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    Thursday, April 17th, 2014
    12:07 pm
    Travel agents

    I finished the first draft of a story I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks. It’s been tough going for a couple of reasons. First, I used the bones of an old, unfinished story as the basis for it, but I had to pick all the pieces out and reassemble them in a different shape, so it’s kind of a Franken-story. Second, I didn’t want to start writing until I could figure out a solution to the story problem. I was worried I had set up an unsolvable situation and I didn’t want to write myself into a corner.

    I figured out the ending late last week and it’s been full speed ahead, more or less, ever since. The next problem: it came in at 5100 words and the market has a cap of 3500. I can generally get rid of 10-15% of the text in the first round or two of edits, but almost a third of it has to go. I’m pretty sure its do-able, but it’s going to take work.

    One of my stories will be featured this June in Season 4 of The Wicked Library podcast. Looking forward to hearing how they adapt it for voice.

    What is it with FX and travel agencies? First, KGB agents Philip and Elizabeth use one as their cover on The Americans and now there’s one on Fargo that’s cover for a team of hit men. I enjoyed the first episode of Fargo. It’s got such a great cast. All these wonderful people keep showing up. It was hilarious to see Kate (Addison from Private Practice) Walsh as a trash-talking widow. Bob Odenkirk as a deputy with a weak stomach. Colin Hanks as a cop who has a face-to-face with a seriously scary guy, and blinks. Keith Carradine, Martin Freeman and a host of others. Billy Bob Thornton plays a hit man, but he’s also something of an imp, stirring up shit just for fun. For example, he calls the elder son of a man he just killed and tells him that their father left everything to the other brother. For no reason other than to set them against each other, a payoff he won’t even get to see. And then he tells a badgered son how he handled someone who insulted him and promptly calls the mother when the son follows suit. He’s just handing out misery with a trace of a smile on his face. It’s goofy and funny and violent, but not completely Twin Peaks out-there wacky. This is a limited run series, just 10 episodes, so all bets are off right out of the gate.

    I started watching the SyFy series Helix, which has finished its first season and has been renewed. It’s not bad, and it has a cast of actors you might sorta recognize from other places. That politician from The Killing. The Japanese guy from Lost. It’s about a viral outbreak in an Arctic experimental station and the CDC team that’s sent in to deal with it. Sort of The Andromeda Strain with more deaths and explosions. It has suspense and science fiction tropes aplenty.

    There’s a new mayor of Loose Cannon-ville on Survivor. I have to wonder what sort of cop Tony is in the real world. He lies, manipulates, plants evidence and then goes all paranoid when he realizes that other people are playing the game as hard as he is, only with a tad more subtlety. Looks like everyone has given up on searching for immunity idols. They didn’t even bother to look for a clue at the spa resort. Spencer’s sitting in an okay position right now. He’s a strong player, and he’s got an idol. Another dumb move or two by Tony and he could be on the top of the heap.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Friday, April 11th, 2014
    1:30 pm
    Carrie at 40, or, rather 57

    Matthew Craig has devoted most of his blog in April to celebrating the 40th anniversary of the publication of Carrie. He invited me to write one of the entries, along with others like Sarah Langan, John Connolly, Simon Clark and Mark West. My entry, Carrie White at 57, went up today. Though there is a little inconsistency regarding Carrie’s age in the novel, by my estimate she would by now be a card-carrying member of the AARP and contemplating what she’d do when she retires, if she’d managed to survive prom night.

    Here’s an interview with Raymond Benson and Jeffery Deaver, editors of Ice Cold, which was selected by Reader’s Digest as one of seven books that “make it clear that short is good.”

    I’m all caught up on The Blacklist and can’t wait for the final four episodes of the first season. I’m really glad I decided to give this show a chance. Reddington is one of the most complex characters on TV. He’s delightful and ruthless. His mind works in so many different directions at the same time, and you never know what’s going to pop out of his mouth. In the midst of an escape through a restaurant kitchen, he coerces someone into transferring millions of dollars into his bank account using a tablet computer. After the transaction is confirmed, he says, “Do you find all the little fingerprints on the screen distracting or does that sort of thing not bother you?” It seems like an unscripted moment but it is so totally in character. The story is really heating up now that Lizzie believes him about [spoiler] and they’re starting to take action on that suspicion. One of my favorite Reddington-isms so far is a warning to an FBI agent hell-bent on revenge: ”Once you cross over, there are things in the darkness that can keep your heart from ever feeling the light again.”

    This week’s Survivor wasn’t quite as gonzo as the promos indicated. Okay, sure, everyone was searching for the idol at the same time, but it wasn’t the idol. The one with super-magical mystery powers. It was just a normal, regular, get-out-of-jail-free idol. The other one remains to be found. I also think they sort of wimped out by voting Morgan off the island. She was the easy target, someone who was no threat to anyone. I expected a big move, but they all played it safe. Their digs for Ponderosa are rather upscale this season. Looks like they’re staying at a luxury hotel instead of a campground.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Wednesday, April 9th, 2014
    2:56 pm
    Olfactory hallucination
    I like winning contests. Gives me a boost. The theme for the 2014 AE Micro contest was "senses," so I wrote a flash story called "Phantosmia," which was one of the five entries selected for publication in this little do-it-yourself booklet. It's a neat concept. If you're so inclined, you can print the pdf and follow the instructions to assemble a booklet containing the winning entries. Not quite as hard as putting together IKEA furniture. Otherwise, you can just read the five stories at their website. Mine is on page 5.

    Phantosmia means phantom smells, which is a symptom some people who have seizures experience. Unfortunately, the smells are generally bad odors rather than something you might appreciate, like chocolate. The story is only 200 words, so it won't take more than a minute or two for you to digest.

    I'm about 2/3 of the way caught up on The Blacklist. What a delightfully immoral/amoral character Red Reddington is, and I couldn't picture anyone else doing it the service that James Spader does. He is a Renaissance man and a hedonist who cares deeply for those in his inner circle but who is willing to pull the trigger on anyone who crosses him. He is judge, jury and executioner. He denies that he's Lizzy's father, but he thanked her adoptive father for raising her (before putting a pillow over his face). He insists her husband Tom is bad news without providing any evidence to back up his allegations. I wonder why he doesn't just take Tom out if he perceives him as such a threat. Good to see Alan Alda pop up, too.

    The penultimate season of Justified finished last night. Quite a few bangs, but also a big setup for the context of Season 6. Raylan's gambit with Kendal makes more sense now: he wasn't expecting Daryl to leap to his nephew's defense. He was expecting Kendal to grasp the seriousness of his situation and recant his confession. I liked Raylan's monologue about being forced to kill a pig by his father. Also the way he handled Kendal, threatening adult repercussions, but getting him a hot cocoa. Turns out, Raylan's ploy went somewhere in the middle: he convinced Wendy, who was the one who ultimately got her son out of trouble. He didn't interfere when she decided how to handle her brother, and he got his last lick in at Daryl, too. "Didn't I tell you you were gonna wish I'd killed you? Well. Dontcha?"

    Tim's a pretty fearless guy, standing up to Daryl Crowe, who must have five or six inches and a good chunk of pounds on him. But Tim has been in dark places and confronted people vastly more dangerous than Daryl. He tends to take risks, though, like trying to follow his prey through a live intersection, a decision for which he paid the rest of the episode. Notice how he's taking ibuprofen and rubbing his temples later on. Rachel's no slouch, either, confronting the three Mexicans ("In case it wasn't obvious, this is the part where you drop your guns") and caressing Boyd's coat as she tells him that getting him is now her personal mission in life.

    Boyd was in a major pickle, but he put all his eggs in one basket: Raylan. He figured his old nemesis would get him out of trouble, and it paid off. Poor old Jimmy didn't have such luck, and Boyd himself narrowly avoided becoming someone's skin suit, and also being stuck in a cage, like a parrot. What exactly does Yoon do with the flesh of his enemies, that's what I want to know. Boyd pulls of a neat little behind-the-back shot that he boasts about to Tim, who responds, "Good guys don't need to shoot people with their hands cuffed." At least Boyd had the decency to fix up Ava's place after the shootout. One of the Mexicans was played by the actor who was one of those chilling Salamanca brothers from Breaking Bad.

