Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Avoid the shadows when night falls

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Nightfall
David Goodis
170 pages
Black Curtain Press  1947
$8.49 paperback    Kindle $  .99

James Vanning is lonely, depressed, afraid and plagued by insomnia.  In other words he’s a classic protagonist in a noir novel.

The commercial artist and World War II vet is on the run from the police and a gang of bank robbers.  He’s holed up in a small New York City apartment selling his work to ad agencies to get by and feeling sorry for himself.  As an average guy entangled in a seemingly unexplainable criminal morass, he could be a character in a Cornell Woolrich novel.  Instead he’s the creation of another respected noir author, David Goodis, noted for his mystery, Dark Passage, that became a Bogart and Bacall movie.

In Nightfall, published in 1947, Goodis imperils Vanning without letting the reader know too many details.  Except for one thing: he’s killed someone, or is convinced he did. And, he’s scared.

 “He wanted to go out.  He was afraid to go out.  And he realized that.  The realization brought on more fright.”

A few sentences later a Woolrich-style premonition: “…something was going to happen tonight.”

Vanning knows that the story of the killing, as he remembers it, is so preposterous no cop or DA would believe him. We learn bits and pieces: A Seattle bank was robbed of $300,000.  One of the gang responsible for the robbery was murdered. The money disappeared.

The story unfolds through chapters of alternating points of view, that of Vanning and of Fraser, the NYC police detective following him.  Married with three children, Fraser (we never learn his first name) has been shadowing Vanning for months and thinks he knows nearly all aspects of the artist’s solitary life.  But he worries the case may be his undoing.  His superiors are calling for an arrest and return of the money.  And Fraser has doubts.

Despite overwhelming evidence against Vanning, Fraser thinks he might be innocent.  “With what they have on him already,” Fraser tells his wife, “they can put him on trial and it’s a hundred to one he’d get a death sentence.

“They’ve got witnesses, they’ve got fingerprints,” Fraser says, “they’ve got a ton of logical deduction that puts him dead center.  And what I’ve got is a mental block.”

Vanning’s faring no better.  His memory is full of holes.  He knows Continue Reading →

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New books: So many ways to get killed

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Murder Unscripted
Clive Rosengren
Coffeetown Press  2017
240 pages
Kindle $5.95  Trade paper $14.95

The first of Rosengren’s Eddie Collins series begins with actor Josh Bauer on a bearskin rug in front of a roaring fire with buxom, but temperamental, Ruby Landreaux in his arms. What comes next is up to Eddie Collins, a part-time actor and ex-husband of Landreaux—who is really actress Elaine Weddington—when Weddington turns up dead, her bearskin escapade simply a scene in an unfinished movie, Flames of Desire.

The production’s insurance company hires Eddie to represent their interests in the Americana Pictures film. Private eye is Eddie’s main gig now, although he doesn’t turn his back on acting jobs when they come his way.

Weddington was a star of sorts, though her pictures were B-movies and never up for major awards. Encroaching middle age meant her leading-lady days were numbered, and she worked with a lot of jealous wannabes. Did one of them off her? What about her personal assistant or live-in boyfriend? While searching through Weddington’s  trailer, Eddie finds a list of initials with corresponding phone numbers. As he gradually ticks off the entries, he begins to form an unwelcome, less idealized version of Weddington. Then an assistant director is killed as she is about to share a damning revelation. The quest to identify one set of initials almost puts him in the hospital. Can Eddie handle the truth? Will it set him free, or kill him?

Clive Rosengren is a recovering actor. His career spanned more than forty years, eighteen of them pounding many of the same streets as his fictional sleuth Eddie Collins. Movie credits include Ed Wood, Soapdish, Cobb, and Bugsy. Among numerous television credits are Seinfeld, Home Improvement, and Cheers, where he played the only person to throw Sam Malone out of his own bar. He lives in southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley, safe and secure from the hurly-burly of Hollywood.

 

Wicked River
Jenny Milchman
464 pages
Sourcebooks Landmark  May 1, 2018 (available for pre-order on Amazon)
Hardcover: $26.99  Trade paper $15.99  Kindle 15.99

Six million acres of Adirondack forest separate Natalie and Doug Larson from civilization. For the newlyweds, an isolated backcountry honeymoon seems ideal—a chance to start their lives together with an adventure. But just as Natalie and Doug begin to explore the dark interiors of their own hearts, as well as the depths of their love for each other, it becomes clear that they are not alone in the woods.

