Saturday, September 27, 2014

Jennifer Blood: Neither Tarnished Nor Afraid, by Al Ewing and various artists

(pb; 2013: graphic novel, collecting issues #13-18 of the series.  Third entry in the Jennifer Blood graphic novel series.)

From the back cover:

"It looks like Jen's finally got everything she wants - her crusade against her murderous Uncles is over and done with and she's successfully fended off attacks by everyone from war profiteers to waffle salesmen.  There's just one tiny fly in the ointment: Detective Elaine Pruitt, Homicide.  Jennifer Blood killed her partner, but didn't quite manage to kill her.

"That was a mistake.

"Meanwhile, an old flame of Andy's re-enters his life.  For anyone else's family, it'd be the makings of a fairly standard suburban drama.

"But this is Jennifer Blood's family.

"And she'll do anything she thinks she has to in order to preserve it."


Jen's life spirals further out of control as the loose ends of her weeklong vendetta - a ticked-off cop, an unstable marriage and other elements - come back to haunt her in bleakly hilarious, bloody and super-violent fashion.  The ending is a logical yet radical turn story-wise, one that looks like it will lead to promising developments in the next collection, Jennifer Blood: The Trial of Jennifer Blood.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Jennifer Blood: Beautiful People, by Al Ewing and various artists

(pb; 2012: graphic novel, collecting issues #7-12 of the series.  Second entry in the Jennifer Blood graphic novel series.)

From the back cover:

"Jen Fellows is a housewife with two kids, a devoted husband, a beautiful suburban home, two cars, a plasma TV, a Mk. 153 SMAW Launcher, an AK47, ten pounds of C4, a large number of grenades, several hundred rounds of hollow-point-point ammunition, a great big knife. . .

"Jen Fellows was also Jennifer Blood, a vengeance-fueled vigilante taking brutal vengeance on the five men who destroyed her parents.  But now that she's finished off the last of them, her mission is over at last.

". . . In a word. . . no.

"It turns out you can't murder the five heads of a crime family - plus various assorted bodyguards, associates, ninja schoolgirl assassins, etc. - without any consequences.  There are leftover weapons to dispose of, nosy neighbors who might know a little too much, kids getting too curious about the hidden armory in the basement, detectives picking up all the clues you forgot you dropped. . . and a consortium of rich and powerful people, with private armies of highly trained mercenaries at their command, who want a little revenge of their own."


More bloody and violent hilarity, suburban public kink-wear and surreal unintended consequences ensue as Jen/nifer's vendetta against her crime-family family winds down, and the relatives and associates of those she killed seek revenge while the cops seek answers regarding her previous slaughters.  Wildly entertaining stuff, this - worth owning.

Followed by Jennifer Blood: Neither Tarnished Nor Afraid.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Damsel, by Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald E. Westlake)

(pb; 1967, 2012: first novel in the Grofeld series.  Foreword by Sarah Weinman.)

From the back cover:

"On the surface, Alan Grofeld and Parker seem to be strange allies.  Where Parker is cold and calculating, Grofeld is chatty and charismatic.  But while they may not have much in common, they are both great at what they do -- steal.  The Damsel. . . follows the action of the Parker novel The Handle, and it finds our hero, dazed and injured, waking up to discover a girl crawling through the window of his hotel room.  [Soon,] Grofeld and his new companion begin a scenic, action-packed road trip from Mexico City to Acapulco. . ."


Chatty - compared to the waste-no-words efficiency of the Parker series - and entertaining crime tale about Grofeld and his south of the border road trip-adventure with Ellen Marie, a charming hotel room burglar whose circumstances involve political intrigue, corruption and murderous thugs.

Followed by The Dame.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Strange Shores, by Arnaldur Indriđason

(hb; 2010, 2012: eleventh book in the Reykjavik Thriller series. Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb)

From the inside flap:

"In this latest puzzle, Inspector Erlendur learns of the baffling story of Matthildur, a local woman who went missing years earlier on the night of a violent storm.  A frequent visitor to his birthplace, Erlendur has spent his whole life searching for his brother, Beggi, who was lost in a snowstorm when they were both children.  As he begins to ask questions about the fateful evening when Matthildur disappeared, Erlendur begins to suspect what may have also befallen his long-lost brother.

"Can Erlendur possibly solve the disappearances of Matthildur and Beggi after all these decades?  Or are the forces that want him to stop investigating stronger than he is?"


Strange is a mood-effective (wintry, stark, moody), reader-hooking disappearance - possibly murder - mystery, one worth checking out from the library.  There's a nice mention of the events of the sixth Erlender book, The Draining Lake, which adds a thematic layer to Strange

The twists in Strange aren't surprising, but with Indriđason's work it's often about the journey not the destination.  The ending is a promising lead-in to the next book in the series, a loosely linked side-prequel, The Chess Match.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jennifer Blood: A Woman's Work is Never Done, by Garth Ennis and various artists

(pb; 2012: graphic novel, collecting issue #1-6 of the series.  First entry in the Jennifer Blood graphic novel series.)

From the back cover:

"Meet Jen Fellows, your average suburban housewife.  Every day, she lives out your normal suburban life.  She makes breakfast, takes the kids to school, cleans the house, cooks dinner, kisses her husband and children goodnight, and hopes that the drugs she gives them in their dinner keeps them asleep until morning.

