Saturday, October 31, 2015

My Newest Short Story Is Up!!!

If you're looking for a very, very short story about a private detective profiling and following a possible rapist, then my newest short story, "Pink Lemonade," is for you.  It's free right now at  (It's also about letting people be; see: the last sentence and the title.)

And if you have a moment, please take a look at another Brad Foster story, "Everything's Connected," published last year at OMDB!, which the publisher was nice enough to link to this story.

I'm interested in what you think about "Pink Lemonade," so please send me an email or a comment and opine!

Thanks again for reading my stuff.  It means a lot to me.

BTW, I can log onto the website directly from my Microsoft Edge (Explorer) but not from my Google Chrome.  Can anyone explain this?


Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Murder Room

Photo: Book's cover, from my Goodreads page

For a writer like me (whatever that means), this is a great book, a source of story and book ideas for years to come.

It's also a great book for its content alone.  Capuzzo's writing took some getting used to, and I really didn't like how he sometimes jumped around, sometimes didn't (It reminded me of a recent time when I told someone that someone else we knew wasn't even predictable in her unpredictability), but the content is so compelling, and the cases so interesting, that you'll read on anyway, as I did.  The writing finally grounded itself about three-fourths of the way through, so that finally became a strength as well.

If you like this stuff--and I mean: investigations, tracking down killers, solving cases, profiling, cold cases, etc.--then this is a must-read.  If you don't, I don't know, because there's a lot of that here, even more than usual for books like this.  Much of it is grisly, and if you didn't have a healthy distrust of strangers before this, you will after this.  (Which is ironic, because the old adage is true in this book: 90% of all murder victims knew their killers well.)  If you can't handle the grisliness and sadness inherent in books like this, don't read this.  (The case of The Boy in the Box will especially haunt.)

The book, which is nonfiction, is about the Vidocq Society, a members-only group of the world's best investigators, morticians, detectives, profilers, crime scene analysts, and everyone else you can imagine associated with tracking down killers and serial killers.  (You need to read this if you don't know the difference between them.)  The group was started by three guys, all of them profiled (pardon the pun) here.

Frank Bender is (or, was, as he's died since publication) a bust-making artist of unparalleled excellence.  He could make a plaster bust of a face where one didn't exist.  He first specialized in time-lapse facial reconstruction.  What would a killer on the lam for 20 years look like since his last photo?  Bender made a cast of the guy's face, using a very old photo and a lot of whim, guessing, and innate talent, and the day after it was shown on America's Most Wanted, the guy was turned in.  Even more impressive: a skull is found with the face completely bashed in.  Using lots of research and a guess at what the partial sinus cavity would've looked like, and therefore the nose, etc., he made a bust that the murdered woman's mom saw and recognized immediately.  Fascinating.  He also had an open marriage and an insatiable drive and desire, not all of it artistic.  In essence, a whirlwind of energy you wish you had, used in ways you wish you could use it.  Bender was a very interesting, knowledgeable and, possibly, clairvoyant guy.  He said he could see and hear dead people in his dreams, and that he could feel the universe flow.  Read this book before you call that crazy.

Richard Walter is a profiler like no other.  Police departments take cold cases to him--and I mean, freezing, like over 50 years old--and he tells them where they went wrong, how they went wrong, and who the killer is.  The book makes it seem like he did this quicker than possible--he has to read case files over 1,000 pages long--but he soaks all the information in and somehow sees through all the wrong turns right away.  I've read a few myself, and I can't keep all the facts, wrong facts, suspects, wrongful suspects, theories, wrong theories, evidence, wrong evidence, and everything else straight in my head, or on paper.  He reads it, disects it, and tells you everything when he's done.  And he's always right.  BTW, the killer has over 90% of the time been questioned by police already, often several times.  Much of the time, the killer is who the police knows him (or, glaringly in this book, her) to be, but they can't prove it.  Often, Bender and Walter tell the police what they need to know so they, the police, can say it to the killer and get a confession.

William Fleisher put these guys together and started the group officially.  He's a well-respected investigator and a very well-liked and well-connected guy.  Elected the group's first president, he seems to be the glue that holds everything, and everybody, together.  He started the group with just these three guys, and now manages 82 (one for every year of its namesake's life) and hundreds of associate members.

