Leaving

Hey everyone! It’s Wednesday already! HUZZAH!

That’s one lovely thing about three day weekends; inevitably it also means a shorter work week at least once. I know, I am simply doing nothing more than wishing my life away; but so be it. I don’t really mind the day job, really; I just wish I had maybe another hour or two free to write every day. Somedays I don’t write at all; some days I write over three thousand words; some days, like yesterday, I only manage six or seven hundred, and I basically was sweating blood to get those done. The three thousand I did on Monday? In the blink of an eye, without even putting any real conscious thought into it; I simply opened the document, knew where the story needed to go, went back to the beginning and corrected and deleted and rewrote and by the time I got to where I’d left off I was in a groove and I had not only managed to correct and revise about 1200 words, I was able to add 3700 to them. I only need one more chapter, and I honestly do think if I go back over the first two again, I can break it down into three, and revise it again to get them to a fairly proper length. Since the painful six or seven hundred words today were an attempt at a third chapter…well, I’ll just take a look at that document tomorrow, hope that I have more energy, and maybe I can have the same writer’s luck I had on Monday.

I’ve pretty much decided to read Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes next; I can’t think why I didn’t pick it back up once I was done with prepping for moderating that panel, whenever and wherever it was. I think I forgot what I had read–I have a vague memory of it being about a man walking home alone late at night in Manhattan along the river, near a park of some sort, and he starts noticing debris on the path–personal belongings, like things that may have fallen out of a purse. He eventually catches up to the woman whose things they are; I vaguely think that she was on a bridge, or standing by a rail along the water or something, like she was going to jump; instead she starts telling him this strange story–which I don’t remember; I don’t know if I didn’t read that part–I think I may have started; I seem to recall her father, an airplane crash, and a prediction that his plane would crash–but I can’t remember anything else. I do remember that the opening section I was reading was very well done–just as his short story “It Had to Be Murder” was very well done and clever. I think I may embark on a Woolrich Project next, in fact.

I was also thinking I should probably reread Joseph Hanson.

Today’s pay day, and most of the bills aren’t due until next week; so I am thinking I may just wait to pay them until say, the weekend, and bask in the false sensation of having money in the bank for a few days. It’s such a lovely feeling, really, even if it’s entirely false.

We continue to watch White Lines every night; it’s really quite a bizarrely entertaining show. One of the things I’ve noticed about Spanish productions (or co-productions, as in this case) is that when it comes to drama, there’s no limits for the writers. For example, White Lines also features, in one of the warring Spanish/Ibiza Mafia families, an extremely twisted mother-son relationship that is physically inappropriate on every level–but never quite crosses over into full-on mother/son incest. The funniest thing about White Lines is the primary story–in which Zoey has come to Ibiza to find out what happened to her d.j. brother Axel twenty years earlier after his dead body turns up–is the least interesting part of the show. If you simply took Zoey out of the show entirely, you could still do the murder mystery about Axel’s murder (he was fucking both mother and daughter in the bizarrely incestuous Spanish mafia Calafat family, as we discovered last night) and you’d eradicate the least interesting part of the show. Zoey makes no sense whatsover; she had a complete mental breakdown when Axel disappeared, wound up in therapy and institutions for a while, married one of her therapists and has a daughter–she has abandoned both husband and daughter to go to Ibiza to solve this mystery…and is having an affair with the head of security for the Calafats (his name is Boxer and I don’t blame her for this in the least), has gotten involved in a cocaine cover-up and a couple of murders…her motivation doesn’t really make any sense, and she can’t seem to make up her mind whether she wants to salvage the marriage her behavior is slowly disintegrating or embrace the party-hearty freedom of life in Ibiza. Unless there’s a big twist coming, she exists solely so this show is bilingual; partly in English and partly in Spanish.

And apparently, my HBO app today is going to transform into HBO MAX today. I am curious to see what difference that may make. More shows to stream! As it is, I often forget about Amazon Prime–and frankly, their streaming service isn’t the best; primarily because a single show will have each season have its own link, rather than having sub-links per season under a single link for the entire show–probably has to do with some of the stuff needing to be rented or purchased, I suppose, but still annoying.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines and back to work. Have a lovely Wednesday, everyone!

