Sunday, January 30, 2011

Of Hats, Salutes and Social Status: George Washington's Rules of Civilty and Decent Behavior, Part 6

Been a while since our last Civility 101 class from old George. In this batch of rules he seems uncommonly class-conscious, always deferring to those better bred or of higher or lower station. To his credit, though, he does stand up when addressed by his inferiors (better to punch them in the nose, perhaps?). And Jeez, if I'd known wearing a hat required such etiquette, I might never have developed the habit.

26. In putting off your hat to persons of distinction, as noblemen, justices, churchmen, etc., make a reverence, bowing more or less according to the custom of the better bred, and quality of the persons. Among your equals expect not always that they should begin with you first, but to pull off the hat when there is no need is affectation. In the manner of saluting and resaluting in words, keep to the most usual custom.

27. 'Tis ill manners to bid one more eminent than yourself be covered, as well as not to do it to whom it is due. Likewise he that makes too much haste to put on his hat does not well, yet he ought to put it on at the first, or at most the second time of being asked. Now what is herein spoken, of qualification in behavior in saluting, ought also to be observed in taking of place and sitting down, for ceremonies without bounds are troublesome.

28. If any one comes to speak to you while you are are sitting stand up, though he be your inferior, and when you present seats, let it be to everyone according to his degree.

29. When you meet with one of greater quality than yourself, stop and retire, especially if it be at a door or any straight place, to give way for him to pass.

30. In walking, the highest place in most countries seems to be on the right hand; therefore, place yourself on the left of him whom you desire to honor. But if three walk together the middest place is the most honorable; the wall is uusally given to the most worthy if two walk together.

To bone up on the first 25 Rules (yes, there will be a test), please click on either of the labels below. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

And the winner of the mini-Edgar is . . .

At my critique group meetings this past week, the kind folks in each group staged an early celebration of the Robert L. Fish Award.

My Saturday gang, sometimes known as the Yolawriters (because we used to meet at a defunct coffee shop called Yola's) presented me with this hand-crafted 4 1/2" likeness of Mr. Poe. Then midget booze bottles were produced to improve the coffee. My thanks go out to word-wizards R. L. Kelstrom, Kassandra Kelly and Jackie Blain.

The Wednesday night crew hauled out champagne and treated me to a toast. For that I'm indebted to Ann Littlewood, Christine Finlayson, Angela Sanders, Doug Levin and Marilyn McFarland, fine writers all.

To most of those folks I'm doubly indebted, because they also provided valuable input on the first draft of "Skyler Hobbs and the Rabbit Man." More proof, if any was needed, that critique groups rock!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Forgotten Books: Dark Memory by Jonathan Latimer

I’ve had three copies of this book for at least 25 years, but was never quite in the mood to read it. Until now. Much as I like Jonathan Latimer, it was hard to get up enthusiasm to read a novel about an African safari. Especially a book about an African safari that did not have Tarzan in it.

Dark Memory is a slow starter. Unlike Latimer's mysteries, where our hero might wake up to find a strange - and dead - lady in his bed, this opens with two guys putzing through the jungle in a truck, trying to see where they’re going through the dense leaves and fog. It took some concentration to stay with it long enough for a story to emerge.

When that story finally comes out of hiding, it is largely about courage. Some have it and some don’t, and they may never know one way or the other until they’re out in the wilds where it really matters. My guess is that this was Latimer indulging himself, taking a break from his mysteries to play Hemingway.

The cast includes a grumpy Clark Gable-type bullying the expedition along, a kindly but sickly professor in search of gorillas for scientific research, a stalwart British hunter-guide and a rich, young and beautiful American woman in search of the lost husband she never loved.

It’s a good tale, full of conflict and barely-contained emotion. Latimer’s lush descriptions of the dark continent make me suspect he may have seen it himself. I don’t know. But I got the feeling he put a lot more of himself into this book than into any of his mysteries.

Hero Jay (read “J” for Jonathan) Nichols is  - like Latimer - a reporter from Chicago, and has had brushes with the mob. Halfway through, we learn he has also written a book, and there are a couple of nice passages where Latimer, as Jay, makes fun of the writing game.

When the group visits civilization to resupply, they stop at a hotel and meet a hunting party comprised of spoiled British folk. One of them recognizes Jay’s name. These snippets of conversation were mixed in with non-related topics:

     “You’re not the writer?” Edna asked.
     “I wrote a book once,” Jay admitted.
     “Not Hello Satan!?”
     “I don’t believe it! That was a good book. So funny. Daphne, did you read it?”
     “Is that the one about the war in the States?”
     “No. That’s Gone With the Wind, dear.”
     “Then I didn’t read it.” Daphne turned to Jay, bright-eyed and intense. “I didn’t read the Wind one, either.”

