Monday, December 23, 2013

FACE (1997)

An ex-Socialist turns armed robber in late 1990's Britain.  That's the premise behind director Antonia Bird's FACE, an underrated gem of a heist film from 1997.  My piece about it for CRIMINAL ELEMENT you can check out here: FACE

Monday, December 2, 2013


It's been just over a year now since SPIDERS AND FLIES came out, so I thought I'd take a moment to look back at that year, at least as far as the strange phenomena of Amazon reviews is concerned.  I wasn't sure what to expect in reaction to a first novel, and the 22 reviews I've gotten (a few by friends, of course) have told a tale indicative of.....something. 

Most of the reviews have been good - 12 five star reviews and 5 four star reviews. Can't complain there. Of the remaining 5 reviews, 4 are one star reviews and 1 is a two star review.  No three star reviews.  In short, up till now, the reader responses to the book have been very positive or very negative, with no middle ground.  While nobody likes one or two star reviews (and a couple of the one star reviews are really nasty), I have to say I'm kind of pleased by these reactions that run either hot or cold.  At least SPIDERS AND FLIES is eliciting strong reactions one way or the other.  It means I've grabbed the reader in a good way or gotten under the reader's skin.  Both are preferable, in my view, to the "It was so-so" type comment.

Naturally I have a favorite review of all the ones that have been posted.  It's from Les Edgerton, a terrific and versatile author (and a master of the crime novel), and I'd like to share it.

5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent noir October 23, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
The whole time I sat reading Scott Adlerberg’s novel SPIDERS AND FLIES, I kept thinking of the movie ANGEL HEART starring Mickey Rourke. And couldn’t figure out why at first. The stories aren’t similar, other than both contain supernatural elements, but the movie was set mostly in New Orleans and a bit in New York City, whereas Adlerberg’s novel takes place mostly in Martinique. And then it struck me. It physically and emotionally felt the same in both experiences—both forms cast a spell with atmospheric and nightmarish qualities that permeated my senses. Close to what Jung meant when he spoke of the realm of the subconscious being where truth resides. Adlerberg uses language in the best way—to create a film in the mind.

If you took the plot and outlined it, it probably wouldn’t make much sense. It certainly isn’t realistic or a portrayal of life from any “real” world. This isn’t the kind of noir that features meth addicts slashing and gashing their way through a redneck environment. This is noir of the highest order—the darkness of the soul and the nightmare we all seek to avoid but always know is there.

I think that’s why I kept thinking of ANGEL HEART. This was the first and perhaps only film I’ve ever seen that portrayed New Orleans accurately, with its dark undercurrents of savagery and primitivism. Unlike those horrid films like THE BIG EASY which were laughable and from which many native New Orleanians walked out of its showing in NOLA, either laughing or shaking their fists at the portrayal of a city that movie misinterpreted entirely. ANGEL HEART got New Orleans spot on and SPIDERS AND FLIES gets noir spot on. Certain of Faulkner’s novels do the same. Where this novel’s beauty lies is in the author’s tremendous skill in using language to beguile and bewitch and herd us into that place many writers try to take us to—the fictive dream. And, that’s exactly what Adlerberg has created—a dream that you enter into. This is not a reading experience a Grisham fan would probably enjoy. It is a novel a Genet fan would appreciate.

If this gets made into a movie, I’d look for a younger version of Mickey Rourke to play the lead. It’s perfect for the Rourke of ANGEL HEART or KILLSHOT. Directed by Hector Babenco, with the same kind of chops he brought to THE KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN.

Try to read this novel when you can experience it straight through. Put the DO NOT DISTURB sign on your door…


Thank you!  I really appreciate the kind words.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Like the Minotaur living in the center of his maze, waiting for humans to be sent his way - the beast devours both girls and boys - William Colton Hughes lives at the heart of an apartment complex waiting for his supply of victims.  They are sent to him by a Mob boss he has a bizarre arrangement with.  Hughes never has to leave his apartment; the Mob boss sends him people he needs eliminated.  And boy does Hughes enjoy his role as eliminator.  He's a man consumed by murderous impulse, who lives to do unmentionable things to the bodies of others, and to be fair to him, he's an equal opportunity killer.  He does men, women, boys, girls.  He has no predilection for a particular hair color or skin tone; he just needs to fulfill his inner need and fulfill it often.  Seems like, set up as he is in comfortable digs, his food and supplies provided, and with victims sent to his door, that his world should be perfect.  It's an ideal set up for man of his ilk, low risk, lots of rewards.  Except that, well, there is one catch: he has to deal with himself.... 
In THE LEAST OF MY SCARS, published by Broken River Books, Stephen Graham Jones takes the most played out of horror/thriller subgenres, the serial killer story, and does something startling with it. From page one, the first word, he locks you inside Colton Hughes' mind, and for the entire book you see, hear and smell only what he does.  It's an unnerving, disorienting experience, and much of the novel's brilliance lies in how through the most warped of narrators, you as reader do have enough information to more or less piece together an "objective" version of what is actually going on.  You have to work pretty hard to do this, though, and that means that as a reader you have to let this book suck you in fully.  No use fighting it.  There's no skimming.  Either you go with Colton Hughes and let him take you where he wants to take you, or you don't go with him at all, and I found that this narrative whirlpool created that wonderful effect you get from only the best dark fiction - a wholly absorbing reading experience derived from horrifying material. To my way of thinking, as a reader, mind you, almost nothing this skillfully done can not bring pleasure, no matter what the story is about. As the saying goes, real life can be depressing (and true crime shows, for example, with their blunt and repetitive portrayals of misery, cruelness, and stupidity, I find VERY depressing) but the blackest of black material artfully illuminated, no, that can't be depressing. 

