Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spade and Archer, prequel to Maltese Falcon doesn't quite hit the mark.

If you read my from Blog from several weeks ago you would know that one of my favorite book is Dashiell Hammett's Maltese Falcon. It is one of the defining books in the genre of detective fiction and in particular private detective fiction when it was released 80 years ago.

But how did it begin? How did Spade and Archer become partners?

Well author Joe Gores answers those question in his new novel Spade & Archer: The Prequel to Dashiell Hamett's The Maltese Falcon.

I have to admit I was looking forward to this. Being a fan of Dashiel Hammett's and Sam Spade's. I wanted to know something or anything of his past.

The story opens with Spade doing surveillance work for the Continental Detective Agency's(this being a reference to another detective created by Hammett only know has the Continental Op) in which he saves Miles Archer(Archer at the time was working for another agency) from being attacked by two men. We find out they know each other. It here we find out Archer has gotten married to Iva(and it seems that before that she and Spade were an item). It is after this Spade reports to his boss and quits the agency to start his own agency.

In this book we find that Spade served in WWI were he was assigned to the Seventh Battalion of the Second Infantry and saw action in the trenches of the Lens-Arras sector of France. He was wounded and recieved a medal. That he already has a history with the to 2 police detectives Dundy and Polhaus. And how Effie Perine became his secretary(when coming to answer the ad for a secretary she lied and told all other applicants the job was already filled) and how Sam Wise became his lawyer(had an office next door to Spade and often used Effie for his secretary work).

As the story goes it is told in three parts, 1921, 25 & 28. It seems that each case Spade is investigating is connected by a single mastermind. First theft of gold coins off a ship, then a murdered banker and finally a Chinese woman who father was raising money for a revolt in China.

As for how the mystery is told Gores did a fine job with it. Connecting each case in a nicely plotted story.

But for all that it just didn't have the feel of Hammett's Sam Spade. For after all is said and done it could have been just another mystery with any other private investigator. Though there were glimmers of Hammett's tone or voice but they were few and far between to make this book truly feel worthy of a prequel.

Then there was the instant of foreshadowing that I dislike so much(comics do it too much). Now Spade doesn't like guns. In quitting the agency Spade makes a remarks on his competitive pistol shooting after his soon to be ex boss says something about it:

"The Pistol made the records. All I did was point it and make it go bang," "Eight-shot thirty-eight Webley-Fosbery automatic revolver. Only three hundred of them ever got made because they jammed in combat but they were so accurate on the firing range they got banned from competition shooting."

Now if you have read Hammett's book or are a fan of the movie you know that is the gun that killed Archer in the Maltese Falcon. It seemed that Gores was implying that Spade was able to recognize the gun only because he fired one before. He is a detective and even not liking to use guns he would need to have knowledge of them so it wouldn't have been unusual for him to to able to identify the gun.

Then there is his relationship with Detective Dundy. If you read Falcon(or seen the movie) you know that Dundy doesn't really care for Spade and his methods. He even went so far to accuse Spade of murdering Archer and Floyd Thurby in Hammett's novel. Dundy here again is just about accusing Spade of every one who gets killed in the Gore's book.

Then there was Spade meeting with the Assistant District Attorney office. It almost was an exactly similar to his meeting in Falcon with then District Attorney. So much so I almost expected Spade to ask the stenographer if he was talking to fast as he did in Falcon.

I don't know if Gores put that in the book because he thought since Hammett did he should. Or maybe he thought that the readers were expecting it.

There were other little things that bothered me that didn't have so much to do with the plot as with the writing. For instance almost every time when his secretary talked it was "Effie Perine said.." or "as Effie Perine got up". I just didn't understand why he had to use her full name almost all the time. Did he think we forget her name? Was so he wouldn't forget her name? He also did the same for Spade's lawyer Sam Wise. But when anyone else was talking he would use their first or last name only.

And as for Archer himself. He was hardly in the book at all. We saw him at the beginning then later on for a brief scene or two then it wasn't until later that the partnership began. Now in the book the agreement between the two was for only one year. In Hammett's book as well in the movie you got the impression that Spade & Archer have been together for some time(but that Spade was going to disolve the partnership for unknown reasons). But in Gore's book the partnership would only last a few weeks before Bridget O'Shaunessey would kill him.

Though I did like the nod as mention above to the Continental Op and later when Spade needed an alias he used Nick Charles which of course referring to Hammett's other famous detective in the book The Thin Man. But Spade use of aliases seem contrived. Reading the original novel you had the feeling aliases were not something Spade used. He didn't need to aliases I felt. It was his unpredicablity that was his greatest weapon. How, whom ever he was dealing with never knew what he was going to do. The use of them just made Spade seem like another private investigator.

Again it was a well plotted mystery but just didn't read like a Sam Spade novel. Between the first and last page it felt that this novel felt short of appealing to the fan's Hammett and Sam Spade in me. Now don't get me wrong. I wasn't expecting him to write like Hammett any more than I expect a play write to write like Shakespeare. But if you are going to write some one else's character you need to at least make it feel like how the original author intended the character to be. I didn't feel the unpredictability of the character when I first read The Maltese Falcon(and which I still feel when I read the book). When Hammett wrote Spade you just weren't sure whose side he was on or even if he was on the right side. But what Gore did was write a typical private detective story that would have worked with any private detective.

Now I never read Gore's any other books so I can't compare them to this. But if I was to judge I say he would have been better off just creating his own character for this book.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The 250 year history of Guinness is as good as a pint of the dark brew itself.

The ostrich, travellers recall,
enjoys his Guinness, glass and all.
How sad the Guinness takes so long
to get where it makes him strong!
Guinness Ad- 1952

I'm not a big drinker. I can easily say the only two types of alcohol I like to drink is beer and whiskey. With beers I prefer lagers or ales. Something with a more malty and of hops flavor. More in line with your brown ales, porters and stouts. With Guinness being at the top of my favorites. As for Whiskey well what can I say, I good Irish whiskey will do me fine.

Now I don't if this is because of the Irish in me or that I just happen to have excellent taste. If I was to really think about it I would have to say it's a little of both.

