Tuesday, December 14, 2010


One of my favorite things since moving to west central Nebraska is taking road trips and exploring points of interest related to the rich history of the area. One such place is located about a hundred miles due south of where I live, down almost to the Kansas border. It is called Massacre Canyon --- the name alone being enough to intrigue anyone with an ounce of imagination. I spotted the name on a map shortly after moving out here and immediately made plans to drive down and visit it. I also immediately knew that one day I wanted to use that name as the title of a book or short story. I --- like most writers, I suspect --- always have an assortment of names, titles, situations, random scenes, story ideas, quotations or exchanges of colloquial dialogue I've overheard, etc., filed away in a "some day" compartment of my brain; meaning that some day I will find the right circumstances in which to use one or more of these items in my writing.

One Sunday a couple weeks back I had the urge to take a long drive. At the same time I also had the need to come up with a short story idea. I decided to combine the two and make a return visit to Massacre Canyon, where I hadn't been for several years, and see if the trip could inspire me to finally make use of the title and come up with a story to fit it ... And, lo and behold, it worked. By the time I returned home I had the whole story roughed out in my head and even a few notes I'd stopped to scribble down along the way.
I wrote it and fine-tuned it in less than a week and subsequently have been able to place "Massacre Canyon" at a popular webzine where it will appear shortly into the new year ... More on that when the time is closer.

In the meantime, let me tell you a little bit about the true historical events that gave Massacre Canyon its name:
The battle of Massacre Canyon took place on August 5, 1873, in what is now Hitchcock County, Nebraska. It marked the last large scale battle between two Indian tribes of the West --- the Pawnee and the Sioux.
The Pawnee, who for many years had been very cooperative with the white man and had often served as Army scouts (including to such notables as George Custer and William F. Cody), were living peacably on a reservation in southern Nebraska. Each summer they were allowed to form a large hunting party and roam off the reservation in order to hunt buffalo. They were accompanied by a white guide or "trail agent" and promised protection from the Sioux, who frequently raided into Pawnee territory, sometimes killing and destroying crops and property but usually just stealing horses.
In the summer of '73, a Pawnee hunting party of about 350 men, women, and children left the reservation for their annual. As usual they were accompanied by a trail agent, this time a young man named John Williamson, and given to believe that cavalry troops were nearby to provide protection if needed. They started out in early July and began to have luck tracking a sizable buffalo herd. At one point they encountered a party of white buffalo hunters who warned them that Sioux were in the area, but neither Williamson nor the Pawnee chiefs took the warning seriously, believing the white hunters were trying to trick them into leaving the area so they could have better hunting for themselves.
As it turned out, the warning was true. There was a party of nearly 1,000 Sioux in the area and they were tracking both buffalo and Pawnees. When the Sioux attacked in August, the Pawnees fought a running battle down the low canyon running southwest from present-day Highway 34. The braves held back and fought while the women and children fled down the canyon. The Sioux divided and took control of both banks of the canyon, firing down on their adversaries. This advantage, on top of their superior number, quickly won the day for the Sioux. So convincingly were the Pawnees defeated that remaining members of the tribe were left demoralized to the point of shortly thereafter leaving Nebraksa altogether (where they had been the dominating force for more than a century before the coming of the white man) and relocating permanently to the Indian Territories of Oklahoma.
None of this, by the way, is meant to paint the Sioux in a bad light. Their actions were simply reflective of the way things were back then between Indian tribes --- they fought, harrassed, stole, and generally made life miserable for one another.
The real bad guys of this episode may have been (surprise) certain members of the Indian Agency overseeing the Pawnee on their Nebraska lands. Americans love a good conspiracy theory, right? So here goes:
On previous summer hunts the trail agent assigned to accompany the Pawnees had been "Texas Jack" Omohundro, a veteran plainsman and contemporary of Buffalo Bill. Jack probably would have done a better job of advising the Pawnee when the buffalo hunters tried to warn them, and also likely would have verified that the promised cavalry protection was nearby (which it was not). Williamson, who was substituted at the last possible moment and did his best, including fighting bravely during the battle, was a recent arrival to the frontier from Wisconsin and was simply too inexperienced for the assignment. So, were these last-minute changes in personnel, the failure of the Army to know about the large party of Sioux present in the area, and the "mis-cue" as far as having a cavalry troop in closer proximity to the Pawnee all unfortunate coincidences? Or was the whole thing allowed to happen as part of a plan calculated to encourage the Pawnee to leave the fertile grazing and farming lands of Nebraska (where vast cattle ranches quickly flourished) and flee to the Indian Territories? Conjecture continues, but only the mists of time know the real answers ...

As a final note, the marker that indicates the battle site has a bit of a history all its own. It is the first Federally-funded such marker in Nebraska, and its distinct obelisk column design contains many fascinating designs and symbols. The faces in relief on the sides of the column are representations of the Indian cheifs who fought in the battle.

All in all, a fascinating place with a fascinating history.

Persevere --- WD


BEING SOMEONE ELSE is the fourth entry in the popular Sticks Hetrick series set in the fictional town of Swatara Creek, Pennsylvania. Like previous titles in the series, this one is packed with local color, memorable characters, and a complex plot with some nifty twists and surprises. All told in Lindermuth's deft style.
High marks from this corner. If you like fast-paced mysteries with a rural setting, you'll be cheating yourself of an enjoyable read if you miss this one.

For more details, plese check out my full review on Amazon.

