Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, February 27, 2023


 Openers:   A middle-aged man taking stock of his life is to be expected.  But for this to be my midpoint, I would have to make it to 94, and anyway, it was the ghost of my past haunting me, not my conscience, which after all was the nine millimeter Browning automatic I still carried all these years after my father killed himself with it -- when I disappointed him taking the Outfit's money to get ahead on the Chicago PD.

As I write this I'm closer to 94 than 47, which was my age in October 1953 when I caught an Ace Company cab outside the Kansas City Municipal Airport.  The cabbie was colored, which in a city where the population was 10% of that persuasion might not have been a surprise.  Still, Negro hackies didn't generally work white areas, though airport runs could make for a decent fare and those who didn't like the driver's shade could take the next ride down, and those who didn't give a damn got a smile and a nod and no funny business like unrequested tours of K.C.

And I didn't need one of thiose -- I'd done jobs here hefore.  The airport was five minutes from a downtown whose "Petticoat Lane" on Eleventh Street had smart shops and patrons who could afford to frequent them; around Twelfth and Main were the usual stores and palatial movie houses, a few blokcs east was a civic center whose plaza included two of the taller buildings, the Courthouse and City Hall, with the massive bunker of Municipal Auditorium to the southeast.

Everything was still up to date in Kansas City.  They were giving my toddling town a run on the meat-packing and agricultural fronts.  They had an impressive art gallery, fine arts museum and kiddie-pleasing zoo, and the industries included steel, petroleum, and automotive manufacturing.  And one once-booming local enterprise that had faded since the '30s had made a big comeback recently.

"You in town about that kidnapping, boss?  the cabbie asked.

-- The Big Bundle by Max Allan Collins, 2003.

Nathan Heller, "private eye to the stars," whose career Collins has chronicled for eighteen novels now (with at least one more to come), from 1983's True Detective to this, his most recent, has been involved with some of the most famous mysteries and crimes of the mid-Twentieth century -- the Chicago mob wars, John Dillinger, Ma Barker and her boys, Frank Nitti, Bugsy Seigel and the founding of modern Las Vegas, the Lindbergh kidnapping, the Harry Oakes murder case, the assassination of Huey Long, the rape and murder of Thalia Massie in Hawaii, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the Roswell UFO sightings, the Black Dahlia murder, the Kefauver Organized Crime Investigation, the death of Marilyn Monroe, the first plot to assassinate John F. Kennedy, as well as the post-JFK assassination outbreak of mysterious deaths involving Warren Commission witnesses, the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg spy case, the Sam Sheperd murder case, and now the child kidnapping and murder of Bobby Greenlease, which leads Heller to Robert Kennedy's investigation of Jimmy Hoffa.  Along the way Heller has rubbed shoulders with Eliot Ness, Clarence Darrow, Orson Welles, Chang Apata, Sally Rand, Jack Ruby, Dorothy Kilgallen, and many others.  The hallmark of all of these stories is meticulous research and a seamless blend of fact and fiction.  The Heller novels are not only well-written, but they are fun.

Collins has won the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America twice for Nate Heller novels.  He's been nominated for the Shamus at least eighteen times (I've lost count), and has been awarded that organization's Lifetime Achievement Award, The Eye.  He has been named a Grandmaster by the Mystery Writers of America.  He co-founded the Tie-In Writers of America.  He authored the graphic novel The Road to Perdition and its many sequels.  He took over the Dick Tracy comic strip from Chester Gould and was its writer from 1977 to 1992.  He created the hitman Quarry, whose adventures have been translated to television and movie screens.  Working from a vast amount of unfinished manuscripts and notes left by his friend Mickey Spillane, Collins has seamlessly continued Spillane's Mike Hammer saga and other works.  As a champion of Spillane's writing, he has written several books about the author, the most recent being Spillane:  King of Pulps, written with James Traylor -- see below -- (and absolutely recommended by me without reservation).  His detailed research is also evident in two nonfiction books about the career of Eliot Ness.  With his wife, Barbara Collins, he has written the long-running Trash 'n' Treasure series of mysteries.  He has written tie-in novels, computer games, puzzles, trading cards, and art books.  Collins has written and produced independent films and plays.  Oh. and he's a musician who has been inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

No mater where his creative juices have taken him, Collins remains a consummate craftsman and his works are highly recommended.  If you have not read him before, The Big Bundle is a good place to start -- knowledge of the previous books in the series is not required.


