Category Archives: J.D. Rhoades

Dirty Lives and Times

I recently finished
a book called "I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon."
It’s a collection of reminiscences, a sort of oral history, by the people who knew him: his kids, his
writing and playing partners, his friends, quite a few ex-girlfriends, etc. 

Now, I’ve been a Zevon fan since his self-titled album came
out in 1976. I’m one of the few people I know who actually owns a copy of  Transverse City.  The man’s music has had a
major effect on me and, I think, on my writing.

But in reading this book, I can
only come to one conclusion: the guy was a raging asshole,

I’m not talking "lovable scamp" here. I’m talking
about mean, selfish, manipulative, egomaniacal, emotionally and on occasion
physically abusive, and a pretty horrible dad to his
kids, at least when they were little.  

To be fair, Zevon did
improve some once he quit drinking. The book also details moments of great
tenderness and generosity on his part. And I give him all due respect for telling Crystal Zevon. his
ex-wife and mother of his kids, to write the book and to tell it all, even the
bad stuff. But on the whole, while reading the book, I just kept thinking “this
was a guy who really needed his ass kicked, perhaps more than once.”

And yet… 

The guy was also a freakin’ genius. If all you’ve heard of Warren Zevon is
his novelty hit “Werewolves of London,” you really ought to check out  the
three albums that kicked off his career (Warren Zevon, Excitable Boy, and Bad Luck Streak in Dancing
) as well as his last three (Life’ll Kill Ya, My Ride’s Here, and the
phenomenal The Wind, recorded in the last year of his life.) There are plenty of over the top gonzo anthems, like
“I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” “Excitable
Boy,” or “Basket Case” (written with Carl Hiassen): 

My baby’s gonna

I’m being dragged
through the nuthouse gates

Got my straitjacket on
and I’m taking her place

My baby is a basket

But Zevon could also
write songs that could only be described as brutally compassionate. like his noir take on Marilyn Monroe, “The
French Inhaler”: 

Loneliness and

We both came down with
an acute case

When the lights came
up at 2:00

I caught a glimpse of

And your face looked
like something Death brought in in his suitcase

Your pretty face

Looked so wasted,

Another pretty face


(Makes “Candle in the Wind” look kind of candy-ass, doesn’t

Nothing I’ve read about Warren Zevon can detract from my
love for his music (well, most of it. The aforementioned Transverse City is just a mess). But the book got me thinking about how many great artists were,
to say the least,  very hard on the
people around them. Jackson Pollock springs immediately to mind, as does Jerry Lee Lewis. And there are some people I
know for whom finding out the sordid details of an artist’s personal life
detracts from their enjoyment of that artist’s work.  I actually once heard a person I’d already regarded as pretty literate say she hadn’t read Fitzgerald because "why would I read some drunk?"

How about you, ‘Rati? Has your perception of an artist’s work ever been affected by your knowledge that he or she was a world-class asshole? What is
the connection, if any, between being a great artist and a terrible person?

And, if I was a bigger jerk, could I sell more books? Because I could be, you know (and yes, I know I’m leaving myself
wide open here; take your best shots).


The Gravel Road of Broken Dreams


by J.D. Rhoades

“Down these mean streets a man must go…”

    So begins one of the most famous quotes in crime fiction, from Raymond Chandler’s essay, The Simple Art of Murder. For years, though, those mean streets were in a limited number of places, all of them big cities. Phillip Marlowe had L.A. Sam Spade had San Francisco.  Mike Hammer (and most everyone else) had New York. Spenser had Boston. For the longest time, it seemed only the metropolis was where the action was, crime-fiction wise, at least on the hardboiled end of the spectrum.  You’d think the only big crimes were in big towns.

    Those us from outside the sprawl  knew differently, of course. It’s not just urbanites who have it brought home to them that  “murder is an act of infinite cruelty.”  For every mean street, there’s a dozen dirt roads just as mean, if not meaner. Not to mention your mean desert highways, your mean mountain roads, and your mean bayous.

