Sunday, September 23, 2018

My Washington Times Review Of 'The Annotated Big Sleep'

The Washington Times published my review of The Annotated Big Sleep.

“Raymond Chandler once wrote that ‘some literary antiquarian of a rather special type may one day think it worthwhile to run through the files of the pulp detective magazines’ to watch as ‘the popular mystery story shed its refined good manners and went native,’” the editors of “The Annotated Big Sleep” write in their introduction of the late, great Raymond Chandler’s classic crime novel.

“He might have said, as the genre of detective fiction kicked out the Britishism and became American. A chief agent of this transformation was Raymond Chandler himself. ‘The Big Sleep’ was Chandler’s first novel, and it introduced the world to Philip Marlowe, the archetypal wisecracking, world-weary private detective who now occupies a permanent place in the American imagination.”

The editors note that in their annotated edition of “The Big Sleep” they trace the many veins of meaning into the intricate novel, which they call “a ripping good story.” The editors inform us that  Raymond Chandler (July 23, 1888 March 26, 1959) did not think of himself as primarily a “mystery” writer, calling his novels and stories only “ostensibly” mysteries. But his work was confined within the limitations of genre fiction during his lifetime and many years after, even though he was lauded while he was alive by W.H. Auden, Evelyn Waugh, T.S. Eliot, Graham Greene and Christopher Isherwood.

But today, as the editors point out, Chandler is taught in university courses and Le Monde voted “The Big Sleep” one of the “100 Books of the Century.” The novel was also made into two films, with Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe in the 1946 film, and Robert Mitchum portraying Philip Marlowe in the 1978 film. (Dick Powell, Robert Montgomery, James Garner and many other actors have portrayed Philip Marlowe in films based on Raymond Chandler’s other novels).

… “I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.” So begins the well-known and celebrated opening that introduces the reader to Philip Marlowe, the first-person narrator of “The Big Sleep.”

You can read the rest of the review via the below link:

You can also read my Crime Beat column on Raymond Chandler (seen in the above photo) via the below link: 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

A Look Back At Eric Ambler, The Father Of The Modern Thriller

As a teenager in the 1960s I devoured crime and spy thrillers. I especially loved the British spy thriller writers, such as Ian Fleming, Graham Greene, Len Deighton, Frederick Forsyth and John le Carre.
And I’ve read, and reread, nearly all of Eric Ambler’s fine thrillers, especially The Mask of Dimitrios, one of my favorite thrillers.
Neil Nyren at offers a look back at this late, great thriller writer.
Eric Ambler was the father of the modern thriller. That’s a big statement, but you don’t need to take my word for it.  John Le CarrĂ© called him “the source on which we all draw,” and Len Deighton, “the man who lit the way for us all.”  Frederick Forsyth said he was the man “who took the spy thriller out of the gentility of the drawing room and into the back streets where it all really happened,” and Graham Greene declared him simply “unquestionably our best thriller writer.” He won many Edgar and CWA Dagger awards, including lifetime achievement honors from both, and in 1981, was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Before Ambler, international thrillers tended to be dominated by such writers as John Buchan, Herman Cyril McNeile (known as “Sapper”), and their many imitators. These books were often rousing adventures, but filled with improbabilities, both of plot and character, plus a hearty jingoism and a well of right-wing, Old World prejudice that would curl your hair today.
Ambler was having none of it. The villains were totally implausible, he wrote in his memoir, titled with typical Amblerian double-meaning, Here Lies, and the hero “could be a tweedy fellow with steel-grey eyes and gun pads on both shoulders or a moneyed dandy with a taste for adventure. He could also be a xenophobic ex-officer with a nasty anti-Semitic streak. None of that really mattered. All he really needed to function as hero was abysmal stupidity combined with superhuman resourcefulness and unbreakable knuckle bones.”
Ambler’s heroes, especially in his brilliant run of between-wars novels published between 1936 and 1940, are very unexceptional sorts, the quintessence of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. They are often engineers or journalists or writers who stumble unexpectedly into danger through a combination of bad judgment and bad luck, and then have no choice but to try to dig themselves out of it on their own, because no one is likely to help them. They are often solidly middle class, raised in a world of black-and-white certainties that they discover has been completely obliterated by an infinite variety of grays.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Secret World: A History Of Intelligence

Veteran journalist and author Joseph C. Goulden offers a good review in the Washington Times of Christopher Andrew's The Secret World: A History of Intelligence. 

