Sunday, May 31, 2009


We finally got around to watching this movie based on the novel by Robert B. Parker. It was nice as always to see the old Western town where it was filmed. (They can call it Appaloosa, but it’ll always be Silverado to me.) The photography is great, with some of the shots so well-composed they look almost like Western paintings. The acting is pretty good, especially Viggo Mortensen as Deputy Everett Hitch, the sidekick to Ed Harris’s Marshal Virgil Cole. (Harris also directed and co-wrote the screenplay.)

I’m afraid that’s about all I can say that’s positive about APPALOOSA, though, as much as I love Westerns and wanted to like it. The pace is so glacially slow that it saps nearly all the life out of the movie. There are a couple of good action scenes, but they’re over quickly (nothing else in the movie is), and the rest of the time is spent with the characters sitting around talking. That may read fast in one of Parker’s novels, but it doesn’t play that way, at least in this movie. Clean up the language a little and you could probably boil this down to a pretty good half-hour TV episode, but as it is, I didn’t like it and don’t recommend it. And it pains me to say that.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Links That You Need

You've probably seen these already, but in case you haven't, go here to sign the on-line petition supporting Wild West Monday, and go here to read a fine interview with my old friend Scott Cupp. And don't forget to go to your local bookstore or library on Monday to request more Westerns.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Sleazy Side of the Street - Guest Blog by Brian Ritt

(Thanks to Brian Ritt for a fine examination of the life and work of Orrie Hitt. Questions and comments for Brian can be directed to rittster at hotmail dot com.)

by Brian Ritt

Grab your coat and get your hat
Leave your worries on the doorstep
Life can be so sweet
On the sunny side of the street
--On The Sunny Side of the Street

Orrie Hitt wrote about low-rent people in low-rent places.

His men were rotten to the core, as bad as they come, lust prowlers, promoters, cheaters, suckers, pushovers, and Peeping Tom's. Their names were Dutch, Arch, Rip, Brick, Buck, Shad, Slade, Big Mike, Clint Crown, Johnny Vandal, and Jerry Slink. They dreamed and schemed, manipulated and manhandled.

Meet one of Hitt's men: "He was a big man, a couple of inches over 6 feet, and he weighed 180 pounds. None of his weight
was fat. He was all raw muscle and bone with broad shoulders and close cut sandy hair. As for being handsome he didn't know... Most of the women thought he was pretty much of a man at the age of 26 and that, to Dutch, was what counted."
--Naked Flesh, Kozy Books, 1962, pg. 3

His women were too hot to handle, ex-virgins, frigid wives, sin dolls, wayward girls, torrid cheats, easy women, frustrated females, inflamed dames and, most often, trapped. Their names were Sheba, Sherry, Honey, Candy, Cherry, Betty French, and Lola Champ. They used what they had to use to make a buck--limited opportunities left them few other choices. They were duped and deceived, approached and abandoned.

Meet one of Hitt's women: "Jutting breasts, a flat stomach, willing hips, anxious thighs and legs that demanded all of the man in me, bringing to both of us an ancient pleasure w
hich never grew old."
--Man-Hungry Female, Novel Books, 1962, pg. 127

His places were shabby streets, strip alleys, pleasure grounds, private clubs, passion pools, girls dormitories, dirt farms, nudist camps, and sexurbia counties.

Enter one of Hitt's places--The Hotel Shelly: "By my watch, every night in this creep joint was too long. The rugs in the lobby were faded and the seats of the chairs sagged worse than the knees in my pants. The manager had a lousy disposition and a couple of ulcers as big as watermelons. O
ne of the bellhops was always chasing strange-acting guys. After almost a month in this racket I was ready to get out of the hotel business for good."
--Shabby Street, Beacon Books, 1958, pg. 5

You might even say Hitt wrote about low-rent emotions: unnatural urges, warped desires, untamed lusts, tormented passions, taboo thrills, and strange longings. Once he even wrote a book about panda bear passions.

Experience one of Hitt's emotions: "His hands roamed her body as a savage roams the darkness of an unknown jungle. He filled his hands with her, sensing the rich beauty of her flesh, and he bore down on her mouth, crushing her lips. She twisted nearer to him, moaning with longing and anticipation, her restraint shattered, her fingernails clawing at his skin, bringing pain, turning the desire that he felt into raw, reckless lust."
--Naked Flesh, Kozy Books, 1962, pg. 56

But there was nothing low-rent about Orrie Hitt.

Behind the tawdry and lurid titles, covers, and subject matter of Hitt's books was a beloved and faithful family man who worked ten to fourteen hours a day.

He was born Orrie Edwin Hitt in Colchester (now Roscoe), New York, on October 27, 1916. Died in a VA hospital in Montrose, New York, from cancer, on December 7, 1975. He married Charlotte Tucker in Port Jervis, New York (a small town upstate where he became a lifelong resident), on Valentine's Day, 1943. Orrie and Charlotte Hitt had four children -- Joyce, Margaret, David, and Nancy. In contrast to his macho male protagonists, Orrie was slightly under 5'5", and took a 27 inch inseam, which his wife had to alter because stores didn't sell pants that short. But he was a hell of a tough old bird, who had more grit and backbone than any number of his fictional he-men combined.

Hitt wrote approximately 150 books. Sources differ as to the exact number. Even Orrie himself wasn't sure. "I'm no adding machine", Hitt answered on the back cover of his book Naked Flesh, when asked how many books he'd written. "All I do is write. I usually start at seven in the morning, take 20 minutes for lunch and continue until about four in the afternoon."

In his prime, Hitt wrote a novel every two weeks, typing over 85 words per minute. "His fastest and best works were produced when he was allowed to type whatever he wanted," said Hitt's children. "His slowest works were produced when publishers insisted on a certain kind of novel, extra spicy, etc."

(Note: a large part of the information in this article comes from a lengthy interview with Orrie Hitt's four children, conducted in 1993 by R. C. Holland for his fanzine "Books Are Everything!" He conducted the interviews by mail, and combined the answers into single blocks, rather than quoting each individual. I'll do the same for this article, and when quoting, will simply refer to "Hitt's children".)