    Eventually, crime fiction began to reflect this.  James Crumley gave us Milo Milodragovitch and C.W. Sughrue out of Montana. James Lee Burke gave us Dave Robicheaux from  New Iberia, Louisiana. Stephen Hunter gave us  Bob Lee and Earl Swagger, of Blue Eye, Arkansas, and points west.  The list goes on and on: CJ Box, Nevada Barr, Daniel Woodrell,  the amazing Lori G. Armstrong….and let’s not forget our own Pari and Toni, who  set their books in small towns in the Southwest and Louisiana, respectively, and Louise, who spends a good part of her fictional time in the Arizona desert. 

    And, while I’m on the subject, just let me say I’ve read a couple of as-yet-unpublished crime novels set in rural areas: Anthony Neil Smith’s YELLOW MEDICINE and Ed Lynskey’PELHAM FELL HERE.  Both of them are flat out fantastic. Dark,  gritty,
and as merciless as a farm foreclosure. When they come out, grab ’em.

    Obviously, this is a subject near and dear to me, because most of my books are set in rural and small-town North Carolina. That’s what I see, those are the voices I hear, so that’s what I write.

    I wonder sometimes, though. While there are a lot of books set outside the major cities, and a few achieve success, the real heavy sellers—your Crais, your Connelly, your Lehane, your Pelecanos—seem to be mostly working within the classic metropolitan  locales. Sometimes it seems as if the farther you go out into the country, the harder it gets to hit that big bestseller.

     Is it just that there are more readers in big cities and they’re more likely to identify with an urban detective than they are with a small town or rural one? Are editors and reviewers more likely to warm to a gumshoe  that works the mean streets they could take a cab to (if they dared) rather than a sleuth  with mud on his boots?

City ‘Rati, Country ‘Rati: Where y’all from? And does it affect what you read? And what are your favorite crime novels from off the beaten track?

January Blues

by J.D. Rhoades

First off, I want to thank everyone for the birthday wishes
sent to me here and elsewhere in the last couple of weeks. They were greatly appreciated—and
greatly needed.

See, my birthday notwithstanding, January’s always  a
tough time for me. I don’t know what it is exactly. Maybe it’s the cold weather
(Yeah, I know, it’s colder where you are. Thanks for the information. I’m still freezing).  Maybe it’s the bare trees. Or the fact that everything
seems to be colored gray, black or brown. Post-holiday let-down may have something
to do with it. It’s most likely a combination of all of the above.

Whatever the cause,
January’s the month when every regret, every fear, every hurtful word ever said
to or by me, every failure, every humiliation and
embarrassment, comes to roost on my shoulder and whisper in my ear. And those
bastards are heavy.

I am not, as you may have surmised, a barrel of laughs in

But here’s the thing: I feel like hell, but I’m writing like
crazy. I finally got a handle on the main character in my current work in progress, and it’s taking
the book in a new direction that I really like, one that’s a lot edgier than before. When I can
grab the time, I’m blazing through a thousand-plus  words in
an hour and a half. There are pages and pages of notes in my notebook about not
only the WIP, but a half dozen other ideas for other projects. I’m throwing off ideas like sparks.

It’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened. When I wrote The Devil’s Right Hand, I was tremendously depressed that my
first book had sunk without a trace. I was in a funk. But the words kept flowing.

Nor am I the first person who’s noted a link between
depression and creativity. There’s the long, long list of great writers and
artists who suffered from depression: Hemingway, Van Gogh, Woolf, Tolstoy, etc.
(This is the point where the black bird on my shoulder whispers “you ain’t

Psychologist Eric Maisel wrote a book called The Van Gogh
in which he theorizes that artists tend towards depression because, more
than other people, they look for “meaning” in their lives, and when there’s not
enough of that, they have a “meaning crisis” which brings on depression. He
doesn’t explain, however, why depression can actually seem to stir creativity. (Or
maybe he does. I gave up on the book after a chapter in which Maisel used the word “meaning”
thirty-two times on one page. I don’t see the efficacy in replacing depression
with severe annoyance). Psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison theorizes that many creative people actually suffer from bipolar disorder. So when I answer the question "Why do you write?" by saying "mental illness," I’m only half  joking.

A few years ago, I actually did seek professional help and
went on medication for the depression that was, at that time, eating me alive.
I don’t remember much about that time, which worries me. I do remember that it
was shortly after I gave up the Wellbutrin that I started writing creatively again after not doing it for over 15 years.

This leads me to the inevitable question: Would I trade blissful happiness for
not being able to write as well–or at all?