It is with being a lover of Guinness That I read Bill Yenne's Guinness: The 250-Year Quest for the Perfect Pint.

It was 250 years ago this year that Author Guinness on December 31 1759 with a £100 down(was willed to him by the Archbishop Price) and for £45 a year signed the lease for the site of a unused brewery. But what really stands out about this lease is not the £100 down or the £45 a year lease. It was the fact the terms of the lease was for an amazing nine thousand years. Yes that rights, nine thousands years. Now if that isn't forward thinking I don't know what is.

Beginning with Author Guinness, Yenne takes us through 7 generations of the Guinness family(Sir Author Francis Benjamin Guinness was the last family member to have leadership in the family business, 1937-1992) to present day.

We learn how the business survived competition, economic hard times, legal battles(in 1775 a Dublin Corporation committee & sheriff are sent to cut off and fill in the channel from which the Brewery draws its water. Arthur Guinness is forced to brandish a pick axe to protect his supply. The dispute is finally settled in 1784 when water rights are granted for 8,975 years), wars and an ever changing world.

For a business to survive, especially 250 years, it must be adaptable to the changing economics(local and global) and politics(again local and global) and technology of brewing, storage and transportation. And Guinness did adapt to become one of the world's largest brewers.

That is what makes this story so fascinating. This isn't just a story of a beer(of course saying Guinness is just a beer is like saying that Shakespeare was just another writer) and it's brewery. It is a story of one man's dream to craft a beer that in time has become a tradition among it's consumers. For Author Guinness was a craftsman and a consummate business man. He knew it wasn't enough to love brewing beer but that you had to promote and most importantly believe in the product that you were making. And it is this legacy that has been passed down through generations of the Guinness's and beyond that even today it's brewers feel.

As the story unfolds we learn how each generation of Guinness's has added to that legacy of the beer and company through technology, promoting and expanding brewery's through out the world. And through it all never compromising on quality and the care of it's employees.

It is believed that 4 million pints of Guinness are poured every day. For connoisseurs of beer there is no finer crafted beer than Guinness(for some it is the only beer they will drink). Everything from the pouring(there is something magical about watching the head rise as it's being poured and again maybe it's the Irish in me) of to how one drinks it's a something that is savored from beginning to end.

And after reading this book I have appreciate it flavor even more knowing the craftsmanship that goes into each keg, bottle or can. Between the first and last page Yenne has given us not only the history of a business but the history of the men and woman who through love and determination carried that business through the past 250 years and hopefully for another 250 years.

A. J. Hartley's Act of Will a fun smart fantasy.

"Words, like swords, have a way of getting people in and out of trouble. Morality was never my strong point, but I suddenly saw the attraction of being right and knowing it...."
Will Hawthorne.

Will Hawthorne just turned 18. He is a member of a theater in Cresdon. Today he finds out if the group will let him stay or kick him out. But before he can find out the Empire bands all theater and plays on the ground that they lead to revolts. Any actor or writer(which Will does both) is on the list to be arrested. Of course Will's name is on the top of that list

So on the run from the Empire troops(it doesn't help that just before the troops showed up that a fellow actor caught him stealing from another actor) he runs into 4 people who with no like for the Empire who helps him escape.

And with that for the first time he leaves the city he was born, raised and lived his whole some what sheltered life. And to say the least he isn't quite prepared for the trip or as they say the real world.

He 4 rescuers are Mithos(with a rep as a rebel among other things), Orgos(big man who knows how to use swords) and brother and sister, Garnet and Renthrette(both not real keen on helping Will). All with no love of the Empire who rules the lands. They agree to take Will with them to meet their leader who has a job for the group. And if the leader agrees then Will will be allowed to come with them.

So he meets the leader and to sat he is surprised is an understatement(hey if your looking for me to tell you everything forget it). . But the leader agrees that Will may join them. It seems that he has the gift of talking which has helped them for time to time.

The job is in the far lands of Targev, Shale and Greycoast. It seems these lands are being each attacked by raiders. Attacking merchants, villages and killing everyone. It seems that each of these three countries rely on each other for food and other merchandise. But the problems is not quite easy. The raiders always mysteriously(is there any other way?) disappearing with out a trace. The job is to locate these marauders so that the armies of the 3 countries can stop them.

Now I know what your thinking. Your thinking "OK this is another story about a guy with no experience in fighting or anything like that and goes with this group and find that he was born for this and that his real destiny along was to be a hero" kind of story.

Yes, Will find out what he is truly capable of but not in the "I am a warrior born all along" kind of way. Will knows nothing on how to use weapons. Hell he can hardly use a crossbow. Not to mention a sword not even the magic sword that Orgos has which some how emits bright flashes of light(that for some reason requires believe in ones purpose). The closet he ever came to using one was as a prop on stage. And I can't say how that really counts.

He not an especially brave man either. He never has been in a fight much less a battle before, though he does fight his first inclination is to run. And often it is what he does. He actually thinks bravery is overrated and is more than likely to just get you killed, and where is the point in that. And when he does something brave or seems brave it is most by accident(or in running away) and he rather not have it brought to any one attention.

And as for morals, well lets say they are on the ambiguous side. He has no compunction to lying or stealing. Though he doesn't understand killing(which he will have to do to say alive), especially for honor. But he will try to defend a lady if he thinks he can(or if he his trying to impress her) but that doesn't usually work out either.

Though the best think he does is talk. Word's are his weapon and they have gotten him in almost as much trouble(almost hanged) as they have gotten him out of. That and he is I suppose, because he is a writer and actor has a great attention to detail. More than once he has noticed something that has helped the group solve this dilemma of the raiders.

He is almost a complete opposite of these "rebels" fate has thrown him in with. Mithos and the others, especially Orgos believe in fighting for honor, justice. They constantly remind him he would be dead with out them. A fact he often comments on himself. And they accepted him really with out question which is another thing Will most likely never do. The fact that Empire was after him was enough reason for them to save him. But if he is to stay with them he must learn how to defend himself, which he does to a certain degree and work to earn his keep as the other do.

