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Author: Bob Byrne

What I’ve Been Watching: September, 2022

What I’ve Been Watching: September, 2022

We’ve just wrapped up another successful summer run of A (Black) Gat in the Hand. What? How do I know it was successful? Because it didn’t get canceled, that’s how. It was also, unanimously, hands down, the favorite pulp series at Black Gate this summer. So… what now? Yes, it was the ONLY pulp series this summer. I believe even this year so far. Totally beside the point.

Anywhoo…while I was immersed in reading and listening for the series (I didn’t do any movies this year, I think), I was still watching ‘stuff,’ and reading non-Pulp stuff here and there. So, this week, I’m gonna talk about five things I’ve watched, lately. Next week, it will be five things I’ve listened to (audio books, radio plays).

I’m not necessarily a renaissance man, but as a friend once said of me, I’m more of a late medieval pretender.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Porch Pulp #2

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Porch Pulp #2

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

And we’re wrapping up another summer run of A (Black) Gat in the Hand with Back Porch Pulp #2. So, here we go!

DAVID DODGE

Back Porch Pulp is reading the first novel by David Dodge. He is best known as author of the thriller novel, To Catch a Thief.

Which became a famous Cary Grant movie, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. I saw that on the big screen at The Ohio Theater. That was a treat.

I like his adventure novel, ‘Plunder of the Sun.’ Which became a not-famous movie, with Glenn Ford. Hard Case Crime reissued that book, introducing me to the author.

Dodge was an accountant. And his first couple novels were hardboiled ones starring San Francisco accountant Whit Whitney. I wrote an essay on Dodge and two of his novels, last month.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hardboiled in Key West – John Leslie

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hardboiled in Key West – John Leslie

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

I wanted to bring over another post from The Public life of Sherlock Holmes. From my experience, this is a WAAAAAY below the radar private eye series. But I’ve read it through twice, and I really like it. And it’s got a very Pulp Era atmosphere, though it was written in the nineties. So, here’s a revised essay on John Leslie’s Key West, piano-playing, private eye.

If you read this column, (or are a FB friend) you know that John D. MacDonald, author of the Travis McGee series, Cape Fear (originally titled The Executioners), and much, much more, is my favorite writer. And I believe, one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century, in any genre. His is the pre-eminent name in the subcategory of ‘Florida writers.’ Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford, a marine biologist who lives in a stilt house, is absolutely McGee’s successor. I think White is a top-notch writer and I certainly recommend that series.

I’m not as up on this group as I used to be, but Carl Hiassen is probably the best-known Florida scribe these days. His biting satire and hilarious situations can be laugh-out-loud reading. In a similar vein to Hiassen are the works of Lawrence Shames. He also pokes fun at the absurdities of Florida life with a series of mostly unconnected books set in Key West. They provide some chuckles.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hardboiled Fantasy – Garrett, PI

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hardboiled Fantasy – Garrett, PI

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

The extremely talented Glen Cook is best known for his excellent dark fantasy series about a mercenary group, The Black Company. In 2018, Fletcher Vredenburgh wrote a FOURTEEN-part deep dive into the series. If I ever write anything even half as impressive here at Black Gate, I’m going to ask them to actually pay me. I love The Black Company series, and cannot recommend it enough.

Cook has written several other fantasy and sci-fi series’ – none of which I have read. They are all well-regarded. But the other one I have read from start to finish – more than once – is his Garrett, PI series. I think that every Writer (or in my instance, lower case ‘w’ writer) has that ONE series they wish they had come up with and written. For me, it’s the Garrett books.

They are light years away in tone and style of The Black Company. And also from what I understand of The Dream Empire and The Instrumentalties of the Night series.’ However, they are identical to the Black Company in regards to quality of writing. Garrett is the ore-eminent fantasy PI (private investigator).

