‘Culley didn’t consider himself a criminal. Criminality carried the eventual obligation of justice and punishment. Culley preferred the term “outlaw” when describing himself to Hoyt, his cohort in crime. He liked to think he existed outside the law the way the Amish lived outside the realm of technology.’
A lot, actually. I just finished my first literary thriller, a novel about a rogue NSA agent who finds himself in the middle of a giant conspiracy and am about to start work on my first horror novel. I’m not the greatest person at resting, or rather I get most of my rest by working, which is, you know, kind of a blessing and a curse. Outside of that, I’m covering the 2016 Presidential Election for Atticus Books and putting together a collection of essays about it.
PDB: How did you research Bring Me the Head of Yorkie Goodman?
The setting for the majority of Yorkie Goodman is in Southern Indiana, which is where I’m originally from. There are a lot of sketchy things down in the hills, a lot of sketchy people. I’ve been doing that research most of my life, but some of the more medical/biological components of the book were actually figured out via these conversations with a buddy of mine who’s starting out as a brain surgeon. I gave him a lot of calls – re: what kind of tool would best help saw off a head, how long a head could stay in a cooler, etc. etc. – and asked a ton of questions. In his favor, he was pretty patient, but near the end he kind of got weirded out and asked just what we were talking about.
PDB: Which of your publications are you most proud of?
It probably boils down to the first ones. My first story was this quick little piece called “Old” that was printed in the Emerson Review, which was huge because at the time I was convinced I’d never get anything published before I died. The first book was An End To All Things from Atticus Books, and that was a hell of a day for me. This book, Yorkie Goodman, is my first published novel, so I’m proud as can be.
PDB: What’s your favourite film/ book/ song/ television programme?
You know, I like a lot of different movies, so the list is a little varied. My favorite “modern” movie is There Will Be Blood, but I’m also really fond of Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, and Network. Book is probably the collected works of Raymond Carver. As far as song, man alive, we could be here all day. For a show, that’s probably Mad Men. That thing hit the spot.
PDB: Is location important to your writing?
For sure. I am who I am because I grew up in a small town in Indiana in a terrible neighborhood. And I’m the writer I am today because I moved down to Georgia and absorbed chunks of that culture.
PDB: How often do you check your Amazon rankings?
PDB: What’s next?
Those projects I was talking about earlier, but there are probably seven or eight other novels that’s kind of bouncing around my head. It’s finding the time, I think, that’s the hardest part of this whole writing business.
Bio: Rowdy Yates (Jared Yates Sexton) is a born-and-bred Hoosier living and working in The South as an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia Southern University. He serves as Editor-In-Chief of the literary magazine BULL and his work has appeared in publications around the world. He’s the author of three collections and the crime-novel Bring Me The Head of Yorkie Goodman.
There is certainly no shortage of bourbon and blondes in Anthony Venutolo‘s brilliant collection of short stories and flash fiction. But there’s also much, much more.
There’s jazz and torch songs, Americana and a secret history of America, Castro and Sinatra, Hollywood hacks and gamblers, Las Vegas and Cuba. Edward Hopper and Humphrey Bogart. The 1950s and the 19th century. And more.
The stories in Bourbon & Blondes: Vintage Noir & Pulp by Anthony Venutolo are beautifully painted vignettes, sharp snapshots and film clips that taste of Tom Waits, Nelson Algren and Damon Runyon but have a strong and smokey flavor all of their own.
JD: First, Paul, thank you for including me in your Short & Sharp series. I enjoy reading it, and if you’d ever like to guest-post at my blog, Asia Hacks, the floor is yours. What’s going on now…Cowgirl X is out from publisher Crime Wave Press. It’s a sequel to my debut thriller, Gaijin Cowgirl, and picks up the story of Val Benson, former Tokyo bar hostess turned treasure hunter. She has to track down a runaway Japanese porn starlet, chasing her from LA to Angkor Wat.
PDB: How did you research this book?
JD: The porn-industry element has made this everybody’s favourite question. Imagination, mate, imagination. (There actually is no pornography in the book.) The Angkor stuff I drew from my having written a non-fiction book about its history, The Story of Angkor, which was published by Silkworm Books. Other aspects of the story, such as a World War 2 scene at Guadalcanal, required a bit of reading.
