Saturday, July 31, 2010

If you’re coming to San Francisco

I was in a dilemma about coming to Bouchercon San Francisco, as it is door-to-door over 20 hours from London, and apart from the cost; I really couldn’t spare the time between work, writing, reading and family commitments. Countering these issues were the memories of previous Bouchercon’s I’ve attended in Las Vegas in 2003 and the last two where I traveled with my friend Roger [R.J.] Ellory, Baltimore in 2008 and Indianapolis in 2009. I also haven’t seen Jeff Peirce the incredibly hard-working editor of The Rap Sheet since 2008 [though we’re in regular email and phone contact]. Even so, the idea of traveling to the West Coast of America, as wife said with puzzlement - “You want to travel 20 hours to the other side of the world, to sit in a hotel bar and talk about books for five nights and then travel 20 hours back…….that is not logical’. Of course she’s right, but so much of my life defies logic – like the eureka moment last week at The Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Festival in Harrogate. When Roger Ellory came off the podium after winning the Harrogate award for Best Crime Novel of the Year, he whispered to me “listen, we gotta go to San Francisco, we always have so much fun……

Then I thought about how Roger and I first met, after I was one of the first people to review his debut novel ‘Candlemoth’ back in 2003. The surreal thing is the plot revolves around two friends - black guy and a white guy who traverse America…..

Top - Photo of Roger Ellory and Ali Karim having a laughing fit © 2010 Rachael Bloom

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Shedding Light on sHuTtEr iSlAnD's Ending........

I know I am completely obsessed by Dennis Lehane’s novel sHuTteR iSlAnD as well as the Martin Scorcese film adaptation [and Christian De Metter’s Graphic Novel]. I am glad that despite everyone saying how close the film followed Lehane’s narrative, there was [in my opinion] a major difference – one contained in the very last line that Teddy Daniels / Danny Laedis / Leonardo DiCaprio utters at the conclusion. I’m very glad that it’s not just me that has deliberated the intrinsic significance in those lines added by the screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis.

And for those who didn’t get it -

David Cox at The Guardian also deliberates the significance of the ending and twists at the end of both novel and film


Shutter Island is no impenetrable art-house enigma: it's an old-fashioned noirish thriller that ends with a massive plot twist. As such, you might have thought it would have been easy to understand. In fact, since the film was released in March, the blogosphere's been awash with debate about what actually happens in the final scene.

Martin Scorsese's film is based on a best-selling novel by Dennis Lehane. The book's protagonist, Teddy Daniels, who's apparently a US marshal, turns out to be Andrew Laeddis, a demented killer. He's a patient in a mental hospital who's been encouraged by his psychiatrist to act out his delusion in the hope that this will dispel it. The role play fails: after a brief recovery, Andrew relapses into insanity and is therefore taken off to be lobotomised.

The film's been described as
faithful to the book, and many cinemagoers seem to have assumed that it's telling the same story. Leonardo DiCaprio's Teddy does indeed turn out to be Andrew. However, before he falls into the clutches of the lobotomists, he utters a line that isn't in the book. "This place makes me wonder," he asks, "which would be worse – to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?"

For some, this is to be seen as no more than the rambling of a madman. Others, however, take it as meaning that Andrew's only faking his relapse. His unusual treatment's made him aware of the terrible thing he's done: guilt has therefore engulfed him, and he's deliberately getting himself lobotomised to escape it.

These two versions of what the film means could hardly be more at odds. Yet Scorsese hasn't chosen to indicate which is the right one. Nor has DiCaprio. Perhaps the latter isn't sure himself.
He found his role traumatising, and told an interviewer: "I remember saying to Marty, 'I have no idea where I am or what I'm doing.'"

Lehane is credited as one of the film's executive producers, so you might think he at least would know what's going on. Sadly, even he doesn't seem wholly certain: he explains that he stayed out of the scripting process.
When pushed, he tries to reconcile DiCaprio's gnomic inquiry with his own original story. "Personally, I think he has a momentary flash," he suggests. "To me that's all it is. It's just one moment of sanity mixed in the midst of all the other delusions."

Cox speaks to Scorsese's psychiatric adviser, Professor James Gilligan of New York University, who gives the backdrop of 1950’s America and the Psychiatric Institutions that sHuTtEr iSlAnD is carved from.

