Posts Tagged ‘JFK Assassination’

21 Years Later—A Third Shamus!

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

I’m afraid my long streak of losing the Shamus has been broken – “So Long, Chief,” the Spillane/Collins story that appeared in the Strand magazine and was nominated for an Edgar – won the Shamus Best Short Story award Friday night at the PWA banquet in Long Beach. Very gratifying to have the Spillane/Collins collaboration receive this kind of validation.

Bouchercon 2014
MAC Receiving 2014 Shamus Best Short Story for “So Long, Chief”

All the winners are at this link.

Bouchercon 2014
Left to right: Grant Bywaters, Sue Grafton, Brad Parks, Lachlan Smith, M. Ruth Myers, M.A.C.

The event was well-attended – over one hundred in a packed room at Gladstone’s restaurant – and the reviews were generally very good. Barb and I filled in for usual hosts Bob Randisi and Christine Matthews, as Bob is recovering from eye surgery and not able to travel. The food was quite good, and the service too, and the waterfront setting nicely noir; but the venue wasn’t ideal – poor sound system and rather crowded, with a cramped presentation area. But a certain sense of intimacy was created.

Bouchercon 2014
Barb and S.J. Rozan, who is about to present the Best Paperback Award

Speeches were short and to the point, and warm memories of Jerry Healy and Marty Meyers, both of whom we lost this year, made for a somewhat bittersweet mood (as did the absence of Bob and Christine). The two big names in female P.I. fiction made a rare joint appearance, as Sara Paretsky presented the Best Novel Award, and Sue Grafton picked up the “Hammer” award for her character Kinsey Millhone – that award, named for Mike Hammer, goes to a character that has had a big impact on the genre as well as longevity.

Bouchercon 2014
Barb presenting the Hammer Award to Sue Grafton

For me – beyond the highlight of winning a Shamus after a 21-year dry spell, what the Private Eye Writers of America banquet meant was the end of a rewarding if punishing first full day at Bouchercon.

Bouchercon 2014
Kensington editor Michaela Hamilton, agent Dominick Abel, and Barbara Collins

It began with a breakfast with my TOR/Forge editor, the funny and very smart Claire Eddy, as we discussed Nate Heller’s future (which is of course in the past). At eleven I did a two-hour interview (with a full camera crew) for Thomas & Mercer, creating material for a new Kindle mystery site. Then back to the convention hotel (the modernistic and rather unfinished-looking Hyatt) for an hour-and-a-half signing of ASK NOT at a TOR-sponsored hospitality suite event. From there came a 3:00 panel on obscure but worthwhile mystery writers (I did Ennis Willie, Horace McCoy and Roy Huggins, as well as made a case for Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series as a hardboiled private eye series of comparable stature to Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane). Always fun to be on a panel with the great Gary Phillips, and audience members were taking notes like a bunch of court reporters.

Bouchercon 2014
Left to right: Sarah Weinman, M.A.C., Gary Phillips, Charles Kelly, Sara J. Henry, Peter Rozovsky

Immediately thereafter, I appeared on a panel on screenwriting and adapting books to film – well-attended and pretty good, but a little “inside” – after which Barb and I ran over to the restaurant to put the PWA banquet in motion.

First thing Saturday, Barb was on a terrific panel – one I frankly had figured would be pretty thin (pets in mysteries) – where she really knocked it out of the park. The other panelists were also very strong and (almost) as funny as Barb. After that, we did our only Con-sponsored signing, as there had been no time the day before to sign after my two panels. Immodestly I will say that we had a huge line and I signed non-stop for an hour and a half, during much of which Barb was signing, too. Such great people, such enthusiastic readers. What a joy.

More meetings followed, with editors from Thomas & Mercer and Kensington, all positive and fun. T & M presented me with a plaque for selling 175,000 copies of SUPREME JUSTICE in June 2014 alone. Our friend and editor Michaela Hamilton (whose guy Eugene George generously provided some of the pics here) talked to Barb and me about the ANTIQUES series, and some Caleb York brainstorming went on as well.

The con flew by, obviously, and since we’re having nasty Iowa weather (it’s 12 degrees as I write this), that California sun (and Ocean breeze) (and palm trees) were tough to leave behind. It was gratifying to meet and talk to so many fans, but unfortunately a lot of them were surprised to find us there. Both Barb and I were left out of the program book, though we had submitted mini-bios and pics as requested; and my name was spelled inconsistently in the schedule of panels and on my name tag (lots of “Allen”). It’s a byproduct of Bouchercon being a fan-run con – though that is part of its charm – because the tastes of local fans can lead to some sloppy handling of authors attending.

