Friday, March 8, 2019

Noteworthy Reads: THE HONKY TONK BIG HOSS BOOGIE by Robert J. Randisi

This exciting PI mystery from veteran Randisi is the first to feature Auggie Velez, a Nashville sessions musician who is also a licensed private investigator. Auggie is immediately engaging as a protagonist. He is fairly well established on the Nashville music scene as a reliable sessions man, preferring that work to going on the road. But the real dream he continues to chase is one day writing and performing his own music. The PI work, which he began to augment his sometimes sporadic income, is something he has more recently ventured into and is therefore less seasoned at; but his basic street smarts, combined with past military training, a keen sense of the Music City scene, and the mentorship of the aging private eye who helped him get his ticket, are all helping to hone his skills.
And Auggie is soon needing to call on all of this and more after he accepts a job that appears to be a simple, though somewhat mysterious package delivery for a big time music producer. When the recipient of said package, a common briefcase whose contents were never revealed to Auggie, turns up murdered, Auggie becomes a very prominent “person of interest”. As the police investigation becomes stalled as far as any other leads and the music executive who originally hired Auggie remains reluctant about admitting his role, Auggie is forced to start digging deeper into the whole mess if for no other reason than to prove his innocence.
What ensues amounts to a fascinating tour of Nashville and its many colorful places and characters. As usual in a Randisi novel, snappy dialogue carries much of the load. But there also is real depth to the characterizations of many of the individuals encountered, including Auggie himself. Perhaps some of the best work Bob has done in this regard. There is a particularly poignant scene about mid way through the novel where, after some burglars have broken ito Auggie's apartment and trashed his personal, deeply treasured collection of old guitars – after the police have left and he is all alone starting to clean up the mess – Auggie breaks down and weeps over the loss that only he can understand the full impact of. Very strong and brave, I thought, for Bob to bare that much of his protagonist's soul.
When finally revealed, the secret of what was contained in the briefcase is a doozy and the overall conclusion to the case, when reached, is satisfying. The whole thing is made even more realistic by the fact that, due to the deaths of some players along the way, not every minute detail can be fully explained. Nevertheless, enough is established to clear Auggie and the key bad guys are sufficiently punished. Even more good news is that – as announced by the publisher at the close of this book – Auggie will soon be showing up again in a new case titled THE LAST SWEET SONG OF HAMMER DYLAN.
I'm definitely looking forward to that and, in the meantime, strongly recommend THE HONKY TONK BIG HOSS BOOGIE. Don't miss it!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Noteworthy Reads: THE DOCTOR'S WIFE by Michael Avallone

In my reading lifetime, I'm sure I have read well over a thousand books. Maybe close to two thousand. Hell, counting comic books and magazine novelizations and re-reads, maybe more than that.
Many of these I recollect vividly and completely. Many others I remember liking to various degrees but can only specifically recall certain parts, like the title and author perhaps, or maybe some key, memorable scenes.
Such was the case with THE DOCTOR'S WIFE by Mike Avallone. I remembered the title and byline and a few scenes that stuck with me—and, mostly, I remembered liking it a lot. It was published in 1963, I'm guessing I read it two or three years later. I would have been about seventeen. I was just then learning to watch for the Avallone byline (one of the first cases where the author's name started to catch my eye as quick or quicker than the title) because I knew it would likely be something I'd enjoy.
Okay, for any of you who might be smirking and chuckling at this point because you've been fed the Kool-aid all these years about what a lousy writer Avallone was, how his phrasing came to be called “Avallone-isms” because of the quirky metaphors and puns and sometimes wacky plotting he employed ... Nuts to you. All I know is that the guy could tell a damn good story and I liked the way he did it. Especially during this period—the late Fifties through the Sixties. He was at his most prolific (he didn't call himself “the fastest typewriter in the east” for nothing) and at the peak of his craft.

