Friday, September 27, 2013

Forgotten Books: Bone, Bones and More Bones

Call me a laggard and a bumpkin, but I’ve never read a Patricia Highsmith book. Or a short story, either. But, this being Highsmith Day on FFB, and BONE Week on the Almanack, I felt obliged to pay a little lip service to both.

So here we go.

“Bone” is a buzzword in mystery fiction. It’s a great four-letter way to plant an image in the reader’s mind. Depending on the context (and the reader’s frame of mind), that image might be Death, Decay, Serious Injury, Dread, or (I'm talkin' to you, Doug and Bob) Sex.

Christine Finlayson’s Tip of a Bone is only the latest in a long line of books with Bone or Bones in the title. And while Patricia Highsmith never went that route, she did use the word - at least once - in one of her novels. As proof, here’s a passage from Deep Water (1957):

Mr. Cameron had staring, pale-blue eyes whose smallness contrasted with the bulk of the rest of him. He was not very tall and his head looked square and huge, as if it were made of something other than the usual flesh and bone. 

Amazing, huh?

A little Googling turned up all these books with Bone in the title:

Writer’s Bone - Daniel Woodrell
Daughter of Smoke & Bone - Laini Taylor
Bone and Bread - Saleema Nawaz
The Bone Cage - Angie Abdou
The Bone Thief - Jefferson Bass
The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon
The Bone Bed - Patricia Cornwell
The Bone People - Keri Hulme
The Bone Garden - Tess Gerritsen
Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo
The Bone Collector - Jeffrey Deaver
What’s Bred in the Bone - Robinson Davies
Rust and Bone - Craig Davidson
Gleam of Bone and Other Stories - Richard Cass
Close to the Bone - Stuart MacBride

And these using the plural:

Bones - Jan Burke
Her Boyfriend’s Bones - Jeanne Matthews
The Tale of Raw Head & Bloody Bones - Jack Wolf
Island of Bones - Imogen Robertson
Them Bones - Howard Waldrop
The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
City of Bones - Michael Connelly
Bag of Bones - Stephen King
City of Bones - Cassandra Clare
The Maze of Bones - Rick Riordan
Salvage the Bones - Jesmyn Ward
The Farming of Bones - Edwidge Danticat
Doll Bones - Holly Black
Murambi, The Book of Bones - Jennie E. Burnet
Wind and Bones - Kristin Marra
Bones - Edgar Wallace
Servant of the Bones - Anne Rice
Bare Bones, Cross Bones, Break No Bones, Bones to Ashes, Devil Bones, 206 Bones, Spider Bones, Flash and Bones, Bones are Forever and (whew!) Bones of the Lost - Kathy Reichs

They’re not all mysteries, of course, but Bone and Bones are words everyone can relate to. Have titles to add? Shout ‘em out.

Laggard and bumpkin that I am, I’ve only read one of these books (other than Tip of a Bone, of course). That one is the Harry Bosch novel, City of Bones. Any others you’d recommend?

Forgotten Highsmith (and other) Books at pattinase.

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

FLASH FICTION: Skyler Hobbs and the Troublesome Taste

This one is in response to Patti Abbott's challenge: a story based on the headline "Michigan Man's Tastes Gets Him into Trouble."