    Ava proved she could handle herself in tight spots but her overall situation in prison was becoming untenable. She had a perpetual target on her back. So when Raylan came back with another offer, she didn't have much choice. It wasn't quite as good as the last one: instead of getting Boyd to cooperate with the Feds, she now has to spy on him. Raylan was all set to go to Florida (so Winona can finally take a nap), and was deflecting all objections to his departure until the idea of taking on Boyd arose. It's funny that he thought the person at the center of all the calamity in Kentucky was himself at first.

    So, not exactly an explosive season finale, as these things go, but rather a launching pad for things to come. Boyd seems thrilled at the prospect of getting back to robbing banks, and it's not entirely clear whether Vasquez is really after Boyd or Katherine Hale, who may have been the brains of her husband's operation, if that smile of hers is to be interpreted.

    Don't be scared. Everything's gonna be fine.
    Monday, April 7th, 2014
    12:31 pm
    Good for the goose

    I finished reading Ice Cold this weekend. I even re-read my own story. It’s an impressively solid anthology that tackles the Cold War from so many different angles. There’s even a Hemingway “Crook Factory” inspired story and one that was inspired by a real life experience of a famous author. Our first review, from bookreporter.com, is both lengthy and effusive. The blurbable quote is: “It is a must-have volume for your bookshelf” and it ends by saying, “The stories are not long, but run deep and are memorable, particularly for those of us who remember the dawn of that cold conflict.”

    I’m currently reading an ARC of No Safe House by Canadian crimewriter Linwood Barclay. It’s a sequel to No Time for Goodbye and takes place seven years after the events in that book. As a sequel, it does a couple of things particularly well. First, it contains enough backstory for anyone who hasn’t read the earlier book (like me) to understand what’s going on. Second, it doesn’t reveal so much of the earlier book that someone wouldn’t want to go back and read it.

    I went on a Netflix binge this weekend, clearing out a few things from my list. On Friday night, I watched Exile, a three part BBC crime drama starring John Simm (Doctor Who, Life on Mars), Olivia Coleman (Broadchurch), Jim Broadbent and Claire Goose (Waking the Dead). Simm plays a disgraced journalist who scampers back to his family home. He’s been estranged for many years from his father (Broadbent), who is now suffering from Alzheimer’s. His sister (Coleman) has been caring for him, and she’s had it up to here. They come to an understanding and he agrees to help out. However, their father’s mind is fixated on some strange parts of his life and the more Simm digs into it, the more he turns up. It’s a family drama and a mystery where the major clues are all locked inside his father’s mind. Powerful people don’t want him stirring up old crimes. Quite a good tale. Claire Goose plays his new (but married to one of his best friends from high school) love interest.

    Then on Saturday, I watched Headhunters, a Norwegian film based on a standalone novel by Jo Nesbø. I hadn’t read the book, but I’ve read all of Nesbø’s Harry Hole novels, and the film came recommended to me by Michael Slade. It’s a quirky, oddball film that reminded me at times of Fargo. The main character is a business headhunter who is 5′ 6″ and declares in the opening moments that he tends to overcompensate for his shortcomings. He’s married to a statuesque blonde and he’s so insecure that he steals artwork so he can buy her a nice house and other nice things. He’s quite successful at it. His partner works for a security company and can shut off alarms at will, so that helps. He interviews a candidate for a high tech company, but when the guy seduces his wife (something he learns while he’s in the middle of robbing the guy’s flat), of course there’s no job offer pending. From there, things devolve very fast, and the main character ends up running for his life, arrested, shot, stabbed, slashed, bitten by a dog, run off the road while in police custody, and so on. Quite exhilarating and mordantly funny at times. I especially got a kick out of the scene where his partner and a Russian prostitute are engaged in a game of naked “laser tag,” using real guns.

    Yesterday, three more double episodes of Waking the Dead. I’m nearing the end of the fourth season, where I understand dire things are going to happen to a character. Her goose is cooked, so to speak. I found it funny that they decided to address Boyd’s anger management issues. That’s one thing I’ve commented on before: everyone seems angry on this show. Shouty.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Friday, April 4th, 2014
    11:30 am
    They didn’t even name him Mr. Black

    I don’t take on new series lightly. In fact, I’ve become somewhat mercenary. In recent days, I deleted Bates Motel and The Walking Dead from my DVR series recordings.

    However, I’ve been meaning to check out The Blacklist, having heard good things about it, and since the episodes are piling up I decided to see if it was worthwhile. It had one strike against it from the get-go: It was on NBC. Of all the shows I watch at present, only two are on that network, and the ones I’ve tried out in recent years have either been disappointments or canceled when they were getting interesting. Or both. However, The Blacklist has enough episodes under its belt that it looks like it will be around for a while, and I’ve heard good things about it from others, without paying too close attention to what it’s about.

    James Spader (Boston Legal) plays Reddington, who has been on the FBI’s most wanted list for 20 years. In the first episode, he walks into the agency headquarters and surrenders himself. He is a valuable font of information; however, he has a condition. He will only talk to Elizabeth Keen, a newbie profiler fresh from Quantico. In fact, it’s her first day at her new job. No one knows why he picked her, and he’s not saying. She bears scars, literal and metaphorical, from her past. In the first episode, she and her husband are in the late stages of adopting. By the second episode, she’s not sure who her husband is any more.

    Reddington has a list, which he calls his blacklist for the sake of drama (by his own admission). This mental list contains names of criminals, many of whom the Feds don’t even know exist. If some of his other conditions are met, he will divulge names and details, which he does on a week-by-week basis. Though in general he’s working on the side of good after two decades, he has hidden motives and sometimes uses the Feds to his own benefit. He’s a real card: Alan Shore if things had gone another route. He’s smooth and skillful and charming and lethal. It’s not clear why he’s so interested in Elizabeth, but he knows a lot about her. At this early stage, three episodes in, I’m open to the idea that he might be her real father. We’ll see. It’s a crime-of-the-week show with an through-line. I like that.


    This week’s Survivor was a real wowser. Tribal Council was the best part. Two people played idols on behalf of other people, unplanned, but the vote from the other tribe was aimed at someone else, so it was a useless gesture. Except, just when it seemed like they were going to lose someone, a player on the other team flipped and broke the tie in the opposite direction. My jaw dropped. It will be interesting to see the repercussions, but it seems like next week will focus on this new immunity idol with secret special powers.

    It was nice seeing Stuart Margolin on NCIS this week. People of a certain age will remember him as Angel on The Rockford Files, Jim’s jailhouse friend who was always trying to run a con of some sort.

    Talking about jaw-dropping, Raylan’s gambit at the end of this week’s Justified is a real hail mary. By upping the ante, having Kendall charged as an adult, he’s really putting the screws to Daryl Crowe, Jr. Crowe thought a few years in juvie would toughen up his brother slash nephew, but this is a whole new game. Only one episode left to see how it resolves.

    The running joke of the past few episodes has been the bartender in Boyd’s joint. “This is the worst job in the world,” he says after being shot in the knee, a week after being coshed and tied up. The comedy continued with Dewey’s run-in with the old lady from whom he was “borrowing” some gasoline to keep his smokey Gremlin going. “You’re a little touched, aintcha child?” she asked, moments before she went after him with her shotgun. Finally, Dewey gets caught incriminating himself and demands some final respect from Raylan. “My advice: stop talking about yourself in the third person. Makes you sound like a fool.” Dewey doesn’t understand the literary reference. “Third person? You mean, this guy?” he asks, pointing at the driver. “I don’t understand you,” he says to Raylan, and not for the first time.

    Ava’s in a tight spot, and she missed her chance to use Boyd to improve her situation. Hard to imagine that ending well, unless Boyd can make another deal. The savior with the silver tongue has talked himself out of corners before, when he’s not resorting to a “redneck I.E.D.” But what about poor Jimmy? Is he going to be on the receiving end of a skin-related procedure?

    A nice nod to Elmore Leonard when Tim cuts Boyd’s long-winded story off: Why don’t you leave out the parts we’d like to skip?”