It is in the end that with his words he find his sense of purpose. At the end when he faces down the leaders of the raiders. But it isn't with honor or bravery that he faces them with but realism. He sees the truth of what these raiders must do to win and keep the lands the fight for. He also sees the truth in what will happen to him and the others if they keep fighting. It was with that he found what he believed in and was able to use the sword to end the fight.

Which brings us to the quote at the beginning of the blog.

Will's voice in this story is ours. Will see the worlds as we do, realistically which is kind of sad. We wish we could see the world as Orgos and the others do in simple terms of right, wrong, honor dishonor, black and white. If you see trouble you help, if you see injustice you fight it with justice. But we know that the world is not so easily divided so simply(though they are not naive in any way). The shades of morality can be dark and light and every shade in between and sometimes not so easily recognized. It is how Will see the world. It his is power.

With Act of Will, A.J. Hartley has written a smart yet fun fantasy novel. Between the first and last page A.J. keeps the pace moving with a well plotted and well written characters. Each characters is well written though we don't find out much about Will's traveling companions it is that mystery I hope he explores in a future novel of Will Hawthorne. I really look forward to seeing him expand on this world and characters.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

BBC Radio's The Complete Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes are simply the best adaptations ever.

"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?
Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four

Since Sherlock Holmes first appearance in 1887 his stories, told by creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have been adapted on stage, in the movies, on television and radio. With some being more closely adaptations than others and some not even close.

Most notably were the movies from the late 30s and 40s starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Though these stories were done in modern times with Holmes not just fighting crime but spies including Nazis. They were never really strict adaptations of the Doyle stories(with maybe the exception of Hound of Baskervilles still done in modern time). These two actors would do a total of 14 Sherlock Holmes movies. Some being adaptations of Doyle's stories but more than not most being either loose interpretation or down right new stories to fit the area of which they were filmed.

And then there was what most people consider the most definitive portrayal of Holmes and Watson by Jeremy Brett and David Burke. The 4 British television series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes(1984-1994) were set in the actual period of the late nineteenth century. It was with this series that the BBC would create it most faithful adaptation to date.

But BBC Radio would change that with it's adaptation of all 4 novels and 56 short stories of Holmes stories by Doyle. Further more these brilliant adaptations were not only aired in the order of publications but it would be performed by a full cast. It is these radio dramas that have been collected in a beautiful 64 CD box set entitled The Complete Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes.

In these dramas Holmes is wonderfully played by Clive Merrison and his trusted friend and confident Dr. Watson is played by Michael Williams. These two talented actors along side equally talented actors bring alive the stories of Holmes in a way that I don't think has ever been achieved before.

First off lets talk about Merrison performance. When I hear him in these radio dramas(I'm listening now as I type this) I forget all other performances. He is just as I imagined Holmes would sound like. And you have to realize that most of the time actors very rarely sound like your favorite literary characters as they do in your head. I can only think of a hand full of times they either matched or went behind my expectations. Merrison absolutely went behind my expectations.

Merrison captures the characterization of Holmes perfectly(the only other performance that I would say that matches Merrison's is Christopher Plummer as Holmes in Murder by Decree). His brilliance, arrogance, and even humanity. There have been many portrayals of Holmes as a cold individual but if you have read the Doyle stories you will know that his high regards for intelligence over emotions can make hims see a very distant and cold person.

Then there is Mr. Williams performance as Dr. Watson, Holmes's chronicler. Also Williams exceeds my imagination of how Watson would sound and act(again I would say James Mason's performance as Watson in Murder by Decree is a perfect match). He captures Watson not as comic relief as some interpretation but as a brilliant doctor and very good friend and confident of Holmes.

But not only was Merrison's and Williams's performance superb but so were the supporting casts performances as well. Each actor brought alive these characters that when hearing them brings you into the world of Holmes and late nineteenth century.

Then there is the sound effect. Each sound brings alive the late nineteenth century. The sounds of the carriages, trains and even the smallest sound is done with perfection. It reminds of many of the old time radio shows I have listen to on CD.

Add to the sparse but wonderful use of the violin. It adds to the mood and atmosphere of these dramas.

Everything about these radio dramas are perfect. The acting, the music, the sound effects. All these things mesh to make a perfect drama and not to be missed by any fans of Sherlock Holmes(or that of the radio drama). The BBC should really be commended for the production of these radio dramas.

And this CD set is really a must for the absolute die hard Holmes fan. The box is beautifully painted to hold the set. As I mentioned above each story was aired in the order that Doyle published them. Which are The Study in Scarlet, Sign of the Four, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of Baskervilles, The Valley of Fear, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, His Last Bow and The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.

Between the first and last page or should I say between the first and last act this set is a pure joy to listen to. It goes to show just how with out pictures(moving or otherwise) actors with nothing more than sounds effects can bring alive characters and world of one of literary most famous character.

As a fan of detective fiction and in particular Sherlock Holmes this would be a perfect addition to any mystery and Holmes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pepper Martin Mystery series keeps getting better and better with each book.

I just finished reading the 4Th book in the Pepper Martin Mystery series by Casey Daniels. So with this Blog I figured would do a review of all 4 in the series so far. Since it would be kind of wrong just review the latest book with out anybody knowing anything about the first three. So here we go.

"I have to admit, the first time Gus Scarpetti spoke to me, I didn't pay a whole lot of attention. After all, the guy had been dead for thirty years. How much could he possibly have to say? "
Pepper Martin-- Don of The Dead

Imagine your father is a famous plastic surgeon(and very rich), you're engaged to a man who says he love no matter how much money your daddy has. OK so your slightly spoiled but you have a fashion sense that most Hollywood starlets would kill for. And you have the looks to go with it. Five Eleven with a bust that to match. Fiery red hair with the temper to also match.

Then one day it all goes away. Daddy goes off to Federal Prison for medical fraud and the nice tax people pretty much take everything away. That man who said he would and does you loves no matter how many zeros are attached to yours(or your daddy's) bank account drops you like your on fire. Mom moves to Florida to escape it all so that leaves you alone living in Cleveland with only an Art History Degree to meek out a living.

Whats a girl to do?

How about get a job as a tour guide in a local cemetery? So it's not the Honeymoon(or life for that matter) you expected. Then a slight twist of your ankle and hit on the head on the mausoleum of one Gus Scarpetti and now you can see his ghost.

