Thursday, 31 December 2015


It was New Year's Eve and I went into the City with my college roommate Winsor H. Watson III, and his girlfriend Suze, and their high school friend, then at Smith, Sarah McElhone, who had tried and failed to seduce me in her dorm room while introducing me to Judy Collins' wonderful album In My Life.

We ate in Chinatown, had pastries in Little Italy, and hit the Fillmore East to see Mother Earth, with the awesome Tracy Nelson, and the Chambers Bros, who played us up to midnight with 'Time Has Come Today'. The song always takes me back to that place; I was 17, away at college, and my world was a rapidly psychedelicizing oyster.

We got back to Win's house in New Canaan about 5 in the morning. I was up chopping wood with his father at 8. Life's possibilities were endless....Happy New Year everybody! Here's the song:


I was saddened immensely to learn that Dave Henderson had died aged 57, of a heart attack suffered while recovering from a kidney transplant. A heart attack seemed impossible: no one had a bigger heart than Hendu. I can't remember a Red Sox player who seemed to enjoy playing more; like a Fenway Park version of Wrigley's Ernie Banks. He never seemed to feel pressure, and it gave him an ability in the clutch that made him, briefly, the toast of Boston. But there was a dark side to Hendu's zenith, and the pitcher who surrendered Henderson's most famous hit never recovered from the loss.

It was October 12, 1986. The Red Sox were in Anaheim, down three games to one to the Angels in the best of seven American League Championship Series.  It was the top of the ninth inning,  and the Sox trailed 5-2. They'd led 2-1, but in the sixth inning Dave Henderson had played a long fly to the wall off his glove and over the fence for a home run, putting Anaheim in the lead. Henderson hadn't played much all season, batted only 54 times and hit a pathetic .196, but Tony Armas was out with an injured ankle, and I was thinking how much we'd regret that. California added two insurance runs in the seventh. Angels' starter Mike Witt had held Boston in check and was headed for his second complete-game win of the series; the Angels were three outs away from the World Series. But Bill Buckner led off the ninth with a single, and Dave Stapleton ran for him. Jim Rice struck out. Then Don Baylor, the former Angel, smacked Witt downtown for a home run, making it 5-4. Witt got Dewey Evans to pop up for the second out, but one out away from the win manager Gene Mauch pulled him. Rich Gedman, a lefty, was coming up and was 3 for 3, so Gary Lucas, a lefty came in, and promptly hit Gedman with his first pitch, putting the tying run on first. Mauch yanked Lucas, and brought in his closer, Donnie Moore, to face Henderson. His costly mistake in the field was the furthest thing from his mind, even though Moore seemed to be toying with him. Then, with the count 2-2, Henderson stretched for a high pitch and drove it over the fence for a home run. The Sox led 5-4.

Bob Stanley gave up a run in the bottom of the ninth, so the game went to extra innings, and the Red Sox won it in the 11th with a sacrifice fly by Henderson after Moore had loaded the bases. Calvin Schiraldi closed out the Angels in the bottom of the 11th, and the Sox headed back to Boston where they won games six and seven easily, and advanced to play the Mets in the World Series, a team with 108 wins, and like the Reds in 1976 and Cardinals in 1967, the Sox opponents in those ill-fated World Series, arguably the best National League team of the decade.

You all know how that went. How in Game Six, October 25th at Shea,the Sox stood one out away from their first World Series win since 1918, when Schiraldi, the former Met, couldn't close the game out, and Stanley came in, threw a wild pitch past Gedman, and a ground ball then went through Buckner's legs, since John McNamara had neglected for sentimental reasons to send Stapleton in for Buckner.  The Sox went on to lose in ten innings, and lost game seven after leading 3-0; their third consecutive decade with a classic seven game world series loss. Hendu hit .400 in the series, with two home runs and seven rbis in 25 at bats.

The Sox traded him to the Giants late in the 1987 season. In 1988 he signed with Oakland and had a string of good seasons, including an excellent run from 88 to '91, when he was an All-Star. He won a World Series with Oakland in 1989, no one could have deserved his ring more.