Legacy

A while back, I talked about how intimate living conditions in urban areas are, and how we all like to pretend that we do live in privacy. I was talking about my story “The Carriage House,” which was published in Mystery Tribune, but it really does apply to many other stories. One of the (ridiculously many) stories I have in progress now (“Condos for Sale or Rent”) is one of those stories; it’s also a quarantine story, which makes it even more claustrophobic–and of course, the ultimate urban lack of privacy crime story has to be Hitchcock’s film Rear Window, which also touches on the voyeuristic impulses so many of us have (to a lesser degree, that’s what Raymond Carver’s short story “Neighbors” is about as well). I wrote my own version of Rear Window years ago as an erotic short story called “Wrought Iron Lace”; which is a great title that I wish I’d saved for something more mainstream.

So, recently when I was looking into Cornell Woolrich, imagine my surprise to realize he had written the short story which the film was based on. WHo knew?

I read it yesterday, and it’s called “It Had to Be Murder.”

I didn’t know their names. I’d never heard their voices. I didn’t even know them by sight, strictly speaking, for their faces were too small to fill in with identifiable features at that distance. Yet I could have constructed a timetable of their comings and goings, their daily habits and activities. They were the rear-window dwellers around me.

Sure, I suppose it was a little bit like prying, could even have been mistaken for the fevered concentration of a Peeping Tom. That wasn’t my fault, that wasn’t the idea. The idea was, my movements were strictly limited just around this time. I could get from the window to the bed, and from the bed to the window, and that was all. The bay window was about the best feature my rear bedroom had in the warm weather. It was unscreened, so I had to sit with the light out or I would have had every insect in the vicinity in on me. I couldn’t sleep, because I was used to getting plenty of exercise. I’d never acquired the habit of reading books to ward off boredom, so I hadn’t that to turn to. Well, what should I do, sit there with my eyes tightly shuttered?

Just to pick a few at random: Straight over, and the windows square, there was a young jitter-couple, kids in their teens, only just married. It would have killed them to stay home one night. They were always in such a hurry to go, wherever it was they went, they never remembered to turn out the lights. I don’t think it missed once in all the time I was watching. But they never forgot altogether, either. I was to learn to call this delayed action, as you will see. He’d always come skittering madly back in about five minutes, probably from all the way down in the street, and rush around killing the switches. Then fall over something in the dark on his way out. They gave me an inward chuckle, those two.

The next house down, the windows already narrowed a little with perspective. There was a certain light in that one that always went out each night too. Something about it, it used to make me a little sad. There was a woman living there with her child, a young widow I suppose. I’d see her put the child to bed, and then bend over and kiss her in a wistful sort of way. She’d shade the light off her and sit there painting her eyes and mouth. Then she’d go out. She’d never come back till the night was nearly spent—

Once I was still up, and I looked and she was sitting there motionless with her head buried in her arms. Something about it, it used to make me a little sad.

The third one down no longer offered any insight, the windows were just slits like in a medieval battlement, due to foreshortening. That brings us around to the one on the end. In that one, frontal vision came back full-depth again, since it stood at right angles to the rest, my own included, sealing up the inner hollow all these houses backed on. I could see into it, from the rounded projection of my bay window, as freely as into a doll house with its rear wall sliced away. And scaled down to about the same size.

Woolrich was gay, lived with his mother for much of his life, and was an alcoholic–but he was a fantastic writer. “It Had to Be Murder” is a terrific story, absolutely terrific–and while many of the things from the movie (particularly the Grace Kelly character) are not in the story, it’s suspenseful and scary at the same time.

I highly recommend it, and can’t wait to read more of his work.