Most of Hitt's books were PBOs. He wrote a few hardcovers, as well. Pseudonyms include Kay Addams, Joe Black, Roger Normandie, Charles Verne, and Nicky Weaver. Publishers include Avon, Beacon (later Softcover Library), Chariot, Domino (Lancer), Ember Library, Gaslight, Key Publishing, Kozy, MacFadden, Midwood, Novel, P.E.C, Red Lantern, Sabre, Uni-books, Valentine Books, Vantage Press, Vest-Pocket, and Wisdom House.

He wrote in what is known today as the "sleaze" or "adults only" genre. Many of the writers in this genre were hacks, using the thinnest of plots merely as an excuse to throw some "tits and ass" (to borrow a phrase from a famous Lenny Bruce stand-up bit) between two covers to make a quick buck. Other writers used the genre as a stepping stone to more "legitimate" writing, later unwilling to discuss this part of their career. And there were a few like Orrie Hitt, whose writing left an original, idiosyncratic and, in my opinion, lasting mark even beyond the horizons of 1950s-mid 60s "sleaze" publishing.

What made Hitt unique was simple, really--his belief and passion that he was writing realistically about the needs and desires, the brutality (both verbal and physical), the hypocritical lives inside the quaintly painted suburban tracts houses, and the limited economic opportunities for women that lay beneath the glossy, Super Cinecolor, Father Knows Best surface of American life as it was culturally represented during the 1950s and early 60s.

Hitt observed and investigated the people and places he wrote about. When he wanted to write about a nudist camp, he went to a nudist camp though, his children were quick to admit, "he would not disrobe".

His research allowed him to write convincingly enough so that author Susan Stryker, in her book Queer Pulp: Perverted Passions from the Golden Age of the Paperback, says, "Only one actual lesbian, Kay Addams, writing as Orrie Hitt, is known to have churned out semipornographic sleaze novels for a predominantly male audience." Stryker actually thinks "Orrie Hitt" is a pseudonym, and "Kay Addams" is a real lesbian author! I'm sure Orrie'd be laughing his ass off about that one.

"[My agent] was obviously under the impression that women didn't have breasts", Hitt wrote in an autobiographical article for Men's Digest magazine, "and that you didn't write about them if they did -- or that men and women slept together."

But it wasn't just about sex for Orrie Hitt. It was also about guts.

"The characters," Hitt's protagonist--a movie producer complimenting a screenwriter on her work--says in the novel Man-Hungry Female, "were very real, red blooded people who tore at the guts of life. That's what I'm after. Guts."

And if there was one person who knew about guts, it was Orrie Hitt.

Life started out tough for Hitt. His father committed suicide when Orrie was 11 years old. “Dad seldom spoke of his father, who had committed suicide, because it was a very unpleasant chapter in his life,” said Hitt’s children.

After his father's death, Orrie and his mother moved to Forestburgh, New York, where they worked for a private hunting and fishing club. Orrie started out doing chores for the wealthy members and was paid 10 cents an hour. Later, the club's management offered him a better job, at 25 cents an hour--good money during those Depression-era years. Eventually, he became the club's caretaker and head supervisor.

"Dad talked a lot about working as a child to help his mother make ends meet," Hitt's children recalled. "He wanted his children to have a better life while growing up."

Tragedy struck Hitt again during those years at the private club. Hitt's children explain: "Dad's mom died at her sister's house on the club property during an ice storm, so dad walked to the house to get his mother and carried her back to his car in order to get her body into town."

Sometime between his father's and mother's death, Orrie Hitt decided he wanted to be a writer. Initially, his ambition was greeted with something less than cheers and applause.

“I guess I was in my second year in high school when the teacher gave me the bad news.” Hitt wrote in Men's Digest. “I’d never make it as a writer. To begin with, I didn’t know up from down about the English language and, secondly, I was too much of a dreamer."

Hitt continued. “Well, it hurt. Almost anything hurts a kid of 15. What the teacher told me hurt especially because those were the years of the Great Depression and I knew, since my widowed mother was only making $50 a month as a hotel chambermaid, that there would never be enough money for college…It seemed to me that the teacher had taken that hope away from me, the only real hope I’d ever had since I can remember.”

But the lack of encouragement from Orrie's “educator” didn’t stop him. He soon started writing articles for outdoor magazines -- and sold them.

“The articles dealt with animal raising,” Orrie wrote, “all kinds of trapping and hunting and fishing, things which I knew about because I spent my vacations and weekends with relations in the country. When the teacher did learn of my luck she said nothing.”

A couple years later, Hitt and his sophomore teacher had a final contretemps.

“During that last year in high school I was told that an educational book published once a year in Albany would consider articles on school subjects from students and teachers,” wrote Hitt. “I wrote about our rifle club and mailed the material to them. The teacher who told me I couldn’t write selected some other subject. My article was published and the teacher’s article was rejected. After that I was pretty sure that, right or wrong, the guy I saw in the mirror when I shaved was the man whose advice I’d follow.”

Hitt continued writing and selling articles and short stories while working at the private club, although the long hours left him little time to write. He also met and acquired an agent.

Then came World War II, and the 24-year-old Orrie Hitt enlisted in the Army, “going in as a private and coming out as a First Lieutenant.”

Orrie met the woman who would become his wife during his service in the war, and upon his release, he not only had a wife to support, but a child, as well. In order to support his family, he had to curtail his writing career for the next 6-8 years, taking a variety of odd jobs which barely paid the bills. He sold life insurance, roofing and siding, and frozen foods to stores. He worked for a local automotive firm and marketed a new type of sparkplug. He worked for a local radio station as a DJ and ad salesman. Altogether, he worked between 15 to 17 jobs, all the while pining to pursue the passion he felt he was born for.

“Oh, I might’ve done a few short stories which didn’t sell but I’m not counting them," Orrie wrote. "A book was in the back of my mind and I was unable to shake it.”

And then the Iceland cometh.


