March 27, 2012

Autographed Copy of Rat Pack

Shane Stevens' fourth novel takes place over a single night as four African-American youths prowl New York City’s dirty streets, hunting for the big score they hope will finally free them from their hopeless lives of crushing poverty. Once billed as "The American Clockwork Orange", Rat Pack is a brutal book, but far more humane than Burgess' novel. Clocking in around 200 pages, Stevens succeeds in crafting something both shocking and deeply moving without wasting a single word.

Rob Warren Books in Manhattan has a gorgeous copy for sale. Mr. Warren is extremely nice and very helpful. He's managed to acquire what's easily the best looking copy of a Stevens' book I've ever seen. More than that, his copy is a 1st edition hardcover and—it’s signed! If I had the money, I would buy it in an instant.

If you happen to be a Stevens fan and can afford it, snatch it up now.

And if you happen to be Lucy, then I'd like to talk to you...

March 17, 2012

Quest for Dignity

“For those of us who believe that the writer must grapple with the moral issues of his day, that he must view himself in the context of events and not just from his own personal needs, these are dangerous times. The urge to be a full-time revolutionary in a country so desperately ill is overwhelming."

--Shane Stevens, “Quest for Dignity.” [Rev. of Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver.] 
The Progressive, Vol. 32, #5 May, 1969

March 10, 2012

The Man Who Stepped Up

There are things I have trouble dismissing and letting go no matter how hard I try. My relationship with my father. The car accident that killed one brother. The prison that houses the surviving brother and will continue to be his home for years.

And there are things I don’t ever want to forget -- like the fact that my wife would probably not be here today if it wasn’t for her Mamaw and her Papaw.

I’ve talked before about the awfulness of her childhood. The only thing that made it remotely bearable were those two people. They gave her all those things you’re supposed to give a child: love, encouragement, and safety. All those things our society persists in believing can only come through something as tenuous as blood -- an idea that needs to be murdered now, because her Mamaw and her Papaw made a bid for custody, only to be informed by the lawyer it would never work because they weren’t actually her Mamaw and her Papaw.

Society focused on the fact that her Mamaw was technically her great aunt and her Papaw’s only tie was marriage. And society has a lot to learn. Antiquated ideas of familial bonds and ignorant court opinions did not stop them for being Maria’s family, from being there for her, from loving her, or, in her Papaw’s case, kicking the shit out of her father in the driveway.

Not even divorce broke their bonds. Both have always remained in her life.

Even her Papaw Jack. The man who some people foolishly insist on reminding her isn’t “family" has been there through it all: good times and bad, triumphs and failures, birthdays and Christmases, first cars and high school graduations, walking Maria down the aisle and helping to bury her mother.

In a few hours, we’re heading down south to Maria’s cousin’s house for a surprise party celebrating Jack’s 70th birthday. Man, there’s so much I want to be able to say to that man. So, much I want him to know. I mean, does he understand how much he’s meant to my wife? Does he understand that he helped save her life? And does he even know what’s he’s meant to me -- not just because of what he’s done for Maria, but for, in a lot of ways, becoming a sort of second father and, beyond that, becoming the measure of what it means to be a man?

I don’t know. I hope so, because I don’t know if I could even say it. If I could ever express it.

I think the closest either one of us has ever come was a couple years ago for Christmas when we got him a personalized copy of the newest Andrew Vachss book. (Crime fiction is one of the things Jack and I have in common and I’ve tried through the years to introduce him to a lot of writers he’d never read before.) Inside the front cover, in that way he has to sum up an entire complicated mess of feelings and ideas, Vachss wrote:

“For Jack, who stepped up when everyone else stepped out.”

I wonder though, is that enough?

March 3, 2012

Bullets For A Ballot

Looking forward to starting the new Cash Laramie adventure this weekend:

In the town of Bear Pines, Mrs. Tolliver has announced she is running for the mayoral office. She’s the first woman to run as a candidate which divides the residents and sets the town into a tailspin. U.S. Marshal Cash Laramie is sent in to maintain peace and order and to protect Tolliver and her family from powerful allies of the incumbent, Mayor Nolan. In a bid to force her to quit the race, things turn ugly ... and deadly. Surrounded by killers who will stop at nothing to make sure Mrs. Tolliver is not elected, Cash wires Cheyenne for assistance, but will help arrive in time?

It's available now from Amazon.

March 2, 2012


Omaha cop Matt Worth has screwed up both his marriage and his career. After his superiors assign him the shit detail of patrolling a robbery-prone supermarket, there’s only one thing that gets him through the long nights of asking, “Paper or plastic?” Gwen. The cute checkout girl.

One night when his crush kills her abusive boyfriend, Worth makes a decision that will change everything. He’s not going to call it in. He’s going to cover it up. He’ll dump the body and the hot rod.

