Posts Tagged ‘Tony Bulmer’

Tony Bulmer peers inside Giovanni’s ring

Meet geriatric crime nuisance Charlie “the hat” Strango, of the De Cavalcante crime family. Charlie isn’t exactly Al Capone. He is a low echelon crime captain fresh out of jail. The hapless demi-don is out on paper—probation—so his capacity for earning is limited but he is a little man with big ambitions that include drugs, prostitution, and murder.

Trouble is, the De Cavalcante is crew is comprised of a doltish gang of lumbering misfits and out right losers, who are living on the gangs past glories. Enter Giovanni Rocco AKA Gatto. Giovanni is a Jersey born tough guy through and through. He is also an undercover cop, working on a LCN [La Cosa Nostra] task force for the FBI.

The De Cavalcante crew are impressed right away, not only does Giovanni walk it like he talks it, he also has access to a limitless stash of phony designer tat and cut-price contraband courtesy of his Federal connections. Greed, stupidity and a limitless need for easy cash proves an irresistible draw for the not-so-wise-guys, and pretty soon Giovanni is the man to know in the incestuous world of smalltime crime shenanigans.

It’s all going to end badly we can tell from the outset. Tough guy Giovanni is no Donny Brasco. He quickly gets misty-eyed, a “there but for the grace of god” affinity with the mob guys quickly setting in. Giovanni is loaned a fancy wise-guy pinky ring by the Feds, a ring he takes off after work every night when he returns home to his family. But the heavy load of undercover work is all consuming, and as our crime fighting hero draws ever closer to Charlie Strango and his crime family, Giovanni draws further away from his own.

Canuck crime author Douglas Schofield is no stranger to re-invention,. He has penned a number of books including: Killing Pace, Storm Rising, Time of Departure. Schofield, a retired lawyer and sometime screenwriter, knows a thing or three about crime. He has done a sterling job stirring together this fetid pot of conspiracy. Cooking up a book like this is no easy task, sometimes the recipe leaves us wanting more, elsewhere it is dangerously over-egged. Where the story really excels, however, is in the more crime-writerly style that Schofield employs to whisk this sorry saga together.

Giovanni’s Ring is a somewhat chortlesome title for fans of the double-entendre, it has to be pointed out, but it is the bold print claim that Giovanni Rocco’s tale represents the inside story real life Sopranos that demands further examination, particularly when a hundred pages in, a footnote in 7pt type disavows the claim on the cover.

The truth is that Jersey native David Chase, creator of the Sopranos used both his family and an amalgam of real-world crime figures as a framework to build a fictional world. Chase drew heavily from his personal life and his experiences growing up in New Jersey. Chase has stated that he tried to apply his own “family dynamic to mobsters”. For instance, the tumultuous relationship between series protagonist Tony Soprano and his mother Livia is partially based on Chase’s relationship with his own mother. He was also in psychotherapy at the time and modeled the character of Jennifer Melfi after his own psychiatrist.

Aside from the Jersey setting, Chase used a number of real-life gangsters as models for his characters, including Vincent Palermo, John ‘the eagle’ Riggi and Simone Rizzo from the De Cavalcante crew. He also utilized the lives and exploits of Genovese crimelords Ruggerio “Richie the boot” Boiardo and his son Anthony ‘Tony boy’ Boiardo, who like fictional Tony Soprano were big in the “waste management” business.

Crime never pays, of course. A lesson mafia big-wigs never seem to learn, but the teachable moment from Giovanni’s ring is that being an undercover cop, bringing bad men to justice, can also be a thankless and deadly task.

Soprano’s prequel film “The Many Saints of Newark” staring Ray Liotta, Michael Gandolfini [son of James Gandolfini] is out October first. Set in the 1960s and 1970s in Newark, New Jersey, the film uses the 1967 riots in the city as a backdrop for tensions between the Italian-American and African-American communities, the film follows the teenage years of Tony Soprano in the midst of a violent gang war his uncle and family are involved in.