London

I’ve always wanted to go to London, and hopefully, one day before I die I’ll be in that former capitol of world empire; visit the Egyptian exhibit at the British Museum; see the jewels in the Tower of London and the spot where Anne Boleyn died; stand at the side of the Thames and acknowledge all the history that sailed from its banks. I do love me some history, after all, and after I’d become incredibly familiar with American history I moved on to English, and eventually European (primarily French, to be honest); it was the time that PBS was airing first The Six Wives of Henry VIII, with Keith Michell, and later Elizabeth R with Glenda Jackson (who is whom I always picture when I think about Elizabeth I, with due apologies to both Bette Davis and Cate Blanchett); plus, the establishment of the Atlantic coastal colonies was directly, obviously, tied to English history. I read about the Wars of the Roses and the family split that led to them in Thomas B. Costain’s The Last Plantagenets, bought at a flea market for a dime; I eventually read his entire “Pageant of England” series: The Conquering Family, The Magnificent Century, and The Three Edwards; The Last Plantagenets was the final volume of that series (Costain also wrote terrific historical fiction, which I ate up with a spoon), and thus, Costain is responsible for my fascination with two of the most interesting women in English history–Eleanor of Aquitaine (total badass) and Isabella, aka the She-wolf of France; she who overthrew and murdered her husband Edward II, with the help of her lover…only to eventually have her lover murdered by her son’s adherents and wind up banished to Castle Rising for the rest of her life.

Someday, London. I know you’re waiting for me over there to come.

Yesterday was a good day as far as work was concerned; I managed to write almost three thousand words on the Secret Project (maybe even more, since i also revised the first chapter) and I’m feeling a lot more confident about it. I knew I would, once I dove back into work on it, but just wish I hadn’t pushed it off for so long; I could be done with it by now if I’d not wasted so much time, which is highly annoying, but also kind of par for the course, really.

But…there it is, you know? Why waste time with regrets?

White Lines continues to entertain us highly; I swear, people, if you’re not watching shows from Netflix Spain, you are missing out on some seriously bonkers drama. First Toy Boy, now this? A crime drama set on Ibiza, with feuding club families, cocaine and Ecstasy everywhere, and murder? I’m telling you, it’s like Jackie Collins and Sidney Sheldon got together and created a show–and it’s oddly compelling, for all of that (as was Toy Boy).

Tuesday and a short week staring us all down. I already feel off; as though my hard-won equilibrium has been stripped away somehow and I’m not even remotely sure where I am at and what I need to do.

Ah, well, back to the spice mines with me.

I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing

When I was a kid both of my parents worked, so my sister and I were latch-key kids before it was cool. In the mornings on her way to the bus stop my mom would drop my sister and I off at the home of an older Polish lady down the street, who would feed us breakfast and send us off to walk to block or so to school from her house. Eli Whitney Elementary School didn’t have a cafeteria nor did it provide lunches for the students, so everyone had an hour to walk home to get lunch and come back. We went to our babysitter’s, and she would feed us. She’d had like six or seven kids of her own, and the youngest was a senior in high school when we first started being watched by her; I guess she liked having kids around. Anyway, in the summer time we would spend the days with her–she watched General Hospital, One Life to Live, and Dark Shadows–and sometimes she would go to Goldblatt’s, a department store that seemed a million miles away to us as kids, and do her shopping. Whenever she went–and sometimes we went with our mom–Mom would give my sister and I a couple of bucks to spend. The real treasure of Goldblatt’s was the bargain basement, where they remaindered stuff, and there was always this enormous table filled with books for kids, marked down to 39 cents.

It was on this table that I discovered some of the lesser Grosset & Dunlap series for kids, and particularly the Ken Holt, Biff Brewster, and Rick Brant series (they also had copies of the Chip Hilton sports stories by Clair Bee; I would buy one or two of those because my parents were trying to make me more boyish than I was, and it always pleased them when I showed an interest in something more masculine than usual). I remember the very first two Ken Holts I bought off that table: The Secret of Skeleton Island and The Mystery of the Plumed Serpent. (I would also get The Rocket’s Shadow and The Egyptian Cat Mystery in the Rick Brant series, as well as the first three Biff Brewsters: Brazilian Gold Mine Mystery, The Mystery of the Chinese Ring, and Hawaiian Sea Hunt Mystery.)