  • Lawrence Block, Small Town.  Block's paean to New York City, written shortly after 9-11.  "That was the thing about New York -- if you loved it, it worked for you, it ruined you for anyplace else in the world.  In this dazzlingly constructed novel, Lawrence Block reveals the secret at the heart of the Big Apple.  His glorious metropolis is really a small town, filled with men and women from all walks of life whose aspirations. fears, disappointments, and triumphs are interconnected by bonds as unbreakable as they are unseen.  Pulsating with the lives of its denizens -- bartenders and hookers, power brokers and politicos, cops and secretaries, editors and readers -- the city inspires a passion that is universal yet unique in each of its eight million inhabitants."
  • Walter Brooks, Freddy and the Bean Home News.  The tenth (of twenty-six) books about Freddy the Pig.  "Mean Mrs. Underdunk has gone too far.  First she fires Freddy's friend as editor of her paper, the Centerboro Guardian.  Then she declares that no more news from the Bean farm will be published -- including Freddy's poetry.  So Freddy the Pig and his animal pals decide to take action and print the first animal newspaper, the Bean Home News.  But when Freddy's paper starts to become more popular than the Guardian, strange things start going wrong for the animals, and Freddy discovers that being a newspaperman isn't as easy as it looks!"  I'm lucky that I've never outgrown the Freddy books.  How about you?
  • "K. C. Constantine" (Carl Kosak), Blood Mud.  A Mario Balzic novel.  "Balzic has had a heart attack.  Constantine has a little fun with the private eye novel, and the crime -- a gun-shop break-in -- gives the author a chance to assess the insurance and newspaper businesses, the Mob as antihero, the wars against drugs, and, again, the value of each human life."  Whenever I pick up a Constantine novel, the author's use of language astounds me.
  • Max Allan Collins & James L. Traylor, Spillane:  King of Pulp Fiction.  The first full-length biography of "the most popular author of all time."  "Beginning in 1947 with I, the Jury. Mickey Spillane's crime writing career charted one of the most meteoric rises in modern letters.  The author quickly amassed a readership in the tens of millions, which made him the bestselling novelist in the history of American publishing.  His Mike Hammer private eye novels were rough, violent, and sexually suggestive, which made them a lightning rod for controversy in post-war America.  Scorned by critics and the literary establishment, Spillane's work was nevertheless beloved by readers, and his characters soon spawned film and television adaptations that were as popular and influential as the books on which they were based.  His enormous success changed the course of popular fiction in the decades that followed and inspired scores of imitations.  There is, however, more to the life of Frank Morrison Spillane than his books.  Born in Brooklyn, raised in New Jersey, the young son of a bartender worked as a circus performer and fighter pilot before his writing career took off, and, through writing, he went on to a career as an actor, a crimestopper, and a Miller Lite spokesman in commercials so popular they ran for a quarter of a century.  These stories and more are included in Spillane:  King of Pulp Fiction, the definitive biography of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, written by the author's friend and collaborator, Max Allan Collins, and pulp fiction scholar James L. Traylor."  If there is one nonfiction crime-related book you must read this year, this is it.  Update:  I finished the book late Sunday evening and it is good.  Very good.
  • John Creasey, The Withered Man.  The fourth of six adventures featurng Bruce Murdoch, originally published in England in 1940 as by "Norman Deane."  "Wherever he appears the Nazis strike next.  Sighted in Rotterdam, Oslo, Brussels, Amiens, he is rumored now to be at work in England, contacting potential sympathizers, plotting the seeds of confusion, demoralization, and fear.  Is he an advance agent of the invasion?  Could it be only weeks, perhaps days, away?  Once again Bruce Murdoch and Mary Dell are sent after the Withered Man.  It should have been their wedding day.  But Britain has no time for rejoicing.  John Creasey writes that the mood of this book...recalls that period in England when 'rumors of invasion were commonplace and every morning might prove to be the day when it really happened.' "  As readrs of this blog are well aware, I am a Creasey addict.