Giovanni’s Ring [My life inside the real Soprano’s ] by Giovanni Rocco and Douglas Schofield is available now from Chicago Review Press.

by Tony Bulmer

Tony Bulmer checks out the Godfather of Harlem

Retrotastic crime shenanigans in New York City, who can resist them, Crimeziners? The concept is well-turned soil let’s face it. Clearly there are more NYC mafia shows than shallow graves in Jersey and Godfather of Harlem is just the latest. There is an angle, of course—and the angle is African American. for GOH is based on real-life 50s gangster Bumpy Johnson [Forest Whitaker]. In real life, Johnson was a crime lieutenant for Harlem numbers queen, Madam Stephanie St. Clair. In the 30s his gang went to war with full-fledged psycopath and bootlegging legend Arty “Dutch” Schultz. By the fifties Johnson was a big name in the Harlem heroin trade, an early inspiration for 70s crime boss Frank [American Gangster] Lucas. Forest Whitaker is inspired and ruthless choice for the role. With his unhinged stare and a cut throat razor he slashes necks, battles the five families and corrupts city big-wigs in short order.

Naturally, the shadow of the Soprano’s looms large, and GOH of Harlem does an admirable job of answering its legacy. The show focuses on a uniquely African American point of view which results in more N-words than a gangster rap album. But this fresh look at crime in NYC offers up many wonderful cameos, including cameo roles for Muhammad Ali and the wonderful Nigel Thatch as Malcom X. [a man who so resembles the Islamic firebrand, it is almost frightening. Then there is Breaking Bad star, Giancarlo Esposito, as morally compromised congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in what must surely be another award-winning cameo for the actor.

Created and written by Chris Brancato and Paul Eckstein [Narcos], the series mashes up historical and political events to try to tell the larger tale of social justice in the early 1950s and early 60s. Unless you are a serious student of American crime history it is hard to know where fact ends and fiction begins. The show states from the very outset that it is inspired by real events. “Inspired” by is a charming way of saying what you are about to see is a pack of lies from start to finish. The roles of Frank Costello (Paul Sorvino), Joe Bonanno (Chazz Palminteri and their relationships with both Johnson and Gigante are examples of such divergent realities. To the casual viewer this might not be a problem, however dedicated Crimeziners may find the twisted veracity of the show, somewhat irksome.

No matter. Vincent D’Onofrio, is marvelously nasty throughout as mafia overlord, lousy father and duplicitous nutcase, Vincent “Chin” Gigante. When Vinnie is raging, front and center, quibbles about reality are quickly forgotten. The thinly disguised Sopranoisms occuring within Gigante’s crew and family are likewise carried away by the sheer pace of events. D’Onofrio Develops a nasty case of character development in season 2. An affliction that infects much of the cast. But we must forgive him that, he is after all Sean Penn’s real-life father in law. 

Created and written by Chris Brancato and Paul Eckstein [Narcos]), GOH mashes up historical and political events to try to tell the larger tale of social justice in the early 1950s and early 60s for African-Americans. The plot centers around the misty-eyed pursuit of doojie [heroin]. One assumes that while the primetime staples of gun porn, crime porn, money porn, and porn porn are all accepted facets of American prime time, any mention of heroin is still taboo. Hence the rather coy synonym. It is a good job the show has a redemptive conscience to counterbalance the horror. Daughter, reformed junkie and child of Islam, Elise shows us fist hand that the only thing worse than being hooked on heroin, is being hooked on daddies heroin. If we are prepared to put aside the poisonous reiteration that dealing doojie is the passport to east money, Godfather of Harlem really is the crime show of the moment, roll on season three says Crimezine.

Catch Godfather of Harlem on Epix


Posted: August 27, 2021 in Uncategorized
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The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires.

By Selwyn Raab. • Review by Tony Bulmer

Pull up poolside with Tony Bulmer and enjoy a smooth sippin’ look at Five Familes by Selwyn Raab

Genovese, Gambino, Bonnano, Colombo and Lucchese. Crimeziners everywhere will no doubt be familiar with the five mafia gangs of New York City. Five Families covers them all. From the wild days of Lucky Luciano to Paul Castellano, John Gotti and beyond, the usual suspects and their nefarious henchmen are all here.