At hand is a truly magisterial work, a sweeping history that stretches from the biblical era to the present. Christopher Andrew is the leading academic intelligence historian of our time. A professor at the University of Cambridge, he has written a veritable shelf of books on intelligence.

“The Secret World” is a must-read for any person with a serious interest in intelligence. But be forewarned. The more than 800 pages of text require more than a casual scan, but are well worth the investment of serious time.

His evidence, buttressed in 111 pages of documentation sources, is rich with anecdotes and opinions of world leaders who relied on — or ignored — intelligence as a tool of office.

Despite his overall admiration of the intel trade, Mr. Andrew is coldly objective about instances where matters were flubbed. Consider, for instance, Israeli spies who scouted Canaan as the Promised Land centuries ago. The Canaanites, they claimed, “included giants who made them feel no bigger than grasshoppers.” He also notes that some glitches are timeless, citing a biblical operation where spies ended up in a brothel, thus melding “the two oldest professions.”

You can read the rest of the review via the below link:

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Charles Manson At The Whisky: The Bizarre Night When Manson Partied With Hollywood Royalty offers an interesting excerpt from Jeff Guinn’s outstanding biography, Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson.

The excerpt deals with the time in 1968 when Charles Manson partied with the Beach Boys' drummer and other music industry celebrities at the Whisky on Sunset Boulevard, known as "the Strip,' in Los Angeles.  

You can read the piece via the below link:

You can also read my Washington Times review of Jeff Guinn's Manson via the below link:

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Frederick Forsyth: The Strange Case Of the Russian Spies

Frederick Forsyth, author of the classic thriller The Day of the Jackal and the memoir The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, in his column in the British newspaper the Express offers his take on the suspected GRU agents who allegedly attempted to murder a former Russian GRU officer in London

We all believe in giving credit where it is due and there are two officers in the London Met who deserve a lot of it. It seems this duo have a very special talent: the capacity to recognize a face if they have ever seen it once before. 

Novichok suspects Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov have admitted that they were in Salisbury because their friends had been telling them for a long time to go and visit the 'wonderful town'.

Since the Moscow-directed attacks with novichok nerve agent in Salisbury these four eyes have been scanning thousands of hours of CCTV tapes going back months. Mostly they concentrated on the weeks before the attacks and the days immediately after. And finally they got ’em. 

I mean of course the two GRU agents whose faces and passport details have been exposed far and wide, along with the details of their journeys from Moscow to Salisbury and back.

Frederick Forsyth in his column also weighs in on one aspect of Bob Woodward’s new book on President Trump.

One suspects we have all noticed the news from Washington about the devastating book, Fear, by ace investigative journo Bob Woodward – he of Watergate fame – about what he calls the Crazytown in the White House. One of his revelations is that Donald Trump allegedly called for the targeted “termination” of Syrian tyrant Bashar al Assad. This is held up as a terrible thing to suggest.

Just hold the phone a second. The US does actually have a “kill list” of names of those who may be “whacked” without arrest or trial. These terminations are usually of terrorist chiefs in isolated buildings by a drone overhead and make a short paragraph on the inside pages of our papers. But occasionally the US gets up close and personal.

Osama bin Laden received the attention of a team of US Navy Seals in the bedroom of his villa deep inside Pakistan which just happens to be a sovereign state. And for the record, Assad with his chemical bomb attacks on women and children has killed more innocent humans than Osama bin Laden. So..?