Because six million acres makes it easy for the wicked to hide. And even easier for someone to go missing for good.

As they struggle with the worst the wilderness has to offer, a man watches them, wielding the forest like a weapon. He wants something from them more terrifying than death. And once they are near his domain, he will do everything in his power to make sure they never walk out again.

Jenny Milchman is a suspense writer from the Hudson River Valley of New York State. Her debut novel, Cover of Snow, was published by Ballantine/Random House in January 2013 and won the 2013 Mary Higgins Clark Award for best suspense novel of the year.  Milchman is a board member and Vice President of International Thriller Writers and the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, celebrated in all 50 states and four foreign countries 2013. She also teaches writing and publishing for New York Writers Workshop and Arts By The People.

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A kill switch by any other name: How about ‘Gone with the Wind’?

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Coming up with an appealing, intriguing title for a book can be a daunting task.  Years ago when I sold my first book—on business writing—I worked hard to create a clever title.  My publisher changed it. 

The expression about judging a book by its cover, and by extension its title, is a cliché because it’s what people do.  Think of the memorable books you’ve read and they probably had memorable titles.  Not always, but it helps.

When I was ready to send in the manuscript for my recently published mystery,  therefore, I threw myself into the work of creating a heart-stopping title.  Actually I’d been thinking about the title all the while I wrote the book, but now that it was finished, I brainstormed nonstop.  I also solicited help from writer friends, and Desert Kill Switch was the top choice.

Mostly out of curiosity, before I sent my manuscript to my publisher, I did a search for “kill switch” on Amazon.  I discovered that within the last four years no fewer than six mystery/suspense books have been released with the title Kill Switch or The Kill Switch, one from a famous New York Times best-selling author.

How can multiple new books have the same name?  Copyright protection does not extend to book titles.  I could have named my book Gone with the Wind.

Disappointed, I went back to brainstorming.   A friend and I came up with dozens of optional titles: Nostalgic Cars and Corpses, Desert Death Drive, Desert Death in High Gear, and on and on.  One of my favorite optional titles was Nostalgia City Road Kill.  Can you imagine, however, how many books have the words road kill in the title?

I took another look at the other six kill switch books. None seemed to talk about the kind of kill switch that’s the focus of my book. In fact, the words kill switch rarely appeared in the books. I was persuaded the other authors were not talking about the same kill switches I was.

So what is a kill switch?  In my book, it has to do with car sales.  A relatively small number of auto dealers in the US install GPS trackers and kill switches in the cars they sell to people they consider high-risk borrowers.  Here’s how it works:  Miss a payment, sometimes by as little as a few days, and the dealer throws a switch.  Your car is dead.  If you bring your loan current, you can drive again.  If you don’t, the dealer uses the GPS location and comes to get your car. No repo man needed.

I emphasize that a minority of dealers use kill switches, but news reports indicate that as many as two million cars on the road in the US are wired with the devices. 

These sinister-sounding mechanisms, and a dealer who uses them, are central to my book’s plot.  In addition, the book takes place across the arid landscape of Arizona and Nevada, hence, “Desert Kill Switch.”

I was ready to stick with Desert Kill Switch.  Until I thought about the word girl.

The suspense/mystery books Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train sold millions of copies and each quickly became a movie.  Maybe The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo started it, but regardless, girl has become popular in book titles. And not just a few, but dozens.

NPR recently explored the phenomenon. Crime novelist Megan Abbott told Morning Edition, “I have talked to other crime writers that have been urged by various professional people in their life to put the word girl in their title.”

Kill Switch Girl? Girl with a Kill Switch?

Maybe next time.

 

A thought on “A kill switch by any other name: How about ‘Gone with the Wind’?”

  1. Vanessa Shields
    I rather enjoy the title Desert Kill Switch – and I was fascinated when I learned what a kill switch – in the context of the story – actually was. Scary stuff. And that lent itself to ‘thrilling’ parts of Desert Kill Switch. I’ve read a few of the ‘girl-in-the-title’ books…and, I am definitely NOT moved to grab a book because the word ‘girl’ is in the title. Funnily enough – there are never ‘girls’ in the stories – but women – grown-up, killer ‘women’ or what have you. Huh. Book titles are wild animals in the jungle that is marketing for books. I think you made the right decisions, Mark! Now…if your title was Dessert Kill Switch…

    Like

  2. Troy Del Rio  9:33 a.m.      The Girl with her hand on the kill Switch.
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