Why Are There No Members of the Jenkins Orphanage Band in the South Carolina Entertainment and Music Hall of Fame?

Why are there no members of the world famous Jenkins Orphanage Band in the South Carolina Entertainment and Music Hall of Fame?  The Hall has such luminaries as Andie McDowell (we still watch “Groundhog Day” despite her being in it), Leeza Gibbons (celebrity-news reader) and Vanna White (the only professional letter-turner in the Hall of Fame.)  The Hall also counts as members Rob Crosby, Bill Trader and Buddy Brock. (Yeah, I know, you’ll probably have to Google them to find out who they are too.)

I am not saying that any of these people don’t deserve to be in the Hall – they probably do. But not to the exclusion of more deserving artists. I would like to nominate several artists currently not in the Hall who influenced and enriched American culture in more deserving ways than interviewing celebrities on “Entertainment Tonight” or being eye candy for a game show.

From the 1890s to the 1940s the Jenkins Orphanage Band traveled across the United States and across Europe performing on street corners, on Broadway and for royalty. Members of the Jenkins Band were instrumental in transforming the music performed during 19th century minstrel shows into blues, ragtime and ultimately, jazz.  My nominees are:


EDMUND THORNTON JENKINS 

Edmund Thorton Jenkins

Edmund Thorton Jenkins

Born – April 9, 1894, Charleston, South Carolina  Died- September 12, 1926, Paris, France

His father, Rev. Daniel Jenkins operated the Orphan Aid Society (a.k.a. the Jenkins Orphanage) which operated a boy’s brass band as a fundraising tool, as a kind of minstrel show on the sidewalks of towns up and down the East Coast. Called “Jenks” by everyone, he received private piano lessons from a white man in Charleston, Mr. Dorsey, and quickly mastered the piano, clarinet and violin. His father insisted that he work as a music instructor for the Jenkins Band, and also travel with them. Jenks resented having to lead a group of ragamuffin orphans who mugged, strutted and played-the-fool during their street performances. He felt it was beneath. He wanted to play serious music. The kids, of course, made fun of the prim and dandified Jenks.

In 1910 Jenks enrolled in Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia to study music.  Two years later he was forced by his father to leave college in order to accompany the Jenkins Band to London, where it was a featured act at the Anglo-American Expo. When the Expo came to an abrupt close, due to the outbreak of World War I, Jenks convinced his father to pay his tuition to the Royal Academy of London. For seven years Jenks excelled in his studies, winning awards for composition, and becoming a master in several instruments. During his time at the Academy he composed “Charlestonia: A Rhapsody.”

After graduation he moved to Paris where he became one of the most sought after musicians in the most popular Parisian nightclubs. Paris was “jazz mad” in the 1920s and for several years Jenks embraced the glamorous, hedonistic life of Paris. However, in 1925 he began to compose an opera, “Afram” and expanded and orchestrated “Charlestonia: A Rhapsody” which he conducted successfully in Belgium with a full orchestra.  In July 1926, he was admitted to a Parisian hospital for appendicitis. He contracted pneumonia and died on September 12, 1926, cutting short the career of a promising young black composer. He is buried at the Humane Friendly Cemetery in Charleston, SC. 

  Listen to “Charlestonia”, composed by Edmund Thornton Jenkins.


TOMMY BENFORD

Tommy Benford in 1978

Tommy Benford in 1978

Born – April 19, 1905, Charleston, West Virginia.       Died – March 24, 1994, Mount Vernon, New York. 

Benford became the Jenkins Orphanage Band’s ace drummer. In 1920 he was playing in New York City and gave drumming lessons to a young wunderkind named Chick Webb. In 1928, he was the drummer for some of the most influential jazz music ever recorded as part of Jelly Roll Morton’s Victor Records sessions.

During the Depression Benford moved to Europe and for the next 30 years recorded hundreds of songs with more than a dozen bands. His most famous recording session was with Coleman Hawkins, Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grapelli and Bennie Carter, released as Coleman Hawkin’s All-Stars.

He continued to play music until his death in 1994, a career that spanned seventy years.

 Watch/listen here: “Sweet Georgia Brown” by Coleman Hawkins’s All-Stars (featuring Tommy Benford). 


JABBO SMITH

Jabbo Smith

Jabbo Smith

Born – December 25, 1908, Pembroke, Georgia.       Died, New York City – January 1991.