As the society's website says, "The Vidocq Society is named for Eugène François Vidocq, the ground-breaking 19th century French detective who helped police by using the psychology of the criminal to solve "cold case" homicides. Vidocq was a former criminal himself, and used his knowledge of the criminal mind to look at murder from the psychological perspective of the perpetrator."  Bender was a former criminal as well.

Some of the many cases covered here are:

The Boy in the Box.  (Warning: This one is very depressing and disturbing.)

A robbery that was actually a planned murder.

A skull without a face.

A psychopathic murderess who worked as a waitress.

A guy who brings his case to the Society at their meeting, and is profiled as the murderer.

A young woman from Phoenix whose remains were found in Colorado.

Three cases over 50 years old.

There's so much going on in this book that it may need a second reading.  As engrossing as it was, I read some parts and I thought, "Yup, I can use that," several times.  So get past the scattered writing at first and you'll be taken for an interesting, chilly, intelligent, unbelievable, and--finally--well-written ride.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Bridge of Spies

Photo: Movie's poster, from its Wikipedia page.

First, before you read this review, go to YouTube and see Hanks and Jimmy Fallon acting out some short scripts made for them by kids, and about what kids know about spies.  The last script, about binoculars and friends, is a classic, and the kid who wrote it should get a prize.  Let the record show that the end of the movie is indeed about friendship.  And lots of the spies use binoculars on that bridge, too.

Okay, now...

Bridge of Spies is a film that is hard to rate and critique, since I can't say anything bad about the main actors or the directing (Spielberg hasn't been very bad since...Hook, maybe), cinematography (Janucz Kaminski is always very good), writing (the Coen Brothers!), or anything else.  It's all very good.

Yet I can't also recommend it with excitement, as I did with Sicario.  It's a Spielberg film, so you have to see it, and it's written (actually, re-written) by the Coen Brothers, so that's really good, and Tom Hanks is in it, and he and Spielberg haven't made a bad film together (though The Terminal took a little patience)--and yet, I found myself shrugging my shoulders on the way out, though not in a totally negative way, and I can't really explain it any better than that, though I'll try.

The acting is very good.  Mark Ryman probably performs the best, as the Russian spy.  He'll make you want to re-think your unnecessary worrying, at the very least.  (I'd say "Would it help?" to most people, about most things, but I'd get hit.)  Tom Hanks is typically outstanding in a role he's done many times now, and could perform in his sleep.  He doesn't here, but he could have and little would've been lost.  This is a step-by-step sort of movie.

And maybe that's part of the problem, though you know Spielberg will work with Hanks, and it is good casting here.  But there's no doubt that his character will get what he wants.  It's not set up as a mystery, exactly, nor is it exactly a thriller (another problem, maybe), and his character is so straight-up, so verbally astute, so good at selling, that you know he'll get his way.  The men he talks to are not idiots, either, but their hands are tied by bureaucratic nonsense, and politics, and Hanks' character has so much common sense and good ole American forthrightness that you know it'll all work out.

You can't have a thriller if the ending is never in doubt.  Also, if you remember your high school or college history classes at all (I can't remember where I learned about Gary Powers), you know he will be traded for the KGB guy.  Whether the college kid will also be dealt is the movie's greatest "mystery," but it's never in doubt, for the reasons I gave above.  I didn't remember him from wherever I learned about Gary Powers (as I remember that the U.S. thought he'd divulged everything, and that he was roundly frowned upon, but still wanted back, since he was an All-American Boy), but you know he's coming back or the Hanks character would have nothing to be smartly smug about.

Hanks's character is smartly smug, all movie long.  Normally, this would grate, but one of Hanks's abilities is to pull this off time and again, and not annoy.  It doesn't annoy here, and even seems appropriate to the film.  Believe me, if it didn't annoy me, it won't annoy you.  Those who know me will attest to this.

The movie ends with the note that Hanks's character was sent to Cuba by Kennedy to negotiate the release of 1,000 or so people, and that he walked out of Cuba with several times that many. That may have made a better movie, since nobody besides screenwriters of historical movies and History majors know anything about that, and I wonder (a little cynically) why that wasn't made instead.

