Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Blood Spattered Televisions

I know you people are at home salivating over the new Dark Knight DVD and trying to unravel the fourth season of Lost, but an item of note just came across my desk that might interest all you CSI and Dexter addicts.

A&E (home to Criss Angel's Mindfreak and other perversions of nature) is out flogging several of its more interesting crime-related shows. Among their latest offerings are the criminally underrated S.W.A.T (getting down and dirty with the boys in blue from Detroit and Kansas City, where they really need them from time to time), Jacked! (which really could be a how-to show about car theft if you approach it in the right frame of mind) and Crime 360, which is kind of like training at home for a better career, only with crime scenes and blood spatters and stuff.

Anyway, starting this week on Itunes, all these A&E true crime shows are going on sale for 99 cents each. Seriously. You were looking for something to watch at the gym that will make you run faster anyway. This should do the trick.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Blowback

This morning's offering is my latest review at The Rocky Mountain News, a judicious analysis of the latest Kay Scarpetta novel from Patricia Cornwell. Not that it will make a bit of difference to the legions of the novelist's fans who have already snapped up the novel via pre-orders, most of whom will like this offering just fine.

Anyway, it looks like Cornwell's long-running forensic investigator could outlive the Rocky, which has been put up for sale by Scripps just a shade before the paper's 150th anniversary. The headlines say that the company will entertain offers for the next four to six weeks but after that point, its future remains uncertain. Well, hell.

For more cheerful reading, check out USA Today's profile of Cornwell (and her Ferrari Spider and Bell 407 helicopter and many other toys...) or better yet, Sarah Weinman's list at the L.A. Times of her favorite mysteries of the year, including a host of books I've celebrated myself this year like Don Winslow's The Dawn Patrol, Tara French's The Likeness and Tom Rob Smith's Child 44.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bad News

My very favorite mystery author is gone. I just found out from Sarah.

NEW BALTIMORE -
George Clark Chesbro, 68, of New Baltimore, died Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at St. Peter's Hospital.

Born in Washington, D.C. on June 4, 1940, he was the son of the late George W. and Maxine (Sharpe) Chesbro. An author of over 25 novels and nearly 100 short stories, George was a recipient of an Ellery Queen Award and had served as president of the Mystery Writers Association of America. Earlier in his career, George had worked as a special education teacher at Pearl River and at the Rockland Psychiatric Center where he worked with emotionally troubled teens.

Survivors include his wife, Robin N. Chesbro; a son, Mark Chesbro;, a daughter Michelle Chesbro; two stepdaughters, Rachael and Leah Gass; a sister, Judith (Richard) Ragone and many nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews.

Services are private at the convenience of the family.

In lieu of flowers, those who wish may send a remembrance in his name to the Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society, 3 Oakland Ave., Menands, NY 12204.

**********************
One of the first things I wrote for Bookslut was
an essay about his books and what a fantastic, lost treasure trove of fantasy, science fiction and iron-jawed noir they were. To this day, I still buy Chesbro paperbacks every single time I find them in used bookstores, just so I have a stash to give to friends. A few days after the column appeared, I got a nice email from Hunter, the webmaster at his site, Dangerousdwarf.com. And then a few hours later, I got this email.

"Dear Clayton,

Your article is obviously heartfelt and tremendously flattering. I appreciate it very much. Thank you. Mongo and Garth send their regards.

Best,

George C. Chesbro."

There was nobody like him.

Further reading:

A Mystery One interview

An interview with Inkwell Newswatch

The 'lost' Mongo novel, published in French in 2007 but that hadn't yet found an English publisher.

Short, Sharp, Shock: The Work of George C. Chesbro

More from the Rap Sheet, including a brief personal remembrance from J. Kingston Pierce.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008

A MOST WANTED MAN by John le Carré

Truth To Power

Briefly, I have a review in today's Rocky Mountain News covering the latest from British novelist, literary puppetmaster and as it turns out, former spy John Le Carré. Tread lightly to the Rocky's book section to read the review of A Most Wanted Man.

