bag·man (băg’mәn) n., pl. –men (mĭn). 1. Slang.

dishonest official; a person who collects, carries, or distributes illegal payoff money.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review--The Devil by Ken Bruen--Just in time for the holidays

Happy Thanksgiving all! I was catching up with Ken Bruen and thought I'd pass this review along. 

Jack Taylor has to be one of the most miserable Private Investigators in Crime fiction. Everybody he’s ever loved hates his guts or is dead—usually because of him. His native Ireland is coming apart at the seams. His self medication verges on full blown addiction. Heck, he even has a Catholic Priest who hates his guts and never misses a chance to tell him he’s going to hell.

Which is why Jack Taylor is such a good read.

If you haven’t read Bruen’s The Guards, I suggest you go do so. It’s one of the finest P.I. novels I’ve ever read, and where I first met Jack. Taylor is the cop who punched the wrong bureaucrat and got fired from the force. His life is falling apart, he’s self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, and that gigantic chip on his shoulder doesn’t making things any easier. He’s the essence of hard-boiled for one reason only: while he may give up on himself, he never gives in.  We see him teeter on the edge of the abyss, but we never see him fall. And the only reason he doesn’t fall is one of my favorite—Jack’s a stubborn bastard, and he’s not going to give his enemies that satisfaction.

Now in the realm of first person P.I. novels there’s a lot more than the fact’s ma’am, just the facts. What makes the books work is character. Some protagonists, like Ross McDonald’s Lew Archer, are virtually nonexistent, but their outsider’s viewpoint gives us a wide open reading into the lives of the characters and the society we live in. Other detectives take us into their head, and make us wonder if we could be strong as them. Jack is quickly approaching a third category, that William Christopher Baer territory, where we wonder if he’s going to be able to cross the street.

 I have to admit, every once in a while in past books I’d reach a point where I wanted Jack to stop whining and just get on with it. It’s really just impatience on my part, because I already know everybody Jack loves is dead, or he’s dead to them. And, I didn’t get that feeling once in this battle between human and spiritual darkness.  Jack’s a bastard, and he carries that weight on his shoulders, and these cases are solved more by his crappy attitude than any great detective work. But it still takes somebody with an outsider’s perspective to solve the case. And Jack’s been on the outside since day one.

The set up is simple. Jack’s about to make his big escape to America, to start his new life, when he’s refused entry. Afterwards in the airport bar (where else?), Jack meets a polite but strange Mr. K. Mr. K’s comments skirt the edges of everything that’s bothering Jack. Is it a coincidence, or does he know too much? Pretty soon we’re left to ask is he just some loopy guy with a funny foreign accent or a stalker? And by the time we figure out he may be a stalker, signs are he’s a hell of a whole lot more.

I hate to give away anything else, because of the way this story is laid out. Each interview, fact, or legend is presented in such a way as to make the reader ask, “Is Mr. K the Devil?”
Well is he?
I congratulate Mr. Bruen for not taking the easy way out.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pictures: Fredric Brown's real life FABULOUS CLIPJOINT!

 For those of you who don’t already know, the TIP-TOP-TAP is THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT! The Chicago night club is no longer open, but it is registered as a historic landmark. Me, I think we ought to have the thing bronzed.

THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT (no, it wasn’t a barber shop) was the first of several Ed and Am mystery classics by the great FREDRIC BROWN. Ed was the kid who’d joined his uncle Ed in the carnival. Ed, an ex-private investigator turned carnival barker, was Ed’s mentor. A movie version of their adventure THE SCREAMING MIMI was made in the sixties, starring Anita Ekberg and Gypsy Rose Lee if you want to check that out—and his short story ARENA has been adapted for more TV series than I could name.

If you like CRIME NOIR, Brown’s THE FAR CRY is one of my all-time favorites. If you like SF, so is MARTIANS GO HOME and WHAT MAD UNIVERSE.