Persevere --- WD

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Sadly, author William G. Tapply passed away in July of last year.
He is best known for his 26 novels featuring lawyer/sleuth Brady Coyne. (Three of these were collaborations with friend and fellow author Philip R. Craig, featuring Coyne in alternating chapters with Craig's series character JW Jackson; Mr. Craig passed away in 2007.)

While I read a few of the Coyne novels and liked them well enough, for whatever reason I never really got "into" them. Such was not the case, however, when I discovered Tapply's second series character, Stoney Calhoun, in his 2004 debut novel, Bitch Creek. Truth to tell, it was the title that first attracted me. After that, however, it was the setting of the tale, the plot, the crisp writing style, and as much as anything the character of Calhoun  himself that hooked me and kept me on the lookout for more.

Stoney Calhoun is a true man of mystery. After surviving a lightning strike, he leaves a hospital in Arlington, VA, with only fragments of his memory intact. He is told his name is Stonewall Jackson Calhoun and that he grew up in South Carolina. He is discharged with $25,000 in his pocket, along with a Visa credit card in his name. Further, he is promised that monthly deposits of money --- enough so that he will never have to work another day in his life if he doesn't want to --- will be made in a bank of his choosing as soon as he settles down somewhere ... The people telling him these things avoid clearly identifying themselves, leaving Calhoun (and the reader) to speculate they must be some kind of government spooks and that Stoney, in his former and forgotten life, must have served them in some way that leaves them highly indebted to him.

Despite his alleged ties to the south, Calhoun feels irresistably drawn to Maine and it is there that he heads and there that this series becomes anchored. He takes on a part-time job (and eventually co-ownership) of a small bait-and-tackle shop on Casco Bay near Portland, mainly because he is attracted to the shop's proprietor, lovely Kate Balaban.

Altough there are huge gaps in Stoney's memory there also are flashes of deeds, faces, and skills from his past. He can't associate any direct links to the deeds or faces, but certain skills that he possesses --- self-defense capabilities, knowledge of firearms and criminal investigation techniques --- indicate he's had extensive training by some sort of law enforcement agency. This, in addition to his proficiency at mechanics, carpentry, tying lures, fishing, boating, and other outdoor activities.

All of these skills --- especially in the area of his criminal investigation abilities --- are brought into play as this series of three books unfolds.
In the first, Bitch Creek (2004), Stoney helps investigate the murder of a fellow guide as he all the while fights a gnawing suspicion that he himself may have actually been the intended victim.
In Gray Ghost (2007), the local sheriff asks for Stoney's assistance investigating a series of grisly murders where the victims' bodies are set on fire and left to be found as charred remains.
In Dark Tiger (2009), the mysterious government spook who has periodically been checking up on Stoney to see if any significant parts of his memory are returning, shows up once again. Only this time his purpose is more than just to check up --- he coerces Stoney into going undercover as a fishing guide at a high-end fishing lodge in remote Maine. Once in place he is to determine what a government operative was doing at the lodge --- where he wasn't supposed to be --- and what brought about his death, which has been rigged to look like a murder/suicide.

All of these books are finely plotted, the writing is terrific, and the locales and characters are distinct and memorable. But most intriguing of all, as mentioned above, is the character of Calhoun himself.
One can only wonder how Stoney's character would have further evolved and what future adventures Tapply may have had in mind for him.
These novels are available through Amazon, AbeBooks, etc. If you haven't read them, they are definitely worth tracking down. Highly recommended.

Persevere --- WD

Thursday, November 11, 2010


The Weight is Andrew Vachss's latest powerful novel. There are crime and mystery elements here, to be sure, but as much as any of that it is a character study and, ultimately, a love story. Its central character and narrator is Tim "Sugar" Caine, an old-school professional thief who takes the weight for a crime he didn't commit rather than provide an alibi that would have blown the whistle on others who were involved with him in a big-money jewel  heist. It is Sugar's narration of this sequence of events and then his subsequent reflections while serving  his prison time that give the reader a deep insight into the people and prior events that have shaped him into what he is --- a man on the wrong side of the law, yet someone with a very strict set of values and rules that he adheres to at all cost. Further complicatons stemming from the long-past jewel heist arise after Sugar has served his time and his subsequent efforts to tie off this loose thread forces Sugar to face danger and duplicity --- yet at the same time find trust and love --- in ways he never expected.
As usual, Vachss's prose is scalpel-sharp, his characters are memorable, and his descriptions of the intricacies of criminal life are fascinating.
For more details, you can read my full review of this book on Amazon.

If anyone hasn't guessed by now, I am a big fan of Andrew Vachss and I'm also proud to count him as a personal friend.
This has been a very busy Fall for Andrew. In addition to the newly released THE WEIGHT, as mentioned above, you'll also remember his novel HEART TRANSPLANT as covered in my October 20 blog.
Furthermore, his very first novel, A BOMB BUILT IN HELL, was released by Amazon Kindle on October 26. This novel was written in 1973, prior to his success with FLOOD (the beginning of his popular Burke series) and never saw print publication. At the time it was deemed unprintable, "too unrealistic", "a political horror story" ... because it predicted things like the turmoil in Haiti, the rise in sex predators, and school shootings such as Columbine and the rest that have followed. It is the story of Wesley, whom readers of Vachss will remember from the Burke books, and it is as hard-hitting and memorable as anything you will ever read --- made even more so by the timing of when it was written.
Finally, if you need just a little more of a Vachss fix, you can check out http://www.mulhollandbooks.com/ where you will find an original Vachss short story, "As The Crow Flies", as well as a lengthy review of The Weight and an in-depth interview (both by Ken Bruen).