So what about it, fellow ‘Rati? Do you think you write
better when you’re depressed? Is there something seeeeriously wrong with us? Or is it just me?

If You Only Knew the Power of the Dumb Side….

by J.D. Rhoades

After five thousand years of
civilization…we could all use a break.

from a forgotten 70’s movie.

Oy. January. January may actually rival August for my least favorite month, despite (or maybe because of) my birthday being this month.  The fun of Christmas is over,  the bills for same are rolling in, and it finally got cold in North Carolina.  So when those midwinter blues set in, it’s time to shake them off with something fun. But this kind of malaise requires a special kind of fun: dumb fun.

The other night, we rented
Grindhouse.” If you’re not familiar, “Grindhouse” was a movie released last
year by directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez that was intended to
be a tribute to those great low-budget features of the late 60’s and 70’s, the
one’s that played in the low-rent, low-class theaters like the old Sunrise in
my home town. You know the ones I mean: the ones where your feet stuck to the
floor with every step because they rarely, if ever, mopped the place. The ones
where you threw Atomic Fire Balls at the screen whenever the film broke, which
was about every other movie.

Actually, “Grindhouse” is two
movies, in honor of the fact that the old cheap-seats cinemas were running
double features more often than not. In this case, the two movies  are Tarantino’s “Death Proof” featuring Kurt
Russell as a homicidal stunt driver, and “Planet Terror,” Rodriguez’ entry in
the killer-zombie-virus genre.

About “Death Proof”, the less said
the better. I didn’t know it was possible to be that bored by a Tarantino
movie, and I’m a huge Tarantino fan. But “Planet Terror”– now that was some
great lousy cinema, right  there. It had
everything a low budget horror flick needs: scantily clad women, zombies, gore,
more zombies, stuff blowing up for no apparent reason other than it looked
cool, zombies blowing up, homicidal lesbian doctors, and a one-legged stripper
who replaced her hastily engineered peg leg with an assault rifle that
propelled her high in the air when she fired the grenade launcher attachment at
the ground.

In short, “Planet Terror” was dumb. It was GLORIOUSLY
dumb. I laughed till my sides were sore.

Now I like a smart, sophisticated
entertainment as much as the next
feller. But lord help me, every now and then I just like something
dumb-but-fun. And in mid January, when the cold winds whistle ‘round the
corners of my old pile of an office building, and everyone but me seems to be
coming down with something, it just seems like a good time to turn off the
frontal lobes and indulge in some nice mindless cheesy amusement.

Note: This is the sort of thing
that some people refer to as “guilty pleasures,” but I don’t believe in feeling
guilty about my pleasures. So I just call them what they are: dumb, but fun. So
here we go.

In music, the epitome of
dumb-but-fun is the Ramones. Ramones music wasn’t exactly whatRamones_2
you’d call complex. What it was most of all
was propulsive. Everything was geared to create a sense of urgency, from Joey’s
staccato, machine-gun repetition of lyrics ("Twenty-Twenty-Twenty-four
hours to go…"), to bassist Dee Dee Ramone’s warp-speed bass to guitarist
Johnny Ramone’s buzz-saw guitar attack.

It was the lyrics, however, that
really made the Ramones what they were. Joey wrote words like "Guess I’ll
have to break the news/That I got no mind to lose/ all the girls are in love
with me/I’m a teenage lobotomy," and the mathematically challenged verse
"it’s the end, the end of the Seventies/It’s the end, the end of the
century…"  And Joey hung onto the mike stand as if the band’s sonic assault
were about to blow him off the stage and delivered lines like "The KKK
took my baby away" with a total seriousness that, paradoxically, made them
all the more hilarious. The Ramones were rock and roll made goofy.

But, you say, this is a site about
reading and writing. What about books?
Oh, there are plenty of dumb books around. But for sheer outrageous mindless
amusement value, it’s hard to beat the Destroyer series of pulp adventure novels by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy.  In the
series, which must be over 200 books by now, police officer Remo Williams has
his execution faked by a secretive government organization called CURE. After
this, he becomes a secret agent, and  a
disciple of Chiun, the only living master of the oriental martial art of
Sinanju. And what a martial art it
“A master can hold his breath over an hour, rip steel doors from their
hinges, dodge bullets, overturn a moving tank, outrun a car, seem invisible –
you get the idea. They have mastered the full potential of the human body.” Oh, and there’s a bonus, since of course the Sinanju training turns you into the world’s greatest lover. But you have to be careful, because most Western women will not be able to bear the intensity of Sinanju style lovemaking and will, in fact, go insane.

