Laura Lippman writing.
The Nerd of Noir (also known as Pete Dragovich) is a crime critic for Spinetingler Magazine (www.spinetinglermag.com) and Crimefactory (www.crimefactoryzine.com). You can find links to all the shit he's written at his blog, which is ever-so fucking creatively called "Nerd of Noir" (http://nerdofnoir.blogspot.com). He lives in the Twin Cities and some folks complain of his cursing.
The Mortal Nuts by Pete Hautman
Back in the early- to mid-nineties, I remember every other crime novel had Tarantino's name on it somewhere, usually in a blurb or two like "reads like Tarantino on mescaline" or some such silly bullshit like that. It was fairly obvious marketing and even kind of annoying, but it was effective. Hell, such blurbs got me interested the comic crime authors of the day, guys like Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen and Joe R. Lansdale, for example. But the works of certain authors of that particular era in book marketing (i.e. my formative reading years) have not remained so popular. Fellow Minnesota boy Pete Hautman is still a very prolific writer, but is more commonly known these days a writer of YA novels (he won the National Book Award for Young People with Godless). Back in the nineties he was mainly pumping out violent, wild-ass, poker-related crime novels set in our home state, and you better believe that shit still holds up.
The best place to start of the bunch would have to be his third novel, The Mortal Nuts. It's the story of an old ex-cross-country poker player named Axel Speeter who runs a taco stand every summer at the Minnesota State Fair. The rest of the year Axel seems content to live in a Motel 6 and watch his big screen TV, his quarter of a million dollar nut stashed under his bed in Folgers cans. His sometime girlfriend Sophie makes for decent company, but her stupid-hot daughter Carmen is all kinds of trouble. When she whispers of Axel's fortune in her skinhead idiot boyfriend James Dean's ear, trouble starts coming Axel's way via a fucking baseball bat.
Not to be a writer for O Magazine or some corny shit like that but this is the perfect book for summer. Well, perfect if your idea of relaxation is reading is something foul, violent and funny, anyway. It's got a great sense of place (about which I am clearly fucking biased), the pace is swift, and the prose makes it all go down smooth. But like the books of (later period) Leonard and Hiaasen, what you're reading this shit for is the hilarious characters and dialogue. James Dean is one of my favorite dumbass bad guys in a genre and era filled with, well, classic dumbass bad guys. From his horrible tats to his ridiculously weak theft schemes, the guy's a retarded gem. Carmen is a femme fatale for the slacker era, a girl who can manipulate men, but doesn't want to work too hard at it. Axel is a masterfully rendered variation on the crotchety old Midwest guy, someone stubborn enough to be infuriating but strong enough to take on all-comers, his advanced age be damned.
If you dig this shit you should try his other three novels in this particular universe: Short Money, Drawing Dead, and Ring Game. Just a few years back he wrote another stellar crime novel set in the gambling world (though this time taking place in Arizona) called The Prop that kicked all kinds of ass as well. When you look at how much shit Pete Hautman has put out in his nearly two decades long career, you can see that writing young adult novels is clearly working out for him. Bully for him, but the Nerd has his gnarled, eczema-stained fingers crossed in hopes that he dips back into comic crime toot-fucking-sweet.
Don Miller, B Movies (Ballantine, 1987; originally published by Curtis Books, 1973), 360 pp.
I discovered Leonard Maltin's movie criticism back in 1972 - yes, he's been around forever! - and over the years I've read many, many books about the film industry: biographies and autobiographies, reviews, interviews, lists of favorites, screenplays, you name it, I've probably read it. Back in the early 1970's Maltin was involved in a project publishing a series of film paperbacks, of which the one I most remembered was the late Don Miller's B Movies.
Miller covered the heyday of the B picture (meant to be the second movie in a double feature, by the way) from the early talkies to the end of WW II. He covered the studios, the directors and writers, and the actors, with pieces of the popular series of the day (Andy Hardy, Blondie), and did it in such an entertaining way that I had a list of hundreds of titles to watch out for back in the early cable days. They weren't all classics by any means, but there was a lot of enjoyment to be gotten from these (mostly) unpretentious entertainments, as well as from reading Miller's book.
Sadly, I loaned my copy to a friend and, Curtis Books being what they were, it came back to mean literally in pieces. Happily, I was recently able to get a copy of the sturdier Ballantine reprint, with 32 pages of pictures, cross-indexed by actor, director, and title. If you have any interest at all in the movies of the 1930's and 1940's - and if you don't, you should - I highly recommend you seek out this book. There are many happy hours of reading ahead for you.
Miller wrote one more book before his untimely death, Hollywood Corral, and as the title suggests it is about westerns. I haven't read it yet.
Ed Gorman is the author of TICKET TO RIDE and numerous other novels and anthologies. You can find him here.
