Thursday, October 20, 2016

Off to the Races: Narrative Music by Mark Edwards

Since Iain Ryan first contributed his piece about Lana Del Rey to the Narrative Music series, her Ultraviolence has crept toward the top of my go-to writing albums. Today Mark Edwards makes his case for the artist, the alter ego and the long-play performance piece as a (the?) femme fatale in modern music.

Read Mark's piece then check out his books (The Devil's Work is out now).

On Lana Del Rey
by Mark Edwards

Lana Del Rey is not a real woman. She’s a work of fiction, a creation, a character dreamed up by singer Elizabeth Grant. Across three albums, so far, Grant has been living out the story of Lana: the ultimate femme fatale, ripped straight from the pages of a Chandler novel, steeped in classic American iconography. Hollywood and Pepsi, diamonds and deserts, Harleys and cigarettes stained with blood-red lipstick, smoked by a shimmering blue pool. Like all femme fatales, Lana is dangerous and messed up, hanging with biker gangs, drinking and playing hard, dressing to kill, mixed up with bad boys, but never with other women.

It’s difficult to look at one of Lana’s songs as a standalone story. The songs add up to create a sprawling novel, a life story told in fragments. But the character is consistent throughout.

And I'm off to the races, cases of Bacardi chasers
Chasing me all over town 'cause he knows I'm wasted,
Facing time again on Rikers Island and I won't get out
Because I'm crazy baby, I need you to come here and save me…

In most of her songs, Lana teeters on the brink of self-destruction. In Off to the Races she is a girl who wants to ‘party later on’, a girl with a ‘Las Vegas past and LA crass way about me’. She’s heading to prison. Again. And she doesn’t care.

In the track Gods and Monsters Lana is at her most nihilistic, deep in the darkness of her own life, quoting Nietzsche and ‘living like Jim Morrison’.

In the land of Gods and Monsters
I was an Angel
Living in the garden of evil
Screwed up, scared, doing anything that I needed
Shining like a fiery beacon

You got that medicine I need
Fame, liquor, love give it to me slowly
Put your hands on my waist, do it softly
Me and God, we don't get along so now I sing

No one's gonna take my soul away
I'm living like Jim Morrison
Headed towards a fucked up holiday
Motel sprees and I'm singing
'Fuck yeah give it to me this is heaven, what I truly want'
It's innocence lost
Innocence lost

You got that medicine I need
Dope, shoot it up, straight to the heart please
I don't really wanna know what's good for me
God's dead, I said 'baby that's alright with me'

This is pop music at it’s most intense, the American Dream gone scarily wrong, the common fate of all those young women who run off to Hollywood dreaming of fame and glamour and fortune. But Lana embraces the self-destruction. ‘I don’t really wanna know what’s good for me.’ She is lost in LA, in a world of drink and drugs, ‘heading towards a fucked up holiday’ – the same fate as Jim Morrison. (In fact, the song can be read as a response to The DoorsLA Woman, with its references to ‘motels, money, murder, madness’.)

It’s a precautionary tale, the culmination of the journey described in an earlier song This is What Makes Us Girls. Here lie the roots of Lana’s story. We know that, in real life, Elizabeth Grant, was sent away to boarding school because of teenage alcohol problems.

Sweet sixteen and we had arrived
Baby's table dancing at the local dive
Cheering our names in the pink spotlight
Drinking cherry schnapps in the velvet night

They were the only friends I ever had
We got into trouble and when stuff got bad
I got sent away, I was waving on the train platform
Crying 'cause I know I'm never coming back.

Grant took her own experiences, her own struggles with addiction and attempts to become an artist, and was reborn as her own creation. She is the perfect hardboiled heroine.

Mark Edwards writes psychological thrillers in which terrifying things happen to ordinary people. His first solo novel, The Magpies (2013), reached the No.1 spot on Amazon UK as did his third novel Because She Loves Me (2014). He has also co-written various crime novels with Louise Voss such as Killing Cupid (2011) and The Blissfully Dead (2015).

