Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Marisha Pessl: Night Film

During the holidays, I wanted to read - as always - something that is not at all related to my work, usually something criminous. Normally I like to read something hardboiled or noirish, but during this holiday I decided to try something else entirely.

I'd heard good things about Marisha Pessl's Night Film, and though it's over 700 pages in Finnish translation, I read it. I wasn't disappointed, and the length didn't bother me at all. There's bound to be some padding in 700 pages, but not overtly so in this case. Night Film (translated Yönäytös, which is a literal translation, though it misses the "film" part) is about the mysterious film director Stanislas Cordova and his legacy, and the death of his daughter that seems like a suicide at first. An investigative journalist starts to dig around Cordova and finds himself deep in the mysteries and even horrors of Cordova's films.

There's some forced deepness in the book, especially in the end, but then again the ending is also fitting with the rest of the book and the themes of Cordova's films, which, quite wisely, are described only shortly. There are also some scenes that are gripping as all hell, and I found myself turning a page after another and not wanting to stop reading. (This also affected our Christmas holiday, as I didn't seem to be interested in the festivities.)

Night Film wasn't 100 % non-work reading, as I have an unfinished novel manuscript in which similar things happen, but in a Finnish milieu instead. Don't really know if reading this helped, but I also wanted to know what roads had already been traveled. I'm thinking I'd order me a copy of Tobe Hooper's novel, Midnight Movie, and maybe go back to Theodore Roszak's Flicker (a great novel, if you ask me). Night Film resembles Flicker, by the way, but not too much, and the conspiracy theories Roszak weaves are much more world-embracing than the ones Pessl has.

By the way, I seem to remember stumbling on a mention of a new novel, possibly translated from German, that's also a thriller about a mysterious film or a film director. I can't trace this anymore, so if somebody could help me identify the book, I'd be grateful.

I also managed to squeeze in a Sue Grafton title (C Is for Corpse) in a memory of her death. I've never read her much, but can't see why: Kinsey Millhone is a likable protagonist and the stories are believable and complicated.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Craig McDonald & Kevin Singles: Head Games

I've never read any of the Hector Lassiter novels by Craig McDonald, but have read several good reviews of them, so I picked the graphic novel version of his first novel, Head Games, up in the comic book store my friend runs here in Turku. The drawing style looked stylish, and the story line sounded good.

I wasn't disappointed. The story about Pancho Villa's severed head and people hunting it is funny and tragic, and it reminded me of several other novels and films, such as Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. I liked how the father George Bush Sr. was brought into the story.

Hector Lassiter himself is an interesting character, a bit macho adventurer, cynical but still humane, good-looking but aging. Lassiter's sidekick, free-wheeling poet and reporter  Bud Fiske is maybe even more intriguing: with him Mcdonald brings up points about the whole era and its change during the late fifties and sixties. The art of Kevin Singles is quite nice, retro but not too retro, which is fitting, since the story takes place in 1957 (there's also an epilogue that takes place in the early seventies). The pictures are black & white with only one process colour (not sure if this is the right word), which works quite well. The style in all is a bit reminiscent of Darwyn Cooke's great Richard Stark graphic novels. It's not only a film noir pastiche.

There are quite many crime graphic novels coming out at the moment. There have of course always been crime comics, but this seems like a boom or a trend, starting perhaps with Road to Perdition, 100 Bullets and Scalped and going on with the Hard Case Crime comics, My Friend Dahmer and what not. Head Games is an entertaining addition to the cycle, which seems to concentrate on hardboiled and noir.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Friday's Forgotten Book: Bill Crider: Outrage at Blanco

The Brash Books reprint.
Don't think 
they have sunglasses in the book...
I've known Texan author Bill Crider for twenty years. I joined the Rara-Avis e-mail list I think in 1997 (not 100% certain about this, it could be 1998 as well) and found Bill's postings to be knowledgeable, funny and not besserwisserish. (Is that a word?) We have swapped e-mails on and off about all things hardboiled and noir, and we've commented each other's blogs for years now. I think Bill is one of my most permanent readers.

So I was actually quite sorrow-struck to learn that Bill is in hospice care. I'd known that he has cancer (he writes about it openly), but still this made me sad. I'm glad to be able to participate in this Friday's Bill Crider commemoration.