       "You lied to me," Skyler Hobbs said. While saying it, he dipped a clam strip into a cup of cocktail sauce and bit off the tip.
       "I exaggerated," I said. I picked up my bottle of Rogue Wolf-Eel Ale and tried to avoid his eyes.
       "You said there was a client in this quaint coastal village who wished to procure my services. I trusted you, Watson, and you betrayed me."
       I shook my head. "Wilder,” I said, “not Watson. And I told you there was someone in Newport who needed your help. I didn't claim to know who that person was or what kind of trouble they were in."
       Hobbs pouted.
       "Look," I said, "you needed a vacation. That brouhaha with your brother* really got your panties in a bunch. This was the only way I could get you to the beach."
       My friend Skyler Hobbs, you see, is the worst of workaholics. He believes he's the honest-to-god reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes, and isn't happy unless he's proving it to someone. Especially me, who he thinks was heaven-sent to be his Watson.
       So there we were on the Oregon Coast, and instead of enjoying the beach and breathing the salty air, all he wanted to do was eat. And the first place that caught his eye was this greasy diner called the Clam Strip Café. The low-hanging fishnets and plastic starfish were cheesy, and the place stank of overcooked broccoli and undercooked oysters, but the skirts of the waitresses’ sailor suits were so short I didn't mind.
       One of those waitresses, whose brown curls bounced nicely on the shoulders of her white blouse, shuffled toward the next booth with a tray of glasses. The glasses held water and ice, but just barely. The tray shook so violently the contents threatened to jump out onto the floor.
       The booth was occupied by a fat guy with an obscene smirk and a babe with a chest too big for her tank top. The smirker pushed a Detroit Tigers baseball cap back on his forehead and wheezed, "Perhaps you should set that tray down, sugar, so we don't get wet. Not that I mind a wet crotch."
       This second statement appeared to be aimed at his date, but the waitress took it personally. Her nose twisted in disgust.
       "Oh?” she said. “Then you'll enjoy this." She snatched a glass from the tray and dumped the ice water into the fat guy’s lap.
       He did a great impression of a squealing pig.
       His date surged up, squalling, "What's your problem? He wasn't talking to you."
       "The problem," the waitress said, "is you shouldn't let your man out of his cave. He's not civilized." She wheeled away, but found herself in the grip of a pot-bellied man with slicked back hair.
       "Dinner's on the house," the new arrival told the couple, then herded the wayward waitress back behind the bar, where a heated discussion commenced.
       "Nice floor show," I said to Hobbs, but he seemed not to hear. His attention was focused on the waitress and her pot-bellied manager. I knew that look. Hobbs was an excellent lip-reader, and was eavesdropping with his eyes.
       When the conversation ended, the waitress retreated into the kitchen, while Pot Belly swaggered back across the room.        
       "I deduce," Hobbs whispered, "that our nautical young server has experienced difficulties with that blowhard in the past."
       Pot Belly slid into the aggrieved couple’s booth. "Sorry about that," he told them. "Must be that time of the month, know what I mean?"
       Wet Crotch emitted a nasty chortle. The girl giggled, making her mammaries dance.
       A disturbing gleam formed in my friend's eye, a gleam I intended to nip in the bud.
       "Look, Hobbs,” I said quietly. “We’re on vacation, remember? This guy's a tasteless jerk, but last time I checked, bad taste wasn't against the law.”
       “But such excessively bad taste,” he said, “can get a person into trouble.”
        “And it probably will. But keep your reincarnated nose out of this, or you'll land us both in the hoosegow."
       Hobbs feigned innocence. "Why, Doctor," he said. "You wound me."
       "Not yet," I said, gripping my fork. "But don't tempt me."
       Still laughing, Pot Belly left the booth, and another waitress – a platinum blonde built like a Barbie doll - arrived with the couple’s complimentary dinner.
       Both plucked clam strips from the plate, and the Barbie doll departed.
       After a moment, Wet Crotch's wheezy voice said, "Damn. What I wouldn't give for a piece of that."
       His date dropped her clam strip. "What did you say?"
       "I didn't say nothin'," Wet Crotch said. "I’m eating. Why ain't you?"
       The girl eyed him narrowly, but picked up another strip.
       "On second thought," the wheezy voice said, "maybe you shouldn't eat that. You're turnin' into a real blubberbutt."
       Bits of half-chewed seafood flew from the fat guy's mouth. 
       His date’s face was the color of cocktail sauce. She grabbed a glass of water and thrust the contents into his lap, followed by the plate of food.
       "You want a wet crotch? You got it! And you can keep it!"
       And while he sat there looking bewildered, she stormed out of the joint.
       Wet Crotch broke the silence with a stream of unprintable words, lumbered to his feet and staggered toward the men's room.
       "See," I told Hobbs, "he got his just deserts, and you didn't have to lift a hand."
       "No," he said with a smug smile. "I didn't."
       I knew that smile, and didn't like it.
       "Come clean, Hobbs. What did you do?"
       He chose a particularly fat clam strip, made it vanish, and chewed with gusto.
       "One of these days, Watson, I must tell you of my studies into the fine art of ventriloquism."

© 2013 by Evan Lewis

*See “Skyler Hobbs and the Smarter Brother” in an upcoming issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

With the kind permission of author Christine Finlayson, this tale takes place within a scene from her new mystery, Tip of a Bone. The water-dumping waitress is her heroine Maya Rivers, and the pot-bellied guy is Maya's weasely boss Willy. I refer you to the novel for Maya's side of the story.

Links to more stories in today's challenge at pattinase.

More Skyler Hobbs Flash Fiction HERE.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Trip to Newport, Scene of the Crimes in TIP OF A BONE

Yesterday, you met my Dream Cast for Tip of a Bone - The Movie (HERE)Today I present the setting. Welcome to the peaceful, touristy town of Newport, population 10,000 and change (but that‘s about to decline). Dire doings are afoot.

The city fathers (and mothers) want you to see the town like this, an idyllic hamlet by the sea. Maya Rivers would like to see it that way, too, but doesn’t get much chance.

She’s too busy working at the fictional Clam Strip, a seafood dive considerably less appealing than this real-life joint. 

Meanwhile, environmental activist Sara Blessing is busy finding a mysterious bone at a woodland construction site, after which she promptly - and mysteriously - goes missing.

