Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Sunday, August 23, 2020


 Openers:  There had been a gunfight earlier in the evening, but the, in a place like this one, there usually were gunfights earlier.  And later, for that matter.

The name of the place was Madame Dupree;s and it was one of the big casino-drinking establishments that were filling the most disreputable part of San Francisco in this year of 1903.  The Barbary Coast was the name for the entire district and, yes, it was every bit as dangerous as you've heard.  Cops, even the young strong ones, would only come down here in fours and sixes, and even then a lot of them got killed.

-- Ed Gorman, "The Old Ways" (from Tales of the Great Turtle, edited by Piers Anthony & Richard Gilliam, 1984; and Pirate Writings #10, 1996)

I never met Ed Gorman, nor did I correspond with him or spoke to him, yet he was an important part of my life for several decades.  Ed was a writer's writer.  A good writer, not necessarily a great writer (although he had the talent to be one and some of his work could only be described as great).  He was a writer who respected the craft, a writer who read and enjoyed and  absorbed the works of others, a writer who became a friend to many others in the field, a writer lent his talents to others when needs be.

I don't know that much about his early life but, from what I have been able to glean from his writing, it was not an easy one.  He grew up wearing hand-me-downs from his cousin, the child actor Bobby Driscoll.  (Driscoll, like many other child actors, his life went downhill as he got older; he started using drugs at age 17, moved to New York in hopes of rekindling his career, became part of Andy Warhol's art colony for several years, left there penniless, and his unidentified body was discovered in a deserted East Village tenement in March of 1968, dead of drug-related causes [he was identified over a year later]; his life and death had a profound impact on Ed.)  Ed spent twenty years in the advertising business and ran his own agency for a while.  Those years were marked by alcohol, drugs, and unhappiness as Ed became a person he did not like.

His way out was writing and Ed wrote and published a number negligible stories.He published in many fields and considered himself a genre writer.  In 1982, he married his Carol Maxwell, a teacher and children's and young adult writer.  He credited fellow Iowa writer Max Allan Collins with showing him how to write a novel and his first novel, Rough Cut, was published in 1984.  Soon after he left his day job and became a full-time writer.  Although he has published in almost any genre, he is best known for his crime, suspense, and western novels.  Among his series characters are Jack Ryan (ex-cop, part-time ator, and security guard), Tobin (movie critic), Jack Walsh (sentimental private eye), Robert Payne (psychological  profiler), Sam McCain (small town attorney), Dev Conrad (political consultant). Noah Ford (western military investigator following the civil war), Dev Mallory (post Civil War Secret Service agent), Guild (old west bounty hunter), Anna Tolin (early female police officer), and the futuristic cops of Star Precinct.  

Bill Pronzini called Gorman "one of the best American writers to enter the crime field in the 1980s, bring fresh ideas, characters and approaches."  Pronzini adds, "His mysteries are an amalgam of pure entertainment, social commentary, symbolic statement, and in-depth studies of what he terms 'outsiders trying to make peace with the world.' "  He was also been called "The poet of dark suspense."  His best writing is marked by a distinct empathy for his characters, flawed as they may be.  Much of his work  was rapidly produced for whatever market he was aiming at -- his three-volume SF series Star Precinct (published as by "Daniel Ransom" and co-author Kevin Randle, a pair of very readable although unsuccessful women suspense novels in the Mary Higgins Clark style, "nonfiction" work for hire for so-called ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren, and so on.  His horror novels under the name Daniel Ransom are effective but rushed; the author said he never knew how to end a horror novel.  There are probably a number of books out there that he wrote we may never know about.

But the stuff we know!  Especially his mysteries and westerns.  He had a special affinity for small town America (particularly his home state of Iowa) and its people and history.  My favorites among his books has to be the Sam McClain series (about a struggling lawyer in the Fifties) and his Guild series of westerns; others may rightfully claim others as their favorites.  When he was good, Ed Gorman was very, very good.  Perhaps his impressive story was the Spur award winning story, "The Face" -- a must read.

Aside from writing, Ed Gorman was an impressive editor with over 80 anthologies to his name, often edited with his good friend Martin H. Greenberg.  Ed was a co-founder and long-time editor of Mystery Scene, and was the force behind that magazine's Best of the Year anthologies, later continued under his own name. With Greenberg, Ed was responsible, for a number of single-author collections from Five-Star Press, often bringing light to the careers of capable writers of the past.  He was no slouch at nonfiction, either, editing books about mystery writers, a Dean Koontz tribute anthology, and (with his friend Kevin McCarthy) an examination of the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  (Ed's name was also included on the copyright notice of McCarthy's two novels; often copyright notices were the only indication that Ed had a hand in a book.)

