Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Gold Standard Co-Crime Sideline

Many members of the crime-writing community have other sidelines in which they excel. One famous guy grew orchids. Another explored Egyptian antiquities, some excel in the law, politics, music or art.

At least one member of our illustrious CWC Team has become a world class authority on South America and Africa! I'm dying to hear if she plans a motorized trip to Mars!

I often howl at the antics about cooking on Jungle Red Writers—so today I'm sharing with you readers my own culinary experiences.

Pardon my lack of self-effacement in this post, but I couldn't wait any longer to share with you one aspect of my S.C.S.( Superb Culinary Skills!) in … The Gold Standard Cake!

Please don't feel diminished by my superior skills in the art of cake-baking. Feel free to copy my secrets here and share with your significant others, aunts, cousins, office colleagues and neighbors—the knowledge I am about to impart on this page!

You will need a 14 K. gold Mark Cross pen to make your personal copy.

The Gold Standard Jiffy Cake

At your local grocery, buy one box of Jiffy Golden Cake Mix. ( Cost = 95 cents.) Sold by the Chelsea Milling Company, Box 460, Chelsea, MI, 48118-0460. "Quality Value Since 1930."

Dump the contents into a shiny steel bowl. ( Any old bowl will do...) Add one egg, slightly beaten, 1/2 cup of warm tap water, stir for 30 seconds. Then beat by hand for 3-4 minutes. ( About 300 strokes ) Grease cake pan with good quality olive oil or butter. ( Real butter, not Margarine.) Pour batter in pan. Bake in 350* oven for about a tad over 20 minutes.

When the cake is done, feel it with your finger or a cool table knife, then let it cool a bit. Cut yourself a generous slice, get a stiff drink and go watch TV, while you gloat over your labors over the hot stove!

If you so desire, you can add any of the following to the pre-cooked batter: canned peaches, pears or mild fruit; sweet-oriented spices, a big swig of bourbon, Scotch, or Cointreau, nuts, raisins, prunes, chocolate chips, etc.

Whatever strikes your fancy!

When you go to the TV, it is best if you watch a program with my arch-rival Martha Stewart. Today I did this and turned to Madame herself on Ch. 13!

Lo, she was making a gourmet layer cake! Decorated with meringue frosting—would you believe! All the while telling ME the difference between Swiss meringue and Italian meringue. (Lordy, I barely know what an American meringue is!!!)

She looked right at moi and said she was making an "Absolutely divine wedding cake..." in her words... "Very simply." !!! (Ms. S., you and I have vastly different definitions of Simply)

I finished off the crumbs on my paper plate and muttered, "Lady, if you saw THIS, you'd faint right through the screen of my TV!"

So, I rushed back to the kitchen and got another piece of my glorious Jiffy cake!

P.S. No, I've not yet been invited to bake on Ch. 13…or any other food channel… But, hope springs eternal... any day now…

P.P.S. BTW, word has spread of my culinary skills … I've heard from the Princess of Wales, Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Jaime Dimon ( who is my neighbor - one block and $39 million away from my building!!!), Jill Biden and Kim Jong-un … to send them my Jiffy Recipe!!!

Oh, yes, Ari Emmanuel of Wm Morris Endeavor has suggested I do a mystery novel based on poisoning by Jiffy Cake... and Grand Central Publishing wants me to create a tear-out folder for all their crime novels for 2015 with my Jiffy Ideas… and the current pub of Fanny Farmer is now coming out with 1,000 and One Delightful Frosting recipes for my Jiffy Cake!

So, there's light at the end of the tunnel, gang.

Here's a Toast to Jiffy Cake!!!

Thelma J. Straw, Culinary Genius in Manhattan

( That's all, folks… aw, shucks...)

Friday, November 28, 2014

Doing Nothing Today

And maybe I'll do nothing tomorrow. The day after Thanksgiving is an excellent time to sit back and put one's feet up, family greeted and appreciated, calories prepared and consumed, dishes washed, Otto Von Bismarck driven to a remote island where he trembles in fear with his last follower. (Have I mentioned that I've been obsessively playing Civilization, where one gets to aggrandize oneself at the expense of other world leaders? Right now I'm playing as Alexander the Great.)

I am not going shopping today. In the distant past this would have been my first day of work, clerking at some department store for the Christmas season. Only by paying me could you get me into a store on the day after Thanksgiving, and then I'd have to have a counter between me and the ravening hordes. No, today I'm going to lie around the house counting my blessings, which are many, and nibbling occasional bites of leftover turkey and pumpkin pie. Maybe I'll find my socks.

Happy day after Thanksgiving to you.

© 2014 Kate Gallison

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Slicing Away at the Holidays

Midnight: Thanksgiving has begun

No matter how many times I remark upon it in October, Thanksgiving always slips up on me. On October 15, I'm sure I can get it all done, and then suddenly Thanksgiving is a week away, the menu is random notes on post-its, no shopping has been done, no cleaning, and I'm thinking, Wait a minute, how did this happen? Every single year.

I continue to believe that despite having a writing career and another career that, combined, make weeks go by in which tiles have come up in the bathroom floor and I haven't noticed, I should be able to display a gift of organization and time-conjuring for which I have hitherto shown absolutely no talent whatsoever. 

Which brings me to last week. 

My husband and I doubled down, and decided on a "bridge too far" menu. We had an excuse after all. Our friend Mariann is a vegetarian, and comes to stay the weekend with us every year. She's inspired us to eat much better, so we want to give her terrific dishes at Thanksgiving, not just the same old "sides" while we eat turkey. This year, we'd outdo ourselves with a half dozen new recipes. Yes, right, new. As in never tried before, and so are guaranteed to 1) fail; or 2) provoke locked-jaw remarks because somebody didn't read the part where it said the dish had to be marinated for 6 hours; or 3) both. 

