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Wartime James Bond

October 11, 2017

The James Bond film series has always tried to move with the times, not just by embracing new styles of film-making but also by updating the political context. As such, the films have long since abandoned the idea that Bond was a Cold-War warrior. The espionage conflict between East and West was, to varying degrees, the backdrop to every Bond film from Dr No (1962) to Licence to Kill (1989). The first film of the series I saw in the cinema, Goldeneye (1995), at least acknowledged Bond was a Cold War veteran adjusting to the new threats the world was facing. But since then, the Cold War has faded from the consciousness of the recent Bond films and their younger viewers.

It should be noted that the Cold War setting of the early films was a direct consequence of a much hotter conflict – the Second World War. It’s striking how many of the key players of the early Bond series were veterans of the conflict. Fleming, like his fictional counterpart, was a Commander in the Royal Navy during the war and Bond was a composite of several RN Commandos who were in his charge. Fleming formed his band of ‘Red Indians’, 30 Assault Unit who performed daredevil missions during the conflict, although the future author saw little, if any, combat himself. Terence Young, who directed three of the first four James Bond films, was a tank commander who saw action in Operation Market Garden. Legendary art director Ken Adam, who gave the Bond sets their unique and epic look, was a German-born RAF fighter pilot. In his memoirs, Roger Moore recalled witnessing a V1 Doodlebug land on the streets of London.

The Second World War was always a lurking presence in Fleming’s Cold War thrillers. In this post, I am going to connect some moments from the Bond film and literary series to events from the war. Let’s start with Fleming’s debut novel Casino Royale (1953). In it, Bond plays a high stakes baccaret game against the villainous Le Chiffe. Fleming claimed to have based the showdown on an incident from the war where Fleming played baccaret against German agents at a casino in Lisbon, although, in his biography of Fleming, Andrew Lycett claims it is more likely Fleming got the idea from a number of wartime incidents involving other allied agents:

Ian and (John) Godfrey took the usual roundabout air-route from Britain – KLM to Lisbon and then Pan Am to New York via the Azores and Bermuda. They stayed a couple of nights in the big Palacio Hotel on the Tagus estuary at Estoril, where one of the more heavily embellished incidents in Ian’s wartime career took place. After dinner the second night, Ian wanted to play at the casino, a favourite pre-war pursuit which he had recently been denied. It was a sombre and uneventful evening in a dim-lit building. His fellow gamblers were Portugese businessmen in suits. The stakes were not particularly high, and Ian lost. As he was leaving the gaming tables, he turned to Godfrey and, with a touch of imaginative genius, tried to invest the drab proceedings with some spurious glamour: “What if those men had been German secret service agents and suppose we had cleaned them out of their money; now that would have been exciting.” […] But others have also claimed responsibility for this incident, or something like it. One was Dusko Popov, the Yugoslav double agent who worked for the British while pretending to spy for the Germans. Popov gave the British secret service an opportunity to “play back” some of the false information it wanted the Nazis to hear. Another was Ralph Iard, a fellow member of NID, who played roulette with a group of expatriate Nazis in Lisbon while he was en route to South America on a wartime mission. Iard later recalled how Ian had been very interested in his story.

And here is the climax of the card game, brilliantly dramatised in the 2006 film adaptation of Casino Royale (Baccaret was switched to Texas Holdem in the film):

The Soviet spy agency Smersh features prominently in a number of Fleming’s novels. They are portrayed as Bond’s counterparts and nemesis in Russian Intelligence, leading the fight against the decadent West. In reality, Smersh was founded by the Russians during the Second World War. After Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, a massive land invasion of the Soviet Union, the initial success of their campaign led to widespread desertion and surrender in the Russian military. Smersh was formed as an umbrella organisation of the existing Soviet Intelligence services to subvert German attempts to infiltrate the Red Army on the Eastern Front. In an article for the Journal of Contemporary History, the historian Robert Stephan suggests that the name Smersh came from Stalin himself:

According to a Soviet history of the Special Departments, there were several suggestions at a meeting with Stalin of names for the new organization. One of the suggestions was Smernesh, or Smert’ nemetskim shpionam (‘Death to German Spies’). Stalin replied: ‘And why as a matter of fact should we be speaking only of German spies? Aren’t other intelligence services working against our country? Let’s call it Smert’ Shpionam.’ Hence the name ‘Death to Spies’.

After Germany’s surrender in 1945, the duties of Smersh were transferred back to NKGB the following year and the organisation essentially ceased to exist, but Fleming found their brutal counter-intelligence methods memorable enough to make them a major Cold War presence in his fiction. In Casino Royale, Le Chiffre is the paymaster of a Smersh controlled trade union, and a Smersh agent engraves a Cyrillic mark into Bond’s hand so that other Smersh agents will recognise him as a spy. Smersh would continue to feature in Fleming novels such as From Russia With Love (1957) and Goldfinger (1959), but in the film series they feature less prominently as the colourful SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), which featured in all but one of the Sean Connery Bond films, seemed more suited to the outlandishness of the Swinging Sixties. Smersh still plays a major role in the film adaptation of From Russia With Love (1963), and more elliptically in 1987’s The Living Daylights, one of the strongest entries in the series and the last to be truly about the Cold War, where two MI6 agents are murdered with the message Smert’ Shpionam left by their corpse.

