Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: film noir

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 →

Why is there a Ferris wheel on my book cover?

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By Michael Niemann

It’s admittedly an odd choice for a thriller, but let me explain.

The Wiener Riesenrad, or Viennese giant wheel, was designed and built in 1897 by British engineers to commemorate the golden anniversary of emperor Franz Josef. And it is indeed of giant proportions, 212 feet tall. However, it wasn’t the tallest in the world. The original Ferris wheel, designed by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.  in 1893 for the Chicago World Columbian Exhibition, was 264 feet tall. Other illicit_trade-niemann-covergiant wheels built in London and Paris around the same time were also taller. But after a couple of decades, those other Ferris wheels had all been taken down.

By 1920, the Wiener Riesenrad was the tallest wheel in the world. It held that position until 1985 when the 289 foot Technostar wheel was opened in Japan. Currently, the tallest wheel is the High Roller in Las Vegas which stands 550 tall more than twice the height of the Riesenrad.

No Ferris wheel has played a bigger a role in popular culture than the Wiener Riesenrad. It featured in three spy thriller films, The Third Man, Scorpio, The Living Daylights, and one romance, Before Sunrise. It also made an appearance in several novels.

The wheel’s feature role in spy thrillers is not an accident. The Third Man takes place just a few years after World War II when Austria and Vienna were still divided into four sectors, occupied by Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the U.S. Obviously there was plenty of spying going on then.

The agreement that ended the occupation stipulated that Austria had to remain neutral henceforth. No wonder that during the Cold War, Vienna became a hub of clandestine meetings, shady dealings and generally a playground for spies from all over the world. That has not changed.

Inside the The Wiener Riesenrad, or Viennese giant wheel.

Inside the The Wiener Riesenrad, or Viennese giant wheel.

Austria’s neutrality also made Vienna a perfect location to host one of the United Nations headquarters. And that brings me back to my book. My protagonist, Valentin Vermeulen, works for the UN and a case of fraud brings him to Vienna. Once I had him there, I remembered The Third Man and watched the movie again. The scene featuring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton is one of the most gripping scenes in the movie. Continue Reading →

Feisty attorney dukes it out with the Mob

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Identity Crisis
Debbi Mack
Wild Blue Press
4th Edition Aug. 2015
Kindle $5.99  Trade paper $11.99

Attorney Sam McRae has a more than troublesome case.  Her missing client is accused of murder and implicated in a bank scandal.  Sam’s affair with a married prosecutor—who is likely not going to leave his wife—weighs on her often.  And as she tries to locate her missing client, she’s followed by a black Lincoln.  “Something about the design suggested a rolling black casket.”

Driving a beat-up Mustang convertible, Sam chases from Maryland to Pennsylvania to track down her client, shadowed by the Mob and worried that someone connected to the case is trying to steal her identity.  The engaging, fast-moving story readsidentity-crisis-debbi-mack like the PI novel that it is, even though the protagonist is an attorney.  Sam has more instinct, determination and guts than most male investigators, and she manages to stay one step ahead of the cops.

Sam meets a nosy neighbor with alcohol and garlic breath, a private eye who is either stalking her or there to save her, a woman with a scarred face and a “three-pack-a-day voice” and an upper-crust strip club owner with something to hide. Add in Mob figures made from equal parts menace and violence plus eccentric federal agents and you have an entertaining—and upsetting—cast of characters.

Finally, the story is decorated with lively language and descriptions: Continue Reading →

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