Yes, Iceland.

“My next stop was Keflavik, Iceland, working at the airport hotel and, again, the pay could’ve been better,” Orrie wrote. “However, I found in Iceland what I wanted. Once I had learned my duties there was plenty of time to write. And this time it was a book.”

Hitt worked at the airport hotel for a year, and by the end of the year he'd written two more books.

Throughout that year, Hitt had submitted all three books to his agent in New York. The agent’s responses, one after another, were discouraging; he claimed the books were unmarketable. It must have seemed like sophomore year all over again. But, as Hitt did with the old schoolmarm, he ignored his agent’s advice and got right back to work. But instead of pounding the typwriter keys, this time he pounded the pavement. He went back to New York and “made the rounds of publishers myself, receiving encouragement but no contracts." Hitt did find one taker--a "vanity" publisher who wanted Hitt to pay them to publish the book. (He turned them down flatly.) Finally, he found a legitimate publisher who wanted his book and, "A few days later I had a royalty contract."

That was 1953, and Hitt's first book was titled I’ll Call Every Monday, published in hardcover by Red Lantern books (later re-issued as a paperback by Avon).

From that point, according to Hitt's children, Orrie's work schedule was "continuous and incredible. From morning to dinner time he was at the kitchen table with his typewriter, and his iced coffee and ash tray full of half-smoked Winston's were at his side... Ideas flowed out at 90 words a minute on his old Remington Royal...There he would sit, amidst cookies, glasses of milk, and all the comings and goings of a busy family of four children, and write to his heart's content. He always enjoyed having the family around. I don't ever remember him asking us to be quiet so that he could concentrate...The only days I remember him not typing were Christmas, New Year's, and Easter ."

During the evening Hitt watched comedy shows on TV -- Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason, Jack Benny, and Sgt. Bilko. Or a buddy stopped by and they'd throw back a few cold ones while watching wrestling. Makes sense when you consider the dark, violent, emotionally harrowing lives he wrote about all day.

As a man-about-town, Orrie, "was a loquacious man, anxious to talk to anyone who would listen...especially when he had a few too many beers," Hitt's children remembered. In fact, one night while Mr. and Mrs. Hitt were at a bar, a woman tried to "pick-up" Orrie, curious if he was anything like the characters in his books. Orrie saw quite a bit of humor in the situation. Mrs. Hitt, however, did not. POW! Right in the kisser, Orrie!

As a father, Hitt's children characterized him as, "sensitive and loving and stopping at nothing to provide for his family. He wasn't interested in 'keeping up with the Jones's', just in doing well enough so his family didn't have to want for anything. We were taught right from wrong. Often our house, the 'party house', was packed full of kids. Dad was kind yet stern; you knew when not to push him to the limit...Every one of our friends liked dad. He would listen or help when needed and they could always use his shoulder to lean or cry on...He was nothing like the characters he portrayed in his books."

As a writer for the "adults only" market, life in a small town was not always easy for the Hitts.

"We knew that he attempted to have his books marketed in places other than our small home town due to the nature of the books," Hitt's children recalled. "Our father always said his books were mild in comparison to what was written many years later. As children, we encountered a fair amount of prejudice from other families as the news of dad's source for our livelihood spread...When we read his books, however, we could see the events that occurred in his life and the people that lived in our small home town that provided the inspiration for his characters."

Shades of Peyton Place!

Hitt earned between $250 and $1000 in advances for his PBO's. He earned additional money from reprints and royalties, though not all his publishers were on the up-and-up, a situation not unusual for many of the fly-by-night (some should have been called "lie-by-night") publishers serving the "adults only" market at the time.

The Hitt children: "Some [of Hitt's books] had words and phrases added without his consent. He also asked for some of the manuscripts back because of the publisher's low offer...Some reprints were done without prior authorization and some appeared to have been pirated. In the latter case, the titles, authors, and names were changed, but it could never be proven."

But generally, Hitt's relationships with his publishers were good...sometimes too good. "If the publishers were having money problems," Hitt's children said, "dad would wait patiently for his money. Once he waited too long, the publisher went bankrupt and dad lost out; and it was a large sum of money. He would often spend hours on the phone calling publishers in New York and California trying to recover money he was owed."

Hitt's books also contain the common mistakes (typos, misspellings, words printed twice, words left out, etc.) that characterized the slim-to-none editing style of the "adults only" publishers during the 1950s and 60s.

Regarding the content of Hitt's books, it wasn't all blood and guts, angst and anguish. Orrie wrote some wonderfully loopy metaphors and similies as well.

"If she bore his child it was an obligation that he'd have to face. To run or to ignore it was to deny that he was a man. Onions? Why was he thinking of them? Onions were so much a pound, depending on the season. Well, the pleasures of the flesh cost money, too...Yes the price of onions and the price of desire. So totally unrelated and, yet, in cost so much the same."
--Naked Flesh, Kozy Books, 1962, pgs. 94-95.

"Her nipples could stay hard longer than a bear could hibernate."
--Wilma's Wants, Novel Books, 1964, pg. 62.

Intentionally funny or not? You decide. In my own opinion, after reading about 30 of Hitt's books, I would say the majority were intentional, and occasionally not. As I sit back and chuckle, wondering how Hitt's mind made the connection between the responsibilities of parenthood and onions, I really don't give a damn. I just enjoy it.

Toward the latter part of his career, Hitt's writing took an unexpected turn. He started writing books for a publisher called Novel Books in 1961. In contrast to other sleaze books, where "the story", was just a frame around a sometimes mind-numbing succession of softcore sexual liasons, Hitt's stories turned this concept on it's head. The titles, cover photos, and blurbs (A NOVEL BOOK IS A MAN'S BOOK!) were as sensationalistic as ever, but between the covers, Hitt filled his pages with points-of-view about personal and political issues. What's even more interesting--as we, from a safe distance of almost 40 years later, can sit back and chuckle at books that now seem so "dated"--is that the same issues are still provocative today.