But by then, Donnie Moore was gone. The once-feared closer had been shaken by Henderson's home run, and the loss of game five of the ALCS, and he was never again the same pitcher. He had pitched through injury that October, but the fans didn't care, and they booed Moore for the next two seasons. He was plagued with injuries, and after the 1988 season was released. He signed with Kansas City, but was sent to the minors. In July, after an argument with his wife, he shot her three times. As one of his kids rushed her to a hospital, Moore, in front of another of his children, turned the gun on himself.

Boston didn't win the 1986 World Series, so Henderson remained just a popular footnote to one of baseball's most famous might-have-beens. But the loss never seemed to affect Hendu. There was another season, another game, another day to play ball. For Donnie Moore, the loss was more personal, the failure more immediate, the shadow of it inescapable. I can't think of Hendu and his broad smile without seeing Moore and his tight-lipped visage. I loved Dave Henderson for reminding me that it was, in the end, only a game. A game he had so much fun playing, and made watching him play so much fun as well.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015


Jeff Parker's Charlie Hood books can be frustrating: they posit the existence of devils and angels, engaged in a competition over us humans; more than once reading this novel I thought about John Stewart's song  'Strange Alliance', also known by the last line of its chorus, 'like heavyweight champs, after the fight, does Christ hang out with the Devil at night?' Reviewing earlier books in the series I didn't give away the gimmick, but now it is so much out in the forefront it has to be revealed, essentially because within the terms of something you might find supernatural, Parker makes this work as a hard-driving border noir that deals primarily in ambiguities, and in the power of love to overcome what we would have to call evil.

The local devil in these books is Mike Finnegan (no relation, I hope, to the great singer-organist of the Serfs, and then any number of records, not least Jimi Hendrix' and including his one fine solo album I know about) and he has his clutches deep into Bradley Jones, the son of Suzanne Jones, aka Alison Murietta, Hood's antagonist and love from LA Outlaws (see my review here). I mentioned Jones in my review of Border Lords, which you will find immediately after LA Outlaws from 2012 on this blog--where I mentioned it was criminal Parker wasn't in print--Sandstone Press deserves kudos for getting him back in print in this country. I now need to catch up with the previous Hood novel, The Jaguar, which is referenced in this one, but doesn't need to be read first (though it would likely help).

Reviewing Border Lords I mentioned, again without explaining, how the gimmick of devils created a problem, but as I implied above, Parker has sorted it out pretty deftly. The Famous And The Dead addresses it directly, making it the major obstacle Hood, in the end, has to overcome. It's complicated: Jones and Finnegan have tied Hood up in a corruption package which seems likely to end his career; Jones' wife Erin is expecting a baby but living with Hood and his girlfriend Beth, but Beth is starting to have doubts about what Hood is willing to do to win his fight with the devil. Meanwhile Finnegan wants Brad and Erin's child, but would prefer he be raised by Jones and his own squeeze, a woman named Owens. Throw in an assassination committed with a gun from a shipment Hood should have stopped, a gang of Missouri rednecks dealing stinger missiles, and Mary Beth, the girlfriend of one of them, who's come to LA to be an actress, as well as an angel trapped down a deep cave, and it's a complicated story that continually twists and turns. 

And the way it does resolve itself is interesting, not as you'd expect, though there is a more logical fate awaiting Finnegan, which will still be available in the next book in the series.  The deck reshuffles, and Hood winds up with a partner I would not have expected, and maybe not the most interesting of the possibilities. Call me sentimental. Also call me convinced Parker can pull off this mix of crime and deviltry: it's somewhere between light-hearted and chilling (Thorne Smith and John Connolly perhaps), but remember too, there are probably more Americans who believe in angels than in evolution.

The Famous And The Dead by T. Jefferson Parker
Sandstone Press £8.99 ISBN 9781908737366


I somehow missed The Accident first time round, but I'm glad I caught up with the paperback on the rebound. It's a clever novel built around an anonymous manuscript that outs a covered-up early crime by a media tycoon, and a history of criminal cooperation by elements (as they say) of the intelligence community in helping him to his position of power. Think of Henry Luce crossed with Rupert Murdoch, and a bit of Ted Turner or Sumner Redstone.