My final example is a bit more debatable in terms of the influence of World War Two. Author Jeremy Duns has claimed the pre-credits sequence of Goldfinger (1964) was inspired by an Allied Intelligence mission in which a Dutch spy was smuggled into Nazi-occupied Netherlands. The scene in the film is set in an unnamed South American country, Bond is first seen emerging from the water in a wet-suit wearing a fake duck on his head before covertly entering a drugs laboratory and planting some explosives set to a timer. He slips out of the wet-suit, revealing he’s wearing a perfect white tuxedo beneath and makes his way to a nearby tavern in which nearly all of the occupants clear out of in a panic when they hear the nearby laboratory erupting in flames. Bond stays to seduce a dancer, but they’re steamy encounter is interrupted by a local heavy who tries to knock out Bond with a cosh. After a fight between the two, Bond finishes the villain off by shoving him in a bath and throwing an electric light in the water. ‘Shocking’, Bond quips before leaving to catch his flight to Miami where the main plot of the film begins.

Stirring stuff, but what has it possibly got in common with the grim realities of a World War Two spy mission? Well Duns makes a convincing case that the scene was based on the ‘Scheveningen’ mission in which Peter Tazelaar was tasked by the Dutch Government-in-exile to covertly land ashore at Scheveningen in his then occupied home-country, and find and extract two Dutch agents and bring them back to safety in Britain:

Their plan was simple but audacious – approach Scheveningen in darkness by boat, and take Mr Tazelaar into the surf by dinghy, from where he could scramble ashore. Once there, he would strip off his wetsuit, to reveal his evening clothes underneath, to enable him to pose as a partygoer and slip past the sentries.

The operation began fairly well. Tazelaar disembarked from a British Motor Gun Boat into a small dinghy. Once ashore, he slipped out of a specially designed wet-suit under which he was wearing immaculate party clothes, and staggered, feigning drunkenness, past two unsuspecting German sentries nearby. On a later date though he was picked up on the same beach by the Gestapo and taken in for questioning but, cool under pressure, managed to bluff his way out by claiming to be a drunken reveller. The mission was ultimately blown, and while Tazelaar managed to escape he was unable to bring back the two agents.

Whether the opening scene of Goldfinger was based on the exploits of Tazelaar it is hard to say. The scene is a creative reworking of the first chapter of the novel which begins with Bond nursing a double bourbon at the departure lounge of Miami airport, and feeling somewhat grubby after being forced to kill a Capungo, Mexican bandit, who was a part of the opium smuggling ring Bond had been assigned to smash. The scene is a typically strong opening to a Bond novel, and incidentally was cited by Roger Moore as a major influence in his portrayal of the character, but it has more to do with Fleming’s lifelong fascination with the process of smuggling than his or anyone else’s experiences during wartime. There is no wet-suit hiding an impeccable tux in the book; however, Duns argues that so many of the key players in the production of Goldfinger had Intelligence experience during wartime that a knowledge of the Scheveningen mission could have easily slipped into the script. The screenplay to Goldfinger was co-written by Paul Dehn who had been a Special Operations Executive officer during the war, and the film was directed by Guy Hamilton who had served in the Royal Navy’s 15th Motor Gunboat Flotilla and had been involved in missions landing MI6 agents on the coastlines of occupied Europe.

Whether or not it was directly based on the Scheveningen mission, the opening to Goldfinger is a great scene which did much to set the formula of the pre-credits sequence being a mini-movie in itself, and the influence of the Second World War on the Bond novel and film series should not be underestimated or ignored.


The North and Romantic Fatalism in the work of David Peace

September 26, 2017

The latest issue of the British Politics Review takes a look at the political and cultural landscape of the North of England. When I was asked to contribute an article I was a little hesitant. Despite being born in Chester, and working in Liverpool I’ve never felt particularly Northern. But then I decided I have as much right to call myself Northern as anyone else, so I put together a piece which examines the great crime novels of Yorkshireman David Peace, and throws in some of my observations about the North. The article is called ‘The North and Romantic Fatalism in the work of David Peace’, and you can read the entire issue here.

On re-watching all the 007 films on the big screen, in 4K

September 11, 2017

Today’s guest post is by Craig McDonald, author of the superlative Hector Lassiter series of novels. 

This summer, I’ve been privileged to savor what’s been billed as a revolutionary, world-exclusive Bonding experience.

The very cutting-edge Gateway Film Center located on The Ohio State University campus has been presenting, “For the first time ever, all 26 James Bond films in order of release, restored in crystal clear 4K!”

That’s right: starting back on July 1 with 1962’s Doctor NO, and every fourth day since, a subsequent “classic” Bond film has been screened at a level of visual and audio quality far eclipsing that of the ABC Sunday Night Movie versions I grew up on in the late-1960s and early-1970s, or even the films I saw upon first-release on the big screen starting with (here I date myself as cinema Bond and I came into the world together in 1962) You Only Live Twice, at the tender age of five.