  • Warren Ellis, Gun Machine.  The second novel by the comic book legend (Transmetroplitan, Global Frequency, Red, X-Men, Batman, Hellblazer, Moon Knight...the list could go on).  "After a shoot-out claims the life of his partner in a condemned tenement building on Pearl Street, Detective John Tallow unwittingly stumbles across an apartment stacked high with guns.  When examined, each weapon leads to  a different, previously unsolved murder.  Someone has been killing people for twenty years or more and storing the weapons together for an inexplicable purpose.  Confronted with the sudden emergence of hundreds of unsolved homicides, Tallow soon discovers that he's walked in on a  veritable deal with the devil.  An unholy bargain that has made possible the rise of some of Manhattan's most prominent captains of industry.  Now Tallow is searching for a hunter who performs his deadly acts as a sacrifice to the old gods of Manhattan and who may, quite simply, be the most prolific murderer in New York City's history."  In 2020 Ellis was accused of sexual coersion and manipulation by a grouip of women, whose numbers now reach about 100.  Ellis has apologized and said that it was a relationship problem and "not predatory behavior."  He has reached out and, as of last year, was in a mediated dialogue with his accusers and they are "making progress in a guided transformative justice process."  Since the accusations, Ellis has lost some contract work.
  • "Mira Grant" (Seanan McGuire), Blackout.  Science fiction/fantasy novel, the conclusion of the Newsflesh trilogy.  "The World din't end when the zombies came.  We just wished it did.  The conspiracy that rules post-zombie America is alive and well.  The same can't be said of the bloggers who dared to tell the truth as they found it.  Now, with too much left to do and not much time to do it in, Shaun Mason and his team must face mad scientists, zombie bears, and rogue government agencies -- and if there's one thing they know is true in post-zombie America, it's this:  Things can only get worse."  The first book in the trilogy, Feed, won a Goodreads award, and was nominated for the Hugo, Locus, and Shirley Jackson Awards;  the second book, Deadline, was nominated for the Goodreads, Hugo, Locus, and Philip K. Dick Awards, while this book has been nominated for a Goodreads and a Hugo Award.  Not to be outdone, Grant later wrote a fourth book in the "trilogy," Feedback.
  • Bentley Little, The Return.  Horror novel.  "Famous for its legend of the Mogolion monster, a legend that no one really believes, Sprngerville suddenly is transformed into a dark and dangerous place after an excavatiopn team unearths three shocking artifacts -- the figurine of a screaming woman, the jawbone of a deformed animal, and a child's toy.'
  • Walter Mosley, Gone Fishin'.  An Easy Rawlins mystery.  "The setting:  Houston 1939.  Easy and Mouse are young men just setting out in life.  Easy has yet to develop his skill for unraveling the secrets of others, and Mouse has yet to kill his first man.  All will soon change.  Although he's frightened that Mouse will know of his earlier liason with EttaMae, nineteen-year-old Easy agrees to  drive his friend to Pariah, Texas.  Traveling in a 1936 Ford Mouse has "borrowed,"  the two begin a journey to retrieve money from Mouse's stepfather, daddyReese -- money the volatile Mouse wants to use to begin his marriage to EttaMae.  They are soon engulfed in a shrouded bayou world of voodoo, sex, revenge, and death that changes their lives and entwines their destinies."  
  • Andrzej Sapkowski, The Last Wish.  Fantasy novel, the first featuring Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher.  "Geralt is a Witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long traininig and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin.  Yet he is no ordinary murderer:  his targets are the multifarious monsters and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent.  But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good...and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth."  Translated from the Polish by Danusia Stok.  I have not seen the television series yet.  Should I?

