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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Bounty Hunters & Bail Bondsmen

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Bounty Hunters & Bail Bondsmen

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’m not familiar with too many hardboiled or pulp series’ which feature bail bondsmen or bounty hunters. On reflection, this is a bit surprising, as the roles certainly put the protagonist in the middle of a plot-worthy situation. Below is an updated version of a Black Gate essay I wrote on what I consider to be one of the most under-rated hardboiled series’ in the entire genre. Michael Stone’s Streeter is a bounty hunter in Denver, Colorado. These four books are favorites of mine. I’ll also mention Bail Bond Dodd, who I wrote about before at Black Gate. And finally, a George Raft film set in a bail bondsman’s office.

For my money, the two of the best hardboiled PI series’ of the Post-Pulp Era are Joe Gores’ DKA books (also unconventional, in that they’re about a car repo group), and Stone’s Streeter. Just after I moved out to Colorado Springs in the mid-nineties, a Denver private investigator named Michael Stone released his first book about Streeter, a bounty hunter in the Mile High City. The Low End of Nowhere had a very cool cover by Owen Smith, who would provide three more for A Long ReachToken of Remorse, and Totally Dead. These covers are fantastic.

Then, nothing: After four very good novels, Stone simply quit writing. It was as if he’d suddenly passed away  (happily, he didn’t). Over the years, I tried to find some news of him on the web but came up empty. He just seemed to lose interest in being a writer in 1999.

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Picking A Lane

Picking A Lane

The Human Resources Bunker for Black Gate is on sub-level 12, which is normally dank, dim, and mostly empty. But as it was Quarterly Reviews, the cargo elevators continued to disgorge people, making those of us already waiting on long benches between decorative columns pack in even tighter. As I waited, number in hand, I peered up past the moss-covered chandeliers and the ductwork of the air circulation system, to the massive murals painted onto the arching ceiling far overhead, framed in gold, showing scenes of the early days of Black Gate. But the lichen that had accumulated in the years since made the details hard to pick out.

Originally, the plans for the Human Resources Bunker were more modest.

The vents overhead dripped continuously, and I had begun to worry about possible rust stains on my already threadbare suit. So my trepidation was mixed with relief as I heard my number finally called over the loudspeakers, and I strode forward, to sit on the stool before the desk of my Human Resources representative, Salinger. He looked up from his case file with a professional smile.

“So, Mr. Starr! Hope you weren’t waiting more then a few hours!”

“Actually, I-”

“Great, great!” he continued, and I settled further onto a hard stool as he continued to scan reports on my quarterly output. At last he set it aside, and gave me an appraising look. “So, why don’t you tell me how you think your writing has been going?”

“Well, progress on my current novel has been steady-”

“Ah yes,” he said, as if I’d reminded him of a small annoyance that needed to be cleared up. “Let’s begin with that. I hear there’s a marketing issue…” He consulted reports, but I didn’t wait.

“Marketing issue?” I asked, and he gave a wordless grunt in the affirmative. “It’s not even finished yet!”

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Carroll John Daly & the Birth of Hardboiled Pulp

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Carroll John Daly & the Birth of Hardboiled Pulp

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)

Quiz time: Who invented the hard-boiled school of fiction? And who was the first hard-boiled private eye? Hint – Dashiell Hammett is not part of the answer. Another Hint – if you answered Carroll John Daly and Race Williams, not bad, but you’d only be half right.

In December of 1922, Daly’s “The False Burton Combs” appeared in Black Mask Magazine, and the hard-boiled school was born. Combs is not a private eye, so that’s not the answer. He is ‘a gentleman adventurer’ (though not of the Victorian Era kind) who agrees to take on someone’s identity and then proceeds to ooze toughness all over Nantucket. He is a completely one-dimensional character and it’s B-grade pulp. But it’s the first of its kind.

In April of 1923, “It’s All in the Game” (which I’ve yet to read), with an unnamed protagonist, was printed. And on May 15, 1923, “Three Gun Terry” gave us Three Gun Terry Mack, first of the unnumbered hardboiled private eyes to follow for almost a century.