Hell, the quality of this summer’s large-screen 007 versions are light years beyond that of any of the remastered VHS tapes or DVD’s I’ve bought in the many years since.

As a James Bond aficionado and a novelist who not so long ago published his own 007 pastiche (Death in the Face, Betimes Books, October 2015), this summer’s film series has proven impossible to pass up.

Confession here: I didn’t see all 26 films. To get to that count, Gateway incorporated two non-Eon productions, the rogue Connery comeback and Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again —a did-see re-watch, and quite stunning in restoration; a superior film in every retrospective respect to the then-competing Octopussy, which is a lukewarm mostly Goldfinger-remake—and the original Charles Feldman-version of Casino Royale, which after a one-time viewing about thirty years ago, I swore off forever.

(Sometimes we say never again, and we goddamn mean it.)

Scattered visceral impressions:

The early Bond films, particularly Doctor No, are exceptionally stunning in these big-screen, digitally remastered renditions. All should be so lucky to have this experience: Every crease of Bernard Lee’s suit jacket and forehead wrinkles in his icy first scenes as “M” are stunningly sharp in NO, as are the beads of sweat on Connery’s forehead during that tarantula scene.

The cinematography of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the only of the non-Feldman Bond film I’d never seen on the big screen before, is strikingly edgy and beautiful, particularly in its opening, haunted pre-titles scenes set on a beach at sunset, and during the twilight ski chase down from Piz Gloria.

On that note, you also really have to see these films on the big screen in 4K to truly re-appreciate the framing of all of their exotic settings that surely enchanted and remained impossible fantasy destinations for the films’ then mostly middle-income fans across their 20th Century releases.

Last scattered impression: Despite its rogue status, Connery’s swan-song, NSNA, clearly shaped subsequent EON Bonds, from its black Felix Leiter, to Barbara Carrera’s obvious inspiration for Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp and its more grounded chief villain.

But seeing these films writ large and in tight compression this way also reminded me of many unhappy and aggravating earlier experiences and frustrations experienced during long-ago, first-run viewings throughout the 1970s and early-1980s.

For me, the Roger Moore films were nearly unendurable in real time, back-when.

Outside of his debut in Live and Let Die, and Sir Roger’s one, somewhat Conneryesque outing in For Your Eyes Only, I truly loathed nearly all of those films, then and now.

For me, Moore’s Bond also dates the most severely, not just in terms of all the wide lapels, fat ties and flared slacks, but far more for Bond’s exceedingly poor — and frequently contemptuous — treatment of women.

Connery’s swaggering machismo and interactions with females (even that crack about “man talk” and subsequent slap at Dink’s backside in Goldfinger) elicited wry and I assume-to-be ironic knowing laughs this summer, this from a mostly college-age and female-skewed audience. (As it happened, I was nearly the only male in the house for Goldfinger, this 4K-enhanced round.)

Connery could surely play the 1960s-era rake, but one gets the sense even half-a-century and more hence, Sean’s is a killer who at-base appreciates women, even if he isn’t always particularly polite to them, or above coldly using them to further aims on a mission as required.

Indeed, in several instances, Connery’s Bond seems truly engaged by and really affectionate toward his female leads, particularly in his first two outings, as well as in his last.

In my revisited take this round, Moore’s Bond once again never seemed honestly affectionate or even mildly kindly-disposed toward any of his leading ladies, not once.

From Roger Moore’s second outing as Bond, The Man With the Golden Gun

Fleming’s literary Bond often gets bad-rapped (at least in my estimation) for perceived misogyny.

But I’d argue Fleming’s original 007’s interactions with several of his female protagonists firmly contradicts that alleged defect.

In contrast to Moore, Dalton’s and Craig’s Bonds (certainly so in both actors’ first outings) are clearly smitten by — and even actually frequent and charming tools for — their cunning female foils.

I’ll state here that my most consistent companion throughout this summer’s “once-in-a-lifetime” viewing experience has been our now-17-year-old, youngest daughter.

Every generation has its Bond, and her 007 has been Daniel Craig (lucky kid). She appreciates and has real affection for Sean Connery.

Both our daughters came around on George Lazenby upon big-screen viewing of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service this summer.

The youngest also this time came to appreciate Timothy Dalton’s most Flemingesque Bond as a strong and honest foreshadowing of Craig’s current take on 007.

Despite much playing of Nintendo’s Goldeneye on a vintage video console we still have around, neither of our daughters is a Pierce Brosnan fan, not even a little.

And one soundly denounced Moore’s Bond for his manipulation of Solitaire in her summer’s critique of Live and Let Die, and consistently and correctly seized upon that version of Bond’s myriad other abuses of female characters in that film.

Most vintage 007 things hold up quite well, but some now offend.

(Many from the Moore era deeply offend, even eliciting some boos this summer).

Still, I’ll submit it’s impossible for anyone born after even, say, 1975, to grasp how revolutionary and influential the first few Bond films have proven.