The message is also very good, and maybe should have been highlighted more.  As Hanks's character says to Powers at the end, we--and only we--know what we do and why we do it.  Only we are in our own heads.  That's what makes good character, I guess, or a real man, or something along those lines.  (Though I know some real A-holes, as I bet you do, and these A-holes somehow manage to get along with themselves just fine, and undoubtedly sleep much better at night than I do.)

At any rate, that's the reason the KGB guy comes across so well.  He's just doing his job, after all, and he's doing it--patriotically--for his country.  He's fully aware of what may happen to him when he returns (though, according to the print at the end, it doesn't, and all was well), and just doing their job for their country is probably what some SS guys said at Nuremberg, but whatever...The point of most Spielberg-Hanks movies lately is that this is the way an upright man will behave, and in essence that's what we have here.

Maybe my biggest caveat here is that I felt like I shouldn't like or appreciate this movie, but I do, and I suspect you will too.  I also say this because I know it's gotten a 90% approval rating, and universal acclaim, as it should.  It's very solid, if not spectacular--and maybe that's yet another misgiving. From Spielberg, we expect spectacular.  I've been waiting for another Munich, another Saving Private Ryan, another Schindler's List, for a long time now. But he seems to be in another phase--let's call this the Moral American / U.S. History phase--and he seems to want subtlety, and behind-the-scenes manners that result in dramatic and important history.  This is what Lincoln and Bridge of Spies have in common.  Neither is a bad film, though Lincoln had Daniel Day-Lewis to hang its hat on, and Bridge of Spies doesn't.  That's not a slam against Hanks.  The movie simply isn't a tour de force, with that kind of central character and a performance necessary to carry it.

Anyway, you should see this, especially if you feel, like I do, that one really ought to see every Spielberg film, if you like movies at all.  But if there's a lot that you want to see out there right now (as there is for me, with The Martian and Crimson Peak still in the wings), and if you can't see them all, then wait to rent this one, or see it on cable.  But it is worth seeing, so don't miss it.  You probably won't want to see it again, though.  (I own every Spielberg movie, so I'll get this one, too, but I doubt I'd re-watch it.)

A very strange review, I know, but my reaction to it was a bit different than usual.  Still, see it.

P.S.--It seemed for awhile that this movie would be about how all Americans, or anyone embroiled in our justice system, deserve a fair trial, which the KGB guy certainly never gets, as the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling (against him) suggests.  It reminded me for a moment of Kevin Costner in JFK, where he tells his wife and crying kids that he's simply fighting for What's Right, or for Truth, more than anything else.  A very good film can still be made of this, with maybe this part of Bridge of Spies as its starting-off point.

Monday, October 12, 2015


Photo: Sicario's movie poster, from its Wikipedia page.

A pulsing soundtrack, tense you-are-there direction, a fact-filled, dramatic screenplay and great performances--especially by Benicio Del Toro and Emily Blunt--all make this a great movie you just have to see.  The cinematography by Roger Deakins is an unbelievable plus.

Modern political topics like the U.S. / Mexican border, violent drug cartels, and free-wheeling cops all converge when Blunt, a specialist at knocking down doors in prototypically suburban Chandler, Arizona, is asked to join some federal operatives as they try to interrupt the drug cartels.

It's some very serious stuff, handled stylishly and seriously by French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, who I've never heard of before.  (The screenplay is also by guys I'm not familiar with.)  There are a lot of helicopter shots--which actually deserve a special mention.  These shots are not only beautiful and tense, but also weaved smartly into the plot and screenplay so they're not drawing attention to themselves.  How's that done?  By frequently having the characters talking to cops in helicopters "tracking" the bad guys via heat sensors and long-range video.  Good stuff, but still things that can be done from the ground, or in advance.  You'll see what I mean during the tunnel scenes; surely the drug traffickers can hear, if not see, a helicopter in the distance.  But you don't think of that at the time, because everything's so tense and beautiful.  There are some other nice directorial touches in those tunnel scenes.  They grabbed me so much that I ate much less popcorn than usual.

