Archives: Hardboiled & Noir

Hardboiled Monday: The Glories of Wade Miller

Writing as a team, usually under their Wade Miller pseudonym, Bob Wade and Bill Miller drafted some engaging thrillers and mysteries for Fawcett Gold Medal and other publishers all through the 1950s and into the early 1960s, before Miller’s untimely early death. Their writing was tight and spare, yet immersive, and they knew how to quickly hook readers into propulsive plots. Their settings sprang vividly to life, and they were capable of subtle and even nuanced character development and dialogue. Ten years ago I’d never heard of them; now I consider them among my very favorite writers.

On my own highlights reel are a number of standalones and the entire Max Thursday series. That’s not to say that each of the hardboiled private eye’s adventures is equally good, but each Max Thursday book is a strong novel and every one of them is different from the others, both in tone and subject matter. They usually fall on the gritty side of things, and are intricately plotted, so don’t go reading online discussions that tend to spoil the whodunnit. Unlike other hardboiled novels from the same era, the Thursday books are best read in order. Thursday starts out the series fighting alcoholism, and his relationships with secondary characters change in succeeding books. In order the Max Thursday novels are: Guilty Bystander, Fatal Step, Uneasy Street, Calamity Fair, Murder Charge, and Shoot to Kill. Here’s a wonderful article over at Thrilling Detective that discusses more details WITHOUT revealing the endings. I can’t guarantee that other discussions will do that.

Halo For Hire

I’m still working on a lengthy convention post about Windy City. I don’t honestly know how interested people are in reading convention reports, but I always figure that if you’re not there it’s interesting to see what they’re like. Let me know if I’m wrong.

Of all the treasures I picked up, the one that called to me first was Halo for Hire, which I picked up from Stephen Haffner of Haffner Press. As I mentioned last time, it collects all four novels featuring Paul Pine, along with a short story and a novella. I know there was some speculation about who the cover had been modeled off of the last time I mentioned the book, but that’s NOT Bruce Willis. That is, in fact, Trond Flagstad, the husband of the author Howard Browne’s daughter. He makes a pretty cool looking private eye, doesn’t he?

I like Browne’s writing so well that rather than starting with the book in the collection I haven’t read I just began at page one.

Like all Haffner Press books, it’s a beaut. The spine is lettered and so is the front of the hardback beneath the dust jacket, and the paper quality and binding is top notch. It’s not the kind of book you sit down with to read in one hand while you munch your sandwich. You want to settle into an easy chair for this one.

And if you like a good mystery and good writing, you really owe it to yourself to check it out. The fourth novel in the collection, The Taste of Ashes may actually out-Chandler Chandler. Same writing style, elegantly polished, without any Chandler plot issues or digressions. The others I’ve read are quite strong as well, but The Taste of Ashes is a bonafide masterpiece. It’s about time it got the deluxe treatment it deserved. Thanks, mighty Haffner!

Paul Pine

Word has arrived via camel caravan that the complete collection of Howard Browne’s stories featuring hardboiled detective Paul Pine are going to be in print, soonish, from Haffner Press.

I actually pre-ordered this collection several years back, because Browne’s writing is sublime. He sounds a heckuva lot like Chandler, and as a bonus his novel plots don’t wander as much as Chandler’s do. The fourth and final Paul Pine novel,  The Taste of Ashes, is a masterpiece that stacks up well against Chandler’s finest.

In other words, I’m really looking forward to the volume, especially because it contains one of the novels I’ve never been able to find, as well as some fragments.

The art chosen for the cover is certainly evocative and professional, but it looks a little more like it’s from a lighthearted ’80s TV series than the rather somber adventures Paul Pine experiences. Perhaps that cover will help attract new readers, though, and they’ll stay for the prose.


Basement Duty

As my wife makes a final editorial pass of all my recent changes, I’m sort of on hold, story wise, so I’m working on house stuff. The long-planned for basement renovation is slotted for this year, so I’m doing my best to organize it.

Writing wise I’m going to revise that new Dabir and Asim story I wrote in December here pretty soon, and maybe take a crack at writing another one, and then it ought to be time to review any editorial suggestions and turn book 1 back over to agent and editor and get to revising book 2.

At the end of last week I finished another Marvin Albert book. I’ve read his series westerns, I’ve read three of his hardboiled detective novels, two of his four mercenary adventure novels, and one standalone western and I have YET to read one that wasn’t good. Maybe none are outright masterpieces, but he is so dependably good I have developed a profound respect for the man. I have one of his later novels, one of a series about a detective in France, and I’ll get to it soon. And I bet it’s good, too, because it has a reputation for excellence.

Max Thursday

Max ThursdayThese six books are among the finest detective stories I’ve yet read, with honest-to-God mysteries, cracking pace, and a relatable hero. The first one is what helped convert me to a Wade Miller fan.

I intend to discuss them, and some of my other favorite Wade Miller titles, with Chris Hocking in an upcoming post. As I think we once mentioned, don’t go reading discussions, because many of those who discuss the novels carelessly reveal the solution to the mystery. And these really are so tightly plotted you’ll be hard pressed to know what’s going on until the end, so that kind of indifference is inexcusable. These are highly crafted mysteries.