With the help of Evan Lewis, I got my hands on Bill's 1999 western novel Outrage at Blanco. It suited me just fine, since I'd been thinking I'd like to read me a good solid western story, and I knew Bill would deliver it. And yes, he does. Outrage at Blanco is a fast-moving tale with multiple point-of-view characters, and each and every one seems like a whole human being, though some of them are merciless bastards with no meaning in life. There are two bank robbers and rapists, there is an old patriarch on the brink of his own death and his cowardly son who's after his father's money, there is a frontier woman whom the bank robbers rape in the beginning of the novel (Bill handles the scene with compassion, I don't anyone could accuse him of using rape as a titillation), there is the woman's husband, an ordinary man who suddenly feels a burst of rage when he hears about what happened to his wife. Some of the folks in the book die suddenly, which keeps the reader guessing who will come out alive.

This was the first Bill Crider's westerns I've read, but I certainly would like to read more. He writes very fluently and effortlessly, like the best of them, and the story keeps moving without a pause, yet there's enough room for building a tension or characters or their backstories. Nothing ever gets in the way of the story. Here's Bill talking about the book.

I've read some of Bill's crime and horror novels earlier, here's my review of Blood Marks, and here's Goodnight Moom. In my book Pulpografia (in Finnish only) I have a reviews of Bill's Nick Carter novel (his first book!) and another horror novel as by Jack MacLane. (There's a side character called Jack MacLane in Outrage at Blanco.) Mind you, I've also published a short story by Bill, namely "Evening Out with Carl", in the anthology Kaikki valehtelevat/Everybody Lies.

By the way, here's a little something most people have probably forgotten: Bill's short story in the form of a blog.

More posts about Bill Crider and his books coming your way on Patti Abbott's blog here.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Hard Case Crime comics: Triggerman, Peepland

I've purchased three of the graphic novels Hard Case Crime has published: The Assignment, Triggerman and Peepland. It's interesting to notice that the director and screenwriter Walter Hill has now stepped into a new career as a script writer for the comics, as The Assignment and Triggerman are based on his scripts. Will there be a novel as well?

I have The Assignment floating around the apartment somewhere, but I don't know where, so I haven't read it. It's based on a film he made, which has had only a limited release. The film hasn't had very good reviews, I'm afraid, but I'm still interested in the story. Hill's other graphic novel script, Triggerman, is based on a script he says he wrote 30 years ago and tried to sell as a screenplay for a film. The story resembles Hill's later film, Last Man Standing - at least the milieu and the characters are from same era: the gangster-filled prohibition era of the 1920's. The story about the gunman searching his lover is a bit sentimental and patronizing, but there was enough gunplay and violence to keep me reading. The graphics by Matz and Jef, two French artists, is very stylish, at least to my eye. The era is created convincingly.

There's nothing patronizing about Peepland, written by Christa Faust (Money Shot, Choke Hold) and Gary Phillips (the editor of Black Pulp, and author of over a dozen novels) and illustrated by Andrea Camerini. The story is set in the same age and milieu as the new HBO series, The Deuce, which Faust knows so well: the Times Square peep-show and porn shop blocks of the 1980's. (Why are these both set in the past, though?) The hero of the story is a punkish lap-dancer called Rox, who gets hold of a VHS tape containing evidence on a famous man doing some evil stuff. There are of course lots of other evil men after the same tape. There's lots of violence in here, as befits a Hard Case Crime graphic novel, but there are also lots of touching moments as well. There's lots at stake in the middle of the ruckus. You can feel the tension and get almost to live in the Times Square hoods. Very well made and gripping as all hell, and with strong, convincing female and African-American characters.

I noticed when I started to write this entry that Hard Case Crime is publishing also another graphic novel version of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy. I don't know why this is, since there's also the Denise Mina scripted version from some five or six years back. I have no interest in Larsson, but I might read a good graphic novel version of his 10,000-page series. I do have lots interest in Megan Abbott's and Alison Gaylin's Normandy Gold, which is also due from Hard Case Crime.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Celia Fremlin: Hours Before Dawn

I remember Sarah Weinman mentioning Celia Fremlin as one of the domestic suspense writers who she needed to pay more attention to. When I found one of Fremlin's books in Finnish translation, I picked it up. It was one of those books I'd always known existed, but hadn't paid any attention to them.