Crimeziners addicted to mafia documentaries will have seen Selwyn Raab providing commentary for shows like Making of the Mob on the History and Biography channels. Raab was a New York Times investigative journalist for twenty-five years. The 87-year-old grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The veteran journalist went on to work for NBC news and was nominated for an Edgar Award in 1968 for his novel, Justice in the Back Room, a book that was adapted into the pilot for long-running TV show Kojak featuring the lollipop sucking detective, portrayed by Telly Savalas. 

Five Families is Raab’s crowning achievement. He divides this 765page donkey-choker of a book

into three sections: one on mafia history to 1970; a second that covers the F.B.I.’s use of the RICO laws that culminated in the so-called Commission trial of 1985; and a final section that charts the subsequent fates of each of the five families, or borgatas, as they are more properly called.

Genovese, Gambino, Bonnano, Colombo and Lucchese—those guys were always an unwieldy flock of cats to herd, no surprise then that with so much history and so many characters to account for there are a number of narrative wobbles. But take heart, Crimeziners, this fat-fingered tome is perhaps the most valiant and all-encompassing attempt to catalog the history of the Cosa Nostra yet penned 

Raab traces the Mafia’s origin to 19th-century Sicily and its transition to the United States. Outlining the mob’s evolution in crime—from bootlegging, numbers and protection rackets, to pump-and-dump stock schemes, cement monopolies, and window fraud.

Natch, Raab reported through the Gotti era, so we get a heaping portion of scary third-rate mooks

like Anthony Gaspipe Casso of the Luccheses, Carmine the Snake Persico of the Colombos, and Joe the Ear Massino of the Bonannos. This book delivers a swirling stewpot of snake-eyed lowlifes who just keep on coming. In case you need it, we also get an angle on the well-worn story of Sammy the Bull Gravano, the mafia underboss who blew the lid off omertà by cutting a deal with prosecutors.

There is a certain “crime does not pay” comfort to this book. The rise and decline of the NYC mafia is admirably laid out, but the teasing promise to spill the gossip on the resurgence of the mafia, that is headlined on the cover of this new and updated edition [the original was published in 2005] is rather more sketchy. Today, all the big fish have flapped away to ranch-house retirements in the Witness Protection Program. Leaving the pondlife left-overs to crowd their way through the teeming shallows of organized crime.

Five Families is a seventies style blockbuster of a book that delivers a Puzzoesque history of the New York Mafia. It makes for satisfying if somewhat unsettling reading, but the real fear is delivers is the uncertain knowledge that a big mafia fish, that has not yet been caught, is still out there, waiting to put the spoilers on your beach holiday.

Five Families: Buy it already, youse guys. Tell ’em Crimezine sent you.

The Life and Death of Johnny Rosselli: Gentleman Gangster, Hollywood Producer, CIA Assassin

by Lee Server • Review by Tony Bulmer

Handsome Johnny Roselli is the most famous gangster you never heard of, and the crimetastic Lee Server biography on the handsome one’s rise and fall is perhaps one of the greatest ever biographies on both Rosselli, and the history of the American Mafia.

Rosselli [born Fillipo Sacco] made his mafia bones on the mean streets of Boston and New York, but his career really took off in the roaring twenties when he hooked up with the Chicago Outfit and became the last protégé of Al Capone. After fast years of bloodshed and bootlegging at the height of prohibition, Rosselli became the Mob’s man in Hollywood.

With film star looks, the silver-tonged charm of a career diplomat, and the ruthless drive of a career criminal, Rosselli ran through the Hollywood set like a dose of amebic dysentery. He corrupted studio heads like foul-mouthed Mussolini fan, Harry Cohen of Columbia Pictures fame, extorted film studios, and labor unions for millions of dollars, and insinuated himself into a “producer” role, seducing fledgling starlets like Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe. The scale of Rosselli’s Hollywood plunder has been described by law enforcement as the biggest extortion plot in history.

Lee Server’s low-down on the dirty history of Roselli and the City of Los Angeles is essential reading for crime fans everywhere. If you are a fan of James “devil dog” Ellroy’s famous factional tales of the Los Angeles crime scene, in such novels as L.A. Confidential, you will be truly staggered at the extent of political and police corruption. Amazed how Rosselli and his close associate Jack Dragna ran an entire city. Not satisfied with ruling L.A. Jack and Johnny ran the national “racing wires”. Making millions for the American Mafia in the process.