Mark grew up on the south coast of England and starting writing in his twenties while working in a number of dead-end jobs. He lived in Tokyo for a year before returning to the UK and starting a career in marketing. As well as a full-time writer, Mark is a stay at home dad for his three children, his wife and a ginger cat.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Poddy Mouth

After a few months of relative radio silence Broken River Books publisher J. David Osborne has made good on his promise to re-emerge in October. There's a brand new BRB website and a podcast where he speaks with writers, artists and criminals about almost anything but writing, arting or crime-ing. Guests so far include Max Booth III, David James Keaton, Benjamin Whitmer, Johnny Shaw, Cody Goodfellow and Constance Ann Fitzgerald.  And here's me on the JDO Show shooting shit in a barrel - mostly talking about movies that are almost good. Now... when will we see that next crop of Broken River titles? Soon, methinks.

Another podcast recommendation? Erik Arneson's Word Crimes podcast is having fun with an ongoing event called E-Off wherein homonymoniously named authors read stories by the others. I had the experience recently of hearing my story Have You Seen Me? from St. Louis Noir read on the audio product by a professional (Mirron Willis - thanks, man, nice job) and it was very cool to hear somebody else interpret and express material I'd created. These guys don't have professionals reading their shit though. They have their peers... their petty, competitive peers eviscerating their work (or maybe they're really trying their best). Tune in to hear stories by Erik Arneson, Eryk Pruitt, Eric Beetner and Erik Storey read by the other guy. (BTW - purse beers and dildo shopping with Erik Storey and his lovely wife was a highlight of my Bouchercon experience)

Pruitt's podcast The Crime Scene with Eryk Pruitt's latest episode has S.W. Lauden chatting up Naomi Hirahara and Rob Hart about writing a series character. And senor Hart, whose latest, South Village, just dropped this week contributed this article to Strand Magazine about some titles by up and coming crime writers to get your hands on (including Pruitt, Lauden, Danny Gardner, Angel Colon, Steph Post and Nick Kolakowski). Strand also just nominated Todd Robinson's Rough Trade alongside names like Laura Lippman, Mark Billingham, Nicci French and Peter Spiegelman for crime novel of the year. Sweet.
Saturday I'll be at the third annual St. Louis Small Press Expo hosting a reading at the Central Library downtown at 2pm. The best worst thing you'll hear all year. Come see N@B favs Fred Venturini, Josh Woods, LaVelle Wilkins-Chinn and myself for a Noir w/o the Bar event that ought to send you running for some liquid amnesia promptly.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Soon, Now, When & Again

Trespass Against Us - d: Adam Smith w: Alastair Siddons

Nocturnal Animals - d: Tom Ford w: Austin Wright, Tom Ford

The Hollow Point - d: Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego w: Nils Lyew

Wild City - d: Ringo Lam w: Ringo Lam, Koon-nam Lui, Frankie Tam

In Order of Disappearance - d: Hans Petter Moland w: Kim Fupz Aakeson

Sleepless - d: Baran bo Odar w: Andrea Berloff, Nicolas Saada

Monday, October 3, 2016

Gunshine State of Mind

Australian crime writer Andrew Nette's latest novel, Gunshine State has been right at the top of my anticipated fall titles since it was announced for several reasons. First cause I've spent time with the dude talking all things crime fiction and film and he knows his shit. Second, cause I've spent time reading his excellent blog, Pulp Curry, where he further unpacks his knowledge and taste and it's tasty and knowledgeful. Third Gunshine State sounds like a slice of hardboiled crime stuffs along the lines of Richard Stark and Garry Disher and that is absolutely my cuppa.

He's been writing about heist stories quite a bit to promote Gunshine State (check out this piece about underseen caper flicks for a taste) and I've been hounding him for a while to gimme a guest spot along those lines.

Holy crap if the flicks discussed in this piece are influences on Gunshine State it only stokes my appetite more. These are my favorite movies. If you're gonna be at Noir Con this year be sure to hunt him down, buy him a drink, get him talking about his favorite subjects and take fucking notes.