You can read the rest of the column via the below link:

You can also read my Crime Beat column on Frederick Forsyth via the below link:

Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Look Back At Samuel Fuller's Classic Crime Film. 'Underworld USA'

Lee Pfeiffer at offers a review of a crime film I loved as a kid, Samuel Fuller’s Underworld USA. The crime classic is now out on DVD.
Samuel Fuller (seen in the below photo) is today regarded as a revered name among directors. Unlike his peers- John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, Howard Hawks, to name but a few- Fuller didn't get much respect when he needed it, at least from critics and studio heads who regarded his talents as workmanlike. 

Consequently, this talented director, screenwriter and occasional novelist and actor, toiled under meager budgets and scant support from studio executives. Fuller was typical of directors of his generation who had come of age during the Great Depression and World War II. 
He had a tough guy persona and had learned to survive on the mean streets of Manhattan where he worked as a crime reporter in the 1930s. Fuller could have landed a cushy job in the military during the war but eschewed the opportunity in favor of volunteering for combat duty in the European campaign. His scripts were tightly-written, no-nonsense affairs and his direction was direct and to-the-point. 

Fuller cut a larger-than-life figure with an out-sized personality and his penchant for indulging in cigars that were so large they looked as though they were inspired by cartoons. Despite the budgetary limitations on his films and the fact that he never enjoyed a career-defining breakaway hit, Fuller's movies have stood the test of time and before he died in 1997, he had witnessed his work being favorably reassessed by a new generation of directors and critics.
"Underworld U.S.A." is one of Fuller's true gems. A 1961 film noir crime story, the movie gave an early career boost to Cliff Robertson but its significance goes much deeper. Although viewed as a typical low budget crime thriller back in the day, the movie is a a true classic of the genre.
The film opens with 14 year-old Tolly Davlin (David Kent), a street-wise product of a crime-infested unnamed big city, witnessing the beating death of the father he idolized by a pack of enforcers from a mob syndicate that he had crossed. Tolly's dad, himself a low-life who was teaching his son how to survive in the urban jungle by being more cunning and ruthless than the competition. Tolly, now orphaned, finds the only friend he has is Sandy (Beatrice Kay), a tough-as-nails saloon owner who takes a maternal interest in Tolly, though he rarely heeds her advice. Tolly is consumed with avenging his father's death. He arranges intentionally builds up a criminal record leading to him being criminal record leading to him being incarcerated in a juvenile detention center- but all the while he is painstakingly following leads about who his father's murderers were and who employed them. 
The story jumps ahead and we find Tolly now a young man in his late twenties (played by Robertson) having been incarcerated in a prison that houses one of the killers, a man who is literally on his death bed in the hospital ward. That doesn't stop Tolly from smothering him with a pillow and making it look like natural causes. When Tolly is released from jail, he reunites with Sandy and has a chance encounter with  a sexy gun moll who is nicknamed Cuddles (Dolores Dorn) who has been marked for death for having failed to carry out a mission for the mob. Tolly saves her life and secretes her in Sandy's apartment while he begins his pursuit of two other men who killed his father that fateful night. Having succeeded in getting his street justice, he goes for bigger game: the syndicate bosses.
You can read the rest of the review via the below link:
Note: I’d also recommend Samuel Fuller’s other great films, such as House of Bamboo, Merrill's Marauders, and The Big Red One 

Shaken: Drinking With James Bond And Ian Fleming

The website looks at Shaken, the new book on Ian Fleming’s iconic character James Bond and his drinking pleasures.

Shaken explores James Bond creator Ian Fleming’s writings on the pleasures of drinking, the stories behind the Bond phenomenon and drinks inspired by 007 and his creator.

From the first Ian Fleming James Bond novel Casino Royale (1953) in which agent 007 invents the now famous Vesper Martini, to the immortal lines, ‘shaken and not stirred’, which first appeared in print in Diamonds Are Forever (1956) strong, carefully crafted cocktails are at the glamorous heart of every Bond story. Shaken explores James Bond creator Ian Fleming’s writings on the pleasures of drinking, the stories behind the Bond phenomenon and drinks inspired by 007 and his creator.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

You can also go to to read about the book.