27 August 2008

One more for the road

038 Deadly Beloved, Max Allan Collins, new original 2007
039 A Diet of Treacle, Lawrence Block, reprint 1961 (I haven't read this one, I'm saving it because I know it'll be good!)
040 Money Shot, Christa Faust, new original 2008, great read, superb Orbik cover
041 Zero Cool, John Lange, reprint 1969 (have not read)
042 Spiderweb/Shooting Star, reprints 1954 and 1958
043 The Murderer Vine, Shepard Rifkin, reprint 1970
044 Somebody Owes Me Money, Donald E. Westalke, reprint 1969
045 No House Limit, Steve Fisher, reprint 1958
046 Baby Moll, John Farris, reprint 1958 (have not read)
047 The Max, Ken Bruen and Jason Starr, new original 2008 (next on the reading list!)

The tally? 3 newbies and 7 oldies.

The final score? 31 reprints and 16 new originals.

26 August 2008

Two six-packs

037 Slide, Ken Bruen and Jason Starr, new original 2007
036 Dead Street, Mickey Spillane, new original 2007
035 Kill Now, Pay Later, Robert Terrall, reprint 1960
034 Fright, Cornell Woolrich, reprint 1950
033 Songs of Innocence, Richard Aleas, new original 2007
032 Blackmailer, George Axelrod, reprint 1952

A 50-50 spilt--3 new, 3 old. Slide continues where Bust left off, and is equally brilliant, if not better.

031 The Wounded and the Slain, David Goodis, reprint 1955
030 The Vengeful Virgin, Gil Brewer, reprint 1958 (I have not read this one!)
029 Robbie's Wife, Russell Hill, new original 2007
028 Lucky at Cards, Lawrence Block, reprint 1964
027 The Peddler, Richard S. Prather, reprint 1952
026 Grave Descend, John Lange, reprint 1970

Only 1 new in this bunch, a great collection of oldies. "John Lange," I understand, is a nom de plume for Michael Crichton. David Goodis really is a master, there's nothing else in the series quite like The Wounded and the Slain. The Glenn Orbik cover art is also masterful--he's done my favorites in the series, and that is saying a lot. All the covers have been spectacular and heavyweights like Robert McGinnis and Gregory Manchess are tough competition.

Score so far: 24 reprints, 13 new originals.

25 August 2008

Next set

014 The Girl with the Long Green Heart, Lawrence Block, reprint 1965
015 The Gutter and the Grave, Ed McBain, reprint 1958
016 Night Walker, Donald Hamilton, reprint 1954
017 A Touch of Death, Charles Williams, reprint 1953
018 Say It with Bullets, Richard Powell, reprint 1953
019 Witness to Myself, Seymour Shubin, new original 2006
020 Bust, Ken Bruen and Jason Starr, new original 2006
021 Straight Cut, Madison Smartt Bell, reprint 1986
022 Lemons Never Lie, Richard Stark, reprint 1971
023 The Last Quarry, Max Allan Collins, new original 2006
024 The Guns of Heaven, Pete Hamill, reprint 1983
025 The Last Match, David Dodge, newly published 1973 novel

Hmmm. The Collins is based on older short stories, but I'll call it a "newbie." The Dodge is technically new, but I'm counting it as an "oldie," since it was written over thirty years ago. That gives us three new and nine old.

The score after 25 books: 16 to 9 in favor of the "classics." My faves? The Stark (Westlake) and Block are hard to beat. The consistent excellence of those two always amazes me. But the Starr-Bruen creation, Bust, is one of the funniest and most twisted books I've ever read. Those two are sick. And hilarious. A real highlight of the entire collection. I liked the Shubin as well, but it is an entirely different kettle of fish from Bust.

