News: January 2009


No extra walks have been set for this month, but if you want some noir, buckle your seat belts. Don returns to the Mechanics Library for a reading — he’ll do the underground section from his story in San Francisco Noir 2: The Classics and other folk will read from other stories in that book and from San Francisco Noir, all moderated by editor Peter Maravelis. Mechanics Library members get in free, the general public needs to shell out $12. (By the way, whoever wrote the blurbs lists Don as co-founder of the Suicide Club — nope. While a member in good standing, of course, the founder was Gary Warne, backed up by David Warren and Adrienne Burk and Nancy Prussia. Anything you hear otherwise just isn’t the truth — all other Suicide Club members come after.)

Also, local mystery maven Eddie Muller brings his Noir City film festival back to the Castro Theatre. On Saturday January 31 there will be a mass signing for the two San Francisco Noir books on the mezzanine, about 6 p.m., hauling in as many of the authors as possible. But if you can’t make that one, the Big Party for the SF Noir books will be held in the Ha-Ra Bar on Geary on Valentine’s Day, 8 p.m. and after, with readings, signings, and Carl the Bartender at the stick to provide for the thirsty. That is the official launch, with more local signings to follow.


Given that we’ve noted when writers such as Robert E. Howard and Donald Wandrei have reached the centenaries of their births, how about Edgar Allan Poe making it to 200 on January 19? If anyone is a mystery maven today, you can trace it back to Poe knocking together the genre back in the 1840s. Don visited the Poe House when he hit Philly for NoirCon last year, of course, and mentions the Dark Genius pretty regularly — the new edition of The Dashiell Hammett Tour book coming in March drops Poe’s name all over the place.


We didn’t get News Pages up last fall in time to record the death of the great hard-boiled writer James Crumley on September 17 at the age of 68, or Tony Hillerman passing on October 26 at the age of 83 — and the year wrapped up with the sudden death of Donald Westlake on December 31, aged 75. Don never got the chance to meet Hillerman, but figures he turned out a series of about ten masterpieces in a row, from Listening Woman on up, then stumbled a bit in the book where he features the red-headed psycho killer (written in obvious homage to Charles Willeford), recovering after that, then settling into a solid groove for the rest of the run. Very hard to do, one of the most impressive performances in crime fiction.

Dennis McMillan told Don tales about Crumley for decades, so it felt as if he knew him — and he finally got to meet the man himself when he came through the Bay Area on a book tour a year or so back. During a talk in the “M” is for Mystery Bookstore in San Mateo, Don remembered Dennis’s stories about how Crumley was a writer on the Walter Hill film Extreme Prejudice, and Crumley trotted out anecdote after anecdote about shooting that movie and particularly about Maria Conchito Alonzo using the writer’s trailer as a dressing room. As a character, he was right up there with Willeford.

And Don was also lucky enough to meet Westlake — first with Dennis McMillan when they liberated Westlake from his publicist in Miami for a few hours, and again at a writers conference in Fort Lauderdale, which ended with Don buying the last round and Westlake agreeing he owed him a beer, next time they might meet. Somewhere around here is a postcard that reads, “Beer? Beer? Surely we can settle this in a civilized manner!” Completely delightful guy, author of many fine books — one relative dud Don checked from the library years ago was worth it just for the Dedication Page. You could tell Westlake did it fast for cash because he dedicated the novel To the guys and gals down at the I.R.S.

Among all the other writers of that generation who died in 2008, Don also met Jan Willem van de Wetering when he rolled through town a couple of years ago, and the prolific Ed Hoch, who sold almost 1000 short stories. Dennis McMillan had abandoned Don at his dealers table as the Bouchercon in Austin, Texas in 2002 opened for business, when Hoch strolled up — Don recognized him from photos and thought it was kind of cool that Hoch was the first guy to ever buy a copy of the short story collection Measures of Poison.

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