Part of my passion for reading crime fiction is going back and reading some of the earlier hardboiled crime novels and detective novels that influenced and shaped the genre. James M. Cain (1892 to 1977) is one such writer. He’s better known for some of his earlier works like The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce. He was a prolific writer. Having read all three of his most popular works, there’s one theme he keeps coming back to repeatedly: the pursuit of something that is unattainable.
My favorite of his three popular works is Mildred Pierce. The story is set during the Depression and follows Mildred as she goes from homemaker to a successful businesswoman. Her life, her loves and her relationships make up the bulk of the story. Much of the emphasis is placed on Mildred’s relationship with her daughter Veda. The two have a difficult and tempestuous relationship. This is probably one of the most memorable mother/daughter relationship novel I’ve read in recent times. The pages literally turned themselves because the story was so moving and gripping.
The novel spans about a decade. The setting is 1930’s California. The Pierce’s like everyone else lost their wealth and are in financial straits. The loss of wealth makes Mildred prideful and stubborn as she clings to her place in society. For example: at the start she finds it beneath her and humiliating to work as a waitress and fears her daughter’s condemnation.
The Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie is a short story that’s also been adapted as a play, a movie and a made for TV movie. The short was first published in the U.S. as Traitor Hands in a weekly magazine in 1925. In 1933 the short was published with other short stories in The Hound of Death.
Amazon has this short-story available as The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories or you can buy it singly for 99 cents. The length is about 35 pages and the narrative is told in first person. The opening starts with “Mr. Mayherne adjusted his pince-nez and cleared his throat with a little dry as dust cough that was wholly typical of him.”
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but a lot of Agatha Christie’s short stories are being made available and in digital format by Harper Collins. I bought this one since the plot was intriguing to me which I will share here:
When wealthy spinster Emily French is found murdered, suspicion falls on Leonard Vole, the man to whom she hastily bequeathed her riches before she died. Leonard assures the investigators that his wife, Romaine Heilger, can provide them with an alibi. However, when questioned, Romaine informs the police that Vole returned home late that night covered in blood. During the trial, Ms. French’s housekeeper, Janet, gives damning evidence against Vole, and, as Romaine’s cross-examination begins, her motives come under scrutiny from the courtroom. One question remains, will justice prevail?
This short story was really good! It all boils down to who do you believe? The wife, the housekeeper or the accused himself? They all had different stories. The theme for this short is about perception, truth and justice. The ending will make you go what? Makes you think just a tiny bit about how the justice system works. The relevance of this story is applicable today.
Overall, good read to pass a bit of time or break a reading slump.
Gillian Anderson stars as DS Gibson in The Fall, BBC 2 original TV series
It’s rare for me to do a write-up of a TV series or film but when opportunity strikes for me to rave about one, I go full steam ahead. The Fall, a new BBC 2 series completed its first season and is available now on Netflix streaming. The Fall is dark, disturbing and features one of the strongest female performances in awhile. The Fall is one of the best crime drama’s I’ve watched on TV this year. Read More Here
COCKFIGHTER written by Charles Willeford. First published in 1962. Pages: 217; point of view: first person; category: noir; setting: Florida and Georgia; standalone or series: standalone novel; theme: cockfighting; quote from the book (out of context):
“In a letter to General Lafayette, George Washington wrote, “It will be worth coming back to the United States, if only to be present at an election and a cocking main at which is displayed a spirit of anarchy and confusion, which no countryman of yours can understand.” I carried a clipping of this letter, which had been reprinted in a game fowl magazine, in my wallet. I had told Mary Elizabeth once that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton had both been cockfighters during the colonial period, but she had been unimpressed. Nonetheless, cockfighters are still the most democratic group of men in the United States.”
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PURGATORY (2013) by Ken Bruen is a 187 page Irish crime novel featuring Jack Taylor. It is the tenth entry in the series. This series is labeled as Irish noir and the protagonist is a middle-aged alcoholic with mileage and plenty of baggage. In Galway, he’s been roughing it as a sometime private investigator since being kicked out of the Guards for his excessive drinking. People usually meet him in pubs because that’s where he mostly lives. He’s the go to man for help & answers but those days are over. Disclosure: the publisher provided this book for review. Read More Here
Here I am posting about two print (!) books added to my library shelf. This is a rare, rare thing readers. I am a digital only reader except in circumstances where I want to read something and it’s available in anything but digital. I figure it’s worth it.
First up is the 352 page novel marketed as the early fiction of Ken Bruen, A Fifth of Bruen. Published by Busted Flush Press in 2006, I took the plunge and ordered a used copy. What I received was a library copy, stamped from the Jackson Township Branch’s Ocean County Library in New Jersey in good condition with the words “discard” stamped on the bottom pages. The stories in this edition are: Funeral: Tales of the Irish Morbidities (1991), Martyrs (1994), Shades of Grace (1993), Sherry and Other Stories (1994), All the Old Songs and Nothing to Lose (1994) and last, The Time of Serena-May and Upon the Third Cross (1994).
Next up is David Goodis (1917 to 1967). He’s an author I’ve heard about but never gave much thought to. Goodis is said to epitomize noir crime fiction. I broke down and bought Shoot the Piano Player which was actually titled as Down There in 1956 and inspired the French film by François Truffaut. I have Ken Bruen to thank. Writer Bill Crider did an interview with Ken Bruen at Bouchercon in 2006 and all Ken Bruen says is Goodis (ok for the first two questions). So, naturally, my curiosity is piqued. Just what is so good about David Goodis? I shall find out soon. The full Ken Bruen interview is below. Have a good weekend. Read More Here
Heat (1995 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I might be the one of the few to not know this but the Michael Mann movie, Heat (1995), was inspired by a true story. Well, in part. There actually was a serial criminal named Neil McCauley, who is portrayed in the movie by Robert De Niro. He was caught by Chicago cop Chuck Adamson in 1964. I just happened to find this info as I was browsing for something else. I have the unfortunate habit of reading production notes on movies I’ve watched. Spoilers are up head for those who haven’t seen the film.
There are two scenes in the movie, Heat, said to be inspired by real life events. One scene is where the police stakeout a score by McCauley and his team. McCauley hears a noise and walks away. Chuck Adamson, the detective who collaborated with Michael Mann, said in real life someone flushed the toilet and McCauley and his team took off. The second scene that also happened in real life was the meeting between McCauley and Adamson under non-violent circumstances in a coffee shop. In real life, Adamson said he asked McCauley to cause trouble somewhere else and McCauley told him he liked Chicago. Isn’t that interesting? It’s the little things. Anyway, I’m posting this more for myself than anything. If you’re a fan of the movie, did you know of its origins? Read More Here
I’ve always been curious about Gustav Hasford’s acclaimed novel, The Short-Timers. It’s _the_ novel that inspired the film, Full Metal Jacket (1987) directed by Stanley Kubrick (1928 to 1999) and written by Stanley Kubrick, Gustav Hasford (1947 to 1993) and Michael Herr. If you’ve seen the movie then you know or would agree that the first part of the movie is more riveting than the second part. I don’t even think I watched the second half of the film all that closely. It’s that different in tone and wasn’t as engaging. The first part of the movie is just straight up intense as it follows the new recruits on Paris Island as they train to be Marines. Read More Here