Death in Nostalgia City

By Mark S. Bacon

Only the orange hat can save his life

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Phantom Lady
Cornell Woolrich writing as William Irish
Introduction by Barry N. Malzberg
Centipede Press 2012
288 pages
Trade paper $18
Originally published in 1942

Hear the clock ticking? It’s counting down the minutes and seconds that Scott Henderson has to live. He’s accused of murdering his wife who, he admits to police, had refused to give him a divorce. But he didn’t kill her.

At least we don’t think he did, although his alibi is almost impossible to believe. He says he spent the evening with a lady he picked up in a bar. They attended a musical revue together, then parted after the show without ever exchanging names or personal information.Phantom-Lady-novel-cover

Fans of Cornell Woolrich will appreciate this new edition of Phantom Lady. It contains a unique, if rambling, reminiscence about the author by someone who was his agent a year before he died. It also includes color pictures of posters from the 1944 movie based on the novel and shots of various cover treatments of the book since its original release. This beautiful edition, on heavy stock, makes a great addition to your mystery library.

If you’ve just discovered Woolrich and are working your way through his substantial body of suspense work, Phantom Lady is not a bad place to start. Although it’s not my favorite Woolrich tale, it’s an edge-of-your-seat nail-biter until the end. But that was Woolrich’s MO for more than two dozen books. Continue Reading →

The Maltese Falcon reexamined

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“And when you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it.” Sam Spade to Joel Cairo.

With apologies to Robert B. Parker, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and a few others, Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon is the quintessential murder story. Although Sam Spade appeared in only one novel, the cynical, hardboiled detective who bends the rules but still lives by a code, set the standard for all the gumshoes who would follow in the 85 years hence. “I don’t mind a reasonable amount of trouble,” he tells the comely and mysterious Brigid O’Shaughnessy.Bogie-&-Elisha-Cook

Although Spade is such a well-defined and described character, it is difficult for me to separate him from Humphrey Bogart, the actor who portrayed Spade in the 1941 noir film of the same name. Bogart’s height and general appearance don’t match Hammett’s description, but by every other measure, Bogart is Sam Spade.

Recently I reread the novel and, for perhaps the 10th time, watched the film. The similarities and the few differences are worth examining. In fact, there are at least two mysteries within the mystery. And at this point, if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, do so. Then come back and read the rest of this article. Continue Reading →

Tweet this, CBS

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The following has nothing to do with murder mysteries, book publishing, film noir or anything else you’re used to reading about here. I’ll return next time with an article on mystery writers’ ideas and techniques.  This is about the future of truth.

Where do you find out what’s going on each day, TV news, radio, newspapers, Twitter, Facebook? Increasingly the latter two choices form the foundation for how Americans understand the world. And it scares the hell out of me. Continue Reading →

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