Now that’s
dumb. But fun. Largely because the books refuse to take themselves too
seriously, and the banter between the haughty Chiun and Remo is hilarious.

So, fellow Murderati and assorted
spectators–chime in. What are your favorite examples from music, literature,
and film that are dumb dumb dumb, but
fun, fun fun?

Pain and Adverbs, or Pinning the Butterflies

by J.D. Rhoades

Something Alex said in her post on Saturday set me to thinking. “I’m one of those authors,” she
wrote, “who really doesn’t like writing all that much. It has its moments,
sure, I’ll give you that, but I don’t skip to my computer every morning with a
smile on my face and a song in my heart.” 

I read that, and I went, “yeah.”
Because I often feel the same way. 

A commenter expressed some dismay
at Alex’s sentiment: “it’s tough to read that you really don’t like writing
that much when I would give my left toe to be able to write more!” And,
ironically, I also said ‘yeah,” to that. I’d love to have the time to write
more, and then actually do it. Even though it’s sometimes almost physically

Not everyone has this problem, or has sympathy for
it. Garrison Keillor once amusingly if unkindly wrote that, if you think writing
is hard,

Get a job. Try teaching eighth-grade English, five classes a day, 35
kids in a class, from September to June, and then tell us about suffering.

The fact of the matter is that the people who struggle most with writing
are drunks. They get hammered at night and in the morning their heads are full
of pain and adverbs. Writing is hard for them, but so would golf be, or
planting alfalfa, or assembling parts in a factory.

Keillor’s right, of course.
Writing’s easier than, say, than working with hot tar on a sunny summer day in Florida. Or teaching eight grade English for that matter. But there are still days I have to drag myself to it.

So why do it? And how to explain the
contradiction of writing being both exquisitely painful and joyful at the same

Well, as I so often answer when
asked about motivation and why I write, “You can’t rule out mental illness.”
But that’s a flippant answer to a serious question, so I’ll try a little harder
to explain. 

I once read an interview with a writer (and I wish I could remember who) who
compared the act of writing to hunting butterflies. You’re out there, and it’s
a lovely day. You’re surrounded by all this beauty, and you’re amazed at some
of the things you see flying around. 

But eventually, you have to chase
one of the little buggers down with the net. And when you do, you pop it in the
killing jar and pin it to a board. Once it’s there, it’s still pretty. People
may come and look at it, and ooh and ahh, and sometimes you may get kudos for a
new and previously undiscovered butterfly. 

But it’s never the same as when it
was fluttering free.

And that’s how writing feels to me
sometimes. The things I see and hear in my head sometimes get my blood racing
and make my eyes light up. But then I have to sit down at the computer and pin
the lideas onto the board, or in my case, the page. And it’s never as
good as it was in my mind. At least to me. 

Oh, it’s getting better. I’m
getting more proficient, I hope, at getting the words to match what’s in my
imagination. And that’s one of the things that keeps me coming back to the keyboard.

The other is, if I don’t hunt them down and catch them, these damn butterflies fluttering around in my head are going to make me nuts.

Best wishes for the New Year to you all…

The Strangest Place You’ve Ever Done It

by J.D. Rhoades

Stephen King wrote in his book “On Writing” that the most
valuable thing you can have as an author is a door you  can close—and the will to close
it.  "Most of us do our best," he writes, "in a place of our own."

Me, I’m a bit different. (I knew you’d be surprised).  I don’t have an office in my house. We do have
the main desktop computer (the one my son named “Bob”) in a large  alcove near the
front door. It’s next to a nice big bay window, but that’s the computer the family
shares and its close enough to the
kitchen and living room that I can hear conversations and the TV. But that’s okay, because as it turns out, most
of my writing is done on my trusty laptop, anyway. So I can most often be
found in the bedroom, propped up on the bed with the laptop on my knees. Or if
the weather’s nice, I take it out on the back deck. As I mentioned in a post a while ago, I’ve
also written in vacation house bedrooms during the heat of the day. If the
house is just too noisy, there’s always my law office, but I usually only write
there if I start at the end of the workday.