Raised in the Jenkins Orphanage, Jabbo quickly became one of the best Jenkins Band musicians during the years of 1915-1924. Brash and flamboyant, he was a natural performer.  At age 17 he was playing in New York City at Smalls Paradise, the second most popular club in Harlem (most popular was the Cotton Club.) He became the hottest trumpet player in the city, which is like being the hottest guitar player in the hottest rock and roll band (think Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen.)

In 1927 he recorded one track with the Duke Ellington orchestra (“Black and Tan Fantasy”) filling in for the ailing Bubber Miley. Duke offered him a permanent job with the Ellington Orchestra, which Jabbo turned down because Duke only offered $90 a week, and Smith was making $150 with the Paradise Orchestra.

 In 1928-29 Jabbo played with James P. Johnson (composer of the song “Charleston”) and Fats Waller in the Broadway show Keep Shufflin. When the show closed in Chicago Jabbo recorded nineteen historic songs for the Brunswick Record Company that are still considered some of the most influential jazz recordings. They are considered to be the first cool jazz improvisations and be-bop style playing.

By the 1950s Jabbo Smith was out of music, living in Wisconsin. As a swan song, in the 1980s he returned to Broadway in the show One Mo’Time and became the darling of New York for several months. Jabbo is a key link in the development of modern jazz trumpet playing: Louis Armstrong →Jabbo Smith →Roy Eldridge →Dizzy Gillespie→Miles Davis→Wynton Marsalis.

Watch/listen here: “Lina Blues” by Jabbo Smith.


FREDDIE GREEN

Freddie Green

Freddie Green

Born – March 31, 1911, Charleston,SC              

Died – March 1, 1987, Las Vegas,  Nevada.

Freddie Green had the longest job in jazz history, guitar player for the Count Basie Orchestra from 1937 to his death in 1987 – 50 years. He was in the Basie Orchestra longer than Count Basie himself!

As a child Freddie used to sing and dance on the streets of Charleston and became friends with members of the Jenkins Orphanage Band. Though never an orphan, he played with the Band and remained in New York City during their tour in 1932. Five years later he was discovered playing at the Black Cat Club in Harlem and asked to join the Basie Orchestra, forming what became known as the All-American Rhythm section: Basie-piano, Green-guitar, Walter Page – bass, and Jo Jones-drums.

For the next 50 years Freddie Green became the “left hand” of the Basie Orchestra, the spiritual force that held the music together. Across the world he became known a “Mr. Rhythm,” the greatest rhythm guitar player in jazz history. It is almost impossible to find a photo of the Basie Orchestra that does not include Green.

He became a composer and arranger for the orchestra and the arbitrator of good music. Byron Stripling, trumpet player for Basie said, “If an arranger comes in and his work is jive, Freddie just shakes his head and it’s all over.”

Green died in Las Vegas after a Basie Orchestra performance ending one of the quietest most legendary musical careers of the 20th century. Irving Ashby described Freddie Green’s influence on music as:  “Rhythm guitar is like vanilla extract in cake, you can’t taste it when it’s there, but you know when it’s left out.”

Watch/listen here: “Corner Pocket” by the Count Basie Orchestra (written and arranged by Freddie Green.)


CAT ANDERSON

Cat Anderson

Cat Anderson

September 12, 1916, Greenville, South Carolina.                            

Died – April 29, 1981, Los Angeles, California.

During the late 1930s, Anderson became the latest in a line of hot trumpet players in the Jenkins Band. He developed a technique of playing in high registers, two octaves above the rest of the band. It was Anderson’s way of showing off, and getting the girls in the audience to notice him. Wynton Marsalis called Anderson “one of the best” scream trumpet players ever.

After leaving the Jenkins Band in 1937, Anderson played for several bands, and performed at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. During World War Two, Anderson played in a Special Services Army Band, performing for troops on bases across the world.  

In 1945, he joined Lionel Hampton’s Band and then was hired by Duke Ellington, and became a featured player for the Duke during the next 20 years. Ellington re-arranged many of his classic songs to take advantage of Anderson’s talent for “scream” trumpet playing. Anderson is heavily featured in one of the most popular jazz recordings ever, the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival.

Through the 50s, 60s and 70s Anderson led several bands himself, and recorded several solo classic LPs with various Ellington sidemen.  

Watch/listen here: Cat Anderson trumpet solo w/ the Duke Ellington Orchestra.


If you agree these men should be in the South Carolina Entertainment Music Hall of Fame, please forward/share/like /comment this article.