Somewhere around the time I read THE DOCTOR'S WIFE, I was also reading Avallone work such as STATION SIX – SAHARA (movie tie-in), MANNIX (TV tie-in) and also the TV tie-ins for MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E and GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. It was also around this time that—to my astonishment, since I was gobbling up everything and anything private eye related—I first discovered Ed Noon in THE FEBRUARY DOLL MURDERS. The doubly surprising part about this was that, by then, Mike had penned fifteen previous Noons and I hadn't come across any, except maybe a magazine excerpt from LUST IS NO LADY. 
Since all of the above titles were published in the mid-60s, some three or four years after DOCTOR'S WIFE, I can only assume that I picked up DOCTOR'S either second hand or buried deep in the back of a spinner rack slot. At any rate, once I had it in my hot little hands I tore through it in one or two settings and came away very satisfied.
The thing was, DOCTOR'S WIFE was put out by Beacon Books, one of – if not THE – top publishers of “adult” paperbacks (the other biggie being Midwood) at the time. By today's standards, it should be noted, these were pretty tame. Yet for all his success up to that point in the mystery/crime and media tie-in fields, here was Avallone cranking out “sex books” and signing his own name to them. By my count, he did about ten of them through the early/mid Sixties.
And here's the kicker: In my humble opinion, some of these “adult” titles represent some of his best writing. It was obvious that he took them serious and treated them accordingly. Years later, I had occasion to mention this to Mike and he was pleased to hear that assessment. So much so that when Gary Lovisi at Gryphon Books re-published the adult-themed MITZI later in Mike's career, he honored me by asking me to write a Foreward for it. Which I did, and again took the opportunity to opine on the strength of his writing in the adult field.

There's no better example of this than THE DOCTOR'S WIFE. The prose is lean and straightforward (not much of the quirky touches that would gain traction in Mike's later work), the dialogue snaps, and the sense of time and place (New York City in the late 50s/early 60s) is spot on. Written in first person, it revolves around one Vince Allen, a struggling actor who works as the overnight manager of a greasy spoon to make ends meet, and chases acting try-outs during the day. Each morning after finishing his greasy spoon gig, Vince walks through Central Park to clear his head and put the smells of the steamy diner behind him. On one of these mornings, in a rather dramatic fashion, he encounters the stunningly beautiful and mysterious Erika Paul—who turns out to be the doctor's wife of the title—as she is out walking her Irish setter, Apollo. From there Vince's life will never be the same. Naturally, he and Erika have further meetings in the park and quickly become passionate, star-crossed lovers.
As this involvement becomes more heated and more complex—they can never be completely together, Erika tells him, for reasons she won't explain in detail other than to say that her husband is a powerful, dangerous, insanely jealous man—Vince is also torn by other aspects of his life. He's gotten tangled up with Emily, who ditches her current boyfriend—an innocent “kid”, another wanna-be actor whom Vince has been mentoring—because she claims to have fallen hopelessly for Vince. Before long, they're ensuing trysts (Emily can't seem to get enough sex) causes her to be “late” and that adds even more stress to Vince's life. He begins shopping around for someone willing to perform a back alley-type abortion. In the course of all this—while his obsession for Erika grows and Vince longs for every possible moment they can sneak to be together—there are some very nice “filler” scenes involving co-workers and clientele at the greasy spoon and the world of acting try-outs. Avallone's writing really shines here. He seems to have a deep affinity for the whole actor/acting thing and—although I never thought to ask him about it in any of our exchanges—it seems like he might have lived that life for a time, or was very close to someone who did.
The book ends in tragedy. I can't say too much more without spoiling key story elements and ruining some some very suspenseful, exciting twists at the climax.
The closing passages wrap it up this way:
In my mind I still walk back through Central Park on my way home from work ... my Erika waits for me there. I see her coming down the paved walk with her long, flowing black hair.
Erika—with Apollo loping easily before her.
Erika Paul. The dame with the dog.”
I mention this because it also conveys what Mike told me he wanted the book to be titled ... The Dame And The Dog. He fought hard for that but, in the end, couldn't persuade the Beacon powers to go with it.
At this point, I guess it doesn't really matter. Whatever it's called, it's a damned enjoyable read. It's hard to come by these days (after all these years I had to special order a copy, just to re-visit it and see if it held up; which it does, as I guess this post demonstrates)—but if you can get your hands on a copy, I urge you to give it a try.
Above all, never be discouraged to give Avallone a try based on the snarky comments and ridicule you may have heard about his writing—often from those unworthy to carry his typewriter ribbon. Yes, some cringe-worthy “Avallone-isms” certainly exist. But far outweighing those are the many tales he spun that were/are immensely readable and entertaining.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Noteworthy Reads: STAGE FRIGHT by Richard Prosch

This latest in the Dan Spalding mystery series (number four if you're counting – and you owe it to yourself to be keeping track because you don't want to miss any of these) really cranks up the action and sends Dan and his buddy Howard Thyme on a collision course against not only the local mob but also some out-of-town baddies (West Coast) who are looking to make some Ozark City inroads.

