Sunday, April 8, 2012

Review of Driven

If ever there were a book that didn't need a sequel, it's James Sallis's Drive. Short, nasty, self-contained, when Drive ended it seemed final. However, the success of the recent movie, has given Sallis, who has been writing excellent books nobody reads for a long time now, a profile boost, which has prompted a sequel, Driven. Billed on its cover as, "The sequel to Drive, the award winning motion picture," it is unlikely that we would have Driven had it not been for the film.

Billing a book as the sequel to a motion picture isn't really fair to fans of the film (which ended much more ambiguously than it's source material), and it isn't really fair to the author, who wrote a sequel to his novel, not the film. It has the potential to confuse people. For one, Driven, is not really accessible if you have not read Drive. Watching the movie, which departed from the novel in important ways, isn't enough. Fans of the movie might pick up this book and find themselves a little lost and may lose interest. Instead of opening up Sallis to new readers, marketing the book this way might drive them away. So, let me say to fans of the movie who are thinking about picking this book up: Read Drive first.

Now, qualifications out of the way, let me say that Driven is a worthy sequel. The story picks up years after the events of Drive. Driver has settled down in Arizona and gotten married. He runs a successful business renting out vintage cars to movie productions. Then, one day, he and his wife are attacked by hitmen. His wife is killed, and Driver slips back into his old life and discovers that the past isn't as easy to leave behind as he thought.

The story is slick and fast-paced with plenty of action, much like the original, and the conclusion is satisfying in an existential way. Sallis is an excellent writer who uses deceptively simple language to express complex ideas. It's language at it's most pure and a joy to read. You'll pick the book up and won't put it down again until it's over.

The one nit I will pick is with the characterization of Driver. Always emotionally self-contained, Driver spends almost no time mourning his wife. His apparent lack of grief, or more correctly, lack of expression of grief, rings false. Driver slips a little too effortlessly back into his old life, and while I can see where it might have slowed the frantic narrative pace of the novel, it also might have had a bit more emotional resonance. No one is that self-contained.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Free Ray Banks

Don't miss this opportunity. Blasted Heath is going to be giving away Ray Banks' Dead Money tomorrow with his novella Gun as an added bonus. Gun is a great little novella, and if you haven't checked either of these books out, you really should.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bringing Sexy Back: A Double Shot of Ray Banks

I can think of no better way to get this long moribund blog going again than with a double review of one of your favorite authors and mine, Ray Banks. Thanks to Allan Guthrie and his new Blasted Heath e-publishing company, Banks, last heard from finishing his Cal Innes quartet with Beast of Burden, has returned with two books, one old and one new. The first, Dead Money, is a reworking of The Big Blind, his debut novel about depraved double glazing window salesmen who don’t sell many windows, but do manage to get into a helluva lot of trouble. The second, Wolf Tickets, is a tight little shot of noir about two Army buddies who set out to find a woman who ripped one of them off and end up getting more than they bargained for.

Banks is a tight writer, and both of these books are short, sharp and right to the point, and their respective points are quite sharp. Dead Money is a sort of Glengarry Glen Ross without all the boring talking and focus on sales. Instead it focuses on the outside lives of two degenerates; Alan Slater and his even more despicable friend (at least to start with) Les Beale. Despite being a bit hazy on why Slater would hang out with Beale, who is a compulsive gambler, alcoholic and horrible racist, the story is strong. It focuses on Slater trying to juggle his job, his mistress, his loveless marriage, Beale’s problems and a couple of corpses, one human and one not. Considering how terrible our protagonist is, the book is funnier than it has any right to be, and Banks proves his skill with one scene in particular where Slater and Beale are trying to dispose of a corpse. It is both horrifying and hilarious. Not an easy task to pull off.

The story is ultimately one of delusion and unraveling, and Banks keeps it coming, pacing it well, making sure that, as he peels back the layers or Slater’s twisted personality that he never reveals too much too soon. By the time you get to the end, you’ll be laughing along with Slater, but not for the reasons Slater is laughing.

Wolf Tickets finds Banks up to his old narrative tricks, using dueling first person narration to tell a story, and what a story it is. No frills, no bullshit, just straight up action. This is the least reflective work by Banks that I have read, and I think the only thing I haven’t gotten around to yet is his novella California. It’s a deceptively simple story, seemingly straightforward at first, but Banks, ever the skillful storyteller, gradually complicates things, peeling back layers, getting at the truth, until you end up with something totally unexpected.

On the surface it’s about the Irish Farrell looking up his old English buddy Cobb to help him track down his girlfriend Nora, who has run off with a substantial sum of money, a small amount of blow, and, most importantly, Farrell’s favorite jacket. The story is a straightforward one of revenge, but the real fun comes from how the two characters see each other. The chapters alternate perspectives, giving the reader insight into how these two friends really see each other, adding a layer of complexity to what would otherwise be a slight story. As with Dead Money, Banks proves deft at doling out insight in just the right amounts, complicating what he presents to the reader as rather straightforward characters. By the end you’ve been spun 180 degrees with such deftness that you didn’t even notice it. A surprising, violent, and strangely uplifting ode to friendship, Wolf Tickets is not to be missed.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Darwyn Cooke's Parker: The Martini Edition

I was taking a little Amazon window shopping break when I ran across this, the yet to be released Parker: Martini Edition, which combines the first two of Cooke's Parker graphic novels, along with some new content. It also says it contains a "brand new story," and I'm not sure what that means. I would like to own this, but if I have to buy a deluxe edition to get the next installment in a graphic novel series I already own, I'm not going to be that happy. Hopefully, the new story is something separate from the project of interpreting the first four Parker novels.

