Thursday, January 31, 2008
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Funny isn’t easy. Just watch television. Rooms full of writers slave away to come up with jokes for sitcoms and late night talk show hosts, and most of them fail spectacularly. It’s not that all of the people who write for those shows are hopeless (although many of them are), it’s just that being funny consistently is nigh impossible, even for very funny people.
Danny King’s School for Scumbags (Serpent's Tail, 2008) is funny. It’s not roll around on the floor holding your sides funny, but it does manage to conjure up laugh-out-loud moments, and even when it falls short, it’s still entertaining. Scumbags follows 15-year old degenerate Wayne Banstead as he get kicked out of yet another school and ends up in the Gafin School For Boys in London. The school, whose motto is “Help Yourselves Boys” is unorthodox in its methods. The boys spend a lot of time learning about crime, and none of their instructors seems to care if they smoke dope or drink. In fact, the only thing that can get a student in real trouble is snitching. Needless to say Wayne, who has trouble understanding the concept of private property, fits right in. Soon it becomes clear that, despite the statements made to students’ parents, no one at the Gafin School is interested in reforming the students, in fact, quite the opposite. The staff want the boys to help pull off a giant heist.
The plot is far-fetched, but fun, and King manages to make Wayne, a character who could easily end up on a reader’s bad side, just decent enough to keep him from becoming unlikable. The pacing is brisk, with the exception of a couple of chapters about a soccer game, which tend to drag. It turns out the only thing less exciting than watching soccer is reading about it, even if it is a rigged match. That one stumble aside, the scheming and plotting of the school boys and their teachers is enjoyable, and the climactic heist is appropriately grand. King manages to make funny look easy.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
From the Rap Sheet comes the odd news that Graeme Flanagan's excellent archive of Robert McGinnis covers is coming down because someone complained that the site contains direct links to live porn sites. I've been all over that site and never come across any porn links. Even if there were, I'm fairly certain that linking to a porn site isn't a crime unless you're in
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Friday, January 18, 2008
So, the Edgar nominations are out. Independent presses fared very well this year, Bleak House in particular. Reed Coleman's Soul Patch got a nod for best novel and Craig McDonald's Head Games got a nomination for best first novel. "Blue Note" by Stuart Kaminsky, which appeared in Chicago Blues, got a best short story nomination. If there were ever an occasion for the Bleak House crew to dip into the hookers & blow slush fund this is it.
Other Independent press nominees include
Best Paperback Original:
Cruel Poetry by Vicki Hendricks (Serpent's Tail)
Robbie's Wife by Russell Hill (Hard Case Crime)
Best Short Story:
"The Golden Gopher" – Los Angeles Noir by Susan Straight (Akashic Books)
"Uncle" – A Hell of a Woman” by Daniel Woodrell (Busted Flush Press)
Best First Novel
Snitch Jacket by Christopher Goffard (The Rookery Press)
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Saturday, January 12, 2008
A Diet of Treacle (Hard Case Crime, 2007), by Lawrence Block is not exactly a lost classic, but it is an enjoyable read. Originally published pseudonymously under the execrable title Pads are for Passion, the novel was originally marketed as a sleaze paperback, promising to lay bare the dark heart of decadent Greenwich Village for people whose experience with
The story follows Korean War vet and dropout Joe Milani and Anita Carbone, a good girl from uptown, who comes to the Village looking for excitement, as they try to get their lives together. This would be a rather simple task were in not for Joe’s roommate and best friend Shank, who deals weed. When Shank’s connection gets busted, he goes looking for a new one. His new connection wants Shank to push heroin, however, and that’s when things get complicated.
The plot, such as it is, is remarkably spare, and there is a lot of telling instead of showing to flesh out the characters’ backgrounds. Still, Block, even in his early days, was a talented storyteller, and the book is an effortless read. For a book that was supposed to be titillating, it is remarkably tame. One minor character is coyly described as a virgin, but it is made clear that she enjoys some sort of intercourse. Apparently, to go into any more detail would be too scandalous even for an early Sixties sleaze novel.
While A Diet of Treacle does not rise to the level of Block’s later work, it moves so quickly a reader will hardly notice the book’s flaws. Even as a journeyman writer Block had a light touch and a gift for narrative that make even his lesser efforts worth a look.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Sunday, January 6, 2008
There is not much in English about Swiss author Friedrich Glauser. Until Bitter Lemon Press started translating his Sergeant Studer novels a few years ago, he was more or less unknown in the English speaking world, despite having a major crime fiction prize named after him in
Studer meets Farny by chance one night when his motorcycle runs out of gas, and he has to stop at an inn to get more gas. Farny tells Studer that he fears he will be murdered and, four months later he is found shot to death on the grave of the recently deceased wife of the village poorhouse’s warden. Some think it is a suicide, but Studer knows better and sets out to find the culprit.
The novel itself is a cross between Agatha Christie and CSI. Using primitive forensic investigation techniques, Studer uncovers not one, but two murders and tries to winnow down a long suspect list. When Studer does unmask the culprits, he does so in a fashion befitting Poiroit or Nero Wolfe. The story itself is not exceptional, but the author’s anger is. As befitting someone who spent a good deal of his life hounded by the authorities for the victimless crime of self-medicating, Glauser has a strong libertarian streak which is evident in his writing. In The Chinaman his wrath is largely focused on the way the poor are rounded up and warehoused in poorhouses. The most contemptible character in the novel is the poorhouse warden, who will spout off to anyone who will listen about the intractable problem of “pauperism.” The flipside is Ludwig Farny, nephew of the deceased and a poorhouse inmate, who, though poor, manages to be intelligent, honest and noble. While this is, in may ways, a drawing room mystery, complete with all the suspects brought together for the climax, it’s not every drawing room mystery that contains a call to smash the state.