Sunday, July 20, 2014

JAMES GARNER, 1928-2014: REMEMBERING ROCKFORD


 Note: This article originally appeared in Crimespree Magazine in 2010.

I recently spent the winter weeks revisiting The Rockford Files.
It’s a little tough, now, to grasp what a radical, quirky show Rockford represented in the early 1970s.
James Garner was known to me: I’d recently seen him in Support Your Local Sheriff (an ABC “Movie of the Week” or the like). My mother had told me about Maverick — had nearly named me “Bret” after Garner’s character before opting for “Craig” Stevens of Peter Gunn fame.


Friday night, October 11, 1974: twisting channels (pre-remote days, don’t you know), I saw, “James Garner in…”
The first episode I caught was one called “Tall Woman in Red Wagon,” scripted by Stephen J. Cannell from a story by Roy Huggins.


Befitting the series title — but not typical of the show’s overall format — this episode was framed in flashback.
It opens with Jim Rockford digging up a grave — you wouldn’t catch Mannix, McGarrett or Cannon doing that.
In the course of the episode, we get Rockford’s déclassé digs — a house trailer with a million-dollar Malibu view. We meet his hectoring but loveable old man and we see that sweet tan Firebird (license #853-OKG).


We’re introduced to the slick mini-printing press Jim uses for cranking out on-the-spot business cards. We see a frustrated Rockford back his Pontiac into a suspected tail — at speed. Something else Barnaby Jones would never have the stones to do.
Case solved?
Requisite T.V.-P.I. closure?
Yes and no. From the get-go, Rockford didn’t toe the party line.
As the series evolved, we got a floating pool of recurring characters that gave weight and novelistic scope to Jim’s world.
The writing, featuring some early, brilliant work by David Chase, was sly, knowing and rarely risk averse.
The tone of the show deftly merged comedy and drama, suspense and parody and even some unexpected, powerfully mounted social commentary (season three’s “So Help Me God”) in a way precious few series have come close to matching.
Even the clunker episodes are never less than amiably watchable, and a couple of truly radical episodes are, in their strangeness, charmingly jaw-dropping.
Of the latter ilk, I personally favor “Irving the Explainer,” scripted by David Chase.  It’s a wild concoction of art treasures stolen by the Nazis, a sinister German chiropractor, agents of the Sûreté, a vintage and sleazy 1940s-era Hollywood murder and two men who share the name Irving.
The result is a dizzyingly convoluted thicket of suspects, motives and crimes, so complex Rockford resorts to hiring a UCLA logic student to flow-chart the case.
About once a season, in a wink at Maverick, Garner would unleash the persona of cowboy-hat wearing tycoon Jimmy Joe Meeker (think Brett Maverick with a car). These episodes, perhaps attempting to cash-in on the early 1970s’ success of The Sting (which in turn plundered the classic Maverick episode “Shady Deal at Sunny Acres”), turned on big-store con games:
Jim sold natural gas rights back to crooked real estate agents and mounted a phony King Tut exhibit among other bunko schemes run in the name of (cockeyed) justice.
By the time The Rockford Files reached its fifth and final full-season, the show was arguably at the top of its game.
Of course it had to end sometime.
Rockford’s end was more bittersweet than most.
A frankly uneven sixth season was suspended abruptly when its star’s health collapsed.
Garner — an intensely loyal man — had exacted a heavy toll on an already beaten-up body by increasingly doing many of his own stunts, partly it was reported, to spare his longtime and ailing stunt double.
When Garner’s illness lingered, NBC cancelled the series, and, in time, studio suits and Garner found themselves in litigation over accounting practices. (Legal entanglements with studios is a kind of running motif in Garner’s career: He also wound up in legal battles decades earlier regarding matters related to Maverick.)
The series went into heavy syndication…remained a fond memory.
In the 1990s, quite unexpectedly, the first of what would prove to be eight Rockford Files reunion movies debuted. The first four of these are now available on DVD.
Although a couple of the films feel slightly padded to fill their running time, for the most, the movies work extremely well. The chemistry is still there among the key players (although Noah Beery, Jr.’s “Joseph ‘Rocky’ Rockford” is sorely missed).
Returning writers Cannell, Chase and Juanita Bartlett used the movies to pick up dangling threads from the series and round out some story arcs lingering from the old days, bringing back, among others, Rita Moreno’s Rita Kapkovic and Rockford’s memorable ex-flame Megan Dougherty, played by Kathryn Harrold.
In the purest sense, the movies are a gift to longtime Rockford fans left frustrated by the series’ sad and jagged end.
While the movie cycle also didn’t end definitively — the last movie sat on the shelf for nearly two years before finally being aired — it was, on balance, a strong note to end on. It felt, for the most part, some capstone had been fit.
Years passed.
Everything, it seems, gets (or receives talk of) a remake.
Eventually, someone had the audacity to suggest a Rockford relaunch.
Lord knows, from Doctor Who to the latest Star Trek film, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by many a reboot.
But the idea of a wholly new Rockford goes down hard and thick.
If somebody want to mount some homage and slap a different name on the title character, well, go for it, I suppose.
But the personas of Jim Garner and Jim Rockford are too inextricably bound for any passing of the baton. (Granted, the same might have been said of Maverick’s leap to film, but Garner was very much a player in that one, and, from a character standpoint, could easily have been playing the Bret Maverick we recalled from the original).