     “Daphne doesn’t read American writers,” Edna said. “She likes Evelyn Waugh.”
     “I like her too,” Jay said.
     “He isn’t a her.”
     “Well, I like him, then.”
     “I don’t believe the chap’s a writer at all,” Daphne said.

     “Say something witty, Jay,” Edna commanded. “Show ‘em.”
     “Noel Coward,” Jay said.
     “There,” Edna cried proudly.
     “What do you think of James Hilton,” Daphne asked.
     “I never heard of him.”
     “Never heard of James Hilton?”
     “Edna, this chap’s never heard of James Hilton.”
     “Well, my God!” Edna said.

     Daphne asked, “What do you think of Shaw?”
     “One of America’s greatest racing drivers.”
     “Well, my God!” Edna said again.
     “The chap can’t be a writer,” Daphne cried.
     “Wait a minute,” Edna said. “Wait a minute. What about Gone With the Wind, Jay?”
     “It’s a splendid book.”
     “There,” Edna said triumphantly.
     “It weighed three pounds,” Jay said. “I guess it weighed more than any first novel ever did. Three pounds.”
     “The chap isn’t a writer.”
     “Sure I am,” Jay said. “Ask me something else.”
     “Well, who is your favorite writer?”
     “That’s easy. I am.”
     “He’s a writer,” Edna said.

Later, lost in the jungle with a fever, Jay wonders if he’s dying. In books, he reflects, the dying person always knew.

     People always died in the right place in books. That was another funny thing. They died so the book could end, or so it could begin, or so the heroine could marry the man she really loved. They knew they were dying and they lived just long enough to make the right speeches and then they died in just the right place. Death was a good way to give a book importance, he thought. Death gives a book importance and sleeping gives it romance and having children gives it reality. And if someone in it believes everyone ought to have enough food and says so and is electrocuted, then that gives it social importance. He would write a book with death and sleeping and children in it sometime, but he would give it social importance by having everyone catch syphilis from toilet seats. He would if he didn’t die.

Still, later, when Jay is even worse off, he’s thinking of things that made him happy as a boy. One of those things was Tom Swift books. Cool. I like the idea of Latimer reading Tom Swift books as a boy, just like me.

So. Bottom line, Dark Memory turned out to be a very good read. It’s a far cry from the drunken escapades of private detective Bill Crane, but it packs more weight, and shows that Latimer was an even better writer than I thought. Even without Tarzan.

The list of this week's Forgotten Books links can be found over at Kerrie Smith's blog, Mysteries in Paradise.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Forgotten Music: Lightnin' Hopkins

Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins had one of the two most distinctive voices in the world of the Blues (the other being Howlin' Wolf's) and I enjoy everything he recorded. But as a guy raised on rock, I find the crisp, clean sound of an electric guitar far more palatable than that of a battered old acoustic. And unfortunately, the vast majority of Lightnin's recordings were made with those flat-top boxes.

My favorite Lightnin' album, It's a Sin to Be Rich, is a live recording from 1972 with an electric guitar. I couldn't find anything from that album on YouTube, but I did find a great version of "Mojo Hand," and a couple of other electrified tunes. The others featured here are cleaner-than-average acoustic recordings.

If you haven't listened closely to Lightnin' before, maybe this will give you enough of a taste of that amazing voice that you'll want to seek out some of the raw, street-corner stuff.

Forgotten Music is a monthly event hosted by Scott Parker. See HIS BLOG for more of this month's music. And think about joining us next month. We want to hear what you've been grooving to.

Mojo Hand

Easy on Your Heels

Rock Me Baby

Come Go With Me/Lightnin's Blues


Take a Trip with Me & Last Night Blues

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Richard Prosch Rides Again: A New Story at The Western Online

Yep, Owlhoot Rich Prosch has uncorked another fine Western tale this week at The Western Online. This time we meet a notorious hoss-thief called Kid Joseph, a hard-bitten unofficial lawman and a young man in search of his destiny. Mosey on over to The Western Online to see who's living on "Borrowed Time."

More by Mr. Prosch:
"Last Day at Red Horizon" - The Western Online
"Doggy Day Care" - BEAT to a PULP
"Regina's War" - The Western Online
"Pretending" - BEAT to a PULP

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Overlooked TV: The Adventures of Sir Lancelot

I've been watching this series on DVD, and it's good, wholesome fun. Since I still have this Big Little Book from  when I was a kid, I most likely watched it then too, but I don't really remember. What I do remember is this snappy theme song. Click arrow to play:

Sir Lancelot Theme

Produced in England by Saphire films, the series premiered in 1956 and ran 30 episodes. In the U.S., it was shown on NBC, and rerun on ABC. The final 14 episodes were in color. The DVD set below contains the complete series.