Baker's dozen

Here's a look at the first 13 from Hard Case Crime:

001 Grifter's Game, Lawrence Block, reprint 1961
002 Fade to Blonde, Max Phillips, new original 2004
003 Top of the Heap, Erle Stanley Garnder, reprint 1952
004 Little Girl Lost, Richard Aleas, new original 2004
005 Two for the Money, Max Allan Collins, re-packaged reprints 1973 & 1981, some new material from 2004
006 The Confession, Domenic Stansberry, new original 2004
007 Home is the Sailor, Day Keene, reprint 1952
008 Kiss Her Goodbye, Allan Guthrie, new original 2005
009 361, Donald E. Westlake, reprint 1962
010 Plunder of the Sun, David Dodge, reprint 1949
011 Branded Woman, Wade Miller, reprint 1952
012 Dutch Uncle, Peter Pavia, new original 2005
013 The Colorado Kid, Stephen King, new original 2005

I will count the Collins as a reprint. The score so far? Six new, seven old. We'll take a look at the next dozen in a later post. HCC-047 is on my shelf right now. I've read all but five--I wanted to get "caught up" this summer but indulged in lots of other books as well and didn't quite make it.

Of this group, the highlights for me were the Block and Westlake of course, and the Guthrie. Kiss Her Goodbye was a terrific read, and the Scotland setting made it even more fun. Of the other new ones, I would probably pick the Pavia.

23 August 2008

Maybe a dozen

That's how many of the Hard Case Crime series are new originals. There's been Richard Aleas' two, Bruen & Starr's three, the Christa Faust, the Stephen King, some Max Allan Collins, Allan Guthrie, and Russell Hill. The rest, unless I missed one, are reprints of older novels. Fine by me, I enjoy much of the work of the "old masters," especially Lawrence Block and Donald E. Westlake. It makes me wonder if classic noir is just that--classic. The style, tone, pace and "vibe" of those tough, hard-hitting crime and punishment stories appeal to me, and I like it when 21st century writers pull off something like them in 21st century settings. It proves that noir isn't dead, just under new managment. Robbie's Wife shows us that the New School produces great fiction as well. There's a bit of a bio for Russell Hill on the Amazon page for the book. Otherwise I can't seem to find much about him. Regardless, the book is a slow, meandering starter, and a strong, pulse-pounding finisher. It is subtle in its use of violence, relying on psychological suspense and character development instead. I found it to be one of the best of the bunch. It takes place in England in 2001, the very summer of our first trip there. Mr. Hill sets you in the middle of Devon farm country, lulls you into a what seems a simple melodrama, then pulls the rug out in neat bait-and-switch. Then you're hooked. A fine read, I hope we get more from our mysterious author.

16 August 2008

Pen >> Sword

I put together a new piece for Out of the Gutter. Seems they want to put out a fifth issue, and they are having a contest. My new story is only 1000 words, and it is my weirdest and sickest yet. I took some chances with the tone and style, we'll see if it works. It is called "The Principle Thing." I'll find out if they like it by the 1st of September. Wish me luck.

15 August 2008

TV noir

We've recently enjoyed DVDs of the original TV series Danger Man with Patrick MacGoohan. The first few episodes were a little dated and clunky, but then the writers seemed to hit their collective strides and the show's pace and dramatic intensity took off. MacGoohan is terrific of course, thoroughly hard-boiled, though not quite pulling off an American accent. "John Drake" is a tightly wound fellow, very principled and patriotic, but a man of action and, as the title suggests, absolutely fearless. The show is more spy-vs.-spy than anything, pre-dating both James Bond and Mission: Impossible, but I classify it as noir because of MacGoohan's straight-faced, laconic, and utterly stoic interpretation of the action hero. John Drake lacks the cynicism of classic noir anti-heroes, but he's willing to bend the rules to help a damsel-in-distress or right a wrong. He's also a realist--he knows that even the good guys can have evil and corruption lurking in the corridors of power. The show later morphed into Secret Agent. MacGoohan, of course, made the unique and original The Prisoner series, and starred in many films. My favorites? His very noir-ish bad guy in the wonderful Wilder/Pryor vehicle Silver Streak, and the brooding intelligence operative in the smart, tense thriller Ice Station Zebra (with Rock Hudson and Jim Brown).