Bouchercon 2014
Phoef Sutton, M.A.C., Lee Child, and Lee Goldberg

SPOILER ALERT: Bitch session follows.

I will present my personal award for general crappiness to American Airlines. Sunday was a nightmare getting home. American Airline neglected to inform us that the last leg of our flight home (Moline) had been cancelled – we only found out semi-accidentally, getting ready to board a flight to Dallas/Fort Worth when we volunteered to check our carry on items. At that point the counter guy stumbled onto the info that we couldn’t get home from Dallas today. So we didn’t board and sought out the customer service area, where a long line of displaced customers stood like Titanic passengers hoping to find room in a life boat. There one chatty employee was blithely handling everybody in an I-have-all-the-time-in-the-world manner.

I had better luck with an AA 800 line rep, although much of the news was bad – even if we went to Dallas/Ft. Worth and got a hotel room, there were no Moline flights out the next day. Our Long Beach Bouchercon trip seemed about to include two days (minimum) in Dallas. Finally I re-routed to Chicago, where there were also no Moline flights available, but with some difficulty I was able to line up a rental car for us to drive home. Again, no help from AA – they seized just about everybody-on-the-flight’s carry-on bags (ours had already been sized and deemed well within bounds by AA staff on entry of the terminal), and sent them to baggage claim, dooming us all to lost time. Then, to top off their service from hell, they gave us the wrong baggage claim carousel number – I just happened to spot what looked like our carry-ons down at another carousel, where they were taking a ride to oblivion. So AA cost us yet more time, when it was already 11 p.m. The Enterprise rental car outfit was terrific, however, as was National, the sister company through whose 800 number I was able to find a car to get us home.

At 3:15 a.m.

So farewell, American Airlines! Allow me to middle-finger salute you as you fly into that so richly deserved oblivion where you dispatched the carry-ons that you had so feverishly wrested from our grasp.

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Here’s a terrific review of ASK NOT at I Love a Mystery. Full disclosure: it’s by Larry Coven, who appeared in my films MOMMY’S DAY and REAL TIME: SEIGE AT LUCAS STREET MARKET.

And check out this nice DEADLY BELOVED review at the Just a Guy That Likes to Read blog.


Swap Talk & Bobby Darin

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Just hours ago, I shipped ANTIQUES SWAP off to our editor at Kensington. I say “shipped” out of habit – these days, there’s no rush to make it to a Fed-Ex drop to actually post packages. How many times did Barb and I work all day on final corrections, hoping to make it to the P.O., Fed Ex or UPS on time?

Hitting “send” is somehow not as satisfying as handing a clerk a package or shoving that package into the Fed Ex box. But I would never go back.

Barb and I spent a long day doing the final tweaks and corrections. Our standard operating procedure is that I read and revise a hard copy, using a red pen so that the corrections jump out, and she enters them. This is not just for “Barbara Allan” books, but everything of mine that’s book length.

I’m always afraid that, on the read-through, a novel isn’t going to hang together – as I go, I focus on one chapter at a time, as if I were doing a short story, and I rarely have a sense of how (or not) those chapters are coming together to make a book. Almost always I am pleasantly surprised, sometimes damn near thrilled, by how those chapters turn into something coherent and cohesive. That last read-through, for tweaks and typos, plays a key role, but it’s always nice to know that you’ve written a novel and not just a bunch of scenes.

ANTIQUES SWAP came out very well indeed. But you never know, and we both had our doubts along the way. The story starts at a swap meet and eventually deals with wife-swapping in small-town Serenity. This is delicate, even daring subject matter for a cozy, but I think we walked the tight rope successfully. There’s a scene Barb came up with where a concussed Vivian Borne thinks she’s on a USO Tour with Bob and Bing that is among our funniest.

Last week a number of you jumped on my offer of sending out signed copies of KING OF THE WEEDS for Amazon reviews. I offered 12 copies, but wound up digging into my personal stash for another five. Thanks to all of you who requested books, and my apologies to those who missed out this time. In a few weeks, there will be a similar giveaway with a dozen ARC’s of SUPREME JUSTICE. For those who haven’t noticed, these Updates go up every Tuesday at 9 a.m. Central Time.

