Wednesday, December 7, 2022


62 years ago today, MGM's Village of the Damned made it's movie debut in the United States. Based on the science fiction novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, it starred famed English actor George Sanders and Barbara Shelley. The screenplay was written by Sterling Silliphant, Wolf Rilla (who also directed), and Ronald Killoch.

    It was originally planned for production in the United States but the studio caved in to objections from The Catholic League of Decency, which objected to the horror film's depiction of virgin conceptions which lead to the birth of demonic children. 

    As a result of these objections, the film was transferred to MGM's British studio. The script had to be rewritten, since it lacked the authentic feel of a small British country village where the action takes place. 

    As the movie opens, the village of Midwich is cut off from the surrounding towns and everyone falls into a coma. When they awake a few hours later, all the women of child-bearing age discover they are pregnant. Suspicions of infidelity soon turn to horror when the children are born after just a few months and undergo accelerated development. Within a few years, they are on the verge of puberty, and the villagers become increasingly alarmed at their strange appearance and powers. 

    George Sanders plays the role of Professor Gordon Zellaby, whose wife has also given birth to one of the alien children, a boy they name David. Because of his intelligence and education, the children ask Zellaby to educate them. Because of his intellect, the professor is one of the only local villagers who doesn't fear and shun the children, a fact that surprises his normally unflappable son, who proclaims with some shock "You're not afraid of us!". The professor tries to learn from David his true origins, but his son brushes him off, declaring "I wish you wouldn't ask such questions, father. We want to learn from you."

    But when villagers begin to die mysteriously, the authorities confide in Professor Zellaby that the children are a serious threat to national security, and that other cities around the world have similar "colonies" of these parasitic aliens. They enlist Zellaby in a plan to destroy them before their powers grow beyond control.

    Produced on a budget of 200,000 dollars, the box office topped 2 million, and became one of MGM's biggest hits of the year. It spawned a sequel in 1964, Children of the Damned, which was not as successful.

    Diabolique Magazine produced an excellent podcast discussing the film, which you can access by clicking here.

    Below is the original trailer released by MGM Studios.

    Monday, October 17, 2022

    I WON'T BACK DOWN from recommending this thriller.

     J.D. Rhoades has written six books in the Jack Keller series, and this is the latest one. It's also the first one I've read, and now I want to read them all. Keller's come to North Carolina to try to reconnect with his son, and possible rekindle a romance. The story hints at some grave harm that Jack did to his boy, some act of violence that saved him, but also scarred him. 

    In the novels first chapter Jack defends some new immigrants at the local school, refugees from the Iraq war. Soon he's hired as their bodyguard by the father, an ex-police officer who fled the country and was given a new identity. But he may not have fled with just his children. There are an awful lot of people who seem to have an interest in this family. I could be military information they want, someone seeking revenge for a past wrong, or a far more simple It's no secret that the United States poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Iraq after the war to rebuild it, and a lot of that cash (yes, cash) simply disappeared. Could some of that money be here?

    Keller finds himself defending the children not just from schoolyard bullies and redneck bigots, but ruthless assassins and even some federal agents who may not have the refugees' best interests at heart. As a man with a rap sheet, Jack Keller also has to be careful not to attract the attention of law enforcement. This proves to be a difficult task once the shooting starts. 

    There are a lot of characters jumping into the narrative with different motives behind each character.  Rhoades has a nifty technique to keep the reader from getting lost. He keeps many of the chapters short, sometimes just two or three pages. This helps pack a lot of information into the story, which is good, because the action starts early and never lets up. I liked it. You will too.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2022

    How Angela Lansbury Helped Shape My First Novel

     By now most of you know that Angela Lansbury has passed away. As she leaves us, a generation of television viewers who grew up on her portrayal of Jessica Fletcher in the mystery series Murder, She Wrote, pause to reflect on her legacy. For many, her TV stardom was the first introduction to this versatile actress. But her acting career spanned an incredible eight decades. 