PDB: Which of your publications are you most proud of?
JD: Cowgirl X was probably the hardest to write. I had never done a sequel. Sequels throw up all sorts of problems, and Cowgirl X required intensive restructuring. I’m proud of how it’s turned out, and if people have a fraction of the fun reading it that I had creating it, I’ve done my job.
PDB: What’s your favourite film/book/song/television programme?
JD: I loved “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Charlize Theron would make a great Val!
PDB: Is location important to your writing?
JD: Yes. Like you, I’m an expatriate, and I think there’s something about living abroad that makes you want to share your experiences in the form of storytelling. Of course, throwing in a few action scenes atop Bangkok skyscrapers and Cambodian temples is 100% authentic. I also enjoyed portraying Los Angeles, the home of noir fiction – I even managed to pay homage to Raymond Chandler.
PDB: How often do you check your Amazon ratings?
JD: And here I thought we were having a nice friendly conversation.
PDB: What’s next?
JD: For the time being I want to promote Cowgirl X. I have another thriller in the works that should see daylight next year, and I’ve completed a manuscript for another non-fiction book, this time about the ancient temple city of Bagan, in Myanmar. I’m starting to think about Val Benson’s next move; I can’t say when, but she’ll be back.
The man blinks five times. Twice slowly with effort. Three times fast. His eyes are adjusting to the light of the room. There is no sunlight here. The sun has gone a long, long way from here. There is the smell of damp from the aged and tired wooden table to the side of me. The natural whiff of decay.’
‘Luke Case is every bit the worthy protagonist of this archetypal piece of noir. His capacity for hard living is only just surpassed by his will to survive, in this fast-moving Euro-crime caper. Case doesn’t so much step on toes, as climb all over the clutches of the various gangsters he meets along the way, making his way from Poland to Spain and ultimately back to England to try and settle a particularly demanding debt. The characters are vibrant, the dialogue sharp and witty and the denouement an absolute gem. A Case Of Noir is stylish, compulsive throughout and despite all the casually wicked stuff that happens, you can’t help but smile broadly at the denouement. Cracking stuff.’
It was announced a while ago that Acorn Media, who are the main distributor of British TV programming to North American consumers, had acquired a 64% stake in Agatha Christie Limited. This means that those delicate folk across the pond will have hours of Miss Marple and Poirot to nibble on while they wait for BBC’s latest incarnation of Sherlock or the Inspector Morse prequel, Endeavour.
In comparison to these, it looks like America is the true home of cutting edge, hard-boiled crime television, with series like Breaking Bad, Southland, The Shield, True Detective, Sons Of Anarchy and The Wire, while the United Kingdom, just knocks out frigid cozies with stuck-up, Latin quoting police detectives.
However, for over forty years British television has also looked at the country’s grubby underbelly and produced plenty of gritty crime writing.
While we may think of sixties and seventies British TV cops as sophisticated post James Bonds, Frank Marker-who was played so brilliantly by Alfred Burke in the sixties television series Public Eye–was no Simon Templar, Jason King or John Steed, I can tell you.
Public Eye ran for 10 years – from 1965 to 1975- with almost 100 episodes and although I haven’t seen it since then I remember it quite well and very fondly. Public Eye, was true Brit Grit as Marker moved from a dingy office in London to another flea pit in Birminghamand eventually to Brighton, and I can still picture him walking along a wind and rain swept sea-front, looking like something from a Morrissey song.
Marker looked like a soggy mongrel, with a face so lived in that squatters wouldn’t stay there. He was a walking hard luck story too, getting knocked about by the police as well as criminals and even being framed and sent to prison.
Not a lot of peace and love there, then.
The seventies was a time when music and film were doing some pretty ground breaking and experimental stuff and, in the UK at least, so was TV. The BBC’s Play For Today, for example, is looked back upon with dewy eyed reverence these days. And so it should be. There were plays by Dennis Potter (Blue Remembered Hills), Mike Leigh (Abigail’s Party), Alan Bleasdale, John Osborne. Some of them were terrifying to the young mind- I still cringe when I remember the harrowing and brilliant Edna The Inebriated Woman. Others were hilarious –Rumpole Of The Baily, which spawned the television series.