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Tuesday, April 1st, 2014
    11:27 am
    Endings are hard

    Awoke this morning to news of another short story sale. This one is for a flash fiction piece that was one of the winners of a contest. The official announcement hasn’t been made yet, so I won’t say where until it has.

    Today is also the day Ice Cold goes on sale in just about every format known to mankind. That’s the back cover over there. I’m about halfway through it (I received my contributor copies a while back) and I am impressed by all the various ways people approached the general theme of Cold War. It’s really an excellent anthology. I’m sorry I won’t be able to make it to They Mysterious Bookstore in NYC at the end of the month for the official launch.

    So, a couple of days have passed since the season ending of The Walking Dead. My preliminary reaction to it: I removed the series from my DVR recording schedule. I gave it a chance and, in the end, I just didn’t care about any of the characters or what happened to them. Yeah, the bunch at Terminus are probably luring people to the site because it’s easier to have food come to you than it is to go out and get it. As for who among the cast of familiars might already have become barbecue, I really don’t care. The show has never really engaged me after Darabont left.

    Last night was the series finale of How I Met Your Mother and I’m still processing how I feel about it. A lot of people hated it; I didn’t. I didn’t love the first half hour, mostly because it seemed altogether too real for a sitcom. I didn’t hate it, but it certainly didn’t provide the warm fuzzy feeling I was expecting from the finale. The second half was better. I loved the moment under the umbrella when they first truly met each other. I liked the stories of their lives in the future. Some people didn’t like what Robin turned into, but it made sense to me: that level of success was always her dream. It’s what she came to NY for in the first place. I have to say, though, that as cute and likable as the mother, Tracy, was, she seemed like an interloper in the future scenes, hanging out with “our five” like she belonged there. They didn’t show us enough of her for her to have earned that place, kidding Barney about “Number 31″ and “where are you registered?” It was nice seeing her there, but we should have seen more of her to get to that point. This conceit of making the entire final season about Barney and Robin’s wedding wasn’t a good one, in my opinion, because the wedding was really only important in that it was the place where Ted met Tracy. Otherwise, it probably wasn’t as memorable an event in their lives as we were led to believe. However, the last five minutes repaid all, in my opinion, and it’s where the showrunners always meant to go. The final bit between Ted and his kids (the kids part, at least) was filmed eight or nine years ago so the actors would still be kids (the actress who plays his daughter is now 27), and it’s the way I always hoped things would work out. BTW: According to my calculations, Ted is my age in that final moment.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Friday, March 28th, 2014
    12:32 pm
    Everyone sees him through your eyes now

    This is about Homeland, season 3. If you haven’t seen it, then you should probably quickly avert your eyes.

    The theme of the season was redemption: Carrie’s for being right about Brody all along and Brody’s attempt to atone for some of the bad things he did in the past.

    The entire season can be summed up simply: Saul and Carrie concoct a plan to turn a high-ranking Iranian official so that he can influence internal policy and open the country to the west. They will insert Brody into the country as an asylum seeker so he can remove an obstacle to this official’s advancement.

    Of course, nothing is simple on Homeland. To get the Iranians to take the bait, Saul has to leave Carrie hanging after she has another meltdown. She has to seem vulnerable, and it has to be more than just a cover story. Saul keeps this plan so close to the vest that no one else in the agency knows what’s going on until the plan kicks into high gear. There are two catches. 1) Saul thought he was going to become the agency director, but it turns out that a senator has been picked for that spot, so Saul is something of a lame duck, with little power or leverage. 2) Carrie is pregnant with Brody’s child, a fact she does not reveal to Saul.

    I was aware of a lot of muttering and murmuring about the third season on Facebook and Twitter as it was airing, but I didn’t look into it at the time. Binge-watching a show is a different experience. If you think things are going too slowly or that side plots are taking up too much air time, you only have to wait an hour for it to change, not a week, or weeks. Few people seemed interested in Dana’s story, which did take up a lot of the first several episodes and ultimately didn’t go anywhere meaningful, even after Brody gets to talk to her one last time. Might the season have gone better without all of the Brody family drama? Perhaps, but Brody was back on American soil and to totally ignore the family would have seemed strange. So I didn’t mind.

    The scenes in Caracas were interesting. I visited that city a couple of decades ago. I didn’t get into lawless areas like the Tower of David, but I was warned after the fact that I hadn’t been terribly smart in wandering around the city on my own. I didn’t run into any problems but I guess I might have. I liked the ambiguity of Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham). I didn’t trust him for much of the season, and in truth it would be wise not to trust him as he operated with his own agenda, which sometimes aligned with Saul’s and sometimes it didn’t. I loved the scene where he and Saul locked Lockhart in the conference room so they’d have time to get Javadi out of the country. Despite Lockhart’s smug overconfident demeanor, he wasn’t often wrong. Seen impartially, his views usually made sense.

    Javadi was a fascinating character. Not entirely evil but far from good, too. He was willing to murder two women to settle an old score but more importantly to stick it to Saul in the only way left to him before the boot came down. I liked him, most of the time. He was one of the few sane people amidst all that madness—certainly saner than Carrie most of the time. But, speaking of Carrie, don’t you think Saul would lend her theories a bit more credence after a while? After she’d been proven right time and time again?

    There were some dropped ideas. Quinn’s angst and intent to leave the agency, inspired by his accidental shooting of the boy in Caracas withered on the vine. He’s still there four months after the operation ends, and all that stuff with the police over the Javadi murders had no real impact. I also thought they missed a huge crossover opportunity with the homicide cop, played by the actor who was Meldrick Lewis on Homicide: Life on the Streets.

    What about the law firm that was acting on Iran’s behalf? What became of Fara, who clearly had issues with some of Saul’s measures? And what happened with the Mossad agent after he was arrested for spying on Saul (and sleeping with his wife)?

    And it is rather incredible that Carrie’s baby is healthy after all the drugs and alcohol she consumed, not to mention the constant state of stress. Plus, I never really bought her as a pregnant woman in the last episode. She certainly didn’t walk like one.

    I’m glad they decided not to rescue Brody at the eleventh hour. His death made sense. His earlier misdeeds “cast a long shadow,” and he himself realized that redeeming yourself for murder by killing someone else was twisted logic.

    There were some really great tense scenes, although I guessed in advance that there would be a false scare with Brody and his ID card after he killed Akbari. By the end of the twelve episodes, the slate is wiped clean. The Brody mess is over, once and for all, and the show can move on. With or without Saul? That’s an open question. Dar Adal (he of the “old school” breakfast) thinks he’d come back in a heartbeat if asked, but I can’t seem him working with Lockhart. Carrie is moving on to a new opportunity to handle Javadi, with or without this daughter.

    I was expecting a train wreck of a season, but it wasn’t bad at all. Glad I saved all the episodes and watched them in a few sittings. It’s no Breaking Bad, but that’s okay. Few shows are.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Wednesday, March 26th, 2014
    12:24 pm
    The empress of ice cream

    I submitted a short story this morning to the Elmore Leonard tribute anthology. I had a good draft finished for a while but had some feedback from a first reader that I needed to consider. I ended up making some fairly drastic revisions and I’m quite happy with the way it turned out. This is a non-paying market (royalties-only anthology, which is pretty much the same thing), but I’m willing to make an exception in this case because I’m a big fan of Mr. Leonard’s work. Fingers crossed that I at least make the short list.

    My review of the French King e-short “Sale Gosse” went up on FEARnet yesterday. I called it “Pardon my French.”

    Last night’s NCIS was the first part of a two-part franchise spin-off for the New Orleans incarnation starring Scott Bakula. I’m not a huge fan of spin-off episodes. They try to hard, as a rule. There’s too much for them to do in too short a time. And this being New Orleans, they also tried to cram in everything associated with the city, which made it feel almost like a cliche or a parody. I’m not sure I’ll add the spin-off to my weekly viewing. I gave the L.A. version a shot and it didn’t work for me.

    It’s hard to believe that, after nine years, there’s only one episode of How I Met Your Mother left. I can count on the fingers of half a hand the number of sitcoms I watch, and losing HIMYM is going to reduce the number by half. The show is sort of Friends crossed with Seinfeld. Not exactly about nothing, but neither was Seinfeld, really. Great, memorable, funny characters, improbable, implausible situations, but a good, good heart. I still think Ted should have ended up with Robin, but that’s my only quibble. This final season has been erratic, but each episode always had at least one exceptional moment, and many of them had more than that.