For more intriguing background, it's also worth taking the time to read CNN's interview with the writer, in which he discusses the roots of the new book, the icy reception he anticipates in America, and the derailment of his own intelligence career courtesy of Kim Philby.

"In my day -- in the spook world -- we saw ourselves almost as people with a priestly calling to tell the truth," he said. "We didn't shape it or mold it. We were there, we thought, to speak truth to power."

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Freshen That Drink?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Lehane's Last Word

Poor Babe never looks happy, does he?

After reading it in truckstops and hotel rooms across this great fractured country of ours, I finally have the chance today to weigh in on Dennis Lehane's great experiment, The Given Day, which creates a great work of messy, anachronistic art from such disparate ingredients as Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge, and one of the most stubborn (and savagely beaten) Irish cops ever put on paper. You can read all about it online or in the paper this morning in The Rocky Mountain News.

By coincidence, after moving away last month from the woodsy hamlet of Sudbury, Massachusetts (where Babe Ruth reportedly drowned his piano) I got to meet the author last night at a sparsely attended but enthusiastic gathering at The Tattered Cover, where Lehane was in a a great fighting spirit over some electoral event next month and had great stories about how the book came about. He was insightful, articulate, and as funny as you might think, which makes me regret the fact that I didn't have time to interview him for this particular bit of history. Maybe next time, if he goes ahead and pushes forward with the same characters in the Roaring 20's.

Here's a bit of bad news though for all of you waiting on another chapter in Lehane's crime series about Dorchester private eyes Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. It ain't happening. Lehane gets this question every single night on tour but had a bit of a different answer for the questioner last night. The standard answer is usually that the series was written by a younger man, and he touched on that aspect last night. And a little more.

"I've tried but they just won't come. And you know, I just got married this year, and she asked if Patrick was going to come back. I miss him, because I miss writing jokes and Patrick was really funny. And I really wanted to get this woman into bed so you know I tried but he just won't come. I'm sorry, but if Patrick won't come back for sex, I don't think he's coming back."

There's more good stuff about Dennis Lehane including video interviews, historical photos and the author's back catalogue at his official website. And Harper Collins also tells me there's a good healthy dose of the book online here.

UPDATE: Waste not, want not. For more on The Given Day, you can check out the newest issue of Bookslut (which was apparently delayed by technical difficulties and small fish), which features my latest column, "Dennis Lehane's Dirty Water." And if that's not enough, there's always Sarah Weinman's take in the LAT, or Janet Maslin's in the NYT. Now please, God, let me read something else.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Moving On

For your reading pleasure while I'm away.

Wander on down the road to Bookslut and you'll find this month's contemplations on "Age, Wisdom and Treachery," or more specifically an inadequate but heartfelt salute to George Carlin and a passing nod to James Lee Burke and Lawrence Block's latest anti-mysteries.

And over at Kirkus Reviews, you can peruse some of the more eclectic (read: not hyped into the stratosphere already) choices from the Fall fiction and nonfiction catalogs in the Fall Preview Special. My entries included a nice correspondence with David Liss about lawyers, guns, revolutionaries, whiskey and his new novel, The Whiskey Rebels, and with marketing professor Don Thompson about The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, in which he dissects the mass appetite for modern art and the weird mechanics that drive the auction market.

I'm also about hip-deep in Dennis Lehane's magnum opus The Given Day and will report back on the Boston-based author's achievement if it doesn't get me first. I also suspect that if you wander over to the Rocky Mountain News books section in the next week or two, you'll find my feature review of Christopher Buckley's new comedy Supreme Courtship.

But I won't be around to walk you through it. Bang! will be offline for a few weeks while I relocate the lair back where it belongs.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Spoken Word

Apparently, it's a banner day for publication over here where we're cooking up book reviews.