CITY OF THE SILENT: A Review

city of the silentMagnolia Cemetery is one of the greatest unknown treasures in Charleston, South Carolina. Hopefully, this book will help spread the word. For years, I’ve been hearing about this manuscript. People waxing enthusiastically about “this manuscript Ted has about Magnolia.” They kept promising it was going to dig up some dirt of those buried there (pun intended). I even ran into a couple of people who had a copy of it and promised to let me read it … to no avail.

I met Ted once in passing, through a mutual friend – it was a mere introduction, “hello”, “how are you?” and it was over. Within a year he was gone, so I never had the chance to discuss this work with him.

I have spent many pleasant hours wandering beneath the oaks and Spanish moss and taking hundreds of photos. Magnolia is thoroughly Southern (and soooo Charleston), filled with Gothic flourishes and amazing history etched on the headstones. When tourists ask me what is the one thing to see in Charleston my answer is always “Magnolia Cemetery.”

Magnolia Cemetery

Magnolia Cemetery

City of the Silent is a simple book – several hundred concise bios of some of the notables buried in the cemetery. If you’re a Charleston history neophyte, you will learn some interesting stuff. There is a preponderance of Civil War figures (of course!), politicians, writers of questionable importance, society belles, gangsters, lawyers, and one madam. One. So much for the dirt.

If you’re a Charleston history nut (guilty) … you already know most of this stuff. So I was (and I am) a bit disappointed with the info contained within – most of it is already available in published form in one book or another.

However, the book is worth it’s hefty cover price (well, almost) for the map of the cemetery and the locations of everyone mentioned. With this book in hand, and the map you can take a stroll and find the graves and read the stories. And that is what you should do with it. Read it, mark your favorite people (see my list below) and then take a trip to Magnolia Cemetery and spend an afternoon in the tranquil presence of history – scoundrels and heroines – and everything in between.

Magnolia Cemetery, pyramid tomb

Magnolia Cemetery, pyramid tomb

MY LIST OF FAVORITE PEOPLE IN MAGNOLIA CEMETERY

  • Daisy Breaux Calhoun – real name: Margaret Rose Anthony Julia Josephine Catherine Cornelia Donovan O’Donovan Simonds Gummere Calhoun. (I’m not joking.)
  • Langdon Cheves, Jr. – father of the Confederate Air Force.
  • Susan Pringle Frost – patron saint of Charleston preservationists.
  • Frank Hogan – bootlegger, murder victim
  • Leon Dunlap – bootlegger, acquitted murderer (who shot Frank Hogan)
  • The Crew of the H.L. Hunley – Confederate submariners.
  • Tristam Tupper Hyde – Charleston mayor who enforced Prohibition. (served one term)
  • Thomas McDow – doctor and murderer.
  • Josephine Pinckney – the best Charleston writer and period – period! Two classics: Three O’Clock Dinner, a superb comedy of society manners and Great Mischief, a delicious little horror book where the entrance to hell is somewhere around the corner of King and Broad Streets.
  • Robert Barnwell Rhett – Secessionist firebrand and newspaper editor.
  • George Trenholm – Confederate financier, and model for Rhett Butler.
  • Julius Waties and Elizabeth Waring – probably my all time favorite Charleston story. If you want to know the story … buy this book, or pick up of my own modest books about Charleston, Wicked Charleston, Volume II: Prostitutes, Politics & Prohibition. The story of the judge and his second wife is covered in great detail.

3 palmettos

CELEBRITY ENCOUNTERS: My Bob Hope moment …


Bob Hope died today (July 27) in 2003 at age 100. One of the most popular, and recognizable entertainers in the world  he performed in vaudeville, on Broadway, was a huge movie star, was a  fixture on television for 50 years and performed 57 USO tours across the world in front of American soldiers. And yet, he went out of his way to spend three minutes with me in 1978.

I was a student at Francis Marion College in Florence, SC and working part-time on the campus grounds crew. It was a Saturday morning in late September and I was mowing the grass around the Smith University Center – Bob Hope was performing later that night. As I was mowing a large tour bus pulled up to the Center (200 feet away) and several people got out, including Mr. Hope. Everyone else entered the building, except Hope. He shaded his hand over his eyes and walked across the parking lot to where I was mowing. 

As he approached I switched off the mower. He stuck out his hand, “Hi, I’m Bob Hope. Are you a student here?”  he asked. When I said I was, he asked me, “What are you studying?”

Over the next few minutes he asked me “Where are you from?” and “What are your plans after graduation?” Then he said, “Whatever else you do, make sure you travel and see some of the world and America. Good luck, young man.”

As he turned to leave I managed to say, “Mr. Hope, it was an honor to meet you.” He stopped and said, “Well, I thank you, but I’m just an entertainer who got lucky. I’m not that important.”

