Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books: More Covers This Week - Falling To Death


Falling out a window or off a roof or high ledge or wherever, as seen on the covers of vintage mysteries. Not a great way to die, but the covers are startlingly eye-catching - don't you think?

I've read four of these, but please don't ask me to tell you what they're about. The only one I remember is THE HIGH WINDOW by Raymond Chandler which was turned into the movie, THE BRASHER DOUBLOON starring George Montgomery as a very dapper Philip Marlowe. I will add this: I tried watching THE BRASHER DOUBLOON on youtube the other day and I found the film unwatchable - which surprised meI had once liked and had good memories of this from having seen it on early television years ago. So, memories fail, tastes change. No big surprise there, I guess.

Physically, George Montgomery makes a fine Marlowe but I hadn't realized just how much sleaze had worked its way into his demeanor - Marlow is many things, but sleazy he ain't. And Nancy Guild is cringe-inducing. She is another of those unlikable Chandler 'heroines' whose behavior is inexplicable, but she does it with so little style (in a pitiful attempt to ape Lauren Bacall, I suppose). Well, okay, I love Florence Bates, but not here. This is a film better left unviewed, its details unremembered.

The book isn't bad at all. Read that instead.

It's Friday, so don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK (1975) starring Jeannie Berlin and Roy Scheider

The book by Gail Parent was one of my favorite reads many, MANY years ago even if it was then what is now known as 'chick-lit'. I've always had a warm spot for SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK (great title) even if I couldn't actually remember much about it except a vague good feeling. You get to a certain age and your memory refuses to conjure up much, but it does conjure up feelings.

My blogging friend Sergio is working on a review of the book even as we speak, so there's that to look forward to. Can't wait to see what he makes of it.

But in the meantime, let's talk about the film which was adapted by Kenny Solms from Gail Parent's book. Even if the darker humor and overall suicide motif didn't make the cut to the big screen, there is still some nostalgic humor to be had (and one or two laugh out loud moments) though, in truth, most of the film feels as if it can't quite decide what it wants to be. A shame, really, because the source material was pretty damn rich.

SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK is the familiar (and often told) story of a young, insecure, unmarried woman gone to the Big City to make her fortune and more importantly find a hubby. It was a book for a certain time and a certain age. Hubby-hunting is not, one would like to think, such an active sport as it once was - correct me if I'm wrong.

It was 1975 after all. Lots of good movies from the 70's even if we wish now that the film color, set design and fashions had been different. Looking backwards, society was not very aesthetically pleasing then. (And don't get me started on the ugly furniture.) Garbage strikes in the city were not uncommon and there was a lot of vulgar polyester going on. Though surprisingly, Roy Scheider still manages to look pretty good in his duds, especially in one scene sporting a white suit.

The screenplay too is burdened by signs of the times and a plot which is herky-jerky, giving the film an episodic look. Of course, with a film, it could just be that the editing needed more work.

At any rate, I watched SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK last night (it is available for viewing for $2.99 at google plus and, unknown to me until I found out today, available for free on youtube even if, probably, very temporarily) and was reminded how Jeannie Berlin's face was/is capable of enormous emotion while not doing much emoting at all. A lot of the film, directed by Sidney R. Furie, is done in close-up (probably because of the aesthetic ugliness I mentioned earlier) so we're treated to nice big views of Berlin's melancholy persona as well as nice big views of craggy faced Roy Scheider who, for reasons unknown, could take a good close-up despite his boxer face (same as George C. Scott though one might have thought otherwise - the camera does love an interesting face).

And before we go any further, let me add that Jeannie Berlin is the daughter of Elaine May whose brilliance needs no exaggeration. May starred in and directed one of the best romantic comedies of all time, A NEW LEAF (with Walter Matthau), a film I never tire of recommending.

Back to the movie:

Roy Scheider seems a bit miscast as Sam Stoneman, the male lead - in the role he manages somehow to look too intelligent to be who he is even as he's playing a doctor with a roving eye and a raging libido. But as I mentioned, he's good to look at and is such a fine actor that we go along with him even when it's obvious he doesn't belong there. And even, more importantly, when he isn't especially likable.

Jeannie Berlin plays Sheila Levine, a clumsy. strangely likable Jewish-American woman who is drowning in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and has come to the big city to breathe a bit of freedom while trying to fashion some sort of career and (as mentioned before) find a hubby. She is at that humbling stage in life where the marriage of a younger sister is cause for humiliation.