    So, Stephen King is going to get an invite to Castle & Beckett’s wedding. What does one get another author and his cop fiancee for a wedding gift? Kill them off in your next book?

    Last week’s preview for Justified robbed the shooting scene in this week’s show of much of its tension. It was pretty obvious that it wasn’t Allison who was shot. There’s no way that could have happened given the geometry of the situation. Still, it was a good cheat, having Art not realize where the bullet went, as cheats go. I learned that the actress who plays Art’s wife is Nick Searcy’s wife. Keeping it in the family.

    The big gag of the show, though, was Boyd’s cigarette, which I thought up until the Face Off moment was a bug. Famous last words: Shit’ll kill you. I think they’re going to have to pay that non-smoking room violation fine after all. “I may not know a lot about a lot of things, but I do know how to blow shit up.” Picker doesn’t need to worry about Tim getting on his case any more.

    I loved the scene between Mary Steenburgen’s Katherine Hale and Vasquez. There’s a lot of history there, as evidenced by her description of him as a “smug little hobbit-looking beaner shitbird.”

    Ever notice how people in prison on TV and in movies seem to be able to move around a lot and get up to stuff? The scene where Judith’s old gang dubbed Ava the Empress of Ice Cream was pretty cool. Hope she doesn’t let all the power go to her head. But she solved her problem and was richly rewarded for it. Except, can a person really eat all that ice cream in one sitting?

    It was pretty obvious Kendel was lying. After all, his story didn’t match up with the way things happened at all. Raylan knows that intuitively but if Art recovers the lie will be exposed, too. Now it’s all down to Raylan vs. Darryl, which should make for an interesting final two episodes. Rachel’s in charge, and Raylan is doing his best to not be too Raylan-esque (he turned down Tim’s offer to go all Raylan on Darryl before he turned himself in). He promises not to kill Darryl but destroy everything around him. Which amounts to…what, exactly?

    I’m binge-watching the third season of Homeland. Halfway through. I was aware of some grumbling about the season as it aired, but didn’t look too closely at what people were complaining about. Granted, after six episodes not a whole lot has happened. The kind of plot developments that Breaking Bad would probably have covered in two episodes at the most. I did like Esme, though. She reminded me of Nova from Planet of the Apes.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Monday, March 24th, 2014
    10:53 am
    The hand that launched a thousand signatures

    Maybe closer to 1500. I received the signature pages for the Cemetery Dance S/L of The Dark Tower Companion this weekend. It’s limited to 1000 copies plus 52 lettered. There are always extra sheets in case of spoilage and loss, so I probably signed something like 1200 or 1300 times. I didn’t count. It’s a mind-numbing process, out of necessity. If I focus on it too much, I start forgetting how to form my letters. Whenever I get to the point that I can’t remember how to write the initial B, I take a break. I did most of them yesterday afternoon in maybe eight or ten separate sessions. Now they’re all boxed up and headed back to CD.

    I submitted a 1500-word review of Mr. Mercedes to CD this weekend, too. If all goes according to plan, it should be in an issue that comes out shortly before the book does in June.

    I posted a couple of reviews this weekend, both for books that I really enjoyed: The Fever by Megan Abbott and Hunting Shadows by Charles Todd. This is my first Todd and I was really impressed by how well these two Americans, mother and son, capture the feel of an early 20th century England. Now I’m about ¾ of the way through The Leopard by Jo Nesbø. I’ve always enjoyed his books, though I wish he didn’t feel obligated to include these little italicized passages from the killer’s point of view. They don’t really contribute much to the story, in my opinion. I’m also almost halfway through Death Without Company, the second Longmire novel by Craig Johnson, which I’m reading to my wife.

    I got a kick out of the audience warning before this week’s episode of Hannibal. It had the usual advisory about mature content, but expanded it to say that there were flashing lights with strobe effects, which I guess can cause seizures in some people. They didn’t warn us, though, that a psycho lady was going to stick big pointy things into people’s eyes. That almost gave me a seizure.

    We finished the last four episodes of the second season of House of Cards this weekend. We could tell that he was manipulating the president and his wife into something all season long, but it wasn’t until the end that the whole scheme fell into place. So many things could have gone wrong along the way that it’s hard to fathom how anyone could plot out such a byzantine scheme and hope that it would work, but it did. Alas, Frank’s going to have to proceed without his henchman, Doug, from the looks of things. One of the season’s biggest surprises was the menage-a-trois with the Secret Service agent. Of course, it solved the problem of trying to get up to stuff while being under constant surveillance, but Frank’s participation felt unmotivated. There didn’t seem to be any precedent. He and Claire sure did leave a lot of damaged individuals in their wake. Can’t wait to see where the next season goes.

    We have a bunch of old Graham Norton shows on the DVR, so we picked one at random and it was hilarious: Matt Damon, Bill Murray and Hugh Bonneville promoting The Monuments Men. I’ve always had the impression that Murray could be a tough interview, but he warmed up quickly (after downing a couple of flutes of champagne), and the trio had good chemistry together. At one point Damon said, “This is the most fun I’ve ever had on a talk show,” and he seemed to mean it.

    Only one more episode of The Walking Dead left, thankfully. I decided to stick with it to the end of the season, but then I’m done. I quit once before, got talked back into it, but it’s been a slog. None of the characters seem terribly real, and the dialog is just plain bad most of the time.

    I thought for a while they were going to send Rigsby out of The Mentalist with a real bang, and they sort of did, but not in a final way. He took a couple to the chest but was still able to save the day.

    Tough challenge on The Amazing Race. It was fun to see the Harlem Globetrotter entertaining the workers while his partner labored away, and to see him toss the b-ball to Phil at the mat. Alas, a missed flight put one team so far behind they could never get back in the game and, as they said, there wasn’t anything they could have done about that once they decided to go standby. Them’s the brakes.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Thursday, March 20th, 2014
    2:08 pm
    Sprung

    It’s easy to tell that spring has arrived. Yesterday afternoon my car was absolutely covered in greenish-yellow pollen. When I pulled out of my parking spot, it flowed across the windshield like snow pellets.

    Working on essays and book reviews this week. I turned in a piece to FEARnet the other day and now I have a review that has to go into CD by the weekend, although I plan to finish it tomorrow if possible. I have a short story that I need to revise and a stack that I’m going to hunt down new potential markets for, and then it’s off to novel land again. The more I think about this book (and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking but not much writing on it), the more layers I come up with.

    Keith Carradine on NCIS reminded me of Dr. Johnny Fever from WKRP.

    I saw three shows in the past day or so where the last five minutes (or less) were amazing. On The Americans it was really the final minute when the attempted kidnapping of the physicist goes so very, very wrong. How many times can you slam the trunk on a guy’s hand? For a while, it was the women who were kicking butt, and it was the woman assailant who got the last laugh by driving off and leaving our “heroes” standing gaping in the street. I find it interesting how they’re fighting the battle for the motherland on the grand scale and then the battle for their children’s souls (well, not exactly souls, that’s sort of the issue, but that’s the essence of it) on the home front.

    Then there was CSI, where the creepy daughter turned everything on its head in the last couple of minutes. How much of what they thought they knew already was true? In any case, that was one messed up family. And then on Survivor, the newly merged team pulled off a brilliant blindside. It’s not unusual to see the evicted person gape with surprise, but jaws dropped on either side of him, too. It was hilarious to see, and it looks like the implications of that vote may create an interesting and novel situation next week.

    You had to be a blind person not to guess that Rizzoli might be pregnant on this weeks Rizzoli & Isles, the first episode to not feature Lee Thomas Young. They haven’t written him out of the show yet, but they did cut the spring season to only a handful of episodes while they figure out what to do about the loss.

    It’s rarely funny when a character dies, but Danny Crowe’s swan song on Justified was drop dead hilarious. All season long he’s been going on and on about his 21 foot rule and just when he was about to put it to the test, he goes and falls into his dog’s freshly dug grave and impales himself with the famous knife. Apparently the scene was inspired by something from an Elmore Leonard novel, where a bad guy falls down and accidentally shoots himself. According to the showrunner, Timothy Olyphant could barely stop laughing the whole time they were filming the scene. I also liked the scene where “Officer Buzz Kill” wormed the information out of the two prostitutes.