Ernest Hemingway claimed all of American literature starts with Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.

I contend all of post 1962-action cinema — from Star Wars to you name it, springs from Doctor No.

Even now, with enhanced visuals and sound, the machine-gun editing speed and exaggerated sound effects of the Robert Shaw/Sean Connery brawl upon the Orient Express in From Russia With Love constitutes a revolutionary and exhilarating assault on the senses.

John Barry’s scores hold up wonderfully, even during the mostly undistinguished run of Moore era-soundtracks.

(And, please, EON, bring back David Arnold for Bond 25; much as I enjoyed Skyfall and Spectre, I’ve found the soundtracks for both films particularly un-engaging, and even more so, having heard them all again back-to-back these past weeks.)

Last night, we revisited Casino Royale: We’ve at last caught up to 21st-Century cinema James Bond.

The youngest McDonald first saw that film at nearly the same age I saw my first Bond film in 1967.

At seventeen, she got to see it better than she remembered it, in all that “crystal clear 4K.”

To watch it again in that pristine form was, for all of us, a renewed revelation and reminder how much we’ve savored Daniel Craig in the role.

And now EONs’ Bond “25” looms.

God willing, the four of us will see it together again sometime in the fall of 2018, and be enchanted anew.

My favorite Bond elements based squarely on this summer’s “enhanced” big-screen versions:

Bond Films:

  • From Russia With Love
  • Casino Royale
  • On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  • The Living Daylights

Best Soundtrack:

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Best Bonds:

  • Daniel Craig
  • Timothy Dalton
  • George Lazenby

And in class all his own:

  • Sean Connery

Youngest McDonald’s picks:

Best Bond films:

  • Casino Royale
  • From Russia With Love
  • Skyfall
  • License to Kill

Best Bonds:

  • Sean Connery
  • Daniel Craig
  • Timothy Dalton

Craig McDonald is the author of the Hector Lassiter series. A graphic novel of his Edgar Award-nominated novel HEAD GAMES will be published by First Second Books on Oct. 24.

Check out my interview with Craig from last year here.

James Ellroy Glossary

August 30, 2017

In this post our Guest Writer Jason Carter excavates and restores an early companion to the Demon Dog’s work:

James Ellroy has one of the strongest commands of language of anyone I’ve ever encountered, writer or otherwise.  I’ve often said that the Demon Dog has personally taught me more about the English language than anyone else.  This is partly why I refer to Ellroy unequivocally as my greatest teacher.

I met Ellroy for the very first time, during the Denver stop of his Blood’s A Rover tour in October, 2009, at the Tattered Cover, an iconic independent Denver bookstore.  Introducing Ellroy that night, the bookstore’s manager explicitly said that “there are many of us here at the store who believe [Mr. Ellroy] is one of the greatest writers of prose… ever.”  (You can listen to a podcast of this introduction, plus Ellroy’s wild presentation that night here)

In Reinhart Jud’s 1993 documentary Demon Dog of Crime Fiction, Ellroy acknowledges that his Lloyd Hopkins trilogy (Blood on the Moon, Because The Night, Suicide Hill) taught him the rudiments of writing, in spite of how emotionally unsatisfying those novels were for him.  With his L.A. Quartet novels and a personal challenge to make every successive novel “richer, darker, deeper, more sexed-out, weird and redemptive”, Ellroy would begin his transcendence of linguistic boundaries, and eventual vast expansion of the vocabularic capabilities of language.

Part of this complexity came about, as many discoveries do, as a byproduct of necessity.  When Ellroy submitted an 800 page manuscript for L.A. Confidential, his editor asked the Demon Dog to shorten it by 100 pages.  Most writers would accomplish this by eliminating a subplot, or even a character.  Ellroy instead focused on the book’s language and narration, cutting away unnecessary words, and stripping L.A. Confidential down to a hyper-kinetic shorthand that greatly accelerated the novel’s pace, and ultimately excised more than 200 pages from the original manuscript.

The first draft of White Jazz, written in a normal first person perspective, read flabby and excessive.  Ellroy applied his elimination technique to the L.A. Quartet’s concluding volume even more stringently than before, and thus created, in his estimation, “the perfect fever-dream voice for [White Jazz’s narrator] Dave ‘the Enforcer’ Klien”.

The 2001 publication of The Cold Six Thousand would push Ellroy’s manic shorthand to its absolute apex, with each sentence stripped to its essence.  The effect is simplistic in its singularity, yet at nearly 700 pages in hardcover, pugilistic and densely baroque in its totality.  In Ellroy’s 2010 memoir, The Hilliker Curse, he says of The Cold Six Thousand, “I wanted to create a work of art both enormous and coldly perfect… I wanted readers to know that I was superior to all other writers,” while later acknowledging the severe “ass kicking” he and the book received from critics.

The Cold Six Thousand, like many of Ellroy’s latter works, is highly rhetorical, and demands to be read aloud.  When I worked in broadcasting several years ago, I would always read an Ellroy chapter or two aloud as a vocal warm-up before my radio show, or even for a long day of recording voice overs for commercials.  I wish I had recorded these Ellroy-fueled warm-up sessions; they were quite hilarious.