According to IMDb, Saphire films was allegedly funded by the American Communist Party, and the producer hired blacklisted American writers to provide scripts under carefully guarded pseudonyms. At the time Sir Lancelot was on the air, they were also producing The Adventures of Robin Hood (with Richard Greene) and The Buccaneers (with Robert Shaw). The shows made use of the same pool of actors, so if you've seen all three (like me), there are many familiar faces.

This show has plusses and minuses. On the plus side, the castles are cool, as are the costumes. There are some good actors here, most of them better than star William Russell, who is a bit too fresh-faced and righteous to be believable (There is, for example, no hint of any untoward interest in Guinevere). Most of the stories are pretty good. Far more entertaining than another series I've been watching lately - The Green Hornet.

On the minus side, the sword fights are pretty tepid affairs. The swords are flimsy, and the actors pull their strokes, probably for fear of breaking the blades. And the budget doesn't allow too many bodies. So when King Arthur leads his army to storm a castle, the army consists of four knights, while there are rarely more than three defenders on the castle walls.

But make no mistake, this set was well worth my time and money. Overlook it at your peril.

Overlooked Films (and other Audio and Video productions) is hosted each Tuesday by Todd Mason. Check Sweet Freedom for links to the rest of today's posts.

(click to enlarge)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hardboiled Academics: An Investigation by Doug Levin

My critique group pardner Doug Levin has contributed another fine piece to the Mulholland Books site, this time questioning how writers with academic backgrounds fare in the Hardboiled field. It's great reading, and features lengthy insights from such luminaries as Bill Crider and Megan Abbott. Check it out HERE.

Mr. Doug Levin, EQMM writer and soon-to-be novelist, blogs at Levin at Large.

Friday, January 21, 2011

FRIDAY'S FORGOTTEN BOOKS (All of Them), PLUS The Heart of Ahriman - an unpublished classic by Bill Crider & Charlotte Laughlin!

Artist's conception of possible cover.

This week, I have the honor to substitute for Patti Abbott and keep tabs on today's collection of Forgotten Books. So before I tell you about the The Heart of Ahriman, here are the links . . .

First, the Forgotten Book reviews that were up before I hit the sack Thursday night, and the ones I've so far discovered on Friday. I'll be updating the list, adding to this post throughout the day:
Kerrie Smith - The Colour of Blood by Brian Moore
Paul Bishop - Shake Him Till He Rattles/It's Cold Out There by Malcolm Braly
Randy Johnson - War Whoop and Battle Cry edited by Brian Garfield
Martin Edwards - Half-Mast Murder by Milward Kennedy
Ed Gorman - The Innocent Mrs. Duff by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding
Joe Barone - The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosly
Scott Cupp - Webb's Weird Wild West by Don Webb
Jerry House - Arts Unknown: The Life and Art of Lee Brown Coye
George Kelley - Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn
Ron Scheer - Overland Red by H.H. Knibbs
P.M. - Angel's Ransom by David Dodge
Paul Brazill - The Mexican Tree Duck by James Crumley
James Reasoner - Station Six - Sahara by Michael Avallone
Eric Peterson - The Trailsman No. 248 - Six-Gun Justice by Jon Sharpe
Bill Crider - Cases by Joe Gores
B.V. Lawson - Lonelyheart 4122 by Colin Watson
Kevin Tipple - Hose Monkey by Tony Spinosa
Todd Mason - Best from F&SF 5th Series edited by A. Boucher, Best Detective Stories of the Year edited by A.J. Hubin, O. Henry Awards 1962 edited by R. Poirier
K.A. Laity - Jane Quiet by K.A. Laity & Elena Steier
Richard L. Pangburn - Dogs of God by Pinkney Benedict

Next, here are links to some of the other usual suspects. I'll try to keep an eye on them throughout the day, adding title and author info as their posts appear (or not).
Mike Dennis
Cullen Gallagher
Steve Lewis
Russel D. McLean
Juri Nummelin
David Rachels

If I've missed anyone, please let me know by commenting here or shooting me an email. Thanks!

Now, as to The Heart of Ahriman. It's not really a book. Yet. But it is a hell of a good novel, and the manuscript has been lurking in the shadows for 30 years, so I think it's about time it was unleashed upon the world.

