Classic Caper: The Black Lizard (1934) – Edogawa Rampo by K. A. Laity

Crime Fiction, K A Laity, Punk Noir Magazine

71R8RysfPwLA while back Carol Borden of the Cultural Gutter hepped me to the 1962 film version of this novel which I absolutely raved over. I finally got around to reading the novel and I’m happy to say it’s great fun, too.

 

The 2006 Kurodahan Press edition, translated by Ian Hughes, includes The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows (1928). There’s an introduction by Mark Schreiber that offers a good overview of the author born Hirai Tar?, his works and his influence, including real life criminals writing sarcastic letters to the police and signing themselves as characters from his novels.

 

Is there a better tribute to a crime writer?

 

The Black Lizard is a jewel thief with an almost orgasmic desire for shiny stones. In the opening chapter on Christmas Eve, the criminal mastermind dances in her private club with ecstatic pleasure clad only in her jewels, inflaming the desires of the men who will do anything she says. That’s useful because she’s set her black heart on obtaining the Star of Egypt, a colonial spoil that belongs to the leading jewel merchant in Tokyo.

 

Her daring plan is to kidnap Iwase’s daughter at the ritzy Kei? Hotel, then force him to give up the jewel to get her back. The queenpin is so arrogant that she writes him anonymous letters warning him what is going to happen and when. Iwase is disturbed and hires renowned detective Akechi Kogor? to safeguard his daughter. Akechi is confident that no one can get past his clever preparations. He even bets the stylish Madame Midorikawa that he will succeed. She pledges all her jewels that he won’t.

 

Of course Mme Midorikawa is just the Black Lizard in disguise and her clever preparations are even better than his. Disguises are the rule of the game and there are so many. Luck allows Akechi to find the daughter before she’s completely spirited away, but this makes the criminal mastermind even more determined.

 

Another even more daring plot is hatched and poor Sanae is kidnapped right from the Iwase home. The jeweler regretfully agrees to hand over the Star of Egypt at the top of a tower in a theme park. The place is deserted except for a stylish ‘genteel’ woman who of course reveals her true face. ‘The Black Lizard! She was a monster, a shape-shifter.’ But Akechi has a few tricks up his sleeve, too.

 

There’s a lot of excitement, more disguises, a moment when the Black Lizard has Akechi in her power and finds herself unexpectedly drawn to a mind that matches her own: ‘Driven by some strange emotion, she had the weird illusion that the man lying stretched out under her seat was not her enemy, but almost a lover.’

 

But jewels are the most important thing and we’re off to her secret underground lair that has jewels and a whole lot more—a most unusual ‘zoo’ that she plans to add poor Sanae to in a most interesting exhibit.

 

Great fun! Now to see the 1968 film…

John Wisniewski interviews A J Devlin

A J Devlin, Crime Fiction, Interviews, John Wisniewski, Punk Noir Magazine

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Q: When did you begin writing, A.J.?

A: Oh geez, I mean, I guess I began writing very young. In elementary school my best friend and I were in Grade 3 or 4 and in an enrichment program. It was lots of fun and we did a lot of creative projects. I remember we had a fairy tale assignment so we wrote and illustrated a mash-up book about Snow White and The Three Little Pigs where the pigs were all karate masters and kicked the heck out of the evil queen, her minions, and the seven dwarves. But reading and writing was always a big part of my life, so after hanging up my sneakers at nineteen after trying to follow in my father’s footsteps as a basketball player for the Canadian Men’s National Team, I very quickly zeroed in on the Screenwriting program at Chapman University where I earned my B.F.A. followed by a M.F.A. at The American Film Institute and haven’t looked back.

Q: Any favourite crime and mystery authors?

A: I have many favourite crime and mystery authors! Since becoming published in 2018 I’ve pretty much exclusively read Canadian crime fiction. My current favourites include Sam Wiebe, Amber Cowie, Dave Butler, Niall Howell, Seamus Heffernan, and D.B. Carew to name a few and there are so many more I could list. And there are more great Canadian crime writers on the horizon — like J.T. Siemens — who recently signed with my publisher NeWest Press and his forthcoming novel TO THOSE WHO KILLED ME is a wicked read. However, when I was in university and living in Los Angeles, I read almost exclusively American authors. Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, and Joe R. Lansdale were the writers who inspired and influenced me the most.

Q: Your debut novel was Cobra Clutch. How did you create the “Hammerhead” Jed character?

A: I came up with the “Hammerhead” Jed character after spending a lot of time reading mystery novels from what I’ve dubbed the “athlete / detective” sub-genre. I’ve read crime fiction about boxer detectives, surfer detectives, hockey player detectives, sports agent detectives — you name the sport and there is probably a sleuth that comes from that background. However, as far as I could tell, no one had ever created a pro wrestler detective. That combined with the fact I was a huge professional wrestling fan growing up and later became fascinated with pro wrestling biographies and documentaries — plus the contrast between the in-ring theatrics and many outside of the ring tragedies — seemed like a great angle for creating a pro wrestler detective.

Q: You combine elements of humour into your storylines, A.J. What do you think is the overall effect on the reader?

A: I think humour is intrinsic to the “Hammerhead” Jed series, which is why it’s marketed as a mystery-comedy. I also believe because professional wrestling can be so over-the-top, to not include humour in stories about a pro wrestler detective would almost be doing the squared circle a disservice. I hope the overall effect on readers is that the humour adds to the escapist entertainment I strive to create in the books and makes them more fun. I grew up on movies like Back To The Future, The Last Boy Scout, and Die Hard — all adventures in which humour plays a big role — so I’m definitely attempting to capture some of that whimsy in the books.

Q: What makes a good crime / mystery novel?