Then there was Vegas. Many associate hair-trigger crazy, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, with the birth of modern Las Vegas, but throughout the fifties it was Rosselli who was running things in Sin City: cajoling, strong-arming, schmoozing at the Tropicana and Desert Inn, and indulging in the Rat Pack nightlife with fast pals like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

There comes a turning point in every career. For Rosselli his increasingly high-profile crime career and association with Chicago boss Sam Giancana [Al Capone’s former driver] was to prove instrumental in his downfall. On Giancana’s orders, Rosselli became point man and go-between in the CIA plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. All the connections are laid out here, Crimeziners—the nexus between Giancana, Santo Trafficante Jr, Carlos Marcello, Jack Ruby and the assassination of JFK. The common thread between of them all—Handsome Johnny Rosselli. You may know the denouement. If you don’t, Server lays it out in detail.

Based upon years of research, this book is written in an engrossing and propulsive fashion. You are going to love it, yes you are. The anecdote filled Handsome Johnny is American Crime writing at it’s very best. If you are going to read one book on the history of the American Mafia, make it this one, dear Crimeziner. Buy it today. Tell them Crimezine sent you.

The Cellist by Daniel Silva, reviewed by Tony Bulmer

Uh-oh Crimeziners, fetching CIA agent-turned art dealer, Sarah Bancroft has found a dead Russki with poison drool dripping off his chin. As you might expect, the aforementioned redski who got deadski is a moneybags dissident name of Viktor Orlov. Yikes-a-rony and cheese toast, a game is afoot!

Natch, Gabriel Allon, head of Israeli Intelligence is on the case immediately, and we are off and running. The investigation is all very glamorous, of course. The awesome Allon has travelled through five countries or more, before he has even had his breakfast.

Regular Allon readers can fit things together at an early stage, all their favorite characters from past books drop by, even if it is just for a passing moment—we are talking folks from fifteen or twenty books ago, classics like The English AssassinThe Rembrandt Affair, and Moscow Rules. Just as the reader is struggling with a dramatis personae that totters taller than the Tower of Babel, a sudden thought occurs: Cellist? Wasn’t there a violinist that classics loving Allon poured a portion to twenty years ago? That’s right, Anna Rolfe! Allon is knocking on a bit these days, and a married man to boot, so he doesn’t philander, or shoot folks quite as readily as he used to. But fear not, dear Crimeziner, that’s not going to stop him resting his arthritic hip—sitting back to hear a duet from these two lovely ladies. Hurrah!

While all this foreign travel and designer-clothes-wearing swanning-about is going on, there is a greater problem on hand, other than the orchestra of interchangeable female protagonists. Those nasty Russians and their greedy oligarch minions are rushing around the world, laundering money and trying their level best to overthrow democracy as we know it. Bastards.

Daniel Silva is a journalist supreme. He is connected. He is married to TV anchorwoman Jamie Gangel, and is friends with everyone from Bob Woodword to Burt Bacharach and beyond, so you know he knows his stuff. What is more, he is not afraid to tell you. He does so in this book, rather more than is strictly prudent. No matter. He is a man of enthusiasms—a man of passion. A man who still believes in truth, justice and democracy.

Such beliefs are dangerous these days. Silva’s opinions, particularly those on the final dark days of the last American administration, have courted a good deal of controversy. Internet trolls have been rushing around the Twitterverse with blazing hair as a result. 

In a world as nutty as the one we live in, it is tough to write thrillers these days, particularly political thrillers where life is now crazier than any art could possibly paint it. In the end notes to this book, Silva admits as much, relating how he was forced to re-write the final chapters of The Cellist as a counterpoint to the January 6th insurrection. The current affairs carousel moves faster than fiction. Silva’s bold attempts to include the Covid pandemic and the crisis in American Democracy are brave indeed. But history moves on apace and the reader is left to wonder how such commentary will stand against the passage of time.

