Here’s wishing everyone a Happy New Year and may 2016 be the best year yet!

Happy New Year




Happy 4th of July


THE GIRL WITH THE DEEP BLUE EYESDoak Miller’s done his twenty-five years with the NYPD. Pensioned off, he wants a quieter life, so he moves to Gallatin County, hidden away in the big bend of Florida. He gets his private investigator’s license, hoping to pick up a little off-the-books work on the side. It’s been three years now, time enough to have developed a working relationship with Gallatin Sheriff Bill Radburn. The Sheriff has a little job for him. Shouldn’t be any problem. No problem at all. And so begins Lawrence Block’s new novel, The Girl With The Deep Blue Eyes (Hard Case Crime, TitanBooks, 2015).

Well, wait a minute. It begins there, but it flashes back almost immediately to his arrival in Florida and his purchase of a house. Before you can say “James M Cain”, Miller is in bed with the realtor — Barb, “like a fishhook” — and is performing vividly-described sex acts upon her. This scene is jarring — occurring so close to the beginning — but the reader soon learns how well it fits Miller’s persona.

Block smoothly segues back into the present, where Miller is meeting with Sheriff Radburn. Seems the Sheriff has received a tip that a local woman wants someone to kill her wealthy husband so she can grab his vast fortune. Miller, not as well-known around town as Radburn’s deputies, is the ideal candidate to pose as a hitman applying for the job.

Complications ensue and Miller eventually reveals himself as a true noir character, incapable of keeping his head above water or making the right choices at vital forks in the road. He keeps seeing Double Indemnity and other film noir classics play endlessly through his mind, and a fatalistic tone slowly envelops the entire novel. His secrets and dark desires — and don’t we all have them? — gnaw away at his psyche right up to his final ironic choice.

In crafting Miller’s character, Block allows the reader to experience Miller’s downward spiral in real time; that is, by the time you realize things are going south, it’s already way too late. This is the best way to read noir fiction — total immersion in the life of a well-drawn central character. The atmospheric, small-town setting adds to the proceedings, since everyone knows everyone and you have to be very careful if you step out of line. Someone is likely to notice.

Hard Case Crime has served up yet another worthy addition to their crime/noir catalog with yet another knockout cover. This one features an image by artist Glenn Orbik. It turned out to be his final work before he passed away very recently. The Girl With The Deep Blue Eyes is scheduled for publication in September, 2015.

Recommendation: Pre-order it from Amazon. The story draws you in like the aroma of bacon frying, and doesn’t let go. Block shows he hasn’t lost a step after all these years. Besides, it’s from Hard Case Crime, so you know it’s got to be good.






Let me say this right up front: Alex Garland’s dazzling film EX_MACHINA is, in its own way, as mind-blowing as Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey. I insert the qualification “in its own way” because Kubrick’s tableau was the enormity of the universe and all of human history, while Garland has chosen a far more claustrophobic and time-limiting setting.

It opens with Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a tech geek for a Silicon Valley search engine giant, winning an in-company contest in which the grand prize is a week one-on-one with Nathan, his reclusive CEO (Oscar Isaac) at his remote mountain home. Nathan is one of the world’s smartest people, yet he goes out of his way to be a regular guy, welcoming Caleb to his high-tech palace. He’s all T-shirts and swilling beer, constantly calling Caleb “Dude”, but after Caleb gets settled in, reality begins to unfold.

Nathan has been working on a supersecret artificial intelligence and had in fact pre-selected Caleb to “win” the contest so he could put Caleb to the Turing Test, an exercise in which a person must determine if a machine can exhibit human speech and behavior to the point where a human cannot tell if he is talking to a machine or to another human. Caleb is skeptical, but agrees to take the test, so he is introduced to Ava.

Ava (Alicia Vikander in a properly spooky performance) is Nathan’s AI creation and Caleb meets with her every day. They speak through a glass partition and are constantly monitored by Nathan’s cameras. Apart from the wiring visible in her stomach, Ava seems human enough and Caleb gradually gets comfortable with her. But eventually, it all comes down to ulterior motives, and you find yourself asking exactly who is manipulating who.

That’s not the only dilemma this film poses, however. Not by a long shot. It asks the same type of big, big questions Kubrick asked in 2001. No answers are offered, but your mind gets pried open whether you want it or not, and the questions haunt you long after the final credits have rolled. At one point, Caleb and Nathan are discussing the Turing Test and a chess computer is mentioned. Caleb asks, “Does the computer know it’s playing chess?” rather than merely reacting to the human’s moves on the board. He then says, “Does it even know what chess is?” The application of this broader concept to Ava, along with its consequences, are shattering.

Garland, who also wrote the incisive screenplay, does not back down from any of this. Nor does he settle for a Hollywood ending. In addition, he wisely defuses the script from the potential quicksand of indecipherable tech talk by explaining the science in breezily accessible terminology, keeping viewers’ attention riveted to the screen and their brains in high gear.