Yo-Yo Ma:  Because I bring you the good stuff, here's a seven-year-old Yo-Yo Ma playng for presidents John  F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower at "an American Pageant for the Arts" on November 29, 1962.  He is accompanied by his older sister, Yeou-Cheng Ma, performing Jean-Baptiste Bravel's "Concertino Numer 3 in A Major.."  The pair are introduced by Leonard Bernstein.

Continuing With the Good Stuff:  Here's six and a minutes of baby pandas!

Cooper Union:  Abraham Lincoln was not considered a serious candidate for president at the beginning of 1860.  That all changed 163 years ago today because of a speech he made on a snowy night in front of some 1500 people at the new Cooper Union building in lower Manhattan.

The Republican Party was scheduled to name its presidential nominee in mid-May.  The leading -- almost presumptive -- contender for the nomination was New York Senator William Henry Seward, a former state senator and governor who held extreme abolitionist views.  In addition to his outspoken anti-slavery attitude, Seward had several other political negatives at the time --he had stated that there was a higher law than that of the Constitution, and he favored immigration and was not anti-Catholic.  A former member of the Anti-Mason and the whigh Parties, Seward had the strong support of the powerful political boss Thurlow Weed.  Weed also had his negatives, however, was opposed by a block of prominent Republicans such as William Cullen Bryant, Horace Greeley, and Hamilton Fish.  Seward's main opponents for the nomination were the anti-slavery leader Frank Blair and noted abolitionist Cassius Clay.

And then there was Abraham Lincoln, a political neophyte who had made a remarkable impression in the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.  And lost.  Lincoln continued to make political speeches, which were always well-received.  But Lincoln remained a lightweight; the general concensus was that he was "not prepared for presidential purposes."  The major Republican candidates fascing Seward -- Blair, and Clay --were scheduled to address the Young Men's Central Republican Union of New York on February 27, 1860; the organizers were hoping that something would happen there to help deter Seward's nomination.  The event was to have been held at Henry Ward Beecher's Brooklyn /Church, but the venue was changed at the last minute to the newly-built Cooper's Union building.  Lincoln was added to the program because the organizers felt they had to have someone as a contrast to Blair and Clay.

Lincoln, whoi had assiduously avoided declaring his presidential ambitions, took the invitation seriously and spent months researching and writing his speech.  "His primary source had been the six-volume* Debates on the Federal Constitution by [Jonathan] Elliott.  He also consulted the official record of the proceeding of Congress, The Congressional Globe, American history books, and other sources."  (* This was actually a five-volume work; the quote may be in error, or Lincoln may have consulted a lesser-known edition.)

Lincoln's address was in three main sections:  the first showed that the majority of the signers of the Constitution felt that slavery could be prohibited in national territories (as opposed to states); the second allayed the fears of Southern Republicans -- the party was not going to threaten s;lavery where it already existed; and the third was a plea to Northern Republicans to exclude slavery in the country's territories.  (Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which "freed" all slaves held in the Confederate states, in effect, emancipated those slaves who had escaped from the South; the Confederate States of America, deeming it self a legitimate entity, felt this edict had no standing within its borders.)

Lincoln ended his address with these words:  "Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor firghtened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves.  Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it."

It was a powerful speech and the response was overwhelming.  Four New York papers printed the speech in its entirity, as did newspapers in Chicago, Detroit, and Albany.  For his part, Seward realized that, as a practical and political matter, he had to moderate his tone.  Two days later, he gave a major speech that said the Republican's only goal was to limit slavery from entering the territories, adding that Southern sentiment had misconstrued Republican intent.  Seward went to to condemn the actions of John Brown.  He carefully avoided the words "free" and "slave," speaking instead of "capital States" and "labor States."  Seward's speech, also widely reprinted, helped to shore up his support with the Republican establishment.  Lincoln's speech, however, was more candid, more intellectual, better researched, more positive, and did not gloss over the moral issues of slavery.  Lincoln soon found himself invited to speak at a number of New England venues. which enhanced his reputation and made him a viable candidate for the Republican nomination.

When  the convention was held in Chicago, beginning May15, the first round of voting had Seward with 173 votes, Lincoln with 102, with the raminaing votes scattered among lesser candiadtes and favorite sons.  The second ballot had large numbers switch to Lincoln, including many Seward had thought would be his.  The second ballot ended with Seward having 184 and one-half vores, Lincoln with 181 -- both far too short of the number needed for nomination.  The third ballot showed Sewall with 180 votes and Lincoln with 231 and one-half -- just one and one-half votes shy of the magic number.  Before the results of the third ballot were announced, however, the Ohio delegation rose to shift four additional votes to Lincoln; this was followed by additional vote shifts to Lincoln, culminating in a motion from the New York delegation that the nomination be made unanimous.  And it was so.