A: I think there are several elements that make for a good crime / mystery novel. There are also two kinds — series books and standalones. I prefer series mysteries as I enjoy reading and writing characters over multiple books so I’ll focus on those kinds of mysteries for my answer. I believe a distinctive protagonist goes a long way. My professor and mentor used to say that the true appeal of books in a mystery novel series isn’t actually the mystery but the lead character, and that the narrative was simply a vehicle for readers to spend time with an old friend. With regards to the mystery itself, I think twists, turns, misdirection, and red herrings are pretty important as it keeps the reader engaged and allows them to try and figure out the whodunnit. Finally, I would say pacing is crucial as the best crime fiction comes from the books that are page turners.

Q: Are there any crime / mystery movies that you like?

A: Definitely! Just to name a handful I would go with Harrison Ford’s THE FUGITIVE, as I think it’s a great pulse-pounding mystery-thriller that holds up. Many of Alfred Hitchcock’s innovative films would have to be on my list, with STRANGERS ON A TRAIN probably being my favourite. SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is very dark but riveting and I vividly remember reading the book as a teenager. THE USUAL SUSPECTS is a terrific, twisty flick. CHINATOWN is of course a masterpiece. And for lighter and more humorous fare I would say Shane Black’s KISS KISS BANG BANG and THE LAST BOY SCOUT round out my list as they are very much tonally similar to what I aspired to emulate with the “Hammerhead” Jed mystery-comedy series. 

Q: Could you tell us about writing ROLLING THUNDER?

A: Writing ROLLING THUNDER was a blast! When I wrote the first book in the “Hammerhead” Jed series — COBRA CLUTCH — I was trying to channel Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane style pulp fiction with wrestlers and detectives in Vancouver. The book turned out more comedic than I expected, but it also felt like it had developed organically. I realized with a pro wrestler detective protagonist that humour was essential and intrinsic to the series. So going into ROLLING THUNDER, I set out from the start to write a comedic mystery, which is why I think of the two books it’s the more humorous and entertaining.

Q: Any future plans or projects, maybe a new book?

A: I’m currently hard at work on book 3 in the “Hammerhead” Jed mystery-comedy series. This time around Jed catches a case that pulls him into the world of Mixed Martial Arts. The idea for the series was always to have him perpetually drawn into different fringe sports or unique subcultures while working as a private investigator, and given Jed’s pro wrestling background combined with growing up as the son of a legendary Vancouver Police Department officer, I believe he is uniquely suited for such work.

A J DEVLIN IS HERE

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Classic Noir: Two by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding K. A. Laity

Crime Fiction, Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, K A Laity, Noir, Non-fiction, Punk Noir Magazine

People have been talking about Bookshop as an alternative to the ‘zon so I hopped over to set up my profile there and see what they have. Disappointingly, they have a very patchy collection. Ironically, as they sell themselves as a booster of independent bookstores, you’ll mostly find volumes from the not-so-indie presses. I tried to add some things with ISBNs, but if it’s not in their database, you can’t add it. Out of the couple dozen (?) or so books I have out, I found a random 5.

Unable to burnish my own self-serving profile, I decided to set up some recommendations, including a ‘Godmothers of Noir’ list. I figure I’ll add to as I go along, but as you can imagine, I ran out of steam because data entry is boring. So to prod myself into doing more, I offer a couple recs here.

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding was ‘the top suspense writer of them all’ according to Raymond Chandler. Jake Hinkson agrees, acknowledging that the reason she tends to be dropped from the noir canon is largely because she doesn’t fit the hardboiled cliché. He argues that despite her ‘comfortable’ appearance, ‘I’d wager everything I own in the world that if you could have sidled up to Holding at some stuffy dinner party and asked her what she was really thinking the answer would have been darkly funny and perceptive.’

KILL JOY (1942) is the story of Maggie MacGowan, a young woman with ambition working as a servant in quiet house when she’d much rather be working in an office. While the housekeeper reads the sensational headlines about a local murder, tutting that the young woman ‘brought it on herself’ probably from wearing pajamas or shorts—‘and shorts they are!’ Maggie chafes at her position, but release comes through trying to help the young niece Miss Dolly, who flatters her ego and then confides in her like an equal: she’s in danger and afraid and needs to flee. She wants Maggie to come as her secretary. Because Dolly appears to be everything chic and sophisticated in her eyes, and she’s getting threatening notes from someone who signs his name as Othello, Maggie is won over to the scheme and they sneak away.

It all seems exciting and romantic but Maggie is dismayed to find they arrive in the dark of night at a ‘nasty dirty’ little house on the water. There’s no food but there are two strange men: Neely, a Dutch artist who seems unconcerned with anything, and Johnny Cassidy, a smooth talking fellow who alternately entrances and disgusts the young woman. One minute he’s putting on a cod Scots accent to tease her and the next he’s muttering dark drunken ramblings.

Dolly’s lawyer shows up but soon appears floating in the estuary. And things really begin to unravel. At first Maggie is primly determined to get herself out of the increasingly-gothic surroundings, but she’s checked first by sympathy for Dolly and then by a growing fear that she can’t escape. The bohemian group intermingles with the local Long Island gentry. Maggie learns that all the ‘class’ she attributed to Miss Dolly is really embodied by Gabrielle Getty, whose husband is another circling around the eternal victim—unless it’s Miss Dolly herself who’s only playing a part.

The book will keep you guessing as to who’s knocking off one inconvenient person after another right up to the end. It’s fascinating to see the changes in Maggie who is initially crushed by finding out that she’s not as smart as she thought she was, yet bounces back with real courage and plenty of pluck.

THE VIRGIN HUNTRESS (1951) could not be more different. Like Hughes’ In a Lonely Place (1947) this novel plops us into the mind of misogynist, self-pitying manipulator. The novel opens on V-J Day, neatly taking advantage of the noir hinge between the war and post war periods. Montford Duchesne is not quite in the same celebratory mood as the rest of the population. The end of the war means the end of his job in the shipyard on Staten Island. It means more difficulty coping with his landlady’s daughter Gwen, who’s determined to marry him. He thinks he deserves better things.