And Ken Holt very rapidly became my favorite, above even the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.


The phone booth was hot and stuffy, and Ken Holt wiped the moisture off his forehead for the third time. He opened the door slightly to get some fresh air an just then the phone came alive.

“Here’s your party,” the operator intoned.

“Hello,” Ken said loudly. “Hello.”

“Global News,” came the answer. “Granger speaking.”

“This is Ken Holt, Mr. Granger. I’m out at school.”

“What’s up, Ken?” Granger asked. “Need some money?”

“It’s not that. I just wanted to know if my father had come in.”

“Your father?” There was a pause before Granger continued. “Why, kid? He’s not expected so far as the office knows. He’s still in France.”

“I got a letter from him last week saying he’d be in on the eighteenth and that he’d call me. I haven’t heard from him since. And today’s the twentieth.”

Some hundred miles of telephone carried Granger’s booming laugh from the busy offices of an international news agency to the quiet corridor of Galeton Preparatory School.

“That’s pretty good,” Granger said, after he had stopped laughing. “He’s only two days overdue and you’re worried. He‘s famous for that, son. We’ve lost track of him for weeks, but finally he’d let us know where he was or what he was doing. Forget it. He’ll turn up when he gets good and ready.”

Ken blinked a little to get the perspiration out of his eyes. He moved a little closer to the mouthpiece as if that would help Granger understand better.

“But you see, Mr. Granger, Dad wrote me that he’d be in on the eighteenth. He’s never missed a date with me.”

The Secret of Skeleton Island opens with Ken, as you can see, worried about his father, who’s two days overdue for a meeting–and Richard Holt, who tends to disappear or vanish while chasing a story, has never once in his life stood up Ken or been late without letting him know ahead of time–not an easy task, either, in times when operators had to place your phone calls for you and you either sent telegrams or wrote letters.

Having loved those first two Ken Holt novels I’d read, the next time I went to Goldblatt’s I got a few more: The Riddle of the Stone Elephant, The Clue of the Marked Claw, The Secret of Hangman’s Inn, and The Mystery of Gallows Cliff. But after that, they became much harder to find; we’d moved out to Bolingbrook by then, and they had already lapsed out of print (hence the Goldblatt’s sale table), and it took years for me to start collecting them again–in the wake of Katrina and my discovery of eBay. I still don’t have a complete set–and some of the copies I acquired were not in the best shape–and the ones I am missing are generally so rare that they command prices I am not willing to pay. But the quality of the series never let up, even in the later books–and the writing was always stellar.

Ken Holt also was responsible for me having a weird bonding moment with James Ellroy; during his Grand Master interview at the Edgar symposium, he mentioned reading the kids’ series when he was growing up, and preferring the Ken Holt over the rest–and asked, “Does anyone here remember the Ken Holt mysteries?” and I raised my hand, to which he replied something along the lines of, “Ah, only the gentleman right here in the sweater. You, sir, have excellent taste.” He also pointed at me with his index finger, cocked his thumb like he was pulling a trigger, and winked.

Strange, yes–but even with what little Ellroy I’ve read, I can actually see the influence. The Holt novels were pretty hard-boiled for kids’ books; and one of the things I loved about them (just like The Three Investigators) was that Ken actually solved the mysteries; and unlike the Hardy Boys, Ken and his best buddy Sandy frequently were involved in fisticuffs; threatened by criminals with guns or knives; and were often placed into incredibly dangerous situations where they literally had to, by use of their wits and whatever else might be handy, escape with their lives (there’s a particular scene in The Riddle of the Stone Elephant that has always stayed with me; they walked into a set up where the floor of an old shack collapsed beneath their weight, sending them plummeting down an old well; and they had to climb the slick walls of the well to get out; this scene, and its aftermath, had this weirdly homoerotic flavor to it that I remember to this day–and will inevitably write about it, I’m sure).