Often, a chapter or a column or a blog post will start at the office, get e-mailed to Bob the Computer, finished there, then maybe dropped back onto the laptop through the home wireless network and polished out on the deck while Nick uses Bob to play The Sims.

I’ve mentioned this to some other writers, and they’re
horrified. How, they ask, can you write without a room of your own? Actually,
I’ve said a couple of times, I do have a room of my own. It’s between my ears.

It helps that I usually have music playing, either through the computer itself
(I hear some of the damnedest things on Shoutcast web radio) or through my MP3 player. This also
horrifies a lot of writers I’ve mentioned it to, who claim they need quiet to
write. But I have two rowdy teenagers in the house. Absolute quiet is not an
option, even on the back room. 

But not everyone requires an office with a closed door. William Kent Krueger says he composes in a cheap notebook at
his local coffee shop. J.K. Rowling wrote the  first Harry Potter book in a cafe. (John Scalzi, on the other hand, tells us in the title
of his book on writing that You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop
to a Coffee Shop
). Don Winslow reportedly writes in a tent pitched in a grove
of trees
on his property (Either he does the first draft in longhand or he has
one hell of an extension cord). Scott Turow wrote Presumed Innocent on the commuter train as he rode into work at  his Chicago law firm. Harlan Ellison used to stage events where he’d
bang out a short story in an afternoon while displayed in a bookstore window. 

So….where’s the strangest place you’ve done it (writing, I

I Don’t Want to Bring Anybody Down or Anything


by J.D. Rhoades

Hi, my name’s Dusty, and I  have a confession to make.

I actually like Christmas.

Oh, I know, as soon as the first candy canes hit the supermarket shelf, and the first radio station goes over to all Christmas all the time, the complaints begin. It”s too commercial, it starts too early, there’s too much pressure to have fun,  it’s just too hectic and crazy…it used to be that people who didn’t like the holidays were saying they felt isolated and alone, but now it seems they’re in the majority. and don’t even get me started on the people who’re trying to pick a fight over ‘Happy Holidays".

But I can’t help it. I’m a freak. I love the whole season. I like parties. I like  giving presents. I like receiving presents. I like going with the family to get the tree and then putting it up. I like wearing the tie with the Grinch on it to court and seeing that the judge has one too.  I enjoy seeing the family members that  I only see at Christmas. I like the  Christmas TV specials, the older and cheesier the better. I even like the music (although my Christmas tapes and CD’s run more towards Al Green, "Cajun Christmas" and "Celtic Christmas" than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir).

  I’ve been enjoying recent Christmases  even more because for the past few years, my kids have been old enough for toys that *I* want to play with, too.  Wii anyone? And does anyone know where we can find one?

  And to bring this entry back on topic, I love getting books for Christmas. I quit buying new books around November 1st, and everyone pretty much knows what to get me. God bless the Amazon wish list (as well as the people who look at it to get ideas,  then go buy the books from their local independent bookseller)

  Most of all, I try to keep in mind the guy whose birthday it is. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not particularly religious. But whatever you think of Jesus or his more demented followers, his core message of peace and hope and caring for each other is not such a bad thing to at least aspire to.   

   Joyeux Noel, y’all!

And now the discussion questions:

1. What do you REALLY want for Christmas (or if not Christmas, your chosen winter holiday)?
2. Do gift cards or certificates disappoint you or do you go "Yippeeee!"
3. What’s the best gift you’ve ever given?
4. Favorite holiday movie?

The Devil’s Guest Blog: Deal or No Deal?


by  Satan, Prince of Darkness  (guest blogging for J.D. Rhoades)

Howdy, folks. Satan here. Dusty’s a little tied up right now between holiday traveling and working on a book proposal, so I agreed to fill in this week for him. Little does he know what the price for that is…whoops, never mind.

Anyway, as some of you may know,  I loooove making deals. I’m  like my good friend Donald Trump in that regard. But a deal’s not a deal to me unless there’s a little, let’s say, twist involved. You may get what you want, but I have to get a little fun out of it too. That’s fair, isn’t it? It doesn’t make me a bad guy.

So here are a few proposals. You tell me, Deal or No Deal.

