Monday, February 29, 2016


Here's a rare chance to learn from one of the BORDERLAND NOIR contributors and a living expert on all things Pancho Villa:


One hundred years ago, on March 9, 1916, Mexican revolutionary leader General Francisco “Pancho” Villa led an incursion across the border and attacked the sleeping hamlet of Columbus, New Mexico. It was, prior to September 11, 2001, the most significant terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

Local historian, writer and musician Jim Cornelius and The Anvil Blasters will mark that historic centennial with an evening of borderland history and border ballads at Paulina Springs Books in Sisters on Wednesday, March 9, starting at 6:30 p.m.

Cornelius will read from his essay “Pancho Villa: Fourth Horseman of the Mexican Apocalypse,” published in the crime anthology “Borderland Noir,” edited by Craig McDonald and published by Betimes Books. Then the band will dig into some border-themed music — originals, traditional songs and songs from writers such as Tom Russell and Bob Dylan.

“I’ve been obsessed with the Mexican Revolution for years,” Cornelius said. “It was an earth-shaking event. Most folks north of the border don’t know much about it; we recognize Pancho Villa and that’s about it. The Revolution was going on at the same time as World War I, and the impact is still being felt today. About a million Mexicans died and millions more were displaced. It caused the first big wave of Mexican migration into the United States.

“It’s just a wildly fascinating chunk of history. Talk about your game of thrones — every single major leader of the Revolution died violently. In this case, it wasn’t just you win or you die, it was you win AND you die.”

The Anvil Blasters’ music has always been scorched by the hot desert wind of the borderlands, and Jim, along with Lynn Woodward,  Mike Biggers and Jeff Wester will focus on that part of their repertoire — tales of outlaws, watchful black crows, good tequila and bad women, and compadres in the Sierra Madre — all flavored with some hot chili peppers in the blistering sun.

“We’re going to have a good time,” said Cornelius, “but it’s important to remember that the occasion we’re marking was a terrible one. The attack on Columbus was an act of terrorism that killed 18 American civilians and soldiers and sparked an invasion of Mexico. We’ll explore what that was all about — and who Pancho Villa really was, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Then we’ll turn the book store into a cantina and sing about it.” 
Columbus, New Mexico, on fire after the attack.

"Borderland Noir" will be available at the event and Jim will sign copies on request.

Paulina Springs Books is located at 252 W. Hood Ave. in Sisters. For more information call 541-549-0866 or contact Jim Cornelius at 541-390-6973.

To put you in the mood and entice you this terrific literary and musical event, a Borderland Noir tune from another of the book's contributors, Mr. Tom Russell (with the great Thad Beckman), also performed at an Oregon bookstore, as it happens:

Saturday, February 27, 2016


My most recent interview with the masterful Steven Powell (expert in all things James Ellroy) is now available HERE

Ernest Hemingway, James Sallis, Ken Bruen, James Crumley are discussed, among a host of other topics, including some deep contemplation of Ian Fleming and James Bond.

There's also an exclusive cover reveal of the last Hector Lassiter novel coming later this year, THREE CHORDS & THE TRUTH.

In the meantime, here's a music video from Sara Evans that invokes that key and telling title phrase for the last Hector Lassiter novel, coming later this year from Betimes Books.

Friday, February 5, 2016


Call them head games...

Ninety years ago (on Feb. 6, to be precise), someone broke into the grave of assassinated Mexican Revolutionary General Francisco "Pancho" Villa and made off with his head.

Pancho's skull remains MIA, so far as we know officially, on this 90th anniversary of the sacking of his grave.

Just a very few years ago, one of the last men who rode with Villa passed away at the age of 109. (Mark that staggering age: it could be regarded as some kind of foreshadowing, perhaps.)

My Edgar/Anthony-nominated Hector Lassiter novel, HEAD GAMES, explores many of the legends attached to the theft of Villa's head, including the possibility a certain political dynasty with the last name of Bush and a Yale secret society played a role.