Cook has written a series of books that appeals to fans of the hardboiled PI, notably practiced by Raymond Chandler; fans of the humorous fantasy world best typified by Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and to those who have read Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries. The fact that Cook has masterfully combined all three of these elements is admirable in the extreme. And the reason I wish I had come up with something like this.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: David Dodge

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: David Dodge

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

I have discovered several writers I like, such as Day Keene, Pete Hamill, and Richard Powell, through the Hard Case Crime imprint. Another writer they reissued is David Dodge. Dodge wrote To Catch a Thief, which Alfred Hitchcock masterfully turned into a taut thriller film.

Two years earlier, Dodge’s Plunder of the Sun, an adventure novel starring Al Colby, was filmed with Glenn Ford. That script was written by hardboiled writer Jonathan Latimer. He wrote some fine movies in the genre, including The Glass Key, Nocturne, The Big Clock, and The Night has a Thousand Eyes.

Accountant Whit Whitney was Dodge’s first character. Dodge was a certified public accountant, and he wrote four hardboiled PI-like novels featuring him. He wrote the first when he bet his wife he could write a better mystery novel than the one she was currently reading.

He served in the Navy during the war, and he explored Latin America with his family after getting out. This led to the creation of Al Colby. Plunder of the Sun (you can listen to a radio play of it here) was Colby’s second book (of three). He is an American private eye, living in Mexico City.

The Long Escape – originally a Dell Mapback, and now available as an affordable ebook – is his first, and Colby is about to take a weekend trip when he gets a letter from an LA lawyer named Adams. Robert R. Parker had done a runner on his shrew of a wife; who is Adams’ client. In order for her to sell some property, she needs him to either agree to it, or be definitely dead.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: The Murdering Spinsters

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: The Murdering Spinsters

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

In Brooklyn during World War II, a pair of black widows were luring men to their deaths. They preyed upon older, lonely men without family or close friends. With a “Room for rent” sign hanging in the front window of their idyllic-looking home, they fed arsenic-laced wine to their victims. A male relative who lived with them buried the bodies in the basement, with no one the wiser. The women were in fact little old ladies: think Aunt Bee as a serial killer.

But a nephew came over and found a body in window seat – the thirteenth victim. He slowly realized that his two loveable old aunts were killers. Then, his brother, a murderer on the lam from the police, showed up with his lackey in tow. It’s a hardboiled, true crime story that curiously, is largely forgotten today.

Just kidding! It’s actually Arsenic and Old Lace, a smash stage play that became a popular movie starring Cary Grant, Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre. The play ran on Broadway for 1,444 performances and is still in wide use today.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Wally Conger on ‘The Hollywood Troubleshooter Saga’

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Wally Conger on ‘The Hollywood Troubleshooter Saga’

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Wally Conger and I chat on FB about our common interests in books, movies, and TV/streaming shows. We’re even co-Admins on a FB group dedicated to hardboiled/noir, and another one about Solar Pons. He’s also a big fan of the extremely talented James Scott Bell, so I was really happy when Wally agreed to write an essay about that author’s pulp series starring Bill Armbrewster! Take it away, Wally:

Hollywood and hardboiled noir will be forever intertwined. And James Scott Bell, a winner of the International Thriller Writers Award, writing teacher, and creator of at least four entertaining thriller series of books that I can think of (including the delightful Kick-Ass Nun stories), has recently underscored that fact with his ebook Trouble Is My Beat: The Bill Armbrewster, Hollywood Troubleshooter Mystery Novelettes in Classic Pulp Style.

Admittedly, that’s a mouthful of a title, but it’s good marketing. It describes exactly what this gem is. The year is 1945. The war’s just ended, the boys are marching home, and Hollywood is grinding out movies faster than Rita Hayworth is plowing through husbands. Bill Armbrewster is the “troubleshooter” for National-Consolidated Pictures — in other words, he works to keep the studio’s image, and the images of its “people properties,” squeaky clean.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Porch Pulp #1

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Porch Pulp #1

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

I did six Back Deck Pulp installments. If you don’t know what that was – I had a great back deck at my former house. I would sit out there and read a lot. Mostly pulp stuff, but other things too. And I would take a pic of the book/or rarely, on my Kindle); trying to include some of my yard, or deck, and my leg or knee (hey – it was just a thing). And I’d talk about what I was reading. Usually sharing info about the author.