Some examples:

On censorship. "As a writer, and as an American, I dread any form of censorship. Of course I agree that discretion should be exercised...but I do not think that the right of expression should rest in the hands of any particular group."
-- Wilma's Wants, 1964, Novel Books, pg. 94.

On Socialism. "Well, there is a man wants to run for governor of this state, whether or not he's endorsed by his party. One promise he's made is that if he's elected he'll see that every boy and girl who wants to have a college education will get one. What kind of talk is that? Only a form of Socialist state could promise everybody everything."
-- Ibid, 1964, Novel Books, pg. 74.

On writing about sexually provocative subjects. "Of course I wrote about loose wives, wandering husbands, girls who were too willing, men who were anxious, but I considered these things as a part of life and I wrote about life."
--Ibid, 1964, Novel Books, pg. 82.

On union bosses. "Unions. A lot of people will yell, but I want a close study of them. Money under the table, big shots taking dough to settle a strike that from the very beginning was as useless as a pair of falsies on a whore."
-- Man-Hungry Female, 1962, Novel Books, pg. 75.

On a free society vs. a dictatorship. "Damn! How could I be so blind! The minute you take from one man to give to another, even if the first man is a millionaire and the other man is broke with ten mouths to feed -- you're taking away man's inalienable right to freedom and ownership of his own property like Jefferson and Paine talked about. The minute you tell a man he owes his life or his money to another man, you've got a dictatorship, a socialist police state where character, ability, and ambition are just words that don't mean a damn thing. Brave New World, that's what it is."
-- Shocking Mistress!, 1961, Novel Books, pg. 153

Let's pause for a breather here, folks.

Orrie took one hell of a leap from onions and nipples to Jefferson and Paine, eh? I bet if you check your heart you'll find it's beating a bit harder, and if you check your pulse you'll find your blood racing a bit faster. You might even feel some anger about the views Orrie espouses, whether you're for or against them. But that was part of what made Orrie's writing unique--a passion and curiosity about the world, and a no-holds-barred style of expression.

So between 1953-1964 Orrie Hitt wrote approximately 145 books. But between 1965-1968, only 5 Hitt paperback originals were published (although a number of earlier books were reprinted during this period). So what happened? Had the cancer, that eventually killed Hitt in 1975, already started? Hitt's children would have been young adults by this time; maybe they had their own children and Orrie wanted to spend time with his grandchildren. Unfortunately, I have no information about these "lost years" (publicly, at least) of Orrie Hitt, about the last ten years of his life. Perhaps that information will someday come to light.

Hitt's complete novel writing career lasted from 1953-1968. During that time, Hitt and his family experienced both feast and famine. "When dad was financially healthy, he was very sharing and caring," Hitt's children said. "We felt like we were rich. But when the chips were down and the money was gone, things got pretty bad. Once we lived from hotel room to hotel room, leaving when the rent came due...There was a time however, when we owned a beautifully remodeled home,we had beautiful new cars, one daughter was in college, and we had plenty toeat...Our life was lived in extremes -- we went from eating out every Wednesday night to dad eating from garbage cans in the city!"

Orrie Hitt died at a too-young 59 years of age. Quite possibly, his steady regimen of coffee, cigarettes, and 10-14 hour workdays contributed to the cancer that caused his early death, although this is speculation on my part. Besides his fairly young age, there was another tragic element to Hitt's death. "Our dad died in debt in a veterans hospital," said Hitt's children, "although he had helped others all his life. But, when we needed help, the same people were nowhere to be found."

Hitt's children summed him up this way: "We're proud of both our parents. When we lost our dad, we also lost our best friend. Dad taught us many things in life; hard work, love, honesty, respect, caring, and never giving up."

Doesn't sound like a sleazy guy to me.



Hitt, Orrie. "My 'Sex' Books", Part 1. Men's Digest, #31, 1962. Pages 37-39.
Holland, R.C. Books Are Everything! Vol. 5, No. 1, Whole Number 21. 1993. Pages 28-48.

Stryker, Susan. Queer Pulp: Perverted Passions from the Golden Age of the Paperback, Chronicle Books, 2001. Pages 61,66.
Various novels of Orrie Hitt.

Trivia note: Hitt's children briefly stated that Orrie said he did some ghost-writing for Mickey Spillane, but they have no idea of the nature of that work.


Special thanks to Jerry Chadburn of Always 1st Books, for introducing me to the work of Orrie Hitt, and to Rose Idlet of Black Ace Books for allowing me to xerox her copy of Books Are Everything!

And, of course, to James Reasoner for allowing me to put this article on his blog.

Orrie Lives!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Killing Castro - Lawrence Block

This novel was originally published in 1961 by Monarch Books under the title FIDEL CASTRO ASSASSINATED and the pseudonym Lee Duncan, a name Lawrence Block used only the one time. I just got around to reading the Hard Case Crime reprint of it from earlier this year. For some reason, I didn’t expect to like it all that much. To be honest, I haven’t really cared for the last few books I’ve read by Block. But I was pleasantly surprised.

The plot’s not complicated at all: five Americans are hired by sneak into Cuba and kill Fidel Castro, who at that point had been in power only a year or two. Their employers are supposedly wealthy Cuban expatriates who fled when Castro took over the country, but Block is deliberately vague about whether or not any American interests are also involved. The would-be assassins are the variety of types you’d expect in a book like this: a former syndicate hitman who’s gone freelance; a tough guy on the run from the law for killing his prostitute girlfriend and her lover in a crime of passion; a muscleman who’s not too bright; a mild-looking former bank teller with a secret; and a college kid with reasons of his own for wanting Castro dead.

The book switches back and forth between the storyline of the five Americans slipping into Cuba and making their preparations for the assassination, and a concise history of Castro’s life and the revolution he carried out. Block does a good job on both elements, and the prose is smooth and fun to read, as it always is even when Block’s plots don’t really work for me. This time the plot works fine. A few things play out just about the way you’d expect, but many of them don’t. And the ending certainly surprised me.