Also, I'm not sure why they called it the "Martini Edition." The only thing I can see Parker doing with a martini, is dumping it on the floor, breaking the glass and then stabbing the broken stem into someone's neck.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Straw Dogs Remake

To my great horror, I came across the trailer for a remake of Straw Dogs today. I already have my issues with Peckinpah's adaptation of the novel The Siege of Trencher's Farm, upon which his film was based. In a nutshell, I think he sexed it up too much. Somehow, I don't think the remake will tone it down any, or draw on any of the parts of the novel Peckinpah ignored. In short, it looks like shit.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

L.A. Noire

I realize anyone who has followed this blog in the past has probably assumed that I ended up dead in a ditch somewhere long ago, but the truth is much, much worse. It's work. It turns out that writing all day for other people kind of makes logging onto a blog and writing at the end of a long day unappealing. And when I do have good intentions in that regard, I end up falling asleep on the couch or something. I have books I'm working on reading, I promise, but right now it's a slog. Reading is an activity that requires a certain level of alertness and concentration that I've been lacking, and I'm not going to review anyone's work unless I can give it the full attention it deserves.

So, let's start out with something a little more mindless: video games, specifically L.A. Noire. I bought a copy the day it came out, which I have never done for a video game before, but after seeing the previews and reading the reviews I realized it was as if a group of people had sat around and asked themselves "What kind of game would Nathan like to play?" Maybe they did. Maybe they broke into my apartment and realized I like fedoras and murders and adventure games and horrible crimes that expose the sordid underbelly of city life. Maybe.

Anyway, the game, so far is good. Not that I've had much time to play it. Hopefully, I'll be able to say more about it soon. In the meantime, enjoy these stories from a who's who of writers. And check out Charles Ardai's intro to the L.A. Noir short story anthology on BoingBoing. I'm glad to see the world of video games and literature coming together like this. They are, after all, both forms of storytelling, and there's no reason they can't complement one another. And, who knows, maybe these stories will lead video gamers to pick up a Hard Case Crime novel, or a James Ellroy book and see what they've been missing.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wednesday Paperback Cover

This cover for Hard Case's debut hardcover novel hit me right between the eyes.

New Dashiell Hammett

Are you ready to read some new short stories by Dashiell Hammett? I hope so, because 15 new stories have been discovered and are set to be published.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Stansberry's Noir Manifesto

Domenic Stansberry's Noir Manifesto has made it online. I'm not sure if it's really a manifesto. It reads more like an essay, but it's certainly thought provoking, and I'd have to agree with a lot of the points he makes, like that fact that noir used to be, or should be a genre sympathetic to the powerless, as opposed to thrillers, which are more concerned with re-establishing the status quo at the end of the story. There are many definitions of noir, and many writers and aficionados don't agree on what noir is, but there's a lot to think about in this essay. I'm still digesting it, and hopefully I'll have more to say later.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Post in Which the Author Admits He is Having Trouble Adapting to the Century in Which He Lives

So, I'm trying to get back on the reviewing and blogging wagon after having taken much needed break. While I've been away, lots of authors I enjoy reading, like Allan Guthrie, Dave Zeltserman, and Anthony Neil Smith have released electronic exclusives. After resisting the e-book trend for a long time, I finally broke down and downloaded Kindle for PC, and bought a couple of books I wanted to read. The problem is, however, that I'm having a hard time reading them. On many days, I spend the better part of eight hours staring a a computer screen, and when I get home I often find myself not wanting to spend another couple hours doing the same thing for recreational purposes.

And when I do fire up the computer, I always end up caught up in myriad distractions (I have four other tabs open in my browser as I write this.) As McLuhan said, the medium is the message, and I fear the Internet has conditioned me to jump around from one thing to the next, never staying in one place, or lavishing too much attention on any one thing. Sitting in front of a computer and trying to do something as straightforward and linear as reading a novel feels unnatural, and I'm having a hard time adapting. I recently read Grimhaven as a PDF, and it took me two weeks to get through. It's a short book, and I should have been able to sit down and read it in an afternoon, but I kept getting distracted, or feeling like I needed a break from staring at the screen. It wasn't easy.

Right now, I'm trying to decide on whether or not to shell out for a Kindle. I think that the portable format may be more book-like, and make me more comfortable with the whole electronic book concept, but I'm afraid it won't work, and I'll have wasted a bunch of money on something I'll never use. So, I'm asking anyone who's got one, how do you like yours? Was it worth the money? Is it similar enough to reading a book that you feel comfortable doing it? Or should I just forget it?