You don’t see a film like EX_MACHINA come along too often. In this case, once in 47 years, since the opening of 2001. I didn’t know anything about it when I went to see it, and so it revealed itself to me exactly as Garland had intended.

Recommendation: Drop everything and go see it. This is easily the most intelligent film in decades and the best film of 2015. Alex Garland has fashioned a masterpiece.


Cinco de Mayo 1


Street 8

I got to thinking it’s time to revisit this five-year-old review of an outstanding example of noir fiction. So here it is one more time!

STREET 8 by Douglas Fairbairn 

Review by Mike Dennis, 2010

“Nobody wants to come downtown anymore. They tell you it’s like coming to a foreign country.”

That’s the sentiment expressed by a Miami native in Street 8, a hot-blooded 1977 noir novel by Douglas Fairbairn.

The title street, an English translation of Calle Ocho, the main drag of Miami’s Little Havana, is the site of Bobby Mead’s used car lot. Out of habit, Bobby still calls it by its original name, Southwest 8th Street, and from the office window of his lot, he’s seen Miami transformed from a sleepy, one-season tourist town into a vibrant Latin city.

The Cubans are everywhere. They’re even buying cars from him, so for the first time, he hires a Cuban salesman, Oscar Pérez, to accommodate them. Oscar, however, soon becomes embroiled in the hornets’ nest of exile politics, and the trouble begins.

The problem with Miami’s exile community in 1977 is that, while they’re committed to eliminating Fidel Castro, they also want to wipe out his sympathizers and spies who have infiltrated their organizations. But exactly who is who?

Told entirely from Bobby Mead’s point of view, Street 8 allows him no letup. His world is contracting around him, threatening to choke him, and not even his ratty South Beach hotel room offers him any sanctuary. He has a teenage daughter, but his incredibly twisted relationship with her only serves to further cut him off from the city he once loved.

Fairbairn deftly ushers the reader through the dark fringes of the byzantine world of Miami Cubans.  These were the pre-cocaine-cowboy and pre-Miami-Vice days, and we eventually learn that some of them are more interested in acquiring power in Miami itself than they are in retaking their homeland to the south.

Fairbairn’s literary output was small, but well worth looking into. He routinely turns up on Florida crime fiction authors’ “most influential” lists.

Recommendation: Hunt it down and buy it. This little-known novel is an excellent noir tale, highly recommended, as it offers an uncompromising look at one man caught up in a city’s convulsive transition.


Doxies & Easter Bunny


Kill Me, DarlingJust before Mickey Spillane passed away in 2006 at the age of 88, he alerted his wife to the presence of unfinished manuscripts in his office. He told her to “Give them to Max. He’ll know what to do.”

“Max” was Max Allan Collins, veteran crime fiction writer of scores of novels and several successful series. Collins and Spillane had been friends for years, to the extent that Spillane would posthumously entrust the future of the Mike Hammer franchise to Collins. Pretty big stuff, if you ask me.

Turns out there were quite a few unfinished Mike Hammer works, along with copious notes, in Spillane’s home office. Collins got them all and vowed to complete every one of them. Well, he’s kept his word. Kill Me, Darling (Titan Books) is the latest collaboration, due out later this month.

The novel’s opening is eerily similar to that of 1962’s The Girl Hunters, which boasts one of the greatest opening lines in literary history: They found me in the gutter. Mike Hammer has descended into the world of booze and dereliction following the disappearance of Velda, his girl Friday and not-so-secret crush. Life just doesn’t seem worth the effort anymore after she walked out on him, so he crawls inside of a bottle, hoping never to crawl out. His friend, NYPD Captain Pat Chambers pulls him back from the brink with the news that Velda has been located in Miami, where she is engaging in, shall we say, questionable activities with an unsavory character. Hammer pulls himself together for an all-out effort to find her and bring her back — if she wants to be brought back.

Based on Collins’ knowledge of the Mike Hammer story arc, he has placed Kill Me, Darling around the year 1954. He wisely stuck with Spillane’s original intent and set the story in that year, and thanks to his exhaustive research, vividly recreates 1954 Miami. He does this while keeping the spirit of Spillane’s writing alive to the extent that it’s impossible to figure out where Spillane leaves off and Collins begins. This is very difficult to pull off, especially when working with an iconic writer such as Spillane, whose style was not only ground-breaking, but readily identifiable.

Spillane fans will spot all the usual mileposts: slimy villains, no-necked goons, hot babes, and lots of Mike Hammer attitude. One highlight is where Hammer solemnly promises one of the characters not to hurt a particular villain. He then reveals to the reader he will merely kill the villain without putting a lot of hurt on him, thereby keeping his promise. I don’t know if this was written by Spillane or Collins, but you know, what’s the difference? It’s Mike Hammer, baby!

Recommendation: A must-read for Spillane fans. And for those who like solid hardboiled crime fiction, you can’t go wrong. Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins make a great team.