    She made her first movie appearance in 1944 in the suspense film Gaslight. This earned her an Academy Award nomination for her sinister performance. In 2014, she made her last acting appearance in Noel Coward's comedy play Blithe Spirit as Madam Arcati, a spiritual guide and potential huckster.

    I've seen most of Angela's roles over the years. Her portrayal of Eleanor Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate is a personal favorite. But her influence on my writing has a direct link to the success of her portrayal of a widowed amateur sleuth from the small town of Cabot Cove, Maine. 

    While still working on the first draft of In The Dismal Swamp, I decided to target the cozy mystery market. I didn't have an agent, and at the time, most of the publishers who I thought might work with me were focused on the cozy. It was then that I realized that I didn't know exactly what a cozy was...I just had a vague idea. Then someone (an agent?) mentioned Murder, She Wrote. "You want cozy? Jessica Fletcher's cozy!"

    That's when I understood. I'd watched MSW for years and the successful formula of minimal violence, the absence of cuss words and quaint settings made sense for my manuscript. The basic structure was the same, whether it was film, television or printed fiction. And the rules for cozy are pretty strict. At one point, my editor suggested (strongly) that I remove the word "piss" from my manuscript, as it wouldn't pass muster.

     Naturally I complied. It wasn't a big issue for me, but it did teach me an important lesson. You need to target your audience. It my case, it was a cozy publisher, and I eventually found one in Avalon Books of New York (which was later purchased by Thomas & Mercer).

    Since then I've moved onto different sub-genres of the mystery novel. My current WIP is a heist novel, and you can bet I won't be pitching it to The Hallmark Channel. But I won't forget the lessons I learned from Angela Lansbury. 

    If you're a fan of cozy mysteries, you can purchase my novel using the link in the blog post above. I also recommend Nancy Cohen, Agatha Christie, Edith Maxwell, and Eva Gates.

    Tuesday, September 27, 2022

    WRITERS BORN TODAY: Jim Thompson, American Master of Nasty Noir

     It's the birthday of Jim Thompson, born 116 years ago today in Oklahoma. Raised in the hard scrabble oil fields of Texas and abandoned by his father for a time, Thompson struggled from a young age to help support his family. There was no odd job he wouldn't take. His stint as a bellboy introduced him to the seedier side of life as he used his skills to procure women, drugs, and bootleg alcohol for the hotel's clients. 

    Along the way he turned to writing for the pulp publishers who flourished after World War II. It was during this time that he produced some of the most vicious characters ever put to paper in American crime literature. His villains were corrupt cops, con men and psychopaths. His protagonists were little better. If someone asks you how to tell the different between the good guys and the bad guys in one of his novels, don't answer; it's a trick question. In many of his stories, there are no heroes. 

    Thompson wrote most of his best work in the 1950s and 60s. Eleven novels were written and published just between 1952 and 1954 when he was at the height of his creative output. The two things that drove him to write were his desire to tell a story, and the need to pay his bills. He had a brief and successful fling with Hollywood with Stanley Kubrick's The Killing, and The Getaway starring Steve McQueen. But like most flings. it ended badly. Though Thompson and Kubrick wrote the screenplay for The Killing, Kubrick cheated him out of the credit. After The Getaway, several promising Hollywood options faded away.  Thompson was treated almost like one of the failures in one of his novels, short-changed by grifters and con artists who wore suits and ties instead of cowboy hats and jeans.

    By the time Jim Thompson died in 1977 after suffering a series of strokes he was broke, and all of his books were out of print. But he never gave up hope that his literary reputation would be rehabilitated. He told his wife that someday his work would be critically acclaimed. It didn't take long. By the 1990s, Hollywood had discovered him again, and his work was being produced on the silver screen. One of the most notable was a film based on The Killer Inside Me, starring Jessica Alba and Casey Affleck. Most of his books are back in print.

