Sunday, May 30, 2010

Joseph T. "Cap" Shaw

I wish I could have worked with Joseph Shaw during the heyday of Black Mask.

Someone, when they saw that my new e-book Reaper's Dozen is dedicated to him, asked who he was and why he deserved my mention. A couple of reasons...

I think he's the one who realized that the American detective story needed to go in a direction different than the traditional style at the time, one where bodies turned up in libraries and the butler did it and all that. None of those stories, we are told, spent much time on characters, but used "symbols" instead. I think Hammett's work was Shaw's inspiration, but Hammett had left the Mask by the time Shaw arrived. If he hadn't been able to lure Hammett back, perhaps one of the other regular contributors would have paved the way; but since so many were inspired by Hammett, who knows if that would have happened. The American detective story as we know it may not have developed as it did.

He said as much in the introduction to The Hard-Boiled Omnibus, where he stressed that character mattered more than story, and used a Hammett quote to back it up. Hammett was of the opinion that when you kill a symbol instead of a character, no crime has been committed; kill a person, and you have something to be concerned about.

I'm not sure I agree with Shaw or Chandler that if you take away the crime, you still have a good story because of the characters and their conflict; for me, not only are characters the thing but the plot's the thing. I can't see any of the classic hard-boiled stories working without the crime and resolution. But they believed it, so that's fine.

Shaw was at the right place at the right time, with the right idea, and the right writer to carry out the idea, who then, I say, inspired many others. Take away either one, and you have no revolution.

So that's why I dedicated Reaper's Dozen to Cap Shaw. I think he would have liked my stories, and I think I would have found a home in his camp. If time travel were possible I'd certainly go back and find out.

And if you've never read The Hard-Boiled Omnibus, it's a must read for fans of the genre. Not only is Shaw's introduction priceless (for writers) but you get some great stories, too. Unfortunately I have the Pocket Books version which chopped two stories that originally appeared in the hardcover version; maybe someday I'll get the original and have them all together.

And if you want to see how a student has learned from the masters, check out Reaper's Dozen, available for download on Smashwords.Com and at the Amazon Kindle store.

You can read a sample to see if you like it. At $1.99, it costs less than one of those triple frap lattes you buy every day.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

That was fast!

Quick update:

So my ebook isn't out for one day when I get a call from a fellow I once worked for back in my radio days who wants to know if I've signed away the audio rights to my stories. He runs a voice actor company now, he says, and he'd like to do an audio version of my collection. Am I interested? Heck yeah!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Reaper's Dozen Now Available

Hey, gang:

With the troubled economy not only affecting, well, everybody, but mainstream publishers as well, and following the example set by you-know-who, I have decided to take the guerrilla route to getting my written work "out there"--wherever "there" may be. My book, Reaper's Dozen, is a collection of short stories written over the last ten years, and was published today as a multi-format ebook at Smashwords, and will soon appear on Amazon for the Kindle e-reader.

Here's the description:

"Twelve thrilling tales of crime and suspense by a writer whom USA Today bestselling author Rebecca Forster says is “a fresh, new voice in modern crime that shouldn’t be missed.”

Meet Tony Fallon, a rookie cop who learns a hard lesson when he must save a woman kidnapped by an ex-boyfriend; private eye John Coburn, who won’t let the law get in the way of revenge; Jack Rose, who helps a ghost solve her murder; David Hood, who must protect his son when both are taken hostage in their own home; Roger Flynn, who receives a ransom note for a wife he doesn’t have; Alan Fargo, who commits murder to cover-up another crime; and Matt Webb, a hit man who considers himself just another working. . .stiff.

Brian Drake has been a writer of mystery and crime fiction since his first publication at age 25, and discusses important contributions to the hard-boiled canon at his blog, “Brian Drake Explains It All” ( In his spare time, Brian, a California native, can be found racing through the back canyon roads of the Central Valley in a bright red hot rod. Someday he may get a dog."

I hope you'll take time to check it out at Smashwords, where you can sample the first 15% of the book free--that means, no charge.

Here's the link to my Smashwords author profile:

Here's the link to my book page, where you can sample or purchase the book:

What's nice about this is, with Smashwords, you don't need to have an ereader to read the book; you can download it directly to your computer. Amazon doesn't give you that option.

Please help me spread the word.

Thank you for your support!

In the meantime, I remain.....

Obediently yours,

Brian Drake

Friday, May 21, 2010

Return to The Big Sleep

There are many books in my TBR pile but, today, I didn't feel like reading one of those. Instead I grabbed Chandler's The Big Sleep and planned only to read certain sections as I smoked a Drew Estate ACID cigar and drank a Coca-Cola.

A few sections started with page one and by the time I had finished my cigar I was 50 pages in.

Chandler sure knew how to put a bunch of words together.

It still makes me cringe that he forgot to tell us who killed Owen Taylor, but I think it's a cinch the Joe Brody did it and 1) misjudged the power of his blackjack swing and 2) Owen died from the injury but it took a while. Brody was, of course, shot himself before the subject could be explored further.