    So, Dickey Bennett was back for a bit. Looks like he’s getting his hair styled at the Boyd Crowder Salon. I loved the way Raylan plunked down on the bench, put his head on his hands and just watched as Dickey spun out another long-winded yarn. There are as many inept crooks in Leonard’s works as ept ones. Take Dewey (“I got your heroin. Well, I got half of it, but it’s the whole half.”) Crowe, releasing his Gremlin on a hill and having to chase after it, running over the same big stone that rips the muffler from the car. “A lot of confidence for a guy who wears shorts with combat boots.”

    The Crowe gang is diminishing and now they’re in-fighting. And Ava tried her best not to stab Judith in the prison but ended up having to do it anyway, while at the same time Boyd failed in his quest to get Albert to recant. That’s one twisted little dude. It will be interesting to see how Mary Steenburgen’s character whips things into shape.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Tuesday, March 18th, 2014
    2:01 pm
    The English are landing

    I did something last weekend that I haven’t in a while: I read something quite long in French. The work was “Sale Gosse,” the French translation of the Stephen King novella “Bad Little Kid,” which at present is only available in French and German. I’ve read a few French books in the past and was quite pleased by how little I had to rely on the dictionary. Even the metaphors and idioms came through, although I was at first befuddled by a couple of instances of a phrase that translated literally as “the English are landing.” I had to resort to Google for that one. I learned that it is the way the French refer to a woman’s time of the month. Apparently something to do with the redcoats and the long-running history between the French and the English. I wrote an article for FEARnet about the story, which should appear soon.

    Last night, I received a box of contributor copies of Ice Cold: Tales of Intrigue from the Cold War, the MWA anthology edited by Jeffrey Deaver and Raymond Benson, which contains my short story “The Honey Trap.” The book comes out on April 1. I’m really looking forward to reading the other contributions.

    Banshee finished its second season with a record-breaking viewership. Paltry by most standards, but it was the largest viewership Cinemax has ever had for its original content. The show has been renewed for a third season. It’s an over-the-top show, pulpy to the max, with impossible violence orchestrated like ballet and soft-core porn-level sex, but it’s interesting, too. They went a tad overboard this season with the concept of parallel structure: similar things happening to different characters at the same time. It was as if they thought they had discovered it, and they almost hammered viewers over the head with it, but that was my biggest complaint. It was an interesting choice to go back in time with Ana, Rabbit and “Hood” to see the things we’ve only heard about in passing until now. I liked the exchange between Ana/Carrie and Hood where he’s talking about his military experience. “How many lives have you lived?” she asks, to which he responds, “None, really.” Give ten bad guys machine guns and they can’t hit crap, but Job and a few other guys hit the mark every time. Rabbit’s final benediction: Somewhere in the future there’s a bench like this waiting for you. Probably true for a guy like “Hood.”

    After strewing the church with empty casings and turning the pillars into Swiss cheese, and then dispatching Rabbit once and for all, what was there left to do? Plenty, as it turns out. We got to see the albino once more, in flashback, then Rebecca had the strangest sexual encounter on the show to date (and that’s saying a lot) with Chief “Thunder Man.” What a little sociopath she’s turned into. And then Emmett heads across the border to Maryland, content in thinking he’s out of the fray, only to find himself on the wrong end of a machine gun. Deva drops buy to visit her newly discovered Dad, Rebecca cuddles up with her naked uncle, and the Incredible Hulk decides it’s time to head back to Banshee, setting up next season. Oh, and Hood has a meaningful moment with Siobhan. A lot of the past has been wrapped up, which could open things up for Season 3.

    I dropped Bates Motel off my DVR recording schedule. I just don’t care about 85% of what’s going on, and the remaining 15% isn’t enough to keep me hanging around. There are  good ways to handle prequels (e.g. Hannibal) and bad ways. Hannibal is stylistic and it focuses on the central characters. It doesn’t need to go off in 75 directions all at once. There’s Will and Hannibal and everything else arises naturally from that conflict.

    We’re about 2/3 of the way through the second season of House of Cards. It probably takes people like Frank and Claire to succeed in that environment, sad to say. Ultimately, everyone is dispensable, a means to an end.

    The challenges on The Amazing Race seem really hard this season. The simultaneous martini trick was a real doozy, and the rival DJ scratching seemed just as hard, and impossible of course for the deaf contestant.

    The Walking Dead finally did something to make me sit up and pay attention. The end of this week’s episode was quite shocking. Goes to show that characterization trumps horror and special effects. I still am not a huge fan of this fragmented 2014 season in general, though.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Tuesday, March 11th, 2014
    2:01 pm
    The dark has a lot more territory

    True Detective ended its eight-week first season on Sunday night and it seems that a fair number of people aren’t all that happy with how it turned out. There are two major camps on that side, as far as I can suss out. One group doesn’t like it that the top guns got away: the politicians and the well connected. Well, that’s life in a nutshell, pretty much, so it should come as no surprise that the series reflected that. The other group wasn’t keen on Rust’s epiphany. Some aren’t even pleased that he survived at all.

    Okay, so maybe the ending was a little Pollyanna-esque. The scales fall from the curmudgeon’s eyes and the universe isn’t as terrible a place as he thought for the past 50 years. I can buy into that, or not. Rust’s been having waking visions all his life, so why should an unconscious one have that much effect on him? Shrug. Because it apparently did, I guess. None of that vitiates my appreciation for the show. It dared us to look in a very dark place and, more importantly, it made us look at people who are looking at a very dark place. We don’t see the video: we see how it makes Rust and Marty and even the shifty cop react. And we get to see Carcosa, the manifestation of a seriously mangled mind. We don’t understand everything that happened to that guy to make him the way he was. At times he seems juvenile, but his James Mason voice was creepy and very much a man’s voice. He’s been left alone for far too long, though. How long would it take to create a twisted, mangled maze like the one he built? Wild stuff. Hoarders would have had a field day with that house, which would never be a contender for Good Housekeeping. There simply aren’t enough air fresheners in the world to make that place tolerable.

    If I was disappointed with anything in the finale, it was the fact that apparently Marty can no longer shoot worth a damn. He took several shots at the killer, who was no shrinking violet, and only managed to wing him. That hammer claw to the chest was icky, especially since it didn’t seem to make a sound when it went in. I will say this: Rust’s threat of a random sniper ready to take care of the cop if he went against them was a lot more effective than Walt’s threat against Gretchen and Elliott on Breaking Bad. All in all, it was a worthwhile experience, and I look forward to watching it all again very soon.

    There’s only one episode of Banshee left for the second season, and once again we’re gearing up for a big confrontation with Rabbit. The question asked by the second season seems to be: Who is Hood? Or, rather, who is the guy who adopted Hood’s persona? It was challenged in early episodes when the real Hood’s son showed up, and in more recent episodes people have been asking him to his face, “Who are you?” That was answered, in part, in episode 9. The secret’s out: He’s Dayva’s father. There’s an ID he can hang his hat on. I loved the scene between Proctor and his mother.

    The interesting thing that’s happening on The Americans this season is that, for the first time since we met this happy little spy family, they are in peril, and they have no idea where the danger is coming from. Who can they trust? They’re becoming paranoid, but with good reason.

    That river challenge on The Amazing Race is one of the most brutal I’ve seen in a long time. They had to make their own raft and then navigate through some impressive rapids. It’s a wonder no one was seriously hurt. As is often the case, a taxi was the main culprit in a team being eliminated, but in this case it was because they forgot to tell their driver to wait for them at their remote location.

    I was getting ready to pull the plug on The Walking Dead if this episode didn’t impress me. I know that we’re supposed to be getting to know some of these more minor characters better, but they’re like the folks from the tail section on Lost as far as I’m concerned. They entered the story too late for me to want to get to know them. This week was marginally better than last, and there are only three episodes left in the season, so I guess I’ll stick it out to see if they all end up at this magical Terminus, which has a rather fatalistic sound to it rather than an optimistic one.