Despite her mother's protestations, Sheila takes up residence in a dark, cramped, ramshackle apartment (termed a 'penthouse' because it's on the top floor) as roommate to skinny Kate (Rebecca Dianna Smith), a free spirit who says she's an 'actress' and therefore, doesn't eat. In fact, Kate is a self-centered, self-described 'hustler' who sleeps around and leads the sort of New York City life that we were all warned about.

I don't understand why a prettier actress was not given the role of Kate or at least, someone who had a better look. A blond would have been good as visual contrast. But maybe I'm quibbling. In the book, Sheila is supposed to be overweight, but in the film she isn't. She is just a different body type than Kate, though in looks they are not that far apart and Jeannie Berlin is actually more attractive which isn't supposed to be the case.

Anyway, Sheila gets a job as a typist/singer/office clerk at a Manhattan company that produces records for children.

At a club, she meets a brooding and slightly sloshed Jewish doctor, Dr. Sam Stoneman (Roy Scheider), a guy on the make, who is taken with Sheila's awkward mumbling. He talks her up to his apartment and later that night, poor Sheila thinks she's found true love.

Most of the film didn't ring many bells, memory-wise, though some of it did. I liked seeing Jeannie Berlin who has a kind of  klutzy, sleeping princess look which works very well in this and I enjoyed watching Roy Scheider trying to worm out of an untenable situation and remain a hero. Doubly difficult once he begins sleeping with Sheila's roommate, Kate.

SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK is a movie that had been hanging around at the edges of my mind for years and if it wasn't as good as I'd imagined, I'm still glad I got a chance to revisit.

Since it's Tuesday once again, don't forget to check in later at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other forgotten films, television or other audio/visuals other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: THIRD GIRL (1966) by Agatha Christie

Let me first say that I do not, in general, like books set in the sixties. I lived through the sixties and it was not a romantic age nor a very interesting one (though some may dispute this). Society was changing but not in any way that seemed wonderful AND we had the multiple shocks of several assassinations to contend with. Not to mention an unpopular war. It was a turbulent time in which the ridiculous young thought they'd invented sex and to prove it, did a lot of recreational drugs and frequently died from excess. Tedious. But I shouldn't condemn the whole decade I suppose, after all I did get married in 1965 and shortly thereafter got a great job at Cosmopolitan magazine. So it wasn't all dismal and grim no matter what I might like you to believe.

At any rate, Agatha Christie, an anachronism from an earlier age, was still writing in the 1960's, a fact some may find hard to believe. Her distaste for the era was evident in her writing but I've always given her credit for chugging right along and doing what she did best which was think up puzzles.

She describes the young people in her books of this time as excessively dirty, oily, drug soaked and mostly in need of bathing. Ugh. But that's how she saw them.

THIRD GIRL is not Christie at her best, but I've come to the realization over time that Christie 'not at her best' is better than most mystery writers at their best, so I'm not complaining. I'd read this book years ago and only vaguely remembered it until I saw the botched PBS interpretation, (or is it BBC? I've forgotten who is in charge of the series now) with David Suchet (who, no matter what, is always wonderful) and decided to go back to the source material.

The audio version narrated by Hugh Fraser is topnotch. Fraser, who plays Colonel Hastings in the Poirot series, is a fabulous narrator and it is a joy to listen to his interpretation of Poirot - it is as good as Suchet's - and his rollicking interpretation of Ariadne Oliver. The audio version of THIRD GIRL is thoroughly enjoyable and I recommend it highly.

But when I returned to the hard-copy book, I found that for whatever reason, it didn't resonate with me as well as the audio version. I found it all a bit tedious, Poirot seemed sluggish and the bits of the story that didn't work were more evident. I don't know why this sort of thing happens, but occasionally it does. And may I say that it also works in reverse - but that's a story for another day.

THIRD GIRL is a book in which a very great evil is perpetrated on a young, suggestible girl. The sort of case in which Papa Poirot must step in, save the heroine, fashion a happy ending and catch a couple of murderers.

The basics: 

Norma Restarick is in trouble. Out of the blue, the vague young woman shows up at Poirot's apartment wanting his advice. She thinks she may have committed a murder. But when she meets the detective, she declares him 'too old' to be of any help and departs.

Naturally enough, Poirot is affronted by this, but intrigued he decides to find out more about this strange girl.