It's all in the telling, the language. Stephen Graham Jones has a style at once hallucinatory and clear.  Easy to read but elliptical. He's a kind of magician with language, his sentences never predictable, and the use of the present tense to give immediacy to Hughes' voice works perfectly here. It  also doesn't hurt that Billy, as the Mob boss calls him, has a certain sense of humor about him, macabre though it may be.
Coming to a book like this, you wonder how far it will go, how graphic it will get.  I have a strong enough stomach, I suppose, but you wonder what you're going to encounter.  Pleasant surprise: though the novel doesn't stint on graphic details, what stood out for me is its restraint.  Bodily mutilation, various fluids, forced cannibalism (and more!) - they're all here, but presented in a way that leaves a lot to your imagination (which of course makes things creepier).  Same with sex.  We're never allowed to forget that Hughes' homicidal drives are connected to his sexual ones, but the little we actually "see" in this area tells us everything we need to know. 
Still, what most surprised me about this book is how it reads as a meditation on the idea of solitude.  William Colton Hughes (and I say this without a drop of sympathy for him) has got to be as lonely a human being as there is on the planet. That we know nothing about his past and how he came to be how he is accentuates this perception of him.  He simply is.  And because every moment that he's awake he spends thinking about himself, the world as such barely seems to exist.  Society at large appears to the reader as a fog, threatening, full of enemies and traps.  And that's where I come back to what I was saying before about how he has to deal with himself.  You'd think he'd be happy in his apartment, his taste in candy delivered to him, but only when he's killing someone or thinking of killing someone does he sound happy.  Other than that he's a walking bundle of phobias, compulsions, and worries.  A basket case in every sense.  Everything he does he has to do in a particular way (and I mean EVERY thing), and appliances, inanimate objects, have a menacing life of their own to him. Serial killer as snappy mastermind in the Hannibal Lecter mode?  Serial killer as symbolic free bird able to do what ordinary humans want to do but can't. Forget it.  Not Billy.  This man has everything he could possibly want but inhabits a cage of his own devising. 

THE LEAST OF MY SCARS is a bravura performance.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Little Boy Inside and Other Stories

You pick up a book and read the cover and see that So and So, a practicing doctor, has written a medical thriller.  Ex-cop Whoever has released the third in his series about a particular group of police officers. Former prosecutor MC (let's stick to initials) has written her latest legal thriller. Write what you know, draw from experience...all that.  Yes, but what about the writer who uses his area of expertise to craft stories intimately linked to his field but not in a way any reader would expect?  The writer's specialized knowledge is merely a springboard for a weirder type of fiction.  Imagination is king, grounded by the specialized knowledge.  It's a fertile mix in the right hands, and it's what you get when you read the stories in Glenn Gray's brilliant collection THE LITTLE BOY INSIDE AND OTHER STORIES.

Gray is a practicing physician.  He does write about doctors and patients and the body.  But in his world, the body is entirely unpredictable, and that wonderful and terrible unpredictability is the main feature of these stories.  We get bodybuilders obsessed with pumping up for muscleman contests, pushing too hard to "perfect" themselves.  We get a medical intern doing his training, encountering a series of patients who produce fluids, smells, and sounds that test even his resolve. We get physical transformations occurring to people, often doctors, and how the recipients of these changes deal with them. I don't want to give away too many details because that would spoil the fun, but suffice it to say that a lot of these changes are both horrifying and funny.  I mean, hysterically funny.  While reading the book on the subway, I found myself laughing out loud quite often.  Gray's timing is impeccable, and what makes it work is his compact deadpan style.  It's a style that suits his material perfectly.  He has learned a thing or two from past masters of the fantastic, like Kafka, who know that when material is outrageous, there's no need to indulge in stylistic fireworks.  Keep the writing "simple" (how easy to say that word, how hard to achieve in writing) and let the tales themselves dazzle the reader.



I know that a number of these stories first saw the light of day in online publications specializing in noir/pulp/crime, but virtually none of them read as genre pieces.  Gray mixes aspects of noir with horror, speculative fiction, pure fantasy, and black humor. I haven't encountered so many bodies in revolt against their "owners" since the early films of David Cronenberg. Indeed, he seems to me much more in the tradition of Kafka and Cronenberg and other creators of the dark fantastic than he does in the crime tradition. But then again, several of the stories do involve crime. Then there's the one about the intern, "Diary of a Scutmonkey", which essentially, for all its grotesque doings, is realistic.  

See what I mean?  You can't put these stories in any one literary niche.  Because they don't hew to familiar tropes, they defy easy categorization, and for my money, that's exciting.  Exciting and all too rare. Gray's stories provoke laughter, amazement, disgust, sadness, delight.  They're suspenseful. So if you like to explore when you read, if you like to be kept off balance, if you enjoy the feeling of cringing one moment, laughing the next, and shuddering with apprehension the next, these stories are for you.