Vachss's life work is combating abuses against the young and the weak in our society --- and thereby short-circuiting the "monsters" who grow out of these abuses and end up threatening society in return. His voice is strong, his message is strong --- Heed what he has to say.

Persevere --- WD

Sunday, November 7, 2010


The Gentlemen's Hour is Winslow's second novel featuring surfer/PI Boone Daniels. The first book in the series --- The Dawn patrol --- came out in 2008 and introduced the cast of recurring characters we encounter again in Gentlemen's Hour. They are the Dawn Patrol, a crew of hardcore surfers centered around Daniels, all with individual lives that sometimes intersect out of the water, but it is their daily early-morning gatherings on the surf that truly bonds them.
The writing is scalpel-sharp, the chapters come bullet-quick, and the action is relentless. San Diego and vicinity, especially Pacific Beach and (in this book) the Rockpile break at La Jolla, are the settings. Winslow paints these backdrops and the people who pass through them vividly. The plot is intricate and contains a number of surprises. The characters are multi-dimensional and their motives are never quite what t hey appear to be.
Plenty of good stuff here for the PI mystery fan, and a whole different slant on the California PI than most of what we've seen before.
For more details about this book check out my full review on Amazon.

Persevere --- WD

Friday, November 5, 2010


This is the second book in the Joe Kozmarski series. The first, The Last Striptease (2007) was a winner in PWA's Best First PI Novel competition and a Shamus Award nominee for that year.
Kozmarski is a fairly laid-back Chicago PI with an estranged wife, a nosy mother, a live-in teenaged nephew, and a new female partner who's made it clear she is willing for their partnership to be more than strictly business.
At the start of Bad Kitty, Joe's current client turns from a seemingly mild-mannered guy who suspects his wife is cheating on him into a confirmed arsonist and then a suspected killer. The murder victim, discovered by Joe, is Sister Judy Terrano, aka the Virginity Nun. In death, Sister Judy also becomes a link to the Bad Kitty Lounge, a little-known Maxwell Street hangout where, back in the 1960s, drinking, partying, doing drugs, and having sex were its main attractions. But, as everybody knows, the past has a habit of sometimes catching up in ways that can be very unpleasant ...
Wiley's writing is fast-paced, the plot is full of twists and turns, and the action keeps coming.
Both of these books are highly recommended and one is left definitely wanting to see more of Joe Kozmarski.
For a more detailed review of The Bad Kitty Lounge check out my write-up on Amazon.

Persevere --- WD

Friday, October 29, 2010


Beat To A Pulp - Round 1, is an exciting new anthology from editors David Cranmer and Elaine Nash --- who also edit the Beat To A Pulp webzine which is accessable at http://www.beattoapulp.com/ .

The webzine has been running for about two years now and on it you can find a new story every week, plus an archive of all previous stories. These tales are tight, tough, terrific little gems running the gamut of "pulp" genres: Adventure, fantasy, horror, sci-fi, pirate stories, Westerns, straight crime, and hardboiled detective mysteries. The authors range from established old pros to newer, lesser-known talents. (Hell, if you check the archives you might even run across something by some character named Dundee.)

The newly released anthology is an extension of the webzine. It is a mammoth book, well constructed, with an eye-grabbing cover, a roster of 27 stories, a forward by Bill Crider, and an afterward ("A History of Pulp") by Cullen Gallagher. A few of the stories are reprints from the webzine, most are originals for this collection.

A must-have for readers craving more pulp in their diets.
For more details you can also check out my review on Amazon.


One of mankind's age-old quandries is the question: Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?

From my personal perspective and experience I answer in a loud, strong voice: Yes, it is better to have loved!

Today marks what would have been the 44th wedding anniversary for me and my beloved Pam. Unfortunately, the love of my life passed away just under two years ago. So the pain and emptiness I feel (and will always feel) to some degree each day since her passing ... would I wish to erase that by never having loved her and thereby never having had her in my life at all? No. Hell no. I endure the empty time now by recalling how blessed I was for the time we did have together. I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world.
As long as I carry Pam in my heart she is still alive; and as long as a piece of my heart is with her we are still connected ... until we are rejoined again in eternity.

I say to anyone reading this: Hold a good thought for those who have lost great loves in their life. And then look around and take time to appreciate those you love while you still have them.

Persevere --- WD

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Regular readers of this blog will hopefully be interested to know that a brand new Joe Hannibal short story has just appeared in the Back Alley web magazine. The title is "Bad Day In The Badlands" and relates the events of a very nasty encounter that Joe has with a psycho killer at a little-known (but factual) locale found in the far northwest corner of Nebraska. The place is officially named Toadstool Geological Park, but is commonly referred to as Nebraska's badlands.

The Back Alley site can be accessed at http://www.backalleywebzine.com/ . It is an excellent place to find a wide range of great crime/noir short stories. It bills itself as featuring "Hardboiled and Noir Fiction for a New Century" and does a nice job of delivering exactly that. Back Alley is edited and operated by Richard Helms, himself a fine crime/detective writer, multiple Shamus Award nominee, and winner of two Derringer Awards for short fiction.

I urge you to check out the site in general and, naturally, hope you give "Bad Day In The Badlands" a read while you're there.

Persevere --- WD


From time to time I will include in this space observations and/or details about my adopted state that I hope others will find interesting. Although much-maligned (if mentioned at all), the cornhusker state has a great deal more to offer than most people realize. The normal reaction can be summed up by the quote from Jack Nicholson after he'd finished filming some on-location scenes here for his film, About Schmidt: "Nebraska? Oh, yeah ... five hundred shades of brown."
Worth a chuckle, I suppose. But far from accurate. At least in my opinion.