It reached me like this: Some years back Bill Crider mentioned he'd co-authored a novel he referred to as "Robert E. Howard Fights Back from the Grave." I said I wanted to read it. (Jeez, who wouldn't??) I soon got an email saying Be careful what you ask for. The manuscript was attached. I promptly printed it up and set it aside for reading. Next thing I knew several years had passed and I found it in a box. This time I resolved to read it quick, before it vanished again. So I did.

Well. Bill and co-author Charlotte Laughlin did a great job. I was hooked on page 1. The story opens with a prologue taking us back to 1936, on what was previously believed to be Howard's last day on earth. Then we vault into 1978 to meet one of our two protagonists, a puritanical old man named Caleb Zerbe. Zerbe is tall and thin, wears a floppy hat and carries a walking stick with certain mystical powers. Sound familiar? Yep, he's sort of a modern day version of Solomon Kane.

Zerbe is seeking the ancient jewel of power known as The Heart of Ahriman, and he's not the only one. A gang of bad guys are after it too. Zerbe's goal is to destroy the Heart before it can inflict more evil on the world. The other guys are big fans of evil, and plan to take the Heart for a test drive.

Zerbe's quest takes him to fabled Cross Plains, Texas, where we meet our other protagonist, a young small town reporter named Jim Celis. (Jim, I'm pretty sure, is a reasonable facsimile of the 1978 model Bill Crider.)  Anyway, the Howard boom of the 70s is in full swing, and Jim's assignment is to dig up some new info from the locals and write an article on old Robert E. On the way, he's drawn into a junk yard and drives out with a 1935 Chevrolet. He doesn't know it yet, but the car's previous owner was REH himself.

The Heart of Ahriman, as you Howardians know, played a big part in the novel Hour of the Dragon. A gang of conspirators use it to resurrect the ancient sorcerer Xaltotun, seeking his help in kicking Conan off the throne of Aquilonia. Jim and Zerbe are convinced Howard had come into possession of the Heart and learned its secrets. So when they find it, they dig up Howard's grave and lay it on his chest, in hopes he has the knowledge to help them destroy it.

Much coolness ensues. This is a great adventure story, and it's a real treat seeing REH running around with Jim and Zerbe as they attempt to stop the bad guys. Howard's character is everything you'd expect: likeable, fearless, loyal and amused at life. In true Howard fashion, the tale takes us to ancient ruins, where we encounter a princess, a giant serpent and an unhealthy dose of sorcery. And, of course, the story comes to a roaring finish.

If any of this sounds familiar, you may have read the brief except published in the 2006 anthology, Cross Plains Universe (reviewed last week by George Kelley). The excerpt, retitled "The Stone of Namirha" to avoid conflict with Howard rights-holders, features only the resurrection and the introduction of the reborn REH. It's comprised of chapters 15-17 of the manuscript, and is really a very small part of the story. The complete novel runs 40 chapters.

It's time this baby saw the light of day!

Next week, Forgotten Books will be hosted by Kerrie Smith.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Robert L. Fish Award: Who, Me?

Yesterday was an interesting day. It started with an email from Cap'n Bob Napier, congratulating me on the Robert L. Fish Award. While I was still puzzling over that, I got a nice message from Janet Hutchings of EQMM. Then I saw a congratulatory post on Sandra Seamon's blog, Finally, I headed over to the News Authority of the blogosphere, Bill Crider's Popular Fiction Magazine, scrolled through the Edgar nominations, and found this:

Robert L. Fish Memorial
"Skyler Hobbs and the Rabbit Man" - Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
by Evan Lewis (Dell Magazines)

Very cool, I thought. I'm a long-time Fish fan, and the books shown here had been on my Sherlock shelf since the 70s. The award, I figured, must be for the best humorous Sherlockian story of the year. And the reason I was the only nominee was that no one else wrote one.

Then more emails came in, from Patti Abbott, Scott Parker, Allen Weiner (co-author of David Crockett in Congress), Emperor of the Universe Art Scott and members of my critique groups. And many folks made kind comments on blogs. And eventually I figured out the award was not Sherlockian after all. It was for best short story by a "new" author (which, you must admit, is better than being called an "old" author). 

But that got me worrying about the lack of other nominees. Would the MWA be issuing an apology, saying the others had been omitted by accident? If so, that's fine, because I'm sure there were many deserving stories. But if the list of nominees stays as is, I'm thinking my chances look pretty good. (I even consulted Skyler Hobbs, and he agrees.)

Whatever happens, I'm honored - and grateful to the MWA, the Edgar short story committee and everyone who sent congratulations my way. You really made my day.

