Saturday, August 27, 2016

AVENUE OF SPIES by Alex Kershaw

This is a very good book about the Nazi occupation of Paris in the second world war from the perspective of an American husband/Swiss wife couple that lived on one of the swankiest streets of the city. I had no idea how Paris had been taken by the Germans without firing a shot, and the enormity of the gradual but constantly building of the SS and Gestapo's efforts to track down resistance.

The Jackson family in the book is headed by Sumner, a native of Maine, who worked at the American Hospital. While the Gestapo confiscated houses all along his street, not only did Jackson continue his work at the hospital but he helped hide food for his patients as well as aid downed Allied fighters on their way out of France and back to Britain.

Toward the end of the war, a French collaborator turned them in and the family was arrested after the Allies had landed at Normandy. Toquette Jackson, Sumner's wife and Phillip's mother, was separated from the men, who miraculously were able to stay together until the end of the war. The odds were stacked against all of them, and still two out of the three survived the war.

The book tells the story of the Paris occupation and the Vichy government with the center around this one family, and by doing so gives a microcosm of life in the City of Lights, including how Hitler's offices disobeyed his direct order to leave it in rubble before the Allies arrived. Recommended.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Visual Guide to Bouchercon 2016 Events

So this is happening Wednesday evening. It's organized by Eric Beetner and his events are always fun, always fast-paced, and always over too soon:

Then there's my Thursday morning panel at 9:00 a.m., LaGalleries 1. This is the third year for this panel and it always comes up as one of everyone's favorites. I'll be talking about Peter Rabe....

There's an autographing session in there somewhere, but the better one should be in the book room at Mystery Mike's tables Friday morning at 9:40. This is the ad in the program book:

So please, by all means, find me and say hello if you're headed down to New Orleans for "the big one" next month....

Monday, July 25, 2016

Bill Crider

I am absolutely crestfallen by the news of veteran crime, western, horror, and men's adventure writer Bill Crider. Apparently Bill has found out very recently that he's ill, so ill that he sounds as though he may not be with us much longer. A very aggressive form of carcinoma is what he's told us.

Bill has not only been a great supporter of my books, but is truly one of the nicest people on the planet. Not just writers, but people. Those who knew him felt his pain as he related the loss of his wife of over fifty years not all that long ago. Up until now he's still posted pictures of Judy and little stories of their life together but now he says he may not be posting anything. Ever.

I've been called some flattering things about my personal knowledge of paperback original era authors, not only because of my essays but also my editing of and contributing to the book PAPERBACK CONFIDENTIAL. But I would challenge anyone who thinks they have more than a passing era of anything paperback related to have a conversation with Bill and not come away learning any number of things. You might have to draw a few things out of him, though; his humility prevents any sort of overbearing.

He's trying to get into one of the best cancer centers in the country this week. Someone posted somewhere about Jimmy Carter's miraculous recovery from his own cancer--maybe, hopefully, if the Universe has a heart, Bill can enjoy a similar resurgence.

Get well, Bill, and the sooner the better. We, the entire community that you've been such a part of for so long, needs you around for a lot more years. You set an example very few of us will ever match.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

My Mother's Funeral

Life likes its curve balls. When I did my trip through Florida, culminating in the wonderful Key West Mystery Fest, I came home for about a week and a half, and then I heard my mother had collapsed. My little sister called with the news. I'm not sure how she found out because my other sister and my brother have made themselves the only kids that count. When my father died my wife called Isa because the other two couldn't be bothered.

I called the hospital immediately. For some damn reason they gave me to the Queen sister, who asked me three times, "How did you find out?" as though her efforts to keep the news from me had failed. When my little sister told the busybody one that I would be there in the morning--living up in northern New Hampshire makes it difficult to get anywhere quickly--she said that I didn't even need to come.

There's a lot more in that particular story, none of it reflecting well on the one sister and my brother, and my father would have rolled over in his grave. Again, as he would have done it during his first funeral, when the busybody and my brother denied my younger sister a seat with the family. How was that communicated? With choice four-letter words, of course.

