And lo, it was a Christmas miracle as angels descended from the heavens and provided a humble blogger with an extra copy of Dave Zeltserman's forthcoming novel Killer, and told him that, since he already had one copy, he should spread the wealth. And, lo, the humble blogger, said, "Why the hell not."
So, here's the deal. You send an email to IndieCrimeatgmaildotcom with "Contest" in the subject line. Include your name and address. I will number the entries in the order in which I receive them. Then, on Dec. 31, I will use Random.org to pick a random number. If your number comes up, I drop a brand new copy of what is sure to be one of the best books of the year in the mail to you.
Good luck and Merry Christmas you sons of bitches.
Whatever else you can say about burlesque performer Jonny Porkpie's novel,The Corpse Wore Pasties (Hard Case Crime, 2009), it certainly wins the prize for book with the most underwear similes ever. It's all bra straps and g-strings as Porkpie rushes around New York trying to solve a murder in this not quite roman à clef of a novel.
Porkpie is both the detective and the main suspect in the murder of performer Victoria Vice, after handing her what was supposed to be a prop bottle of poison during a performance. The bottle wasn't a prop, and Victoria was a serial thief, ripping off other burlesque performer's acts as a matter of routine, so there is no shortage of suspects.
Porkpie never takes the book, or himself, too seriously, which is good because he makes the debut mystery author mistake of telegraphing the culprit early on in the story to anyone who's paying attention. The novel works better as a ribald comedy than as a murder mystery. Fortunately, Porkpie can be pretty funny, and his sense of showmanship translates pretty well onto the page. He knows how to create and amusing scene and milk it for all its worth.
I usually avoid best of the year type lists, because I don't read enough to make a serious assessment, but I've looked back at my reviews for 2009, and I've decided that if you don't read the following books you are a loser and suck.
Allan Guthrie's Slammer is the book of the year. At first, I thought Zeltserman had the top spot locked up, but this one wins out on review. It's a real leap forward for Guthrie. As I said in the review, it's "Guthrie's first grown up novel." In terms of Guthrie's writing and storytelling, it's an improvement on a style that was already worthy. If this is a glimpse of things to come, I can't wait.
Speaking of Zeltserman, Pariah, was great. It was pretty much perfect in every respect. You can't ask for more than perfection, can you?
While, Of All the Bloody Cheek, was published a long time ago, and reprinted many years ago, I just got around to reading it this year. I've never read anything quite like this comic hitman novel, and I doubt I ever will. Augutus Mandrell is quite the creation, and it is a pity he has been forgotten. Murder doesn't have to be serious.
Snitch Jacket by Christopher Goffard is another novel I came to late, but is still a must read. The story of loser and his friendship with a fake Vietnam vet, it's funny and touching and repulsive all at the same time. A cut above.
And last, but not least, The Big Wake Up by Mark Coggins. The pulpy nature of this one combined with a more realistic element really worked for me. I want to read more August Riordan mysteries, so mission accomplished Mr. Coggins.
I have, for reasons not yet entirely clear to me, started a twitter account to go with the blog. I haven't decided how I'm going to use it yet, but it will probably involve synergy and leveraging the power of social networking to build an internet brand. Or maybe I'll just screw around. So, be sure to follow me, because if you don't you will probably miss out on life changing information. (Just to be clear, I don't mean to imply that it will change your life for the better. It will just change your life, so you assume some risk.)
Gil Brewer’s mini-revival (is the prefix even appropriate anymore?) continues with the republication of his 1952 Fawcett novel Flight to Darkness (New Pulp Press, 2009). The book represents the new publisher’s first foray into reprints, and it seems like a worthwhile effort. Brewer’s work usually follows a fairly straightforward formula: A desperate guy meets a bad girl and proceeds to make questionable decisions until bad things happen, and it’s too late to fix them. It’s easy to accuse Brewer of being repetitive, and it’s true, he was, but his books have a certain desperation about them which makes them seem more immediate than the countless other mass market paperbacks of the era that depended on the same basic plot. Brewer’s effortless conjuring of desperate heroes is because his own life was so full of desperation.
Still, he had his faults. His books often seem rushed, probably because he was under duress to crank something out to get paid and because back in those days no one wanted a hundred thousand word manuscript. The fact that he was an alcoholic probably didn't help.
Flight to Darkness aspires to be more than the average Brewer novel, and it sometimes succeeds, but it still suffers from its ending. Darkness is the story of Korean War vet Eric Garth, who has acted heroically in battle, saving an injured man while under heavy fire. The incident took its toll on Garth, though, and he suffers from what would now be called post traumatic stress disorder.
