Thursday, March 31, 2016


  Not gonna lie. I mean, don't get me wrong, I do lie. I'm just not lying here. This is too important to dance around the truth with. The truth is my doctor has ordered me, on threat of losing my health insurance coverage, not to read the rest of I've Been Deader. I suppose it's my fault I told her I suffered the hernia while reading the first chapter of I've Been Deader.

She'd been looking at me funny as she felt around down there. Finally she said, "You have a very serious laugh hernia. What were you doing when this happened?"
I told her.
"Gimme the book," she ordered, giving me a squeeze, which, I must admit, felt both stimulating and agonizing simultaneously (try reading that last sentence real fast eight times).
"No!" I shouted. "Why not?" she said, softening her tone just enough that I felt my resistance begin to slip away. Her hand continued to probe, although more gently now. "B-b-b-because it's an ebook," I half-gasped, half-murmured, and quickly added, "b-b-but I can lend you my Kindle!"
She waved the offer off with her other hand and said she would happily download the book herself. I said, "B-but aren't you afraid you might get a laugh hernia, too?"
Adam Sifre
She laughed, an ugly laugh, and asked, "How old are you?"
"I just turned...,” I said proudly. Her response? "Ewww," and she dropped her hand from its professional ministrations. She snapped, "Nothing personal. I have other patients."
At least I got a prescription for Vicodin out of it, with which, wearing a special truss designed just for laugh hernias, I've been able to continue reading I've Been Deader. Sure it hurts, at least three times on every page. But I'm a stubborn cuss, and not afraid to click on the Kindle button that says, "No Contretemps for Old Men."
[Oh, btw, it's a story about zombies, if you haven't inferred as much from the cover image—crimes galore, of course. Even if it hurts to laugh, you just might find it rather...uplifting.]

[for more Friday's Forgotten Books see the listing on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]

Friday, March 25, 2016

Snatch 8 (of the Union progression)

The voice, when he heard it at a low ebb of his throbbing cry, was different: “Feel better?”

It wasn't the shrink's. The shrink, he saw, was no longer there. The chair she'd occupied was vacant. Sometime in the immediate aftermath, along with the coalescing of his inherent questions, he recognized he'd stopped screaming, and with this, incrementally, he came to understand there no longer were sounds to be heard. None. Not a peep from outdoors, not the building's mechanical ticks and thrums. No footsteps, no squeaks. Not even Aggie's humming.
He might have gone suddenly deaf, he wondered. But thence came a clarity: It was not just external sounds that were gone. His tinnitus, as well. Oh, gracious mercy, oh, the voice his mind affixed to his thoughts, which now came to him in silent, verbless waves, this, too, his internal voice, had left him, leaving only the idea of sound, its curious memory.
Panic seemed imminent as this cloak of dark, mute awareness enveloped him with a musty, invasive sentience. No time at all even to cringe--surrender, utter capitulation, unbidden, unwelcome, unexplainable, obviated any other conceivable response.
The word help! appeared visually, glowing through a dreamlike haze, its letters barely discernible in their filigreed configuration, tacitly jeering, mocking him as his heart reached at it, in vain.
Something now on his cheek. Cold, moving shyly along the skin, its icy tearful trail a glad respite.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

THE MOLESKIN CHECKLIST – Jeffrey Scott Holland

Yes, I had to do a little time traveling to read The Moleskin Checklist. It wasn't so bad, though, because my target year was only 3½ years back, when the book was published. No real culture shock there.
Not like the jolt it must have been for the psyches of Bill and Ted flying from 2688 to their new excellent adventure! If you're confused, imagine what it must have been like for these two goofballs landing in a college town in what feels like somewhere in the Midwest nearly seven centuries in the past.