Brown was also a master of the short-short story, and, dare I say, one of the greatest short story writers of the Twentieth Century—right up there with Borges and Harlan Ellison. Seriously, if you never have, check out a collection of his short stories, Crime or Speculative, I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The Am and Ed mysteries may seem quaint to some by modern standards, but books like the above mentioned and HERE COMES A CANDLE remain vibrant to this day. As a matter of fact the good people over at SEQUENTIAL PULP COMICS are adapting some of his great works even as I type these words. I’ve seen the Martian from their version of MARTIANS GO HOME, and it’s exactly up to Brown’s Specs.

If you’d like to know more about Fredric Brown, or read a couple of his amazing short-short stories, check out PARADOX LOST THE FREDERICK BROWN HOMEPAGE

And stay out of those clipjoints.

Monday, October 3, 2011


We're back! And off to a wonderful start thanks to Eric Searleman's review over at  The SUPERHERO NOVELS blog site!

Eric apparently saw some of the humor in this one, so congrats to him. BUT REMEMBER! Mac McCullough and the man behind the mask aren't always the same.

And there are some big things coming! Things that will forever change Mac and Crank, The Bagman, Chicago, and the entire World's Fair!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

the Heavy Noir Review: Dirty Snow by Georges Simenon

Having finely dined on just about everything I could find by Friedrich Glauser, I was still interested in the realm of mystery, so I figured I’d read a little Simenon. If you’re not familiar with Simenon, you should be. He wrote over two-hundred books and at one point was lauded by Dashiell Hammet as “the best mystery writer today.” Go check out any of his Maigret mysteries, or, another Noir, The Blue Room (recommended). Having read a few Maigret mysteries before, I figured it for another quick, easy read.

Instead I picked up Dirty Snow.

Written in 1948, and set in occupied France, it’s the story of nineteen-year old Frank Friedmaier. While everybody else in town is struggling just to eat and stay warm, Frank has no such worries. His mother runs the local whorehouse, and their stores are packed with fine food, the coal bins overflowing.

Frank really doesn’t have to do anything. He’s clothed, fed, sleeps in, and gets to watch the hookers ply their trade through the wooden slats in the floor above, when he’s not sleeping with them for free. His mom—in a style that corporations would envy—brings the new whores in, wears them out, makes them clean house a few months and then tosses them back in the street. Frank and his mom know this, the girls never do.

While well off, the Friedmaiers are despised by most of the people in their building. Not only for the moral question of their trade, but also because they’re better off than most. The occupying forces bring in customers.

Frank has no real friends. Once you read about him you’ll know why. He hangs out at a club called Timo’s, where he listens to his ‘friend’ Kromer bragging about killing a woman, because she had the nerve to want to have his baby. (That’s right, there are no good guys in this book.)

Frank wants to kill somebody, and he compares it to losing his virginity, which was no big deal. He’ll kill a non-commissioned German officer, steal his gun, and be a big shot.

The murder leads to worse crimes. Frank kills some more. He steals from little old ladies he knew as a child, with no remorse, and arranges the rape of a girl who’s infatuated with him for his “friend” Kromer. While these may sound horrid in mention, they’re wrenching in the book. (There’s more, but I won’t spoil it.)  As we travel with Frank, what we find is a psychopath who doesn’t know what he wants.

He’s searching for himself through violence.

Needless to say, in Nazi occupied France that sort of self-actualization could cause you some trouble—but when trouble comes Frank isn’t even aware of what to confess to, not that he would. In the end, we’re treated to Frank finding himself. Not a pleasant proposition.

Is there even a chance for redemption?

This one’s not for fun. There’s a little action, not adventure. Things just happen. It’s Noir in a hopeless place. And as bad as occupied territory can be, inside Frank’s head is worse.


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Matto Means Madness

In Matto’s Realm by Friedrich Glauser

Matto is Italian for Madness.

