Posts tagged Miami

Mike Shayne was an early arrival on the Miami hardboiled scene.  He was later eclipsed by Travis McGee and Hoke Moseley, but Shayne remains an important pulp hero.  Halliday’s novels were deliberately formulaic, but readers loved the formula.

The Private Practice of Mike Shayne was published in 1940, but this little gem from 1965 includes a cover illustration by the legendary Robert McGinniss.

In other news, take a look at that cover price.  45 CENTS.  I’m happy to find a book like this for two or three dollars.  If they ever invent a time machine, you guys can all do back and see the wars and dinosaurs and assassinations and meet your heroes and solve the mysteries of time.  I’m just gonna go buy the contents of an entire bookstore.

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Miami Shrugs

Miami. It’s practically a byword recently.  It’s the place everyone loves to hate.  Or mock.  If all else fails, they feign wide-eyed shock.  

Yeah, it’s the place where a drug-addled nut might just chew your face off.  Everyone else can bask in the horror.  Miamians just shrug.  It happens.  So it happens here.

It’s a place where appetites are definitive.  A news anchor calls the Philadelphia 76ers the 69ers.  Everyone tee-hees.  They must think about sex a lot down there.  No shit.  

Everyone wants to root against Miami.  They’re plasticky and artificial.  Just like the city.  As rest of the country is drowns in sincerity.

I wish I had a nickel for every reality show about police in the Miami area.  COPS, The First 48, Unleashed: K-9 Broward County, SWAT: Miami-Dade, Police Women of Broward County, Miami Drug Cartel.  Hell, even Animal Cops: Miami.  

When the allure of CSI: Miami and Nip/Tuck wears off, people are still fascinated.  Can’t look away.  When I moved away from Miami, the righteous New Englanders just wanted know one thing: “Why’d you come here?”  They’d all go there if they had the chance.

Everyone wants superficial beauty and sex and bizarre gratification.  They pretend they don’t.  Pretend Miami has what they want.  Then hate it.  Except most Miamians don’t live lives of endless indulgence.  They have endless weariness instead.  

So keep watching your shows.  Watch the bizarre shit that goes down in a poor, violent city.  Shake your head.  Pat yourself on the back.  Drool a little.  Jack off when no one’s watching.  We just shrug.  

Because the bizarre will happen.  And it’ll happen in Miami.  And everyone else will be transfixed.  But in Miami, it won’t be the zombie apocalypse.  It won’t be entertainment.  It’ll just be the news.

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Miami Blues is a beautiful depiction of the sketchy South Florida milieu of my youth.  While the film based on the novel was somewhat disappointing, the novel was (and remains) important in several ways.

Miami Blues made Charles Willeford a household name.  Willeford had been writing for decades prior to Miami Blues and subsequent Hoke Moseley novels.  He was an old pulp scribe, but none of his previous novels had attracted as much attention as Miami Blues.  Willeford, to borrow an old saw, put fun into dysfunctionality.  Willeford could be deathly girm, and his characters exhibit a brutality and amorality to rival anything Jim Thompson ever wrote.  

But Willeford’s rogues also have a strong sense of irony.  Freddie Frenger is a psychopath.  To sympathize with a psychopath is nothing new.  Charles Willeford had us crack a smile at a psychopath.  We couldn’t help it.  Sure, poetic justice arrived.  It was swift, it was sure, it was irreparable.  But it was also just odd.  And no place was better suited to the destruction of self-indulgent oddballs than Miami in the 1980s.  Despite its subtitle, it would be demeaning to regard Miami Blues as simply “a thriller.”  It is a powerful depiction of fatalism and futility.  

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The great American pastime, they call it. I’m not sure it deserves to be. But that doesn’t stop them. Just a game, but it commands presidential attention. It captivates historians, filmmakers and pundits. Bart Giamatti was a lifelong scholar of Renaissance literature. Eventually became president of Yale. He left that job to be president of the National League.

Why would someone do that? Why do the Cubs fans suffer for decades? Why do the Royals or Pirates fans bother at all? Why do all of them let the Yankees continue to exist?