Read the full piece here

And don’t forget Dennis Lehane is one of the special guests as next years Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival – in 2011 in Harrogate England.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Genius that is Jim Steranko

A little while back following a sort out of some boxes of old comics; I ended up spending an afternoon re-living my childhood reading classic Jim Steranko comics I uncovered carefully wrapped in Mylar Bags. Since a kid, I have loved the surreal and existential artwork of Steranko, which fitted into the late 1960’s [and early 1970’s] zeitgeist, the James Bond imagery, the off-kilter reality and the wiff of science fiction entering our reality.

Today in The Guardian, media-talking-head and comic book fan Jonathon Ross interviews Jim Steranko at the eve of Comic Con –

Jim Steranko. Many of you will not have heard his name before, a dreadful truth that troubles me every day. If he were French they'd have his statue in parks, Italian he'd be on their stamps, Japanese and he'd be doing commercials for videogames and fermented soya bean soda. But in the English-speaking world, we still woefully undervalue these master storytellers who choose panels and word balloons to work with.

To my fellow enthusiasts he is a Genius, a Wizard, a Master, a God. A one-of-a-kind, self-promoting hipster/huckster with the finest hair I've ever seen on a man of his age. He is also one of the handful of pioneers who can be said to have genuinely revolutionised the art of graphic storytelling. Glimpse his work and, before you even know exactly how he's doing it, you instinctively know it is different – better – than the norm. You'll also be hopelessly hooked. For life. Non-comic addicts might think I exaggerate – but step away from my hyperbole, and allow yourself a little time with the examples we have printed here. The work should speak for itself.

Ross’s piece and interview is most insightful, and also probes some of ‘eccentric’ tales of Steranko, such as the rumours that he doesn’t sleep –

JR: I know you are health-conscious, which comes from your work in escapology and so on. What's an average day for you now?

JS: I eat one meal a day. I believe everything you put in your body is toxic – I eat raw fruits and vegetables. A very small portion. I live on the side of a mountain and run up it with my dogs every night. I begin working after I have dinner at eight o'clock, and work till about nine in the morning. Then I turn in until about 11 o'clock.

JR: Two hours sleep? Conventional wisdom has it that you need sleep . .
JS: I am proof the body can get by on two hours' sleep.

JR: You know how mad that makes you sound?

Read More Here and Click Here for some of Steranko’s wonderful Artwork

If you’ve never read Steranko – this is a good place to start

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

ITW 100 Thrillers makes the Washington Post

I was delighted when David Morrell and Hank Wagner asked David Montgomery, Larry Gandle and I to contribute to the ITW 100 Thrillers collection. I have been friends with Larry and David for many years as all three of us are big Thriller Fans and Reviewers for various print and online media. Over the years we have been judges for various literary awards, such as the Barry Awards, The Thriller Awards, The Gumshoe Awards. The CWA Daggers and others. I must admit, the 'inner fan-boy’ in me was very flattered to find my name rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in the world of Thriller Fiction.

The photo above is of the three of us thriller reviewers relaxing at the inaugural Thrillerfest held in 2006 at The Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix Arizona.

Over at Shots Ezine, we have a competition running to give away three copies of the ITW 100 Thrillers book, as well as a bonus essay by Thriller Writer Shane Gericke available for download – Click here for details

I am delighted to see that the ITW 100 Thrillers is getting a lot of media attention; as anything that can help combat illiteracy must be applauded, and Thrillers are a good way of promoting reading and getting people to read books.

Michael Dirda at The Washington Post has an excellent review / feature –

With his very first novel, David Morrell created an iconic character, now as famous as Tarzan or James Bond: "His name was Rambo, and he was just some nothing kid for all anybody knew, standing there by the pump of a gas station on the outskirts of Madison, Kentucky." So begins Morrell's electrifying and morally unsettling "First Blood." Some of his other books include the horror classic "The Totem" and one of the most exciting Ludlumesque thrillers I've ever read, "The Brotherhood of the Rose."

Hank Wagner may not write novels, but he certainly knows modern horror, fantasy, mystery and science fiction. He's the co-author of "
The Complete Stephen King Universe" and of "Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman." His articles have appeared in publications ranging from Cemetery Dance to Mystery Scene to the New York Review of Science Fiction.

Both novelist and critic are members of the six-year-old
International Thriller Writers organization. Its goals "include educating readers about thrillers and encouraging ITW members to explore the creative possibilities of the form." To this end, the group decided to compile this annotated guide to essential thrillers. Enjoyable in itself, the book also offers 100 possible answers to that perennial summertime conundrum: What book shall I pack for the beach?

Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads" opens with the Greek legend of Theseus and the Minotaur and, by fudging the supposed cutoff date of 2000, closes with Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code." Each of the chosen titles -- one book per author -- is accompanied by a brief biographical note, followed by a two- or three-page essay of reminiscence, analysis and appreciation by a member of ITW. Among the essayists are Lee Child, Sandra Brown, James Grady, R.L. Stine, David Baldacci, Katherine Neville and F. Paul Wilson.

No one could seriously argue with the recommendations up to the mid-1970s. Here are Wilkie Collins's "
The Woman in White" (1860), Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1901), John Buchan's "The Thirty-Nine Steps" (1915), Eric Ambler's "A Coffin for Dimitrios" (1939), and even what is, arguably, the single most famous adventure short story of all time, Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" (1924). Moreover, the editors' definition of the thriller is a capacious one that embraces horror (Bram Stoker's "Dracula," 1897), science fiction (H.G. Wells's "The War of the Worlds," 1898) and romantic suspense (Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca," 1938).

Read More Here

More Information on ITW 100 Thrillers including the competition and free .pdf Download of Shane Gericke’s look at John Sandford’s RULES OF PREY is available here

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Existential Wizard behind Money

I love joining-the-dots about unrelated events, conspiracy theories and trying to see exactly who are 'the men behind the curtain’. Sometimes my mind does wander and I get puzzled about things. As a businessman, the financial crisis, which still continues, has made me scratch my head, and fuel anxiety. Frank Baum’s ‘The Wizard of Oz’ [1900] has always haunted me since seeing it preformed as a musical play when I was a child. I have always believed it to be an allegorical fable based on exposing the ‘truth’ behind what we term money. These rumours have circulated for many years, even the BBC investigated these claims -

It's unlikely its young fans will have been thinking about deflation and monetary policy.

But the story has underlying economic and political references that make it a popular tool for teaching university and high school students - mainly in the United States but also in the UK - about the economic depression of the late 19th Century.

At a time when some economists fear an onset of deflation, and economic certainties melt away like a drenched wicked witch, what can be learnt from Oz?

The 1939 film starring a young Judy Garland was based on Lyman Frank Baum's book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900. It told of an orphaned Kansas girl swept by a tornado into a fantastical world, but who wants to return home to her aunt and uncle.

Thinking the great Wizard of Oz can grant her wish, she sets out to meet him with her beloved dog, Toto, joined by a scarecrow, a tin woodman and a lion.

Baum published the book in 1900, just after the US emerged from a period of deflation and depression. Prices had fallen by about 22% over the previous 16 years, causing huge debt.

Farmers were among those badly affected, and the Populist political party was set up to represent their interests and those of industrial labourers.

The US was then operating on the gold standard - a monetary system which valued the dollar according to the quantity of gold. The Populists wanted silver, along with gold, to be used for money. This would have increased the US money supply, raised price levels and reduced farmers' debt burdens.

Read More Here

Then there was all this talk about the links behind Pink Floyd’s 1973 ‘The Dark Side of The Moon’ and the film version of The Wizard of Oz, what always made me smile is that the only track from that album released as a single was ‘Money’. The worrying thing is that Floyd’s last studio album was ‘The Division Bell’ which has the icons from Easter Island as its cover motif, and we all know what happened to the people who lived on Easter Island.

This is the opening what is termed ‘The Dark Side of Oz’ – if you want to view the whole film – click here

We live in strange days, indeed, strange days indeed.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Beware “The Blind Commissioner”

I spend a lot of my time reading, not just the Crime Fiction and Thrillers that line the walls and floors of my house[s], but also writings about the world [and reality] I see around me. I enjoy the weekends catching up on my reading, and “joining the dots” of the stories within the mainstream [and non-mainstream] media feeds. I like to see what is really happening, not just what someone or something has ‘spun’ out of reality. So much of the world is presented by the media using miss-direction, double-speak and down-right lies - especially in these troubled times.

What we should all fear most, in these days of economic turmoil, is the danger of the ‘mob’ and the growth of xenophobia stirred up by the extremists [both extreme right and left]. It was Anglo-Irish Politician and Philosopher Edmund Burke who stated that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” The danger of the mob first presented itself to me when I was a young child in school, and my fear of people / mobs [especially the under-educated, or manipulated] continues today. It also contributed to my love of reading. People who read books [especially fiction] in contrast [to non-readers] tend to think for themselves, hence why totalitarian regimes burn books. The theme of book burning was raised in Fahrenheit 451, but it was an earlier Ray Bradbury short story entitled ‘The Crowd’ that put my fear of ‘crowds / mobs’ into context. I soon realized that the mob needed to have ‘someone’ in authority turning a blind eye, for their evil to succeed. That someone could be called the ‘Commissioner’.