In the next two months, we should be posting any number of interviews and reviews. This is one of those times when all my publishing worlds collide – ANTIQUES CON, KING OF THE WEEDS and SUPREME JUSTICE are all out at the same time. I’ve already done an interview for Jon Jordan at Crimespree (see below), and soon I’ll be offering a link to a very long, in-depth one for J. Kingston Pierce of the Rap Sheet and Kirkus on-line.

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In the last year of his life, Bobby Darin did an NBC series called THE BOBBY DARIN SHOW. If you’ve been following my work for a while, chances are you know that I am the world’s biggest Bobby Darin fan. How can I make such a claim? Let’s start with: I own his Gold Record for “Mack the Knife.” Next!

The Bobby Darin Show

Anyway, Darin’s series is in many respects a typical early ‘70s variety show, which is to say a weird hybrid of what was “happening,” baby, and wheezy traditions that dated to vaudeville. Darin is very good at doing sketches and production numbers, and is naturally funny, too. But those ‘70s variety shows, with the partial exception of Carol Burnett, were really pretty terrible. And the reason to celebrate the release of THE BOBBY DARIN SHOW on DVD is chiefly the moments, two or three times a show, when Darin stands on stage in a tux and sings standards and current pop hits in his sophisticated, hip nightclub manner.

Also, every episode (there are thirteen) finds Darin singing to (and with) that week’s female musical guest star. Usually the two perch on stools as he gazes at her with open admiration, in a kind of seduction ending with Darin kissing the female guest tenderly (in near silhouette). What’s most fascinating here is how Darin modulates his performances according to the talents of his partner. Connie Stevens is shockingly weak, and Darin carries her, singing softly and gently. Much the same is true with Nancy Sinatra – but she is much better with him, with his help, than in her embarrassing solo performance of a lame “Boots are Made For Walkin’” follow-up flop.

But when Darin sings with Dusty Springfield – the greatest blue-eyed female soul singer of her generation – they stand facing each other, going toe to toe, delighted by each other’s talent, holding nothing back, although Dusty may be just a little bit surprised that the “Splish Splash”/”Mack the Knife” guy has such incredible r & b chops.

It’s not overstating it to say Darin was dying when he made these shows. Sometimes he clearly feels pretty good, and other times not. He doesn’t betray that, but I can tell. He phrases differently – grabbing more air than usual – when he’s under the weather. At the end of each show, he sings “Mack the Knife” while the credits roll and then recedes into a big empty soundstage in silhouette, which now plays hauntingly. If he’s feeling good, he dances and prances; if he’s having a rough week, he does just enough footwork and body language to fool you into thinking he’s still Bobby Darin. It’s said that he took oxygen off-stage before and after these performances, and that he was like a puppet with its strings snipped till the camera came on and the orchestra kicked in, and he came – for a time – alive.

Bobby Darin was a character Walden Robert Cassoto played. The coolness of the cat, swinging his songs on these shows, is startling in contrast to the goofy humor bits he does, like when he’s in drag as “the Godmother,” or sitting on a brownstone stoop jawing with a neighborhood pal. His acting talent comes to the fore in some excellent low-key production numbers in which he enacts a scene drawn from a song he’s singing, as in “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” where he’s a lower-class joe entertaining a prostitute in a cheap hotel room. Fairly startling, actually.

Darin could do anything. He was Oscar-nominated for a dramatic movie role and won a Golden Globe for a comedy. He was a genuine rocker. He was easily the greatest blue-eyed soul singer of his generation. He recorded some of the first country rock and folk rock, and was a songwriter of talent and versatility (he’s in the Songwriters Hall of Fame). At the start of his career, he opened for George Burns. In the last months of his life, he was the highest paid performer in Vegas.

If you buy this DVD set, know a couple of things. There are some things missing from these shows, apparently mostly guest-star performances that couldn’t be cleared. There are comedy bits you may wish to skip, and some dreadful musical performances by guest stars. I mean, it’s the early ‘70s. We’re talking the kind of era that makes people nostalgic for THE BRADY BUNCH.

But when Darin takes centerstage, with a big band behind him, a microphone in hand, and a rapt audience before him, prepare to get chills. There are performances here, by this dying young man, that are spellbinding and mesmerizing – “Cry Me a River,” “Some People,” “Once in a Lifetime.” A rare live performances of his great hit “Artificial Flowers” (one of his many songs about death) can be found here, and so can his thumbing-his-nose-at-the-reaper signature tune “Mack the Knife” – thirteen times, each different. The most astonishing performance is, perhaps surprisingly, his moving and electric rendition of Don McLean’s “Driedel.” Worth the price of admission.