Eric, a sculptor, is constantly haunted by the thought that he murdered his estranged half-brother Frank with a sculpting mallet. As the novel opens, Garth is being released to return to Florida with his fiancee Leda, a nurse he met while hospitalized, to claim his half of the family business from his half-brother Frank. The happy couple's trip is derailed in Alabama when Garth is accused of a hit and run. Garth has no memory of the incident, and when his brother shows up, local law enforcement is only too happy to institutionalize Garth indefinitely.
When he finally escapes, he finds out the charges were dropped long ago, so he sets out for Florida, where he discovers that Leda has married Frank, who has conspired to screw him out of the family business. Matters are further complicated by Eric's old flame, Leda's professed desire for him, and the not insignificant fact that Frank soon turns up dead, his head bashed in with a mallet.
The desperation that pervades Brewer's stories works especially well in this novel, since the protagonist is not merely broke (as is often the case in Brewer novels), but of questionable sanity. It is a little difficult to dismiss some of Eric's actions late in the novel, however. After a good, if a little long setup, Brewer has his hero ignore about ten million red flags as the novel rolls toward its inevitable conclusion, and the conclusion is way too convenient. Flight to Darkness is missing the final part of Brewer's formula. At the end, everything turns out all right, which is just way too pat to be satisfying, especially considering the fact that Eric Garth spends ninety-nine percent of the novel doing his thinking below the waist. As is often the case, it seems like Brewer knew the necessary word count was close, so he just put a bow on it. A little more effort would have served this story well. The book has a rather well done pulp climax, but a little denouement would have fleshed it out just enough to make it have the resonance it should have had. It would have pushed this book from a good example of classic paperback fiction to an excellent one.
I know I said I was shuttering the blog for a couple weeks during my vacation, but I just wanted to point out that my story "Goodbye Baby," which was available for about 5 minutes in the final issue of Demolition, is up at A Twist of Noir. I am rather fond of this story because it turned out to be something more than what I intended. It ended up being much more quiet than what I originally set out to write, and I think that made it a much better story than it would have been otherwise. I was quite sad when Demolition disappeared from the Web and this one went down the memory hole. Anyway, I hope you like it.
I'm making it official. I haven't shuttered the blog since I started it, but I'm about to go away for two weeks with limited to no Internet access, so I'm also taking a break from the blog. Have no fear, I'm taking a couple of books with me for review, and I'll be back around the second week of December or so, but I need a break from my life. So, I'm off to the middle of nowhere. Everyone have a great Thanksgiving, and try not to let the world fall into anarchy while I'm away.
First off, I'm reposting the trailer for The Killer Inside Me, since YouTube seems to have taken it down. Secondly, prompted by this blog post, and it's concern about the film's depiction of violence against women,I went back and reread Thompson's book, which I had not looked at in many years. My first observation was that the trailer seems to show a film that shows remarkable fidelity to its source material. The story, as far as I can tell, is the same as the book's, and even has a lot of dialogue lifted verbatim from the book. That makes me optimistic about the film, even though Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson aren't exactly the greatest actors in the world.
Now,I'll make a frank assessment: The violence depicted in the trailer isn't the result of some Hollywood desire to tart up Thompson's book with titillating and shocking detail. It comes straight from the novel. The filmmakers seem to have actually toned down the initial meeting between Lou Ford and Joyce (Jessica Alba's character). In the book, Ford beats Joyce until she's unconscious and then revives her. When she comes to, she comes onto him. It's an uncomfortable scene, but not nearly as uncomfortable as the scene where Lou kills her. The trailer is graphic, but so is the book. Lou describes killing Joyce as, "like pounding a pumpkin. Hard, then everything giving away at once." If that imagery weren't disturbing enough, Joyce, who is clearly almost as screwed up in the head as Lou, asks for a goodbye kiss while she is being beaten.
The murder of Amy Stanton (played by Kate Hudson in the upcoming film) in the book is even worse. Lou hits her in the stomach, and "[his] fist went back against her spine, and the flesh closed around it to the wrist. " After that vicious blow, Amy falls and the floor, and Lou sits there and watches her die. Then he kicks her in the head for good measure. I've got to say, this scene, particularly the description of the punch, stayed with me for years. I remembered it long after I had forgotten most of the book's story.
Now, Lou Ford is a complex character. His violence is not just reserved for women. He kills men. He puts cigars out on vagrants for fun. He corners people and repeats corny cliches just to watch them squirm, but the worst violence of the book is reserved for women because Lou Ford has a complex relationship with the opposite sex. Without giving too much away, let's say that what torments Lou, aside from an inherited tendency toward sadism, is his relationship with women. To say more than that would be telling, but Thompson isn't going for misogynistic thrills. He's doing a character study of a man who has an inner life he hides from the world, and a public face at odds with his true self.
