmed.” Bosley Crowther of the NY Times wrote, “A raw and preposterous glorification of criminal soldiers…A spirit of hooliganism that is brazenly anti-social, to say the least; a studied indulgence of sadism that is morbid and disgusting beyond words.” None of the reviews mattered as the film was an unqualified box-office sensation starting the now popular trend of summer box-office blockbusters. It eventually received four Oscar nominations and with its explosive finale winning for Best Sound. It should have received more, especially a nomination for Best Picture, as the timing of the film proved to be a perfect storm of events. The Vietnam War was escalating, massive demonstrations against it were growing and the Civil Rights Movement had exploded. Consequently, the film’s dark humor, violent content, and anti-authoritative and anti-military message struck a chord with audiences across all age groups and ethnicities. Over the years the legacy of The Dirty Dozen has continued unabated. Its success allowed Robert Aldrich to buy his own studio and later revisit its anti-authority theme with the blockbuster smash The Longest Yard (1974). Lee Marvin was voted the number one male box office star and stayed in the top ten for several more years. Charles Bronson stayed in Europe to make films and become an international superstar. The film careers of both Jim Brown and Donald Sutherland exploded as a direct result of their appearances in the film. Cassavetes now had the money to finish Faces (1968) and go on to make some of the most influential independent films in America. Writer E.M. Nathanson penned a successful Dirty Dozen sequel in 1987 entitled A Dirty Distant War. In 2001 the American Film Institute put the film on its list of “100 Most Thrilling American Films” at number 65. As recently as two years ago, a remake was announced by the same creators of Suicide Squad (2021), a film greatly influenced by The Dirty Dozen. It also influenced the likes of Quentin Tarantino as seen in his film Inglorious Basterds (2009), as well as Suicide Squad director James Gunn with his hugely successful franchise Guardians of the Galaxy (2014-2023). When all is said and done, an over fifty-year-old movie can still maintain an enduring legacy for fans and filmmakers alike. The reason is deceptively simple. Any film that concludes with a main character witnessing the hypocrisy of the military establishment and then muttering, “Killin’ Generals can get to be a habit with me,” will last through the ages. _______________________________ From KILLIN’ GENERALS: THE MAKING OF THE DIRTY DOZEN, THE MOST ICONIC WWII MOVIE OF ALL TIME, by Dwayne Epstein. Copyright ©2023 by Dwayne Epstein. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Citadel Press. All rights reserved. View the full article
  9. A Remarkable Case of Plagiarism Fictitious plagiarism figures more than occasionally in Golden Age detective novels, but only a tiny number of Golden Age detective novels are known actually to have been plagiarized. While Raymond Chandler hurled plagiarism accusations at prolific British crime writer James Hadley Chase and it has been suggested by some (me, for example) that Agatha Christie might have drawn inspiration for her classic mystery novel And Then There Were None (1939) from Bruce Manning’s and Gwen Bristow’s The Invisible Host (1930), by far the most egregious known example of plagiarism from the Golden Age of the detective novel is Englishman Don Basil’s mystery Cat and Feather, which was published in 1931 in England by “Philip Earle” and lifted nearly word-for-word from American Roger Scarlett’s The Back Bay Murders, published in the United States by Doubleday, Doran the previous year. In his January 1978 column in the landmark fanzine The Armchair Detective, edited by Allen J. Hubin, noted book collector Edward “Ned” Guymon, who had corresponded about the matter a few years earlier with Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page, the couple who during the Thirties had written the five “Roger Scarlett” mysteries, dramatically pronounced Don Basil’s Cat and Feather “probably the most glaring piece of plagiarism ever to exist.” Ned Guymon explained that the Don Basil’s novel did not involve a simple matter of “similarity of character or plot or situation.” Rather, it was a case of a “word for word copy.” “The English characters have different names, English locale has been substituted for American and there are a very few English words used to clarify American terms,” wrote Guymon. “Otherwise this book is a flagrant and larcenous case of plagiarism. You should see it to believe it.” I have seen a copy of Don Basil’s book (which is extremely rare), and, having seen it, I do indeed believe it. Here are two pairs of matched quotations from the novels that illustrate the breadth and brazenness of Don Basil’s plagiarism: I had known Kane for many years, but not until some months ago had I been associated with him in one of his cases. On that occasion I had been present, as the family lawyer, at a dinner party which had a fatal ending, and had called Kane, my only friend among the police inspectors of Boston, to my assistance and to that of the Sutton family. His spectacular solution of that case, widely known as the Beacon Hill murders, had put him in the limelight as far as the public was concerned. (The Back Bay Murders) I had known Richard Kirk Storm for many years, but not until some months ago had I been associated with him in one of his cases. On that occasion I had been present, as the family solicitor, at a dinner which had a fatal ending, and had called Storm, my only friend among officials of Scotland Yard, to my assistance and that of the Stafford family. His spectacular solution of the case widely known as The Bexhill Murder Mystery had put him in the limelight as far as the public was concerned. (Cat and Feather) Twenty minutes later Kane was propelling me through the doors of Thompson’s Spa. “Don’t let a murderer get the best of your appetite, Underwood,” he cautioned me, grinning down at my gloomy face, “whatever else he does to you. Here’s an empty counter and an idle handmaiden. Sit down.” He slapped a stool. Without a word I climbed up on it and he sat down beside me. “It’s past eating-time and I know it. We’ll have oyster stew, with flocks of oysters, and, let’s see—for a climax—“ He debated gravely, and then brought out with gusto, “Pumpkin pie.” I forced a smile. The mention of food gave me no pleasure. “That’s just where you’re wrong,” Kane announced when I explained this to him. “You know,” he looked at me quizzically, “I’d lay a bet that nine out of ten really good murderers lose their appetites right after shooting. And a heavy-eating gumshoe gets them on the hip every time. So forget your troubles.” He ordered for us both. When we were served I fished about in my stew with as good grace as I could muster. (The Back Bay Murders) Twenty minutes later Storm was leading me through the doors of a restaurant. “Don’t let a murderer get the best of your appetite, West,” he cautioned me, grinning down at my gloomy face, “whatever else he does to you. Here’s an empty table and an idle handmaiden. Sit down.” Without a word we sat down at the marble table…. “It’s past lunch-time, and I know it. We’ll have steak and kidney pie, with stacks of chips, and, let’s see—for a climax—“ He debated gravely, and then brought out with gusto, “College pudding.” I forced a grim smile. The mention of food brought me no pleasure. “That’s just where you’re wrong,” Storm announced, when I explained to him. “You know,” he looked at me quizzically, “I’d lay a bet that nine out of ten really good murderers lose their appetites after the murder. So forget your troubles.” He ordered for us both. When we were served I toyed with my food with as good grace as I could muster. (Cat and Feather) Aside from changes in paragraph structure and character names (Kane becomes Storm, Underwood West, the Sutton family the Stafford family, the Beacon Hill murders the The Bexhill Murder Mystery), as well as some alterations of Americanisms (police inspectors of Boston becomes officials of Scotland Yard, lawyer solicitor, Thompson’s Spa a restaurant, oyster stew steak and kidney pie, flocks of oysters stacks of chips, pumpkin pie college pudding and fished about in my stew toyed with my food), the text of Cat and Feather is identical to that of The Back Bay Murders all through the book. This really is a remarkable–remarkably egregious–case of plagiarism. Irony is added, as Ned Guymon noted, by the fact that “Don Basil” charmingly dedicated “his” novel “To Basil Holland, who once said, ‘Uncle, please write a detective story for me’.” To this Ned Guymon witheringly commented: “Basil Holland got his detective story all right but his uncle didn’t write it, he copied it.” Nor, in fact, does it appear that young “Basil Holland” ever actually existed. Don Basil’s perfidy went undetected in the UK, but in the US, where the novel had been picked up for publication by Henry Holt, Cat and Feather was pulled from circulation and “Don Basil” disappeared from the annals of mystery writing, leaving us with the question of just who this devious individual really was. After I posted about this remarkable case of plagiarism five years ago on my blog, The Passing Tramp, percipient British bookseller Jamie Sturgeon identified “Don Basil” as none other than the Cat and Feather’s publisher “Philip Earle,” whose real name, according to Sturgeon, was “Morris Balk.” With this information I have been able to track much of the criminal career of a consummate confidence trickster–surely one of Britain’s most intriguing con men. Pleased to Meet You, Hope You Guess My Name Maurice E. Balk (1901-1981) was, as the saying goes, a man of many parts, many of which were doubtlessly attractive on the surface, however repulsive they were beneath it. A survey of the man’s kaleidoscopic criminal career as it unfolded in at least three countries and two continents over three or more decades reveals an ingenious, insinuating man of seemingly no moral conscience who in his destructive wake left a trail of cruelly deceived victims. Born in London on July 5, 1901, Maurice E. Balk was the son of Leon and Minnie Balk, Russian Jews who around the turn of the nineteenth century migrated to England, where they became naturalized British citizens. Leon Balk, who during the first decade-and-a-half of the twentieth century owned photography studios in the Sussex seaside resorts of Eastbourne and Bexhill-on-Sea, was born around 1873 in the city of Taurage (now part of Lithuania) to David and Jehudith Balk. After moving from Lithuania to England he initially settled in London, where in 1901 he married another native Lithuanian, Minnie Blumenthal, and where two years later Minnie gave birth to Maurice, the couple’s eldest child. By 1904 Leon and Minnie had relocated from London to Eastbourne, where their second son, Phillip, was born. By 1909 the family resided at 23 Sackville Road in Bexhill-on-Sea, where Leon operated a photography studio at 69 Devonshire Road. Leon was doing well enough with his business at this time to employ a single house servant. It was in 1909 that scandal, in the form of an attractive young woman named Emma Whaley, stalked Leon Balk. That year this unfortunate lady brought a paternity suit against Leon, alleging that he had seduced her at his photography studio, which the previous June she had visited, attired in “light summer costume,” to have her photo taken in bathing dress. After this illicit sexual escapade, according to Emma, Leon had gifted her with presents of jewelry, promised to marry her and fathered a child upon her, only at which point she learned, much to her dismay, that her lover and the father of her child was already married. Despite this scandal, however, the Balks remained in Bexhill-on-Sea for another half-dozen years, Leon even producing another child with his wife. Or could little Bessie Balk, significantly younger than her two brothers, have been Leon’s love child with Emma? Having left his sex scandal behind him, Leon Balk seems to have passed away during or slightly after the Great War, when he would still have been only in his forties. (Or perhaps he abandoned his wife and family.) Leon’s wife Minnie, who died in London in 1923, having endured her husband’s extramarital fling with Emma, saw her final years further darkened by the activities of her elder son Maurice, who by 1917 had precociously commenced upon, at the age of sixteen, what would prove a rather lengthy career in crime. (Philip and Bessie, on the other hand, became respectable musicians, Philip an orchestral pianist and Bessie a pianoforte soloist and teacher.) In September of that year Maurice, who formerly had been employed as a message boy with J. C. Meacher, a longtime Finsbury pharmacist, was arrested and arraigned before London’s Mansion House Police Court on the charge of obtaining, by means of forged orders purporting to come from his former employer, a quantity of pharmaceutical and photographic goods, as well as first-aid and medical cases, together valued