    One final mystery surrounds Jim Thompson's life, and it's a doozy. Kubrick commissioned him to write a novel for a future film project, and Thompson delivered. The manuscript, titled Lunatic At Large, was send to Kubrick and then misplaced. Thompson didn't make a copy. But after Kubrick's death, the novel was found. Rumor has it, filming has already begun.

    This short documentary on Jim Thompson's life includes great commentary by Donald Westlake, who needs no introduction. 

    Saturday, September 24, 2022

    Twist Phelan Hits The Bullseye with THE TARGET

     What would you do to prove your father's innocence? How far you you go to clear the name of the man who raised you after accusations of embezzlement destroy both of your lives and lead to your dad's suicide?

    Would you lie to your boss? Steal from your employer? Betray the woman you love? All three?

    Sean Dwyer is about to find out. It's been several years since his life was turned upside down by a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into his father's financial firm. For those of you not in the know, the SEC is Wall Street's version of Darth Vader, feared by every stock broker and financial advisor in the country. A letter from them can tank a company's stock price faster than you can say "No Luke, I Am Your Father!" For Sean, it's goodbye Ivy League law school, goodbye dad, and goodbye to the only girl he ever loved. But a few years later, he stumbles into a chance to work for the very government organization that ruined his life, and he grabs it. In his mind, Sean sees a chance to reopen the investigation into his father's crimes, and perhaps clear his family name. 

    There's just a couple of minor problems. 

    His new boss hates him. The second person he meets at his job just happens to be the woman he dumped. And the case files on his father's firm are locked behind a door secured by a keypad with 10,000 possible combinations.

    Well... they might be larger than "minor" problems. OK, OK, I admit they're massive obstacles on par with Frodo's journey to Mordor to destroy the One Ring. Don't look at me like that. I didn't write the thing!

    Frankly, at times I wish I had. This story is good...really good. But I'm not jealous. Really.

    The fun in reading this thriller is seeing how Sean overcomes these challenges. One of his best weapons is a tech wiz named Frankie, a girl with fabulous hacking and hardware skills. When not helping Sean break into a secure room at the SEC, she imagines herself to be a Samurai Princess, defeating imaginary enemies, and sometimes, real Sean's ex-girlfriend. You see, Frankie's in love with Sean, and she is mighty miffed at seeing Sean reconnect with his former love.

    As for Sean, he has some serious decisions to confront once he gains access to his father's files. How can he makes things right without getting fired or tossed into jail, and who can he trust? He's so determined to find out if his father really is innocent he ignores the biggest problem that sits right in front of him...if his dad was innocent, someone must have framed him. And that someone will not look kindly on Sean's efforts to learn the truth.

    This story works on so many levels. It's a mystery (and a locked room mystery at that), a romance, and a thriller. There's something here for everyone. So if you love to read and you're looking for something new, stop reading my review and buy this book! 

    As for me, I have my own mystery to solve, mainly, how did Twist write such a fabulous novel? Maybe if I ask her nice, she'll spill the secret. Wish me luck.

    A former attorney, Twist Phelan travels, writes thrillers, and short stories. Besides her latest thriller, she's been on fire, having several stories accepted for publication in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

    Monday, September 19, 2022

    Once You Start Reading BRING HER HOME, You Won't Leave The House.

    Writer David Bell invites us to witness every father's worst fears with this nail chewing thriller. Two years after his wife dies in an accident, Bill Price and his teen daughter, Summer, are battling to maintain their fractured lives. But when Summer and her closest friend go out, what begins as a normal weekend turns into a nightmare. Both girls disappear and Bill will stop at nothing to find out what happened. Along the way, he'll learn secrets that will make him doubt his ability as a parent, and force him confront what kind of husband he was to his wife. 

    Desperate to assist in the search, Bill barges into hospital rooms, schools and public parks. He's sometimes his own worst enemy as he ignores pleas from the police to let them investigate without his interference. At one point, his quick temper leads the police to put him on the list of suspects. But the reader is hard pressed to blame him as he staggers between grief and outrage.