It’s interesting how different Maggie’s ambitions – initially just as self-deluded – compare to Monty’s: Maggie realises it’s herself that needs to change; Monty stubbornly waits for the world to change around him. And there’s that thing he can’t quite bear to think about in his past. The (mostly female) ghosts that haunt him lead him to a random change of plans. In the chaos of the celebrations, he wanders away from his would-be fiancée to offer assistance to a couple of women in a Rolls who are being menaced by a sailor who’s trying to force them to celebrate with him.

The rescuer gets invited along since they’re all heading back to Manhattan and at first it seems like a dream come true for Monty: away from his down-at-the-heel life and into the wealthy world of Argentian oil wealth. So what if Rose has her suspicions about him. Her tia Luisa takes an instant liking to him and invites him to use her brother’s hotel room while he sorts himself out.

Monty veers from arrogance to abject self-loathing: ‘This time he paid, this time he tipped, lavishly. Maybe she was noticing. After all, he thought. I’m not an oaf. Not a hick. My father’s people…I went to a really good school.’ Like Dix Steele, Monty wants all the things he thinks he deserves while knowing the world is against him. Oh and there’s that thing haunting him, that give him nightmares and makes him sweat and act belligerent and desperately try to fix things so no one will find out just what he can’t bring himself to remember.

Both of these books will grab you and have you flipping pages right to the end. While some of the noir tropes will be familiar, you’ll find plenty of surprises, too. Even bit part characters are memorable and distinct (wow, Monty’s mother). See the ongoing list of ‘Godmothers of Noir’ here.

Come Get Me by Robert Ragan

Crime Fiction, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Punk Noir Magazine, Robert Ragan

Come Get Me

An artist, I draw guns on small time dealers making their little re-up. Stuck up assholes, treating their friends like shit until they’re crying to their buddies saying, “Fiends pulled a stick up on me.”

Even with drug problems, I’m dressed nice. Still with money in my pocket and my ears to those places decent people won’t go.

I always hear so and so is talking shit. Someone sent word, said tell me my name tastes like pussy in their mouth.

“Sending word back,” I said, “Tell ‘em soon it’s gonna taste like blood.”

THC gangstas, Dirty White Boys. Anybody can get it if they’ve got it and I want it.

I’ve been lucky so far. Running into bitches not willing to die over their product.

Great! Cause I swear I don’t want to hurt anybody. Get my ass whooped almost every time I fight.

Anyone else with a gun on ‘em would smoke somebody first. Not me, but the way things are going, I’m gonna have to pull the trigger.

My name is on a lot of people’s hit lists. Just the other day someone warned me to stay away from a certain part of town. Said if I get caught out that way, I’m getting my head busted wide open, if not something much worse.

Little no name gang at least put out a warning. Some people claim it’s going down on site if they spot me anywhere.

Motherfuckers act like I’m a recluse in isolation. Terrified to come out. Hell no!

So, tell whoever’s talking shit to come get me! I already know it’s inevitable. So, who will be the first to make me pull the trigger? I’ve gotta do what I gotta do.

Started out breaking into the dope spot. Flipping everything upside down. Sometimes we found drugs plus cash and guns too. Other times we didn’t find shit.

When I say we, well, back then there was my partner, his girlfriend and me. Marcy was a thieving bitch, but once we introduced firearms to our game, she wanted out.

Lester couldn’t let her go, so I told him to go back to playing middleman and cashing bad checks.

Those two will still be breathing once I‘m buried and covered with worms.

I know it’s coming. When my time does come, whoever it is better be ready.

I’m always watching my back; a scared man is a dangerous man.

They better remember to watch their back!

They’ll see me face my fears if I go broke.

So fucking real, they can’t stop me. That’s why those cowards make threats. I hear ‘em all, even pick it apart when they try to say something slick.

If they’re ever brave enough to do all the shit they talk about, I’ll be ready.

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The Click of the Shutting by Graham Wynd

Crime Fiction, Flash Fiction, Graham Wynd, K A Laity, Punk Noir Magazine

The Click of the Shutting

Graham Wynd

 

She waited for the sound of it, the sound that meant safety, the sound that meant it was over for now. The time it was when his shouts might soften, sometimes even turn to tears and beg forgiveness, beg for comfort, remind her again how it was all her fault.

If only she wasn’t like that. 

If only she didn’t get in the way of things. If only she should read his mind so she would know what he was thinking because he didn’t have time to tell her. He was in a hurry, always. Unless he was taking his time.

‘You know I don’t mean it, Georgie,’ he would say after the click, after he shut the blade safely away. After the cutting, after the tears – hers anyway. Then it was sorry, then it was I didn’t mean it, then it was you made me do it. And she would believe it if only it weren’t for the scars.

He loved the scars.

Gregory traced the white lines on her arms and her legs with the wonder of a child. I made this! That mixture of pride and awe as if it were some kind of accomplishment. A five-year-old’s finger paints or a macaroni collage.

Georgie traced them herself in the few minutes of quiet before he knocked on the door to ask if she were done yet. They were memories – the burnt dinner, the too-loud laugh, the phone call – and they were badges. They were badges that said I am still here.

The click of the shutting blade made her shoulders drop back into place, her breath escape in a sigh, her fingers unclench. It would always be this way. Her mother said as much. 

‘At least he doesn’t beat you.’

Aye, that was something. Her mother never smiled because of the missing teeth. ‘I’m just waiting for him to die,’ she’d told Georgie one afternoon as they both washed up the dishes. ‘Not going to lift a finger after that. Eat takeaway. Use paper plates.’

At least she had goals. Georgie tried to remember what she had once dreamed. When Gregory first wooed her. She felt so proud. He was so much older. Then she had imagined he thought her real mature. But no. She’d learned another word for what she was: gullible.

Georgie wondered how the word had come about. After all, the gulls that haunted the city centre were anything but gullible. They were careful if aggressive. Didn’t trust humans, but followed them closely, looking for a chance. She’d seen people try to kick at them or throw cans at them. They dodged all weapons with loud honks like they were laughing.