KILLING CASTRO is so firmly grounded in its era that it reads almost like a historical novel now, which, of course, is not a bad thing. I really enjoyed it, and I’m glad Hard Case Crime rescued it from obscurity

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hot Fuzz

Watching them one after the other wasn’t intentional on our part, but HOT FUZZ makes a nice companion piece to PAUL BLART, MALL COP. Both are about men thrust into situations that are out of their element, and both were co-written by their stars.

In HOT FUZZ, that’s Simon Pegg, who plays hard-ass London cop Nicholas Angel, who unexpectedly finds himself transferred to a quaint, quiet village in the English countryside. Angel has a hard time fitting in there and getting along with the eccentric villagers, none of whom are more eccentric than his fellow cops on the local police force. Up to that point, it’s a mild little comedy, more amusing than laugh-out-loud funny.

But then Angel begins to suspect that a series of “accidents” plaguing the village are actually the work of a serial killer, and from there the movie gets weirder, grosser, sillier, and considerably funnier. Angel applies his gung-ho tactics to the case, dragging his likable new partner along with him, and HOT FUZZ becomes a pretty wicked satire on buddy cop/action movies.

I suspect the grotesqueness that turns up from time to time in this movie might cause some viewers to dislike it, and some might find it just bizarre instead of funny. But I thoroughly enjoyed it and don’t hesitate to recommend it to those of you who have a taste for somewhat oddball comedy.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Paul Blart, Mall Cop

I always enjoyed Kevin James’s sitcom THE KING OF QUEENS, one of the many so-called “slob husband, hot wife” comedies that were popular for a while. He’s been good in a number of supporting roles in movies, too, but PAUL BLART, MALL COP is the first film where he takes the leading role. He also co-wrote the script with Nick Bakay, a good supporting comedy actor in his own right. Not surprisingly, James plays something of a loser, a guy who’s tried eight times to make it onto the New Jersey State Police but failed the physical exam each time. So he works as a security guard in a mall instead and lives with his mother and the daughter produced by a brief marriage to an illegal immigrant who married him for a green card and then took off as soon as the child was born.

This set-up occupies about the first fourth of the movie, and it’s funny but also sad. Then things change when a gang of robbers takes over the mall on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and Paul Blart winds up being the only one left in the mall to take on the thieves and rescue some hostages, including the kiosk girl he’s fallen for. From there on out it’s a pretty nice little spoof of the original DIE HARD.

This is one of those movies that got mediocre reviews, then made a lot of money, confounding the critics. I suspect that it was successful because it’s a well-written comedy that works more often than not. No, it doesn’t set lofty goals, and you’ll probably know just about everything that’s going to happen in it. But I sat and laughed and rooted for Paul Blart and had a fine time doing it. That’s plenty for me to say that this is a pretty good movie.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tainted Archive Guest Blog

I've done a guest blog post for The Tainted Archive on one of my favorite Western film reference books. You can check it out here.

Forgotten Books: Taboo Thrills - Orrie Hitt

“A Novel Book is a Man’s Book!” It says so right on the spine of Orrie Hitt’s TABOO THRILLS. That’s right, we return to the work of Orrie Hitt for this week’s Forgotten Book, and it’s a good one. Or at least, a very interesting one.

First, some history. This book was originally published by Novel Books in 1962 under the title WARPED WOMAN. It was reprinted in 1963 as TABOO THRILLS, the edition I read. Then it was also reprinted in 1964 as WILMA’S WANTS, under which title it made Brian Ritt’s list of top ten Orrie Hitt novels. The folks at Novel Books, a Chicago publisher of soft-core porn and crime novels, must have really liked it.

Although the cover and the various titles make it sound like one of Hitt’s lesbian novels, it’s really not. It’s actually a semi-autobiographical yarn narrated by one Chet Long, a prolific author of what he refers to as “realistic” novels, by which, of course, he means the sort of Adults Only, early Sixties sleaze novels that this is. Chet lives in upstate New York (like Orrie Hitt), broke in by writing articles for hunting and outdoors magazines (like Orrie Hitt), and bangs out his books on a manual typewriter sitting at the kitchen table (like Orrie Hitt). The main difference is that while Hitt was a happily married man with a family, Chet Long is single and has a rich girlfriend, along with a number of other women on the side.

There’s not much plot here. Most of the book is concerned with a soap-opera-like romantic triangle involving Chet, Wilma (the rich, repressed girlfriend who hates the books he writes), and Sandy, a beautiful young free-spirited waitress who is much more suited to him. There’s also a peeping tom prowling the small city where they all live. (The peeping tom novel was another of Hitt’s specialties.) The plot just serves as an excuse for a number of lengthy rants against censorship and big government, both of which Hitt seems to have disliked equally.

But in the midst of all that are some wonderful bits about the life of a freelance writer, such as this comment from Sandy:

“I don’t get it,” she said. “I’ve read about writers and it seems crazy to me. You just write this junk and somebody prints it?”

I don’t know, of course, but I suspect that Hitt had a smile on his face when he wrote that paragraph.

Here’s a more serious passage I liked:

They say there’s tension in the advertising business but filling a blank sheet of paper is just as much tension. Your belly crawls when you can’t seem to do what you want to do. You struggle, you sweat – that’s nerves – you do the best you can, which is seldom good enough, and then you go to a bar where nobody gives a damn about what you do. You talk to men on the railroad, a retired lush who’s trying to stretch his Social Security check to the end of the month, some dame who’s got more kids than she needs and is knocked up again. You listen, buy a drink for somebody who can’t afford it – and maybe you take something about one, add it to the tragedy of another, and put it on paper. Or maybe the next day you’ve forgotten, lost in your own world because it is a world that is yours alone, since, as with all men, you are finally alone. Every man is an island, John Donne to the contrary. In the morning you make your coffee, read an out of town paper if it arrives on time, place your cup and saucer into the sink with assorted dirty dishes, and become a machine that spews words for readers you will never meet. You hope it’s a creative machine.