The DVD set is widely available, on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble, and featured in mail-order catalogues like Critic’s Choice.

For those of you who have no idea what the fuss is, check out this 1962 performance:

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Here’s that interview that Jon Jordan did with me about KING OF THE WEEDS and more.

Barb and I are thrilled that the Washington Post mystery review chose ANTIQUES CON for part of their round-up of new cozies.

And my old pal Ron Fortier (terrific writer his own self) had wonderful things to say about KING OF THE WEEDS.

JFK assassination expert Vince Palamara – one of my unwitting resources – has some very nice things to say about TARGET LANCER here. I can’t tell you how much it means when somebody like Vince approves of my exploration of the key crime of the 20th Century.


Christmas Movies

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

For my family, the Christmas holiday is wrapped up in film, not ribbon. We have our favorites that we watch every year, and they are fairly predictable.

Our top pick is MIRACLE ON 34th STREET (the original, not the terrible remake) with the Alistair Sim SCROOGE a close second. A very close third is IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (James Stewart appeared in more great movies than any other actor). I’m one of the few who saw A CHRISTMAS STORY in the theater on its original release and it’s an annual event for us – but it’s more a Jean Shepherd film than a Christmas movie, showcasing his patented bittersweet nostalgia. CHRISTMAS VACATION has found its place on our seasonal special shelf, as well, and MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS is always worth a look – was Judy Garland ever lovelier?

There are many other worthwhile Christmas movies out there. HOLIDAY INN is easily better than WHITE CHRISTMAS, although the latter has its charms – it’s helped keep Danny Kaye from being forgotten, for one, and my pal Miguel Ferrer’s mom is in it. The Riff Trax and MST2K versions of various horrible Christmas movies are always good for a festive laugh. BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE (1958) is an old favorite of ours, the movie Kim Novak and James Stewart made together after VERTIGO. With Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs stealing scenes left and right, it’s a precursor to BEWITCHED and might seem a better choice for Halloween, only it’s set at Christmas.

But we decided this year to try some movies that at least one of us (talking Barb and me now) hadn’t seen before. Having done so, we’d like to recommend the following relative obscurities:

THE FAMILY MAN (2000) with Nic Cage, a modern reworking of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Heartwarming and funny. Cage may be an over-the-top actor, but the man commits – he gives one thousand percent to every performance, and this time he has a wonderful movie to do it in. This is a favorite of Nate’s, whose goal in life is to own every Nic Cage movie.

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS (2004). Okay, so it’s a shameless reworking of GROUNDHOG’S DAY as a Christmas movie, but this admittedly minor TV movie is funny and rewarding – good-hearted but with a darkly comic sensibility. Steven Weber is excellent as the successful slick businessman (similar to Cage in THE FAMILY MAN) who has twelve tries to get Christmas Eve right. Molly Shannon gets her best post-SNL role.

THREE GODFATHERS (1948). This John Ford western stars John Wayne and is surprisingly gritty and even harrowing before a finale that you may find too sentimental. There’s some humor, too, and Ford’s first color film is visually beautiful. It’s dedicated to Harry Carey and “introduces” Harry Carey, Jr., who is very good, as is Pedro Armendariz (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE).

PRANCER (1989). This features an amazing naturalistic performance from child actor Rebecca Herrell. It’s a sort of smalltown/rural variation on MIRACLE ON 34th STREET. Is the reindeer the little girl helps back to health really Santa’s Prancer? Sam Elliot is uncompromising as the father who doesn’t understand his daughter, whose mother has died.

We found it a fun way to get ourselves into the Christmas swing by introducing some of these lesser known films into the mix.

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THE WRONG QUARRY reviews have begun, like this great one from Ron Fortier.

Here’s another nice WRONG QUARRY review from Big Daddy.

Mike Dennis likes THE WRONG QUARRY, too.

That Woody Haut “Ten Favorite Crime Novels of 2013” piece, showcasing ASK NOT, has been picked up all over the place, notably at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

And the staff at Greenwich chooses COMPLEX 90 as best mystery, with the two runners-up ASK NOT and Bob Goldsborough’s ARCHIE MEETS NERO WOLFE. Some people have good taste!


Embarrassing Media Performance

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

I couldn’t stomach much of the media coverage last week, for the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Am I supposed to care what Angelina Jolie thinks of Kennedy? Or where a tearful Jane Fonda was when she heard? Hand me the air sickness bag, please.