Shortly after this opening, Ken gets permission from the headmaster to head into New York and nose around his father’s apartment, to see if he can find out any clues to where his father is or what may have happened to him. As he waits at the train station (a six hour ride into the city; still not sure if he’s on Long Island or really far upstate, but my guess is, given speed and so forth, most likely Long Island) he is offered a ride by two men who purport to be from Global News; it isn’t until Ken is in the car with them that he realizes they are liars, and undoubtedly connected to whatever happened to his father–and they plan on using HIM as leverage against his dad. Ken has to figure out how to escape–and manages to do so near the town of Brentwood, running away and dodging into the only lighted building on the town’s main street, the offices of the Brentwood Advance, which is how he encounters the Allen family. He tells Pop, Bert and Sandy Allen–enormous beings with red hair, whom he convinces of the veracity of his story and they get on board with helping him. Sandy is his own age, and all the Allens:

Ken swung around quickly toward the direction of the new voice and saw two replicas of the man before him. They were much younger, one of them looked about Ken’s age, the second a bit older. They too were huge. There was no doubt in his mind that this trio was a father and two sons. Actually, the only difference between them was that the sons had flaming red hair and the father’s was beginning to gray. Ken almost felt like a pygmy surrounded by these three towering figures.

The Allens listen to his story, check it out, and believe hi–and the next morning he and Sandy go out to start looking into the case. The action comes fast and furious after this–there’s one particularly harrowing scene where the boys, captured by the bad guys, are duct-taped to chairs. Ken manages to break an alarm clock, and gripping a jagged edge of glass in his teeth, saws at the tape holding down one of Sandy’s arms (this feat is repeated in The Riddle of the Stone Elephant, only instead of a piece of glass he uses the jagged edges of a can lid, removed by an opener).

The adventure is pretty amazing; the boys wind up escaping the bad guys onto one of the freighters that the bad guys are using as part of their scheme, and find their way back to Skeleton Island, where the adventure also continues. So much action–and it’s all so well-written you feel like you’re a part of it, right there with Ken and Sandy as they basically use the combination of their wits and their brawn to get away and break the case wide open, rescuing Richard Holt and…in a lovely happy ending, it’s decided that Ken will finish his term at the boarding school and move in with the Allens.

It’s a great set-up for a series, and it’s mystifying to me that it never achieved the heights of popularity that the Hardy Boys did. Every one of the books is good–I can’t think of a single clunker in the entire series–and the typical masculinity based boys’ story (9-12 year olds aren’t, apparently, old enough to care about girls yet) sees neither Ken nor Sandy ever have a date or a girlfriend, or even anything remotely close to a romantic interest; in fact, the friendship bond between Ken and Sandy eventually grows so strong they are practically a couple–and that homoerotic undercurrent to the series (which, frankly, also existed in the Rick Brant series) was also an enormous part of its appeal to me. I wanted a “best friend” like Rick or Sandy; and the frequent references to how “big” and “muscular” Sandy is…well, yes.

Perhaps someday I will do an essay about the homoerotic undertones in both this series and the Rick Brant series.

You know, in my free time.

Later Tonight

So here we are, on Memorial Day Monday, the final day of the three day holiday weekend, and I’m wondering–without checking social media (I do not intend to go on social media at all today)–how many people are wishing others have a Happy Memorial Day? Memorial Day isn’t a happy day–even though the majority of people don’t have to work today–it’s supposed to be a day of quiet reflection in honor (or memory) of those who have died serving the country in the military. It’s a day when you should visit the graves of the military dead and clean them, bring flowers, and reflect on their service. While I have no one in my family, on either side, who was lost to a battlefield, it’s still a somber day, and wishing others well or to have a happy day is in extremely poor taste.

But then, Americans generally have a tendency to go through their lives blithely, completely unaware of their own history and the meanings behind national symbology, holidays, memoriams, etc.

