Monday, January 26, 2015

Downton Abbey, 2010-

Last weekend, the family watched a new British television series called Downton Abbey (2010 and running). Episode 1 of Season 1 was very interesting and we’re waiting to see what happens next.

Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) plays the Earl of Grantham who must contend with a distant cousin as the next in line to his family heritage, including Downton Abbey, now that his first cousin, the original heir, and his son, have died in the Titanic mishap.

Crawley decides to follow his conscience and tells his family that his distant cousin will inherit everything after his death.

However, Crawley must also contend with his wife Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern), Countess of Grantham, and his mother Violet Crawley (Dame Maggie Smith), Dowager Countess of Grantham, who are equally determined to retain Downton Abbey, including his wife’s dowry, within the Crawley family. This would have been possible when the eldest of their three daughters married the original heir’s son who, as mentioned, was on the ill-fated Titanic with his father.

Now the Crawleys are suddenly staring at the prospect of losing everything to a stranger.

These are still early days and Downton Abbey promises much familial drama, stiff upper lip and dignified behaviour, not to mention gossip and intrigue, the latter generously supplied by the Abbey staff led by a conscientious butler who along with the footmen, chambermaids, and cooks add colour to what promises to be a delightful series.

I was struck by the peculiarity of British aristocracy, the necessity of a male heir and how the entail must pass on to a male progeny, however distant a relative he may be. Something similar was practiced by the erstwhile royal families of India. Even today, in many Indian communities it is taken for granted that the son inherits most, if not everything, after the death of his parents. Times are changing, however, and daughters are increasingly getting a share in family wealth and property.

The only thing that goes against Downton Abbey is its timing—10 pm to 11 pm, Monday to Friday—which is a little late for us working people. Each episode is re-telecast next afternoon when we’re actually at work. It might be possible to catch the series on the weekend when the channels usually repeat all five episodes. The series has been created by Julian Fellowes, actor, writer, and producer.


P.S.: Since writing and posting this piece, I have corrected "Downtown" to "Downton" as it should be. I didn't realise my mistake till I sat down to watch the second episode Monday night.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Accused by Harold R. Daniels, 1958

Crime and courtroom made this an interesting read for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

They said he murdered his wife. They didn’t say why…

The plot, the atmosphere, and the characterisation in The Accused (1958) by American crime writer Harold R. Daniels are so realistic as to make the story seem plausible. The writing is clean and evenly paced and the narrative holds your interest. The end is unusual, almost disappointing, but it works for the novel.

The Accused begins with the trial of Alvin Morlock, 35, a reasonably handsome English teacher at Ludlow College in the small town of Warfield, Massachusetts. He stands accused of murdering his wife, Louise, an attractive woman addicted to sex (with other men), booze, and gambling. The prosecution acknowledges that Louise Morlock was no paragon of virtue but that was still no reason for Alvin to kill his wife, even if he’d enough reasons to—their failed marriage, Louise’s extravagance and promiscuity, a $1,000 life insurance policy on his wife, mounting debt, and public humiliation. A jury buys the charges and sends Alvin to death.

“…I would impress on you that whatever his motives for murder, they in no sense mitigate his guilt. It is not the dead Louise Morlock who is on trial here. It is her husband, and the charge against him is the taking of a human life.”

What happens next, or in the end to be precise, is what makes this novel tick in my opinion. I thought it was incredulous and innovative at the same time. It leaves you muttering, “What the hell…?”

The other reason I liked The Accused is the manner in which Harold R. Daniels weaves his typical fifties noirish story in and out of the courtroom, the trial preceding and following each chapter in the dysfunctional lives of Alvin and Louise caught in an unhappy marriage. In that sense it’s a fine courtroom drama where, at one point, the prosecutor and the court-appointed defence counsel actually rue over Alvin’s fate.


Elsewhere, I could accept Louise’s character of a tramp, which fits into the narrative. However, I couldn’t digest Alvin’s character who in spite of being simple, decent, an introvert, and conscientious is still characterless. By that I mean he comes across as pathetic from the moment he decides he’s done being lonely, makes a stupid mistake and marries Louise, and eventually pays for it.

The Accused is a fine crime story made finer by the courtroom trial. Recommended.

Veteran reviewer and blogger George Kelley, who blogs at GeorgeKelley.org is back., did an excellent review of six crime novels of Harold R. Daniels, including this one, over at Mystery File. The other five novels are In His Blood (1955), The Girl in 304 (1956), The Snatch (1958), For the Asking (1962), and House on Greenapple Road (1966). Click on Mystery File to read George's piece.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How the West Was Written, Vol.2, by Ron Scheer

David Cranmer, writer and editor-publisher of Beat to a Pulp has announced on his blog, The Education of a Pulp Writer, the publication of the second volume of How the West Was Written, Frontier Fiction, Vol.2, 1907-1915, by Ron Scheer

© Beat to a Pulp
Volume 1, which was released last April, looked at frontier fiction during the period 1880-1906. You can read about it in this post.