The shameful media emphasis on Oswald as lone gunman and conspiracy theorists as fools came to a surprising head Friday night when Bill Maher, of all people, shrugged the assassination off as “shit happens.”

That’s the standard take of the pro-lone nut crowd – people like me just can’t accept that a great man like JFK could be taken down by a little nobody. Hearing the ridiculous Warren Commission findings taken seriously while the later HSCA  finding for conspiracy are ignored shows just how all-pervasive this new whitewash is.

It doesn’t come from the government. It comes from my fellow liberals wanting to deify Kennedy, to make him a marble figure on a statue like Lincoln. Speaking of Lincoln, how many people out there think John Wilkes Booth was a lone nut “like Oswald”? That will come as a surprise to Booth’s co-conspirators, who swung from ropes.

I’m an admirer of JFK, but also a realist. I understand that a president who sanctions assassinations of other heads of state might just trip over a whole lot of karma. I understand that when you team the CIA up with the Mob (not a theory – an historical fact) to bump off Castro, some nasty ramifications might ensue.

On Maher’s REAL TIME panel, Paul Begala stated that his fellow George magazine founder John F. Kennedy Jr. made a point of saying their new magazine wouldn’t be looking into the assassination. JFK Jr. reportedly said he could spend his whole life doing that, and had decided to move on. The implication was, we should all do the same.

Maher accepted this strained logic – if a son doesn’t give a shit who killed his old man, why should we? But the Kennedy family has always kept a tight control over assassination documents – they knew the dirty laundry that would come out. RFK’s first reaction to hearing about the shooting was that Chicago had done it, and he used his own Rackets Committee veteran investigators to do a sub rosa inquiry (part of the basis for Heller’s activities in ASK NOT).

Let’s keep this very simple. The problem with dismissing as a fool or a crank anyone who thinks a conspiracy took down JFK is this: it only takes two to make a conspiracy, and in this case we have at least two – Oswald and Ruby.

Or let’s look at it this way – to believe Oswald was a lone nut who shot JFK, you also have to accept Ruby as a lone nut who shot Oswald. So the media/Maher theory isn’t the Lone Nut Theory – it’s the Two Lone Nuts theory…which is particularly ludicrous when you consider that Ruby was a mobbed-up guy from Chicago with ties all the way back to Capone and a history in Cuba with the Marcello crowd.

I’m generally a Maher fan. He’s a smug prick, but he’s funny and smart. But he can also be glib and shallow, and this is one of those times. Him and the rest of the media.

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The ASK NOT signing went very well at Barnes & Noble in Davenport, Iowa, Saturday afternoon. Big bookstore chain signings often suck, but at this one – despite a Hawkeye game (even my collaborator Matt Clemens didn’t attend the signing) – we had a steady flow. A good stack of ASK NOT sold, quite a few TARGET LANCER paperbacks, plus a whole lot of ANTIQUES books, which Barb and I signed.

Speaking of ANTIQUES, three of the paperback reprints are going back to press – ANTIQUES ROADKILL, ANTIQUES DISPOSAL and ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF – which reflects just how well this series continues to do. If you’re a hardboiled M.A.C. fan and haven’t tried one, now’s as good a time as any, and the current ANTIQUES CHOP is one of our best.

As for ASK NOT, we had some nice attention last week, although with so many JFK books out there, mine got a little lost in the shuffle. An appearance on Paula Sands Live on KWQC-TV Davenport no doubt boosted the Barnes & Noble appearance. Paula is so great – some of you will remember her from her acting stint (as herself!) in MOMMY’S DAY.

The reviews for ASK NOT at Amazon are generally raves, but we only have around a dozen at this point. If you’ve read and liked the book, could you please post a short review? If you didn’t like the book, keep in mind that I don’t come to where you work and criticize you.

My “WHY I WRITE” piece for Publisher’s Weekly was picked up by two of the best blogs in mystery fiction: Ed Gorman’s and Bill Crider’s.

The other non-Gorman Ed’s Blog posted a nice ASK NOT review here.

One of several radio interviews I did last week is available at this link.

My old pal David Burke at the Quad Cities Times did this short but sweet interview/write-up, promoting the Barnes & Noble signing.

Tony Isabella, great guy/terrific writer, gave his blog followers a nice heads up about the forthcoming WRONG QUARRY.

And here’s a fun review (read the comments, too) of THE GIRL HUNTERS. By the way, a blu-ray is coming and I will likely be involved.