Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Blatant Promotion — Still Another Word From Our Sponsor

Seventy-one-year-old private investigator, Deets Shanahan, takes on the search of a lifetime. With only a snippet of news found on the Internet, he learns his brother — who disappeared when they were kids — could be alive and somewhere in Thailand. Eager to tie up the loose ends of his life, Shanahan and lover, Maureen, embark on an exciting and dangerous journey to find the errant sibling only to find out they may not be the only people who want to find him. Treasure, deceit and murder are at play on the streets of Bangkok and on the beaches of Phuket.

Halfway across the world in Indianapolis, Shanahan’s younger and frequent partner Howie Cross, has been set up to take the fall for murder. Two young and attractive dead bodies in the trunk of a car complicate what was supposed to be a routine, late-night auto repo for Cross. Who are the victims? Who killed them? Why? Unfortunately they aren’t the only bodies to be linked to the younger detective who is caught between the police and the people trying to frame him.

Here’s what the critics had to say about the tenth in this highly regarded private eye series:

Tierney ties the two disparate plots together at the last minute and adds spice to the story with eccentric characters, wry humor, and a spare but compelling writing style. Engaging and entertaining. — Booklist

Tierney is as entertaining as ever. In particular, thumbs up for the nice, understated septuagenarian love story. — Kirkus Reviews

The book is available in hardback, trade paperback and e-book. For more information about Bullet Beach and the Shanahan series, click here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Opinion — The Art Of The Flaneur, Continued

If you continue to peel back the layers of San Francisco, there’s more, much more than the travel brochures lead you to believe. You’ll see what the serious flâneur wants to see and what not even all native San Franciscans have experienced. Instead of hiking through the vast Golden Gate Park, (though very worthwhile, it is a “hike”), I think its likely the flâneur would rather stroll through the Panhandle, a narrow park that, besides paths, benches and trees, has no special features. It anonymously starts at the west end of the mammoth grounds of Golden Gate Park and stretches for blocks between two busy streets. This is where the people of the neighborhood go to picnic on fine days, lounge in the sun, walk their dogs and through which a steady stream of bicyclists commute to work or engage in a sort of wheeled version of flâneurism.

There are many other urban parks to stroll about. Any map of the densely populated city will show you these little patches of green. They are always worthwhile. Many are not much more than a block square, often located on the top of a hill. Buena Vista Park, which separates the Haight from the Castro, is one of the largest. It’s a helluva climb, but there are many dappled pathways through this generous if not overgrown clump of nature. Also check out tiny, prim and manicured elegant Huntington Park on Nob Hill for the ultimate “civilized” stroll. Other parks include Alamo Square (for a view of the famous “painted ladies),” Lafayette Park, Alta Plaza, Washington Park (in the shadow of the huge St. Peter and Paul Cathedral), and the beautiful Delores Park at the edge of the Mission.

Not all neighborhoods have parks and not all parks have neighborhoods. But the city is rich in places that have developed characters of their own. Here is a sampling of the lesser-known neighborhoods — in no particular order:

NOPA: The letters stand for North of the Panhandle. The intention was to separate the area from the bruised reputation of the words its designation as the Western Addition.” NOPA was to be SOHO or in San Francisco SOMA. The main street here is definitely Divisadero, which is in mid-gentrification. Curious and interesting new shops mingle with the old for an interesting walk.

Little Saigon: This is a neighborhood being settled by Vietnamese immigrants who are turning some of these tough, run-down blocks of the Tenderloin into a more family-friendly area with a number of good, inexpensive restaurants. Apparently names mean a lot. One street over, Polk Street, with its tawdry history and nicknames of Polk Strasse and Polk Gulch, is attempting a new identity — “Polk Village.”

Bernal Heights: A visitor could almost be anywhere in the country. There’s very little San Francisco here, and in a way that’s its charm as a get away. This hilltop community has character, though there has been no attempt to cutify it. Bernal Heights is self-contained and self-sustaining with less expensive homes, parks and a several blocks of a business district blessedly without chain stores.

