Sunday, November 22, 2015


Every year about this time, as people start thinking about books for gift-giving, I start getting emails asking for tips on where new readers to the Hector Lassiter novels should jump in, what order the books should ideally be read in, and so on.

The short answer is that the cycle of 10 novels and single short story collection (all but the last novel and the short story anthology have been released) were designed to tell a larger story but can, really, be read in any order you prefer.

Only the last novel, still to come, should be read, well, last.

Also, on their first pass through publication, editors and publishers cherry-picked the series, publishing the first four out of my own intended, loose order, further confusing matters.

A couple of years ago, Betimes Books got rights to the entire Lassiter saga, and began publishing the old and new novels in something as close to chronological form as is feasible. (Tough to do perfectly, given some of the novels sometimes jump decades in unfolding their stories.)

In that spirit, and in sincere gratitude for your holiday gift-giving support, a very short description of the Lassiter novels in new, intended publication sequence follows:

(One caution and an effort to mitigate riled Amazon reviewers who might get something they don't expect: The series is written for adults who have urges and weaknesses of their own. Some bad language occurs...people couple. These are literary thrillers, or crime novels, if you like, but decidedly not cozies or even mysteries, per se. Historical figures come and go throughout. Most of the novels turn on real crimes and events. Character drives plot. End of caution.)

ONE TRUE SENTENCE: This is Hector at ground zero; a novel about how the man became the author/screenwriter we follow through the other books. Set in Paris, in 1924, the novel is a love-letter to the City of Lights and attempt to transform Ernest Hemingway's A MOVEABLE FEAST into a crime novel. Hemingway appears throughout, along with other expatriate icons of the era.

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: A love story, and the only direct sequel in the series and so, practically speaking, the novel to read after OTS. This one takes Hector to Key West, coming right off the end of ONE TRUE SENTENCE. Along with that novel, FOREVER effectively completes Hector's apprenticeship, closing out his origin story, so to speak. This is the one novel in the series that contains no historical figures, though it is based on two historic crimes.

TOROS & TORSOS: If you're going to sample one novel and decide on others, I'd point you to this one. It's the Lassiter novel that looms largest and globe-trots with the most audacity. This one is based on a series of true-life, bizarre, art-inspired crimes, including the Black Dahlia murder. Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles are supporting players. If I truly have a favorite among my novels, this is probably it.

THE GREAT PRETENDER: Orson Welles returns, and we follow him through the bizarre triumph of "The War of the Worlds" panic broadcast and on into the filming of the noir classic, THE THIRD MAN. It's a nice companion piece for TOROS, and sets the groundwork for Orson's final appearance in HEAD GAMES.

ROLL THE CREDITS: Along with TOROS, one of the big Lassiter novels. This one's set during World War II, largely in occupied Paris, but eventually moving on to post-war Hollywood, weaving in and around the events of the previous two novels but it also stands very much alone and explores the dark origins of film noir.

THE RUNNING KIND: With this entry, we enter the 1950s. Television is ascendant, the mob under fire from politicians and J. Edgar Hoover is trying to explain how he somehow missed the existence of the Mafia. A road novel, a love story... A cross-country chase through the snowy midwest between Thanksgiving and the New Year, and a portrait of a time when authors lived in fear TV would murder the publishing industry. (Always something...)

HEAD GAMES: In this reading sequence, the seventh novel, but originally the first and where it all started with the Lassiter series. Set in the late 1950s, Hector Lassiter inherits the lost skull of Pancho Villa, complete with treasure map, and things go crazy from there. The novel is coming in graphic novel format sometime in 2017.

PRINT THE LEGEND: The secret history of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's war on writers, and, particularly, on Ernest Hemingway. Along with ONE TRUE SENTENCE and TOROS & TORSOS, this one completes a kind of Papa-trilogy within the larger series.

DEATH IN THE FACE: Newly released and the penultimate novel in the series, this one features James Bond creator Ian Fleming and gives the secret history behind several Bond novels and films, including FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. A good choice not just for Lassiter readers, but for Ian Fleming and James Bond fans, as well.

With that, a wish for a safe and happy holiday season for you and yours!

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, November 8, 2015


(CAUTION: This is a visceral and fast review of SPECTRE after a first viewing. Mild spoilers are likely to happen.)

“Character is plot. Obsession is motivation. The quest, whatever else it may appear to be, is always a search for self—a race against time to a blood-spritzed epiphany. When that light bulb goes on, the world goes dark. No happy endings.”

I enjoyed freshman James Bond director Sam Mendes' SKYFALL on first viewing—particularly struck by how beautiful it looked—but wasn't as bowled over as some others seemed to be when it was fresh.

The film grew on me over repeated viewings despite some drop-jaw plot issues and a still problematic third act.

SPECTRE, Mendes' sophomore effort, I actually prefer, but I wonder how much of my enjoyment is fueled by the fact the film feels closer to a movie drawn from the Ian Fleming novels than any of the other 007 films (aside from CASINO ROYALE) since the too-short Timothy Dalton era.

Having loosely monitored reviews of this one, it's my impression European critics have embraced the movie far more ardently than American reviewers, who seem drastically split on SPECTRE's worth.