I was just eager to read them — I didn’t mind if my editions were mis-matched, hence the different cover styles and sizes. You’re lucky. So long as you don’t mind e-books, you can find the whole set right here.

Hardboiled Monday: The Mammoth Book of Private Eye Stories

mammoth book private eyeWhen Chris Hocking and I set out to talk hardboiled fiction every Monday it turned out we (or maybe it was just me) were a little too ambitious. It was hard to keep up the steam, and to keep reading NOTHING but hardboiled for months and months. But we’re returning to discuss great hardboiled fiction as an occasional feature of this web site.

Originally we were discussing all books from this list in order. From here on out we’ll be skipping around. We’ll be trying to cover one subject a month, and I’ll also be trying to provide advanced notice. If you want to see our previous hardboiled discussions, you can access the master list here. Today we’re discussing the well-named Mammoth Book of Private Eye Stories.

Pulp and Sundry

driscollI do like to write quickly and to be able to report vast thousands of words written, but as I think I mentioned, for me at least that may not be the best way to approach drafting. At least not novels. I had SO MANY revision passes and revisits on the last book that I’m just trying to take my time with this new one. I suppose I’ll find out soon from my alpha reader if going slowly means fewer revision passes will be required. I think it might. If not, I may start losing more hair.

My short story outlining project went far better than I expected. I’ve already got outlines or thumbnail outlines for all but the final tale in the proposed new Dabir and Asim collection, and I do have a solid idea for that final one — I just have to write it down. After that I’ll convert all of them into detailed outlines and then, as time permits, I’ll start turning those into short stories.

Over the week I finally finished the last few stories in The Mammoth Book of Private Eye Stories, and Hocking and I have begun the exchanges that will eventually be transformed into an article. I also read an excellent short story collection by Australian writer Peter Corliss, and I’m sure Hocking and I will be talking about him eventually as well.

Word Count Musings & Hardboiled Thoughts

mammoth book private eyeAs I’ve only just now finished the final story in The Mammoth Book of Private Eye Stories, I’m moving the official discussion of it out another week so that we’ll be talking about it on Monday, May 15. Given the size of the book, maybe that’s a good thing for those of you who’re interested in hearing what we have to say about it and the even smaller number of you who might be trying to read along.

Writing’s been slow but steady this week, a combination of revision and writing from scratch. I’m not sure how many words per day it officially is and I’m mostly beyond caring. I guess my opinion on word count per day or even week has changed. It’s good to measure yourself against some kind of scale to see how much progress you’re making, but last year I wrote a lot that ended up having to be changed. Now I’m going slower as I revise the new book, hoping that I won’t have to revise each chapter eight times. Instead I’m trying to punch up a chapter until it sounds pretty good, advance into the next one, then come back and punch up that first chapter some more, etc. Hopefully by the time any of the chapters get to my alpha and beta readers they’ll find a lot less to worry about.

Looking forward to seeing my first-born again as he comes home from college today for the summer. Looking forward to some gaming over the weekend. Looking forward to it stopping raining, eventually…


Hardboiled Treasures

paperbacksLook what turned up in the mail the other day! And it wasn’t even Christmas!

The Mighty Hocking had some duplicate hardboiled paperbacks lying about (as well as another Elmore Leonard western) and generously sent them on to me. Feast your eyes upon them.

These things are usually packaged in a tawdry way, often with ludicrous back cover copy that might have sold them in the old days but don’t do much to promote them to a modern audience because you have no idea how good the actual prose inside might be. Here’s an example, from the back of Million Dollar Murder:

A living dead man, tortured beyond recognition. A suitcase crammed with a million dollars in fresh, green currency. An eerie island. A sadistic millionaire. An exotic girl who knew all the answers, but whose lips didn’t look like they had been kissed as often as her manner indicated.

That’s what Sam sailed into. That, and murder: murder and more murder.

Hard-Boiled Monday Returns

mammoth book private eyeSort of an ironic thing to post on a Friday, isn’t it?

I’ve had numerous requests for the return of the ongoing column, and I’ve spoken with Chris Hocking, my Hard Boiled Monday pal, and we’ll be getting back to it in a little while. I’ve given up trying to read stories in the order of the original list, though, and it may not be EVERY Monday. I’ll get a schedule up in a little while.

For now, I wanted to tell anyone who wanted to read along that the first book we’ll be discussing is an exceptionally fine anthology titled The Mammoth Book of Private Eye Stories. It’s considered a landmark volume and now that I’m most of the way through it I definitely see why. Arr, there be great fiction in here, matey’s! Said the pirate…. Who apparently reads hard boiled detective novels. Who are you to stereotype?!

Anyway, not this coming Monday, but Monday May 8th I hope to start discussing the very best out of this greatest hits anthology. If you like (or at least are curious about) private eye stories, this is an excellent place to go. If you’re looking for a copy, try here for paperbacks, or go to the other usual places. For once, copies seem plentiful, though I have no idea why. I can’t imagine why someone would want to part with this volume, because I definitely plan on reading from it again. It’s a great introduction to the work authors I’ve already started exploring.