at several hundred pounds, from several London business firms, including Kodak, Ltd, which he then sold to a pair of City businessmen, Henry Peter Kovski, a fancy-goods dealer, and Richard Wilson, a chemist. Both Kovski and Wilson were charged with receiving stolen property, although the two men claimed that they had been bamboozled by Balk, who at an early age already had become rather an artful fraudster. Koski declared that Balk had represented himself as an American who wanted to get surplus goods “off his hands,” while Wilson, who abjectly proclaimed himself “stupid” for having been duped by the youth, contended that Balk had convinced him that he was selling the goods on behalf of “a friend at Brighton.” Thus was set a lifetime pattern of criminal deception on Balk’s part. He would repeat this modus operandi over and over again. Maurice Balk pled guilty to the crimes in November but seems to have avoided–or to have served a minimal amount of–jail time, perhaps because of his tender years. By the next year, 1918, Balk, now all of seventeen years old, had ventured into the British film business (or so he claimed), directing, scripting and starring in an alleged crime film, Cheated Vengeance. Only three other cast members for the film are listed in the British Film Catalogue: Doris Vivian Earle, E. James Morrison and Connie Sweet, as well as one co-scripter, H. V. Emery. Like Balk himself, none of these people have any additional film credits listed on the international movie database (imdb). Nor does the film’s production company, Britamer, which would turn up again six years later as the Chicago publisher of a collection of short stories authored by Balk. Was the whole thing just one of Balk’s elaborate grifts, a Potemkin production company, as it were? Certainly one would like to know something more about this film and the people who were involved with it, particularly actress Doris Vivian Earle, whose surname Balk evidently appropriated for his own use. It is likely that Balk, in his capacity as managing director for the Britamer Film Company, defrauded a number of credulous people, promising them employment after deposits were made with the company. A 1919 letter from Balk to fourteen year old Eugenie Vera Barnes of Birmingham promised to hire the girl at a weekly salary of twenty pounds a week (nearly 1000 pounds today, or about 1200 dollars) after she–or more likely her parents–sent the company a deposit of twenty-five pounds, the latter of which was purportedly to be refunded. A British newspaper naively reported the lucky girl’s great good fortune, which in reality was more likely nothing other than a conman’s artful mirage. Balk’s venture into filmmaking proved short-lived, for in 1920 he was on his way to the United States, and not to Hollywood. On February 29–the fact that it was a leap year seems appropriate—Balk embarked from Southampton aboard the S. S. New York, destined for Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He gave his occupation as “student” and his “race or people” as Russian, though an official hand wrote “Hebrew” in cursive script over the typed word Russian. For “name and complete address of nearest relative or friend in the country whence alien came” Balk listed his mother, “Mrs. Balk,” and 230 Seven Sisters Road in Finsbury (today the site of Zamzam, a Somalian restaurant). He claimed he was coming to America to join an uncle, Maurice Max Blumenthal, of 433 Liberty Street, Winston-Salem, and that his stay in the US would be of “indefinite” duration. Both Maurice Blumenthal, a dry goods merchant, and his wife Rose were Jews of Lithuanian descent, like Balk’s parents, and it would appear that Balk was telling the truth for once and that Maurice Blumenthal indeed was Balk’s uncle. (Likely Balk was named after Blumenthal.) Puckishly Balk would later use the name “Morris M. Blumenthal” as one of his criminal aliases. Balk seems quickly to have insinuated himself as a member in good standing of the Jewish community in Winston-Salem, a thriving textiles and tobacco manufacturing center where Jewish immigrants had been locating since the 1880s. Contemporary newspaper accounts list a “Dr. Maurice Balk, a recent arrival from London, England,” as a guest at a “very jolly little party” given in late May of that year by Miss Dora Levy, daughter of Winston-Salem shoe store owner Louis Levy, at her home at 1504 East Third Street. Along with Dora’s friend Miss Bess Horowitz, the ever helpful and ingratiating Balk assisted the hostess with serving refreshments. Later that year, however, Maurice Balk departed Winston-Salem for New York, where in Manhattan on June 26, 1921 he wed Ruth Krause, the first in his series of loved and left wives. In Manhattan he established an acquaintance with the beloved American poet Edwin Markham (1852-1940), author of the once much-celebrated poem “The Man with the Hoe,” who lived with his third wife in a book-bedecked home on Staten Island. On March 23, 1921, three months before his first marriage, Balk wrote Markham a letter from Boston’s Gordon Bible College, a non-denominational evangelical Christian school that had been founded in 1889, where he evidently had enrolled as a student. In a floridly signed note that accompanied the missive Balk ingratiatingly informed the esteemed man of letters that he had enclosed his own poetry for a forthright evaluation: “I am sending you the first lines I have written. You said you would pull them to pieces for me. Do so, and in so doing please remember that however ‘hard’ you may be in your criticism, my love for you, dear Edwin Markham, will ever remain the same.” Balk’s acquaintanceship and correspondence with Edwin Markham lasted a couple of years, during which time the young man was carrying on further dubious activity in Canada. On March 18, 1922 Balk wrote the poet from the village of Tusket, in southwestern Nova Scotia, addressing him, as he did in all his letters, as “My dear Edwin Markham.” A wheedling note is detectible underneath the fulsome flattery: Have you had the opportunity to look over the poems which I sent you last year? I am really anxious to know what you think about them. There is no living writer, and very few among the dead, whose approbation I should be more glad to earn than yours. I write this to say so. A book entitled “TO-DAY” is to be published in the course of a month or so, and I have taken the liberty of dedicating it to you. Hoping to hear from you in due course, with best wishes, Believe me, to be, My dear Edwin Markham, Ever your faithful friend, M. S. Balk “M. S. Balk” is prominently underlined, while beneath this name is written first “Morris Balk” in lead pencil and then “Maurice” in ink. Balk need not have worried about Markham’s inattention, for on February 25 the flattered poet had sent Balk two pages of criticism, though evidently this had not yet reached the youthful supplicant, whose supposed book of poetry, To-Day, seems never to have appeared in print. Unhappily for Balk, he soon would find himself harried by a more immediately pressing matter. A notice appeared in the November 4, 1922 issue of the church journal The Baptist giving warning to Canadian congregants to take care in any dealings with a certain Maurice E. Balk: NOTICE This Is To Inform any person concerned, particularly home mission churches, that one known as Maurice E. Balk, recently in Western Nova Scotia, has no recognized standing as a minister of the United Baptist Convention of the Maritime Provinces. By order E. S. Mason, Cor. Secy., Home Mission Board, Wolfville, Nova Scotia. With Canadians having turned cold shoulders to him, Maurice Balk returned to New York and pleasant literary chats with Edwin Markham. He also secured himself a new bride, in Manhattan on April 8, 1923 wedding Teresa Trucano, a pretty twenty-four year old opera singer and daughter of an Italian immigrant who had mined copper in Meaderville, Montana, later opening a general store and becoming an Italian consular officer in Butte. In an article about Teresa from a couple of years earlier, a Butte newspaper rapturously described the local prodigy as having a “clear, rosy complexion…soft, light brown wavy hair (without marcel wave), large and dreamy eyes, pearly teeth and a winning smile.” A couple of months after their marriage, the newlywed couple spent a day with the Markhams, about which Balk was soon rapturously reminiscing in a letter written to Markham from 321 West 75th Street in New York City: I shall never forget the day in June my wife and I spent with you at the Y Birch. Had I the power of language to express my great love and reverence for you, I would not hesitate to do so in this letter. But there are some feelings in a man’s heart that can never be spoken or written. Believe me, my dear Edwin Markham, when I say, that I hope (and my wife also) to have many more afternoons with you, and listen to your song, and leaving you feel, as I felt that last time, as one born again. In his letter Balk detailed his latest reading, specifically mentioning Herbert Paul’s 1902 biography of English poet and critic Matthew Arnold and Swiss moral philosopher Henri-Frederic Amiel’s Journal Intime, which, one imagines not altogether incidentally, had been named by Markham in a 1909 symposium as one of the books that had most influenced him. Balk declared that he was going to read Amiel’s Journal “for the third time,” as well as Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ. He closed by praying, “May the Grace of God, and the Love of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with you always.” Markham wrote Balk a five page letter in reply, discussing his own literary views, but this is the last recorded letter exchanged between the two men. During this time Balk, now labeling himself the Assistant Director of Education for an organization called the English Language Bureau, made a practice of sending letters not only to Edwin Markham but to the New York Times and the Saturday Review, confidently if not always entirely coherently addressing an array of subjects, including divorce, the provenance of great men, the declining quality of American stage plays and Einstein’s theory of relativity, in an apparent effort to flex his intellect before a wider audience. In his letter on great men, entitled “The Hero’s Birthplace,” Balk expressed bemusement for the public fascination with learning all about the humble birthplaces of great men—a telling sentiment from one who had carefully cloaked his own modest origins. (He also made certain to drop the name of his poet friend into the letter: “….as Edwin Markham said to me….”) Notably ironic are Balk’s letter on stage drama, in which, sounding like a commentator on FOX News, the career criminal–who in my view bore the hallmarks of a classic sociopath–complains that “[n]ow, it seems, psychology, pseudo-philosophy, the hideous, the horrible—and worse—must be the basis of nearly everything put on,” and–given his treatment of his wife (see below)–his letter on divorce, in which he allowed that “[o]ne should honestly be sorry for [married] individuals who are unhappy,” yet urged nevertheless that marriages should be maintained intact, as marriage constituted “the very foundation both of personal morality and social stability.” In 1924 Maurice and Teresa Balk moved to Chicago, where Teresa gave birth to the couple’s son, Gerald Langston, on June 6, 1924. That year Maurice also published with Britamer, a Chicago press that suspiciously shared its name with Maurice Balk’s former film production company, what was apparently Britamer’s sole publication: Madonna of the Inn, and Other Tales, a slim collection of six cloyingly lachrymose short stories, including two about loyal pets, one of them whose faithfulness extends into the afterlife, answering the age old question of whether dogs go to Heaven. Another tale is set, unrewardingly, in Nova Scotia, outside Tusket. Balk dedicated the book “To Teresa Louisa,” including with the dedication a well-known verse from proverbs about the subject of wifely devotion, which begins: “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her….” Unhappily, Teresa’s heart did not safely trust in Maurice. Nine months after Gerald’s birth, Teresa, deserted by her husband, returned with her son to Meaderville, Montana, where she obtained a divorce from Maurice in 1926. After four years of making her own living in New York, she married bond salesman Louis Martin Fabian, son of a Hungarian immigrant who had risen from miner to businessman and county commissioner. Maurice Balk had abandoned his wife and son in Chicago in 1925 for fertile felonious fields Caspar, Wyoming, where he talked his way into a position with the Daily Tribune as a book review columnist. At this time Balk was claiming to have been a former employee of the London Times as well as a Great War veteran who served with T. E. Lawrence in General Allenby’s epochal Palestine campaign (although in truth he was sixteen at the time and incurring his first encounter with legal authorities). In August the fabulist contributed to the paper a poem entitled “Mean Desires,” which