1) You will be the world’s best-read and most -beloved author. Millions will read you, everyone will know your name, and every one who does  will love you. The catch is: all your sales will be through used bookstores. You won’t make a dime. Deal or No Deal?

2) Your books will be a bestsellers, and you’ll make millions. Your family will have total financial security. But no one will know who you are. You’ll never appear in public, never get your picture in the paper, and, in fact, your real name will never appear on any of your work. To everyone, you’ll just be some anonymous rich person. Deal or no deal?

3) You will be wildly successful. Everyone will know your name and you will make millions. You will hobnob with the rich and famous. You’ll even get rave reviews. But you and I will know beyond reasonable doubt that your work is crap. Deal or No Deal?

The versions for the non-writers:

1) You will be an innovator in your job or profession, establishing ways of doing things which become the standard. Your techniques will even bear your name. But only after you’re dead. In life, no one will know who you are. Deal or No Deal?

2) Same as number 1, but your way of doing things will be accepted in your lifetime. You’ll make millions. But no one will
know who you are. You’ll never appear in public, never get your picture
in the paper, and, in fact, your real name will never appear on any of
your work. Others will get all the credit, even though you make all the money.  Deal or no deal?

Anyone who’s interested, just let me know, and I’ll send someone right over with the contracts. And hey,  Happy Holidays! 


Gateway Drugs

by J.D. Rhoades

All my life, I’ve been a reader. My family still talks about how I’d disappear at family gatherings, only to be found later in my parents’ car, stretched out on the bench seat with my feet up in the open window, reading.  Whenever and wherever a book was lying around, I’d have to pick it up and read it. Some of the books I picked up during those formative years certainly served as gateways to my  current addiction to writing and reading about bad people doing bad things.  So return with me now, to those glorious days of me misspent youth,  to the writers who hooked me on mysteries and thrillers and led me inexorably to the hard stuff….

Donald Sobol: The Encyclopedia Brown series  featured  a "boy detective" and the P.I. agency he ran  out of the family garage.  I snapped them up like popcorn in elementary school. Encyclopedia (given name: Leroy)  was a brainy kid who somehow managed not to get the crap kicked out of him by bigger kids. This may have had something to do with his pal Sally, who even the bullies feared. (Come to think of it, this may explain my long standing affection for tough female characters). Encyclopedia always managed to foil the machinations of his personal Moriarty, an evil kid named Bugs Meany. He always caught some inconsistency or other that showed Bugs or some other junior miscreant was fibbing. Once caught, of course, the bad guy always confessed. The best part was where, just before the big revelation, the story would break and give the reader a chance to figure the mystery out for themselves. I managed it about half the time, which made me even more eager to try my hand at the next one.

Arthur Conan Doyle: It’s impossible to have grown up in the late twentieth century and not at least had a good idea of who Sherlock Holmes was. His image, in one form or another, was everywhere: commercials, movies, even on children’s television where a parody character named  Sherlock Hemlock was a fixture on Sesame Street. So when I found a collection of Holmes stories in the school library, they seemed strangely familiar, yet still totally engrossing. (I can still remember the cover of that book by the way,with its iconic painting of Holmes in deerstalker cap and magnifying glass). The line, "They were the tracks of an enormous hound!" still sends a chill down my spine, thirty-odd years later.

Rex Stout: It was shortly after falling under the spell of Holmes that I discovered Nero Wolfe in the town library where my Mom took me every Saturday (or at least the ones when I didn’t ride my bike to the Sunrise Theater to watch Godzilla flicks and chop-socky movies). It’s a natural progression, when you think about it, since there’s actually a theory that the corpulent agoraphobic sleuth Wolfe is actually a descendant of Sherlock’s smarter and equally reclusive  brother Mycroft. Whatever his origins, Rex Stout’s pairing of the intellectual, puzzle solving detective with the wisecracking hard-boiled type, as embodied in Wolfe’s assistant Archie Goodwin, bridged the gap between two supposedly incompatible sub-genres. 

Erle Stanley Gardner (writing as A.A. Fair): Hammett, Chandler and Ross McDonald may have done it better, but "A.A. Fair’s"  series about the team of Donald Lam and Bertha Cool were my first introduction to the wonderful world of P.I. fiction. You can thank one of those library book sales, where I found a dozen or more "Mystery Book Club" 3-in-1 volumes for a quarter each, several  featuring the wonderfully named Lam and Cool. Bertha was the boss of the outfit, a plus-sized lady as "tough as  a coil of barbed wire." Lam was, in Bertha’s words A "brainy little runt" who did better using his wits (and his wit) than he ever did with his fists. Great characters, snappy dialogue, and ingenious (occasionally too ingenious) twists. How can you go wrong?