Okay, maybe I'm hallucinating a tad from a flashback fictional high recalling some time-traveling movie I think I watched once or thrice or so about a couple of dope-addled doods named simply Bill and Ted, which is entirely possible.
Anyways, carrying this plausibly bogus theme forward, let us say these two doods ride their magic phone booth once again through the misty centuries and stumble out in 2012, this time playing a private eye name Jack and his doofus sidekick, Sappy.
And this time instead of being what we suspected previously as stoned out of their gourds they are pickled out of their gourds with booze. Fortunately for the world around them they are essentially happy drunks.
Don't get me wrong now. These googly boogly drinking buddies do in fact have a legitimate adventure. And while it might not have been so excellent an adventure for them as the other one, when they were presumed dopers—if in fact these are the same doods, which, I should caution you, they might quite well not be--it was most excellent for me the reader of the account of it by the star of this production...**hic**...Jack.
You see, Jack ordinarily does not get the kind of cases that make good detective novels. They're the routine stuff most real private investigators ordinarily do, he points out, like taking pictures of cheating spouses and running errands for lawyers, mostly.
Speaking of cheating spouses, by the time this adventure starts, Jack's beautiful-but-ditzy cheating wife has kicked him out and he is living in his dinky, dingy private-eye office with nothing but his booze and his massive record collection. Or maybe he divorced her and left on his own. It's neither clear nor important--the adventure is, so back to it we go.
I can't really tell you about the adventure, though, without giving so much away you wouldn't need to read the book. But, trust me, it is a lollapalooza, a word neither Jack nor Sappy uses in the novel (I don't think) and probably never would use in their entire lives. I can, however, say this: body parts arrive in the mail, shots are fired, and four men die, one while masturbating in a college men's room and one when his (upper) head explodes.
Of course there is sex.
If you are leaning toward downloading this book, you might wish to know what the title refers to. I could tell you, but if you are a fan of mysteries, as am I, wouldn't you want to solve this little mystery on your own? I did, and I felt rather satisfied afterward. I still feel smug that I did, truth be told.
What do I like best about The Moleskin Checklist, you may ask? Besides the title, the mystery of which I solved on my own? The voice. Jack's narration of his circumstances, his life, the world around him, and his excellent adventure, is the most natural narration I have read. Ever.
Jack's voice and language are precisely the ones I use when I'm talking to a good friend and there is no one around I'm trying to impress. In fact it's the very voice, with concomitant vocabulary, I'd be mortified to learn someone I would like to impress might overhear me using.
Jeffrey Scott Holland
It even worries me a tad that someone I might like to impress might read this book report and learn that I would ever use the voice and concomitant vocabulary Jack uses in his narration.
Come to think of it I respectfully ask that anyone who thinks they might be someone I might like to impress who reads this book report please not read The Moleskin Checklist. Please?

[Note: One of the more interesting author self-descriptions I have come across since the day many lunar phases back when I learned the moon definitely was not one of France's myriad cheeses: I am a Kentuckian currently transplanted to the Everglades of Florida, reporting live from the edge of the swamp. I write peculiar little books with antiquated pulp-fiction penny-dreadful dime-novel sensibilities and will continue until forcibly restrained.
[for more Friday's Forgotten Books see the listing on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]

Thursday, March 17, 2016


Axel Brand is the nom de plume of award-winning historical-fiction novelist Richard S. Wheeler. He uses Brand for his crime/mystery series featuring Milwaukee Police Lt. Joe Sonntag. The Homicidal Saint, the most recent in the series, is the first Sonntag novel I've read. I have some catching up to do. (Incidentally, the 25¢ "price" on the cover is in keeping with the '40s look of the new Crossroads Press digital editions of the Lt. Sonntag series. The Kindle versions are $3.99.)