However, David decided the way to avoid this was to test the new recipes last week. On Friday, it was the potatoes au gratin. Layers of thinly sliced potatoes and onions, drenched in a sauce of cream, rosemary, thyme, sage, and grated Gruyere. Topped with grated Parmesan and baked till bubbly and crispy brown on top. 

I was upstairs in my office that evening, working the other career -- financial editing -- slicing away on some unbaked prose: "Clearly, for the one-year period two years before the observation years, the HPA experiences vary for all three periods."  (In my line of work, when they start with "clearly", get the red pencil out.)

Then from the foot of the stairs, I hear, "Honey, where are the Band-aids?"

And so we ended up in the urgent care clinic where we were seen by a rather dishy-looking doctor in a garnet turban and a nurse who called us in by asking the waiting room chipperly, "So, who's bleeding?" 

The Suspect


What do you do when an important digit is out of commission for days? 

You ratchet back (we do not use the phrase "cut back" around here these days). 

We decided on far fewer dishes, and recipes we'd done before. Recipes that either take little time to prepare or can be made up to the point of baking/roasting or adding the dressing the day before.

Stuffing with wild mushrooms (finished product below; it will be reheated today); cauliflower roasted and dusted with cumin and paprika; a spinach salad with pomegranate seeds and blue cheese. 

I made cranberry sauce (shown here at 9am Wednesday morning, simmering for 10 mins with sugar, before cooling and being folded around orange slices and zest). It's so easy. Raises a person's confidence when there's still all that cleaning and table-setting to do. If you make cranberry sauce from scratch, just make sure the oranges are sweet. Save the bitterness for your relatives. 

Uh, yeah, we are doing the potatoes au gratin, too. Hey, it was creamy sauce with cheese. You understood that part, right?

And the assailant was released from custody yesterday as part of a work-release program due to extenuating circumstances (the finger guard had been ignored). 

So, I'm headed to bed.  With visions of store-bought pecan pie dancing in my head. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sheila York & David Nighbert
Copyright 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Iceland: Minimalist Lanscapes

I flew home last night from IcelandNoir, one of the best crime writing conferences that I have ever attended.  Everything about it was wonderful--the people, the setting, the level of discourse, and the food and drink.

My intention was to talk here more about it, but then last night, with protestors blocking up the streets of Manhattan (for good reason, I think), it took four hours to get home from the airport.  Arriving at 11:30 New York time (4:20 AM in Reykjavik!), I just couldn't do it.  Today was my annual pie baking day.  So now, the best I can offer you are some photos.

The view from the bus (on a crime writers' tour) and to and fro the airport, looked for all the world like a minimalist landscape.  Here is the evidence:


By Toni Grote, Jake Anderson, and Brice Marden


Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, November 24, 2014

Another Film Noir: Scarlet Street

Fritz Lang’s 1945 masterpiece SCARLET STREET, with Edward G Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea, is disturbing to say the least. The film plays with appearance and reality almost in the same way that the characters do, conning each other into one thing or another, becoming one character or another as they all greedily, and without compunction go for the brass ring, the main chance, the big enchilada.

I wondered as the opening credits rolled if this was even going to be a noir movie. Maybe I had gotten mixed up when I was browsing Netflix and gotten hooked into some romance? The music over those credits seemed breezy and romantic, and I couldn’t see where we were going to get noir at all. The only detective in this piece turns out to be the deceased spouse of Robinson’s battle-axe of a wife Adele, and he was a dissolute bum who is more concerned with chasing down bribes than he is with chasing down criminals.

Robinson, playing the part of Christopher Cross, the same Edward G Robinson of the parts Rico in PUBLIC ENEMY and Rocco in KEY LARGO, plays an unassuming, diffident little wallflower who wouldn’t say sh*t if his mouth was full. He is too soft-boiled to be the protagonist of the typical crime drama.

In the opening scene, the guys from work are having a little party, and Robinson, a cashier who has performed faithfully for 25 years, is given the clich├ęd watch that you always get when you have been a wage slave for decades. He stands in the rain at the bus stop with a co-worker, both tipsy, and they seem like lonely guys, even though they are both married.

Robinson started out as a boarder in Adele’s place, and she acted sweetly at first, but she turned shrewish upon taking the wedding vows, just one of the people who gull Robinson throughout the story. She has insurance money from the sainted and dead husband (easier to be one when you are dead, as we will see later) but won’t spend any of it even for a radio, which she continually nags at Robinson to purchase for her.

Robinson dabbles at painting, turning mundane reality into beautiful fantasy even though he “could never master perspective.” Adele thinks his painting silly, and even accuses him of wanting to paint naked women. He protests that he has never seen a naked woman, and you feel sorry for him until you remember what Adele probably looks like in the buff (and how she behaves, clothed or not).

As Robinson walks through a depression era Greenwich Village, he sees a woman being accosted (Bennet being slapped around by Duryea), and rushes to the rescue, the sight of a woman in distress inspiring him to overcome his milquetoast nature for once. He whacks the fellow with his umbrella, and takes the poor girl home after going for a cop who goes after the fleeing attacker in vain.

This damsel in distress motif is extended into a sweet scene where Cross takes Kitty home and they have a soda in the basement establishment below her apartment, which she shares with a girlfriend. Kitty appears to be a sweet girl, and here we have the film trope of the “cute-meet” whereby the couple that will end up together first spark each other’s interests, before being blocked from being together in the second reel, and then finally united in the third.
But Kitty is far from what she seems to be. And Chris is not entirely honest either, telling her that he is a successful painter, or at least not disabusing her of that notion when she gets it into her head. He, who has seen his boss drive off with a young girl who is not his wife, and doesn’t consider that perhaps money has something to do with the pairing of a silver-haired oldster with a girl young enough to be his daughter, is playing the romantic role, and she, out of pity or for laughs, plays along.

Lang here is saying something important about human nature, I think. As human beings, we are self-conscious creatures, and we are aware of how we are supposed to act, and how we seem to others. So we create social personas, or masks, and use those masks to navigate our social world. And sometimes that mask is worn so long that we forget that it is a mask.