    David Bell throws plenty of roadblocks into Bill's path and like a crafty old pitcher, tosses a few curve balls that leave both our hero Bill and the reader swinging at air, and wondering what just happened. The surprises keep coming until the final shock. Read fast, because you'll be holding your breath for the last few chapters. Better yet, keep an oxygen tank handy. 

    Monday, August 29, 2022

    Did You Miss This Book When It Came Out? Maybe You Were BLINDSIDED.

        Dr. Cadence Lawrence's successful career as a young surgeon takes a wrong turn when she sees Dirk Lyons, an old high school acquaintance in a fellow doctor's office. Her shock and anguish become clear once the reader learns that Dirk was once accused of murdering Cadence's best Cadence herself. Within days, she's being stalked by him and now fears she may be his next target. Without hard evidence, the police are helpless to protect her, so she flees into the North Woods. In her haste, her car becomes stuck on a side road during a major snowstorm. She faces a chilly death, until a knock on her car window by a stranger offers her hope for survival. Having just fled the horror of a suspected killer, can she trust the offer of shelter in a storm from a total stranger?
        Thus begins this thriller by Kate Watterson, a terrifying tale that almost feels like a romance novel once Cadence settles in with her rescuer in a snow bound cabin, cooks for him, chats, and begins to fall in love with this tall stranger with a chiseled jaw, his own construction company and some really good wine! 

        OK, I admit a good wine will catch my attention as well, but the tale soon moves from the improbable to the absolute terrifying as Cassandra decides to return to her hometown and confront her stalker. She's accompanied by Mick, the man who couldn't turn his back on a stranded motorist in a snowstorm (and begins to like his decision on a personal level).

        The author interrupts the storyline several times by shifting the point of view to give the reader a glimpse into the mind of the killer. This is what kept me reading, and it will keep you reading as well, assuming you're not too scared to turn the page as the true malevolence of this skilled predator is unveiled.

    Saturday, August 20, 2022

    If a poor little rich girl is kidnapped in the woods, does anyone hear it? THE GIRL WHO CRIED WOLF by Robert Ferrigno


    This thriller tackles some of the usual suspects…fast paced action, a dedicated protagonist, and the threat of widespread destruction and death. It adds another underused theme by its emphasis on eco-terrorism. When the daughter of a wealthy capitalist is kidnapped, the ransom demand includes turning

    over an old growth forest to a conservation group, which will save it from clear-cutting by ruthless loggers…or so we are told. Remy Brandt, the victim, has a history of making false claims, which complicates the case. It seems the police and the FBI have a hard time believing she’s actually been kidnapped. Her wealthy father doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to rescue her, which adds to the problem. Remy’s boyfriend has no doubts however, and his skills as a security expert and determination to find Remy make him a powerful ally…perhaps Remy’s only ally.

                    The villains are part of an underground network of ecological misfits and tree huggers who cross the line from peaceful protest into violence. The leader of the kidnappers, Glenn, has more than saving the earth on his mind. Greed dominates his mind. His partners, Eli and Tree, are faithful followers who begin to doubt the wisdom of this crime as time passes. Each of them has their own personal motives for aiding Glenn. Eli begins to fall in love with Remy, while Tree loves only the woods, especially the forest where they’ve hidden Remy. Tree may be the most interesting character. He appears to be a brute, but we learn that he was once a foreman on a lumberjack team, until he heard screams in the forest…the screams of the trees being destroyed, and turned against capitalism.

                    As Mack, Remy’s boyfriend, scours the Seattle underground looking for clues, he grapples with Glenn and then Cleo, journalist for an underground newspaper who offers to help him. But Cleo has secrets of her own and may not be the ally Mack has hoped for. As the ransom deadline draws near Mack, Remy, the kidnappers, and Cleo collide. The reader will find it hard to put this book down until the violent ending.