Maybe she needed to be more gull than gullible.

Georgie lived on the scraps of Gregory’s life anyway. Sometimes literally: he would let her finish off the chips he didn’t eat when he got takeaway for himself. Other times he would make her beg. Trade cuts for a chicken wing. If she refused he cut her anyway, so might as well get something out of it. It helped to feel like a gull instead of a dog, which he made her feel like at first. 

The big gulls had a little dot of red on their beaks, like a drop of blood. That was like her too, though her blood was usually on her legs and arms, where the scars didn’t show as much. Georgie never wore shorts or short sleeves anymore. They weren’t big scars, except that one and Gregory had apologised for that and bought her a teddy bear, as if she were a child that needed bribing. He blamed the horror film they’d been watching. Gregory loved his horror films.

It might have gone on like that except for the pub. 

It was a rare enough outing. Gregory went to the pub on his own sometimes, though he didn’t trust her to be on her own for long. But he wanted to celebrate some football thing so they didn’t go to the local but to the big sports pub down by the church in the centre. When Gregory got fed up with all the noise and the shouts, they skipped out the back way into the alley, which led around to the bus stop faster.

But there was some big shaved head menace there that made even Gregory pause before he grabbed Georgie’s hand and plunged on, chin in the air, belligerent like. 

‘What’s your damage?’ the big bloke said, stopping Gregory short with a huge hand to his chest. 

‘No damage here, mate.’ Gregory kept the chin high and for a moment Georgie remembered loving him when the sun shone and his curls blew in the wind and he smiled.

‘That right?’ The big man sneered at Gregory and then for good measure leered at Georgie. ‘You got something to say for yourself?’

Georgie shook her head. Gregory took a step forward. The big man grabbed the front of his jumper.

‘What?’ Gregory asked with as much venom as he could manage.

‘I said, what’s your damage?’ the man repeated, then punched Gregory in the face. He went down like puppet with its strings cut. The big man sniffed and headed back toward the pub. Gregory lay still.

Georgie thought, what would a gull do?

She slipped her hand into his trouser pocket and pulled out the blade. With a press of the button, the knife clicked open. The blade shone in the moonlight.

Gregory was groaning and beginning to stir. Without thinking Georgie’s hand shot out and, like she’d seen in a thousand gory films, pulled the blade across his neck where it pulsed. Gregory’s eyes flew open and he made a sound that was half annoyance and half fear. Or maybe it was just all disbelief. His hands clutched at his throat. Blood poured between his fingers.

Georgie wiped the blood from the knife on his sleeve, then savoured the click of the blade shutting for the last time. Gregory kept one hand on his neck and the other reached toward her, then started scrabbling in the dirt and stones of the alley. She watched him for a few minutes, then turned and walked to the bus stop.

It was almost time for the 9:20.

BECAUSE THE NIGHT BY PAUL D. BRAZILL

Brit Grit, Crime Fiction, Euro Noir, Noir, Paul D. Brazill, Punk Noir Magazine

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Charles Crockford ’s footsteps echoed as he walked across the rusty, metal railway bridge. A steely fog had spread itself across Seatown and he could no longer see the trains creeping slowly below him although he could hear them. They seemed to rasp and groan. He walked carefully down the steps and paused at the bottom to get his bearings. Smudges of streetlamps trailed off into the distance along Lothian Road.

Crockford headed off down the cobbled street, past the rows of partially demolished terraced houses that looked like broken teeth in the wan light.  He could just about make out a radio playing the latest episode of ‘Hello Cheeky.’ It was his wife’s favourite comedy programme and just the thought of that woman made his blood boil. Crockford ground his teeth and upped his pace.

He had been drinking cider with a few of the old boys in one of the bus shelters near the cemetery. One of them – Barky – was an ex-POW who they said suffered from shellshock. When he mixed the mother’s little helpers that the quack had given him with Old English cider Barky could be quite an entertaining old soak but sometimes he got stuck into singing the songs from his childhood over and over again. Tonight’s performance of ‘There’ll Be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs Of Dover’ had certainly left a lot to be desired. It had been like fingers down a blackboard so, when the free drink had run out, Crockford had buggered off sharpish.

As he headed down Merry Street, Crockford could hear growling. Although he couldn’t see her in the darkness, he knew that Gertie Lark would be stood on her doorstep dressed in her stained flowered apron, a pair of rusty scissors in her hands, her dog beside her. His wife’s aunt had become a barber during the war, since all of the local barbers had been called up to fight, and she’d even kept it up for a while after peace had been declared. Still, each night, come rain or shine, Gertie stood on her step waiting for her husband Wally to come home even though it was more than 25 years after the war had ended and there was still no sign of him.  Boudica, her rottweiler, was always at her side and the dog hated Crockford. The whole family despised him, he was sure. They never appreciated his talent.

Crockford muttered to himself. She was a mad old bird, that Gertie, but then the whole Lark family were off their rocker as far as he was concerned. Some blamed the Seatown bombardment during the Second World War but he didn’t know about that. He just regretted marrying into that batty brood. When thought about Marjorie, the acid in his stomach gurgled. She had never appreciated his writing, his dreams. His hopes. She never saw how his job at the Siemens factory was crushing him. He’d tried to make her understand but the bloody woman just didn’t listen no matter how loud he screamed. His novel would be big, he was sure of that. But all Marjorie cared about was playing bloody bills and popping a stupid bloody sprog.

It started to rain just as Crockford opened the door to The Shaggy Dog. The stuffy pub was warm and welcoming. It smelt of meat pies, beer and pipe smoke. Its brown and red colours were soothing. The pub was almost empty, probably due to the combination of the fog and the impending blackout, which would happen without warning like every other night. The bloody miners’ strike was taking its toll, that was for sure. Crockford thought the useless bastards should get another job if they don’t like the one they already have, but he usually kept that opinion to himself.  Most of the idiots around Seatown didn’t share his view.