If you're the sort to curse the day Henry Ford was ever born as you sit and stew and burn four dollar-per-gallon gas - or you're simply an Ipod addict like the rest of us - you might get a few good ideas for entertainment from the new Kirkus Audiobooks Special.

For my part, I had the novel pleasure of writing the included feature review with the great expatriate humorist David Sedaris, who talked, among other subjects, about the eccentricities of life in London and Paris, the absurdities of reading out loud to hundreds of bookstore patrons, and the recording of his audiobook, about which I'll give this little unpublished tidbit.

"We were going to this studio in Soho and even when I was walking from my house in London and getting on the tube and going to Soho, I’d look around and think, 'Look at us all, going to work. A train full of people going to work.' It felt so good because I felt a part of it in a way that I normally don’t. I take the train but maybe I’m going to the movies or down to Selfridge’s but I’m not going to work usually, not in the traditional sense. I’m not going to work with everybody else. I miss that. I miss feeling a part of things. "

Elsewhere in the special you'll find me chatting with Dean Koontz about his Odd Thomas series, quizzing the smart-as-a-whip Kate Reading about occupying Stephenie Meyer's alien beings, and talking with James Patterson and his narrator Ellen Archer (the voice of Ambien!) about Sundays at Tiffany's. I also wrote the spotlight feature on Stephen King's super-creepy novella The Gingerbread Girl but horrors, the novelist was traveling and unavailable for questions, as was his superb narrator, Mare Winningham.

Elsewhere in the issue, thrillers and mysteries are well represented with entries from David Baldacci, Harlan Cohen, Janet Evanovich, and Stuart Woods. Lend an ear.

Doc Savage, Eat Your Heart Out

So if you were lucky, you grew up on beaten-up copies of paperback pulp fiction (think old Conan novels, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Doc Savage, and a host of melodramatic imitators). If you're that kid at heart, this news from Charles Ardai at Hard Case should make your ears perk right up.

New York (July 14, 2008) – Charles Ardai, Edgar Award-winning author and creator of the acclaimed pulp mystery series Hard Case Crime, today announced a new series of pulp novels scheduled to debut in the summer of 2009: The Adventures of Gabriel Hunt. Featuring painted covers in the grand pulp tradition by artist Glen Orbik, the series will chronicle the travels and travails of modern-day explorer Gabriel Hunt, who scours the globe in pursuit of precious artifacts, lost civilizations, and secrets that could save the world…or destroy it.

These books are for anyone who grew up reading H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs or watching Harrison Ford wield his bullwhip at the movies,” said Ardai. “We’re talking classic adventure fiction, complete with horses, snakes, shovels, pickaxes, torches, traps, bottomless pits, barroom brawls, jungles, jewels, and just about everything else that’s ever made your heart beat faster.”

Authorship of each book will be credited to Gabriel Hunt himself, with the hands behind the Hunt nom-de-plume scheduled to include some of Hard Case Crime’s most popular authors. The first title is due to hit bookstores in May 2009, with subsequent titles following every other month. Readers eager to get a glimpse of Gabriel Hunt in action can visit www.HuntForAdventure.com, where one of Orbik’s paintings depicts the hero in a characteristic moment of peril.

Like Hard Case Crime before it, the Gabriel Hunt series is a true labor of love,” said Ardai. “Everyone working on it is doing so with a wild gleam in the eye and the gas pedal pressed to the floor, and the result is the sort of exultant seat-of-the-pants storytelling that makes you feel 14 years old all over again.” Gabriel Hunt’s initial adventures are expected to take him to Borneo, Guatemala, Turkey, Egypt, Antarctica, and the Kalahari Desert

Thrillers Unbound

Well, I'm told that the Rocky Mountain News' new all-thriller section hit print over the weekend. It's a pretty exciting bunch of books, too, including an exclusive interview with Daniel Silva as well as pulse-pounding rundowns of new books by James Lee Burke, Ridley Pearson, Christopher Reich, and Lisa Gardner. It's a great section but I drew the short straw this time. If you dare, you can read my fair warning to avoid Stephen L. Carter's new historical Palace Council, which is a drag by any standards. I know he wrote The Emperor of Ocean Park and it seemed pretty hefty. Stop it. Put down. Walk away now.