Either way, to mark the occasion of the disappearance of Pancho Villa's head, a flashback to a 2010 blog entry:

Pancho Villa meets
Black Jack Pershing,
who would later hunt


Time is a funny thing: stuff that seems so long ago, really isn't. This man passed away last month. A very old man. He lived a lot of the things I wrote about it in my first novel. He experienced Pancho Villa, up close and personal.

1916: That was the year Pancho Villa attacked Columbus, New Mexico and triggered the "Punitive Expedition."

Columbus New Mexico (named after
the Ohio city) burns after an
attack allegedly staged
by Villiastas.

The resulting expedition into Mexico to catch Villa was Woodrow Wilson's kind of foreshadowing of George W. Bush's invasion of Afghanistan in search of Bin Laden.

Wilson's incursion across the border stoked a lot of resentment against America on the part of Mexico's people.

Wilson sent 100,000 men down into the desert to chase Pancho bring him back "Dead or alive." The chase didn't go well.
In my fictional universe,
Hector Lassiter was
among those
hunting Villa.

In my literary world, one of the men who rode down into the desert after Villa was a young Hector Lassiter, who lied about his age and rode off after Black Jack Pershing into the Mexican desert (all of this fuels my first novel, HEAD GAMES).

Like Bin Laden many decades later, Villa proved infuriatingly elusive. Once we lost interest in him, Villa eventually settled down on his ranch, put on some weight, stepped up his legendary womanizing, and started amassing this arsenal.

What he meant to do with that latter remains a mystery: Villa was gunned down by parties unknown before he could stir up further revolts or revolutions.

A few years later, Pancho's grave was robbed and his head was stolen. (Again, all covered in sexier fashion in HEAD GAMES.)

Villa's head remains missing. We'll get back to that, shortly...

Now, I don't consider myself a relic, but I have actually known/met a couple of Punitive Expedition members (both dead for some number of years now). 
This gent is Emil Holmdahl.
A soldier of fortune, he was
busted for stealing
Pancho's head. You can learn
more about him in

One I met as a child. The other I met as a young reporter: I spent an afternoon with the man hearing tales of the trail and looking through old photo albums only to be told by that lonely old man he forbade any article be written about him. He just wanted company to pass a summer afternoon. That man, and the other man from my hometown who rode with Pershing, are both name-checked in HEAD GAMES.

The Villa assassination.
I'd come to believe most of the men of that time were long passed. But last evening I ran across this obituary for a man pretty wonderfully named Juan Carlos Caballero Vega. He claimed, at the age of 14, to have ridden with Villa into New Mexico that night to attack Columbus. He claimed to have been Villa's young chauffeur. In a sense, his actual story reflects an opposite-sides-of-the-border version of Hector Lassiter's tale.

Vega passed away on March 30, 2010, at the age of 109. He'd hoped to live to see November 20, the centenary of the Mexican Revolution in which he fought alongside Villa.

According to an article in the Telegraph, he attributed his long life to "love," much walking and an active sex life (he remarried at the age of 99).

You can read Vega's story, much of it in his own words, here. An image from Corbis of the old Villista shows a man with some real character etched into his face:

The late-Mr. Vega

So Vega's gone.

Pancho's head remains elusive.

Interestingly enough, the Wall Street Journal this past week took another look at Villa's missing remains (more than just his noggin, really)... Of course, Skull & Bones (the culprits behind Villa's grave-robbing as posited in HEAD GAMES) also got a mention.

You can read that piece here.

ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook


TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook


ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

THE RUNNING KIND: Paperback/eBook

HEAD GAMES: Paperback/eBook

PRINT THE LEGEND: Paperback/eBook/audio

Sunday, January 10, 2016

HEMINGWAY IN LOVE by A.E. Hotchner: A review

In 1966, A.E. Hotchner published “Papa Hemingway,” a memoir that widow Mary Hemingway unsuccessfully sought to suppress.