I can't wait to see what Glenn Gray will dream up and write next.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Zen Gangster: THE HIT (1984)

What happens when a gangster facing certain death doesn't seem to care that he'll be killed? He's not suicidal, he doesn't want to die; he just seems indifferent to death in a Zen-like way.  Terence Stamp plays such a man in Stephen Frears' THE HIT, a Brit crime film that's terminally underrated.  It's a marvelous film with intriguing characters played by Stamp, Tim Roth, and John Hurt, and I couldn't resist writing about it for my Brit gangster film series for Criminal Element.  

Check the piece out here: THE HIT.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


The excellent Criminal Element site has put out its first crowd-sourced e-collection.  THE MALFEASANCE OCCASIONAL: GIRL TROUBLE, edited by Clare Toohey, is a batch of 14 stories on the very topic the title describes. And it's fair to say that the stories live up to the title. Girl trouble in all sorts of permutations is what is on display here, and quite entertaining this trouble is, too - well, if not for the characters involved, then at least for the reader.

"Follow Us on Facebook and Twitter", by Eric Cline, the first story, sets an appropriately creepy tone, as the narrator obsesses over a way to take revenge on the woman who fired him from his job.  While we can sympathize with his anger over his former boss's imperiousness, it's difficult for us to stay on his side when he uses social media to disguise himself and befriend the boss's teenage daughter.  It's all quite plausible and it seems as if the plan of vengeance he's hatched will work. Until.........

Revenge is the main theme also in another of my favorites - "Benign" by Caroline J. Orvis.  "I started stalking my breast surgeon almost by accident," is the first sentence, and as the story proceeds, we come to understand and sympathize with the narrator's outrage.  It's not even as if the doctor she's stalking did anything wrong or negligent, but his clinical coolness smacks of an insensitivity that puts you on the narrator's side.  Suffice it to say the irony present in the ending stings also.

Travis Richardson provides a different sort of ending in "Incident on the 405".  It's an ending I'm sure will divide readers. Some will think it works - an appropriate end considering the character involved; others may mutter a curse.  I'll confess I didn't love it at first, but it's grown on me since I read it, and the entire story that leads up to it is terrific: fast, suspenseful, and a sharp commentary on women who have to deal with powerful, piggish men.  There's a wonderful twist that occurs in the relationship between the two women in the story, and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, of all things, proves to be a source of great inspiration (not of the literary kind). 

There are plenty more women in this collection fighting in some way to survive, and all told, the quality of the stories is high.  Women serve as thieves, authors, actresses, drug addicts, muses, daughters, mothers.  The stories range in tone from lighthearted to reflective to noirish to grim.  There's an amusing literary crime story, "The Wentworth Letter" by Jeff Soloway, and even a piece of dark, speculative fiction, "Girl of Great Price" by Milo James Fowler (very intriguing). 

If you're looking for a good, quick read with a lot of variety, I'd suggest spending time with these women.  It's remarkable how much trouble these girls get into, and sometimes, but not always, get out of.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Les Edgerton's THE RAPIST

Meeting and chatting with Les Edgerton at Bouchercon in Albany prompted me to get around to reading a book I’d been meaning to pick up for months.  That book?  Edgerton’s THE RAPIST, which I’d heard and read so much about since it came out several months ago.

Well, it’s always nice when a book lives up to the praise you’ve heard lavished upon it…..and then some!

THE RAPIST is about Truman Ferris Pinter.  Pinter sits on death row for the brutal rape he has committed, and the death he seemingly caused his victim.  Pinter tells his story himself, and for the entire length of this astounding novella we sit squarely in Truman's mind, as twisted and cold a mind as one is likely to come across anywhere.  He’s a man utterly without remorse for his actions, but he also happens to be very well-read and articulate.  He lets us know in no uncertain terms  that he has his reasons for what he did.  THE RAPIST takes us on a tour through his convoluted mind, and through his twisted perceptions, we begin to understand his life, and damn if this utter sociopath makes us see things (at least a little) from his point of view.

 Absolute brilliance is the only way I can describe this book. You could call it a noir novel, but I'd say it's more firmly in the tradition of works like Camus' THE STRANGER or Ernesto Sabato's THE TUNNEL or Walker Percy's LANCELOT. The novel as existential monologue told by an unrepentant criminal. Edgerton himself said that a prime inspiration for the novel came from the Charles Bukowski story "The Fiend", which is about a man raping a little girl. Except that in "The Fiend", as Edgerton put it, even Bukowski pulled back a bit, forgoing his usual first person narration to tell the story in the third person. In other words, Bukowski didn't handle this material head on; Edgerton dares to.

THE RAPIST also brings to mind Dostoyevsky's NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND and (I do not say this blithely) Nabokov's LOLITA. Truman Ferris Pinter is even darker in his personality than Humbert Humbert, but the brilliance and audacity he uses language with, to convince himself and us of certain things, is quite like Humbert. How reliable is this narrator? And Truman, like Humbert, can be, shall we say, not entirely self-aware. There is a house of mirrors quality to this novel that is quite Nabokovian. And as in LOLITA, we get inside the mind of someone almost everyone would consider despicable, and if we don't, well, like him, we certainly understand him. Then there's the Borges influence, the mind-bending what is real what is dream what is real aspect of the book.   In a way completely appropriate to Truman, the novel ends in a manner that reminded me of Borges’s great story “The South.”  I really can’t say much more than that or I’ll be giving too much away.  Suffice it to say, the ending is perfect, the last line a dinger that sums up Truman and reduced me to dark dark laughter.