That’s not the most smoothly written passage in the world, but it’s got a passion and intensity to it that lifts this book to something more than sleaze, at least as far as I’m concerned. In another place, in talking about his writing career, Chet says something that reminds me of Robert E. Howard:

. . . people will suffer to accomplish what they want. Or perhaps it isn’t suffering so much as it is to have the guts to aim at a target and not be satisfied until they hit it. To many, mine wasn’t a very large target but it was one that many missed.

Finally, there’s another funny bit where Chet grabs a book off the newsstand at the train station so he’ll have something to read on a trip to New York City. He picks the book because the title intrigues him and doesn’t notice the name of the author, never realizing until he starts to read it that it’s one of his own novels, with his original title changed by the publisher. Given the history of this particular book – three editions in three years with three different titles – that’s a bit of inadvertent humor.

Unlike the other two Hitt novels I’ve read (PUSHOVER and HOT CARGO), the ending of TABOO THRILLS is pretty believable and satisfying. Hitt evidently did some of his best or at least some of his most personal work for Novel Books, and I’m going to be on the lookout for more of those books. If you run across a copy of TABOO THRILLS (or WARPED WOMAN or WILMA’S WANTS), I think it’s well worth picking up and reading.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Black Horse Extra

If you haven't checked out the latest issue of BLACK HORSE EXTRA, the website devoted to Western fiction in general and the Robert Hale line of Black Horse Westerns in particular, I strongly urge you to do so. It features a fine article about author Gary Dobbs of The Tainted Archive (and architect of the Wild West Monday initiative), as well as a panel discussion by Keith Chapman, David Whitehead, and Keith Hetherington concerning stand-alones vs. series novels. Plus the usual assortment of entertaining and informative features. Good stuff all around.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Midnight Room - Ed Gorman

I’ll admit, I’m not a big fan of serial killer novels. You can trust Ed Gorman to give you something different, though, even when he’s writing about a serial killer. Because he doesn’t just write about the person who’s murdering teenage girls in a small Midwestern city. In THE MIDNIGHT ROOM, which will be out from Leisure in July, he also gives you the team of police detectives looking for the killer, their friends and families, the family of a girl who has disappeared and is believed to have been abducted by the killer, the politicians, the news media, the ex-con looking for revenge, and the burglar who discovers the killer’s true identity . . . and decides to try his hand at a little blackmail.

Yes, there’s a lot packed into this book. The wonder of it is that while the plot never slows down for long, Ed also manages to include enough details to make all these characters come to vivid life. I think that may be one of the secrets to why his books are so good. In too many contemporary thrillers, the reader never learns much about the characters beyond what they need to know for the plot. In too much literary fiction, the author provides such an abundance of information about the characters that nothing ever happens; there’s no room for anything else. But Ed strikes a perfect balance in his work between the characters and the plot.

And speaking of plot . . . I thought I knew what was going to happen in this book, but then Ed surprised me not once but twice, changing the game part of the way through in a move that most writers wouldn’t even attempt, let alone pull off successfully. For me as a reader, being able to look at a book and say, “Huh. I didn’t see that coming,” is pure joy.

Obviously, objectivity goes out the window when I’m talking about Ed Gorman’s work, since he’s been one of my best friends for more years than I like to think about. Luckily, a lot of people who don’t even know him like his books. (That didn’t come out right, but you know what I mean.) Trust me on this. THE MIDNIGHT ROOM is really, really good, one of the best thrillers I’ve read in ages. Treat yourself this summer and pick up a copy.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The TBR Experiment

I’ve never been one to have a formal TBR stack or list or anything like that. I just had piles of books around me and sort of picked from them at random, grabbing whatever struck my reading fancy at the moment. However, things have gotten a little more complicated recently. There are books I’ve promised to read and review. There are books I need to read for research. There are books I want to read because I think they might be good candidates for a Forgotten Books post. And then there are books that I just plain want to read.

So I took the unusual step for me of going through the piles, making an actual TBR stack of ten books, and putting them in the order in which I thought I ought to read them. Then I made a list and saved it on the computer. (I’m big on making lists.) So then what happened, you ask?

It didn’t work out.

I started the first book on the stack and read on it for a couple of days without making much progress. So I said, “This is going to take too long, and I don’t really like this book that much anyway.” Back in the pile it went. Then I looked at the stack for a while and started rearranging it. Then the project for which I needed to read the research books got pushed back on my schedule, so I pulled them out and set them aside. Then I thought of some other books I really want to read soon that didn’t even make it into the stack the first time around. And then I did what I should have done to start with. I said, “Forget it.”

Now I’m back to my “piles of books that I’ll get around to one of these days” method. I like it that way.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Last night we watched this legal thriller from a couple of years ago. Anthony Hopkins plays an aerospace engineer whose wife is cheating on him. He comes up with an elaborate plan to kill her, but although he shoots her at close range, she doesn’t die but is only in a coma. Hopkins’ character is put on trial for attempted murder, and Ryan Gosling is the young, ambitious deputy district attorney from a poor background who’s given the job of prosecuting him. The young DA is about to go into corporate law, and this will be his last criminal case. Not surprisingly at all, the defendant is a lot smarter than anybody gives him credit for at first, and through a series of legal maneuvers seems to be on the verge of being acquitted and getting away with his crime. The rest of the movie is a cat-and-mouse game between Hopkins and Gosling, with a missing murder weapon and a conviction or acquittal as the prizes.

As much as I love movies where stuff blows up real good, it’s nice sometimes to sit down and watch a movie like this where there are no special effects or explosions. A well-done battle of wits can be just as exciting. While there’s quite a bit about FRACTURE that’s by-the-numbers, especially the characterizations, it’s an entertaining film and worth watching if you have a couple of hours to spend.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Catching Up

No Forgotten Book post from me today, but I plan to have one for next week. And I've already picked out my Forgotten Nonfiction Book for the first Friday in June. This has been a very busy week on the writing front, as I finished up the manuscript of one book and also had numerous email discussions about future books . . . none of which I can talk about at the moment, of course. Today I start the manuscript of a new book, which is always a nice feeling.