For your consideration:

  • Time Travel In Nebraska --- The following is obviously true of other places where a time zone boundary is also in play, but this is nevertheless my perspective on it. Where I live in Ogallala, you see, we are about 20 miles west of the Mountain Time Zone boundary. The nearest "big town" where we do much of our shopping, etc., is back east in the Central Time Zone, meaning the time there is always an hour ahead of us. (This makes things particularly interesting when you are planning to see a movie or make a restaurant reservation or beat a store's closing time - always having to remember that if you want to, say, catch a 7 o'clock movie that means 6 your time so you'll have to leave by 5 in order to make the 45- to 50-minute drive.) That's the pain in the butt part. The fun part comes when you travel in reverse. If you leave at 10 PM there, for example, you arrive home by 9:45 PM. If you time it right and leave there at, say, 12:05 AM on Wednesday you can actually travel back in time a whole day and arrive home by about 11:50 PM on Tuesday ... Okay, maybe that's a silly thing to even think about. But to my sometimes quirky mind I still find it an amusing technicality. 
  • Ole's Big Game Steakhouse & Lounge -  In the latest Joe Hannibal novel that I'm currently working on, I have included a scene where Joe and his ladyfriend Abby go out to dinner one evening at a restaurant called Ole's Big Game Steakhouse & Lounge. Ole's is a very real place, located in the town of Paxton, some 25 or so miles east of Lake Mac and Ogallala. It is a truly unique place and has quite a colorful history. It's original owner was a Paxton native named Ole Herstedt, who was well known locally as an avid hunter and star athlete. The story goes that while visiting a friend in nearby Julesburg, Colorado, Ole was offered $50 --- if he won --- to pitch as a "ringer" in a scheduled baseball game between a Julesburg team and a rival from Holyoke, Nebraska. Ole agreed, and his team won. Unfortunately, the friend who promised the $50 turned out to not actually have the money. Instead, some  bartering took place and Ole accepted a beautiful walnut bar that had originally been crafted for a fine hotel in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Prohibition was in effect at the time but rumors were running rampant that it soon would soon be repealed. Given this, Ole saw the timing of winning the bar as something of an inspiration. It happened that his parents owned a large vacant building in Paxton so when Prohibition was indeed repealed only a few months later, he was ready to go into business with a distinct advantage over his competition. The bar was an almost instant success, its customers primarily rough, hard-working, outdoorsy men. Ole's really thrived during hunting season. Ducks, geese, pheasants, and quails were plentiful to the area. After a day out on the hunt, men would gather at Ole's for card-playing, beer-drinking, and storytelling. There were other diversions, too, such as the group of women who also showed up during hunting season. By day they would clean game birds for the hunters in the basement of a house they had rented in town; by night, sheets would be hung up on clothelines to section off the rooms in the house and other "services" would be made available to the men. Ole's continues thriving to this day and has become one of Nebraska's best known landmarks (as witnessed by billboards along the interstate for hundreds of miles in either direction). Mr. Herstedt has long since passed on to his greater reward. (The "game-cleaning" gals have also passed on, by the way). Before he departed, Ole parlayed the success of his bar (by virtue of the hard work he put into it) and his love of hunting into hunting trips to every corner of the world. Much of the big game he bagged on these expeditions (including a polar bear, an elephant, a giraffe, lions, leopards, water buffalo, elk, moose, deer, etc.) he brought back to be mounted in his increasingly popular establishment. They are there still today, along with framed photos of a wide range of sports and entertainment celebrities, to be viewed either before or after you've enjoyed a fine meal at reasonable prices in what remains, at its heart, a simple working class bar with no pretentions yet a rich, colorful history.
These are just two examples of what can be found in Nebraska, the state I have grown so fond of and and am continuing to learn about.

Persevere --- WD


Say what you will about Parker and Spenser, this series revitalized the whole PI genre in the 70s and influenced scores of other mystery/detective writers who came after and continue to this day. And the Spensers never lost their popularity or, quite literally, their punch. I never joined the ranks of Parker-bashers, although I'll admit to feeling for some time that the strongest entries in the series (MORTAL STAKES and PROMISED LAND get my vote) came early on. Nevertheless, all of the Spensers are exciting, laugh-out-loud funny in spots (usually exchanges of dialogue), and just plain entertaining.
The loss of Mr. Parker earlier this year left a great hole in the mystery genre community and he will be greatly missed.

If PAINTED LADIES is indeed the second-to-the-last Spenser we will ever see (SIXKILL, the final Spenser novel, is due out in May of 2011 and in between there will be a "holiday special" Spenser from Amazon that may or may not be a full-length novel) it is surely not a disappointment. It is somewhat more somber in tone than generally found in most Spensers and includes a bit more introspection directly from Spenser himself. This stems from the responsibility the PI feels for failing to prevent the death of a client who hires him as backup for a money exchange --- ransom being paid for the return of a stolen painting. After the client is killed (via explosion) Spenser's sense of obligation causes him to take the lead on the hunt for the killer, even though everyone around him keeps insisting he needn't blame himself, there was nothing he could have done differently at the exchange. This lone-wolf determination largely excludes many of the recurring characters we've come to know from previous books, primarily Hawk, who is out of the country on some kind of secretive job (possibly for the CIA, it is hinted). Hence the greater personal introspection and decreased exchanges of witty dialogue (the best of which usually take place with Hawk). Offsetting this, however, is a more complex mystery than we often get from Parker. There is plenty of action, too, including a particularly good one-on-one fight scene (with you-know-who coming out on top).

All in all, quite a respectful entry in the series.