In steps Ariadne Oliver (eccentric mystery writer with an obsession for daily changing her hairstyles, whimsically adding or taking away hairpieces) with additional information. It seems it was she, in a passing conversation during a country weekend, who suggested that Norma visit Poirot. I like Ariadne and her eccentricities but I'm glad the apple motif of her earlier appearances had, by this time, dissipated.

What they find out almost immediately is that Norma Restarick has disappeared.

As Poirot investigates the girl's background, he discovers a troubling tale; Norma may be 'disturbed', even mentally ill, at least according to those who know her best. That includes her two roommates with whom she shares a flat - hence the book's title. Her boyfriend, a randy youth in Van Dyke get-up and long curls, thinks Norma a bit ga-ga but still wants to marry her and take her away from all her cares and woes, influenced, perhaps, by the fact that Norma is an heiress.

Norma's father, a business tycoon who'd run off with another woman when Norma was a little girl, but is now back in London re-married and in charge of the family business, wants Poirot to find Norma and keep her from harming herself or anyone else.

Norma's step-mother wishes the girl didn't hate her quite so much.

In THIRD GIRL, Mrs. Oliver has several chapters on her own as she declares herself in on the case and this results in her being coshed on the head at one point even though Poirot had warned her to be very careful.

Unconventionally, the actual murder involved doesn't make itself known until we're well into the book and a second murder doesn't take place until nearly at the end. And as I mentioned earlier, there are a couple of bits that don't quite fit, and some coincidences glossed over, oddities which for whatever reason, are not as apparent in the audio version.

THIRD GIRL also features Miss Lemon and Georges, Poirot's stalwart household helpmates. Though I've always wondered, outside of writing a few letters, what exactly it is that Miss Lemon fills her days with. How much office work could a private detective have - even such a famous one as Hercule Poirot? It's a puzzle. And by the way the Miss Lemon of the books is very different from the Miss Lemon of the television series (she is more likable in the series), in the books she doesn't ever get involved in the cases. And of course, in the series, there is very little of Georges, manservant and valet. Though I've always thought he had more presence than Miss Lemon.

So what am I saying? Borrow the audio and listen to this one. Much more enjoyable and you have the added attraction of Hugh Fraser's voice.

Friday is Forgotten (or Overlooked) Mystery Day, and we usually check in at Patricia Abbott's blog, but this week it's Todd Mason doing the hosting duties at Sweet Freedom, so don't forget to check in to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

In honor of Agatha Christie's 125th Birthday: My 12 Favorite Christie Books.

THE ABC MURDERS (1935) A Hercule Poirot mystery.

CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS (1959) A Hercule Poirot mystery.

DESTINATION UNKNOWN (1954) aka So Many Steps to Death

A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED (1950) A Jane Marple mystery.

MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD (1952) A Hercule Poirot mystery.



MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1934) aka Murder in the Calais Coach - A Hercule Poirot mystery

CARDS ON THE TABLE (1936) A Hercule Poirot mystery.


4:50 FROM PADDINGTON (1957) A Jane Marple mystery.

THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS (1925) Introduces Superintendent Battle and Lady Eileen (Bundle) Brent who will both appear in later books.

Rather late in the day, but I didn't get the memo. That is, I didn't realize it was THE birthday until this evening and then I couldn't do ten, had to do twelve. These are the Agatha Christie books I reread most. Though of course they're not the only ones. But these are the titles that seem to turn up on my night table more often than not. I gravitate towards Christie when I'm feeling blue or just out of sorts about everything and need a nice dose of comfortable familiarity. She usually sets me back on track. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: PASTIME by Robert B. Parker - A Spenser book.

As I was clearing out my paperback bookshelves and discovering books I hadn't read in a while, I ran across PASTIME and promptly dropped everything for a reread. I'm happy to say it is still just as good as the two or three previous times I'd read it.

This is the book that introduces us to Pearl the wonder dog, a German Short-Haired pointer new in Spenser's life. It is the sequel (sort of) to my favorite book in the series, EARLY AUTUMN, the book which introduced us to Paul Giacomin, Spenser's (sort of) son. Don't know what else to call the boy since 'son' is the part he was fashioned to play. Paul is not related to the Boston private eye and was already a teenager when he debuted in Spenser's life many books ago. 

Though PASTIME has more of Susan (Spenser's psychiatrist girlfriend) than I would like - as some of you know, I can't stand the character and it shows how much I love Spenser that I still read the books DESPITE she who makes my flesh crawl -  this is still one of my all time favorite thrillers. And it isn't necessary to have read EARLY AUTUMN, though it doesn't hurt. 

