"You know what? The bastard blows me out of the water. This guy writes Maine like Ardai writes New York. If you're not reading him, you don't know what you're missing." --Chris F. Holm, author of "The Collector" series, The Killing Kind, and Red Right Hand.

"A refreshingly new voice in noir." --Ed Kurtz, author of Nothing You Can Do and The Rib From Which I Remake the World.

"A glorious boilermaker of noir and East Coast gothic. The action is taut as a sprung snare and Bagley tightens the screws with every page." -- Laird Barron, author of Swift to Chase and Blood Standard.




Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It’s a good day for an old poem about Richard Brautigan.

It is Tuesday

And I’ve bought a used copy
of In Watermelon Sugar
and underlined on page 2 is
“It is Tuesday
and the sun is golden,”
and it makes sense
in a way I could never
explain.



©1995 Patrick Shawn Bagley
from Kumquat Meringue #6 ©2001 Kumquat Press
Kumquat Meringue was (is?) a great little ‘zine “dedicated to the memory of Richard Brautigan.”

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Once You’ve Had Black…

Paying for It by Tony Black
Preface/Random House (July 2008)
ISBN 978-1-84809-020-0
£16.99 Cloth

Gus Dury used to be a hotshot investigative reporter. Now he’s a soon-to-be-divorced, unemployed drunk living in a cheap flat above an Edinburgh pub. Col, the owner of the pub, asks Gus for a favor. Col’s son Billy has been tortured and murdered in what the cops dismissed as a gang killing. Gus is reluctant, but he owes Col a favor. Before long, Gus is in deep shit, crossing paths with bent cops, human traffickers, a woman trying to work every angle and the sleazy politician who cost him his job and—as a result—his marriage. If he’s careful, Gus might just have a chance to regain a semblance of his old life. Then again, he might end up like Billy.

If you’ve read Tony Black’s short stories for e-zines like Spinetingler or Plots with Guns, you know his writing hits like a sharp jab to the gut. His Edinburgh is a darker place than Ian Rankin’s, and that’s saying something. In Black’s hands, the city is more like Ken Bruen’s Galway.

Nor is that the only similarity between Black and Bruen. Inevitably, readers will compare Gus Dury with Jack Taylor. Both men lost their job after decking a government official. Both take shelter in booze or drugs. Like Taylor, Dury is quick to use his fists and is just as likely to end up in the emergency room as a result. Both know the law has little to do with justice.

But Dury is no Jack Taylor clone, and Tony Black, though clearly influenced by Bruen, writes with his own strong voice. While Taylor’s life tends to spiral further downward with each novel, Dury might be able to pull himself up out of the tidal wave of misery. Or maybe not, since the title of the next book in this series is Gutted. Does that refer to a killer who disembowels his victims or is does it reflect the way Dury will feel by the end of the case? I like to see writers run their characters through the meat grinder, so I’m good either way. It's the whole that-which-does-not-kill-us-makes-for-damn-fine-entertainment thing.

Tony Black is the real noir deal and Paying for It is one hell of a debut.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Forgotten Books Friday

Hell House
by Richard Matheson (1971)

Fall is my favorite season and Halloween is the best holiday of them all. To get into the spirit, I’ll devote my next couple of Fridays posts to rereading some novels that I consider overlooked classics of horror. I can’t think of a better way to kick off the Halloween season than by visiting Richard Matheson’s Hell House.

The Belasco House in Caribou Falls, Maine is the “Mt. Everest of haunted houses.” For years a haven for acts so depraved they would have made Caligula lose his lunch, the mansion earned its title of Hell House after all of Belasco’s guests were found dead of various nasty causes. The body of Emeric Belasco was never discovered, though some believe that he or his spirit still haunts the house forty-three years later. An aging bazillionaire has recently bought the house, and he offers one hundred thousand dollars for proof (one way or the other) of life after death.

Enter Professor Lionel Barrett and the best anti-spook technology that 1970 has to offer. Barrett, who makes Egon from Ghostbusters look like a wannabe, is out to prove once and for all that ghosts are merely a form of electromagnetic radiation left behind when a person dies. His Reversor is designed to set up a countercharge that will “clear the house.”

Barrett is accompanied by his wife Edith—a woman with more repressed desires than the priest at an all-boys parochial school—and a pair of mediums. Florence Tanner is the leader of the Temple of Spiritual Harmony. She hopes to commune with and free the spirits trapped within the house; the big paycheck will also make it possible for she and her followers to build a real church. Benjamin Franklin Fischer is known as one of the most powerful mediums in the world. He is also the sole survivor of an earlier attempt at uncovering the mystery of Belasco House. Fischer has spent years trying to drown his power in alcohol and hide from the past, but events in the house force him to fight back.