Whatever the verdict, Crimezine is reassured to know that Gabriel Allon will return again and soon, as will Julien Isherwood. Ari Shamron and the sumptuous universe of Silva characters. Music, art, and a soul brim full with high ideals, the Allon books have it all. If you haven’t indulged yourself in the Allon books yet, The Kill Artist is the first book in the series. Better still, if you are looking for a wonderful poolside read, grab a copy of The Cellist, do it now. Tell ’em Crimezine sent you.

Gunpowder Milkshake. Maraschino cherry with that, anyone?

Imagine if you will, dear Crimeziner, a world without “why”. A world where you can no longer ask how mom got to be a murder for hire killer. A world where that same mom would screetch out of the parking lot in a big black Cadillac, leaving you in the arms of a very bad man for fifteen years. Imagine this experience inspired you to become a killer just like mom. Every young girl’s dream, surely?

You can no longer ask questions, so it is best not to wonder about the bodies, and there are a lot of bodies. Hundreds. All of them men. Okay, one of them is a woman but you don’t get to ask about that.

Then there is the library. Everyone likes those. Why are there no people in it, aside from the glamourous/cantankerous staff of female librarians? You don’t get to ask. Nor can you ask why the books are all hollowed out to contain guns and other weapons. There are no customers either. But who really wants to go to a book emporium where all the reads are unreadable? You don’t get to ask, remember.

Talking of people. When was the last time you took a trip to the hospital emergency room and there was no one there? In this movie, there is no one in the street, or anywhere else either. This you might expect, as suited and booted bad guys are literally being bussed in to face their inevitable slaughter. [Either that, or Covid. Who really knows in the world without why?]

Slaughter features prominently in this bullet riddled shoot ’em up. The style and frequency of the cranial splatter is where inventive focus of the movie is centered. Nothing wrong with a little onanistic fetishization of guns and death, surely? Another question there, but that’s not allowed. The trouble for director Navot Papushado and co-writer Ehud Lavski is that the video game plot violence, and comic book nastiness of this movie has been recently out-plotted and out budgeted by a plethora of similar female shoot ’em ups, such as Red Sparrow. No doubt mention of such movies as La Femme Nikita and Leon the Professional had pulses racing at the Studio Canal development meeting. Sadly, this movie is not in that league, not even close.

Have no fear, Crimeziners, the Harley Quinnish silliness of the multi-talented Karen Gillan is admirably supported by a crowd of Crimezine favorites, including Paul Giamatti, Angela Bassett, and Michelle Yeoh. Shot in Berlin, the film has a refreshingly international look, despite the predominantly American cast. The CGI set pieces and athletic gun wielding will have John Wick fans swooning. Hurrah to that, says Crimezine. Who wouldn’t want bayonets attached to their handguns?

So why gunpowder milkshake, we hear you ask. Setting aside the fact that such questions may not be asked in a world without why, Crimezine can exclusively reveal there is a milkshake in the movie—and rather tellingly, that milkshake is vanilla.

Gunpowder Milkshake is available on Netflix and at selected cinemas, now.

Quentin Tarantino. You’ve got to hand it to him, Crimeziners. He is a man obsessed. And the best thing is, he wants to tell you all about it. The surprise is, he has taken so long to get around to it. His pulptastic new novel, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, is a glorious retrotastic indulgence, fatly crammed with out-take details, that the parental oversight and editorial control of studio overlords gave the cult cinema scamp the hard no to. This will prove an unmitigated delight to his legions of adoring fans, no doubt.

But here’s the thing, unfettered by editorial oversight this was never going to be a novel in the normal sense of the word. Like OUTH hero, Rick Dalton, Tarantino is a martyr to his own compulsions. Action hero Rick swills whiskey sours for breakfast, lunch, and supper, while Tarantino, left to his own literary devices, crams every available paragraph with stuff that he thinks is cool, regardless if the story needs it.

The fans are cheering him on from the matinee cheap seats, you can hear them roar. But what does the reader get? An approximation of the movie story, for sure. [It is de rigueur that you have seen the flick if you are going to attempt this book.] But we also get a bulging ball sack of other stuff too. And you better be taking notes, because Quentin name checks a dozen movies and actors on every single page, everyone from Gina Lollobrigida to Lee Marvin and a thousand more besides. Natch, we get gossip about directors too. One minute it’s Dino De Laurentis, the next it’s Otto Preminger, and a whole host of others. The reader should be warned, that a Quentinesque digression Kurosawa lasts forty pages or more, at least it seems that way. When slanderous anecdotes are thrown against the coffin lids of dead rivals, a wry chuckle is often the result. But when yet another italicized laundry list of action-hero acting greats swims into view, even the enthusiastic reader is tempted to skip past.