Yesterday was a blissful day. I quite happily finished reading The Red Carnelian, and then reread a kid’s mystery I remembered fondly, The Secret of Skeleton Island, book one of the Ken Holt series–one of my childhood favorites, and was very pleased to see that it still held up. I wrote for a little while, did some cleaning and organizing (not nearly enough of either, quite frankly), and then we finished watching Outer Banks, which is really quite something. It’s kind of a hodgepodge of story, really; at first, it didn’t seem like it was sure what it wanted to be, but once it decided to kick it up a gear after a few dull episodes of set-up, it really took off. A lost treasure, betrayals and murder, class struggles, the heartbreak of teen romance–it was a non-stop thrill ride, culminating in our hero, John B., and his star-crossed lover, Sarah, taking off to sea while being hunted by the cops and driving their boat directly into the path of a tropical storm. Cheesy, completely ridiculous, and over-the-top, Outer Banks turned to be much more fun than I would have ever guessed, particularly given the first few episodes, which were just tedious. We then moved on to another Netflix series, a joint British/Spanish production of a crime thriller called White Lines, set on Ibiza and focusing on the discovery of the body of Axel Collins, missing for over twenty years–and his younger sister’s determination to get to the bottom of who killed her brother. It’s trash, but ever so entertaining.

I also spent some time with Harlan Ellison’s collection of television columns from the Los Angeles Free Press from the late 1960’s, The Glass Teat. Harlan Ellison was a writing hero of mine, yet at the same time he was one of those people I never wanted to meet. He wrote one of my favorite short stories of all time (“Paladin of the Lost Hour”) and is probably my favorite short story writer of all time; he also wrote the best episode of the original Star Trek series, “The City on the Edge of Tomorrow”; and also wrote the original story that became the film A Boy and His Dog, which was a bit of a cult classic in the 1970’s and 1980’s. All of his stories are really exceptional, and he was very opinionated–if he thought you were a garbage writer and you wrote garbage, he would let you know–but his television writings, while undoubtedly accurate, are really dated. It also got me thinking about the time period, and the struggles that were going on in the country–the Vietnam War, the rise of feminism, the Civil Rights battle–and how much of that period is not only not remembered today, but the specific language of the time has been forgotten: people using words like groovy and squares and the establishment, etc.; I also remember how false those words seemed when filtered through the lens of television producers and writers trying to seem hip and modern and cool….which, naturally, killed the popular usage of the words; after all, after you’ve heard Greg Brady enthuse about something being “groovy” on The Brady Bunch, it’s kind of hard to use the word in any other way than ironic from that point on. But a lot of what he was complaining about, what he was eviscerating, is still true today–that the television networks are all too terrified to put something that actually mirrors people’s realities on; that the whole point of television is to sell products to consumers; and as such, the commercial concerns inevitably will outweigh the artistry and truth of the show.

I’d love to know what he thought of All in the Family, in all honesty.

Today I want to get to some serious work on the multiple projects lying around; I also have two short stories queued up on the Kindle to read–“Rain” by Somerset Maugham, and Cornell Woolrich’s “It Had to Be Murder,” which was adapted into Hitchcock’s film Rear Window. I’ve been aware of Woolrich for quite some time now, but I have yet to read his work. He is considered a noir master, not perhaps as well known today as he should be, considering how many of his stories and novels became famous films, and he was also gay in a time period where being gay was exceptionally difficult–so naturally, I have a growing fascination for him. I started reading his The Night Has a Thousand Eyes a few years ago, but had to put it aside to read something else (prep work for a panel I was moderating) and somehow never got back to it….maybe instead of proceeding with another book in the Reread Project–I’ve yet to select one–I can go back and finish reading that? I looked at the opening of “It Had to Be Murder” last night as I queued it up and was most pleased with how it opened…so am looking forward to reading the story today.

And on that note, it’s time for me to get back to the spice mines.

Liberation

Constant Reader is no doubt aware–or may not be, who knows–that I’ve always had a love for wrestling, particularly in professional wrestling. I first became a published writing of fiction with two wrestling stories, “The Wrestling Match” in Men for All Seasons, an anthology of erotic (porn) sport stories, and “Headlock”, published in Men magazine. Yes, I started my career writing gay porn, you got a problem with that?

