Monday, September 29, 2008

Your Failed Bailout Theme Song

Does it get any more appropriate than this? It's been playing in my head for the past week or so every time the news comes on. Obvious, I know, but still.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Review of Tattoo

Pepe Carvahlo is a detective, but he is just as much a sensualist. He thinks just as much about food and women as he does a case. He is capable of great cruelty, but he is not the jealous type-his girlfriend, with whom he has an open relationship is a prostitute. He walks the streets of Barcelona in search of the truth, a good meal and sex, although not necessarily in that order.

In Tattoo (Serpent’s Tail, 2008), Manuel Vasquez Montalbon has his private detective searching for the identity of a man who washes up on the beach whose only identifying mark is a tattoo reading, “Born to Raise Hell in Hell.” Carvahlo is hired for this task by the owner of a hair salon, and he quickly finds himself on his way to Amsterdam in pursuit of the dead man’s name.

To say the plot of Tattoo, which appeared in Spanish in 1976, and has been translated into English for the first time by Nick Caistor, is slight is an understatement. It won’t take anyone very long to figure out what is happening. The attraction of the book isn’t the plot, but the character. Carvahlo is the type of guy who can get beaten and thrown in the canal in Amsterdam and still want to hit the city’s red light district. He’s irrepressible and yet committed to finding the truth about a dead man he never knew. It’s the author’s juxtaposition of animal desires with moral complexity that makes Carvahlo worth getting to know.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wednesday Paperback Cover

Was there a sale on this outfit at Macy's or something?

Barney Rosset and Grove Press in the NYT

The New York Times has an article on Grove Press publisher Barney Rosset. Grove Press is famous for publishing William S. Burroughs and Henry Miller (on a side note, I loathe Mr. Miller's work). He also took heat for publishing Lady Chatterly's Lover. Whatever you think of Miller or Burroughs or D.H. Lawrence, their work is definitely not pornography and you've got to admire Rosset's willingness to fight for the right to free expression. As a bonus reason to check out the article, let me just say that it's not every day you see the phrase "Victorian spanking porn" in the Old Gray Lady. It should be, though. It would probably help circulation.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Yet More Stark

While I've been distracted Bruce Grossman weighed in on the new Richard Stark reprints (no prizes for guessing what he thinks), and Time Out Chicago ran a little piece on Parker's latest comeback. (The latter link via).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wednesday Paperback Cover

I found this one at a used bookstore this weekend.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Review of The Fourth Victim

Reed Farrell Coleman’s latest effort, The Fourth Victim, (Bleak House, 2008) published under his pseudonym Tony Spinosa, is an excellent novel and a good example of why Coleman may always be a cult figure, relegated to an artistic life of critical acclaim without commercial success.

The Fourth Victim picks up with his odd couple of Joe Serpe and Bob Healy, former NYPD detectives, investigating the murder and robbery of another former cop, who also happens to share a second career in home heating oil delivery with the two protagonists. The dead cop, named Rusty Monaco, happens to be the fourth victim in a string of robbery/murders of oil delivery men, and he also saved Serpe’s life once on the job. Serpe feels honor bound to look into the death and Healy feels honor bound to help Serpe.

Serpe and Healy have a strained relationship because Healy was the internal affairs investigator responsible for ending Serpe’s career. Serpe was a hot shot rule bending narc, while Healy was a law and order watcher of the watchmen. Reunited by chance years later, the two men teamed up to solve a murder in Hose Monkey, the first Tony Spinosa novel, and in the second book they are business partners and friends, although it is an uneasy friendship. Coleman’s starting point is a conventional one. Odd couplings are the stuff of Hollywood thrillers. Ask Mel Gibson and Danny Glover or Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy. Two people with different personalities come together. After some friction the two quit bickering long enough to fight a bad guy and learn something about themselves and each other in the process. It's trite, but Coleman, if he followed this well worn path, could have a bestselling series on his hands. He's a talented writer and his plots will stand up with the best of them.

Coleman rejects the easy route, however. While The Fourth Victim is firmly rooted in the tropes of the crime genre, Coleman refuses to give into the genre’s worst tendencies, which include glorifying violence and pat solutions to complex problems. In Coleman’s world murder begets murder and even good men end up being party to bad acts in the pursuit of justice. No one gets away clean, and redemption comes in small measures. Serpe and Healy do find out who killed their fellow cop, but there is no bullet filled climax. There are no witty one liners. There is no sneering bad guy who stops a well deserved slug with his face. There is no grand criminal conspiracy. There is just another body to be buried.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Review of Small Crimes

In 1952, Jim Thompson published The Killer Inside Me, a novel about Lou Ford, a small town sheriff who, while maintaining a personable, if somewhat dim fa├žade, hides the heart of a psychopath. It has earned its place among the classics. Thompson revisited the same situation in Pop. 1,280, with small town Sheriff Nick Corey bearing a strong resemblance in character to Ford. Thompson so defined this little subgenre that in order to avoid being anything but a pale imitation of the original any author who wants to approach it had better have a good twist.

Dave Zeltserman’s Small Crimes (Serpent's Tail, 2008) succeeds in paying homage to Thompson’s work without lapsing into imitation because his dirty cop, Joe Denton, is only fooling himself. Everyone else in the tiny Vermont town where he lives has him all figured out. How could they not? As the story begins Denton is getting out of jail after serving seven years for disfiguring the local district attorney with a letter opener. He walks out the door determined to turn over a new leaf, but no one wants to make it easy for him. The DA, understandably, has a grudge and is trying to get the dying local crime lord to make a deathbed confession that will put Denton in prison forever. The local sheriff wants Denton to take care of either the DA or the crime boss, to avoid the nasty repercussions a confession could bring, and Denton’s own parents are determined to keep him from seeing his two daughters.

Zeltserman makes good use of the first person point of view, constantly challenging the reader to use external cues to try and figure out the extent of Denton’s self deception. It keeps the story interesting. He also keeps the story moving, and it never stops to let the reader catch his breath. As the tension and body count grow, Small Crimes goes from being entertaining to disturbing. Zeltserman gradually lets the reader in on Denton’s secrets, and he goes from being sympathetic to being outright scary. It’s a story that will get under your skin and stay with you long after it ends. Thomspon would be proud.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wednesday Paperback Cover

I can't believe you forgot to pick up the milk!