Monday, June 24, 2013

RIP Richard Matheson

I was sad to hear today of the passing of another of the favorite authors of my youth. Richard Matheson has gone. 

Before I could read,  The Incredible Shrinking Man aired on local television. I was under my grandmother's care on school day afternoons.

God bless my grandmama. She didn't see any harm in letting me watch a story of a man showered with a strange substance that made him smaller and smaller, until he was menaced by his house cat and a tarantula.

It was all fascinating stuff. Imagination rich and wonderful.

It was just the first of many hours with Matheson's work. I read his short stories in horror collections starting when I was 10 or eleven, but no one who's been alert the past 50 years or so has escaped Matheson.

 From Poe adaptations to Twilight Zone to Somewhere in Time, his mark is on our consciousness.

Sad to see him go.

Here's a post from a few of years ago about my fond reading of his collection Shock Waves. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

What's on the iPod - Miami Purity - Feminine Noir

I'm not sure how I missed Vicki Hendricks' dark, noirish Miami Purity (1995), often dubbed a feminine The Postman Always Rings twice, but I was happy to discover the audiobook recently. That's due to a mention in a Salon article about what to read after Gillian Flynn's brilliant  Gone Girl.

Miami is brilliant also, a steamy--in more ways than one--and grim crime excursion told by the protagonist, Sherri Parlay. She's a former stripper who's maintained a vestige of innocence in spite of her rough thirty-six years and a deceased husband. He's deceased because she clipped him with a boom box while he was being abusive.

After her husband's death and some suspicion about it by the cops, Sherri lands a job in a Miami cleaner  called Miami Purity. She's hired by the owner, Brenda Mahoney.

Before long she's discovered the owner's son, Payne,  and fallen deeply into lust for him before she learns Brenda doesn't really care for Payne having a love life.

Things spiral downward as Sherri pursues Payne anyway and catches his interest. Once she's fallen for him, she learns just how twisted his relationship with Brenda is. With the best of intentions, she smothers Brenda with a plastic bag.

Things tumble around after that like towels in a dryer as Sherri strives for a healthy relationship with Payne that, as astute readers know, just isn't going to happen.

The question is, of course, how are things going to fall apart and what's going to happen with Sherri who has an affection for drink and men?

To say more would spoil the fun of the second part of the tale, but it unwinds nicely with a fairly intricate plot and plenty of twists and surprises.

The audio version is nicely suspenseful, and it's well narrated by Linda Borg, who invests Sherri with just the right mixture of sultry and innocent.

It's profanity-laced and loaded with graphic sexual descriptions, so be warned, but it's a great, seedy crime excursion.

A blogtalk radio interview with Vicki Henricks

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Stranger in My Grave by Margaret Millar - Domestic Thrills and Murder

I read most of the Ross MacDonald Lew Archer novels when I was a kid, and in the back of the Bantam editions the "About the Author" page noted MacDonald was "... Kenneth Millar in private life." Those sections also mentioned that  his wife, Margaret Millar, was also a mystery writer. I kept an eye peeled for her work as well, but in the book stores and news stands I frequented, nary a Margaret Millar title showed up. (I've mentioned before those days before the interwebs when you were at the mercy of paperback spinners and used book stores  to find books.)

Happily I ran across an edition of A Stranger in My Grave (1960) a couple of years back, and I was reminded of that when her name kept coming up in relation to Gillian Flynn's brilliant page turner Gone Girl. 

Grave certainly feels a little like a literary cousin of Gone Girl. It's a domestic thriller that revolves around an interesting quandary from Daisy Harker, a young wife, who in 1959 or so dreams of a tombstone with her name on it, and a death date four years earlier. Dec. 2, 1955.

Someone, Daisy reckons, must have done her psychic harm on that date:

"...No interpretation is necessary. It's all quite clear. On Dec. 2, 1955, something happened to me that was so terrible it caused my death. I was psychically murdered."

Her husband Jim would rather she leave that notion alone. So would her mother, who's supported by Jim's generosity and thus has a vested interest in the couple's domestic bliss.

Daisy's determined however, and when her deadbeat father, Stan Fielding, calls for help in paying off a bail bondsman, she sees an avenue to find answers. His bail bondsman, Steve Pinata, has detective skills as well.

He agrees to reconstruct that relevant Dec. 2, and it soon becomes clear Daisy's buried a few things deep in her memory. She recalls snow-capped mountains but not the reason she left the clinic where she worked that year, and something's up with Jim and his lawyer.

Her dad Stan Fielding is up to something as well, hitching back into town to look into the world of a waitress named Juanita. She's volatile and may be connected to the man really buried in the grave Daisy dreamed about.

Swirling pieces converge and begin to make more and more sense as the pages turn.

A Stranger In My Grave is not so much a novel of detection as a tale of mystery and murder that allows events to unfold once the trigger of memory is pulled.

On the  journey, Daisy moves outside the protective parameters of Jim and her mother who have controlling agendas. The truths are twisted and startling as they are revealed.

I suppose the memory loss is a conceit that the reader is expected to accept a little too easily, and there are a few other abrupt emotional developments for characters, but ultimately Stranger offers a compelling study of family, deception, dark deeds and a domestic era that's at times appalling yet also familiar.

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