Given the fact that most current American film critics (such as they are in these sad and vapid times) were probably introduced to Bond via the tepid and lamentable Pierce Brosnan era (tellingly, I saw every Bond film in a theatre from YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE on with the exception of the last two Brosnans), I suppose the character-driven nature of SPECTRE might well test short attention spans.

On the other hand, the action pieces in this film are among the series best.

And, more importantly, there's the Craig factor.

Maybe it's the fuller haircut, or maybe it's the lighting, but Daniel Craig seems more vital and present in this film than in SKYFALL and seems easily positioned to carry on in the role for another film or two (we'll get to that).

His portrayal of Bond is his most assured and richest for my money, and Craig is now playing Bond as a seasoned veteran rather than the bravado-driven tyro who stormed through the first two films, or the embittered, injured man we followed through SKYFALL.

This is a Bond who knows his demons, embraces his darkness, but still performs with passion and a kind of ironical detachment while facing the dawning realization his life as lived offers no second acts.

The film injects more humor than we've seen since Brosnan left, but it's clever, smart stuff springing from circumstances. Some have said the movie takes a drift back to the whimsy of the Roger Moore era: I didn't find that to be so at all.

Sean Connery once knowingly remarked he tended to leave a tense scene through the humor door while Moore entered through that door. Craig is decidedly in the Connery-vein of humor with this outing.

Spectre, at last firmly again in the hands of EON productions for the first time since 1971, is greatly elevated in its 21st Century incarnation—now far more disturbing in its bloody byways and tropes. Its in-person introduction through a classical Spectre "board meeting" held in a lowly-lit and Vatican-like structure in Rome is wonderfully creepy and sinister.

But I get ahead of myself.

For the first time, a Bond film is prefaced with an epigram: "The dead are alive," before we're hurled into a Mexico's Day of the Dead ceremony, the most audacious pre-credits sequence in Bond history.

Indeed, much has been made about Easter eggs, call backs and echoes of earlier 007 films. For the most part, I found all of these homages to be clever and not too attention-getting.

I had the sense that Mendes was endeavoring to perhaps loosely bind all the earlier Spectre-driven films into a kind of revisionist, coherent origin narrative that simultaneously sets up the Spectre we met in those long-a-go Connery films while giving it a contemporary kick forward in our increasingly post 9-11 dystopia.

There's no question this film positively aches to bring us back to that classic Connery era that was already beginning to lose footing about halfway through GOLDFINGER.

For the first time in a Daniel Craig Bond film, we get the traveling dots and gun barrel opening. We also have old and new Aston Martins, white dinner jackets and mocking dialogues with rodents (see DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER) finding their moments.

Lea Seydoux is winning as Dr. Madeleine Swann and the best of Bond's female leads alongside Eva Green's Vesper Lynd, who with so many others hangs like a ghost over this film.

Lea Seydoux and Daniel Craig. And a gun.

It's been argued by more than a few in recent days SPECTRE feels like a bookend to Craig's tenure as Bond—a valedictory closing. I didn't leave the theatre with that sense, not at all.

Through the whole Sony leaks debacle, it emerged that at least one of those shaping SPECTRE's early vision originally saw this film in two parts.

The ending we got—a kind of happier spin on Gary Cooper's HIGH NOON, in terms of how I appraise it—potentially sets up the possibility of a grim, George Lazenby-like opening credits sequence for Bond 25 (Craig is under contract for that film, unless something derails that plan.)

As SPECTRE headed off into the English sunset, I was left feeling the film still held the structure of a two-chapter vision...and it felt to me like it yearned to end on a cliffhanger.

But then—instinctively—I've long held the belief (from my first viewing of SKYFALL on opening weekend, in fact), that Mendes and Craig were hell-bent on a Nolanesque trilogy, ala Batman.

Given the moving parts in place at the end of SPECTRE—not to mention some very hefty dangling plot threads that would grate if Craig didn't come back—I'm more convinced than ever this isn't the last Daniel Craig Bond, and, quite likely, not the last Mendes' 007, either.

For as much as this film echoes classic cinema Bond, it also mines classic (and mostly untouched) Fleming Bond, too. (Check out that name on the safe house near the end of the film for some real, in-the-weeds Fleming winks.) 

Given the rich and still un-mined material in the Fleming novels—chiefly to be found in MOONRAKER, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN—the possibility of even more Fleming-rich Craig Bonds looms if the producers yearn to drift that way.

(On that note, I'd personally love to see Bond 25 and 26 linked and filmed back-to-back, if only to see Craig match Connery and Moore's respective, 7-film streaks.)

Other than the increasingly nagging feeling the film wanted something other than its apparent happy ending, I loved SPECTRE, and found much of it quite sublime.

My only significant disappointment with the film is the one I went in dreading would prove to be right and that was the awfulness of the theme song by Sam Smith.

As I remarked elsewhere earlier—and sadly feel more strongly than ever I was right—putting that "song" in this film was indeed tanamount to keying one's own Aston Martin...a lamentable misstep. (Still far prefer Lana Del Rey's "24".)

But, as Connery's Bond said (in THUNDERBALL, I think), "You can't win them all."

(Featuring Ian Fleming
& the secret histories of

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