Emily Blunt's character works very nicely as the audience stand-in figure.  The movie has a you-are-there feel because she's there.  She's always tense, scared, and confused--and so you are, too.  The ads may make you think she's in almost 100% of the scenes.  She's not.  She's the main character, but quite a few scenes happen without her, especially those with Del Toro--who's the real scene-stealer of the movie.  I've never seen him in a role like this.  By the end, you'll be wondering who the real "bad guys" are.  (But don't forget what the guy at dinner had hiding behind the walls in that house in Arizona.)  Josh Brolin also does a good job in a small role.  He's had many such roles before.

The music is so pulsating, so tense, so grabbing, that it almost transcends the film.  (Currently I'm listening to it on YouTube.  I'll probably buy it.  It's that memorable.)  It makes the tense scenes even more tense, almost unbearably so.  It's very good.

Notice I've used the word "tense" a large number of times here.  It's not necessarily lazy writing; the movie is, in a word, tense.  Everything about it is tense: the acting, the action, the direction, the music.  It may be the most tense two hours you spend at a movie.  If you like that, go see it.

And let me know here who you thought the bad guys really were.

P.S.--On a side-note, kind of, ask yourself why Judas Iscariot had a last name in the Old Testament when nobody else did.  Even Jesus was called Jesus of Nazareth, or The Nazarene, in His lifetime.  (And he was called Joshue, or Joshua, of course, as well.  Christ, for those who don't know, is a Greek word that means "Anointed One" or "The Lord."  He was never known as Jesus Christ in His lifetime.  Neither the first name, nor the last, was ever his own.)  I mention all this because this movie begins with a definition of the word "sicario."  Compare it with the word "sicarii."  I'm just sayin'.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Quick Jots Oct. 2015

Just a few things:

--What the Pope said to Kim Davis: "Really?  Really?"

--Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders: Only in America, man.  Truly their political success makes this country special, in every sense of the word.

--Actually, the Pope said: "Can you make your husband change his clothes now?"

--The chances of your child "getting" autism from the flu shot is much, much, much, much less than your child dying of the flu, or of spreading it to someone who may die of it.  Or of making the flu more virulent.

--In India right now, a strain of the plague exists that is not vulnerable to any antibiotic at all.

--Since I published my recent Kim Davis blog entry, I lost a follower of this blog.  I wish you well, and I'll leave the light on for ya.

--But you still can't decide which part of your public job you're not going to do.

--BTW, the Constitution does not guarantee you the right to wield your religion as a weapon in your war against those you hate.  It guarantees you the right to have that religion, and it guarantees you the right not to be thrown into jail by the government for having that religion.  And that's all.

--You still have to do all parts of your public job.  And you have to serve wedding cakes to everyone, too, for that matter.

--Freedom of Religion means the government can't discriminate against you, and you can't discriminate against others.  Get it now?

--Note to bakery couple: You're spending more money on your defense than you would have if you'd just paid the damn fine and made that damn cake.  And, P.S.--How do you know the person who just made your pizza wasn't gay, and spit on it?

--And if you want to use the Bible as your weapon, you do so at your own peril.  It says that divorce is bad, too--and Kim Davis has been divorced three times.  The only things more surprising than that are that she has been married four times--and that she has been married at all.  Let the record show that she has not refused marriage licenses to those previously divorced.  Though she did (inadvertently, is my guess) give a marriage license to a transgender person.

--In all seriousness, this Pope--who is more liberal than the New Masses--probably did not pat her on the shoulder and say, "Good job."  I'm betting he very politely gave her some what-for, no matter what she ends up saying later.  I can see him whispering, "I've just worked very hard not to distance people from this religion, so will you please knock it off?"

--If there's to be yet another Carrie remake or sequel, she should be in it.  That's perfect casting.

--Now, from out of left field: Though the Yanks (See what I did there?) made the playoffs and the Sox didn't, the Sox are currently playing much, much better, and have more reason to be excited for next year than the Yanks do.

--The Yanks are not long for these playoffs, either.  They're old, they're tired, and they cannot consistently hit, drive in runs, or pitch well in innings 1-6.  They're in the playoffs because they have three hitters with 80-95 RBIs, and because their 8th and 9th inning guys are lights-out.  That won't be enough in the playoffs against teams with much, much more.