certainly seems, assuming it is really his own work, to have an autobiographical aspect: I’ll go, said I, to the woods and hills In a park of doves I’ll make my fires And I’ll fare like the badger and the fox, I said And be done with mean desires. Never a lift of the hand I’ll give Again in the world to the bidders and buyers; I’ll live with the snakes in the hedge, I said And be done with mean desires. I’ll leave—and I left—my own true love O faithful heart that never tires! I will return, tho I’ll not return To perish of mean desires. But the snake, the fox, the badger, said I Are one in blood, like sons and sires And as far from home as kingdom come I follow my mean desires. Not long afterward Balk left Caspar for Manitou Springs, Colorado (near the larger locality of Colorado Springs), where he started his own newspaper under the posh cognomen “M. E. Sackville Balke.” (Surely the name “Sackville” was inspired by his family’s home address on Sackville Road in Bexhill.) Characteristically his latest business venture seemed to consist of the confidence trickster separating other people from their money in order to line his own pockets. He served a term in the county jail for passing a bad check and was sued for wages by his angry employees, who, according to an article in the Typographical Journal, “had been unpaid in most cases since the paper was started.” Figuratively bloodied but unbowed, Balk in 1927 next turned up at the small Central California city of Lodi, where he held a series of revival meetings and divine healings at the burg’s Tokay Theater. In one of his sermons Balk, who doubtlessly was an expert on domestic disharmony, contrasted “present [day] home life with that which existed at the time of Christ.” Later that year Balk’s colorful New World adventures were abruptly brought to an end when the conman was ingloriously deported from New York back to Great Britain, US authorities having decided that they had had enough of the incorrigible offender. As a deportee aboard the R. M. S. Berengaria Balk ignominiously set foot in Southampton on September 7, 1927. His occupation was listed as “preacher” and his proposed address in the United Kingdom his mother’s house on Seven Sisters Road. although in fact his mother had died four years earlier. By the next year Balk had started, in league with a colleague, Arthur Evan Clarke, a small press named “Evanearle,” whose first venture was to be, it was reported in trade journals, “an outline of Jewish history.” Like a moth attracted to a fair, fatal flame, however, Balk seemingly could not keep his mind off the beckoning lands across the pond, with their fields so fertile to fraudulent schemes. Less than a year after his compelled return to England, on March 10, 1928, Balk set out on the Minnesdosa from Greenock, Scotland for Canada, giving as his last address in the United Kingdom his brother Philip’s domicile at 160 (or 166) Oxford Street, Glasgow and his occupation as “publisher.” Balk’s ultimate destination was Toronto, where he had found employment (allegedly) with Robinson & Heath, a firm of customs brokers and freight forwarders. This time his stay was short; less than six months later, on August 3, 1928, he was deported from Canada on board the Melita. His occupation was listed as “medical student” and his proposed address once again his brother’s home on Oxford Street in Glasgow. Back in the UK–and with both the United States and Canada now warded against him—Balk, settled in London, turned first to his father’s field, photography, then went back, after another stint in prison, to publishing. Along with two other “well-dressed” men, Balk, whose occupation was given as “photographer,” in a 1929 court appearance pled guilty to several charges of obtaining, by means of bad checks, goods (including a camera and film projector) from West End salesmen and was sentenced to a year at hard labor. Had Balk had been contemplating taking up film production again? The next year, on March 27, 1930, Balk was again convicted on charges of larceny and sentenced consecutively to terms of two and six months’ imprisonment. In November of that year the fraudster, who was described as nearly 5’8” with a fresh complexion, brown hair and eyes and a scar on his upper lip, featured in the UK’s Police Gazette under the heading “Expert and Travelling Criminals,” where he was bluntly termed “[a]n unscrupulous fraud.” By this time the Balk’s list of aliases had become formidable indeed, something which American politician and fellow fabulist George Santos might well have envied. Aside from Maurice Earle Balk, he had used, at various points in his criminal career, M. M. Blumenthal (borrowed from his uncle), M. E. Sackville Balke, Reverend E. Balke, William E. Bennett, Reverend Elliott, V. T. Taylor, Albert Caver and Reverend E. E. Langston. Being “well educated,” the Police Gazette warned, Balk found he could convincingly assume “the role of a clergyman,” experiencing “little difficulty…in impressing his victims.” For example, on one occasion, Balk, having called on a clergyman for a friendly theological chat and been briefly left alone by the duped parson in his study, took the opportunity to abstract a blank check from the clergyman’s checkbook, which he later used at a bookseller’s shop to pay for a valuable first edition tome. It should come as no surprise that Balk read (and plagiarized) detective fiction, as in life he behaved like a rogue in an Agatha Christie or Edgar Wallace crime thriller. Once out of prison again, Balk started a new venture under yet another false name, Philip Earle. In 1931 he established another book publishing press, named Philip Earle after his new identity, at 39 Jermyn Street in London. Although short-lived, “Philip Earle” had rather more substance than Britamer, his 1924 effort, in that the press actually published something more than books written by–or plagiarized by–Balk. Volumes issued by Philip Earle in 1931 include Margaret Hunter Ironside’s Young Diana, Elsa Lingstrom’s Jeddith Keep, two respectfully reviewed contemporary novels, Jane Austen’s epistolary tale Lady Susan (adapted to film in 2016 under the title Love & Friendship) and American journalist Ben Hecht’s controversial novel A Jew in Love—a book proverbially banned in Boston, not to mention Canada, yet which quickly sold 50,000 copies and made the bestseller lists in the US. And then of course there was Balk’s own effort, in a manner of speaking: the detective novel Cat and Feather, which he published, as we have seen, under the pseudonym Don Basil. The conman had good reason for employing a pseudonym, for, again as we have seen, he had stolen Cat and Feather nearly word for word from Roger Scarlett’s The Back Bay Murders, which the previous year had appeared in the US. The Beacon Hill Murders–the first detective novel by “Roger Scarlett,” the pen name of Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page–had been published in the UK in 1930 by Heinemann, a major British publisher, but I do not believe The Back Bay Murders had a UK edition. This of course would have made it easier for Balk to carry out his shameless theft of Blair’s and Page’s intellectual property, but the plagiarizer characteristically went a step too far in his roguery when he published Cat and Feather with Henry Holt, a reputable American firm. In the US, Balk’s blatant plagiarism was soon discovered and Henry Holt promptly withdrew the book from distribution. The publishing firm of Philip Earle thereupon succumbed to this latest Balkian brouhaha, while the publisher himself received his comeuppance three years later, albeit for another crime. In 1934 Phillip Earle was committed, along with a purported aunt, Lucy Griffiths, to trial in London on the charge of conspiring to filch by false pretenses 3389 pounds (a tremendous amount of money, over a quarter of a million pounds, or more than 300,000 dollars today) from an elderly widow, Mrs. Kate Christie Miller of Sutton, Surrey. Before the credulous Mrs. Miller, Balk once again donned his favored guise of a pious clergyman. Dealing her a pack of patent lies, Balk had inveigled the poor woman into repeatedly making him loans which he never paid back. When the case came to trial in January 1934, Mrs. Miller plaintively declared on the stand that the defendant had “told me he had been a preacher of the Gospel in Canada, and he appeared to be a very religious man.” Balk was found guilty and sentenced to four years’ penal servitude. Sir Ernest Wild, the senior presiding judge at the Old Bailey, who was known to have “sent many murderers to the gallows and tried to extend the use of the ‘cat’” and in 1920-21 was involved with efforts to criminalize lesbian sex, sternly lectured the prisoner: “Anything more hypocritical and wicked than your frauds is impossible to imagine. What makes this series of crimes particularly mean is the way in which you invoked the Deity in your letters [to Mrs. Miller].” Invoking a more worldly literary authority, William Shakespeare, Justice Wild with a theatrical flourish quoted from the play The Merchant of Venice to remind Balk: The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. An evil soul producing holy witness Is like a villain with a smiling cheek. A goodly apple rotten at the core. O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath. Undeterred and presumably unashamed by this vivid judicial admonition, Balk adopted, after his early release from jail in 1937, yet another, more exotic authorial guise, Maure Balque, under which he wrote, but naturally, an inspirational book of religious verse, The Christ I Know, as well as a pamphlet on the 1937 coronation of King George VI, which were published, most conveniently, by the firm of “M. E. Balk.” By 1939, however, the incorrigible criminal was back in prison again, at His Majesty’s Prison in the midland city of Leicester, sadly still unredeemed. At the outset of the Second World War, after he had again become a free man, Balk, now living in the posh London district of Hampstead and claiming to be a radiologist, wed a Jewish Austro-German refugee named Frieda Birnbaum. Born a decade after Balk in Vienna, Frieda, having been exempted by the British government from its wartime internment of German and Italian nationals, worked as a domestic servant, though she had been formerly employed as a secretary. How many years did it take for Frieda to wake up and smell the coffee? In 1944 her felonious husband was arrested on charges of fraudulently obtaining a line of one thousand pounds credit with the business firm of General Radiological, Ltd.–Balk was an undischarged bankrupt–and absconding with a “set of Dickens books worth L44.” At least the unmitigated rotter’s tastes remained literary! In 1947 Balk, who had become a paid contributor to the American Methodist weekly magazine the Christian Advocate, was in court yet again, this time back in Leicester, on further charges of credit fraud as well as a charge of having committed bigamy against his now estranged wife Frieda after he in Kensington that year wed a certain lady named Gladys Rankin. Detective-Sergeant Woodward of the Yard testified that Balk, who claimed to have studied at Harvard University, had numerous previous convictions. Clearly Balk was on a downward spiral in the battle of life. Where his youthful crimes, while unquestionably wicked, had a certain scale and panache to them, his later interactions with the law seem merely squalid and pathetic. When Balk applied for a discharge of his debts in 1949 bankruptcy proceedings, he was residing at 16 Colville Mansions in Bayswater, in a neighborhood that had become “largely a slum area,” with “large houses turned into one-room tenements and small flats.” A vivid contemporary portrait of Colville Mansions is provided by the Liberal Democrat MP Shirley Williams, who in her memoirs has recalled for two-and-a-half years during the early 1950s sharing with two friends a “rickety flat” located on the top floor of a Victorian terrace called Colville Mansions, just off the Portobello Road. We had found it after a discouraging search through West London, in which we were offered flats without baths, flats with cockroaches in possession, and even flats with mirrors in the ceiling, a reminder that Bayswater had long been a favourite venue of the world’s oldest profession. Colville Mansions was at least reasonably light and airy, but the trouble was the roof. It leaked so badly we had to sleep with buckets around our beds, and eventually with a tarpaulin draped over the worst holes. This, however, was but a foretaste of what was to come. One evening, with a mild roar, the entire front cornice of the building collapsed into the street below. However poorly the many people victimized by Maurice Balk over the years may have thought of him after the wool had been pulled from their poor deluded eyes and the cornice had come crashing down before them, there is no question that Maurice Balk was a survivor. He lived to see his eighth decade, passing away obscurely in 1981. Currently I know nothing about Maurice Balk’s later years, aside from the facts that he