Persevere --- WD

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Last night I stayed up late and watched, back to back, the two late-60s flicks in which Frank Sinatra played Miami PI Tony Rome --- Tony Rome (1967); Lady In Cement (1968).

In a word, they were fun.
I think they were exactly what they set out to be --- breezy, sexy, hip, with a tip of the fedora to the decidedly more noirish Bogart-type crime/detective films of the forties. Top notch production values all the way around, with plenty of action and snappy dialogue, lovely ladies galore, and nice use of locale --- from the breathtakingly beautiful to the sad and seedy. The most glaring weakness was the lack of realism regarding police procedure in response to all the mayhem taking place; still, they didn't quite take it to the point of being ridiculous (well, except maybe for a scene or two). And, come to think of it, those Forties films weren't exactly hung up on realism in that regard, either.

Both films were based on novels by Marvin H. Albert, who also co-wrote the screenplay for Lady In Cement. Both were directed by Gordon Douglas, who directed several films starring Sinatra in that same time period. Filming was done on location in and around Miami and took place in the off-hours when Sinatra wasn't performing evenings at the Fontainbleau Miami Beach (where several scenes from each movie also took place). A current of "Sinatra cool" runs strongly through each film, complete with several in-joke references and walk-ons by a number of The Chairman's cronies who apparently were passing through at the time and needed a little work.

Tony Rome was the better of the two movies, by a considerable margin. The plot was more complex yet got wrapped up tighter in the end. The dialogue was snappier and there was a stronger sense of danger and and an undercurrent of real toughness, even a little grittiness (well, as much as you could squeeze out of sunny Miami in that time period). The relationship between Rome and his cop buddy Santini was edgier, and in one scene between them we even got a glimpse of what transpired in the past when Tony and his father had both been cops and the elder Rome was driven to suicide by a scandal. In another scene, Rome visits a trashy trailer park to question a stripper who may or may not have some answers he is after. The stripper, who has no qualms about undressing and changing clothes in front of Rome, is living with another woman --- a surly, decidedly unpleasant sort who makes it clear she is unhappy with Tony's presence and equally unhappy with how the stripper makes a living taking her clothes off in front of other men --- and in the course of Rome's questioning it becomes evident the two are in a lesbian relationship. By the end of the scene the two women have exchanged heated words and slaps and then fall into each other's arms for consolation. Rome departs, turning the lights out on them ... It is a somewhat disturbing scene, perhaps gratuitious, yet nevertheless has real dramatic impact and leaves a lasting impression. By contrast, there are at least two scenes in Lady In Cement that amount to blatant gay-bashing and seem to have been included for no other reason than to provide Sinatra a chance to point and giggle and make mocking remarks. I mention this not as a point of political correctness (which I am sick of to the point of wanting to hurl) but to show the difference between the two films --- the difference in the seriousness of how each seems to have been approached.
Tony Rome was tough, taut, and a little edgy --- Lady In Cement was a much lighter "vehicle", more of an action romp. Both were entertaining, only one was more satisfying than the other --- like the difference between a hot dog and cotton candy.

Worth noting is the snappy dialogue in some of the scenes.
Example: When Jill St. John first appears in Tony Rome, Rome has just returned an errant daughter home to the wealthy Kostermans, where St. John is a house guest. As the hungover daughter is led past St. John she gives her a poisonous look and spits: "You slut!" St. John smiles benignly, saunters over to Rome and says, "Now that I've been properly introduced ... "
Example: Later in that same film, when the matriarch of the Kosterman family tries to hire Rome, he gives her a look and says, "Lady, first your stepdaughter tries to hire me, then your husband, now you ... If you had a bigger family, I could retire."
Example: In Lady In Cement, when the character played by huge Dan Blocker gets wounded in the leg, Rome tries to help him get to his feet (visualize a mouse trying to pull up a bulldog). His face reddening very convincingly, Sinatra quips: "Christ ... didn't you ever hear of diet foods?" One has to wonder if this wasn't an impromptu line thrown in by Frank.
Example: (Here's one of those non-PC scenes I mentioned earlier - but I still found it funny as hell.) When a swishy nightclub owner warns Rome to butt out with his investigation he tries to back up the warning by threatening Rome with Seymour --- a large, muscular bartender who is also the owner's boyfriend --- and adding that Seymour used to play pro football with the Green Bay Packers. To which Rome replies: "Yeah, I remember. He led the league in penalties for illegal use of the hands ... and that was just in the huddle."

Final personal note: I never saw Tony Rome when it played in the theaters. Don't know why exactly, I just didn't. However, I distinctly remember making it a point to see Lady In Cement. For two very good reasons: Raquel Welch. (Think about it.) Looking back on the two films now, after the passage of years and the perspective of a bit more maturity (although often not a lot maturity, some would be quick to point out) I find that Jill St. John actually comes off sexier than Raquel. Part of this is the result of the characters they were scripted to play and Ms. Welch, I hasten to add, nevertheless is quite pleasing to the eye. Furthermore (and again from the perspective of whatever maturity I've managed to achieve) I found that Lainie Kazan --- husky-voiced, earthy, showing about a mile of real-woman cleavage playing in a bit role in Cement --- gives them both quite a run for their money.
Jeez, revelations like this make me almost afraid to go back and check out  those old Beach Party movies with Annette ... but that's a concern for another time.

Bottom line: You could find way worse ways to kill a couple of hours than  with  Tony Rome or Lady In Cement. You may be able to find better, grittier, more realistic crime drama on TV most nights, if that's what you're looking for. But if you just want some basic and fun and action, these still get the job done. And, if you happen to be of my generation, re-experiencing a  taste of the swingin' 60s and recalling that "Sinatra cool" is simply frosting on the cake.