And some were rock hard.
I was 13 in 1975, when Philip Martin’s controversial Gangsters aired, and it was great. Gangsters was true Brit Grit television. Set in Birmingham, it was a multicultural crime story about illegal immigrants and corrupt politicians. And I loved it. There was a violence, swearing, nudity! What more could you want?
The next day at school everyone was talking about it. The subsequent media furore only added to the buzz.
Gangsters was such a success it was made into a series with theme music from the prog rock band Greenslade. It told the story of Kline, played by super-craggy Maurice Colborn, ex SAS, fresh out of prison and trying to go straight. And failing. By season two, the series really took a turn for the mental, though. The title sequence now had blues singer Chris Farlow belting out the theme song and looked like something from a low budget Kung Fu film.
Indeed, it went down such a weird path that it even had writer Philip Martin regularly appearing as himself and dictating scenes to a typist. And later he appeared as The White Devil, a hit man dressed as W C Fields (a role originally intended for the comedian Les Dawson!) who eventually killed Kline.
Gangsters, which had started off as a hard hitting social realist crime drama , ended fantastically with the characters walking off the set, shots of the writers literally tossing away the script and a ‘That’s All Folks’ caption appearing on screen.
‘Daft!’ said my sister in law, who watched it with me. And she was right, I suppose, but then ‘daft’ isn’t always a bad thing, is it?
In one play and the two seasons of Gangsters there were drug addicts, hit men, sleazy night clubs, triads, murders, racist comedians, the CIA, strippers and all manner of urban rough and tumble. And W C Fields.
And on to the nineties.
Cracker was a Granada TV series that was created by the writer Jimmy McGovern which ran from 1993- 1995. A mere two years, yet it made a great impact in that short time.(Okay, there was also a fine Hong Kong set special in 1996 -and another in 2006,which I didn’t see.)
The star of the show was Scottish comedy actor Robbie Coltrane, who was previously best known for a cracking- see what I did then? – performance in the BBC’s version of John Byrne’s Tuttie Fruttie and for throwing a chair through a pub window.
Coltrane played Fitz,a brilliant, hard-drinking, heavy – smoking, bad- tempered criminal psychologist who worked as an assistant to the Manchester Police Force. “I drink too much, I smoke too much, I gamble too much. I am too much.” Top man.
Coltrane was mesmerizing. The stories were gritty and twisty and moving -even when they pushed the boundaries of melodrama. The rest of the actors involved were spot on too; in particular Christopher Ecclestone as the young detective learning more about life’s underbelly than he wanted. And Robert Carlyle was super impressive as the bitter, disillusioned Albie in the amazingly intense story ‘To Be A Somebody.’
Later, there was a watered-down U.S. version with Robert Pastorelli as Fitz. Pastorelli is a good enough actor but it really was a decaffeinated version of the original.
One of British television’s great creations, George Bulman first appeared on the small screen in 1976, in Granada Television’s hard edged crime series, The XYY Man, based on the books by Kenneth Royce. The XYY Man in question was a cat burglar called Spider Scott who was trying to go straight but regularly ended up getting caught in the MI5’s grubby web.
Doggedly on Scott’s trail was the real star of the show, Detective Sergeant George Bulman, brilliantly played by Don Henderson. Bulman was gruff and eccentric: He always wore gloves. usually had a menthol inhaler stuffed up his nose, carried his things in a plastic supermarket carrier bag and endlessly quoted Shakespeare.
It was a good series, too, but Bulman owned the show and when it ended, after two series, it was logical that Bulman and his sidekick Willis (no, not THAT Willis ) were given their own spin off show, Strangers.
Strangers –with a brilliant jazzy theme tune – started off as a pretty good, straight ahead, cop show spiced up by Bulman’s oddball character. But as the series progressed it became quirkier and quirkier, finding its form in season three when the brilliant Mark ‘Taggart’ McManus became Bulman’s boss.
The last episode had Bulman going undercover in a jazz band and featured music by Tangerine Dream and Pigbag. And the title quoted Jean Cocteau ,‘With these gloves you can pass through mirrors’- and saw Bulman trying to ditch his OCD by taking off his gloves and buggering off with McManus’ wife.