Potrero Hill: This is a smaller, more boutiqued version of Bernal Heights. But you know you are in San Francisco because a casual walk down its main street will provide spectacular daytime and nighttime views of San Francisco’s dramatic skyline below.

Hayes Valley: This newly blossoming neighborhood appears regularly in The New York Times as the location of the new and the trendy. Its remarkable renewal occurred when the overpasses were torn down and light allowed into an area that rivaled New York’s Needle Park.

The Fillmore: There are two, possibly three Fillmore neighborhoods, all interesting. Lower Fillmore is the home of a revived jazz district. Middle Fillmore is an upscale neighborhood with expensive shops and sidewalk cafes. Where Fillmore descends again, this time north toward the Bay, it crosses Union Street, another upscale shopping area that serves the luxurious homes in Cow Hollow.

Dog Patch: Down Potrero Hill is this area where small Victorian homes survived the 1906 earthquake. Across Third Street and its abandoned dry docks and steel mills is a small neighborhood with interesting one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants, not to mention the San Francisco Chapter of the Hell’s Angels.

Noe Valley: Often called “In Vitro Valley” because of the number of blond twins wheeled about 24th Street in doublewide strollers. This is a charming neighborhood of young, upwardly mobile (used to be called yuppies) folks and the places they frequent.

Lower Haight: Two of my favorite names for business are in this part of Haight Street — O’Loony’s Market and Molotov’s Cocktails. Unlike the Hippie haven up over the hill, Lower Haight has a kind of anarchist feel about it. A very distinctive neighborhood and well worth a stroll. There’s a great stroll from here to Duboce Park and onto the Castro.

The Richmond and The Sunset: These two neighborhoods, which straddle Golden Gate Park, are in large part settled by Asians, but offer an incredible selection of small, inexpensive restaurants of every ethnic variety. They may seem exotic to the average American, yet these are very practical, working-class neighborhoods designed to serve the community. In the Richmond, Clement is the main street. In the Sunset, it is Irving. Both have an Inner and Outer designations. Inner is closer into the city. Outer gets foggy as the streets stretch out toward Ocean Beach.

West Portal: This full-service neighborhood is a transportation hub. Much like Bernal Heights, strangers could be dropped in the middle of the neighborhood and they would have no clue about what part of the country they were in. However Bernal Heights has a distinctive character unlike the West Portal neighborhood, which, though it has at least one of everything — a bookstore, banks, restaurants, real estate offices, etc. — has a strangely generic feel. It is Small Town, Anywhere, USA.

The Marina: Still another upscale neighborhood, this time with winding streets and Mediterranean-styled homes, eventually edges up against the Bay. Golden Gate Bridge views, yachts and parks. The main thoroughfare, Chestnut Street, has many shops and restaurants, busy all day long.

SOMA (South of Market): This term covers a huge area of the city that was once heavy-duty industrial. The rise of technology and the birth of Silicon Valley saw these old warehouses turned into lofts and offices for computer wizards and venture capitalist to live and work. The mix is still a little rough in places, but it is a great place to walk and find the unexpected.

CAPTION: (Top) An unmarked art gallery discovered in a non-descript alley in Little Saigon. (Bottom) An abandoned steel mill in Dog Patch no doubt waiting for the right developer. Other photographs of San Francisco neighborhoods are here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Film Pairing— Movies Of Our Times: The Ides of March, Margin Call

Films do many things for us. They allow us to escape and to engage in worlds we can only imagine with a little creative assistance. They can make us look at things in new ways and embrace ideas larger than ourselves. They can also merely act as a mirror of our times. In some ways, this last objective is the least worthy. But to look at it in another way, they are saying “we have a problem here,” and, at least by implication, “what are you going to do about it?” They are calls to action.

Both The Ides of March and Margin Call give us a real, not particularly sensational, but somehow riveting view of two very serious problems we face in this early part of the 21st Century — corruption in our political and financial institutions. In other hands, the subjects could be boring. Not here.

Ides is pretty much George Clooney’s movie. He co-wrote it, co-produced it, directed it and starred in it. But that is not to say he demanded center stage. Smart guy that he is, he was willing to chance letting others show him up. Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, and Marissa Tomei were among those who shared the screen and did so extremely well.