As the owner/proprietor of Spalding's Groove, a vintage record store, Dan doesn't go looking for trouble or brushes with members of the criminal element. But neither is he one to look away from wrongdoing, especially when it involves abuse/mistreatment of the vulnerable—and his background as a former investigator for the Missouri State Police gives him the training and lingering contacts to take meaningful action if required.

This time around, a reason to get involved and take action is pretty straightforward … The young niece of his pal Howard is in trouble. She, under the name of Apple May, is currently stripping at a new, uber-glitzy gentlemen's club that has just opened up on the edge of town and has gotten word to Uncle Howard that she's caught up in the flesh circuit and is being kept against her will from getting out.
Figuring it will be “easy-peazy”—just a matter of grabbing Apple away from a couple club bouncers—Dan and Howard take a ride out to the joint to get the job done. The grab is accomplished, although not without some pretty rough resistance from the bouncers who don't exactly make it easy-peazy, and Apple is taken home to her uncle's place, awaiting arrangements to be reunited with her mother, Howard's sister.
But, as you might expect, that's not the end of it …

Within twenty-four hours, Apple is missing. Howard doesn't know where she is, neither do the flesh peddlers who badly want her back. Threats, more rough stuff, double-dealing, ulterior motives (some on the part of none other than Apple herself, who may not be quite so innocent as first thought), and escalating tensions ensue. Another stripper from the club seemingly comes to Dan's aid but, despite the pleasure of her company, he can't help but suspect her end game may be a little murky. When local mob boss Adrian Mitchell—who has rather tenuous ties with Dan dating back to Mitchell's past dealings with Dan's late brother—also becomes involved, the tension and danger ratchets up even more.
Before it's all over, some lives will be lost, some will be ruined, and one or two – maybe – will be salvaged.

As is always the case in any work by Prosch, the lean prose and snappy dialogue (especially in this series) are as much a part of the enjoyment as the colorful characters and the twists and turns of the story itself. It all makes for a winning combination that leaves you satisfied yet immediately craving the next Spalding adventure.
Strongly recommended.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Noteworthy Reads: BLAKE'S RULE by J.R. Lindermuth

This latest work from John Lindermuth is a fine Western in the traditional mold, but with some intriguing twists and distinctions that make it a high cut above average. Sam Blake, a range detective working for the Thiel Agency out of Denver, is on the trail of a rustler. But when he arrives in the small Wyoming town of Kraft, he is soon diverted from that mission and drawn instead into another matter, namely that of aiding the local sheriff in protecting his current prisoner from a lynch mob.

The prisoner is a black woman who, prior to her arrest, was the cook at the town's only cafe. Her reason for being behind bars: She killed and castrated her former employer, the owner/proprietor of the cafe, a man named Graham. She admits to the crime, offers no defense, is prepared to accept her fate in a legal trial and asks only that her two young children, a boy and a girl, are looked after in her absence. The woman, Miriam, is a beautiful widow formerly married to a white man; following his death, she and her children were “taken in” by Graham and given keep in return for Miriam doing the cooking for the cafe. That she would repay him so viciously for this “kindness” is the impetus behind the festering mood to see her hanged post haste. Helping this along is an undercurrent of racial prejudice and also the well-known fact that Fremont, the local sheriff, has long been enamored of Miriam; there are those who believe these feelings might cause him to try and sway the outcome of a standard trial. Adding fuel to the fire is the personal animosity that the most powerful rancher in the territory – a man with a small army of gun toughs at his disposal – also feels toward Miriam.