Together, the two volumes of How the West Was Written follow the historical trail of frontier fiction spanning thirty-five years beginning with the origins of the cowboy western which, as Ron tells us, “was only one of many different kinds of stories being set in the West.” From there he goes on to trace the evolution of frontier fiction and its “rich legacy” as a genre that is both an entertaining and an educative experience for avid readers of Wild West literature.

Volume 2 of How the West Was Written is described thus:


During the years 1907-1915, frontier fiction boomed with new writers, and the success of Owen Wister’s The Virginian (1902) began to make itself felt in their work. That novel had made the bestseller lists for two years running. With the continued popularity of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show, and the appearance of one-reeler westerns on movie screens, many featuring the adventures of Bronco Billy Anderson, the cowboy hero was becoming an established mythic figure in the public imagination. 

For writers of popular fiction, the frontier was also a subject for exploring ideas drawn from current public discourse—ideas about character and villainy, women’s rights, romance and marriage, democracy and government, capitalism, race and social boundaries, and the West itself. With each new publication, they participated as well in an ongoing forum for how to write about the West and how to tell western stories. Taken together, the chapters of this book describe for modern-day readers and writers the origins of frontier fiction and the rich legacy it has left us as a genre. It is also a portal into the past, for it offers a history of ideas as preserved in popular culture of a century ago that continues to claim an audience today.

Author Ron Scheer
© Buddies in the Saddle
To regular visitors to this blog, Ron Scheer needs no introduction. To others, Ron is an authority on frontier fiction. I enjoy reading his penetrating reviews of early western novels and films at his blog Buddies in the Saddle. He examines a western novel or a film in a way that only one well versed in the genre can. David Cranmer has rightly described him as “the premier reviewer of Western literature.” Ron has set a new benchmark of quality and style for reviewing frontier fiction.

David tells us that How the West Was Written: Frontier Fiction, Vol. 2, 1907-1915, is available in print and Kindle formats.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Cages by Ed Gorman, 1994

‘Cages’ just happened. I’m not sure why or how. I’m not even exactly sure what it’s about. But I do know that it’s a metaphor for how I've felt most of my life.
— Ed Gorman, Author's Note

© Cemetery Dance
Publications
Sunday morning, I woke up to a pitiful sight. A shabbily dressed man beat his dishevelled wife in front of their half-naked kid and a few roadside spectators. The man was consumed by rage and was probably high on booze or drugs as he abused, slapped, punched, and kicked his wife. He wanted her to go back and when she refused he dragged her by the hair and slapped her again. She clung to his legs. He punched her some more and tried to chase her away. The kid sucked on his little dirty fingers and quietly watched his father beat his mother who was silent and submissive throughout her ordeal. It didn’t last long. They disappeared somewhere.

I thought of this disturbing scene in context of the opening scene in Cages, a short story by well-known American author Ed Gorman. A small freakish boy with only one arm suffers the mental agony of listening to his parents fight over money, to his “dreamdusted” father slamming his mother into the wall and hitting her, to his mother shrieking and screaming and abusing as his father forces himself on her, till all is quiet again.

The boy is seething with anger. He wants to kill the man who created dreamdust which has destroyed his family, even his dream of a happy family. He knows that money, or the lack of it, is the reason why his father and mother fight every night. He decides to do something about it. He sets out with a sack filled with something unimaginable, along the way braving abuse and harassment by street bullies who call him “faggot” and “mutant.”

Cages is a dark, disturbing, and depressing tale. Some might read it as a horror story. It is set in a futuristic society addicted to a strange drug and distorted by mutants and androids. The mere idea that a society such as the one drawn by Gorman could exist someday is terrifying. Yet, in a way it already does. Shades of it are visible, for instance, in Indian society, especially in the lower echelons, where wife beating, sexual molestation, and rapes are common; where female foeticide and infanticide, though long outlawed, are still prevalent; where female foetuses and newborn girls are found dumped in garbage bins. ‘Cages’ would be an apt title to describe the sad plight of many a woman and girl child in India.

Well, this is just my take on the story which could be interpreted in so many dystopian ways.

Ed Gorman brings a unique style to Cages, one that I don’t read often. His writing is bare, he fires from the hip, there is almost no punctuation, and profanities are galore, none of which diminishes the value of this 21-page narrative. Cages makes for a chilling bedtime story. Or you could read it during the day and still shudder.

I believe Cages was part of a collection of stories published in 1995, the year it was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection. In 2009, Cemetery Dance Publications came out with an electronic edition of this gritty tale. You can pick up your copy at Amazon.