Hell House is one of the best works by the true master of horror. Fear oozes from its pages. Richard Matheson’s other books include I Am Legend, What Dreams May Come, A Stir of Echoes and The Beardless Warriors. He was also one of the writers for the original Twilight Zone series and huge influence on some guy named Stephen King.

As always, you can check out the full list of today’s forgotten books recommendations on Patti Abbott’s blog.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Stuff

Last week, I interviewed for a job that interested me and paid decent money (a rare combination around here). I thought the interview went well, but I got a “thanks but no thanks” letter in Saturday’s mail. I’m just finishing up a freelance copyediting assignment and I’ve picked up some freelance writing work with a monthly paper, but a job with regular hours and steady pay would have helped solve a couple of money problems.

The high point of the weekend was receiving a signed copy of Kelly Link’s latest collection, Pretty Monsters. The inscription reads “For Patrick from a fan. Love, Kelly.” How cool is that? If you haven’t experienced Kelly’s slipstreamy genius, then you’re missing out on some beautifully disturbing stories.

I wrote the opening scene of the new novel yesterday. Felt damn good.

It was difficult not to turn last Thursday night’s class into a lecture on James Crumley. I settled for reading aloud the opening line of The Last Good Kiss and talking briefly about its place in the crime fiction canon.

A couple of things coming up on the blog this week: my review of Tony Black’s debut novel, Paying for It; my review of Sandra Ruttan’s The Frailty of Flesh; my contribution to Forgotten Books Friday will be Hell House by the great Richard Matheson.

Joan Jett turned 50 yesterday. I remember buying “I Love Rock and Roll” as a 45 in 1982. That was twenty-six years ago? Jesus.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

James Crumley (1939-2008)

James Crumley, one of the most original voices in crime fiction, has died. Crumley, author of The Last Good Kiss (which boasts the greatest opening line ever written), passed away at a Missoula, Montana hospital yesterday. He was 68 years old.

The Mexican Tree Duck (1993) won the Dashiell Hammett Award for Best Literary Crime Novel. His most recent novel was The Right Madness (2005). Though he only published eleven novels during his career, Crumley leaves behind an amazing and important body of work.

“Today’s Special is Memphis Soul Stew…”

I’m reading George PelecanosSoul Circus. No surprise, the novel is a fine, intense read. One of the things that strengthen Pelecanos’ writing is his love of music. A typical Strange/Quinn novel has a soundtrack ranging from soul to hip-hop to Morricone western scores, and Soul Circus is no exception. Thanks to that title and the old Motown tapes Strange listens to in his car, I’ve had King Curtis’ song “Memphis Soul Stew” stuck in my head for the last couple of days. It’s a good song, so I’m not complaining. Hip-hop ain’t my bag, though; I’m not familiar enough with it to get a track jammed in my skull.

I love books that are steeped in music, from Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments to William Gay’s Provinces of Night or Anthony Neil Smith’s The Drummer. What songs have gotten stuck in your head lately? Is that good or bad? What put them there?

Monday, September 15, 2008

When the Wind Blows

Strong winds knocked out electricity on my road for more than six hours today. I managed to finish and file a pair of newspaper columns just before my laptop's battery ran down. The biggest problem was getting water for the animals. Note to self: buy that Bison handpump for the well.

Inconvenient as it was, it was still nothing compared to the problems faced by people living in areas hit by Ike and Gustav. I can't even imagine what that must be like.

Right now, an owl is calling from a tree outside the kitchen window. The coyotes are at it again, too, but they have not come close to the house since last week. It's nice to have the lights on.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Assigned Reading

This semester, I’m teaching a course called Writing Mystery and Crime Fiction through the local adult ed. program. Besides doing craft exercises and working on their own stories, my students are also reading short fiction by published writers. Here is the list of stories I assigned for the class:

“Until Gwen” by Dennis Lehane
“Skeleton Rattle Your Mouldy Leg” by Bill Pronzini
“The Parker Shotgun” by Sue Grafton
“Too Many Crooks” by Donald E. Westlake
“Grit” by Tom Franklin
“The Takamoku Joseki” by Sara Paretsky
“The Crack Cocaine Diet” by Laura Lippman
“The World Behind” by Chris F. Holm
“El Rey” by Scott Wolven
“Suffer” by J.A. Konrath

The course runs fifteen weeks, with the final five spent on workshops. I might also let them tear apart one of my stories if there is time. I did that with another class, and the students got a kick out of critiquing the teacher.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Words

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”—Benjamin Franklin to the Pennsylvania Assembly, February 1775.