Hotchner, now 95, recently published “Hemingway in Love: His Own Story,” (St. Martin’s Press) a kind of slim sequel purportedly comprised of outtakes from the 1966 release, miniature tape recordings long since deteriorated and remembered conversations.

This installment focuses primarily on Hemingway’s abandonment of first wife Hadley and son John “Bumby” Hemingway in favor of second wife Pauline Pfeiffer. It’s the tale of a regretted love triangle as purportedly told to Hotchner directly by Hemingway over several encounters and across uncounted miles.

For those who read and valued “Papa Hemingway,” this slim
follow up is a probably necessary if frequently redundant read. Anyone who has also read Hemingway’s Paris memoir “A Moveable Feast,” or even a single Hemingway biography will not find much of real revelation in “Hemingway In Love.”

Hotchner is never less than readable, but for me, this book suffers from the same reservations I experienced when reading his 1966 memoir for the first time many years back.

Mr. Hotchner doesn’t footnote or source his materials. What appear to be Hemingway tall tales (I’m this time questioning the reality of a supposed encounter with Josephine Baker) are once again presented with equal weight and gravity as Hemingway memories and events supported by the historical record.

Hotchner's signature from my
autographed copy of
When “Papa Hemingway” was still a fairly young release, some ventured the opinion—one I happened to share—Hotchner was working from Hemingway letters recast in the form of conversations or real-time dialogues between the two men.

In this newest book, the long running monologues attributed to Hemingway (a couple even jarringly changing tense at points) are often consistent with the Hemingway voice that comes through in the novelist’s voluminous correspondence.

Reading this newest Hotchner release, I was once again nagged by the notion at least some of this material is again drawing from the Hemingway and Hotchner letter exchanges—a written dialogue profound enough to have resulted in a nearly 400 page collection of their writings back and forth published in 2005. (These can be found in “Dear Papa, Dear Hotch,” University of Missouri Press.)

In the end, not much new ground is broken in this latest Hotchner release regarding Hemingway, but the flashes of authentic Hemingway voice—and Hotchner’s easy to digest narration—make this a diverting way to pass a couple of hours in revisiting a bittersweet and pivotal moment of Ernest’s life.

Friday, January 1, 2016


As a novelist who’s released several titles in late November and early December in recent years, I always get more than slightly irked when critics start issuing year’s best lists several weeks before Thanksgiving.

Now that 2015 is well and truly at our backs, some thoughts on the handful of books that best reached me this past year.

(Last note for context: Many, many more books were read over the past twelve months; far fewer were fully enjoyed. Sadly, 2015 might well represent the year in which I more or less began an indefinite hiatus from reading most mystery and crime fiction releases. I seem to find myself much more drawn to westerns, historical novels and novellas heading into 2016.)

My favorite nonfiction read came this year from Palgrave and James Ellroy scholar-supreme Steven Powell. My full review of this one is forthcoming via Crimespree Magazine, but here’s a capsule take on Mr. Powell’s excellent study on Mr. Ellroy, “James Ellroy Demon Dog of Crime Fiction”:

“Focused most squarely on Ellroy’s fiction, Powell’s richly researched study pays intelligent and valuable attention not just to Ellroy’s early, often neglected or overlooked novels, but some of his uncompleted projects, as well.

“Powell’s book is a must for Ellroy’s fans and his detractors: a clear-eyed study and assessment of an audacious author who has in many ways subverted and reinvented crime fiction while simultaneously crafting a persona that sometimes threatens to overshadow those achievements.”

At least a couple of these titles fall only loosely under this heading—I confess that up front.

The novel I wholly savored (both in bound form, and as an audio book via Recorded Books and narrator John Lee) was the latest in an ongoing series from the Godfather of Irish Noir.

Ken Bruen’s “Green Hell,” the eleventh entry in his Jack Taylor series, was a bracing pleasure. I most loved this latest entry for its meta-fictional, funhouse take on Bruen’ Galway investigator.

