Friday, December 15, 2017

Bill Crider Day on Friday's Forgotten Books

When I started on social media more than ten years ago, Bill Crider was the first established writer who left a comment on my blog. I remember that day well, working a security gig in Louisiana, walking out of a large airplane hangar when I checked my latest post. BILL CRIDER left a comment on my site! Honest to hell, I walked on air the rest of the day. From that moment forward, he has continued to be an inspiration, a big supporter of my work, and the greatest of all someone I call friend. Love you, Bill.

Here's a post I did a couple years ago on Survivors Will Be Shot Again featuring my favorite character of Bill's, Sheriff Dan Rhodes.

(Thanks to Patti Abbott over at Pattinase for hosting a Bill Crider Day.)

Since Too Late to Die (1986), I’ve been routinely traveling to the fictional town of Clearview in Blacklin County, Texas to spend a few reading hours with the amiable Sheriff Dan Rhodes. Though I’m a Yankee, it’s not as far of a metaphysical journey as you would think because I grew up in farm country in a picturesque village in Tompkins County, New York—so I can relate. 
As a youngster, on any given Saturday, Dad would take me with him to some place in town, say, Mr. Whyte’s garage, when the sheriff pulled in for whatever reason. Still can see that gun riding high on his belt and the so-very-serious look on his face. “He’d arrest his own mother,” Dad warned. 
A few years later at The Park-It Market, I was buying some Big Red gum, when the same sheriff dropped off some brochures with the year-end crime report for the county. I helped myself to the free copy, since I planned on being a cop when I grew up. I remember reading something to the effect of DWI: 0, Larceny: 1, Aggravated Assault: 0, Homicide: 0, etc. Those zeroes stood out to me, made me wonder “why bother,” but I guess it showed he was tracking such things.
Then, one year, a sobering Homicide: 1. That chilling murder—in the house right across the street from where I lived—was never solved by our hard-nosed lawman. I can’t help but think that Sheriff Dan Rhodes, who also gets the occasional killing, would have cracked it. In Survivors Will Be Shot Again, he’s dealing with just that…murder:
Rhodes knelt down. The man on the floor was dressed entirely in camouflage clothing. Even his boots were camo-colored. A hood was over his head, which was turned to the side. Two bloodstained holes were in the front of his jacket. A couple of blowflies buzzed around the holes. A trail of ants crawled under the wall and up onto the man's head. Another trail led back under the wall to the outside. Rhodes didn't want to think about what they might be taking out with them. 
The body of Melvin Hunt is found at the ranch of Billy Bacon, and Sheriff Rhodes notes Billy is being a tad bit jumpy—like he was aware the corpse was in his barn before calling the police over a robbery. Yep, after a little Rhodes on-the-spot cross examining, it turns out Billy did know about Hunt and had hastily removed a sign from the property front that reads: “Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be shot again.”
It doesn’t look so good, especially after the medical examiner says that is pretty much what happened. But, there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. Hunt was dressed in a similar garb of a burglar that had been captured on a previous security camera feed, and yet, he had been the victim of thieving himself when his welding rig was pilfered. Sheriff Rhodes’s investigation leads him into some thorny situations—Hunt’s neighbor who doesn’t particularly care whether the man was killed or not, a marijuana patch guarded by a lazy gator, a survivalist compound, feral hogs, and, when he goes to notify the widow of the unhappy news…vicious dogs:
Moving with an alacrity he hadn't experienced since the long-gone Will o' the Wisp days, Rhodes opened the Tahoe door, jumped inside, and slammed the door. He was just in time. The dog that had been two steps ahead of the other, unable to stop his forward momentum, slammed into the door with enough force to shake the vehicle. Or maybe Rhodes was just imagining that. The Tahoe weighed nearly six thousand pounds, after all.
I’ve been amused by Sheriff Dan Rhodes’s exploits since his debut; like an old friend whose anachronistic manner you have come to appreciate even more in the ensuing years. I chuckled while reading Survivors as Rhodes tosses a loaf of bread at a convenience store robber instead of drawing his gun, as well as his droll reference to Keith Richards when he stumbles onto a wannabe thug who, looking to get high, dimwittedly mistakes an urn for a fancy drug container and inhales the contents. Then, there’s the ongoing entertainment of Rhodes’s extreme “patience,” as he somehow tolerates the relentless one-upmanship from coworkers Hack and Lawton, neither of whom aggravatingly ever seem to get around to the point of any given story. And, to exacerbate it all, hanger-on Seepy Benton, a mathematics professor, thinks himself an indispensable Sherlock.
When not just enjoying broad strokes of comedy (the author’s timing and phrasing are spot-on), I can appreciate Mr. Crider’s unpretentious, wry jabs at narrow-mindedness in all shapes, like Billy’s assertion that the gun isn't his but his wife Nadine’s, who is worried over all the home invasions she reads about. Mr. Crider writes, “Rhodes didn't read much about home invasions, because as far as he knew there hadn't been one in Blacklin County.” Those little asides are what makes reading this twenty-four book series such a treat for the longtime enthusiast. When Billy overuses the word okay, Rhodes ponders, “…if he could shoot Billy if he said okay? one more time.“ 
Sheriff Dan Rhodes: A Texan Luddite whose keen intuition on human behavior and exalted common sense compensates more than nicely for any police procedures he finds arduous and regularly ignores. In a world of Chicken Littles, he’s a reliable, steady intellect that, though a little worn by time and care, looks at the world at an angle. 
Specifically, it’s a human comedy that he wants little part of, but as the linchpin of Clearview, he must move forward…just at his own pace. Another humorous thread woven throughout the books is that of a writing team who’ve apparently been inspired by Sheriff Rhodes and have created, to his dismay, a character named Sage Barton (”two-gun hero") in a successful series of adventure-romance novels being optioned for film. Everyone sees the resemblance to the heroic lawman except Rhodes himself.
Now, here’s one time I disagree with our humble protagonist, because the good sheriff—not to just the fictional residents of Blacklin County—to me and a number of other readers is larger than life…thanks to Bill Crider.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Longmire's Final Season