The movie merrily hums along in a romantic direction until the next scene, where we learn that the “attacker” was really Kitty’s boyfriend, who was just slapping her around because she wouldn’t give him any more money to gamble with. The two of them are as id-driven and libidinous as you could possibly be in a 1945 movie. Her apartment is filthy, and she lies around all day in her bedclothes, and throws cigarette butts into a sink overflowing with dirty dishes. “Johnny” practically lives there. He’s a hoodlum, a ne’er do well, and a grifter, but she doesn’t mind because, as she says to her girlfriend, she is in love. In a movie of the new millennium, I am sure there would have been violent sex, and it is intimated even here.

Neither Kitty nor Johnny is much for work, so they come up with a scheme for Kitty to induce Chris to get her an apartment she will “pay” for by modeling. Johnny gets hold of Chris’s paintings, which Chris has never been confident enough to sell, and Kitty starts to impersonate Chris, who doesn’t care, because now he imagines they will be together. The paintings begin to see like mad.

And then, of all things, Adele’s ex husband reappears. He supposedly drowned when he tried to save a woman suicide from doing so, but really he had been attempting suicide himself, because he had gotten caught taking bribes from speakeasies to allow them to stay open. He is mistaken for dead, and he doesn’t mind. He is a great big lout, a greasy, smelly, bear of a man, and a lush. He asks Chris to pay him off so he won’t tell Adele he is back.

And for the first time Chris really, and cleverly, is as duplicitous as those around him. He tells the ex that he can come by the house when Adele is out and get the insurance money she got from the insurance company upon his death, but of course she is home, she sees him, and now Chris, still deluded into thinking Kitty loves him, thinks he can finally be with Kitty. It is the ending of the perfect romantic comedy, lovers meet, lovers spark, lovers can’t be together, lovers can be together (when Chris’s marriage is dissolved).

But when Chris goes to see Kitty, he undergoes the same shocking reversal we did when we discovered Kitty’s attacker was really her lover (a not too complimentary view on what keeps men and women together, violence and sex, or violence followed by sex). She tells him he is old and ugly and she hates him. And when he finally must face that fact that perhaps he is, and that his romantic notion of love is ridiculous, he kills her.

Johnny gets blamed for the murder, but he is so obviously a hoodlum that no one believes him. It doesn’t help that he steals Kitty’s jewelry when he sees she is dead (“she didn’t need it anymore”). And no one believes that Chris was really the painter. Chris greatly enjoys Johnny’s death in the chair, until he thinks how Kitty and he will be lovers together in eternity, laughing at him. Chris is broke, fired for stealing from the boss to pay for Kitty’s apartment. He wanders the depressing Depression era streets, shattered, starving and crazed, and finally tries to hang himself, only to get saved by another boarder in the shanty of a rooming house he is living in. His mind gone, he tries over and over to confess, but no one will listen to him. He is in hell, but one of his own devising, not one for those who have sinned against other men, but for those who can’t come to terms with life without the social mask.

The twist in this particular noir film is that passion, combined with the inability to reconcile a romantic view of life with the harsh reality of life as really lived, is what destroys Cross. He never wanted to be a crook, a criminal; he never set himself against society. He just, as he says to his friend, wanted to know just once what it would be like to be loved by a beautiful young girl. It seems like a small crime to commit, his deluding of the self, but it leads to the killing of Kitty, and his inability to let go of the dream finally drives him mad.

© 2014 Mike Welch

Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Moment with Albert Campion

Some years ago Mystery! on PBS featured a series based on Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion mysteries. It starred Peter Davison. The episodes were wonderful and even my friends who told me time and again that they never read mysteries watched the show avidly.

I tuned into NJN, the broadcaster of Campion, one evening during a fundraiser. I always felt sorry for NJN because they were competing with WHYY in Philadelphia and WNET in New York City for viewer dollars. Imagine my delight when they announced that the special in-studio guest for the evening was Peter Davison.

“Yes, friends, for a pledge of $35.00 you can talk to Peter Davison, star of the PBS series, Mystery!”

I seized the phone and was greeted by a lady with a clarion New Jersey bray. (Hold your letters filled with outrage and umbrage. I mean this characterization as a compliment.)


“Yes. I pledge $35.00 and I want to speak to Peter Davison.”

I surrendered name, address and credit card information.

“Just a minute,” said the lady on the line. “Where’s the CELEBRITY?”

I hear a murmur of voices and then I hear the telephone lady say, “STEPHANIE.”

“Good evening, Stephanie. Lovely of you to ring.”

This was said in the most beguiling British accent. (Heaven, I’m in heaven)

We talked for a while about Campion (I assured him the series had many American fans), his impressions of America, and his wish to do a play on the West End. Mr. Davison was was a delight and seemed to have the entire evening to talk to me.

I dined out on this experience for some time. I not only told my friends about it, they put me in touch with friends of theirs so that I could recount the experience. I was excited to tell the story over and over and any number of people seemed enchanted by it.

Then came my friend Jane. Jane, the reader and watcher of science fiction. Jane who once accused me of thinking less of her because she read science fiction.

“What did he have to say about Doctor Who?”


“You didn’t ask him about Doctor Who?”

“Why would I ask him about Doctor Who?”

A great sigh that spoke of regret, resignation and not suffering fools gladly was released.

“He played Doctor Who and you didn’t ask him anything about it?”

“Do I get a reprieve from your scornful attitude if assure you my failure to ask questions about Doctor Who was the result of ignorance and not malice?”

I did feel awful about this oversight for a few minutes, but not much longer.

Over the years, I have given money to public television and radio and collected mugs, t-shirts, tote bags, books and God knows what else.

Those few minutes with Peter Davison, though I have nothing to show for it but the memory, remain my favorite thank you gift.