It's hard to discuss much more about how these various interactions play out without revealing key plot elements. Suffice it to say that the bad guys are despicably bad while both Blake and Sheriff Fremont, along with Fremont's deputy Keenan, are heroic in their attempts to keep Miriam and her children safe from those who would lynch the woman – and worse. Miriam herself is a strong, memorable, wonderfully drawn character who more than holds her own. Before it's all done there is a good deal of violent action, tragedy, betrayal and retribution, more than a few surprises, and some nice touches of romance. The characters, good and bad alike, are colorfully drawn and given genuine depth. Lindermuth's effortlessly smooth prose moves along at a perfect pace, rich with historically accurate details yet never at the cost of interfering with a riveting tale.

Strongly recommended.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Noteworthy Reads: THE QUESTIONER by Andrew Vachss

THE QUESTIONER is Andrew Vachss's first work of fiction in too long.
But it turns out to be worth the wait.
A novelette written in the scalpel-sharp, no-word-wasted prose style that has become one of the author's trademarks, it introduces a nameless protagonist known only by the description of what he does. For a price, he finds out the most deeply hidden truths and secrets – and he does so not by means of torture or coercion, but rather merely by talking, asking questions, listening, and responding in ways that gradually, deftly draws out the information he is seeking. He can't be fooled or deterred. He senses the truth and, more importantly, he senses how to manipulate every precise detail of mood, environment, and his choice of words until what he is seeking is revealed ... What he then does with that information, who the Questioner passes it on to, can impact decisions and actions of global significance.
As usual in any work by Vachss, the “fiction” is only a veneer, a device to open readers' eyes about real-world abuses and injustices that may not be pleasant to face, yet NEED to be.
So read THE QUESTIONER for the prose and the power of the story. Then I'd encourage you to do a little homework about some of the things touched upon in the narrative (ethnic medical experiments, maybe a little history about the country of Estonia, as a couple of examples) as added food for thought.

As a further encouragement, I would also suggest you consider a purchase of this work via the Amazon Smile program whereby a portion of the purchase price (at no additional cost to the purchaser) goes toward a charity of the buyer's choosing. In view of Andrew's life's work in the area of child protection, a good choice for this would be an organization he co-founded and is closely associated with: The Legislative Institute for Child Protection.
You can learn more about it at this link: Legislative Institute for Child Protection
To sign up for the Amazon Smile program, use this link:

I strongly recommend THE QUESTIONER and all of the foregoing.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Interview: John A. Curley (author of BONDS)

John Curley, author of the acclaimed new crime mystery BONDS, has the distinction of being a licensed private investigator with over three decades of experience. This gives the powerful writing skills so evident in this debut novel an added ring of authenticity often lacking in the genre. A lifelong resident of New York City (“Staten Island born and raised”, as he puts it), he also paints a vivid picture of the city and its workings at various levels.
Choosing to pursue investigative work rather than college, even though he was a child prodigy who read at a highly advanced level barely into grade school, John now is president of two agencies – J Curley Investigative and Protective Services LLC and J Curley and Associates LLC, a consulting company. John is also proficient in martial arts, having begun studying them in 1981 and then teaching in 1985. Married, having helped raise his niece and nephew, he is passionately devoted to protecting the young and vulnerable. He is a strong advocate for the Legislative Drafting Institute for Child Protection and a friend and follower of Andrew Vachss. Like Vachss, whose writing he openly admits to having an influence on his own work, John seeks to use his fiction to shine a light on the horrible abuses of children and the resulting impact on our society, and therefore the critical need to curb that trend.
John was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule for a long phone conversation and then the following interview. I thank him for his time and hope that readers come away knowing a bit more about the man behind the byline and from there seek out said byline and the terrific writing it will lead them to.

WD: I know you grew up under some rather tough conditions when your father disappeared via mysterious circumstances and it fell to your mother to not only raise you and your brothers on her own but to also take over and run the family business. Will you please provide some further details on that period in your life?

JC: Sure. First off, my mother did an amazing job. Like most kids I didn’t realize the sacrifices she made and still does for her kids. Long story short there was a silver heist at Luftansa Air that was portrayed inthr movie “Goodfellas”. It was never known for sure whether my father was involved or just his partner, but he left work to come home 3 days before Christmas in 1980 and was never seen again. His car was found 3 days later in the basement parking lot of the Sheraton Hotel on 1&9 North going into Newark airport. There are different theories about what happened but I believe when you drive on the highway into the airport you’re driving over him. My mom took over his business and threw his partners out, the people that are likely to have killed him. It often hits me that I am now 20 years older than he was when he disappeared—it was yesterday and forever ago at the same time. My mom and my grandmother raised us and, considering the hardships, we were very fortunate.