Over the past week, I've reviewed the first three episodes of Longmire's final season that is currently streaming on Netflix. Just click this link and you can follow along with me.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Ineluctable Modality

I've begun what is considered one of the most difficult passages of Ulysses to read, a stream of consciousness, called Proteus. However, once deciphered, gorgeous passages. Here's a bit from the 1967 adaptation starring  Maurice RoĆ«ves as Stephen Dedalus.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Sleep's Reprieve From a Waking Nightmare

In my daily literary devotions (reminded of my late mother's Bible studies) of Joyce's Ulysses, I came across this Henry James letter to Edith Wharton that says in part, "Life goes on after a fashion, but I find it a nightmare from which there is no waking save by sleep." Of course, one of the most famous sentences in Ulysses (the second episode known as "Nestor") reads, "History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."

Was Joyce influenced by Henry James? Not necessarily according to The Joyce Project that enlightens: "The letter was not published until 1920, so Joyce could not have been thinking of it as he wrote Nestor ... But all these uses of the same image suggest that it was widely current in the culture of the time."

And farther down the rabbit hole I travel. Ulysses is an endless adventure.

Friday, November 17, 2017

My Two-Cents is Invaluable, Right?

I've been busy book reviewing again, here's three posts you may have missed in the last week:
Stealing Ghosts by Lance Charnes, Trading Down by Stephen Norman, and Blood Run by Jamie Freveletti. My opening thoughts on Blood:

If Jamie Freveletti had arrived on the literary scene ahead of Raymond Chandler, the famous quote instead may have read, “When in doubt, come through the door with a grenade launcher.” In her latest novel, Blood Run, her biochemist protagonist, Emma Caldridge, is three hundred miles east of Dakar, Senegal, when the armored vehicle she and three others are riding in is ambushed.