© 2014 Stephanie Patterson

Friday, November 21, 2014

Everything Comes in Pieces Nowadays

A lot of us have gotten out of the habit of going to the store to buy things like clothing and furniture. Buying clothing online is the simplest thing in the world. You don't even have to be decently dressed while you do it. It comes, it fits or it doesn't, if it doesn't you put it back in the box and take it across the street to the post office. No problem.

Furniture, not so much.

We've been living in this house for thirty years. We don't generally require more furniture. Sometimes we require less. There's a table with matching chairs in the kitchen, all solid maple, that my mother bought for her house in Massachusetts sometime in the sixties. I think it must be the last furniture she bought. But, the truth is, it doesn't fit in my little kitchen. I'm covered with bruises from bumping into the chairs. The table offers no storage underneath. There's stuff all over the tabletop that I can't fit in the cupboards. I've taken to storing potatoes and bags of flour on the chairs.

That's the kitchen problem. Then there's the trouble with my office. If you think the kitchen is cluttered, you should try wading into the office. You all know how long I've been complaining about this. It's been years, right? The desk is too big for my little office, there's stuff all over the floor, blah, blah.

If you can state a problem clearly, the solution will suggest itself. I have always believed this. So. Away with the too-big desk, get a smaller one with a file drawer. Out with the kitchen table and chairs, replace them with a modest kitchen island of a good height to work on and a stool for when I want to work sitting down. Simple matter. And yet I would never dream of going to a furniture store and selecting a kitchen island and a desk. Instead I did what I always do, go online and poke around until I find something that looks good.

This desk looked good! And the price was right. I sent away for it, along with two nice-sized bookcases, the day the shelves began to peel away from the wall. All of these things, the desk as well as the bookcases, came in pieces. I should have understood how it was when I read the reviews for some of the desks that were for sale on Amazon. "It only took my boyfriend three hours to put it together." "Remarkably good quality for the price. The fact that they included glue for the joints made this desk unusually sturdy." I read these words with a vague feeling that rabbits were walking over my grave. They make you put it together. Still. How hard could it be?

Harold, God bless him, put the bookcases together. They were real wood, solid wood. The desk was not. It came several days after the bookcases in a flat package with warning stickers for the delivery man to get help picking it up. I think he delivered it solo. I heard a thump on the front porch and went to the door in time to see him getting back in his truck. "I will drag this into the house myself," I thought, "and then I will unpack it and take it upstairs piece by piece and put it together. Harold will be so surprised." But I couldn't budge it. You know how heavy particle board can be, many times heavier than wood. Luckily the young fellow next door picked it up and carried it in for me. I opened it up on the living room rug and took the heavy pieces up the stairs to my office, rejoicing in the prospect of doing all the assembly myself without bothering Harold. I would have it finished, I thought, before he got home from work.

Well, it took the two of us, working alternately, a full week to put that sucker together. I finished it yesterday morning. The sticker that said Made in America was particularly piquant. Yes, the desk is made in America, if you live in America; you're the one who makes it. I noticed the rail supporting the file drawer was made in Taiwan, and a very sturdy piece of machinery it was. As for the rest of the desk, it's good-looking, and that's the best I can say for it. I hate particle board. The veneer on it is so thin that you only have to scratch it a little to reveal the pale crumbs of glued-together waste wood beneath. Which I did, through various accidents.

The new kitchen furniture promises to be much classier, having cost a lot more. The stool arrived weeks ago, a dear little retro stool with steps that fold underneath. It, too, had to be put together; Harold got busy and did the job in an hour and a half.

The kitchen island comes today sometime. It will be solid wood, with a butcher block top, no particle board, and I don't expect to have to do anything to it other than unwrap it and carry it into the kitchen. Maybe attach the legs. Maybe put the shelves underneath. But probably not anything, because the guys at the John Boos factory worked on it for a month before they shipped it. Surely they got it all finished. And they made it in America! Is this a great country, or what?

Note the rounded edges. I can't possibly bump into it and hurt myself. It will be just the right height and size for rolling out Thanksgiving pie crusts.

© 2014 Kate Gallison

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Bouchercon Photo Essay

I am in the midst of a quick turnaround between Bouchercon and Icelandic Noir.  Who knew writing books would be so strenuous.  In truth, I feel tremendously lucky to be attending these book festivals.  And especially now, at my ADVANCED age, to be part of such a welcoming tribe of talented and interesting people.

My time for the keyboard is limited, so today the best I can managed is these glimpses of what the last week was like.

My week began with a visit to a life-long friend, which included her grandson's
second birthday party and an unforgettably joyous reaction of the little guy to
her birthday gift to him.

The pre-B'con days included visits to LA's museums.  LACMA has on view a
fabulous exhibition of samurai armor.


We continued with the Asian aesthetic at Huntington Gardens and the Chinese
and Japanese gardens.  These are bonsai Italian cypresses. 

A pavilion in the Chinese gardens.

The view from my room at the Long Beach Hyatt

The MWA table featured a cut-out of our patron saint.  When
I happened by, friends Michael Sears and Susan Spann were
also on view.

My panel with the Murder is Everywhere bloggers: Stan Trollip, Cara Black,
yours truly, Jeff Siger, Caro Ramsay, and the other Michael Sears.

The panel on Asian mysteries, with Lisa Brackmann (on the right) holding forth.

Since I was on the Pacific coast and this is the sun over water,
you might think this is sunset, taken from my room.  But it is dawn !?!
And I thought the geography of LA was difficult to understand.

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, November 17, 2014

Out of the Past—Classic Film Noir

Is it more admirable to struggle, hopelessly, against your fate, or to accept it with as much dignity as you can? Robert Mitchum, as Jeff Bailey/Jeff Markham, in the brilliant film noir OUT OF THE PAST, tries one and then settles for the other.

And he does it in great film noir style, traipsing around gritty nighttime New York and San Francisco in a fedora and a trench coat, with an omnipresent cigarette practically surgically attached to his lips. Mitchum is a great physical presence, a quite large man with broad shoulders and a deep chest, and a sinewy, sinuous slow and cocky walk that seems to say, “I can kick your ass now or later, but I’m going to kick your ass.” And you don’t doubt him for a second.