In June, 1923, the first Race Williams story, “Knights of the Open Palm,” appeared in Black Mask and it is this story which many folks erroneously point to as the first one to feature a hard boiled private eye. In case you’re wondering, Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op made his debut in “Arson Plus” in October of that year. Yes, Hammett was better. But simply, he wasn’t first.

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Long and Winding

Long and Winding

January 1st

Dear Diary,
I have decided that my new writing project will be a classic swords and sorcery epic! To that end, I have reams of research on the particulars of many ancient and medieval weapons, and a few pages of notes outlining the magic of this new world. This is the extent of my preparation for this, as I want it to be spontaneous and fresh as I write it. No pesky outline for me this time! I’m going free solo. Au natural! With that in mind, I have decided on the working title of Beatbox, as I assume that performative style requires a certain degree of self confidence.

“Now that is one big book,” thinks an ancient ancestor.

As I write this, Dear Diary, a remarkable amount of work appears to be happening inside the house next door. Craftsmen of all sorts are moving about, finishing projects large and small, and a number of bureaucratic-types have been seen with a woman that I now assume to be the new owner. It is all a mystery, to be honest, and mysteries require methodical work habits to solve. That is not at all my current MO, Dear Diary, and so I will think no more on it!

Still, I have taken note of all the large cups and tiny plates being unpacked by inordinately handsome delivery men.

Theme Music: Thus Spoke Zarathustra, by Richard Strauss. The epic begins!

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Ya’at’eeh – AMC May Just do Tony Hillerman Justice!

Ya’at’eeh – AMC May Just do Tony Hillerman Justice!

There I was, writing along on a A (Black) Gat in the Hand post on a movie version of Jim Thompson’s After Dark, My Sweet, for this week’s column. I also re-read the book, and I was up to my elbows in bleakness and inevitable disaster. Because, you know: Jim Thompson. Then, an article came across my FB feed, and yet again – “Ooh. Bright, shiny object!”

Tony Hillerman is one of my all-time favorite writers. The Fly on the Wall is in my Top Ten Novels list. His tales of Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, members of the Navajo Tribal Police, earned him the honorific of Mystery Writers Association of America Grand Master. He wrote eighteen Leaphorn and Chee books between 1970 and 2006, before passing in 2008. I wrote a three-part series here at Black Gate about Hillerman and his duo. If you’ve not read the series, you’re missing out on one of the best police procedurals out there.

The Navajo Tribal Police books have been adapted to the screen four times, with some success, but also a feeling of ‘What if?’’ The product deserved more attention. And now, they’re about to get it!

Robert Redford was responsible for three movies which aired on PBS. He was also executive producer The Dark Wind, which went direct-to-DVD in America. He’s involved again, along with Graham Roland, George R.R. Martin, and AMC. And this looks promising. It appears that Dark Winds will be a multi-season effort if it is successful. Season one will be six-episodes, based on the third novel, Listening Woman.

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Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On: The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On: The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Title page from the First Folio

One of the problems with writing about great works is there’s so little for me to add to the volumes and volumes written by writers far and away more knowledgable than I. Still, maybe I can bring a newcomer’s eye to books that have nourished the roots of fantasy, and maybe encourage a few others to pick them up. So I shall ramble for a piece about William Shakespeare’s last solo play, The Tempest (ca. 1610).

The Tempest is believed to have been performed only a few times during Shakespeare’s lifetime, including once in 1611 for King James I at Whitehall Palace on Hallowmas night. It became part of the standard theatrical repertoire during the Restoration starting in 1660, but was edited to appeal more to upper-class audiences and support royalist policies. Finally, in 1838, when actor William Charles Macready staged an incredibly elaborate production using the unedited script, Shakespeare’s original became the preferred version.

Along with several other of Shakespeare’s final plays, including The Winter’s Tale and Cymbeline, The Tempest is categorized as a romance, fitting into none of the standard tragedy, comedy, or history categories. His later works, perhaps reflecting his own changing nature, changing tastes, and the growth of more elaborate productions, mix the comic and tragic, along with magic and mystical elements. The Tempest showcases this evolution brilliantly.