At any rate, here are the basics:

The adult Paul Giacomin is an interpretive dancer in NYC and on the verge of getting married; he shows up on Spenser's doorstep in Boston, worried about his mother Patty. Though they aren't very close, Paul still likes to keep in touch with mom. But now she seems to have disappeared from her life and Paul wants Spenser to help find her. The young man is in a mood to touch base with his past.

Patty Giacomin is the sort of needy woman who can't make a move without a man beside her, so almost immediately Spenser finds that Patty has a new boyfriend. He is Richard Beaumont, a ruggedly handsome, small time hood working for Gerry Broz. Uh-oh.

Gerry Broz is a psycho (no way to sugar coat it) and the only son of Joe Broz, elderly head of the Boston mob. A killer with little self-control, Gerry is not good man to cross. Now Beaumont is on the run (with Patty in tow) after having skimmed more than a million bucks from an ill-advised criminal enterprise. Not very smart, but then Beaumont is not exactly a mental wizard. He is necessarily the sort of loser that Patty Giacomin always seems to attract. So no big surprise there for either Spenser or Paul.

PASTIME evolves in the Parker conversational tone we love and look forward to, in conversations about family relationships, the past, (we learn quite a lot about Spenser's heretofore unknown childhood in Wyoming), about love and dependency, weakness and strength and honor. Of course, this being a tough guy thriller, there's tough talk, menacing behavior and Hawk, whose spiel, sad to say, is becoming (for me at least) a little wearisome. But still, he is necessary in this book.

We also meet up with Vinnie the hitman, second in command to mob boss Joe Broz, both of whom have an accepted if uneasy relationship with Spenser and Hawk based on indefinable codes which make sense only to them. Vinnie is a killer whose loyalty and word of honor can be trusted if you can believe that and I do. In this book, he will make a life altering decision, so look for that as well. 

There are two incongruities in the plot which you might not notice unless you've read the book more than once as I have, but they don't/didn't obstruct my enjoyment. 

Then there are the thrilling scenes near the end when a wounded Spenser and gun-shy Pearl are forced to take to the woods with Gerry Broz and an assortment of hoods in pursuit. You know how I am about plot details, I usually forget them as soon as I've finished a book. But not this time.

Despite Susan, PASTIME is a special book featuring a private eye many of us have grown up with or discovered late (as I did) written by one of those writers whom we wish could have lived forever. (But there are really many, many books in the series, so if you haven't read any Spenser, there are plenty of good times still waiting for you.) And, as it turns out, Spenser lives on in the hands of another remarkable writer, Ace Atkins, who has taken over the reins from the late Robert Parker and is doing an excellent job. I don't normally like this sort of thing, but Ace is truly worthy of the trust placed in him by the Parker family.

Friday is Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books day over at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase . So don't forget to check in and see what other forgotten or overlooked books other writers are talking about today.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: THE CLOUDED YELLOW (1950) starring Trevor Howard and Jean Simmons

THE CLOUDED YELLOW is directed by Ralph Thomas from a screenplay and story by Janet Green with cinematography by the brilliant Geoffrey Unsworth. I've only just recently learned that it is available on youtube, but I'd remembered the film from having watched it MANY years ago, once upon a time when terrific films like this were regular fare on my local television channels.

This is a dark little British thriller featuring the radiantly beautiful Jean Simmons, who plays Sophie Malraux, a young woman at the center of an oddly uneasy household. Into that household comes Trevor Howard as Maj. David Somers, a recently cashiered secret service agent improbably hired to catalog butterflies. (Hence, the film's title.) The setting is a secluded country estate in Hampshire belonging to Nicholas Fenton (Barry Jones) a middle-aged gentleman fond of collecting butterflies. He lives there with his wife Jess - they are Sophie's guardians.

Jess Fenton (Sonia Dresdel) is younger than her husband and rather tightly wound. She has an eye (and more) for Hick, the local handyman (and poacher) whom we are given to understand all the ladies in the area find very attractive. Though why that should be one can't imagine since he is played in a very sleazeball manner by Maxwell Reed. He makes himself especially obnoxious drooling over Sophie.