This is a memorable book, a tough uncompromising book, a book that in the very best way calls upon a great literary tradition to be not quite like anything ever written before it.

Monday, September 30, 2013


In the mood for horror fiction?  Halloween's coming up, so why not?  A new collection that's worth checking out is LET THE OLD DREAMS DIE by Swedish horror writer John Ajvide Lindqvist.  He's the guy who wrote the novel LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.  I never read that, but I did see the movie adaptation, which came out in the US in 2008.  Without question it's one of the most unusual vampire movies of recent years. 

My look at Lindqvist's latest work, a volume of 12 stories, is at Criminal Element, right here: LET THE OLD DREAMS DIE.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bouchercon 2013

It's just about time to head off to Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, NY. I'm looking forward to it.  There'll be plenty of bar hanging at night, I'm sure, and during the day I'll be wandering around from panel to panel. I'll also be on a panel this year. 

Thursday at 4pm, I'll be doing the Film Noir panel along with my friend Wallace Stroby, Paul D. Marks, John Billheimer, and David Rich.  Eric Beetner moderates. Room 1.

Friday at 3 PM, Dennis Tafoya and I will be doing an Authors Panel half hour.  It'll be "Cocktails with Scott and Dennis" for that half hour, the two of us discussing crime writing and drinking, a subject quite appropriate for Bouchercon.  Dennis and I are planning on bringing "materials" that will help lubricate the discussion.  Should be fun, so if you're around, stop by.  We'll be in Room 5.

Let the talking and drinking begin..........

Monday, September 16, 2013


Question: How many films did Peter Sellers play a bad guy in?  I mean, a dead serious villain, not a comical bumbling villain.

Answer: one.  It's the British gangster film NEVER LET GO, from 1960. As a local thug in charge of a car theft and chop shop gang, Sellers is riveting.  The film as a whole is excellent also. I wrote a piece about it for Criminal Element - you can read it here: NEVER LET GO.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Too Many Netflix Choices

I vaguely remember a George Carlin routine of awhile back where he did a funny riff on how Americans now have too many choices in everything they do and that this is one of the things that causes Americans so many problems.  Yes, George, right you were.

Case in point: Netflix streaming.

It's a wonderful thing, Netflix streaming, but all the choices you have when you go to Netflix to choose something to watch can be a burden.  More often than not, I go to Netflix on a weeknight.  I've had a long and tiring day at work.  Most nights, after the subway ride home, dinner, and putting my 8 year old to bed, I've fueled up with coffee and pushed myself to get some writing done.  Now, let's say, it's about midnight and I have 90 minutes, no more, to spend relaxing and watching something because I have to get up at 6:15 to start the day (shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, bring the kid to school by subway, take the subway to work, etc, etc). So time is precious and I have to make a fast decision on what to watch.  Choose a movie or TV episode of something, stream it, sit back, maybe have a late night drink, enjoy the movie or TV episode, then join my wife in bed (where, like a wise person, she's been sleeping for a couple of hours already).  I can get in my fix of movie/tv episode watching and still bag a good 4 1/2 hours of sleep before work tomorrow. Not bad. 

But here's where the problem starts.  I go to Netflix on my computer and I can't decide what to watch.  I had a particular movie in mind earlier perhaps, when I was wrapping up my writing for the night, but now I'm not sure I want to see that movie.  Maybe I want to see a different movie. Or, no, a different movie than the first different movie I considered.  Or the first episode of TV crime series from Denmark, but if I watch that episode that means I have to commit to the series for the foreseeable future, and do I really want to commit to a series when my viewing time is so limited?  If I commit to a series, I won't be able to see any movies for a week or two.....

I sit there like this dithering, reading the summaries of this movie, that movie, this show, that show, and before I know it, a half hour has gone by, 45 minutes, and it's almost 1 AM.  Now I don't have time for a movie.  I'd be up till 2:30 at least if I watched a film.  Even a TV episode would keep me up till two.  Should I risk it?  Go with 4 hours sleep or less? No, I've disciplined myself to get by on 4 1/2 to 5 hours sleep a night but if I go lower than that, I suffer the next day, feel actual pain in my joints (being 51 has some drawbacks) and have to fight to get through a day at work. Not worth it.  Better not to watch anything.  But I wanted to watch something. Tomorrow.  You'll watch a movie tomorrow.  Just don't spend so much time trying to decide from all the possible movies which specific movie to watch................

And so I go to bed feeling dissatisfied.  I wanted to satiate my movie/TV hunger that night with something, and I did not.  I failed not because of any outside difficulties, but because of my own paralysis in the face of so many choices.

Carlin, you were (as he would say) motherfucker.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"Ghost Negligence" by John Shepphird

My friend John Shepphird, who I met at the 2012 Bouchercon convention in Cleveland, is a pretty accomplished guy.  He's a writer and director of TV films including Jersey Shore Shark Attack and Chupacabra: Dark Seas for SyFy Channel.  He also happens to be nominated this year for the Shamus Award in the Best P.I. Short Story category.  The story is "Ghost Negligence", and it appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, the 2012 July/Aug Double Issue.  The story introduces reformed swindler Jack O'Shea hanging his PI shingle as a deception specialist.  It's the first, I'm sure, in a series.