Well meet Penelope "Pepper" Martin. You see Scarpetti has unfinished business here on this world and can not move on to the next or into the light as they say until it is finished. But being a ghost has several restrictions mainly being he can't touch anything or that no one can see him. Until now. And don't let a ghost touch you. It will bring a chill to the bone that can last for days.

So what is this unfinished business that only Pepper can do for him now that she can see, hear and talk to him. Simple, find out who murdered him thirty years ago while walking out of his favorite restaurant.

Did I mention that Scarpetti was a famous gangster in his day? So that makes the list of suspects a long one. And according to Gus if it was a rival gang it then he would have been able to move on to the light or as Gus says:

"That whole white light thing? It's for babbos. You know, dopes. The kind who believe in all that sappy stuff. Not Me. When I go out, honey I'm going to go out in style." "I'm going to make my exit to the strains of Sinatra singing 'My Way' " (you know I kinda wouldn't mind going out that way myself but I'm more partial to Dean Martin).

At first Pepper is very reluctant to help, hell at first she doesn't even think he is real. But once she is past her disbelieve she ends up on the case.

Along the way of she meets some of Gus old group, gets shot at. And it doesn't help that her spooky client isn't exactly telling her the whole story. So between his lies(or should we say half truths or straight out omissions), the bullets and people in general who would rather her just let past stay in the past Pepper manages to prove that she is capable of more than she ever thought possible.

And along the way she does have some help. First and foremost one Dan Callahan, PhD. Who is interested in her brain(OK as a geek I wouldn't even use that line) since her accident. Then there is Detective Quinn Harrison. It doesn't hurt that both are extremely sexy and that she would just love to fill her social calender with either of them(ever since her ex dropped her like a hot potato her social calender hasn't exactly been full).

But even though she has no experience doing detective work(watching Columbo doesn't count) she by sheer determination manages to find Gus's killer.

Casey Daniels here has written a superb debut novel. Introducing a character that has heart and determination. Even though she would rather be working at some high end department store she still keeps her chin up. Though she may not be a genius she isn't stupid by no means. She will and can be as stubborn as a mule. And it is that stubbornness that enables to keep going when her live is on the line and all senses tell her to walk away.

So when the murder is solved and Gus goes off with Sinatra singing she thinks now it's over. But when she gets back to her office there is a young lady there and she says

"Hiya, honey," "Gus sent me"

In The Chick and the Dead Pepper meets Didi Bowman who yes is a ghost. But after solving Gus's murder Pepper was hoping that the whole seeing ghost, solving their murders was over.

But Didi doesn't want her murder solved. She says she wasn't even murder, but committed suicide. Didi says that her sister, Merlee, took credit for the Book she wrote called So Far The Dawn that was written fifty years ago(think Gone with the Wind but instead of in Hot 'Lanta in Chilly Cleavland). A book that would go to be an international bestseller and of course made into a movie.

And Merlee is returning to Cleavland where the book was written to celebrate the digitally remastered film adapted from the book.

But even before she can start to look into it the cemetery becomes a media circus. Fans of both the book and movie swarm the place along with reporters from both TV and the newspapers.

And when Marlee arrives things start to happen. a photographer gets hit on the head and his camera is stolen at the cemetery and then Marlee personal assistant dies(she tied the laces of her corset too tight and suffocated while trying on a dress for the big movie celebration so it looks like).

So this gives Pepper the opportunity to get to work next to Marlee to uncover the truth. Since her job as tour guide has been temporally suspended do to the press and visit from Marlee.

Along the way Pepper discovers Didi's illegitimate granddaughter and most importantly she find out that Didi did not commit suicide as she believed but was murdered. It appears that that fifty years she been hearing how she committed suicide to the point that she believed it her self. And the list of suspect isn't short.

While this is going on Dan Callahan has been sneaking around taking pictures warning her that she is dealing with forces she doesn't understand dealing with ghosts. Then there is Detective Harrison who is trying to figure out why she is always around murders as of late.

So after she solves Didi's murder and helps her get the credit she deserves for writing So Far the Dawn she see another ghost. And as she leaves with friends(Didi's granddaughter who know is rich thanks to the royalties) she knows that she will be seeing him again.

Also in this book Daniels adds some more layer to what ghost can and can not do. As with Gus they can not touch any one or anything. But Pepper finds out that ghost can change their appearance or at least what they appear to be wearing. Then when Didi was remembering how she died some how because of her or something else Pepper was somehow transported to the bridge where Didi was suppose to have committed suicide and time to witness what happened and to the fact that she was murdered. Now was the transportation actually physical or not is left up in the air. Though I think it was for real. She became a witness but unable to interfere since it was the past.

Once again Miss Daniels has written a nicely plot with wonderful characters to match. And she keeps throwing enough curves to keep you guessing even if you you think you know Who Done It. In this book we start to see Pepper grow as a Private Investigator to the dead. And she is such a fun character to read. Feisty, stubborn and really not as shallow as she first appears. With her gift she now sees the world in a different way(not the way she likes it) and even as she fights it she knows she is the only one who can help these ghost. It is as Didi tells her when they first meet:

"Thanks to that accident of yours, you have what's officially known as the gift"
After last the last investigation, Pepper isn't happy when Rock Star Damon Curtis shows up. After all she has managed to go a few months with out another encounter a ghost or as she puts it, "the woo woo kind".

Enter Damon Curtis lead singer and song writer for one the most famous rock groups, Mind at Large. And as you can figure out is a ghost. Has been dead since 71 of an accidental overdose(like you believe that). So what can be keeping him from moving?

In Daniels 3rd installment of the Pepper Martin Series, Tombs of Endearment we learn more of the supernatural world that Pepper has become involved with since the first book.

It appear that one of Damon's former band mates, Vinnie is some how channeling Damon for songs. Since Damon was the writer of the bands songs and what made the group famous it appears that Vinnie wants to use Damon's spirit to write more songs and take credit for them.

So as Pepper goes to Vinnie to make him stop so Damon can move on she finds him dying with a knife in his heart(and he the lucky one he gets to move into the light). But then Damon should have been able to move on right? Well it isn't that easy. Damon still around and then the rest of Mind at Large is running for their lives after another member almost get killed by a falling spot light hours after Vinnie's death.