had the effrontery in 1958 to renew his copyright on Cat and Feather, that for a time in the Sixties he supposedly edited something called the Journal of Auxiliary Medicine and that he is said during that same decade to have composed a Memorandum on Prison Reform—this last, at least, a subject to which Balk doubtlessly brought considerable legitimately earned authority. Postscript: The Apple Falls Far from the Tree Readers may wonder whatever became of Maurice Balk’s son, Gerald Langston Fabian, last glimpsed as a fatherless waif in Meaderville, Montana. After their 1930 marriage in New York, his lovely and talented mother Teresa and his successful and dutiful stepfather Louis Fabian moved with young Gerald to Beverley Hills, California, where Louis worked an investment banker and later served as president of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce. A graduate of the US Naval Academy and an officer in the Naval Reserve, Louis during the Second World War was commissioned as a Lieutenant Commander in the Pacific theater. In this capacity he received the Navy Cross, in recognition of “extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as the Senior Squadron Beachmaster, during action against enemy Japanese forces at Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands, on 20 November 1943.” At the beginning of 1943, eighteen-year-old Gerald Fabian, who had graduated the previous year from University High School, Los Angeles, was a freshman at UC Berkeley, where he was an assistant editor on the annual staff. (In high school he had been an assistant editor of the student newspaper.) On February 25 in San Francisco he enlisted in the US Navy. According to his obituary in the Bay Area Reporter, Gerald served in the Pacific, including “once under his stepfather who commanded [his stepson’s] ship at Iwo Jima.” After the war Gerald returned to attend classes at UC Berkeley, where he majored in Romance Languages, but he was, according to a friend, the San Francisco writer Lew Ellingham, “expelled…because he was gay.” Despite this setback, Gerald, who according to his obituary was a “person of culture, erudition, and talent” who had become acquainted while at Berkeley with Jack Spicer and other members of the San Francisco Renaissance, over the next half-century taught language classes at the University of San Francisco and elsewhere, worked as an actor in San Francisco stage productions, published poetry and was active in gay community groups in the City by the Bay. In 2003, nine years before his death in 2012 at the age of 88, Gerald gave an interview to the Monferrini in America website about his Italian heritage, concerning which he was tremendously well-informed and justly proud. “I think it’s important to find out as much as possible about one’s background and history,” he commended at the time. Whether Gerald knew anything about his remarkable criminal birth father, however, is currently unknown to me. Gerald Fabian appears to have had some of the mental capacities of the undeniably able Maurice E. Balk, yet happily the younger man developed these capacities in pursuit of altogether more admirable aims. Note: All five of the Roger Scarlett detective novels, including the plagiarized The Back Bay Murders, were reprinted by Coachwhip in 2017. One of the Scarlett titles, Cat’s Paw, was selected for Otto Penzler’s American Mystery Classics series in 2022. Don Basil’s Cat and Feather remains out of print, however, Maurice E. Balk’s incredible criminal career having been long forgotten until I first publicized his perfidy in 2018. That same year the book was mentioned in the LitHub article “25 of the Most Expensive Books You Can Buy on the Internet,” which noted that a copy of Cat and Feather, “plagiarized from The Back Bay Murders by Roger Scarlett,” was being offered for the tidy sum of $250, 275 by veteran bookseller Rushton H. Potts. Somewhere Maurice E. Balk must have been smiling. View the full article
  10. I was born in 1972 into a family of women. We lived in the city and could walk anywhere: to school, to the store, to the huge park across the street, our bare feet burning on soft black asphalt or bruised from graveled alleyways. There were rumbling buses and singing ice cream trucks, crowded corner stores and constant foot traffic. The city was a paradise and it was a gauntlet, because my father left before I was born and we were alone, a mother and four daughters. I don’t remember the first peeping Tom or obscene phone call, because I was still in the cradle, thrust into a world where my older sisters were already hunted. I remember a man calling me to his car to show me he wore no pants. I remember passing a guy in an alley as my big sister growled, “Don’t look.” Of course I looked, and the man smiled at my childish shock as he stroked himself. I was six, I was eight, I was ten, and then I was in puberty, and men would shout out all the things they planned to teach me if given the chance. This wasn’t violence, but it was fear. It was a grinding down, a daily reminder that I was prey. And of course, there were plenty of other indignities to witness too. Poverty and sexual harassment and daily inequality. Whatever age I was when I first watched I Spit on Your Grave, I was far too young. Twelve or thirteen. But I was ready. That movie jolted me. I’d never been taught that women could also be scary. That we could dole out fear and pain if we wanted. Exploitative and voyeuristic as the film was, it flashed through me, imprinting me with the possibility that fear could expand into rage, and we could hunt too. After that, I never stopped wanting revenge stories, and there were better movie options with each passing year. Hard Candy, Revenge, Promising Young Woman. Still, there was something more I wanted: female vengeance not just as a result of rape or sexual abuse. I wanted female vengeance in all its glory, revenge for all kinds of wrongs, big and small. After all, every story of male revenge doesn’t start with a rape, does it? That’s not all we are either. (Eternal thanks to the cinematic glory that was 9 to 5.) This is where books come in. There were revenge tales written by women when I was young, but there are so many now I couldn’t hope to read them all! It’s a golden age of vengeance, and I’m eating it up. I first wrote my own tale of vengeance a few years ago with Jane Doe. Jane wanted payback for the emotional abuse of her best friend, and I’m a little embarrassed to say it was the easiest book I’ve ever penned. By far. But I’m a little thrilled too. Because for me, revenge stories are competence porn. It’s pure joy to watch a character carry out the righteous feats we wish we could manage. It’s power. It’s glory. So I’m more than a little thrilled that there are so many great reading choices for all kinds of female vengeance these days. I can only write one book a year, but I can read dozens! Here are a few of my recent favorites. I hope each is a revelation and you enjoy the hell out of every one. Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn Four female friends. The inevitability of time. A retirement celebration of their successful careers. Sounds fun and familiar, right? But these four women weren’t teachers or attorneys, they were assassins, and there will be hell to pay when the party is crashed by a killer sent by their own company. Sometimes revenge is dark and dirty, and sometimes it’s dirty and fun. This was one of my favorite reads of the year, and you’ll revel in the fantastic power of women who gave up on societal norms a lifetime ago. Black Water Sister by Zen Cho This audiobook (narrated by Catherine Ho) was an absolute delight. A young college graduate moves back to Malaysia with her family, and three generations live together: daughter, mother, and grandmother. Except this grandma is a ghost. At first, the haunting feels almost cozy, but grandma isn’t back for a visit. She wants revenge… and she’s brought along a friend who wants a little payback for herself too. The Obsession by Jesse Q. Sutanto The starting point of this story isn’t uncommon tragedy. A teenage girl with an abusive stepfather? Heartbreakingly familiar. A young woman with a stalker? Most of us have seen that in real life. But high school senior Delilah Wong is determined to change the script and seize the day. She’s tired of being a victim, and if she can’t quite make it all the way to hero, she’ll settle for villain. This book was tense, but it was also downright giddy. Give ‘em hell, Delilah. The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson A modern day retelling of Stephen King’s Carrie? Yes please. This YA suspense is set in a small town with a segregated prom. (Yes, this STILL happens.) The twin menaces of old school religion and misogyny are deftly layered with the additional horror of racism in this town where “tradition” means knowing your place, and fighting back could be murder. The Change by Kirsten Miller There’s a reason witches have been iconized as women-of-a-certain-age for centuries. There’s power in the peace of menopause. It’s a mantle of maturity and independence that society has tried to snatch away. In The Change, three women find revelation in shedding the last of their youthful years. New, dangerous powers grow beneath their skin, and while they work on righting a terrible wrong in their community there’s plenty of time to get payback for some old sins too. *** View the full article
  11. While it is Northern malarkey that summer begins in June (it’s been hot in Texas, where this editor lives, for months now), it is appropriate for a summer preview list to begin in the first official month of summer, so we are starting with June this year. The list is also a bit shorter than usual. That is because there were too many good books and we got overwhelmed and then sleepy and then didn’t read as many of them as we would have liked to…But there are still 60+ thrilling, compelling, thoughtful, and intricate crime novels on the list below! (It really is a stressful year for us in terms of reading…Why are there so many good books?!?!) There are also quite a few YA and horror novels on the list, and you’ll spot some historical fiction as well. You might be tempted to stick with your favorite authors this year—after all, they all have new books out—but you’d be missing out on some powerful new voices, especially from small presses. The name of the game on the list below is variety, so we hope you’ll find plenty of new discoveries to fill the long summer days. ___________________________________ JUNE ___________________________________ S. A. Cosby, All The Sinners Bleed (Flatiron) S.A. Cosby does Thomas Harris!! And proves that the serial killer novel is back with his cleverly plotted and socially relevant take on the hunt for a monstrous killer. Cosby goes Southern Gothic with the backstory, focusing on the sins of society and how indifference and prejudice are the true culprits behind the most terrible acts. In true Cosby fashion, the novel manages to touch on all manner of hot button topics. The novel begins with a school shooting, where a white police officer kills the shooter: a Black man who was a former student at the school, and who claims his victim, a popular teacher, was hiding a terrible secret. When the town sheriff, the first Black man elected to the post in the small Southern town, begins to investigate the teacher’s horrific acts, the townspeople are deeply resistant to the truth, and meanwhile, he’s got a showdown coming between right-wingers determined to protect a Confederate monument and the protestors who want it gone. A fast-paced book that will also have you asking deep questions about the nature of faith, All the Sinners Bleed is bound to be one of my favorite books of the year. –MO Jessie Gaynor, The Glow (Random House) Gaynor’s sharpened blades are out for the wellness industry and its cult-like devotion to personal brands, but The Glow is more than just incisive observation and pitch-perfect satire. There’s a deep well of human ambition and desire at the root of this story, not to mention a sharp plot that bounds ahead with the assurance of the best thrillers. Gaynor builds layer on layer of mystery out of everyday human yearning, creating a whole that’s deeply satisfying and always surprising. –DM C. J. Leede, Maeve Fly (Tor Nightfire) For all those who stan the creepy girls/learned the Wednesday dance, Maeve Fly is a delicious, disturbing treat. Leede’s very-much-antiheroine is a Disney princess by day (one of the Frozen sisters, which makes it even funnier), and a serial killer by night. She has a best friend, a grandmother who understands her, and the kind of beauty that screams innocence. But when her grandmother’s health takes a turn for the worse, and her best friend’s hockey-playing brother comes to town, her perfectly arranged life begins to unravel. Damn, this book is messed up. I’m really enjoying this “hot people can be serial killers too” trend (unless someone’s talking about Ted Bundy, who was terrible and also not hot). –MO ​​Katharine Beutner, Killingly (Soho Press) My sister went to Mount Holyoke, which is more known for protesting the removal of midnight cookies from menu options than murder, but this historical mystery is based on the real disappearance of a student in 1897 at the famed women’s university. Beutner uses the student’s disappearance as a wider set-piece to investigate the nature of those who stand apart from the crowd, and are punished for their independence. –MO Clémence Michallon, The Quiet Tenant (Knopf) I just got my advance copy of Clémence Michallon’s much-anticipated new novel and I *can* confirm that it’s worth the hype!! It is a beautifully and thoughtfully written book with a pitch-perfect premise, about a man named Aidan, who, after he loses his wife, must downsize. He must move to a new, smaller home with his teenage daughter… and the woman he’s secretly had captive on his property for five years. He is a serial killer, and she is the one woman he has ever spared. Narrated by the three women in his life—his daughter, the woman who falls for his cultivated charms, and the woman whose very existence is the only clue to his vicious true self. This book is fantastic.