"Meet Jennifer Blood, ruthless vigilante.  Every night she stalks the underworld on a personal vendetta against organized crime, determined to obliterate the parasites and scum who run the city's rackets.

"But can she keep her dual lives separate?  Can she protect her family from the terrible world she now finds herself a part of?  And will the budget stretch to new cushion covers for the couch and six more cases of .45 hollow points?"


Jennifer Blood is a bloody, nasty, for-mature-audiences-only work, featuring writer Ennis' fast-moving, raunchy and black-as-frak wit.  The storyline is familiar (see the back cover description), but Ennis' action-lean writing, coupled with Jennifer's eye-popping illustrations and visual tones (courtesy of various artists, colorists and Rob Steen's lettering) make its plot-familiarity irrelevant.  This is not a graphic novel for readers put off by gore, nudity and ultra-dark - and effective - themes: worth owning, this, if the above description doesn't apply to you.

Followed by Jennifer Blood: Beautiful People.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Slayground, by Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald E. Westlake)

(pb; 1969, 1971, 2010: fourteenth novel in the Parker series.  Introduction by Charles Ardai.)

From the back cover:

"The hunter becomes prey, as a heist gone sour and Parker finds himself trapped in a shuttered amusement park, besieged by a bevy of local mobsters.  There are no exits from Fun Island.  Outnumbered and outgunned, Parker can't afford a single miscalculation.  He's low on bullets - but, as anyone who's crossed his path knows, that doesn't mean he's defenseless."


One of the many things I appreciate about the Parker novels is how Stark changes up the elements (structure, characters, tones, etc.) from book to book, while maintaining the overall qualitative elements that make this character-progressive series so great - e.g., in the last Parker outing, Deadly Edge, much of the book was about Parker's relationship with Claire (when they weren't fighting and evading those villainous amateurs); in Slayground, Claire is generally mentioned but not seen, and most of the action takes place in the amusement park that could easily become Parker's last battlefield. . . it's just him and the worse guys.  Not even Alan Grofeld, one of Parker's semi-regular heistmates - who's seen briefly in the beginning of Slayground - gets much "air time" (though Grofeld's post-crash fate is shown in the side-series novel The Blackbird).

Like all the preceding Parker novels, Slayground is an excellent, waste-no-words crime thriller with a consistently compelling anti-hero: this, also, is worth owning.

Followed by Plunder Squad.


Slayground  was released stateside as a film in February 1984.  The film was directed by Terry Bedford from a screenplay by Trevor Preston.

Peter Coyote played Stone (cinematic stand-in for Parker).  Mel Smith played Terry Abbatt.  Billie Whitelaw played Madge.  Phil Sayer played Costello.  Bill Luhrs played Joe Sheer (a character who was killed in the sixth Parker book The Jugger).  Clarence Felder played Orxel.  Ned Eisenberg played Lonzini.  David Hayward played Laufman.

Side-note:  This film references Point Blank (based on Stark's first Parker novel The Hunter) and the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Alfred Hitchcock's A Hangman's Dozen, by various authors

(pb; 1962, 1966: crime anthology)

Overall review:

Excellent murder and crime anthology, worth owning.

Standout stories:

1.)  "The Children of Noah" - Richard Matheson:  A cross-country, speeding motorist (Mr. Ketchum) gets pulled over in Zachry, Maine and finds that leaving this strange town may be more difficult than he first thought.  Fun story, with a Twilight Zone-esque feel.

2.)  "Fair Game" - John Cortez:  Plot-twisty, excellent story about a hunting guide (Sam Ludlow) whose attraction to his client's wife leads to some dark revelations.  I especially love the ending to this one.

3.)  "The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution" - Richard Stark:  A man (Freddie) and his mistress (Karen) plot the demise of his materialistic wife (Janice) and encounter unforeseen complications.  Darkly humorous and increasingly intense tale.

4.)  "Your Witness" - Helen Nielsen:  Fun, well-written story about a woman (Naomi Shawn) whose husband's vicious lawyerly tactics inspire her own revenge on him.

5.)  "Blackout" - Richard Deming:  A drunk man's murder confession turns out to be more complicated than it initially seems.  The ending isn't a surprise, but the story is well-written.

6.)  "The October Game" - Ray Bradbury:  Memorable, nasty (in a dark notions way) and Halloween-atmospheric tale about a man and his family who host a horrifying holiday party.  This is one of my favorite stories in this collection.  The ending is especially effective.

7.)  "The Last Escape" - Jay Street:  An escape artist (Joe Ferlini) has more tricks up his sleeve than anyone - including his wife (Wanda) - suspects.  Great finish to this one.

8.)  "Most Agreeably Poisoned" - Fletcher Flora:  Urbane and "civilized" work about a cuckolded husband who suggests to his wife and her lover a unique port-wine-and-poison solution to resolve their sudden-change situation.

9.)  "The Best-Friend Murder" - Donald E. Westlake:  Police procedural tale about a polite poisoner's immediate confession to the cops, and how his confession rings odd to one of the investigating officers (Abraham Levine).  Great, reader-hooking writing in this work, with palpable, effective themes of youth and mortality.  Love the ending to this one.
Steve Isaak has published two hundred stories and poems, and is the author of three anthologies: Behind the wheel: selected poems, Shinjuku sex cheese holocaust: poems and the forthcoming Horrorsex County: stories (which are, or will be, available at Lulu and Amazon).