He took off his cap and muffler. Alice, the pub’s massive landlady, was stood behind the bar with her hands on her hips. She had her hair in a pink beehive and wore a glittery pink dress.

‘Alright Alice, are you off down The Rialto later?’ said Crockford.

‘Aye,’ said Alice. ‘As per usual. I’ve got me dancin’ shoes on, like.’

She lifted a sparkly pink leg to show a sparkly pink shoe.

‘Very glam,’ said Crockford with a sneer that was lost on Alice.

He checked out his reflection in the frosted mirror that hung behind the bar. He straightened his quiff as Cormac, Alice’s husband, came out of the snug with a tray full of empty shot glasses. His thinning hair was plastered down with Brylcreem and his white shirt stuck to his skin with sweat. He was breathing heavily.

‘The usual?’ panted Cormac.

‘Aye,’ said Crockford. ‘No change there.’

Cormac poured a pint of bitter and Crockford licked his lips.

‘Can I have it on tick?’ said Crockford, grinning. ‘I’ll pay you when I win the football pools.’

‘That will be right,’ said Cormac, grimacing. He held out an open palm.

Crockford paid for his beer and took it into the snug.

There were two old men sat in there. They were both smoking pipes and playing dominoes. Eric Ruby was a painter and decorator who always looked on the verge of a heart attack and Big Bill Lark, Crockford ’s father in law, was a retired copper. His bushy eyebrows met in the middle of his forehead and made him look permanently confused but he was as sharp as a razor and always made Crockford uneasy.

‘How’s tricks?’ said Crockford.

He sat down.

‘Not too bad. Mustn’t grumble. Eric here’s been down that London,’ said Bill.

‘Oh, aye, said Crockford.  ‘How lovely. See the Queen, did you?

‘Near, as dammit,’ said Eric, grinning. ‘You can’t tell the lads from the lasses down there. They say all that glam rock fashion’s going to catch on up here sooner than later but I bloody hope not! The wife spends enough on mascara as it is without me chipping in!’

They all chuckled.

‘Things change, eh?’ said Bill, shrugging.

Crockford scowled.

‘Yeah, but not always for the better, though,’ said Crockford.

‘Maybe. But I wouldn’t turn the bloody clock back, I can tell you. Those were real hard times I’ve lived through. Two world wars and the depression weren’t a barrel of bloody laughs, I can tell you.’

He was lost in thought for a moment.

‘How’s our Marjorie, by the way?’ said Bill. ‘I haven’t seen hide nor hair of her for weeks.’

Crockford ’s stomach gurgled.

‘Er, she’s not been well,’ he said. ‘Woman’s troubles, again, you know what they’re like?’

Bill glared at Crockford.

‘It that right?’ said Bill.

‘Aye,’ said Crockford. ‘There’s always something wrong with that woman these days.’

And then everything turned black.

*

The Reverend Harry Bones said a final prayer and emptied the collection box. He stuffed the money in his coat pockets and picked up his suitcase just as the church’s lights went out.

‘Oh, bugger,’ he said, as he hit a leg on one of the pews.

He furtively edged his way to the front of the church, opened the front door and stepped out onto Lothian Road. It was the darkest he’d ever seen it. He could hear a fog horn roaring over the Headland and just about make out the beams from the lighthouse. There seemed to be not a soul about. Harry locked up The Church of The Nazarene, sighed and walked down the street. He felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders but an even greater one had been placed on them. He looked at his watch and upped his pace. The train would be at the station at midnight and he hoped Marjorie would be there, too.

*

‘Oh, off I trot to the little boys’ room, then,’ said Eric. ‘Hope I don’t get caught short again.’ He chuckled and followed a path of flickering candles that led the way to the pub’s toilets.

There was only one lit candle in the snug. Crockford took the dregs of Eric’s rum and poured it into his beer. He hoped that his father-in-law hadn’t seen him.

Bill coughed.

‘Did you hear that Benny Trout’s looking for a butcher’s assistant,’ said Bill.

‘Oh, aye,’ said Crockford.

His stomach gurgled.

‘Do you not fancy it, then?’ said Bill. ‘Work’s work, you know? It might be a golden opportunity.’

‘I’m still on the sick, aren’t I,’ said Crockford. ‘And anyway, I’m too busy working on my novel.’

Bill tutted and Crockford could feel his anger brewing, ready to boil. He finished his drink and staggered to his feet.

‘Well, I’m off to the snake pit,’ said Crockford.

‘Say hello to our Marjorie from me,’ said Bill.

‘Oh, I most certainly will,’ said Crockford, pushing past Eric as he left.

*

Marjorie Crockford was glad she’d finished dying her hair before the blackout as she only had one candle left, and she didn’t want to waste it. She’d ran out of them the day before, and all the shops on Lothian Road had sold out because of the power cuts. She’d been lucky to get that last bottle of peroxide from the chemist’s shop, too. A new look was just the thing for this new chapter in her life. He husband would hate the new hairstyle, she was sure. He’d tell her that she looked like Myra Hindley or something equally as unflattering. Not that he’d get the chance to see it.

Marjorie had been listening to ‘Hello Cheeky’ on Radio 2 when, as luck would have it, her transistor radio’s batteries had died. Now all she could hear was the grandfather clock’s ticking. She poured herself another glass of sweet sherry, sat on the settee and waited for her husband to come back from the pub.

*

Crockford ’s front door jammed as he tried to open it but he slammed a shoulder into it and pushed it open. His bladder was ready to burst so he rushed into the living room, through the kitchen and then out into the back yard where the toilet was. He swore as he banged against the coalhouse door. Then Marjorie heard the toilet door creak open.  She smiled. Crockford hadn’t noticed her sat on the sofa. He probably expected her to be in bed, waiting for him, as usual. But tonight was going to be anything but usual.

