Frisco Beat: The Painted Gun

I should mention a new crime novel that popped earlier this month, since it’s got the local angle for those of you who may be collecting San Francisco mysteries — rife with Bay Area action, though toward the end it moseys down into Guatemala as if influenced by Kent Harrington. I thought of Kent’s Frisco/Guatemala crossovers more than once as I was reading this one.

I did my more weighty review of Bradley Spinelli’s The Painted Gun elsewhere — you can catch a few of my anonymous lines on the Amazon page (and a couple I didn’t write, from the same review). Overall, I enjoyed it, seeing it as something of a romp through a variety of “mystery” stylings. A hard-boiled start with a couple of paragraphs about inhaling cigarette smoke. A nice run of puzzle mystery clewing. Kind of a little tour de force — though one big serious fan of crime writing on Mystery*File seemed bothered by it. I don’t think Spinelli was trying to out-Pynchon Thomas Pynchon, myself, but I guess I could be wrong.

For purposes of These Mean Streets, the author blurbs mention that Spinelli lived in the Bay Area awhile, notably South San Francisco where the protagonist also lives. Most of the local details are good, though with any of these books you look — or I look — for details that don’t ring right.

Spinelli has been based in Brooklyn lately, and clearly wasn’t on scene to triple-check every Friscoid detail.

Just from memory, he suggests that Hill Street kind of where it intersects Valencia is just one block long, but it picks up again for several blocks as it climbs the rocky slope to the west.

In route to some scenes in Chinatown from Market there is the suggestion that a hill of some consequence is in the way, but that route is mostly flat by San Francisco standards — unless you go around the wrong way and have to trudge over Nob Hill, or get really lost and find yourself on some rocky outcropping of Russian Hill.

And there’s a scene where the Mission Street bus is running along Market, which I can’t wrap my mind around — though admitting that perhaps at the very time Spinelli was in town soaking up the atmosphere it may have been detoured for some sort of construction.

For this sort of thing, three quibbles isn’t bad — after all, Robert B. Parker put the toll booths on the wrong end of the Golden Gate Bridge in one of his Spencer novels.

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Rediscovered: The Lost Arkham Imprint


I forgot to mention that John D. Haefele wrapped up his three-part series on August Derleth and the Little Review. The third part is kind of the good one — the closer — since it deals with Derleth’s own little review, Hawk & Whippoorwill, and the short-lived poetry imprint that went with it.

For you Arkham House collectors out there, Haefele does a complete list of the various books printed for Derleth in England by Villiers, instead of the usual jobbing out to the George Banta Company. He digs in deep, and it appears that Derleth went with Villiers largely to keep costs down on H&W, though of course he ended up using them for several items released through Arkham House proper.

But for some reason Derleth didn’t include the H&W imprint in Thirty Years of Arkham House. Trust to Haefele to come up with a logical answer after mulling over all his sources — and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets some of his insight by casting the runes on the windswept hillside when the stars are right.

I suppose my favorite angle is musing over the poetry books that look like they were being prepped for H&W release, but instead appeared under the aegis of Arkham House, such as my pal Stanley McNail’s Something Breathing. Stan began as a regional Midwestern poet — Black Hawk Country — and seemed like a natural for the H&W set. Yet he made the cut for Arkham with his little book, and that toehold on literary immortality.

And you may be pleased to know that doing the occasional tidbit on Arkham and collecting hasn’t slowed down Haefele’s work on his monumental Lovecraft: The Great Tales. He’s been popping me chapters to look over for months now, with only one more to go. Then he’ll attack the mass of wordage overall — if I recall correctly, some chapters run over 50,000 words each.

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Tour: Sundays April 9 and 23

Image: Dashiell Hammett Tour perched atop the Stockton Tunnel, about to hike over to where Miles Archer got his. . . .

Anyone who wants to show up clutching a $20 with four hours to kill —- no appointment necessary — can hit the mean streets on the tour on either Sunday April 9 or Sunday April 23. Rain or shine.

The walk on April 9 keeps up the off-and-on tradition of doing a Palm Sunday Tour, in memoriam Charles Willeford. After a few years of my usual brooding and procrastination, I think it’s time to do a little revamp on my book Willeford for an eBook version. That’ll remind me, after it has slipped my mind for yet another month.

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Hammett: Meanwhile, Back in Alaska

For anyone interested, Devon Morf in his recent notes also mentioned:

Not sure if it’s on your radar already, but the current issue of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History is running a Hammett war correspondence piece called “Showdown in the Aleutians” adapted from his The Battle of the Aleutians booklet.

For Hammett completists or anyone wanting an easy look into his WWII experiences.

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Rediscovered: The Kind of Willefordian Resume of David Yow

Got a note in from Devon Morf, who sprang into action on the tip I just gave out:

“Thanks for the recommendation on I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. Watched it last night.

“Recognized the villain as David Yow, who was the vocalist for Scratch Acid and The Jesus Lizard — two noisy, raw, post-punk, rock bands that were part of my soundtrack in the 80’s and 90’s.

“Live, he was capable of exuding some of that same creepiness.”

Trust me, if you’re like me and Devon, that Netflix film is worth watching just for Yow and his flunkies, like something out of a Charles Willeford novel.

My only hesitation in giving it an all-out plug is that the movie starts slow, with no indication you’re going to get anything out of the ordinary.

In a way, nothing wrong with that — I just don’t want anyone to miss it because they can’t sense what’s coming.

As soon as the movie got into the Willefordesque stuff, I had the thought that they must have been faced with the same decision Willeford was in his final Hoke Moseley novel, The Way We Die Now.

I describe that scenario in my book on Willeford, but the gist of it is that Hoke wanders into a farm run by the bad guys — archly Willefordian bad guys. But until that moment, the reader has no indication they were that bad (pity some poor soul who picks up Willeford thinking they’re getting some run-of-the-mill crime novel).

