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Ernest Hemingway and Other Literary Spies

Jan 15, 2013 in Books, Fiction

In Dan Simmons’s The Crook Factory, which is out in paperback on February 5th, Ernest Hemingway assembles an espionage ring from an unlikely team of misfits in order to root out Nazi infiltrators in Cuba. Though this storyline is, regrettably, a work of fiction, there are plenty of writers who really were spies. Some of our favorites include:

Christopher MarloweChristopher Marlowe

Oh yes, the man who brought us Faustus was also a spy. And his mysterious death at 29 raises all sorts of questions: was his fatal stab wound the result of a bar brawl? Or an assassination by the Elizabethan state? I highly recommend you listen to this BBC podcast for more on Marlowe.

Graham GreeneGraham Greene

The author of The Quiet American, The Third Man, and Our Man in Havana (among many other excellent novels) was recruited by his sister into the M16, resulting in a posting to Sierra Leone during the Second World War.

Anthony BurgessAnthony Burgess

Burgess did cipher work for British Army intelligence in Gibraltar during World War II before penning A Clockwork Orange in 1966. Perhaps there lies something encrypted in lines like “The trombones crunched redgold under my bed, and behind my gulliver the trumpets three-wise silver flamed”? Continue reading ›

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The Dark in Zero Dark Thirty

Jan 14, 2013 in Film

Spoiler alert: DO NOT read this blog post if you haven’t yet seen Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal’s new film; this post most likely goes into enough detail that you’ll probably come away feeling a little bit like someone ruined the surprise for you. At least, as much as one can feel that way about a film where you already know how it ends.

Whether you’ve seen the film or not, you’ve probably caught wind of at least some of the controversy surrounding the release of the ZERO DARK THIRTY. Some members of the intelligence community assert the film misrepresents the role torture played in the trail of evidence that led to the discovery of Osama Bin Laden’s whereabouts. Critics have alternately claimed that the film’s portrayal of brutal interrogation methods either works either as a tacit endorsement thereof, or the film’s objective, journalistic approach is morally reprehensible in the face of what some would consider amorality of the events it portrays.

Maybe it’s an effect of my reading habits, or maybe I had Scott Montgomery’s essay on my mind—but I can’t help but feel there’s another interpretation of the film that hasn’t been fully explored in the criticism I’ve read: ZERO DARK THIRTY as noir cinema.

Most noir stories (or at least the genre’s most traditional strain) operate as negative example—a playing out of the it-never-gets-better series of events that lies in wait, should one make the same kind of choices as the story’s protagonist. This strand of noir is intensely, almost puritanically moral, despite the immorality it depicts; any portrayal of violence or criminality within the confines of this strand of storytelling is anything but an endorsement. Its message is simple: bad things happen to people who make bad choices–so choose wisely, or be prepared to face the music.

Montgomery argues that noir begins with a crime and only gets worse from there— certainly, ZERO DARK THIRTY has this angle down pat. An eerie series of voiceovers that alludes to the most infamous crime of the century, 9/11, opens the film, which then transitioning directly to another act of violence much more intimate in scope, yet just as central to the story at hand–the harrowing interrogations that took place in CIA black sites, where we first meet Maya, Jessica Chastain’s then-junior operative.

Maya’s first on-screen moments are performed with a thick, oversized ski mask that obscures both her features and gender—both to engineer a dramatic reveal and also, it would seem, to signify that without an active role in the brutal methods shown, she’s not yet fully accountable for the brutal violence to which the film depicts, more witness than active participant.

This all changes when Maya returns to the locked room, having this time left the mask at the door. Dan, the senior agent leading the interrogation, asks Maya to fill him a bucket of water that will be used to  torture the detainee under question. Maya hesitates, if only for a moment. And while, as with much of Chastain’s understated performance, much has to be inferred, her reluctance in this crucial moment speaks volumes. This is it, you can almost sense Maya thinking. Here is the point of no return.

From then on, Maya is complicit in the acts of violence depicted, at times even signaling to other participants when a prisoner is to be physically assaulted—even if Maya never quite inflicts these acts without the buffer of an enforcer. Even Dan, who seems so totally unflinching in the film’s opening scene, turns aside from this dastardly mission before Maya, who continues to take part in the torture of detainees right up to the minute the President puts an end to these brutal methods that give Maya her first piece of key intel, and many others that follow.