Take it away, Andrew...

Like a lot of writers, I can be a bit of a scavenger when it comes to finding source material for my crime fiction. And one of the things I draw most heavily on is screen culture. Film and television, old and new, provides me with a tonne of inspiration and ideas. Mostly, the influences are subtle, incorporating a particular image, mood, or way of expressing something. Occasionally, it can be more overt. If I am really taken something I’ve seen, I’ll actually try and mould or change the story so I can incorporate it.

My second novel, Gunshine State, is no exception. It's a heist novel set in Queensland, the outskirts of Canberra (Australia’s capital city), Thailand and Melbourne (where I live). I won’t say anything more about the book than that. But here are five pieces of screen culture that I like and, one way or another (I won’t say exactly how) influenced the book.

The Asphalt Jungle 
There’s good reasons why John Huston’s 1950 film noir is seen as the grandfather/mother of heist films. Based on the excellent 1949 novel by pulp author (and screenwriter) W.R. Burnett aka William Riley, it tells the story of recently released criminal, Doc Erwin Riedenschneider, who borrows fifty grand from a supposedly successful lawyer, Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern) to finance a multi million dollar jewelry heist. Although the actual heist goes off without a hitch, things quickly fall apart due to a combination of human greed, suspicion and double-dealing.

What I love about The Asphalt Jungle, apart from its classic take on the heist always goes wrong trope, is its depiction of setting, an incredibly downbeat unnamed US Midwest river city and the criminals that occupy it. Huston takes us through the process by which Doc Riedenschneider secures funding from Emmerich and recruits his team: the gunman, Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden), the driver, Gus Minissi (JamesWhitmore), Ciavelli, and the safecracker (Anthony Caruso). Huston mercilessly portrays the motivations and human weaknesses driving each of the gang. There are plenty of atmospheric scenes in smoke filled rooms as the gang plan the heist and some wonderfully sharp interactions between the various criminals and the women in their lives, including Hayden’s love interest, Doll Cameron (Jean Hagen), and Angela Phinlay, Emmerich’s young and dangerously naive mistress (a very early appearance by Marilyn Monroe).

The Getaway
People often talk about Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) or The Wild Bunch (1969) as peak Sam Peckinpah. They’re good films, no argument from me on that score, but I’d argue his 1972 version of Jim Thompson’s The Getaway, represents the director at his best (I am also partial to the rather seamy 1994 version of Thompson’s book, starring Kim Basinger, Alec Baldwin and James Woods, but that’s another story).

The Getaway opens with career con, Doc McCoy (Steve McQueen) being released from jail and into the arms of his wife, Carol (Ali MacGraw). A major obstacle stands in the way of their plans to start a new life, the crooked official who fixed McCoy’s early parole, Beynon (Ben Johnson) expects Doc to pay him back by doing a bank robbery. It is gradually revealed that Beynon also extorted sex from Carol for her husband’s early release, which creates further tension between Doc and Carol. McCoy reluctantly does the job, which goes very badly, leaving one of gang member dead, another, Rudy Butler (the wonderful Al Lettieri) badly wounded, and Doc and Carol on the run.

The Getaway has a wonderful leanness and economy to it, despite the multiple strands of treachery woven into the story. Not only are Doc and Carol on the run from the police, they are stalked by Rudy and pursued by Butler’s organization, all the while unsure whether they can trust each other.

Money Movers
I am a huge fan of Australian director Bruce Beresford’s 1979 heist movie. Brothers, Brian (iconic Australian actor Bryan Brown) and Eric (Terence Donovan), are hatching a plan to rob the armored car company they work for as drivers. They are forced into doing the job earlier than planned when a local crime boss, Henderson (another veteran Australian actor, Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell), gets wind of their scheme and, with the help of a pair of bolt cutters, persuades the brothers to fast track it and share the take with him. The firm’s management, meanwhile, have also got wind of a potential robbery and are taking steps to thwart it.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Money Movers is how deftly Beresford executes the classic noir theme of the paper-thin line between good and bad. Corruption is so pervasive, so matter a fact, it’s hardly commented on. Although the film was shot in Sydney, the location, like that of The Asphalt Jungle, is an anonymous corrupt town. The film also has a wonderful sense of seventies Australian class politics and conflict between workers and bosses.