The Big Sleep is still the only Chandler book I own. I may have to put the rest of the collection on my birthday and Christmas list.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Trial Cover for My Short Story Collection

Well, I'm going to put out some work for the Kindle market but I'm not using any of the manuscripts I currently have in circulation. I've collected my best short stories (seven of which have already been published) and that will be what Kindle readers will get. I'm calling the effort "Reaper's Dozen--12 Tales of Crime and Suspense". If this works I'll write some original stuff as a follow-up, and have several outlines in progress. My goal is to build an audience so I can go to publishers and say, "I have a following that will pay money for my work." Not only am I making this effort, but I am also in negotiations with an east coast newspaper to write a column, which will offer further exposure. We'll see how that goes. In the meantime, I thought you all would like to see the cover. It's the first version, with changes to come, but I'm so excited by it I couldn't resist showing off.

Special thanks and acknowledgement to my friend a fellow writer Rebecca Forster for the grunt work, and my brother-in-law Robert for taking the scary picture of me and my gun. Yum.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

FORGOTTEN BOOKS: Two-Way Split by Allan Guthrie

My pal Allan Guthrie will not be sending me any "cheers" for the title of this post, but I thought it a good time, if possible, to bring the book back to the forefront. Al would probably prefer I talk about one of his newer efforts, or even have him share a few words about what's coming down the pipe, but I think his first book is so terrific that it deserves a wider audience than it first received. When this novel came out several years ago, Guthrie and I had already been corresponding for a spell, and I even wrote a few articles for his Noir Originals web page (one, on Paul Cain's work, remains a favorite of mine). If you've never read Two-Way Split or anything else by Guthrie, correct that error at once. The book is still very much in print and available at Amazon, and you're in for the ride of your life.

When I finished the book the first time around, I felt that Guthrie had, basically, restored my faith in contemporary crime fiction. After being burned by too many of today's crime writers who seem to be turning out nothing but repetitive, formulaic junk, Guthrie produced a book full of non-stop action, great characters, and a story that will leave to gasping. After reviewing the novel again, I see no reason to revise that opinion; in fact, I cannot emphasize it enough. It's a hell of a book.

It's not a long book, but there's enough packed into it that you'd think it was 500 pages (if nothing else, Two-Way Split is proof novels don't need to be a doorstop to be exciting). Two-Way Split brings a new twist to the usual caper novel, and the actual "split" will have you thinking of another crime writer named Jim Thompson, recently spotted in Ohio but reportedly deceased, which makes the sighting strange, but you'll see how much better Guthrie handles that particular motif than Thompson ever could.

Cheers, Al.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Big Bang, or: Welcome Back, Old Friend

Is everybody talking about the new Mike Hammer or what????

There’s something about this Spillane/Collins novel that’s like comfort food. It’s like your favorite chair or jeans or pair of shoes. The world around you may be turning upside down, you may be going through some of the worst crap ever, but here’s Mike Hammer, Velda (before we learned her unlikely last name), Pat Chambers, and, of course, the .45, to make all the bad stuff go away.

I like The Big Bang. From the opening pages you know you’re in familiar territory. I don’t know why Spillane didn’t finish this book the first time around, but part of me is glad we have it to savor now. The last Hammer novels Spillane wrote (The Killing Man, Black Alley), were like watching an old friend get old. They didn’t have the punch the young tiger had. He was starting to slow down, and you hated to see him decline after so many great battles. The Goliath Bone was terrific, but you knew from page one that it was the end of the road. There would be nowhere to go after Hammer solved that particular mystery, and you almost didn’t want him to. You wanted it to go forever, because this time “the end” meant good-bye, and the subtle sadness that accompanied the last line was almost too much for you.

But now we have The Big Bang and it’s a throwback to the days when your hero was young and ready to tear the head off of any punk who crossed his path and you’re happy to remember him this way because this is how he should have always been.

You read it carefully. You know that every character, every line of dialogue, every seemingly innocent event actually means something in the story’s grand scheme, and you can’t wait to see how the tiger puts this one together. You can predict the surprises, and that’s part of the fun, but there’s always a twist that catches you off guard (you’re never quite as smart as the tiger.) The formula is there, it works, and you breathe a sigh of relief because this is like Mom’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes with a cold beer on the side. It never fails, and you never get tired of it.

The Big Bang is a double treat because Max Allan Collins is riding shotgun, and there’s great fun in trying and guess where Spillane ends and Collins begins and where they mix together. Sometimes you think you know, because sometimes Hammer comes off sounding like Nate Heller, but just sometimes. And you don’t care. Nobody but Collins could complete Spillane’s work, and only a fool would try. And who knows? One likes to think that, because of their relationship, some of Collins rubbed off on Spillane, because Spillane doesn’t strike you as somebody who ever stopped trying to learn something new and The Big Bang is the result.

So get out and get The Big Bang. Race along with Mike Hammer as to cracks another case with Velda and Pat Chambers providing back-up. The book is short and you’ll be sorry it’s short but your old friend is back. For a little while, the tiger is alive and kicking, just how you remembered; for a little while, you can forget about good-bye.