Ed was a champion of many forgotten writers, bringing notice of past works in paperback that had disappeared over time.  He seldom traveled, preferring to remain in Cedar Rapids and indulging in long phone calls to his many friends he never met in person.

Ed Gorman was diagnosed with incurable multiple myeloma in 2002.  He production slowed down a bit after that, but he kept writing stories and novels that kept his readers enthralled.  He died in 2016 and is greatly missed.


  • Tom Piccirilli, Deceased.  Horror novel.  "Something is calling Jacob Maelstrom back to the isolated home of his childhood -- to the scene of a living nightmare that almost cost him his life.  Ten years ago his sister slaughtered their brother and parents, locked Jacob in a closet...then committed a hideous suicide.  Now, as the anniversary of that dark night approaches, Jacob is drawn back to a house where the lines between the living and the dead is constantly shifting,  But there's more than awful memories waiting for Jacob at the Maelstrom mansion.  There are depraved secrets, evil legacies, and family ghosts that are all too real.  There's the long-dead writer, whose mad fantasies continue to shape reality.  And in the woods there are nameless creatures who patiently wait the return of their creator."  Piccirilli was a blazing, brilliant writer in many genres, gone far too soon.
  • [unknown author], April Kane and the Dragon Lady:  A "Terry and the Pirates" Adventure.  A juvenile novel published in 1943, illustrated with drawings adapted from the comic strip in 1939.  James Reasoner reviewed this book on his blog back in 2007 and states that it was based on a sequence from the original comic strip.  His review is here and can do better justice to the book than I can:

Going Postal:  A lot has been written about Trump's attempt to subvert the upcoming election by hobbling the Postal Service.  Under the guise of "cost-cutting," Postmaster General William DeJoy had eliminated overtime, removed essential sorting machines, removed mail boxes, and remove a number key, experienced postal officials, all in an apparent attempt to block mail-in voting during the pandemic.  Trump has gone on and on about how mail-in voting will lead to the biggest election fraud in history.  As usual. our president is making up so-called "facts" to promote his personal agenda.  Under pressure, DeJoy has announced that his proposed changes with be "rolled back" until after the election.  Yeah, right.

A leaked internal memo has instructed postal maintenance workers not to return or hook up the sorting machines despite any orders from their local postmasters.  Another leaked memo has ordered postal employees not to speak to any member of the media.  How much the Postal Service will live up to the rollback of DeJoy's order is open to question.

A couple of facts.  The Postal Service was never designed to make a profit.  It's a government service, provided for in the Constitution.  To ask it make a profit is akin to asking our armed forces or our public schools to make a profit.  Despite this, the Postal Service had been operating in the black until a few years ago when Republicans in Congress mandated that the Postal Service fund 75 years of future pensions within ten years -- that's pensions of current and future employees.  The Postal Service is already a semi-private operation and it appears that it may be part of a long-time Republican dream to privatize as many government operations as possible.  (They call it "cost-cutting."  Others may call it profiteering.)

Please note that DeJoy has little or no qualifications for his post, other than being a major Trump donor as well as having a large financial interest in three companies that directly compete with the post office.  It is also interesting to note that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been named as the one who orchestrated DeJoy's attempt to block mail-in voting.  Mnuchin's qualification for his post appear to be 1) producing the movie Suicide Squad, and 2) taking advantage of the 2008 financial debacle to become the "Foreclosure King," evicting thousands of people from their homes.

Despite their attempts to derail the election to the point that Trump could call it "rigged," hope remains that this clown car of an administration is voted out in November.

Pretty Poison:  Alexei Navalny, the Russian dissident, remained in a coma in a Berlin Hospital after being allegedly poisoned -- something that happens to be quite common among critics of Vladimir Putin.  Quite common.  Very common.  Downright universal.

Putin, a former KGB official and current thug, gangster, murderer, interferer of elections, and all-around tyrant, likes poison.  It eliminates political obstacles without being directly traced back to him.  Poison is a theatrical way of killing someone and a method of control, often giving other opponents of the regime fear to act.  

Investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya managed to survive being poisoned, but she was gunned down less than two years later.  Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr., managed to survived poisoning twice, the first time losing his kidney function, the second being placed in a medically-induced coma.  Pyotr Verzilov was suspected of having been poisoned in 2018, but nothing was proved.  Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned and killed by polonium-210 paced in his tea.  Sergei Skripal and his daughter managed to survive a poisoning attempt by a military-grade nervve agent; another man was not as lucky.  And the beat goes on.