–OR Danielle Trussoni, The Puzzle Master (Random House) Trussoni’s new novel is an absolute joy to dive into. A former football star suffers a brain injury that results in him acquiring extraordinary puzzle solving abilities. His path eventually leads him to a woman in prison drawing mysterious puzzles that seem to connect to the work of a thirteenth-century Jewish mystic. If that sounds like a heady, mesmerizing, exhilarating story, you’d be right, and you’d want to get your hands on this Trussoni gem as soon as possible. –DM Andrea Bartz, The Spare Room (Ballantine) A young woman new to Philadelphia starts lockdown with the man who’s just called off her wedding, so naturally she takes up the offer from a friend and her husband who have a spare room…And then things get really interesting. Bartz always brings a healthy portion of social satire and incisive observation to her thrillers. –DM Courtney Gould, Where Echoes Die (St. Martin’s) Two sisters head to the desert to find the truth behind their mother’s death in this moody, atmospheric detective story. Their journalist mother had been obsessed with a small town with a reputation for miracles—and lost memories. People return over and over again to the unremarkable desert town, and the sisters may never be able to escape.–MO Josh Haven, The Siberia Job (Mysterious Press) Haven’s The Siberia Job is a wild ride through the Russian hinterlands after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as a Texas and a Czech businessman crash rural auctions in order to buy up shares in the newly privatized national gas company. They criss-cross the country and soon have organized crime on their tails. Haven paints a vivid portrait of hustlers and crooks at a world geopolitical turning point. –DM Lily Meade, The Shadow Sister (Sourcebooks Fire) In Lily Meade’s intriguing speculative thriller, two sisters present warring narratives in dual timelines. Casey is not a fan of big sister Sutton, nor Sutton’s white boyfriend or his lack of money, and when Sutton disappears, it’s hard for her to miss her sister. Sutton returns changed, and flashbacks to Sutton’s perspective leading up to the disappearance provide clues into what happened, and why she seems so different now—and so happy to see the sibling she formerly reviled. –MO Julia Heaberlin, Night Will Find You (Flatiron) An astrophysicist with psychic powers reluctantly agrees to aid her childhood friend, now in the FBI, with a mysterious case, in this latest from the ever-inventive Julia Heaberlin. I’ve been a fan of Heaberlin’s moody mysteries for a few years now, and Night Will Find You continues to showcase her lyrical storytelling abilities. –MO Rose Wilding, Speak of the Devil (Minotaur) Seven women. One decapitated head. And plenty of reasons for murder. When Jamie Spellman is found dead, a detective works to find the killer, but it quickly becomes clear that the victim deserved what was coming. A clever and tight thriller that demands to be read in one setting. –MO Rachel Cochran, The Gulf (Harper) Set in 1970s Texas in a conservative town amidst the rise of the feminist movement, The Gulf is one of several thrillers that show that the Third Coast has come into its own. The Gulf follows a young queer woman searching for answers after the murder of a powerful woman she’d admired greatly, but who was hated by most of the men in town—and her own children. A refreshing read and a strong debut from a powerful new voice. –MO Adorah Nworah, House Woman (Unnamed Press) Another Gulf Coast crime novel! This one features a young woman who goes from Lagos to Houston for an arranged marriage. Once she arrives, she finds her soon-to-be-in-laws more controlling, and her husband more indifferent, than she would like; as her conditions deteriorate, and tensions grow, this brutal character study leads to a visceral and shocking ending. –MO Kate Khavari, A Botanist’s Guide to Flowers and Fatality (Crooked Lane) Saffron Everleigh, the astute heroine of A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poison, returns in this charming sequel set in London during the roaring 20s. Saffron is working on a study at University College of London when she learns about a string of murders committed with poisonous flowers, and it’s not long before she puts her knowledge of plants (and murder) to the case. Handsome researchers, jazz clubs, and floriographic codes abound in this bright and lush novel. Take the day and go read it in a nearby botanical garden, why don’t you? You won’t be sorry. –OR Julia Fine, Maddalena and the Dark (Flatiron) A slow-burn gothic novel set among the canals and music halls and mansions of 18th century Venice. This is the kind of book that will make you lose track of your surroundings as you sink into its enchanted salt marshes. In the wake of a family scandal, the titular Maddalena—the only daughter of a noble Venetian family—has been sent to live at a renowned all-girls music school. There, she meets the talented but lonely violinist Luisa, and the girls immediately fall into the kind of intense, charged friendship that only exists between teenage girls. The relationship becomes more dangerous as Maddalena and Luisa begin making deals with the darkness that lives in the waters of Venice. I’m a sucker for books about magic and darkness, gothic novels, books about the relationships between teenage girls, books set in Venice, and books that are mostly vibes, so it feels like this novel was basically written for me. The girlies in the know will understand when I say this book reminded me of The Thief Lord (Cornelia Funke, 1999). If you’re not a girly in the know, just trust that Maddalena and the Dark is an atmospheric banger of a novel. –McKayla Coyle, publishing coordinator Eliza Jane Brazier, Girls and their Horses (Berkley) Horse girls! As a former horse girl, I am obsessed with this fun and twisty read featuring gorgeous manes and dastardly deeds. A nouveau riche family signs their daughter up for posh riding lessons at a barn that plans to use the family as a cash cow. Come for the diabolical intrigue and stay for the vicious infighting. And the horses. Did I mention horses? –MO Ruth Ware, Zero Days (Gallery/Scout) Ruth Ware is quickly becoming a household name, and her new thriller promises to once again combine fast-paced action, unexpected twists, and well developed characters. Zero Days features a married couple who specialize in hacking, break-ins, and whatever other security systems need to be tested. When a job goes wrong, the husband is found dead, and the wife is accused of the murder, she must go on the run while seeking answers about the real killer. –MO Riley Sager, The Only One Left (Dutton) In 1929, Leonora was the main suspect in the shocking murder of her family. Fifty years later, as Leonora grows frail, her caretaker is determined to uncover the truth. I’m such a huge fan of Riley Sager’s gleefully plotted thrillers, where classic tropes are both honored and reinvented, and in this new one, Sager is at the top of his game. –MO Ashley Audrain, The Whispers (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking) Ashley Audrain’s delightfully disturbing first novel, The Push, immediately established her as a voice to watch, and The Whispers brings more of Audrain’s cutting observations about motherhood and social mores. When a much-envied mother is witnessed shouting at her child at a neighborhood gathering, the other mothers are shocked; even moreso when that child is found barely alive after falling out of a window soon thereafter. As the boy’s life hangs in the balance, his injury is the catalyst for any number of secrets to rise to the fore. –MO Polly Stewart, The Good Ones (Harper) Stewart’s debut is a powerful novel about a woman, recently returned to her Appalachian hometown, who grows obsessed with a friend’s disappearance twenty years prior, and with other cases of missing women. What emerges is a sprawling tale about a town’s secrets and lingering traumas, as well as one woman’s reckoning with life’s darkest turns. Stewart is a writer to watch. –DM Wendy Heard, You Can Trust Me (Bantam) Summer was raised as a wild child, then abandoned by her irresponsible hippie mother. Growing up rough, she learns how to pick pockets and fend for herself, that is, until she meets Leo, a fiercely free young woman. When Leo heads to a private island with a techie billionaire, then disappears, Summer must use all of her cunning in order to find out what’s happened to her friend.–MO Samantha Leach, The Elissas : Three Girls, One Fate, and the Deadly Secrets of Suburbia (Legacy Lit) In this urgent expose of the long-term trauma caused by the troubled teen industry, Samantha Leach investigates the life of a close friend lost to addiction, and the two girls who shared a friendship with her at boarding school and also perished far too young. These lives cut short unmask the brutal social control behind the concept of reform schools, where well-off parents pay thousands to have their children beaten, starved, abused, and otherwise coerced into toeing the line. –MO ___________________________________ JULY ___________________________________ Amy Goldsmith, Those We Drown (Delacorte) Another Sea-mester book! But quite complementary to the other book set at sea, as this one is horror. Those We Drown features a group of wealthy kids and one scholarship student on a weeks-long cruise where they must mingle with influencers, the elderly, and soon enough, sea monsters. Those We Drown gets bonus points for cheekiness—some of the villains are literally named the Sirens, and one of those keeps singing sea chanties. Delightfully campy and creepy! –MO Colson Whitehead, Crook Manifesto (Doubleday) Pulitzer Prize winner Whitehead continues his journey through the history of modern New York City, this time taking on the 1970s, as the cast of characters from Harlem Shuffle get swept up in political action, civil unrest, corrupt policing, the rise of Blaxploitation culture, and more. It’s a rich backdrop for Whitehead’s powerful human dramas, and he paints a vivid portrait of people moving between the straight and the crooked world, just trying to get by. –DM Dwyer Murphy, The Stolen Coast (Viking) If the lovers at the heart of Casablanca had met about 30 years later, and had a kid, and then that kid and his dad started a business, then the story might have gone something like Dwyer Murphy’s upcoming New England beach thriller, The Stolen Coast. Murphy’s lawyer hero and his retired spy dad have an unusual business helping people on the run, using the legions of homes left abandoned outside of the summer season. When an ex-girlfriend shows up with a plan for a diamond heist, the risks of an already-dangerous job go through the roof, but the rewards may just be big enough to be worth it. I have been assured that this book has no boat shoes. –MO Sarah Weinman, Evidence of Things Seen (Ecco) Sarah Weinman is the exact voice I want to be thinking and writing critically about true crime culture, what it provides, and who it exploits, and I can’t wait to read her new anthology of criticism featuring a wide variety of thinkers on the subject. –MO Tom Mead, The Murder Wheel (Mysterious Press) Set within the theater world of 1938 London, this ingenious new novel is packed full with lush period detail, a glittery cast of characters, and a genuinely compelling puzzle at its center. Mead knows his subject and gives the reader a full immersion into this compelling mystery. –DM Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi, The Centre (Gillian Flynn Books) What would you do to be part of the most elite language academy ever established? And what would you be willing to keep secret? The Centre follows a struggling translator who learns of a place where people can go to become completely fluent in a new language in mere days of effort. She is determined to reap the rewards, but shocked when she begins to find out the dark secrets underpinning the secretive institution. A vicious and entertaining speculative satire