Even though John seems like quite a straightforward guy to me, his mystery fiction largely centers around "the art of deception" featuring con men (and women) and/or victims of fraud.  Come to think of it, when I see him this year at Bouchercon, I may have to keep a closer eye on what he's doing.  The Shamus winners will be announced at the PWA Banquet at Bouchercon in Albany, New York, on Friday, September 20.

Anyway, "Ghost Negligence" is a good story, full of surprises, and worth checking out.  It's available now via an Alfred Hitchock Mystery Mag podcast.  If you have a few minutes, give it a listen.......
The story's here:
Ghost Negligence Podcast





Friday, August 23, 2013

Noir at the Bar V

A couple of pics from Noir at the Bar V, held a few days ago at Shade Bar in Greenwich Village. 

With Glenn Gray and Todd "Thuglit" Robinson hosting and a bunch of superb writers reading, the night was a blast.

Here's the entire crew: Thomas Pluck, Gerald So, Charlie Stella, Glenn Gray, Suzanne Solomon, Jack Getze, Teel James Glenn, Big Daddy Thug, myself, Bradley Sands.

I heard a wonderful array of styles from all the writers, and it was great to meet a number of new people. The Patron Tequila I spent drinking as the night wore on didn't hurt either.  That's my second Noir at the Bar at Shade in the past 3 months, and both have been the most enjoyable experiences. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I decided to give this book a try mainly because I was looking to read some noir stories set in California but not in LA.  I wasn't familiar with Mike Monson's writing but liked the comments I saw about the collection on Amazon.  It's a debut collection, taken from stories Monson has published over the years on various Internet sites, but it has the authority of a writer who's an old pro.  Mike Monson writes in total control of his rough material.  And make no mistake: these stories do not shy away from the bleak, the harsh, and the violent. "Dirty noir" is how the author himself describes what he writes, and it is a perfect way of describing it. At the same time, within the "dirty" tough world he describes, there are subtle variations in tone and mood from story to story. There is also a lot of dark humor and in the two days it took me to read this book, I chuckled quite often. Some of the pieces are slices of terse realism describing lives of economic and sexual desperation that reminded me of Raymond Carver - if Carver wrote noir. And some are very brief, ruminations, observations, that brought to mind Lydia Davis, the master of the flash fiction form. There is also one, "Heritage Classic" that is a beautifully modulated study of male mid-life crisis.  A 50ish year old man buys and starts riding a huge Harley in his effort to feel young again.  Needless to say, bike riding on the road doesn't go as planned. 

To sum it up, I really liked this collection, and I'm looking forward to the novella Mr. Monson says he has coming out later this year. In the meantime, take a trip to Modesto.  Take a trip to a wedge of California that is most certainly not glamorous but is quite intriguing.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Vice and Versa in PERFORMANCE

"The only performance that makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness."

Gangsters, rock stars, violence, mushrooms, lipstick - all mix and merge in the British film Performance (1970).  Co-directed by Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg,  starring Mick Jagger and James Fox, it's a unique movie that you'll never forget once you've seen it.  I remember first seeing it many years ago in college, at a midnight campus show, and if I remember correctly, I think I was high and drunk at the time.  The movie, which unwinds like a hallucination, stunned me.  And I realized that I most certainly should not have taken anything before the movie to get buzzed.  PERFORMANCE itself is an intoxicant.  It is also, among other things, a great and unique gangster film, and I wrote about it for Criminal Element as part of my Gangster Cinema, British Style series. 

You can check the piece out here: PERFORMANCE.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013


I shouldn't be surprised by the reaction, but a few days after its opening, I still find the predominantly negative reaction to ONLY GOD FORGVES irritating.  I understand that it's a film that won't appeal to a large audience, but the ferocity of the hostility directed at the film is what galls me.  You have so many critics and others out there who bemoan the sameness of Hollywood product and complain about the cookie cutter plots and mindlessness of your standard action movies and then something unusual like Nicolas Winding Refn's film comes along and people react like he created a crime against cinema.  You have geniuses in various papers and online venues who've written as if Winding Refn meant to make a typical thriller, and failed, or should have made a more conventional thriller, when that is so obviously not what he had the slightest intention of doing. To state the obvious:  ONLY GOD FORGIVES is a dream movie.

It follows the rhythms and speed of the subconscious mind, the nocturnal mind, not the  linear waking mind. Like David Lynch, for example, Winding Refn is one of those directors who has an ability to burrow deep into the recesses of the subconscious and come back with disturbing yet beautiful imagery.  Everything about ONLY GOD FORGIVES, from the languorous way it unfolds to the lack of logic in the story to the over the top violence to the sleepwalking manner of the actors, is dreamlike. Oneiric, to use an old film theory word.  In fact, though it was advertised as a follow-up to DRIVE, a re-teaming, after all, of Ryan Gosling and Winding Refn, the whole tone and mood of the film is closer to his earlier VALHALLA RISING, a very strange Viking saga. That Winding Refn dedicates the film, at the end, to Alejandro Jodorowsky, should make it pretty clear what kind of film he wanted to make.  To my mind, it's a luscious, absurd, lurid, violent dream of a movie, and anyone with a sense of movie adventurousness should ignore the numbing drumbeat of the negative reviews and give it a try.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

My Story in THUGLIT Issue Six

No introduction needed to THUGLIT, Todd Robinson's great crime fiction magazine.  Issue six just came out, and my story, "Come on Home", is in it.