Following the clues, suspects galore, ghost hunters and half crazed fans Pepper find that that the world of Rock N Roll isn't all fun and games. And all the while just maybe falling for a dead Rock N' Roll star.

And back again is Dan Callahan with more dire warnings about ghost and magic And just why is he following Pepper? Then Detective Harrison is once again wondering why Pepper keeps around when people are either dying or dead. And to add to the complication Pepper can't seem to decide who she wants more Dan or Quinn.

As with the second novel Casey Daniels slowly adds layers to the supernatural universe that Pepper resides in. Making this book as much fun to read as the first two. The scene where Pepper finds Vinnie and actually sees him die and the move on into the light shows that she can see more than just the ghosts themselves. And as Vinnie was dying he was able to see Damon's ghost as well(I forget to mention that Gus's murderer in the first book was able to see him just as they was dying).

This book is as fun to read as the other two. Once again Pepper's voice is what makes this series a joy to read. As with other ghosts Pepper is at first reluctant to get involved but once she gets going she keep at until the truth is know and of course Damon is able to move on.

And now the fourth installment of the series, Night of the Loving Dead Pepper takes a vacation from Cleveland to go to Chicago. Actually it's more of a work related vacation. It seems her boss was suppose to go there for some big seminar on cemeteries. So she sends Pepper there in here place.

Where on tour of a local cemetery she meets her latest ghostly client Madeline Tremayne. Dead for about 3 years, killed by a mugger she isn't here for her murderer to caught(dead from a drug overdose) but needs to Pepper to protect Dan Callahan.

It seems that Madeline and Dan worked together with a Dr. Hilton Gerard. Gerard is a famous doctor who works with the mentally ill especially with the poor and homeless. Madeline thinks Gerard is doing some unethical things and is afraid that Dan will be blamed for them and maybe go to prison for them.

As Pepper investigates(and yes once again reluctantly but more so because she really doesn't like her current client) she finds that people are disappearing who are going to Gerard's Clinic and never seen again. Is famous doctor doing taking people and doing illegal and unethical experiments? If so just what is Gerard trying to find by doing these experiments? And how are these connected to Dan?

The answers is ghosts. It appears Gerard is trying to find people who can contact ghost or the spirit world. And Dan's reason for wanting to is to contact his dead wife, none other than Madeline herself.

This cause a fight between the two after Pepper tells him the truth about what she can do. At first he believes her when she says why she was at Gerard's clinic but later finds no record of her being there so thinks she was lying.

As the mystery deepens she has to deal with what appears to be a homeless man following her, death of a homeless woman who was last seen leaving the Gerard Clinic with Pepper. And also there is a strange shadow with glowing eyes who keeps appearing and disappearing and from what Pepper can clearly see is no ghost.

So Pepper puts herself on the front line. By volunteering for Gerard's little experiment. This gets her kidnapped and taken to where all the homeless have been taken. Including Ernie, homeless man that Pepper questioned for information on to who may have been taken and to where who gets taken himself. As captive Gerard explains his goals to contact people like Shakespeare, Einstein and others to question them and use what they tell him to make millions.

She gets away with the help of Dan and it is then we learn the real reason that Madeline has not crossed over(well one of the reasons anyway). She wants Pepper body. When she was alive and doing research for Gerard she came across old spells that allow a ghost to switch bodies. And if her plans work it will be Pepper that will disappear for ever.

So with the help of recently deceased, Ernie, Pepper solves the mystery of the disappearing people and finds that Madeline's murderer was actually paid to kill her by Gerard. Dan also learns that some other things about his deceased wife that he would rather of not known.

Once again Daniels has expanded on the supernatural world of Pepper's. For example here we learn if you are recently dead and not have passed you can actually touch objects but only for a short period. And it is here that for the first time Pepper sees more that one ghost. While escaping the place where Gerard took her he sees all the ghost of the people Gerard has killed in his experiments.

As with the first 3 books Casey Daniels as written and wonderfully engaging mystery with equally engaging characters. As as always it is Pepper that drives these books and makes them so much fun to read. Between the first and last page this series just keeps getting better. Miss Daniels knows how to write a mystery that is both engaging and fun to read. She keeps you guessing up the end. And even if you may know who the murderer is she throws enough curves in there to make you second guess yourself sometimes(I would say that in Chick and the Dead the murderer's identity was more obvious than the other three but still a fun read).

So if you love mysteries and especially mystery series then the Pepper Martin series is one that will satify your cravings.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

80 years ago Dashiel Hammett created one of literaries most famoues P.I's Sam Spade.

"......Don't be sure sure I'm as crooked as I'm suppose to be. That kind of reputation might be good business--bringing in high-priced jobs and making it easier to deal with the enemy"
Sam Spade- The Maltese Falcon

In the early days of the pulps magazines private investigators were written to be honest and believe in justice, They would search for the villains and in many case would the search would end with a shoot out with the villain paying the ultimate price for their nefarious deeds. In a way they were written to be the modern cowboy. You know wear a white hat(if not literary), fight for those who couldn't and justice.

But in September 1929 pulp magazine, The Black Mask would publish former Pinkerton Detective, Dashiell Hammett' first installment(there was a total of five installments concluding in January of 1930 and then in later in 1930 would be published as a novel) of the Maltese Falcon introducing Private Detective Sam Spade. Forever changing the way we look at detective fiction and in particular how we look at private detectives in fiction.

I'm sure most people know the story of Sam and the Maltese Falcon from the 1941 movie starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet(there were two previous adaptations, the first in 1931 which was in some ways not as close to the book as the 41 version was and in 1936 which was called Satan Met a Lady which was comedy and not even close to the book).

Brigid O'Shaughnessy come to Spade and Archer(Mile's is Sam's partner,also Sam is seeing his wife on the side) Detective agency trying to scare away her partner Floyd Thursby in the theft of a black statuette of a falcon claiming that her sister ran away from home with him. When Thursby couldn't be scared away she stole one of his guns and killed Archer in hoping either Sam would take care of him or the police.

