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 enemies...like 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.