Ian Fleming: "The two .38’s roared simultaneously." So begins Moonraker, the first James Bond novel I ever read. I picked it up when I was 12 or 13 from the bookshelf in my uncle’s old room at my grandparent’s house. I was hooked from the first scene, where Bond is engaging in gunfighting  practice under the amused eye of "the Instructor" ("I’m in hospital, but you’re dead, sir"). From there, Bond heads upstairs to M’s office, and from thence to a confrontation with the evil Sir Hugo Drax. Like Sherlock Holmes, the image of Bond was unavoidable for anyone not living in a cave in the late 60’s-early 70’s, but these were the first books I found that were actually better than the movies.

John D. McDonald; I came across Travis McGee, John D. McDonald’s "tattered knight errant on a spavined steed" at just the right time in my life. Around my mid-teens, I was a lonely kid with a streak of romanticism and a tendency to wax philosophical.  McGee was a loner with streak of romanticism and a tendency to wax philosophical, but he was as tough and cool as I wanted to be someday.  Plus, he lived on a boat, and he got all the hot women, even though they were usually gone and often dead by the beginning of the next book. Re-reading those books now, I can’t help but still be impressed at McDonald’s storytelling abilities. Despite the digressions over relationships and the destruction of the beauty of South Florida, these books really move.

Trevanian:    When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I read and reread Trevanian’s books five or six times each. Trevanian, the pen name of Rodney Whitaker,  was probably best known for his novel The Eiger Sanction which was made into one of the more fun 70’s Clint Eastwood flicks. 

The movie was certainly memorable, but there was no way to capture
on film that certain atmosphere that Trevanian brought to his spy
adventures, that sense of never being quite sure when he was putting
you on. I mean, how could you resist a character like art
collector/assassin Jonathan Hemlock, who worked for a shadowy
(literally) intelligence boss named Yurassis Dragon? (say that last
name fast if you don’t know why it makes me laugh out loud).   My absolute favorite Trevanian character was Nicolai Hel, the half-Japanese assassin of Trevanian’s classic Shibumi.
Killer. Philosopher. Master of Oriental sex tricks.  Wine connisseur. When it came to cool, Nicolai Hel gave Bond a run for his money. Trevanian’s books had style. They had wit. They had great and
often bizarre characters. They had hot sex. They were, above all, huge
fun to read.

So what were YOUR "gateway drugs"?


by J.D. Rhoades

Serendipity-the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely.

The Internet is a great place for experiencing serendipity. Like, for instance, while researching idea for this newspaper column, I ran across a few truly twisted items which I knew you folks, writers and readers alike, would appreciate.

Some of you have already seen the amazing human head knife block:


  It’s the perfect way to insure that your next dinner party will be your last! Invite guests into the kitchen to marvel at this beauty, and it won’t be long before you’re enjoying that blessed solitude that’s so necessary for creative endeavor.

Unfortunately, it appears to be a design project by one Irene Van Gestel and not available for sale. But damn it, it should be!

Then there’s the Great Slumber Blood Puddle pillow:



The Great Slumber Pillow will  supposedly be available soon, courtesy of The manufacturer cannot guarantee, however, that your spouse or significant other will ever forgive you for this gag.

For the would be Buffalo Bill in the household, there’s the  computer bag and jacket made of fake human skin…at least we hope it’s fake.



We definitely do not recommend wearing or taking these to any high school or college class, unless you have a powerful desire to be seen in handcuffs on the six o’clock news. I’m betting med students, on the other hand, will find it a laff riot.


According to the Website at, these  
"Organic  objects in synthetic  skin" convey "pacific values  aiming  at individual blossoming." Okey-dokey.

It’s a gun! It’s a mouse! It’s a computer mouse shaped like a gun! If sitting in front of a screen all day makes you feel that life lacks action and danger, the Cybergun from The Sharp Edge is the gat you’re looking for!






What fun and odd  crime oriented stuff have YOU stumbled across on the Interwebs?