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Short Story Review: “Malibu Waltz” by Grant O’Neill (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, July 2012)

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When I first started reading crime fiction, Ellery Queens Mystery Magazine and others like it were the place to go. You’d not only get the old masters like Chandler, Ed Lacy, Fredric Brown, Lawrence Block, and Donald Westlake (in their may guises) but the up-and-comers too. It was a place for the aspiring crime writers to cut his or her teeth, and make next month’s beer money. But, somewhere along the line, sadly, either the magazines didn’t feed the need or the authors found other outlets with higher allowances for beer money. EQMM as it is known, is the exception. Maybe it was because they always had higher standards for the quality of the writing, or maybe it was because they recognized new talent, but as the other pulps faded into memory, Ellery Queen survived.

Lately, or maybe I just started paying attention again, there have been some great stories, and great authors finding their way back to these publications. I ran across Grant O’Neill, the pen name for California author Don Ray Aldridge, who is also a songwriter. The story in July’s issue is “Malibu Waltz.” And it is a beaut.

The story would make Chandler proud, which isn’t surprising since, as O’Neill told me, he was inspired by reading a collection of Raymond Chandler short stories in 2009, to try his hand. The plot here isn’t that new as far as crime stories go: boy meets girl, boy gets blinded by the anatomy, throw in “a boy will do practically anything for her”… impractically too, and you have all the ingredients of a good crime story. But it takes a special cook nowadays to carry it off, and O’Neill is just such a cook.

Nick Tranor could be just any hustler in the L.A. area. He’s an ex-cop, kicked off the force after killing a politically connected strip club owner and small time hood. Over a woman. So, naturally, this being L.A., he only finds a bigger scam than the PD to make his living. He’s into “real estate investments.” Not real estate, but real estate investments.

After getting stood up at an upscale bistro, one of those hot spots that spring up all over Lla land from time to time–and last about as long as the first paycheck– Nick meets our requisite femme fatale, Eden Folet. Soon after he is a regular, because no matter how slick the hustler in Hollywood, he always falls for the dame. Besides, he’s danced this waltz before and come up smelling like roses.

It’s not long before he will do anything to have her, but the problem is she is the newlywed bride of Emerson Haddock, who is not only a bigger hustler, but also a city councilman. From there, the “Malibu Waltz” is on with a few changes of partners: Eden’s best friend, Ridley Notions, a gay boy friend, and a cast of Muscle Beach muscle which tries and discourage Nick from chasing Eden’s skirt.

O’Neill took some notes in the composition of this story and he obviously knows the lay of the land. Many people have tried their hand at Chandler, at trying to create that magic that exists somewhere between an utterly lost kind of writing, and something that intellectuals claw each other about, but O’Neill succeeds. There is nothing of the parody, or the quick attempt at style. Its just a wonderfully written, noir type of story with updated hardboiled prose. Marvelous work. I would suggest following Grant O’Neill because he is bound to make waves, and not just across Malibu.

Look for Malibu Waltz in the July issue.

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About The Dirty Lowdown

I was born in Pomona, California at a very young age. I had a pretty normal childhood…or I was a pretty normal child hood if mom is telling the story. I was a paperboy and washed cars. I was a soda fountain jock-jerk and a manic mechanic but my first real job was as a labor organizer in a maternity ward. Then, because of the misjudgment of a judge I spent nearly 10 years in the service of our country mostly on KP duty. Our country sure turns out a lot of dirty dishes. I am a past master at pots and pans. They eventually recognized my real talent and let me wander around some very unfriendly places carrying a big radio that didn’t work. Along the way I took up the bass guitar, jotting down stories, electronic engineering and earned a degree in advanced criminal activities. I spent most of my adult life, if you can call it that, working in the I.T. industry, which I was particularly suited for since we worked in rooms with no windows. On and off I taught in colleges, universities and reform schools as a student teacher… I like smog, traffic, kinky people, car trouble, noisy neighbors, and crowded seedy bars where I have been known to quote Raymond Chandler as pickup lines. I have always been a voracious reader, everything from the classics, to popular fiction, history to science but I have a special place in my heart for crime fiction, especially hard-boiled detective fiction and noir. I write a book and music review blog for all genres at The Dirty Lowdown. And another dedicated to Crime Fiction and all things Noir called Crimeways. It’s named after the magazine that appeared in the Kenneth Fearing classic, The Big Clock. There I write scholarly reviews of the classic hard boiled, noir and crime fiction books from the 20's through today. Mostly I drool over the salacious pictures on the covers. I also write for Tecnorati/BlogCritics where i am part of a sinister cabal of superior writers.