The Killer Inside Me was published in 1952, seven years before Robert Bloch's Psycho (another novel that hinges on a killer's complicated relationship with women). You can probably lay a lot of blame at Thompson's feet for the boring and repetitive serial killer fiction that clogs up the crime fiction section of your local bookstore, but it would be a mistake to accuse him of misogyny. It's not a theme that runs throughout his work. Thompson, like Bloch, wrote a lot of novels, and they're quite different, with different types of characters.
Similarly, it would be a mistake to accuse the filmmakers of misogyny for bringing Thompson's disturbing story to the screen. Artists have no obligation to preach, or try to instruct, or to worry about whether their work depicts something that's "dangerous." If you can't depict "dangerous" behaviors or ideas in fiction, then where exactly can you depcit them? I can see how The Killer Inside Me trailer might make the author of that blog post uncomfortable. It's not based on a Little Golden Book. The book is disturbing. It's meant to be. Dismissing The Killer Inside Me, as "no better than a snuff film," however, based on five minutes of footage, an obvious ignorance about the source material and a misplaced sense of self righteousness seems silly, although such controversy will undoubtedly end up helping at the box office.
Bonus video: MC 900 Foot Jesus raps from the POV of Lou Ford in his 1991 song "The Killer Inside Me."
Mercury Mysteries specialized in abridged digests of novels. I have a rare short story collection by Woolrich that was reprinted that way, and a Nicholas Blake (father of Daniel Day Lewis) but I had no idea Brewer was one of their reprints. It's hard to abridge a Brewer.
Over at The Rap Sheet Mark Coggins has an interesting post about the history behind his latest novel, The Big Wake Up. I, for one, had no idea how much of the book's story had a historical basis. I assumed he was taking liberties with some of the more outlandish aspects, but no.
It has been quiet around here for a while, mainly because I have been busy reading James Ellroy and Flannery O'Connor. They're two very demanding, but very different, writers who've taken up a lot of my time and energy. (Especially Ellroy. I've been plugging away at Blood's a Rover for a while now, and I'm not sure I'm getting anywhere.)
Nevertheless, I found time to read the next story in The Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction. I've read Harlan Ellison's "Soft Monkey" before, but I'm not sure where. I vividly remember it, and I remember it's preface about scientists who found that orangutans who are greiving the loss of a child will cling to a soft doll, and treat it as if it were alive.
The preface wouldn't be all that problematic if the main character of "Soft Monkey" weren't a mentally ill, homeless black woman. I don't attribute any racist intent to Ellison, but there's a rather long, disturbing history of comparing black people to apes that he should have been aware of or acknowledged. The only racist thoughts are in the characters who are trying to kill Annie, the protagonist, a woman who has had a psychotic break after losing an infant child. Annie is targeted for death after witnessing a mob hit, but there's something about this story that still kind of rubs me the wrong way. I'm not sure what it's getting at. I suspect Ellison was trying to get at the bond between mother and child and animal and beast, but I think he might have found a better way to get at it.
Private-eye novels usually either go one of two ways; gritty, dirt-under-the-nails realism, or more comic, pulpy fare. One can make that Mickey Spillane mixed the two types of stories, but, it’s not at all clear Spillane knew when he was being comical, and either way, the results of his efforts may be the best argument one can think of for not trying to mix the two types of stories. However, Mark Coggins’ latest August Riordan novel, The Big Wake Up (Bleak House, 2009) successfully mixes plot elements that would fit more comfortably between the battered pages of a comic or pulp magazine with the modern hard boiled PI story. The result is a fast paced, entertaining read.
The plot of The Big Wake Up is ridiculous. It involves rival factions from Argentina searching for the embalmed corpse of Evita Peron, which was, through a series of rather unbelievable occurrences, supposedly spirited away to the San Francisco Bay area and interred under a false name. Apparently, whoever possesses Evita’s corpse will wield unlimited power over the easily impressed proles of Argentina or something. Needless to say, August Riordan is brought in by one of the factions to find the corpse, under false pretenses, of course. He quickly realizes something is up when he is trying to get his client’s daughter in bed, and a gang of thugs burst into his apartment, led by a woman named Isis, who commands an army of identical looking black men and has a fetish for embalming people alive.
So, yes, The Big Wake Up, is ridiculous, but it’s a well done sort of ridiculous. Coggins is pretty skilled at taking the reader for a ride, and the book zips along like a Maserati down the Pacific Coast Highway. Despite the over-the-top nature of the tale, Coggins still keeps it grounded. Actions have consequences. People die, and Riordan doesn’t make it out emotionally unscathed. No doubt because the book is part of a series, Coggins makes an effort at verisimilitude and blends it well with the overall story. The result is a book that is satisfying on more than one level.