 In Matto’s Realm, first published in serial form in 1936, reflects on the madness of pre-World War II Europe through the microcosm of a Swedish insane asylum. When I finished the last page to this one, I closed the book and said, “Wow.” That doesn’t happen too often.

A few years back, I was lucky enough to stumble across a copy of Thumbprint, the first of the BitterLemon Press translations of this mystery pioneer’s novels. A straight mystery, I was immediately taken with both the overall atmosphere and its detective of few words, Detective Sergeant, Jakob Studer. So I was pleasantly surprised to come across In Matto’s Realm, and with good reason. Remember, the German Mystery Writers Award is still called “The Glauser.”

Glauser, a veteran of the Foreign Legion, was also a diagnosed schizophrenic (the criteria has since changed), and an opium and morphine addict. He spent most of his life—and wrote his first novel—in mental institutions in Sweden, only to die right before marriage at the age of 42. And it's his background that makes this novel work leagues beyond most of the other doily-laden cozies of mystery’s so-called “golden age.”

It starts when Sergeant Studer is called to an insane asylum where a baby-killing, schizoid patient and one of the doctors on-staff is missing. Studer discovers the body of the doctor in a boiler room, and then things get interesting. Studer is one of those intuitive detectives that cognitively places himself among the inner workings of whatever world his victims seem to inhabit, and then, after holding his tongue through much of the book, puts everybody in their place by solving the crime. Or at least it seems that way. The problem here is, half the suspects are covering something up, and the other half are crazy. Or are they?

The list of suspects is endless.

The aging director whose young girlfriend—a nurse in the women’s ward—may have been having an affair with the baby-killer. His second in command whose methods have run up a high body count. (Remember, these were the days of cold shock, and sleep, therapy.) Nurses who want a union. Staff who don’t. The son of one of Studer’s political enemies from the police force. The nurse in the women’s ward. A doctor’s wife who wants him to have that promotion. The baby killer, and of course my favorite:

Schül, a veteran of the First World War and grenade victim, whose “face was one big scar. His nose had been flattened and in place of nostrils the ends of two silver tubes stuck out; his mouth looked like a poorly healed cut.” Schül worships Matto, writes poems about him, has even seen him where he lives in the apartment above the director’s on the asylum grounds.

And if you really want to see how a story can act as a time capsule—giving us a glimpse in hindsight of what was to come—wait for the scene amongst the staff and patients when a certain German dictator is speaking on the radio: “It was an urgent voice, but its urgency was unpleasant.” Prompting one of the doctors to ask, “Where does Matto’s realm end, Studer?”

Again, what makes this book work so well is Glauser’s background. Back in 1936, nobody knew that much about psychiatry. It was a new field. And while the rest of the world was giving us different versions of “The Snake Pit,” none of Glauser’s asylum patients are too far over the top. They are realistic people, with realistic illnesses, stuck in circumstances they could never have foreseen.

It’s as much of a whydunnit as a whodunit, but you’d have to be psychic to figure the ending. It’s a cold, cold ending—left me with the kind of feeling I had at the end of Hammett’s The Glass Key. Top that with a laconic hero who, despite his exterior, has a genuine love for humanity, a keen psychological insight of his own—and that rare ability to wait until the right moment.

Looks like Sergeant Studer is my new hero.

Monday, June 13, 2011

King--of the Khyber Rifles (Pulp at the Chicago Library)

Hey, Gang! Sorry we’ve been off the intertubes here for a while, but damn it’s hard getting the time machine fine tuned. (And that Bell kid is always writing, lord only knows what else –Mac) Regardless, B. C. just finished ignoring reality via a beat up, old copy of KING--OF THE KHYBER RIFLES by Talbot Mundy. So, take it away, BC!

First off, if you don’t know who Talbot Mundy is, let me tell you what I know: He wrote a lot of stories for the pulp ADVENTURE MAGAZINE, and evidently the African natives in the villages he frequented knew enough to keep their women away from him. That’s about all I know about Mundy—which is why I read the book. But of course you can read more Adventure Magazine here.