13 August 2008


Tomorrow I begin my 25th year of teaching. Actually, I just go to work. The students don't arrive until Monday. Today is my 250th post here at TPP. Today's topic? Teacher's. The whisky, that is. They call this Glasgow blend Highland Cream Scotch Whisky, an unusual appellation. I don't associate "cream" with whisky, though "creamy" is certainly a positive atttribute for an alcoholic spirit. This is a delicious whisky, in fact, demonstrating that not all good scotches have to be singles. I was impressed with the bright, full, malty mouthfeel on this drink, surprisingly warm and flavorful. I say "surprisingly" because we single malt fans tend to think only single malts can have a rich taste. Teacher's was a gift from my pal John B, who is an old codger and a drinking buddy. Alas, he' s on the wagon these days, in his new assisted-care home the booze is verboten. Just as well, he had a stroke and the drink will probably put him down for the count rather than help his recovery. I figure that's why he gave me the whisky, because he wasn't going to get a chance to enjoy it. Besides, he's a gin man. Some day, if I live that long, I might have to give my booze to someone who can still drink it. No sense dying with full bottles, eh? Booze keeps--that's one of the best things about it. Ideally, I'll be sippin' good whisky (or whiskey) on my death bed. It is, after all, the "water of life."

Now I'll expect y'all to raise a glass of good stuff to teachers everywhere. No one ever drinks to teachers. Teachers and drinking are not usually lumped together. I sure appreciate drinking after a day of teaching, but that 's not the point. The point is, no one ever drinks to teachers. Now that you've read this, you can go out and actually drink Teacher's, not just drink to teachers. You knew I had to work that in, didn't you? One item I found interesting at Teacher's was the bit about the Finger Print, that is, the malt most responsible for the blend's qualities. Much like Chivas Regal is built upon Strathisla, Teacher's shows the imprint of Ardmore. Now that one is a single I'll have to find. They claim to be the only Highland distillery left that peats its own malt. This makes an intriguing side-by-side tasting idea: match the foundation malt with the blend. Blind taste the single, then pick the blend. Would that be easier than trying the blend and matching the single? Hmmm. Seems like an experiment is in order. OK class, get to work!

Slàinte mhath!

11 August 2008

Can you dig it?

Isaac Hayes went to the great soul band in the sky yesterday. I tuned in to KPOO's live stream from San Francisco, and the regular Monday nine-to-noon DJ--Marilynn Fowler (The Power of Blues Compels You)--was naturally paying tribute to the the late Mr. Hayes. One of the highlights was a live version of his signature tune, Theme from SHAFT. John Shaft, naturally, is as hardboiled as they come. Isaac Hayes was so damn soulful that he could bring funky rhythms to noir! DJ Marilynn closed her set with "It's Too Late," the Carole King tune, a live version by the man of the hour. Many of the greats of the 60's and 70's pop music scene are getting long in the tooth. Some of them--like Hayes--are the last links to the heyday of soul and r & b. Ray Charles died four years ago, Lou Rawls and Ruth Brown died in 2006, and Bo Diddley died earlier this year. A rich legacy of African-American music, tunes and grooves that are the warp and weft of our cultural fabric, is heading for history's dustbin. Judge, KPOO's noon-to-four man (Soul Radio), took over the mic and is continuing the tribute. Just heard "Disco Freak" from 1976! Not many places left in our corporate-, brand name-, strip mall-, chain store-, global market-, satellite TV-world for small-time radio and real DJs who actually have playlists and pick their own musical vibe. Funny how it takes this gigantic high-tech corporate/government multi-billion dollar enterprise (the internet) to help the "little guy" stay viable in the 21st century.

Right on.

10 August 2008

We're Only In It For The Money

We're Only In It For The Money is one of those records you play for someone when they say "who is Frank Zappa?" or "I've never heard any of that guy's music" or "is his stuff any good?" The album cover instructs you to read Franz Kafka's In the Penal Colony before you listen. I didn't, I'll admit, but I had read it, so I figured that was OK. I did however, read the story again after I spent some time grooving to the record. It is quite an adventure--there is nothing like FZ's music, and the early Mothers of Invention records still hold up 40-odd years later.

Earlier this year I wrote about the Lagunitas Brewing Company and their beer and bottle label tribute to Mr. Zappa. This summer the 4th in their series, the aforementioned WOIINFTM, hit the shelves. Of course we picked it up for quaffing. And for the collection. My lovely bride had the original LPs when I met her (she turned me on to this music). We've got the re-released re-mastered CDs. Why wouldn't we have the bottles for the French Street Brewery collection?