And Jane Greer, as Kathy Moffat, the beautiful, sultry and terribly sexy femme fatale, has an equally dangerous physicality, a vamp-y, lusty sense of her own sexual power that mirrors Mitchum’s in the sense that she seems to be saying “I can f$%^ you now, or I can f$%^ you later, but I am going to f$%^ you.” And you don’t doubt her for a second.

And when Moffat says “we deserve each other,” and when she asks Markham if he believes her when she says she didn’t steal $40,000 from the gangster Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas in a great early role) and he tells her “I don’t care” you believe them again. The irresistible force and the immovable object, the yin and yang, the head cheerleader and the quarterback on the football team, the masculine and feminine principles, the two of them are so powerfully drawn to each other that you can’t imagine they could ever resist each other.

But Markham should have, because Moffat is as morally diseased as she is physically perfect. Markham is hired to find her after she shoots her boyfriend Sterling and absconds with $40,000. Markham is a gritty guy in a gritty profession, and agrees to do it even though he knows Sterling may be lying when he says he only wants her back. Sterling tells Markham he likes him because he is smart and honest, implying implies that even those qualities can be bought, which they apparently can.

Markham finds her, of course, and instead of fulfilling his contract, he runs away with her. They both have the idea that they will live an idyllic life of romance, of laughter, of picnics and the racetrack, their primitive longings for each other transmuted into some kind of genuine partnership, something exalted and grand, something miles away from the grime and squalor of the city streets they grew up on. Markham tells Moffat, “Nothing in the world is any good unless you can share it,” and they do try to share their world.

But you can’t escape the past, or who you are, and they are tracked down by Markham’s old partner, who wants some of the dough Moffat stole. Markham gives him a good thrashing (what other outcome could there have been, as Mitchum exudes a supreme physical and sexual confidence, even going so far as telling Douglas as Whit Sterling, when it looks as if they are to come to blows, “forget it, you’re out of shape,” as Markham gracefully takes a seat on the couch and Sterling decides not to test him), but then Moffat kills the partner in cold blood as he lies, senseless and helpless, on the floor. It turns out she did steal the money, and she runs back to Sterling.

Perhaps Markham can’t help his romantic and decent impulses any more than he can help himself from being attracted to Moffat. He goes into hiding as Jeff Bailey, after Moffat leaves, in an unassuming little town in the Sierra Nevada, Bridgeport, runs a gas station, and falls in love with Ann Miller, who is an Ivory Soap kind of girl, the kind of girl who had the best handwriting in third grade in Catholic School and was liked by the nuns and her classmates both. When Sterling finds Markham, Markham tells Miller everything, and she tells him she still loves him, believing Markham didn’t kill his partner (in the dark and convoluted plot, Bailey eventually gets framed for three murders by both Sterling and Moffat), or the other two.

Sterling pushes Markham back into another job for him, and Markham lets himself be pushed, perhaps having an impulse to ruin himself instead of ruining Anne’s life (she really does play a likeable character, a good girl who is not prudish or prissy, and who genuinely love Jeff, going on picnics with him and watching him fish, kissing him and believing in him in a way he can’t believe in himself).

The plot is not all that important, dark and convoluted as it is. Let us just say that Sterling, his henchman, Markham’s partner and a lawyer who got caught up with Sterling all wind up dead, and Moffat is in one way or another involved in all the deaths. She’s the most completely cynical character of the bunch, gulling both Markham and Sterling with that beautiful thoroughbred body, the brooding black eyes, and the radiant smile that promises that you are the only one.

Markham makes one last attempt at the good life, to be with Ann, when he goes to see Sterling to un-frame himself and set everything right. But Moffat has killed Sterling, and tells Markham to run away with her or go to jail for the murders he has been framed for. She is capable of speaking out of both sides of her mouth, this one, as is everyone in the movie, practically, except perhaps Ann and the boy who helps Markham at the gas station, who saves Markham’s life, and who is true to Markham and Ann till the end, no matter how much danger that puts him in. The boy is deaf and mute, unable to be manipulated or to manipulate others with the very language that everyone else uses to deceive.

And so Markham drives away with Moffat, and lust and venality and corruption seem to have taken the day, except that Markham has tipped off the cops. Moffat kills Markham, telling him he is a double-crosser in a voice that seems to betray her truly evil nature for the first time, and the cops kill her.

Maybe it is both noir and romance, this movie, because now Ann is free to be with the boyfriend who has been pining for her all through the movie, a good guy whom she passes up for the more magnetic Markham, whom she can’t resist any more than Markham could resist Moffat. The two survivors drive off together in the end and you know that death at a police roadblock is not in their future.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Gifted Multi-Cultural Writer

I'm not an effusive, demonstrative, terribly touchy-feely kinda gal… but I have an Enormous Capacity for LUV—of a LOTTA fellow crime writers. (You ladies and gents know who you are!)

Marilyn Meredith is one… her life is so different from mine… she is happily married to "Hubby"—with tons of kids, grand-kids, and even greats!!! And her professional CV is radically unlike mine—She is a product of the West Coast, which I've only visited scantily on business assignments.

But this gal exudes such a ton of warmth, sincerity and generosity—I can't help lovin' her! A Bunch—as our warm-hearted North Carolina colleague, Kaye Barley, would say!

I'm so impressed by this lady's knowledge of and sensitivity to the cultures of folks in her neck of the woods—the American Indian cum Mexican tribes… and their cultures and mores… she writes with such authority, sensitivity and passion—I'm deeply impressed!

Welcome, Marilyn, we are so honored to have you here! We LUV you!

Thelma Straw

Where I Get My Energy

Me and Great-Granddaughter Jaslyn
Thelma asked me a question that I get from a lot of people, and it always makes me laugh—and wonder a bit.