Recommended

Saturday, January 17, 2015

L.A. Confidential, 1997

I want to watch L.A. Confidential from the beginning. I have only seen the last half-hour or so of this gritty and hardboiled detective flick set in 1950s Los Angeles. Directed by Curtis Hanson (The Hand That Rocks the Cradle), the film revolves around corruption in police, series of homicide, conspiracies and cover-ups, drug rackets, pimps and prostitution, and Hollywood and sex. 

Three hardnosed police detectives—Detective Sergeant Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), Officer Wendell ‘Bud’ White (Russell Crowe), and Detective Lieutenant Edmund ‘Ed’ Exley (Guy Pearce)—use their own methods to investigate a series of murders and expose corruption in their ranks. One cop is sleazy, another is short-tempered and brutal, and the third, more reputable than the other two, plays by the rules. Their paths cross and the encounter is volcanic, partly thanks to Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger), a prostitute who sleeps with at least two of the cops, but it’s not really about her.


There is much violence and shootout, between cops and gangsters, and even between good cops and bad cops. There were three surprises for me: one, a young Russell Crowe who behaves like a thug and uses his fists with brutal effect; two, the villain of the show played by an actor I have long admired; and three, the film is based on the namesake noir novel by James Ellroy, a writer I have never read.

What little I saw of L.A. Confidential I liked partly because of the 1950s setting where cops and gangsters wear suits and fedoras and strut their stuff around. The film has a classy noir atmosphere about it.

Recommended

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Secret Sense by Isaac Asimov, 1941

Review of a nice science fiction story for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

The Martians couldn't taste and their hearing was bad, but they had a secret sense all of their own.

In The Secret Sense, renowned sf writer Isaac Asimov narrates the story of an interplanetary friendship between Earthman Lincoln Fields and Martian Garth Jan.

Fields, who hails from New York, is living with Jan in an underground city on the Red Planet. The two unlikely friends are close enough to debate over sensitive issues without ill-feeling. So when Fields boasts about the superiority of the five senses possessed by earthlings, as opposed to the apparent lack of any by Martians, Jan is visibly amused.

Unfortunately for the Martian, he lets slip about a secret sense that his highly developed and cultured race possesses and which is far superior than the single or collective sense of sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell experienced by earthmen.


Fields doesn’t believe it but he is so overcome by curiosity that he misuses a Martian law to force his friend into revealing the secret sense to him. Garth Jan does so most reluctantly but warns Fields that he’ll be able to experience it only for five minutes after which the secret sense will be lost to him forever. 

Done Vol, a Martian physician injects Fields with a hormone that activates the secret sense and when it does, after a ten-minute interval, the snickering and unsuspecting New Yorker is exposed to the most amazing and profound experience that neither he nor any earthman has ever experienced. When the five minutes are up, he wakes up dazed and bewildered, pleading with Garth Jan not to take it away from him and to let it go on forever.

Excerpt — Garth Jan was smiling—a smile of dreadful malice, "I had pitied you just a moment ago, Lincoln, but now I'm glad—glad! You forced this out of me—you made me do this. I hope you're satisfied, because I certainly am. For the rest of your life," his voice sank to a sibilant whisper, "you'll remember these five minutes and know what it is you're missing—what it is you can never have again. You are blind, Lincoln, blind!"

It takes great imagination to conceive of a story like The Secret Sense and even greater imagination to put it down lucidly on paper. Asimov was a past master at this. The Secret Sense appeared in Cosmic Stories, March 1941, and was reprinted in The Early Asimov collection, 1972.

If you’re an sf reader, you will enjoy this story. You can read it at Archive.

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Century of Noir: Thirty-two Classic Crime Stories, 2002

I’d planned to review The Accused, a hardboiled novel by Harold R. Daniels for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase but since there were still a few more pages left to be read, I thought I’d write about a collection of stories I'd overlooked so far.

© www.penguin.com
I found A Century of Noir: Thirty-two Classic Crime Stories on Amazon. The crime fiction anthology is edited by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, and published by the New American Library, a Penguin Random House company.

The anthology offers “Thirty-two stories of stunning ingenuity. Thirty-two writers of legendary genius. One hundred years of crime fiction in a one-of-a-kind collection.”

Noir fiction is described in different ways by different people. You can say colourful things about it. Publishers Weekly put it nicely: “It may not actually span a century, but this volume offers plenty of blood, booze and cigarette smoke in worlds populated by flinty men and fetching women.”

I haven’t read any of the crime stories when they were first written and published, though I have read other stories by some of the authors in this collection. Apart from what appears to be an excellent storehouse of noir fiction, each of the thirty-two stories also offers an understanding of the art of writing crime fiction.