Some things just shouldn’t be done (take shot-for-shot remakes of Psycho, for instance).
At this writing, it looks like NBC is plunging ahead with this mad scheme; I’m crossing my fingers the situation reverses and saner heads prevail.
Why spoil a wonderful memory?

Friday, July 4, 2014

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND PREVIEW EXCERPT

Following is an excerpt from FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND, the first new Hector Lassiter novel in three years, coming soon. Check in at my official site later this month for updates and ordering information.

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND
By Craig McDonald

“Dream as if you’ll live forever;
Live as if you’ll die tomorrow.”

CHRISTMAS

1924

“Christmas is a holiday that persecutes
the lonely, the frayed and the rejected.”
—Jimmy Cannon


PARIS
Hector & Victoria
It was warm and crowded in the café. The liquor was flowing and everyone was laughing and wishing one another a Happy Christmas. Back slaps, cheek kisses and toasts all around.
Victoria sat in a corner of Le Select next to a sprawling, slightly overweight cat, watching Hector at the bar chatting with his fellow writer, Hemingway. The two authors had already spent most of Christmas Eve together. Victoria envisioned a good deal of the day and perhaps even the holiday evening would be spent with the Hemingways, as well.
Oh, Vicky liked the Hemingways just fine. They were fellow Americans, and Midwesterners, at that. Hadley and Hem recalled the people Victoria had grown up with back home. But they also had a young son, “Bumby” or Jack. The Hemingway child was a kind of knife twist for Victoria just now.
Quite soon, she would be going back there, back to the States, and going with Hector who had at last decided to return home after several years roaming Europe, an unintended odyssey that began with his ill-fated service in the last war.
Hector had met Victoria under bizarre circumstances earlier in the year, right around Valentine’s Day, she guessed. Hector had actually saved her life, rescuing her from a killer. She had heard another woman close to him—his lover before Victoria, a woman named Brinke Devlin—had fallen prey to the murderer.
Although Hector had eventually taken Vicky into his life, then into his bed—although he was paying her way back to the States—he’d always made it clear he wasn’t looking for a permanent entanglement with her. Hector had warned Victoria from the start that the New Year would find him returning to America, and then moving on from New York alone, headed for parts unknown.
Yet it should be different now, she thought.
Hadn’t they been mostly happy together these past few months?
Seemingly, Hector respected Victoria’s remaining secrets, and she respected his—including the sense that some other woman evidently waited for him back there in America. She never confronted Hector about that. She never put the question to him directly.
But sometimes the pale-skinned, raven-haired Victoria caught Hem or Hadley looking at her with this curious mix of affection and concern, almost as if she reminded them too vividly of someone else, someone Victoria could only believe must have been close to Hector. Maybe it was the dead woman? Perhaps it was this Brinke?
It should be different, she thought again, watching the handsome young author.
It was Christmas, and they were lovers, and Hector had at last secured publication of his first novel. They should be returning to their homeland as a triumphant married couple, Victoria thought. Returning to celebrate Hector’s new novel and their departure from this old European city that had stripped so much from them.
But it wouldn’t be like that.
Tonight Hector would be in her arms of course.
This Christmas night he would be hers, but not in the ways that truly counted or mattered most to Victoria. And of course it wouldn’t endure.
This night in the City of Lights, engulfed in laughter and music, Victoria already viewed Hector Lassiter as the one who got away.