“Mr. Hope,” I called out, “who’s the sexiest woman you’ve ever performed with?’

Without a pause he called out, “Ann Margret!”  and he waved and strolled inside the building.

About five minutes later one of his staff people came out and brought me a bottle of Coke. “Mr. Hope said to make sure you got this,” the staff member said.    

Not only was Bob Hope an American treasure, he admitted what every American man knows … Ann Margret is smokin’!

SOULLESS: A Review

Published in 2009 Soulless asks a very simple question: Can a soulless spinster find love with an Alpha werewolf in Victorian London?

soullessPoor Alexia Tarabotti. Living in Victorian London as a spinster is not the most enjoyable of lives. However, Alexia has the extra burden of not having a soul – which has the power to neutralize supernatural powers. She is also half-Italian (another burden) and has just murdered a vampire with her parasol in the library during a party, breaking almost every rule in polite society. When the officials arrive to investigate the murder, the head officer is none other than Lord Maccon – loud, messy, gorgeous and werewolf – who is nursing a secret hankering for Miss Tarabotti.

That’s Chapter One. Where do you go from there? Into the realm of hysterical hijinks, drawing room dilemmas and passionate kisses, all served with the very best of tea. 

SOULLESS is a delicate literary lampoon, seamlessly merging the darkness of Bram Stoker with the sensibility of Jane Austen set in Charles Dickens’ London. Gail Carriger pulls it off with aplomb. The heroine has much in common with Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett – witty, forthright and headstrong – but also has the additional talent of being lethal with a parasol. The writing style is very much Austenish, with its formality and cleverness, which induces not merely giggles and snickers but out right guffaws.

Here is a typical paragraph:

Professor Lyall was reminded of his Alpha’s origins. He might be a relatively old werewolf, but he had spent much of that time in a barely enlightened backwater city in the Scottish Highlands. All the London ton acknowledged Scotland as a barbaric place. The packs there cared very little for the social niceties of daytime folk. Highland werewolves had a reputation of doing atrocious and highly unwarranted things, like wearing smoking jackets to the dinner table. Lyall shivered at the delicious horror of the very idea.

Sweet, and sublime. Unfortunately, SOULLESS will be invariably compared to the recent Jane Austen “rewrites,” Pride & Prejudice & Zombies and Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters, but this is much better. In addition to her Austen sensibilities, Carriger also has a bit of Terry Pratchett, P. G. Wodehouse and Douglas Adams in her psyche. SOULLESS contains a complete re-imagining of vampire and werewolf lore, an accurate portrayal of Victorian society, a screwball comedy and a splash of steampunk tossed in for entertainment.

As part one of The Parasol Protectorate, this paved the way for the following novels:  Changeless, Blameless, Heartless and Timeless. 

Time for some tea. Bravo, Ms. Carriger.

5 palmettos

SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS: A Review

If you’re looking for character development … this is not your book. If you’re looking for an exciting plot and story … this is not your book.

SnowFallingOnCedarsHowever, if you are looking for ponderous descriptions of landscapes and weather in an attempt to disguise how thin this story is … this IS your book. If you are looking for shallow, cardboard characters … this IS your book. If you are looking for a cure of insomnia … this IS your book.

I’ve always been amazed that literary critics buy into the notion that long descriptive passages and pages of character introspection equals great writing. Blame the literary professors who pass on this bias (probably because that’s the kind of fiction they write – so it must be brilliant, right?) to their students.

This prize-winning novel has a mystery so slight even Robert B. Parker and James Patterson would be embarrassed. It has so many ridiculous court room scenes that it makes me wonder if Mr. Guterson did his legal research by watching episodes of “Law & Order.” The main character is so unappealing that you wish for his demise. He spends most of the novel obsessing over a teenage love affair to the point of stalking and feeling sorry for himself and masturbating into his handkerchief.

The rest of the cast are such stock, cliqued characters it was like watching a paint-by-numbers TV show. The end of the novel is so abrupt you almost wonder if the printer made a mistake and the last 30 pages are mistakenly missing.

2 palmettos

CHARLESTON NOVELS TO READ (and some to avoid)

Here is a list of some of good (and not-so-good) fiction in which Charleston is one of the major settings. Obviously, there are plenty of books I am going to leave out. Since this is a list of my personal favorites (and otherwise) feel free to make your own list and send it to me!

WHAT TO READ

THE PRINCE OF TIDES & THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE by Pat Conroy.