Contents

Introduction by Max Allan Collins

‘The Meanest Cop in the World’ by Chester Himes

‘Just Another Stiff’ by Carroll John Daly

‘Something for the Sweeper’ by Norbert Davis

‘I Feel Bad About Killing You’ by Leigh Brackett

‘Don’t Look Behind You’ by Fredric Brown

‘Death Comes Gift-Wrapped’ by William P. McGivern

‘Murder for Money’ by John D. MacDonald

‘Cigarette Girl’ by James M. Cain

‘Guilt-Edged Blonde’ by Ross Macdonald

‘The Gesture’ by Gil Brewer

‘The Plunge’ by David Goodis

‘Tomorrow I Die’ by Mickey Spillane

‘Never Shake a Family Tree’ by Donald E. Westlake

‘Somebody Cares’ by Talmage Powell

‘The Granny Woman’ by Dorothy B. Hughes

‘Wanted-Dead and Alive’ by Stephen Marlowe

‘The Double Take’ by Richard S. Prather

‘The Real Shape of the Coast’ by John Lutz

‘Dead Men Don't Dream’ by Evan Hunter

‘The Used’ by Loren D. Estleman

‘Busted Blossoms’ by Stuart M. Kaminsky

‘The Kerman Kill’ by William Campbell Gault

‘Deceptions’ by Marcia Muller

‘The Nickel Derby’ by Robert J. Randisi

‘The Reason Why’ by Ed Gorman

‘No Comment’ by John Jakes

‘How Would You Like It?’ by Lawrence Block

‘Grace Notes’ by Sara Paretsky

‘One Night at Dolores Park’ by Bill Pronzini

‘Dead Drunk’ by Lia Matera

‘Kaddish for the Kid’ by Max Allan Collins

‘Lost and Found’ by Benjamin M. Schutz

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Ten most viewed posts in 2014

This is a first-of-its-kind post about a first-of-its-kind blog. Without false modesty, let me say upfront: the blogging world has been made richer by its existence. Below are the Ten most viewed posts in 2014, hopefully not counting my own unrestrained views and frantic visits. I swear, in the name of Blogger, that the ‘Don’t track your own pageviews has been on for some years now. While I thought it was the ethical thing to do, I don’t know if it works. 

All of these posts, full of scintillating prose and wit, were written last year. Some posts are more popular than others. I'm told that readers have been falling over themselves to share the posts with others on social media. A few servers crashed and the deafening noise could be heard from Cyberabad in India to Silicon Valley in America. I'm happy to say that the blog has found mention in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Blogging. It has also been nominated for the Blogsaysay Award for integrity in blogging, service to other bloggers, and keen intellect within the blogging community. The resounding success of the blog has forced major publishers to drop everything and gherao this blogger with never-before-heard book deals and promises of obscene advances and royalties. Steven Spielberg and James Cameron are, apparently, fighting for rights to make a fantasy movie based on the blog. It'll be titled War of the Blogs or Blogavatar depending on who gets the rights. Both have offered me the role of lead blogger. What more could any blogger ask for? I feel deeply humbled.


The view counts against each of the ten most viewed posts in 2014 give a fair indication of what draws visitors, intentionally or accidentally, to this blog. Once here, however, they hang around for long periods of time. They have to pull themselves away to visit other less-inspiring and lesser-known blogs. Latest statistics reveal that someone somewhere is reading something on this blog every single waking moment of his or her life.


Here goes…

01. Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again
Posted: March 11
Category: Overlooked Films, Vintage Comics
View Count: 494

02. Charles and The Witch by Shirley Jackson
Posted: February 7
Category: Short Stories, Forgotten Books
View Count: 424

03. Killing Trail by Charles Allen Gramlich
Posted: April 3
Category: Author Interviews, New Fiction
View Count: 419

04. Michael Crawford, aka Frank Spencer and the Phantom
Posted: January 7
Category: Actor Profiles, Overlooked Films
View Count: 407

05. A Body in the Backyard by Elizabeth Spann Craig
Posted: May 9
Category: Author Interviews, New Fiction
View Count: 394

06. The Father-Thing by Philip K. Dick and Rain, Rain, Go Away by Isaac Asimov
Posted February 14
Category: Short Stories, Forgotten Books
View Count: 379

07. Reading Habits #7: How do you treat your books?
Posted: March 27
Category: Reading Habits
View Count: 372

08. Footpath libraries
Posted: February 22
Category: Book Buys, My Pictures
View Count: 326

09. The Reader
Posted: November 4
Category: Overlooked Films
View Count: 320

10. Two short stories about corpses
Posted: January 2
Category: Short Stories
View Count: 297

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Reading Habits #17: How many books do you read at a time?

Since I started blogging nearly six years ago, I have been reading a minimum of two to three books at a time. However, I don’t finish them all at the same time. Some spill over into next week or next month, and even next year. 