While the facts of Maya’s story necessitate there’s not quite the relentless, downward spiral of classic noir in ZERO DARK THIRTY—no pursuit by the authorities follows a government-sanctioned act of violence such as Maya’s—there is certainly a certain noirness in the overall trajectory of the plot. Director Bigelow and screenwriter Boal go out of their way to make note of every major act of terrorism in the past ten years while Maya continues her hunt, as if to challenge the validity the narrow focus of Maya’s relentless quest—more subtle and yet more effective than the in-tandem occasional insistence of Maya’s superiors that she consider broadening her focus.

The film’s conclusion carries this trajectory through to the bitter end. As we all know, Maya does, of course, get her man. And yet we never see Maya truly celebrate the completion of the task to which she’s devoted a full decade of her life—just more flat affect, a few choice tears, and a sense of loss in the final plateau, of Maya, alone, given anywhere in the world to go and nowhere in particular she seems to want to be. That may not be quite the sort of severe moral reckoning that traditional noir requires—but if so, it’s only another, more nihilistic strain of noir coming into play in the film’s final moments. In an unjust world with few moral absolutes, ZERO DARK THIRTY argues, sometimes the good guys aren’t quite so guilt-free—and sometimes the guilty go free.

Wes Miller is Mulholland Books’ Associate Editor and Marketing Associate. If Mulholland were a crime novel instead of an imprint that publishes them, Wes would be its PI—the stalwart presence resolving its issues, making sure at the end of the day, justice gets served and good prevails—at least until tomorrow comes. Reach him through the Mulholland Books twitter account (@mulhollandbooks), on Tumblr (mulhollandbooks.tumblr.com) or right here on the Mulholland Books website.

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Mulholland Books in 2013

Jan 11, 2013 in Mulholland News

Mulholland Books 2013

A look at the books we’re publishing this year. Read more about them on our Pinterest board.

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Grabbing At Shadows

Jan 10, 2013 in Guest Posts

NoirWhat is noir?

A question that has been debated in every film school and bar at Bouchercon. Many an article and anthology introduction has made the attempt to define it. There is even the thought that it is more style than genre.

Czar of Noir Eddie Mueller cleanly describes it as stories about attempts to take the shortcut to the American dream. Author Anthony Neil Smith once said, “Noir is Italian Opera sung by Delta bluesmen.”  Then there is the old standard: It starts out fucked and then gets worse.

There are certain tropes that most believe go along with it. A crime committed, usually from obsession, that leads a downward spiral where the only hope is found in death. There is also the style, the terseness on the page, the shadows on the screen.

The beauty of noir, though, is that there is no hard, fast definition. Its originators didn’t even know they were crating a genre. There are no set rules. It is as elusive as the shadows it’s identified with. It has the ability to be malleable, able to fit different times and perceptions. Noir plays by few rules. Continue reading ›

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How to Get Into Shape like a Navy SEAL

Jan 09, 2013 in Books, Excerpts, Mulholland Authors


Inside SEAL Team Six
If your new year’s resolution was to get into shape, and the three-day juice cleanse didn’t get the job done, maybe you need to up the ante. We’ve been re-reading Don Mann and Ralph Pezzullo’s SEAL Team Six series in anticipation of the next installment, Hunt the Scorpion (pre-order it now: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Indiebound | Other Retailers). It got us thinking: how do those men stay in shape?

Fortunately, Don Mann—whom we like to think of as Mulholland’s Chuck Norris—wrote Inside SEAL Team Six: My Life and Missions with America‘s Elite Warriors. Amidst tales of dangerous missions and grueling trainings, we learn how Mann kept his mind and body prepared for the most extreme situations. So while you may never be called on to execute a covert op in Colombia or Afghanistan, here’s how to make sure you’re ready nonetheless.
Continue reading ›

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Download Jim Thompson’s The Grifters for $1.99

Jan 08, 2013 in eBooks

Did you luck out and receive an eReader or tablet over the holidays? If so, it’s time to fill those digital bookshelves, and we have a low-price suggestion for you: The Grifters by Jim Thompson (Kindle | Nook | Other Retailers).

If you’ve never read Jim Thompson, you’re missing out a classic American crime writer. You know how we lament the overlooked gem? This guy is one of them. In his forward to The Killer Inside Me, Stephen King says, “This anonymous and little-read Oklahoma novelist captured the spirit of his age, and the spirit of the twentieth century’s latter half: emptiness, a feeling of loss in a land of plenty, of unease amid conformity, or alienation in what was meant, in the wake of World War II, to be a generation of brotherhood.”

