Miskatonic University Press

Similar practice described in Powell and Constantine

anthony.powell kc.constantine quotes

I just read K.C. Constantine’s The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes (1982), the fifth in the outstanding Mario Balzic series. An anecdote reminded me of something from another book.

Here Balzic, chief of police of Rocksburg, Pennsylvania, goes to talk to a woman who’s husband hasn’t come home.

Aside from cheap copies of wintry landscapes and still lifes of fruit and flowers on the walls, the only object to disrupt the tone of the room was the mounted head of a white-tailed deer on the wall above the dining area.…

Balzic had nothing against hunters in general—he had hunted birds all his adult life—or deer hunters in particular. There was something he just couldn’t understand about boasting about it, and having a deer’s head mounted and left on a wall was a boast without end. It reminded Balzic of a marine he’d met coming back to San Francisco after World War II. The marine had an envelope in his wallet and in the envelope was a strand of pubic hair from every female who’d allowed him to bed her. It was a meager collection, but the marine was extremely proud of it and Balzic could not think of him without a special sadness. Balzic could not explain why. It was just sad.

Any regular reader of Anthony Powell’s twelve-book sequence A Dance to the Music of Time will remember a scene from the eleventh book, Temporary Kings (1972). Here Pamela Widmerpool, who had had an affair with rich American playboy Louis Glober, meets his new girlfriend, Polly Duport. The narrator wasn’t at this incident, but has heard about it from Odo Stevens and Hugh Moreland. Pamela Widmerpool is speaking to start.

“Quite a lot of people have loved Louis.”

“They couldn’t help it,” said Polly Duport.

Pamela laughed softly.

“I expect you know,” she said, “Louis’s stuffed a charming little cushion with hair snipped from the pussies of ladies he’s had?”

Stevens said afterwards that “he recognized that inquiry as signal for trouble starting.” Both he and Moreland, in whatever other respects their stories differed, stood shoulder to shoulder as regards those precise words of Pamela’s.…

Pamela laughed quietly to herself, giving the impression that thought of Glober’s whim amused her. She turned towards him.

“You have, haven’t you, Louis?”

“Have what, honey?”

Glober was absolutely relaxed. Stevens, again fancying other people as scandalized as himself, supposed him taken aback a moment before. If so, Glober was now completely recovered.

“Stuffed a cushion?”


“As well as the ladies themselves?”


Something needs to be written comparing Constantine’s Balzic series and Powell’s Dance.

Mario Balzic and libraries, from The Blank Page

kc.constantine quotes

I’m rereading the great series of Mario Balzic crime novels by K.C. Constantine. He was never as well known as he should have been, and mostly forgotten now, but damn, he’s good. They’re mysteries, but that’s just one part of the books, which are social histories of working class Pennsylvania from the seventies on through the decline of the mines and mills.

Here’s a quote from The Blank Page (1974) the third in the series. It’s after two in the morning, and Balzic, chief of police in Rocksburg, Pennsylvania, can’t take dealing with the state police any more, so he heads to Muscotti’s for a drink. Father Marazzo is there; he’s done playing poker for the night. They have beers.

“I was around all them state guys and I was looking at their uniforms, the color, and the words that kept coming into my head were shale and slate. Coal miners’ words. And—ah, this is a load. You don’t want to hear this.”

“Go ahead and say it. Get it out”

“It’s not important. Doesn’t matter a damn to anybody.”

“All right,” said the priest. “I won’t coax you.”

Balzic stared at his beer, running his finger up and down the side of the glass. “We found a girl tonight, Father. Up in the Summer house. Been dead since last Wednesday. Strangled. And I’m really involved with that since maybe ten, ten-thirty, and all of a sudden, I can’t stand to be in the same room with state guys. And one of them is a very good friend of mine. And you know why?”

The priest shook his head.

“My father is buried in Edna Number Two. Summer’s mine.”

“Your father?” the priest said. “You never said anything about that before. I don’t know why that surprises me, but it does.”

“I was three years old. I have no memory of him at all. None. I mean, except what my mother told me. And tonight, just being there, it’s funny how I managed to put that out of my head until three or four hours later when I find myself in a room with four state guys … you know, my mother had a real fit when I told her I was going to be a cop. She wouldn’t talk to me for two or three days. And I couldn’t understand it. I kept asking her what was so bad about being a cop, and she wouldn’t say a word. And when she did finally decide to talk to me again, the first thing she said—and I’ll never forget it—she said, ‘If your father was here, he’d spit in your face and throw you out.’ The look on her face, God …”

“Did he hate cops that much?”

“He was a miner, Father, and all he knew when he was in the mines was the Iron and Coal Police, the Pinkertons, and the Pennsylvania Constabulary. The Pennsylvania Constabulary became the state police. You know what the miners used to call them? The Black Cossacks. I thought my mother was exaggerating, but I did a lot of reading about it in the big Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh. There’s another joke for you. I had to read about it in a library set up by one of the most heartless bastards who ever lived. But I found it, pictures and all. You ought to read about that time in this part of the state, Father. It’s unbelievable.”