Later Thursby was shot in the back 4 times at his hotel by a man working for a Kasper Gutman who has been searching for the statuette for almost 2o years. But the police think Sam killed him for killing his partner.

Also looking for the falcon is a Joel Cairo who later will team up with Gutman.

We find that the black statuette is in reality a black painted jewel encrusted bird made of solid gold. The golden falcon was to be given to the King of Spain as a tribute for him giving the Knights of Rhodes(Crusaders) Malto, Gozo and Tripoli. In delivering the falcon pirates captured the ship and all the treasure on board. The much later was painted black to disguise it and passed around from private owner to private owner for years.

It is this bird that O'Shaugnessy and Thursby stole from it current owner.

Sam must sift through the lies, double crosses and murder to find who killed his partner and Thursby while falling in love with Miss O'Shaughnessy.

This may sound like an typical detective story but with Sam Spade Hammett changed the rules of how we perceive private detectives in fiction.

Spade didn't use guns or his fists(well not much anyway) to get to the truth as most P.I's did in fiction. Hell he doesn't even carry a gun telling to police detectives that he doesn't like them. No Sam using his best weapon his brain.

While Sam doesn't use the usual method to get to the truth he also is not in the typical detective. With Sam your never quite sure if he is on the up and up or just as crooked as the others. With past fictional detective you knew they were the good guy. They fought for the truth and didn't lie to get answers. The played by rules so to speak and stayed in the boundaries of the law. Also they worked hand in hand with the police.

But with Sam Spade, Hammett has written the quintessential outsider. Sam plays by the rules alright but on his terms and in his own way. Spade has his own sense of justice and how it applied to the world around him He just as soon to tell the police to go to hell and then later just as easy bring in the culprit. Like he does tells the District Attorney:

".......Then again you and the police have both accused me of being mixed up in the other night's murders. I've had trouble with both of you before. As far as I can see, my best chance of clearing myself of the trouble you're trying to make for me is by bringing in the murderers--all tied up.And my only chance of ever catching them and tying them up and bringing them in is by keeping away from you and the police, because neither of you show any signs of knowing what in the hell it's all about."

And as he told O'Shaughnessy why he was going to turn her in for Archer's murder no matter how much he loved her:

".......When a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought about him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it. Then it happens we were in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed it's bad business to let the killer get away with it. It's bad all around--bad for that one organization, bad for every detective everywhere. Third, I'm a detective and expecting me to run criminals down and letting them go free is like asking a dog to catch a rabbit and let it go. It can be done, all right and sometimes it is done, but it's not the natural thing......"

Everything was done on his terms or not at all.

Which brings up another point. In most detective fiction up to that point a female client was innocent of wrong doings. The detective was her "knight in shining armour" so to speak. If the a female character was the murderer more and likely she wasn't the client. And at the end of the story the guy would get the girl not send her to prison.

Hammett was in an unique position in writing about detectives having been a Pinkerton Detective before illness kept him from continuing. But even has he knew how a detective worked, Spade wasn't written as a typical detective that Hammett and other he worked with were.

Hammett wrote Spade the way he and other detectives wished to be. Bold, blusterous, fast talking and quick witted. And of course never needing to use a gun.

He also set the stage for a new kind of detective. Following in Sam Spade foot steps would be Archie Goodwin (though Archie was more a ladies man than Spade)by Rex Stout who created Archie's boss Nero Wolfe, Raymond Chandler's, Philip Marlow and Mickey Spillane's, Mike Hammer(though Mike was more likely to shoot it out). Though I would say the P.I. the most like Spade was television's Jim Rockford from the Rockford Files. A former con Rockford hated guns(he kept his is the container holding flour) and was more likely to talk his way out of a fight. Though Spade could use his fists Jim more and likely get the crap beaten out of him.

The Maltese Falcon became and instant hit with the readers. When the five installments were collected into novel form it became a instant bestseller. It would be one of the two character that Hammett would be best know for, The other was of course Nick and Nora Charlies, husband and wife sleuth from Hammett's novel The Thin Man.(though they only appeared in one novel there would be six movies starting 1934).

As for Sam Spade, well Hammett would only write him in 3 lesser known short stories, A Man Called Spade" (1932, The American Magazine), "Too Many Have Lived" (1932, The American Magazine) and "They Can Only Hang You Once" (1932, The American Magazine).

But since his introduction in 1929(many will state the anniversary of his introduction as 1930, the year the novel came out but I'm a purist and will say it's is in September of 29 with the Black Mask publishing the first installment that is the real anniversary) Sam Spade has been copied, imitated, satirized and written about to this day.

Between the first and last page Hammett not only crafted a well plotted story of the quest for riches but create the most remembered characters that even 80 years later still enthrall reader(or viewers) today. The Maltese Falcon is still one the best selling detective novels that draws in countless new fans of not only for Sam Spade but of his creator Dashiell Hammett.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Jeff Guinn strips away the myths and reveal the real Bonnie & Clyde in Go Down Together.

Some Day they'll go down together
And they'll bury them side by side
To a few it'll be grief---
To the law a relief---
But it's the death for Bonnie and Clyde.
"The Trail's End" by Bonnie Parker

In the 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway Bonnie and Clyde died in a shoot with the law firing their guns away near their hideout in Beinville Parish, Louisiana on May 23 1934. It is one the most iconic scenes in movie history.

It also is historically inaccurate. From how the two met to just how they died and everything in between.

With the 75Th Anniversary of the duos death coming up author Jeff Guinn, strips away the myths surrounding the duo lives and deaths to gives the true story of Bonnie and Clyde in his new book Go Down Together: The True Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde.

Guinn manages dig through the stories to find the real Bonnie and Clyde. Many of the myths or stories around these two came from the newspapers as much as anything. It was the Depression. Newspapers sales were down do to the fact that people didn't want to reminded of the countries situation. They wanted to read anything that didn't remind them just how poor they were. So the papers turn to the outlaws of the era to sell papers.And they did, Al Capone Pretty Boy Floyd, John Dillinger and of course Bonnie and Clyde.

And they loved it. They loved to read about themselves in the paper. It wasn't unusual for the police to find newspaper clipping left behind in cars that they stolen and left to the side of the road after stealing another one.