WD: You took up martial arts in your early teens and continue to stay quite involved in it yet today. Was there a particular teacher, or sensei, who influenced or instilled this long-standing devotion in you?

JC: More than one but the main teachers I have that have the most impact are George Smith and Anthony Dasaro. That is a spectacular combination, Smitty is maybe the toughest guy on the planet, even at 80 he is a force to be reckoned with and he instilled things in us like honor, the strong protect the weak etc. I actually worked with him and often think of writing about the work we did, but I’m waiting for the statutes to run. (Kidding, maybe). While Smitty taught me how to survive and the way I move is similar (not as good) to him, Anthony taught me appreciation for the art and is proof incarnate of the importance of technique. Being there at that time and place was a happy and very beneficial accident.

WD: I know that, in the performance of your investigations, you've run into some physical confrontations. I expect the martial arts training came in handy on such occasions. Are there any particular instances, without naming names, you'd care to share with readers?

JC: I have lost count of the number of violent encounters there have been because of work. I will share this, the first physical confrontation in “Bonds” happened just about that way, although it happened for a different reason.

WD: You told me an amusing tale about your very first day as an investigative trainee, when you were sent out on your own to serve some papers on an individual. Please share with readers how that went.

JC: Well I stumbled into P.I. work. At the time I was boxing and kickboxing and one of my sparring partners worked for a P.I. named Charlie Kahaly and my first day was spent getting lost in Long Island, a guy taking a swing at me when I served him with papers, and then having a car accident on the way back. I walked into Charlie’s office the end of the day and quit. He called me a few days later and asked me to stick it out, I’d had a bad day and wisely suggested that I at least keep it for the income. I’ve been doing it ever since.

WD: As mentioned above, you read voraciously at a very early age, including the complete works of Tolkein when still quite young. From there, I know that you continue to have an interest in dark fantasy as well as the type of contemporary crime fiction you have ventured into as a writer yourself. Can you track that progression for us ... from Tolkein on through to the current works of Robert B. Parker and Andrew Vachss, two writers you openly admit to having an influence ton your own work. What else came in between? What other writers – past or present – made a particular impact on you?

JC: Our gym teacher Walter Hertman read the Hobbit to us in the first grade and I got every book by Tolkien available. Then there was the Shannara books by Terry Brooks. I found Stephen King and Robert B. Parker in a used books store when I was a kid. Robert McCammon and Dean Koontz (“Boy’s Life” is perhaps the best book I have ever read and “Watchers” by Koontz is superb) in Walden’s Books. In the 80’s when I taught martial arts regularly a student introduced me to Andrew Vachss. Today readers are fortunate there are many great authors and mentors with you Wayne, at the top of the list. Seth Bailey, Rich Prosch, Will Graham, D Dion, so many others I could go on for pages but the biggest influence on me has been Andrew. Were it not for him I wouldn’t be writing or promoting child protection as I do.

WD: At what point did you begin to feel the urge to one day do some writing yourself? As stated in the intro, you've said that you want to use your writing ot help bring attention to the abuse of the young and vulnerable – was that always a part of wanting to write, or did it figure in more gradually as your investigative work opened your eyes to the problem?

JC: I wrote in the 90’s, and I did a horror novel “Emissary”. A cousin that worked in a publishing house loved it and was going to have it published but long story short she had a stroke (and recovered, thank God) but she lost the only copy. I stopped writing then. I started a couple of years ago after interacting with Andrew. Work and personal experience combined with the manner in which Andrew articulates the problems all converged at once.

WD: As a former “working” author myself – that is, someone who had a full-time job in the real world and had to fit in my writing on a catch-as-catch-can basis – I know how hard it is to find time for writing yet meet other job/family obligations. I was pretty erratic about it, but I have a hunch you may be more disciplined. How about it? How do you manage your writing time against those other obligations?

JC: It’s easy for me only because I have the whole story in my head and just need time to write it. Writing is unlike any other activity for me though. I need to be mentally awake to do it. You can work, work out, hang out, do whatever if you’re half-awake. But not writing. I manage to find the time, fortunately, and I am usually working on multiple things at once.