Alas, excitement was tempered by the actual brew. I'm one of the only craft brewers and microbrew drinkers who has NOT been bitten by the Belgian bug. I made some pretty funky brews in my early days as a beer-crafter. Stuff would come out with an over-the-top bitterness, a harsh, acidic carbonation, a rotted, cellary cheese flavor, and a deep musty-yeasty smell. It was like old socks had been tossed in the fermenter. I finally figured out that some souring bacteria had violated my carboy, or the fermenting temperatures had encouraged some off-flavors, or some other technical flaw had occurred in the process. Nowadays, with Belgian ales being "the heighth of fashion," brewers WANT THOSE FLAVORS. I was dumping the shit out! It may have been an acceptable flavor to a Belgian, but not to me. Those beers did not taste the way I intended them to taste. I've got no beef with Belgians, or their unique, complex, and fascinating approach to beer-making. But when beer tastes like a locker room, I'm not interested in drinking it. When we were in Holland, we had a chance to taste some Belgian beers. Some were lovely, some were passable, some tasted like moldy cardboard or rotten yogurt. Lagunitas' WOIIFTM tastes just like those old failed brews of mine from when I was a pup brewer. Needless to say, we dumped it. Sorry, fellas. I love your IPA and your tributes to FZ. But I'm not tuned in to the Belgian vibe.

09 August 2008

Going for the gold

Summer is a great time to drink golden beers. My favorite this year is Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager. Our local pub has kept it on draft for the last several weeks, and I have done my best to make it worth their while! I've also picked it up at the store in bottles. Lovely brew, crisp, light, thirst-quenching, full-flavored. I love the beer from Sierra Nevada. It hit the shelves the same year I became of legal drinking age. The stuff is "mother's milk" to me. Another stalwart in the microbrew scene for many years has been Alaskan Brewing Company. Their Kölsch-style Summer Ale is a smooth, slightly sweet, very drinkable brew. Rounding out the trifecta is Mission Street Blonde Ale from Steinhaus in Paso Robles. Never heard of these guys before, can't seem to find them on the web. The beer was the lightest of the three, lacking the Summerfest's complexity and the Summer Ale's fruity character. I quaffed them greedily, nonetheless. T'anks to sister-in-law Amy for stocking up on them prior to our arrival. Lots of the people in my life are not beer drinkers, but the nearest and dearest of them make an effort to pack the fridge in anticipation of our visits. God Bless You All.

08 August 2008

08-08-08? Feh!

The Olympics are here. Boooooooooooooooooooooooooring!

Other than Giants prospect Nate Schierholz playing on the USA baseball team, I have zero interest in this spectacle. Synchronized swimming? Beach volleyball? Is this a joke? And what's this about REMOVING softball? What, not enough time for kayaking? Give it up. This is the most expensive put-on in history. I'd be interested in stuff like tae-kwan-do and Graeco-Roman wrestling, but Americans want to see basketball. Like there isn't enough damn basketball in the world. And soccer (er, football). Didn't we just suffer through the damn World Cup and the Euro Cup? Not enough, eh? And how about tennis? Wimbledon just doesn't cut it anymore, I guess.

And don't get me started on China. And that pompous ass Bob Costas. And Pepsi-fucking-cola. Read Dave Zirin and get back to me.

07 August 2008

Even THESE guys think this way

What do you think when you hear RAND Corporation? Do you think "serious Establishment geeks?" How about "conservative think-tank?" I doubt very seriously that you conjure up "liberal elites" or "out-of-touch eggheads" or "radical anti-Americans" or "un-patriotic intellectuals."

That's because these guys ARE serious, ARE conservative, ARE Establishment and most certainly ARE NOT "un-patriotic." They are smart. They do research. They are paid to think. Paid with your tax dollars.

Here is their website. Go visit. Come back and tell me if you think these guys are full of shit.

Here's why: they recently released a report that said, in essence, that the War on Terror is failing. Yeah, that's right. It isn't working and it won't work. That's what the RAND Corporation said. Not me. Not some "liberal elite" or some "wimpy Democrat" or some "hippie peacenik." The fookin' RAND Corporation.

Don't believe me? Read the fecking report.

News release 7/29.

Summary (pdf) here.

Full report (pdf) here.

Have a nice day.

