Saturday, January 31, 2009
Killing people is a grim business. This is why, in fiction, hitmen are either tormented, existential figures or your garden variety psychopaths. It is rare to find a fictional contact killer who approaches his work with aplomb and joy de vivre. Augustus Mandrell is such a killer. The invention of Englishman Frank McAuliffe and the hero of three published books (and a rumored unpublished fourth one), Mandrell is the world's greatest hitman, and he's going to make sure you know it.
Starting with Of All The Bloody Cheek (Point Blank, 2005), which was first published in 1965, Mandrell narrates his adventures with relish. Cheek is more of a collection of four connected novellas, than a proper novel. The stories take place in the late 30's and early 40's. In each section, Mandrell relates the story of one of his "commissions," with each one being more elaborate than the next. Mandrell even has a nemisis in the form of an American Army Lieutenant (later a major) named Proferra, whose encounters with Mandrell leave him increasingly mutilated and unhinged.
The events may be historical, but McCauliffe gives Mandrell an urbane, witty, voice that is still engaging over 40 years after it initally appeared. McCauliffe has succeeded in creating a unique hitman who provides a wonderful counterpoint to his more serious counterparts. Unfortunately, Cheek is the only book in the series in print. Point Blank had, at one point, intended to reprint them all, but that plan seems to have fallen by the wayside. Pick this one up while you can still find it.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Jacques Chessex’s The Vampire of Ropraz (Bitter Lemon Press, 2008) is a disturbing tale made even more unsettling by the author’s minimalist approach to his material. Chessex takes as his starting point a true story of necrophilia and savagery that occurred in the Swedish
A young girl dies and is buried. Days later, her corpse is found after having been dug up, violated and mutilated. After that, paranoia spreads throughout the countryside as the authorities scramble to find the perpetrator. Another girl’s corpse is found, and the paranoia mounts. Eventually, suspicion falls on Fevez, an alcoholic stable boy with a penchant for molesting cows. While Fevez is clearly disturbed, his guilt in the matter at hand is far from clear. Nevertheless, he is judged guilty and ends up in a psychiatric hospital, where he stays for decades before simply walking away one day.
Vampire, translated from French by W. Donald Wilson, is a slim book, coming in at around 100 pages. Chessex tells the story of Fevez with admirable restraint, and his detached, almost reportorial tone makes the crimes involved in the story all the more horrific. The effect is unsettling because one can’t help but want the author to weigh in with some sort of disapproval when writing about necrophilia and bestiality, but Chessex refuses to condemn. Eventually, the reason for this authorial distance is revealed, as The Vampire of Ropraz is not a story about monstrous crimes, but a tale about the fungible nature of identity.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
The first sixty pages are an essay, interspersed with images of course, regarding the history of drug paperbacks, and the making of a moral panic. ( Did you know that that the head of Citizens for Decent Literature, the group that lead the charge against sleazy paperbacks in the 50's was led by Charles Keating? The same guy who looted Lincoln Savings and Loan 30 years later. That little tidbit says it all about America's screwed up priorities and the value of the self righteous moral posturing that people use to try and cover the fact that there's an almost casual nihilism at the heart of contemporary society, but that's a topic for another day and probably another place.)
Dope Menace comes with extensive footnotes and a list of references in the back for further reading. The rest of the book is given over to pictures. Big, wonderful reproductions of the lurid artwork of paperback originals. It's quite an attractive book, and the sort of thing anyone interested in paperback originals should want to own.
It's not the only great book of this sort Feral House has published. You way also want to check out Sin-a-Rama: Sleaze Paperbacks of the Sixties, Mexican Pulp Art, and It's a Man's World: Men's Adventure Magazines The Postwar Pulps.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
Thursday, January 15, 2009
The Rap Sheet put together a wonderful two part tribute to Donald Westlake.
Reed Farrell Coleman is interviewed on the Busted Flush Press blog.
Mark Coggins reveals Raymond Chandler's cameo in Double Indemnity.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Cassuto starts off with Dreiser and Hemingway as a starting point, which is hard to argue with, and then he moves on to Hammett. Now, as even Cassuto concedes, it's difficult to find anything sentimental in Hammett. The Continental-Op doesn't even have a name, let alone a personal life, and Sam Spade, when it comes time to choose between his professional reputation and his emotions he chooses to be the professional, which is not surprising, since even Spade's sex life revolves around the office.
Now, PI's do get less hard boiled as time goes on. Marlowe isn't Spade, and Archer isn't Marlowe, and by the time you get to get to McGee and Spenser it's hard to argue that detectives become more sentimental, but this may just be a function of their becoming more three dimensional as time goes on. People have families. Sometimes they wish they didn't, but generally they do, and this goes for private detectives and cops and bank robbers and just about any other person who might end up as the main character in a crime novel, so it makes sense that as the genre grows, so should it's characters. I'm not convinced these changes have anything to do with 19th Century sentinental fiction.
That said, there's not really a lot in this book with which I would disagree. I have more than a passing familiarity with most of the authors Cassuto writes about, and I would not dispute most of his insights. Hard Boiled Sentimentality is, overall, a pretty good book. It's just that, as I said before, I think Cassuto might have oversold his thesis.
I'm also a little perplexed as to why Andrew Vachss doesn't get a mention. You can certaintly argue that his books won't stand the test of time, but it's hard to think of a series that captures the essence of hard boiled sentimentality more than the Burke series, which, for all it's hard-ass posturing, is all about family. It's the apotheosis of the phenomenon Cassuto is trying to describe, and it's absence makes me think he may not be familiar with it at all.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Monday, January 5, 2009
Saturday, January 3, 2009
In the new year, I'm unloading some of the things I've acquired to make room for new things I'll probably acquire. Part of that process is making room on my bookshelves. I've got some stuff I'm just dumping, but I've got a couple of Gold Medals that deserve a good home.
The first, the first edition of John McPartland's I'll See You in Hell, is a real prize. My copy is near fine, and the only visible flaw if some discoloration in the upper right corner where there was a sticker once. The binding is tight. It's probably been read once or twice. I bought it to read, but I can't bring myself to do it. It's just too nice. (Please note: The pictures with this post come from Bookscans, and are not my copies. I don't have a scanner at the moment, but can get access to one if you want to see the covers. My copy is a lot nicer than the one I'm using to illustrate this post.) I'm asking $20.
The other book is the second printing (1955) of Bruno Fischer's House of Flesh. This is in good condition. There's creasing along the spine and in the upper right corner and a little on the back cover. There's an illegible signature on the inside front cover. I'm asking $7.
I don't want to deal with Ebay and all the fees or sell cheap to one of my local bookdealers. If you're interested email me. I have Paypal.
Friday, January 2, 2009
Darwyn Cook is also working on a graphic novel adaptation of the first four Parker novels, and Hard Case Crime will soon reprint his first novel under his own name.
If there's any such thing as a silver lining to someone's death, in this case it's the fact that the world loves a dead artist. Their should be an even greater interest in Westlake's work now that he's gone, so hopefully these projects will get the attention they deserve.
I ponder the appeal of a bastard like Parker here.
And, for the record, this is my favorite non-Stark Westlake novel.