Back to plotting my next move. As you were.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Gravitas

Enjoy a little film from the other strange side of my freelancing life. I wrote these tributes to aviation legends for one of my publications late last year. I had heard that they had gotten Morgan Freeman to read them for an event but I hadn't actually gotten to hear him read my writing until now.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Cool World

What better way to celebrate a sunny Wednesday (it's the day that new comic books hit the shelves, you Philistine) than to pop over to Kirkus and read the new 2008 Graphic Spotlight. For my part, I got to interview some very cool purveyors of the graphic arts including Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy; Max Brooks, who gave us World War Z and the Zombie Survival Guide; historian Todd DePastino, who has curated a terrific new collection of the WWII cartoons of Bill Mauldin; and Takashi Okazaki, the gifted manga artist whose twisted mind launched Afro Samurai. Oh, and Dean Koontz, talking about some bloke named Odd Thomas.

The rest of the special is well worth delving into, too. Other spotlights include interviews with Lynda Barry, Jeffrey Brown, Scott McCloud, Art Spiegelman, Bryan K. Vaughan. And Method Man. Can't forget Method Man, man.

As a little treat before lunch, here's a little bigger look at the cover of The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks.


Death And All His Friends

I should probably be ashamed of myself for cribbing a title from the new Coldplay album but it was just too appropriate for these reviews to pass up. I nearly forgot to mention that I had two reviews in the Spotlight section of Friday's Rocky Mountain News.

The more well-known title is probably David Guterson's new novel, The Other, which I've given the brief once-over to here. You can also read my equally brief exchange with the author over at the Kirkus BEA/ALA Guide, but I'll reproduce it here for the sake of continuity.

Kirkus proclaimed that David Guterson outdistances the long shadow of his bestseller Snow Falling on Cedars (1994) with The Other. Through thoughtful deliberation and a heartbreaking denouement, it follows narrator Neil Countryman’s endeavor to define himself via his friendship with fortunate son John William Barry. “It’s the story of two friends who share an avid interest in the outdoors,” says Guterson. “With time, they go their separate ways, one into a very conventional life, and the other becoming increasingly hermetic, to the point where he isolates himself in the forests of Washington State. Yet the friendship remains intact and yields surprising results for both men.” The novel draws parallels to works as diverse as Thoreau’s Walden and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, but Guterson was more inspired by reclusive poet Emily Dickinson as well as his own deep regard for the Pacific Northwest. “I was interested in that question of the role of ‘the other’ in one’s life and the way that concept might be embodied not only in someone else but also in the way we carry the other inside of us as a shadow our whole lives,” he says. Even Barry’s notoriety as “the hermit of the Hoh” can’t overwhelm Countryman’s (and the author’s) obvious passion for their native territory. “Psychically, I think it’s true that home is a place that gets under your skin,” says Guterson. “I can’t help feeling a powerful connection to this place no matter where I go in life.”

I've also written another brief review of debut author Nam Le's powerful little book of short stories, The Boat, which appears in the same issue. Between this book and Dead Boys I'm going to have to give some more thought to the possibilities of short fiction. In any case, this guy is somebody to keep an eye on.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Deep Blue Hero

Funny how much weird information about a project you can gather if you start turning over stones.

Via The Rap Sheet and In Reference To Murder comes news via The Hollywood Reporter that director Gary Fleder (Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead) is in talks to direct a film adaptation of John D. MacDonald's novel The Deep Blue Good-By featuring errant knight Travis McGee.