The clock struck eleven and Marjorie heard the knock at the door. She stood up and let her aunt Gertie in.

‘All set, petal?’ said Gertie.

‘Aye,’ said Marjorie. ‘It’s now or never.’

She tied the cashmere scarf that The Reverend Bones had given her around her bruised neck and walked into the kitchen. Gertie followed her.

Gertie stood behind the kitchen door holding her cutthroat razor. Marjorie held her breath as she heard the toilet flush. Crockford staggered into the kitchen at the exact same moment that the blackout ended and the kitchen lights flashed back on.

He shielded his eyes from the blinding glare.

‘Bollocks,’ he said. ‘What the bloody hell …’

Marjorie slammed a frying pan against the side of Crockford ’s head and he fell to his knees, groaning. She hit him again and Gertie moved quickly, grabbing his hair and reaching around and slicing Crockford ’s throat. She pushed him forward onto the tarpaulin covered floor.

Marjorie took off her blood splattered overall and pushed it into her suitcase.  She put on her overcoat and fastened it but she still shivered.

‘Are you okay to sort this mess out?’ said Marjorie.

‘Aye,’ said Gertie. ‘It’s nothing I haven’t done before, eh? I’ve got enough chicken wire to tie him up nicely. Once I throw him in the sea the wire will slice him up and then the fish will finish him off. You know the score, eh?’

Marjorie ’s stomach turned.

‘I’d best be off then,’ she said.

*

The London bound train’s headlights cut through the fog as it pulled into the railway station. Marjorie could see The Reverend Bones smiling as she walked toward him. She could never get used to calling him Harry – she’d know him since she’d been a nipper, after all – but she expected that would probably change after the twins were born. A foghorn sounded and Marjorie shivered. Harry closed his eyes and said a silent prayer.

‘A fresh start, eh?’ he said, as he took Marjorie ’s suitcase from her.

‘I really hope so, Reverend,’ said Marjorie, relieved that she’d brought her aunt’s cutthroat razor with her, just in case.

 

PAUL D. BRAZILL CAN BE FOUND LURKING HERE.

 

Hook-Up Spot By Curtis Ippolito

Crime Fiction, Curtis Ippolito, Flash Fiction, Punk Noir Magazine

Curtis

Hook-Up Spot

By Curtis Ippolito

This is what happened, no matter what I admitted to before.

I only went to the hook-up spot twice. That’s the truth. And neither was the time that got me busted. Let me break it down for you.

My boy Sherman, well, he used to be my boy. He called me up one day, said I had to check out this crazy thing. I asked what was up, but he just kept saying to get down there. You should know, in my younger years all I did was play Xbox and smoke weed. That day was no different. So, I told him I’d be there in ten minutes.

When I pulled up to the mall, he was in his car in the back of the parking lot, where nice cars park so they don’t get dinged up. I got into Sherman’s car and he was leaned way back. Full-on gangsta lean, as we used to call it. One hand flopped on top of the steering wheel, the other picking at his dry lips making a sly smile. And he was staring down a group of parked cars in the middle of the parking lot. After a few seconds, he nodded at them, told me they were hooking up. I didn’t believe it at first. There had to be six or seven cars, maybe more. It’s hard to recall after all these years. I just remember it seemed like too many cars to all be hookups. But Sherman was positive.

A few weeks earlier, he walked out of the mall after swiping a couple Rolex watches from Foley’s for us to flip and found this island of cars in the parking lot. Walked by an Escalade and saw a dude and a brunette chick getting it on inside. Half-naked. Rolling around. Sherman saw her boobs and everything. Same thing in a couple of the other cars. He kept walking though, like he didn’t see any of them. Got to the end of the parking lot, sat on the curb under a tree and watched it play out. It took him going back every day all week to figure out the schedule. Turns out everybody showed up on Mondays and Fridays.

So, we’re sitting there, I’m shaking my head. Still don’t believe it. I admit I was the sucker of our group, but there’s no way I was falling for this one. Sherman hands me a pair of binoculars. I check it out and sure enough, they’re getting it on in one of the cars. Right there, in broad daylight. Sherman took back the binoculars laughing, smacked his lips. I must have looked confused, so he broke it down.

The couples met there. Some of them did it there, but most just met, then drove off together and did it someplace else. Motel row was just down the way, so that made sense. They usually came back after an hour. Lunchtime fucks. Sorry. My bad. Lunchtime hook-ups. Sherman said it was obvious this was a hook-up spot for office workers, put on by word of mouth. Figured they came over from the two glass skyscrapers on the other side of the highway. Was probably safer to meet up at the mall so other co-workers couldn’t rat them out.

While we were sitting there, the motel couples made their way back to the spot. One couple made-out standing in the parking lot for a while before they drove back to work separately. Sherman punched on my arm, giggling. He loved it. Seeing people cheating on their spouses. Anything seedy like that.

The second time I went to the hook-up spot was the Friday of that same week. I didn’t want to, but Sherman talked me into it. The first time was cool, but creepin’s really not my thing like it is Sherman’s.

It was raining hard that day, but those fools still showed up, one car after the other. At first, I wasn’t sure they were the same office workers because they were wearing jeans instead of suits and dresses. Casual Friday, come to find. I worked overnights at a convenience store back then and always wore jean shorts and whatever t-shirt stunk of weed the least.

So anyway, some stayed at the hook-up spot and some drove off after meeting up. Sherman licked his lips watching them. You could tell he was getting off on all of it.

I was just about to bounce when the Beamer rolled up with a dude driving. I didn’t see him on Monday, the first time I was there. He parked and Sherman groaned. Minutes later, a white car parked next to the Beamer. Sherman moaned and was biting his bottom lip. I asked if the chick was hot or something. Yeah, she was, but it wasn’t just that. The dude beat her. Sherman had seen it. Said someone should teach that asshole a lesson. She deserved someone better. Sherman was always a big talker. But when stuff went down, fool was never around. I didn’t think much of it and took off.