Tomorrow: I'm Guest Host for Friday's Forgotten Books (Patti has the day off). PLUS: A book so forgotten it was never published.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Overlooked Films: Metropolis

To any kid who grew up reading Famous Monsters in Filmland, the Robotrix from Metropolis was an icon on a par with Dracula, The Wolfman and the Frankenstein Monster. Editor Forrest J. Ackerman's fascination with the character (and the film) was contagious. The first time I saw the movie, the robot and the futuristic sets were pretty much all I came away with, but they were enough to make it very cool. I even bought a paperback copy of the novel (with an intro by Ackerman).

So when I saw the new DVD, The Complete Metropolis, at the library, some of that kid-like excitement surged through me again. And after watching the film, I'm more of a fan than ever.

The sets and cinematography are stunning. The special effects are amazing - light years ahead of what you'd expect from 1927, and distinctly non-cheesy. Some of the acting is pretty good, while some - particularly that of the male and female leads - is so over-the-top that it provides a wealth of unintentional comic relief.

And the film has a fascinating history. When it premiered in Germany in 1927, Metropolis was one of the most expensive movies ever made. Fritz Lang had spent four times more than the projected budget. The distributor was counting on a deal made with Paramount for distribution in the U.S. Trouble was, Paramount was not happy with Lang's 153-minute epic. They insisted on chopping almost an hour out of the film, along with important plot points and characters. The German company followed suit, and the end of the year all known copies of Lang's version had been butchered, and the excised footage destroyed. The film I'd seen as a kid - and the one most people in the world had come to know - was not the real Metropolis at all.

For the past 40 years, film historians have been mourning the lost footage and seeking clues to what it contained.  They had found tantalizing evidence, but it wasn't until 2008, when a 16mm copy was found in Argentina, that a near-complete reconstruction was possible. The Argentina film was in such poor shape that only the most advanced restoration techniques could make it viewable, but one processed the film provided 25 minutes of footage unseen since 1927.

Those 25 minutes are still scratchy, but incorporated with the crystal-clear footage from what's left of the original print, The Complete Metropolis finally presents the full story. There are still a very few scenes missing, but this version has notes to tell us what little we've missed and keep the story intact.

Metropolis wasn't the first science fiction film, but it was the first really important one, and its influence is still with us. If the Robotrix looks oddly familiar, it may be because she's the direct inspiration for C3P0 in Star Wars.

The entire film appears to be available on YouTube in multiple parts, and quality is good. That's far from the ideal way to view this movie, of course, but it will give you a taste.

Tuesday's Overlooked Films is the brand new brainchild of Todd Mason. You'll find more of today's overlooked film posts linked at his blog, Sweet Freedom.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Fairy Tale Crime Challenge - The Stories

The challenge from John Kenyon at Things I'd Rather Be Doing was to write a crime fiction story based on a fairy tale. Along with "Skyler Hobbs and the Magic Solution" (posted here Saturday) there were 15 other entries. I'm still working my way through the list, but the ones I've read so far have been magical!

The Flying Trunk” by Jack Bates
Coal Black” by Eric Beetner
Sing a Song of Sixpence” by Nigel Bird
Henry, Gina and the Gingerbread House“by Kaye George
Mary” by Eiric Gumeny
Han and Greta” by Blu Gilliand
Divided We Stand” by Sean Patrick Reardon
Taking Back” by Sandra Seamans
Candy House” by R.L. Kelstrom
Joseph and Justine” by Patti Abbott
King Flounder: A Monlogue” by Loren Eaton
Life is a Fairy Tale” by BV Larson
You Dirty Rats” by Absolutely*Kate and Harry B, Sanderford
How I Came Into My Inheritance” by Seana Graham
Skyler Hobbs and the Magic Solution“  by Evan Lewis
Interview with the Pram Driver” by B. Nagel

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Fairy Tale Flash: Skyler Hobbs and the Magic Solution

(NOTE: John Kenyon, over at Things I'd Rather Be Doing, issued a challenge for Crime Fiction stories based on fairy tales. Details HERE.) Here's mine:

Skyler Hobbs peered down his long nose at the little man seated next to me on the sofa.

“I must advise you, Mr. Schumacher, that my good friend here does not wish me to take your case.”

Arnie Schumacher, owner-operator of Arnie’s Electronics, turned to goggle at me, his eyes huge and watery through thick spectacles. “But why? I have not even told you my problem.”

I shrugged. I’d voiced no objection, but Hobbs had ferreted it out just the same. That’s the trouble with befriending a man who thinks he’s the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes.