KEY WEST
Brinke, Miguel
& Mike
Christmas? It didn’t feel that way at all to Brinke Devlin.
Oh, someone had tipsily strung some colored lights around the bar, and a drunken Creole was playing plinking Christmas tunes on a ukulele, but for a Midwesterner like Brinke, an Ohio girl who had grown up with snow on the ground most Decembers, it felt like a false holiday.
Yet she couldn’t bear to spend this night of all nights alone, holed up somewhere in silence and solitude, wondering what Hector Lassiter might be doing this Christmas night back in their city, so far back there in the City of Lights: Hector, handsome, charming and solo lobo.
So Brinke had brought her notebook to this “blind pig” and found a corner table. She was bent over the table now, all concentration and writing by candlelight, about halfway through the first draft of a new novel.
Her efforts to compose worthy prose in this bar were so far a mixed success. The noise and the music was a welcome distraction from her thoughts. Brinke was making some progress in her writing.
Yet as an unattached, fetching woman in a bar full of drunks, Brinke was also a target of opportunity.
So far, she was successfully rebuffing occasional approaches, rejecting all offers of free drinks calculated to lead to something more.
Brinke was mostly so far successful in ignoring the lustful, baleful gazes she felt upon her, including those from the tallish, rather strapping Cuban man at the bar. She’d heard the bartender call the man “Miguel,” or something like that. This Miguel was the one she sensed might be the most difficult to cool off at this point. He seemed full of passionate intensity.
Fortunately, he was also nearly legless drunk.
So for her part, Brinke figured she could wait out Miguel: let him get so plastered he wouldn’t be a threat of any kind, so there’d be no danger of him following her out of the bar.
Focused on Miguel, Brinke never really registered the rather fat, balding man sitting in a corner opposite hers. Mike Rogers, publisher and editor of one of the island’s two local newspapers, was sitting at a table with his own notebook and pen.
But Mike wasn’t writing a book, or even penning a news article tonight for his rag.
Mike was instead putting away the rum and colas and drawing pictures of Brinke nude in his notebook.
Focusing again on her prose, Brinke drifted in and out of the bar in a sense, trying instead to stay immersed in the country of her story. She was determined to use her creativity to distract herself from thoughts of Hector at ends in their former city. From thoughts that at least two months remained before she might possibly see Hector again.
Hector Lassiter. Just thinking of the name made Brinke smile.



CAYO HUESO
(BONE KEY — THE LAST KEY)
Valentine’s Day, 1925

“He lives the poetry that he cannot write.
The others write the poetry
that they dare not realize.”
—Oscar Wilde