It’s because of Ted Williams, taking eight years in the prime of his career to fly for the Air Force. It’s because Stan Musial turned down a raise after a bad season, and said it would be an insult to his teammates if he accepted.

It’s about the son of immigrants who didn’t speak English until he was five. He went to Columbia University, then played more consecutive games than anyone before him. Or anyone after him for nearly six decades. He won six World Series and died at 37. But not before telling us that he was the luckiest man on earth.

And he was—except for all of us who thought he was brave and not very lucky. And it shames us because we know we’re just the opposite.

So is the game, sometimes. That’s why we keep watching. Why we kept watching when we knew all the home runs weren’t legitimate. That’s why we kept watching the juiceheads—the ones on the field, and the ones hawking memoirs.

It’s a game where racists slide with their spikes up. And where pathbreakers slide in safe at home, and integration takes root. It’s a game of they-don’t-make-‘em-like-they-used-to and a game of he’s-the-best-I’ve-ever-seen.

It’s a game where loyalties never die. And a game where I’ve had two home teams in my life. I was rooting for the second one while I was still living in the first city. It’s a game of infidelity.  A game of red, white and blue.  A game of navy pinstripes.  Then it’s a game of deco pastels.  A game for the Rust Belt.  A game for the Sun Belt.  Hell, it’s a game in Canada.

It’s a game where you can’t get away from centuries-old tradition. Unless you’re the wild card.  A game where players used to play their whole career for one team.  A game of loyalty.  Or a game where they were held hostage by the club owners.  Free agency changed that.  It’s a game where things change.

It’s an admirable game. A thinking man’s sport. Where the announcers are old raconteurs. And it’s a money-maker that is forever damn near becoming just another sport. And it’s hard to reverence a game being delivered by a generic pretty boy with an oddly deep voice.

But we still love the game.  It’s baseball. It’s not the great American pastime. It’s the great American story.  It’s our story. And it’s still being told. Play ball.

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Miami Blues is an oddball movie.  It is a beautiful depiction of late-1980s Miami.  Young Alec Baldwin is more endearing than he should be as the homicidal Freddy Frenger.  Fred Ward is dogged and somewhat unsettling as Charles Willeford’s hero, Hoke Moseley.  But as the movie poster reveals, the film loses its (and Moseley’s) hardboiled edge.  It tries too hard to be a comedy. Willeford could be offbeat—he reads like an even grimmer Elmore Leonard.  But that didn’t translate too well in this movie adaptation.

Miami Blues is an oddball movie.  It is a beautiful depiction of late-1980s Miami.  Young Alec Baldwin is more endearing than he should be as the homicidal Freddy Frenger.  Fred Ward is dogged and somewhat unsettling as Charles Willeford’s hero, Hoke Moseley.  But as the movie poster reveals, the film loses its (and Moseley’s) hardboiled edge.  It tries too hard to be a comedy. Willeford could be offbeat—he reads like an even grimmer Elmore Leonard.  But that didn’t translate too well in this movie adaptation.

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I love noir and hardboiled crime fiction of all varieties.  But there’s a special place in my trench coat-wearin’ heart for the little pulpy paperbacks.  They’re the perfect size to tuck in a jacket or coat pocket and read during any otherwise unoccupied moments.  I’m most apt to run across these in used bookstores, because they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.  

This little gem is John D. MacDonald’s One Fearful Yellow Eye, a Travis McGee novel.  South Florida is McGee’s usual haunt, but One Fearful Yellow Eye (all of the McGee novels had colors in the title) finds him in Chicago.  I know the hardboiled trinity is generally believed to be Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, but I think John D. MacDonald is far better than the similarly-named Ross (a pseudonym for Kenneth Millar).

McDonald (whether in the Travis McGee series, or his numerous non-series novels) has an unruffled, hardboiled, observational style of writing that I really dig.  I’ll be sharing snippets from the book over the coming days.