If you’ve ever seen Ellroy read his work for an audience, you know the Demon Dog practically bellows each sentence.  This is primarily because the books themselves are so graphic, in language and content, that to read them in anything but the most powerful tone possible would be a severe and disingenuous injustice.  The language is itself an indispensable main character.

A classical music fanatic, Ellroy has infused all his novels with more than a respectful hat tip to his icons, particularly Beethoven.  I would easily place Ellroy among a lineup of virtuosos—literary, musical and artistic alike—including Nicolo Paganini, Franz Liszt, Anthony Burgess, Hieronymus Bosch, James Joyce, Art Tatum, and more contemporarily, John Petrucci and Steve Vai.  In fact, I once described the Demon Dog to a friend as “crime fiction’s Beethoven painted by Hieronymous Bosch, as told to James Joyce, if all three were tossed into a blender and mixed on frappe.”

Chip Kidd, who has designed the cover art for all of Ellroy’s Alfred A. Knopf-published work, described the Demon Dog as “Mickey Spilane with a master’s degree…except I know that James doesn’t have a master’s degree.”

Introducing Ellroy at the Mystery Writers of America’s 2015 Grand Master ceremony, Mysterious Press owner and early Ellroy mentor Otto Penzler said the Demon Dog’s prose style “is so original, and so powerful, that I wouldn’t hesitate to call [Ellroy] the most influential American writer of the last quarter century.”

Ellroy himself has defined his distinctive style as a “heightened pastiche of jazz slang, cop patois, creative profanity and drug vernacular” with a specific employment of period-appropriate slang.  Ellroy elaborated on this in a 2010 interview with TIME Magazine:  “I love the hard-boiled school of language,” Ellroy said.  “I love scandal language, chiefly alliteration.  I love racial invective, I love Yiddish.  I love language that is vulgar, that lives on the page.”  Anyone who’s experienced an Ellroy novel can certainly confirm that the Demon Dog’s writing is as alive as a rabid pit bull.

The now-defunct fan site, accessible via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine includes a decent glossary of the countless abbreviations and colloquialisms that abound in the Demon Dog’s cannon.  I’d come across this list years ago when the site was still active.  Not long ago, I gave Ellroy a printed copy at one of his Denver film screenings.  The list is not comprehensive, but it is to date the only Ellroy glossary I’ve ever seen.  Also, it’s more beneficial to have it here than relegated to the infinite ash pile of forgotten web pages.

And, this list is arguably one of the first published companions to Ellroy’s work—predating the efforts of both Peter Wolfe and Jim Mancall.  Overall, a helpful component to understanding Ellroy’s complex and engrossing literary style.


Feel free to riff on—and possibly expand—this collection.

Here it is, hepcats:


ADW-Assault with a Deadly Weapon.
ASAC-Assistant Special Agent in Charge.
B&E-Breaking and Entering.
Bad Back Jack-John F. Kennedy.
bagman-a person who collects, carries or distributes illegal payoff money.
Beard, The-Fidel Castro.
beef-criminal charge.
Big H-heroin.
Big Q-San Quentin Prison.
(the)big nowhere-death.
blue-a uniformed cop.
bomb-to move quickly.
brace-to stop someone for questioning.
brass hat-high-ranking police officer.
bubbkis or bupkis-nothing.
bullet-one year of prison time.
buttonhole-to grab someone.
CO-Commanding Officer.
chickenhawk-child molester.
conk-head or hairdo.
DL-Driver’s License.
DT’s-symptoms of alcohol withdrawal (delerium tremens).
dagger-butch lesbian.
ding-mentally ill prisoner.
dink-drug dealer.
Dracula-Howard Hughes.

FI-Field interview. Police reports regarding the questioning of potential suspects.
finger-a witness prepared to testify against a suspect.
filch-to steal.
fish-dead body.
4F-draftee rejected for being physically unfit.
(the)fourth estate-the press.
from hunger-very bad or inept.
fur book-pornography.
ganef-theif (from the Yiddish)
gash-woman or women (in sexual context).
glom-pick up; perceive.
GTA-grand theft auto.
gunsel-armed criminal.
(the)Haircut-John F. Kennedy.
Hat Squad (the Hats)-Homicide Division.
harness bull-a uniformed cop.
heister-armed robber.
highball-v. to move quickly. n. a mixed drink; cocktail.
hink (to)-to become aware of.
hop-a narcotic drug; esp. opium
HUAC-House Un-American Activities Committee.
hype-Heroin addict.
IA or IAD-internal affairs department.
jacked-high on drugs.
jacket-reputation or police record.
jocker-male prostitute.
juke-insult or kill.
KA-known associate
kibosh-to put an end to.
knosh or nosh-eat.
lamster-fugitive from the law.
lox-low brow film.
ME-Medical Examiner.
Mickey Finn-a drink of liquor doctored with a purgative or a drug.
MO-Modus Operandi.
NMI-No Middle Initial.
PFC-Private First Class.
PO-probation officer.
qt-short for quiet.
quail-attractive woman.
quiff-gay man.
raisinjack-potent alcoholic brew made of fermented rasins.
R&I-;Records and Information department.
roundheels-a promiscuous woman.
SAC-Special Agent in Charge.
SID-Scientific Investigation Division.
SOP-Standard Operating Procedure.
SRO-Standing Room Only.
sawbuck-ten dollars.
schtup-have sex with.
scoot-a dollar.
scrape-an illegal abortion.
shakedown-to exort money from.
shill-a person who praises or publicize something or someone for reasons of self-interest.
shitbird-a contemptible person
snatch job-kidnapping.
sosh-rich kid.
statch-statutory rape.
strung-addicted to heroin.
sub rosa-secret.
swish-gay man.
trigger-a hired killer.
trotters-horse races.
twist-a woman.
wet arts-politically motivated murder.
YA-Youth Authority.