The next week, me and Sherman hung out a few times but not at the hook-up spot. We hit up the card shop. Jack in the Box. Hoops. We didn’t talk about the hook-up spot or the dude in the Beamer or his woman. But I know Sherman was still going by there because we didn’t get together on Monday or Friday that week. Definitely not Friday, like I said. On Thursday, Sherman asked if I still had the gun, the one I traded my Jordan rookie card for. I was hitting my fourth-straight shot from the line. Twenty-One. Yeah, I still had the gun. Sherman asked if he could borrow it again for the weekend. Remember I said Sherman was all talk? Yeah, so it never occurred to me he might do anything bad with it. So, we ran by my place after our game and I loaned it to him. That’s the last time I saw my gun. And that’s all I really know firsthand.

You know the rest. It made the newspapers and TV news. On that Friday, the day after I loaned Sherman my gun, someone shot the dude in his Beamer at the hook-up spot. Accidentally killed the woman, too. Was a damn shame.

I know, I know. I know what you’re thinking. Why did I confess before, if I didn’t do it? Why did I take the blame if I’m now saying it was Sherman? All I can say is, put yourself in my shoes. My prints were on the gun found at the scene. I had Sherman placing me there, saying he witnessed the whole thing. But I wasn’t at the hook-up spot that day, like I said at the beginning of this. That’s the truth. There was no way I was going to get put to death for something I didn’t do. That’s the bottom line. Everything was already messed up and my lawyer said the state’s deal was expiring, too. They’ll fry you in this state. So, I did what I had to do.

Man. It feels good to get all of that off my chest. I hope you hear my side of things. The cops didn’t. I’m not blaming them. They were just playing their role, too, I guess. I’ve learned a lot about myself over these years, but I don’t belong in prison. Never did. Anyway, that’s all I wanted to say. No matter what, thanks for listening.

 

Ok, bro. What do you think? They gotta parole me this time, right?

 

The End

Curtis Ippolito lives in San Diego, California where he works as a communication writer for a nonprofit biological research facility. In his spare time he enjoys hiking, working out and gardening.

New from All Due Respect: Man of the World by Paul D. Brazill

All Due Respect, Brit Grit, Crime Fiction, Down and Out Books., Euro Noir, Paul D. Brazill, Punk Noir Magazine

Buy the trade paperback from the Down & Out Bookstore and receive a FREE digital download of the book!

Also available from the following retailers …
Print: AmazonAmazon UKBarnes & NobleIndieBound
eBook: KindleKindle UKNookiTunesKoboPlay

Synopsis … Ageing hit-man Tommy Bennett left London and returned to his hometown of Seatown, hoping for respite from the ghosts of the violent past that haunted him. However, things don’t go to plan and trouble and violence soon follow Tommy to Seatown. Tommy is soon embroiled in Seatown’s underworld and his hopes of a peaceful retirement are dashed. Tommy deliberates whether or not to leave Seatown and return to London. Or even leave Great Britain altogether. So, he heads back to London where violence and mayhem await him.

Man of the World is a violent and darkly comic slice of Brit Grit noir.

Praise for the Books by Paul D. Brazill:

“If you took Ken Bruen’s candor, the best of Elmore Leonard’s dialogues, sprinkled in some Irvine Welsh, and dragged it all through the dirtiest ditch in South London, the result will be something akin to Brazill’s writing.” —Gabino Iglesias, author of Zero Saints and Gutmouth, for The Last Laugh

“A broad range of cultural strands come together in the melting pot and form a delicious stew of criminal adventure… The observations are sharp and the characters create small nuclear explosions as they collide with each other.” —Nigel Bird, author of Southsiders, for The Last Laugh

“Brazill offers a series of amusing episodes filled with breezy banter in this offbeat slice of British noir.” —Publishers Weekly, for Last Year’s Man

“It’s all here, everything you’ve come to expect from a Paul D. Brazill caper—the fast pace, the witty banter, the grim humour and the classic tunes—except this time he’s REALLY outdone himself. Unlike the lament in the song the title takes its name from, Paul’s best years are surely still ahead of him.” —Paul Heatley, author of Fatboy, for Last Year’s Man

“Paul D. Brazill is the Crown Prince of Noir. That’s my opinion, granted, but I stand by it. For those who require proof, just pick up his latest novel, Last Year’s Man, and it will be clear why I make that statement. All hail the crown prince!” —Les Edgerton, author of The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping, Just Like That and others

“Brazill is brilliant, a unique voice which stands out from the crowd.” —Keith Nixon, author of the Solomon Gray books, for Last Year’s Man.

man of the world final

Learn the Art of the Grift From Films by K A Laity

Anne Billson, Crime Fiction, Films, Jim Thompson, K A Laity, Nightmare Alley, Punk Noir Magazine

thesting

Crime Reads posted ‘10 of the Greatest Con Artist Films of All-Time’ which might better be called ’10 Con Artist Films I Have Seen’ – only joking (or am I?). Well, in any case as I am sad over Tim Brooke-Taylor dying let me distract myself by suggesting a few other films you might want to see about con artists. First, a couple he mentioned:

THE STING (1973)

Jobb calls this the ‘granddaddy’ of con artist films which I guess makes me an ancient wood witch of untellable age (quite possibly true). One of the things I would add to this being a fine film that holds up well to re-watching (quite true) is that it is largely swiped from the brilliant non-fiction book by David Maurer, The Big Con. I’ve written about it before and it’s well worth reading if you are at all interested in the con, the games and the beautiful language of it.

DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS (1988)

Any one who talks about this film and does not give full props to the amazing Glenne Headley is missing the reason it works beyond admittedly funny set pieces like Ruprecht. The real art of the con is where you’re not looking.

But wait, there’s more!