Profanity? Certainly. Not all the way through, but it is splashed around with school-boyish delight at every opportunity. In one instance the F-word appears close to thirty times in the space of a page. There is plenty of cartoonish misogyny to dilute the “shock” of the profanity. So sensitive readers are advised to stand at a safe distance once the blue touch paper has been ignited.

Then there is the style of writing. Third person, present tense, is a bold and striking choice. But it is also a difficult snake to wrestle, and Quentin has clear problems with it on a number of occasions. No matter. If it suits his purpose he will slip into omniscient asides, past tense, even second person if he feels like it. When this happens you can hear the less than spectral squeals of the ghost-writing community—hear the cheers of downtrodden authors the world over, as “publishing professionals” choke up their Cheerios into the Chicago Manual of Style. Yes, the style is impactful, but often distracting. There are, it must be mentioned, some unforgivable, sloppy around the edges, editing fails—repetition, often within the same paragraph or sentence for example. But the reader, especially one familiar with Tarantino’s enthusiastically pleasure gorged cinematic narrative, is inclined to forgive.

So how does this all turn out? Not as you might expect, you must be warned. Various aspects of the movie have been expanded, the background to Cliff Booth [Brad Pitt in the movie] is more shocking and unsympathetic. Rick Dalton’s [Leonardo DiCaprio’s] exchanges with child actor Trudi Frazer [Julia Butters] are investigated more fully. But spoiler-alert-shocker—as you approach page three hundred and fifty, you realize that the end of the novel is going to be completely different from the movie. For some this will be a disappointment, for others it will be a more natural segue into another book.

So will that happen? Crimezine can exclusively reveal that the answer to that question is yes. Quentin Tarantino has signed a two-book deal with Harper Collins. The upcoming book focuses in on the career of Rick Dalton, detailing his entire career. As with OUTH some of those acting gigs are entirely fictional, others depict Rick in real movies. Tarantino is currently working on a Bounty Law television series, featuring the Rick Dalton character, and word from the Hollyweird rumor mill is that long time Tarantino chum, Robert Rodriguez, may be considering a OUTH spinoff movie—Lancer. Hot? Of course it’s hot, Crimeziners, it’s a flamethrower, as Rick Dalton might say.

Rachel is not feeling too good. She thinks she might be going out of her mind. Sure, she has just killed her husband, but that is the least of her problems. Her mom’s dead too. Died in a T-bone car wreck just before she told Rachel about her dad. Where is Dad? Who is dad? What about those things that happened in Haiti—the visions of the dead girl. The hurricane, the Earthquake the cholera—the gun toting rapists? What indeed.

Since We Fell, Dennis Le Hane

A private detective? Sure that sounds like a good idea, if you want to make a bad thing worse. Rachel figures there might be the possibility of an outcome as long as she doesn’t lose her mind, live on camera, before the entire nation…

Yes, dear Crimeziners, Rachel has things tough—the anxiety is almost insurmountable, but we all have it tough in this current day don’t we now? What the hell do you do? Hang tough, dig deep—restart your life from less than zero? Rachel is sure a fighter, but will it be enough?

The past is always there. There are the bad people looking for your husband, the people you thought you could trust, who turn out to be something other than you thought they were. And now, guess what, there is another corpse in the living room and the police are knocking at the door. What was that husband of yours involved in?

Crimezine favorite, Dennis Le Hane, is certainly a crime writer’s crime writer. And this, his latest book, is no exception to his stellar record that has been cemented with a long track record of literary and screen writing success, that includes such classics as, Mystic RiverGone Bay Gone, and the Wire.

Since We Fell is dark, it is twisted, and the whiplash plot twists wilder with ever page. As you might expect, we get the famous Bostonian sense of place that Le Hane always delivers with such panache. We get a truly masterful sense of characterization, and we get a squelching stormfront of rain-soaked misery gushing from every page. You don’t need gumboots and an umbrella to read this book, but it is advised.