Roger Moore 1927 -2017

May 23, 2017

I found out that Sir Roger Moore had passed away while I was at work. A colleague said to me: ‘They won’t need to canonise him, he was already a Saint.’ I had a lump in my throat, but I felt it was just the sort of one-liner Sir Roger would appreciate.

To me, as a kid, there was just no other James Bond but Roger Moore. He had humour in his voice and kindness in his manner. He made everything seem effortless and brought joie de vivre to the series. Critics might argue that is the polar opposite of what a spy should be. Everyone has their own opinion about Bond and, for me, the Bond films are neither fantasy nor gritty espionage thrillers but romantic adventures. Moore made the role his own in this regard.

Roger Moore

He was underrated as an actor and that partly stems from a lifetime of self-deprecation. If you don’t take yourself seriously, the critics won’t either. But if you look past the constant dismissals of his own talent, you could find a very skilled, engaging actor. He was a gentleman, but also a man’s man, equally at ease onscreen in the hotel lobbies of Monaco as he was in the gold mines of South Africa. It was his roles in films such as The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970), Shout at the Devil (1976), The Wild Geese (1978) and The Sea Wolves (1980) that played a part in keeping the British film industry afloat during the 1970s, or as he might have put it, ‘keeping the British end up Sir’.

I felt privileged to have seen him on stage a couple of years ago. Thank you for that Sir Roger, and for a childhood brought up on the greatest film series in history.


The Man Who Introduced Me To James Ellroy

May 7, 2017

For the following piece we welcome back to the blog James Ellroy aficionado and all-round good guy Jason Carter. Here’s Jason’s bio:

Jason Carter is an unofficial Ellroy scholar with 20-years of Ellrovian tutelage under his belt. A devoted follower of Ellroy since the age of 14,  Jason now has the enviable honor of calling Mr. Ellroy his friend.  Although, don’t think of asking Jason for any personal details about Ellroy, as Jason is ferociously protective of Mr. Ellroy’s privacy. Jason, like Ellroy, lives in Denver, Colorado.

I love a good mystery.  It’s even more entertaining when the person telling it has such an unforgettable voice.

For the 14th installment of James Ellroy’s award-winning Denver film series In A Lonely Place, the Demon Dog selected House of Bamboo, a 1955 noir directed by Samuel Fuller and shot on-location in Japan.  The film stars Ellroy’s occasional Bel-Air Country Club caddy client, Robert Stack, who would later go on to host the television show Unsolved Mysteries, from 1987-2002.

“This movie stars the very man who introduced me to you… Robert Stack,” I remarked to Ellroy shortly before the film began.  “Did you know him?”  Ellroy asked me.  “No,” I replied, “but I did watch Unsolved Mysteries almost every week when I was younger, and that’s how I encountered you for the very first time…  No one expects an episode of television to change their life; but that episode was quite the exception.”

The episode I was referring to, which detailed Ellroy’s efforts to reinvestigate the 1958 murder of his mother, occurred during the eighth season of Unsolved Mysteries, originally airing on March 22, 1996.  I was 14 years old when I first saw it.  As any seasoned Ellroy scholar knows, Ellroy thoroughly documented this fruitless, yet massively insightful quest in his 1996 autobiography My Dark Places, by far one of the most unsparingly honest autobiographies you will ever read, even if you’re not an Ellroy fan.  (You can watch the episode, fatuously re-shot with Dennis Farina standing in for Stack here)  or read the transcript of the episode here .

Towards the end of the book, Ellroy details the filming of this Unsolved Mysteries episode, even describing how the casting director commended the Demon Dog’s act when re-creating the haunting and heart-breaking scene where Ellroy views his mother’s homicide file for the first time:

“They filmed our segment in four days.  They shot Bill and me at the El Monte station.  I re-enacted the moment at the evidence vault.  I opened a plastic bag and pulled out a silk stocking.

It wasn’t the stocking.  Somebody twisted up an old stocking and knotted it.  I didn’t pick up a simulated sash cord.  We omitted the two-ligature detail.

The director praised my performance.  We shot the scene fast.”