    I’d almost forgotten that The Mentalist existed, only to have it pop back up again this week. Took me a while to remember what all was going on, especially the bit back in Sacramento with the bugged phones. Poor LaRoche. Hope he pulls through. An oddball character, but an interesting one. Maybe they’re trying to tie up any loose ends back in California. Rigsby and Van Pelt are supposed to be off the show, too.

    Bates Motel is one seriously creepy show, and it’s all thanks to Vera Farmiga. The ways she can mess up her son are legion. And then she pulls off this Patty Lupone showstopper of a performance at the auditions. Whoa.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Thursday, March 6th, 2014
    2:06 pm
    Move me onto any black square

    Yesterday I posted about two unusual writing places: the elliptical trainer and the shower. When I started writing seriously, I was an avid cyclist. I used to go out for 15-mile rides each day, 30- or 45-miles on the weekends, and I used to do some of my best troubleshooting on those rides.

    Nowadays, I write until 7:00 am, then I do 30 minutes on the elliptical and then I get in the shower. This week I’ve been working on a new short story. Each morning I’d write about 800-1000 words and then finish up at a point where I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen next. During my exercise session, I’d let my mind wander and invariably I came up with the next scene. Before hitting the shower, I’d go back to my PC and enter 50-150 words of notes to cue me for the next morning. I should finish the first draft tomorrow morning. It’s been fun, and it’s fairly typical of how I work when I’m writing fiction.

    It was good to see Ron Glass (of Barney Miller and Firefly) on CSI last night. Of course, when you see a familiar face like that, you can’t help but think he’s the perp, but they fooled me this time, despite The Who’s admonishment. Special kudos for the use of Yes’s “I’ve Seen All Good People,” which has the subject line as part of its lyrics.

    On the other hand, I thought Criminal Minds was a tad obvious in the identity of the perp. Sure, they tried hard to make it seem like the putative leader of the group was “talking to Jacob,” (as in Lost) but it came as no surprise that he wasn’t.

    Poor old Raylan. He can’t win for losing. He has this nice getaway planned to go visit his kid in Florida with his girlfriend and he gets called away by Wendy Crowe because her “nephew” has been kidnapped by his “uncle.” Raylan wants to give her the old “You’ve mistaken me for someone who cares” line but Allison convinces him he needs to get out there and find the kid. Which he does, with surprisingly little trouble and no fisticuffs or gunplay. We never did find out how Michael got there first, but in the end it didn’t matter much. Raylan tried to bond with Kendell, telling him about how he’d had trouble with his kin growing up, too, but didn’t gain much traction, even after he gave away his ill-gotten radio gains. Then, having fallen for Wendy’s promise of evidence against her kin, he ends up with bupkis. Maybe now that he’s a free man again, he can explore Wendy’s apparent interest in him.

    Boyd’s still in Mexico, trying to get a truck full of drugs and dead bodies into Texas. I told myself, after the cops drove off with the truck, that I bet he had moved the drugs to the car that was requested by the contingent that had to sit in the back of the truck with the bodies. Dewey wisely asked for A/C. And, lo and behold, I was right. Remains to be seen, though, what the next play is, as it appears the Crowes aren’t on the up and up. Surprisingly. Are you sure  you want to be considered my family, Boyd asks, considering I just executed the last blood relative that I have.

    If he messes around in Mexico too long, though, Ava might be in big trouble when it comes time for the next expected heroin shipment.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Wednesday, March 5th, 2014
    12:16 pm
    Where I write

    Some people write like this:

    Others still write like this:

    I imagine there are a few people who even do this:

    For all I know, there may even be some of this going on out there:

    I do some of my best writing here:

    And here:

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Monday, March 3rd, 2014
    3:37 pm
    Nothing grows in the right direction

    On Saturday afternoon it was 80°. This morning it was 26°, and there’s a freezing rain alert out for tomorrow morning. The kind that could, depending on how the thermometer swings, end up in ice on power lines and trees. In March. In Texas.

    When I moved to Texas 25 years ago, I went to a lot of concerts. A new pavilion opened close to where I lived and a lot of great acts played there, people I’d always liked but never had a chance to see live. Then I went through a phase where I hardly went to any shows. In the past six months, though, we’ve gone to three concerts, and they couldn’t be any more different from each other. First there was Sarah Brightman last fall. She was the original star of The Phantom of the Opera and combines opera with classical and classics. Then a couple of weeks ago we saw Gordon Lightfoot.

    Saturday night, we experienced Shpongle, in the person of Simon Posford. I discovered Shpongle after Posford collaborated with Alan Parsons on his album A Valid Path. They’re a trance band, heavily drug influenced, mostly instrumental, and I love to write to them. To my surprise, my wife likes them, too, so when the concert was announced last fall, I snapped up a few tickets. They played at the House of Blues, a place I’ve never been before, and the price was right: $20 per. I’ve seen a few of their concerts on YouTube with the whole band: it’s quite a show. Here’s one song: Dorset Perception. I was hoping for a big performance like this, but it was a one-man DJ band, which was okay in its own way. The opening group, Desert Dwellers, consisted of two guys with laptops and a whole mess of cables. At one point I thought one of the DJs was checking his email or, perhaps, his twitter feed. They were okay, but they didn’t quite have the musicality of Shpongle and their hour-long set outstayed their welcome by a good 30 minutes. 

    Posford came on at something after 10 pm in his Shpongletron, which looked something like the ELO space ship from way back. His DJ station is in the midst of it (see photo), and the periphery is a screen upon which things are projected that look like a cross between the cartoons of Monty Python and the weirdness of Hieronymus Bosch. There were growing mushrooms and floating molecules and snakes and all manner of things going on. The music, much of it could be a playback from one of their recordings with some improv thrown in, but it was an experience unlike anything we’ve ever had before. We splurged on a VIP table, which put us in a restricted area with a table and a server, whereas the rest of the audience was in front of us in an open standing area. Part of the experience was in watching these people, including one guy who was dressed like a dog or a sheep or something. There were a surprising number of people approaching our age, but they mostly hung out on the periphery. By the time the show ended (after midnight, well past my normal bed time!) we were well and truly Shpongled.

    I didn’t watch the Academy Award presentations. I’m sure they were fine, but I’m content with a list of winners and a clip of the best moments that can be watched in five minutes or less. Instead I watched The Amazing Race. I’ve never seen a pile-up like that on the mat. Often teams have no idea in what order the others arrived or when, but everyone was there to see the Kentucky team go home after they forgot a backpack and had to go back to reclaim it. Tough call.

    Was it just me, or was that one of the worst episodes of The Walking Dead ever? The poor actress who plays Beth isn’t terribly good, something I noticed before, and to have to carry a two-person episode, well, she wasn’t quite up to the task. Normally Darryl-centric episodes are the bomb, but this one just bombed.

    So, we’re down to the final True Detective episode and we have at last seen the face of evil. It’s good to see the two guys becoming friends again. Talking. They’re both lonely men, so I think the chance to talk to another human being is welcome to them. Marty proves his mettle as a detective. I’m always amazed by those scenes where someone is shown a storeroom full of file boxes and then the skip-cut to later, with the results. Seldom do you get to see the drudgery in between. More philosophizing: Life’s barely long enough to get good at one thing, so you have to be careful what you get good at. And Rust’s observation about the backwaters of Louisiana where they end up at the heart of the case, which forms the title of today’s post.

    Only two more episodes of Banshee, too. Hood’s war with Proctor is heating up. “We’ve all been living in the dark long enough.” And then there’s Emmett and his test. And another crack at Rabbit. It’s gonna be tough to beat last season’s rocket launcher finale, but I’m sure they’ll give it a shot.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Thursday, February 27th, 2014
    4:15 pm
    Even vultures can fly south for the winter

    Yesterday, I spent a little over an hour at the front of a classroom. My buddy Danel Olson invited me to speak to his Gothic class at a local college, something I’ve done once previously. It was a relatively small group, perhaps 16 students, but they seemed interested and engaged and asked good questions. Several of them admitted to being aspiring writers, and one was a musician. The latter asked if I ever got story ideas from dreams (answer: rarely, although I do sometimes work on story problems while I’m first going to sleep), because he sometimes came up with song fragments that way. Another asked how I went about researching weird story details without having people think I was weird or plotting a homicide.

