Part II of the conversation with George Pelecanos celebrating the publication of THE CUT, which the Chicago Sun Times recommends, “Soak it up.” The Washington Post praises Pelecanos’s ability to “maintain a remarkably high level of intelligence and style” and the Los Angeles Times appreciates that “Pelecanos has made Washington his literary stomping grounds, and he gets granular in THE CUT…as clear as if he’d drawn you a map.”If you missed Part I, start reading here.
WALLACE STROBY: I think, for a certain generation of writers, a lot of our work has been influenced by films we saw during our formative years in the 1970s. What are your five favorite crime films of the ‘70s, and why?
GEORGE PELECANOS: THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971). Not just a film wrapped around a car chase, but an evocative time capsule of ‘70s New York, and an unflinching look at an obsessive cop. Like the up-on-coke sequence of GOODFELLAS, Friedkin’s kinetic style puts us directly into the fevered mind of Popeye Doyle. And there’s that chase.
THE GETAWAY (1972). Peckinpah directs the Walter Hill adaptation of Jim Thompson’s novel with signature style. Steve McQueen is believable as a tough guy who just got out of prison and wants his due. With a flawless supporting cast and a bang-up climax involving shotguns, an old hotel, gunmen arriving in a big convertible, and Al Lettieri, the screen’s greatest vulgarian. I know all about Thompson’s ending versus Peckinpah’s, but no one should bitch about the film’s last scene; it’s damn near perfect.
ROLLING THUNDER (1977). Vietnam vet William Devane returns home to a world he no longer understands and gets his hand shoved down a garbage disposal by home invaders. Devane sharpens the hook on the end of his arm, cuts down a shotgun, and goes to work. John Flynn, directing from a Paul Schrader script, crafts a slow-building actioner and elicits ace performances from all concerned, most notably blaxploitation veteran Linda Haynes, Luke Askew as Automatic Slim, and Tommy Lee Jones as Devane’s damaged, loyal war buddy. Watch Devane and Jones blow the shit out of their enemies in a whorehouse at the film’s climax. “I’ll just get my gear.”
CHARLEY VARRICK (1973). Don Siegel’s thief-unwittingly-steals-from-the-mob movie is first-rate entertainment featuring the director’s crackerjack stock troupe of character actors. Walter Matthau plays the title role with understated cool, and Joe Don Baker is memorable as a killer named Molly. I proudly own a T-shirt that reads, “The Last of the Independents.” It’s written on Charley’s flight suit, which figures prominently in the film’s last shot.
DIRTY HARRY (1971). Siegel again, directing Eastwood. Yeah, it was popular, but there was a reason it hit a public nerve. A studio film with this kind of lead character was truly anarchic and would never be greenlit today. Pauline Kael trashed it, which made me want to see it twice. She hated STRAW DOGS, too.
One of Rio de Janeiro’s oldest and most charming neighborhoods is the bucolic hillside bairro of Santa Teresa , whose gracious villas and winding cobblestoned streets gaze out over the blue waters of the Baía de Guanabara.
Oozing in atmosphere, in recent years Santa Teresa – or “Santa” as it is fondly referred to by locals – has undergone a revitalization that has transformed it into one of Rio’s most sought-after neighborhoods by both locals and foreigners, who are drawn to its bohemian artist vibe as well as its growing number of boutique hotels and funky bistros. And yet, despite its proximity to Rio’s Centro and Lapa, the largely residential neighborhood has managed to stave off hordes due to the narrowness of its steep streets and relatively difficult access. There are only two ways to reach Santa on public transportation: by taking a hard-to-find minibus or by hopping one of the picturesque old bondes (trolleys) that go clattering up the hill from the Estação Carioca, adjacent to Centro’s Carioca Metró station.
Riding one of the brightly painted yellow bondes is an attraction in itself. The views (especially when you go sailing atop the Arcos de Lapa aqueduct) are pretty stupendous and the journey aboard the open-air trolley possesses some of the careening thrill of a ride at an amusement park.
Tragically, there was nothing amusing about the catastrophic accident that occurred this weekend, on the afternoon of August 27. While taking one of Santa’s severe curves, a bonde went off the rails and crashed, killing five people and injuring another 57, some of them very seriously. Among the fatal victims was the conductor, whose birthday it happened to be.
So far, causes of the crash are being hotly disputed. The commander of the fire brigade that was sent to the scene noted that the bonde was over its passenger limit (a common occurrence considering how passengers can just hop on and off in mid-journey); at the time of the accident, there were 60 passengers aboard instead of the official limit of 44. Meanwhile, engineers from the Commission of Accident Analysis and Prevention of CREA, (Regional Council of Architecture and Engineering) initially suspected faulty brakes – a hypothesis hotly disputed by Rio’s state Secretary of Transport – before finding signs of poorly maintained and worn equipment (in place of a screw, a piece of wire was discovered holding together two parts near the brake).