That’s when everything goes to hell...

Reading Sean Doolittle’s The Cleanup has been one of the few things that has made all the trips to the eye specialist in Indianapolis remotely bearable. I’m not going to cheapen this book with some slick attempt to be witty. All I want to say is if you’ve never read Doolittle, you’re missing out. He’s a first class writer who impresses me every time with his storytelling ability and keen understanding of character.

The only thing I don’t understand is why he’s not atop the bestseller lists or writing an original series for HBO.

March 1, 2012

Elementary Is A Good Name For It

I'm much rather see Lucy Liu star in an updated
and less offensive take on Charlie Chan.
After the success of the Guy Ritchie films and the BBC program, it was only a matter of time before an American network offered their own take on Sherlock Holmes. Recently, the upcoming CBS version has made a lot of press over the casting of Lucy Liu as Doctor Watson.

People don’t like the idea of Watson being a girl.

I don’t take umbrage with the idea of a female Watson. Very little in fiction, I think, is so sarcosanct as to be beyond tinkering—especially, if the tinkering can take old material in a new direction or emphasis a theme or character dynamic in an original way. Since he’s firmly a part of global popular culture, The Great Detective, his companions, and his enemies have taken on a life that transcends Doyle’s writing. The idea itself has picked up concepts and audience imposed perceptions that aren’t in the cannon. In Doyle’s stories, the drug abusing Holmes is often lazy (when he’s not on a case), very arrogant, and he never wears a deerstalker (that’s from the Paget illustrations). Nowhere does Holmes ever say, “Elementary, my dear Watson” (the closest he comes is in “The Adventure of the Crooked Man.”) Moriarty only shows up in a mere two stories. And while Watson can’t match Holmes’ deductive powers, he’s never an idiot. Like any meme, the idea of Sherlock Holmes has mutated and spread, often for the better and sometimes for the worse—like too many seasons of House.

Besides, Watson as a woman is not a new idea. Usually when it’s been done, the female Doctor Watson is a psychiatrist who gets assigned to treat a patient who believes he’s Sherlock Holmes. Years ago, even Rex Stout wrote an essay putting forth the theory that not only was Watson a woman, but she was Sherlock’s wife who felt it necessary to mask her sex and their relationship when reporting Holmes’ adventures.

I’m certainty a fan of Lucy Liu, so that’s not a problem. She’s attractive and a decent actress watch her current run on TNT’s SouthLAnd for proof. I think she’ll do fine in the part. Talent has never been Ms. Liu’s problem. In fact, she doesn’t have a problem. The problem is all Hollywood’s—as an Asian-American woman over thirty, unfortunately, there’s not much they’re going to offer her.

No, what bothers is the sex change feels lazy and cheap. You see, CBS originally approached the team behind Sherlock about doing an American remake (something else I’ve never understood, just air it over here on regular network televisionBritish English is not another language and a remake is as pointless and offensive as having to watch an “American language" dub of Mad Max). The BBC passed on the remake. Then in January, word broke about the network going ahead with their own modern version of Holmes, prompting the BBC to threaten a lawsuit if there weren’t substantial differences between the two programs. Now, a little less than two months later, here comes the announcement of Lucy Liu as Watson.

I picture a single development meeting that went something like this:

New Guy: “They threatened to sue.” 
Executive Producer: “What? Screw the BBC! We’ll make...uh...Watson a woman! Then they can’t sue!” 
Toady #1: “That’s a great idea! It’ll be a different show with—VIRTUALLY NO EFFORT!”
New Guy: "Is that enough? I mean shouldn't we talk about what a woman would bring to the role?"
Executive Producer: "No. Women are just different. It's more than enough."
Toady #2: “And we can introduce sexual tension!”
Toady #1: “Will-they-won’t-they! We can milk that for years with—VIRTUALLY NO EFFORT!”
New Guy: "Isn't that kind of offensive though? Aren't we both intimating that Watson doesn't really matter and a woman is a viable character only if she's the sidekick? I mean how is our take really different? We've set it in New York and made Watson a woman—so what?" BEAT. "What if made Holmes a woman and kept Watson a man?"
Executive Producer: "Watson a man? Who plays second fiddle to a genius and incredibly capable woman?"
New Guy: "Well, yeah."
Executive Producer: "What about the drug habit? Female junkies aren't attractive."
New Guy: "Well, yeah, but—"
Executive Producer: "You're fired." BEAT. "So, Watson is a chick...a hot chick..."

I could be a hundred percent wrong. The writers and producers could have spent far more effort on the character of Dr. Joan Watson than I’ve given them credit. Elementary could, in fact, turn out to be even more brilliant than Sherlock. But I doubt it. There’s a reason why the only shows worth watching aren’t on any of the major networks and this just feels like more sloppy sloppy television.
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