WD: To add realism to your work, I know that you often use true incidents – always with permission from those involved and with names changed – in your writing. Also, in BONDS, you take readers on a sort of tour of several bars and restaurants. I suspect these were also based on real places – but with the actual names altered, or kept intact in these instances? (As a non-New Yorker, I couldn't tell – I just know that some of the dishes you described made me damn hungry!)

JC: Well, the main goals are giving people what I hope is a good read and a look into a world they may not (and they should be thankful if they don’t) know, but is all around us. I also do not like the idea most people have that Staten Island is comprised only of reality TV and Jersey shore personas. It’s still a beautiful place and the parks, stores and restaurants I write about with a few exceptions are real. That part I hope people get a chance to see for themselves.

WD: Your current work-in-progress, VENOM, does not feature private eye Jonathan Creed as introduced in BONDS. I know, however, that you are a fan of series characters (Burke, Spenser, etc.) so is it reasonable to expect (hope!) that Creed will be making another appearance in the future? (Consider this a blatant plea for the answer to that to be positive.)

JC: If Creed survives he will likely be back. I know he has more to say and I could probably make that promise/barter (prequels can happen also) if I knew Joe Hannibal would be around again soon

WD: I suppose a natural extension to the foregoing question, since you and he are both private investigators, etc., is: How much of you is in the character of Creed? (Coffee preferably in a ceramic cup, for one thing, am I right?)

JC: A lot of people have asked if I’m him. I’m not, but we share a lot of things, love of food, good cigars, interest in astronomy, respect for the military and public servants but I would likely react a little different than he in many of the situations, there’s some of me in there. We have a similar sense of humor.

WD: Your upcoming work, VENOM – care to comment on that to any extent? Perhaps give readers a bit of a preview for what to expect?

JC: I consider “Bonds” to be a faithful entry into crime fiction. “Venom” strays a bit and blends horror into the story. Almost all the characters are broken in some way so, to me, it’s more true to life. My temperament is much closer to Eddie’s in “Venom” than Creed in “Bonds.”

WD: As mentioned in the intro, in addition to your investigative work and your writing, you are a strong advocate for the Legislative Drafting Institute for Child Protection and also the Staten Island Council for Animal Welfare. Would you care to take this opportunity to enlighten readers a bit about these organizations as far as their purpose and why you are so supportive?

JC: Sure. SICAW is a long running group of great people, that help find dogs and cats homes on Staten Island. The LDICP is a weapon. The idea of it comes from the natural evolution of Andrew’s work. A team of experts that draft specific legislation to target child predators and keep them away from children for good. It is a weapon that will help promote widespread change, if people are smart enough to use it.

WD: John, I want to thank you for granting this interview. You know how impressed I am with your work – BONDS, certainly, as well as some of the additional stories and story segments you have shared with me. I hope you get the strong readership following that you deserve. Before closing, if there's anything I forgot to ask that you'd like to comment on and/or think might be of interest to readers, please do so now. Again, thanks for your time.

JC: Thank you Wayne, it is my privilege. I do have “Reprisals” a short story series with a different set of characters being published in ACES Magazine, by Amy Augustine, a local New York magazine; and I am speaking with a few of the detective fiction magazines about that as well, including Garry at Conflict Manager Magazine. We have a group of people interested in turning the short story series “Reprisals” into a television show and perhaps “Venom” into a movie. I am very optimistic about that. Thank you for the interview, they were some very in-depth questions.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Noteworthy Reads: BONDS by John A. Curley

In this debut novel from author Curley we are introduced to Jonathan Creed, an exciting new addition to the ranks of fictional hardboiled private eyes. Curley's raw, impassioned prose is given the added distinction of coming from someone who is himself a licensed private investigator. The authenticity this brings is an added treat to what is already a complex, well crafted crime mystery. The characters you will meet in BONDS, starting with Creed and then including friend and foe alike, are all multi-layered and fascinating (sometimes in decidedly unpleasant ways), as is Curley's presentation of New York City. The tale, as already mentioned, is complex and compelling, its thrills and twists mixed with emotion and romance and some nice touches of wisecracking humor.
You're going to like BONDS. A lot. And you're going to want to see more of Creed and the John Curley byline.
Strongly recommended.