Although Seward was devastated by the loss and resented Lincoln beitterly, he campaigned strongly for Lincoln and his influence helped propel Linolcn's election.  The two differed on a number of issues,  but Seward accepted the offer of beconing Lincoln's Secretary of State. and worked hard in that position to prevent foreign powers from influencing the outcome of the Civil War.  The two rivals eventually grew to respect each other and became close personal and political friends.  

Seward was servely injured in the assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln when conspirator Lewis Powell stabbed him in the face and neck five times.  At first thought dead, Seward recovered from his wounds.  Seward continued to serve as Secretary of State through Andrew Johnson's presidency.  Much of his time during Johnson's administration was spent dealing with political turmoil in Mexico and with arranging the purchase of the Alaskan territories from Russia -- Seward's Folly.  He retireed to travel and write.  He died on October 10, 1872, after complaining of having trouble breathing.  When asked if he had any final words, he reportedly said, "Love one another."  A line of mourners passed his open casket for four hours.  Harriet Tubman sent flowers.

Speaking of Which:  Here's the Harriet Tubman mural at St. Alban's Episcople Church:

The Tower of Pisa:  Also on this date, in 1964, the government of Italy asked for aid in preventing its famed tower of Pisa from falling over.  Construction on the tower had begun in 1173, but by 1178 the tower began to sink during construction on its second floor.  Construction was halted for almost a century due to various political affairs and continuous wars with neighboring republics.  This "breathing space"  allowed the soil to settle and construction began once again at the end of 1233.  Construction coninuted on and off and, by 1272, engineers built one side of the upper floors taller than the other, giving the town a curved appearance.  The seventh floor was completed in 1339.  A bell chamber was added in 1372.  The largest of the seven bells in the tower was installed in 1655.

Over the centuries efforts have been made to restore the tower to its verticle, or at least to prevent it from leaning any further.  Italy's 1964 plea went unheeded because of the importance of the "leaning" tower on tourism.  The tower was strengthened somewhat in 1993 when 870 tonnes of lead counterweight were added.  By then the tower had been closed for three years, following two decades of structural studies.  The tower's tilt was reduced by 17 and one-half inches, bringing it back to its 1838 position.  By 2011, the tower was reopened and declared stable for at least another 300 years -- that numbered was revised downward to 200 years in 2008 when engineers announce that the tower had stopped moving for the first time in its history.

In an area that can be prone to earthquakes, it is notable that the conditions of the soil around the tower allow the structure not to resonate with earthquake ground motion.  The very soil that caused the tower to lean is the same soil that now protects it froim earthquakes.

Quality of Mercy:  It's the birthday of Ellen Terry (1847-1928), one of the greatest actresses of the British stage.  In 1878 she joined Henry Irving's stage company as its led actress, becoming Endgland's preeminent Shakespearan and comic actress for the next two decades.  Here is a rare recording of her performing Shakespeare's "Quality of Mercy" speech given by Portia in The Merchant of Venice:

No Brainer Day:  It's official.  This is the day to stop overthnking your problems, to keep things simple and not to fret.  Let Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band show you how to do it:

International Polar Bear Day:  Here's a short produced by Ridley Scott for Coca Cola and their campaign for polar bear protection.  Enjoy.

Ouch:  I once had a bad haircut on Stockholm, making parting such Swede sorrow.