There was definitely a magnetic presence there when I watched the Ellroy episode for the first time.  I’ve described it as a spiritual vibration, or a current of energy, an irresistible intrigue drawing me to a place many years into the future.  I had never heard of Ellroy before seeing that episode.  I never expected something as banal as television to introduce me to my favorite writer.   And never in a billion years would I ever anticipate my favorite writer to serendipitously come into my life some twenty years later!

The Unsolved Mysteries episode garnered a dizzying whirlwind of tips from viewers, all of them unsubstantiated, and all documented in My Dark Places.  One astounding feature of Ellroy’s autobiography is that it catalogues—with laser-like precision—the mind-numbing frustration and countless dead ends that distinguish a real homicide investigation.  This is an extraordinary risk that no novelist would ever even dare attempt.


Cosmic Crosscurrents

In 2002, I read Hollywood Nocturnes, Ellroy’s 1994 anthology of short stories.  A short nonfiction piece entitled “Out of the Past” begins that book, and concerns his lifelong fascination with famed accordionist Dick Contino.  Just as I was introduced to Ellroy via television, the 10-year-old Ellroy was introduced to Contino in the same way.  A year or so after seeing Contino on TV, Ellroy caught Contino’s 1958 hotrod film Daddy-O.  A year or so after discovering Ellroy on Unsolved Mysteries, I saw the Curtis Hanson, Brian Helgeland-helmed adaptation of L.A. Confidential.  That film sent me on an Ellroy-reading torrent over the next many years.  I read through Ellroy’s catalogue, along with hundreds of Ellroy interviews.

“I should have seen Dick Contino coming a long time ago.  I didn’t.  Fate intervened” Ellroy writes in “Out of the Past”.  I should’ve seen James Ellroy coming a long time ago.  I should’ve snapped to the meaning of that spiritual vibration, and read the future in the coherence of the past.

I didn’t.

Fate intervened.

Ellroy moved to Denver, Colorado, my high-altitude hometown in August, 2015.  I’d met Ellroy once before on the Denver stop of his Blood’s A Rover tour in 2009, but our lives truly collided thanks to Ellroy’s monthly Denver film series, begun in September, 2015.

“Out of the Past” reveals that it took Ellroy three viewings of Contino’s Daddy-O to fully comprehend its plot.  It took me many re-readings to fully grasp the gravity of Ellroy’s novels.

“Tell me what this man’s life means, and how it connects to my life,” Ellroy wrote of Contino.  I could say the exact same thing about James Ellroy.  This passage has always haunted me.  Now I know why.

On Monday, April 24, 2017, I was with Ellroy, sitting next to him, no less, when he and I both learned—simultaneously—that Dick Contino had passed away at age 87.   


In House of Bamboo, Robert Stack stars as US Army Investigator Eddie Kenner, who is on special assignment to investigate a murderous clique led by ex-soldier Sandy Dawson (Robert Ryan). Kenner curries favor with Dawson and his inner circle, gaining their trust while beginning a relationship with Mariko (Shirley Yamaguchi), the wife of a murdered gang member. When the police are tipped off about a planned robbery, the portentous Dawson suspects there’s a traitor among them.

“What was it like to caddy for Robert Stack?”  I asked Ellroy after the film.  “He wanted to talk about guns,” Ellroy said.  “Just guns.”

Robert Stack certainly knew plenty about guns.  A world-class skeet shooter, (Skeet Shooting is one variation of competitive clay pigeon shooting) at 16 years old, Stack became a member of the All American Skeet Team, eventually going on to set two skeet shooting world records, and, in 1971, was inducted into the National Skeet Shooting Hall of Fame.  According to publishing magnate Robert E. Petersen, Stack’s friend and longtime shooting partner, “Shooting was [Robert’s] first and true passion in life.”

Stack most famously portrayed the iconic crime fighting prohibition agent Eliot Ness in the award-winning ABC television hit drama series, The Untouchables from 1959–1963. The show portrayed the ongoing battle between gangsters and a special squad of federal agents in prohibition-era Chicago, and won Stack a Best Actor Emmy Award in 1960. He would later star in three other drama series, sharing the lead with Tony Franciosa and Gene Barry in The Name of the Game (1968–1971), Most Wanted (1976), and Strike Force (1981).

In The Name of the Game, Stack played a former federal agent turned true-crime journalist, evoking memories of his role as Ness. Similarly, in both Most Wanted and Strike Force, he played a tough, incorruptible police captain commanding an elite squad of special investigators, once again conjuring memories of Ness. Stack would eventually reprise the Ness role in the 1991 television movie The Return of Eliot Ness.

In 1987, Stack began hosting Unsolved Mysteries. He thought highly of the interactive nature of the show, remarking that it created a “symbiotic” relationship between viewer and program, and that the hotline was a great crime-solving tool. Unsolved Mysteries aired from 1987 to 2002, first as specials in 1987 (Stack did not host all the specials, which were previously hosted by Raymond Burr and Karl Malden), then as a regular series on NBC (1988–97), CBS (1997–99) and finally on Lifetime (2001–02). Stack served as the show’s host during its entire original series run.