But boy, what a good book Hours Before Dawn is! I read it almost in one sitting. I had to take care of some business during the reading, but I really wouldn't've liked to. I heard later that The Times Magazine had included the novel in their list of hundred best thrillers, and I couldn't agree more.

Hours Before Dawn was first published in 1959, and it is a perfect embodiment of domestic suspense: the lead character is a still youngish woman with three kids and an impatient husband, and the mystery concentrates almost entirely on what happens inside their little house. Her smallest kid clearly has colic, and he shouts and screams all the time when he should be sleeping. This bugs the husband and the neighbour and keeps the mother awake. I don't know of any other crime novel that deals with colic - and actually makes the colic baby the center of the mystery.

There's indeed a mystery, but Hours Before Dawn is still a crimeless novel. There are no murders, stabbings, thefts, frauds, shakedowns or what have you. Yet this is one of the most powerful crime novels I've read in a long time.

I read the Finnish translation (see the picture; the Polish-style cover is by Finnish graphic artist Heikki Ahtiala), but the book seems to be readily available in affordable reprint.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Mack Bolan: The Fiery Cross

The Fiery Cross, an 1988 entry in the Mack Bolan series, written by Mike Newton as by Don Pendleton, is something we sorely need, when the Nazis - the so-called alt-right - are marching in the US, and in Finland as well. In the book, Mack Bolan beats the Nazis and the Klansmen somewhere in the Deep South and finds out that the extreme right wing is financed by the Russians (as they might well be in Europe, don't know about the US). The Nazis and the Klansmen are ridiculed throughout the book, which is very fine by me.

I didn't think this was a particularly good book, though it's solidly written by a professional. I kind of leafed through the whole thing, just looking for something to pass the time. Which is what this kind of entertainment was made for. But it should be vital that this kind of information also tells us what's important, what are the values that are really worth fighting for. And being low-level literature, it's available also to those who are prone to social exclusion and marginalization and thus to the temptations of the right-wing populism. Mack Bolan could never be called a Leftist social justice warrior (a pejorative moniker used by the right-wingers), so there might be a chance for someone to realize fighting Nazis is also manly.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Anthony Neil Smith: All the Young Warriors

I had a one-week holiday in the first week of September. I though I was going to read some crime novels that were sitting on my Kindle. Well, yeah, I did, but it took longer than a week. I read Barry Malzberg's first Lone Wolf novel, Night Raider, written as by Mike Barry (forgot to blog about it) and then I read W. Glenn Duncan Rafferty's Rules (about which I blogged here). I also started Lawrence Block's old sleaze title, Sex Without Strings, but it didn't seem interesting enough (no crime plot that I could see!). And then I started Anthony Neil Smith's All the Young Warriors, really not knowing what to expect. I finished it only tonight.

Okay, it's only 304 pages in a Down & Out Books paperback, but it felt longer - and I don't mean this in a negative way. I could've sworn it was more like 400 pages. The scope is almost epic, close to what you have in more literary novels. Two Somali guys kill a pregnant female cop in Minneapolis while they are already headed towards Somalia, their fatherland, and the lover of the woman, a cop himself, decides to go after them with the help of the other guy's father, who happens to have a gangsta past. And this is only a skimpy outline. The book's more like Conrad's Heart of Darkness taken into the 2000's (well, with the exception that Conrad's novel is a lot shorter). The grim outcome in the end couldn't be darker, even if it's happy for some of the characters.

The subject of the book could easily be racist in the hands of someone else, but Smith, while he certainly pulls no punches, is not your typical stereotype-weaving thriller hack. The Somali characters come out alive, and while some of them are evil and do evil stuff, I didn't see the book calling them evil only because they are Somalis. The discussion about cultural appropriation is hot at the moment, but I didn't see that in here - of course I'm not a Somali myself, so what do I know? But Smith's novel seems free of that appropriation.

All the Young Warriors takes its time to get going, but the reader is awarded in the end.