The Homicidal Saint is narrated in a lighter voice than the historical novels, which might sound odd considering it opens with a man shooting his wife to death in the basement of a Lutheran church during a potluck dinner. Lt. Sonntag and his wife witness the murder along with the rest of the congregation attending the dinner. The killer willingly surrenders. He is polite and accommodating. He tells Sonntag and anyone who is willing to listen that he killed his wife to protect others from her. He claimed she killed their four children. The killer claimed his wife was a religious fanatic who ruled the household while he spent most of his time in a laboratory making false teeth.
Sonntag, who is chief of detectives for the Milwaukee PD, enlists Frank Silva, one of his best investigators, to help him determine if the children are in fact dead. They learn one boy died of polio at age eight. They locate a daughter, married and living in Arizona, who claims her mother disowned her and sent her away when she reached adolescence. Two brothers, however, are missing. The investigation leads Sonntag and Silva to a mysterious “institute” where wayward boys are sent to “have the Devil beaten out of them” and turn them into God-fearing men.
Axel Brand (aka Richard S. Wheeler)
I especially enjoyed The Homicidal Saint because of its setting. I grew up in Wisconsin, as did Wheeler, and felt right at home in the tableau. The story is set during the Truman administration, a time I remember as a young boy. As Axel Brand, Wheeler brings to this novel the same eye for detail and commitment to accuracy as in his fictionalized histories.
Lt. Sonntag is a believable honest cop from this period. He and his wife, Lisbeth, who helps him think through his cases, are a loving couple with heartaches of their own. Living modestly on Sonntag's meager pay, their day-to-day concerns near the end of World War II will ring true to any reader who remembers those years. The Sonntags lost one son to polio and have another in the Navy. They're real people.
I found The Homicidal Saint a welcome break from the heavier noir mysteries that seemed most popular during that time.

[for more Friday's Forgotten Books see the listing on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


It's the kind of romance you'd expect of a screenplay by the late Dalton Trumbo. An arduous affair--impossible, really—but full of high drama, and with the requisite happy ending. It would make an Oscar-worthy movie, and although Trumbo couldn't be listed as the writer, his name would appear on the screen big as life, as was not allowed during the “red hysteria” years Hollywood blacklisted him and others suspected of being dirty rotten commie traitors.

Hollywood producers are still famous for screwing around with stories and titles, and probably always will be. Not much point, however, in messing with this story, because it not only isn't fiction, it's better than fiction. The title? Well, were it up to me I'd call it simply Dalton and Cleo.

Bruce Cook related the tale of this romance in his 1977 book Dalton Trumbo, based on interviews with friends and with the lovebirds themselves.

Their first meeting was only half auspicious: Trumbo fell for Cleo Fincher almost immediately, proposing to her after only a few minutes of banter. She decided he was crazy, and turned him down. At first blush there was not much to say for a serious match. She was nineteen, a carhop at an all-night drive-in; he, an up-and-coming writer at M-G-M but at thirty-two a heavy drinker living with his mother and sister.

Yet, Trumbo was nothing if not persistent and creative. For over a year he visited the drive-in every night that Cleo worked. With every visit he proposed, and each time she turned him down. He'd already taken to having a chauffeur drive him on dates, and this included his nightly visits to woo Cleo. Gradually, very gradually, she began to soften. He'd won the alliance of a couple of Cleo's good friends, sisters who worked at the same drive-in. The sisters weren't keen on Cleo's boyfriend.

Trumbo's courtship came close to disaster after Cleo finally agreed to a movie and dinner with him. The boyfriend found out, panicked, lied that his divorce had finally come through, and persuaded Cleo to run off to Reno with him and get married. This they did on the night of her date with Trumbo, leaving him at the theater waiting haplessly for Cleo to arrive. When the newlyweds returned to Hollywood, Trumbo hired a private detective who found out the boyfriend had lied about his divorce and that his marriage to Cleo was invalid. He told Cleo. Now leery of the boyfriend Cleo still felt loyal to her commitment to him. The year was nearing its end. Trumbo feared that if Cleo spent Christmas with the boyfriend it would put a sentimental seal on their relationship. Desperate to prevent this from happening, he launched a final gambit:

...choosing a day on which she reported at six P.M. to work until two in the morning. He put [the sisters] on notice and asked them to let him know as soon as she showed signs of weakening. Every half an hour that day Cleo got a telegram pleading his case, accompanied by a gift—“ not sumptuous or lavish but something chosen to please her.” Each time a telegram came, it was brought directly to her by a kid from Western Union on a bike; business was slow at the drive-in, and as the night wore on and the telegrams piled up, Cleo found herself going broke tipping the messenger boys. In the meantime, Trumbo had gone to the house of a friend...who lived in the Valley, determined to wait it out. There, about ten-thirty that night, he got a call...telling him to come right away— not to waste a minute, for Cleo at last saw things his way. He ran out and jumped into his car (on such a personal mission as this one he was driving the Chrysler himself and had given his chauffeur the night off) and roared off into the night— in the wrong direction. He was in Burbank before he discovered his error, then had to backtrack to Cahuenga, then down to Yucca, where he arrived at the drive-in many minutes late. [Soon the sisters] emerged [from the ladies room] bringing a weeping Cleo across the parking lot to his car. That was that. She had given in completely. Distraught, confused, hoping for the best, she surrendered to him.

Their marriage, which gave them three children, followed a Trumbo script as well, lasting through the vicious blacklist and its financial struggles, including Trumbo's year in prison for contempt of Congress, until death did them part—Trumbo died in 1976; Cleo remained loyal to their love until her death at age 92.

[for more Friday's Forgotten Books see the listing on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Snatch 7 (scream)

The instant of his knowing lasted barely long enough for the sense of recognition alone to adhere, that he knew the scream and the face, falling shy of particulars of what he knew. No more than a flicker of insight that leered just beyond his reach like a vague itch or a scent so nebulous it might well be illusory. Yet it remained, with its promise of intimate revelation nourishing deep within him a seed of unholy dread.

He could avoid the face now. This was in his power, to exclude sight. He could ignore the visage, but not the scream. The scream allowed no diversion, no denial. It was shrill, swelling in volume and authority, invading, enveloping.

In desperation he parsed nuances in the accosting decibels until he found aloof one faintly audible frequency combination, a pair streaking high above the main in an apparent duel for supremacy as, entwined in primal struggle, their nearing the very edge of human detection torqued a frail valedictory tremolo which of a sudden rattled the cap off a conditioned psychic restraint and loosed an explosive geyser of such maddening ironic appreciation that under ordinary circumstances would have burst forth in foot-stomping hysteria.

As it was, as he attempted to communicate to the shrink something to account for his apparent distraction, hoping by this to release enough of the emotional pressure to return to his stoic posture, as he began to pronounce with great care the name Mad-e-leine, getting out only the Mad, the full counter-interpretative weight of the hyper-falsetto squeal still gripping his distilled attention, now, without the grace of transition, rendering utter pathos, the intolerable, unthinkable agony of its significance to the human soul, forced out of him a scream of his own, a wail, more accurately, a raw, wretched, verbless testimony of unrequited sorrow and grief scraping up from his intestines and through his abdomen and throat and out into the room and the world and further, further...

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

NOT IN THE FLESH – Ruth Rendell

Ordinarily I give short shrift to Amazon's “customer reviews,” unless I'm considering a new author or a new book by a familiar author. When I went to pick a Ruth Rendell novel my only experience with her work was a short story, “The Irony of Hate,” which I enjoyed. As my knowledge of her was limited mostly to the fact she was a highly esteemed British crime writer, I assumed my neighborhood public library would be a likely place to find one of her novels. An excellent assumption, as it turned out. I chose the likely looking Not in the Flesh, took it home and read it.

Only then, after finishing Not in the Flesh and curious to see what others had made of it, did I scan the customer reviews. Many praised the novel, but their praise seemed a tad strained, as if they were reluctant to say anything bad about an author who in the past had given them so many hours of pleasure. I read a few professional reviews, and therein detected a pretty much consistent faint tone of the “faint praise” damnation reserved for works by hitherto venerable authors. I forgot to check if Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times's dragon lady notorious for not pulling punches (especially with male authors) if she'd weighed in on Not in the Flesh. Perhaps she filed this quickie under the pseudonym “Larry” on the Amazon site. If so she captured my take to a tee:
At some point I didn't care enough to see the crimes solved, but I stuck with it to the end.
Larry” was kind enough to give it two stars out of a possible five.