1

The man sat sweating in the shade, awaiting the sunset and watching the child.
The room the man had rented for the past three days had a patio that faced the narrow, stingy beach. Each day he’d sat sweating in the shade of that patio, wearing shorts and a damp T-shirt, brooding and watching the other hotel guests laughing and loafing by the shoreline.
Most of them were older, retired men on holiday with their wives. Probably refugees from the Midwest based on what he could hear of their accents. “Snowbirds,” the Floridians called them.
There were a couple pairs of newlyweds, and, now, another, still younger couple who wore no rings. Probably those last two had sneaked off from some other part of the Sunshine State for a first night of lovemaking. That girl would probably wind up pregnant.
Or, given what the man was going to do to the hotel once the sun went down, maybe not.
There were two or three families; some with young children.
One of those families had a single child. She was a cute, pudgy little blond girl whose coloring echoed her mother’s eyes and hair. The girl was clearly a first child, doted on and fretted over.
The man had noticed the girl and her parents the first day he’d checked in. He’d made a point to find their room number.
If it wouldn’t put him at risk, perhaps later in the evening he’d go ahead and knock on their door, try to give them a fighting chance. Call it salve for his conscience.
Now the little blond girl was waving at a distant ship with a tiny shovel. The man’s stomach churned. Yes, maybe he would do that, try and give them that chance for flight.
The hotel was old, hell, just this side of dilapidated. The man figured none of his fellow renters could be well off.
The hotel, more of a motor court when you came down to it, was the kind of place you booked sight-unseen because it fit a price-range. Or perhaps because it was the kind of place you just ended up in, road-ragged and beat to the wide, exasperated after exhausting all better possibilities. The last rooms on the last Key.
The man looked up at the paint peeling from the wooden overhang above his room’s patio, then at the crisp scrub grown up close to the hotel’s perimeter. It was the dry season and it hadn’t rained in more than a week. The place was a tinderbox for certain. With the sea wind whipping across the shoreline, combing that dry beach grass, the man figured he’d only have to focus on two or three units. The blast-furnace wind would see to the rest.
The man checked his pocket watch. Two more hours until sunset.
Sighing, his stomach sour, he poured himself another glass of lemonade, frowning and then belching from the stomach acid that bittersweet lemon concoction brought up.
Chewing his lip, the man kept watching the little blond girl and her parents now frolicking in the sand and creaming surf.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: NEW LASSITER COVER REVEAL

As announced earlier, the entire Hector Lassiter series is returning this summer/fall with a mix of old and new novels, repackaged and reimagined with new covers and additional content.

This is the cover for FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND, designed by JT Lindroos and marking the first new Hector Lassiter novel to appear in something over three years. (The book will be available in ebook and trade paperback format in just a few weeks.)

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND is set very early in Hector's life and follows right off the end of ONE TRUE SENTENCE (to be released simultaneously with FJP).

The new novel continues a story started in the Paris-set OTS: The torchy and lusty love affair between Hector and fellow crime novelist and fetchingly hedonistic bon vivant Brinke Devlin.

Set over a series of holidays in 1925 Key West, the novel incorporates some geographically-shifted, but all-too-real 1925 crimes involving arson and murder.

The novel also gives you a Lassiter relative in the person of Hector's paternal grandfather, the man who essentially raised an orphaned Hector and who, along with Brinke, shaped the novelist/screenwriter into the man we come to know in the later Lassiter novels.

So along with the cover, here's a teaser for the new novel and a book trailer...



FOREVER’S JUST PRETEND
By Craig McDonald
Key West, 1925—the southernmost point and most un-American of American locales. A rowdy border town surrounded by water and populated by sports fishermen, navy veterans and Cuban revolutionists. Misfits and mavericks, all.
After several years in Paris, novelist Hector Lassiter returns to the United States and arrives on “Bone Key” to reunite with his lost love Brinke Devlin (introduced in One True Sentence), a fellow author and the woman destined to become the first Mrs. Lassiter.
Hector finds an island under siege, wracked by fatal fires and savage attacks against islanders the local press attributes to a baseball bat-wielding fiend dubbed “The Key West Clubber.”
When one of the Clubber’s murders hits too close to home—literally next-door to the Lassiters’ love nest—the newlyweds begin to poke around the crimes. What they find casts doubt on the possibility of a single culprit, pointing instead to a vast and far-reaching criminal conspiracy.
By turns sexy, sly and seductively sinister, Forever’s Just Pretend barrels along at a page-turning pace to a shattering conclusion that sheds new light on the origins of the internationally and critically acclaimed character Hector Lassiter and his larger-than-life legend.
Drawing on dark historical events and rich in atmosphere and character, Forever’s Just Pretend will thrill readers of the series BookPage has called “wildly inventive” and The Chicago Tribune calls “most unusual, and readable crime fiction to come along in years.”




Also keep watching my official site for coming updates featuring chapter previews and other exclusive extras.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

COVER REVEAL FOR LASSITER SERIES RELAUNCH

This is the new cover for the first paperback release (and new eBook release) of ONE TRUE SENTENCE, coming quite soon from BeTimes Books.

The cover sets the template for the nine volumes to be released over the course of the next few months as the entire series of Hector Lassiter novels comes your way in rapid-fire fashion.