of late-stage capitalism. –MO D. L. Soria, Thief Liar Lady (Del Rey) What if Cinderella was not, in fact, a dainty fan of the monarchy, but instead, a conniving revolutionary con artist fighting her way to the top of power in a divided kingdom warring over ancient magic? Also, what if her stepsisters and her stepmother were all really nice to her? And finally, what if the prince to whom she was engaged had a distractingly handsome and brooding foster brother with revolutionary potential of his own? D. L. Soria explores these possibilities and more in her delightfully fractured fairy tale. –MO John Milas, The Militia House (Henry Holt) In this military horror novel, a rare but hopefully growing subgenre, American soldiers stationed near the ruins of an old Soviet outpost in Afghanistan find themselves in the midst of strange happenings, unexplained disappearances, and disturbing visitors. Milas is a wordsmith, and this novel is as haunting as it is impressive. –MO Rachel Howzell Hall, What Never Happened (Thomas and Mercer) The obituary is an art unto itself, and I am so excited it is being explored by none other than the fantastic Rachel Howzell Hall! Skilled obituary writer Coco Weber is back on Catalina Island, a tiny island paradise off the coast of California. Twenty years before, she was the sole survivor of a terrifying home invasion. But now she’s back–ready to grapple with the bad memories and take care of her Aunt Gwen. Exxxxxxxxcept maybe there’s a serial killer on the island targeting elderly people? Coco begins to wonder… and then one day, she gets a copy of her own obituary in the mail. What! (Note: I wanted to end this blurb with the phrase “special die-livery” but I didn’t want to be fired.) –OR Jessica Ward, The St. Ambrose School for Girls (Gallery) In Jessica Ward’s 90s-set novel, a girl arrives at boarding school ready to stand out in her all-black wardrobe, but hoping to keep her mental health history private. When the queen bee of the school begins to mercilessly pick on her, things escalate quickly, and when a body is found, Ward’s narrator finds herself unable to trust anyone, including herself. Ward treats the subject of bipolar disorder with respect while still crafting a complex psychological thriller. –MO Heather Chavez, Before She Finds Me (Mulholland) Chavez’s latest is an adrenaline-pumping conspiracy thriller pitting one mother against another, both of them connected to an attack on a college campus, both determined to protect their families against the shadowy forces seem to be coalescing around them. –DM Laura Lippman, Prom Mom (William Morrow) I promise you—I swear to you—that Prom Mom means something very different than what you’re thinking! I’m not going to spoil it. I’m just going to say that Laura Lippman’s incredibly layered and tense COVID-era thriller tells multiple stories about its main characters, a man and a woman whose pasts are linked by tragedy and tawdry gossip, and whose current lives are connected by something more powerful: the desire for a second chance. –OR Arianna Reiche, At the End of Every Day (Atria) The second book on this list to be set in a theme park, Arianna Reiche’s gorgeous debut follows a park worker helping dismantle the huge attractions as the park prepares to be moved thousands of miles away. She tries not to question the strange happenings around her, but it seems that people (and animatronic figures) have been disappearing, and it’s been harder and harder to ignore as her world collapses, one packed-up ride at a time. –MO Liz Nugent, Strange Sally Diamond (Gallery/Scout) Sally Diamond has led a quiet life for decades, with her own peculiar habits, without bother. Then her father dies, she burns the corpse in the incinerator, and she becomes an object of much curiosity indeed. Liz Nugent finds much empathy for her strange heroine, whose heartbreaking backstory slowly comes to the fore, interspersed with Sally’s journey from isolation to beloved community member. There’s the usual trademark Liz Nugent disturbing content, but with a heart-felt dose of humanity to balance things out. –MO Chandler Baker, Cutting Teeth (Flatiron) Children can be such little monsters. But monstrous enough to kill their beloved teacher, weeks into a class-wide biting outbreak in which the children appear to have developed a taste for human blood? Baker already impressed me with her #metoo thriller The Whisper Network and her reverse-Stepford Wives take, The Husbands, and with Cutting Teeth, she once again proves herself one of the sharpest and wittiest observers of women’s roles and mothers’ sacrifices. –MO Chuck Tingle, Camp Damascus (Tor Nightfire) So, what if there was a Christian Conversion Camp that always worked…but only via performing some seriously dark magic? And what can a queer kid do to fight back? Chuck Tingle’s new novel, aside from having an awesome tagline (“They’ll scare you straight to hell.”), is a well-crafted and surprisingly moving novel. And certainly quite different from Chuck Tingle’s previous work… –MO May Cobb, A Likeable Woman (Berkley) Austin-based writer May Cobb is back with another sizzling thriller set in the sultry Texas heat. In her latest, a woman who has always wondered about the death of her unpredictable mother finds new answers in a memoir. She returns to her hometown to seek out the truth (and perhaps reconnect with an old flame, or at least have some flirtation in a swimming pool). You’ll tear through this one poolside! Maybe on the beach, while wearing sunglasses…who knows what thoughts of delicious vengeance may be hidden behind sunglasses. –MO Samantha Downing, Twisted Love Story (Berkley) Samantha Downing is one of those rare writers equally focused on character and plotting, and it shows in the twists and turns of her novels, as well as the genuine emotions they evoke in readers. In her latest, an on-again-off-again couple is bound together by a dark secret—and it’s unclear whether it will destroy them or allow them a chance to prove their fully, once and for all. –MO Sarah Rose Etter, Ripe (Scribner) Millennial, anti-capitalist malaise-lit isn’t exactly new at this point, but Ripe, while all of those things, manages to skewer workplace politics and the vacuousness of modern existence in a way that makes it feel like a fresh subject. Cassie works in the classic dead-eyed field of technology in Silicon Valley, each day spent working for a morally-vacant company, each day increasingly severing herself from her true personhood, cleaving herself into two beings: the fake, cheery self at work, and the real self, who does cocaine every night by the light of the refrigerator and feels a black hole devouring herself from her center. Sarah Rose Etter captures the cruel facts of San Francisco well: the dystopia that that eden-like setting has turned into. As Cassie watches the sun set over the water from the train, pink and light and heavenly, a man asks her for a dollar and she refuses. Maybe Etter’s not saying anything radical, but every reminder of the daily cruelties of life in this city (not that it’s just there), and our own complicity in it, is sickening. There’s more to come, more we can’t look away from: things at work take an illegal turn, an unplanned pregnancy occurs, suddenly everything feels very delicate, like one wrong move could shatter the illusion of a life, and the truth is, it probably can. ––Julia Hass, contributing editor Juan Goméz Barcena, Not Even the Dead Translated by Katie Whittemore (Open Letter) Goméz Barcena’s Not Even the Dead is a hallucinatory trip through the frontier days of northern Mexico, as a soldier who agrees to the proverbial ‘one last job’ finds himself on the heels of a supposed heretic who may just be a prophet. The story travels through a vivid, haunting landscape that seems to transcend time. This is a deeply imagined novel and one you won’t soon forget. –DM ___________________________________ AUGUST ___________________________________ Isabel Cañas, Vampires of El Norte (Berkley) I loved Isabel Cañas’ lush, gothic debut, The Hacienda, and I’m psyched for her follow-up, set on the Texas-Mexico border during the 1840s, and featuring two childhood friends (and perhaps soon-to-be lovers) reunited in a battle against the undead. –MO Keith Rosson, Fever House (Random House) What if Courtney Love and her son suddenly came into possession of a demonic severed hand that inspired violent thoughts in all who are near it? That’s the amazingly left-field set-up of Keith Rosson’s Fever House, which, in addition to the aging rocker and her son, features the viewpoints of two enforcers for a crime boss, two feds who work for a secretive government agency studying the occult, and government reports on the esoteric visions of the Angel Michael, held in captivity and slowly declining. The search for the severed hand has several folks on the musician’s trail, but she and her son are ready to get as badass as her lyrics in the 90s in order to defeat them. –MO Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Silver Nitrate (Random House) Both of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s parents worked in radio, so perhaps that’s part of the inspiration behind this bonkers ode to sound engineering and the (literal magical) power of the human voice. Silver Nitrate features a sound editor and a has-been actor as they befriend an elderly icon from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, only to find themselves drawn into a vast conspiracy to harness the magic of the silver screen and bring an occult-obsessed Nazi back from the dead. This book has everything, and I could not recommend it enough! –MO Catherine Chidgey, Pet (Europa) Damn this book is good. Pet is at once a brilliant coming-of-age thriller and a sharp dissection of racism and misogyny in 1980s Australia. When a new teacher comes to town, every girl in class is swooning over her glamor and vying to be her favorite, even when the competition for affection tears lifelong friendships apart. Meanwhile, someone’s been stealing things in the classroom. Little things, but they’re greatly missed. And someone will have to take the blame, because for every pet, there’s a scapegoat. –MO Jamison Shea, I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast Is Me (Henry Holt) In this ballet horror novel, a young ballerina is given a chance at power after a star of the company takes her under her wing. But all power comes at a cost, and this power derives from an ancient source with its own agenda. I’m not sure what it is about dance that lends itself so well to horror—think Black Swan or Suspiria—but add this one to the list of stories that take the bloody feet and brutal precision of the dance world and turn them into visceral horror. –MO Ken Jaworowski, Small Town Sins (Henry Holt) In a tough Pennsylvania town on the precipice, three lives and three stories barrel toward calamity in this debut novel from Ken Jaworowski. Small Town Sins gives us a portrait of modern America in all its dark complexity, as Jaworowski brings insight and empathy to his characters’ struggles, while always maintaining the story’s strong momentum. –DM Naomi Hirahara, Evergreen (Soho) Hirahara’s Clark and Division was one of the more accomplished crime novels in recent memory, and this year she’s following it up with Evergreen, following Aki Ito and her family as they make the journey from Chicago back to California, where they find the Japanese-American community in distress. Evergreen dives into the shadows of Boyle Heights and Little Tokyo to tell a story about one of the darker chapters of American history. With these books focused on the Japanese-American experience of post-WWII America, Hirahara has found a pivotal subject and brought her immense talents to bear. –DM Jesse Q. Sutanto, I’m Not Done With You Yet (Berkley) Man, does Jesse Q. Sutano know how to plot a novel! By God. You know when novels start out by showing how their protagonists have it all: great career, attractive and successful spouses, beautiful homes? This starts out with the complete opposite premise! Jane’s books don’t really sell, she’s got a bland marriage, and she’s stuck paying a mortgage for a house she barely likes. She misses Thalia, a friend from her past; her best friend, her soulmate, whom she hasn’t seen since the horrible, bloody night one decade earlier. Now, though, Thalia has written a book–a book that seems like it could be about that fateful moment, a book that is poised to rocket to #1. And so Jane heads to the book launch, to see her old friend again. Because she’s not done with Thalia. And Thalia, clearly, is not done with her. I told you! What a premise! –OR Lauren Beukes, Bridge (Mulholland) There’s a lot of books out there already about husbands trying to save their wives via other dimensions, but this is the first time I’ve seen a daughter go into other worlds to find her mother. This isn’t just mind-bending scifi; it’s a thriller driven by a frenetic search for both love and answers. Beukes’ trademark balance between horror and thriller, with a focus on character, is on full display in Bridge. –MO Lisa Jewell, None of This