When Ellroy reunited with Stack in 1996 for the filming of the Jean Ellroy segment, Ellroy, fresh from the publication of American Tabloid, reminded Stack of how they had met years earlier on the golf course.

“Did I talk about guns?”  Stack asked with a bit of a chuckle.

Ellroy was astonished, “Yes you did!”

The Demon Dog’s final encounter with Stack occurred at the University of Southern California’s 1997 Scripter Awards, an annual ceremony honoring the year’s best film adaptation of a book.  The honored film that year was—accordingly— L.A. Confidential.  Ellroy, Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland were all formally recognized that evening.  Stack and Ellroy shared a brief conversation, with the Demon Dog once again reminding Stack of how he caddied for the Unsolved Mysteries host many years earlier.

Robert Stack died at 84 in May, 2003.  I was a boozed-out, sugar-shoveling 22-year-old (I hadn’t yet heeded the Demon Dog’s sobriety call) and working at a small daily newspaper in shitsplat south eastern Colorado when I caught the news.

Later, in November of that year, Stack’s extensive gun collection was auctioned off in Anaheim, California at the request of his estate.  Items on the auction block included his Parker BHE Skeet Grade 28 gauge SXS shotgun with a brass inlay inscribed “National Skeet Championship 1936, 20 ga. Runner-Up, Bob Stack, Score 97×100”; a Ruger 20 gauge over/under shotgun presented to Stack by company founder William B. Ruger and the factory inscription “To Robert Stack from William B. Ruger, 1978”; and Stack’s shooting jacket with various team, tournament and police patches.

Though I’m quick to dismiss television today, finding it a fatuously hyper-kinetic massive corporate distraction, I can’t think of the haunting statement “Perhaps YOU may be able to help solve a mystery…” without hearing Robert Stack’s confident and incomparable brogue.  I owe him a staggeringly incalculable debt of gratitude.  He gave me my greatest teacher in this life, James Ellroy, and an attendant lifelong intellectual Ellrovian expedition that grows stronger with every day.

Thank you, Mr. Stack.

Three Chords and the Truth – Review

March 26, 2017

Hector Lassiter is one of the most compelling literary creations of recent years– a crime novelist who ‘writes what he lives and lives what he writes’. Lassiter was born January 1, 1900, and he witnesses some of the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. Whether he finds himself at the heart of a murder mystery with the Lost Generation in 1920s Paris, or dodging the bombs and bullets with Ernest Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War, Lassiter is never far away from violence and intrigue. Three Chords and the Truth is the tenth and final novel in the Lassiter series, and, needless to say,  it was eagerly anticipated by the many fans of the series.

Craig McDonald is the author behind the author, the creator of Hector Lassiter and the writer of five more novels outside the Lassiter series. McDonald began his career as a journalist and still works in that field today. Before his own fiction was published McDonald interviewed such crime writing luminaries as Ken Bruen, Karin Slaughter, Ian Rankin and the Three James’s (Crumley, Ellroy and Sallis). One wonders if McDonald’s conversations with these titans of the genre, creators of their own authorial personas, had a role in how he conceived Lassiter, an author immensely conscious of his own image. I had the pleasure of interviewing Craig last year (you can read our long discussion here) and we talked about the genesis and inspiration behind the Lassiter character and novels.

The novel begins with a depiction of the real-life 1958 incident when the US air force jettisoned a nuclear bomb off the coast of Tybee Island South Carolina after a collision between a B-47 Bomber and F-86 Fighter Plane. The (thankfully) unexploded bomb was never recovered giving free range for McDonald to concoct a wild fictional aftermath. Lassiter, as is so often the case, finds himself to be the right man in the wrong place: Nashville, 1958, Hector is stranded in a snowstorm and gets caught in a caper involving Federal agents, unhinged Country & Western stars and a right-wing racist cabal (who are the last people on earth anyone would want a nuclear weapon to fall into the hands of). There are shades here of the apocalyptic-themed film adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me, Deadly (1955), but it’s not just the threat of a nuclear catastrophe that looms large over the novel, there is also a complete meta-fictional reworking of the Lassiter character and authorial persona which will make you question the nature of every page of the entire series. Take this description of crime writing in the novel:

The craft of fiction writing had earned the fifty-something Lassiter a good and steady living; nice threads, pretty women and a chance to roam widely: to see a bigger world than he would ever have glimpsed working some nine-to-five, wage-slave day job in his native Southern Texas.

It is the ‘bigger world’ that every reader and writer in their heart aspires to, and the one that McDonald has given us through the Lassiter series, which is given a radical new perspective in the final pages of Three Chords.

The best Lassiter novels are the ones that give you a vivid sense of era and setting. Fans of Country music and the Nashville scene and nuclear war paranoia will rank Three Chords as their favourite Lassiter tale, but for me, I marginally prefer Death in the Face as the novel is a tribute to Ian Fleming and the world of James Bond which resonated with my cultural interests more strongly. Still, Three Chords is a superb novel and powerful coda to the Lassiter series.


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