Clooney plays a presidential candidate trying to get the Democratic party’s nomination. Much of what we’ve seen this year with the real Republicans should show how sleazy the process is above ground. This film takes a candidate “you can believe in” and pretty much destroys the myth and reinforces the notion that anyone falling in love (and that doesn’t have to mean romantically) with a politician is destined for a broken heart. As is the case with most really good films, supporting roles (and their players) are as fascinating if not more than the principals.

Margin Call is, in many ways, less cinematic. It is small-screen stuff, very seldom leaving the offices of an investment banking firm. It will not suffer on your flat-screen TV. But that doesn’t diminish the tight and surprisingly suspenseful story that unfolds. The movie also benefits from a remarkable cast. Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci are among the players who are on a sinking ship. Their solvency and that of the firm are literally (and I do mean to say that) on borrowed time. A lowly worker discovers what management doesn’t know, the bank is about to fail. By the time they verify his findings management understands it only has hours to figure out what and who to throw overboard. As in Ides, the solution usually comes from those who have the coldest of hearts.

The only film that could be better than these two is a third that can as effectively weave together the two themes with the same quality of screenplay, acting and directing as these two accomplish. And a final word about the acting, these two films show that the current pool of English language acting talent is as good if not better than it ever was. These are repertory performances with rich, deep characterizations in tight, well-written dramas.

The Ides of March is up for an Academy Award for best-adapted screenplay (it was based on a play), and Margin Call is nominated for best original screenplay, though no doubt inspired by actual events. Both films have been honored many times over by various film-related organizations.

If we want to drink what the characters drink, we’d probably go for the Scotch. These are essentially East Coast films, so a Chardonnay is out of the question.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Blatant Promotion — And Now A Word From Our Sponsor

In a dark divergence from my other mysteries, this is a stand alone novel about the how an out-of-control mind affects the lives of others. San Francisco Inspector Vincente Gratelli is charged with finding this killer of young women — all murdered in the same way, all left with the with an intimate mark. The most recent victim is beaten and raped in her weekend cabin. There appears to be only one difference — she is still alive. There are two questions. How can these murders be stopped and how does the killer feel about unfinished business?

Gratelli and his partner Mickey McClellan understand all too well how the cycle of violence devastates not just the victim, but all of those involved. Love, jealousy and revenge play roles in a dark mystery that pits friend against friend and explores one cop’s last battle against evil.

Kirkus Reviews had this to say about Good to the Last Kiss:

“Tierney serves up a dark, twisty little gem…. Every year the genre has its Goliaths, bigger and better ballyhooed than this modest entry. Come Edgar time, however, Tierney’s well-written, tidily plotted, character-driven David of a book deserves to be remembered.”

Good To The Lass Kiss, published by Severn House, is available in hardback and e-book at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Opinion — The Art Of The Flaneur

Not long ago, The New York Times ran an article about flâneurs. This isn’t a French word for someone who makes custard desserts. The word means: “a person who strolls about idly as along the boulevard; idler,” says my Webster’s New World Dictionary. Actually the Times story was about cyberflâneurs, but I don’t want to talk about “surfing the Internet,” but meandering about the physical world. I want to explore meanderers and street dawdlers. You might call us “loiterers,” if you are of the view that one’s nose must always be on the grindstone.The reason that we still use the French word is that there is nothing in the English language that translates literally. The word is more than an idler and a dawdler, yet it is someone who walks without a specific purpose or destination, perhaps merely as a civilized, risk-averse adventurer. It is a city walker who goes where curiosity and/or whim leads. It is seeking answers without posing the question. If you did this in the countryside, you’d be a hiker and no one would look at you askance or wonder if you were up to no good. They would think you were looking for the yellow-bellied sapsucker or a wild rose. If you meandered about most American neighborhoods you’d be stopped and questioned for suspicious activity. And in fact, in most American cities, uglified by strip malls and interstate ramps, walking around is not a very appealing activity anyway.