The dialogue in these books is some of the best I’ve ever read. I was struck by this bit because of the mention of the Pinkertons, Carnegie and libraries, but no matter if Balzic’s talking to his mother, his wife, other cops, Mo Valcanas the drunken lawyer, local politicians, suspects, witnesses, anybody, he’s listening closely, sometimes speaking thoughtfully, and the conversation will be interesting. People take time to tell stories. Sometimes they break out into monologues. All through, Mario Balzic is very humane and very human.



I’ve used Pobox since 1998. It was time to renew my account again, and this time I paid up until 2028.

Paid up at pobox.com until 2028
Paid up at pobox.com until 2028

Next year it will be thirty years since I first saw the internet, and for twenty-five of them I’ve had my email with Pobox. Its services are absolutely reliable and support is fast and helpful. I fully recommend it. If you want to get away from Google or other “free” email hosts, try it out. (It’s not private—Pobox can see all my email—but, for now, I’m okay with that.)

NFT = G☺d / Jesus Guggenheim

art toronto

Graffiti saying NFT = G☺d / Jesus Guggenheim
Graffiti saying NFT = G☺d / Jesus Guggenheim

Retraction Watch Database entry

code4lib publications

The article retraction I mentioned in June is now in the Retraction Watch Database under my name: William Denton. (There’s no ID number for or way to link directly to one particular retraction, as far as I can see.) My thanks to the Retraction Watch staff for adding it.

I wish the data was available under an open license. The user guide says, “In order to fund our continued operations now that our grants have ended, we will be licensing the data to commercial entities. Therefore, while we are happy to make the entire Retraction Watch Database (RWDB) available as a CSV file to scholars, journalists and others who plan to publish their findings, publishing the entire dataset is prohibited, as is scraping the site. Please contact us to secure access to the dataset by signing our data use agreement on behalf of an institution.” Maybe one day some reliable funding will be found so it can be released as open data, which such a database should be.

Yellow Car again again

john.finnemore literature

Further to the Yellow Car in London Rules and Yellow Car in Joe Country there’s another Yellow Car in the new Slough House novel by Mick Herron, Bad Actors:

There was a game you could play, if you were into childish shit. Roddy wasn’t—a surefire way to tell a busy dude from a lightweight: no time for pissing about—but he’d heard the others at it, and what you did was, you saw a yellow car, and you mentioned it. End of. It beggared belief, what entertained the hard of thought.

One of the many things Herron is great at in this series is shifting from one character’s internal voice to another. The books are made up of sections done in free indirect speech, with one section from Shirley Dander’s point of view told in her style (probably angry), the next from Louisa Guy’s in her voice, and so on. The most funny are Roddy Ho’s sections, from one of which this quote is taken. He’s a great hacker but a complete loser otherwise, who in his internal monologue thinks of himself as a badass super-spy and refers to himself as the Rodmeister or HotRod or, one scene where he’s cosplaying Star Wars, HoBi-Wan Kenobi. Some of the funniest bits in the books are when we’ve been seeing things through the Rodster’s eyes and then suddenly switch to someone else’s point of view and see him through their eyes.

There’s one main character whose inner voice and mental states we never know: Jackson Lamb. He’s always putting on a show. A very times we see that it is a show, and we realize the strength of this revolting persona he’s built, and some of what it’s hiding, but we never get inside. We do know one thing, though: you don’t fuck with his joes.

Stuart Maconie's Freak Zone

bbc radio

Recently I discovered the BBC Radio 6 Music show Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone, hosted by Stuart Maconie. I’d heard him on Radio Four’s Round Britain Quiz for quite a while (fantastic quizzing there, with Val McDermid and the recently added Frankie Fanko, whom I saw on BBC TV’s Only Connect) but just this year poked around some more and found the show. I loved it from the first one I listened to. It’s described as “adventures in underground and experimental music,” which is what it is, a mix of old prog, new electronic, nonstandard jazz and much else; each week there’s a featured album, for which some history is given and from which several tracks are played.

I liked it so much I emailed in last month to say so. Tonight I was listening to the Experimental Explorations with Herbie Hancock show (29 May 2022) and was amazed and delighted to hear this in the listener emails section, a little over an hour in:

And William Denton, subject “New listener in Canada,” “I’ve heard you on RBQ” (that’s Round Britain Quiz, you don’t need to worry about that, that’s a very cerebral quiz on Radio Four which you should listen to, but hey, let’s not get detained by that right now), “I’ve been listening to you on that for quite a while but I’ve just started following Freak Zone. I like it enormously.” Ohh, this is the email we want! I hate those abusive emails we get. “I’ve enjoyed a few favourites, a few things I knew but hadn’t listened to in a while, and a whole lot of great stuff. I’ll be a regular from now on. Thank you. All best wishes from Toronto,” says Bill, but I was really taken by Bill’s little CV at the end of his email: “Librarian, artist and licensed private investigator.” Bill, you’ve got to tell us more about your working week, ‘cause that is a Sunday night ITV series waiting to happen, isn’t it? Anyway, thanks Bill.