Today I enjoyed [though ‘enjoyed’ is perhaps the wrong word in this context], a blog post, by the talented writer John Baker, entitled ‘They are selling postcards of the hanging’. The reason for my interest is that it offers insight into one of my favourite Bob Dylan songs ‘Desolation Row’, which in turn reflects the nature of evil. It is strange that I’ve enjoyed John Baker’s work for many years, first meeting him a decade ago via both newsgroup rec.arts.mystery and then at a Dead-on-Deansgate event in 2001. So it was little surprise that he too understands the nature and meaning behind Dylan’s song ‘Desolation Row’ and the evil that it mentions in its surreal lyrics. You need ‘The Mob’, as well as ‘The Blind Commissioner’ [who turns ‘a blind eye’ thus allowing the Mob to rule and for the ‘postcards’ to be taken]. Such evil by mob, augmented by a ‘Blind Commissioner’ occurred in Duluth in 1920, and in November 1938’s Night of Broken Glass and many, many times since. Before you say that, those were in the past - just look at what is happening in Iran, as the mob are alive and holding rocks [not ropes] while the Commissioner remains sightless.

John Baker writes

On the 15th June 1920, three black circus workers were attacked and lynched by a mob in Duluth, Minnesota.

Rumors that six African Americans had raped a teenage girl gave rise to a mob of five to ten thousand locals.

The circus workers were snatched from the police station and hung from their necks on a corner of the street. Pictures were taken and a postcard offered for sale. The Chicago Evening Post reported, “This is a crime of a Northern state, as black and ugly as any that has brought the South in disrepute.”

No one was ever convicted for the murder of the circus workers, Isaac McGhie, Elmer Jackson and Elias Clayton.

A physician’s examination of the teenage girl subsequently found no evidence of rape or assault. Dylan’s song, Desolation Row, from the album Highway 61 Revisited, opens with a reference to the hangings, which took place in his home town 20 years before his birth.

Click Here to read John Baker’s full piece – BUT a warning – it contains the infamous photograph that became sold as the postcard of the hanging.

I loved the way My Chemical Romance re-worked Dylan’s Desolation Row for the closing credits of ‘Watchmen’. When I saw the film for the first time, I smiled as one of my all time favourite songs closed the film version of one of my all time favourite graphic novels.

Before you say, hey, that incident was a long time ago, and we have a black man in the White House now…. yada, yada, yada. My response is simple as my concerns are not leveled at segregated America [as it was then], but the wider world. The mob mentality is truly scary, and to think that little has changed when you hear of the terrible things that happened in Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Bosnia, Darfur, East Timor…and the list of ‘officially’ condoned ‘mob violence’ is endless. The Mob now grabs rocks instead of rope in Iran. It makes one despair.

To read more of the terrible incident in Duluth on 15 June 1920, and Dylan’s links to Desolation Row from The Independent – click here

The warning from Desolation Row "Someone says, 'You're in the wrong place, my friend, you better leave'." has haunted me for many years, as being an outsider, I’ve felt its sting on my psyche many times, and heard those words spoken with hatred, and all the while the commissioner remained blind. I just hope ‘the commissioners’ in Iran see the light, because some things are just plain evil, even a blind man can see that.

Some of you might wonder why the mob, the blind commissioner or extremists are of such concern? I would reply that in times of economic crisis [such as ours], there is real danger for us all. Even EC Comics warned us with a 1952 story ‘The Patriots’ by Al Feldstein. This tale showed these dangers vividly where a Crowd turns into a jingoistic Mob that misdirects patriotism into murder. I respect writers such as Shirley Jackson, who warn us about the dangers of Mobs. She published her novella ‘The Lottery’ [1948], a chilling work that was banned in South Africa at the time; and one that resonates strongly for those of us concerned at the barbaric ‘stoning’ punishment in Iran and other repressive states. The Mob again has their blind Commissioner, to allow the unspeakable to happen.

My day was enriched today thanks to John Baker making me ‘think’ as only a writer can. If you haven’t discovered the work of John Baker – click here and here because his writing is well worth exploring.

And remember what Edmund Burke said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
The Choice is always ours