And when Strangers ended, after five series, there was still no stopping Bulman, who returned to star in his own show, Bulman. He was now an unofficial private detective working out of an antique clock repair shop with a spiky Scottish sidekick, occasionally working for a dodgy government agency or Mark MacManus. Bulman’s eccentricity was even more to the forefront in this series and the stories were comfortably off the wall.
I’ve heard from doctors that they can’t watch hospital series like ER and Casualty because of the medical inauthenticity of some scenes. Policeman surely say the same thing about the CSI franchise (okay EVERYONE says the same thing about CSI Miami). Dinner-ladies probably thought the same thing about Victoria Wood’s classic comedy series dinnerladies, for all I know.
But these glitches don’t bother me of, course. I find it easy to immerse myself in a story. Most of the time. Except, there was one scene in this cracking British television series, that jarred.
But first of all, the SP on Whitechapel.
Whitechapel was a British crime series about a rough and ready bunch of veteran East End coppers, headed by D S Ray Miles (the ever brilliant Phil Davis) and played some familiar and tasty character actors.
Well, all goes pear shaped (see how I’m getting into the lingo?) when they get a new boss, D I Joseph Chandler (played by Rupert Penry- Jones). Chandler is a fast-tracker who they think has walked into the job through having the right connections. And is he also very, very posh – a full-on blue blooded toff, even. Invariably, he doesn’t fit in with the rest of the team and clashes with Miles more than somewhat.
And things get worse when Chandler calls in a batty Ripperologist, Edward Buchan ( a top turn from the League Of Gentlemen’s Steve Pemberton) to help in his first high-profile case – a Jack The Ripper copycat.
This Whitechapel first two-parter was great fun- full of Gothic atmosphere, blood and gore, quirkiness, black humour and genuine chills.
The series was a great success and it was deservedly recommissioned. But how do you follow the Ripper story if you want to use the same copycat killer idea again?
That’s right- you bring back The Kray Twins.
Not a bad set up, but this story didn’t seem to have the same bite as the Ripper story. And Buchan is not only a Ripperologist but an expert on the Krays? Mmmm …
They also used some weird CGI to make one actor look like both twins. And they got the location of a famous East End boozer wrong! Everyone knows that The Grave Maurice was in Whitechapel Road but they said it was Commercial Road. And the pub that they used as a stand in for the presumably defunct Grave Maurice, looked nothing like it. Still it was enjoyable enough tale, had its tense moments and some nice East End locations and atmosphere.
But where do you go in season three if you want to follow the same formula?
Well, you don’t have any other Whitechapel killers as famous as Jack The Ripper and The Kray Twins, so they did a sensible thing and focused on murders that echoed obscure and less well-known East End killings. And some chillers there were too, including a locked-room-mystery and fun reference to Lon Chaney. Also, this and later seasons were split into three separate two-part stories which worked really well.
So, a cracking fun series with nice chemistry between the cast, funny, quirky moments, suspense and gore, and some smashing, ripping yarns.
And since then? Well we’ve had Luther, Top Boy, Happy Valley and the splendid Scott & Bailey. Also, Howard Linskey’s cracking Geordie gangster novel The Drop is being adapted for television by none other than J J Connolly of Layer Cake fame. And let’s hope we can find a new generation of crime writers to put some more Brit Grit back on the box.
(Bits of this have previously appeared in the Noircon 2014 program, at Sabotage Times and Pulp Metal Magazine)
As he traipses around Los Angeles, complete with a bullet hole in his head, Charlie’s memory slowly comes back and he starts to confront his past.
Earl Javorsky’s Down Solo is a witty and engrossing blend of crime fiction, black comedy, social satire and the supernatural. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
‘Two days ago, I woke up with my face buried in the green industrial carpet of a hotel room. I was still in my police uniform, but my mask was crooked and my black cape was wrapped around my throat. When I pushed myself up, my head slopped around like a goldfish bowl. Taking a deep breath, I looked around the room. It wasn’t familiar. I don’t have x-ray vision like some of the guys at my precinct—Sergeant Benavidez can even see through lead—so all I had to go on was the room I was in.’