The papers loved to either exaggerate or out right lie about them for sales sakes. There was a time when these two were the most popular people in America except with the law. The people saw these two as modern day heroes who were sticking it to big business who in turn was sticking it to the common people. They were modern day Robin Hoods when stories of hostages being taken and released and given money made it to the papers.

The sad truth was that they were neither.

Clyde before he met Bonnie was in constant trouble with the law. It wasn't unusual for the police to pick him up anytime a car was stolen or some place was broken into. Clyde like his father wanted to be his own boss(Henry Clyde's father was a farmer among other things and you could say he was his own boss but he was poor his entire life). He tried to several jobs but when he wasn't getting where he thought he should he quit. So he turned to crime just like his older brother Buck. He do just about anything steal cars, break into factories safes. What ever he thought would get him the life he wanted. Even after spending time on a prison farm for armed robbery an accessory to murder he turned back to crime vowing that he would never go back to jail. but despite the stories he was not a criminal genus. More often than not he and his gang, eventually known as the Barrow Gang would come up with nothing.

Bonnie on the other hand had dreams of Broadway and being famous. Bonnie loved to write poetry and sing. She married when she was sixteen. At first it seemed perfect but her husband would disappear twice. The second time she would find out that he was running with a gang and ended up in jail. She would be separated from him find work as a waitress(she would never divorce her husband. When she was killed she was wearing her wedding ring).

Her and Clyde would meet in 1930 at a party at her Brother's and sister in law's house and it was an instant attraction(the 67 movie written that they met when Clyde was attempting to steal her mother's car. In real life her mother didn't have car).

Bonnie would wait for Clyde to serve his prison time. Later Bonnie would serve 3 months while waiting for a Grand Jury trial to see if they would press charges for Bonnie helping Clyde and his gang. It was in this time that Bonnie wrote poetry. Some of the poems allured to things like drug use and prostitution. Though there was never any proof one way or the other it is surmised that Bonnie may have supplemented her earnings through prostitution. The Grand Jury found her not guilty of any crimes and set her free(Believe it or not Texas was one state that was more lenient on woman than any other state in particular the Southern States).

After that these two were inseparable. They were on the move pretty much from there on With various gang members. Especially after a run in with police that resulted in the death of two officers. Also on the run would be Clyde's brother and his wife Blance. Buck just was pardoned after turning himself in a few years earlier. He met up with his brother to try and talk him out of crime and to turn himself in. The police were about to raid the house they were in thinking that they were bootleggers not realizing who was actually in the place.

For the next year and half they would be on the run. Robbing banks, stores, stealing cars, anything to get money to live. They would also take hostages either police or civilians. And yes when they would let them go they would give them money sometimes to get back home. It was not that they didn't want to kill them. The gang, especially Clyde proved that they would kill to survive and remain free. But only if they felt they had no other options. If they had the choice they would prefer to run.

But they one thing that was constant was they always came back to home to visit family. It was here that it was the only time they felt safe. It was on these occasions that Bonnie's mother would try and talk her from staying with Clyde. Though her and the Barrows had an uneasy friendship she deeply resent Clyde and felt that he was going to get her daughter killed(It was on what was to be the last visit to see family that Bonnie gave her mother the poem End of the Line and requested that her and Clyde be buried together). Though eventually Buck would die on the run and his wife would end up in prison just a few months before Bonnie and Clyde would die.

Bonnie and Clyde knew that they were never going to captured alive. They knew that eventually they end up dead. But even still their love for each other was unbreakable. But as I said these weren't the heroes that people thought. Being on the run would result in 11 deaths. Most being police officers.

For two years they lived on the run which was easier back then. Back then states didn't corporate as they do now. Even though they robbed several banks over the years at that time bank robbery was not a federal offense(after their death it then become a federal offense and also aiding and abetting know criminals would be a crime for at that time it wasn't. That was why their families never were arrested even with the local police knowing that they were seeing them).

What brought the two down was a gang member seeking a pardon if he helped turn them in. Eventually the Louisiana Police working with a former Texas Ranger who was hired specifically to bring them down and four other Texas officers would on May 23 1934 on a back road in Beinville Parish, Louisiana that the six officers would open fire on the car that Bonnie and Clyde were killing both. As in the movie neither Bonnie or Clyde fired a single shot(also another thing with the movie is that it clearly showed Bonnie participating in actual robberies, In fact she never did and more than likely never fired a gun the whole time on the run except maybe for target practice).

Jeff Guinn has done a beautiful job with Go Down Together. He gives a clear understanding of the times in which these two lived in. He has stripped down the myths to show us the human side of these two not the legend woven by the newspapers of the time and of time itself. Between the first and last page he shows us that even though what they did was wrong not just legally but morally they were doing what they thought they had to do to survive. He shows us two people who strongly cared about their family(any money they had from robberies they would share with family). Clyde wanted to be his own boss and have others look up to him. Bonnie wanted fame and to be remembered(near the end is quite possible she was an alcoholic). Both got what they wanted. Today the legend of Bonnie and Clyde has survived almost a century. And coming up on the 75Th anniversary of their deaths it's not hard to imagine that they will be remembered in another 75 years.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Darwyn Cooke takes a new look at DC Comics Silver Age in DC:The New Frontier

DC Comics has a rich history of characters to pull stories from. Probably none more than from the Silver Age(There are 4 ages in comics, Golden Age 1938-1955, Silver Age 1956-1970, Bronze Age 1970-75 and Modern Age 1976-Present).

It is with these characters that writer/illustrator Darwyn Cooke writes and illustrates the New Frontier. Originally a six-issue Award winning(Eisner Award, Harvey Award, & a Joe Shuster Award) mini series published between 2003-2004. Then in 2004-2005 it was released in a two trade paper back volumes. Then in 2006 it was released in an Absolute Edition. It is this Absolute Edition that I am reviewing here There also was an adaptation into a direct to DVD animated movie in 2008.