Am I being asked that question because I’m old? I guess when you get to be my age people expect you to retire to the rocking chair. I don’t have a rocking chair, plus I’ve noticed that those who quit doing things when they get older don’t have much fun. And some of them don’t last as long as I have.

Okay, so I’ll reveal my big secret, and it doesn’t have anything to do with energy. I tend to poop out in the afternoon and often grab a nap—usually while watching something on TV.

My day begins around 4:15 or 4:30, the time I automatically wake. I’m not one to sit around in my p.j.s like I’ve heard some authors do—I always get dressed. Who knows what might come up during the day and I want to be ready for it.

My routine consists of Bible study, straightening the kitchen, fixing a cup of Chai latte, checking email, a quick look at Facebook and promoting whatever’s new on my blog. Once that’s done, I get busy with whatever book I’m working on. I usually do that for around three hours—but if I’m also doing the laundry or other chores, I’ll be up and down.

Being the mother of five, babysitting grandkids, raising two others at different times, and for over 20 years being the administrator of a residential care home, I am used to interruptions and don’t have any trouble getting back to what I’m doing.

To be honest, I have much less on my calendar than in earlier years. And I don’t accomplish nearly as much as I once did. I still do things the same way though—I make lists of what I want to accomplish each day and usually manage to do it. I’m never only writing a book.

There are some things I’ve really cut down on, the big one is flying to events. I used to love flying, but too often these days the time between flights is such that you almost need to run to make them in time. I’m not running anywhere anymore. Instead, I’m choosing to take part in events that are close enough to drive to—and there seems to be one or two a month.

What I don’t do is chat on the phone. I’ve never really liked to do that, I much prefer email or private messaging someone on Facebook. I seldom write letters anymore—though I do write and send get-well, birthday and anniversary cards and thank-you notes. I don’t do housework—instead I pay relatives who can use the extra money to do it. I don’t do much visiting either, except with family.

For fun, hubby and I love to go to the movies—but we’re picky about what we see—and we like to go out to eat. We make out-of-town events that have to do with writing into mini-vacations. I also play Bunco once a month with the church ladies, and do like to play games with family members, young and old.

I have no idea if this really answers the question, but it’s the best I can do.

Marilyn Meredith

Visit me at

Contest: The winner will be the person who comments on the most blog posts during the tour.
He or she can either have a character in my next book named after them, or choose an earlier book in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series—either a paper book or e-book.

From here I’m hopping over to see John Wills, a friend from Public Safety Writers Association.

Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty-five published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest River Spirits from Mundania Press. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Shopping for Downton Dresses

A friend is going to a Downton Abbey party in a few weeks, and the two of us went prowling the vintage clothing stores of Lambertville and New Hope on Wednesday looking for the perfect dress.

Now that Downton has moved into the twenties, this meant a flapper-era evening dress, sleeveless, lightly beaded, perhaps, and for my friend's purposes, black, for she is a chic New York girl. At Mill Crest Vintage on Bridge Street in Lambertville we poked around the twenties rack for awhile without success until the salesperson asked what we were looking for. When we told her she disappeared into the back and emerged with two twenties-era evening dresses, black, beaded, with the soft hand and elegant drape of beautifully worked silk.

"Perfect," my friend said. "How much are they?"

"This one is eighteen," the salesperson said. And just as I was thinking, Damn, I could afford that, not that I could squeeze myself into it, she added, "Hundred."

Ah. Eighteen hundred.

"This one is twenty-seven," she said, holding up the other beaded beauty, one of those numbers with vertical slits every three inches all around the beaded skirt, so that when you do the Charleston in it, people can see flashes of your rolled garters, but when you stand still, it hangs down and respectably covers your knees. Twenty seven. Hundred.

"It's all hand beaded, of course," the salesperson said. I visualized a sweatshop full of little French peasant girls, ruining their eyes beading dresses they could never afford to wear. "And then with the Downton Abbey craze there's a huge demand. What were you thinking of spending?"

"Four hundred," my friend said miserably. I could see that the slinky one without the slits had seized her imagination.

"You could try Love Saves the Day over in New Hope." I had no idea they had vintage clothes there. I thought, from the window displays, that it was an emporium of kitsch and Elvis memorabilia. But when we got there I saw that they carried a respectable collection of vintage garments.

Alas, as far as Downton Abbey stuff went it was pretty much the same story as at Mill Crest, except that the exquisite silk frock that was hanging from the ceiling, the one with the matching black peau-de-soie jacket, wasn't for sale at any price. It was part of the owner's personal collection. No one ever wore it. No one was allowed even to touch it without cotton gloves. Who knew such treasures existed less than a mile from my house?

My friend found a cute black dress that wouldn't quite pass as a twenties garment, being too nipped in at the waist. She bought that one, at a reasonable price, figuring it would come in handy on some other occasion. We went back to the house, still dreaming of the long slinky dress with the beads.

I used to collect old clothes, before I realized I was unfit to take care of them. They need protection from dampness, from acid tissue paper, from moths, from all the things that damage delicate fabric. Caring for fragile old things requires single-minded dedication, and like most writers of fiction I am of many minds. Today I may behave like a meticulous museum curator, but tomorrow I might be a careless hippie, and the day after that a minimalist with no place in her life for extraneous objects like old clothes.

Nevertheless I still have a few pieces, as the knowing ones of fashion call garments these days. Two or three of my pieces are actual twenties garments. As we walked toward the house I suddenly remembered the royal blue silk lace dress I picked up at the flea market, years before Downton Abbey was a gleam in Julian Fellowes' eye. I paid fifteen dollars for it. I think it had been a bridesmaid's dress. Long sleeves snapped into the armscye with tiny little snaps, to be removed for evening wear. Some cunning dressmaker did this in 1925 or so. It has a blue silk underslip.

I found the dress crumpled in a ball in the corner of a drawer in my bedroom. It might work. It needs to be hung in a steamy bathroom to remove the wrinkles, but there's nothing like the heft and slink of real silk lace. You don't see that stuff any more. My word, what if it's worth a thousand dollars? I would hate that. I would have to be responsible for taking care of it.