    I got up early on Sunday morning to watch Canada’s gold medal-winning hockey match. Well, I time-shifted it and stayed off social media, so it was almost like watching it live. Man, they played well. Hard to believe they’d only been a team for a couple of weeks. They played like they’d been together for years.

    The PLRC check arrived yesterday, and the exchange rate wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I’ve made more money from When the Night Comes Down via the PLRC than I have from direct sales! And I only get fractional credit for that book since it has three other authors. PLRC is gearing up to handle eBooks in the future, which should be interesting.

    I put up a couple of reviews: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris and The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. I liked the Ferris book well enough except it sort of fell apart at the end. The Evanovich book is the first by her that I’ve read (she writes the Stephanie Plum novels). It’s a check-your-brain-at-the-door frolic, which was a lot of fun.

    A lot of crap went down on Justified this week. Most dramatically, Raylan issued a put-up-or-shut-up ultimatum to Art (treat me the way you always did or transfer me). I wonder what mayhem Raylan will get up to during his vacation to Florida. Boyd and Cousin Johnny finally had their reckoning. I loved their little tete-a-tete scene, sitting side by side revisiting the past. The Crows blew everything out of the water with their trigger fingers, though. What was up with that? And Wendy Crow getting all flirty with Raylan.

    Then Ava made a risky move with the heroin traders in her prison, one that could come back to bite her given Boyd’s sudden problems south of the border. The bit with the one-legged hacker was pretty funny. Raylan half-liked the guy, wanted to be the one to catch him and bring him in. “What if I teach you how to be caller #7?” He was so proud of the fact that he cleaned out Raylan’s bank account, but I was wondering: how much could that be?

    The Amazing Race is off and running. Really glad the annoying “twinnies” got eliminated. They were so determined not to repeat their former mistakes and then set about repeating them time and time again. And Survivor, too. I can’t believe J’tia survived not just one but two tribals after her dismal performances and then her outrageous behavior at camp. Both votes were something of a surprise, but the latter caught me flatfooted. Did not see that coming at all. I have a suspicion this is going to be a rainy season.

    Rizzoli & Isles is back. It’s more than a little weird to still see Lee Thompson Young all these months later. And season two of The Americans got off to a good start, from the disastrous encounter with the Afghans at the beginning to the cataclysmic discovery in the hotel room at the end, which will no doubt have a far-reaching impact on the season. And poor old Stan. It’s hard to know which side Nina is really on, or if she’s on a side at all. Is there a degree beyond double agent? Triple agent?

    And, finally, we get down to episode 6 of True Detective, which, according to Nic Pizolatto, is the end of the second act. All the cards are on the table and, in 1995, Marty and Rust have hit rock bottom in their relationship (that was one heck of a running tackle), while in the modern day it is just being rekindled. Now we know the reason for their falling out, and it’s sort of what we expected, but not quite. I love how Marty’s wife sat there lying to the cops and you could tell she wasn’t as good a liar as Rust and Marty, but she still got through it. It was sort of sad to learn that they didn’t really save that little girl from the meth farm, that she was mostly catatonic years later. One amusing set piece was the positioning of the little angel and demon figurines on the counter while Marty was indulging himself with Proctor’s niece from Banshee. Meanwhile, over on Banshee, the last guy she slept with got turned into hamburger…

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Thursday, February 20th, 2014
    1:11 pm
    A curling stone gathers no moss

    Chilling Tales: In Words, Alas, Drown I received a very nice review from Publishers Weekly. It says, in part, “the prose itself is of a solidly consistent level, the work of professionals experienced at their chosen genre. Collectively, the authors prove expert at reinterpreting anxieties old and modern in ways carefully designed to entertain and horrify.”

    Issue 14 of Dead Reckonings, the review journal to which I have been contributing for a number of years, is out now. Hank Wagner and I started doing conversational reviews in an earlier issue, discussing the book in question by email and then converting our dialog into something approaching a review. In Issue 14, we do this with Dan Simmons’ The Abominable. It’s fun having someone to bounce thoughts off, and Hank and I could talk about books all day long, and well into the night.

    I’m really getting a kick out of  To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris. If forced to describe it briefly, I would say it’s like Dave Barry crossed with Umberto Eco, with maybe some Douglas Adams thrown in for good measure. How many people have to believe something happened before it is generally considered to be real? That’s one question the narrative poses.

    The Public Lending Rights Commission cheques are starting to roll out from Ottawa. Canadian citizens get paid for having their books in Canadian libraries each year. It’s a nice little lagniappe. This year, the exchange rate is so dismal that I might hold onto the cheque for a while. Of course, it could get worse.

    I don’t really pay much attention to the Olympic games, but when I do I have a favorite sport: curling. I know that sounds weird, but I really do enjoy watching the sport. Women’s curling, more specifically. I was able to find the gold medal contest between Canada and Sweden online this morning. By then it was into the 7th end and it was tied, so I listened to and watched the rest of it. Good game, and I was pleased, of course, by the way it came out. I do like hockey, too, but I haven’t managed to turn on the TV at the right time to see any of the games. Alas, the women seem to be trailing the US in the gold medal game this afternoon. Of course, since I’m a dual citizen I shouldn’t play favorites, but I can’t help myself. [Update: never write off the Canadians!]

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Tuesday, February 18th, 2014
    3:12 pm
    This is a world where nothing is solved

    On Friday, we went to see Gordon Lightfoot at the Cullen Performance Hall at the University of Houston. I’ve never seen him live before, but growing up in Canada, he was as omnipresent as snow and moose. The hall was pretty much full (about 1500 people), and there were a couple of people who probably haven’t received letters from AARP in the audience, but they were definitely in the minority. Lightfoot came out exactly on time with his four-piece band (bass, lead guitar, drums, keyboards) and launched into songs without any preamble. He did all the familiar ones plus a number I didn’t know. The guy is 75 years old, so he can be forgiven if his voice is a little reedy in the higher registers. A couple of people in the audience shouted at him between tunes (“We love you, Gordon”) to which he gave his standard response, “I love the work.” They took a 15 minute intermission but played for the better part of two hours. Then they got on a plane and headed back to Toronto. It was a nice way to spend Valentine’s Day.

    I finished The Year of the Storm by John Mantooth and started To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris. The latter is a horror novel set in Alabama. Given the number of twisters in the story (and not all in the same year), it might have been called The Book of Storms. It is an excellent novel that I highly recommend. I’ve never read anything else by Mantooth, but I certainly hope to in the future. The Ferris novel just showed up on the doorstep last week. I don’t recall requesting it, though I suppose I might have gotten it via Goodreads. I knew nothing about the author, but I decided to give it a shot and I’m glad I did. It’s been a long time since a book has made me laugh out loud, and this one has several times, and I’m only a hundred pages in. The main character is a dentist, and he should by all rights be unlikable because he’s so self-absorbed, but his observations are amusing and his situation is getting interesting.

    Last night’s Castle was a riff on Carrie, perhaps inspired by that viral video that was set in a coffee shop where everything went flying. King is name checked in the episode (Castle couldn’t wait to tell Stephen about the situation) and a copy of Carrie is found among the suspected telekinetic’s things.

    There’s a trope in action movies that I despise. The hero (or anti-hero) meets up with his nemesis. The fight to end all fights is looming. To even the playing field, the hero sets down his weapons and they go at it mano-a-mano. He what? Why would anyone want to level the playing field in a fight to the death? I noticed (and objected to) this in Reacher and it happened again in last week’s Banshee. I was wondering why Hood didn’t shoot his adversary when the guy turned around to look at the car trunk, where he had a guy locked up. Instead, no, they had to go at it like macho men. With all the transports zipping past, I figured someone was going to end up in front of one. I was right, but not exactly in the way I thought it would happen. They conveniently didn’t mention how the transport driver felt about that.