Bad Karma (Five Star, 2009), Dave Zeltserman’s follow up to Bad Thoughts, finds the author trying to take a path less traveled in PI novels, as well as produce work that might be less off putting to the casual reader than his man-out-of prison novels, Small Crimes and Pariah, and the yet-to be-published Killer. Zeltserman will probably make his mark on the world of hard boiled fiction with the man-out-of-prison works. Small Crimes was excellent, and Pariah, while it will never replace Catcher in the Rye on high school freshman English reading lists, will stand the test of time.
One cannot, however, fault a working writer for trying to find a commercial outlet, which is what Zeltserman is trying to do with his Bill Shannon novels, by mixing your standard hard-boiled ex-cop PI with a dash of the supernatural. It’s not full on Twilight, with vampires and werewolves, but there is a healthy dose of new-age phenomenon, like lucid dreaming and out-of-body experiences. It is refreshing to see a PI character turning to meditation instead of the bottle after a traumatic experience, but readers’ mileage may vary depending on their tolerance for hippy-dippy talk (not to mention discussion of the relative merits of the Red Sox versus the Yankees).
Still, while Bad Karma is not as good as Zeltserman’s non-series work, there is still a solid PI story at its center. Shannon has relocated to Denver and reconciled with Susan, his ex-wife, when he is hired to investigate the brutal beating death of a couple college students. He also agrees to help a desperate mother try to rescue her daughter from a local cult. True to form, both cases dovetail in the end, and Shannon ends up uncovering a larger conspiracy, and when it comes to problem solving Shannon isn’t exactly a pacifist, his penchant for meditation notwithstanding, so there’s plenty here for fans of the genre.
Dave Zeltserman's excellent novel Pariah, which I wrote about back in May out of an abundance of enthusiasm, is out this month, so I'm linking to my review again. You really ought not to miss reading this book. Bruce Grossman over at Bookgasm agrees. I think you're going to see a lot of positive reviews for this book.
Zeltserman has a second novel coming out soon, Bad Karma, which is a sequel to Bad Thoughts. My review of that one should be posted soon, so stay tuned.
When is a detective novel, not a detective novel? When Thomas Pynchon writes it. Inherent Vice, described in the run-up to its release as a hard boiled detective novel, is a lousy detective novel, but a pretty good Thomas Pynchon novel. Vice is ostensibly a novel, and main character, Doc Sportello, is a PI. And like any PI novel, Sportello's story starts with a woman, specifically, an ex-girlfriend who shows up one day and says her current boyfriend, a wealthy developer, may be in some trouble and asks Doc to check it out. From there, things go off the rails pretty quickly, but they never get to the Gravity's Rainbow level of weird. Rainbow reads like something an overly bright guy locked in a room with a typewriter and a lot of coke would come up with and, as such, it's pretty much unreadable unless you're putting the book down every half-hour to chop out a couple fresh lines.
Inherent Vice, though, is a more mellow Pynchon. He seems to be having fun. There are more dope jokes in this book than all the Cheech and Chong films combined, and they're considerably funnier than anything Cheech and Chong ever did. Pynchon's main problem is that, even when he lightens up, he can't stop being Pynchon, which means that there's not really any way to accurately describe the plot, because it's basically a loose conglomeration of episodes, some more amusing than others, as Pynchon muses on the death of the 60's, and "What it all means."
Pynchon's never been a real novelist. He's a writer the way William S. Burroughs was a writer, but not a novelist. I was hoping that Inherent Vice would be a real detective novel, and not one of Pynchon's usual postmodern wanks with detective window dressing. The good news is, however, that this, apart from The Crying of Lot 49, is Pynchon's most accessible novel, and shouldn't scare off anyone who is curious about his work. I enjoyed it quite a bit as a Pynchon novel. It lacked his usual ponderousness, and really did have some quite funny bits, especially if you're a fan of smart stoner humor. Still, I'd have been more impressed if he'd written an honest-to-god crime novel and published it under a pseudonym, thereby shocking the hell out of everybody.
The back and front of Gil Brewer's Sugar, which you will likely not find elsewhere on the Internet. It's not even on bookscans. I have been meaning to post it for a while, and I feel like I've been neglecting the blog lately, so there you go, something novel to feast your eyes on.
The blog has been rather devoid of content lately, I know. I have been busy at work and life, and throw in a little sickness, and this little project sort of gets put on the back burner. I'm also reading a lot of books that aren't really site appropriate, so that's taking up a lot of my free time. The good news is, however, that I do have a couple of reviews in the can for books that are coming out next month, and soon I should have some more time to devote to a back catalog of topics I would like to spend some time touching on here. Thanks for your patience.
John Lutz, for better or for worse, is best known as the guy who penned SWF Seeks Same, which Hollywood turned into the Bridget Fonda vehicle Single White Female. He's done a lot more than that, though. His Wikipedia entry lists three series of books, thirteen stand alones and more short stories than I can be bothered to count. It was Lutz's short story from The Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction that first got my attention, so when I ran across his novel Ride The Lightning in a used book store, I snatched it up.