My mother's funeral was two nights ago. After I flew to see her in Minneapolis, I came home after the MRI proved that her brain had been destroyed, was home for a day, then drove to Manhattan for ThrillerFest. Then I stayed an extra day for a Noir @ the Bar reading (I need to put up that poster on my website) and drove home the next day. Two days later I was headed for the Public Saftey Writers Association conference in Las Vegas. I'd been invited, appeared on three panels, and got to enjoy the constant second-hand smoke that makes up Las Vegas's breathing spaces. Right now I'm jet-lagged off my rear end but I could have flown directly from Vegas to Minneapolis for my mother's funeral.

But I didn't.

It was very difficult to get any information from my brother but as he denied or lied about everything that happened at my father's service in regards to my little sister, I decided I couldn't tacitly support their untrue version of what they had done.

People not related to anyone were seated in the family row. We had to pull up an extra chair so my wife and I could both sit. I had no idea until later that they wouldn't allow my sister a seat. Plenty of people saw it, including my wife and a very good friend from high school. At the end of it, when I had just been told, my mother tried to get us to go over to my brother's house. Shocked and appalled I told her we weren't going to do that. We seemed to have parted on good terms. I wasn't going to make a scene.

When my brother deigned to answer my e-mails, he denied any of what happened with my sister was real. I had told him that that couldn't happen again, that when the officiator read her bio that Mom had eleven grand-children, instead of the four that came from my busybody sister. I told him that all of us should sit in the family row, as it should have happened at my Dad's funeral. I told him that all of us should be allowed to speak.

He told me in no uncertain terms that none of what had happened at my Dad's funeral had actually happened, despite all the people that saw it, and that I would not be allowed to speak.

In other words, it was their way or the highway. They have done so much over the years to splinter the family. My parents moved down to Florida to be near my wife and I. My Dad taught my son to play golf. We were together every Thanksgiving. I'd drive my dad's car and he'd drive my Jeep. I helped him out in his house, crimping and connecting the cable outlets in the ceiling of his house, helping clean up after a hurricane, and so on.

Apparently my older sister and younger brother thought they knew best. They tried to make me an outcast. I didn't allow it at my father's service but they toughened up for my mother's and forced me into a choice: attend not as my mother's son but at their tolerance, or be satisfied with the goodbyes I'd said to my mother at the hospital.

They kept her plugged in for a couple of extra days so people who had gone on vacation for the Fourth could come back. They left after my Mom had collapsed and went anyway. When they finally unplugged her, they didn't make the effort to even let me know.

When I was younger, I rode my bike to the hospital where my dad's mother was dying of lung cancer. I remember going into this big empty room expecting to spend some nice time with my grandmother--I used to drop by on her and her husband at random times at their house--and was shocked when she couldn't kick me out of there fast enough. "I don't want anyone to see me like this!" she said.

I don't believe my mother would have like to have been kept alive artificially so people could come and see her. That's just my opinion, but it seemed so unnecessary and absent of dignity (and my mother wasn't exactly devoid of being vain), that it was painful for me to see. At least one of my relatives came to that conclusion on his own and I salute him for it.

So I didn't go. I assume I could have changed flights and got there on time but for what? To be shunned by two people who had no business shunning any family member? To legitimize their inane and disingenuous claims?

I didn't go because they were lying about essentially everything, their keeping her artificially breathing against the terms of her living will, and their continued denial of their misdeeds kept me away. I've always been above those family dynamics. I moved away from those people after college and never went back. There are reasons.

I suppose I will always be the son that didn't care enough, but that's not the truth. I'm the son that was done being talked down behind his back by tiny, insignificant people. My wife went, and took the kids, and later when she told me how she and my busybody sister had an unpleasant conversation, my sister said that she hadn't "a mean bone in her body." Then she must be a squid. My wife told her that she'd seen it and that essentially ended the conversation. My wife's take? When my sister thinks no one's looking, that's when she's doing her dirty work. And I'm sure she's write. What she does is fairly apparent.

So my mother's gone. I suppose with luck I never have to see two of my three siblings again. And I won't miss them. I have always had an almost pathological disdain of dishonesty, of lying, and there's a taint that stains any dealing with these people.

I tried once to get on better terms with my sister. My dad asked me to, and I invited her to my wedding. I really would have tried. She sent a note saying she didn't think I was sincere enough in wanting her to come, so she was going to decline. So much for that effort.