Although you do have to take film media with a grain of salt. Like this gem, from the PR bite. "MacDonald, who wrote the novel on which both "Cape Fear" movies are based, is seen as a predecessor to Carl Hiaasen and other darkly comic crime novelists." Right. Predecessor. Idiots.

This is not terribly exciting news, given this is the guy who also gave us Kiss The Girls (not that a Patterson film was going to blow anybody's skirt up) and Runaway Jury but he did shoot an episode of The Shield and some other halfway decent television work.

Meanwhile back in the world of print, Entertainment Weekly has a little blurb about the project in this week's issue. "Robert Downey Jr. is being courted by studios that want to help him sustain his much-heralded comeback. Following his role in the year's highest-grossing movie (Iron Man), he's one again on their must-have list. In recent weeks, the 43-year-old actor has had his eye on various projects, including Twentieth Century Fox's Travis McGee (based on John D. MacDonald's detective series), Warner Bros.' Sherlock Holmes update from director Guy Ritchie, Gary Ross' fantasy/comedy Dog Years at Universal and Brett Ratner's Hugh Hefner biopic, among others."

Realize, too, that this is the third go-round for McGee. As recently as 1983, McGee came to the small screen in a television adaptation of The Empty Copper Sea with Sam Elliot, of all people, as old Trav and television staple Gene Evans as Meyer. McGee's first outing was in 1970's Darker Than Amber with Aussie actor Rod Taylor in the lead role and Theodore Bikel as his philosophical sounding board.

Maybe the third time's the charm.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Postcards From The End of the World

Okay, after an all-too-short break at the other end of America, I think I've got my head screwed back on straight enough to catch up a little.

First of all, there's a new column at Bookslut, where you can find my addle-minded ramblings on beach books and gets some suggestions for some decent, if eclectic, summer choices. The list includes hot comic book writer of the moment Duane-how-the-hell-do-you-say-Swierczynski-anyway, who gives us a whole new take on office politics in Severance Package; the vastly underrated Don Winslow, who contributes the bitterly cool surf noir The Dawn Patrol; the return of Elvis Cole in Chasing Darkness by Robert Crais; and the upcoming comedy by Adam Davies, Mine All Mine, which gives emotional security a whole new interpretation.

Elsewhere in the issue, Mark Doten talks to the lovely and talented Rivka Galchen about her rabbit hole of a debut novel, Atmospheric Disturbances while Collen Mondor goes down a more historical road in her YA column. In reviews, you can sample a hit of ecstasy, get graphic with Freddie Mercury, or sample this year's O. Henry Prize-winning stories.

Over at Kirkus Reviews, the annual Graphic Literature Special has some very cool selections this year and was a hell of a lot of fun to write, but it isn't quite ready for its debut yet this month. In the meantime, you can browse the new guide to the big books being showcased as we speak at Book Expo America and the American Library Association, including my own interviews with novelist David Guterson (The Other) and war historian Alex Kershaw (Escape From The Deep) as well as spotlights on new titles by Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, Lewis Black and America's last combat reporter, Richard Engel. I was lucky enough to lay mitts on the new Lehane myself and will report back from the battle lines when the time is right.

I've been mostly in absentia where books and other mediums are concerned but here's a few items from the culture trenches to pass the time.

First, congratulations go out to two of my favorite addictions, Sarah Weinman and The Rap Sheet for their Anthony Award nominations for best web site and in Sarah's case, another nod for Special Services. Right on.

At the Los Angeles Times, John Cusack holds forth on War, Inc., a satire of combat and corporate America that seems like it should be great but isn't holding much critical ground. I still think the world would have been better served by a Martin Blank sequel, and God knows Cusack looks the part to this day, but what the hell do I know?

In other film news, I think I'm the last one to realize that Lawrence Block scripted the Wong Kar Wai's film Blueberry Nights. In a nice bit of alchemy, Buffalo's ArtVoice takes a taciturn interview and turns it into a thing of substance.