That’s what I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore does, just plops you down in the plot with no idea something wild is coming down the road.

With Willeford, he got kickback from the publisher, saying that the way he had it generated no suspense. If you’re blissfully unaware of the snakepit Hoke is walking into, you have no time to build up worry.

So, even though he was happy with the treatment, Willeford heeded the advice and wrote the little opening chapter showing how bad the bad guys were (the justly famous or infamous scene of cutting the baggie from the asshole of the dead Haitian — you’re either rushing out to read the book, or you’re appalled and not likely to become a Willeford fan — and if you haven’t read him, try to read the four Hoke novels in order).

The story of that new opening chapter is a lot cooler than this bare bones outline, and marks a high point in Willeford’s creative output, in my opinion.

With the movie, it’s hard to say if showing the bad guys up front would have done more creatively for the surprise and delight of the viewers than the way they work it. With this film, progressing slowly toward the creepy might be best — kind of like Blue Velvet.

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Mort: Where’s Miguel?

After the tour on the 26th I made it back to my lair in time to catch most of the Oscars ceremony, including the debacle with Best Picture. Pretty funny. Keep Bonnie as far away from Clyde as possible, that’s my advice as a student of Texas history.

You can quibble about this or that with the show, and the part I want specifically to protest is that they didn’t include Miguel Ferrer in the In Memoriam segment. He also got left out of the SAG Awards memorial earlier, but he died only days before that one aired.

Still, SAG eased in Mary Tyler Moore. Miguel died January 19. MTM died January 25. SAG Awards: January 29.

Yeah, you can make the excuses — maybe someone considered him more a TV actor than a movie guy.

But Miguel was in the original Robocop. Iconic. And he was great in Robocop.

Consider this a protest.

And how they could have left out Oscar Nominee Robert Vaughan, who died November 11 2016, really astounds me. He was the Last of The Seven, and The Magnificent Seven — and Robocop — will survive in the culture far longer than anything up for Best Picture this round.

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Sinister Cinema: A Fresh Batch of Willefordian Bad Guys

Happened to watch the brand new Netflix movie I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore a couple of nights ago. A 2017 release, fresh as you can get.

It’s a “little” movie, but I have no problem with that and overall I liked it. For some people, the start might just be too slow. You could get to thinking that nothing interesting will ever happen.

But then the bad guys show up.

If you trust my critical opinions, or if you are just one of the legion of readers who love the work of Charles Willeford, stick with this one until the first bad guy appears onscreen. That ought to do it.

One moment after another, I kept being reminded of Willeford’s sociopaths and quirky plot developments.

Keep in mind that I am plugging this one here strictly for people who like Willeford, whose bursts of ultra-violence and sick killers aren’t for everybody.

Me, I love that stuff. If you do too, check it out.

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Hammett: The Maltese Cruise Ship

— and other curiosities of travel to exotic climes!

Our pal Kevin Cook recently percolated over to Europe, and sends back a report.

First, on whether you can find a Maltese falcon on Malta: “Trust me, you wouldn’t have wanted one.  There were a couple of small, ugly-shaped falcons in one store. I decided not to buy any of the overpriced Malta souvenirs.

“The Knights of St. John still have the painting with the first live falcon being sent back to the king of Spain as a gift. The tour guide there mentioned The Maltese Falcon, but only as a movie and just as an anecdote.

“The neat thing was that the original sea walls of the city are still standing, and you can understand why the Muslims at the siege had to attack from the land.

“Our cruise ship was docked directly across from the walls, and I had to walk up to the seventh deck (actually eight decks since Deck A precedes Deck 1) to get even with the top of the wall.”

After being on the scene, Kevin adds a plug for the Tim Willocks novel The Religion. “Quite a few of us who still read historical fiction today consider him the best, and The Religion is based on the siege of Malta in 1565.”

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Sinister Cinema: “He’s Hicks”

I knocked out the little tribute to the late Bill Paxton the other day as I did my usual morning struggle to wake up. I’ve been aware of him for his entire career — Near Dark, nice reunion of the Aliens cast — Predator 2, bringing in an Ah-nold regular to kind of sub-out for Ah-nold being missing. He’s in town with a few days to kill. Nice.

So, I tossed together the tribute, then headed out to do the tour. As the blood circulated from all the walking and hill-climbing, some vague thought began to tug at my brain. Finally, mid-point, as I waited for the group to reconvene after the break, it hit me.

In the first version of the post I did a line about “instant Silver Screen immortality as Hicks in Aliens” — Hicks!!!

Holy Moley, what a mistake. . . .

Of course I know better, but the mind or the coffee failed me.

I thought, man, as soon as I get back to the computer, I must correct that to Hudson, the character Paxton portrays. Hicks was done by Michael Biehn.

The memory struck complete with the lines of dialog from Aliens, as the stuffed-shirt young commander looks at Paxton and refers to him as Hicks.

“Hudson, sir. He’s Hicks.”

Whoa! Got to correct that!

And immediately I chided myself with the next line of dialog, as the lieutenant looks at Hudson and says, “Private.”

I felt thoroughly demoted until I got the correction in. And I think another viewing of Aliens may be in order, in memoriam.

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Tour: Sunday March 26

As we crawl deeper into the Fortieth Anniversary Year of the Dashiell Hammett Tour, requests for walks are beginning to roll in.

The two most recent both happen to want the same day. How often does that happen?

In any case, the tour is open to anyone who wants to show up palming a $20, ready to walk for four hours. Sunday March 26. Meets near the “L” sculpture at noon.

If interested, hop on board to investigate how Sam Spade’s partner Miles Archer bought a season ticket on a one-way ride.

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