Meanwhile, outraged residents of Santa Teresa who travel the bondes everyday claim that this was an accident waiting to happen. Noting that of the five trolleys currently in operation, three newer light rail vehicles have difficulty navigating the sharp curves while the two oldest ones are in a precarious state of conservation, lawyer Abaeté Mesquita, director of the Santa Teresa Residents’ Association (AMAST), declared: “This was a tragedy foretold.” Indeed, only the day before, the same bonde had smashed into a bus, although no damage or passenger injuries had occurred.
As a result of this catastrophe, all trolley service to Santa Teresa has been suspended indefinitely. The governor of Rio de Janeiro, Sérgio Cabral, apologized profoundly for the accident and vowed that, pending the results of an investigation into its causes, the state minister of transportation will take appropriate measures that will include the modernization of all the bondes.
The government’s embarrassment is compounded by the fact that this incident isn’t the only fatal bonde accident this year. In June, a 24-year-old French tourist who was standing on the edge of the running board, taking photographs, slipped and fell to his death while the trolley was passing over the Arcos da Lapa.
Despite sniping from the literatti, David Baldacci is an almost permanent fixture at the top of the bestsellers list. He talks to Stuart Clark about conpiracy theories, Hollywood, the Presidents he’s met and the accuracy or otherwise of TV cop shows. Read more…
In September, we will be re-publishing A SINGLE SHOT by Matthew F. Jones as part of our Mulholland Classics series. The New York Times called the book “A complex crime drama . . . with an exciting climax that is truly shocking … A harrowing literary thriller….a powerful blend of love and violence, of the grotesque and the tender.” Start reading the book before it hits stores on September 19th.
BEFORE THE SUN is up, John Moon has showered, drunk two cups of coffee, and changed into his blue jeans, sweatshirt, and Timberland hiking boots. He has eaten two pieces of toast, a bowl of cereal, and put out food for his wandering dog. Before leaving the trailer by the front door, he gets his 12-gauge shotgun and a handful of slugs from the gun cabinet off the kitchen.
The grass is damp with dew and the early-June air is heavy and already warm, promising it will be hot within a few hours. A mourning dove is cooing in a tree somewhere to John’s left. Down the road, past the treeline, he hears the gentle clanging of cowbells and the lowing of Cecil Nobie’s herd on its way from the pasture to Nobie’s barn to be milked. The sun is just starting to peek out over the crest of the mountain directly east of the one John lives two-thirds to the top of.
Gazing down at the converging roads winding like miles of dusty brown carpet through the hollow below him, John sees a set of headlights descending the right fork, piercing the three-quarters dark. He thinks this strange since only he and the Nobies live on the right fork and unless there’d been an accident at Nobies’, in which case someone from there would likely have called John, none of them would be driving into town at four-thirty in the morning. John wonders if the vehicle might belong to a conservation officer, then decides he’s being paranoid. No green cap is going to get up before dawn to search for would-be poachers. Thinking two teenagers must have fallen asleep parking the night before, John shrugs, then starts walking up the mountain.
He hikes five hundred yards or so up to the road’s end, then turns right and heads on a narrow path into a forest of pine trees on the state preserve. There’s no wind and it’s so quiet in the forest that, even on a soft bed of pine needles, John’s footsteps echo in his ears as if he is treading on snow. Every few steps, he stops, listens for several seconds, then, not hearing anything, moves on. He is looking for a ten-point buck he has seen three times in the last week, most recently on the previous afternoon from his back porch, where, through binoculars, he watched it graze for several minutes at the edge of the preserve before it loped into the pines. John has figured the buck has a bed somewhere in the pines. He has balanced in his mind the value of a hundred fifty pounds of dressed venison versus the thousand dollars in fines and possible two months’ jail time it would cost him in the unlikely event that he is caught shooting the deer out of season on state land, and has decided the risk is worth it.
As he approaches the far edge of the pines after which the forest turns denser with deciduous trees and brush, in the canopy of pine boughs a crow starts cawing. Several others join in. His senses suddenly heightened, John cocks the shotgun. The sharp click of the engaging mechanism increases the crows’ agitation. A squirrel or a chipmunk jumps from one tree to another above him. A pinecone drops near his feet. Several smaller birds—sparrows or swallows—take flight, slicing through the still air, before landing again.
This short story was originally published on Beat to a Pulp and is re-printed here with permission.
I knew I was a dead man when the cop walked into my bar. It was the way the cocksure bastard sauntered over the threshold, sniffed the moldiness of the stained oak panels, and smiled. Some little joke there, formulating in his bowling ball of a head. He drew his gun, checked the safety, and stuck it back in its holster. Oh, he was going to have a good time at my expense, and he was going to take his time about it.
I’d been banging his wife the past six months. Should have seen this coming, instead of listening to Lori. He doesn’t give a damn what I do, she’d told me. I knew no man could be cool with what we were up to. Hell, if she’d been my wife, I’d have strangled her for stepping out on me. But I was just her Monday and Wednesday midday screw.