The flâneur is more likely to be able to practice in European and Middle Eastern cities and towns. The older the city, the older the civilization the less likely, I suspect, it has been tampered with by some of the more cold-hearted, crass modernizing city planners who are dominated by need for parking lots and big box stores. In North America, the pickings for the romantic flâneur are fairly slim. One is often assaulted by the nightmarish repetition of chain stores. A street of Starbucks, McDonalds, Walgreens, Seven-Elevens, and Radio Shack can be anywhere. Why would we ever leave Houston or Dallas if we were to end up on the same street in Cleveland?

New York is a decent city for us. It’s possible to meander about Manhattan and have interesting and varied experiences. I’ve had interesting walking experiences in New Orleans and Washington D.C. (two of my favorite cities) as well, but the strolling areas are few and small. So, while I am open to correction and addition, I would make the case that San Francisco is the best American city in which to practice the art of the flâneur. I am not saying that because I live here. I live here, in large part, because I am a flâneur.

Why San Francisco? For one reason, it is surprisingly small. The entire Bay Area, of which San Francisco is, in essence, the anchor, has a population of 7.5 million in nine counties. San Francisco proper, though, covers an area of seven miles by seven miles. Its actual, official population is smaller than that of Indianapolis, (though swelled by the unofficial population of visitors and daytime commuters). Its dimensions make the city a flâneur’s delight.

If you are a flâneur seeking life along the water, San Francisco is surrounded by it on three sides. The West end of the city butts up against the ocean. The North end of the city is where the Ocean meets the Bay, which, in turn, sweeps around the entire East side. So there are beaches, marinas, parks, piers, shopping areas, historic buildings, farmer’s markets, neighborhoods, and restaurants, not to mention baseball parks, biotech centers and abandoned steel mills.

Inside these watery edges are hills, hills and more hills. And because there are hills, there are also valleys and all sorts of neighborhoods on top of the ridges and beneath them. There are the predictable delineations of the areas to be perused. Union Square is the heart of shopping, from Banana Republic to Hermes. The financial district hosts the expected high-rises of world banks and high-tech Pacific Rim headquarters. There are the usual downtown streets, some with galleries and unexpected restaurants as well as nameless bars serving whiskey and rye. The Civic Center has made room for the grand spaces — the Opera House, Symphony Hall, Asian Museum, Central Library as well as a gathering of city, state and federal buildings, all this near UN Plaza, which has its own Wednesday farmer’s market.

But beyond all of that, and far more interesting in many ways, are the many towns within the town — villages in some cases, neighborhoods perhaps. There is Chinatown, where there are streets lined with fresh produce and alleys filled with the plastic clicking sounds of Mahjong tiles. There is the Mission, a huge, largely Hispanic enclave, a city unto itself, within a city. Bakeries, restaurants and bookstores reflect the rich culture of Mexico as well as Central and South America. It is also — and knowing its redundancy to put it this way — the new avant garde. Writers, artists and the young and chic live or at least go clubbing there. Then, the legendary the host of the Beats, North Beach provides beautiful churches, incredible Italian restaurants and coffee shops. Grant Street, a block above a more tourist-oriented Columbus, provides a variety of one-of-a-kind shops, galleries and restaurants. There is the Castro, the gay neighborhood, falsely and sadly mischaracterized as “notorious.” These areas, along with the carney-esque Fisherman’s Wharf and the hippie-hyped Haight-Ashbury, still living off the “summer of love,” are what the world comes to see.

However, I’d like to point out that these are the “known knowns,” as one of our more poetic war promoters pointed out and there are “unknown knowns ” to consider. For these special places for flâneurs to roam we wait until next Monday's post.

CAPTION: Photos are from the San Francisco album on my home page. Please click here to see more.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Film Pairing — The Fame Game, The Seamier Sides of Hollywood and Broadway

When I watched the two films I’m recommending I was trying to find a couple of the great old black and white films with tough guys, dark alleys, the kind of 50’s comic-book crime films that were comforting in their predictability and provide a little escape from reality. Sometimes I’m just in the mood for the mood. Sometimes, though, I’m fooled. The description or the movie poster doesn’t really get it right.