He didn’t quote this, but I want to make sure it’s not overlooked: “Many thanks to you and BBC Radio for providing such great shows to the world.”


dashiell.hammett film joe.gores ross.thomas

Hammett the 1982 film directed by Wim Wenders, the adaptation of the 1975 novel by Joe Gores, is not nearly as good as the book. Gores was a private investigator turned writer, like Dashiell Hammett, and he knew Hammett and his work—both types—very well. They both knew San Francisco. The novel is one writer writing about another and his stories. The film is aimed at people that know The Maltese Falcon, especially John Huston’s 1941 adaptation with Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. Fair enough. It’s made by movie people. It’s certainly worth seeing by anyone with the slightest interest in any of this. But it’s not as good.

It does have several things going for it. One is Frederic Forrest as Hammett. He’s perfect. Another is the atmosphere: the costumes, sets and design are wonderful.

And then there are the bit parts and cameos: Sylvia Sidney, Royal Dano, Sam Fuller and best of all Elisha Cook Jr., who was Wilmer the gunsel in 1941.

This is Hammett introducing his librarian neighbour Kit Conger (played by Marilu Henner) to Eli the taxi driver, played by Cook.

Elisha Cook, Frederic Forrest and Marilu Henner
Elisha Cook, Frederic Forrest and Marilu Henner

Hammett: Kid, this is Eli, the last of the IWW organizers.

Conger: Are you really a Wobbly?

Eli: No, that’s just Hammett talking. What I am now is sort of an anarchist, with syndicalist tendencies.

Ross Thomas was one of the writers, and I bet he wrote that. Thomas has a non-speaking cameo as one of the rich men Hammett confronts at the end, in a scene with excellent cinematography.

Frederic Forrest and Ross Thomas
Frederic Forrest and Ross Thomas

It was nice to see David Fechheimer, another San Francisco PI, in the credits. He became a PI because of Hammett, but he stayed in the job and didn’t become a crime writer.

Still from the credits of the film
Still from the credits of the film

Article retraction

code4lib publications

I have retracted “On Two Proposed Metrics of Electronic Resource Use” (Code4Lib Journal 52, September 2021). I asked of the editors:

I request that the article be retracted. My use of personally identifiable information led to comments at the journal and a complaint to my employer (York University). To assist with the resolution of the matter I am voluntarily withdrawing the article.

I thank the editorial committee of C4LJ for its prompt attention to this.

Gores, Hammett and Keeler

joe.gores dashiell.hammett harry.stephen.keeler quotes ross.thomas

I was surprised to find Harry Stephen Keeler mentioned in the Joe Gores novel Hammett (1975), in chapter 27, where Dashiell Hammett (private detective turned writer, but now back on a case) is questioning a young woman:

When she had fled Capone’s Harlem Inn in Stickney, she had hidden in Chicago’s Chinatown for several weeks, until her cash had run out. Then she had gotten a job as a domestic in a rooming house on North State Street. She held it for over two years.

“Mrs. Rotariu was very nice. She called me Crystal and let me call her Anna even though I merely worked for her. The house was owned by a famous author named Keller or something—”

“Harry Stephen Keeler?”

“You know of him?” she exclaimed.

“I’ve read some of his stuff.” Hammett’s voice was flat, and a tense, wary look had entered his eyes.

(The look is not because of the mention of Keeler, but because Hammett has a sense where her story is leading.)

Hammett is set in 1928. Hammett’s second published short story, “Immortality,” was in the November 1922 issue of 10 Story Book, which Keeler edited from 1919 to 1940—so Keeler sent Hammett his second paycheque as a writer! Did Gores know this? Why did he mention Keeler? It’s an obscure reference to make.

Here is the full text of “Immortality.”

I know little of science or art or finance or adventure. I have never written anything except brief and infrequent letters to my sister in Sacramento. My name, were it not painted on the windows of my shop, would be unknown to even the Polish family that lives and has many children across the street. Yet I shall live in the memories of men when those names are on every one’s lips now are forgotten, and when the events of today are dim. I do not know whether I shall be remembered as a great wit, a dreamer of strange dreams, a great thinker, or a philosopher; but I do know that I, Oscar Blichy, the grocer, shall be an immortal. I have saved nearly seventeen thousand dollars from the profits of my shop during the last twenty years. I shall add to this amount as much as I can until the day of my death, and then it is to go to the writer of the best biography of me!

Ballantine paperback cover
Ballantine paperback cover

I found the Hammett-Keeler connection in volume 40 (December 2002) of Keeler News, the publication of the Harry Stephen Keeler Society (of which I am a proud member). I don’t know if the Hammett mention has been noted, so I’ll tell Richard Polt, who runs the Society. Perhaps a Keeler devotee knows enough about his life to say whether he really did own a boarding house. (There is no full biography of Keeler; I suggest this as potential dissertation topic.)

Hammett went on to be one of the greatest of all crime writers, and Keeler one of the strangest. I like them both.

And I like Joe Gores, another great crime writer (in fact a PI turned writer) and this is a crackerjack book. I’m rereading all his stuff and enjoying it enormously. Next I’ll rewatch the Wenders-Coppola 1982 film adaptation, co-written by Ross Thomas.

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