Warning for the politically correct: Mundy, like most Brits at the time, loved his empire every bit as much as Kipling. So there’s a lot of “Queen and country” devotions, and a lot of blanket statements about both Indian and British Culture. The good news is he loves India, and he spends some time telling you so.  The bad news is, history kills ideologies faster than bombs, thus giving us wonderful ironies like:

   …for the Khyber Pass is as much British as the air is an eagle’s or Korea Japanese, or Panama United States American…

And these little gems litter the book (or for some of us, make it all that more delightful).

So It’s 1916, World War I. Our hero is Athelstan King who smokes the blackest cheroots available, and carries a medical book around under his arm even though he’s not a doctor. King seems to be modeled on T. E. Lawrence of Arabia which, come to think of it, sounds a lot like King—of the Khyber rifles. So yeah, he’s pretty much “King of India.”

Our hero is sent on a secret mission to rendezvous with the mysterious Yasmini, who leads a bad of cutthroat thieves and killers in “the hills” of the Himalaya just beyond the Khyber Pass. The thieves of “the hills” have been working both sides of the British/German fence, and Yasmini has specifically requested a conference with Athelstan King by name. If King can convince her to side with the British, the Khyber Pass would be impenetrable.

From the beginning it’s obvious there are those who don’t want him to get there. Aware that he’s being both followed and sent in wrong directions, King’s plans are again waylaid when Yasmini doesn’t show up to meet him, but rather sends one of her aids with a bracelet. If King wears the bracelet, he’ll be given a free pass from every tribe in the dessert. Maybe. Even then for one to get past “the hills” sentries they must prove they’ve killed an Englishman.

After outwitting a few scalawags and killers on the train, King journeys through the dessert to the Khyber Pass. His brother, already stationed there, helps him apply an ingenious dye to his body that won’t wear off, and it’s just damn lucky for him his Indian dialects are perfect.

There are a lot of spoilers here that actually caught me by surprise (which doesn’t always happen reading books published almost a hundred years ago), but let’s just say this tale has a secret city, two ancient lovers in a tomb—one of them a Roman soldier that looks just like King—and when someone else tries to use his brother’s head to gain entrance to the ultimate hideout… Well, then things get real interesting.

While a bit long-winded in places, the prose is near poetic. Mundy knows how to sling a phrase. This is truly a romantic adventure from the age of empire that still works. And, yes, there’s one more big surprise at the end.

And that’s all I know about Talbot Mundy.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Great Review and History of RAVENWOOD at BLACK GATE!

A very informative history and review of RAVENWOOD, STEPSON OF MYSTERY, at BLACK GATE MAGAZINE by William Patrick Maynard. Your blushing author and his pals fare well!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: SLAMMER by Allan Guthrie