THE LADY EVE (1941)

You want to actually go back in time a little: this is a superb film you need to memorise every line of dialogue from. Preston Sturges is rightly praised for his direction and infallible comic timing. Casting, too, is a real skill: Barbara Stanwyck is *chef’s kiss* and Henry Fonda never more charming. William Demarest! Charles Coburn! Fast-talking, con-pulling, ruse-using delight.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947)

You know I was going to bring this up. The spook racket is a great con. Read more here. In short, creepy, scary, scarring – and the almost-childlike delight Stanton gets when he realises for the first time he has the gift for grift. Magnetic. Yeah, Guillermo del Toro is doing a remake. I’m anxious. Cate Blanchett gives me hope.

THE THIRD MAN (1949)

The three cats are the real clue as Anne Billson would tell you. Everybody quotes the cuckoo clock speech, which is a lie itself and misdirection, which is Lime all over. Lime is a profiteer, whose effects his pal Martins belatedly sees. Again, a superb cast makes every frame of this gorgeously shot film sing. Carol Reed and Robert Krasker shoot Graham Greene’s story better than even he might have imagined and of course Alex Karas’ soundtrack is indelible.

THE MUSIC MAN (1957)

The grift in song: consider it a palate cleanser between old Hollywood and new.

 

PAPER MOON (1973)

There was something in the water that year. Oh, maybe it was in the White House! Anyway grifters were on the mind of America. This film: I can’t stand Ryan O’Neal even before I heard what a louse he was. He was the vacuum at the center of an otherwise stellar rebirth of screwball in WHAT’S UP, DOC? But this film is sublime, mostly due to his daughter Tatum and the comic grace of Madeline Kahn.

THE HOUSE OF GAMES (1987)

It’s easy to overdose on Mamet’s macho hard guys. Lindsay Crouse’s cool, controlled shrink makes this magic. Oh also the late Ricky Jay. Magnificence. Joe Mantegna plays the edges of his character with superb flexion and Crouse watches him with such fascination and admiration that he never suspects there’s something more to her. Great cameo from William H. Macy.

A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988)

You already know this. It is amazing that in such a stellar and hilarious cast Kevin Kline still manages to be above and beyond.

THE GRIFTERS (1990)

Brutal three-hander based on the disturbingly Oedipal Jim Thompson novel that brings the magnificent Anjelica Huston into direct walloping competition with Annette Bening over an over-his-head John Cusack. The slick screenplay by Donald E. Westlake puts the best of the novel into Stephen Frears’ hands and he runs with it. Delightful cast, right down the line to Pat Hingle, J.T. Walsh, Charles Napier, Xander Berkeley, and Juliet Landau as the young Lily.

Get educated. There’s loads more, but this is enough to get you rolling.

 

K A LAITY IS GETTING AWAY WITH IT HERE

k a laity noir

Two by Hughes by K. A. Laity

Crime Fiction, Dorothy Hughes, K A Laity, Punk Noir Magazine, Writing

so blue the marble

It’s easy to focus on the very greatest books by Dorothy B. Hughes: after all, any one of them would be enough to make her name immortal. In A Lonely Place: possibly the first in-the-mind-of-serial-killer novel, a masterpiece of psychological insight and noir ambience from 1947. Or her New Mexican novel Ride the Pink Horse that brings noir to the desert, a heady mix of crime, Mexican and indigenous voices that will haunt you long after reading. And of course her 1963 novel The Expendable Man which looked at the fate of a black man accused of murder in the heyday of the American civil rights movement. 

Small wonder if her earlier books haven’t got the same attention, but they’re well worth a read. I’ve written about some before and talked about them at conferences. With Holding and Highsmith, I think Hughes is one of the finest noir voices ever. Pity she didn’t have a drinking problem then die sad and alone or she would be more famous.

That’s sarcasm. Nothing like being a quiet, competent middle-aged woman to get you overlooked. 

The So Blue Marble (1940) is very nearly a romp. Her debut novel is full of the Golden Age mystery twists and turns – and snooty ambience – as well as a dash of the espionage stories much relished during the war. There’s the titular McGuffin, the socialite who went to Hollywood but found it all a bore, the absent ex she divorced in a fit of pique and two psychotic identical twins, a long-lost sister and a suspiciously helpful college professor across the hall. It all sounds a bit hectic but Hughes manages to keep the pace fast enough that you don’t question anything as you trundle around Manhattan (okay, maybe stretching credulity to end up on the Berkshires, but that’s always the case). It’s fun, fast and satisfying.

Then there’s Dread Journey (1945): I’m proud to say I have a gorgeous Pocket Book edition of this, the back blurb promising a ‘One-Way Ticket to Death!’ Why is this not a film? It should have been snapped up right away. What it owes to Christie’s more murderous train it trumps with a complete lack of snobbery and racism. Indeed, one of the characters whose eyes we see the story unfold is Pullman porter James Cobbett. Cobbett is astutely aware of how he appears (or doesn’t) to the passengers, noting their racism when it was subtle as well as when it is overt. The Hollywood folk vary from timid to belligerent, with a generous side of desperation thrown in. There’s a louche band leader who hides a lot behind his blood-shot eyes. There’s a reporter who lost his nerve in the war who might just rally back to the fight—possibly too late.

I probably shouldn’t tell you that it’s also shot through with great snippets of poetry and Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. I don’t want to put you off! If you don’t want to know, you won’t. They’re not there as they would be in some freshman essay. They’re tied into the characters, their conversations and thoughts. Producer Vivien Spender has spent his life looking for the perfect Clavdia Chaucat, the romantic object of Mann’s novel. He wants to make an epic film of the Bildungsroman and had discarded one ingénue after another when they failed to embody her perfectly.

That’s the problem with ideals. Frail humans seldom live up to them.

But don’t worry. The extras don’t slow down the pace and Hughes keeps the pervasive sense of dread ramped up. You don’t even know who’s going to die, but you know something’s going wrong and it’s all going to go haywire. Good stuff. 

Do yourself a favour: read more Dorothy Hughes.

dread journey