This cover was designed by JT Lindroos, who provided covers for my author interview collection ART IN THE BLOOD way back in ought-six, as well as a new genre-blending thriller called IMMORTAL GAIN (more on that soon, too) and the Chris Lyon series.

OTS will be closely followed by FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND, which features Brinke Devlin, the woman who made Hector into the man we know. Brinke of course made her debut in OTS, which is set in one week in Paris in February, 1924.

Here's the jacket description of ONE TRUE SENTENCE, followed by a new teaser trailer:



February, 1924: an incredible exchange rate, lack of prohibition and post-war ennui have flooded the City of Light with thousands of Americans — the psychologically damaged members of the so-called Lost Generation. The cafés, bistros and garrets of Paris teem with would-be poets, writers and painters.
Among them are two young and unknown authors — Hector Lassiter and Ernest Hemingway. Both young men are mavericks and realists who stand apart from the trendy schools of creativity sweeping Paris — Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism. But a new vogue is gaining ground and threatening the lives of Hector and Ernest’s closest friends: “Nada,” a cult that drives its disciples to acts of murder and self-destruction.
One by one, editors of Left Bank literary magazines are slaughtered in increasingly brazen attacks. As the killings escalate, the literati form their own improbable vigilante band to catch the killers. Drawn into the hunt, Hector is pitched between two attractive mystery writers and a pretty, unbalanced poet — three women with hidden agendas and dark imaginations…




———

Praise for One True Sentence

"Vivid, remarkable characters--the historical people as well-drawn as the fictional ones!--in a rich, evocative setting, and a gruesome serial killer with one of the most unusual motives ever. Absolutely gripping!" —Diana Gabaldon, New York Times bestselling author of the Outlander series

 “Craig McDonald proves he is a master of literary suspense in this riveting historical thriller set in the 1920s Paris of Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.  Complex protagonists, shocking murders, and a gripping tale will leave you wanting more.” —Stefanie Pintoff, Edgar-award winning author of A Curtain Falls

"Nobody does mad pulp history like Craig McDonald. Reading a Hector Lassiter novel is like having a great uncle pull you aside, pour you a tumbler of rye, and tell you a story about how the 20th century really went down." —Duane Swierczynski, author of Expiration Date

"A finely-crafted pulp historical mystery…While McDonald plucks your heartstrings, his wily hero Hector Lassiter will pound out a drum roll on your short ribs, and yes, you actually will be thankful for the experience." —Tom Piccirilli, author of Shadow Season

 “The real stuff… Sharp, smart, and fascinating. McDonald brings alive a unique time and place with not only his talent for history but style that would make his subjects proud.” —Ace Atkins, author of Devil’s Garden and Infamous

“An amazing montage of mystery, murder, meta-fiction, and literary-history, quite unlike anything I’ve read before. ” —Craig Holden, author of The Jazz Bird

Saturday, June 14, 2014

THE HECTOR LASSITER SERIES RETURNS


THE NEW COVER FOR THE FIRST
TRADE PAPERBACK EDITION
OF
ONE TRUE SENTENCE
February, 2011: One True Sentence is released, the fourth of the Hector Lassiter novels.

At its climax, crime novelist Hector Lassiter wanders into a woman’s Paris apartment, bleeding and pushed past all points of exhaustion. The story ends on a dark and ambiguous note:

“In the blackness, Hector felt himself falling.”

Then, a kind of real blackness swallowed up Hector and his ongoing series.

Nearly all of the planned Lassiter novels were finished long before OTS was published. But logistics, competing publisher nibbles and various other factors resulted in a kind of accidental purgatory for the Lassiter series.

Hector has lingered in that blackness far too long.

It’s a fact made more frustrating because One True Sentence and its intended follow up are the only two chronologically and plot-linked books in the series. There was every intention of having Hector Lassiter and fellow novelist Brinke Devlin reconnect on Valentine’s Day 1925 (or, for his readers, February 14, 2012), as was set up in the closing pages of OTS.

While the series has been on forced hiatus, I’ve steadily recovered publishing rights and now have complete control of all Lassiter novels, past and future, for the first time since 2006.

The plan now is to publish the series in hyper-accelerated fashion between this and next summer.

The entire Hector Lassiter series and a collection of Lassiter short stories will be made available in eBook and uniform trade paperback editions over a course of mere months.