I published quite a few more over the years, eventually collecting them into a book titled Wanna Wrestle?–which was the first time in my publishing career I was fucked over by a publisher, but that’s a story for a different time–and eventually, as “Greg Herren writing as Cage Thunder”, published an erotic novel about a gay professional wrestler called Going Down for the Count. Alas, by the time that book came out, the market for gay erotica had completely dried up (thanks, free Internet porn!) and so it didn’t sell as well as it might have, say about ten years earlier. I’ve long been toying with a wrestling noir novel, Muscles, which I was hoping to write last year (ha ha ha ha ha) and might eventually get around to; the story has taken firmer shape in my head over the last few years.

So, I was very interested when I saw on Twitter that Hector Acosta (an Edgar finalist for Best Short Story) had recently put up a wrestling short story on the Mystery Tribune website, “Besos”:

Fabi el Fantastico beat La Sombra Blanca with a kiss, and the crowd hated him for it.

Cries of maricon littered ringside, landing next to crumpled wads of paper and empty cups. Grabbing his pink feathered boa, Fabi climbed the turnbuckle and soaked it all in. Lips painted rojo vivo turned up in a smile even as the crowd pelted him with what he told himself was warm beer, the arena voicing their unhappiness at seeing some exotico beat their idolo in the ring.

Fabi el Fantastico beat La Sombra Blanca with a kiss, and the crowd hated him for it.

Cries of maricon littered ringside, landing next to crumpled wads of paper and empty cups. Grabbing his pink feathered boa, Fabi climbed the turnbuckle and soaked it all in. Lips painted rojo vivo turned up in a smile even as the crowd pelted him with what he told himself was warm beer, the arena voicing their unhappiness at seeing some exotico beat their idolo in the ring.

Their boos grew as Gloria Gaynor’s defiant voice escaped out of the speakers, Fabi swaying to the tune. A big reason the gimmick worked as well as it did was because of his willingness to go the extra mile.

It’s why he came out to this song, feathered boa suggestively dangling from the front of his wrestling trunks, and the reason his finishing move revolved around locking lips with his opponent, which per wrestling logic, confused them to the point he could roll them up for an easy three count.

Voice cracking, Fabi sang about surviving and blew more besos, his sweat mixing with the heavy mascara running down his face. He was preparing to step down when the beer bottle sailed out of the crowd and struck him on the forehead.

It’s a great story; short, sweet and to the point–with a couple of twists added to the story for good measure; proof you don’t need a lot of room or a lot of words to tell a great story full of surprises for the reader. He really captures the feel of an arena filled with wrestling fans; the sounds and feels and emotions of the crowd, and the characters are all remarkably well developed. Highly recommended.

You can read the rest of the story, here, at Mystery Tribune.

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Phyllis A. Whitney is one of my all-time favorite authors.

I first discovered her, as Constant Reader is probably already aware, when I was a kid looking for mysteries in the school library. I distinctly remember that day in the fourth grade when I found The Mystery of the Hidden Hand on the shelves at the Eli Whitney Elementary School library; this was during my period of fascination with the ancient world (I was getting the Time-Life series Great Ages of Man; and had just gotten the volume Classical Greece). The description on the back of the book told me it was set in Greece, and had to do with antiquities and Greek history; that was all I needed and I signed it out. (I have, in the past, mistakenly identified The Secret of the Tiger’s Eye as my gateway drug into Whitney’s novels; I remembered incorrectly.) I enjoyed the book tremendously; I returned it and checked out The Secret of the Tiger’s Eye. I went on to read many of her children’s mysteries; she won two Edgars for Best Juvenile and was nominated twice more. After we’d moved to the suburbs, Signet started reissuing her children’s mysteries, and I started buying them at Zayre’s: The Mystery of the Angry Idol, The Secret of the Spotted Shell, The Mystery of the Black Diamonds, The Mystery of the Golden Horn, The Mystery of the Gulls, and numerous others. (I started collecting them again as an adult, thanks to eBay.)

I won’t tell the story again of how I rediscovered Whitney as a romantic suspense writer for adults; I’ve told that story any number of times, and I read almost everything she wrote for adults–but with The Ebony Swan I noted a decline in the quality of her writing, and never read anything she published after that. (I do intend, at some point, to read the ones I’ve never read–it’s the completist in me.)