Persevere --- WD

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


About a week ago I posted a blog entry directing readers to an article on Andrew Vachss's web site, The Zero. The article was on the subject of bullying and as part of the post I also incuded some of my own commentary on bullying. Additionally I mentioned that I would soon be reviewing a complete book devoted to the sugject.

HEART TRANSPLANT is that book. It is written by Andrew Vachss, richly illustrated by Frank Caruso, and features an anchoring essay at the end of the book by Zak Mucha (who also wrote the previously touted article).

The fictional prose that tells the story at the heart of the book is by Vachss --- widely noted as a best-selling author of crime novels (most notabley the Burke series) and a lawyer who exclusively represents children and youth.
This time he relates the tale of Sean, a bullied, neglected child who has resigned himself to be one of the "invisible" kids --- the kind of kid, in his own words, who is only seen by others when they want to make him feel little in order to make themselves feel big. As the sory unfolds, Sean is taken in by a crusty old Irishman named Paddy, whom the boy relates to as a grandfather and begins to call "Pops". Through Paddy, Sean begins to realize his own strengths and sense of worth until he is ready to emerge from those shadows of invisibility, recognizing along the way that in order to do this he must be willng pay the price of confronting the kind of bullies who have belittled him all his life and make them recognize that continuing to try and do so is going to come at a cost to them --- every time.

While not truly a graphic novel, the illustrations by Caruso that enhance every page add power and amplification to the words (which certainly are not without impact all on their own).

This an important, thought-provoking, inspiring collaboration.
HEART TRANSPLANT deserves to be in every public and middle school library across the and should be read and discussed by families everywhere.

For further details on this book you can also check out my review (and others)on Amazon.

Friday, October 15, 2010


A couple days ago on this site I heralded the triumpant survival and rescue of the 33 Chilean miners who had been trapped one-half mile underground for 69 days. I was proud and happy for them, and felt inspired by them.
So far, so good. I stand by my feelings and statements up to that point.

But now some time has passed and new elements have been introduced into the story.
ONE: The last miner had barely emerged from the rescue capsule before countless news analysis shows began featuring doctors, therapists, and psyco-babblers of various stripes all conjecturing on the post-traumatic agonies the survivors were now bound to face.
Excuse me, but have we become a world --- or, more specifically, a nation, since most of this conjecturing came from American TV and radio --- of such weenieness that we now are starting to offer pre-packaged syndromes, disorders, and excuses for every traumatizing event that can impact human lives? These guys just survived one hell of an ordeal and came out amazingly fit and healthy, glad to be breathing fresh air again, smiling and hugging the loved ones gathered to greet them ... why can't we just give them the chance to be tough, durable, adaptable sonsabitches who beat the odds and are happy to be alive and enthused to have more life to live? Why plant the seeds of doubt? Why be so positive that something negative has to come from such an experience?
Consider the events of history --- just the history of our country, for example. Ever hear of Valley Forge? Gettysburg? The challenges of the mountain men who survived alone for months and years in hostile territory? The westward migration via wagon train where there was a grave every mile --- husbands burying wives, wives burying husbands, parents burying children and children burying parents ... and then sucking it up and still finding a way to forge on? The trials of the Mormons? The mercilessly harsh conditions faced by isolated  homesteaders on the vast plains of Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas? ...
Did these people have disorders and syndromes to fall back on? No, all they had was spirit and toughness and detemination. And it was enough. Enough to make them go on, to endure and succeed, to live their lives and build families and work hard for their dreams.
I fear we have lost much of that spirit in our country, our world.
Now too many of us are looking for an excuse for our failures or shortcomings, somethig else to blame besides ourselves. And if we can't think of excuses fast enough, there is an ever-growing army of psycho-babblers out there champing at the bit to develop new disorders and treatments to make us feel better about ourselves and provide new excuses for our problems.
I'm talking in general terms here, of course. Certainly there are traumatic experiences that leave some individuals in need of professional counseling and therapy ... It's just that I don't think there are near as many as we are being encouraged to believe.
And when I use the term "weenieness" I surely am not applying it to the brave miners who have already proved their mettle beyond question. The challenge for them now is to hold fast to their strength and not be misled by those who are so hell bent on seeing them melt down in some manner after the battle has been won.
TWO: Within hours of the rescue, while all or most of the miners were still hospitalized for observation, the lawsuits began flying --- 27 out of 33 of the survivors.
From all reports, safety conditions in the 140-year-old San Jose copper mine were deplorable. This, in spite of Chile allegedly having the strictest mining standards in South America, maybe the world. Accident after accident and violation after violation at San Jose over recent years are a matter of record. The refuge chamber where the miners fled to and assembled after the cave-in was without the power and ventilation it should have been equipped with. Most egregious of all was the fact that a supposedly in-place ladder that would have led from the refuge chamber to the surface 23,000 feet above was incomplete ... it only reached half way.
All of this makes the owners of the San Jose mine sound like greedy, sleazey, money-grubbing slobs with little or no regard to the lives and safety of their workers. And to a large extent that is accurate.
However, there is a little more to the equation. Because of their sub-standard safety reputation, San Jose offered higher-than-standard wages to attract workers. In other words, employees knew --- or should have known --- the risks, and took them anyway, for a better payday.
Maybe it's just me, but when you strike a deal with the devil the you oughta be prepared to shoulder responsibility for at least part of the outcome.
The mine owners are bad guys. Maybe even evil. But the workers --- the heroic ones who survived the cave-in, and other employees as well --- are not clean either. If no one had been willing to work in those unsafe conditions, not even for more pay, then the mine owners would have had to either close up shop or make conditions right. Now the mine will almost certainly shut down anyway, due to bankruptcy from pay-out settlements, other workers will lose their jobs, and the survivors will live off their settlements ... until the money runs out.
So who wins?
Oh, yeah. Maybe the greedy, money-grubbing tort lawyers who no doubt are fanning the flames of all those lawsuits.