Every issue of THUGLIT is chock-full of murder, robbery, mayhem, scheming, and vices too numerous to mention.  There is lowdown criminal activity to suit every crime reader palate.  With this issue, I'm happy to be part of a lineup that includes Kieran Shea, BH Shepherd, Rena Robinett, Jessica Adams, T Fox Dunham, Hugh Lessig, and Aaron Fox Lerner.

The issue's available at Amazon in two forms: the paperback edition and the Kindle edition.  The Kindle version's only 99 cents.  Great price for some damn good stories. You can check the issue out here: THUGLIT Issue Six.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Megan Abbott and Henry James

Long long overdue, I know, for any fan of crime fiction, but I finally have gotten around to reading Megan Abbott. I decided to start at the beginning, with her first book, DIE A LITTLE, from 2005.  As most readers of contemporary noir probably know, it's set in 1950's era Los Angeles and its world is the outer fringes of Hollywood. Of course it's superbly written and thoroughly researched - no surprise there.  Period detail is captured beautifully.  But what struck me most about the book is how to a remarkable extent Megan Abbott captures the workings of a mind that doesn't know itself.  Lora, the main character, is quite repressed.  She's someone cut-off from the core of herself and doesn't want to acknowledge what that core might be, what darkness may lurk there.   

What is Lora capable of?  She doesn't want to know. The reader certainly doesn't know, at least at first, and the book needs time to reveal her, peel away at her.  Layer by layer, the onion is unpeeled.  That Lora herself is telling the story, showing you things about her mind and personality that she herself doesn't realize, is one of the things that makes this  book fascinating. It's all in the telling. This is not a noir with lots of action and surface violence.  The plot is actually slow to boil.  A character's glance at someone else at a party, a particular gesture, what's left unsaid, are the keys here. When you talk about noir like this, it's common to say it has echoes of Cain, Chandler, James Ellroy (the usual suspects) - and this does - but along with these noir masters, this book has a quality very unlike most noir, something elusive and ambiguous.  It has a quality that reminded me of an entirely different writer, someone with no connection to noir at all.

Indeed, Lora, with all her repression and her way of elucidating around a topic without stating outright what she means, reminded me of nothing so much as a Henry James character.  Strange, but true. DIE A LITTLE inhabits a world entirely different than James' typically rarified sphere and has nothing to do with ghosts or children, but Lora's level of repression and self-obliviousness, her refusal to look at herself, reminded me of the governess narrator in THE TURN OF THE SCREW.  Repressed rage simmers.  The desire to protect has rarely seemed so creepy and downright dangerous.  And as in so many Henry James tales, so much of DIE A LITTLE'S drama occurs in the narrator's mind, just under the visible surface of life.   It's up to the reader to see what the narrator can't see or refuses to see, and it's because of Megan Abbot's supple technique that the reader can see, clearly, what the very person telling the story doesn't.  Remarkable.

This has to be the first time I was reading a crime novel where at one and the same time I thought about James M. Cain and Henry James.  Two different ways of writing, two different ways of looking at the world and the way people interact with the world, that you wouldn't think could be fused so smoothly.  But Megan Abbott fuses them.  In DIE A LITTLE she writes something you could actually call Jamesian Noir.


Saturday, June 15, 2013


It's time again for the Bryant Park Summer Film Festival.  That means each Monday night for the next ten weeks, there'll be a free film at dusk in Bryant Park.  And as I have for the last three years, I'll be hosting Word for Word Reel Talks in the park.  For an hour or so before each film, I'll be talking about the movie with one or two film aficionados.  This year's guests will include the film writer and academic Foster Hirsch and crime novelist Wallace Stroby.  Our discussions on each movie roam far and wide, from back story to historical perspective to anything juicy - fact, gossip, rumor.  Who directed, who starred, who wrote, who edited, who composed the score, who fought on the set, who had affairs, who did drugs or drank too much, etc....It's all open for discussion.  
The films showing this year are varied, and to be honest, some of the films on the program I like more than others. (I don't pick them, by the way; the sponsor of the festival, HBO, chooses the films each summer). But no matter what the film, whether we love them or not, we always have a good time discussing them.

Audience participation encouraged.

Here's the list of films showing this year.

JUNE 17- TOOTSIE (Sony/Columbia) (1982) 116 Min. Panavision

JUNE 24- INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (Paramount) (1956)  80 Min. SuperScope

JULY 1- FRENZY (Universal) (1972) 116 Min.

JULY 8- WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (Warner Bros.) (1971) 98 Min.

JULY 15- HUSH… HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (Fox) (1964) 133 Min.

JULY 22- THE AFRICAN QUEEN (Paramount) (1951) 105 Min.

JULY 29- A FOREIGN AFFAIR (Universal) (1948) 116 Min.

AUGUST 5- NORMA RAE (Fox) (1979)  113 Min. Panavision

AUGUST 12- THE WOMEN (Warner Bros) (1939) 132 Min.

AUGUST 19- E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (Universal) (1982) 115 Min.