So the writing is good, but just how good is it? So good it veers to the edge of the precipice on two wheels—hub caps rattling at speed into the deepening canyon below. Le Hane always draws the story back though, in masterful fashion—twisting the plot, notching those stakes ever higher until you just can’t take it anymore. Yeah, Rachel has things tough, but for you, dear Crimeziner, that is a very good thing indeed.

Tony Bulmer takes a look at the ultimate biography on Raymond Chandler

Everyone loves Raymond. Raymond Chandler that is. And nowhere is that love stronger than in the Crimezine community. Chandler epitomizes so many things for crime fans and the crime writing community at large. Trumpet blowing critics the world over have micro-analyzed the reasons for Chandler’s often controversial popularity, and much hooting and sobbing has ensued, because when it comes to Chandler—everyone has an opinion.

Why should this be so? Chandler is more than a writer. It is not just who he is and what he has written that is so important, it is what he represents. There is the glamorous ideal of the iconoclast crime writer, there is his reputation as a booze-addled bad boy and pipe smoking pain in the ass. There is his involvement in the writing of such films as Double-Indemnity, the Blue Dahlia, and the Hitchcockian masterpiece, Strangers on a Train. There is also his fraught and unconventional personal life, and his unassailable position as one of greatest pulp-fiction innovators of all time.

The Tom Hiney book is a classic of its genre. There have been a number of other Chandler bios, but the Hiney book, first released in 1970, is the standard by which all other Chandler tell-alls are measured. Sure there is still a lot we don’t know—can never know—but Hiney does a Marlowesqe detective job filling in the blanks.

Raymond Chandler, A Biography, carries us through the author’s earliest days raised in Chicago, and Nebraska, followed by stints in Ireland and England, where he lived throughout his formative years, before moving back to the United States in his twenties. Many revelations are well documented. The fact he was fifty before he wrote his first book [The Big Sleep] The fact his wife Cissy was twenty years older than him. The fact he was financially responsible for his mother throughout most of his adult life.

Then there is the alcoholism. The full tragedy of which is laid out in some detail. The surprise is Chandler was not always the inveterate boozehound he is painted to be. His problems with drink manifested after he was injured in a frontline explosion during the first world war. Chandler served in a unit of 1200 men. 14,000 men had passed through the unit by the time he got there. A level of service and danger few modern readers will be able to comprehend.

After his service in the first world war, Chandler returned to the States, eventually landing himself a lucrative gig as an Oil company accountant. The job paid $3,500 per month which was a lot of money in the depression era twenties and thirties. Post-traumatic stress, the need to support his wife and mother in two separate households, and the misery of a job to which he was ill-suited to finally caused a booze-addled Chandler to get the sack.

So he quit the booze and started writing. But success didn’t come easy. In the early years he wrote between two and five stories for Black Mask Magazine and later Dime Detective, stories for which he only received a few hundred dollars each. Quite a come down compared to his oil company salary. This lack of success carried over into his novel writing. By 1950 Chandler had sold 3.5 million novels, 68, 000 of them in hard back and earned a mere $56, 000 dollars. Hollywood is what saved him. The acclaimed script he wrote with Billy Wilder for Double Indemnity almost won an Oscar, would have, it hadn’t been for moralistic censure by the catholic church. Instead, Chandler’s work on the script led to a steady gig at Paramount and lucrative work for the likes of Alfred Hitchcock. Chandler received $40,000 for eight weeks work adapting Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train—a sum that almost equaled that of his entire writing career to date.

Hollywood was the catalyst that got Chandler boozing again, and from there the descent was slow and tragic. Hiney lays it all out. For any true fan of Chandler it makes gruesome if essential reading. It’s all here, Crimeziners: An A-Z of the books, a reasoned examination of the man’s life and the various criticisms that stand against him on matters of race, gender etc. Like Hemingway it is popular in post-modern circles to hate on Chandler, but holding a writer born in the 1880s to modern standards—it’s the kind of thing that would make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window, isn’t it Crimeziners?

Raymond Chandler A Biography by Tom Hiney. Buy it today.