“The doctor,” Hobbs said, nodding at me, “feels you have siphoned customers from his computer repair business by undercutting his prices. Do you deny the charge?”

Arnie looked bewildered.

I handed him one of my business cards: Jason Wilder - Computer Doctor.

“Don’t mind Hobbs,” I said. “It’s his idea of a parlor trick. Probably spotted kilobytes under your fingernails. Still, he’s right. How can you afford to work so cheap?”

Arnie looked from me to Hobbs and wrung his hands. “Because, gentlemen, I am not really working. The items repair themselves—as if by magic!”

I stood, ready to usher him out. Dealing with Hobbs was all the insanity I could handle.

But Hobbs had that gleam in his eye. The one that said, Aha! The game is afoot.  He took his pipe and tobacco from their place on the mantel and settled into his rocker. “You have my full attention, sir. Pray continue.”

The story was quickly told. Arnie had opened shop in the 60s, fixing toasters and blenders, and graduated to TV and stereo equipment. He’d done all right until the past few years, when everything became computerized. Now most of the work was in computer repair. But his eyesight was failing, technology was passing him by, and he’d found himself up to his neck in unrepaired equipment and unpaid bills.

“Though it shamed me greatly,” he said, “I was about to declare bankruptcy, when the magic started. One morning I came downstairs—my wife and I share a small apartment above the shop—and went down to the basement, where I have my workshop. Everything in the place had been fixed!”

Hobbs’ eyes shone. “And you attribute this to magic.”

“My wife, she thinks it must be angels. Me, I just don’t know. But my business was saved. The faster work came in, the faster it repaired itself. I felt guilty taking money for nothing, so I lowered prices, and customers came in droves.”

“Assuming we believe any of this,” I said, feeling snarky, “why come to Hobbs? Sounds to me like you’ve got it made.”

“I do,” Arnie said. “I do. But it is not right. A man should work, and receive fair compensation for his labors. I come to you, Mr. Hobbs, to discover the truth of the matter. Will you help?”

Hobbs made an O of his mouth and blew out a large smoke ring. Pursing his lips, he sent several smoke bullets through the target.

“Mr. Schumacher, I find this matter to be of the greatest interest. The doctor and I will be only too happy to assist you.”

Happy. That was me. Too happy for words.

That night, Hobbs and I hid behind stacks of boxes in Schumacher’s basement. Hobbs had insisted we needed bait, so despite my objections we’d hauled a dozen unfixed computers from my own shop and stacked them on the long workbench.

As we waited in the darkness, I whispered, “All right, Hobbs, you’ve put me off long enough. I want to know what’s going on.”

“You observed, of course, that this establishment is located next to a Wells Fargo Bank.”

“Sure,” I lied. All I’d noticed was the MacDonald’s across the street. I could almost smell Big Macs.

“Is it not possible,” he said, “that our client’s late night visitors are attempting to tunnel into the bank and break into its vault?”

“Maybe. But if that were so, we’d have seen evidence of digging.”

“Not if the thieves are exceedingly clever.  In any case…”

As Hobbs paused, I heard slight sounds from the floor above. The click of a key in a lock, and the creak of footsteps.

“In any case,” he said again, “we shall soon know. I am quite certain our quarry has arrived. Now, Watson, would be the time to produce your trusty revolver.”

“Wilder,” I whispered. “And you know damn well I don’t own a gun.”

But I began to wish I did. The creaking had moved to the stairs, and a moment later the basement door opened. Florescent ceiling lights blinked on, and we crouched lower behind the boxes.

“Damn!” said a hushed voice. “The geezer’s got a lot of new shit.”

“Cool,” came the reply. “We’ll make a haul on this.”

As the voices moved to the center of the room, I shifted to a crack between the boxes.

Two teenage boys in ratty T-shirts and low-slung jeans stood at the workbench, examining the repair tags.

“Dibs on this HP,” one boy said. “All it needs is a network interface.”

“I’ll start with this laptop,” the other said.

Both selected tools from the table and set to work. These didn’t look like bank robbers to me.

I turned to Hobbs and raised an eyebrow. He merely nodded at me. If this performance surprised him he did a great job of hiding it.
We watched a while longer, seeing nothing but quick and competent repair work.

Finally Hobbs stood, pushing the boxes aside, and aimed a bony finger at the two astonished boys.

“Stop!” he said in a commanding voice. “Dr. Watson here is armed, and if you attempt to flee he will surely shoot you.”

I shook my head. “Wilder,” I said, “and I’m not shooting anybody. But I would like to know what the hell’s going on.”