They were fun little things to share what I liked reading. And often it was a plug for an upcoming A (Black) Gat in the Hand post. I’m in an apartment now, with a small concrete slab back porch. With winter, and then the brutal heat of June, now behind us, I’m getting out there to read a little more. So, Back Porch Pulp makes its debut as Back Deck Pulp’s successor. Enjoy!

JACK HIGGINS

Back Deck Pulp has been re-branded. Back Porch Pulp. I read a $1.99 Jack Higgins ebook, “Comes the Dark Stranger.”

I have 49 Higgins books on the shelves: I’m a fan. That one was ‘meh.’ Predictable and not that exciting.

I’m a big fan of his WW II historical fiction stuff. And the first dozen Sean Dillon books.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Shovel’s Painful Predicament

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Shovel’s Painful Predicament

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

I am far more into pastiche – that emulation of an author’s style – than parody, which uses the author’s work to get a laugh. But I do read a little parody; and have written a few short stories in that category. Black Gaters know I am a huge Sherlock Holmes fan. My first column here, which ran weekly for three years, was called The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes (an homage to Sherlockian Vincent Starrett).

And, since you’re reading the 82nd installment of A (Black) Gat in the Hand, you know I love wandering down those Mean Streets. If done well, I think you can mix genres. In this instance – for a little parody fun. William Gillette was THE great stage Sherlock Holmes, having rewritten a first draft of a play by Arthur Conan Doyle himself. Sherlock Holmes – A Drama in Four Acts became an international sensation. Gillette would play the role over 1,300 times on stage, make a film of it, and even, at age 82, record a radio version. It is still performed today, and such notables as Leonard Nimoy, Frank Langella, and Alan Rickman, have performed it on stage. Of course, I wrote about it here at Black Gate.

In 1905, Gillette was to perform a comedy sketch at a charity event. It fell apart at the last minute, and he quickly wrote the curtain-raiser, The Painful Predicament of Sherlock Holmes, which he performed with the great Ethel Barrymore (John’s sister), as a fill-in. He would use it in the future, and it’s a fun spoof of a typical Holmes case.

I decided to rewrite Painful Predicament as a hardboiled parody. And I’m thinking of a follow-up. Shovel himself is a pretty regular PI, and I do use some over-the-top hardboiled prose. But I like the humor the client provides. So, here we go…

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Tracer Bullet Takes the Case

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Tracer Bullet Takes the Case

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

I have had a Roger Torrey essay in mind for a couple years. And I thought I was going to write it this past weekend, but it didn’t quite work out that way. I’ll still be doing one this summer (he tells himself), using a short story from Black Dog’s excellent collection, Bodyguard. But today is not that day!

Calvin and Hobbes rivals Fox Trot for my all-time favorite comic strip. Bloom County barely holds off Dilbert for the third spot. Of course, the magic of C&H captivated millions over the years, and still does.

I have all of the non-repeating collections. Having bought them as they came out, I didn’t get that massive hardback collection. I even have the one from the exhibit here at Ohio State in Columbus, OH back in 1995. I didn’t see that one, unfortunately.

Calvin is a six-year old kid, and he has a stuffed tiger named Hobbes. Hobbes is alive when it’s just Calvin around. He’s a normal stuffed animal when someone else is (I only noticed one panel with an animated Hobbes, and someone else there…). Calvin is constantly getting into trouble with Hobbes.

There were some recurring characters, like Spaceman Spiff. There were two or three series’ with Calvin imagining himself as the classic hardboiled private eye, ala Sam Spade. He is Tracer Bullet.

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