If you head on over to Vince Keenan's blog, you can read his comments on HUNT AT THE WELL OF ETERNITY, presented in his usual entertaining fashion. Vince mentions several other items of interest, too.

I've been in a reading funk lately, starting books, reading a few pages, and then putting them back. I suspect this is due to the fact that I haven't actually had much time to read and I'm easily distracted, sort of like those new puppies we have (which we've named Nicki and Nora, by the way). Luckily, I've been saved from this funk by the arrival of an ARC of a new book by one of my favorite authors, Ed Gorman. There won't be any setting aside of this one. Look for comments on THE MIDNIGHT ROOM in a few days.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Holmes on the Range - Steve Hockensmith

I’ve been meaning to check out this series for a couple of years, and I’m glad that I finally did. Many of you have probably already read HOLMES ON THE RANGE, but if you haven’t, I highly recommend that you hunt up a copy as soon as possible. It’s a dandy.

Gustav and Otto Amlingmeyer, better known as Old Red and Big Red respectively, are Montana cowboys in 1893, working on a ranch where there are some sinister goings-on. Old Red, who can’t read or write, is a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes anyway, having encountered magazine stories about the Great Detective that are read to him by his brother (who is also the narrator of this series). Having learned the art of “deducifying” from the Holmes stories, Old Red sets out to solve a couple of murders that take place on the ranch. His investigation is complicated by the arrival of a British nobleman who actually owns the ranch, along with the nobleman’s daughter and a couple of other investors.

Having a cowboy solving mysteries by applying Sherlock Holmes’ methods of investigation is a great idea, of course, but the real key to any great idea is its execution, and Steve Hockensmith does a really fine job here. Big Red’s voice is pitch-perfect, meaning that while HOLMES ON THE RANGE is an excellent mystery, it also functions as a top-notch Western, with Big Red’s narration ringing absolutely true. The mystery elements are well worked out, and the story is funny and touching and exciting, all of which leads me to say that HOLMES ON THE RANGE is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. And I’m really glad that I have the next two books in the series on hand to read soon.

Now, if you’ve already read all three of Hockensmith’s books and would like to sample some other prime examples of humor, mystery, and Western action, allow me to recommend the novels of W.C. Tuttle, especially the ones that feature range detectives Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens. Hashknife and Sleepy appeared in novels and pulp novelettes from the Twenties through the Fifties. You’ll find the novels in the Westerns, not the mystery section, in your local used bookstore (or probably in the Nostalgia section if that store is a Half Price Books), but I think most of them would appeal to mystery readers as well.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Podcast Interview

Last week Jeff Rutherford of the Reading and Writing Podcast interviewed me, and it's posted now. You can check it out here. Jeff has some excellent interviews on this site, so while you're there, have a listen to them, too.

Monday, May 11, 2009

New Additions to the Family

We have a couple of new additions to the family. Check out Livia's blog for more photos and all the details (and a request for help with names).

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Bourne Ultimatum

We watched this movie because we'd seen the first two in the series, although as Livia and I discussed, we didn't remember anything about them except a bunch of running around. Luckily, there are several scenes early on in this one that serve as recaps, so I was able to tell what was going on. And although the formula is more of the same -- lots of running, shooting, and fighting in quick-cut editing -- the plot makes sense as far as I could tell and I found it probably the most entertaining of the three. I like Matt Damon and he's well-cast as Bourne. Julia Stiles is adorable as always and actually has a few things to do in this one other than stand around. The ending is quite satisfying, too, and while it actually wraps up the plotline that runs through all three movies, it leaves things open for more sequels. Which I'll probably watch, too, if they ever get made.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Too Many Pages?

For some reason, I'm dumb as a rock these days. Some of you (and you know who you are) must have been shaking your head and asking yourselves, "What the hell's wrong with that boy?" So consider this an apology and a pledge to try not to be such a maroon in the future. (Note: Stupidity will not keep me from posting. Why start now?)

The Mike Shayne Comic Books

When I was a kid, I bought a lot of comic books published by Dell. Where I lived, they seemed to have the best distribution of all the comics publishers, because they were all over the place. Disney stuff, movie and TV tie-ins (two I remember distinctly are THE COMANCHEROS and 77 SUNSET STRIP), Tarzan, the Lone Ranger . . . Dell had great stuff for an eight- or nine-year-old.

What I didn't know then -- and probably wouldn't have been interested in if I had -- was that Dell also published three issues of a comic book based on the exploits of redheaded Miami shamus Mike Shayne. I found out about these years later but have never tried to get my hands on them. But the other day, my buddy Jim Doherty from the Rara-Avis list posted a link to the covers of the three issues, so I had to take a look. They're pretty good. This is the cover from the second issue, and you can see the other two here. I'm tempted to start searching the Internet for these. Maybe one of these days.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Forgotten Books: Secret Agent X: The Sinister Scourge - Brant House (Paul Chadwick)

I’ve written about several of these Secret Agent X novels here on the blog, so obviously they’re not forgotten by me. There are also quite a few of them available in reprint editions, so pulp fandom knows about them, too. But I think it’s a good bet that the character has faded from the memory of the general public, and since this is a particularly good entry in the series, I thought it deserved a Forgotten Books post of its own.

Like a lot of other stories from the hero pulps, the Secret Agent X novels often feature some mysterious criminal mastermind who wears a mask or a hood or some such. There’s usually some bizarre murder method as well. Those elements appear in this novel, but for once, they’re actually minor. For the pulps, THE SINISTER SCOURGE, from the January 1935 issue of SECRET AGENT X, is pretty realistic. This time around, the Agent is engaged in a grim, gritty battle against a drug smuggling ring that’s flooding the country with a new super-drug. The main touch of typically over-the-top pulp business is the Agent’s uncanny ability to craft perfect disguises as a moment’s notice. Mostly it’s gun battles and fistfights as the Agent works his way higher and higher up the chain of command in the drug ring. At times this yarn reminded me a little of a Mack Bolan novel as Secret Agent X takes on organized crime.