Thprince tidese Prince of Tides  follows the story of Tom Wingo, teacher and football coach who is reluctant to help his twin sister’s psychiatrists unlock their dysfunctional family secrets. When his sister attempts suicide, Tom travels to New York to help her and bit-by-bit the psychiatrist pulls the family history out of Tom. Calling the Wingo family dysfunctional is like calling James Patterson a hack … true but an understatment

lords discipline Discipline pissed off a lot of Charleston people when it was published because it was a little too close to the truth. Charleston people like to be in charge of the mirror and tend to become defensive when someone else describes the reflection. Both books, Tides and Discipline are page-turners. Conroy is, at worst, an emotional and compelling writer.

Great Mischief / Josephine Pinckney.

great mischiefA perfectly creepy little book that unfortunately is out of print. I had to buy it used on Amazon. The year is 1895, and much of sleepy little Charleston is still lit by gas. Timothy Partridge operates a rundown apothecary shop, where things have’t really changed much since the glory days of Romeo and Juliet; drugs are still hanging from nails on the walls, such as bat wings, hummingbird feathers and strange, fiery potions. Timothy is supporting his shrewish sister Penelope and has a roguish best friend, the drunken doctor Golightly, who is always encouraging Tim to live a little, stop being such a fussbudget, One creepy stormy evening a young woman enters, dashing into the shop in an urgent, insistent plea for some solanum. Tim knows instantly there’s something “off” about the girl, but he has no idea that she’s actually a witch from hell, who will intertwine herself to his life and change it–forever.

Carrion Comfort / Dan Simmons

comfortThe War and Peace of the horror genre. One of my all time favorite books. It is December 1980, and a small circle of vampires—not the fanged blood drinkers of legend, but monstrously cruel human beings with the psychic ability to possess and dominate others—gather in Charleston for a reunion, where they score points by comparing the latest acts of extreme violence initiated on their command. It is a page-turning marvel, weaving multiple plot threads and over-the-top action sequences into a narrative of genuine, resonant power. One, Nina, is particularly proud of getting a faceless nobody to assassinate the Beatle John Lennon. But the game soon gives way to a power struggle of an even more ruthless sort. The mind controllers turn on one another, initiating a bloodbath fought with innocents snatched from their everyday lives.

Enter Charleston Sheriff Bobby Joe Gentry, nobody’s top nomination for action hero: An overweight, soft-spoken failed historian, who is baffled and angered by the sudden eruption of madness that has left Charleston littered with nine bodies in a single night. Gentry is out of his depth when his investigation begins to involve conspiracies that involve superpowers and cover-ups at the very highest levels of government power. He is soon joined by Saul Laski, an aging Jewish psychiatrist who has spent his life searching for the Nazi whose psychic powers he experienced during World War II, and Natalie Preston, a young black photographer whose own father was a victim of the massacre in Charleston. These woefully outnumbered three take on a global conspiracy, finding themselves alone in a world where any innocent can be possessed and turned into a murderous assassin without warning.

One of the creepiest characters is ‘sweet little old Charleston lady’ Melanie Fuller, one of the most evil creatures in modern literature.

Porgy / Dubose Heyward

porgy_dustjacketThe story of a crippled beggar who witnesses a murder during a dice game and later gives shelter to the murderer’s woman, the beautiful, haunted Bess. The Catfish Row community is united in its opposition to the union, but Porgy and Bess make each other happy, and their happiness only increases when they take in a child orphaned by a hurricane. Their idyll is brief, however. The murderer, Crown, returns for Bess, and Porgy, defending his family, kills him. The police detain him for questioning but never dream that a cripple could have been the killer, so Porgy returns triumphantly to the Row. The triumph turns to tragedy, however, when he learns that, while he was away, Sporting Life, the dope pusher, beguiled Bess with “happy dus'” and took her away to New York City to resume, it is implied,her career as a prostitute. The book, for all it’s melodrama, is beautifully written.

North & South – Love & War – Heaven & Hell / John Jakes

north and southHistorical fiction as it should be … well written, and well researched and full of forbidden love, illicit sex, double crosses and other intrigue. In North and South, two strangers, young men from Pennsylvania and South Carolina, meet on the way to West Point . . . The Hazards and the Mains are brought together in bonds of friendship and affection that neither man thinks can be shattered. And then the War begins.

Love & War: From the first Union rout in Virginia to the last tragic moments of surrender, here is a gigantic five-year panorama of the Civil War! Hostilities divide the Hazards and the Mains, testing them with loyalties more powerful than family ties. While soldiers from both families clash on the battlefields of Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Antietam, in intrigue-ridden Washington and Richmond, strong-willed men and beautiful women defend their principles with their lives … or satisfy illicit cravings with schemes that could destroy friends and enemies alike!