Is True (Atria) Lisa Jewell pens yet another dark and twisty psychological thriller, this time, about true crime podcasts, interlopers, and discovering that you’re in the kind of story you once read for entertainment. Imagine if Dead to Me were much, much creepier. –OR Stephen Kearse, Liquid Snakes (Soft Skull) This book has the best tagline: “What if toxic pollutants traveled up the socioeconomic ladder rather than down it?” Kearse weaves together two main stories: a Black biochemist-turned-coffee-shop-owner in mourning for his stillborn daughter, dead because of toxic chemicals leaking into Black neighborhoods, and crafting a toxic revenge plan, and two Black epidemiologists investigating the mysterious death of a high school girl. Liquid Snakes is a compelling dystopian novel that rewards careful reading and uses the structure of a criminal investigation to channel righteous anger and explore weighty questions. –MO David Joy, Those We Thought We Know (Putnam) Joy is back this year with a new novel about a small mountain town in North Carolina and a pair of crimes that resonate through the community. The story follows an artist from Atlanta looking to explore her family roots and the investigation into a presumed vagrant who turns out to be a Klansman on a mission. Joy weaves the stories together and comes out the other side with a richly-layered vision of a small town living through the broader crises of a divided nation increasingly enamored with violence. –DM Temi Oh, More Perfect (Gallery/Saga) More Perfect is a searing dystopian YA version of the tale of Orpheus. Temi Oh has crafted a world in which almost everyone has a “Pulse” installed, a small device that syncs with their brains and allows them to access an augmented reality, but which also can be used for social control and psychological manipulation. Orpheus is a dreamweaver, the son of an anti-tech revolutionary, who heals trauma through his complex dreamscapes. He meets a dancer, they dream together, and then they fall in love. Their cozy idyll is disrupted quickly, however, when Orpheus is accused of future crimes against the Pulse infrastructure. For those of us who remember Feed, this novel is the logical next step to the world M. T. Anderson depicted (which has, in many ways, already come to be).–MO Christine Mangan, The Continental Affair (Flatiron) Mangan has quickly made a name for herself as a purveyor of international mystery with a dash of glamor. Sure enough, The Continental Affair brings us onto a train from Belgrade to Istanbul and into a story that will hop from one lushly recreated locale to the next. A woman on that train is holding a good sum of money; a man on the same train has been sent to collect it. Their stories will take readers down a gauntlet of rich settings and haunting back stories. –DM ___________________________________ SEPTEMBER AND BEYOND ___________________________________ Angie Kim, Happiness Falls (Hogarth) Angie Kim once again combines an intense character study with a searching mystery, this time after her narrator’s husband disappears, and police are interested in quickly pinning it on her nonverbal son. Kim uses the parallel investigations of police and family to explore the complex dynamics of interracial marriage, Asian and biracial identity in America, and the nuances of raising a child with special needs. You’ll want to savor every word as Kim plunges the depths of human action and finds love at the center. –MO Lou Berney, Dark Ride (William Morrow) Berney’s new novel, Dark Ride, introduces readers to an immediately unforgettable character: Hardly Reed, a twenty-one year old stoner working at an amusement park, breezing through life’s various travails when he comes across a pair of kids he suspects of being abused. When Hardly, against all odds and his own inclinations, decides to get involved and try to help the kids, he soon finds himself pitted against a local lawyer who’s also at the helm of a dangerous drug trafficking operation. Berney brings a compelling human touch to a story that grabs hold of the reader early and never lets go. –DM Adam Sass, Your Lonely Nights Are Over (Viking Young Readers) In this delightful YA homage to the slasher, a serial killer is a targeting a school’s queer club, and two besties find themselves ostracized from the club after suspicion falls on them for the murders. They must clear their names, in between going to drive-in movies, settling scores, and occasionally hooking up. Will they solve the murders? Will they end up together? Do I even care who the murderer is when I’m desperate for these two to smash? Anyway, file this one under, Very Fun and Not at All Scary (at least, compared to other slashers). –MO Tananarive Due, The Reformatory (Saga) Tananarive Due is one of the greatest living horror writers, and her new book blends her signature style with an exploration into a very personal trauma: Due’s great-uncle was one of many Black children harmed by the Florida reform school known as the Dozier School for Boys, and The Reformatory takes readers into the nightmare that was the school circa 1950. Sure to be as powerful as it is haunting. –MO Jessica Knoll, Bright Young Women (S&S/MarySue Rucci) Jessica Knoll is a careful writer, and this, her third novel, is a perfect match for her cold dissection of social mores and her fierce rage at misogyny. Knoll takes on the story of Ted Bundy, told from the perspective of a student who survives a horrific attack on a sorority house. She then must fight to preserve her sisters’ dignity and get the truths of their last moments as the world around them fetishizes their killer and attempts to make jokes of their deaths. Some may claim that the crime genre is rift with misogyny; those people have not read Jessica Knoll. She tears apart the restrictive world of women’s roles and lays bare the purpose of such hobbles: to keep women from making a scene, to keep them from seeking justice, and most of all, to keep them from seeking their own lives. –MO Jonathan Lethem, Brooklyn Crime Novel (Ecco) Lethem’s return to the Brooklyn crime novel brings a wild, exuberant ambition that pays off and delivers to readers a true achievement: a book at once full of art and grace and mystery. The book’s backward-looking gaze takes up a half-century of history in one neighborhood, as we see the porous borders between what’s remembered and what was, with criminals and hustles providing all the misdirection needed for a truly astonishing effect. Lethem proves again why he is a master of the form. –DM View the full article
  12. As a native New Yorker, I can recall the first time I walked down the wild streets of Times Square with my mom in 1972. I was a nine year old nerd and the spectacles of “Da Deuce” (meaning the Times Square area, not the HBO series) scared me to death. There were numerous sex shops, strip clubs, hookers and porn theaters as well as crews of drug dealers, pimps and sidewalk crazies. However, a decade later, I couldn’t get enough of the peep palaces (it was all about Show World), dive bars and massive movie theaters that showed double features of kung-fu, Blaxploitation and a few strange ones like Faces of Death. In my newest noir short story “Escape-ism,” recently published in Get Up Offa That Thing: Crime Stories Inspired by James Brown edited by Gary Phillips (Down & Out Books), I wrote about life in 1988 Times Square back when the sleaze, smut and other vices were in full effect. A “Deuce” tale as seen through the eyes of a young Puerto Rican immigrant named Ferrara Pérez living in a dangerous welfare hotel on 43rd Street and 8th Avenue. The story is partially based on my years working and hanging-out in the area. Back in the late 1980s I worked at Catherine Street homeless shelter and occasionally put in overtime hours at the Times Square Hotel. Though I changed the name of the hotel to the Lafayette Hotel, the memory of the Times Square Hotel still haunts me 35-years after I was last there. Built in 1922, the hotel has a storied history that includes originally being constructed to house single men (Hotel Claman for Men, perhaps constructed for seamen, dock men and railroad workers) to a glamorous address in the 1940s, when there was much dancing and drinking in the marble ballroom, to a broken down mess in the 1980s. Across the street was the infamous bar Sally’s Hideaway II and the rotting building where I’d taken a writing class a few years before. Owned by Tran Dinh Truong, who was the town’s worst SRO hotel slumlord, the building was one of the most hideous I’d ever been inside. According to Truong’s 2014 obituary in the New York Times, “He took over management of the 735-room Times Square Hotel on West 43rd Street over objections from tenants and city officials. At the Times Square Hotel, Mr. Tran collected rents as high as $2,640 per month from the city to house homeless families, even as the number of health and safety and building code violations climbed past 1,500. City inspectors said they saw drug dealers and heard gunshots in the halls.” From the moment I walked through the door, the former luxury hotel was bleak, dark and scary as a Scorsese scene in Taxi Driver. The smell was overpowering, there was obvious drug dealing and use (this was also the height of the crack epidemic), dim lighting throughout the building, overflowing trash cans, bugs and young kids playing in the dirtiest hallways I’d ever seen. During my shift that first night, the security guard showed me the old ballroom with its marble pillars and floor that reminded me of a ballroom from a Cornell Woolrich novel. Writer Olivia Laing also wrote about staying at the Times Square Hotel in her essay “The Magic Box,” a piece about artist David Wojnarowicz. During the ‘80s there were a few other welfare hotels throughout the city including The Martinique (perhaps the worst), The Carter, which Truong also owned, and The Brooklyn Arms; though there were numerous articles written about the homeless shelters and welfare hotels, the conditions in those places stayed dire for decades. Though I’ve seen books written about those abysmal abodes (one of the best being Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America by Jonathan Kozol), I’ve never seen them portrayed in fiction, which was what I attempted to do in realistic detail in “Escape-ism.” Novelist Arthur Nersesian, whose book Suicide Casanova (2002) is set in Times Square, says, “My uncle’s law office was on 43rd and 8th Avenue, so I was over there often. I remember when it started to change and the porn machines that were once in the back of the stores were moved to the front.” Nersesian went to his first peep show when he was 17 with a friend who later became a minister. “It was like its own crazy little world over there.” A few years later he moved into a building on 8th Avenue. “The building was called the Camelot,” Nersesian continues, “but everybody called it the Cum-A-Lot because so many hookers lived there. We had a studio apartment that cost $350 a month, but it was hard on my girlfriend, because she got harassed a lot.” Living across the street from the porn movie house the Adonis Theater, he often stayed up all-night working on fiction and would turn-in around the same time as the hookers. “After two years, my girlfriend eventually moved back to Oregon and I moved to the East Village where I still live.” Author Josh Alan Friedman knows that world all too well. As the author of Tales of Times Square (1986), one of my favorite texts about the Deuce, the former Screw (a notorious sex newspaper published by Al Goldstein) writer moved to the city from Long Island when he was sixteen and immediately found his way to Times Square where he would eventually lose his virginity. “There was an elevator man in my building named Ray who showed me around. All the elevator guys spent their money on hookers and horse races, but that particular night I went by myself and walked up 8th Avenue for three hours until I finally got up the nerve to approach someone. She looked like Elizabeth Taylor, but she had no idea how pretty she was, most of the women on that scene didn’t. “We went to a fleabag called the Sherman Hotel, where it was $10.00 for the room. It was like the loneliest room you ever saw, with a sagging bed, groans from the room and a window that looked out on a brick wall or a neon sign. It was like something from a film noir.” Although Friedman visits New York City regularly, he has lived in Texas with his wife since 1987. Currently he is working on a Tales from Times Square podcast compiled from interviews he conducted more than thirty years ago. “My podcast ‘Tales Of…’ features some of Time Square’s unsung heroes including former Hawaii Kai doorman Pee Wee Marquette, who was my first subject.” Mike Edison was also a writer for Screw in the ‘80s, a correspondent whose job it was to go to various porn places and theaters, and to ensure the listings section was up-to-date. It was part of that experience that would inspire him to pen Dirty! Dirty! Dirty!: Of Playboys, Pigs, and Penthouse Paupers—An American Tale of Sex and Wonder (2011), but his first foray into Times