As of today, I think I have three or four half-read books going back to 2012 and 2013. Frankly, I'm not even sure how many. I could attribute it to a case of out of sight, out of mind, but I can’t because I see them almost every day, on my bookshelf or on my tab, the bookmarks still in place.

I have not learnt my reading lesson. I still read two to three books. I'm currently reading The Accused by Harold R. Daniels (hardboiled), Air Force One is Down by John Denis, Alistair MacLean in real life (thriller), and Me Tanner, You Jane by Lawrence Block (spy). So far I have read thirty-odd pages of all three novels. They are easy to read and comprehend. 

However, reading so many books at a time can be disorienting, especially when you are jumping from the plot and characters of one book to another within a span of half an hour. This morning, for instance, I read six pages of my paper edition of the Block novel and then immediately read six pages of the MacLean ebook. It didn't help. I had to go back a few pages to recall the story and the characters. As I read, characters from Daniels' noir novel popped into my head.


This is the reading equivalent of tailgating on the road. You know what that’s like and how annoying it can be for the driver in the front car. He’d be cursing, “Get off my back!” I guess that’s pretty much how the first book I'm reading must feel. "Maintain book discipline!" Too many books spoil the plot.

How many books do you read at a time?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Sheriff and His Partner by Frank Harris, 1891

This is the third review in my self-styled 'First Novels' challenge. I understand this novella was the first creative work by Frank Harris.

“I swear you in as a Deputy-Sheriff of the United States, and of this State of Kansas; and I charge you to bring in and deliver at the Sheriff's house, in this county of Elwood, Tom Williams, alive or dead, and—there's your fee, five dollars and twenty-five cents!" and he laid the money on the table.”

That’s what Samuel Johnson, the brave and popular Sheriff of Elwood County in the town of Kiota, Kansas, tells the narrator of The Sheriff and his Partner to do. Irish-born American author Frank Harris doesn’t tell us the narrator’s name or what he looks like. We know he is young and employed as a clerk in a law office in Kiota and that he is bored of his desk job. However, all that is about to change.

One afternoon, when ex-Judge Shannon is riding from his law office to his home about four miles out of town, he is waylaid by an armed stranger who robs him of his watch, his money, and his horse. Before leaving, the man instructs the judge to tell Sheriff Johnson that he was robbed by Tom Williams and that he could be found at the saloon in the neighbouring town of Osawotamie.

The incident, not unusual on the frontier, puts our narrator in an unexpected predicament, one entirely of his own making.

Following the robbery, the saloon in Kiota is agog with rumour and gossip. Both the sheriff and the narrator are there. When the talk among the high-spirited bunch of cowboys and farmers veers to a posse—to go to Osawotamie and arrest Williams—our unsuspecting narrator is annoyed. He realises that Johnson and Williams go back some way and that the robber has thrown the sheriff an open challenge. Our hero tells the sheriff that only one man is sufficient to bring the offender in, inviting a sharp and angry look from the lawman.


In a sudden turn of events, Johnson swears the narrator in as Deputy-Sheriff and tells him to go to Osawotamie and bring back Tom Williams. The narrator realises, too late, that he has been set up by the “boys” in the saloon. And for a reason: the narrator will remain a “stranger” and a “tenderfoot” in town till he gives proof of his courage. The sheriff presents him with an opportunity to do just that.

Does he bite the bullet? Or does he decline the sheriff's offer? The narrator has his pride and decides to do Johnson's bidding. With a pistol tucked in his right jacket pocket, he sets out to confront the robber and bring him in. He wants to prove to the town that he is no tenderfoot. The end is dramatic though I confess I didn’t see it coming. If I say more I’d be giving it away.

The Sheriff and his Partner, said to be the author’s first shot at creative writing, is a mild western and set in the early days of the frontier. The description of the town of Kiota and its inhabitants is sparse although we are told Sheriff Johnson is a man of medium height and sturdy build, a broad forehead, clear, grey-blue eyes, and a thick brown moustache and beard. The once lawless town has been transformed by emigrants into a habitable place free of violence. They do so with the help of a man named Johnson. Many a lone ranger like Johnson has walked into frontier towns and cleaned it up.

I particularly liked the author’s description of Kiota told through the voice of the narrator. It would probably apply to most early frontier towns. He writes:


“An outpost of civilization, it was situated on the border of the great plains, which were still looked upon as the natural possession of the nomadic Indian tribes. It owed its importance to the fact that it lay on the cattle-trail which led from the prairies of Texas through this no man's land to the railway system, and that it was the first place where the cowboys coming north could find a bed to sleep in, a bar to drink at, and a table to gamble on. For some years they had made of Kiota a hell upon earth. But gradually the land in the neighbourhood was taken up by farmers, emigrants chiefly from New England, who were determined to put an end to the reign of violence.”