Heaven & Hell: The war ends, but there is no peace for the Hazards and the Mains in a nation still inflamed with bitterness and hatred. The defeated South teems with schemers and carpetbaggers … and the North has no place for scarred veterans such as Charles Main, who struggles to rebuild his life in the Plains cavalry, only to be stalked by a murderous nemesis seeking revenge against both families. A gripping portrait of Reconstruction America, and a fitting conclusion to the saga of two mighty dynasties!

celia-garthCelia Garth: A Story of Charleston in the Revolution / Gwen Bristow

This young adult tale of Celia Garth, a 20 year old woman trying to make a living as a seamstress in Charleston, South Carolina during the Revolutionary war. Celia and her friends survive the seige of Charleston by the British, living through the constant shelling and lack of food until the final surrender. At first, things seem normal after the surrender and Celia begins to build a new life, but tragedy strikes after the British go back on their promises and Celia must start life afresh. This time, while working as a seamstress she is also a bit of a “spy” for the colonials.

Galilee / Clive Barker

galileeClive Barker has earned a reputation as the thinking person’s horror writer. His novels mix fantasy, psychology, and sheer creepiness in almost equal quantities. In Galilee, Barker soft-pedals the ghoulish in favor of the gothic. His novel (or as the author would have it, “romance”) tells the tale of two warring families caught up in a disastrous web of corruption, illicit sexuality, and star-crossed love, with a soupçon of the supernatural thrown in as well. On one side are the wealthy Gearys–a fictional stand-in for the Kennedys–and on the other are the Barbarossas, a mysterious black clan that has been around since the time (quite literally) of Adam.

Galilee chronicles the twisted course of this centuries-old family feud, which centers around the magical Barbarossa matriarch Cesaria and her son Galilee. Indeed, it’s the latter figure–one part Heathcliff to one part Christ–whose relationship with the Geary women sets a match to the entire powder keg of hostility and resentment. Mixing standard clichés of romance and some deep-fried Southern gothic, Baker created an intelligent and shameless potboiler.

Settling Accounts: In at the Death/ Harry Turtledove

settling accountsThis is the last novel of the Settling Accounts tetralogy that presents an alternative history of WWII. It brings to a conclusion the multi-series compilation that is sometimes referred to as Timeline-191. This alternative history began with the Confederate States of America winning the Civil War in 1862, followed by a war between the United States and Confederate States of America in the 1880s which is also won by the South. In the conclusion, the United State detonates an atomic bomb in Charleston, wiping the city off the map, in retaliation for starting the War Between the States in 1861.

Forbidden / Rebel Sinclair

forbidden coverFull disclosure … this novel was written by my wife.  So … I admit a major amount of bias. Still, it’s a page-turner.

After witnessing a murder plot in Regency London, Lady Madeline Winchester flees to Charleston, South Carolina and the protection of Magistrate Exchange Agent, Nicholas Gales. Afraid and alone but for her starchy lady’s maid, Madeline is drawn to her dark, moody guardian and his plantation home of Myrtle Downs just as she is repelled by his society of prejudice and slavery.

In a world where breeding and birthright mean everything, there is no possibility of a future with a man like him – especially since Madeline is betrothed to a duke in her homeland. Drawn together by passion, yet torn apart by social differences and dreams of the past, Nicholas and Madeline have only each other to shield them from a darkness that has been orchestrating their lives in this perilous 19th century tale of intrigue and betrayal.

The Fallon Saga / Reagan O’Neal (Robert Jordan)

Great historical fiction on the same level with North & South. Written by Charlestonian James Rigney, Jr, more popularly known as Robert Jordan, author of the massively successful fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. Jordan died in Sept. 2007. Sharp-eyed tour guides often got a glimpse offallon him walking Tradd Street.

In The Fallon Blood, escaping brutal English overlords, 1760s Irishman Michael Fallon becomes an indentured servant to Charleston merchant Thomas Carver, where his infatuation with Carver’s sensual daughter Elizabeth causes life-changing complications. In The Fallon Pride, Michael Fallon’s son Robert Fallon survives years at sea fighting Barbary pirates and enduring the siege at Tripoli. He then returns to America with an Irish wife, Moira McConnell, and goes into business in Charleston where he raises a somewhat troublesome family. In The Fallon Legacy, James Fallon, the last scion of the Fallon line, strikes south and west, adventuring in New Orleans, Missouri, and finally Texas (then still part of Mexico). He loves and loses women, ranches and breeds horses, and becomes entangled in the schemes of shady men and women. Enemies made by Michael and Robert during their lifetimes converge upon James, who must find out if he has strength enough to stand against them.