There's obviously something bent about the cinematic adapation of Greg Rucka's Whiteout but whatever it is hasn't made itself apparent yet. But the film does, finally, have a release date.

The Guardian digested read does not bode well for the new James Bond book, Devil May Care: "James Bland trudged round St Peter's Square in Rome."

And finally, you can find all the BEA news from Los Angeles (where all the publicists of the writers I'm currently chasing are hiding from my phone calls) over at GalleyCat, but I think I prefer the authors' perspective best, where you can find Neil Gaiman getting cozy with Judy Blume and Christopher Moore tilting his head at nervous-looking thrillerists and convincing famous guitarists to sign strange things.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Men In Black Hats

It's a one-two punch of detective fiction at Bookslut this month. For starters, you can peruse my decidedly retro-oriented column this month with the overly wordy title, "Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop Dead." A title which, come to think of it, won't make any sense whatsoever to anybody under the age of 20 without a working knowledge of Tom Wolfe or Ken Kesey. But irrelevant asides aside, it delves into a fistful of new crime novels set in those heady days before technology got the best of us.

In another terrific and well-thought-out column, the talented Colleen Mondor also gives us a rundown on "Kid P.I.," taking on crackerjack mysteries (starring protagonists who probably still eat Cracker Jack, actually).

In my last stab for the month at black hat fiction, the Rocky Mountain News has my featured review on the sophmore western by Leif Enger, the bestselling author of book club favorite Peace Like A River. Dubbed "The new pulp Western," by my gifted editor, the review gives a nicely rounded and complimentary take on So Brave, Young and Handsome.

As you were.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Meanwhile, Down On The Lower East Side

...and so you may have noticed I was gone for a while. An aforementioned crisis decided to relaunch itself as a full-on volcanic relapse last month, necessitating my presence in other places in the meantime. So.

But I haven't been resting on my laurels. Here's a few reviews and stories to catch up to where we were before things went all to hell.

For starters, there's the Kirkus Reviews Mystery and Thrillers Special, now available to download in Acrobat/PDF format. You can check out my feature on Tom Cain's The Accident Man and an interview with literary novelist-not-a-crime-author-dammit Richard Price as well as sneak peeks at new titles by Lee Child, Benjamin Black, George Pelacanos and other usual suspects.

In the interest of waste not, want not, I've also utilized the surplus of my conversation with the author of Lush Life into this month's mystery column, "Richard Price and the Lush Life," now available at Bookslut.

As an aside, I discovered quite by accident that somebody must be reading the column each month. I was reading the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on Friday, enjoying their lead critic Jennifer Reese's similarly-minded take on Lush Life and found one of my interviews quoted in the sidebar. An odd moment, to say the least.

I'll also have my own review up eventually at the Rocky Mountain News, but in the meantime, you can go to their characteristically eclectic books section to find my short review of Charles Baxter's new mind-melter The Soul Thief as well as several stories on the upcoming Left Coast Crime conference in Denver and an interview with guest of honor Stephen White.

I'm taking a month off from Bookslut to catch my breath, but should return to form in April to launch year four of this babbling sideline of mine.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Beautiful Children

I'm preoccupied with other more important things, to my dismay, but enjoy today's review of the super-hyped debut novel from Las Vegas novelist Charles Bock. My review of Beautiful Children appears in the spotlight section of today's Rocky Mountain News. And you might as well read the NYT profile of the author that's got the book world all a-twitter. And it is actually worth a visit to the book's creepy official site, where you can enjoy some West Coast punk rock tunes that inspired its creation.

At the Rocky, There's also a nice feature review by Jenny Shanks of Russell Banks' new book, The Reserve, as well.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Wire, Breathlessly

So it turns out that Barack Obama's favorite television show is The Wire, which lends itself to all kinds of odd insights. I'm a little cool myself, having just gone toe-to-toe with one of its screenwriters, but here's a quick-and-dirty way to catch up before it all comes to an end this season.