Ride the Lightning is one of Lutz's Alo Nudger books. It's based on an Edgar winning short story, which originally appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine in 1985. The perpetully down-on-his-luck Texas PI is hired by a white trash sweetheart to prove that her boyfriend, who is sitting on death row for killing a convenience store clerk during a robbery is innocent. Nudger knows the case is hopeless, but he takes it anyway. He needs the money. Of course, once Nudger starts poking around, he finds things aren't as cut and dried as they seem.
Ride the Lightning confirms my initial impression of Lutz as an excellent writer. You can add him to the list along with writers like Ed Gorman and James Reasoner who are criminially underrrated and unknown while people who murder the English language and the rules of good fiction make the bestseller lists. Ride the Lightning, and I suspect the rest of Lutz's work, are well worth your time.
In our last episode, our hero, announced he was giving away two copies of Darwyn Cooke's adaptation of The Hunter. As part of the contest, he asked would-be entrants to answer a trivia question. Upon reflection, the question may have been too difficult (or blog readers too lazy), because exactly no one sent in an entry. I've done giveaways before, and always had entrants. So, lesson learned, we're going to try this again. I still have two copies of this graphic novel to give away, and I'm still going to ask a trivia question, but I'm going to make it much, much easier.
To enter for a chance to win The Hunter, send an email to IndieCrime-at-gmail-dotcom with Contest in the subject line. Include your address and the answer to this question:
Who is the man Parker comes to New York to kill in The Hunter?
Can I make it any easier than that? Yeah, probably, but I'm not going to. Next Sunday, I'm either announcing the winners or I'm just going to give the goddamn things to homeless people.
(Yeah. That's only five. Wanna fight? I do. So bring it on.)
Now, for what I assume is the interesting part. I tell you ten honest things about myself. 1. I own a television and DVD player that don't work. They haven't worked for over a year. I'm in no hurry to replace them.
2. I have Bud Light with lime in my refrigerator (talk about embarrassing.) 3. I drive a Geo Prizm with 160,000 miles on it. 4. I never went to the prom. 5. If I had it to do over again, I'd still skip the prom. 6. I recently had to tell the person I love most in the world that I can't see them anymore. (How's that for personal and honest you vultures?) 7. I don't actually own a copy of The Maltese Falcon. I used to. Don't know what happened to it. 8. I bought a new bookshelf last weekend. There are still books piled on the floor. 9. I love old adventure games, like Space Quest and Day of the Tentacle. 10. I still want to be Sam Spade.
I just dropped in my local book/comic shop, The Book Nook on N. Druid Hills Road, in Atlanta (or Decatur, depending on who you ask), and I was very pleased to see a robust Richard Stark display up front. Not only, did they have Darwyn Cooke's The Hunter graphic novel, they were in the process of stocking the U. of Chicago reprints as well. One of the guys who worked there told me the graphic novel was going into a second printing, which bodes well for Cooke's adaptation of The Man with the Getaway Face, seeing the light of day. I should have taken some pictures of the display, but my Google Phone camera is shit. I may go back and do that tomorrow, just to show you that I was right about the coming Stark resurgence. Anyway, I bought two of the last copies of Cooke's adpatation, and I'm giving them away this time next week because I'm feeling generous.
To enter, all you have to do is answer this question: In The Handle, who are the final members of the team that carry out the island robbery. Email the correct answer to IndieCrime-at-gmail-dot-com by next Friday. Those who get it correct are entered for a chance to win one of the two copies. I use a random number generator to pick actual winners.
Akashic Books has a real cottage industry going, churning out city themed noir. As part of their promotion for the upcoming Boston Noir, they have produced a limited number of hardcover editions signed by the book's editor, some guy you've probably never heard of before named Dennis Lehane. It goes for a cool hundred bucks, and you can preorder it here. The site says it'll ship by the end of September.
There's a new Outfit in town, and they're laying claim to some turf. J.T. Lindroos, and Sean Wallace are in charge. They're both publishing veterans. Lindroos is co-founder of Point Blank Press, and Wallace is the founder of Prime Books, which is getting a relaunch along with The Outfit. The Outfit's first act is to smuggle the works of one Leigh Redhead (actually a brunette) from Australia into the states. The first book, Peepshow, about stripper turned P.I. Simone Kirsch, will be out in November.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be Sam Spade. Not Humphrey Bogart, although my first exposure to Hammett's character might have been through Huston's film adaptation of The Maltese Falcon. I don't remember, and it doesn't matter. I found Hammett's book soon enough, and for a miserable 14 or 15 year old kid who needed every ounce of willpower just to get out of bed and go to fucking high school every morning, it was a revelation. Every teenage kid wants to be someone else, to be something more than the confused loser he is. That's why there are still comic book stores and action movies are packed with guys in backwards baseballl caps dragging their less than enthralled dates in tow, every summer weekend. I collected comics. I had big stacks of The Amazing Spiderman and Wolverine, but once I cracked The Maltese Falcon, all those entertainments seemed inadequate.