The cop took his time checking out the barflies already perched on stools at eleven-fifteen in the morning. I had a good three inches on him, but I was lean, if you wanted to be nice about it. He looked like a rough bastard, one with bulging biceps and no neck. Harry, that was his name. Harry Harrison, like his parents hated him at birth and gave him a crappy name. Hey, Harry, I wanted to say, get your ass out of my bar. But I had to pretend I didn’t know who he was, and hope he’d figure me for a punk who couldn’t possibly be shtupping his old lady.
A short time ago I got a call out of the blue asking me if I’d like to appear in a short film alongside William McIlvanney – aka The Godfather of Tartan Noir. There was no way I was turning down the chance to meet the author of Laidlaw.
The final cut of Edinburgh film-maker Pete Martin’s work features the Scottish musician James Grant’s tune, My Father’s Coat, with McIlvanney playing the father, and myself, playing his son.
It’s a haunting tune – very noir – so Martin’s slickly atmospheric film, and his choice of cast, seems to fit the bill perfectly.
Shot on location in Glasgow, at the city’s Necropolis and Barras Market, there’s a real flavour of the setting for McIlvanney’s award-winning novels; if you look carefully you may even spot one or two of the characters he so deftly populates his work with.
For me, the chance to rub shoulders with a literary genius and – no pun intended – ride his coat-tails for a little while was an experience to savour. And yes, The Godfather did sign my well-thumbed copy of Laidlaw.
The film will be premiered in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, at the city’s Filmhouse Theatre on October 22, where the cast and crew will be answering questions from the audience after the screening. I’ll post details of how to get tickets on my website: www.tonyblack.net
Tony Black was born in Australia and grew up in Scotland and Ireland. He is an award-winning journalist and author of the Gus Dury series of crime novels. A second series, featuring DI Rob Brennan began with Truth Lies Bleeding in January 2011. Visit his webiste at TonyBlack.net
Kent Harrington’s essay–concerning the history of Tijuana Mexico– first appeared as a forward to the paperback edition of his well known border novel Dia De Los Muertos set in Tijuana.
It’s unlikely we’ll ever meet; unfortunately, that’s the way it is between the novelist and his readers. We do have a marvelous and profound connection, though, however distant. You might be reading this even a hundred years from now, but we’ll connect on these pages for a moment, and time and place won’t really matter. I like to think of all the places I’ll travel in spirit, if not in the flesh. I first passed through Tijuana Mexico in the late 1960s, as a child of seven. I was traveling by car with my mother’s Guatemalan family — an aunt and two uncles –on our way to Central America. That morning, it seemed to me a sleepy town. The Tijuana I saw as a child had come, by the 1960s, to personify (for Americans) not only a corrupt and Godless Mexico, but a corrupt Latin America. No small feat for a down at-the-heels border town. The city’s blighted reputation was based on the fact that it was where Californians went to indulge themselves in ways they couldn’t back home, at least not legally. Both gambling and prostitution were legal enterprises in the city, and prostitution still is, for all practical purposes. (Remember, this started before Las Vegas.) Illicit sex, I think, was the real meat of Tijuana’s mythology. The legendary sex shows were probably apocryphal. Real or not, they existed in the salivating imagination of sexually repressed American males in the pre-Playboy world. Where did the Latin Lover idea spring from? Was it that Catholics were viewed as more licentious? Why not a German lover? But for a lot of young American men in pre-World War Two California, the word was out: Sodom and Gomorrah existed, buddy, and you could drive there. It turns out that all this weekend sin was on offer to these bright-eyed, well-scrubbed boys and girls by– lo and behold– their fellow Americans! “The Jockey Club, Tivoli Bar, the Foreign Club, the Sunset Inn and Agua Caliente Casino were all owned by Anglo-Americans and employed mostly American workers.” In fact, the Yankees had arrived as early as 1885, and stayed to control the tourist industry until the Mexican government ran them out in the 1940s. So it was not those Mexicans – the Mexicans who had treated Davy Crockett so shabbily at the Alamo, the Hollywood Mexicans who so memorably didn’t “need no stinking badges” — but Americans who created the myth of Tijuana, City of Sin. On the contrary, the Mexican government put an end to all that good old fun. I’ve heard that the Cardenas administration actually turned some American-owned casinos into schools. This transformation should have put an end to the town’s sinful reputation. When I saw it, unfortunately, the city was only resting up for a bigger show. Tijuana finally surpassed its own colossal reputation by the 1990s, when it was arguably one of the most violent and corrupt cities on the planet. Both the country and the city had by the Nineties changed profoundly , and not for the better. The Mexican government formed in the Revolution of 1917, which had once been responsible for cleaning up Tijuana and building a modern, relatively prosperous Mexico, was finally undone by the illegal drugs trade. Political corruption was the order of the day, and hell was visited on Tijuana, now a border megalopolis. Like so much in our modern world, even crime had industrialized. This is the city I write about here. It’s a frightening place.