© Wikimedia Commons
The author
Frank Harris (1856-1931), an editor, journalist and publisher, was a friend of George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde and was associated with H.G. Wells, Max Beerbohm, Winston Churchill, and Arnold Bennett among others. He wrote biographies of Shaw and Wilde. Harris was also known for his erotic book My Life and Loves, which was banned in several countries for its sexual explicitness. Harris was considered to be a fine writer of his era. This story proves that he was.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Dubai by Robin Moore, 1977

Patti Abbott hosts 2015's first Friday’s Forgotten Books at her blog Pattinase.

Robin Moore (1925-2008) was a prolific American writer of crime, war, and espionage fiction. He wrote some of his books in collaboration with other writers.

His novels were racy and entertaining with edge-of-the-seat action. Remember Gene Hackman and the famous car chase in The French Connection? That, apparently, came out of his 1969 book The French Connection: A True Account of Cops, Narcotics, and International Conspiracy (1969), a nonfiction book that exposed the French connection in a drug trafficking racket.

Moore was also known for another nonfiction book called The Green Berets (1965) set during the Vietnam War. According to Wikipedia, the author used his connections with Harvard classmate Robert F. Kennedy for access to the US Special Forces and write about the elite unit. Later, John Wayne played the lead in the film version.

I have not read either The French Connection or The Green Berets, but I read one other novel more than two decades ago which led to my discovery of Robin Moore—Dubai (1977).

I remember Dubai well but not well enough to write a review. Moore’s Dubai, one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates, is very different from Dubai as we know it today—crazy rich, swanky, polished, and glittering through its imposing manmade glass towers and hotels, artificial palm-shaped islands, and super cars and superhighways. 

Instead, Moore gives us a Dubai of the seventies, a Dubai still in the making, where westerner Fitz, a disgraced army officer, exploits the desert land of opportunities and conspiracies to make his fortunes. Fitz uses his connections with the ruler, Sheikh Rashid, to engage in high-risk business ventures including smuggling.

Dubai is a thriller set around oil deals and cartels, gambling and drug smuggling, beautiful women and sex, and power and politics. Above all, it revolves around the smuggling of gold in dhows from Dubai to Bombay, across the Arabian Sea. The route was once notorious for smuggling of all kinds of goods between India and the tiny oil kingdom.

Good writing style, a well-crafted story, and virtually unputdownable.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Books I read in 2014

I’m combining my post on books and short stories I read in the fourth quarter of 2014 with the total for the year because I read very little in the last three months of the year gone by—only nine novels and novellas and a handful of short stories. I spent far too much time playing chess and scrabble, watching a lot of films, and blogging.

In all, I read 41 novels and novellas and 31 short stories in 2014, an average of 3.41 and 2.58 a month, respectively. Clearly, I need to read more.

However, I'm quite satisfied with what I read.

The novels, novellas, and short stories were published over 155 years and covered several genres like crime and mystery, war and western, thriller and espionage, horror and science fiction, young adult, humour, and nonfiction.

The earliest book I read (reread actually) was A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, 1859, and the most recent book I read was Gray Mountain, 2014, by John Grisham.

There were some notable takeaways from my reading in 2014.

01. Interviews with my blog friends Charles Gramlich and Elizabeth Spann Craig (look in the sidebar). My thanks to both for their very prompt and enthusiastic response to my questionnaire. I hope to do more author interviews in 2015.

02. I read more contemporary fiction last year than I ever did since I started blogging in 2009—11 novels and novellas and four short stories published this century. I should celebrate!

03. Most difficult book I read was The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, 1929. I almost gave up after the first few pages.

04. At five novels, Jack Higgins (Harry Patterson in real life) was the most read author of the year. He might breast the tape again this year.

05. Book that resonated with me the most was the media-centric The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, 2011. A journalist’s life in Rome isn't very different from that of one in Bombay or Delhi. The young author shows you how to write nonfiction and make it read like fiction.

06. The White House Connection by Jack Higgins, 1998, and Deception Point by Dan Brown, 2001, had two of the most improbable plots. Among other things, it’s very easy to pull one over the President of the United States.

07. Late 2014, I kicked off my own ‘first novels’ challenge with The Hardy Boys: The Tower Treasure by the pseudonymous Franklin W. Dixon, 1927, and War Against the Mafia by Don Pendleton, 1969.

08. Two titles I found discomfiting to an extent were both legal novels—Defending Jacob by William Landay, 2012, and Gray Mountain by John Grisham, 2014.

09. The grittiest crime novel and police procedural was Public Murders by Bill Granger, 1980.

10. In short stories, I enjoyed reading The Education of a Pulp Writer & Other Stories by David Cranmer, 2008-2014, and Green Acres, 2012, and Ding Dong Bell The Kitten in the Well, 2014, by Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen. Both David and Dorte are my good friends.