Sam Spade wasn't some costumed hero, able to overcome because he could stick to walls or had conveniently placed claws. He was a grown man, a man with a job, a man who operated in an environment shaded with gray. There were no clear bright lines dividing good from evil. No saints. Just sinners or varying degrees, and Sam Spade caught in the middle, trying to claw his way out of a bad situation and maybe make a little money on the side, and, oh yeah, get a little justice while he was at it. He played for keeps. He had to. He didn't take any shit, and he kept his cards close to his vest. He was in control of his emotions, and he was always in control of his emotions. No one played Sam Spade for a fool. Now, I knew, no matter how badly I wanted them, I would never be a superhero, but Sam Spade wasn't a superhero. He was a guy. A guy who liked to drink. A guy who had bills to pay. A guy who wasn't immune to the charms of women, but didn't let them wrap him around their little fingers. And most importantly, he wasn't the sort of guy to lose his head and get all emotional. While everyone around him loses their head chasing after smoke, Spade keeps it all together, and when it comes down to it, he doesn't let sentimentality or emotion get in the way. He does what has to be done, even though it probably hurts him more than he will ever admit.
Brigid goes to prison, and Gutman and Cairo go back off on their wild goose chase. The worthless bird only making them more fanatical in their desire. It never occurs to them that it's all a lie, but Spade never gets sucked in. He never becomes a believer. It is the believers who run amok, taking lives, doing damage. The Maltese Falcon, isn't a detective novel. It's a religious one, and Spade is the only person who stands above the fray, never believing the unbelievable and still hanging on to some sense of right and wrong.
This preface is a long way of saying that, when I heard Joe Gores was writing a prequel to The Maltese Falcon, I thought it was a shitty idea. The Maltese Falcon stands alone. There's no need to explain Spade. He's there at the beginning of the story, and he's there at the end. What happened before and what happens after are irrelevant. In fact, the entire idea of prequel trivializes Hammett's greatest creation. Don't get me wrong, Joe Gores is a great writer. Interface is the closest thing there's been to a Hammett novel since The Thin Man. Hell, it's a better Hammett novel than The Thin Man. Still, I wanted to hate Spade and Archer. I wanted get ten pages in and throw the goddamn book against the wall. That didn't happen. Gores is too good for that. S & A is not The Maltese Falcon. It's a lot more puply than the pulp fiction on which it is based, but it is compulsively readable. Gores is an excellent storyteller, and it's almost impossible not to get sucked into his story, even if part of you wishes it didn't exist. He's that good. Still, now that I've finished Spade and Archer, I'm going to forget I ever read it, and I'm never going to to look at it again. I prefer the Spade I met all those many years ago.Sorry Joe.
Hard Case has announced their second December title. They're going way back to republish the final Sherlock Holmes book,The Valley of Fear, a description of which can be read here. I don't think Glen Orbik's artwork would have been approved for a cover of The Strand.
Since Victor Gischler deprived you of a review of The Deputy, by jumping ship from Bleak House to Tyrus Books, and pushing publication back to April, I'm bringing back my thoughts on the Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction. This week, "This World, Then Fireworks" by Jim Thompson. I have read much of Thompson's better known work, but I'm no expert. Much of his work is said to be uneven, and this posthumous work is a real head scratcher. I'm not sure if it's some sort of half-assed throwaway, a work of twisted, bilious genius, or a combination of the two. It's definitely going to bear another reading.
TWTF focuses on Marty and Carol, an incestuous brother and sister couple who obviously had, a troubled childhood, although the nature of their trauma isn't clear at the beginning. Marty has left his dying wife and kids to return home, after having been fired from a reporting gig for trying a little blackmail. Carol, who has been taking care of their elderly mother, is a whore. When Marty comes back to town, he gets a job with the local paper, gets promoted in record time, and then resigns, because he's perverse. Then he picks up a lady cop, and, well, the story's kind of a mess, and trying to explain it all would just confuse you. It does, in the end, make a twisted sense, to Thompson's credit, but many elements are too convenient, and feel lazy and rushed. There are still, however, moments of genius, like Marty's musings as he wonders through a cemetary:
"Yes, hell. Yes, oh God, yes, it was a wonderful place. The City of Wonderful People. Everyone in it was everything that everyone should be. Some has a little more on the ball, of course, than others; there was one guy, for instance, who was only humble. But think of that! Think of its possibilities! Think of what you could do with a guy like that on a world tour. Of if war prevented, as it indubitably would, you could put him on television. A nation-wide hookup. You could go to the network and say, look, I've go something different here. Something unique. I've got a guy that's-No, he doesn't do card tricks, he's not a singer or a dancer. Well, he does have a sense of humor, but he doesn't tell-No, I'm afraid he doesn't have big tits and his ass looks just like yours and mine. What he's got is something different. Something there's a hell of a need for. And if you'd just give him a chance. They'd never go for it. You'd have to nail him to a cross first. Only here, in The City of Wonderful People, was the wonderful wonderful."