    People in Banshee seem to have anger management issues. Hood got into two melees this week. “That’s starting to be a thing,” Sugar observed. The young Hood should have listened to Sugar when he said that Lili was all kinds of trouble. Not the good kind, as young Hood claimed.  She and Procter have a disconcerting relationship, to say the least. And that Burton character (Proctor’s cleaner) is one weird dude. I wonder who’s at the other end of that whip. I can’t see how he possibly missed the watch, though. And the kicker of the episode: the diamonds Hood went to prison for were glass.

    Only three True Detective episodes left and we now have some idea of what it’s all about. The interrogation room scenes have all been leading up to the fact that there’s a new murder in Lake Charles that looks like the old one from ’95, and the cops think Rust was behind it. Rust has been sly like a wolf: he knows about the murder and he’s been trying to see what the cops can tell him about it rather than the other way around. The fact that he’s been drinking beer the whole time makes anything he says inadmissible. Not that he’s learned much. Given that about 20 years have passed since the murder that got this ball rolling, the killer must be getting along in years.

    Listening to Marty and Rust describe the scene at the meth lab as it played out was an exercise in cognitive dissonance. They made up a story to cover the fact that Marty popped a cap on the cook after finding the locked up kids. Rust covered for him, so their bond became tighter than ever. Remains to be seen what happened in the future to bust them up. Rust even had a girlfriend for a while, imagine that, and Marty’s wife let him go back home. For a second, when Marty’s kids were playing with that tiara that ended up in the tree, I was worried they were going to go after it and fall, given what Marty was talking about at the time. One of my favorite lines from the episode: Death created time to grow the things that it would kill. Rust thinks that we’re caught in an endless loop of repetition. Now where have I heard that idea before?

    For anyone interested in delving deeper into the show’s mythology, The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers is free for Kindle. This is a cobbled-together eBook that apparently has formatting issues, so caveat emptor.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
    1:11 pm
    Ice Cold — anthology release

    On April 29th, the MWA will launch its newest anthology, Ice Cold, edited by Jeffery Deaver and Raymond Benson. The launch party will be held at The Mysterious Bookshop in New York, starting at 6:00 p.m. Many of the contributors (alas, not me) are scheduled to appear, as well as many of the 2014 Edgar® Award nominees. Ice Cold, a collection of Cold War-themed short stories, will be available on April 1, and it contains stories from Joseph Finder, John Lescroart, Laura Lippman, J. A. Jance, T. Jefferson Parker, Sara Paretsky, Katherine Neville, Gayle Lynds with John Sheldon—and me. My contribution is called “The Honey Trap.”

    We watched another couple of episodes of Michael Palin’s Full Circle last night. Watching him trying to wrangle a camel in northern Australia was pretty funny, but I was especially intrigued by the journey up the coast of Chile. I hadn’t realized the extent of the desert there. According to Palin, in some spots it has never, ever rained.

    It’s funny how Art and Raylan “resolved” their issue on Justified. Sort of like a dysfunctional father and son. Raylan showed up at a bar where Art was drowning his sorrows, and the next day Art has a bandaged hand and Raylan has a black eye. Plus Raylan is feeling penitent, taking on drudge work like a kid who agrees to mow the lawn after getting in trouble. Speaking of trouble, Raylan and Rachel probably thought the Crowes and the Crowders were going to take care of each other—instead they’ve joined forces, and that won’t be good for the peaceful people in Harlan County. The unpeaceable ones, either. Darryl, at least, is pretty smart as well as fearsome. Danny is, as Raylan puts it, a “world class dumbass” who looks and acts like a reject from Duck Dynasty, even when he’s having “a good hair day.” Not smart enough to know that poking Raylan is not a good idea, but at least swift enough to play along with Carl’s explanation for why he was duct-taped to a chair in a remote cabin. Safe word, indeed.

    And the hapless Dewey’s luck continues to be bad. Trying to sell off his dream (his above ground swimming pool that Raylan ventilated a few weeks ago) so he can get away. Then he ends up on the wrong end of the worst ransom phone call ever and skitters off into the woods when the law arrives. “I went to get help, but I got lost in the woods.” Again. And how much worse luck can Ava have than when the woman who was supposed to be looking out for her in the penitentiary is the one who kicks her ass and cuts her hair? Hopefully that lawyer can pull a rabbit out of a hat.

    Speaking of Rabbits, this weeks Banshee was their trippiest episode ever. Also unusual in that Sheriff Hood got through the whole thing without getting beaten up once. True, he did get shot at in the midst of an awesome scene in a wheat field. Filmed from above, you could see the sniper’s trail through the grain and then Hood and Carrie converging on him. There were several fantasy sequences, especially the ones when Hood picked Carrie up and they both thought about how they wanted to behave toward the other and then the rather cool greeting they ended up with. Lots of quick time shifts and locations shifts that were somewhat disorienting. Just when Hood was planning his exit strategy from Banshee, things get complicated. Again.

    In preparation for the second season, I re-watched Orphan Black. If you haven’t seen this series, you should. It’s as original as they come. A woman sees another woman jump in front of a train. Thing is, the woman looks exactly like her, so she decides to steal the woman’s identity to evade some personal trouble. Problem is, the other woman is a cop under investigation for a civilian-involved shooting. And then she finds out that there are other people who look exactly like her, more than just a few of them. And someone is trying to kill them. And someone else is monitoring and performing experiments on them. And Matt Frewer is in it. Can’t wait to see where they go next with the concept.

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

    Monday, February 10th, 2014
    2:55 pm
    Six minutes in a stash house

    I posted two new book reviews this weekend:  Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto and Murder in the Ball Park by Robert Goldsborough. I really liked Galveston and intend to read Pizolatto’s recent short story collection soon. I’m currently reading The Troop by Nick Cutter, which is the pseudonym of Canadian author Craig Davidson. The book has been compared to Lord of the Flies, but it reminds me more of Dreamcatcher. Five 14-year-old Boy Scouts and their troopmaster are on uninhabited island off the coast of PEI when a man stumbles ashore and he’s infected with something ghastly and contagious. This isn’t a book for the queasy.

    This week on The Walking Dead: Michonne walks through the woods and kills zombies. Carl is a spoiled brat. Rick is an ineffective leader. Original air date: every effing week. I did like the Michonne “flashback” and the closing line (“It’s for you”) was the funniest thing on the show in a long time.

    I enjoyed the Grammy tribute to The Beatles last night. There were some excellent performances. I especially liked Jeff Lynne and Joe Walsh, with Dhani Harrison covering “Something.” The Eurythmics rebanded to do “Fool on the Hill,” which was not terrible. I thought Katy Perry was brave to take on “Yesterday,” and don’t quite get the flack over the fact that she changed the narrator’s gender to match hers. Dave Grohl was impressive, too, and his cute little daughter melted many hearts as she made a heart with her hands during his performance. The pièce de résistance, of course, was Ringo and then Paul and then Ringo and Paul at the end. I wasn’t old enough to remember the Ed Sullivan episode they first appeared on, but my sister bought all the singles and my father grumbled about John Lennon, who he pigeon-holed as a communist, so I was certainly aware of them from an early age.

    That was an impressive piece of cinematography on last night’s True Detective. From the moment Cohle entered the stash house until he got into Marty’s back seat, there wasn’t a single cut. One continuous shot that lasted over six minutes. The director has a history of doing long shots (as in Jane Eyre), but this one covered a lot of territory and involved a lot of characters. It wouldn’t have taken much to mess it up. The camera even had to go over a wrought-iron fence at one point. It was breathtaking.

    One of the more interesting aspects of this show is the fact that these two partners really don’t like each other. That’s been done before, of course, but never so effectively. I thought it was funny when Marty said to the guy in the lockup, referring to the prisoner’s former cellmate, “Gotta be tough living with someone spouting insane shit in your ear all day long,” looking at Cohle the whole time. Marty, the one who I formerly thought of as the saner partner, is now giving Cohle a run for his money. Not that he’s getting much sympathy from Cohle, which is understandable since Marty always cut Cohle off when he was talking before. Sons of Anarchy used to set the bar for gritty thuggery, but the bikers in this show would eat SAMCRO for lunch. They certainly made for a mangy looking bunch of cops. Cohle’s observation that the evidence locker “should have a better system than this” seemed a little self-serving. I did like Marty’s accusation that Cohle was “the Michael Jordan of being a son of a bitch.”

    Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.

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