06 August 2008

Sick & Twisted

Snot mixed with blood exploded from their nostrils and their caps flew off behind, suddenly filled with fragments of their skulls and pasty gray brain matter streaked with capillaries like gobs of putty finely laced with red ink.

Out of the Gutter, perhaps? Hunter S. Thompson? Dawn of the Dead? David Cronenberg?

Sorry. None of the above. The quote is from a short story called "Prediction" by the incomparable CHESTER HIMES. (Wikipedia entry here.) Like a lot of the noir masters, Mr. Himes was misunderstood and under-appreciated during his lifetime. With the benefit of historical distance, readers like me can enjoy this man's searing honesty, brutal realism, and terrific story-telling. He is best known for the Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones novels (like The Real Cool Killers) and the movies (Cotton Comes to Harlem) those spawned. I just finished the long (60 stories, 420+ pages) Collected Stories (Thunder's Mouth Press, 1990). Like any collection, the pieces vary in quality. These span a period from 1933 to 1978, and reflect much of what Himes experienced as a convict, an African-American, and an ex-patriate. Mostly what holds them together is his insight into character and motivation, as well as his unwillingness to pull punches. Himes shines a bright light on to everything he looks at, and reports back with a graceful balance of detachment and passion. Great stuff.

(There's a nice piece by Michael Marsh on Himes' life and work here.)

05 August 2008

Double Boxcars

My dad always referred to a roll of double sixes as "boxcars." Yesterday, in honor of the 24th anniversary of my marriage, I picked up two of my favorite 12-year old whiskies. One is a whisky:

That's right--Canandian Club "Classic 12." This is a rich, full-flavored treat. And you can't get it in California. Don't ask why. Corporate marketing is like the Old Testament--you think you should know something about it, but everyone you ask just gives you a bunch of bullshit and talks to you like you're a child. But nevermind. I can get to Oregon right quick and get some if I need it. This whisky is unique--bright and spicy, malty sweet, clean finish--and doesn't really compare to other Canadians. I like it.

The other is a whiskey:

A bourbon, in fact. My favorite kind of whiskey. This is "desert island" stuff: complex flavor profile but smooth and easy-drinking. 94 proof, too! Yes, Elijah Craig 12-year old doesn't get noticed, but it ought to. This is a Bardstown, Kentucky outfit. Evan Williams is in their lineup as well. The parent company is Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc. Their master bourbon distillers are all members of the Beam family. It is funny that bourbon, a uniquely American drink, is made by a select elite, almost a bourbon royalty. If your grand-daddy's grand-daddy didn't make bourbon, you are a nobody. The emphasis on bloodline is a Southern trait, something you also see in New England. Here in California, we could give a shit. Our governor was born in Austria, our Senators are both Jewish, and 57% of our residents are ethnic minorities. Even Scotland didn't generate the same sense of clique-ishness regarding their whisky-making as our beloved Kentuckians. But it works, eh? I mean, those good ol' boys make a superior drink. So it is OK, my friends, don't fix it, it ain't broke.

Just keep bottling those spirits. I'll keep buying.

Happy annivesary, sweetheart. Glad you like whisk(e)y, too.

03 August 2008

Mal de México

You can see my entry for the 6th day (7 July) in Oaxaca: SHIT HAPPENS. Indeed. One of the most common consequences for nortes in México is the so-called "Traveler's Diarrhea."

Page 37 of my log:

lunes, siete de julio

1045 I woke up feeling crappy and then had a serious attack of the mal de México, Moctezuma's Revenge, las turistas.

And here's a bit later (page 39):

1725 I have been bed-ridden all day. Drinking water, had some pepto. Tried to sleep.

My lovely bride managed to avoid the bug, but she is like that. Careful, precise, detail-oriented, hardly ever gets sick. I had been soaking my toothbrush in mezcal--really! I kept forgetting and rinsing it off with the verboten tap water, so I'd stick the head in a shot glass of Benevá blanco. I got all kinds of crap about it from my so-called friends, so I stopped. What a wuss, caving in to peer pressure! I'm not saying that I got the bug because I stopped what I thought was a brilliant travel-hygiene practice, but you never know. I decided that I will keep cheap vodka on hand for toothbrush-soaking whenever I travel to funky-water places. What can it hurt? And it sure wakes you up in the a.m. when you mix your toothpaste with a bit of alcohol.