I have listed below all the novels and novellas and short stories I read in 2014. They are not in the order I read them. Rather, I have listed them according to their year of publication, from the earliest to the most recent.

Novels & Novellas

1859 - A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (reread)
1888 - Buck Hawk, Detective by Edward L. Wheeler
1899 - The Bread Line: A Story of a Paper by Albert Bigelow Paine
1900 - Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
1907 - The Rome Express by Arthur Griffiths
1927 - The Hardy Boys: The Tower Treasure by Franklin W. Dixon
1928 - The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft
1929 - The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
1933 - Carved in Sand by Erle Stanley Gardner
1951 - Bullet Proof by Frank Kane
1951 - A Noose for the Desperado by Clifton Adams
1957 - Hostage for a Hood by Lionel White
1957 - The Legion of the Damned by Sven Hassel
1960 - To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (reread)
1962 - The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe
1963 - The Dark Side of the Island by Jack Higgins
1963 - The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy
1968 - Greylorn by Keith Laumer
1969 - War Against the Mafia by Don Pendleton
1971 - The Last Place God Made by Jack Higgins (reread)
1972 - The Savage Day by Jack Higgins
1973 - The Way to Dusty Death by Alistair MacLean

1975 - The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
1980 - The Man in the Moon by James Reasoner
1980 - Public Murders by Bill Granger
1982 - Touch the Devil by Jack Higgins
1986 - Stallion Gate by Martin Cruz Smith
1988 - The Hell Raisers (originally Saddle Pals) by Lee Floren
1998 - The White House Connection by Jack Higgins
1999 - The Renos by Wolf Lundgren

2001 - Deception Point by Dan Brown
2005 - Beating Around the Bush by Art Buchwald
2011 - The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
2012 - The Red Reef by James Reasoner
2012 - Defending Jacob by William Landay
2012 - A Body in the Backyard by Elizabeth Spann Craig
2012 - Rendezvous by Nelson DeMille
2013 - Splatterpunk: AN.AL—The Origins by Athul DeMarco
2014 - The Button Man by Mark Pryor
2014 - The Common Room by K.B. Rao
2014 - Gray Mountain by John Grisham

Short Stories

1856 - The Wreck of the Golden Mary by Charles Dickens
1893 - The Mystery of the Semi-Detached by Edith Nesbit
1899 - Anne by Fanny Stevenson
1902 - The Fifth String by John Philip Sousa
1902 - The Conspirators by John Philip Sousa
1902 - Experiences of a Bandmaster by John Philip Sousa
1911 - Comrades by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
1912 - Smothered in Corpses, three stories by Ernest Bramah
1913 - The Adventure of the Dying Detective by Arthur Conan Doyle
1917 - Whiffet Squirrel by Julia Greene
1922 - The Suppressed Poems of Ernest Hemingway
1933 - Hot Goods by Ray Cummings
1935 - Who Murdered the Vets? by Ernest Hemingway
1940 - Day Time Stopped Moving by Bradner Buckner
1943 - Nice Corpses like Flowers by Dorothy Les Tina
1948 - Charles by Shirley Jackson
1949 - The Witch by Shirley Jackson
1951 - The White Fruit of Banaldar by John D. MacDonald
1953 - Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl
1953 - The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh
1954 - The Intruders by Evan Hunter
1954 - Sorry: Wrong Dimension by Ross Rocklynne
1954 - The Father-Thing by Philip K. Dick
1956 - Love Story by Irving E. Cox
1959 - Rain, Rain, Go Away by Isaac Asimov
1960 - Hemingway in Space by Kingsley Amis
1963 - A Woman on a Roof by Doris Lessing
2008 - The Education of a Pulp Writer by David Cranmer
2010 - Killing Trail, four stories by Charles Allen Gramlich
2012 - Green Acres by Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen
2014 - Ding Dong Bell The Kitten in the Well by Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen

Monday, December 29, 2014

Happy New Year!

© DC Comics
The 3Cs wishes all its readers and visitors a Happy, Peaceful and Prosperous New Year! To all my blog friends, a very special thanks for your unstinted support and encouragement this year. Your visits and comments have enriched this blog in more ways than one. See you in 2015 with books, more books, and still more books.

© DC Comics

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Musings on the last Sunday of the year

I had no intention of buying any more books between Christmas and New Year but the devil tempted me with a sale organised by Strand Book Stall, a popular bookstore. It was held in the foyer of the 144-year old David Sassoon Library and Reading Room in the south of the city.

© www.davidsassoonlibrary.com
I bought Deadly Justice (1993) by William Bernhardt, an American author of thriller and mystery fiction known for his Ben Kincaid series. The writer is new to me but I think he specialises in legal thrillers. “Justice” is a recurring word in his titles.