What makes the book so clever is that the story revolves around the world of publishing, and the way the efforts of the rogue intelligence agent who's out to stop the book's publication interweave with the efforts of those trying to publish it. Portraying the publishing business as every bit as ruthlessly backstabbing, if somewhat less lethal, than the spying world is a brilliant conceit which keeps the story moving even when the deus ex machina workings of Hayden Gray, the CIA officer with his personal profitable agenda.

Gray is a quintessential 'old boy', the kind of men recruited by the OSS and early CIA in slavish imitation of the British (and look where that got the Brits!) and this creates an added clash of cultures with both the publishing world and with Charlie Wolfe, the not-so-subtly named media tycoon. And what makes it work, in the end, is the twist, the unseen connection between the anonymous author (whose own abilities to outsmart the intelligence people have an element of deus ex machina about them) and the editor who starts out trying to publish the book. It's chilling and almost amusing at the same time, and just gripping enough to keep you going to an ending as clever as the set-up. That doesn't happen often.

The Accident by Chris Pavone
Faber & Faber, £7.99 ISBN 9780571298945

Tuesday, 29 December 2015


My obituary of the Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon is up at the Guardian online, you can link to it here. It should be in the paper paper soon. It appears pretty much as written, occasionally things needed to be explained to an audience whose only experience of basketball may well have been the Globetrotters on tour in Britain, or on ITV's World of Sport, when they would pick up broadcasts from ABC. For some reason the Guardian removed his full name: Meadow George Lemon III; although some sources say his name was actually George Meadow Lemon, he said his dad, usually known as 'Peanut' was Meadow George Lemon Jr.

They also cut my observation that the kind of strutting duck walk, the friendly laugh of triumph, the calling out the player he'd just embarrassed -- all of these things, some of which he was castigated for doing, as if playing to a Stepin Fetchitt sort of stereotype, are now everyday behaviour in the once-staid NBA, and of course for basketball players everywhere.

There were many stories I had to leave out: his high school coach arranged his first Globetrotter tryout in Raleigh after Meadowlark bounced back from Florida A&M, that coach had also taught him the hook shot, but at his Hall of Fame induction Meadow thanked 'his best teacher, myself' for that shot! I would have liked to get more info on his first marriage, and the car chase/stabbing that ended it, and his ministry fascinated me when I looked at it via his website; it somehow seemed a natural extension of his Globetrotter career. And I'm almost embarrassed that I didn't mention the made-for-TV movie, The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island, in which Meadowlark played himself

If you were of a certain (ie, my) age, growing up in the Lemon era, the Globetrotters were central to your basketball existence. Like Meadowlark, my first exposure to them came on film; at summer camp in 1957 or 58 we were shown The Harlem Globetrotters, a 1951 film starring Thomas Gomez as Abe Saperstein and Dorothy Dandridge as the woman Bill Brown wants to drop out of college and play for the Trotters' money so he can marry (even though marrying is against the rules). Globetrotters like Marques Haynes and Goose Tatum played themselves in the movie.

You argued incessantly about whether or not the Trotters could beat NBA teams, in the same way you argued about whether pro wrestlers could beat boxers, or whether Meadowlark or Curly Neal (or later Sweet Lou Dunbar) could play in the NBA (our pre-teen verdict was usually Meadow maybe, Curly probably, Sweet Lou definitely). But this was the era when Wilt had played for the Globetrotters after quitting college and waiting for the NBA draft, or Connie Hawkins played while blackballed from the league for his peripheral status to a point-shaving scandal. Woodie Sauldsberry had played for the Globetrotters and gone to the Philadelphia Warriors and been NBA Rookie of the Year. He bounced around the league then played in 1965 for my home-town New Haven Elms of the Eastern Basketball League; he spent the next two seasons with the Celtics. He could play with anyone. One of the best high school players from Connecticut when I was in grade school was Mike Branch of New Haven's Hillhouse; after leading Fairfield University to national recognition as a 6-3 center/forward, he played in the EBL and for Marques Haynes' Harlem Wizards. We knew he could play with anyone too.