The heroic endurance and survival instincts of the trapped miners, combined with the concerted efforts of their above-ground rescuers, will remain a long-remembered triumph.
What came after, however --- for me at least --- will leave the whole thing a little tarnished.
I wish it wasn't so.

Persevere --- WD


CORRUPTION'S CHILD by John R. Lindermuth, is the third entry in the "Sticks" Hetrick series. Hetrick is the retired police chief of fictinal Swatara Creek, Pennsylvania, but he continues to get drawn back into local police investigations by the current chief, Brubaker, who lacks Hetrick's experience and self-assurance. They are backed by an ensemble cast of recurring characters, all colorful, likable, and well realized. The situations and subplots interwoven amongst this cast --- along with the crimes to be investigated --- are well plotted, and very well written. Not hardboiled to the extreme, yet surely containing enough action and nasty characters (especially in this entry) to satisfy. Well worth checking out.

SAND'S GAME by Ennis Willie is a collection of material (two complete novels and three short stories) first published in the early 1960s in what was then considered the "sleaze paperback" and men's magazine markets. The protagonist here is known only as Sand --- "the man nobody walks on". He was a former mob enforcer who walked away when the corruption and crummy deals got to be too much for him. But, as everyone knows, nobody walks away from the mob on his own terms. So in the adventures and various encounters that make up this collection, Sand --- armed with his trusty .45 --- must always be on guard against mob-sent hitters who are out to get him. There are dames, bullets, chases, double-crosses ... everything you'd ever want from good old-fashioned hardboiled storytelling. The writing is exceptionally good; lean, tough, and pitch-perfect.

Both titles are available on Amazon, where you can also find a more detailed review of each by yours truly (along with others).
Trust me, you won't be disappointed by these fine writers and their work.

Persevere --- WD

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Unless you are deaf, dumb, blind, and have been living in a cave for the past decade or so, you surely must be aware that bullying on various fronts --- and numerous resulting tragedies --- seems to be occuring on a near-epidemic level.
I have my own strong feelings in this area and in an upcoming blog, to be posted very soon, I will be reviewing a new book on the subject. 
In the meantime, I direct you to http://www.vachss.com/better for a powerful, insightful article by Zak Mucha.
Bullying --- for the sake of our kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, neighbors, and friends --- should be of concern to all of us. But it can never be completely, effectively dealt with until part of the effort comes directly on the "front lines" and those doing the bullying (insecure cowards at heart) are faced with having to pay the price (something they are not prepared to do) for their actions. Only then can this tide of intimidation start to be turned.
Persevere --- WD


I'm sitting here now listening to the wrap-up of the awesome mine rescue in Chile. I'd been checking in now and then throughout the course of the day until it reached the point where (I admit somewhat shamefully now) I started to find it rather boring; eventually thinking to myself, "Yeah, yeah, I get it ... they're all going to make it out, let's move one ... "
And then, when it was time for my nightly dose of the O'Reilly Factor and the ongoing mine rescue interrupted that, I was downright annoyed.
For some reason, though, I left it on the Fox channel and continued to watch the news coverage until it was down to the last handful of survivors being brought to the surface. And as I watched, a strange feeling came over me, replacing the annoyance, and I became immersed in what was taking place  ... until the realization sank in that I was watching a truly great moment in the triumphs of mankind.
33 tough, gutsy, determined men were buried a half-mile underground for 69 days. For the first 17 of those days --- under the cool, calculated, methodic leadership of shift supervisor Luis Urzua (who even had the foresight to switch vehicular headlights on and off to simulate day-to-night transitions for the sake of the helping to maintain his men's mental well being) --- they survived on two spoonfuls of tuna, half a biscuit, and half a cup of milk every 48 hours. What an inspiration and what a great comment on the human spirit.
The whole world watched on and, rightfully so, cheered the success. Dozens of countries aided the rescue effort with everything from "space underwear" as contributed by Japan to a special drill bit from Pennsylvania to NASA's considerable input. As usual, the greatest amount of assistance came from the good ol' USA ... you know, that imperialistic, arrogant country that has been bullying the rest of the world for a couple hundred years now. Oh yeah. The Muslim world? --- you know, the ones our NASA chief (under the direction of President Obama) recently praised for all their advancements in math and science that practically made the space program possible at all --- take a guess as to how much they contributed.
But I digress ... I think the Chilean mine rescue will last as one of those "what were you doing when ...?" moments.
I was watching. And being inspired. I hope you were, too.
Persevere --- WD