Do you like your thrillers with a little bit of psycho thrown in? Head twisting plot turns? Bent psyches, sad, funny and frightening?
Honest to God, about once a year some book comes along, I devour it in a day or two, and I’ll just be stunned. Some of these I’ll get to in the future, not to mention some stuff that’s just plain strange—even by Science fiction standards. But this, this jewel of a novel, crawled right up out of the muck and strangled me with a sardonic wit so beautiful I didn’t even mind.
If you’re not familiar with Allan Guthrie you should be. While I haven’t read all his stuff, his book HARD MAN had me laughing and cringing at the same time, and its follow-up, SAVAGE NIGHT, was an Edgar Award Winner. (For my money HARD MAN’s the better book, but I’m weird that way.) Or, you can just pick up SLAMMER and see what you’ve been missing.
To support his wife and newborn child, twenty-four year old Nick Glass has a crappy new job in Edinburgh, Scotland, as a prison guard. In fact, he gets along with some of the inmates better than the other guards; in particular a blind inmate named Mafia whose crime was so sick no one will talk about it.
While in the midst of being given all the worst assignments by his co-workers, Glass is blackmailed into becoming a drug mule by one of the prisoners; if he doesn’t somebody on the outside will kill his wife and child. Meanwhile, his wife is now out of a job, had an affair some six-months ago, and is hitting the bottle again. Glass is estranged from his mother and sister, and his wife’s side of the family thinks he’s worthless. Needless to say our hero/protagonist has more than his share of stressors, and we’re invited to watch him crack. But the crack up is beyond what the reader might predict.
Like the best of Noir novels, we can see the lights of the locomotive in the distance, but we’re so busy dodging bullets we forget about the train—until it’s right on top of us. Then we lay right across the track with our hero and laugh sardonically while the wheels tear us ribbons. And, by the end we realize we should have known it all along.
I found the overall feeling of this book reminiscent of Charles Perry’s Portrait of a Young Man Drowning, which might give away too much, but is also high praise coming from me. I’d love to tell you by the ending what’s exactly going on—but, I won’t. Let’s just say one morning our hero awakes with a splitting headache, a finger missing, and no memory of what happened. He accepts it as if it were nothing and goes on with his plans.
And then it starts to get really weird.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

How Noir Saved My Life


I just finished writing what has to be the darkest DAN FOWLER G-MAN story ever, and I got to thinking…

Back in the twentieth century I pretty much lost everything. Career, money, health, hope, sanity—all those were behind me. Seriously, I learned about how low the human soul can sink, the lengths to which some people will go and the power that some wield unthinkingly—until some miserable bastard who just doesn’t care anymore comes along and throws a wrench in the works, or at somebody’s head.

Yup, clinically depressed and alcoholic, I resided in a fleabag hotel, and waited for the world to end. I was at the stage normal people call NO HOPE. And a man who’s got nothing has nothing to lose. I was the guy with the wrench, and I laughingly chucked it into the wheels of your favorite machine, hoping I could see the jaws drop before the explosion. The only thing that hurt was caring.

Well, pain is growth, and eventually I decided to grow because, well, the universe just wasn’t ending the way I’d planned. Now, in the past I’d always been a reading fool, but somewhere in my vodka-is-a-food-group-lifestyle I’d forgotten about that. So I started reading again. A lot.

Except a lot of the stuff I’d read before didn’t do it for me. I’d pick up the books where the heroes were bigger than life, and I’d still realize they wouldn’t last ten minutes in my city. They couldn’t survive here, because they didn’t have to. They had money, fast cars boats, women…hope. Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet were but appetizers, along with a healthy helping of other detectives… So I started searching…

I started reading Donald Westlake’s PARKER books again and actually coped, using that character’s emotional disassociation to deal with the world. I’d get up, do my job like a machine, then go home and write. It even worked for a little while. And sent me searching for something more…

Now, I’m the first to admit that Jim Thompson and David Goodis may not be the best reading for a guy trying to sober up, but I was at the library and, somehow, a copy of Lawrence Block’s A Dance at the Slaughterhouse wound up in my hand. And Matt Scudder was a recovering alcoholic, who went to AA meetings and had seen more than I ever hope NOT to.

And while I know and care next to nothing about “the beautiful people” and the sexual affairs of suburban housewives that the literary world was shoving at me—noir touched my heart. The losers that lived there, lived outside the regular world; and whether forced there knowingly or unknowingly, by fate or by choice—if they did not change, they were doomed. And I felt that. The random private-eyes had already been blessed with the gift of a perspective outside the norm—most likely by a life that pushed them there. They knew when things were too good to be true, and they knew the foibles of man. And, their version of justice seemed a lot more right than the system I’d seen, where promotions are based on how many people you can put in corporate, for-profit jails.

Sure they didn’t all have happy endings; that just made it more real. Plus, if you go into a story thinking there’s no way it’s going to have a happy ending, and it actually has a one? Well, damn. There’s hope.
So in a horribly lonely, isolated, not-talking-to-anybody-on-the-street-for-days sort of way, noir spoke to me. Me, the person nobody and nothing spoke to.
And damned if I didn’t find a little more hope.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Ravenwood Interview on The Book Cave!