A young scholar decides to write the book, so to speak, on our Mr. Taylor, the ex-Irish cop turned private detective.

As a result, we get a very different point of view on the sardonic, addiction-plagued and bibliophilic Mr. Taylor.

Bruen also takes us on a kind of “darkest hits” tour of Jack’s past disasters as this would-be Boswell traces his subject’s wicked history ala the faceless reporter who tracks the losses of a certain newspaper tycoon in Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.”

It’s no mean feat to come up with something truly fresh in a continuing series roughly a dozen installments in, but Ken Bruen does so, brilliantly.

“The Rose of Roscrae, A Ballad of the West” by Tom Russell, accompanies his brilliant double album that I reviewed earlier this year (and which remains my favorite 2015 musical release). The annex book is touted as, “A program guide with Libretto.”

The slender volume, which also contains the lyrics to said album, is equal parts artistic mission statement, director’s-cut audio commentary and a sort of Cliff Notes songcatcher’s treasure trove that gives us a tour of the songwriter’s craft reaching back to handed-down Celtic airs and indigenous American folksongs we know but don’t really know nearly enough about.

But Mr. Russell knows.

Here’s an opening line to sink your reader’s teeth into:

“In the 1970s, workers tearing down the fun House at the Long Beach Pike, near where I grew up in L.A., discovered a dummy on the wall—which turned out to be the mummified remains of an old gunfighter… It got me to thinkin’…”

“Roscrae” leads to another, late-in-2015 favorite.

Among the many artists who perform on Russell’s album is the brilliant Nashville-based singer-songwriter David Olney.

Mr. Olney penned a song about a French prostitute and her World War I veteran “client” that I first heard and fell in love with a few years back via an Emmy Lou Harris cover and titled “1917 — The French Prostitute.” (Here's a killer version from the writer himself.)

That track was first made known to me via the afore-praised Ken Bruen. (These sort of strange, cross-connections between my favorites seem to come up in my life as audience, a lot.)

Olney recently released a first smattering of collected lyrics under the title, “The Songs of David Olney, Volume I.”

Mr. Olney has tremendous range and reach as a songwriter and composer. I keep finding songs I’ve been attached to here and there that prove to be his babies.

Along with a revelatory introduction, the songwriter provides little vignettes or histories explaining the spark or epiphany behind each piece of writing.

Here’s an excerpt shedding further light on one of my favorites of his songs, “If I Were You”:

“This song seems so simple and yet, to me, it’s very complex. As soon as you say, “if I were you …” It becomes murky as to who is being referred to. Is it me or you? Who put a candle in the window, me or you?”

Here’s a video of Mr. Olney performing that tune with the also brilliant Sergio Webb:

My last favorite was a book of poetry by James Sallis, “Black Night’s Gonna Catch Me Here: New and Selected Poems” from New Rivers Press.

Mr. Sallis also has the distinction of having penned two of my favorite “crime novel” series, a brilliant biography of Chester Himes, wonderful volumes of short story collections and various translations and scholarly books on the guitar. He is also a frequent and gifted reviewer of other authors, as well as a noted fiction writing instructor.

Here’s just a snippet, from “Excuses for Rain”:

“Words roll between us,
the old words, and I have come to tell you
how rain regrets its decision,

“how very hard it has tried
to make the world something else
for you.”

(Mr. Sallis has a new novel coming in 2016 that sounds quite promising. Preview, and pre-order, here.)

There were some other good and savored reads last year, to be sure, but these were exclusively older books that were new only to me, or which I chose to revisit for a sure-fire read when the new stuff was disappointing.

Heading into 2016, I have some new volumes on Ernest Hemingway, some Les Edgerton and a couple of can’t-talk-about-them yet ARCs to explore.

My resolution—the only one I feel truly comfortable making on this first day of the uncertain new year—is to use this space more aggressively in the coming year as a kind of reader and music-fan’s diary.