Florida Man:
  • Florida Man David Sherman Powelson, 64, of Lee County, faces up to 30 years in jail and possibly thousands of dollars in fines on one count of first-degree aggravated felony battery after dumping two cups of water on his brother's head after an argument over a slice of key lime pie.  Powelson told told police that he had poured the water on his older brother to "cool him down."
  • Some Florida Men are tough, like Paul Broadhurst of East Orlando, who punched a bobcat in the face to save his 11-year-old daughter's dog, Koda.  The dog was uninjured, Braodchurch was left with scratches, and the defeated bobcat headed quickly for the bushes.  The Broadhurst home is next to a conservation area, and residents have been advised to walk with a large stick to fend off any possible animal attacks.  But who needs sticks when you have your fists?
  • Florida Man David Gay is suing the sheriff of Brevard County for repeatedly accusng him of being a fugitive in social media videos created to resemble television's Wheel of Fortune show -- Sheriff Wayne Ivey's so-called "Wheel of Fugitives." The Wheel contains photos and names of those Ivey considers to be the county's "ten most wanted fugitives."   Gay manintains that, at the time of each of the three showings, he was not a fugitive -- he was either in jail on misdemeanor charges, or had been released on probation.  Gay said that because of the videos, he had lost his job, had been defamed, and had suffered depression and anxiety.    According to Gay's lawsuit, he had received a three-year sentence of probation "without adjudication" for an undisclosed charge in 2020.  The "without adjudication" clause means that he was never officially convicted of any crime.  Gay was then chageed with domestic battery in 2021 when he thought his father was beating his mother; those charges were dismissed -- but because they had been filed against him, Gay was technically in violation of his probation and was jailed, where he was the final time he appeared on the Wheel of Fugitives.
  • 60-year-old Florida Man Jonathan Ghertler of Orlando has been charged with wire fraud, aggravated identify theft, and making false statements in an investigation involving deceased financier Jeffrey Epstein.  According to a criminal complaint that was unsealed last week, Ghertler posed as a general counsel and as another senior-level excutive at two Manhattan financial firms, directing personnel to pay for false investigations as to whether those firms had ties with Epstein.  Ghertler also posed as the partner of an international law firm while being interviewed by federal authorities about the case.  (Gherlter had been charged in 2001 for posing as a partner in six of the largest U.S. law firms and defrauding them of over $1 million, while also trying to convince federal authorities to drop their investigations into his involvement; for those crimes he had been sentenced to 71 months in jail.)  But Jeffrey Epstein -- Harvey Weinstein, he's just the gift that keeps on giving...
  • Four Floride Men were arrested earlier this month on charges relating to the July 7, 2021 assasination of Haitian President Jovenal Moise.  Arrested were Arcangel Petrol Ortiz, 50, a Columbian national and permanent US resident of Miami, Antonio Intriago, 59, a Venezuelan American, Walter Veintemilla, 54, an Ecuadorian American of Weston, and Frederick Bergmann, 64, of Tampa.  Immediately after the arrest, a grand jury returned a superceding document, includin the four with seven others who had previously been charged in the U.S. for their alleged roles in the plot.  Haiti, as you may know, is now largely controlled by gangs and has gone to Hell in a handbasket.  Is anyone surprised that Florida Men have been accused of contributing to the situation?

Good News:
  • He didn't learn to read or write until his late teens; now he's Cambridge University's youngest Black professor
  • World's largest dance marathon breks a record and raises $15 million for childhood cancer program
  • He survived a month ar sea eating only ketchup, now Heintz wants to buy him a boat
  • Doctors continued CPR on toddler with no pulse for three hours and managed to revive him
  • Couple stunned to find a childhood letter written in 1955 by King Charles to his "Granny," the Queen Mother
  • On World Cancer Day, this French football star scored his first goal since beating cancer

Today's Poem:
Time for change

Today the sun will rise,
and we shall be shadows,
short and fat, lean and tall,
it will not matter.
There will be work and play,
eating and sleeping, and love and hate,
and happiness and grief,
because there always is.
But it could be the day
the sun turns round,
the day the world begins
to spin another way,
the day a voice is heard,
and shadows merge,
and make the
nonsense stop.
It's in our hands.

-- Sharon Webster

This past Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine


  1. TM, in disguise: I endorse your rec of SMALL TOWN, and the pocket history of the 1860 nomination. (The delightful Blogspot software put a bit of a Block-review phrase in your next review.)

  2. I'm ordering that book on SPILLANE after reading your marvelous review! And, I'm tempted to show your post to Diane and tell her: "This guy gets more books that I do each month!"