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Feedback Loop

Feedback Loop

January 1st

This diagram of a diamond molecule also shows the relationship of your characters to one another. Coincidence?

Dear Diary,

My newest writing project is ready to begin! I have chosen to try my hand at a classic mystery novel, which I will give the working title Alabaster. Welcome to existence, Alabaster! As a mystery requires, I have outlined the novel in its entirety, so I know which clues must go where, and so on. However, in order to temper the heavy-handed planning of my previous project, I have decided to seek out a critique group.

This was made far more simple by the fact that the local library has signed a long-term leased to the large and empty house next door, and has spent many weeks now stocking the spacious rooms with a representative sample of the world of literature, as well as a number of programs aimed at enriching the intellectual lives of the surrounding citizens. Lucky me! What more can a writer ask for than a critique group practically on their own doorstep? I watch their preparations from my writing room window each day.

Power Crystal: Diamond, for clarity and strength.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – March, 1932

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – March, 1932

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 decided to kick off this year’s A (Black) Gat in the Hand run with a look at a stellar issue of Black Mask. And the March 1, 1932 one was a knockout. Note the catch phrase on the cover was “Detective, Western, Stories of Action.” Just two issues prior, in January, the cover illustration featured a cowboy wielding a pair of six shooters. Even with non-Western stories from Erle Stanley Gardner, Raoul Whitfield, and Stewart Stirling. The shift towards hardboiled had been made, but the Mask was still appealing to other pulp genres. Competitor Dime Detective had only started up the month before.

But man, the March issue delivered hardboiled like a tommy gun, backed up with a pineapple through the window. No, not the kind of pineapple they use in Psych (great show!). I will argue that it was one of the best Black Masks ever. Considering that there is no Hammett story, it’s a bold claim.

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The Grindstone

The Grindstone

January 1st

The view out one’s own window is often inspiring!

Dear Diary,
All of the prep work I did at the end of last year has paid off handsomely! My plan for today is to jump right into my new project, to which I have given the working title of Hedgerow. This will put me in the mindset of a gardener, tending to delicate sprouts, always mindful of the bounty to come. Hello, Hedgerow!

Also, the house next door has finally been occupied. After all the investigators and forensics teams, I feared that blackout curtains would become a permanent decorative feature in my writing room to hide me from the endless rounds of reporters. Thankfully, things quieted down soon enough, which was good, since I had no idea what any of them was talking about!

Spirit Animal: A featherless baby bird!

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Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: Cheh’s on Second

Ellsworth’s Cinema of Swords: Cheh’s on Second

One-Armed Swordsman (Hong King, 1967)

Though visionary director King Hu established the elements of the modern wuxia, or Chinese historical swordplay film, it was fellow Hong Kong director Chang Cheh who really took the ball and ran with it. He followed hard on Hu’s Come Drink with Me and Dragon Inn with his own wuxia action movies and quickly became one of Asia’s top-grossing directors, with a style that drew on Hu but also Japan’s Akira Kurosawa, America’s Sam Peckinpah, and Italy’s Sergio Leone. After about a dozen swordplay films, he turned to unarmed martial arts, helping to define the burgeoning kung fu film genre. All told, he made over ninety films for Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers studio and was a major influence on later directors such as John Woo, Robert Rodriguez, and Zhang Yimou. Let’s take a look at his first three wuxia films, each of which builds on the stylistic advances of the previous.

One-Armed Swordsman

Rating: ****
Origin: Hong Kong, 1967
Director: Chang Cheh
Source: 88 Films Blu-ray

King Hu reinvented the modern wuxia film in 1966 with Come Drink with Me, then left the Shaw Brothers film factory for Taiwan. But the Shaw Brothers had another top-notch action director in Chang Cheh who began his own series of historical martial arts movies with One-Armed Swordsman, which broke new ground with its dynamic and colorful swordplay and was an even bigger hit in Asia than Come Drink with Me.

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