This was especially true of The Big Knife. The name said that its going to be a rough ‘em up black and white film. After all, it starred Jack Palance and Ida Lupino. That’s not what happened. What I found was a story that was a little larger in scope than what I expected and incredibly better written. The Sweet Smell of Success came highly recommended by another mystery writer and I found it to be the movie he said it was. And, as it turned out, the two were a perfect match. But it wasn’t until I did a little further research that I understood the relationship one had with the other.

Both The Big Knife (1955), an adaptation of a Broadway play, and Sweet Smell of Success (1957) were based on the words of American playwright Clifford Odets. He didn’t have kind things to say about what went on beneath the surface of the great white way and behind the private gates of Hollywood.

The Big Knife tells the story of a popular film actor whose dark secret was covered up by studio big shots, essentially saving his career and a lifestyle to which he had become accustomed. The actor, who always portrays the strong, principled hero, must pay the price, however. And the price is his freedom. He is now just another studio puppet, a rich one, but a puppet nonetheless. He is neither the man he portrays on screen nor the man he used to be. The cast is stellar. In addition to Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, who played against type, there was Wendell Corey, Rod Steiger, Miss Shelley Winters (as she was uniquely designated in the credits), Jean Hagen and Everett Sloane. The action all takes place inside the actor’s luxurious Beverly Hills home, revealing the film’s theatrical roots.

If The Big Knife is good — and it is — The Sweet Smell of Success is better. Minus the touch of melodrama that affected The Big Knife, this film exposes a nasty, overbearing New York gossip columnist who could make or break a celebrity’s career and a Gollum-styled agent who would do anything to get his clients in the papers. The two combine to control the life of the columnist’s younger sister — for her own good, of course. Burt Lancaster masterfully undertakes the role that at least spoke to the kind of power real-life columnists like Walter Winchell held over the lives of others. The late Tony Curtisplayed the slimy agent, showing anyone who might have doubted it that Curtis was an actor of the first order. Martin Milner played the object of cold-blooded, malicious rumor.

The two films, together, provide a glimpse at the underbelly of the entertainment world. Broadway and Hollywood are, in many ways it seems, not so different or at least weren’t so different in the mid fifties.

The evening demands cocktails. This is the sophisticated 1950s. Rum and Coke for the ingénues and Martinis for the tough-minded. Most of us probably fall somewhere in between

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Blatant Promotion — And Now A Word From Our Sponsor

Late one night San Francisco Private Investigator Nicholas Lang picks up someone he believes to be a female prostitute. Neither “female” nor “prostitute” are quite true. And what should simply be an embarrassing misunderstanding becomes a deadly walk on the wild side.

The next morning, a woman hires Lang to find her missing husband, a very rich and powerful man. Lang wants to find out why a low-life private eye is being singled out for such a high-level job, but things move too fast. As Lang begins to look into the missing person, he is approached by two San Francisco homicide inspectors who consider him a prime suspect in the murder of the “prostitute” — an illegal Vietnamese immigrant. Before the first nightmare is over, the young P.I. realizes he has put his life on the line for his second client who may or may not have a missing husband, who might or might not live on a boat in Tiburon and who seems to have an odd way to settle the bill for services rendered.

Lang now has more questions than answers. What happened to the missing man who was about to take over the US’s corporate feudal system? And who murdered the poor and powerless transvestite? What he discovers about each case has dangerous consequences. He is the target of two, separate, but lethal forces.

In the course of the investigations, much of what seems real isn’t. The missing are not missing, the dead are not dead, and Lang’s own identity comes into question.

Mascara: Death in the Tenderloin is available as an e-book from Amazon ($3.99) and as a trade paperback from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Opinion —What's It All About Alfie? Or More Damned Musings

Writing crime fiction came about relatively late for me. I’d always written. Even as a kid, who was not at all adept at sports nor brilliant in science and math, I began stringing words together. In the first grade I took my ukulele around from school room to school room and strummed the strings. An inept infant troubadour, I made up songs as I went along. The fact that I didn’t know how to actually play the ukulele or know any songs didn’t seem to bother me. My fellow five-year-olds didn’t seem to mind as long as they still got their Graham cracker cookies, milk and a nap. There may be those who will bring this up later when I talk about writing books.