The heavy car shuddered when a second grenade exploded near the roof, and another rain of bullets hit the driver's side window. It failed in a shower of tiny glass slivers and shrapnel. Emma watched in horror as a splash of red washed over the clear divider between the driver and the passenger area.
“The driver's been hit,” Emma said to the two others.
She pressed the button to lower the glass divider, like those found in limousines, to access the front seat. She was glad that it still moved. That meant that the car hadn't yet lost power. She knew that a car taking fire, even an armored car, had seconds to escape the first hit. A vehicle that didn't move while under attack would eventually be breached, no matter how extensive the armoring.
In the days ahead I will be reviewing The Best American Mystery Stories 2017 edited by John Sandford.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


I finished the first section of James Joyce's Ulysses (1922) commonly referred to as Telemachus. This covers the first twenty-three pages of the edition I'm reading, opening with the iconic,“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” He's atop the Sandycove Martello tower in Dublin where he's residing with Stephen Dedalus (protagonist of The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) and an English student named Haines. There's tension between the two of them for several reasons (including the presence of Haines) though a main linchpin is Mulligan accusing Stephen of having been heartless to Stephen's mother when she was dyingMary Dedalus had asked her unbelieving son to pray for her and he refused. In return Stephen overheard Mulligan making a "beastly" remark about his mother's passing. By the end of this section, Stephen has decided to leave the tower and not return.

That may all seem quaint, as this plebeian describes it, but there's a lot more happening beginning with the robust language. After Haines assumes Stephen is an atheist: "You behold in me, Stephen said with grim displeasure, a horrible example of free thought" or after his verbal jiu-jitsu with Mulligan: "Parried again. He fears the lancet of my art as I fear that of his. The cold steel pen." And on and on the beauty of these passages build like nothing else in literature. No hyperbole. Martin Amis calls Joyce a "genius ... he makes Beckett look pedestrian, Lawrence look laconic, Nabokov look guileless." Zadie Smith says, "For me, Joyce is the ultimate realist because he is trying to convey how experience really feels. And he found it to be so idiosyncratic he needed to invent a new language for it." And none other than T.S. Eliot: "I hold [Ulysses] to be the most important expression which the present age has found; it is a book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape." More well known authors make the Joyce case here.

Part of the Ulysses experience is the plethora of new words and phrases the reader gleans. Here's a few I picked out from the Telemachus chapter:

Algy - Algernon Charles Swinburne, the ostentatiously decadent late Victorian poet from Northumberland. 

Dogsbody - a person who is given boring, menial tasks to do.

Epi oinopa ponton - from Homer's odyssey that means, "upon the wine-dark sea."

Heresiarchs - The founder of a heresy or the leader of a heretical sect.

Mummer - an actor who communicates entirely by gesture and facial expression.

Terrene - of or like Earth; earthy

Thalatta - shouting joy of 10,000 Greeks seeking the Black Sea yelling, "The Sea."

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Savage Conversation

I first published Frank Bill in the BEAT to a PULP webzine back in 2009, and have had the pleasure to do so a few more times in the years that followed. From the start, I was taken with the intensity of Frank’s characters; individuals living on the fringe of society, who, often through no fault of their own, are reduced to primitive survival. He doesn’t pass judgment on these creations; instead he props them up, warts and all, showcasing the driving powers behind desperation. His latest, The Savage, continues this raw vision.

Over the years, I’ve stayed in contact with Frank—email here, direct message there—but this interview caught me up to date, finding the Indiana writer on the cusp of new ventures as his debut novel Donnybrook is being made into a movie, currently in production by director Tim Sutton. The starry light of Hollywood’s call hasn’t changed him a bit. This back and forth Q&A took a few weeks while working around the intersection of Frank’s competing schedules: a blue-collar job where he slogs the night shift, training for the run of his life, and his writing pursuits. He remains as candid and humble as ever.