Inherent Vice, reclusive wierdo novelist Thomas Pynchon's latest effort, is out. A detective story, Pynchon's choice of genre has focused attention on crime fiction. Malcom Jones at Newsweek has weighed in with a thoughtful (for Newseek) piece about crime fiction and why "literary" novelists seem to be trying their hands at it with varying degrees of success. Over at Slate, on the other hand, Ron Rosenbaum sees that Pynchon has written a detective novel and gets all bitchy, noting,
"But Inherent Vice is certainly a classic illustration of something or other, such as (maybe) giving up the project of being a serious novelist, albeit without offending anyone except for a few longtime and die-hard fans like me."
Mr. Rosenbaum is deeply offended that this novel is devoid of giant adenoids and invisible clockwork ducks. He is aghast that Pynchon seems to have written a novel that people who are not as intellectual as himself might actually enjoy. Now, when Rosenbaum goes into his local coffeehouse with a dog eared copy of V tucked under his arm he is deathly afraid that he may be accosted by some goddamn savage who will say something like, "Pynchon huh? I usually read James Patterson, but I really dug that detective novel he did. I read it while my wife and I were at Myrtle Beach last summer." Oh no Mr. Rosenbaum! David Foster Wallace wised up and killed himself, and now Thomas Pynchon is slumming it! Who will save you from the hoi polloi? Who?
I finally got my copy of Darwyn Cooke's adaptation of The Hunter this week. It's nice. I mean, really nice. I was expecting something like your usual graphic novel, but this is more like a nice hardcover book in both dimensions and quality. This presentation is perhaps fitting given the new respectability of graphic novels. I remember when the term was used to describe several issues of a comic book series cheaply slapped together to bring in a few extra bucks. Cooke's The Hunter is anything but cheap, and it certainly bears all the hallmarks of a labor of love. There's no attempt to fancy up the source material, or make it more modern. It's set in 1962, when the original book was set, and, with the exception of the ending, it hews closely to the original story. I suspect the bit Cooke saw fit to cut will actually show up in his planned adpatation of the next novel, The Man with the Getaway Face. The graphic novel's ending allows it work as a stand alone story, which strikes me as the author hedging his bets. The remaining three adapations showing up on store shelves is probably contingent on how well The Hunter sells, so a cliffhanger might leave people hanging forever.
Cooke's Parker inhabits a world that is black, white and blue. The choice works very well. Full color would have been too much, and black and white would have been a bit too stark (no pun intended). The color and the artwork, both complement the tone of the story. Cooke's Parker, who the reader does not see from the front for the first twenty or so pages. All in all, I was very pleased with this book. I hope it will turn some people on to some of these Stark reprints.
Allan Guthrie is the latest author to pen a novella for Five Leaves Press's Crime Express series. Killing Mum brings Guthrie back to some of his characters from Savage Night. Specifically, it puts death broker Carlos Morales in a tough spot. He's in the business of arranging to have people killed, so it's no surprise when he gets an envelope full of cash and a name. What is a surprise is the name is his mother's. Carlos can't figure why someone would want his mother dead. The only person he knows who hates his mother is his wife, and she's also the only person he knows who knows his mother is his mother. So, naturally he's suspicious. He sets up a little test, but things don't go as planned.
Killing Mum is quick and dirty read. It's probably about an hour's investment all told. It's remarkable for it's thematic similarity to Guthrie's latest novel Slammer. Characters in both novels have the the same sort of reaction to traumatic experiences. Guthrie spends quite a bit of time mining familial strife in his novels, so there's nothing here that will surprise anyone familiar with his work. It would be interesting to know, however, if this work was a dry run for Slammer, or Guthrie is revisiting a theme here. Killing Mum is rather tame by Guthrie standards, and it didn't quite pack the punch of Ray Banks' Crime Express entry Gun, but it's a solid effort nevertheless. It may serve as a good entry point for those who haven't read Guthrie's work yet. If you like this, then the novels may be for you.
And yes, the Kindle edition artwork I found on Amazon has a squirrel. I'm just as puzzled as you.
Good news for those who thought the latest Dortmunder novel was going to be the late Donald Westlake's last published novel. In April, after taking a three month hiatus, Hard Case Crime, will return with Memory, Westlake's final novel.