© 2014 Kate Gallison

Monday, November 10, 2014

Touch of Evil

In TOUCH OF EVIL, Orson Welles’s film noir masterpiece, Hank Quinlan (a corrupt police chief played by Welles in a nameless American town on the Mexican border), is a presence so large, literally (he wore padding on his already outsized body during the filming) and especially metaphorically, that he crowds out the rest of the film—the actors (Charlton Heston in particular), the plot, whatever ‘message’ the film might have—by squeezing it all to the margins or entirely off the screen.

Quinlan is a great man—not a good man, not a moral man—but a man great in appetite, larger than life, more fully immersed in life, suffering more greatly, and living with more courage and intelligence than an ordinary man. That he succumbs to his own pride, that his “touch of evil” becomes a raging infection that devours him, is the fascination of the movie. And seeing Janet Leigh lying around in her underwear didn’t hurt, either.

As I was watching the movie, I couldn’t help but think of the word ‘camp’ and wondered if the movie was intentionally so. It made me think of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 or THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, so grotesquely caricatured were some of the characters. I have come to think this was intentional, except in the case of Heston, who must have gone to the same acting school as William Shatner.

The inflation of the characters into funhouse creations made me think of medieval mystery or miracle plays, where characters are exemplars of human qualities. These characters are necessarily two-dimensional, so that the complexity of Welles’s character stands in bold relief to them. The movie is great—pulp comic, grotesque and voyeuristic, sensationalized and as outsized as Leigh’s (Suzy Vargas, married to Mexican diplomat Mike Vargas, played by Charlton Heston) breasts, over the top, a mystery/morality play with an incorruptible Mexican married to a virtuous American wife, and an American police chief corrupt in a south-of-the-border kind of way. The whole thing is both Shakespearean and Biblical. And Heston’s make-up is so overdone he looks like the make-up girl got drunk, giving him a tan that makes him look almost orange, or at least burnt umber, in the black and white movie.

The unconscious is one of those things we can only know by its effects, like light or Santa Claus or God or Capitalism. For my purposes, I will refer to it as the place, the grimy neglected nightmare basement place, where we store all the fear, desire and rage that we can’t face consciously. These feelings are not defeated by being repressed, however, and influence our behavior in unseen ways, kind of like rich donors perverting the political process. Movie and cultural and literary critics are big on the unconscious, and you can look at TOUCH OF EVIL as expressing our society’s collective repressed sexual and economic fears, our repressed individual desires, and as an interesting study of how Quinlan has perhaps repressed his awareness of his own evil.

I could see the tawdry excesses of Bordertown as both revolting and a thing to be desired, revolting to my conscious mind, and yet attractive because unconsciously the license and the riot of the place compelled me. It was like putting peanut butter on top of chocolate on top of ice cream on top of chocolate cake and closing your eyes unable to look and taking the biggest bite you ever took.

Things in Bordertown are raw and impure, if “made in America,” not homogenized, or pasteurized, chlorinated or fluoridated, not approved by the Hays Code or Emily Post, lacking the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, a place where the mongrelized, the bastardized, live, where the stuff left over in the Ivory Soap, the fractional percent against the 99 44/100 percent purity, is. It’s as if the prosperous America of the 50’s, the eager Leave-it-to-Beaver-Donna-Reed industrial juggernaut, was a kind of living organism, and this horrid little place was the flatulent excreta of this too full USA, the byproduct, what was the left over and left out after you made all those Chevy’s and toasters and bombs.

Whatever it is that drives Quinlan, we can see that it is irresistible. And as perceptive as he is, as knowing of the criminal mind, as able as he is to distinguish appearance from reality, the innocent from the guilty, he is unable to see he has crossed the line from good to evil and become the kind of criminal he seeks to bring to justice. Indeed, if he realizes this at all, it is on an unconscious level, which is why perhaps that he seeks the confrontation with Mike Vargas, with part of him wanting to lose. He asks the gypsy Tanya, played by Marlene Deitrich, the character of whom he was once enamored in some sleazy border way, what is in his future, and she tells him he has no future at all. And perhaps he is relieved to hear it, eager on some level to be defeated. He represses the knowledge that Vargas, and Quinlan’s partner Menzies (played by Peter Calleia) , are setting him up. As Quinlan has already set up Vargas, along with scores of others, and is a man who always seems one move ahead, you have to wonder why Quinlan doesn’t see it coming.

Tanya is ambiguous, and you can’t tell if she is a prostitute, a madame, a fortune teller, or the owner of a very seedy bed and breakfast. She is at once self-interested and loving. She says at the end of Quinlan, “what can you say about a man?” as if to dismiss him, but she is not dismissing him, as she is taking the time and making the effort to say anything at all.

This is at the heart of TOUCH OF EVIL and of noir, this ambiguity, and Quinlan possesses it in spades. It is in counterpoint to the characters of Akim Tamiroff (as Joe Grandi, who harasses Suzie Vargas because her husband is involved in prosecuting Grandi’s brother for drug trafficking ) and the Denis Weaver character, caretaker at the hotel where Grandi’s minions inject Suzy with drugs and we come dangerously close to witnessing a gang rape, when all the leather jacketed juvenile delinquent henchman grab a handful of the pure Leigh. Grandi and the caretaker are banal and two-dimensional (although Weaver seems sexually repressed in an extremely weird way, almost a Norman Bates kind of way). Both are cartoonish-ly evil, and cowards, not men with the strength and conviction of Quinlan and Mike Vargas.

And even Mike Vargas is part cartoon, in that his strength and courage have never really been tested, and so is in that way hard to see as any kind of real strength at all. He hasn’t lost a wife to murder, hasn’t had his leg shot up in the war, like Quinlan, hasn’t seen the way that good and evil in Bordertown become entwined in the way of snakes on a caduceus. Tanya is the opposite of Suzy Vargas, without Suzy’s pure and innocent sexuality, more complex, not as arrogant, wiser, knowing the world is ultimately unjust, and youth and strength and innocence eventually give way to their opposites.