Next morning, we sat in a plush private office above the flagship store of the worldwide mega-chain, Schumacher’s Shoes. Facing us across an enormous desk was a beetle-browed man bearing a distinct resemblance to our client. The brass nameplate on his desk read Marvin Schumacher, President and CEO.

Though Marvin looked younger than Arnie, his hair was thinning, and he’d tried to cover it with the silliest comb-over this side of Donald Trump. His whole office, in fact, seemed modeled after the board room on The Apprentice. He fixed us a Trump-like scowl.

“So you know,” he said. “You telling Arnie?”

“I know,” Hobbs said, “that you hired those lads to help your brother. And I believe I know why. But before determining a course of action, I wish to hear the tale from your own lips.”

“You‘ve met Arnie,” Marvin said, “so maybe you understand. He’s always been too proud for his own good. Won’t accept charity, even from his own flesh and blood. I called my old high school, got the names of those computer geeks, and gave them a key. You know the rest.”

“You chose well,” Hobbs said. “My friend here has inspected their work, and judged it to be excellent.”

Marvin nodded. “Arnie had a sweet deal going, until you stepped in. Any chance you’d accept a . . . retainer, to let the magic continue?”

Hobbs leaned forward, rubbing his hands together. “The question I must ask, Mr. Schumacher, is this: Precisely how much is your brother’s happiness worth?”


The apartment above Arnie’s Electronics was shabby but clean, a description that also served for Arnie’s wife. We sat at their kitchen table pretending to drink weak, tepid coffee from cracked mugs.

“I still can’t believe they were bank robbers,” Arnie said. “I saw you leading those guys away, and they looked like kids. I mean, who but kids would wear their jeans belted down around their knees?”

“All part of their disguise,” Hobbs said, “and no small factor in their ability to elude the authorities. Those desperados are wanted in seven states, and you have performed a great service in bringing about their capture. And it will please you to know they have already received new suits of clothing—bright orange prison uniforms.”

Hobbs hefted a large suitcase onto the table and popped it open. Inside were bound stacks of crisp hundred dollar bills.

“The reward offered by the FBI,” he said, “totaled one million dollars. It is yours, with the compliments of your government.”

Arnie stared, his mouth working but emitting no sound. His wife began to cry.

I felt my own eyes welling up, and steadied myself with a swallow of bad coffee.

Arnie found his voice. “A million dollars. You may call it justice, Mr. Hobbs, but I still call it magic. This time, however, I will not complain. But you and your friend did all the work. You must take half.”

I choked on my coffee. By the time I could breathe, Hobbs was already shaking his head.

“Your generosity is overwhelming,” he said, “but we must decline. The by-laws of the Consulting Detectives Union are quite strict in cases of this sort. The most we are allowed to accept is one percent.”


Two weeks later, we got a postcard from Hawaii, first stop on the Schumachers’ round-the-world cruise. Arnie was officially retired, and shedding the skin of his old life.

Things were going well for me too. With my share of the ten grand, I’d hired the two computer geeks to work part-time at my shop. Business was booming.

“Quite satisfactory,” Hobbs said. “Everyone appears to be living happily ever after.”

“Just like a fairy tale,” I said. “It’s almost enough to make me believe in magic.”

Hobbs snorted and turned to find his pipe.

I just smiled. Hobbs’ head was swelled enough already, so I had to be careful with compliments, but I was pretty sure Arnie was right. There had been magic at work.

The magic of Skyler Hobbs.


© 2011 by Evan Lewis

More adventures of Skyler Hobbs and Doctor Wilder, in case you missed 'em, are linked at the upper left.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Forgotten Books: The Green Hornet

The first Green Hornet Big Little Book, published in 1940, featured art by Robert Weisman. Fran Striker is believed by some to be the author. Values on these seem to fluctuate between $25 and $300, depending on where they are offered for sale and how bad somebody wants one.

Neither author nor artist has been positively identified for this second book, from 1941. All three BLBs featured the page-flipping gimmick described below, which was a primitive sort of animation.

The Green Hornet Cracks Down, 1942, features art by Henry Vallely. Once again, though clearly based on the work of Fran Striker, its uncertain whether he actually wrote it.

As I learned from Randy Johnson the other day, Richard Wormser was responsible for this 1966 TV-tie in paperback, writing as "Ed Friend." It was apparently penned before the series aired and based on early screen treatments, so many of the details differ from the actual show, and Kato is largely ignored. 

The Whitman hardback below, also from 1966, was a kid's book, but is by all accounts a better read than the paperback. Author Keith Brannan also did an I Spy book and couple about The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Patti Abbott has the usual round-up of Forgotten Books at pattinase. Next week, when she's away, I have the honor of being guest host.