"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it." —Thomas Jefferson, 1791.

“There ought to be limits to freedom.” —George W. Bush, May 1999.

“I’m the decider, and I decide what’s best.” —George W. Bush, April 2006.

“America, we are better than this.” —Barack Obama, August 2008.

Deep Thoughts from Tough Guys: Rock Bottom in Edinburgh Edition

My father had tried to shape me with lashings and harsh words, but look what he’d done. Look what I was. A waster, basically. An alkie loser. Deep down though, I knew I couldn’t blame him. If I’d had it better, who’s to say I would be any different?

—Gus Dury in Paying for It, ©2008 by Tony Black

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

In Which I Make Ready to Go All Davy Crockett on Some Coyotes, or “You Damn Varmints Get Off My Lawn!”

Wild animals are a fact of life out here in the sticks. After twenty-five years of living in Maine, I’m still excited when we see deer, moose or a group of wild turkeys crossing the yard. One summer day not so long ago, I watched a snapping turtle lay her eggs in a sandy bank along the side of our dirt road. But sometimes our encounters with the animals are unpleasant: squirrels and raccoons raid the garbage, a skunk sprays the dog or the dog tries to bite a porcupine, turkeys and deer tear up the corn patch, a fisher eats the cat (okay, that last one isn’t too bad).

I’m talking about coyotes. The howl of a coyote in the night is a sound you’ll never forget. A whole pack howling and yowling together brings a chill to the back of your neck. It’s creepy and beautiful at the same time. There has been a pack of coyotes denned up in the woods just beyond the lower field for years. They don’t usually bother us, though some nights they run close to the house. No big deal. I’m a live-and-let-live sort of hillbilly.

For the past week or so, the coyotes have been running right across the near field. When they start howling, it’s so loud that it sounds like they’re on the porch. Two nights ago, they began howling about an hour before sunset—something I’ve never known them to do. Just after dark, they crossed the yard, singing as they went. I flipped on the outside light, and they went quiet. That’s how close they were.

We keep chickens for eggs and meat. The barn is still under construction, so the birds are kept in a makeshift pen for now. A coyote would not even get winded breaking into that chicken pen. The pack came back three more times that night, each time howling just beyond the edge of the yard. We didn’t get much sleep Monday night. I got good at loading my shotgun in the dark (I also have a rifle; it hits harder, but I’m a lousy shot so the twenty-gauge is a better choice). The chickens still have all their limbs and feathers. No shots were fired.

It rained last night, and we never heard so much as a yip from our noisy neighbors. Today is cool and clear, so we’ll have to see what the night brings. I hope their boldness has reached its peak and the coyotes have enough sense to stay out of the yard. Feral dogs tend to mix into coyote packs and crossbreed with them, which—I suspect—is what happened to make our group start coming so close to the house. Always a few troublemakers…

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Scary


You don’t think you’re getting old until something comes along to smack you upside the head with a fistful of reality. Say you’re in the grocery store, bobbing your head to the muzak while comparing prices on low-fat granola. Some small part of you is into the music, though you can’t say why, but the rest of your brain goes about its business.

Later on, maybe as you’re picking up the kids from soccer practice, you realize the tune was “I Wanna Be Sedated.”

Played with violins and flutes.

Maybe a bit of hammered dulcimer in there to really bring it on home.

And you sit there gripping the steering wheel, thinking, Jesus H. Christ, how did that happen?
You know you’re about to begin that downhill slide when songs your parents and teachers considered dangerous become acceptable as shopping music…or for a middle school chorus.

Yeah.

My oldest daughter started fifth grade this year. In our town, that means it’s her first year of junior high. We wanted her to take part in a school activity. She surprised us by signing up for chorus, Rowan being normally too shy to sing anywhere but her bedroom with the door locked and the stereo turned up loud. But she attended her first practice the other day and came home excited. The chorus is going to sing three songs for a Halloween concert.

What are the songs?

“Iron Man” by Black Sabbath.

“Godzilla” by Blue ”¶yster Cult.

“Dream On” by Aerosmith.

Okay, I don’t get the Aerosmith song’s inclusion, either. It’s not exactly spooky material. But if you had told me twenty years ago that my kid would someday belt out I! Am! Iron Man! in a school production, I’d have you needed to stop chugging those two-liter wine coolers. So much for heavy metal’s rebelliousness. What’s next? David Lee Roth turning into a Las Vegas lounge singer? Slash in a car commercial? Oh, wait. Never mind.

Maybe my grandchildren will sing something by W.A.S.P. or Anthrax in grade-school music class.

If it’s too loud, you’re too old.