--Religion, politics and sports.  Yup.  Sorry about that.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

New Disasters--The Black Death

Interesting little book--just 111 pages--about the Black Death of the Middle Ages, between 1347-1351.  I saw it in my local library while I was researching plagues and flus for my next novel.  Though I'm focusing more on the Great Plague of the 1660s in England, and not the Black Death of the Middle Ages (for they're not the same thing, and there are a great number of differences), I figured I could learn a little something from this.

It's broken up in sections: its arrival; recent scientific re-assessments (this was published in 2003, so it's still relatively recent); writings about the plague from the time; and the repercussions of the Black Death.

What I learned, in no particular order:

--It seems now rather certain that the Black Death wasn't just the Justinian Plague, carried by fleas on black rats.  Lots of evidence indicates that anthrax (the disease that killed cattle, not the powdery stuff used in germ warfare today) was also going around, either on its own or as a unique anthrax / plague strain.

--Part of the evidence for this was the unbelievable number of animals dying before the people started to die.  Also, the deaths did not abate much in the winter--odd for a plague dependent on fleas and rats to spread it.  (Neither survive or move around much in the winter.)  And people died with extreme rapidity from a third strain of the plague; it was said that they could go to bed feeling fine and be dead by morning.  (This does not seem to be an exaggeration.)

--The plague was said to come from vapors within the Earth, released during earthquakes.  It was believed that breathing man-made yuckiness--like from latrines--was beneficial, and would fight off the nastiness from within the Earth.  Planet alignments and other astrological things were also blamed.

--People died faster than they could be buried.  Putrefying bodies of people and animals would lie in the streets, and the stink was said to be incredible.

--Gravediggers, doctors and clergy died fastest, as they attended to the dead and dying.  Since nobody was left alive to bury the dead--and since those left alive didn't want to touch the dead or dying for fear of getting sick from their "humours" and "vapors"--a lot of money was paid to people who called themselves becchini.  These people would take the dead from their homes, from the streets, etc. and bury them.  But after awhile, nobody wanted to touch or associate themselves with these people, either, so the becchini became disgruntled and homeless, and often turned to crime.

--Those who couldn't afford to be cared for or buried simply weren't, and died alone in horrible conditions, and their bodies left to rot wherever they died.

--The Black Death may have some DNA in common with the HIV / AIDS virus.  Recent evidence suggests that 12%-15% of those with European descent--and an ancestor who contracted the plague and survived it--may be immune to the HIV / AIDS virus as well as the Black Death.

--The same plague from the Middle Ages is alive and well in a few spots, including the Midwestern U.S.  Some cases have cropped up in Colorado recently.

--A strain of the Plague--as well as strains of other viruses--are immune to today's strongest antibiotics.  A cocktail of super-antibiotics is used to fight these resistant viruses now.  Once the viruses become immune to these cocktails--which is very soon--there won't be anything left to stop them.

--God, then like today, was thought to be punishing the bad people.  [See: AIDS in the 80s.]  But then everyone, of every stripe, class, age and religion, started dying, so that theory was dashed by everyone--except the living, of course, whose every breath proved their moral superiority.

--A common "cure" was to bleed and purge the victim.  This led to an even more rapid death due to blood loss, exhaustion, dehydration, and a weakened immune system.  Those who came in contact with the blood or feces of the victim could contract the illness as well, so that the "cure" killed them, too.

--Mercury was often recommended, which made plague victims die of the plague and of mercury poisoning.  Several learned people complained that their doctors were killing them quicker than the pestilence was.  (BTW, the plague was never called the plague at the time.  It was called a "pestilence" or "the Great Pestilence.")

--The most common thing doctors did for the victim?  Study their urine.

--In some towns, when one member of a family got sick, the entire family was sealed inside the home, so that everyone--the healthy and the sick--died.

--Before everyone died of the plague, those blamed for it the most were the Jews and the undesirables of society.  [See: World War II.]  It was commonly believed that Jews were poisoning the wells, and tens of thousands of Jews across Europe were hunted down because of this belief, including entire communities.

Anyway, a little book that, in these virus-ravaged days, makes for some eye-opening, if not chilling, reading.  With the Earth long overdue for a pandemic like the 1918 super-flu, and with our current attitudes about change and blame, this book made for some quick, interesting and thought-provoking reading.

The more things change, it seems, the more things stay the same.