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Jonathon King has been called “the future of crime writing” by Michael Connelly.  I’m not sure what I think of that after reading Acts of Nature.  This is the 5th book in King’s series of novels chronicling Max Freeman, Philadelphia cop turned Everglades P.I.  This book is a gripping thriller that kept me turning the pages late into the night. 
It is also a rather generic thriller, however.  Despite the private dick-as-protagonist, there is little hardboiled or noirish about Acts of Nature.  I enjoyed it, to be sure.  And I’m going to read King’s first Freeman novel, The Blue Edge of Midnight, to see how the series started.  I love King’s intimate knowledge of South Florida and love of the Everglades. 
Series can be tricky.  The first couple novels of a series can be brilliant (Parker’s Spenser) or forgettable (Block’s Matthew Scudder).  Reading an individual book may not give an accurate picture of how the author usually writes.  So I’m hoping for a more hardboiled edge to King’s other books.  If not, well, I suppose I can live with a taut page-turner.

Jonathon King has been called “the future of crime writing” by Michael Connelly.  I’m not sure what I think of that after reading Acts of Nature.  This is the 5th book in King’s series of novels chronicling Max Freeman, Philadelphia cop turned Everglades P.I.  This book is a gripping thriller that kept me turning the pages late into the night. 

It is also a rather generic thriller, however.  Despite the private dick-as-protagonist, there is little hardboiled or noirish about Acts of Nature.  I enjoyed it, to be sure.  And I’m going to read King’s first Freeman novel, The Blue Edge of Midnight, to see how the series started.  I love King’s intimate knowledge of South Florida and love of the Everglades. 

Series can be tricky.  The first couple novels of a series can be brilliant (Parker’s Spenser) or forgettable (Block’s Matthew Scudder).  Reading an individual book may not give an accurate picture of how the author usually writes.  So I’m hoping for a more hardboiled edge to King’s other books.  If not, well, I suppose I can live with a taut page-turner.

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The Candidate

He was disingenuous.  That’s nothing new for a politician.  I’d seen the windbags roll through and spout off all their promises.  Perils of living in a swing state, I guess.  Most people are dismissive of politicos.  They have good reason. But sometimes they dismiss good ones, too.

This guy wasn’t in any danger of being overly dismissed.  Maybe at the ballot box, but not at his rally.  He didn’t have supporters, he had followers.  Fucking acolytes.  They had all been confused by the big, complicated world until he came along.  He explained everything and now they sang his praises.  Only they were as ignorant as before.  Only difference is that they didn’t know it anymore.

He swung through Miami beach trailing rednecks from Davie.  I didn’t think Confederate flags would win too much support half a mile from the Holocaust Memorial.  But none of that mattered.  If you weren’t already crazy about this guy, all the crazies who supported him would only confirm your initial opinion.  If you were already on his side, you were already a crazy.  And the more, the merrier.

He tried to tell the Jewish retirees how he was going to help Israel by withdrawing US support.  Some of them seemed reassured by his rationale.  I was just there to watch.  But I knew.  Knew that he bounced between saying he’d support Israel, saying he wouldn’t take sides with Israel and her enemies, and taking the side of everyone but Israel.  He maintained three simultaneously incompatible positions.  He could pick any one he wanted, but he shifted between the three continually.

For this, his followers lauded his consistency.  Sure, he was kinda beyond the pale sometimes.  But the establishment (whoever they were) was out to get him, and they were even worse.  If they hated him, he must be alright.  Consistency made up for all the conspiracy theories and reactionary policy stances. 

I wanted to grab them around the neck and shake them.  That guy wasn’t consistent; just consistently stupid.  That son of a bitch was as shifty as they come, and he played his devotees like a fiddle.  He would be an insult to their intelligence—if they had any to insult.

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The Conspiracy Theorist

I didn’t like her. I didn’t like most people, but she was especially distasteful. And that was putting it mildly. The precise term was “bitch.” If Grace Kelly had her face mauled by a junkyard dog, Cora Rogers would have been the pit bull chewing Kelly’s face off. She tried to chew mine off while she was at it. If she had stopped with me, I might have merely been annoyed.

But no, that wasn’t good enough for the old bag . I didn’t know there were many people like her left in Miami. And I didn’t want to meet the others. The crazy old bat denounced all the “corrupt Jews” who made up “the establishment.” I’m not sure how I made my way into their illustrious company. I’m no Rothschild, that’s for sure. I’m not even Jewish. But I was happy enough to let the bitch think I was.

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