Review: Killing Time in the Catskills

51dn6rqsgqlKILLING TIME IN THE CATSKILLS
The Twisted Tale of the Catskill Ripper:
Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ McNally Halliday
Kevin Owen
Moonlight Press, 2019

You know how it is being a crime writer: you idly google to find any local crime or interesting murders in the region, so being confined to the Hudson Valley at present I decided to do a little looking around and discovered the tale of Maggie/Lizzie McNally [several other married names] Halliday (or actually Halladay because her last husband’s name was misspelled). Intrigued by the short version of her life and misdeeds, and like so many of us at present far too inclined to use any excuse to get more books, I ordered Owen’s in hopes of getting a lot more useful detail on the intriguing suggestions an internet search brought. She was interviewed by Nellie Bly! What all did they talk about? She was actually Irish: was she really credibly accused of not only being ‘the worst woman on earth’ but also possibly Jack the Ripper?

Owen’s book offers a lot of detail presented in a straight-forward manner, reasonably free of the constant rhetoric deploring the obviously terrible actions which can mar these local histories. Believe me, her actions speak quite plainly for themselves! She may not be the worst woman on earth even in the late 19th century, but she sure caused a lot of mayhem.

Lizzie (or Maggie as she was called by her family then) came over from Co Antrim after her father John and oldest brother Sam got a foothold in the US. The youngest of eight children, at about 8 years of age, Maggie/Lizzie arrived in Newburgh, NY with lots of other Irish immigrants. Like so many of the immigrant women who arrived then, she soon left school and went into service. It didn’t take long to find out that her temper did not suit being a servant. A pattern soon emerged of Lizzie demanding money that she felt she was owed and revenge against anyone who said otherwise.

Lizzie found being a washerwoman offered some measure of independence in comparison to being a servant in a fine house, where her last job ended when she threatened a child with a knife. As Owen points out, there wouldn’t be much record of her early life ‘if not for her outbursts of violent temper and threats to others’ (19). At fifteen she marries for the first time one of her washing clients, Charles Hopkins — who of course is not really who he says he is but Keetspool Brown, a deserter from the British Army. Oh and he’s still involved with a married housekeeper — who’s soon found dead. Was it suicide? Was it Charles/Keetspool? Was it Lizzie? Did her murderous career begin here?

She has a child with her first husband — a son who will eventually be taken away from her for his safety. His fate is unknown. Also the cause of death of her first husband was unclear: typhoid? Too long inhaling bristles from the brush factory he worked in? Or maybe poison? She claimed it wasn’t her: husband number two — much older and with a good pension and an opium habit, that was much more likely to be Lizzie’s plan. The third husband lost all his money but managed not to lose his life. The fourth survived some poisoned tea. The fifth was the first to be almost as young as she, but soon disappeared. For a time Lizzie took to ‘tramping’ (hobo life) and sometimes living with the Travellers who had come to that region.

Things go on all the way to her last fatal husband and a curious double homicide that may have had something to do with revenge. The murders were a sensation — her capture and trial even more so. Women who murdered tended to be more genteel: the brutal and contemptuous manner of her final spree shocked the nation.

And it didn’t all end there!

Well worth a read. A few quibbles: not once was Antrim spelled correctly; the page layout is a bit wonky but you get used to it. Because part of my interest was wanting to dive into the primary materials I found the bibliography a confusing mess. With no footnotes or endnotes, it is doubly vexing to have no discernible order to the works cited nor connection to the information in the text.

By the way, no: no credible chance of her being linked to the Whitechapel murders.

Review: Gumshoe Blues

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GUMSHOE BLUES
Paul D. Brazill
Punk Noir Magazine

Blurb:

Following the breakdown of his marriage, in a booze addled flash of inspiration, Peter Ord decides to become a private investigator. However, is Seatown ready for him? More to the point is he ready for the Seatown’s cast of ne’er do wells, gangsters and lunatics? Peter must tackle many challenging cases, including one involving a legless crooner. When he comes under the radar of local crime lord, has he bitten off more than he can chew? With sidekicks like hack Bryn Laden failure is not an option it’s compulsory.

Review:

There is always reason to rejoice when a new Brazill book hits the streets. The northern setting of Gumshoe Blues offers a laconic pace which suits the humour and makes the stark failures of the impromptu gumshoe Peter Ord a little (dare I say it?) poignant. As Vic & Bob can tell you, Northern doesn’t always travel well down to the sunny climes. Their loss, because there’s much amusement here along with the noir-flavoured escapades. The adventures of this PI ‘feel like they rolled out of a Tom Waits song’ — crime with the feel of a shaggy dog story, complete with running jokes.