Tomorrow: "Skyler Hobbs and the Magic Solution," my entry in John Kenyon's Fairy Tale Crime Fiction Challenge. Come on back, y'all.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Review: The Green Hornet Chronicles

The Green Hornet has been on my radar since the 60s, when the Van Williams/Bruce Lee series was spun-off from Batman. Some years later I was heavy into cliffhanger serials. Then it was Old Time Radio. And round about 1990 I was reading a cool series from Now Comics.

But I didn’t fully appreciate the character - didn’t come to feel I really knew them - until I read this Moonstone book, The Green Hornet Chronicles. Now, at last, I’m more than a casual listener, viewer, or collector. I’m a fan.

For that, I owe a debt to editors Joe Gentile and Win Scott Eckert. They assembled a fine group of writers and put together a collection of stories that draw the reader into the Hornet’s world as never before. We finally get inside the heads of Britt Reid and Kato and see what makes them tick.

The book transports us back to the 60s, where folks are trying to come to terms with Flower Power and the Vietnam War. We ride along in the Black Beauty on a tour of Detroit’s mean streets. We see the Hornet and Kato through the eyes of other characters. Over the course of the book, they emerge from the shadows of The Lone Ranger and Tonto - and Batman and Robin - and stand as distinct and compelling heroes in their own right.

I enjoyed all nineteen tales. Here’s the complete line-up, with brief comments:

The Night Car - Will Murray
- If Lester Dent wrote a Hornet story, it might go just like this!
I Had The Green Hornet’s Love Child - Greg Cox
- A floozy claims to have the Hornet’s baby - and everybody wants it.
Weakness - C.J. Henderson
- Can the Hornet coerce a crooked politician into going straight?
Topsy-Turvy - James Chambers
- A phony guru gives pipe dreams to naïve hippies.
Nothing Gold Can Stay - Richard Dean Starr
- The lowdown on how Kato the boy became Kato the man.
Just a Man - Thom Brannan
- An ex-marine sniper challenges the Hornet as The Green Viper.
The Cold Cash Kill - James Reasoner
- Britt Reid gets a shock - as dirty deeds are going on under his nose at the Daily Sentinel.
Flight of the Yellowjacket - Howard Hopkins
- When Reid meets a babe named Cavendish, you just know she’s bad.
By Scarab and Scorpion - Mark Ellis
- The curse of an ancient Egyptian queen plagues Detroit.
You Can’t Pick the Number - Rich Harvey
- A tale of redemption involving a crooked cop and the numbers racket.
Eyes of the Madonna - Ron Fortier
- Cold War antics with Russia and Cuba, with Detroit’s Crime Lord headquartered in a building called The Pulp Factory (Hey, isn‘t that the name of a blog?).
Stormy Weather - Patricia Weakley
- A lady private eye who speaks Texan goes on a Hornet hunt.
The Auction - Terry Alexander
- A nod to the radio show. When the Hornet’s domino mask is lost, he gets his old-style mask out of mothballs.
Go Go Gone - Robert Greenberger
- A clandestine treasure hunt, with clues hidden in books!
Mutual Assured Destruction - Bill Spangler
- A bout with white slavers brings Britt’s feelings for Lenore Case to the surface.
The Crimson Dragon - Mark Justice
- The Hornet faces a brutal new adversary, while Kato is hardpressed by two martial arts masters.
Fang and Sting - Win Scott Eckert
- A trip into delves into radio history, with a villain from the Manhunter show. (Manhunter was a Striker & Trendle production that gave its life, and its time slot, to make way for the Green Hornet show. Mike Axford, in fact, was a Manhunter character who made the jump to the new program.) This one’s also a Wold Newton treat, reminding us that Kato and the Hornet inhabit the same fictional universe as such folks as Doc Savage, James Bond and Fu Manchu.
The Inside Man - Matthew Baugh
- A Native American trying to escape reservation life is caught between two evils - and one of them is the Hornet.
The Soul of Solomon - Harlan Ellison
- In which it is revealed that Mr. Ellison is at once both an old man and a seven-year-old geek-boy. Heck, he always has been. That’s why he’s always been one of my literary idols.

PLUS, the stories are sandwiched between an Introduction by TV Hornet Van Williams and an interview with TV Black Beauty designer Dean Jeffries. AND, each story features a full-page illustration by Ruben Procopio. How cool is that? Very.

And there’s more good stuff to come. Editors Gentile and Eckert are already assembling a follow-up collection called The Green Hornet Casefiles.