Friday, October 8, 2010


It is generally acknowledged by most writers in the PI genre that the three authors --- the Big Three, if you will --- who most influenced the genre and subsequently those who came afterwards, are Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald. There can be no denying the importance and impact this trio and their respective bodies of work have had --- and probably will always have --- on our genre.
With all due respect and recognition for the aforementioned, however, my own personal Big Three is a little different ...
For me, it all started with Mickey Spillane. I discovered him (and basically the whole hardboiled/tough guy/detective genre) when I purchased a copy of THE GIRL HUNTERS. That was 1962. I still have that exact same book on my bookshelf and it was autographed by Mr. Spillane himself in 1997 on the set of the film "Mommy 2: Mommy's Day". The film was directed by Max Allan Collins, another fine writer and probably the world's biggest Spillane fan. Spillane had one of the starring roles in the film, I had a bit part as the "Burly Guard" who wheeled Mommy on her way to the lethal injection chamber. It was a great experience made even more so by getting to meet Spillane and finding him to be  nothing short of a totally gracious gentleman.
Getting back to Spillane the writer, however, THE GIRL HUNTERS ignited what had up until then been a sort of low, smoldering ember in my gut to become a writer and brought it to full flame. I found and devoured all the rest of the Mike Hammer books I could get my hands on and then started seeking out other titles by other authors in the same vein ... Halliday, Prather, Avallone, Kane, Marlowe (both Chet and Dan J.), Deming, Carter Brown, and on and on. I enjoyed most of them to various degrees but none quite reached the same level of excitement and raw energy I found in Mickey's stuff.
Early on I discovered that I preferred book series over stand-alones and that led me next to John D. MacDonald and Travis McGee. My first McGee was BRIGHT ORANGE FOR THE SHROUD. This came at the whole tough guy thing from a somewhat different angle than Mickey and Mike ... more depth, more introspection, stronger secondary characters. When I first started reading ORANGE I actually found it a little slow and almost put it aside ... thankfully, I stuck it out and as plot momentum started to build and and the climax was reached I knew I was hooked on MacDonald/McGee.
In very short order I then came across Donald Hamilton/Matt Helm in THE RAVAGERS. Okay, I know Helm is not a PI (except for a pathetic and happily short-lived TV series that came along later) but one of the jacket blurbs promised me a tale about the toughest protagonist "to ever crush a Russian spy's kidney with a crow bar" and that was enough for me to give it a try. Plus, this was a point where the whole James Bond spy craze was really picking up steam and inasmuch I enjoyed the movies (as detailed in a previous post) I had at least a peripheral interest in spy fiction if it promised something similar. As it turned out, the writing style and storytelling approach were more closely akin to my tough guy PIs than to the Bond movies (I never quite got hooked on the Bond novels). Still, that was hardly a disappointed. Helm fell somewhere in between Hammer and McGee --- tough, relentless, even cold-blooded at times, but also reflective and enriched by memorable secondary characters (both villains and allies). Helm also had a wry sense of humor that I liked a lot.
So when I sat down and began writing my own stuff --- stuff that eventually evolved into the Joe Hannibal series --- the styles of these three writers became the primary mix of ingredients for my own storytelling stew. Seasoned, of course, by dashes from my own experiences, biases, skills, and also dabs of spice from all the other reading I had done.
Which is not to say that I intentionally set out to copy any of them, but every writer knows that his or her output has influences, although filtered, that to at least some degree shows through. Someone once said that even if a writer who actually has skill and talent purposely tries to mimic another, their own voice will win out.
I tend to believe that.
I hope, to some small degree, I've done justice to my "teachers".

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


In case nobody noticed, yesterday marked the 48th anniversasry of James Bond's first big screen appearance. The movie, of course, was Dr. No. It had its premiere in London on October 5, 1962.
Somewhat ironically, unaware at the time that its anniversary was near, a couple nights ago I was channel-surfing and came upon Dr. No just as it was beginning. I settled back with a Diet Coke (neither shaken no stirred) and got caught up in it immediately. It was the first time in several years I had watched the film in its entirity (even though I have it in my DVD collection).
It holds up very well. I was especially struck by how tight and tough the story-line and the characterization of Bond was. This is the one where one of the secondary bad guys tries to shoot James in his bed and instead only empties his gun on a pile of pillows and blankets arranged to look like there's somebody sleeping there. Springing out of the shadows to close the trap, Bond knocks the guy to the floor and when the villain tries firing at him again with the empty gun, James cooly notes: "That's a Smith & Wesson ... and you've had your six." He then nonchalantly dispatches the baddie with a single shot to the head.
This was shocking stuff back in the day and helped set the stage for the Bond phenomenon that was to follow. Many traditions were set in that very first movie: The Bond musical theme; the "down the gun barrel" opening; the first "Bond Girl" (stunning and statuesque Ursela Andress - a mighty hard act to follow); and, of course, Sean Connery as the template for all future actors playing Bond to strive for (so far none have made it).
A funny bit of trivia about this movie: When the print was sent to Japan for dubbing and subsequent release it was marked as Dr? No and so the title when it was first released in Japanese came out as No, We Do Not Need a Doctor.
All and all, if you haven't seen this film in a while and have it on DVD or happen to run across it while channel-surfing (on cable, where it won't be chopped and interrupted) take time to give it another viewing. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Into The Unknown - My Venture Into Blogging

Hello, everyone and welcome to my blog.
Have been contemplating this for a while and have finally decided to give it a try. After perusing several other blogs and finding many of them to be enter-taining and well done, I don't know how mine will measure up but there's only one way to find out. One of my favorite sayings is an ancient Chinese one: "Behond the turtle, he makes no progress unless he is willing to stick out his neck." I've pretty much followed that throughout the course of my life --- have had some successes and also bear the scars from times when I would've been better off keeping my head tucked in a little tighter.
My intent here is to share my thoughts and observations on various things, review some books and movies that I have read/seen (for the sake of encouraging others to give them a try and hopefully opening up some discussion), and blatantly promote my own writing.
Here's hoping I generate some followers and am able to provide a bit of entertainment and thought provocation such as I've enjoyed from others.
Until next time ... Persevere - WD