Putin has a lot to answer for.  And Donald Trump likes him.

Little Black Quasha:  When Scottish author and illustrator Helen Bannerman published her first book, The Story of Little Black Sambo, in 1899, it was hailed as having one of the first black heroes in children's literature, and was cited by critics as positively portraying its hero in both story and pictures -- something that was true when compared to most other children's books with black characters.  But 1899, as they say, was another country.

For the first fifty years after the book was published, it was considered a children's classic  
(I remember it being read to my second grade class in the early Fifties), but for the past half century or more the tale has been considered as racially insensitive.  "Sambo" has become a racial pejorative and I truly doubt it is being read to schoolchildren anywhere in the United States today, not even in Mississippi or Alabama.  And those original illustrations?  Well, they were drawn in "pickaninny style" (Langston Hughes' term, not mine), even though Bannerman's Sambo was a boy from the south of India.

But with the success of The Story of Little Black Sambo, Bannerman went on to publish similar books, including Story of Little Black Mingo, The Story of Little Black Quibba, Sambo and the Twins, and The Story of Little Black Quasha, and involving Indian children who were all transformed in the public's mind as black Africans.  

One review of Quasha on Amazon said, "The story of 'Little Black Sambo' is improved on here, this time our hero is little Quashaa kind, intelligent girl who loves to read and whose unselfish assistance to an unfortunate person is rewarded." Judge for yourself.  Here is the 1908 American edition, "by the author of 'LITTLE BLACK SAMBO'."

A footnote:  A popular restaurant chain in the 50s through the 70s named Sambo's (named for its two founders Sam Battistone and and Newell "Bo" Bohnett) made the marketing mistake of using images from the book as part of their interior design.  Decried as being racially insensitive, the 1,117 restaurant chain finally died in the early 80s, and perhaps rightly so.

God Bless the Corn:  In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, at the intersection of 57th Street and Minnesota Avenue, there was a much-loved (albeit briefly loved) stalk of corn that grew through a crack in the concrete.  Named The 57th Street Corn, this plucky piece of vegetation even had its own Twitter account.  According to mayor Paul Tenhaken, the stalk of corn became a symbol for the people of the city during its brief life.  "Finding joy in the small things will continue to help us get through what has become a challenging time in our country.  It was 'amaizing' to see the community rally around the 57th Street corn as a sign of hope over the last few days."  Wednesday morning, Sioux Falls learned that someone had ripped up the single stalk of corn.  A community mourns.

But that's not the end of the story!  Resident Chad Theisen and his children rescued the moribund plant in hopes of reviving it.  They bought a pail at a local hardware store and replanted it.  "A local corn-growing crew was quickly dispatched to the scene of the crime and efforts to save the patient began," he said.  Theisen hopes to replant the corn in a safer place.  For those interested, his family named the corn stalk "Cornelia."

Quote for Today:  "If Monday had a face, I'd punch it."

Only in Florida:  While I am building up a warehouse of recent Florida Man stories, here's the third (of four) "Only in Florida" compilations:

On the Plus Side:
"Like stars to the sky, so are the children to the world.  They deserve to shine!"  -- Chinonye J. Chindolue

Today's Poem:

The Coming of Good Luck

So good luck came, and upon my roof did light,
Like noiseless snow, or as the dew of night:
Not all at once, but gently, as the tree
Are by the sunbeams tickled by degrees.

-- Robert Herrick


  1. I miss Ed very much. He was so encouraging to me as I tried to begin writing. He never missed FFB and promoted forgotten women writers like Elizabeth Holding as often as men. I never met him either but I felt close to him. I also miss Bill Crider and Ron Scheer and Randy Johnson. My FFB crew means so much to me.

    1. We are so lucky that you inspired so many wonderful people in your FFB crew, Patti.

    2. A lot of breadth of sprit in the quartet cited there.

  2. Ed was a good man and I second what Patti said above. He was so supportive of me and always offered a story when I was working on an anthology. He sent me two of his paperbacks with personal messages written within—such a caring wonderful human being. Miss him dearly. Thanks for this post.

    1. David, there are few people who made this world seem emptier when they left it. Ed Gorman was one of those special people who touched many lives.

  3. Thanks for mentioning the late and missed Tom Piccirilli, and happy to know of one of his that I'd missed. I especially liked the Terrier Rand novels.

  4. Howard, so much talent, so little time to show it off.