The more important thing was the Globetrotters played the kind of basketball we knew could be played, but couldn't play ourselves, the kind we saw played on urban playgrounds but was generally thought needed to be 'coached out of' players.  Times were changing: when the NBA refs allowed Earl Monroe to palm, or carry, the ball while making his spin move; when dunking was legalised; when the ABA came along and offered a home to Connie Hawkins and many other quality players ignored by the NBA; the Globetrotters suddenly became less important.

I worked with the Globetrotters in 1987, long after Meadowlark was gone. ABC were covering their game in Berlin; the main attraction was Nancy Lieberman playing for the Washington Generals (I met Red Klotz on that trip, and later wrote his obituary for the Daily Telegraph; you can link to that one here). I took the Trotters into East Berlin; we'd been denied working visas, so I hired a tour bus and then, backed up by the chorus of players hooting at the driver, changed the itinerary from our tour of the city to a search for outdoor basketball courts. We found a couple; the guys would get out in their red white and blue warmups and start going through their opening routine. Within minutes we'd have crowds around, the players would be playing with the kids and we would be getting it all on tape. Within a few minutes more, the Vopos would arrive and shut us down. We did this twice before we had enough tape to work with; it was one of the most enjoyable afternoons I ever had with ABC. I can only assume if Meadowlark Lemon had been on board, it would have been even more fun.

Thursday, 10 December 2015


I wrote this in December 1988, a few days after going out with a few colleagues from ABC, with one of whom I was in some sort of mostly unrequited love. It was very cold; I got very drunk and then, in the Christmas fair in Leicester Square, went on the rides including one of those that turns you upside down and shakes your brain around inside your skull. I suffered migraine-strength hangover headaches for the next three days. I haven't done very well on such rides ever since; now that Nate is 12 I avoid them completely. Christmas was always the time I thought about going home to my parents' house, which I usually tried to do in those days. The poem was published in Montreal, in Shadowplay 3 in 1992, and in Foolscap 17, in London, in 1995. It may also have appeared in a magazine called Iota...

                                             for Tanya

Cold winds come in from Iceland or
Somewhere further west. In Leicester
Square the ferris wheel turns, then
Freezes at its apex. I look down Piccadilly
Seeing streets in double vision, you in blur.

I had a dream: there was a fire burning in
My parents' house, glowing walls of weeping
Willow turning black. I was trapped here
On the wrong side of the ocean. You were
Happy there, on the wrong side of my life.

The house was gone before I came down.
I woke. Invented new ways to dodge you,
Pretend you were not there, pretend
It was not your country & wonder why
I want you even though I cannot share

This foreign shore? There is no answer
To a dream. Except perhaps another dream.
Kettle drum echoes either will or will not end.
This is yet another country, this reality,
& I am just a visitor here & tired of pretend.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015


The fourth episode of The Crime Vault Live is now up online (link to it here) and it may be the best one yet.

Mark Billingham and I greet John Harvey, one of the greatest of British crime writers, creator of Resnick, and as I point out, in many ways one of the last of the old style pulpsmiths. And it's the place John makes a stunning announcement about an unexpected new novel! It's a wide-ranging show highlighted by our INTERROGATION of John. I managed to avoid discussing his Clint Eastwoody western series, Hart the Regulator (of which I have a complete set of the old paperbacks) which has books with titles taken, as this blog's was, from John Stewart. Nor his excellent but now overlooked stand-alone thrillers Frame and Blind, and I spared you further discussion of his poetry magazine Slow Dancer (where I first encountered John when he printed some of my poems) and we should have talked about his own poetry. But listen to his take on the introduction of Paul Christopher in one of Charles McCarry's novels.

We also covered Adam Sisman's biography of John LeCarre, author bios in general, reviews of books by  McCarry (often billed as the 'American LeCarre'), Alison Gaylin, and Graham Hurley; Patricia Highsmith on audio; London Spy, Black Mass, and Unforgotten, and the return of the Crime Vault's Vault in which we discuss George V Higgins and The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. Listen in. The show fits perfectly; we come full circle at the end, which doesn't happen often. And check out the publicity photo above: we look like we're about to star in a 60s British sitcom....