Square was to play the two Elton John pinball machines at Playland. “The place was strictly an arcade,” he recalls. “There were low-level crimes in Playland, but mostly kids went there to have fun playing skee ball and stuff like that. There were also a lot of music instrument stores on 48th Street. There was a place called We Buy Guitars, which was like a guitar pawn shop. I got some great pieces there.” Working for Screw owner/publisher Al Goldstein, the man who put porn classic Deep Throat on the map, also had its perks. “They say that thanks to Hugh Heffner you needed a Lamborghini to get laid, but thanks to Al Goldstein you could get a blowjob for $50.00,” Edison says. “Screw was a guide to finding sex in New York City, and I had to do my rounds and visit all of those places. My friends were horrified, but I loved it. Believe me, I’m not nostalgic for crime, but it’s heartbreaking what Times Square has become. I suppose if you think about it, it’s heartbreaking what the whole city has become.” While I was one of the original whiners when Times Square was gentrified in the 1990s, I’ve found movies to be the perfect time machine to transport me to the sleazy old days. Most recently I’ve seen two great ones on Tubi: Report to the Commissioner (1975) and Fear City (1985), with the latter named after an infamous pamphlet published a decade before intended to scare tourists out of visiting the city. Directed by Abel Ferrara, it inspired me so much that I gave my protagonist his surname. Back in the day my homie Paul Price was a student at the old Printing High School located on 49th/50th between 9th and 10th Avenue. He remembers the area well. “I’d be passing hookers as they were leaving the stroll,” he says. “New York was dirty. There was broken glass and dog shit everywhere, it was just grimy. The sex places never carded anyone and I can remember going to a live sex show with my boys. It was like a theater in the round with a rotating stage. Men were just sitting there staring at a guy in dirty sweat socks having sex with a woman. It was crazy.” Brilliant graphic artist Guy Gonzales was one of those dirty sock guys back in the ‘80s. We were first introduced in 1996 when he illustrated my feature on Clive Davis for Vibe magazine. He had a love for Mad magazine, the comic art of Jack Davis and Blaxploitation films. In addition he had drawn a few covers for Screw, which was known for using comic book artists including Wally Wood, Spain Rodriguez and R. Crumb. Guy and I also shared a passion for actress Pam Grier, whose early films were Times Square constants. “Pam Grier goes back to the reason that I discovered Times Square,” Gonzales recalls. He made the iconic beauty the subject of two Screw covers. “When I was a student at Art & Design, a friend brought me to the Deuce for the first time to see Friday Foster. We either went to the Harris or the Liberty, but that small taste of Times Square left me wanting for more.” Yet, while most of the men I knew had simply been peep patrons, Guy was the first person I met who had actually had a career in that hellish hood at the height of its wickedness. Beginning in 1982, the same year I began hanging-out there, Gonzales got a job mopping jizz from the booths at Show World; six months later, he was performing live sex shows on the small stage. “I did eight shows a day at twenty-minute intervals, so I got very good at fucking,” Guy laughs. As Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince songs blared in the background, the former art student soon transformed into a Show World stud. “I was in my early 20s and really horny; I developed rhythm and self-control, so I didn’t shoot my load too quickly. It was all about keeping the customers happy as they fed the machines and stared through the Plexiglas.” It didn’t take long for the once innocent kid to embark on a three-year journey as he consorted with booth babes, drug addicts, Mafia hoods and other fringe folks who populated his small world in Times Square. “I really didn’t think much about my drawings or paintings during that period. With the exception of the art of self-destruction, I didn’t think much about art at all.” Although AIDS was first introduced during Guy’s tenure in Times Square, none of the booth boys wore condoms. “AIDS wasn’t an issue, because the media reported that only Haitians and gay men could catch the disease, and I was neither. Truthfully, I didn’t think I had anything to worry about.” It was also during this time that crack came on the scene. Within a few short years Gonzales’ world went from terrific to tragic. “Most of the girls I knew went bye-bye from suicide, murder, disease or ODing. Although I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything, the truth is it didn’t end very nicely.” Although it’s been more than thirty years since Guy Gonzales left Show World for the world of visual arts, he has no regrets about his former life. “All the sleaze that was my Times Square years was absorbed and is now channeled into my art. We all have a sense of darkness, and for me the old Times Square was the perfect release.” Hopefully one day Gonzales will find a publisher for his life on the Deuce memoir Peep Man. Today the Times Square Hotel is operated by Breaking Ground, an organization that has transformed the building from the hellhole I depicted in “Escape-ism” to a decent dwelling housing hundreds. Though the streets of Times Square aren’t as wild as they once were, they still feel as though anything can happen at any time. For more tales of Da Deuce check out “Live Girls, Lonely Boys” View the full article
  13. A look at the most notable nonfiction crime books from the spring. * Mark Bowden, Life Sentence (Atlantic) “A scorching true-crime narrative. . . Bowden pulls no punches in his indictment of the ways in which the richest country in the world has allowed Black children for decades to be born into blighted urban neighborhoods, and saddled them with burdens that they must struggle to surmount to lead meaningful lives. This account of ‘young men growing up in a place where murderous violence has become a way of life’ will haunt readers long after they finish it.”—Publishers Weekly David Grann, The Wager (Doubleday) “’The Wager’ is a soaring literary accomplishment and seductive adventure tale… enthralling, seamlessly crafted… ‘The Wager’ then, is an accomplishment as vividly realized and ingeniously constructed as Grann’s previous work, on par with Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm. Welcome a classic.” –Minneapolis Star Tribune Timothy Egan, Fever in the Heartland (Viking) “Powerful . . . As a narrative, ‘A Fever in the Heartland’ is gripping; as a rumination on the moral obscenity of white supremacy — whatever guises it wears — the book is damning.” —The New York Times Book Review Gabrielle Paluch, The Opium Queen (Rowman and Littlefield) “When investigative journalist Paluch worked as a reporter for a government-censored newspaper in Myanmar (formerly Burma), she learned of Jin Xiu “Olive” Yang, a near-mythical opium warlord…The author uncovers many details: Yang used she/her pronouns but male honorifics, such as Uncle Olive; her family forced her to marry her cousin and bear a child; she left her husband and had women lovers; she used her influence as the member of a noble family to make her opium-trade fortune; and she helped negotiate a handshake-ceasefire in Kokang. This well-written, well-researched book portrays a central figure who never quite emerges from her shroud of legend.” –Library Journal Lisa Belkin, Genealogy of a Murder (Norton) “[Belkin] masterfully builds hand-wringing anticipation…. [and] creates an impressive work of in-depth narrative journalism that artfully conveys the countless paths a life can follow and exposes the instinctual human desire for alternative endings. An absorbing, thought-provoking inquiry into what it means to change and defy the odds.” –Kirkus Review View the full article
  14. I was born in the Bronx, N.Y. to a Cuban father and a Puerto Rican mother. We lived in a Spanish–speaking neighborhood, but just before I turned four, we moved to a small town in New Jersey. That was in the early 1950s, and, as far as I know, we were the only Latin family for miles around. I was raised mostly among Irish and Italians and spoke only English. I became a newspaper journalist, and in the early 1990s I moved to Florida to work as a reporter for The Miami Herald. At that point, I had lived for years in Mexico and in Central America—where I was a foreign correspondent—and had relearned Spanish. Along the way, I published three stand-alone crime novels but wanted to embark on a series. I forged a plan to learn enough about Miami and South Florida—especially its various Latin American and Caribbean populations—to write a series of detective novels set in those communities. My protagonist would be a Cuban American former police detective turned private investigator. I decided that the first book should be about the Cuban exile population, the largest of the immigrant communities in the region and the most politically and economically dominant. But what to write? Neither my upbringing nor my previous journalistic experience had taught me much of anything about Cuba, certainly not what I would need to know to write a novel. Of course, I was absorbing a certain amount of “Cubanía”—Cubanness—just by living in Miami, but that had not yet provided me with an idea for a book. Then fate stepped in. The city editor at the Herald assigned me cover the Cuban community full time, including its culture and rowdy politics. I was reporting one story or another months later when I first heard mention of an episode in Cuban exile history called “Los Niños Pedro Pan”—in English, “the Peter Pan kids.” I did research in the newspaper’s library and found that soon after Fidel Castro and his followers took power in Cuba in 1959, some families started smuggling their children out of the country. They were afraid that Castro, who was forming close relations with the Soviet Union, would start sending their kids to schools in Moscow or otherwise indoctrinate them in communist ideology. With the help of the Catholic Church and foreign diplomats, children were provided with false travel visas and placed on planes leaving Cuba to the U.S. Because they were minors flying by themselves, they became known, secretly, as the Peter Pan kids. I learned that more than 14,000 children—ages 6 to 17—had been smuggled out of Cuba in that way during the early 1960s, before the Cuban government cracked down. Some lived with relatives already in the U.S., but many grew up in foster homes and orphanages for years while negotiators tried to win their parents the right to leave the island. I interviewed the Catholic priest who ran the camp in Miami where the children first arrived, Monsignor Bryan Walsh, and he led me to many of the ”kids,” now grown. I heard first-hand of their fears, their anguish about their parents and their resilience. A plot took hold in my mind: the story of one of those kids—Roberto Player—whose parents were murdered in Cuba before they could reunite with him in the U.S. and his unrelenting search for their killer or killers. I decided Roberto’s parents had been casino owners and that led me to other invented characters who were present in Cuba at the time and who might have had dealings with the murdered couple. They included members of the Italian Mafia, who had helped run the gambling industry in Cuba under the previous government and were kicked out by Castro. (The lead Miami mafioso, Cosimo “Cozy” Costanza, is one of my favorite characters in the book.) Also playing roles are a secret agent for the Castro government who worked as a croupier in the Players’ casino and later defected to Miami; a former Cuban showgirl, a legendary beauty from the legendary days of Cuban nightlife; a man who was the most effete of playboys in old Havana but later became a uncompromising anti-Castro guerrilla leader; and a CIA agent who had worked undercover out of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, and also got to know the Players. My detective, Willie Cuesta, is hired by Roberto’s fiancée to keep him from getting killed. Why the surname Cuesta? Because many years ago I read an article about Dashiell Hammett and how he had wanted to turn the character of the private investigator into a modern version of knights errant, who in medieval times went on “quests” to slay dragons and rescue damsels in distress. The moment I remembered that anecdote, the Spanish surname Cuesta popped into my head, and moments later Willie Cuesta was born. From the get-go, he has proven to be compassionate, good humored, resourceful and, yes, valiant. I have subsequently published four other novels and a volume of short stories featuring Willie. Another novel will, hopefully, be out next year. But it all started with Player’s Vendetta. This was Willie’s first quest. It’s back in front of the public in a new edition from my publisher Arte Publico, and I hope folks enjoy it. *** View the full article
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