Quinlan is a man past his expiration date, branded on his feet, having missed his train, his bus, his plane, the brass ring, a man who rules, but in hell, and the ambiguity of it all, that all the cops are criminals and all the sinners saints, is contained in him, a man who has fallen from a very high place and survived when lesser men would have hit the pavement and just died. The fall injured his soul mortally, the trauma of the kind where you smash a bug and to your horror it begins to try and walk away with what remaining parts of its body still work, like a dog dragging its paralyzed back legs along on a skateboard. Welles has had his wings pulled off for sure.

In the final scene, after Suzy Vargas has been penetrated by hypos and perhaps penises (in order to discredit Mike Vargas who, if he wasn’t so wet behind the ears, would have seen the plot coming a mile away, although perhaps not the evil twist Quinlan works on it), Mike goes extra-legal on the gang, beating them all down in a Los Robles bar (the name of the Mexican town across the border). Mike then gets Menzies (Quinlan’s right hand man, a man that Quinlan saved in the war) to wear a wire in order to get Quinlan to confess his crimes. Vargas is finally stooping low to conquer, and forgetting his decidedly American code of ethics and honor, his boy scout oath. And Welles, perhaps aware at some level what is happening, does admit to planting all that evidence, to coercing so many confessions from so many suspects, yet insists they were all guilty, and revenge for the loss of his wife, and recompense for her killer, the only one, ever, that he didn’t catch.

Quinlan finally realizes he is being gulled and Menzies, who loved Quinlan, and believed in Quinlan as long as he could, is shot by Quinlan, the very man who once took a bullet for him (in the war). Quinlan gets the drop on Vargas, too, but Menzies, in an appropriate kind of fated and fatal symmetry, kills Welles with his dying shot, the figurative and literal last shot in his gun. If there is any redemption at all, it is found by Menzies in death. Welles falls dead into a huge garbage-filled puddle and it’s stunning, and truly tragic, in the sense that tragedy is about the fall of great (if bloated and bleary and filthy and drunk) men.

As Mike and Suzy (what bright All-American names, and kids) drive away the next morning (one of the few daytime shots in the entire movie) you see that the nightmare is over for them, but wonder what has been accomplished, if anything. We have learned that the man Quinlan set up before Vargas was indeed guilty, and we are left to wonder if perhaps Quinlan’s ends justified his means. I don’t think it is because Heston is a good actor, because he always looks this way, but Mike Vargas has a kind of self-satisfied look on his face that you just want to slap off. And you know that life is going to do just that.

© 2014 Mike Welch

Sunday, November 9, 2014

By the Book: Stephanie Patterson

I’m sure most of you are aware of the New York Times feature By the Book in which writers and celebrities are quizzed about their reading habits. Since I’m not a celebrity and my manuscripts are mostly unfinished, I don’t think the Times will be visiting soon.

So I decided to talk to myself (something at which I excel) and produce my own BTB.

What books are on your bedside table?

I don’t have a bedside table. I do have a very large end table. Most people would call it the floor. Currently it holds any number of things: Beatrice Webb’s Diaries, Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes, Chasing Lost Time by Jean Findley. Paris Was Yesterday by Janet Flanner, Knight Errant by Robert Stephens, The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher among others. (We’re talking the floor after all)

What kind of reader were you as a child? Did you have a favorite book?

Indiscriminate. My mother was essentially a single parent so she had to take me along on errands. I got Little Golden Books from the supermarket. Later I remember getting weekly supplements of a encyclopedia and then a world history. The one image I remember from the world history volumes was a picture of Paul Klee’s “Twittering Machine.” I looked at it a lot and finally saw it “in person” in June at the Neue Galerie in New York City. I loved Little Women. I remember scenes and lines from that book more vividly than many books I’ve read more recently. I could never decide whether I wanted to be Jo or Beth. Jo was really more to my taste, but Beth died so nobly.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

Why do you alway ask about the president? The guy reads, no question. What about what Republicans should be reading? Let’s start with the Constitution. First they would see that the Constitution is not comprised solely of the Second Amendment. Then there’s the bit about “the well-regulated Militia.” Jaylen Fryberg wasn’t part of anybody’s militia. Some people value gun ownership over human life. That upsets me.

The president might try laughing over PG Wodehouse, but of course he’d have to answer for reading frivolous British comedy while the world was going to hell.

If you could have dinner with any writer, living or dead, who would it be?

Well, I’d have to have a dinner party. Shakespeare and Chekov are off the list because they have so many invitations from other writers. For my husband, I would invite George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells and Dick Francis. I would also invite Winston Churchill, Anthony Trollope, all of the Mitford sisters (though Nancy probably wouldn’t come as she didn’t like Americans) and George Eliot. I would also like to talk to David Foster Wallace to tell him how much many readers still miss him and to let him know he singlehandedly made me care about Roger Federer. And I’d want to spend some time with Reginald Hill whose mysteries I so enjoyed. For living writers, how about the writers on this blog? They’re lively on the page; I’m sure they’re lively in person. I want to drink Broken Hearts with them. From what I’ve read about the potency of the drink, this would mean spending the night in Manhattan. YAY!

Do you prefer paper or electronic books?

I like both. I have many in both formats. The Kindle allows me to carry around an entire library. I would never have read David McCullough’s Truman if it wasn’t available electronically.

Didn’t you promise your husband you wouldn’t buy paper books once you got a Kindle?

Now you’re getting personal. I have indeed broken that promise. I can’t imagine Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? would be very enjoyable on my Kindle. Many older books are available only in paper. Hard as it is to believe, G. M. Young’s biography of Stanley Baldwin (once described as “the most hostile authorized biography ever written”) is not available as an ebook.

I think you’re making excuses.

Oh, go away. I have better things to do than talk to you. I have to design a reading list for Republicans.

© 2014 Stephanie Patterson