The author behind the Brant House pseudonym this time around is Paul Chadwick, the creator of the Secret Agent X character. Chadwick is best known for his novels in this series, as well as a series of novelettes about investigator Wade Hammond that ran in the pulp TEN DETECTIVE ACES. His prose has a sweaty, breathless, almost overwrought quality to it that makes it easy to distinguish, and it works better than usual in THE SINISTER SCOURGE. There are also some welcome touches of wry humor amidst all the blood and thunder. While this novel isn’t really all that typical of the Secret Agent X series, it’s also one of the best I’ve read featuring the character.

A number of Secret Agent X novels were reprinted in the Sixties by Corinth/Regency, an offshoot of the publishing empire founded by William Hamling that also put out Nightstand Books, Midnight Readers, etc., the line of sort-core sleaze novels written pseudonymously by Lawrence Block, Donald E. Westlake, Robert Silverberg, Evan Hunter, Harry Whittington, and many other authors. I couldn’t find a cover scan from the original pulp to go with this post, so I used the cover from the Corinth paperback reprint instead. The art is by Robert Bonfils, who provided many, many covers for books published by Hamling.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Two More Reasons I Love the Internet

When I started this blog, one of the first on-line friends I made because of it was novelist, screenwriter, and director Terrill Lee Lankford, author of two of the very best books I've read in recent years, EARTHQUAKE WEATHER and BLONDE LIGHTNING. He has a blog now, which you can check out here.

Also, author Mark Justice, who has been in a couple of anthologies with me, has posted a nice review of HUNT AT THE WELL OF ETERNITY. Thanks, Mark!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Pulp Serenade Interview

One of those interviews I mentioned in the previous post is already available on-line, at Cullen Gallagher's excellent site Pulp Serenade. You can read it here.

Another Gabriel Hunt Review

Scott Parker has nice things to say about HUNT AT THE WELL OF ETERNITY. You can read his comments here.

This blog has been quiet in the past few days because I haven't been doing anything interesting, just working on various things, including planting trees. Haven't seen any movies and haven't had time to read much. There are a few potentially exciting things in the works, including a couple of interviews and a new book series or two, but nothing I can talk about yet. I'll be back when there's anything to report.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Transporter 3

We watched and enjoyed the first two Transporter movies, so naturally we had to get around to watching the third one, as well. In fact, I’ve liked every Jason Statham movie I’ve seen so far. In this one, he’s once again playing tough guy Frank Martin, who’ll transport and deliver almost anything for a price. He’s not hired to do a job this time around, though. Instead he’s pretty much shanghaied into it and winds up with a bomb shackled to his wrist while he drives a pretty redhead from France across Europe back to her home in the Ukraine, all because of a murky plot involving a mysterious criminal mastermind and toxic waste.

I don’t think anybody watches these movies for the plots, though. I certainly don’t. I watch ’em for the over-the-top action scenes and stunts and because Statham is just so darned cool, playing all this silliness straight as if it makes perfect sense. The fights are really cartoony in this one. But the quieter moments – and there are actually quite a few of them – play very nicely and succeed in making the viewer care about the characters, at least a little. And the ending is very satisfying.

It’s really pretty simple. If you liked the first two, you ought to like this one, too. I did, quite a bit.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Friday, May 01, 2009

Spade & Archer - Joe Gores

No Forgotten Book from me this week, but I do have some comments on a book that’s a deliberate throwback to another era. Joe Gores’ SPADE & ARCHER is a prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s THE MALTESE FALCON, one of the greatest – if not the greatest – private eye novels ever written. I have to admire anyone who would even attempt such a thing, let alone an author who could pull it off successfully. Thankfully, Gores does.

He starts with what I think is a brilliant decision to structure the novel in the form of three linked novellas, harkening back to Hammett’s novels RED HARVEST and THE DAIN CURSE. SPADE & ARCHER is a little different, of course, because its component parts were written to be published together, instead being published first as separate stories in BLACK MASK. Also, the time span of SPADE & ARCHER is longer than what you usually find in novels that were actually cobbled together from pulp yarns, since the three parts take place in 1921, 1925, and 1928. The first part begins with Sam Spade in Tacoma, working for the Continental Detective Agency (that’s right, he’s a Continental Op), but it’s not long before he moves to San Francisco and opens his own one-man agency, hiring a seventeen-year-old girl named Effie Perrine as his secretary. He investigates the theft of a small fortune in gold coins from a ship that arrives in San Francisco and also locates the runaway teenage son of a wealthy banker.

Those two plotlines crop up again in the second part, set four years later, which finds Spade investigating the death of another banker that might be natural causes, might be suicide, or might be murder. Gores continues weaving together strands from the first two parts in the concluding section, in which Spade takes on a partner, an old detective acquaintance named Miles Archer who happens to be married to a woman who was in love with Spade before he went off to fight in World War I. The newly-formed Spade & Archer agency investigates the theft of a large amount of cargo from the San Francisco docks, while Spade on his own tries to track down a quarter of a million dollars in buried treasure. Gores winds up tying everything together in a complex plot worthy of the pulp era.

That faithfulness to the roots of the hardboiled PI genre is this book’s greatest achievement, as far as I’m concerned. Other than a greater amount of frankness about the fact that Spade is sleeping with Iva Archer and with some of his female clients, SPADE & ARCHER really could have been written and published in the 1920s. Some authors these days, if they were trying to write a prequel to THE MALTESE FALCON, probably would have felt compelled to coarsen the language and make the sex and violence more graphic. Not Gores. He’s content to spin a pulp yarn and does a magnificent job of it.

Some readers are opposed to the concept of pastiches in general, and I can understand that. It would be pretty hypocritical of me to feel that way, however, since I’ve always made a large part of my living writing about characters created by other people. I do believe, though, that an author writing a pastiche ought to at least try to stay faithful to the spirit of the original creation. That’s what Joe Gores has done in SPADE & ARCHER. I’m sure a lot of you have read this book already, but if you haven’t, it gets my highest recommendation. It’s a wonderful novel, and probably the best thing I’ve read so far this year. And it really, really makes me want to reread some Hammett.