City of Ghosts
City of Ghosts (2002) is another relatively little known film that has had a big impact on me. This is partly because of the setting, Thailand and Cambodia, countries I lived and worked in. Jimmy (Matt Dillon) is a long con artist who grows a conscience after the fake insurance company he’s been fronting forfeits on claims to the survivors of a hurricane. In order to get his share of the proceeds from the scam and escape the clutches of the FBI, Jimmy travels from New York to Thailand where Marvin (James Caan), his mentor and the brains behind their operation has fled. In Bangkok, Jimmy meets up with one Marvin’s associates, Casper (Stellan Skarsgard), who informs him Marvin has gone to Cambodia to escape his former partners in the Russian mob who unbeknown to Jimmy put up the seed money for their insurance scam. Jimmy locates Marvin who is living like a king in a rundown French colonial villa. He’s ploughed the proceeds from their insurance scam into a new project – a proposed casino complex he and his local partner, a former high-ranking Cambodian military intelligence officer, hope will turn Cambodia into the Acapulco of Asia.

While the plot of City of Ghosts is strictly B-movie, there is a lot about this film that works. Its portrayal of expatriate culture, the collection of dead-beat expats, burn-outs and tourists on expired visas, who hang around the bar providing cryptic advice and Vietnam flashbacks to whoever will pay attention and buy them drinks, is spot on. While there are solid performances by Caan as Marvin and Skarsgard as the suitably sleazy Euro-villain, Casper, Dillon recruited most of the supporting actors from Phnom Penh’s eccentric expatriate community, while the locals are amateurs or drawn from among the few surviving members of the Khmer acting community not murdered by the Khmer Rouge. The locals imbue the film with real grit and authenticity. Another highlight is the camera work by John Pirozzi (whose documentary on Cambodia’s sixties music scene, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, is excellent), which captures not just the atmosphere and sense of place but the marvelous quality of the light in Thailand and Cambodia.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
Ben Gazzara is Cosmo Vittelli, owner of a down market LA nightclub, constantly battling to keep his business above water. He is also an inveterate gambler. A night out with his three favorite dancers, “Margo”, “Rachael” and “Sherry” ends up with Cosmo $23,000 in debt. The mobsters to whom he owes the money, headed up by veteran character actors Timothy Carey and Seymour Cassel, offer to wipe Cosmo’s debt if he’ll perform a hit on one of their competitors, an elderly Chinese gangster (the ‘Chinese bookie’ in the title). Of course, the criminals have no intention of allowing Vittelli to live regardless of whether or not he carries out the killing.

Written and directed by John Cassavetes, this is a stunning tale of low life crime. Gazzara excels as Cosmo, a man with a past, a pseudo pimp who ekes out a living on the fringes of the underworld at the same time exhibiting a strange denial about the reality of his circumstances. This is epitomized by the scene in which, badly wounded and pursued by the mob, Vittelli takes time out to mediate a petty dispute between his cabaret dancers and his lead Singer, the misleadingly titled, Mister Sophistication (Mead Roberts).

There are two versions of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie: the original release that clocks in at over two hours and fifteen minutes and a shorter one that goes for a hundred and eight minutes. Go for the vastly superior shorter version.

Andrew Nette is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. He is the author of two crime novels, Ghost Money, a crime story set in Cambodia in the mid-nineties, and Gunshine State, out September 2016. His short fiction has appeared in a number of print and on-line publications. His online home is You can find him on Twitter at @Pulpcurry. Gunshine State is currently available in e-book and hard copy from the crime publisher, 280 Steps. More information about the book and how to get it is available at the 280 Steps site.