RAVENWOOD, STEPSON OF MYSTERY: Want to hear me get kicked out of The Chicago Library right in the middle of an interview? Listen to this podcast on THE BOOK CAVE.
See how fellow authors FRANK SCHILDINER and BOBBY NASH handle it. Also join us as we discuss Rex Stout, research in period pieces, the characters relation to DOCTOR STRANGE, SUN KOH--the German DOC SAVAGE, H.P. LOVECRAFT... Oh, and try to guess who's doing the podcast naked!

Friday, January 14, 2011

More Fun in the New World!

Big plans for 2011, Gang!
I'm currently working on another Dan Fowler: G-Man story. Just coming up with a big "sock finish." If you haven't already read my DFG-Man tale "Harvest of Crime" in Vol 1, shame on you! Click that Airship 27 link (should be just right over here-->)and pick up a copy.

I've been working on a licensed character's short-story for a project with Moonstone you might be familiar with; more will be revealed!

I just signed on to do the story I was born to write, for the good people over at Pro Se Productions. This one features a Black Mask-style gangster tale, heavily-influenced by the works of pulp great Paul Cain, author of Fast One  and Seven Slayers. This should prove to be both challenging, and more fun than I'm probably allowed to have. Of course if I had written the above P. Cain's style it would read: "Signed on for a story, for some Pro Se mugs. A gangster yarn." And that would be it. Regardless, it's going to be great. Like freakin' Shakespeare with machine guns!

And, finally, the big news: I'm working on a full length BAGMAN novel even as you read this. I've had a few people ask, and I've been plotting this thing out in my head for a year. This one has Mac, Crankshaft, Coco, Hunts, and a whole new cast of deep city denizens. Not to mention The Chicago World's Fair, Belly Dancers, John Dillinger, The Real King of the Theives, a team of Gypsy pickpockets, and, The Bagman's first super villain--even as Mac begins to learn more about his strange new powers and propensity for prediction! .

Yes, 2011 is going to be one big, wild ride! Let's have fun with it!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Just Released: Ravenwood--Stepson of Mystery

Airship 27 Productions & Cornerstone Book Publishers bring back another classic pulp hero from the 1930s in an all new collection of fast paced, macabre adventures of the supernatural.  Meet Ravenwood – Stepson of Mystery!

He is an orphan raised by a Tibetan mystic known only as the Nameless One.  As an Occult Detective he has no equal and is called upon by the authorities when they are challenged by supernatural mysteries.  One of the more obscure pulp characters, Ravenwood – The Stepson of Mystery appeared as a back-up feature in the pages of Secret Agent X magazine.  There were only five Ravenwood  stories ever written, all by his creator, the prolific pulp veteran, Frederick C. Davis.

Now he returns in this brand new series of weird adventures, beginning with this volume in which he combats Sun Koh, a lost prince of Atlantis, battles with monstrous Yetis in Manhattan and deals with murderous ghosts and zombie assassins.  Four of today’s finest pulp storytellers Frank Schildiner, B.C. Bell, Bill Gladman and Bobby Nash offer up a quartet of fast paced, bizarre thrillers that rekindle the excitement and wonder that were the pulps.

With a stunning cover by Bryan Fowler and dramatic interior illustrations by Charles Fetherolf, Ravenwood – Stepson of Mystery was designed by Rob Davis and edited by Ron Fortier.  Once again Airship 27 Productions presents pulp fans with another one-of-kind quality pulp reading experience like no other on the market today. 

AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTIONS – Pulp fiction for a new generation!

ISBN:  1-934935-82-4
ISBN 13:  978-1-934935-82-8
Produced by Airship 27
Published by Cornerstone Book Publishers
Release date: 31 Dec. 2010