Each novel will feature an introduction and reader discussion questions, along with new covers and overall packaging.

I see these as the definitive Lassiter editions and they will in fact represent the first paperback editions available in English of Print the Legend and One True Sentence.

There’s something else very different about this edition of releases.

Readers of the Lassiter series know time is used in a most unusual way in the novels. The books are designed to present a larger story and arc for Hector when the series is viewed as a whole.

However, the novels can also be read in any order. Upon original publication, the first four novels jumped back and forth through time, with Hector variously presented as an older and younger man.

The new releases of the Hector Lassiter series will try for something different. We’re going to present the books in roughly chronological order—at least in terms of where the main story starts as the novel opens. In other words, the repackaged series now begins with One True Sentence, the fourth novel in original publication sequence, but the first novel chronologically.

Set in 1924 Paris and featuring Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and a host of other historical notables from the period, that novel is now followed by its intended sequel, Forever’s Just Pretend, enjoying its first-ever publication.

FJP completes another story, revealing how Hector became the guy we come to know across the rest of the series: “The man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives.”

Before autumn’s end, you will also be given a repackaged, expanded version of Toros & Torsos (1935), quickly followed by two new Lassiter novels, The Great Pretender (1938) and Roll the Credits (1940).

The rest of the repackaged series briskly unfolds in similar fashion, a mix of old and new titles.

As I’ve said, the Lassiter novels were written back-to-back and the series mostly shaped and in place before the second novel was officially published. It’s very unusual in that sense—a series of discrete novels that are tightly linked and when taken together stand as a single, far larger story.

I reserve the right to tell smaller, “standalone” Lassiter stories here and there perhaps, but the heart and soul of Hector’s saga is in the ten books coming your way over the next few months.

Welcome back to the world of Hector Lassiter.

STILL TO COME: New cover reveals, novel descriptions and book trailers.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

NEW HECTOR LASSITER NOVEL COMING THIS FALL


It’s been a while; sometimes these things take more time than one wants.

The big news here is after a two year-hiatus, the next installment in my Edgar/Anthony-nominated Hector Lassiter series, ROLL THE CREDITS, will be released in trade paperback and eBook formats this autumn.

Cover concepts are being worked on now, but RTC should be available for a fall read, just in time for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Paris, an event that figures prominently in my new novel.

Hector’s antagonist this round is a sinister German filmmaker first glimpsed in the opening pages of the Paris-set ONE TRUE SENTENCE. Hector narrates for the first time since HEAD GAMES, and many familiar faces will return.

More to come quite soon, so stayed tuned, and check out my official website where more will be posted in the days to come (including a first-chapter sample). For now, here’s a tentative publisher’s teaser for Hector Lassiter #5:


ROLL THE CREDITS
By Craig McDonald
Through four critically and internationally acclaimed novels, Edgar®- and Anthony-nominated author Craig McDonald has given readers startling glimpses of the secret history of the 20th Century through the eyes of Hector Lassiter, “the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives.”
Roll the Credits at last reveals the crime novelist/screenwriter’s storied adventures during World War II. The new Hector Lassiter novel is a globetrotting and decades-spanning historical thriller depicting a duel-to-the-death extending from decadent old Berlin to 1920s Paris; from bombed-out London to 1950s’ Hollywood and a last, bloody siege in the steaming jungles of Brazil.
Aided by a beautiful OSS operative and a two-fisted Irish cop-turned-Army intelligence officer, Hector takes on the impossible mission of smuggling a hard-hunted Jewish orphan from France while pursued by the might of Germany’s occupying army.
This is the novel Hector Lassiter’s fans have been waiting for: Hector as guerilla leader and OSS spy; as unlikely father figure, husband and avenging angel.
Roll the Credits is a thriller not only about Hector’s war as fought through the bars, bedrooms and bloody countryside of France and beyond, but also a chilling tale about the sinister origins of film noir and post-war Hollywood.
Drawing on dark historical events and rich in atmosphere and character, Roll the Credits will thrill readers of the series BookPage has called “wildly inventive” and The Chicago Tribune calls “most unusual, and readable crime fiction to come along in years.”