The family bought two books, To Be the Best (1988) by Barbara Taylor Bradford, the continuing saga of a family dynasty, and Sons of Fortune (2003) by Jeffrey Archer, which has shades of his famous novel Kane and Abel.

We also bought a spiritual book called Mantram Handbook by the late Eknath Easwaran, a renowned Indian spiritual teacher who, in 1960, established the Blue Mountain Centre of Meditation in Berkeley, California. The book tells us how we can release new energy, recast our old ways of thinking, and become more sensitive to the needs of others, by using the mantram, a short, powerful spiritual formula, to call up “what is best and deepest in ourselves.”

I have been reading and rereading Easwaran’s writing for the past two decades. His books are an infallible antidote to worry, fear, and depression. Spiritual books are like tonic. They keep you going through all the vicissitudes of life. I keep one handy.

Comics go extinct
It saddens me to learn that the thin A4-size comic books we read as kids have disappeared. DC and Marvel and the others stopped publishing them a long time ago. They have been replaced by glossy volumes and graphic novels whose computer generated illustrations are as unappealing as their price. This year, I received inquiries from people looking for some of these old-fashioned comics. I’m tempted to sell my lot to the highest bidder. But I know I won’t.

Drinking, driving, killing
With New Year’s Eve round the corner, the traffic police department is already cracking down on drunk driving. The number of fatalities due to drinking and driving has been increasing every year and a lot of innocent people are getting killed. It gets worse on the night of December 31. At the various check posts across the city, traffic police stop bikers and motorists, stick their heads very close, and ask them for their names. If they suspect alcohol, they use a breathalyzer to confirm it.

On New Year’s Eve, last year, I was stopped thrice on the highway and asked to state my name. I don’t drink but I felt silly repeating my name until the cop was satisfied he couldn’t smell liquor on my breath. My wife had a good laugh.

This breathe-in-my-face method can’t be hygienic for the cops.

To read or not to read
As I type this I’m looking at two formidable trilogies from my daughter’s collection—The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson. Rather, Tolkien and Larsson are giving me inquiring looks—“Are you going to read either or both of us in 2015?” I don’t think so. “You’re both part of my post-retirement reading plan,” I tell them. They seem offended.

Christmas movies
This weekend, I watched two of the five Christmas films I wrote about last weekChristmas in Connecticut and It’s a Wonderful Life. The first was a mild romantic drama, enjoyable but passable actually; the second was an intense family drama that was more depressing than elating in spite of its happy ending. I liked both, though. It put me in the mood for more golden age cinema.

That is all for now. I hope you found these musings amusing.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Hot Goods by Ray Cummings, 1933

I think our good friend Todd Mason is compiling the links for Friday’s Forgotten Books, today, as Patti Abbott is on a well-deserved holiday.

It was crook against crook when Pete Leroy met Basker — with the devil after both of them.

Hot Goods is one of many short stories written by American sf author Ray Cummings (1887-1957) except this one isn't a tale of science fiction. It’s a straightforward crime story involving, as the above line tells you, two crooks who try to swindle one another and fall prey to a cop who promptly hauls them to the police station.

Much of the action takes place inside a train compartment where Basker is pleading with Pete to buy his diamond ring for $450. He desperately needs the money to bail out his kid brother. Basker had seen Pete with a wad of cash and decides to relieve him of it. Pete, supposedly younger and smarter of the two, sizes up Basker as a sham and decides to turn the tables on him. He ropes in his partner George Snell in his little caper.

But something goes wrong. The old woman from whom Basker stole the diamond ring and $650 raises an alarm and soon cops are pounding on the door of their compartment. The armed trio escapes through the window of the stationery train. They run across the tracks and bundle into the front seat of a parked sedan whose backseat occupant turns out to be an off-duty cop taking a nap—and off he marches them to the police station. They had stolen a police car!

I like the sheer atmosphere in such stories and there is a good deal of it in Hot Goods, which appeared in Argosy Weekly, September 9, 1933. The three characters are drawn well in spite of little or no description. I especially liked the opening line—“Pete Leroy had the theory that crooks were the easiest suckers of all to swindle. And it gave him a thrill when this fellow Basker tackled him”—which suggested humour. An easy and entertaining tale you can clearly picture in your mind.

© www.ebooks-library.com
Author Ray Cummings has been described as one of the “founding fathers of the science fiction pulp genre” and I'm looking forward to reading some of his sf including his major work The Girl in the Golden Atom published in 1922. Among his other occupations, Cummings worked with Thomas Edison and wrote stories for Timely Comics, which we now know as Marvel Comics. His own quote, “Time…is what keeps everything from happening at once,” has been immortalised by both science and science fiction.