WHAT TO AVOID

South of Broad / Pat Conroy. The worst book Conroy has written (so far!)! Avoid like a syphilitic whore.

Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig. This is AWFUL!! One of the worst novels I’ve ever tried to read. Silly and poorly written. The narration is fuzzy and the story is well … silly. Why can’t they leave Gone With The Wind alone? First there was Scarlett by Alexandria Ripley which was a snore-fest and now this “Authorized Novel”. Rhett Butler should challenge the Margaret Mitchell estate to a duel for this insult!

All of the ‘island” books by Dorothea Benton Frank. You know … those books that have the fill-in-the-blank plot lines; the major change in each book is the characters’ names and the sea island she uses as the setting. Frank is the female James Patterson – books written for the barely literate.

All of Mary Alice Monroe’s Oprah-fied low country-based, let’s-save-the-turtles fiction.

William Gilmore Simms – praised in his time (1800s) by none other than Edgar Allan Poe, Simms is virtually unreadable today.


BEST SERIES of Crime Novels

In no certain order …

1. “Travis McGee” by John D. MacDonald. 21 books all with a color in the title (The Deep Blue Good-bye; Darker Than Amber; The Green Ripper, etc …)darker than amber

Travis McGee, works as a “salvage consultant” in Ft. Lauderdale and has all the best qualities of Magnum, Rockford, Bond, and Robin Hood, with the addition of yen philosophizing and rueful self-awareness. Must be read in consecutive order.

2. “Burke” by Andrew Vachss. 18 books.

floodVachss (rhymes with “tax”) is a lawyer who only represents children and youths and writes the darkest, most unrelenting series of books about crime and revenge. Main character Burke is one of the “children of the secret” – abused children who were victimized without ever experiencing justice, much less love and protection. To say the least, the adult Burke is a deeply conflicted character. Must be read in order.

3. “Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 4 novels and 5 collections of short stories.

What can you say? The all-time greatest, most famous detective in the world and his constant companion, Dr. Watson. No matter how edgy and steampunkish Hollywood makes the movies, these are still some of the greatest crime stories every written. 

4. “Thorn” by James P. Hall. 14 books.

Thorn lives in the Florida Keys and makes his living tying lures for fly fishing. He also helps people out of sticky situations on occasion.  There’s quite a bit of Travis McGee in UnderCoverOfDaylight.Thorn, and a little bit of Burke also. You don’t have to read these books in order, but I highly recommend reading the first one (Under Cover of Daylight) so you will understand why Thorn is the way he is.

darkattheend5. “Repairman Jack” by F. Paul Wilson. 10 books.

Andrew Vachss calls Repairman Jack “righteous!” An apt description. Jack is a loner who lives off the public grid (no SSN, no official identity) and makes his living “fixing” extreme situations. Some may argue that since Jack’s adventures feature touches of the paranormal and science-fiction, horror and fantasy, this should not be listed in a “Crime Novel” series. I disagree, just for sheer enjoyment and the crime-ridden, violent world that Jack lives in.  Must be read in order.

6. “Joe Kurtz” by Dan Simmons. 3 books  

hardasnailsHard Case, Hard Freeze, Hard As Nails are hard-boiled crime noir at its best. Simmons is one of my all-time favorite writers. In addition to these great novels, he has also written my two favorite horror novels (Carrion Comfort and Children of the Night), a sci-fi classic (Hyperion) and a great Hemingway historical novel (The Crook Factory). It helps to read them in order.

7. “Parker” by Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake). 24 books.

parker-novel-donald-e-westlake-paperback-cover-artParker may be the meanest, nastiest character on this list. Very few redeeming qualities. These books are almost nihilistic. Highly recommend you read these in order – some of the books began the second after the previous book ends.

8. “Justin & Cuddy” by Michael Malone. 3 books 

uncivil seasonsUncivil Seasons, Time’s Witness, First Lady. Great literate mysteries set in small town North Carolina. Uncivil Seasons is one of the best mysteries I’ve ever read. Period.  Read in order.