Ah! Thank goodness you are here Crimeziners! There has been a veritable crimewave frenzy on Mulholland Drive this week! First, there was the now infamous lawn sprinkler incident over at Postman Always Rings Twice star, Jack Nicholson’s residence. Crimezine was not party to the inciting incident—but, according to local dogwalker/Cesar Milan look-a-likkeeee and Edgar Award-winning Crime poobah, Bonzo Bob Crais, it all started with an innocent delivery—

Unfortunately, delivering to the Nicholson residence is fraught with danger at the best of times. The Prizzi’s Honor star is well known locally for his large collection of military paraphernalia and armored vehicles—an obsession which has lead to several run-ins with real-estate leafleteers, xmas carolers, and the portly, super-annuated members of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

Crimezine, I am Death, Chris Carter

I am Death: The latest splatter platter from Crime Kingpin Chris Carter

According to Bonzo Bob, things kicked off big time when the parcel delivery dude got spritzed in the crotch area by an ill-timed burst of the Acadamy Award winning thesps rain-bird super soakers. Natch, the Missouri Breaks star rushed out directly, and the ensuing altercation resulted in the hapless delivery dude being Medivaced to a Cedar’s Sinai Proctologist, so that he might have several airmail packages and a full set of Augusta National match-play golf clubs removed from his alimentary canal.

Thoroughly shocking, we are sure you will agree. Then, of course, there were the murders—thirty or more, at last count—that’s so LA, right?

First off, there was the local babysitter: nice girl, so we understand, generic blonde college student studying to be a lawyer or doctor or something like that. Apparently no one really got to know her before she was brutally abducted and murdered by a “savage psychopathic home-invasion serial predator” There is a lot of it about these days. The Mulholland Drive Neighborhood Watch Association has petitioned the local authorities countless times to erect signs warning of such dangers—but still no action, what do you do?

Sadly, the aforementioned nanny/ babysitter/childminder, or whatever, was found at a generic murder scene over at LAX in a “fully naked” pose reminiscent of some pseudo-satanic pulp novel, with Thomas Harris style touches added to give those hopeless hacks in the LAPD ACRONYM unit some kind of chance of finding the perpetrator.

Crimezine was suspicious right away, of course. Who would do such a thing? Murder an innocent young woman, then transport her halfway across town, through the gridlocked streets and freeways of America’s busiest city, so that they could arrange the satanically defiled corpse in a “grass field” adjacent to the 24 hr traffic and law enforcement Hades that is Los Angeles International Airport?

Luckily, Detective Robert Hunter and trusty sidekick Garcia are the brainbox Holmes and Watson of the LAPD ACRONYM Unit. Phew, thank goodness for that Crimeziners, because frankly, Hieronymus Harry Bosch is getting a little long in the tooth for such cases these days. Especially now that he has been admitted to the Twilight-years-senior rest home for done-to-death crime protagonists.

But back to the case in hand: I Am Death is, as the title suggests, a dripping paper bag of anatomically correct ghoulishness. There is a schizophrenic tip of the hat to all the bowl-churning big-hitters of the genre—from the aforementioned Harris, to Cornwell, Reichs, Nesbo and many, many more. Aspirational author blah mentions Jeff Deaver, but Chris Carter is definitely on the nouveau edge of the crime-writing mainstream. So buckle on your gore-proof plastic wind-cheater, you will need it.

I am Death is Carter’s seventh book, and his reputation for visceral excitement is steadily building, but it appears marketeers are having trouble defining who the author is. Almost apologetically they describe him as a former criminal psychologist who ran away to LA to become a “bandana wearing rock guitarist”, before returning to London, England weeks/months/years later, to settle down to the serious business of writing crime fiction.

Clearly, Chris is more “heavy metal” than a night out with Gene Simmons’ flamethrower codpiece, although you would never know from the rather coy author photo that is provided with his publicity material. One wonders why it is so essential for authors to be “interesting” these days, especially when their writing is as fast-revvingly frenetic as Carter’s. There are burred edges to the language certainly—clanging Limeyisms that need to be eradicated by a good American Editor. But, for lovers of the high-octane police procedural, injected with the squealing splatter of power tools on human flesh, Chris Carter is the man to watch.