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Cunningham’s department store is quiet again now. Sylvester Haring still puts his head in the door of my office whenever he goes by, to call out “Hi, Linell!” and perhaps to linger and study the pictures on my walls, to speak briefly of the past. But his days are given over to the humdrum of catching shoplifters and petty thieves, instead of trailing a murderer.

He never mentions that one picture we hunted down together, or the tragic denouement to which it led. But now and then we cock an eyebrow at each other because we are conspirators and know it.

Not that the law was in any way defeated. Payment in full was made for all those terrible things that happened. But still, Haring and I know what we know and the case as it broke in the papers told only half the story.

There are still things about Cunningham’s that make me shiver. I can never cross that narrow passageway that leads past the freight elevators into the display department without a feeling of uneasiness. I cannot bear the mannequin room at all, and I will go to any length to avoid setting foot in it. But most of all I am haunted by the symbols that came into being during the case.

The color red, for instance. I never wear it anymore, because it was the theme of those dreadful days. It ran beneath the surface of our lives like a bright network of veins, spilling out into the open now and then to accent with horror. And there are the owls. Sometimes in my dreams that eerie moment returns when I stood there in the gloom with all those plaster creatures crowding about me, cutting off my escape.

Nor will I ever again breathe the scent of pine without remembering the way the light went out and those groping hands came toward me. Strange to have your life saved by the odor of Christmas trees.

But the worst thing of all is when I imagine I hear the strains of Sondo’s phonograph. For me, those rooms will never be free of ghostly music and I break into cold chills in broad daylight whenever a radio plays Begin the Beguine.

And while there are some romantic aspects to The Red Carnelian, it’s probably one of the least romantic suspense-like novels she published (Skye Cameron, The Quicksilver Pool, and The Trembling Hills were not mysteries, at least not that I recall; but they were also early in her career and once she hit her stride, she became enormously successful). It’s a straight-up murder mystery, told in the first person point of view of Linell Wynn, who works at Cunningham’s Department Store on State Street in Chicago, writing copy for advertising posters, ads, and so forth. When the story opens, the entire store is on edge, because the window display manager, Michael “Monty” Montgomery, is returning to work that day from his surprise honeymoon; he and Linell had been a thing before his sudden elopement caught everyone by surprise. He’d married Chris Gardner, whose father Owen ran the luxury floor–the 4th–evening gowns and jewelry and furs. Linell claims that she and Monty were cooling things off when he suddenly eloped; I’m not entirely convinced that’s not something she claims to salvage her damaged pride. Naturally, later that day Monty is murdered, and of course, Linell finds the body; a fact which she, on the advice of Bill Thorne (one of the store’s vendors) keeps quiet from the police. He was killed near one of the window displays, by a golf club; Linell found the broken end of it in the window before she finds the body and put it back in the golf bag, thus handling the murder weapon. She also finds a piece of stone, a red carnelian, in the window display and puts it in her smock pocket and forgets about it.

Linell, of course, immediately becomes suspect number one–but it doesn’t take long for her, her store detective buddy Sylvester Haring, and new love interest Bill (who she does suspect from time to time) to find out almost every single person working in the store who’s a character in the book has a reason for hating Monty and wanting to see him dead. Linell of course also finds herself targeted from time to time by the killer–who never actually kills her (obviously)–as she sort of starts figuring out the who’s and what’s and why’s of the story.

It’s quite a good read; the characters are very well fleshed out, and the writing itself is pretty good. Whitney always wrote in a more Gothic style, in her books for adults; a style that seems a little dated now as well but still manages to hold your interest. I also would imagine a teenager reading the book today would have to look up what a “phonograph” was–although its usage makes it fairly clear to me what it is; but of course I grew up with phonographs and vinyl records and needles and all the accoutrement that goes along with them.

I’d recommend it as a gateway to Whitney’s other, more romantic suspense type work; it works very well as a stand-alone cozy type mystery novel.