Bottom line, they don't know the relationship I had with my parents any more than I knew theirs. We were in Florida, they were in Minnesota. The point is that they presume to know and to shape their own reality based on their twisted little partnership. That's up to them, and they're welcome to it, but it's a shame and pity they had to carry it over first to my dad's funeral, and then to my mother's.

Shame on them.

Whatever they do, though, doesn't change any facts. Oh, they can convince their friends of anything they want to, and more power to them. Talking behind people's backs is how they've gotten to where they are. There's nothing anyone could do about it if they tried.

So congratulations, you two. You kept me out of Mom's funeral. I can only hope that I'm more at peace with that decision than they can be with theirs, but I'm sure that's a forlorn hope.

Good night, Mom. I miss you.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Short review, more stuff soon

I've been out of town forEVER, my mother passed away suddenly, and when I cure my own zombie-ism, I will write a longer blog. Right now, here's a brief review of a book I finished on a loooong plane ride to Vegas for the PSWA conference.

"The Apache Wars" by Paul Andrew Hutton
4.5 stars
Very readable, very entertaining history of the struggles of American expansion into Apache territory in the years following the Civil War. Treachery and betrayal on all sides--American, Apache and Mexican--highlight the violence and ultimate conquest of the region. The cast of characters is large, and the book does a wonderful job of showing how the personalities and policies of Washington, including the greed for gold and silver, collide with the torture and cruelty of a people that at times showed willingness to live together with the white man. When thing broke down, the degree of murder and cruelty are horrifying. Excellent history. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Nine Days, Nine Cities, Nine Hotel Rooms

Almost like the heading says, I am now in my eighth different hotel room in my eighth different city on the eighth consecutive day. Right now I'm in Fort Myers and after a convoluted sequence of events (drove down from Sarasota, went to a bookstore on Sanibel to talk about a signing, then to Fort Myers to talk to the ferry people, on to the hotel, then to a grocery store, back to the hotel, then to the airport to return the rental car, and a taxi back. Phwew.)

My cab driver turned out to be British (American now) and we were talking about the June 23rd vote on breaking up the British empire, and how immigration without assimilation is invasion. The melting pot vs. diversity argument, which, I think, is an interesting one.

Anyway, it turns out he used to coach the professional soccer team I grew up watching in Minnesota. Small damn world.

But I feel like I've been on the road for four years and I hope that when the Key West Mystery Fest conference kicks in on Friday, I will be conscious enough to enjoy it. I don't know how people take this glamorous life.

Saw Lisa Unger last night in Sarasota. As I got to the front of the line to get my book signed, she looks up and says, "I know you!" I haven't seen her or her husband for maybe twenty years when she was newly published and I was not (and before I was struck down by illness). Then when I reminded her that I was the editor of the BLOOD WORK anthology I'm editing in honor of the late Gary Shulze, she yells, "You're Rick!"

So she got me by sight, which is probably even more impressive after all that time had she recognized my name.

Again, small world, and at times a beautiful one.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Richard Russo

Drove down to Concord last night to meet Pulitzer Prize-winning Richard Russo, get some books signed (I'm a very occasional fan boy), and sit in the front row of an interview taped for NPR. If you listen to this, the inappropriately loud-laughing woman you may hear was seated to my immediate left. That person is always seated to my immediate left.

Russo was a charming guy, two weeks into a three week tour, so he was working. We have the same name and we both go by Rick. I told him my father, who went by "Dick," used to be bothered to no end by my nickname, saying it wasn't my real name. Then one day I pointed out that it was as much a derivative of "Richard" as was "Dick." And that was sort of the end of it, though for the rest of his days his mouth seemed to marble up like Stonewall Jackson eating a lemon when he actually used it.

Rick Russo said he had a theory: Richards born before sometime in the early forties were always known as "Dick," later we were always known as "Rick." Unscientific, I'm sure, but I told him we were both fortunate come down on the right side of that line and not be "Dicks."

"The other kids," whomever that group describes, must have been more tolerant--at least in that regard--back in the old days.

Anyway, if you care to look it up, he had some interesting things to say about his works, and the movies, and people who look like Paul Newman (my dad actually looked a lot like Paul Newman when he was younger; he told me when he first asked my mother out he asked her if she wanted to have dinner with someone who looked like Paul Newman. He finished the story with how surprised she was when it was my dad that showed up).