At any rate, in the later elementary grades, I wrote skits, plays, short stories, and poems. Some of the skits were 15-minute comedies inspired by the TV show, The Honeymooners. My best friend and I performed them for elementary school talent shows. He played Norton. I was Ralph. I was built for it. It was a genuine pleasure to hear others laugh at what we had written and performed. And they did.

In high school I was often able to save myself from failing grades by offsetting poor test scores or late homework with creative term papers or unexpected special projects. It backfired once. I hadn’t read Return of the Native all the way through before the book report was due. I wrote a review of the first third of the book, using Thomas Hardy’s style, hoping my teacher wouldn’t notice that I failed to include any remarks about the last two thirds. Miss Wood gave me an “F,” not because I failed to review the entire Return of the Native or that the writing was not up to par. On the contrary, she was sure I had plagiarized the report. I couldn’t possibly have written it, she said. I did write it. I could, even then, pick up word use and prose patterns. In a sense, (risking literary blasphemy here) it was the same as copying the style of The Honeymooners. I used to be able to mimic celebrities, at least some of them, fairly well. Sadly, that talent has deserted me. Fortunately, for those around me, I know that the talent has deserted me. I’ve also given up the ukulele and acting. But I never gave up writing. And with the exception of Thomas Hardy, I used my own voice.

For one thing, writing has often been the way I earned my living — advertising, speech writing, newspaper stories. And it may have saved my life. When I was drafted and sent to Vietnam my writing and typing skills pigeonholed me as an “information specialist” rather than a foot-soldier in an infantry platoon. Even though I traveled throughout the country doing stories for military publications, including Stars and Stripes and Army Times and was very occasionally in harm’s way, I was far less vulnerable than what I came to see as the “real” soldiers.

Later, this ability to put words on paper enabled me to get jobs in corporations without a college degree or do temp-work to stay afloat during what I might euphemistically call my unsettled years. I could write and write and write, pretty much what anyone needed — at least well enough. The only thing that eluded me was the novel. And this was what I wanted to do more than anything else. Whenever I tried to write something longer than a short story, I would just wander off on various tangents and not find my way back. I spent two years after getting out of the service dedicated to writing a novel. I worked at it. It didn’t happen.

I stumbled upon the idea of writing mysteries when I was 40. Understanding the structure and discipline of the mystery novel allowed me to give a little direction to my meandering. The idea that almost any good story — almost all fiction in one way or another — involves a mystery to be solved gave me comfort. I didn’t need to rely completely on a formula, nor be completely grounded in the history and traditions of the genre. If I chose, I still had as much freedom as I wanted; yet I could coral my tendency to let the narrative wander aimlessly where it pleased. Being a flâneur, which I’ll no doubt talk about soon, is one thing on the city streets and another in writing.

Even during a time when it appeared my career as a novelist was over (it wasn’t, thank goodness), I kept writing. Why? Because it wasn’t all about the money or having a finished book in hand. For me, writing fiction — the process of it — provides something beyond those rewards, something else altogether. I don't think I'm alone in this. It is a driving force for many of us, something that keeps us writing when the odds against anything we write ever seeing the light of day seems insurmountable.

I think that force, at least for me, is the pursuit of the unknown and perhaps the unknowable. Secrets. Uncovering secrets. Secret thoughts. Secret lives. What are the secrets others try to keep from us? What are the secrets we’re trying to keep from ourselves?

For me, the desperate search to save my grades, however unsuccessful the resolution turned out to be, gave me considerably more insight into Hardy’s mind than recanting plot points to prove I read it. Writing skits, however juvenile, provided some clues about the nature of humor. The ukulele? Well that was just foolish.

But back to secrets. What would you kill for? Who are these people you write about? Don’t you have to know them? Feel and think what they feel and think? Inhabit their minds and souls — at least a little? And, in doing that, you are mining your own mind and soul. How far will you go? And of course, the difficult part of the art or craft — why would anyone care?