Ord’s adventures seem to ramble, but most of the colourful characters (like Tuc, the guy who tattooed his own neck looking in the mirror) and seemingly disparate threads  effortlessly web together in the end. Brazill makes it look easy. After all, the only sin is making it look like work — or playing bad music.

The world of Seatown feels so real that you’ll be sure you’ve walked those streets and heard those songs. Chances are you ran into Ord in some dark pub. He was the one in the corner in the suit beginning to fray, nursing a bad hangover and wondering how he got there. Buy him a drink. He needs it.

Another Fine Review for LOVE IS A GRIFT

love-is-a-griftA fine new review of LOVE IS A GRIFT over at stalwart reviewer Col’s Criminal Library. He found entertaining the mix of:

Sex, drugs, drink, music, crime, robberies, guns, bikers, kidnap, witches, family feuds, take-downs, consequences, trailers and diners, fake friends, dead boyfriends and a swimming lesson, real friends and a false alarm, nasty neighbours, a werewolf PI in the background, a good deed and an oven clean, and lots more.

Col has been a great supporter of the crime community for some time. Check out his massive collection of reviews at the blog and be sure to leave him an encouraging word. He’s been kind enough to review Satan’s SororityExtricate and Smallbany, so I am eternally grateful.

Also check it out: Fahrenheit Press and F13 in the news!

Review: Worst Laid Plans/Bang Bang You’re Dead

Kicking off the Tête-bêche series from Fahrenheit Press (AKA 69Crime), it’s Aidan Thorn’s Worst Laid Plans and Nick Quantrill’s Bang Bang You’re Dead. While I am published by Fahrenheit, I paid for this book out of my own pocket, because I knew it would be a worthwhile read.

Thorn’s book has a fun premise:

Vinnie Travers, lead singer with The Down & Outs literally doesn’t know what’s hit him when his path crosses with four young lads on a night out in a borrowed Mercedes.

Andy Dickson, home alone while his parents are on holiday, is left trying to figure out how a simple night out with some mates ended with a dead body flung hastily into the backseat of his dad’s car.

But it’s not until the next morning that the fun really begins…

This fast-paced novella has a new twist around every corner. I was laughing out loud with the unexpected changes and the always brutal, black humour. It will keep you  guessing as things go from bad to worse and oh the clever plans that just go wrong. A hoot. I’ve got a soft spot for a heist gone wrong and this one just gets wronger.

Flip it over and you’ve got Quantrill’s gritty realism as a change of pace.

Fresh out of prison, Sam is back home and determined to turn his life around. Be the man his family needs him to be. But it’s not so easy going straight when you’re friends with Jonno. 

Drawn into a drugs deal involving petty local gangs, things quickly take a turn for the worse when he discovers the notorious Nolan brothers are involved. 

With simmering rivalries coming to the fore, Sam has to decide between new and old loyalties. And with old sores over his brother’s death being picked at, it’s not so simple. Especially when you have a gun in your pocket.

Things start off bad and then get worse. He’s got an eye for the downward spiral of a town run by thugs, where every choice lands you in ever hotter water. Just when you think you can’t trust anyone, help may come from an unexpected source.

Check out all the Fahrenistas and get yourself some hot sauce while it lasts.

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Limited edition!

 

Catch Up on Reviews: Harris, Simenon, Libby, Spark

Cari Mora by Thomas HarrisCARI MORA
Thomas Harris

I was really excited about a new book from Harris. His best work is hypnotic and even books of his that others have disparaged, I have greatly enjoyed (though I would have loved to see an editor push him through one more reqrite of the climactic scene of Hannibal Rising). Much of this novel is fascinating and exciting. I could have done without the constant reminders of how attractice the main character is, but her background as a child soldier was gripping and tragic. The primary antagonist, Hans-Peter Schneider, was singular and repulsive in a particularly interesting way and there were all the elements of international crime to keep the plates spinning and the tension taut. As many have mentioned, however, it all feels a bit thinly sketched. I would have loved to see a lot more of this world. The inclusion of a chapter of Red Dragon at the end just made me want to re-read that immediately. The book is gorgeous but since Penguin is doubling down on publishing and promoting fascists and anti-Semites, I don’t plan to throw money their way any time soon.