Maya’s brother Harley (from whom she’s been separated dang near since birth) is also an activist, and card-carrying member of the Coast Defenders. When we first meet him, he and his playmates are playing dead in the middle of town. 

Harley rises from the dead long enough to meet Maya for dinner across the majestic Newport Bridge . . . 

. . . at the Rogue Brewery tasting room, where she learns he plans to propose to her best friend Allison, and has a mysterious business meeting somewhere at midnight. 

Next morning, Maya learns Harley has been blamed for burning down a building on the Bayfront, ground zero for the town’s tourist industry. Her brother is now deemed a terrorist.

Maya heads out the narrow, winding road to Allison’s place, barely surviving a duel with a mysterious pickup truck.

At Allison’s creepy bungalow in nearby Toledo, Oregon (can you see the dead squirrel on the porch?), Maya learns Allison has been receiving threats, and finds a mysterious bone (see construction site, above) in a box of Harley’s belongings. 

She then visits the headquarters of the Coast Defenders, seeking their help, and is pretty much told to go jump in a (no doubt polluted) lake.

While most of the Defenders are hostile, one is so friendly that Maya takes him back to her apartment, where she suffers a shocking case of coitus-interruptus.

There’s more, of course, as Maya struggles to uncover the truth about the threats, the fire, the disappearance of Sara Blessing, the strange behavior of the Coast Defenders, the suspicious behavior of her boss, and most of all the mystery of that danged bone. Is it human? Is it inhuman? How did her brother get it? And who finds it so threatening that it becomes a motive for murder?

The answers to these and many more questions are revealed in . . . Tip of a Bone.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Overlooked (but not yet made) Films: TIP OF A BONE

One of these days, I'm confident Hollywood will get around to filming Christine Finlayson’s new mystery, Tip of a Bone (reviewed HERE yesterday). When they do, to please the Screen Actors Guild, they’ll probably do it strictly with actors who are alive to collect their paychecks.

Me, I’d prefer computer-generated facsimiles of the folks shown here (or the real thing, if they're still kicking).

I'd give Lauren Bacall a cameo role as environmental activist Sara Blessing. She’s hardnosed, savvy, borderline fearless, and her dedication to the cause knows no bounds. As the story opens, she’s prowling around a forestland construction site near Newport, Oregon in search of something that will halt the project. Like an answer to her prayers, her flashlight catches the tip of a bone gleaming from the disturbed soil. When headlights wash over the site, she runs, but hands are already reaching for her . . .

A month after Sara’s disappearance, we meet recent California transplant Maya Rivers (seen here in her work clothes), portrayed by saucy, sassy girl-next-door Joan Blondell . After an unpleasant marriage, she’s come to Newport to reconnect with her long-lost brother Harley. (If you’ve seen Blondell’s early-thirties films opposite Jimmy Cagney, you know her tongue can be as deadly as her smile.)

Maya’s slightly scruffy brother Harley (played by Errol Flynn, of course), is pure of heart and thinks everyone else should be too. A friend of Sara Blessing, he’s a devoted member of the Coast Defenders, a group determined to protect Oregon’s forests, oceans, air and wildlife. His good-guy status makes it all the more tragic when he’s accused of torching a Bayfront building and branded a terrorist.

Jack Nicholson plays Maya’s boss Willy, the insensitive, more-than-a-little creepy proprietor of a cheesy seafood diner called the Clam Strip. One thing he won’t suffer is sass from his waitresses. Look out, Maya!

One of those waitresses is Maya’s best friend Allison, who also happens to be engaged to Harley. Allison is nervous, flighty, unreliable and subject to extreme mood swings, a role tailor-made for Bette Davis.

Crystal is a waitress, with a big mouth, a big chest and more heart than brains. Viola! Lucille Ball.

The spot where that pesky bone was discovered had been okayed for construction by Jonah Bishop, head of an environmental consulting firm. Armed with that bone, a few murky clues and a heaping helping of spunk, Maya goes undercover to discover what he knew and when he knew it. But as every horror movie fan knows, it ain’t wise to mess with Vincent Price.

As Maya struggles to clear her brother’s name, she goes up against several of his fellow Coast Defenders. Their leader-apparent is a big scarry guy named Tomas. While the book doesn’t mention him having a set of steel chompers like Richard Keil's, they'd suit the role just fine.

Elvis Presley returns from the grave (or maybe just from hiding) to play Nick, a Coast Defender who tickles Maya’s fancy - and she his. But is there more than romance behind his smoldering blue eyes?

Maya’s rival for Nick’s affections is Spiky Hair (aka Kelsey). With a hair-do re-do, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark will be perfect.

Detective Ames is looking into Harley’s alleged crimes and Maya’s sometimes extra-legal activities to prove him innocent. Who better to play him than Humphrey Bogart?