The story begins in last days of World War II when a four man team called the Losers, attached to the Office of Strategic Services(O.S.S. the forerunner to the C.I.A.) are sent to find one of the many German Scientist captured near the end of the war by the Americans(it should also be noted that many of these scientist fell into the hands of the Russian to which would begin the race to the stars between America and Russia) and the soldiers that were suppose to bring him back to America This Brings them to an unnamed and unknown island in the Pacific. One filled with dinosaurs. It is this island that was featured on the DC Comic's Star Spangled War Stories(1952-77) in which soldiers(and not always American soldiers) of WWII would find themselves on this island and battling dinosaurs. At the cost of the lives of the Losers(the full splash page of Loser, Flying Cloud jumping in the mouth of a T-Rex with grenades is eye candy for sure). The only survivor a Colonel Flagg of the original team sent to get the scientist gets off the island with the information the American sorely need.

From there we jump to the beginning the of the Red Scare were the heroes of the Golden Age have been accused of having communist sympathies and have been ask to report to congress and unmask. Though most choose retirement some risk Federal jail time since President Eisenhower has officially outlawed vigilantes. The choice is either sign an loyalty oath or jail. Of the Golden Age Heroes only Superman and Wonder Woman sign these oaths. Batman refuse and is branded a federal criminal(Superman attempts capture him but fails). But is the death of hero Hourman that causes even more fear.

Not only is the Red Scare integrated into this story of the Silver Age but so is the issue of Race. To do that Cooke has brilliantly introduced the one character that was not introduced in the Silver but the Modern Age(during the Death of Superman story line), John Wilson. Wilson was a vet of the Korean War who after the war worked in a local machine shop, married when him and his family was attacked by the Ku Klux Klan. Wilson was hanged by the Klan as he watched his wife and daughter burn to death in their house. But he survived to become the vigilante "John Henry" who took his name after John Henry an American Folk Hero. Wearing a black hood and the noose that he was hung with around his neck and with a large sledge hammer as a weapon made war on the Klan

It also is in this period we see the introduction and origins of DC's Silver Age greatest known characters like Hal Jordan aka The Green Lantern, Barry Allen aka The Flash, J'onn J'onnz aka The Martian Manhunter, The Challengers of the Unknown, The Suicide Squad, and finally The Justice League of America.

It is among these introduction that all over the world cults are arising to worship something called the Centre. This includes psychic assaults on people especially those people with high I.Q's(scientists and the like), imaginations(artists, writers) and those with telepathic abilities(the most accessible) bringing a threat that could wipe out the entire human race.

A threat that will take the combined efforts of these heroes and more. But before they can face this threat they must first deal with a government that fears them so much that they want to capture and study them or imprison them(One attempt is made to capture the Flash).

With New Frontier Darwyn has done more than re imagine the Silver Age characters here. He in injected a realism that the real Silver Age Comics never had by adding in the Red Scare(though heroes did fight spies back then it was simple, if you weren't American or for democracy you were the bad guy plain and simple) and race issue(if race was ever brought up aliens were used but never blacks) and not only making it apply to communists and blacks but to heroes, both human and non-human.

It is also a story of the courage of convictions. Staying true who you are and standing up for what you believe despite the personal costs. And that is why this story would not have the same effect it does set in any other era. In the backdrop of the Red Scare and race issue it brings these values forward in way that could not be done or done as well in the Modern Age of comics.

On the surface the fifties were an idealize time. A time when the American dream meant any one could achieve their dreams. But in reality the U.S. even the world was fighting to find it's place in the world in the post war era. Man has harnessed the atom making the world a dangerous place with ideologies that were just has dangerous. Were a person could be persecuted for their believes either by what the said or who they associated with or both. Even though the world mostly at peace it was a fragile peace that could be broken over ideologies more than ever.

We see here the beginning of some of DC greatest characters in a new light. Each characters gets there moment to shine in this 406 page story. Darwyn has fleshed out these characters beautifully. With each one we see their fears, strengths and weaknesses. And not just the major characters but the minor ones as well. Thankfully Darwyn was giving the room to to tell this story and to give each and every character a voice all their own. And those voices sound just like they are in the fifties. Watch any old show from the fifties and then read this. It would be hard to believe that this story wasn't actually written in the same time. And that is an amazing feat considering Darwyn was born until 1962. But his love of the comics of that time period come through. You can tell he must have read this old comics as a kid. With each character you are truly invested in their outcome even though we know where these characters end(especially if your an comic geek like me)and that isn't easy to do.

Then there is the art. Darwyn has again captured the time period down to a tee(in one scene early on we see a young Hal Jordan wearing a Hop Harrigan watch as he meets Chuck Yeager). The cars, the clothes, the hair styles, the entire era is drawn so damn beautifully. The amount of research must have been amazing. Each panel is an piece of art on to itself but put it together you have one the most it creates a story so vivid words are almost not needed to tell the story.

Also should take the time to mention the colorist Dave Stewert. His colors bring alive Darwyn's art.

New Frontier is probably one of my favorite graphic novels from the last 10 years. I am a huge fan of the Silver Age(as well as the Golden, Bronze and Modern) of comics. It is the Silver Age the re-introduced The Flash and Green Lantern two of my favorite characters from DC. Not just re-introduced them but gave them an all new look and new secret identities(The Golden Age GL was Alan Scott and the Flash was Jay Garrick both with entirely different look. Also should note that of all the Golden Age characters Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Aquaman and Green Arrow are the only heroes that did not get a make over in the Silver Age except maybe a slight change in costumes.).

Not only does the Absolute Edition have the entire 406 page graphic novel but shows both front and back covers of the original mini series, gives complete annotations to every character, place and other things, character sketches which includes art never seen in the original mini. And finally some behind the scenes stuff which includes thumbnail sketches, pencil layouts with inked pages to final colored page and unpublished sequences and more. Also has a black tassel to use as a book mark.

This is a graphic novel I highly recommend to any one is a fan of 1)comics, 2)DC Comics and 3)in particular the Silver Age of DC. This is a graphic novel that I have read and re-read over and over. And between the first and last page I still am drawn into this story as if I am reading it for the first time. I can watch the animated movie(by the way they did a wonderful job of adapting this massive graphic novel) and immediately want to pick up the novel. It is that good. There aren't many books(though I tend to reread comics more than books) that I will read over and over like that. And now after typing this I want to reread it again. Go figure.