Ed Gorman is the author of TICKET TO RIDE and numerous other novels and anthologies. You can find him here.
Duffers like me seem to have a difficult time reading a fair share of contemporary science fiction. I always says it's because we're not smart enough to appreciate it and I'm only half-joking. The majority of sf I've read in the past five years is better written and generally better conceived and contrived than most of the work I read when I was a major fan of the stuff.
Pamela Sargent is one of my favorite sf writers. She's been at it for decades and has produced a major body of work. She writes with a style and grace that makes reading her a real literary pleasure. Same for her characters. They are complex, sometimes even unlikable but always real and relevant.
She's done double-duty as an anthologist of note. For no particular reason I took her 1974 anthology Women of Wonder ("SF Stories By About Women")down from the shelf and damned if it didn't remind me of how much I enjoyed and admired the sf of the late 60s and all the of the 70s.
While there are classics here such as Judith Merrill's That Only A Mother and The Ship Who Sang, the splendor lies in the women shrugging of the strictures of the old male-dominated field and kicking some ass all on their own. Kit Reed's The Food Farm is flat out startling and as pertinent today as it was several decades ago. A scathing commentary on body image.Then we have Kate Wilhelm and Carol Emshwiller ransacking coventional notions of gender and sex and Ursula K. Le Guin establishing her genius with a single story, Vaster Than Empires and More Slow.
There's even a pulp story not intended for the faint of her. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's False Dawn (The basis for her later novel of the same title) is a grisly but effecting adventure story set in a future earth turned back to savagery.
So many different styles, structures, tones. And so much fine storytelling. If you want to wander off the crime reservation for the length of one excellent anthology, pick this one up. I think you'll like it as much as I did.
Jerry House lives in Southern Maryland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LOIS THE WITCH by Mrs. Gaskell
Elizabeth Cleghill Gaskell was one of the most popular authors of the mid-Nineteenth Century, earning accolades from Dickens and others. Today, she is best known for her novel Cranford, which was recently televised on Masterpiece Theatre, and for her often-reprinted ghost story "The Old Nurse's Tale". One of her most fully realized and unjustly forgotten works was the short novel Lois the Witch, first serialized in 1859 in Charles Dickens' All The Year Round magazine.
Lois the Witch takes place in 1691, just as the witch hysteria began to take hold in New England. Newly orphaned Lois Barclay has arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, to live with her mother's brother, whom she has never met, and his family. Here she finds an atmosphere quite unfamiliar; by the harsh Puritanical standards of her uncle's family, Lois' life in England was quite sinful. She had also arrived to find her uncle gravely ill, tended with cold devotion by a stern wife who hates him and who would come to resent Lois. The remainder of Lois' new family consisted of Manasseh, the eldest and only son, a reknown hunter given to fits of madness and religious hysteria, Faith, the elder daughter, a moody and sullen girl whose fantasy world is taking reality in her mind, and Prudence, the younger daughter -- selfish, contrarian, and a trouble-maker.
Salem was a dangerous place. The town was surrounded by deep woods, harboring blood-thirsty Indians. The threat of famine and disease was ever-present. The hard-core Puritans were purging those they consider lesser. The few Indian servants in Salem were prone to spread legends and superstitious tales. Cotton Mather, in near-by Boston, was battling to save souls from witchcraft, for, despite threats and hardship, witchcraft was the most-feared danger to the Puritans.
Lois' uncle dies, leaving her at the mercies of his family. Manasseh begins to hear messages from God, telling him to marry Lois -- an idea she firmly rejects. Faith begins to believe Lois has stolen the affections of a man from her. Prudence is jealous of the attention two of her playmates are receive when the claim to be possessed by Satanic forces. The combination of a harsh winter and disease has taken many of the village's elders. Although Lois came from a more liberal household, she is still a child of the Seventeenth Century and believes in witchcraft; she worries about the effect it might have on her, her new family, and the community.
Mrs. Gaskell weaves her story skillfully, letting the menace take shape and grow slowly to its logical end.
Although Lois the Witch is a "forgotten" book, it is not forgotten on the internet and can be read for free on several sites. The novel can also be found in several collections of Mrs. Gaskell's works. If not in print, it should be available through your local library.
Steve Lewis/David Vineyard
Check out more forgotten books essays on Spinetingler by Brian. And here.
**Scott Cupp ( has been a professional writer for more than 20 years, having published short fiction in a variety of anthologies including RAZORED SADDLES, OBSESSIONS, THE FAR FRONTIERS, 100 VICIOUS LITTLE VAMPIRES, SOUTH FROM MIDNIGHT and others. He edited CROSS PLAINS UNIVERSE with Joe R. Lansdale for the 2006 World Fantasy Convention. A story will also appear in DAMNED NEAR DEAD 2.