 For more information about the Bryant Park Summer Film Festival, you can go to the Bryant Park website at

Friday, June 7, 2013


When a great novelist, and a funny playful one at that, writes a book that uses the detective novel form, you know that it's not going to be a conventional genre piece.  That's the case with Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz's COSMOS, published in 1965.  It's a fascinating book that turns the mystery novel on its head while telling a tale of possible crimes, many clues, and two neurotic detectives.  Anyone who likes mysteries and who's looking for something that will take you unexpected places should pick it up and give it a try.  Anyone who just likes good original fiction should give it a try.

Want to hear more about it?  I wrote an essay about COSMOS for Criminal Element, and you can check out here: Wrapped Up in the Mystery of Cosmos

Saturday, May 25, 2013


The British bring their own distinct flavor to the gangster film genre.  I've written a piece about one of the best British gangster films ever made, THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY, over at Criminal Element. You can click here to read it: The Long Good Friday.

Monday, May 20, 2013


It's Noir at the Bar time again soon in New York City.  That means a whole crew of crime writers reading from their works and a whole bunch of booze to lubricate the proceedings.  I'll be taking part for the first time and the list of writers who'll be participating is truly something else.  Jedidiah Ayres, Dennis Tafoya, Reed Farrel Coleman, Rob W. Hart, Dana C. Kabel, Keith Gilman, Jim Baker, Justin Porter, Todd Robinson, Josh Bazell, and Keiran Shea will all be there reading. 

Swing by for a night of great fiction, the enjoyable darkness that is noir. 

The place: Shade Bar in Greenwich Village. The date: Sunday May 26h. The event's starting time: 6PM sharp.

Did I mention (I think I did) there'll be lots of drinking?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


In my last post here, I was talking about the fun I had reading Jake Hinkson's THE POSTHUMOUS MAN, a superb noir novella.  Continuing on in the novella vein, I moved on after Hinkson's book to Jedidah Ayres' FIERCE BITCHES. I'd pre-ordered it from Crime Factory Publications in Australia, intrigued by the advance stuff I read about it - how ferocious it is, how original, how well-written. Hadn't read Ayres' previous book, A F*CKLOAD OF SHORTS, so though eager to get into FIERCE BITCHES (if I can say that) I didn't know what to expect. Well, it's always nice when the build-up is not only met but actually exceeded by the reading experience.

If there is such a thing as hallucinatory noir, FIERCE BITCHES is it.  Beginning in a hell-hole of a desert town in Mexico, the book takes you on a wild journey.  In the short time it takes to read, you cover a lot of territory. There are pimps, derelict fugitives, and a number of very interesting whores. I won't say much more because to say too much is to spoil the pleasure of unpredictability this book holds.   Suffice to say it's a very condensed and visual book and has some scenes of absolutely phantasmagorical violence. Even at its most violent, though, it is written in beautiful terse prose - it's one of those books where I reread several passages just to enjoy the sound and rhythm again.   Ayres is in total control of what he's doing throughout.  I don't really want to compare it to anything because it is its own thing, no question, but like many a terrific work, it has echoes of other great stuff - the town of Politoburg reminds me a bit of the hellish place Jim Thompson's two characters end up in THE GETAWAY, and there's a Cormac McCarthy feel at times to the Biblical fury and righteousness of the violence. But damn! If you're comparing any book to a Cormac McCarthy novel, not much more needs to be said. FIERCE BITCHES is bleak yet beautiful and shot through with bloody threads of dark humor.  

What can I say?   Yet another very strong novella.  In crime fiction, anyway, seems like a hell of a good time for them.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


There's so much good recent noir around that it gets difficult sometimes to choose what to read next.  But I've had a lot of fun recently reading novella-length noirs by contemporary practitioners of the form who are really good.  One was by Jake Hinkson, his novella THE POSTHUMOUS MAN. This is pure, one hundred per cent proof, kick you in the guts noir. There's not a single wasted word in the novella, which starts out with the main character Elliot on his way to the hospital after a suicide attempt. He "dies" for a few minutes, but then the doctors manage to bring him back to life, and it's all downhill from there for him as a nurse at the hospital lures him into getting involved in a scheme to steal  an entire Oxycontin shipment headed to the hospital.  A lot is packed into its short length but the pacing is absolutely perfect and the character development full.  Elliot's tour through a garbage dump site where he has to dispose of some particularly important "merchandise" is like a tour through hell, yet at times darkly funny.  This is a book Jim Thompson or Charles Willeford could have written - as noir goes, that good.   Can't wait to read Hinkson's first novel, HELL ON CHURCH STREET, which like THE POSTHUMOUS MAN is set in Arkansas, a place Hinkson clearly knows well.    

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

TRENT'S LAST CASE: Great Mystery or Not?

Second readings of a book can be so worthwhile.  I had this experience not long ago when I re-read the classic Golden Age detective novel, TRENT'S LAST CASE, by E.C. Bentley.  Published in 1913, the novel was praised by mystery writer giants such as Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie.  G.K. Chesterton, the creator of Father Brown, called it "the finest detective story of modern times."  But when I read it as a teenager (long ago) I wasn't exactly dazzled.  Still, what about a second reading of it?  I picked the book up 35 years later, read it through, and this time I had quite a different reaction.  What changed? 