Sadly, Tip of a Bone - The Movie, featuring Miss Joan Blondell and her all-star cast, is not yet playing at your local theater. While you wait, I suggest you bone up on the book, available here:

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More (and already produced) Overlooked Films at SWEET FREEDOM.

Tomorrow: A visit to the scene of the crimes - Newport, Oregon.

Monday, September 23, 2013

TIP OF A BONE by Christine Finlayson

Christine Finlayson, I'm proud to say, is one of the founding members of my esteemed mystery writing critique group. I've been reading her novel, chapter-by-chapter, through many revisions, for a LONG time, and I'm extremely damn pleased to see it in finally in print. (Yes, actual print, with paper, ink, page numbers and everything. And yep, it's also available as an eBook.)

I am so damn pleased, in fact, that I'm declaring this BONE WEEK here on the Almanack. Today is my official review. Tomorrow I'll reveal the Dream Team I would cast in a movie version of Tip of a Bone. On Wednesday we'll visit Newport, Oregon, and the scenes of the crime and other dangerous doings. On Thursday Christine herself will drop in to tell us how this book came to be. And I'll no doubt still be yapping about it on Friday, when Forgotten Books rolls around.

Here's my review from Amazon and elsewhere:

Maya Rivers has a big problem. The entire town of Newport, Oregon (where she had few friends to begin with) thinks her brother Harley is an arsonist, a terrorist, and quite likely a murderer. Her brother’s newly pregnant fiancé is losing faith and in danger of losing her job. Harley’s former friends, a group of environmental activists, are facing scrutiny from the F.B.I., and ready to throw him under the bus.

Maya does not know her brother well. They were separated as children and only recently reacquainted. But she knows in her gut he’s innocent of these charges and is willing to risk everything – her job, her freedom, and even her life – to prove it.

Tip of a Bone is an intriguing mystery/thriller from an author with a fresh new voice and a fresh new slant on the environmental issues facing the Oregon Coast. I enjoyed the quirky humor and quirkier characters, and found the book mighty dang hard to put down.

Get it here:
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Friday, September 20, 2013

Forgotten Books: HIDDEN BLOOD by W.C. Tuttle (1943 - or is it 1925?)

Sometime in the ‘80s, in an intro to one of his collections (or maybe a book he edited - anyone know?) Harlan Ellison praised the writing of W.C. Tuttle, and - in particular - his tales of Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens. That was enough for me. Over the years I picked up whatever Tuttle books I happened to come across.

Tuttle had a well-developed sense of humor, and a great talent for turning a phrase. His dialogue, his word choice, his oddball with oddball names - and his sometimes wacky scenes, all work together to keep a smile on my face, as they doubtless did for Mr. Ellison.

Hashknife and Sleepy aren’t your average cowpokes. They’re magnets for mystery, and have a way of getting into troubles that only a passel of astute detective work can get them out of. Luckily, Hashknife has enough detecting smarts for both of them. In the stories I’ve read so far, they’re not functioning as official detectives, but they do occasionally hire out to solve a problem for an interested party. By their own definition, they’re not exactly soldiers of fortune - they’re “cow-punchers of disaster.”

I knew Hashknife and Sleepy were mighty busy characters, but I had no notion how busy until I consulted Robert Sampson’s fine book Yesterday’s Faces: Dangerous Horizons. According to Sampson’s info, they appeared in over 80 pulp appearances between 1920 and 1951, beginning in Adventure, crossing into Argosy, and finishing their careers in Short Stories.

Near as I can tell, their first appearance in hardcover came in 1924, with The Medicine Man, but it would be a monumental job to establish any sort of chronology in the novels. At least two dozen more Hashknife and Sleepy novels appeared, and I’m pretty sure that most, if not all, were constructed from novelettes or serials that originally appeared in the pulps. Some books were published first in England, some first in the U.S., and some only in one or the other. In some cases, the novel appeared as much as twenty years after the stories it was built from.

The history of Hidden Blood is typically mysterious. Sampson' list (which he admits may be incomplete or contain errors) says it was published on both sides of the pond in 1929, but the earliest U.S. edition I can find is dated 1943. In any case, both hardcover and paperback say copyright 1925, so I have to assume that's when the stories appeared in Adventure.

In this case, this one begins with a simple case of rheumatism. Hashknife has the miseries, and when they hear of a nearby hot springs that might cure his ills, they’re determined to drop in. As you might expect, they’re walking into a hornet’s nest, this one involving drug smugglers and Mexican banditos. Though this seems very much like the Old West, it’s actually the contemporary West (of 1925) and you never know when a reference to the odd automobile or a telephone might pop up. But heck, you won't care. You'll be having too much fun.

More Forgotten Books at pattinase!