9. “Lew Archer” by Ross MacDonald. 18 books.

lew archerWilliam Goldman calls these the “the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American.” MacDonald is the primary heir to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler but his writing built on the pithy style of his predecessors by adding psychological depth and insights into the motivations of his characters. Archer often unearthed the family secrets of his clients and of the criminals who victimized them. Lost or wayward sons and daughters were a theme common to many of the novels. Macdonald was one of the first to deftly combine the two sides of the mystery genre, the “whodunit” and the psychological thriller. Jonathon Kellerman is the modern heir of MacDonald’s noir. 

10. “87th Precinct” by Ed McBain. 56 books.

87th precinctABSOLUTELY THE BEST! It is impossible to rate this series too high. It is the most consistently entertaining police procedural novels written about day-to-day cops, the inspiration for “Hill Street Blues” and all the other more realistic, gritty cops show that followed through the 1980s, 90s and beyond. Steve Carella, Meyer Meyer, Bert Kling, Ollie Weeks, Cotton Hawes, and Andy Parker are just  a few of the memorable characters we have  come to know and love who work out of the 8-7. And of course, the Blind Man, one of the greatest, coolest criminals to grace crime pages. McBain died in 2005 so alas, there will be no more 8-7 books.

11. “Harry Bosch” (18 books) and “The Lincoln Lawyer” series (5 books)  by Michael Connelly.

brass-verdict_lConnelly is perhaps the best crime fiction writer of the last decade. Harry Bosch is an LA police detective. The books, dark and often violent, explore Bosch’s psyche as he investigate murders and crime in L.A. Harry’s illegitimate half-brother Michael Haller is called the “Lincoln lawyer,” since he is an unconventional defense lawyer who works out of the back seat of a Lincoln automobile. The “Lincoln” books are endlessly entertaining. 

12. “Inspector Lynley” by Elizabeth George. 19 books


lynleyBrilliant!
 Detective Inspector Thomas “Tommy” Lynley, 8th Earl of Asherton and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers are with New Scotland Yard. The dynamic between the accomplished and aristocratic Lynley and the street smart, foul-mouthed, uncouth Havers is only the first brilliant part of these books. Their cases are psychological compelling, filled with comic characters (Havers in particular) and range across the whole of Great Britain. 

13.  “Crazy Florida” by Carl Hiassen. 13 novels. 

The most fun set of books on this list … by far! While strictly not a series, all of the Hiassen’s ‘crazy Florida” novels can all be lumped together. There are about a dozen skin tightrecurring characters (not in all the books) and enough thematic similarities that connect the novels.Tourist Season, Double Whammy, Skin Tight, Stormy Weather, Skinny Dip, etc .. are all comic caper masterpieces.  Embrace the insanity!   

14.  “Kenzie and Gennaro” by Dennis Lehane. 6 books.

 lehaneTwo private investigators in Boston, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, who take cases that are gruesome, sad, and plain horrifying. Gritty, dark and confronting challenging moral questions, this is a compelling series, by a writer more famous for his stand alone novels, Mystic River  and Shutter Island.

15. “William Monk” by Anne Perry, 21 books

execution dockQuite possible the best crime fiction of the last 20 years. At the beginning of the series Monk is a London police inspector in the 1850s. The first book in the series opens with Monk injured in a carriage accident with a spotty memory of himself and his life. Over the next several novels, not only does Monk investigate crimes, he is also investigating himself, trying to understand what kind of person he is (was) and learning he does not want to be that person.

After the accident he met Hester Latterly, a Crimean War nurse and they became close. Only Latterly knew about Monk’s memory issues. In the second book, A Dangerous Mourning, Monk was fired from the police force for insubordination and became a private investigator. Lady Callandra Daviott (Hester’s best friend) financed his private investigations. Sir Oliver Rathbone was his love rival (he too wanted to marry Hester) and judicial adviser in his case.

In “Dark Assassin,” Monk joined the Thames River Police to pay a debt to a friend who died on a previous case. Although he finds the shift from street policing to river policing difficult, he earns the respect of his men and continues on in this position.

16. “Spenser” by Robert B. Parker. 35 books.

promised landI almost didn’t include Spenser here, but I had to. This is an infuriating series … the first 14 books are as good as PI fiction gets … and the rest are hit-and-miss. Hawk is one of the great characters in crime fiction. But then you also have Susan Silverman – Spenser’s main squeeze. The more important Susan Silverman becomes to the story the more annoying the book is. I keep hoping Susan gets killed and we get back the old, tougher Spenser, not the Oprah-fied Spenser we currently have. During the latter books Hawk became nothing more than a walk-on one-note character; it’s as if Parker was scared to explore the darker dynamics of Hawk and his world.