Though I read a lot of mysteries from the Golden Age period of detective novels when I was younger, I rarely read them anymore now.  I pretty much got my fill years ago of elaborately plotted, rather contrived murders taking place in drawing rooms, libraries, and country estates.  So I might have expected to like TRENT'S LAST CASE even less now than then.  Strange. Well, I thought so anyway, and I wrote a piece about these two readings 35 years apart over at Criminal Element.  Check it out.

Sunday, March 31, 2013


I saw Harmony Korine's SPRING BREAKERS last night and enjoyed it a lot.  It's a pretty remarkable piece of work and like no other movie playing anywhere now.  It doesn't have a conventional story structure and because of this and also because you know Korine doesn't give a damn about typical Hollywood conventions or endings, you have no idea where the story might go. This is exciting.  At the same time, while I was watching it, thoroughly enjoying its inventiveness, I felt that something about its look and rhythm, something about its entire feel, reminded me of another film or the work of another director.  I don't mean that Korine was copying anyone or even referencing anyone in any way.  He has his influences like anyone else, but in each of his films it's obvious that Korine works from within himself and what comes out of him is his alone.

Still, and I may sound like a goofball saying this, I realized that SPRING BREAKERS made me think of the works of none other than Jess Franco.  The Franco who's made over a couple hundred films in almost every genre (mostly horror) and who's made quite a few films that are flat-out terrible.  But in Harmony Korine there are a number of things that remind me of Franco.  There's Korine's total fearlessness in choosing material.  There's an esthetic that loves the contrasts between the beautiful and the disgusting, the gorgeous and the taboo, all of it delivered with a frequently pranksterish spirit.  In both guys, there's a  peculiar mixture of genius and obviousness you just don't get in many people. As Korine himself says, his films convey something somewhere between profundity and retardation.  And then there are specific things in SPRING BREAKERS that, put together, remind me of certain Franco films: the candy colors, the predominance of women in bikinis carrying guns, the many scenes that take place in bright sunlight and on beaches (Korine calls SPRING BREAKERS beach noir) the whole who-gives-a-damn approach to conventional structure, the genre/exploitation picture aspect of it.  But most of all it's the editing and dreaminess of SPRING BREAKERS that reminds me of Franco.  The loopy editing of Korine's film gives it a kind of forward and backward motion at the same time.  It's both energetic and static.  Events and scenes just blend into each other.  The whole thing is trancelike and druggy in a specific way that I've only experienced before in Franco films.  Films such as VENUS IN FURS and LORNA: THE EXORCIST, VAMPYROS LESBOS, and EUGENE: THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION.  All these films, and many others of Franco, are edited in such a way that they create what you could call a "time of no time", and it's exactly this "time of no time" quality that SPRING BREAKERS has in spades.  There's beauty mingled with terror and the whole thing envelops you voluptuously. The 94 minute running time seems neither long nor short.  You are wrapped up in it completely, though, while you're watching, always in the present tense, so to speak.  An odd compelling feeling, and a very rare one to experience in a movie.  I'd be curious to ask Harmony Korine whether's he's familiar with Franco's films and, if he is, whether he likes them. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Caught in a Publisher's Web

     Not long ago I wrote a piece for the Criminal Element website that detailed a nightmarish experience I had years ago with a publisher who accepted my novel SPIDERS AND FLIES.  Since then of course I've found a reputable publisher for the book, but recently I've been reading a number of articles about how the publishing world in general is getting yet harsher for writers.  The Science Fiction Writers of America, for example, recently declared that the new Random House ebook imprint Hydra does not meet its minimum standards for a qualifying market because Hydra's contact does not offer an advance.  In addition, Hydra tries to shift to the author costs traditionally borne by the publisher.  Writers who are eager to see their work in print are always vulnerable targets for publishers looking to take advantage, and I think it's useful for all writers to share any cautionary tales they may have about publishers. In that spirit, I've decided to link this blog to my post about my experience dealing with a scam publisher.  In any event, if nothing else, I think it makes for a good story.
     You can read the whole story here:

Monday, February 18, 2013

Reading in Brooklyn.

On Thursday, February 21, I'll be doing a reading/signing for SPIDERS AND FLIES at the terrific sci-fi and genre bookshop Singularity & Co. in Dumbo Brooklyn.  Singularity is mainly a sci-fi and fantasy bookshop, but they've agreed to allow in a crime writer for the night. Quite generous of them and the night should be fun.  The time: 7PM.  With plenty of red and white wine on hand. 

To learn more about Singularity & Co. bookstore and the wonderful things they do with sci-fi, dark fantasy, and vintage pulp fiction, click here: Singularity & Co.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Harvard Square Editions, Superb Indie Publisher

It's been about two and a half months now since Harvard Square Editions released my novel SPIDERS AND FLIES in trade paperback and E-book versions.  Time to take a moment to say the relationship has been a good one.  Harvard Square Editions is an excellent independent publisher, and the physical books they create are beautifully made.  Glad I'm working with them.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


SPIDERS AND FLIES is free at Amazon January 17-21 as a Kindle E-book. 
Pick up your copy here: SPIDERS AND FLIES.

Spiders and Flies is a story of kidnapping, seduction, and betrayal set on the Caribbean island of Martinique.  Tightly plotted and full of suspense, the story follows an American fugitive in exile, the woman who is his intended target, and the people close to both of them.  It is pure tropical noir.