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Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: The Case of the One-Penny Orange by EV Cunningham (pseu. of Howard Fast)

Charming detective story. Howard Fast was a prolific writer across many genres. I had not realized that he also wrote a series of detective novels under the EV Cunningham pen name that have been recently re-issued under his real name by Open Road Media (bless them.) They feature a tenacious Nisei detective, Masao Matsui. For those who don’t know, Nisei was a term invented to describe those of Japanese heritage born in the United States. (Don’t get me started on the inherent xenophobia of these kinds of designations.)

As you might have guessed, the case involves a stamp and the murder of a stamp dealer. The murders escalate and the provenance of the stamp and its effect on a twelve-year-old become important, not to mention Buchenwald. Matsui, head of the Beverly Hills homicide squad, is a treat to watch as he interacts with his colleagues and boss employing the “kill ‘em with kindness” technique. Little action, well, except for the three chain-wielding motorcyclists, just good dialogue and intriguing plot.

For those who care about such things (I find them endlessly fascinating, including Lawrence Block’s creation Keller’s passion for stamps) the one-penny orange was first issued in 1847 in Mauritius and is one of the rarest of all stamps. The history is quite interesting. You can find more at

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: Natural Causes by James Oswald

Newly minted Inspector McLean is assigned a ridiculously difficult case. A girl, dead for at least fifty years, has been found walled up and ritually disemboweled in the basement of a house being renovated. Another case involves an important local man and some recent burglaries. And to top it off, McLean’s grandmother dies leaving him 5 million pounds.

It’s a moderately interesting story although some of the events, like the inheritance, seem superfluous unless intended to be relevant in future series title. Fortunately, the hint of supernatural involvement remained just that, but even the mere suggestion was a bit off-putting.

The author says in a note that the novel was fleshed out from a short-story and it does have a bloated feel sometimes. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable and I’ll continue with the series.

N.B. The publisher’s blurb is stupid.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The GOP Convention, or, I'm Renegging on a Prediction

A year ago, at the beginning of the primary season, I predicted, to the disdain and ridicule of my friends, that Donald Trump would be the GOP nominee. I collected on several bets. I could see the anger and disgust with Washington, hence my prediction. I am revising that prediction; I now think it will be an establishment candidate, not Mitt Romney, although he’s been angling for it with gusto the last couple of months, but probably Paul Ryan who doesn’t want to be the candidate as much as he didn’t want to be Speaker of the House.

My reasoning is simple. The Republican establishment, you know the Washington types who all live in the same bubble, are terrified that a Trump candidacy will bring about an election tsunami that will sweep away the GOP majority in the House and devastate their House majority. Establishment Republicans dominate the convention rules committee. I don’t think Trump understands the importance of the rules of the convention. He’s used to a corporate environment where the executive is really an executive and runs the show. Hah.

The Rules Committee will simply argue that the delegates can vote for whomever they please on the first ballot in order to bring some consistency to procedure since many states have as many different rules regarding delegate slates, etc. Then, behind the scenes they will convince enough delegates to vote for a favorite son or someone else on the first ballot, just enough to deny a first ballot victory to Trump. Then all bets are off, and Romney will try to ride in on a white charger to save the party, but he will be seen more as riding a mule. Now Paul Ryan, on the other hand, who has been cleverly saying how much he won’t take the nomination (we’ve heard that before, too) but will ultimately succumb. That’s why he did the about face on supporting Trump; he doesn’t want it to appear he’s angling for himself, which of course, he certainly is.

The Establishment will rightly argue that with Hillary’s negatives as high as they are, a Ryan nomination will easily prevent the tsunami and save the day by winning with a Ryan candidacy. Ryan has little negative baggage and would be a formidable candidate. Will that strategy piss off a lot of Trump’s supporters? Sure, but the Establishment doesn’t care because they want to win and they think most of them would rather vote for Ryan (who ostensibly supports Trump) than the devil Hillary. They see that as a path to victory and there’s nothing the political establishment likes better than that road.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Review: Deadly Honeymoon

It’s wonderful that many books that would have disappeared into the ether never to be read again are being reissued as ebooks. Lawrence Block is resurrecting many of his early books, some written pseudonymously and now released under his true name. Pulp fiction and cheap paperbacks were often the best way for writers to break into the business and to support themselves early in their careers.

Deadly Honeymoon is just such an early Block and the first book of his to be optioned for movie rights. It follows David and Jill, newly weds (she’s still a virgin at 24 true to the morays of the fifties) and they are unfortunate enough to witness the mob hit on a man hiding from gangsters in the cabin next to them while on their honeymoon. They are seen and David is beaten while Jill is being raped. They mention none of this to the police who come to investigate the killing, but immediately plot their revenge and much of the book follows their search for the killers about which they know very little. Their investigation presages the detective work of Block’s later protagonists like Scudder.

My only complaint, and this is related more to the novella’s anachronistic content, was the prosaic and utterly predictable ending.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Review: Keller's Fedora by Lawrence Block

If this keeps up, I may have to take up stamp collecting. A new Keller novella is always worth celebrating and when I saw several for sale as Kindle singles on Amazon, I snapped them all up. This one does not disappoint and has the usual waggish dialogue, puns, and stamps including Keller's own unique way of handling a ticklish problem. Not to mention a fedora -- that's new.

So why do football teams put their logos and colors on baseball hats?