At any rate, when Hick is found stabbed to death, the police fasten on Sophie as the most likely murderer when they find blood on her coat and she has trouble explaining what she was doing walking on the grounds at 3 a.m. in the morning. You see, the poor troubled girl has memory lapses. All along we've been told that Sophie tends to get '...things muddled' and what's more, she takes after her unfortunate father who murdered her mother and then killed himself. Uh-oh.

David, not for a minute believing Sophie capable of murder, convinces her to flee with him. The two take off in the night for parts unknown with the police hot on their trail. Thus we are in for a treat as the pair head first to London, then Newcastle where friends (from the old days of David's secret service work) lend a hand, then off to England's beautiful Lake District (and boy do I wish this film had been in color) - all the while stalked by secret service agent (Kenneth More) as well as Scotland Yard.

An all out manhunt like this seems a bit over-the-top to me, viewing this film so many years later. In view of the fuss (and overtime pay to the coppers), one would think that there'd been a murder spree or at the very least, stolen national secrets, but let's not forget that this is England and they do things differently there.

Finally, Sophie and David make their way to Liverpool as Sophie's memory returns and there's a real culprit to catch which leads to a very thrilling ending on the Liverpool docks.

THE CLOUDED YELLOW is another one of those 'small' films, perfect to wile away the time as summer comes to an end and we head towards the baseball playoffs. After all, one can't watch baseball all the time.

The French film poster which is much more exiting than the British one or, for that matter, the American one.

And since it's Tuesday, don't forget to check in later today over at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other forgotten or overlooked films, television or other audio/visuals other bloggers are talking about today.

Here's the movie (incorrectly titled TRIO) on youtube for as long as it lasts:

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Happy Labor Day.

New Yorker cover, 1967 - Arthur Getz

"Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying."

Studs Terkel, Pulitzer Prize winning oral historian, author and essayist.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Friday (Not so) Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN by Peter Lovesey

Not really forgotten or overlooked since this is Lovesey's latest in the popular Peter Diamond series set in Bath, England, but what the heck. I did have a couple of other books lined up but then I saw that John (at Pretty Sinister Books) had already beaten me to the punch. So I got into a snit and decided to review the Diamond book since it was still lingering in my mind and you know how rare an occurrence that can be.

I've been reading Peter Lovesey's Chief Inspector Peter Diamond books for several years and while they can be either hit or miss, I'm glad to say that I enjoyed this latest one very much. Nothing can beat THE HOUSESITTER which I think is Lovesey's best Diamond book so far (of the ones I've read, that is) - a classic in police procedural detection - but I keep hoping he'll come up with something as good or better one of these days. So far - no dice. But still I liked this latest effort. (My second favorite, since you must be wondering, is THE VAULT.)

The last few Diamond books have been so/so in my opinion, though others have liked them more than I. What can I say? I'm either hard to please or maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. Take your pick.

In DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN, we finally have Lovesey getting back to form or at least, the form that I like.

Here, a very reluctant Peter Diamond is forced to take a trip out of Bath alongside his boss, Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore. The officious Dallymore is very hard to take and nowhere in any of the books does she actually come alive as a real person. Hard to tell why, but there it is. Still she's in the story more as a prop for Diamond to play against and for that, she's fine.

The two are on their way to check up on a fellow cop who's been relieved of duty because of some sort of bad show. Unfortunately, the cop is Hen Mallin, a detective whom Diamond admires and has worked with in the past. (Actually there is a Hen Mallin series begun by Peter Lovesey which is about three books along - I have one waiting for me at the library as we speak.)

At any rate, we suspect going in that all is not how it seems, but we wait to find out how Diamond is going to get to the bottom of a case (while partially keeping his boss in the dark) that begins as alleged police misconduct but spreads outward to include an egregious multitude of missing persons, several murders, a man wrongly convicted, a bunch of eccentric artists, a girls' school, a guy who specializes in an ingenious method of disposing of bodies and my only quibble (a very minor one) is that in the end the guilty person confesses all in a most unlikely way.

When it comes to modern day police procedurals, Peter Diamond is an acquired taste; I like that he operates out of Bath (mostly) and the clever cases contrived by Lovesey are usually pretty hard nuts to crack. However, Diamond lacks charm and can be off-putting. He is a widower with a gruff persona (and little sense of humor) who shines at police investigation especially when he's rubbing his superiors the wrong way. Sound familiar?

For charm I'd go to inspector Bill Slider in the London police procedural books written by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. Very similar type series but set in London and Slider has a quiet charm so lacking in Diamond. But in truth, they're both good series if you like this type of thing, and I do.

Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.