Andrew Gulli, the managing editor of Strand Magazine adds, “It’s a pity that Thompson’s legacy has been overshadowed by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett; both those authors were giants in the world of noir, but Thompson was every bit their equal. His books, though dark, gloomy, and at times nihilistic, probe the depths of human weakness and excess better than anyone else. Yet, despite his dim worldview, his books are addictive page-turners; it’s easy to know what the ending will be like, but the journey to the ending is captivating.” Despite raves like these, and despite being a sensation in Europe, Thompson has become nearly-forgotten here.

It’s time to change that. Join the Jim Thompson club. Let’s be the discerning readers who bring this great writer back into the spotlight. You’d only be risking $3 to dip your toes into this ingenious story about short cons…and when you’ve blazed through that, we’ve got 24 more eBooks for you:

Thompson eBooks

Already a Jim Thompson fan? Decidedly not a fan? Let me know in the comments!

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Bizarre Phenomena

Jan 07, 2013 in Guest Posts

Sociopath for dinnerI remember all too well how I met the villain of Dark Lie.   He found me at a singles dance, after my divorce, when I was fifty.  He was much younger.  Psychosis only knows why he chose to seize my arms and propel me onto the dance floor.  He could have done better; he was almost as handsome as he thought he was. With studly stance and intense eye contact he told me, “You are going home with me tonight and we are going to make love until the sun comes up.”  At which point I should have screamed for security, but I am a writer, curious about bizarre phenomena, or perhaps it is the other way around; perhaps being curious made me a writer.  In any event, I let The Bizarre Phenomenon dance with me, then lead me downstairs to the karaoke bar where he sang almost as well as he thought he did, but I turned down his offer to buy me a drink.  At closing time he said “My car’s this way,” at which point I said, “Well, mine’s over there.  See ya.”  Then he became quite upset; how could I fail to appreciate his plans for me?   Demanding capitulation, he followed me to my car, clutched my butt and jammed his tongue into my face, challenging, “Just try to tell me you didn’t like that.”  I didn’t like it, not one bit, but this guy was quite strong and I was becoming just a teensy bit scared by him.    So rather than argue, I told him an inspired lie, that I felt freaked out because I was old enough to be his mother and I had a son his age, invoking the incest taboo by proxy.  Then I had to apologize for not saying this before, and by the time he finally let me go, I knew first-hand what it was like to deal with a totally self-entitled narcissistic psycho.   The next day I bought pepper spray. Continue reading ›

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Join SEAL Team Six on Another Adrenaline Packed Adventure

Jan 07, 2013 in Books

Hunt the Scorpion

Thomas Crocker and SEAL Team Six are back in the new thriller by former SEAL commando Don Mann. When a nuclear device goes missing and surfaces in the clutches of known terrorists, the United States calls on its most prized anti-terrorism force: Navy SEAL Team Six, the most elite combat unit on the planet.

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Indiebound | Other Retailers
Buy the eBook: iBookstore | Kindle | Nook | Other Retailers Continue reading ›

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Start Reading Gun Machine

Jan 06, 2013 in Excerpts, Uncategorized

Gun MachineFrom Chapter Two

John Tallow stood while the medics scraped up and lifted and bagged and took away his partner of four years, and then he sat on the stairs silently so that they had to lift Rosato’s killer over him to get him down and out of the building.

People said things to him. Gunfire in close quarters had temporarily dulled his hearing, and he wasn’t that interested anyway. Someone told him that the lieutenant was driving out to tell Rosato’s wife the bad news. She liked to do that, the lieutenant, to take that weight off her people. He’d known her to do it three or four times in the past few years.

After a while, he became aware that someone was trying to get his attention. A uniformed police. Behind him, the Crime Scene Unit techs were moving around like beetles.

“This one apartment,” the uniform said.

“What?”

“We checked all the apartments, to make sure everyone was okay. But this apartment here, there’s a shotgun hole in the wall and no one’s answering the door. Did you check this one apartment?”

“No. Wait, what? That hole’s kind of low. I don’t think it can have hit anyone.”

“Well, maybe the occupant’s out at work. Though that’d make him kind of unique in this building so far.”

Tallow shrugged. “Force the door, then.” Continue reading ›

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Got Something for You: GUN MACHINE Trailer #1

Jan 04, 2013 in Uncategorized

“A pleasingly quirky crime thriller…Tallow is oddly endearing, so single-minded you can’t help rooting for him…There is nothing comic-bookish about [Ellis's] writing, which races along in crisp hard-boiled fashion.”–Charles McGrath, New York Times

Purchase it now: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million |iBookstore | Indiebound | Other

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