From the desription:
It's a beautifully written, heartbreaking story about a man who suffers an assault (after being caught in bed with another man's wife) and wakes up in a hospital bed suffering from a peculiar sort of brain damage that doesn't make him unable to function but does make it hard for him to form new memories or retain old ones. Stuck far from home (and struggling even to remember where home used to be), paranoid about the attentions of the police, and desperate to reconstruct his lost life, Paul Cole sets out on an extraordinary private investigation: a missing persons case in which he himself is the missing person.
And I can't help but feel that the latest Hard Case newsletter has sort of buried the lede. Down toward the bottom, after announcing Westlake's book and teasing the still unnamed second December title, Ardai announces that Hard Case is going to go to bimonthly publication instead of monthly. He tries to spin, saying it will provide time to drum up more interest and allow readers to get to the books, but the message between the lines is, "If you like these books buy more of them. Times are tough all around, but they're still half the price of movie ticket."
I have no idea if anyone is even still doing the whole forgotten book thing, but I want to mention Iain Levinson's 2003 novel Since the Layoffs. I'd heard good things about it, and there's been a copy on the shelf of my neighborhood used bookstore for at least a year, so I brought it home last week.
Levinson's novel may not have had much resonance when it was published because in 2003 homeless people were making down payments on million dollar homes with spare change and everyone was going to be rich, rich, rich forever. A novel about an laid off factory worker in an anonymous Midwestern town who turns to contract killing to fill the void once filled by his job might not have seemed all that relevant when the unemployment rate was four percent. Now that it's nearer to 10 percent (and a little over 10 percent here in Georgia), Levinson's story of blue collar angst hits a little close to home, even for those of us who have it pretty good. I think we're all a little more cognizant of the fragility of our situations.
Levinson's no Westlake. Since the Layoffs is not as good as The Ax, but Layoffs was Levinson's first novel, so it's probably unfair to compare the two books despite their thematic similarity. Levinson does a great job getting into the mind of his unemployed character, though, and portraying the reality and desperation of a man without a job. Everyone has to do something, and a man who doesn't have anything to do starts to feel desperate, more for existential reasons than for financial ones. When the local bookie asks unemployed Jake the chance to kill the bookie's cheating wife, Jake is initially repulsed, but relents, as much for the opportunity to feel useful again as for the money the job will bring. Killing is liberating for Jake, more for psychological reasons then pecuniary ones. And killing people is work. Jake has to deal with incompenent help and unexpected complications, but the lack of glamour doesn't bother him. It is a job after all. It's Jake's work ethic that gets him through, and that's why, even though he's a killer, you'll pull for him.
Things have been quiet here lately. I've been really, really busy, and that's been paying off, but I haven't had a whole lot of time to read lately. I did, however, get around to watching Brick, the high school film noir from 2005. I had been putting off watching this film because, despite the praise it's received, it seemed like an idea that could easily go wrong. I sat down really wanting to like it, and the good news is I did. Going in I didn't know how putting noir style dialogue in the mouths of high school students would work out, but writer/director Rian Johnson made it work.
The film starts with a note slipped into a locker, which leads to a phone call, where the hero Brendan tells his ex-girlfriend it's been two-months when she opens the conversation by noting that it's been a long time since they'd seen each other. It's a great touch. In high school, two months is an eternity, and it works. The young actors all sell it, and when the movie has its ridiculous moments, like when Brendan and local drug dealer "The Kingpin" sit awkwardly and wait for the Kingpin's mom to leave the room so they can talk, the levity is intentional, and serves to underscore the fact that parents are often either completely oblivious to their teenagers' more adult proclivities or willingly turn a blind eye to them.
Overall this film hit pretty close to home in a lot of respects. I identified a lot with Brendan, a teenage loner who spends his time reading behind the school. I spent the last two years of high school sitting in the hall reading, and occasionally going to class, when I wasn't getting high. Speaking of which, Brick's depiction of a teenage drug underworld, while exaggerated, isn't that far off the mark. Overall, I think that's why the movie worked. It was rooted in reality.
It looks like Ben LeRoy and his editor Alison Janssen of Bleak House are striking out on their own to form a new publishing house, Tyrus Books. LeRoy sold Bleak House to Big Earth Publishing in 2005. There's a lot more information at Sarah Weinman's blog. All I have time to say about the news right now is, huh. That's interesting.
Welcome to the Indie Crime Blog. As the name implies, this blog is dedicated to reviews of crime fiction published by independent presses. There are many books published every year that seem to be ignored for a variety of reasons. The books sections of newspapers are getting smaller. Bookstores give more shelf space to more established authors. I could go on, but you get it.My intent is to review books both old and new in the hopes that some deserving writers and worthy publishers will gain some exposure. I can be emailed at IndieCrime-at-gmail-dot-com