Georges Simenon - Maigret and the Good People of MontparnasseMAIGRET AND THE GOOD PEOPLE OF MONTPARNASSE
Georges Simenon

Penguin book, too, but as I found it on the shelf at the pub, I didn’t hand any money to them. A particularly good shelf that day, where I had to choose between a few good choices. I am slowly acquainting myself with the Simenon catalogue, though I think there’s something essentially Gallic missing from my sensibilities. I can appreciate Simenon without really liking him. Maybe — after listening to Andy Lawrence talk about them — I need to try some of the romans dur instead. I did enjoy the first part of the biography of the writer, but had to return it to the library when I changed countries again. Shall have to get back to that. I enjoyed this; Simenon’s style is without artifice. I always learn from reading him.

LIBBY
Milt Machlin

I have been obsessing on Libby Holman for a while now. The tragic torch singer inspired the theme song for LOVE IS A GRIFT and the film that we used in the music video. Holman was a huge star on stage, lived life to the fullest, but everything started to go wrong when she married the spoiled heir to a tobacco fortune. He shot himself but local prejudice and anti-Semitism led to Libby being charged with murder (despite her husband having a long history of suicidal tendencies and raging alcoholism). They finally give up on the trial, but from that day things seem to go south. She never quite gets her career back on track and people around her seem to die at an alarming rate — including her bizarre and needy later relationship, Montgomery Clift — and her own sad end. But she left her estate to Connecticut where its natural beauty can be shared by all. Kind of a trashy bio, but a quick read.

SYMPOSIUM
Muriel Spark

I can end on a high note: my god, Spark is a wonder. Is there anyone who can skewer quite so deftly as she? Who can whip together murder, Scots border ballads, eccentric relatives and snarky suburbanites with apparent effortlessness? Margaret worries she has the evil eye, Uncle Magnus has a purple tie, the painter would quite like to paint and not have dinner parties, the mother of the groom wants to give them a Monet even though she rather hates the bride and what’s really up with the servant and his very expensive watch. This is the kind of book where all the unexpected pieces fit together so neatly that when you finish it, it is tempting to re-read it immediately to relish the pleasure of it all. Clever, but not in the way that people usually mean that. Delightful is a better word. Savagely so. Laugh out loud funny, too.

Congratulations!

2019-04-23 09.15.38Winner of the big prize package is S. Naomi Scott. Check out her book reviews! Her fab review of LOVE IS A GRIFT can be found here:

This is modern, fast-paced, hard-hitting neo-noir doing exactly what it’s supposed to do and doing it remarkably well.

Thanks! Every review helps. Sometimes it wins a prize.

 

Love is a Grift: Giveaway #3 THE BIG ONE!

2019-04-23 09.15.38
Check it! A super prize package that includes an XL t-shirt, travel mug, notebook, and sticker all emblazoned with S. L. Johnson’s wicked cool cover design for LOVE IS A GRIFT plus a free download of Victoria Squid’s theme song for the book. What do you have to do to win?

Review the book LOVE IS A GRIFT.

  1. Buy it or get it from the library (don’t steal it — crime belongs between the covers!) and offer your opinion at Amazon or Goodreads or on your blog (or some combination thereof).
  2. Tell me where your review can be found. Tweet the link to me or drop it below here in the comments.
  3. That’s it: you’re in the bin for the drawing which will be held May 15, 2019 before I change continents again.
  4. Open across the globe! I will verify the items have been mailed, but I cannot guarantee delivery by your mail service. They will be going out from the USPS to the address that you give me. Be sure to use the format they employ.

Love is a Grift Giveaway #2

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UK folks! We have two paperback copies of LOVE IS A GRIFT and we’re giving them away on the Fox Spirit Books Farcebook Page. Go over there hit like (and why not like my page, too?!) then comment on the pinned post that you want it!

Fox Spirit Facebook Page

That’s it! Prizes drawn — probably by cats — on Tuesday April 23rd. And if you get a freebie, you’re going to review it, right? Because that’ll put you into the running for giveaway #3…

Love is a Grift Giveaway #1 Redux

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Okay, there was some kind of Amazon glitch (don’t ask me). BUT NOW!

*5 US-only* ebooks given away at random — sorry folks outside the US, them’s the vagaries of the ‘zon.

Click here: requires watching our theme tune video (see what we did there?)

That’s it! Gotta be in it to win it, as they say in NY. And if you get a freebie, you’re going to review it, right? Because that’ll put you into the running for giveaway #3…